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Phillosoph

Stepping Back

Today I will look at another illustration from John Clements’ book on Medieval Swordsmanship.
This sequence shows how a downward strike is accompanied by a step forward with the right or rear foot, and the text describes how to resume the initial position(left). What I like about this is that if you view it right-to-left it equally illustrates a downward strike that follows stepping back with the left or lead leg. For example, an enemy targets your lead leg, so you step back to avoid the strike and simultaneously strike at his head. Striking low may have exposed the upper part of his body.
Medieval Sword and Shield describes a similar sequence, although this time the defender is in “half-shield” guard (above, left). Again, if the enemy strikes low, the targeted leg is brought back and the sword is brought down on the attacker.
Clements’ book makes a lot about the prevalence of leg wounds among the remains of the Battle of Visby. The above sequences suggest that attacking the legs was foolhardy, at least with shorter weapons such as swords. Some context helps us understand the discrepancy. The victorious Danish forces were mainly composed of professional soldiers and mercenaries. The Gutnish forces were primarily farmers, and only partially equipped with armour. It seems likely that professional fighters would readily exploit the defender’s lack of experience and equipment and target the legs. Whether such tactics were common in other battles against experienced fighters is open to debate.
The “step back while striking” drill has obvious applications to modern combat. If we do not hold a sword it can be adapted to other weapons or empty handed techniques. In a previous post I have mentioned that the leg raising actions so typical of Scottish Highland dancing may have been training to take the leg out of the way of low strikes.
Many years ago I wrote about a very silly sequence that appears in some knife-fighting manuals. It should be apparent to readers that when an attacker threatens your leg, a more practical response will be to withdraw the leg and simultaneously strike at any target available, such as arm.
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Phillosoph

Shields and Angles

In the previous blog I noted that some of the techniques seen in I.33 and “Medieval Sword and Shield” were not suited to shields larger than bucklers. This suggested that a blog on larger shields might be useful. What might the Middle-Ages teach the modern riot shield user?
Talhoffer: Judicial duel with long shields. Note that Right is in inner ward and attacks past the left edge of his shield.
One of the first documents I found was the paper “Reconstructing Early Medieval Sword and Shield” by Hand and Wagner, the authors of Medieval Sword and Shield. I was surprised to learn that there were no surviving medieval fechtbuch on shield use. The oldest known texts on shield use are from the Renaissance, when shield use was already well on the wane. Medieval artwork showing shield use is less than ideal, due to lack of perspective and other factors that affect realistic, accurate depiction. While there are no manuals on battlefield use of shields, Talhoffer’s 15th century fechtbuch does show the use of very high duelling shields used in judicial combats. This has supplied Hand and Wagner with some suggestions on how shields could have been used.
Hand and Wagner quote the following passage from Giacomo Di Grassi (1570) on how to use a round shield (“target”):
“Of the maner how to holde the round Target
If a man woulde so beare the rounde Target, that it may couer the whole bodie, and yet nothing hinder him from seeing his enimie, which is a matter of great importance, it is requisite, that he beare it towardes the enimie, not with the conuexe or outward parte thereof,… Therefore, if he would holde the said Target, that it may well defend all that part of the bodie, which is from the knee vpwardes, and that he maie see his enemie, it is requisite that he bear his arm, if not right, yet at least bowed so little, that in the elbowe there be framed so blunt an angle or corner, that his eyebeames passing neere that part of the circumference of the Target, which is neere his hande, may see his enemie from the head to the foot. And by holding the saide conuexe parte in this manner, it shall warde all the left side, and the circumference neere the hande shall with the least motion defend the right side, the head and the thighes.”
Di Grassi: Square target and lines of vision.
Renaissance swordsman with shield
Points to note are that both the surface of the shield and its circumference (rim) are used to protect the user. The right side of the rim is used to protect the right side of the user. The shield should be held so that it does not obstruct one’s view of the enemy. The least motion of the hand is needed to move the shield to defend the strong side, head or thighs.
I also had a look at the sword and shield chapter of John Clements’ “Medieval Swordsmanship”, a comprehensive work, although I have some issues with Clements’ writing style.
Clements shows a variety of ways a shield may be moved to counter attacks from various angles. Given a shield may mass eight to twelve pounds or more, there is wisdom in using a hold that minimizes any extraneous movement.

Fighting with a Shield

Some description of how a sword (or other weapon) would have been used with a large shield will be helpful. Clements describes three guards (or wards) for use with a shield and sword: high, middle and back. Similar techniques are used for axes, maces, spears and other weapons. Cycling from one of these positions to another is simple, and they allow strikes to made with little shield movement.
From the high guard the sword can make vertical, horizontal and diagonal cuts, thrusts and parries to either side of the shield. It can even deliver rising strikes from some angles. The hand is held just above forehead level, with the pommel just within peripheral vision. The blade slopes 45 degrees upward and inward so there is no clue to which direction the attack will take. The ochs (ox) position is similar but has the point directed forward. High guard is called high cocked guard in Attack, Avoid, Survive.
Frontal view of high guard.
Middle position is well suited to thrusts and is less fatiguing if maintained. Cuts are best made by shifting to high or back position.
Back position is also known as “tail” or nebenhut. It allows cuts or thrusts to be made from a wide range of directions, and the weapon hand is hidden from the foe. The position is, however, poorly suited to combat from close formations where comrades may be behind and beside a fighter. A similar position, with a club or mace held vertically, is shown in figures 35-37 of Hand and Wagner’s paper.
Typically we see shields used with the face towards the threat, and they are depicted as chiefly protecting the left side of a fighter. The shield may even be moved to the left for an offensive move to be made!

How shields are usually shown used. Airspace to outside of left arm is covered by the shield, but right-side of torso is exposed.

Angling the Shield

The passage from Di Grassi got me thinking. If you can defend your right side with the right side of the rim, why not position the shield so that it covers the entire torso and as much of the right arm as practical? Hand and Wagner suggest an “open ward” with the shield sloped at an angle around thirty degrees. Conceivably, a shield held at such an angle could cover most of the torso while presenting an angled face that is more likely to deflect attacks. A turn of the waist would increase protection to the right side, or create the “inner ward” Hand and Wagner describe. A drop of the hand would deflect low strikes.
Angled shield at inner ward.
If we look at the illustrations that Di Grassi provides of round and square targets it is plausible that what it is showing is the right edge of the target on a line close to the outside of the right shoulder.
Di Grassi: Illustration of holding the round target.

Torso fully covered, with room to conceal right arm when in middle guard.
Against missile fire the shield was probably held perpendicular to the threat, for maximum cover. The angled position would prove more useful for close combat. This is essentially the open ward that Hand and Wagner describe, with the variation that the right edge extends to the outside of the right arm. The shield might even be angled in two planes at once, which might improve visibility.
This concept of angling the shield addresses several elements of the conventional (“forward”) depiction of shield use. A human male is around 20 inches wide, so why are most shields 28-32 or more inches wide? To the left side of a user the shield protects an area of empty air, meaning non-functional mass to carry. If the shield is sloped vertically more of its width is used to defend more of its user. I.33 and Medieval Sword and Shield illustrated how vulnerable a sword-hand was without a correctly used buckler. Fighters using larger shields must have had some means to protect their weapon-hand. With the shield angled, middle-level thrusts might have been made without the weapon-hand passing beyond the forward rim of the shield. Similarly a sword-hand in high ward or tail ward would be some distance behind the protective zone created by the shield. The forward rim of the angled shield can be used offensively, and has more impact than striking with the flat. It is possible that both sword and shield were sometimes thrust forward at the same time, in a technique similar to “stab-knock”. The forward edge of an angled shield may hook the inner edge of the foe’s shield. The fighter may then swing his sword across the face of his own shield to cut behind the enemy’s shield.
Frontal shield and angled shield. Right could cut to Left’s sword arm. Left has effectively blocked his own view.
There is no evidence shields were used this way, but neither is there any that proves they were not. It is likely a variety of techniques were used, varying with the user’s skill, understanding and situation. It would be interesting to conduct some experiments.

Shields and Vision

Many years ago I watched an interesting demonstration by a pair of Roman Legion reenactors. “A” thrust at “B’s” eyes, so B raised his shield. In the moment that the shield blocked B’s vision, A stepped in and slammed his shield against B’s, knocking him off balance. The attack to the eyes was repeated. This time B parried upwards and outwards with his sword. As the sword was swept to A’s left, his sword arm was extended so B struck it with his own shield.
A nice demonstration of the offensive applications of shields, but also of one of their liabilities. The Scottish fencing master Donald McBane (1664-1732) notes:
“This Target is of great use to those who rightly understand it, but to unexperienced People is often very Fatal, by blinding themselves with it, for want of rightly understanding it.”
Certainly there are numerous period illustrations that appear to show a shield blocking a user’s vision, although lack of perspective makes any interpretation open to question.
Clements argues that it is inefficient to parry with a sword if one has a shield. The shield frees the other weapon to attack while a defence is conducted. The Roman demonstration illustrates there are times when the parry with a sword or other weapon is preferable to movement of the shield. Perhaps raising of the shield should be accompanied by an outward swatting movement to open a new line by which to keep the enemy in view? This might incorporate a simultaneous cut to the enemy’s attacking arm.
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Phillosoph

Shield and Buckler and Long Har Chuan

Recently I read a very interesting book called “Medieval Sword and Shield” by Paul Wagner and Stephen Hand. The generic title is a little misleading, since specifically the book covers the fighting system shown in I.33. Royal Armouries Ms. I.33, which is the earliest known surviving European fechtbuch (combat manual) and addresses the use of the sword and buckler. The book “The Medieval Art of Swordsmanship” by Jeffrey L Forgeng has a very nice reproduction and translation of I.33. The above volumes sit side by side on my bookshelf.
I.33 is not an easy work to understand. Medieval conventions on artwork make is uncertain as to the actual postures of the fighters, and the text is often less than clear and has some probable errors. It has been suggested that the manuscript was written for readers already familiar with the system described. Perhaps there was once an earlier “beginner’s course” manuscript, since lost to history.
If you read I.33 you will appreciate what a sterling job Paul Wagner and Stephen Hand have done in interpreting I.33 into a realistic fighting system. The book is comprehensive and logically laid out. Nearly every technique described is illustrated by a photo sequence, and in most cases the text is on the same page as the photos. As I know from personal experience, the latter is often much harder to achieve than one might think!

Stab-Knock and Shield-Knock

I.33 only deals with the use of sword and buckler, and the way these are used is distinctive. The buckler is seldom used independently. If the sword is held back in a cocked or charged position the buckler is advanced towards the foe. When the sword is forward the buckler is kept near the sword hand, and moved so that it is always between the sword hand and the likely approach of the enemy’s blade.
“Half-shield” counter and “Underarm” ward. Core techniques of I.33
Two of the core techniques of I.33 are “stab-knock/ thrust-strike (stichslac)” and “shield-knock (schlitslac)”.
A stab-knock is made when the buckler contacts and controls the opposing blade. Since the fighter is to keep sword and buckler together the stab-knock is both an attack and defence in single time. While the term thrust or stab is used, the attack may actually be a draw-cut or push-cut (aka “file”). Contrary to the tired old myth that medieval swords were only swung, I.33 shows a number of thrusts. Often the line of the sword obstructs the threat from the foe’s blade. This is reminiscent of the Long Har Chuan variant where an arm punches over an inward parry, simultaneously taking the parry over and striking. Addressing another common myth; in I.33 a parry or bind with the blade often precedes the involvement of the buckler.
A stab-knock (or possibly a shield-knock and strike). Hands would be closer together at the beginning of a stab-knock.
Shield-knock generally refers to binding the foe’s bucker with your own. Ideally this pins the opponent’s sword and buckler against his body, allowing the fighter’s sword to attack independently. The latter assumes the enemy has his sword-hand and buckler close together, as recommended by I.33. Shield-knock is sometimes seen applied to a buckler alone, or sometimes the sword-hand. If the enemy has not protected the sword-hand with his buckler then striking his arm with the buckler, preferably edge-on, is suggested. Shield-knock differs from stab-knock in that the sword may be wielded independently when a shield-knock is used.
Right stays too long in fifth ward, so left shield-knocks his buckler and strikes. A strike in the other direction would inhibit right’s sword-arm from making a late attack. Left probably stepped to right’s weak side, but this is not shown by medieval art.
Right shield-knocks both buckler and sword. With no opposition to his blade he strikes the head.

Distance, Wards and Counters

I won’t attempt to discuss most of the techniques in Medieval Sword and Shield since they would be hard to understand outside the context provided by the book.
A useful concept that the book describes is that of close distance, wide distance and out of distance. Close distance is when the fighters can strike each other without moving their feet. Wide distance is that where a stepping movement is needed to move into striking distance. Out of distance is where more than one stepping movement would be needed to reach striking range. Such terminology is fairly common in sword fighting circles but often not so clearly and simply stated in other martial arts.
Another useful concept is the book clearly distinguishes between the terms “ward (custodiis)” and “counter (obsesseo)” as used by I.33. A ward is a position you adopt before making an attack, while a counter is a position adopted in response to a ward. It is stressed that one should not “lie” in a ward. This echoes my own frequent comments about positions and stances not being static and being transitional.

Modern Applications

What can Medieval Sword and Shield teach the modern serviceman or prepper? More than you might think! For example, several of the core techniques show elements of Long Har Chuan, and I will deal with that topic further in a moment.
In Crash Combat I advise the baton and machete user to become familiar with rising and horizontal strikes. The two most versatile wards of I.33 are “underarm” and “priest’s special longpoint”. The bucker is held in a similar position for that recommended for the unarmed “alive-hand”.
While we have machetes and other long blades, a buckler is unlikely to be used. Some of the buckler techniques are not suited to larger shields such as a riot shield. In two of my books I describe using a helmet of entrenching tool in the weak hand to defend from a blade. The I.33 principle of keeping such a defence between your weapon-hand and the threat is directly applicable.
I.33 shows very few attacks to the hands or arms. The implication is that if the buckler techniques described are used such attacks are highly unlikely. In combat without bucklers the hands and forearms will often be targeted, whether a machete, baton or smaller blade is used. This is why you must keep your hands and yourself moving.

Long Har Chuan and Weapons

As I mentioned already, we can see the core principles of Long Har Chuan being used in some of the fundamental techniques of I.33. Long Har Chuan boils down to two ideas: When we make an inward parry, we take over with an outward parry. When we make an outward parry we simultaneously make an action with our other hand, either a strike or the beginning of another parry. If we parry a foe’s right hand with an outward parry from our right hand we would move left and hit him with our left hand.
Using a machete or baton has some influence on how Long Har Chuan is applied. If you have a long weapon in one hand you will likely favour its use. In offence the weapon has more reach and inflicts more damage. For defence it has more reach and is less vulnerable than your empty hand.
A bind. Note how bucklers cover the sword hand.
Suppose your enemy has a machete in his right hand, and you are configured the same. Your first move will be to bind his blade. “Bind” has a number of different meanings in blade fighting, and is used here to mean a sustained contact between blades, usually to exert control. Contact his blade on the outside, with your own, remembering that the strongest part of a blade is near the hilt, so attempt to bind “forte to forte”. Press his blade to your right and step in to your left. Make contact with his weapon arm with your left hand at the wrist, forearm or inner elbow. This hand controls, checks and monitors his weapon arm. This frees our weapon hand to unbind and strike at the foe’s neck. Rather than a broad swing, this may the a thrusting action, resulting in a thrust, draw-cut or push-cut. If we instead sensed his weapon arm reacting we might instead strike down at it with our blade. The procedure is similar for a bind on the inside of his blade, but in this instance his other hand is a potential threat and your should be ready to strike at this if necessary before attacking the neck. As can be seen, both inward and outward parries/ binds are taken over by the free hand to free the blade for use.
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Phillosoph

Roundhouses and Side Kicks

Over Christmas I made some changes to the Global Editions of “Attack, Avoid, Survive”. These were mainly changes of font or tweaks to improve readability. The sort of things that nobody but the author are likely to notice. Due to the caprices of word processors, this took way longer than it should have, minor changes throwing dozens of illustrations out of position. I may have finally learnt my lesson, so do not expect any further modifications in the near future, if ever!

The Mystery of the Muay Thai Roundhouse

Of course, during this I did add some more content. Mainly paragraphs or sentences clarifying existing sections. The book is now a couple of pages and several hundred words longer.
As I added some extra text to the section on roundhouse kicks a memory stirred. Some reference to the roundhouse kicks of Muay Thai being different and “the leg swung like a baseball bat”. I consulted a few references on Muay Thai that I have. There is no doubt that Thai boxers make very effective use of roundhouse kicks, but I could find no difference in the description of methods. I realized that the origin of the half-remembered quotation may be Wikipedia. Reading the section on Muay Thai roundhouses, I was informed that the leg was straight on impact and that power came from rotation of the body. That is exactly what I had always done, and I cannot see any other way to do it. How could I execute a circular kick without involving the hips or waist? I consult the “Essential Book of Martial Arts Kicks” from Tuttle Press. There is a section on “Straight Leg Roundhouse” and a mention of its use by Muai Thai. I am told that it is no longer a whipping kick but a “momentum” kick. I presume this refers to kicking with a follow through. The description could be read to mean the leg is forced to keep straight, but such would cause tensing and is contrary to increasing momentum and good kicking technique.
I will explain here that I originally learnt my kicks in Karate, polishing my technique with Capoeira. Roundhouse kicks were taught by adopting horse stance and kicking through 180 degrees to one side from the other. In Capoeira roundhouse kicks were snapped off from ginga. The rear foot left the ground and struck out in front of you, following a course that was effectively a horizontal snap kick. With either, your leg finished straight if your kicking leg was properly relaxed. It was impossible to not use body rotation with this kick, and probably dangerous to try!

The Solution

It was only when I began to read about how other styles performed roundhouse kicks that I solved the mystery. For me, a roundhouse began when the kicking foot was still on the ground. For others, it started once the knee was raised up in the air. Hip rotation might be used for a kick from the back leg, but there were a variety of other kicks considered roundhouses. The raised knee position could be used to throw either a roundhouse, side kick or hook kick, so was useful for competitions. My Karate style had not been interested in sport and competitions, so the roundhouse I had learnt was closer to the powerful form used in Muay Thai. Of course, it is possible that the Wiki writer fell into the trap of over-specificity, looking for differences where few actually exist.

Essential Book of Martial Arts Kicks

The “Essential Book of Martial Arts Kicks” is worth a look, if you keep in mind it is primarily concerned with sport, tournaments and competition. All the kicks include an example of a self-defence application, but some of these will be more applicable or practical in the real world than others. The authors comment that most hook kicks are relatively new, implying they are something that has evolved more for competitions than actual combat. I was also intrigued to see crescent kicks were highly thought of. Personally, I am quite fond of crescent kicks, but have some reservations about their use in real combat. They are, however, a very good training aid for certain modes of footwork and maneouvre. The authors suggest that the broad striking area of a crescent kick is compensated for by the unexpectedness and variety of targets that it can attack, which is worth pondering. While the book has an emphasis on Karate and Tae Kwon Do, some attention is given to variations used in Savate, Capoeira, Chinese and Indonesian styles. A number of the Capoeira kicks and tactics seldom encountered in other styles are included, but I would have liked to see more Capoeira and Savate.

Side Kick Variations

Duck away from threat and two side kicks.
Evasion by turning, and side kick to outside gate
Side kick to outside gate preceded by body turn and back-fist.
Duck followed by side kick with hand on ground.
Drop to one knee to avoid attack, then side kick as rising.
Side kick from the ground. Attacker’s knee is an alternate target.
Well worth a read is the chapter on side kicks. Side kicks are a very useful real world technique, and this chapter illustrates side kicks thrown from a number of unconventional positions or combined with evasions. Some of these may be considered hybrids of side and back kicks, and many of the above positions may also be used for a back kick instead. One of the setups illustrated resembles the start of an outward crescent kick from the lead leg, and can be used to attack an aggressor on the outside gate.
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Phillosoph

Fighting Knives in a Modern Context

The other day I found myself thinking about the variety of weapons taught by many martial arts. When these arts were created, most of these weapons were relatively common place. The battlefield, and the street, have changed since those times. You are unlikely to fight with a sword, a knife or machete being more probable. The entrenching tool is more likely to be to hand than an axe or mace. Your spear or staff will seldom have to deal with a horseman, and is much handier if its length is less than your height. The stick remains a useful weapon, but nowadays will often be wielded with the intention of not seriously injuring a foe.
Those of you that wisely have invested in a copy of “Crash Combat” will recognize the above as the arsenal of modern weapons included in the course.
The above reflection melded with a question my subconscious had recently posed to me: “Does one need a combat knife?” Some authors use the term “combat knife” or “tactical knife” to mean a variety of multipurpose knife. In this blog I am talking about specialist designs that have the primary role of use against two-legged predators.
Certainly, it is prudent to have a knife that one can fight with, but what are the merits of spending good money on a knife that is primarily designed as a weapon? And what form should such a knife take? There is a baffling variety of supposed combat or fighting knives.

Context

To answer that last point, we must return to the theme noted in the first paragraph. We cannot really consider a fighting knife without also considering context. The requirements of a fighting knife have changed as the nature of combat has changed. In the Middle Ages, for example, it was desirable that a blade be stout enough to deal with body armour, yet narrow enough to slip between plates or through a visor. Jump forward to the age of the rapier and a dagger might be required to serve as a main gauche. The Bowie knife provides us with another illustration. The Bowie blade shape is commonly used for survival knives, which tends to make us forget the original Bowie knives were primarily fighting weapons. The Bowie came into fashion in an era when pistols were generally single-shot. The Bowie was a handy alternative to a sabre or smallsword. The fighting Bowie was at least eight inches long, with examples longer than twelve inches by no means unusual. A blade might be a quarter of an inch thick and broad enough to look like a pointed cleaver, which essentially was what it was. It might be used against other knives, or longer edged weapons. The usefulness of the Bowie waned with the increasing availability of mass-produced revolvers. Apparently many volunteers in the War Between the States invested in impressive Bowies, only to discard them once the wisdom of a lighter marching load became apparent.
There seems little point nowadays in carrying a large fighting knife such as a Bowie or smatchet. Many large utility knives, billhooks and machetes can defend our person equally well and prove far more useful for other, more likely tasks. You probably also own entrenching tools, hatchets and tomahawks that would also be superior weapons.

The Modern Fighting Knife

Let us assume that you want a fighting/ combat/ tactical knife, on the basis that you may one day perhaps need it. The fighting knife will be carried in addition to more general-purpose blades, so cannot be too large or heavy. If a fighting knife has a place in our arsenal, then logically it must be because it can meet a requirement or scenario better than our large survival knives and other tools. Large knives are not particularly concealable. While it is possible to thrust effectively with a machete or kukri, it is not the ideal shape for use against thick clothing and a hypothetical “take out the sentry” application. This narrows down the form that a modern fighting/ tactical knife should take and what we should be looking for when making our selection. This is best illustrated with some examples.

Fairbairn-Sykes Commando Knife

No discussion of modern fighting knives would be complete without mention of the Fairbairn-Sykes knife, aka “The Commando Knife” or F-S. If fighting knives are mentioned, this is most likely the image that popped into your head.
At the start of his book “Combat Use of the Double Edged Fighting Knife”, Rex Applegate gives a nice summary of desirable features for a modern fighting knife:
“The heart of the fighting knife is its blade. It should be 5 to 7 inches in length, double-edged, and wide enough to be razor sharp on both sides all the way back to the cross guard. The point must be sharp enough to penetrate and thick and tough enough to withstand side pressure.
The blade should provide slashing, ripping, and thrusting capabilities. Stainless type steel, correctly tempered, with a dull finish is preferable. The blade should be tempered to hold an edge as well as being easily sharpened and, at the same time, not brittle.
The oval-shape handle should fit the palm of the hand and be designed so that the edges of the blade can be immediately, and automatically, located in dark or light conditions. A nonslip surface is another feature that should be incorporated. The handle should not turn in the hand (sweaty palms, etc.) when the blade strikes resistance. The knife should be handle heavy with relation to balance. Nothing in the design should limit its possibilities for use as a weapon from any position or either hand. The overall length should be approximately 10 to 11 inches; anything longer makes it too unwieldy and cumbersome to carry. The weight should be in the 1/2 to 3/4 pound range.”
Applegate’s earlier work, “Kill or Get Kill”, has a similar description, although includes the suggestion that the blade be no more than an inch across at the guard, and that the handle have its largest diameter at the centre and taper towards both the guard as well as the butt.
Contrary to what you may often see claimed, the F-S is not the “Ultimate Fighting Knife” [ignoring that this is not what “ultimate” actually means!]. Comparison to Applegate’s description quickly illustrates why. The grip of the F-S is round in section, rather oval. Being of cast metal, the grip is difficult to modify or replace. While the balance point is in the grip, the cast grip possibly contributes some unnecessary weight. Oddly, my F-S seems heavier than my M3, but is actually half an ounce lighter. If you own an F-S, you will know that it is very difficult to get a sharp edge on it. Common advice on the net is to regard the F-S as a thrusting weapon only, and steel the edge at an angle of about 40 degrees. The “razor-sharp commando knife” is a licence of the novelist who has never owned one!
Some of these features seem to have been the result of wartime mass-production, which have persisted. Fairbairn’s writings on how to use the knife include illustration of cuts and slashes directed to the forearm and inside of the elbow, although how practical this would have been against a woollen greatcoat or tunic is debatable. Incidentally, the ancestors of the FS were the Shanghai Fighting Knives, which were made from obsolete double-edged Lee Metford 1888 bayonets. In his own words:
In choosing a knife there are two important factors to bear in mind: balance and keenness. The hilt should fit easily in your hand, and the blade should not be so heavy that it tends to drag the hilt from your fingers in a loose grip. It is essential that the blade have a sharp stabbing point and good cutting edges, because an artery torn through (as against a clean cut) tends to contract and stop the bleeding.

Boker Applegate-Fairbairn

Following World War Two, Applegate collaborated with Boker to produce a knife that met his requirements, called the Applegate-Fairbairn. I have no personal experience of these, and they are likely to always be beyond my price range.

Gerber Mk II

The Gerber Mk II answers many of the complaints that can be made about the F-S. While it is called the “Mk II Survival” this is primarily a fighting knife. Mine has taken a fairly respectable edge. The bad news is that the Mk II tends to have a higher price tag than one might wish for a knife that will not be your primary survival tool.

M3 Trench Knife

Shown with my FS and Gerber is my M3 Trench Knife. The M3 was also produced in German as the “NATO combat knife”. A nice design feature is the asymmetrical guard, allowing the user to find the orientation of the main edge even in the dark. While the M3 was designed as a utility knife, its configuration makes it a pretty good choice for a fighting knife. Personally, I do not mind that it is not double-edged. The false edge comes already sharpened, and the balance of the knife is about an inch behind the guard, just where you would want it. If you shop around, you can find reproduction M3s for a reasonable price. Try websites that cater for WW2 re-enactors. Take a look at German trench knives while you are there. In “Kill or Get Killed”, Applegate suggests “utility knives” can be reground into fighting knives, and shows a knife so converted. Presumably he means the M3, although he at one point claims that the utility knife has its weight too far forward in the blade.
The M3 as it comes is a pretty good fighting knife, with the option of serving in utility roles in an emergency. Ideally a fighting knife should only be used for its intended role, to keep it sharp. Price of a reproduction M3 makes it a good basis for a custom project. Blade blanks for M3s or the related bayonet models may also be found. As Applegate suggests, the top edge can be extended, and if you have a belt-grinder adding a hollow grind is relatively simple. Tapering the blade may be more challenging. The grip of leather washers is probably simple to reshape or remove. Grip tape may prove useful here. The metal butt-plate may be more problematic.

The V42

The V42 is another wartime design of fighting knife. The skull-crusher pommel is a nice feature, although probably larger than needed. My main complaint about this knife is the guard could be narrower and the blade somewhat broader.

Smaller Fighting Knives

As implied above, your fighting knife should be chosen so that it can be carried in situations you cannot carry a larger survival knife. With this in mind I will present two smaller examples of what can be considered fighting/ tactical knives.
The larger knife is a Smith and Wesson 820. The false edge is not sharpened, but the main edge has sharpened up to a very sharp edge. Very impressive, and a very reasonably priced knife with most of the features you might wish for.
The smaller knife is a CRKT version of the AG Russell Sting (as favoured by a well-known literary figure!). Small, but very solid and sharp. Note that both knives have lanyard holes, a feature that would be welcome on the larger knives. Adding wrist loops is on my to-do list.
These are some of your off-the-shelf options, illustrated with examples I have to hand. Later blogs will cover other options.
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Phillosoph

Breakfalls: The Lateral Roll

Close combat has been described as the art of knocking someone down and kicking them while they are down. In this light, it is perhaps surprising that breakfalls are a rather neglected skill in many martial arts and self-defence courses.
The book Arwrology recounts and incident where a serviceman uses a breakfall to avoid injury when he is thrown to the ground during a bombing raid. Breakfall techniques can be incorporated into the warm-up for a training session in any martial style. In an ideal society, children would be taught breakfalls in kindergarten, learning a useful skill to save them from possible injuries in later life.
It will come as no surprise that Crash Combat and Attack, Avoid, Survive both contain sections on breakfalls. Breakfalls can be classed as “rolls”, “slaps” and “non-traditional”. A roll is self-explanatory. Slaps use the impact of the forearms and palms on the ground to brake the fall. In my books, the non-traditional techniques are represented by the cartwheel and the parachute landing fall. Once, on an isolated mountain path I missed my footing. Executing a parachute landing fall saved me from injury in a remote location, even though I was wearing a heavy pack.
In my books I also describe the forward roll, and slap techniques to the front, side and rear. Today I will look at two additional techniques.
The first is the rear roll. This resembles the rear slapping technique, but without using the forearms to brake you. The starting posture for learning resembles that used to learn the rear slapping roll. Instead of using your arms you continue to roll backwards, across your back and shoulders. It may be necessary to roll several times. Ideally you finish on your feet, ready to stand up from the squat position.
The second technique is the “lateral roll” (yokonagare). The starting position for learning this resembles that used for the sideways slap breakfall. These photo sequences from books by Stephen Hayes illustrate the principle better than my text does:
The extended leg provides balance, and should be extended straight so that the bottom of the thigh absorbs the impact with the ground. The supporting leg is allowed to fold as much as practical to reduce drop distance. In the first sequence the roll seems to be to the rear quarter rather than to the side. The same starting position and core technique can be used to make a roll to the rear.
The lateral roll has a number of other applications. As well as being a breakfall, the technique can be used to drop below and away from an attack. It can also be used to drop and roll behind cover if spotted or fired upon. Possibly the move could be incorporated into certain sacrifice throws.
This is a move that can be initiated from any stance where the weight can be easily transferred to the rear leg. My Capoeira background notes that the actual roll action is preceded by a posture similar to negativa. It also resembles the semi-squat position often seen with some Chinese martial arts. For negativa and other breakfalls, see my books.

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Phillosoph

Wind and the White Crane: Hidden Hand Attacks.

I have used lockdown as a chance to complete a number of projects. I have also done a lot of reading on a wide variety of topics. This included finishing some books I had stalled on, and looking at some others I had just never got around to giving my full attention to. In the latter category were a number of books on Ninjitsu, including some by Stephen Hayes. Books on this topic often have a lot of chaff in with the wheat, although to be fair, that is true of many martial arts books written in the 80s, if not in general!

The Wind Posture

One of the sections that interested me was that on stances, the stance associated with the element “wind” in particular.
As I have discussed in my own books, I feel “stance” and most of its English alternatives is an unsatisfactory term. It is a transitional rather than stationary configuration. Hayes likens them to snapshots or frames from a film rather than being stationary. Most of us, even many high-grade martial artists, have a relatively shallow immersion in the art. Stances are an important training aid but it is easy to become diverted by the details rather than passing through to master the underlying concepts. Interestingly the Japanese term “kamae” translates as “pose” or “posture”, but also as “base”. Stances are often the foundation for learning.
From Stephen Hayes Ninja Vol.1:
“The wind level of consciousness is characterized by the receiving posture, or hira no kamae. The receiving posture couples a freely moving base and the power to harmonize the body with the intentions of an attacker. The feet are placed hip-width apart and carry the body weight evenly. The knees are flexed slightly more than in the natural posture, creating a feeling of balance in the hips similar to that experienced just before sitting down on a chair. The back is straight, in a natural manner, and the shoulders are relaxed. The arms extend outstretched to the sides with the hands open, and the eyes gaze forward in soft focus, taking in the whole picture without limiting the concentration to one single point.
The body should have an extremely light, almost floating feel to it. Epitomizing some concepts that are the opposite of those embodied in the shizen earth pose, the wind-level hira no kamae prepares the fighter for adapting to and going with the attacking moves of the enemy. This adaptive sensitivity is centered in the chest behind the breastbone. The evenly distributed balance facilitates quick and easy movement in any direction in response to the attacker’s intentions. The outstretched arms have the potential of becoming tools to carry out punches, strikes, deflections, blocks, throws and locks, as well as acting as distractions and calming techniques.
In self-protection situations, the hira posture is used to handle attackers in a way that subdues them without injury, if possible. The pose itself is nonthreatening, and it appears to be an attempt to fend off an attack or to reassure an adversary that there is no hostile intention, as upraised open hands traditionally symbolize surrender or benediction. From the hira no kamae, footwork proceeds with circular or straight- line movements, as appropriate for the specific circumstances. The arms are used to entangle the adversary with spiraling actions or intercept the adversary with direct advances.”
Another book on Taijutsu (by Charles Daniels, taught by the same sensei as Hayes, Masaaki Hatsumi) shows a posture it calls “hoe no kamae”. While this uses an L stance and raised forearms, I suspect the application is similar.
Those of you wise enough to have invested in a copy of Crash Combat or Attack, Avoid, Survive (thank you!) will know I place considerable emphasis on evasion rather than parrying or blocking. The basis of this is the ginga movement from Capoeira. Could the wind kamae be an alternative or complimentary evasion technique to ginga?
Sadly, I do not currently have much room to dance around, so I cannot experiment much with movement and evasive moves in hira no kamae. Some observations:
On its own, hira no kamae and hoe no kamae look like the fighter is just standing there saying “Go on dude, hit me!”. This is one of the symptoms of regarding a stance as static, amplified by still photography. In practice, this posture will be used to allow fast body turns. The outstretched arms contribute to maintaining balance. Study the body twist used in the photos below. Hira no kamae is not used, but it could have been passed through if the defender had thrown up his arms for stability. Both of my martial arts titles explain how to use quick evasive turns similar to that shown. You will find these in the bayonet and knife sections, as well as elsewhere in the text.

White Crane

Hira no kamae may have reminded some of you of the white crane-inspired movements used in some styles of Kung Fu and Karate. Not surprisingly, white crane styles often put a considerable emphasis on evasion.
The extended lead arm can be used to parry attacks that cannot be fully avoided. Brought up under the attacker’s armpit and we have the Tai Chi technique of “diagonal flying”. This is effectively the same principle as using a straight-arm Karate parry against a foe’s torso and breaking their balance.
Hayes’ books often show defensive strikes made against the attacking limb, including from hira no kamae. This is also a tactic favoured by many white crane styles.
The wind posture is likely to place a defender side on to an attacker. As described above, the lead hand may be used for an assortment of parries and strikes. The latter include finger jabs to the face and clawing actions. The rear hand has the advantage that is has a considerable distance in which to generate power, and that it is effectively hidden from the attacker’s view. This is the equivalent of the “tail” position used with swords and other weapons. The foe has no idea from what direction a rear hand attack may come, and the rotation of the waist can create power and velocity.
One option is to adopt a side-on horse stance as the forward arm parries. The rear hand then executes a classic reverse punch, the hips twisting through ninety degrees to transition into forward stance. Hook punches are another useful technique for an enemy you are side on to.

Kup and Pow

In Complete Wing Chun (Vol.2) the author discusses Pak Hok Pai, a white crane style with several techniques suited to attacking an opponent to the side. In best Batman tradition, two of these are called “pow” and “kup”. Pow chui has been described as a straight uppercut employed with a semicircular body motion. I like to think of it as a “long uppercut”, although technically it is more of a long shovel-hook. Targets include the testicles, kidneys or throat. Kup/ cup chui is a downwards, overhead strike that can be targeted at the soft muscles of a kicking leg or the forearm, biceps or triceps of an attacking or guarding arm. The temple, nose or top of the head can also be targeted with kup. Like the corkscrew hook described in Attack, Avoid, Survive, a kup can be used to reach over and around a guard. The difference is that the kup typically comes from the rear hand while the corkscrew starts as a lead jab. Choy Lay Fut is also notable for use of large arc swinging strikes.
A more horizontal motion, intermediate between pow and kup can be used to throw a lateral, circular strike (a “roundhouse punch”, perhaps?), more open and straighter-armed than a hook. While this has elements of being a “haymaker”, many of the standard objections do not apply if correct tactics and a hidden hand posture is used. The back and kidneys or below the guard are the favoured target areas. An upward angled or horizontal strike can be applied to the area of the sixth to tenth ribs: above the floating ribs and below the level of the lower tip of the sternum. This is likely to affect the lungs. All these punches are powered by waist/ hip rotation and are most effective with a relaxed, easily accelerated arm.
Kup and pow are both performed using the second knuckle of the fingers as the striking surface. These are the knuckles that would make contact if you were knocking on a door. Some styles call this a “leopard fist”. Attack, Avoid, Survive showed a related technique, the half-fist, used to attack soft, narrow targets such as between the ribs. The thumb is often pressed against the side of the fingers, rather than being clamped across them as with a conventional fist. Rear hand attacks can also utilize palm-strikes, chops and hammer-fist strikes.

Tai Chi

In “How To Use Tai Chi as a Fighting Art” Erle Montaigue describes the Stork Spreads Wings Punch, another potential rear hand attack. The “Stork Spreads Wings” posture is often translated as “white crane…”:
“This punch is one of the most powerful punches from any martial art. It is totally centrifugal and quite fast considering its distance…This is one of only three punches in T’ai Chi that uses the first two knuckles, in T’ai Chi we use the knuckles that most suit the position of the palm upon impact otherwise we use extra muscles to hold the palm into position and there-by lessen its impact…If you block with the right fist across to the left against a left face attack with the left palm underneath it, … the left palm then takes over the block while the right fist is thrown out at the target with the turning of the waist…Your left palm looks after the left fist while your right fist circles back up in a centrifugal punch to his left temple”