Story and Photos by Michael Janich
When it comes to defensive knife tactics, there are two basic schools of thought: those that prefer a standard grip, with the blade extending from the thumb side of the hand, and those who prefer a reverse or “icepick” grip, with the blade extending from the bottom of the fist. While both have pros and cons, no matter which method you prefer, the “prerequisite” for your tactics is the same—you must actually draw your knife and get it in the proper grip before you can do anything with it.
Most advocates of reverse-grip tactics are also strong believers in carrying fixed blades. The reason is simple: with a fixed blade, all you have to do is grab the handle of the knife, draw it from the sheath, and you’re ready to go. Unfortunately, from a legal and a style-of-dress standpoint, fixed blades are not always an option. They are also less comfortable to carry and conceal, especially for large-framed people.
Folding knives carry much easier than fixed blades and are more legally and socially acceptable in most places. The trade-off to them is that they require two distinct actions to bring them into play. You must first draw the knife itself and then pivot the blade into the open position. For proponents of standard grip, this can be challenging; but for reverse-grip fans, it’s especially tough. The reason is that most one-hand-opening folders are designed to be opened with the thumb and are therefore biased toward standard grip.
There are several strategies for deploying folding knives into reverse grip and, like most things in life, they all have advantages and disadvantages. Let’s consider the options and walk you through the logic of choosing the strategy that works best for you.
The first decision you need to make, when carrying a knife with the potential of using it in reverse grip, is: Do I want the option of standard grip as well? If the answer is yes—or if your folder’s clip mounting options are limited—you may have to carry it in a standard-grip configuration and adapt your draw to achieve a reverse grip.
To understand this, let’s look first at strong-side, tip-up pocket carry. In this position, standard-grip draws are pretty straightforward—dig your thumb in deep to get lots of skin on the handle, hook your index finger under the tip of the clip, and draw the knife straight up. Once it clears the pocket, it will be well positioned for a thumb opening.
To draw the knife immediately into reverse grip from the same carry position, rather than reaching in with your thumb, turn the back of your hand toward your body and dig your index and middle fingers deep into your pocket. Your thumb will remain on the outside and should pinch the butt of the handle at the base of the clip.
With a solid pinch grip between your thumb and fingers, lift the knife straight up out of the pocket. As soon as it clears the top of the pocket, drop your elbow (which should have been chicken-winged away from your body) and rotate the back of the closed blade forward. You have now drawn to reverse grip.
To open the knife, you now have two basic options. The first is the ring-finger opening, which is mechanically identical to a conventional thumb opening, but uses the ring ringer of the hand instead. The key to making this opening work, is to ensure that your finger will extend far enough to open the blade completely. If your starting grip is too far away from the pivot end of the handle, you’ll “short stroke” the opening.
To determine the proper starting grip position, open the blade, place the tip of your extended ring finger on the thumb purchase (hole/stud/disk), and see where your grip needs to be on the handle. Then fine-tune your draw, so you achieve that initial grip from the outset.
At first, this opening will be difficult, and you won’t believe that you have muscles in your ring finger. Trust me; you do. Just remember that the key to making the opening work, is achieving full extension of the blade. If the grip you achieve on the draw doesn’t support that—which often happens with “deep-pocket” carry clips—you can compensate by bracing the pivot end of the handle against your hip and adjusting your grip position slightly, before you start the opening.
An alternative to the ring-finger opening is a reverse-grip inertial opening. Once you’ve drawn the closed folder into reverse grip—as described earlier—snap your hand down forcefully while rotating your hand around the axis of your forearm.
For best results, you should be gripping it tightly between the tips of your fingers and the ball of your thumb. This accentuates the whipping action of the snap and the inertia imparted to the blade. Like all inertial openings, this one works best with knives that have heavier blades and lighter detents keeping the blade closed—like LinerLocks, Compression Locks, Axis Locks, and similar mechanisms.
If you are fully committed to the reverse grip as your primary grip, you might want to consider configuring your carry to support it full time.
If you prefer tip-up carry and have a reversible clip on your knife, switch it to the other side, just as if you were configuring it for a weak-side, standard-grip draw. Then, move the knife to your strong side pocket, where it will ride in the pocket with the back of the closed blade facing into the pocket.
Because of the blade position and the possibility that the blade could open unintentionally in the pocket, this style of carry is recommended primarily for lockbacks and other knives with strong self-close features.
Set up in this way, you can now use a basic standard-grip draw to achieve reverse grip. Dig your thumb in deep, hook your fingertips under the tip of the clip, and slide the knife straight up out of the pocket. As you do, let the handle pivot between your thumb and fingers, so the knife ends up with the back of the blade facing forward. Then apply one of the openings described above.
If you prefer tip-down carry, your best bet is to reverse your clip for weak-side carry and then move the knife to your strong side. Use a standard draw, but as the knife clears the pocket, drop your elbow and raise the butt end of the handle to point straight up. You’re now in position for a reverse-grip, ring-finger opening.
The fastest way of opening a folding knife is Ernest Emerson’s “Wave” feature—a small hook on the spine of the blade that snags the lip of the pocket as the knife is drawn, and pivots the blade into the open position.
If you have a knife equipped with an Emerson Opener/Wave that has a reversible pocket clip, it can also be set up to deploy the blade automatically when drawn in reverse grip. Again, move the clip so it’s configured for weak-side, standard-grip carry, and then simply move it to your dominant-side pocket. When you draw, pinch grip the handle between your fingers and draw the knife forward so the Wave snags the front edge of the pocket, as the knife clears.
If your preferred carry knife does not come factory-made with an Emerson Opener, consider the Pickpocket bolt-on Wave from 5x5CombatSolutions.com, which installs in less than a minute on a number of popular models.
Reverse-grip knife tactics must be supported by deployment skills that enable you to assume that grip quickly and positively. The options detailed here are some of the most practical and effective methods of achieving that goal. K&G
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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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