Why train in Asian Blade systems in the UK?

The reasoning behind my study of edged weapons & skill-at-arms.

I would like to make it VERY clear that I do not condone illegal carrying of a weapon in any way- & I do a great deal of work discouraging young people from carrying weapons & becoming involved in violence. I am a strong supporter of the Police, & offer free training to serving police officers in all of my classes; obey the law & don't make their jobs any harder than they already are!

I interact with practitioners of traditional martial arts all the time. My ‘mother art’ is ITF TaeKwon-Do. I still love it, but just as you love your mother but don’t want to stay with her for the rest of your life, I love TKD but feel I have gotten everything from it that I personally can & I need to move on. I respect that different people look for different things from martial arts. Some people want an ‘Art’ & love practising forms & trying to perfect their body movement & technique, & look to inner development to make themselves a better person. Some people are looking for a competitive sport, & they love pushing themselves & excelling as they pit themselves physically & mentally against other people. Some people are just wanting a hobby, & want a bit of both. Personally I’m looking for the ‘method’ not the ‘Art’, I’m interested in combatives! I find the study of actual combat fascinating. It’s a chess game on a grand scale, its life on the edge where a mistake means the grave.

The one thing I find puzzles most of my friends who are practitioners of TKD & other traditional martial arts is why I spend so much of my time studying the use of weapons. I know several high ranking martial artists who actually find it quite uncomfortable. I had a conversation with an Instructor who I hold in the highest regard (& who I consider a friend) & admire greatly for his ability in his art, where he said that he wasn’t interested in learning any skill-at-arms, or some of the other things that I have added into my own interpretation of TKD from my cross training in other arts. Some people just can’t understand why I study edged weapons. Some people say things like “Why bother? You’re not allowed to carry a knife in the UK”, or “I’m only interested in unarmed martial arts, why do I need to learn weapons skills?” I’m writing this to try to explain why I study the edged weapons arts.

First off, I have absolutely no ghoulish wish to carve someone up with a blade. Both Jim Keating & I find a great deal of the edged weapons material we’re seeing on DVD these days very distasteful. I think this is because both Jim & I are unusual in that we have both ‘been there & done that’ & understand how terrible the scene is when a weapon has to be used, & what it actually does in the real world. The reason I train in bladearts has to do with something I keep harping on about constantly- conceptual thinking. The reason I train in knife methods is….EVERYTHING IS TO BE FOUND IN THE BLADEARTS!

So, what do I mean by that I hear you ask? Ok, when I learn bladearts almost anything I pick up can be used as a defensive tool if I use the concepts I’ve been taught. I can pick up a bottle & use it as an impact tool by using front grip knife methods. If I pick up a plastic Coke bottle & hold it just like I would if I was drinking from it I can use it as an impact tool in the same way that I would use a knife doing ‘Drawpoint’ reverse grip knife. Now, Jim Keating’s Drawpoint system can be used in many ways. Drawpoint as I’ve already said is a system based around the use of the knife in a reverse grip. The wonderful thing about Drawpoint is that is is meant to be conceptual, & used with anything from empty hands upwards. In Tactical Edge we use the Drawpoint ‘Rotary Pick’ as a very effective unarmed technique that will shut down your ability in ‘cognitive thought’ in a blink! If I put a simple pen in my hand it becomes even more effective, as the pen becomes a ‘force multiplier’ & focuses the impact down more efficiently. Because Drawpoint is a thrust oriented system it is perfect for objects that can be used as impact tools. Now, if I take my ComTech Stinger & hold it in a hammerfist grip I can do my Drawpoint drills & techniques to

great effect with it. I gave a Stinger to a very high ranking traditional martial artist a little while back. I was surprised when he turned around & made a ‘middle knuckle fist’ & said “here’s mine” (meaning the Stinger). Now I would like so see most people make a ‘middle knuckle fist’ & then slam it into someone’s skull. It’s not going to be much fun. Yet I could do it all day with a Stinger. One of the things that makes human beings what we are is our ability to make & use tools. Using a tool makes things easier. This is where we need to remember we’re talking about defensive COMBAT here, we’re trying to defeat an opponent who is genuinely trying to harm us, & using a tool makes this much easier, & is less likely to result in us harming ourselves! Armed self defence beats unarmed self defence every day of the week. If you look down your nose at defensive tools then I suggest you go back to running around naked, eating raw food that you catch with your bare hands, & generally acting like an animal! I'm not talking about carrying an illegal weapon here, or even utilising an improvised weapon if the situation doesn't warrant it, but if the attack is serious enough & your safety is seriously threatened then having the ability to pick something up & use it as a force multiplier could save your life.

Lets take our ‘basic defensive defensive flow drill’, also known as ‘Banda Banda’. This is a simple bladearts drill where your partner feeds a sequence of high forehand, high backhand, mid forehand, mid backhand, mid thrust & downward attack. You defend by ‘defanging the snake’ with a series of opening & closing actions; so your fist defence sees you ‘closing’ your arms so you catch the back of the opponents hand with your active (or live) hand & push it against the blade so it cuts deeper into their inner wrist. On the backhand feed you do the opposite. On the mid lines you do the same except it’s ‘tips down’ rather than the ‘tips up’ you were doing on the high line. The final action on the downward attack is a ‘roofing action’ where you use an ‘opening action’ so your active hand/arm pressures against their arm as you cut up against their brachial artery. The sequence goes close – open (high) – close – open –(mid cuts) close – open (mid thrust into roof). Now if I put my training knife down & pick up a plastic bottle each of the cuts becomes an impact weapon attack to a bone, a pretty sure disarm of a weapon & a good entry! If I take out my flashlight it will similarly effect a good disarm, or will be a very effective limb destruction & entry against an unarmed attack along these ‘universal lines’.

Take Punyo Sumbrada. The first movement is beautiful, the attacker feed a high forehand attack which the defender ‘chases’ with their live hand & uses to snatch them violently forward as they bring the attackers hand across their knife which is being concealed at belt level. Imagine I substituted the knife for my Flashlight. If I did the same movement it would take the attacker off balance & rip his weapons hand across the sharp bezel of my flashlight; considerably weakening his grip making him easier to disarm, & re-setting his ooda loop allowing me an entry to counter attack. The same thing could be done with me driving my Stinger into his hand. The same movement can lead me into an opportunity to perform a strip of returning blade if unarmed.

Now, looking at western bladecraft lets take the ‘in quartata’ movement from our Bowie curriculum. For those not familiar with it in your minds eye visualise two people faced off with a knife or sword in their lead hand, both in a right lead with left leg at the rear- got it, yes? Ok, now imagine the attacker lunges forwards with the thrust, the defender steps the REAR foot past their front foot rotating them counter clockwise. At the same time they twist their shoulders blade-ing themselves side on. This means that the thrust has entered the space where they were a moment before, but they are no longer occupying that space & the attackers thrust has gone past them. The defender has at the same time performed a thrust of their own in a palm down descending line to the attackers neck. This a beautiful & effective classical counter to a thrusting attack. It uses distance deceptively, along with effective & efficient body movement. Now this can be used just as effectively in an unarmed mode. In the majority of eastern martial arts when you watch people sparring you’ll see them evade to the side by pushing off the rear foot & zoning at 45 degree’s (that’s if they’re doing it properly & not backing off blocking as their opponent attacks). This isn’t wrong, & we use this movement in bladecraft too. But the in quartata is so much more efficient than that, with a slight shift of a single foot & body angling the attacker has missed & you’ve caught them with the beginning of a vicious counter attack. We can use this concept & movement with impact tools, improvised tools & unarmed. Picture the bad guy throwing a straight right, I in quartata so his punch misses & I end up on an inside line with an eye spear re-setting his ooda loop at the same time as his punching wrist is seized. If he throws a secondary punch with the left I can use a pass through to easily & now he’s trapped. Throw in a foot pin & a straight thrust into the pelvis & he’s dumped. Where does this unarmed sequence come from? Knife! The blade version is almost identical, he thrusts for me, I in quartata & thrust to his vision area & cut across his brow which will bleed heavily into the eyes denying vision. I then pass his knife hand down & defang the snake then thrust for the hip joint which along with my footpin drives the attacker to the ground.

I’ve not even gone anywhere near the skills & applications that can be developed from studying ‘heaven six’. This particular drill is absolute conceptual gold dust. Jim Keating always says “everything is heaven six”!

Have a look around the room you’re in. I can almost guarantee that there are at least a dozen objects around you that would make effective improvised defensive tools. The mug next to me can be used as an effective impact weapon using knife methods. The TV remote control can be an effective thrusting & butting weapon. The table lamp next to me could be utilised to deliver Bowie style snap cuts & would make for a very unpleasant experience if I thrust it with it’s bulb into your vision area! The list could go on, but you get the idea. Remember, self defence ISN’T a duel, it’s NOT meant to be fair! If you have to use unarmed combatives then there is always a chance you’ll break knuckles, fingers, hand bones, wrists etc; any of which may slow you down enough that you lose the encounter. I'm DEFINITELY not suggesting that you should use an improvised tool in some silly push me-shove you altercation, & I am NOT condoning picking up a bottle in the pub & smacking someone with it- I spent many years trying prevent that sort of thing. What I'm saying is that if you are facing a situation which is truely life threatening having the ability to use an improvised defensive tool could save your life. Think of something like a home invasion, or an armed attacker. If you have some sort of physical imparement an improvised defensive tool could also save your hide. I have psioritic arthritis, & at times this flares up very badly & my hands are very swollen & painful; to the point where I wouldn't be able to strike someone effectively. Under those circumstances I would consider using some sort of tool.

Now, lets leave the combative side of things alone & look at the MAIN reason I explore bladecraft & weapons training & teach it to my students. There is NOTHING that I have found in the years I have spent exploring the martial arts that comes even close to weapons drills for attribute building. Weapons training quite simply turbo-charges your normal unarmed martial arts! First off almost every practitioner of traditional martial arts I have met has got left/right bias to a fairly substantial degree. Training in double weapons reduces this left/right bias & makes you far more able with your weaker side. This is vital for good close quarter self defence skills. How many times have you done self defence with someone & they are great when you do the attack with one hand, but when you do it the other way around they’re rubbish?

The weapons drills from the South East Asian martial arts build co-ordination in a manner superior to anything found in the normal unarmed martial arts, & the training method is hugely time efficient; you’re improving timing, co-ordination, distancing & spatial awareness, body control & sensitivity- ALL AT THE SAME TIME! All of this is a massive advantage, & makes for a better & more skilful martial artist. You may have absolutely no interest in the actual defensive application of the knife or stick, but the training will honestly improve your normal game no end!

So if you’re a martial artist who doesn’t practice any skill-at-arms I hope I’ve explained in a way you can relate to why I personally look towards the bladearts for my personal exploration & development these days; & why I encourage others to as well. If you’re a practitioner of RBSD you MUST explore some good skill-at-arms material. If you are looking to be truly proficient at weapons defence beyond a very basic level then you MUST truly understand how weapons are used & the lines they travel & what they are capable of doing. You must have some skill-at-arms skills, as there are some situations where an unarmed approach will be near to suicide regardless of how many stripes you have on your belt. If you are a ‘general’ martial artist then weapons skills & the drills from the SE Asian arts will improve your skill levels massively, & as well as that they’re really good fun too!

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