2025. Help me celebrate my 50th Anniversary year in the Pekiti-Tirsia system.


I started training in the Pekiti-Tirsia system in February of 1975 and therefore, February of 2025 begins my 50th year in the system. In addition, I started PTI in July of 1995, so next July will be my 30th anniversary as President of PTI.

Here are some ideas I have to celebrate these events.

 1. WINTER INSTRUCTOR’S CAMP: I would like to start things off with a Winter camp for PTI Guros and Certified Trainers in Florida in February. The Orlando area makes sense, as most airlines have direct flights there from their major hub airports, hotels are plentiful and it’s much nicer there in February than where I live in New York :-). Of course a big bonus is that you can bring your family and enjoy the parks when not at PTI camp. If anyone has contacts there who can point me towards an affordable venue to hold the seminar, please let me know. Since this will be an instructor’s camp, I would like to keep the cost as low as possible, to allow as many PTI instructors and CTs as possible to attend. This will be my Thank You for all your efforts in making PTI such a great success in its training of quality instructors.

Note: My planed curriculum for this camp is to show my current teaching format for Empty Hand vs Knife, which integrates levels 1 & 2 into one teachable unit. (See the last section of this essay for more on this).

2. EURO CAMP: I have already made plans with the PTI Director for Italy, Andrea Citarelli, to start my European seminar tour with the first two weeks of May in Italy. The first weekend will be exclusively for PTI members and the following weekend will be an open seminar. I would like to visit each country that I have ever held seminars in Europe during this tour and have days set aside just for testing of PTI members and then an open seminar.

3. SUMMER CAMP: I’ve already spoken with Tuhon Jack and the other PTI senior instructors and we would like to hold the 2025 summer camp for 4 days in early August. The general format will be a comparison between how I was originally taught the system and any newer teaching methods that I or the other PTI instructors have developed over the years.

Here are some preliminary ideas, but I would really like to hear from PTI members on specifics of what you would like to see at this camp:

DAY 1 Solo Baston/Sword/Spear.

The first techniques I learned were the Multiple Attacks and the first set of the Solo Abacedario. We will show samples of all associated drills with the Abcedario as well as the sword variations.

In the 1980s it was very common for me to be sent by Tuhon Gaje to teach follow up seminars for him. These were at schools who wanted a second seminar with Tuhon Gaje soon after his first one there, but that date with him was already taken. When I went to these seminars, I would always ask him “What should I teach?” And he would always reply “Teach them 5 Attacks.” Well, if you have studied the basic 5 Attacks you see in the 64 Attacks or Doce’ Methdos sets, then you know that it’s not easy to have modern students at a weekend seminar practice just that basic material for the whole weekend. Therefore, when I started teaching on my own in the 1990s, I began to incorporate elements of advanced principles from Seguidas, Contradas and Recontras onto the template of the basic 5 Attacks and thus, the 5 Attacks Subsystem was born. It will be useful to practice the forward and reverse cuts as a warm up, to make it easier to grasp the rest of the day’s material.

Once this section is shown at the 2025 summer camp, I would like to teach the first technique from each solo bastion set in the system and show the sword application of the same material.
For spear, we can show the Seguidas root of the first technique from each set, and then the same technique with the spear.

DAY 2: Doble’ and Empty Hand.

AM SESSION: The basic Doble’ 12 Attacks I learned was intended to teach gross motor skills to the upper body. It was not until we were taught the Contradas and Recontras that usable combat footwork was taught.
Over the last ten years I have tried to incorporate this footwork from the beginning of basic 12 Attacks. Therefore, we will begin this session with a review of Upper 8 with variations of more advanced footwork. The rest of the morning session will be spent on Doble’ Contras and Recontras.

KICKBOXING: the new material is just what was changed after the blood born pathogens hit the scene in the 1980s. Most of this session will be spent on the Abcedario de Mano and the Pekiti de Mano. We will use these two sets to work the 3 person team “decision tree” drills.
Since we have so many instructors who also train in kickboxing specific arts, such as Thai boxing, I would like to see what drills they will show to improve PTI kickboxing.

DAY 3: Espada y Daga.

Measuring the sword and knives for sets 1, 2 & 3 of Pekiti-Tirsia Espada y Daga.

I have some new warm up drills that I will teach at the camp will should help introduce students to the concepts of Espada y Daga. Samples from all three sets will be taught.



DAY 4: Solo & Doble’ Daga.

AM SESSION: Hand vs Knife and Solo Daga.

PM SESSION: Doble’ Daga. The first half class will take what was taught in the AM session and apply it to Doble Daga to reinforce both the general principles as well as the gross and fine motor skills of the techniques. The second half will give a sampling of the full Doble’ Daga material.


For the last few years, I have been bringing elements from advanced hand vs knife into basic hand vs knife training. This started in my law enforcement officer (LEO) classes for these reasons:  

1.  We were never given the same amount of time to practice the material as you would have in a traditional martial arts class or seminar.

2. There was a possibility that some of the LEOs present would need to use what was taught them in the near future.

Since I barely had enough time to teach a few principles and little time to teach many actual techniques, I grouped the few techniques I did teach onto a framework of core principles.
It made for faster learning and the LEOs did seem to have good retention of the material whenever I saw them again.


When Grandmaster Leo Gaje began training us in Pekiti-Tirsia hand vs knife technique, he followed a very specific structure that I often liken to the manufacturing of a modern automobile; as in several sub-assemblies are built and tested before these sub-assemblies are brought together to form a complete whole.

 Each level of empty hand vs knife was divided into three sections: each taught, practiced and tested before assembly into a whole unit.
These three sections are:

1. Parrying skills: This is the classic “knife tapping” drill of primary, secondary and tertiary parries. The purpose of this drill is twofold:

A: To learn to deflect the force of a knife attack instead of trying to stop it with a block: since blocking is a difficult thing to do against something as fast and as maneuverable as a knife attack.

B: As an exercise specifically designed to improve your hand-eye coordination, speed and reaction time.

2. Striking skills: These are the “Third Hand” strikes of Pekiti-Tirsia. These are comprised of slaps, eye jabs and gouges, forearm hacks, hammer fists, elbow strikes and low kicks.

Both you and your opponent can strike each other in the middle of a knife fight. While you have to fit these into a countermove for each knife attack angle, so you don’t get cut or stabbed, the guy with the knife does not have to worry about this and so can strike at any time.

3. Grappling skills: Blade reversals, joint breaks & takedowns.

History of how I learned Hand vs Knife 1 and Hand vs Knife 2.

Hand vs Knife Level 1 trained these three subjects (parries, strikes & grappling) against an attacker using just 3 specific hammer grip thrusts; the 5 uppercut, the 8 backhand and the 9 wide hook (numbers taken from the basic Abcedario).

Hand vs Knife Level 2 focused its training on 4 icepick grip thrusts (Diagonal 1 & 2, a vertical and a jab)  and hammer grip diagonal slashes (as the later shares the same gross motions as the first two thrusts of ice pick grip), plus a high, straight thrust that looked like a boxer’s cross and which Leo called the “in between” thrust, since it was in between the 5, 8 and 9.

(NOTE: the “Knife Abcedarios” for Sak-Sak and Pakal were just my cherry picking bits and pieces of the advanced material and putting these into a familiar form of a 12 count Abcedario. When we first did hand vs knife material Leo stuck to 3 or 4 attacks per grip.)

There was a few years separation between our learning hand vs knife levels 1 and 2 however, as we learned Solo Knife levels 1 and 2 and did a good amount of full contact, armored knife sparring (with wooden knife trainers), before moving on to hand vs knife 2 and solo knife level 3. If I remember correctly, advanced hand vs knife and solo knife 3 were taught either together or very close in time, as the gross motions are very similar.


I should start by saying that I still teach all the material I learned from Tuhon Gaje, I simply teach it in a different order, which I feel serves the needs of the adult students I train today better than the needs I had as a teenager in the 1970s.

When Tuhon Gaje began training us in Pekiti-Tirsia hand vs knife technique, he followed a very specific structure that I often compare to the manufacturing of a modern automobile; as in several sub-assemblies are built and tested before these sub-assemblies are brought together to form a complete whole. Problems occur though, when people spend too much time in the room used to build the car’s frame or transmission and never get to drive the finished product.

Remember the story of Pavlov’s dogs? Ivan Pavlov was a Russian neurologist and physiologist who was doing experiments on the digestive systems of dogs.  When he saw that the dogs began to salivate when his lab assistant went into the dog’s area with food, he realized that the dogs had begun to associate the assistant’s white lab coat with their feeding time. And thus Pavlov discovered Classical Conditioning; {a behavioral procedure in which a biologically potent stimulus (e.g. food,, a potential rival) is paired with a neutral stimulus (e.g. the sound of a bell ringing). The term classical conditioning refers to the process of an automatic, conditioned response that is paired with a specific stimulus.}

There was a later story of Pavlov’s dogs losing their conditioning. The story was that a fire occurred in his laboratory which kills some of the dogs and the surviving dogs lost all their conditioning and had to be retrained.

PTK Knife Conditioning: The classic way to teach PTK hand vs knife was to start with Corto range and work outward. This began with knife tapping and Leo’s first attack was usually a 5 thrust to the lower abdominal area to begin this drill. I believe this was because the low line thrust was the most common first knife attack in the Philippines, so it was wise to learn to defend against this first.

There were pros and cons to this approach though. On the pro side it helped develop quick reaction time if you were surprised by a sudden attack. On the con side, it trained you to wait until the attacker got within stabbing range before you began your defense.

I use these two examples (Pavlov and early PTK training)  because I often see some PT students staying in the “Training Wheels” phase of the knife tapping drill for too long. Why don’t the “Old School” Pekiti guys have this problem? Two things. One reason was we did not stay in the basic knife tapping format for very long and the second reason was sparring.

Full contact sparring was our “Pavlov’s Lab Fire” which made us switch on the adrenaline and put us in condition red as soon as we put on our armor. This moved the distance outward at which we would be on alert in daily life as well, as you knew when an individual entered the zone where they could hit or cut you.

However, there are two problems I see with sparring that many people have today. On one extreme is that some people get into sparring too early, before they have the skill-set needed to enter quickly from a distance and transition from Largo to Medio and Corto ranges without taking what would be fatal injuries in a real fight with edged weapons.

On the other extreme are those who never spar full contact at all. There are understandable reasons for this, mostly due to the differences between learning Pekiti in the early days, (young, single guys with no responsibilities, verses adults having to go to work to support a family).

Today’s litigious society also puts a damper on your risk taking activities as a martial arts instructor. I haven’t been able to find an insurance company that will cover full contact weapons sparring in New York for many years. (Sparring is still important, but most of the sparring done by PT students these days are in venues outside of New York, often outside the US and under someone else’s insurance.)

My teaching of classes for law enforcement has given me some ways to work around these issues to a certain degree. There are generally two types of law enforcement classes I have taught:
1. Academy classes with new recruits (Mostly people in their 20s).
2. “In service” classes. (These are refresher courses for experienced officers that were usually held once a year).

Since administrators take a dim view of officer training injuries that put an employee out of commission for any length of time, we had to walk a fine line between realistic training and training that allowed them to go back to work the next day. Older officers in our in-service classes were especially prone to injuries if pushed too hard in training.
Therefore, here are two principles that helped us teach these LEO classes and still get good reports from officers who had used our training.

1. I’VE BEEN DOWN THIS ROAD BEFORE: It has been shown that officers who have been in a dangerous situation even once, have a significantly better reaction time in subsequent similar situations than do officers who have never been exposed to that situation before.

2. FIRST IN-FIRST OUT: The first techniques you teach are the ones most likely to come out first when under stress. Therefore, teach the things you want them to do first, first.

Here is how I structured my LEO hand vs knife classes.
1. Begin with bag work, teaching the body mechanics of hard strikes with a variety of personal weapons. Give some principles of how to choose what works best for an individual’s body type vs the opponent’s.
2. Calibrate the time it takes them to draw each of their weapons from their duty holsters. Next see how much distance can they cover in that draw time. This will help them decide how soon to go for their firearm or other weapon/tool when under attack. If the attacker is inside their draw-time distance, then their empty hand techniques are needed to buy them time to draw effectively.
3. Teach Pekiti-Tirsia hand vs knife techniques, but string them in a chain of logically needed material, which in my classes equaled: Evade. Strike. Control. Draw. Command.

Evade. This is through footwork at range and a combination of footwork and arm blocks (AKA parries) when in contact range. Your job is to get off the X (the ambush point or the area between his arms, where he can hit you with either hand).
Strike.  You choose from your toolbox strikes that will work for you on this opponent.
Control. These techniques control either the distance between you and the opponent or his weapon arm. These can include pushes, locks, weapon reversals, disarms and takedowns.
Draw. This can include drawing your handcuffs, if a control technique is fully successful, or drawing your weapon(s), if you remain in danger from the opponent’s weapon.
Commands. Interspersed before, during and after each of these categories were loud, verbal commands, which tell the offender what you want him to do and get the attention of partners and witnesses.


The first thing I teach are common attacks based on western boxing, as it’s important that students train against realistic, common attacks.

These are shown in the two videos below:

Nomenclature for hammer grip:
1. Grab. (The grab here takes the place of the jab in boxing)
2. Cross. (A straight 9 in PT Abcedario terms)
3. Hook. (A wide 9 in PT Abcedario)
4. Uppercut or body punch. ( A 5 thrust in PT Abcedario)
5. Backfist.  (An 8 in PT Abcedario)

Nomenclature for icepick grip: (Note: in the bare knuckle Western boxing of the early 1900s, hammer fist strikes were allowed and often called the “Bolo Punch” because the gross motions resembled a man cutting with a bolo sword. This was around the time when the US took control of the Philippines from Spain after the Spanish-American War).  

1. Diagonal 1.
2. Diagonal 2.
3. Vertical.
4. Jab.

When Tuhon Gaje first introduced us to solo knife to knife material, he had us spend a lot of time, with many repetitions and variations with the jab. He had such an emphasis on this that when we began full contact sparring, I began to think of that as “the largo war of stabs and jabs.” It seemed that only after we scored with a hard stab or jab that stunned our sparring partner, could we do any of the earlier material we had learned in the Corto and Medio drills.


Here are three principles I use when teaching the full Integrated Hand vs Knife course to Pekiti-Tirsia students:

1.  Begin with Largo range and work in from there.
2.  Integrate the lessons learned from knife sparring into hand vs knife as early as possible.
3.  Have students practice in a realistic chain of events, rather than stay in the “training wheels phase” too long.

 1. Since the Grab & Stab is the most common knife attack, I begin with defenses against the first part, the grab. This starts with the attackers approach, so the defender is trained to go on alert as early as possible and look to move to positions of advantage and form a plan to counter the attack.

2. One big take away from our full contact sparring in knife to knife work was how much the principles we were taught and the skills developed there helped our empty hand vs knife work. This meant having the timing to attack the opponent’s weapon hand and thinking like a knife fighter, even when empty handed. This specifically means attacking the opponent’s weapon arm with the same gross motions as you would if you had a knife, but converted to effective empty hand strikes.

3. The goal here is to buy you time to do bigger, better strikes to take him out or take him down or create distance to draw your weapon or get to a weapon of opportunity.

The diagram below is based on Pekiti-Tirsia Ranging Footwork and lays out the footwork and sequence used against the grab of the Grab and Stab attack. This is a “Decision Tree” diagram, with the red rectangle with the circle in it representing your opponent standing in a left lead stance. The red arrow is his left arm reaching out to grab you. The items in green represent your choices of directions during the fight.

The video below shows the right side of the diagram in action, with you starting from a left lead.  

After the Grab counters are practiced from both right and left leads and both right and left escape routes (and all combinations there-of); we then go onto two step attacks, wherein the opponent attacks with a 1&2 (grab attempt and cross), then a 1&3, a 1&4, etc.

I have them practice all the classic PTK knife parries, but I start with all the primary parries in a chain combined with a strike, a distancing or grappling technique, then a draw or move to an escape route.

Once they have a sample chain to practice for all the common attacks, we can then work on classic material such as the secondary and tertiary parries and lock flow drills. I feel this puts the students on a faster path to usable skills than staying in each section of the classic drills until it is perfected, before moving on to the next drill.

My goal for the Winter Instructor’s Camp in 2025 is to polish off the rough spots in this teaching method, so we can present it to the general body of PTI members at the Summer camp that year.

Train Hard, but Train Smart,
Tuhon Bill McGrath
For info on upcoming PTI camps, seminars and classes, visit:

 A NOTE ON PTI RANKING: When Tuhon Gaje first learned the system, he was taught in the order of isolated footwork first, then all the solo stick/sword material “A through Z”, before moving on to Doble’; also training A through Z , before moving on to Espada y Daga, and then Daga, with empty hand material coming last. All this occurred over a period of 12 years (with the first three spent on isolated footwork drills. For more on this, see my post “MODERN TRAINING TIME: HOW FAST VS HOW MUCH https://pekiti.com/blogs/news/modern-training-time-how-fast-vs-how-much ).

What you see in the PTI Rank Chart is my own journey through the system and my memory of what material I had when I was promoted to each rank. The original Blue Book I made for PTI in 1995 reflected much of that order (one exception was Leo instructing me to move Pekiti Disarma from the end of Solo Stick/Sword to a spot between 64 Attacks and Seguidas, to act as a buffer between the basic and advanced material in the system. “If they can get through the Disarma, only then will they deserve Seguidas” was how he explained it to me.)

 The first Blue Book reflected when I received certain techniques and that explains why you saw anomalies such as Espada y Daga level 2 Attacks and Disarms in one rank (which was in Test Book 1) and the Contradas and Recontras in the rank above it (which was in Test Book 2).  I tried to rectify these anomalies when I made the current, combined test book, putting all of EYD 2 in one rank.

The differences between the original PTI Test Book (copyrighted in 1995) and the new version (copyrighted in 2014) may be one of the topics we can discuss at the 2025 instructor’s camp.