COMBATIVE KNIFE PROGRAMThis review was written by Nick Engelen, who travelled over from Belgium for the course
The seminar was held in the Prescot Leisure centre in Prescot Merseyside on 6 February 2005. I had travelled to Liverpool the day before and had taken a hotel close to the venue. Another attendee who I met at the breakfast table of our hotel was kind enough to offer me a ride to the venue. We both arrived around 9.30. At the parking lot a bunch of fellow Combatives-practitioners were waiting, shivering in the cold, damp morning air. I saw a lot of familiar faces from previous courses and a few new ones. There were around 30 attendees and most were from England, one from Italy another was from France and I came from Belgium.
Inside the venue there was an air of excitement. Everybody brought training-knives and real knives. The result was that everybody was looking at other people’s kit and proudly showing their own toys.
After everyone had paid, the course started.
Den explained that this program was initially devised as part of a HIGH-RISK PERSONNEL package in South Africa.
The aim of the program is to provide the CQB operator with the essential skills and concomitant mindset to employ the edged weapon in a lethal confrontation.
Den continued that this was the most dangerous module he provided. Safety procedures were stressed. As we brought both real and training-knives it was easy to make mistakes.
After this short intro, Brian, a young student of Den gave us a light warm-up. After suffering from the flu for almost two weeks and still having some diarrhoea as a result of the medication my level of fitness was far from optimal. I was glad it was only a light warm-up.
Thereafter Den discussed the knife as a weapon. Knife is man’s first tool that he developed. We use knives on a daily basis in our daily tasks. Using it is easy. Street-people use it to rob kill and rape and most of them never saw formal training in their lives. This brought us to the next question; why train in it if it’s that easy?
The difference with the street guys is that hey have the commitment to use it; he has the knife ready while the victim has his mind totally elsewhere.
To use the knife as a weapon we need to instil the necessary attitude, the ability to access the knife and the ability to operate the weapon under stress.
A knife fight is very ugly, one moment you are thinking about your next appointment, the next moment you are fighting for your life ankle deep in the blood of your opponent. This kind of attitude reminded me of a quote by W.E. Fairbairn, the very person that taught the British commandos and the US armed forces.
‘In war you cannot afford the luxury of squeamishness. Either you kill or capture, or you will be captured or killed. We’ve got to be tough to win in hand-to-hand, and we got to be ruthless—tougher and more ruthless than our enemies. ’
Of course accessing the knife is also important, all the techniques in the world will be of no use if you can’t even access the knife.
After this short intro we had our first drills. The first drill was about instilling aggression and the willingness to use the knife on another human being. Even while training with wooden, plastic and rubber knives people hesitate to stab each other.
The next drill was the “Cold Steel” drill. The purpose about understanding the coldness and reptile state needed to deploy the knife as a weapon.
[Slacky during the Cold Steel Drill]
Thereafter we did a drill called the “Sharp Exit”. It was a very exiting drill with multiple opponents where after we had to use a live blade on a target hung up from the ceiling.
Dennis discussed grip, stance and guard. There are different kinds of grip; all depends on the background of the practitioner, the situation and personal preferences. Den discussed pro and contra of each grip and the conclusion was that the simplest was the best. He told us to have ‘tight fists, loose wrists’.
Next we learned the angles of attack. All attacks from punches to an overhand attack with a chair come in along an angle. This is simplified by certain systems especially by the Filipino’s who took it from the Spanish. We started with slashes.
After learning the five first angles, we had some target practice during a touch drill with wooden knives. Everything was a target .I remember thinking about vital areas from the books by Fairbairn and other knife experts but soon I stroke wherever I could. Dennis explained that the knife will find its targets itself. Fairbairn once advised to use the knife like a paintbrush; he meant to follow the contours of the body to make large cuts. Thinking back to it I talked to a few women on my travel and in the hotel with whom I would have been happy to practise body painting..
Thereafter we practised the return angles and learned about target box reduction to avoid wasting time, energy and also to avoid telegraphing the attack.
This brought us to the thrust. Again we learned how to thrust along the angles of attack and about range.
In the next drill everything came together. As we were moving to attack and evade the attacks and tried to avoid collisions with the people training around us the range was very variable. We had close range and long range; the attacks were delivered and received from low, the middle and high. This determined how our hands and knife was held.
Next was the reverse grip. This is known from the movies where the shadow of a serial killer with a big kitchen-knife is cast on a wall. Yokes were made about the hysterical wife with a knife. The best way of attacking from this grip is the hammering attack. It’s the same as the hammer fist but now it is with a sharp edge. We practised this for a while. Slashed are also possible with this grip so they were also practised.
Next was the snap-cut and Dennis also mentioned the rip as done in the book Cold-steel by John Styers.
Finally we had a lunch break. I was starving and my bread tasted like manna from heaven. During this break we also had a chance to look at Den’s collection of books on knives.
The second part of the day started with a presentation by no one less than Phil ‘the Bristolbloke’ Matthews. Phil is a researcher in Combatives who has travelled the world for his little projects. He is the man to contact about questions on the history and evolution of Combatives. His presentation was about the evolution of the commando-dagger and the Smatchet. The presentation was very informative and well performed. I really admire Phil for his knowledge on the subject.
We also had a chance to have a look at the Böker version of the Applegate-Fairbairn Smatchet. Everyone had a crush on it and I think Böker will do some good business.
Next we practiced accessing our knife. As said before this was one of the focuses of the course. Everyone was bringing out their training folder. Soon everyone started flicking open their knives as fast as a switchblade. I bought my folders a week earlier and practised a bit on opening the blade one-handed. I was a bit embarrassed by my incompetence to flick the blade open like the other trainees did.
Dennis explained about carrying options, the access and opening of the tactical folder. He also showed us a few examples from his personal collection and told us a few anecdotes about past incidents from his friends and himself. This all was practised and put under pressure in a variety of drills. I remember thinking that it’s nearly impossible when under attack as I kept fumbling to get it out and open. That was only seconds before Den told us that when entering an area you don’t trust it’s a good idea to have the knife in your hand. I also mastered the flick of the wrist to open the blade faster; I was excited about this as I now had something to impress the people at home. I really felt lean and mean.
All the lessons of the day came together in one final drill. It was with a real knife. We had to go alley cat mental on a padman where after we are attacked in the back with a cutting target resembling an arm. This puts the adrenaline on and under the stress we had to access the knife to cut the target with multiple slashes. I choose my Spyderco Delica as my knife for the drill. I remember staying on the move to avoid the strikes with the cutting-target while accessing and opening the knife. As my ability to open the blade wasn’t honed I used two hands to make sure it was open and locked into place. I had practised a lot of angle combinations that day but the only attacks I did were multiple No 1 attacks until the directing staff shouted check, check as a signal to stop. Everyone did the drill twice.
The seminar was ended by a group picture.
Most of the attendees drove to the Chung Ku Chinese restaurant on the docks.
During diner we spoke about our day and we all came to the same conclusion; it was a magnificent seminar. The food was great; I ate a lot of rice trying to get rid of my little problem.
We all said our goodbyes. A fellow attendee called Slackbladder drove me back to the station for my travel to the airport.
At my hotel I had a great time and some nice conversations with a Korean girl working in the bar. That was the end of the day.
It was a day worth remembering. We had a great teacher, a great guest speaker and kind people to share it with. I would highly recommend this course to anyone; you won’t be disappointed.
Review by Nick Engelen