by Jack Billington

In our weekend and four day self-defense programs a typical class sometimes may include three or four school owners, about an equal number of black belts and perhaps some police officers. But, there will also be a number of people there with no previous training at all. Hence, we see people with various levels of skill in many different martial arts systems and styles.

In one class, just before the training started in our Weapons Defense Course a student said to me “I feel pretty confident against the knife”. Well, certainly personal confidence in one’s ability is of almost paramount importance to success in any activity. But even so, to me this man’s words simply did not represent a rational statement. Equally importantly, they did not reflect the correct survival attitude and necessary combat mindset at all.

As a self-defense instructor my objective is to increase the survival potential of every student in my class as much as is possible in the rather short time frame of our classes. This attendants statement that he ‘felt pretty confident against the knife’ told me at once that he simply could not have any realistic idea of how knives were used by the criminal element in the real world. If I was to increase his odds of surviving a knife attack then I knew that I would first have to show him something about how a real world knife attack might occur. Virtually nobody seeks a solution to any problem with any serious attention until they first see that they truly have a problem that needs solving.

Please keep in mind that I knew that this man’s style strongly concentrated on the knife and knife defenses. Beyond that, earlier I had seen him “playing about” before class with the best self-defense knives * and I recognized that he’d developed a certain amount of speed and fluidity in slapping the knife hand aside and “passing the blade” (as it is often called in his art). But I strongly suspected that this individual had simply become a “master of drills” and despite his skill he was really not prepared for an actual knife defense very at all.

But as an instructor I had to show him this without damaging his self-esteem or alienating myself to him as an instructor. We cannot ignore these factors when we are trying to effectively achieve the changes in motors skills or behavior in our students.

Therefore, I first made the attacks on him with the rubber knife in the same fashion that he was familiar with in his styles drills. I then increased the speed and even the deception with which I made the attacks. This was designed to give him a chance to demonstrate to me his skill and what he had accomplished through his years of training.

I then slipped the knife in my back pocket and began to talk to him calmly about his speed and especially his fluidity and anticipation of the angle of attack. But while doing so I suddenly grabbed his shirt and yanked him into to me as I stepped into him and then pulling the rubber knife from my back pocket I stuck him with it repeatedly in the abdomen like some human sewing machine. He was unable to even touch my knife hand much less “pass the blade” as he had done before.

I “made light” of all this to try to keep his mind “open and interested” rather than at all “confrontational” and I said to him “Do you see that recognizing when a person has hostile intentions and where his hands are and how close you have allowed him to get to you are as at least as important to your survival as the skills you have already so well developed?” Since I had just “stuck him” repeatedly, in essence he had to acknowledge my point.

We then began to work on awareness and perception of distance and the immediate perception of when an enemy’s hand was no longer visible. Thus we had moved past the “set up” of the drill, which he had already mastered. Later in the class he saw how a good verbal “woof” and the dynamic body shifting of the armored “bulletman” attacker further complicated the use of the “passing the blade” skill that he had studied for so long. Yet, I do think that his previous training did help him to adapt to these new, more realistic and dynamic knife attack scenarios much more quickly than otherwise might have been possible. By the last day of the class I even saw him apparently apply his slipping the blade drill successfully on a surprise, rush attack.

Yet, I am also rather sure that if his training had been limited only to the drills in his style and he had actually been attacked at that point in his training, then he would likely have been seriously cut or killed.

By the way, if you expect to defend yourself against a knife in the hands of someone prepared to use it to lethal effect on you then you had better expect to be cut. More importantly, you better not allow haven been cut to slow you down either mentally or physically at all. Against the blade, if you ‘choke’, you die, it’s just that simple.

For training our students for self-defense objectives we must train them to be more than the “masters of drills” of our style or system.

Stay alert my friends,
Jack Billington

Jack has an interesting safety and security blog at: