By Bram Frank
Combat must be simple. During a confrontation, memory gives way to instinct which quickly de-evolves into the animal response of survival. Detail work and fine motor skills quickly vanish leaving only gross motor skills to remain. With this duress induced deterioration is the combined syndromes of time distortion and tunnel vision: both accompany the physical deterioration of skills. Colonel Rex Applegate, one of the fathers of modern close quarter combat, stressed these facts during his lifetime. After many years of personal experience in actual combat, and the subsequent training of soldiers for that combat, people such as the late Col. Applegate came upon certain truths that are considered true principles of combat. He advocated simplicity, directness, attitude, targeting, and use of weapons on a sliding scale from possession of weapons down to empty hand. (A situation he advised was to be avoided at all costs!)
Martial artists take a dim view of Col. Applegate for they are conditioned to believe that their techniques, or tricks, will always work on an opponent. Empty hand will win over any adversary including one with a weapon. They believe the axiom, “Karate the art of empty hand comes from the warriors. It was developed to fight other warriors who are using weapons.” Proper martial art technique can, and will, predominate over an armed opponent. This myth prevails, continues, and is self perpetuating. Some instructors teach martial arts techniques that they say will be the cure all for combative situations. Some are glib enough to try to say that these things actually work in military combative situations. This is a sure way to add death, destruction and insult to those brave men in uniform.
Other current day “Grandmasters” actually advocate restraint holds that they claim will allow an average citizen or a student of the arts, to stop an enraged attacker. Others claim that grappling will be the answer. Ever grapple with full “battle rattle” on? Locking up an opponent with a joint lock, BEFORE the opponent has been disabled is almost fantasy. A few current self-defense instructors with real time experience advocate a true old fashioned method. Intercept the attack, “destroy” the limb, trap the limb or an opponent, THEN joint lock them. This is a serious street effective way to lock up an opponent. The opponent is rendered incapable of response and then taken out. It almost always works on the street. The art of joint locking, grappling or restraint is a last resort to be used on one’s opponent in Modern combat or interpersonal physical conflicts on the battlefield. WHY almost? Because of the reality of duress in combat.
Human beings have a three speed brain and a two speed body. At the top level, humans have high speed low drag fine motor thoughts and skills. At the second level there are complex thoughts and skills, and at the lowest level Gross motor thought and skills: below that is fetal compliance, non functionality. Most martial arts function are done with fine motor thought and fine motor skills. Mix a bit of stress, duress, adrenaline, accelerated heart rate and fear into the mix and we lose our ability to think fine thought or perform fine skills. The big rub is that with training, Martial Artists can drop from fine motor skills to only the next level down: Complex thought. Complex level is where problems arise. As our minds drop down a level so do our physical skills and ability to function. Unfortunately, while our minds are three speed our bodies are two speed, so what we have is the ability from training to know what we should do only our bodies won’t let us.
One needs to add into the mix the unfortunate reality that empty hands do not defeat tools. If they did soldiers would not carry weapons! People are tool users. Combat reinforces many truths and destroys many urban myths of fighting. Reality says steel cuts flesh, sticks break bones, and bullets cause traumatic shock with exsanguinations.
Instead of looking at combat, especially street combat, as a living opportunity, some instructors of today try to teach learned responses to spontaneous situations. “The attacker will do this, and then you respond with this!” That line of reasoning doesn’t work, for while a student is doing the script taught to him/her from page three, the attacker hasn’t seen page three. More than likely the attacker has no idea that a script exists and while the student tries to mold the situation to fit page three as described by the instructor, the attacker isadlibbing his way through. Spontaneity wins over a prerecorded response almost all of the time. Yes, there are a few exceptions to the rule and it’s these exceptions that are used to establish the pre-recorded response rule for the masses. Certain martial artists can actually pull off what seems to be prerecorded responses to actual attacks. What is really happening is that these highly trained people are actually responding a ½ beat to a full beat ahead in thought and action over the attacker. To the casual observer the martial artist is reacting with the known answer to a supposedly random attack. In reality, the martial artist is acting to a stimulus not reacting. This is what Bruce Lee wanted people to do; to instinctively feel the attack starting and intercept the attack BEFORE it became an attack.

“When you get down to it, real combat is not fixed and is very much alive. The fancy mess solidifies and conditions what was once fluid and when you look at it realistically, it is nothing but a blind devotion to systematic uselessness of practicing routines or stunts that lead to nowhere!”
Bruce Lee

As the Modern Arnis family, JKD clan and other self defense groups have discovered, this is easier to say than to do. It takes constant practice, reality of training, perseverance and a good amount of luck. Due to this fact, practitioners of any reality style stress that combat, especially street combat must be simple.
Simplicity. It is a conceptual understanding of the principles of combat. Is it teachable? My instructor, the late Professor Remy Presas taught conceptually, for that was the best way to teach combat simply. Teaching combat a lot of times is the act of teaching basics to one group who then spread out and teach the same to others. Only concepts can be taught like this. Details cannot be taught en mass. Then we get what children call the “telephone game”. We start with the statement of the red cart pulled by a white horse and as the statement is retold as it goes around the room it becomes the gilded chariot pulled by the purple dragon. So in the interest of what one has taught one group staying the same over generations, the information needs to be simple and conceptual.
Professor Presas, the founder of MODERN ARNIS used to say after years of teaching and training that he is just beginning to understand the art and always asked his students: “Do you see it is all the same? Do not make it too hard!” “See, it is all the same, the same difference. You can do this, or you can do that!” Professor Presas and his family taught combative arts for use during the Guerrilla actions during World War II. Many have looked at Modern Arnis-Presas style Arnis and said “it looks too simple…” Professor wanted us to find the translations, the applications of the concepts, the core concepts of use and to understand its simplicity.
Simplicity is the key; especially with self defense on the street or street combat. Simplicity is all that exists in real combat. Mistakes in any form of combat do not lead to a simple loss, they lead to a loss of life or limb. In real combat tools are used. Tools exacerbate the situation for any mistake can become a lethal mistake. What has all this to do with the article you are reading about the Knife use under duress? What has this to do with my innovation in teaching called MODULAR?


I want you to understand why what I’m going to show you is not rocket science. I want you to understand why it looks so simple. It has to be. Otherwise one could never do it under duress, when the bad guy is really trying to kill you, when guns are blaring, people screaming, bombs exploding in the background: it’s CHAOS.
It’s been said you can tell a master of Martial arts by their understanding of footwork. This holds true in combat as well. In combat it’s very simple: “Don’t be there,” not don’t be in combat but don’t be in line with the attack. For example, look at a firearm. It’s a projectile weapon that uses a straight line. The best defense is not to move your hands but to get yourself off the line of fire. This is amazingly similar to the basic rules of Stickfighting in Arnis and combative Sword work: move off line of the attack first. It is the EXACT opposite of sport movement.
In Sport my hand moves first and my body follows. Basically it is the same in dueling, but not in combat. In combat my body moves and my hands follow. Before you get too upset with that statement try doing this with a protective vest on, with “battle-rattle” on, with armor on, or with full Law Enforcement or military gear covering your body. One can’t move one’s arms because of the gear, nor reach across one’s own body so the basic rule of survival ismove off line. There’s another factor in stepping off line, it’s something that one can do at a gross motor skill level. As babies we learned to step, as toddlers we did multiple steps for balance and as adults we use stepping all the time. Not sliding, not skipping, not pivoting, not hopping, not drag steps, but actual stepping. Stepping can save your life and move your body out of harm’s way. One’s body is slow; one’s hands are fast, move the body and the hands make up the difference in time!
Our arms do move and some of the simplest moves duplicate themselves as either defensive or offensive movements. One of the most basic moves is from an open position to a closed position. The way our bodies are built, this is a downward diagonal. Yes I know you can train yourself to keep your arms up, but it is natural to go from high outside position to a low inside (across one’s body) the next motion is bringing the arm back to an open position, a horizontal motion. And of course protect one’s head, a vertical motion that everyone can do and does. If we couldn’t instinctively bring our hands up and protect our heads there would be no people. Of course it is also a basic hammering motion. It is a survival skill. Old style Combative Sword schools and Arnis practitioners recognize these motions as a simple drill called SUMBRADA: Shadowing. It has survived all these years and across different cultures that use bladed weapons because of its simplicity and usefulness. That means anyone can do it. When I teach security teams or military I simply call it 1-4-12: 1 a downward diagonal motion, 4 a horizontal motion and 12 a vertical motion. It is an offensive and defensive set of gross motor skills.
I need one more image to be held onto. The image is that of the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. King Arthur cuts off the Black Knight’s limbs, one by one, till only a torso is left. The Black Knight calls out to King Arthur “It’s ONLY a flesh wound, come closer so I can bite you.” Human beings have three major weapons: two arms and one leg. Yes, ONE leg because cut off or injure a leg and a person is a gimp, no kicking, no moving no balance. Cut or hurt one arm and the other is still a threat. Just like in the old days of the knights, it’s very hard, almost impossible, to completely armor one’s arms and legs because one needs to be able to move them. Bodies can be armored. Bodies are not a threat, but hands and arms are.
Cut limbs, such as hands and arms, cannot hold weapons, set off bombs, pull triggers making them the primary targets. By the way, the goal is not to kill the bad guys but incapacitate them. If they are enemy combatants, we want them alive but injured, for injured soldiers need several others to take care of them: dead ones are just left where they lie. Remember, we are biomechanical creatures. We have cable operated pulley systems with a hydraulic fluid pressure system. Our muscles and connective tissue are the cables, our joints are the pulleys and our blood and internal fluids are the hydraulic system. Cut the cables, no motion, cut the hydraulic lines, pressure drops and motion stops. Note that hidden within the cable system is the electrical wiring we call nerves. Biomechanicalstoppage really is stoppage!
Most people don’t understand the most effective way to use an edged tool is what medicallyis considered a non lethal use. People like to mix apples and oranges and talk of the overall class of force of the situation as ultimately the title of the class of force used. It is understood that use of a tool such as a knife is a lethal force situation in general. Legally, it is a lethal force tool and a lethal force situation, but the optimum use of the edged tool is that it is used to severe or completely cut the cables that make the system work rather than to try to terminate the system. People are actually hard to kill: we bend, spindle, break, and cut very easily. For example cutting across the bad guy’s biceps will not immediately kill him/her but it will effectively shut down the use of the arm. No arm, no ability to continue to attack or harm anyone.
I know many trainers that use marking knives to learn if they cut the bad guy and add realism to their training. Anyone can cut anybody basically without training. I expect when training that I get marked: that’s reality. What is more important is that under duress I don’t find my marks on myself. The tool or knife doesn’t know bad guy from good guy so one needs to understand being clear of one’s own line of attack as well as the bad guy’s line of attack. In training situations there should ONLY be the bad guy’s (my training partner) marks on me not my own.
OK, now we’re ready to rock.
What are perspectives within using a knife or edged tool in martial arts or combat? Perspectives are a way to look at things. Artists understand that there is a primary point of perspective within a painting and many other perspectives or points of view to visualize what goes on within a painting. It can be traditional like DaVinci or eclectic like Picasso…take the statue of David by Michelangelo: it can ONLY be viewed from one perspective to give the illusion of strength and nobility. Viewed from the wrong perspective, David is not only out of proportion but lacks beauty and nobility. Perspective is everything!
In Martial arts that Point of view or Perspective changes slightly with each combination be it which limb is involved or what is in the limb’s grasp. In combat the relationship of one opponent to another has only 16 total possibilities.When we are talking of perspectives of position we have only 4 possibilities. We are talking of each person’s natural position.
#1) STANDARD position: a good guy right hander against a bad guy right hander.
#2) BACKWARDS position: a good guy left hander to a bad guy right hander,
#3) MIRROR IMAGE position: a good guy left hander to a bad guy left hander.
#4) BACKWARD BACKWARDS position: Good guy right hander to a bad guy left hander
The other possibility or perspective is of how do we hold the edged tool / knife in each of these perspectives. Again there are ONLY 4 possible perspectives. It can be either forward grip: tip up or Reverse grip tip down. This leads to the following perspectives.

#1) Equal Forward position: Both good guy and bad guy are holding the knife in forward position
#2) Unequal Forward-Reverse position: The Good guy is in Forward grip and the bad guy is in Reverse grip
#3) Unequal Reverse-Forward position: Good guy is in Reverse grip and the bad guy is in Forward grip
#4) Equal Reverse position: Both good guy and bad guy are in reverse grip.

Combat must be simple. How we look at Combat must be simple. Simplicity works under duress! Anything more is frivolous at best and fatal at worst!
Therefore when two people face off with edged weapons, there aren’t thousands of possibilities of how they face each other before engagement. There are only 16. We have only four basic perspectives: Standard (right to right), Backward (left to right), Mirror Image(left to left) and “Backward backwards” (right to left). And we can hold a knife in only two ways: forward or reverse. That means we can be Equal Forward: both in forward, Unequal Forward-reverse: one in Forward, one in Reverse, Unequal Reverse-forward: one in Reverse, one in Forward or Equal Reverse: both in reverse, that’s 4 perspectives, 4 possible grip positions. There are 16 total possibilities. One other little thing comes to mind like edge orientation. Let me be clear that we keep the sharp edge towards the other guy, NOT towards ourselves. I learned that as a kid: stay away from the sharp part. . There is no difference between reverse and forward grip. Both can use the tip, both can use the edge, both can strike with the butt.
There is no secret reverse grip knife fighting or any advantage over of reverse over forward or vice versa.
I used to teach the advantages of grip difference as related to range: unfortunately methods of carry, actual confrontations and lack of choice of range or grip within those confrontations has led me to now explain quickly and briefly that forward grip is best at a longer range than is optimum for reverse grip and reverse grip is best at a closer range than is optimum for forward grip.
Most of the world is right handed – 89% right now. We are physically designed to easily go from an open position to a closed: what is commonly called a #1 strike in many arts especially in Arnis. It is the most common strike, coming from one’s right side downward diagonally to one’s left side. The second easiest strike and the return motion to a number #1 is a horizontal motion from left to right, from closed to open position called a Number # 4. The last strike used naturally in this basic sequence is a downward vertical, from basically cover one’s head which we call a number # 12. Since a #1 attack is the bio-mechanically easiest to do, we learn to defend it first.
When the attacker cuts a number # 1 attack, we step up with one’s right foot; intercept the attack with our blade. We stop the attack with our blade, and then we make use of the edge and draw it through the target. The longer the edge is in contact the deeper the cut. We use the same #1 motion to intercept the incoming #1 attack and cut the hand, wrist or arm, check it with our non weapon hand and counter with a #4 cut to the leg or hip flexors. To stop the #4 attack, we step back with our right and with our non weapon hand intercept the attack, below the arm. And then bring the knife to the attackers hand and cut the attacking fingers off, countering with a #12 vertical attack. To Stop the #12 attack, step up right and raising the knife intercept the attack.
Here’s where some of the trained people make the big mistake. They check behind the blade rather than under the blade. If one checks behind the blade or the common “roof block” and a struggle or panic motion occurs, one cuts one’s own wrist, arm or hand. If one inserts ones hand under one’s own weapon arm, even in panic the motion of “umbrella” clears the knife away from one’s own hand. In umbrella one is moving the knife edge up and the checkinghand down: both motions move away from each other with no intercepting points in the motion. From this point a number #1 is the counter and of course the learning drill repeats itself.
Remember what I said previously about the marking knives? This is where, in doing this simple drill one learns to cut ONLY the bad guy, not one’s self, learns the best bio mechanical counter response, and learns a simple gross motor skill action using blades with no regard to details of which hand is the tool in or what grip is it held in. Simple. How simple? I teach Military, LE and Security Teams to do all 16 possibilities plus what I call a connecting thread 1-2-2 in 6 hours and they are able to teach it to others. Not only teach it but use it in combat and under duress. It’s NOT Rocket science… It is simple steppingand cutting. It is Knife training with Impact!
In future articles I’ll build on this foundation and explain more of the basic Modules of Knife use and defense.

Common Sense Self Defense/Street Combat is a tactical combat art based on the Filipino martial art of Modern Arnis as developed and founded by the late Professor Remy Presas. Bram Frank, the Founder of CSSD/SC, is a first generation student of the late Professor Presas, a Senior Master of the style recognized as such here and in the Philippines. CSSD/SC Arnis-Modern Arnis is the only Filipino style officially recognized in the country of Israel. Bram’s style of Knife use is used by many groups in Israel, where he teaches the yearly Knife Counter Knife camp: The Commandments of Steel. Through Dr. DennnisHanover, the Founder of Dennis Survival Ju Jitsu who is recognized as the Father of Modern Israeli Combat. Bram was recently recognized as “the Father of Israeli Knife Combatives.” He owns several knife design patents and utility patents and his newest knife was awarded “Tactical Knife of the Year 2007” at IWA. Bram’s knives are in use in many theaters of combat, security work and simple self defense response situations in the real world. Bram is the Chief edged weapons Instructor at the S2 Institute. He and his team are available for seminars, private lessons or team training.

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