Friday, March 06, 2009

Oh, the Shark has Pretty Teeth, Dear/

As is appropriate for a knife-based martial art, we have been spending most of our in-class training lately playing with blades. And such play has given me an appreciation not only for why steel beats flesh, but for the manner in which my teacher offers instruction.

He is of the crawl-stand-walk-run school. Such a method is slower than jumping right into the hundred-meter dash, but acknowledges the reality that most of us can't go from crawl to sprint without interim stages.

To wit: We've spent a couple of months learning simple defenses against incoming knives using our own knives. These are broad, uncomplicated motions that can be grouped under the heading of "Oh, shit!" moves. Knife comes, you parry or block using the pukulan aspect of our art (short, circular, both hands), stab in return, and get the hell out of the way. You learn about distance, and get used to seeing a rubber version of a blade coming at you from different angles.

How you hold the blade matters more for distance and what you want to do, and there are a lot of variations, but we have been playing with only two: Ice pick and saber. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

The attacks are broad and obvious at this stage, easy to see coming. They progress from single, to double, to multiple, from slow, to medium, to fast. They are real lines, but not real attacks. And what we are doing in response is baby-level and not really utilizing much Sera.

Later, the attacks narrow, became less easily-seen loops obviously high or low, to more efficient thrusts, and more in line with the way a real attack would likely happen -- quick, multiple stabs or cuts, much less retraction. (Very little power is needed with a sharp and pointed blade to cut flesh. Anybody who has ever sliced him- or herself in the kitchen or shop knows this. You don't need to pull your hand back as if getting ready to heave the shot or swing a baseball bat. Sharp steel cuts everything softer it touches. And you have to assume that an attacker with a knife knows what he is doing -- that's the safer bet. If you are wrong, then it costs nothing. The other way maybe gets you gutted.)

Most recently, we have started to incorporate more real Sera into the responses -- which includes attitude, closing, and finishing moves.

Eventually, what we will learn, if we continue to progress, will be going in against the knife, which on the face of it is very scary, but which, if I understand it, is actually safer if you know how than just backing up.

But you can't get from crawl to Olympic sprint without learning how to stand, walk, and run.
Showing an advanced move, even a simple one, before you are really ready to understand how and why it works is the wrong way to understand it.

Last class, Guru showed us a simple block and counter-attack -- so simple it was hard to believe -- that worked because it used attitude -- I will stab you. But, as simple as it was, without all the previous training, it would have hard to see how and why it worked.

Against a trained knifer, by the way, running away is the safest action. Bad guy can't stick what isn't there. Knife-fighting is a last ditch, can't leave because of setting or family kind of thing, and done only to achieve that goal, to get away. We don't reach over and cut their throats after they are down. Ethically, morally, and legally, that's a no-no. You are only allowed to do what is necessary to stop an attack, nothing more. No coup de grace.

From what I have learned so far, I realize that going against somebody who has any skill with a blade is going to get me cut. If the danger isn't sufficient to warrant spending some quality time in the ER being stitched up even if I prevail, then it isn't enough to engage in the bout. It really does need to get to that life-or-death, serious-crippling-injury situation to bring out the deadly force response, knowing that it is gonna cost my own blood.

If you can't truthfully tell a jury of your peers that you were in fear of your life, or that of your spouse or child or tottering granny, then pulling the gun is not the way to go. If you aren't willing to be blooded, dancing with knives isn't, either.


Viro said...

Is Silat very similar to Kali? I see them lumped together whenever I do a local search for Silat schools in my area.

Steve Perry said...

I would say silat and kali are somewhat similar -- if you looked at both of them, you'd be apt to notice they are a lot closer to each other than either is to, say, karate or kung-fu or judo. Both are bladed arts, and they work similar angles of attack and defense.

Of course, if you looked at ten varieties of either -- and there are as many varieties of both as there are villages and local teachers, some of them wouldn't look much like each other. Even in one branch of one art, the differences between teachers can be striking. Pak Vic and Stevan Plinck had the same instructor, but what they offer to their students seems to have only a superficial resemblance in a lot of places.

People who get into one knife art sometimes move into others, so there is often a silat/kali/arnis crossover. Not uncommon to find guys who have trained in both and then blurred the edges.

Michael B. said...

Simple..Direct..Fast..& Nasty..that sums up the knife work for me..I agree Steve crawl, walk, run...if it's taught any other way your gonna miss something vital to your survival...Having been stabbed in altercations on two occassions I can attest to the steel vs. flesh advise to my guys...RUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUNNNNNNN!

Worg said...

Viro, Kali is the western term for a collection of arts from the Philippines. There is a heavy silat influence in everything they do, but there are many other factors in there like Spanish sword systems and a lot of stuff that looks like dirty American boxing.

The advantage of Kali is that most of what you are likely to run into is going to be under the Inosanto umbrella, and as such is systematized in a very clear and straightforward manner.

This is less the case with any type of silat you are likely to run into, even in an Inosanto school.

I think silat is the nastier art, though this is a difficult distinction to make. It also seems to be much more deceptive and indirect.

But I also think kali is likely to be much, much easier to learn to any degree of competency. I think that it's probably a very good feeder system for silat and that it's good for building up a number of the skills that you will need for silat later on.

I am starting to see to the "end" of Kali. It's not THAT gigantic of an art, even though it seems like it at the start. This is not true of Silat, which is basically endless-- given a lifetime of study, it would basically be impossible to study each regional silat system for even a week.

It's looking like silat is being added into kali more and more at higher levels. I suspect that this is going to be a good thing for both arts, but MA being what it is, many from each camp would probably disagree with me.

Dan Gambiera said...

Richard Pryor said it best about self defense against a knife "Motherfucker will cut that shit all up. If a guy comes at you with a knife you run if you can. If you can't run FLY!"