Story and Photos by Michael Janich
One interesting term that has become increasingly popular in recent years is “reality-based self-defense.” While the exact meaning of the term is open to interpretation, it basically strives to describe fighting skills that are geared exclusively toward self-defense application.
Why would such a thing be necessary? Well, in simple terms, it’s because the practice of the martial arts – in any form – can be done with many different goals in mind. These include fitness, self-discipline, cross-cultural experience, competition, and many other objectives outside the realm of pure self-defense.
Reality-based self-defense (or RBSD, for short) can also be used to emphasize the difference between realistic, practical personal-defense techniques and tactics from well-meaning, but impractical ones. Let’s face it: if someone has his grubby little digits wrapped tightly around your throat and is choking the life out of you, a flying armbar or complicated joint lock take a distant back seat to simply jamming your fingers in his eyes to make him let go.
Although “self-defense” really shouldn’t need “reality-based” in front of it, our ability to separate artistic fighting from practical fighting has been compromised. Movies, TV, mixed-martial arts, and the commercialization of the martial arts industry have skewed our perception of what constitutes practical self-defense skill. For this reason, when it comes to personal-defense with knives – a subject often rife with misinformation – the best place to start is with a hard reality check.
When I teach my system of Martial Blade Concepts (MBC), I start by explaining the “logic” of the method. The elements of this logic define what I consider the inescapable realities of the topic and, in my opinion, is an excellent basis for separating practical self-defense from martial arts knife skills.
Before I go any further, let’s clear the air and move past the clichés and naysayers. A knife is a viable self-defense weapon. I fully understand that it is not as potent as a firearm. I also understand that awareness and avoidance should come way before any kind of physical conflict or weapon use. However, there are plenty of people who live in places where the lawful concealed carry of firearms is not an option.
Folks who can and do carry legally also sometimes travel outside the country or to jurisdictions where a firearm is simply not an option. In all those circumstances, the knife is a viable option as a primary self-defense weapon, so please save your “you-brought-a-knife-to-a-gunfight” quips for a different discussion.
With that said, here are the elements of the logic of self-defense with knives.
Training with Bowie knives and military-style fixed blades is fun, but carrying them is usually illegal. Even if you could legally carry a Bowie, from a standpoint of practicality and comfort, most people wouldn’t.
Instead, you carry a reasonably sized folding knife in your pocket. Obviously, if you are attacked and you choose to defend yourself with a knife, you will fight with the knife that is actually in your pocket, not the one at home in your sock drawer.
Once you accept the fact that you will fight with the knife you actually carry, it helps to understand what type of damage that knife can actually cause. This is particularly true of exotic designs like karambits, which look flashy, but often don’t cause much damage. Similarly, if you carry a poor-quality knife that doesn’t take or hold an edge, it’s not going to do much – especially through clothing.
“Stopping power” is a term that is used a lot in self-defense, especially in the context of combat shooting. Although people often use it as an excuse for arguments about the terminal ballistics of various calibers and bullet configurations, what it really means is the ability to physically disable an attacker before he can kill or severely injure you.
With a knife, this concept is even more important because it is really only applicable against a potentially lethal threat, armed with a contact-distance weapon. If someone is trying to bash your head in with a tire iron, the longer you allow him to try, the more likely he’ll be successful. Stopping him decisively is therefore your highest priority.
This is not the same as killing him. If you inflict a mortal wound that does not immediately disable him, he could still kill you before he dies. That’s not good enough.
The only way to stop someone reliably and decisively with a knife is to cut or puncture the parts that physiologically disable him as quickly as possible.
Doing that means developing a clear understanding of human anatomy, how the body works, and how to make it stop working with a knife. Very importantly, you must base your decisions on the other elements of logic described above.
In other words, based on the knife you actually carry and its true destructive capacity, you must translate that damage to the human body. If your carry knife can cut a two-inch-deep trough into a chunk of flesh, which chunk of flesh should you target to get the job done?
When fighting for your life, your body activates the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and your ability to execute complicated movements falls apart. In those conditions, simpler techniques are better. Simpler techniques are also inherently easier to learn, remember, and apply – which means you’ll develop usable skills sooner and maintain them more easily with minimal training.
Many reality-based self-defense systems brag about “pressure testing” skills to make sure they hold up under the stress of a real attack.
While that makes perfect sense, you have to have a skill before you can pressure test it. Good self-defense training should therefore include progressive stress training that allows you to gradually develop the ability to perform at high intensity. Going too fast too soon will prove you’re not ready yet, but it will never make you ready.
Many traditional edged-weapon systems start with the knife already in-hand. Initially, that’s fine, but you must also have the ability to get your knife into the fight quickly. This is particularly important with folding knives, which are, by nature, more complicated than fixed blades.
To put this skill into realistic context, imagine an imminent attack – at close range – by someone armed with a tire iron. If you’re really good, you might be able to draw, open, and employ your folding knife before he lands his first blow. If you’re not as good, you might have to use unarmed fighting skills to defend against his first blow, hit him hard enough to earn some time, and then draw and open your knife.
If that sounds challenging, it is. That’s why we train and that’s why we’re talking about “realities” first and foremost.
No matter what specific system you practice or what kind of training you do, these realities still apply. If you carry a knife with even the thought of using it as a defensive weapon, I encourage you to embrace this logic and structure your skills and tactics accordingly. K&G
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Martial Blade Conceptswww.MartialBladeConcepts.com
Nine-year veteran of the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, Michael Janich also served a 3-year tour at the National Security Agency. Highly decorated, Michael is a two-time graduate of the Defense Language Institute and served around the world in intelligence and investigative capacities for many years. Utilizing his extensive training in various martial arts and military/LE combatives, he established Paladin Press’ Video Production Department in 1994, running all aspects of video production for 10 years – personally recruiting some of Paladin’s most popular authors and being selected to work with the late Col. Rex Applegate as the producer of his landmark instructional videos on handgun point shooting. Published book and magazine author, Michael has been featured on various television programs and designed knives for many different knife companies throughout the industry. Michael is the founder and lead instructor of his signature knife defense program, Martial Blade Concepts.
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