Monday, August 17, 2009

Sharp Wits Cut Deeply

Over at Wim Demeere's Blog he and Chris from Martial Development have been sparring over the perenial "Expect-to-get-cut" knife questions.
You can read the details and comments at Wim's Blog linked above, but it brought up an old thought from my past:
I had an occasional training partner that was an incredible athelete. He would run from Portland to Mount Hood in bare feet wearing nothing but running shorts. The guy was unbelieveably strong as well as double-jointed, so you could not apply locks on him. Anyway, he was a student at Fred King's Kung Fu School while I was in the rather mundane Tae Kwon Do by comparison. At his school, knife training started with wide, dull butter knives that were initially wrapped with cloth and tape. Then the tape came off, and finally you worked up to sparring with live blades. It seemed a little extreme to me at the time.
Well, one day two guys were sparring with live blades. One guy had a big knife and the other had a pair of short push-daggers. The guy with the knife tried to parry a thrust by the other guy and got a push-dagger right through the palm of his hand.
Another time, I was screwing around with a rubber training knife in a class I was teaching. I got behind the student I was working with and symbolicly drew the rubber knife across the side of his neck, as in a military sentry elimination. Rubber or not, the poor guy actually thought his throat had been cut, and it almost was. There was a deep red welt across his juggler vein and I realized I could have nearly killed a student with a damned rubber knife.
A few years ago, one of my particulearly aggressive training partners held me from behind with a wooden Tanto pressed into my belly, hostage-style. Truthfully, he was pressing hard enough that if it was a real blade it would already have been in me. As I worked for an escape solution, he pushed harder and before I could collapse his grip and get away, he had managed to stab me with the dull point of the wooden Tanto.
All these things remind me how easy it is to get seriously f**ked up with a real blade, and we shouldn't kid ourselves about faulty training, over-enthusiasm, or our own limitations when actually facing a live blade.
Here's a little "Three Stooges" video we filmed while finishing off a keg of beer a few years ago:


Steve Perry said...

I heard that.

I'm always amazed at the folks who think they are made of Kevlar; that they can dance in and slap a knife out of somebody's hand, pass the blade back and forth twelve times and never get a nick.

Even if you have a knife of your own and know how to use it, you are apt to get stuck or sliced when the blades flash because steel beats flesh.

Unless a guy stabs once and leaves his arm out there, most of the intricate knife defenses I have seen people demonstrate simply aren't going to work; at the very least, you'll get sliced on the retraction, which is automatic in some schools.

You might get lucky, but chances are really good that the ER is in your future if the guy on the other end of the knife knows which end to hang onto.

We did a seminar once using training blades marked with camo paint or lipstick. Everybody came away marked. Everybody.

Hand a student a marks-a-lot pen and tell him you'll give him a hundred bucks for every dot or line he can put on you in ten seconds.

Then unlimber your wallet. You might win, but you will get tagged. The questions are where, and how many times.

Charles James said...

Hi, DR and Friends

Let me say that tho your intent in this demonstration is to assist in handling the scenario it is not really realistic. What I mean is that both of your Uke are already set to have you attack to it is NOT a surprise.

In reality the first guy will and would have gotten stabbed BUT the second bouncer, if really alert tho distracted a bit per your description, could conceivably take control and only get cut while taking the knife wielder down.

Just my observation of the tape, etc. and with the caveat that we all can hypothesize yet unless we actually experienced the real thing we would never really really know.

Dojo Rat said...

You are correct. In the actual attack outside the German nightclub, the Bouncers had no idea that the guy was about to stab them.
But, even though we all knew that the knife was coming, everybody still got cut somewhat.
Now, we could have been sneakier and done more wild slashing but we were basicly trying to replicate the attack we had seen on a YouTube video from a surveillance camera outside the nightclub.

Sensei Strange said...

Do a you tube search for the competitive tomiki randori. They are typically films of a guy getting stabbed for 4 minutes until a half ass technique is finally thrown.

But you see in sport aikido a stab only counts if the attacker stabs and retracts all the way before any counter is made. The 400 other wounds don't count because you the defending player tried to do something unsuccessfully. It is a poor ugly sport, but there are many lesson to be learned from watching it.

Knives are flipping scary. Just watch that cold steel demo if you forget what a blade does to meat. Damn, I am made of meat.

Walk In Peace

Dojo Rat said...

I want that Cold Steel Tanto, 12-inch, that I saw on your video.
--I think it's $149

Dan Prager said...

Perhaps you could train the dog to attack anyone who pulls a knife? ;-)

This is probably a standard illustrative drill: We used to do a class where everyone was told to bring an old white t-shirt. People were paired up, one with a permanent marker to represent the knife, the other unarmed and instructed to try to disarm the attacker. After 30 seconds "stop" was called and we inspected the marks on the t-shirt, and arms, and -- sometimes -- head. There were invariably lots of marks.

That said, I have practiced with some very skilled people who I would struggle to cut with a knife.

Wim Demeere said...

Hey John,

The whole "expect to get cut" thing is too often used to stop students from asking questions and it kind of misses the point IMO: go to a boxing gym and see if anybody makes a big deal of getting punched in the face. :-) You know it's gonna happen but you do your best to avoid it and keep going when it does. (Just like you showed in your clip.)
I see no need for a difference in mindset when it's knives instead of fists. Other than the stakes going up way high, it's a similar situation.
Another thing I really don't like about it is the defeatist mindset it often instills in students if the teacher doesn't give the full picture. He says you will get cut so they assume it's normal and OK. Give it some time and they think taking a cut is acceptable if it allows them to do their technique. And it devolves even further from there. That's something I can't really get behind.

And it's also simply not The Truth (TM). Like I posted, I know many people who came away without a scratch against knife attacks. And that includes ambushes from behind.
Please note I'm not saying "you won't get cut". I'm saying "you'll always get cut" isn't true either.

Just my 2 cents,


Sean C. Ledig said...

Anthony Chan, my instructor in Jeet Kune Do and Filipino Tribal Arts (and knife-fighting fanatic) used to like to tell this joke.

Q: What do you call a knife fighter who spent two weeks in intensive care?

A: The winner.

Sean C. Ledig said...


I like the first graph to your last post. Anytime you get into a fight, you should expect to get hit, whether it is with a fist, a foot or a knife.

I remember reading an interview with Ed Parker talking about the need to expect to take a few hits. He told about a street fighter he saw who still pummeled his opponent even though his opponent bit his nose cleanly off his face.

Dojo Rat said...

Of course, I was not being critical of your discussion points, I was merely using your discussion to generate ideas related to my past experiance.
Thanks for checking in and clarifying your points for those who haven't read your post yet!

Steve Perry said...

I think the notion that you can skate in a knife attack is way more dangerous than the one that says you'll get cut.

Sure, people have walked away from an incoming blade without a scratch. Hell, I have done so; I 'm one for one. But it was a freak incident, my attacker was probably stoned to the gills, and I was lucky.

But if you understand that you might and probably will take a slice, but that you must keep going, is not defeatist, it is teaching you a survival characteristic.

Martial arts aren't some kind of magical amulet that wards off everything incoming. You need to know how to keep going if you catch a hard punch. You aren't bulletproof.

If you accept that you will be tagged by a blade and can live with the cold burn and the sudden blood flow from a gaping wound as opposed to being killed, you are worlds better off than if you think you are some action movie hero who can do a clean disarm -- and then suddenly discover you are wrong.

We don't think it is wise to train for best-case scenario.

Yeah, you might get a stoner who knows nothing about blades and gives you a freebie. And you might get the International Kali, Silat, & Arnis Champion who can fillet like the catfish chef at Ralph and Kakoo's. You won't know which it is until you get there. Better you are prepared for the latter than the former. Well, at least as much as you can be prepared for such a thing.

You have to assume the guy knows how to use his weapon. And if he does, and if you are bare, you might win, but consider this: If the guy facing you is as good as you are unarmed, if he has that level of skill, and you put a knife in his hand? How well do you like your chances?

Rick said...

The picture you posted to accompany the article, shows two men duelling in one of the fencing fraternities that still exist in Germany. The way these ritual duels work, is that each fencer stands on a line which he's not allowed to step off of. You object is to leave cuts on your opponent's face, which is the only part of his anatomy which is exposed.

Chris Armberger, the author of A Secret History of the Sword, is a member of such a fraternity and has described the experience. In fact, one of the things I liked about his book is that it contains several accounts of Europeans who have fought and lived through duels, which is closer to what I can relate to than Asians who lived 500 years ago.

Take a look at the book. It's fascinating reading.

Dojo Rat said...

Very cool Rick;
Thanks man!

Wim Demeere said...

Of course, I was not being critical of your discussion points, I was merely using your discussion to generate ideas related to my past experiance.

I know, no worries. I just wanted to expand a bit on what I wrote there. Blogger-reflex I guess. :-)

Wim Demeere said...

I think the notion that you can skate in a knife attack is way more dangerous than the one that says you'll get cut.

Agreed. But I never claimed the former. Quite on the contrary.

But if you understand that you might and probably will take a slice, but that you must keep going, is not defeatist, it is teaching you a survival characteristic.

I believe nuanced debate is the most useful but when it comes down to the "you'll get cut" cliché, there usually isn't any. That was my whole point. *You* know what you mean when you say it: you include "but that you must keep going" along with it. That's the key IMO. I have no doubt your teacher drills this in his classes, he knows his shit (to put it mildly) but I've seen too many schools where they were living in fantasy land to believe your teacher is the average. I'd say he's a wee bit better than average. (Understatement of the century)

As I posted on my blog, that second part is what I've seen left out too many times. Omitting it can lead students down the wrong path. And that's why I also include the examples of people coming away in one piece against the knife. Not because it's the standard result students should expect but because they're just as real as all the other cases where people got cut.

It's along the same lines as "high kicks don't work in the street". Utter bullshit; I've used them successfully and so have many, many others. But without nuanced debate, you might think that I said "high kicks are great for the street" which is *not* what I wrote or meant.

Violence is not black and white. It's those nuances that can make the biggest difference IMO and IME.

YYMV of course, no prob.