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Phillosoph

Aim Low! Avoid Disappointment!

Because it is what was taught in basic, many shooters assume that “center of mass” is the optimum approach to bullet placement. It isn't.
Firstly, “center of mass” is something of a misnomer. What we are actually attempting is placing the bullet in the centre of visible shape. While the term “center of mass” is freely used, it is seldom defined. I think of it as the centre of an X drawn from shoulders to hips, but I suspect others may use different visualizations.
If you have learnt a little anatomy, such as reading “Attack, Avoid, Survive”, you will understand that putting a bullet into the centre of shape will often avoid hitting the central nervous system unless the enemy is running straight at you.
Often you will not have a shot at the torso. When a head appears around cover, firing at its centre will often result in a miss. A better point of aim is about an inch below the visible area.
Center of mass does have its uses. It is taught since it is felt to be easy to learn, and it is because it is what we have always done. Against a vehicular target, center of mass (or leading edge) is a good aimpoint. If you are springing an ambush, chaos and disruption are primary objectives. Multiple wounding shots or near misses may be more effective in that context than a lesser number of clean kills.
In “Attack, Avoid, Survive” and “Survival Weapons” I explained shot placement in the context of anatomy. If you have a relatively good view of your target, or sufficient time, this is your best approach.
The following two illustrations are of interest:
Shot Placement for Snipers
The first is taken from a WW2 manual for American snipers (FM21-75 Feb, 1944 p.172). The rifle was zeroed to 400 yards and the shooter encouraged to use offset aiming rather than adjusting their sights. Note that at 400 yards the intended target appears to be the armpit-level line, as advocated in my own books. At less than 400 yards, the sniper is recommended to aim twelve inches below the intended point of impact.
M14 Aim Points
The second illustration is from a manual for the M14, which was zeroed to 250 metres. At ranges of less than 200 metres the round would hit high so soldiers were taught to aim at the bottom edge of the “center mass”.
Most military rifles are zeroed to 300 yards or metres. Some older models have battle sights set for 400 yards. Yet most combat shots are made at less than 200 metres, where the bullet is expected to hit several inches above the point of aim! Any wonder that shooting directly at a face will so often miss?
In combat, it is common for troops to shoot high anyway. This is partially stress, but also poor visibility makes targets appear more distant. Differences in elevation will also have an effect.
Firing through a sloped windscreen will tend to deflect a bullet upwards. This occurs if outside firing in or inside firing out. The solution is to aim low.
Often a target will be at a higher or lower elevation. You may be firing down from a hill, or being fired upon from an upper window or roof. The actual range to the target is not a straight line between the shooter and target. Imagine a right-angled triangle, with the shooter at one corner and the target at the other. It doesn't matter which is higher, since the effect is exactly the same both “uphill” and “downhill”. The direct distance between shooter and target would be the hypotenuse of the triangle. As far as the bullet and gravity are concerned, the relevant distance is horizontal, the length of the triangle base. The true or horizontal range will always be shorter than the slant range. Using a 5:4:3 triangle for illustration, the horizontal distance will be 20-40% less than the direct line between target and shooter. Shots up or from elevations tend to hit high.
There are two solutions to these effects. If you have any choice in the matter, zero your combat rifle to 200 metres so that it tends to hit what you point at. This gives a mid-range trajectory of only two or three inches. For longer ranged shots, learn the correct holdover and offset aim-point. Tactically, you are often better off waiting for an enemy to get close or pass by. Long-range engagements are better left to machine-gunners, mortars and snipers.
The second solution is to make the belt-buckle your default point of aim. I believe there is an episode of the Simpsons where Homer claims the family moto is “Aim Low! Avoid Disappointment!”.
• If you are at a higher or lower elevation, aim at the target's belt-buckle.
• If you are uncertain of the range, aim at the belt-buckle. A short shot may still glance off the ground and hit the target.
• If the target is moving, visualize the belt-buckle and aim for it. This method automatically tends to adjust for relative angle of motion. If the target is moving obliquely aiming for the buckle will put less lead on the shot.
• Unless range is very short, snap shots should be aimed at the belt-buckle.
• A target may be prone, or looking around cover. Aim your shot about an inch below the visible target area. A low shot may still endanger the target.
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Phillosoph

Crash Combat Third Edition Out Now!

I am pleased to announce that the Third Edition of Crash Combat has now become available.
This version has been extensively expanded, being about 30% longer. More content, extra illustrations, more techniques, new techniques and generally much more book for your money. In addition, much of the book has been rewritten and restructured so information is more easily assimilated and learnt.
While Crash Combat was originally written for a military context, it remains relevant to any individual wishing to learn to protect themselves in this dangerous and uncertain world.
Visit the Author Spotlight for my other books.
May be purchased direct from Lulu.com in either print or epub format. It will take a few more days or more for this version to appear with other retailers. Buying from Lulu costs you less and more of the money goes to the author.

Update!

I have just received and approved the proof copy of the print version. Very pleased with how it looks and reads. Treat yourself!
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Phillosoph

Modern Quick-Draw for Self-Defence

Recently I have been thinking a little on the subjects of quick-draw and hip-shooting.
One reason for this is that I treated myself to the Kindle Edition of “Shooting” by J. Henry FitzGerald. A very entertaining read and lots of information that is still useful, even if the book was written in 1930. Expect me to refer back to this work in future posts. I highly recommend it.
At around the same time, I came across an article on quick-draw by Elmer Keith. Unfortunately the print quality is too poor for me to reproduce it here. Much of the article is padding and anecdotes, but there were a couple of useful ideas within. Article was originally in “American Rifleman” Sep 1938. Reproduced in Poor Man’s James Bond, Vol.5, Kurt Saxon. “No Second Place Winner” by Bill Jordan is also worth a read on this topic.
I also reread Fairbairn and Sykes’ (F&S) “Shooting to Live”. This is another “must read”, although it doesn’t have a lot on quick-draw. While most of the F&S technique is not hip-shooting, it did provide some insight.
The main reason I decided to discuss this topic was due to some of the videos I viewed. The cowboy action shooters I will discuss in a moment. Most of the “non-cowboys” would quick draw their weapons, then slow down as they locked their arms straight, lined up their sights, held their breath and did all the other things their shooting guru of preference recommends. Most took more than a second to draw and fire. Some individuals were faster, but still we were looking at around three-quarters of a second. In the early part of Shooting to Live the authors state that the considerable experience of the Shanghai Police had found making a hit within a third of a second was desirable to officer survival. Admittedly, this was not necessarily quick-draw from a holster.
Gun Magazines love to fill their column inches with “either/or” binary propositions. One example of these is “Frontier style” vs “Aimed Technique”. For the duration of this article I would like you to forget all you have read along these lines and temporarily accept two other propositions:
• There is a time for aimed pistol fire, and there are times when there is no time for aimed fire.
• If you have to quick-draw, you need to put lead in the target in the shortest time possible.
“Shoot double action if it is at short range and quick draw is not necessary at long range.”
Shooting. FitzGerald, J. Henry. Sportsman's Vintage Press. Kindle Edition.
Doc Holiday and Wynonna

The Cowboys

Cowboy action shooting actually proved less useful than I expected. Certainly the fast-draw experts are very fast. However, this is achieved by firing as soon as the muzzle is out of the holster. The muzzle may be right above the holster.
To speed this up, most cowboy action shooters would lean backwards. This technique is not really applicable to self-defensive shooting. If someone is likely to be shooting back you will probably be crouched forward. You also may have to quick-draw from a seated position where you cannot lean back.
My other reservation is that I have no idea how important accuracy is to cowboy quick-draw shooting competitions. One shooter did say something about accuracy coming with a few thousand practice rounds. Perfecting literal hip-shooting may be beyond the means of many of us.
Some aspects of cowboy fast-draw are specific to single-action only weapons such as the Colt Peacemaker. Practical defensive handguns should have a double-action mode.
The best advice I got from my brief dip into cowboy quick-drawer was “Don’t hold your breath!” As we know for other fields of combat training, relaxed bodies and untensed muscles move faster.

When Not to Draw

In a past blog I referenced a video of some young guys practising fast-draws against charging training partners and imaginary enemies. As I commented then, “speed and skills were impressive, their tactics deplorable”.
No matter how fast you are, if an enemy is rushing in from close range, your first move should be to get out of the way. A well placed palm-strike or trip may drop them more effectively than any bullet. Once the immediate threat has past, then is the time to draw your weapon.
See “Attack, Avoid, Survive” and “Survival Weapons” for more on this topic.
If a target is within a few metres, thrusting your gun nearer towards them may not be prudent. There a numerous ways to dodge out of the line of fire at such ranges. You may have brought your hand(s) into range of unarmed, blade or baton attacks.

Quarter-Hip Position

Quarter-Hip Firing Position

I am showing the F&S “quarter-hip” position here since it has some parallels to cowboy hip shooting. Fairbairn and Sykes suggest this only be used at ranges of a yard or less. The gun is held back so an attacker cannot reach it. The free-hand can be used to fend off the attacker.
F&S note that this is the only one of their firing techniques where the gun is not fired from the centre-line. It can be fired parallel to the centre-line, although there is an obvious difference of half a body-width. It can be fired to intersect the centre-line. although this will require more skill at greater ranges.
I show a similar postion in “Survival Weapons” and “Attack. Avoid, Survive”. Keep the free-hand well out of the possible line of fire.

Safety

As should be done before any firearm training, or handling, verify the loaded status of your firearm.
For dry-firing, chamber or chambers should be emptied. With some weapons a loaded magazine can be left in place to keep the mass realistic. A revolver will need dummy cartridges instead. Some semi-automatics need the backward movement of the slide to recock their strikers. Magazines of live rounds should not be fitted for dry-firing practice with these models.
The trigger finger should not touch the trigger during the drawing phase. The trigger only comes into contact with the trigger when the muzzle is pointed at the target.

Consistency

The principle of consistency applies to many phases of training.
Train with the weapon, holster and holster position that you are most likely to be in when a potential need occurs.
A holster that always stays in the same relative position is obviously an advantage.
Accuracy comes from the weapon always firing from the same relative position.

Efficiency

Speed comes from efficiency. A quick-draw has three stages: the draw, the point and firing. Work to make each of these phases with the minimum of wasted motion. Make the transitions between them as as efficient and smooth as possible. The movement of the hand from the start of the draw until firing should be a single continuous motion.

Patience

To learn quick-draw safely, you should accept that you will have to practice at least several months without firing a round. You will be tempted to try it with live rounds, “just to see how it is going”. Do not! You will only be ready for live practice once you can honesty say that you have the phases of the draw and its whole working as efficiently as you can.
Start off at a slow speed. Trying to be fast is counter-productive. Speed will increase as you get smoother with practice.

The Quick-Draw

How you draw will depend on where you carry your holster, your weapon, your physique, manner of dress and many other factors.
Your free-hand may need to be involved to pull your jacket open or lift your shirt while the other hand draws.
For a strong-side holster, the most efficient draw may be simply to lift the pistol upwards out of the holster. As soon as the muzzle is clear of the holster the action of pointing it towards the target begins.
Shorter weapons are theoretically quicker to draw than longer ones. In practice an excess of force is used on the draw and, within limits, length has little significant effect. Shorter weapons are more practical to wear if you have to spend anytime seated. Compact/subcompact automatics of 7"/180mm loa. or less are recommended. If you have to use a revolver, have a snub with a barrel of less than 3"/76mm. Big bore options for revolver shooters include .45 Long Colt, .45 ACP, .44 Spl and .45LC/.410.

The Point

If we are quick-drawing, it is because we need to put lead in a bad guy ASAP! Logically, this means we fire as soon as the muzzle is pointing at the target. For the cowboy shooters this is a fraction after the muzzle is clear of the holster. With a typical low-slung cowboy rig, this is literally shooting from the hip.
For a shoulder carry, your weapon may be as high as chest-level when it points at the target. For most modern belt holsters, the gun will first point at the target at between groin and chest-level. “Hip-shooting” should not be taken too literally.
If your gun reaches eye-level before you fire, you have waited too long!
To continue my example of a quick-draw from a strong-side holster: Once the muzzle is out of the holster, straighten your wrist while at the same time pushing your gun-hand forward onto your centre-line. This is a very simple action that can be made very smoothly, particularly if your body is relaxed. Draw and point are thus a simple lift and then push sequence.
Raising the gun out of the holster probably raised your shoulder. The action of dropping the shoulder helps push the gun towards the target.
Keep your trigger finger clear of the trigger until your gun points toward the target. If your weapon uses a safety, do not release your safety until beginning to point towards the target. If it is single-action, cock as the target comes before your muzzle.
The weapon is aimed by turning the hips to place the target on your centre-line.
A sighting laser can prove useful when dry-firing. Plastic or wax ammunition can also prove useful.
Half-Hip Firing Position
For purposes of illustration, the F&S “half-hip” firing position. F&S suggest this for ranges of three yards. Actual angle of the elbow will depend on factors such as physique and holster position. The elbow angle will probably be more obtuse, although a high draw may make it acute. The point to observe here is the weapon is on the centre-line and pointed at the target.
In fact, the actual firing position may look closer to the F&S “three-quarter” position. This was for a crouched position and used for targets at three or four yards. Like the half-hip position, the gun was fired while still below the eye-line.
Three-Quarter Firing Position

The Free Hand

As already mentioned, your free-hand might have an important role in making your fast-draw.
Whether you need your free-hand or not, you should practice drawing so that your free-arm does not in anyway hinder or obstruct the draw. Shooting your own fingers off is not good form!
The technique described here may be made as either a one-handed or two-handed technique. As the gun-hand is pushed towards the centre-line, the other hand comes inward and upward to intercept it and come into a two-handed grip. Assuming a two-handed grip should disengage the safety with the free-hand (“fumble insurance!”).

Bang!

As soon as the weapon points at the target, fire.
Your handgun should have a double-action mode. A weapon without a manual safety, or that can safely be carried without this engaged should be selected. I have plenty of reverence for weapons like the Colt Government Model and Peacemaker, but when it comes to personal defence, and particularly quick-draw, your handgun should be as simple, straight-forward and least fiddly to operate as possible.
Through the entire drawing process your eyes should have been locked on your target, not your weapon. You should have adjusted your body to place the target on your centre-line. If your weapon has reached the centre-line and is pointing at the target, there is no reason to delay firing.
A standing human is taller than they are wide. If you have the aggressor on your centre-line, there is some margin for the elevation of your weapon. A first-round hit is very likely at the sort of ranges fast-draw would be used at. The pointing technique suggested tends to put the plane of the barrel parallel to the ground.
Accuracy and precision can be improved with practice, of course. A pair of silhouette targets, set up about six feet apart and eight feet away, is a good start. The Elmer Keith article had the useful suggestion that something like a tomato can laid on the earth was a good target for improvement. Missed shots were easily seen as impacts with the earth. Objects floating in bodies of water were also good targets.
As your accuracy increases, so too will the effective range of this technique.

Conversion

Something I like about this particular system of quick-draw is that it nicely integrates with other fast-shooting techniques. Once the first shot is fired at half-hip or three-quarter position, the arm can continue to straighten and rise up to eye-level. If you are shooting using the basic F&S technique you fire as soon as the weapon reaches eye-level. If you have a shade more time you use your foresight like a shotgun bead and place it on the target. This is how you would use a reflex sight. If your fast first shot has brought you more time you can line up and use the iron sights.
Bringing the gun on to the centre-line may be fractionally slower than firing from over the hip. I think this is compensated for by the benefits this has to making accurate shot placement easier.
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Phillosoph

The Point of Bayonets

Reams have been written about the bayonet in the last one hundred years. Several US Army manuals begin by talking about “the Spirit of the Bayonet”. Much is written about the psychological effects training and using the bayonet is supposed to induce. We are even told “the bayonet is irresistible”.
As I noted in an earlier post, the practicality of the bayonet as a weapon was being questioned as early as the introduction of breech-loaders. Once machine guns became common, one would think the matter had been settled. Not so.

The Bayonet en Mass

Part of the problem with examining this topic is that many writers fail to distinguish between the use of the bayonet in massed charges and its use in personal combat.
Many bayonet manuals do not give much space to how a massed charge is to be actually conducted. Perhaps this was covered in other manuals. A US Army manual from 1916 informs troops that they should walk most of the distance to the enemy position so as not to unduly tire themselves. At 30-40 yards distance they may begin to move at double time, and rush the last few yards. A British manual from 1942 urges troops to approach the enemy position using all available cover. When reaching 20 yards distance, the unit was to form up for the charge and rush the final distance. When conducting massed charges it was felt important that a line formation was maintained. Given the effects of adrenaline and irregular terrain, this may not have been practical in many cases.
If one can approach to within 20 yards of an enemy position, there were probably better options than a bayonet rush. The position could be attached with multiple grenades, and automatic weapons used to sweep the visible sections of trench, for example.
Sir Basil H. Liddell Hart said:
“There are two thousand years of experience to tell us that the only thing harder than getting a new idea into the military mind is to get an old idea out.”
The conventional military mind seems to have retained its fascination with the bayonet charge long after such tactics should probably have been retired. Certainly bayonet charges have been used since the Second World War. Charges were used in the Falklands War, and in Afghanistan.

Hill 180 Korea

One of the last great bayonet charges, for American forces at least, was the bayonet charge by Easy Company, 27th Infantry Regiment, against Hill 180.
“Commentary on Infantry Operations and Weapons Usage in Korea, Winter of 1950-51” by SLA Marshall has a chapter on the utility of bayonets, and the following observations about the attack on Hill 180:
“The tactical omissions, which accompany and seem to be the emotional consequence of the verve and high excitement of the bayonet charge, stand out as prominently as the extreme valor of the individuals. . . The young Captain Millett, so intent on getting his attack going that he “didn’t have time” to call for artillery fires to the rearward of the hill, though that was the natural way to close the escape route and protect his own force from snipers who were thus allowed a free hand on that ground. . . His subsequent forgetting that the tank fire should be adjusted upward along the hill. . .The failure to use mortars toward the same object. . .The starving of the grenade supply, though this was a situation calling for grenades, and the resupply route was not wholly closed by fire. . .The fractionalization of the company in the attack to the degree where only high individual action can save the situation, and individual ammunition failures may well lose it.

It cannot be argued that bayonet charges have not worked. And yet, one cannot help but wonder just how many lives have been needless expended because a massed bayonet charge was attempted rather than other more practical options. For a young officer the bayonet charge seems a gamble between a medal or a court martial. If they survive.

Individual Bayonet Use

Let us move to the more practical topic of the use of the bayonet as a personal weapon. In the second edition of “Crash Combat” I suggest that the use of the bayonet, or other close combat means are only attempted if the threat is within three body lengths. If the distance is greater, seek cover, reload and shoot, or some other tactic.
Older manuals recommend the bayonet be used for night combat where muzzle flash might expose your location. It is also to be used in close quarter situations where any firing might endanger comrades.
Three to four kilos of rifle does not make an ideal spear handle. It is, however “what you got”.
To use a bayonet, you must have a bayonet. Most modern bayonets are overweight supposedly multi-purpose tools of little actual utility. Understandably, many soldiers have discarded them in favour of more useful blades.
I won’t discuss techniques for unbayoneted weapons, since these are covered in my books.

When to Fix Bayonets

Assuming you have one, when should you fix your bayonet? Wartime British manuals require the bayonet to be fitted whenever the enemy is within 300 yards. Sights for shorter ranges were set to compensate for the changes the fitted bayonet made on point of impact. The Russians took this further. During wartime the Mosin-Nagant was always fitted with its bayonet. A fitted bayonet is necessary to zero the sights.
In a more modern context, it may be prudent to fix bayonets if engagement range is less than 50 metres.

The Indoor Bayonet

A fixed bayonet may seem a handy thing to have when sweeping a house. As well as its defensive use it can probe under beds or into other dark places. Bert Levy comments that within a building, bayonets are more a hazard to comrades and likely to get frequently caught on furniture. Levy was probably referring to sword bayonets mounted on relatively long bolt-action service rifles. Experiments need to be conducted to determine the best ways for teams to move with modern bayoneted weapons within building interiors. Since shooting will remain the primary offensive mechanism, this will probably be a low-ready position, rather than the high-port usually required for moving with bayoneted weapons.

À la Bayonet

Recently I read an entertaining and informative paper on the bayonet. Unfortunately the author devotes a big chunk of his discussion to perpetuating the bayonet wound fallacy. Later in the paper he graphically describes how visceral and final an encounter involving bayonets may be. It does not occur to him that this may be related to why there are so few bayonet wounds in the field hospital. Most victims never make it that far! Near the end of the on-line version of the article he states: “The Military Manual of Self-Defence (55) offers a series of aggressive alternatives to traditional bayonet fighting movements, its focus more on disabling the opponent than parrying until a clean point can be made. While not necessarily offering a full replacement to classic bayonet training, it does show that more options exist.”
This did amuse me. Firstly, The Military Manual of Self-Defence (Anthony Herbert) unashamedly copies entire sections from other works. Most of the bayonet section is taken from “Cold Steel” by John Styers USMC. The illustrations even still look like Styers! Styers, in turn, drew directly from Biddle (“Do or Die”), who was an instructor for the USMC. This “untraditional” system was that taught to most marines.
There is also an amusing irony here. During his military service, Herbert was wounded fourteen times. Three of them were from bayonets!

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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

Selecting a Handgun

When choosing a handgun it is easy to be swamped in opinion. If you wish to be logical about your choice, there are several strategies that you can adopt.

Choice of Model

Hollywood, video games and even some writers often tell us one model of pistol has a superior performance to another, despite that in real life the two may use the same ammunition! The chambering of your handgun is probably the first aspect that you should consider. Once this decision is made, you can select a model based on size, mass, capacity, budget and other factors.
Ideally, you want an automatic pistol of about 7"/ 180mm overall length. As a primary weapon for concealed carry, you want a weapon of small bulk. As a secondary weapon for overt carry, a weapon of low weight is desirable, since you probably have a rifle or shotgun and enough other things to carry. Hence the recommended handgun is of compact/ sub-compact size.

Performance

If you are shooting someone in defence of your life, you want to make a big, deep hole in them. Yup, size does matter!
The optimal pistol round for this is the .45 ACP. The .45 ACP is compatible with a semi-automatic action, allowing for easy and fast reloading. There was a time when it was hard to find a .45 that was not a large, single-action weapon with a single-figure magazine capacity. Now we have a variety of compact and sub-compact double-action weapons, with useful magazine capacities. Thanks to US military aid, .45 ACP ammunition is reasonably easy to find in many parts of the world.
The standard load of the .45 is subsonic, making it a good choice for general military applications that may include the requirement for weapons to be suppressed. A .45 round that fails to mushroom will often make a wider wound channel than many 9mm and other medium-calibre rounds that do mushroom. .45s that do mushroom make very big wound channels.
The Textbook of Small Arms, 1929 notes:
“Rapidity of fire is an essential in pistol shooting, and though the double action of a revolver may well be ignored when it is considered as a target arm, it is of the highest importance when the pistol is considered from the active service point of view as a weapon…
“The value of the calibre of self-loading pistols and revolvers has been much obscured by theory, but practice of recent years has amply proved that small calibre plus high velocity, although developing many foot-pounds of energy, yet lacks stopping or shocking value. There have been many attempts to substitute a high-velocity cartridge of ·38 calibre, as a Service equivalent to the traditional ·455. In practice it has been found that the small calibre sometimes fails to stop its man and that the large-diameter leaden plug of the ·455, moving even 300 or 400 feet a second slower than the high-velocity, small-calibre projectile, is yet far more effective. Recent experiment has, however, developed a new experimental ·38 cartridge [.38/200 of 200gr] whose efficiency is, so far as ballistic tests can ascertain, not less than that of the ·455.
A hit with a ·455 anywhere literally [sic] knocks an adversary over. This quality of efficiency depends to some extent on the massive soft-lead bullet and the relatively low velocity rather than on any inherent magic in the calibre, for the ·455 or ·45 self-loading pistol firing a lighter nickel-covered bullet at a higher velocity cannot be depended on to produce equal shock effect.
The efficiency of the ·455 revolver cartridge is due to combination of the large calibre with the soft material, the mass, and the relatively low velocity of the projectile. These combine in such a way that the adversary experiences in his body the maximum development of shocking as distinct from penetrative effect. This is just what is wanted in an active service revolver. ”
It is interesting that nearly a hundred years later, this passage remains a good account of the issue, superior to many things written since. I am well aware some readers will get distracted by the semantics of some of the terminology used. Perhaps the most significant change since this was written has been the creation of jacketed hollow-point (JHP) ammunition that will feed reliably through an automatic. This has narrowed the gap in terminal effect between large-bore revolvers and self-loaders. Advances in bullet design intended to improve the performance of light, medium calibre, high-velocity bullets are even better applied to heavy, large-calibre rounds.

Logistics

You may regard logistic considerations over effectiveness. The most common combat pistol round is the 9mm Luger, also known as the 9 x 19mm or 9mm Parabellum. This is the NATO standard pistol round, but its military and civilian use dates back to the 1900s. It was the round of the German, and other armies, for two world wars. The majority of sub-machine guns are chambered for this round. There are very few countries in the world where 9mm Luger cannot be found.
The medium-calibre 9 x 19mm is not as effective as the large bore .45, although many try to convince themselves it is. If you have very small hands, a 9mm model may offer a slimmer grip without compromising magazine size. Guns like the Berretta M9/92 are too big for roles other than as a primary overt weapon. As for 45s, a compact or sub-compact model is preferable.
In nations that have received Soviet or Chinese military aid, the 9mm Makarov round, aka 9 x 18mm, may be more readily found than the 9mm Luger. The 9mm Makarov is designed to be the most potent load that can be accommodated by a light, blowback-action pistol. Velocity and bullet weights are lower than the more powerful 9mm Luger. The 7.62 x 25mm round may also be common in countries that use Soviet or Chinese weapons. Most Soviet sub-machine guns, and their Chinese copies, are chambered in this round. In handguns, it is usually found in the TT33 Tokarev/ Type 51/ Type 54 and a few other Warsaw Pact designs, such as the Czech vz.52. Some of these weapons are still in use in certain parts of the world. The round is effectively identical to the 7.63mm Mauser round, so may be encountered in countries where the C96 Mauser “Broomhandle” was popular. The 7.63mm Mauser/ 7.62 x 25mm/ 7.62 Tokarev is a high-velocity round noted for its high penetration and flat trajectory. The small calibre creates a narrower wound channel than many other combat pistol rounds. W.E. Fairbairn was familiar with the round from his time with the Shanghai police. He suggested that the round was more effectively used if aimed at shoulder level, where the high-velocity round was most likely to shatter bones and create secondary missiles. This is fairly good advice for any pistol round.

Convenience

Automatics

The gun you have with you will always been more effective than the one you left at home because the latter was inconvenient to carry. There are some lightweight, low volume automatics in 9mm Luger. The 9mm Luger round requires a locked breech. Many smaller automatic pistols are simple, blowback weapons and therefore use cartridges other than the 9mm Luger. If you opt for a pocket automatic, the best choice is a weapon in either .380 ACP or 9mm Makarov. Pocket pistols in 9mm Makarov are fairly rare, but many duty weapons, like the Makarov PM/ Type 59, may be compact enough. A wider choice will be found in .380 ACP, also known as 9 x 17mm, 9mm Short or 9mm Kurtz. The .380 is slightly weaker than the 9 x 18m. Like the Makarov round, it is well suited to small, blowback pistols and is a better choice than smaller calibre options such as the 7.65mm/.32 ACP and 6.35mm/.25 ACP. Having less energy and momentum than a 9mm Luger or .45 ACP, hollow-point ammunition in .380 or 9 x18mm may be less reliable. 

Revolvers

Many small-frame models of revolver such as the Smith & Wesson J-frames and Colt Detective weigh under a pound, but only have five or six shots. Small medium-calibre revolvers in .38 Special, .357 Magnum and 9mm Luger are preferable to smaller-calibre weapons in .32 or .22. The 9mm Luger has the edge over the .38 in velocity, but the merit of revolver rounds is that they can use rounds that would not reliably feed through an automatic. The .38 and .357 cases can be loaded with wide-mouthed, soft, malleable, hollow-points, ideally of 200gr or more, that are likely to be more effective than any medium-calibre round an automatic can fire. If fired in an emergency from within a pocket, a pocket revolver has no slide to catch in the pocket lining. For similar reasons, models with concealed or internal hammers are preferable.

Special Purpose

.25 ACP, .32 ACP, .380 ACP, 9 x 18mm and .45 ACP are all subsonic in standard loadings. The smaller rounds are sometimes preferred since they allow the use of a smaller weapon and suppressor.
Most .22 rounds are subsonic when fired from pistols, so are also suited to suppressed applications. .22 weapons are useful for target practice or for foraging. .22 revolvers often offer the option of switching between .22LR and .22 Magnum by exchanging cylinders. Some .22 revolvers can chamber more than six rounds.

Non-Runners

Other than the exceptions already suggested, revolvers are not recommended. After more than a century of military service it is finally being accepted that claims that revolvers are more reliable than automatics are more theoretical than practical. Possibly, only in the instance of a misfire, does a revolver offer an advantage. This is offset by the greater ease in reloading and the usually larger ammunition capacities. For a given calibre, an automatic tends to be lighter and more compact than the equivalent revolver. You may be adept at quick wheel-gun reloads on the range, but under the stress of real combat it is better to keep dexterous actions as simple as possible.
Rounds such as the much hyped .40 S&W, .375 SIG and 10mm Auto are not recommended. These are all medium-calibre rounds, most loads trying to emulate the performance of the .357/125gr. Essentially just faster 9mm Luger. Unsurprisingly, performance is inferior to the .45. Logistically, ammunition in these chamberings may be difficult to find outside the US.
If a big deep hole is better, why the .45 ACP and not rounds such as the .44 Magnum or .50 AE you may ask? The answer is that we need control as well as power. For many shooters a quick follow-up shot with a .44 Magnum or similar may be difficult. No round can be guaranteed to always neutralize a threat first hit, or to always hit, for that matter. Another reason for using the .45 ACP is that most of the loads that exceed the .45 ACP in power are primarily revolver loads. For many reasons, not least its mass and bulk, the Desert Eagle is not recommended as a defence gun. The .45 Long Colt and .44 Special are more manageable, but usually found in revolvers, so the .45 ACP remains the best choice.
Both “Attack, Avoid, Survive” and “Survival Weapons” have advice on the use of firearms.
Categories
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

Pec-Knives and the Gerber Strongarm

Pec-Knives

The pectoral position is a very useful position to carry a knife. It is accessible with either hand, and if the wearer is seated or prone. It can be readily utilized to cut a jammed seat harness, or when rolling on the floor with an aggressor.
This topic came up in one of my discussions on soldier’s load. Modern servicemen have a lot of gear to carry, and many do not believe carrying multiple knives is warranted. If you are going to carry a single fixed blade knife, then the weak-side pectoral position is a good place to place it. This influences the form of the “pec-knife”. Pec-knives are discussed in “Survival Weapons”, and their use in “Crash Combat”. The more general discussion of knife use for defence in “Attack, Avoid, Survive” are also relevant.
You sometimes see quite large knives carried in this position, but for most of us an overall length of less than eleven inches is more practical. There is a wide choice of fixed blade knives in this size range. Harder is finding a knife of sufficient thickness and robustness. If this is going to be a soldier’s primary blade then it must stand up to some rough treatment.

Gerber Strongarm

A few weeks back I encountered the Gerber Strongarm. This just seemed to shout “I will be a great pec-knife!” Just before Christmas I got an email telling me the variant I wanted was back in stock. Money was short, but I had had a rotten day and a few minutes before midnight I gave into temptation and ordered a Strongarm. It helped that the price listed was about 30% less than most other stockists! Would you believe it? I looked the next day and the price had jumped a big chunk. I had ordered just in time! A few days later the Gerber Strongarm arrived. I wish I had had the money for another, but as it is I may run out before the end of January. Buy books please, people!

The Sheath and Extras

An important component of a potential pec-knife is the sheath. This mode of carry is most convenient with the knife inverted and the pommel downwards. Obviously it is necessary that the knife is fully secure in this position, but still capable of being easily drawn when needed in a hurry. The sheath of the Stongarm has a large clip that engages a depression on the hilt. Note that this releases with an audible click, which may affect your tactics in some scenarios. In addition to the clip, the smaller-width hanging strap has a retention strap with a popper. The latter feature is one of the few I have issue with. This is a little tight, the slight increase in grip width my lanyard has added making it sometimes fiddly to close. The length of strap past the popper is also on the short side, and may be difficult to pull on if wearing some gloves. It may be necessary to sew an extension onto this part.
An important feature of this sheath is that it is ambidextrous, so the knife can be inserted securely with the edge either to the left or right. This is useful for a pec-knife, it being considered to be prudent to carry your knife with the main edge outwards, away from your throat.
A couple of accessories are included in the box. I have already mentioned that the smaller-width belt hanger has the retention strap. This affixes to the sheath by a strap and popper. A larger width belt hanger can be attached to the smaller by poppers. Both belt hanging loops have poppers, making the easy to detach or attach without rethreading a belt. A device that allows the sheath to be mounted horizontally is included, as is a device allowing easy attachment of the sheath to MOLLE/ RALS systems.

The Knife

The knife itself comes with either a semi-serrated or plain edge, and is available in either black or a more practical coyote brown shade. The blade is 4.8 inches long, and 3/16th thick. Overall length is 9.8 inches and weight is given as 7.9 oz. Blade material is 420HC stainless steel with a dark grey coating. Grip is a rubber coating over glass-reinforced nylon. There is a resemblance to Gerber’s LMF II knife. The LMF II is heavier (c.12 oz) and costs more. I have not handled a LMF II, but the Strongarm seems a better choice for the pec-knife role.
The butt of the Strongarm ends in a blunt triangular point that might serve for applications such as window breaking. This feature is thoughtfully provided with a lanyard hole. I know I have said this before (yesterday actually!) but it really is surprising how many expensive knives are not provided with provision for a lanyard or other features to reduce the chances of loss.

Making a Chest Rig

There are plenty of good reviews of the Strongarm out there, so I will concentrate on specifics of rigging it as a pec-knife. This is actually very simple. Obviously, you can mount the sheath directly on your webbing, but what if you are not wearing such? The Strongarm is potentially a very useful knife, and you may want it when you are not in full tactical gear. I have seen the Strongarm described as a cross-over” knife, good for urban and wilderness.

Take about two metres of paracord. I know frugality is a virtue, but it is prudent to have a little too much rather than start again. The Strongarm sheath has a number of “screwholes” down each side. Pass one end of your paracord through a hole near the sheath mouth, and the other through a hole on the opposite side, second from the end. This should be made clear from the photos. Experiment with what arrangement suits you personally. Pull both ends of paracord so the middle makes a snug length across the front of the sheath. Now take both lengths, hold them together and tie a single knot in both. This can be an overhand knot but a figure-eight may be more comfortable when worn. You should have created a large loop with the knife sheath threaded on it. This loop should be large enough to pass your weak-side arm through, the knot sitting somewhere between your shoulder-blades. Take the long, free ends and form them into a second loop using the knot I call a “slip-bend” in my free book on knots. Place your other arm through this loop and tighten it by sliding the two parts of the slip-bend apart. The Strongarm sheath should be hanging just before your weak-side armpit. If you have the small-width belt hanger still attached this may be used to anchor the sheath to a belt, if you wish. Note the snap-link, added by a magnus-hitch. The lanyard can be attached to this when greater security is wanted. It also proves useful for holding other items. I later relocated the snap-link to below the sheath, where it helps keep it in position.
A chest-rig for a knife can cost tens or hundreds of dollars. This one is simple, lightweight, comfortable and costs just a couple of metres of paracord. If you like this, throw some of the money you have saved this way!
Categories
Phillosoph

Designing a Fighting Knife

In a recent blog I had a wander into the field of fighting knives. Today I would like to share some additional musings.
Firstly, it is valuable to recognize that names such as “fighting knife”, “combat knife”or “tactical knife” are in actuality rather euphemistic, particularly in modern applications. A knife vs knife duel is unlikely. There is an adage that if you find yourself in a fair fight you did not plan properly, and this should be remembered when considering knife use. Knives are generally used either as weapons of desperation or advantage.
One of the points I made in the previous post is that probability of use did not justify carrying a large combat design. A multi-role survival blade is a far better encumbrance, and most such designs usually serve well in a defensive or offensive role. It is no secret that I regard the kukri as superior to most fighting knives on the market. If a dedicated fighting weapon is needed, it should be a small to medium-sized design that compliments the large and small survival designs likely to be carried as well.
That said, what are useful features to have in the hypothetical situation where carrying a large combat blade is prudent? Something for you time-travellers and trans-dimensional trippers to consider 🙂 Some of these comments may be relevant to medium combat knives too.
Firstly, we will ignore the field of swords and stick to knives and daggers, not anything longer than a cubit.
A point ignored by many manuals on knife use is that even relatively light clothing can provide a surprising amount of protection from a knife cut. The garment may be shredded but very little damage may reach beneath the skin. Even if you are using a knife defensively with the intention of “cutting and running” it is important to use the point first against any clothed area.

Pesh Kabz

The second consideration for a fighting knife is with respect to whether the opposition will be utilizing armour. One of the most useful designs for use against armour is that of the pesh kabz. Mechanically a knife is a wedge. The pesh kabz blade tapers in both width and thickness, and has a T-shaped cross section. In effect the blade is an isosceles triangle in all three planes. The blade is narrow enough to find its way through openings in the armour, yet retains a useful cutting edge if needed. Some time back there was a vogue for non-metallic knives, including those in a tanto configuration. A pesh kabz configuration would have been far superior. As stated in “A Glossary Of the Construction, Decoration and Use Of Arms and Armor In All Countries and In All Times” by George Cameron Stone, “The knife is obviously intended for forcing an opening in mail; and as a piece of engineering design could hardly be improved upon for the purpose.” (p.494) Pesh kabz are either straight or have a recurve that brings the point closer to the axis of the hand. The latter are often very attractive in form. I have an example of each, and I would not complain if issued one of these instead of a Fairbairn-Sykes. A modern pesh kabz has a useful potential as a knife among modern medium fighting knives.

Bagwell and Bowies

Shortly after writing the recent blog, I came across some references to Bill Bagwell, who claimed to have identified the features that were most desirable on a combat bowie. This included a distal taper, convex profile and edge and a sharpened false edge. The false edge is often quite long, creating an acute point. The blade is over nine-inches long, and over an inch or more wide.

Pugio

If you are going to have a long, sharpened false edge, an obvious question is why not have a double-edged cut and thrust blade? Historically, one of the cut and thrust weapons par excellence was the Roman gladius. The gladius was a sword, but if you shorten the blade you have what is effectively the Roman pugio. I have seen it claimed that a Roman soldier who lost his gladius could still fight effectively with his pugio. The width and length of pugiones give some credibility to this claim. Supposedly the Gerber MkII was inspired by the Mainz-pattern gladius. Pugiones seem to have retained the more attractive, wasp-waisted leaf-shape of blade long after the gladius had become straighter-edged and more utilitarian looking. This may have been that swords were issued while daggers were commonly a private purchase. In other words, a pugio-type design offers a broad blade, acute point and the cutting advantage of curved edges. A central rib was a common feature, increasing the capability against bone or body armour. A flat blade with a rib is effectively a pair of pesh kabz back-to-back. Fullers might also be included in a modern design, and some use of them was made in ancient pugiones.

Jambiya

Another good design for a large or medium combat knife is the jambiya. Indian/ Middle Eastern designs such as the jambiya and pesh kabz tend to be neglected in the west, but have much to offer. The interest in kerambits/ karambits shows knife-users are open to the potential of curved blade designs. Fairbairn himself experimented after the war with a jambiya-like knife he called the “cobra”.
Modern Reproduction of Fairbairn Cobra
Like the pugio, the design of a large tactical jambiya could include fullers and a central rib. A slightly curved blade can create an initially wider wound than a straight blade of similar dimensions. This is illustrated in the figures taken from Richard Burton’s “Book of the Sword”. The very curved blade cuts a wide channel, but needs considerable force to penetrate sufficiently. Incidentally, the primary cutting edge of a jambiya is the concave edge. You will commonly see it held or photographed upside down. Examples with a false edge and the geometry of some grips make it clear that the main edge is the concave. The jambiya is held like a claw or hook. This has the tendency to drive the point into a target rather than causing it to glance off. The blade can also reach over and hook limbs. The curved edges give a cutting advantage.

The Russian/ Caucasian/ Georgian khanjali/ kindjals/ qama have straight or curved blades that resemble gladius, pugiones and jambiya, but some are long enough to be considered short swords.

Some decades ago, a knife called the “Hobbit” gained some attention. This was effectively an inverted jambiya. The main edge should have been concave and the serrations would have been more useful on the convex side. A modern, medium tactical jambiya would also be a welcome addition to the market. Many years ago I attempted to sketch what one might look like

Length

Around 1922-24 the British Army conducted an extensive series of experiments. The 17" sword bayonets then in use had proved to be unwieldy and too heavy for trench warfare. Their reach against cavalry was no longer needed and they were poor multi-purpose implements. On October 2nd, 1924, a report by the Small Arms School stated:
“ (a) It has been conclusively proved during the war, and since, with our present system of training in the bayonet, that ‘reach’ is not a main factor but that ‘handiness’ is. A man with a short handy weapon will beat an equally skilled man with a longer cumbrous weapon practically every time. As regards length of blade for killing purposes, the Physical Training Staff went into this in considerable detail during the war, and came to the conclusion that a 6-in. blade was sufficiently long to deal with the most thickly clad of our enemies—potential or otherwise. The most thickly clad was taken as being a Russian in winter clothing.
…(c) The bayonet suggested for future adoption on the Mark VI rifle is one of about 8 inches in length, cruciform in section, and without the useless handle and cross-piece”
reproduced in The Lee-Enfield Rifle (p.135). Maj. E.G.B. Reynolds.
Also found in “The Bayonet Book” by Johm Watts and Peter White, quoted p.8 (“Short and Sharp”) of The Times Literary Supplement Oct 17 1975.
The Roman Vegetius famously declared “…a stab, though it penetrates but two inches, is generally fatal”. He was talking of a stab from a broad gladius blade, rather than a narrow bayonet or knife, however. Many authors clarify “two inches, in the right place”, the latter condition not always possible to achieve in combat!
Some of the criteria for a primary fighting knife are different to those for a bayonet. A blade of between nine and eleven inches seems to be the optimum, and was the size of most pugiones. The blade should be at least one and a half inches at its widest. Specialist fighting designs, such as main gauche, may need to be longer.

Grips

If we look at pugiones, kindjals and jambiya we find something of a consensus on grip form. Most examples feature a relatively slim grip with a broad, flattened butt. A narrow grip between two wider areas often gives a good grip for a single hand. If you hold the knife or sword with the blade flat and level and the knuckles upwards you will find the pressure of the palm on the butt nicely counterbalances the weight of the blade. The pugio usually had an expanded section in the middle of the hilt which improved grip, functionally similar to the ridge on a kukri handle. Any grip should include provision for a wrist loop. It is surprising how many knives costing hundreds of dollars lack this useful feature!
On the subject of grip, how a knife is gripped is a topic that some authors treat in some depth. Fencer grip, hammer grip, sabre grip, ice-pick grip, foil grip, ninja grip and so on. Only recently I noticed that the actual orientation of the hand was seldom mentioned. Elsewhere I have discussed the “paintbrush grip” for double-edged blades. This tends to place the blade with the flat of the blade in a horizontal direction. When I hold a single-edged knife I place the blade in a similar orientation, although my finger positions will be slightly different.
The reason for holding the knife so is not so the blade will slip between the ribs. Whenever possible you should avoid thrusting at the ribcage. If you do have to strike the ribs there are advantages to a horizontal blade angle, however. I have seen it claimed that a horizontal blade that strikes a rib is more likely to glance past or split the rib than be stopped by it. The main reason I hold a blade horizontal is that it makes more sense to me to have the edge as well as the point directed towards the threat. If my hand is pronated (palm down) the blade slopes in. If palm up, it slopes outward, but in either case the main edge is towards the enemy rather than down towards the floor. Some older sources describe holding the blade edge up, but this limits manoeuvrability.

Guards

The guard of the fighting knife is something that is not usually given sufficient thought. If the knife has a guard, it is typically a simple crossbar or equivalent. A simple crossbar works well on a sword. It will usually be wide enough to protect the hand. Enemy blades seldom touch it since a sword is long enough to parry attacks a foot or more away from the hand. Some writers claim the main function of a sword guard was originally to stop the user from hitting his knuckles on an enemy shield. The crossbar on a knife is seldom wide enough to effectively protect the hand. At best, it acts as an arrest to reduce the chance of penetration beyond the blade and to compress tissue for deeper penetration. Even when the crossbar is long enough, it only provides protection in one plane. Suppose, for example, you parry or block an attack with your blade. Since the blade is shorter, the contact point is going to be much closer to your hand than if you were using a sword. Contact point is most likely to be on the flat of the blade, so the strike is very likely to glance down and hit your thumb or back of your hand. Potentially very nasty
In a Modesty Blaise novel a character observes that Willie Gavin makes a steel against steel block, and reflects on Gavin’s skill, knowing that this is the most difficult of defensive movies with the knife. Substitute “bloody dangerous” for “difficult”! Certain styles of knife-fighting base themselves on sword fighting, so techniques involving parrying may be encountered.
One of the lessons here is to avoid using your knife (or your other hand) to parry, if possible. Avoid letting your enemy make any contact with your weapon or hand. If you do make contact execute a “beat” and strike to the hand and arm beyond. Keep both hands moving, and keep moving yourself. Use your ginga and the other techniques in my books to avoid and attack rather than parry and block.
As an aside, the above implies there must be some length of blade over which parrying becomes practical. Drexel-Biddle taught parrying, but had his students were training with hand-held sword-bayonets. I would be fairly confident parrying with a ten-inch kukri. Shape and design probably contributes too. The forward curve of a kukri or jambiya increases control and compensates for length.
All that said, if I am designing a primary fighting knife, I would include a guard. Down-curved quillons that can catch a blade would be nice, although how realistic this is is debatable, and such a feature certainly needs to be backed by protection for the hand behind. An oval or ovaloid guard, such as found on a tanto, might be a good option. As I understand it, “tanto” actually means (very) short-sword and it is not technically a “to” or sword unless it has a to-type guard and other sword fittings (Cameron Stone, p.604). Most modern knives sold as tantos would not be classed as such, and the wikipedia article is erroneous [!]
A guard that provides protection in two planes may be problematic to wear. One option is to offset the disc so less of it is against the body but it still protects the outside of the hand. Renaissance daggers often combined quillons with a “thumb ring”, the latter a misnomer since it was positioned to defend the outside of the hand rather than involve the thumb.