VIDEO: Boxing Based Warm Up for Pekiti-Tirsia Hand vs Knife.


VIDEO: The relationship between Pekiti-Tirsia Hand vs Knife and Knife vs Knife.

VIDEO: Grab & Stab Defense in the Pekiti-Tirsia System.

VIDEO: Advanced Hand vs Knife.  Demonstration of principles.

The way I teach Pekiti-Tirsia advanced hand vs knife has evolved over the years.

When we started training in knife work with Grand Tuhon Gaje in the 1970s, hand vs knife was divided into two stages:

Stage 1 (Basic Hand v Knife) were defenses against three angles of thrusts when the knife was held by the opponent in hammer grip. To use boxing terms, these attacks were like an uppercut, a backfist and a hook.

Stage 2 (Advanced Hand v Knife) included everything not included in the basic stage: attacks from icepick grip, slashes from hammer grip and the hammer grip thrust that was missing from the basic stage, the right cross (AKA the “prison stab”).

In between stage one and two, there was a long period when we were learning knife vs knife material and spent a lot of time sparring knife to knife. This period of sparring was really the “secret ingredient” that gave us the timing to make the advanced hand vs knife material work.

I can’t emphasize enough how important this full contact sparing (with training tools that immediately and noticeably penalizes you for your mistakes and rewards you for your correct actions ) is to your ability to succeed while under the stress of a fight.

Why were we taught in this sequence? I think it was partially tradition and partially location or culture.

I believe we were taught in those early days of Pekiti in the U.S. very much in the sequence that GT Gaje learned hand vs knife, with this change. When he learned knife work, Leo was still in his teens and had already learned all of Pekiti-Tirsia solo stick/sword, all of Doble’ and all of Espada y Daga, before being taught knife.

When I first started learning hand vs knife technique, I believe I had about two years in the system and was still learning 64 Attacks.

So our early training was the same step by slow, careful step, with lots of repetitions at each stage, that Tuhon Gaje had learned as a teen, but without all the long weapons techniques being taught prior to knife training.

As for the cultural element; here is my theory. We were taught to defend ourselves against the most common first attack of a knife assault in the Philippines at the time Pekiti-Tirsia was developed. Fast forward 20 years after I learned this material and I am teaching hand vs knife to law enforcement officers who are consistently telling me that the first attack they see is a technique based on a boxer’s jab and cross, A.K.A. the Grab and Stab. So of course, these days I start with the defenses against the grab and stab. The techniques were always in the system, what has changed is at what stage a student learns those techniques.



Another difference between my early Pekiti training and my early LEO training was learning to draw each tool. When I first had formal training with a handgun, the first thing we learned was the draw. However, the draw was one of the last things I learned in Pekiti knife work. Why?

Well, instead of a uniform group of people (LEOs) all with the same weapon (revolvers in those days), all wearing the weapon in the same spot (strong side hip), in the same holster (a dinosaur that looked something like a tapered bucket, called the Jay-Pee NYPD Service Holster); we had mostly civilians in our Pekiti-Tirsia classes, carrying a wide variety of knives, in a wide variety of places.

So, how should you draw your knife? When I was a range officer for my department, my advice to new officers was to draw the handgun the same way every time they drew it. Don’t draw it one way at the range and another when they get home at night and secure it for the evening. Draw it slowly and carefully at home, while pointed in a safe direction, but draw it with the same technique as you would in a fight. (The basic handgun drawing technique I teach has the hands meeting together while still in contact with the body at a low ready stance.)

Doing an action slowly and repeatedly will still keep your neurological pathways in good condition and help give you the ability to do the same motion quickly under stress. Train with your “strong side” to two-hand draw about 90% of the time and the other 10% split between your opposite side and with just your strong hand; just to be sure you are capable of doing so in an emergency.

I give similar advice to my students about drawing a knife in a defensive situation. First, don’t buy a scary looking “fighting knife.” Train to use the knife you carry for the every day tasks you normally use a knife for. Draw it at a moderate speed that doesn’t bring you unwanted attention and try to keep it in the same place on your belt or pocket 365 days a year.



Remember that “21 foot” gun vs knife drill? We do something like the reverse of that drill in PTI advanced hand vs knife class. Instead of starting far and have the bad guy move close, we start close and have the good guy try to move far.

  1. Basic Stationary Strike drill:

Have the students start standing about  a foot or so apart, hands up on guard. 

The attacker has a training knife in his belt (if it’s a fixed blade) or in his pocket (if the trainer is a *folder).

Both of the attacker’s hands are up on guard, but with a focus mitt on his left hand turned towards the defender and guarding his own head.

The defender also has both hands up on guard.

On the go signal, the attacker tries to draw his training knife, while the defender grabs the attacker’s wrist with his left hand, while his right hand strikes the focus mitt, with a palm strike or hammer fist, (these are not as likely to break your hand as a straight punch).

As the drill progresses, the students start the drill from increasingly greater distances until a point is reached where the defender can not get hold of the attacker effectively and get a good strike in before the knife is drawn. 

Now the defender has a decision to make: charge in anyway and hope for the best, or go to the bad guy’s back and work from there, or retreat and draw his own weapon, or run for cover, or another distance option.

I call this a “Calibration Drill” because the distance where such decisions need to be made will be different for each person. Therefore, you are taking a measurement of the amount of time you need to get a specific job done with the equipment and skills you have.

If the amount of time you need is “X”, then your next question is “how far away can I be when I recognize the need to move and react and still get to where I need to be in “X” amount of time?”

At some point you come to a fork in the road. Is it better to move away and go to distance options; rather than charge in too late and run towards a drawn weapon ready to shoot or stab you?

This drill is all about knowing where your own fork in the road is, first against an opponent the same size as you who is remaining stationary; then adding other variables such as differences in size, terrain and his own movement.

The next stages should have you train in locks, takedowns and other grappling moves, as well as how to disengage if the grappling techniques fail. Each attempt at a grappling technique should be proceeded by a strike that stuns the brain or weekends the limb that would resist the lock, takedown, etc.

(Note: I consider grappling techniques such as locks, takedowns, throws, chokes, etc as “goal” techniques, similar to a boxer’s cross, hook and uppercut. If you are extremely good at them, you can go right to a goal technique in a fight. However, for most of us, a goal technique needs to be set up with a good fast strike or two, i.e. a “jab” technique.  That’s one of the reasons I teach striking before grappling in advanced hand vs knife. It’s not that I don’t like grappling techniques, it’s just that I believe students should be taught striking first).

(*A word about folding knife trainers: I would like to find a folding training knife that is all plastic, safe to simulate cutting and stabbing and will bend instead of breaking with a sharp edge. Plus it opens with the same action as the real thing. If you find such a unicorn of folding trainers, please let me know).



The main purpose of Pekiti-Tirsia hand vs knife training is not to end the fight against a knife with your bare hands. The purpose of any good hand vs knife system should be to buy you enough time to make the fight your weapon vs his weapon as soon as possible.

This concept was always inferred from the earliest days of our training with Tuhon Gaje, but I really started to strongly emphasize this with my civilian students once I became a police defensive tactics instructor.

In a police defensive tactics class, it’s obvious to all that you want to get out of a hand vs knife fight and into a gun/baton/anything but empty hands vs knife fight as quickly as possible; but this concept is not always so obvious to a civilian martial arts student.

Having something in your hands that can hurt, or even distract, an armed opponent is better than nothing for the vast majority of people. Even something as simple as a small flashlight or pencil in your hand is better than nothing. Here are some reasons why:

1.  Most tools will hit harder than your hand alone, with less chance of breaking the bones in your hand, (which you might need very soon to draw and use your primary weapon).

2.  Having something in your hand focuses your mind and gives you a plan you can follow under stress. (“Thrust pencil in his eye” is a plan you can remember under stress).

3.  Having a simple plan you can follow helps reduce stress in the first place; which also reduces tunnel vision. This in turn helps you see other bad guys coming, or potential points of cover, or avenues of escape. It also helps preserve your fine motor skills.

The less stress you feel, the more actions you can do competently in an emergency.


What you are going to see when you start training in Pekiti-Tirsia hand vs knife is going to look a whole lot like Pekiti-Tirsia knife vs knife. This is especially true when using small knives, primarily because your arms and hands have to do so much of the work when your tool is on the smaller side, (sorry guys, couldn’t resist :-). 

One thing you will find when viewing all the numerous knife attack videos on the net these days is how much time it takes for many people to pass out and go down after being cut and stabbed. The people who go down instantly on the first hit are in the minority by a large margin.

When I started knife to knife sparring in the early 1980s, we didn’t have the  rubber training knives we see today. Instead we used old rattan sticks cut down into two sizes, one about the size of a pocket knife with a 4 inch blade, which we used in icepick grip and one about the size of a fighting knife with a 7 or 8 inch blade, which we used in hammer or fencer’s grip. My main knife sparring partner back then was Tom Bisio, who had recently won the first national Arnis championship in the Philippines. We wore minimal hand protection and fencing masks. (I strongly recommend using much better protection these days. Also, get some good insurance that will cover you for the specific type of sparring you do.)

Note: [Another caveat I have is not to start full contact sparing too early. We went through a long phase of foundational training, with a gradual progression from strike training, to timing drills, to range sparring, so that when we did go into full contact sparring, we were ready for it and did not experience the "flailing under stress" or "playing tag" reactions that I see so often now when people get into full contact sparring before they are ready for it.]

We did learn a lot though. One was that fencing masks really suck as boxing headgear. The other was that, while a “cut” with a fake knife is a fake cut, a “stab’ with wooden dowel is a real hit that can knock your ass out, even while you are wearing a fencing mask (especially when hit by guys like Tom Bisio, Erwin Ballarta, or Akmeed “AK” Boouraca).

In retrospect, after seeing so many knife attacks on the internet that didn’t result in instant incapacitation; our sparring, rough as it was back then, was actually good training for how hard you have to hit when using a small knife and the amount of time it take to bring an attacker down.

A note on this point. In the early and mid 80s, I had three students who were combat veterans of Vietnam. All three had done some sentry removals with Kabar combat knives. Each told me variations of the same thing. That what you see in war movies about men going down quickly when stabbed is watered down for public viewing. They all told stories of stabbing enemy soldiers, while they covered the man’s mouth, knocked him to the ground and falling on him. They then had to lie on top of the dying man trying to keep him quiet while his body bucked and flopped around. Meanwhile, they are working the knife back and forth in the wound, trying to enlarge the wound channel to end things as quickly as possible. They all said it took a fxxxxx!!! LONG time for the enemy soldier to die and his body to stop moving. Closer to home, I’ve heard many, many stories from street cops about the terrible amount of damage the human body can take and still keep fighting.

Therefore remember, your 4 inch pocket knife ain’t no lightsaber, it isn’t even a bowie knife.

What men did with swords in the old days is not the same thing as you can do with a smaller blade. I hate to tell you this guys, but Size Does Matter! (yes, I did it again).

How does this relate to hand vs knife? If the 7 inch blade on a Kabar will not put a man down instantly, will your empty hand strike do any better? Therefore, you should hit your opponent really hard, preferably several times and in the right places, all to buy you enough time to draw your weapon and be prepared to use that weapon effectively. And even after using your weapon, your opponent may not go down before he can make one or more attempts to kill you.

Here’s a thought on one punch knockouts. In 1988, Mike Tyson, while he was heavyweight champion of the world, got into a street fight with Mitch Green, who was another heavyweight Tyson had fought and beat in a boxing match in 1986. However, in the 1988 street fight, Tyson punched Green in the head and fractured his hand. Tyson did not knock Green out with this punch and they were separated by their associates.

Now the questions I have for you are:

Can you punch harder than Mike Tyson?

Is your hand stronger than Mike Tyson’s?

If you break your hand, how well can you draw and use your weapon?


So, let’s go back and think about that that 21’ gun vs knife drill. Time your draw and effectively use of each of your weapons and tools; from your sidearm on your hip down to the pen in your pocket, and then deliver a solid hit or two with each one.

Once you have those times, think about countering a close quarters knife attack within these parameters:

“How much time does my knife defense need to buy me to be able to draw and hit with my primary weapon, with my secondary weapon or tool, how about with weapon or tool number three?”

“What possible items can I have in my hand in plain sight that won’t draw attention, but I can use if attacked?”

Now you will have some idea of how much time you need to deploy each item and can work this into your training.

When walking down the street, ask yourself the same question good cops ask themselves when about to interact with a person of unknown intent:

“Where is the nearest cover?”

 “Which things nearby will protect me from a  bullet and which from a blade?”

“At what point is this guy too close for me to get to that cover before he can do bad things to me?”

That’s it for now guys.

Train hard, but train smart,

Tuhon Bill McGrath

For more on this subject, see the following essays:

BIG VS SMALL (BLADES) Does Size Really Matter?