Monday, November 22, 2010

The difficulties of a knife program

Let's face it martial artists, fighting is really hard. Our art essentially is a series of games with rules to let us work on the principles we see as valuable in conflict. But when it comes down to it, I do not go to the dojo to fight. I go to the dojo, in case I ever find myself in a bad situation I will have some tools to protect self and others. All martial arts run under a system of rules and assumptions. Because as Tomiki Sensei once wrote, "martial arts without rules is just violence."

As some of my readers, teachers and students might know I am currently engaged in training around the concept of finding aiki in tanto jujutsu. It is a shift in thinking from the typical aikido and judo throw-is-goal mentality. I have watched the array of art forms practice with knives. There is some great stuff out there, and predictably there is a lot of work that is incomplete.

I would like to start looking at the problems surrounding knife work. The first problem is that knife fighting is difficult.

I would like to take a look at two art forms today.

The first is a Russian group calling themselves tanto jutsu. They look karate based, or at least atemi based system of fighting. They have knife competitions to add to their striking. It looks to be a dizzying brutal affair. These guys don't mess about. The initial engagement looks like power cuts from a fencing style model. There is some interception with strikes and some grappling.

After watching this, we see how unclean the lines are in engagements. Things get pretty wild real fast. The one thing about this video to consider is that they are all matched opponents for a contest. They know the rules and have certain expectations from their opponents abilities. Also, while I am sure they are not looking forward to getting hit, there likely is not the fear associated with real blades. An interesting case study anyhow.

The second clip illustrating the difficulty of knife work comes from my own beloved art of Tomiki Aikido. Some branches of Tomiki Aikido are known for having a sporting competition as part of their training. It typically looks like a man getting battered by another man holding a pickle. The assault continues for 3-5 minutes with the knifeless man getting cut 100 or so times. However there are very specific rules about how the knife attacker can score points, so most of these cuts are ignored. After getting murderd for a while, the man getting stabbed might get a riough and tumble variation on a judo throw, and everyone tumbles to the floor.

I am not a big fan of this kind of training, but by no means does it look easy. Again we have two trained competitors squaring off, knowing the specific rules and capabilities of the other person.

Needless to say, developing the training and skills to successfully deal with such a difficult situation will be a challenge. The moral of the story, knife fighting looks hard, never get into one. It looks like a a good training challenge though.


  1. That's a good study to make. It leads to your asking yourself critical questions about your practice. You might fuss something interesting (or at least amusing) from last time we ran thru that line of questioning...

  2. Your earlier post made me think about the knife work we did in YMAA Chin Na. One of your videos showed a lot of flowing, sticking, and re-direction. In Chin Na we did flowing, sticking, and snapping (the appendage).

    Flowing into a deflection/stick is darn hard and a great dexterity challenge. That's the part I loved. However, the downside is that I suspect were it the real deal that flow/deflect/stick move would result in me losing lots blood.

    All of the martial arts I've dabble in have addressed the knife to a lesser degree. All of them have lacked IMO. Even the DOC PPCT curriculum lacked. It did teach safer blocks and using objects from your environment as shields. Past that it sucked for stripping/disarming. It relied on the notion that you could stave off an inmate attack until help arrived.

    I know there are great knife defense programs out there and maybe some day I'll get regular exposure to one.

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  4. Hi Eric: Some nice posts here (also liked your tamishigiri post - I liked the background music).

    Quick comment on the tanto topic. My understanding is that the tanto work we see in Kodokan Judo and Tomiki Aikido kata has it's origins in using a tanto against armor as the samurai did which is why so much of it has an exaggerated extension in the "punch" of the attack by uke. So while I think that it is a valuable study of koryu ideas and Aikido principle it does lack a certain "utility" if wishing to study a more "modern & realistic" tanto system in which uke snaps the tanto back and doesn't leave it hanging out there.

    The tanto shiai, while a nice tournament idea, lacks any utility in real life as training tori to jump onto the tanto will, as you commented, get you cut about 1,000 times. This is why my old Sensei abandoned the shiai idea decades ago in favor of a more principled approach to standing against a tanto that was centered around re-directing the tanto while using separation and control of sen and ma-ai. In this fashion tori derived maximum utility while not de-programming proper intuitive reflexes and uke's attack was as realistic as possible (while not de-programming uke).

    In the past at my dojo we have explored some of these ideas you are now looking at and now teach an Aikido-based form of tanto vs. tanto at far and mid-range distances and for close in work do the same ideas as Echanis taught the Rangers back in the 70's.

    Learning to correctly use the tanto assists in understanding what is and what is not possible when defending against it.