Combative Knife Simplicity: A 3 Year Review

(Authors Note: I wrote this article 3 years ago, when I was in the middle of re-vamping and re-energizing my Combative training routine. I thought it would be beneficial to all my readers to review some of the principles contained and in the process take a hard look at the current state of your KNIFE training.)



The Tactical Hermit

In the quest for the CO to become a “Complete Warrior” where the skill sets they learn dovetail seamlessly into any weapon system they pick up, being comfortable killing with the knife has to be a priority. I want you to notice the wording I used there: “Killing with the Knife”, now for some of you “PC” (Politically Correct) disciples out there, this terminology may offend your delicate moral sensibilities and seem a bit extreme, so let me explain.

In a majority of fighting schools out there, regardless of the weapon system taught, you hear the term “fighting” as a suffix to most of them; ie,  gunfighting, knife-fighting, stick-fighting, etc. I myself as a trainer have a problem with that choice of wording for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because it carries with it a “sporting implication”. A CO should never intend to “fight” anybody, if it has come to the point of defending yourself, your only goal is to END the problem. Secondly, it takes away from the seriousness of mortal combat. I don’t train my students to approach fighting for their lives as a sport or a game… if we have to use a weapon to defend ourselves we don’t need to “fart around” with that..we need to eliminate the threat before he or she kills us or our loved ones, not “wound” them, “spar” with them or make them “feel bad” for a while with mobility injuries. In terms of using a knife for self-defense, our goal should not be to seek to inflict a series of injuries that would hamper them from holding or wielding a weapon, but to simply stick that knife into them as quickly as possible, and as many times as possible, to cause as much damage as possible, thus ending their life and the threat they pose to us. Simple and direct.

Understand that we are talking about KILLING in the context of self-defense and for the singular reason of DEFENDING ourselves and/or our loved ones. This should never be taken out of context. The founding CORE BELIEF of HCS and what drives all of my teachings centers on the MORAL RESPONSIBILITY of the CO. Killing another human being is NEVER something to be taken lightly, but when a civilian is training to defend themselves in a lethal encounter, KILLING the enemy has to be the goal, because the enemy has given you no other choice. Your goal has to be to STOP the attacker from continuing to harm you or your loved ones. Very often, this very important psychological “nomenclature” (the word: Killing) is left out of most self-defense combat training, and I feel that is an integral flaw. If you want to train realistically, KILLING has to become part of your vocabulary. Not only does it prepare the CO mentally, spiritually and morally for what he has to do, it drives his training to be efficient and lethal, regardless of the weapon system.

Consequently, the CO needs to understand beyond a shadow of a doubt that the introduction of a knife into a physical altercation constitutes Lethal Force in every state in the union. This means if a perpetrator pulls a knife on you, you have the right to defend yourself with equal (lethal) force. On the flip side of this, if the CO (YOU) pulls a knife on another person, you must have the same justifiable reasoning that lethal force is quantified and/or warranted. There are a myriad of reasons for this legally and it is beyond the scope of this article to cover them all. A great resource to study for Texans is the Texas Penal Code and Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.

I like to compare the Combative Knife Concept to the AK-47 Rifle. The design is simple. It has very few moving parts, which like anything mechanically reliable, such as a standard transmission in a vehicle, means it is easy to learn, easy to remember, easy to operate and easy to repair. It’s simplicity is sometimes mistaken for crudeness, and although it does not have the aesthetics of some of the more “technique laden” Eastern knife styles, what matters most is it gets the job done. What it lacks in technique, it makes up for in pure rugged reliability. To be successful with it, all you need is gross motor skills and Pure Aggression.

At it’s core, Combative Knife is about the Thrust (Gross Motor Skill). Getting the knife out of its sheath and into and out of your enemy as quickly as possible. The Essence of Combative Simplicity. Most all other types of knife training out there are based/rooted in the Eastern Filipino Combat Arts of Kali and Pekiti-Tersia, which mainly emphasize slashing versus thrusting attacks. This is not to say that slashing has no place in Combative Knife, it certainly does, but it is much LESS technique laden than the slashing “katas” associated with Filipino styles; most of them seeking to cut tendons and muscles that help wield and manipulate a weapon.

In Bob Kasper’s Outstanding Book “Sting of the Scorpion” (pp. 35), William Fairbairn is quoted as saying it this way:

“When withdrawing, (presentation) get right into the THRUST. Don’t waste motion. Cover the shortest distance from the sheath to your target. Practice in front of a mirror, Get it down to a fraction of a second.”

In this short, simple statement, Fairbairn just laid out the essence of the Combative Continuum. You see, the Combative Continuum rest in the logic that regardless of the weapon used, in order to be efficient with it (or that it is to say, in order to be able to KILL Efficiently with it), you have to be fast, and in order to be fast, you have to eliminate un-needed movements during the presentation of the weapon. The shortest distance between two points? The straightest LINEAR line possible; whether we are talking about an empty hand strike or a knife strike. Striking along LINEAR Lines means there is no ARC to the movement…it is straight and ALWAYS follows the same path TO and FROM the target. Linear strikes are also harder to see and guard against than a “hooking” attack, which tends to telegraph your intentions to the enemy.

An empty hand and knife drill I teach my students, aptly named the “Snapper” Drill, focuses on mastering this skill.   When your enemy allows you to breach their “reactionary gap” by their mis-step or by your stealth, the student as quickly as possible, SNAPS any one of the following  empty hand strikes: Axe-Hand to the Windpipe, Ranger Jab (web of hand between thumb and pointer-finger, into the windpipe), Face-Smash or Eye-Gouge OR (If Lethal Force is Warranted) A Knife Thrust or (SNAP), whatever the situation calls for. The student also has to be aware that the situation might call for both an empty hand strike as a distractionary measure AND the Knife Snap-Thrust combined, depending on the situation and the adversary; be ready to do either or both with equal efficiency.

The Student also needs to learn that this SNAP Strike, either empty-hand or with a knife, needs to become a CONDITIONED REFLEX. Consider this quote by one of the forefathers of Combatives, Dr. Gordon E. Perrigard: “The action is simple, but it must be fast, automatic and a conditioned reflex. When fighting fiercely for your life, you have not got much time to think, and the more AUTOMATIC MOVEMENTS you have prepared for your defense, the safer the result will be.” The bottom line here is don’t wait to formulate a plan when that thug is standing right on top of you; prepare and drill NOW for what you are going to do.

With the Knife, we drill on this with both a folder and a fixed blade, the fastest being a short and stout fixed blade (Blackhawk Crucible for example) or a Push Blade/Dagger, such as the Benchmade CBK or Cold Steel Safe-Keeper II both drawn out of a Horizontal Sheath at the 11 o’ clock. The goal is simple: Get the knife out of the sheath and in and out of the enemy’s body with a “snap thrust” (stab) in under 2 seconds. With speed as your ally, you avoid any counter-technique or block in addition to being able to deliver MULTIPLE strikes to the same area if needed.


The first thing I teach my students in this drill is Visualization of the Target; not a foreign concept to most pistol/rifle/shotgun shooters, but definitely one to most people who consider themselves “knife” people. Visualizing exactly where you want to strike on the body is something that is not what you would call an “Exact Science”; every situation is going to be different and the student will have to decide which is the best “high percentage” target at that time. Now I don’t want to get quagmired down in an anatomical debate on the “deadliest” place to strike with a knife on the human body (The Book Contemporary Knife Targeting by Chris Grosz and Mike Janich and Arwrology by Dr. Gordon E. Perrigard are excellent resources for this subject) Suffice to say our aim is to either sever, puncture or destroy all together any arteries or organs causing our enemy either enough blood loss or shock to “Drop them and Stop them”.

Here is  a quick run down if we are facing our target dead on at 12 o’ clock:


  • One or both of the carotid arteries running on either side of the neck
  • Either Lung
  • Heart
  • The Aorta Artery and/or all surrounding Pulmonary Arteries
  • Liver
  • Spleen
  • Either Kidney
  • Common Iliac Artery
  • Femoral Artery

The CO also needs to consider that for every combative knife technique he learns, he also needs to learn the COUNTER to that move to be completely prepared. Keep an eye out for articles covering this very important skill set!

Until then

Stay Alert, Stay Armed and Stay Dangerous!