Edged Weapons

Knife Fighting: What You Need to Know to Realistically Use and Defend Against a Blade

Of all the possible topics an instructor can misinform students about, defense against a knife attack is by far the most dangerous. Anyone who claims to be an expert with a knife and teaches blocking, empty-hand disarms and low horse stances might as well be teaching students to catch bullets in their teeth.

Because very few knife-fighting tournaments take place in the United States, it is difficult for a prospective student to gauge the authenticity of an edged-weapons instructor. It seems that all an instructor needs to fool the public is a pair of camo fatigues and a photo of himself with a nasty expression on his face and his knife positioned against his opponent’s throat and — shazam! — instant Rambo.

Martial artists often underestimate the difficulty of knife disarms, Vunak says.

In my opinion, the most realistic methods for fighting with and defending against edged weapons come from the Philippines. Because real confrontations with blades are all too common in that Southeast Asian nation, their fighting techniques have nothing to do with phony heroism and everything to do with survival.

This article will describe the techniques and training methods you need to know to defend yourself against a blade — and to use one.

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The infrastructure for knife fighting is footwork. It allows you to maintain the correct distance between yourself and your opponent. Having a low stance with no footwork is like having a Ferrari with no wheels. Being able to quickly maneuver toward or away from your opponent is essential in any fighting scenario — but when he is pointing a knife at you, the necessity skyrockets.

When you think of proper footwork in boxing, you probably envision Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard darting around the ring — light, cat-like and constantly sticking and moving. That is the type of footwork that is appropriate for knife fighting.

Obviously, when you have a sharp weapon in your hand, you do not need to plant your feet to do damage to your opponent. It is far more important to stay light and agile. One slice across the knife hand or a quick thrust to the face may be all it takes to end the altercation.

Distance is key when a knife is play, Vunak says. Too close means too easy to cut.

The distance at which you choose to fight your opponent is important. Many instructors teach their students to engage in knife fighting in boxing range. But if you were to watch one round of a boxing match and count how many times each fighter gets hit, you would see that contact takes place way too often. If the boxers traded their gloves for straight razors, within 10 seconds they would be wallowing in a pool of blood.

There are hundreds of drills that involve close-quarters knife and stick work in boxing range, but they were developed to improve your attributes: sensitivity, coordination, body mechanics, etc. That’s why they are called self-perfection drills. They should not be confused with real weapons fighting for the purpose of self-preservation.

In combat, an experienced knife fighter always fights in largo mano range, which is just outside kicking range. He can more easily avoid being sliced, and he can still accomplish his primary objective, which is to cut his opponent’s knife hand.

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If you cut your opponent’s hand, you will instantly disarm him. It is physically impossible for him to hold a knife when the tendons, muscles and ligaments responsible for controlling his hand are severed. Once you have defanged the snake, the snake is harmless; you then have the choice of killing it or letting it go. Correct footwork and distancing are crucial to making this strategy work.

“Defanging the snake” also applies in stick fighting. Unfortunately, in most modern tournaments you see fighters with protective gear obsessively engaged in head-hunting. Although those bouts do teach students how to deal with adrenaline and are a worthwhile experience, that type of practice should constitute about 5 percent of your training. It should not be your focus because the rules seldom award points for smashing the opponent’s hand, and that is unrealistic for self-defense. If a fighter were to defang the snake by striking his opponent’s unprotected hand with a …

Katana Care: How to Straighten a Bent Samurai Sword

If you regularly cut tatami mats or bamboo, you’ll become an expert at not only cutting but also bending or, rather, straightening your sword. A bent sword can be the result of using a poor quality weapon, an incorrect cutting technique or both. Even a well-manufactured mono-steel blade or traditionally folded san-mai model will bend or twist if your technique is off.

Strangely enough, bending is the good news. A blade that bends is preferable to one that breaks, chips or cracks along its edge. The fact that a blade bends in lieu of breaking while sustaining no edge damage reveals that its metallurgical structure is in good condition.

bent samurai sword

(Photo by Robert W. Young)

A sword bends because of damage to its internal crystalline structure. It should be corrected by a specialist who has experience working with steel. He’ll have at his disposal several methods and tools designed specifically for straightening blades. Among them are “straightening sticks,” or implements that will help him remedy bends as well as twists.

Although these tools and methods are best left to the experts, there are more conventional ones that can aid you should you need to tweak your sword yourself.

Before you begin, some words of caution are in order: A bent sword cuts flesh as easily as a straight sword. Furthermore, it has a curious appetite for its owner’s flesh. Prior to beginning any work, put on safety goggles and Kevlar gloves.

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Step one: Inspect the blade for damage other than the bend or twist. If the edge has a chip, it must be polished out before you attempt to straighten the blade. If the edge has a crack or the blade is fractured at any point, don’t attempt to straighten it or use it for cutting. A bent blade will tend to bend again at the same point. The steel in the affected area can wrinkle during the bending and straightening process. If improper technique is used, it might eventually break at the same point.

Step two: Prepare the blade for straightening. Determine where the bend or twist begins and ends and place a piece of masking tape across the convex, or outwardly bowed, section. Use a pencil to mark the tape at the center of the bend. Then mark where the bend starts and stops.

Masayuki ShimabukuroMasayuki Shimabukuro in action (Photo by Rick Hustead)

Step three: At the middle marking on the tape, attach a short length of half-inch dowel across the blade at a 90-degree angle. Secure it with rubber bands. Obtain two more dowels and use rubber bands to attach them on the opposite side of the blade at the beginning and end of the bend. The more acute the angle of the bend, the closer the two dowels will be to the center one.

Step four: Place the sword in a vise with the edge facing upward. The far jaw of the vise should press against the two outer dowels. If it’s not wide enough to accommodate them, you can lay a piece of angle iron over one or both jaws to effectively widen it.

Step five: Slowly tighten the vise. While doing so, be sure to support the sword by holding its handle. That will direct the pressure precisely onto the dowels while ensuring that the blade doesn’t shift. The goal is to put pressure on the shinogi (ridgeline) of the sword with little to none being applied to the edge.

Step six: Once you’ve corrected the bend, hold that position for 15 to 20 minutes. You can then loosen the vise and check the blade for straightness. If the new “set” hasn’t taken, repeat steps four and five.

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Complications: You may find that you have to bend the blade farther in the opposite direction to encourage it to take the new set; do so with extreme caution. If the blade has multiple bends or is twisted, you may have to straighten it several times with the dowels in varying positions. That could entail reversing the positions of the dowels to bend adjacent sections of the blade in different directions.

Making your life easier: A differentially heat-treated blade, or one that’s hardened only along the edge and softer at the spine, tends to be less difficult to straighten than one that’s tempered throughout its structure.

Alternative tools: To straighten a blade using clamps instead of a vice, prepare it as described above. Then place two 2-by-4 wooden blocks end to end on the edge …

How to Carve a Thanksgiving Turkey With a Samurai Sword


The subject of Japanese swordsmanship during the holidays is a delicate one. Thanksgiving Day is definitely not the time for practice. When you’re standing in front of a roasted turkey, katana drawn and relatives looking on, the last thing you want to do is rehearse your swing. It won’t impress anyone. The time to hone your technique is now. Then, when the moment of truth arrives, you’ll be able to razor off perfect slices of juicy white meat like Miyamoto Musashi. (If you tried to slice up your bird this Thanksgiving and ran into trouble, then this article is for YOU so you can bone up for next year’s Thanksgiving.)


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To do this without breaking a sweat, you’ll need to develop the “inner principles” of movement:

Breathing

The primary element of action is breathing. The flow of air into and out of your body is directly connected to how smoothly you flow from one slice to the next and how cool you look. Caution: Inhaling the aroma of your Thanksgiving meal can stimulate your salivary glands, causing uncontrolled drooling. If that happens while your mouth is positioned over your blade, you’ll need to wipe the droplets from the metal and immediately apply vegetable oil to prevent corrosion.

Make your inhalations and exhalations calm, smooth and full. It’s essential to observe the transition between moving air in and moving air out. When standing in front of a golden-brown bird and being watched by family members who may not understand the intricacies of swordsmanship, nerves can cause you to gulp in air. Proper training beforehand, perhaps using a cheaper form of fowl, can prevent that.

Footwork

Don’t stand flat-footed with your feet relaxed. The bones of your feet can move a considerable distance within the skin that encases them. Their musculature must exert firmness to take up that slack. No matter how hungry you are, take time to use your muscles to anchor yourself to the floor. Go barefoot if it won’t offend your guests; then you can actually “grip” the floor with your toes.


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Even though you’re facing a foe that not only has been slaughtered but also has spent the past three hours at 450 degrees Fahrenheit, you should imagine that it’s a wild animal, coiled and ready to strike. Hear its breath flowing in and out. Envision its muscles ready to drive its beak into your neck and tear out your windpipe. Calm yourself by breathing properly while glancing down at the 3-foot-long piece of hardened steel that separates you and the beast. Release all the tension in your body but remember it.

Posture

Your posture should provide balance during your action. Give it too much angle, and you’ll lose your balance. Give it too little, and you’ll fatigue your muscles more quickly. The result: slices of turkey breast that are anything but parallel. Even worse: an errant cut that severs the wishbone and injects fragments into the meat.

Don’t let your contracting muscles shrink you. Strive for height in your posture. Use the length of your arms and legs to enhance your stature. Tower over that fowl. Your hips and core are the connection and energy-transfer point for generating power and moving it through your swing. Firmness should be the norm in the pelvic region, back and tailbone area — yours, not the turkey’s! With practice, you’ll be able to create energy and hold it in place before spreading it throughout your body and into your blade.


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Swing

Strive to ground your structure from the waist down and elongate it from your torso to the base of your skull. This may sound contradictory, but the balance of power and unified articulation of these areas depend on inner awareness. That connection and the energy of your grounded body are transferred to your shoulders during the swing. Your shoulders and the rest of your being must cut down into the target.

But don’t cut down too much. Remember that there’s a platter underneath, and damaging it may not be viewed kindly by your spouse. That’s why our warrior ancestors — in both the sword arts and the empty-hand arts — emphasized control. Paramount in their practice was the ability to perform a precision technique and stop the motion a half inch …

Samurai Training: Toshishiro Obata and the Five Rings of Shinkendo Japanese Swordsmanship

Samurai Training: Toshishiro Obata and the Five Rings of Shinkendo Japanese SwordsmanshipIf you want to be a swordsman, you have your work cut out for you. For true samurai education, you must learn how to properly handle and maintain a real blade. You must master the basic body-sword mechanics and train safely and effectively in two-person and solo forms. You must study combat strategy, etiquette and the philosophy of the warrior — all elements of the samurai code of bushido. It’s a tall order, to be sure.

For guidance in this quest for samurai education, which is one of the most popular in the martial arts, Black Belt turned to Toshishiro Obata, a renowned master in samurai training who now heads the International Shinkendo Federation in Los Angeles. Before delving into the essence of samurai education and samurai training according to Toshishiro Obata, some background information will help put things in perspective.


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The Beginning of Toshishiro Obata’s Samurai Education

In 1966 Toshishiro Obata left a small town in Gunma prefecture, Japan, and headed for Tokyo to begin a career in the martial arts. He found himself at Yoshinkan Honbu Dojo, the birthplace of aikido, where he became an uchi-deshi, or live-in student, under headmaster Gozo Shioda. Toshishiro Obata stayed there for seven years as a student and instructor, eventually teaching the Tokyo Metropolitan Riot Police course. During that time, his samurai education in Japanese swordsmanship began — specifically, when he observed several demonstrations by Taizaburo Nakamura, headmaster of nakamura-ryu.

Toshishiro Obata left the Yoshinkan in 1973 to pursue swordsmanship full time. He studied and achieved high rank in many other renowned Japanese schools, including ioriken battojutsu, toyama-ryu, yagyu shinkage-ryu, kashima shin-ryu and Ryukyu kobudo. He also joined the Tokyo Wakakoma, Japan’s elite group of stuntmen and fight choreographers, and was responsible for the introduction and increasing popularity of aikido on Japanese television and in movies. During this time, he also won seven consecutive All-Japan Target-Cutting Championships.

A Samurai Education System of His Own

Throughout his studies, it became clear to Toshishiro Obata that although each sword school had its own strengths, none of them taught a complete, comprehensive system. In Japan, traditional schools aren’t permitted to change or even expand on their original curriculum. Each art is considered a living, breathing historical treasure that must be preserved as faithfully and precisely as possible.

The inheritor of a traditional school is therefore duty-bound to teach techniques, training methods and ideals exactly as he learned them. To change anything would be seen as disrespectful to the art’s founder. It was for this reason that Toshishiro Obata, having mastered many of the old schools, came to America in 1980 to start a comprehensive samurai education system known as shinkendo Japanese swordsmanship.

For this samurai education system, Toshishiro Obata chose the name “shinkendo” for a variety of reasons. The word can be translated in several ways, but perhaps the most important one is “way of the real sword.” That doesn’t just refer to practicing with a real sword; it also means studying real, complete swordsmanship — a vital element in one’s overall samurai training.

In shinkendo, the major aspects of swordsmanship are broken down into five areas of study: suburi, goho battoho, tanren kata, tachiuchi and tameshigiri. These separate fields of samurai training are like five interlocking rings, each one relating to and providing context for the components of a student’s samurai education. This provides a comprehensive foundation and allows students to view all the techniques from a bigger perspective.

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Samurai Training Methods: The First Ring of Shinkendo

Suburi, the first ring of study in this samurai education system, teaches basic sword and body exercises. These include proper posture, effective movement and balance, and basic sword swinging. These essential elements are the foundation on which the other rings of samurai training are based.

Without an effective stance, you can’t generate power and you’re easily knocked off-balance. Without knowing the essentials of gripping and swinging the sword, all movements become as meaningless as dance steps.

Suburi drills include assuming basic kamae (ready stances), making simple cuts and practicing hard stops, follow-through swings and transitions from one cut to another.


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Advanced Samurai Swordsmanship

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Samurai Swordsmanship: The Batto, Kenjutsu and Tameshigiri of Eishin-Ryu


Samurai Training Methods: The Second Ring of Shinkendo

Goho battoho, the next ring of study in Toshishiro Obata’s system of samurai education, is based on the five methods of combative drawing and cutting. Here, you learn how to handle the sword and wear it properly. You also learn how to swiftly draw it from its scabbard and cut down an …

“Mack” on Movements, Weapons and Targets in Combat

Richard "Mack" Machowicz on weapons, movements and targets for Black Belt magazine.Richard “Mack” Machowicz, an ex-Navy SEAL and former host of the cable-TV series Future Weapons, as well as a student of taekwondo, muay Thai, kali, boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Paul Vunak’s jeet kune do, discusses the three dynamic elements of combat (movements, weapons and targets) in this exclusive footage shot on location by Black Belt magazine.

“Rarely if ever will you experience combat,” Richard “Mack” Machowicz says, “and most likely you will never see combat in a literal sense, but the principles that make for effectiveness in battle are relevant to the daily challenges you face.”

It’s his way of telling people that the benefits of what he’s about to explain extend far beyond fighting. After interrogating Richard “Mack” Machowicz for 10 minutes, however, I learn that it would be a huge mistake to dismiss him as a guy who uses self-defense to preach self-help. It would be just as erroneous to brush him off as just another retired military man who doesn’t know that the skills civilians need are radically different from the skills soldiers need.

Twenty minutes into our interview, it’s clear that Mack is a martial artist who can throw down and a guy who sees the big picture with respect to violence. Which is probably why he’s so successful at what he does.


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After he’d become a hand-to-hand-combat instructor for his SEAL Team and studied muay Thai, kali, boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Paul Vunak’s take on jeet kune do, Mack found himself in an interesting quandary. “There were so many ideas I wanted to convey that [I had to convert them] into simple principles,” he says. “Why? Because people tend to get stuck on technique. They don’t understand that techniques apply to specific situations at specific times in specific ways. That means techniques are limited. Principles are more universal. The basic principle of ‘target dictates weapon and weapons dictate movement’ can apply to everything in life because everything is a target, a weapon or a movement.”

Mack explains that fighting is composed of three dynamic elements, then forces me to exercise my brain a bit to see the light: “From nukes to hand-to-hand combat, everything in life is a movement, a weapon or a target.”

During the photo shoot to accompany the interview, he put the theory into practice with our creative director, as shown in this video:

RICHARD “MACK” MACHOWICZ VIDEO
Ex-Navy SEAL on Movements, Weapons and Targets in Combat


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