Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The First Cut is the Deepest

Over on Dojo Rat's blog, there is a revisitation to the old martial arts expect-to-get-cut-in-a-knife-fight argument. I thought my comment there was worth repeating and expanding a bit here.

Briefly, for those of you not up on the discussion, there are two basic stands:

1) In a knife attack, you will get cut.

2) In a knife attack, you might get cut, but telling you that you will is defeatist, and should be avoided.

I am not an expert; however, after some training, my side of the fence is 1). Especially if you are barehanded against a blade.

Bare against a blade, absolutely the last resort.

I think the notion that you can skate in a knife attack is way more dangerous than the one that says you'll get cut. If you stay -- a thing to be avoided if at all possible -- and engage with somebody waving sharp steel up close and personal? Bad idea. Bad.

Sure, people have walked away from an incoming blade without a scratch. Hell, I have done so; I 'm one-for-one. But it was a freak incident, my attacker was probably stoned to the gills, and I was lucky. This is not how the smart money bets.

Understanding that you might and probably will take a slice -- but that you must keep going even if you do -- is not defeatist, it is teaching you a survival characteristic. If you can't run, you damn sure can't quit until the guy coming at you with the knife quits.

Martial arts aren't a magical amulet that wards off everything incoming. You need to know how to keep going if you catch a hard hit. You aren't bulletproof.

If you accept that you will be tagged by a blade and can live with the liquid nitrogen burn and the sudden blood flow from a gaping wound, you are worlds better off than if you think you are some action movie hero who can do a clean disarm -- and then suddenly discover you are wrong.

We don't think it is wise to train only for best-case scenario. If you get it, good, take it and thank your lucky stars. If you don't, best you have some idea of what the devil to do instead.

Yeah, you might get a stoner who knows nothing about blades and gives you a freebie. And you might get the International Kali, Silat, & Arnis Champion who can fillet like the catfish chef at Ralph and Kakoo's on Friday night. You won't know which it is until you get there. The expert isn't going to give you a real line, and while you are trying to cover what you think he's offering, he'll be sticking or slicing you somewhere else.

What are your chances of running into this fellow? Probably not very high. Then again, you have to assume the guy knows how to use his weapon. And if he does, and if you are bare, and if you are an expert in hand-to-hand, you might win, but consider this: If the guy facing you is as good as you are unarmed, if he has that level of skill, and you put a knife in his hand? How well do you like your chances?

Put my money on you? That's a P.T. Barnum kind of bet.

One itty-bitty shot to your carotid artery with the tip of a blade, no power necessary, and you are in the countdown for the pine box.

Our art is based on the blade, and we've spent a fair amount of time over the last year concentrating on it. Of course, the drills aren't "real," in the sense that you aren't going to use them in toto. The flow stuff isn't going to continue for three, four, ten passes, it is just to get used to dancing around and seeing incoming from various angles. Training isn't reality, but it's what we have to work with.

The reality is that a sharp, steel blade is way harder to deal with than a rubber training knife. And that being the case, if I can tag you routinely with the latter -- and unless you are way better than I am, I'm fairly confident I'll able to do that if you want to stand and play fisticuffs against it -- then I'd really rather be me than you.

(You can get much further with a kind word and a knife than you can with a kind word alone ...)

After having spent this time dancing about, my conclusion is that I don't want to get into a knife fight, no way, no how, no thank you.

But if such a thing comes to pass, I'd much rather be the guy with the knife.


Christopher Wayne said...

I agree with you. Doesn't take much skill to screw someone up with a knife.

Once time in class, when I was a yellow belt, I was given a rubber knife and told to attack a third degree black belt. He was careless. I slashed at his belly, he grabbed my arm above the elbow and forced me down. Since I was down there, I slashed his ankles, I would have hamstringed him and he would have been on the ground.

He was not happy. Better to be not at a knife fight or the guy holding the knife vs. bare handed.

AF1 said...

Chances are very high that you will end up with a cut or several cuts, and certainly facing someone with a blade while you are unarmed is far from an ideal situation.

But you still need to have some type of plan to try and get out of this predicament, unless you're going to just give up and die.

This is where knife defenses and disarms have their place, and I see no use at all to training these with an attitude of "I'm going to get cut, I'm going to get cut."

Might as well concentrate on drilling the moves until you can do them as perfectly as possible.

Just as long as you're training techniques that have a track record of some success in real life situations. No time theoretical flights of fancy here.

Steve Perry said...

You miss the point with the getting cut business. You don't stoke it as a fear; you put it out so somebody can deal with the idea. You can get cut and keep going -- if you make up your mind to do so.

If you think you can't get cut because your technique is infallible and then it happens, the shock might be enough to get you killed while you are recovering from it.

Like taking a punch in the ring or a hit on a football field. If you know it is coming, you can prepare. If you don't believe it will happen and it does it is much more apt to throw you.

Wim Demeere said...

Steve, I just posted this at DR and only now saw your post here. Would have posted it here right away had I known.

I think the notion that you can skate in a knife attack is way more dangerous than the one that says you'll get cut.

Agreed. But I never claimed the former. Quite on the contrary.

But if you understand that you might and probably will take a slice, but that you must keep going, is not defeatist, it is teaching you a survival characteristic.

I believe nuanced debate is the most useful but when it comes down to the "you'll get cut" cliché, there usually isn't any. That was my whole point. *You* know what you mean when you say it: you include "but that you must keep going" along with it. That's the key IMO. I have no doubt your teacher drills this in his classes, he knows his shit (to put it mildly) but I've seen too many schools where they were living in fantasy land to believe your teacher is the average. I'd say he's a wee bit better than average. (Understatement of the century)

As I posted on my blog, that second part is what I've seen left out too many times. Omitting it can lead students down the wrong path. And that's why I also include the examples of people coming away in one piece against the knife. Not because it's the standard result students should expect but because they're just as real as all the other cases where people got cut.

It's along the same lines as "high kicks don't work in the street". Utter bullshit; I've used them successfully and so have many, many others. But without nuanced debate, you might think that I said "high kicks are great for the street" which is *not* what I wrote or meant.

Violence is not black and white. It's those nuances that can make the biggest difference IMO and IME.

I find the "expect to get cut" thing a disservice to the students *unless* you add the qualifier of fighting through it. IMO, adding it makes all the difference.

I agree with what you wrote in your post here. Facing a knife bloody sucks and I'd rather run fiercly.


Thomas said...

I was once teaching a beginner student with rubber knives. He danced in and whacked me just right on the thumb.

Broke my thumb.

A real knife would have taken my thumb off.

For me, teaching my students that any time you get into a knife fight being cut is very likely, and potentially deadly, gives them real information. Once they have real and honest information, they can judge for themselves how to deal with the threat.

For myself, I've been studying martial arts for almost 30 years and teaching for 20. My preference for dealing with a knife involves a great amount of distance and a scoped rifle.

Irene said...

It seems to me like you are postulating that there is a third camp, a strawman: "If you're good enough, you can get out of a knife fight without getting cut", and that is the stance against which you're arguing. And I agree, that's not a good teaching model, because if it fails then you have a perceived fundamental failure in the teaching.

The second stance, "you might get cut," with the implicit follow-on "but you can actually survive it nothwithstanding" seems perfectly plausible to me, and much aligned with Wim's perspective.

Caveat: never been in one myself, and emphatically hope I never will.

Steve Perry said...

We often train for, if not worst- then bad-case scenarios. It is part of our basic outlook -- guy coming at you is bigger, stronger, faster, as well-trained, armed, and has a friend or two hiding nearby. You might not be able to overcome all that, but if you can, then you got something. Fewer of those things that happen, better for you.

None of them happen? You owe the collection plate big-time.

Hope for the best, plan for the worst. Or as the Roman writer Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus said, If you wish peace, plan for war ...

Getting cut is a bad-case scenario, and better to accept that it will happen and have some answer than not.

A guy who knows how to wave sharp steel might offer what you see as a blockable line -- a stab to the neck, say, and if you do a quick double-tap with your blade and backup hand, and then your own stab, you might win the exchange.

The stab-to-the-neck could be his intent -- miss it, you get stuck. Or it could be to draw your check so he can retract and cut your arm. Which is why it's a better idea to check and not block, and with the back of your arm. The check is faster, and the back of the arm risks fewer blood vessels being cut, since most of those are the inside. As are the muscles that keep your hand closed.

You cover what you think is the incoming line, but that's not his target, your arm is, and if you give him the inside of it, you can get a deep slash that makes you drop your knife if you have one, and puts you in jeopardy of bleeding out in a few minutes.

We practice this kind of thing a lot, and even if you know what the attacker is going to do, you still get tagged almost every time.

Granted, Joe the Train Conductor might not know this little trick, but everybody in our silat class knows it, as do thousands of other players in assorted knife arts.

And while you are watching your blood well and thinking, Oh, shit!, the guy with the knife is going to be looking for another part to slice. Two or three more such attacks, he can whittle you down. If you aren't ready to go in on his retraction, bloody arm and all, you will eventually look like hamburger.

What was it Mike Tyson used to say? Everybody's got a plan until I hit them.

The first cut needn't be fatal. If you get a bunch of relatively small ones and bleed out, dead isn't a term you can qualify -- you either are or you aren't ...

AF1 said...

If you're putting it out there just so that students learn to keep going despite a cut then I have no problem with that eiher.

It just irks me when people use it as an excuse to not train unarmed against a knife. Or to discredit certain valid techniques just so that they can replace them with what they are trying to sell you.

Edwin Voskamp said...

Steve Perry said...

We often train for, if not worst- then bad-case scenarios. It is part of our basic outlook -- guy coming at you is bigger, stronger, faster, as well-trained, armed, and has a friend or two hiding nearby.

So, if someone is bigger, stronger, faster, as well-trained and armed, how do you deal with that?

Steve Perry said...

Position and sensitivity, Edwin, as you well know. If you get there firstest with the mostest, that's considered position in my book ...

Steve Perry said...

I know a guy who is very highly-ranked in what is considered a pretty effective system. One of his fellow black belts, who knew the same defenses he did, was killed by a knifer. This was after he ran, and was stabbed getting into his car.

This shook my friend up, and he went to the school and had a fellow student come at him with real intent, no screwing around, no hanging, slo-mo stuff, to test his bare-against-knife defenses.

None of them worked against full speed and power attacks.

So he stopped teaching them. Better, he said, that you have nothing at all than something that will get you killed. That way, you won't stay to play, you'll run at any cost.

Later, he learned from a real knife player some things that might serve, and those he now teaches. But he flat-out refused to pass on techniques that had been considered useful, because he couldn't make them work.

I think that's an honorable thing to do myself.

Travis said...

Steve, I think your response to Edwin left out ruthlessness and determination as well. I have no doubt from reading other things that you'd go there, you just didn't articulate it here.

Steve Perry said...

Yeah, Edwin and I have had that very discussion in our back and forth. If I'm going to hell, at the very least I want the guy who sent me to be there ahead of me to hold the gate open when I arrive. And I want him to realize that before he steps up.

Ai-uchi is not my want, but better that than me going alone.

Better still is the attitude that i want to stay alive a lot more than somebody else wants me to get dead, and pulling out the stops to achieve that is what attitude is all about.

Here be monsters; abandon ye all hope ye who enter ...

Edwin, by the by, is one of the meanest of mean old bastards when it comes to playing with sharp things. Certainly one of the best I've ever seen waving them around. Of course, he's been studying silat for like ninety-eight years, even though he's much younger than I am ...

Travis said...

I knew Edwin was involved in the silat somewhere from your first response. My comment wasn't really aimed at him or you but other readers. The classic 'will beats skill' which is probably more accurate as will MIGHT beat skill.

Stan said...

I am happy that the only knives I face, regularly, are rubber or wood. NOT being a knife player, I do recognize that my fundamental arts are NOT aimed towards the unique advantages or changes required in that arena.

And I'm too old (okay, too out of shape) to run very far, very fast. Plus, this scenario presumes that you are alone and even HAVE that option...if family is with me, I'm the last one through the gate. (Always be certain you've told them, "I love you," often, so that won't be a distraction, in this moment!)

So, I'm left with Travis's point of "Will MIGHT beat Skill." Knowing what I DO know...and recognizing the vast universe of what I DON'T know...in a life and death situation, my only option may be demonstrating, emitting/emoting that I am MORE willing to commit to Ai-uchi than Mr. Badguy.

Not a good percentage plan, but it is preferable to freezing. I much prefer the effective use of distance...How about Pittsburgh?

Have a good day folki, and thanks for the input!

James said...

I've been cut in the line of duty. I didn't even realize it until it was over. 4 stitches on my forearm just below the elbow. The incident ended when I punched him 5 or 6 times as hard as I could in the side of the neck. If I'd had time, I would have disengaged and gone to my sidearm but it happened too fast. My philosophy now is, in that extreme, to cause as much damage as humanly possible. I'll probably get cut but if I can get my fingers wet to the second knuckle with the vitreous humour of the assailant's eyeball, he'll forget about trying to stick me. Nothing changes until injury or damage occurs. Up until that point, you're just dancing.

Steve Perry said...

I've discussed this at some length before, the will-vs-skill thing. I do believe that attitude will get you through times of no skill better than skill will get you through times of no attitude (apologies to Frank Freak).

Of course, if you have will AND skill, that's where the smart money bets.

It makes perfect sense to me: Two players with similar, if not exactly equal attitudes, the dance is apt to go to the one who has something else, i.e., e.g., skill in dancing.

There's a story about a lowly Japanese servant who somehow offended somebody. A skilled samurai was sent to dispatch the man, who spent most of his time sweeping walks. The samurai, unworried, pulled his sword and the servant, terrified, attacked with his broom. The man knew how to swing a broom, he'd been doing it most of his life, and the samurai had to fall back, so fierce was the attack.

The servant had nothing to lose, he was going to die anyway, and that kind of desperation is potent.

The samurai, now pressed and in danger of getting his head caved in, regrouped and counter-attacked and killed the servant. He had superior training and weaponry. But it wasn't until his own attitude kicked in that he was able to use them.

The Doc Holliday Syndrome. Man was a lunger, dying from TB, so when the guns came out he didn't care if he won or lost. Attitude gave him an edge, which was good, because he was a terrible shot. Apparently he once emptied his revolver across a card table at a man and missed him six times. Black powder and all, so there would be a lot of smoke, but still. He did hit a bystander or two.

Probably why Earp gave him the shotgun at the OK Corral shootout (which wasn't really at the OK Corral, it was next to Fly's Lodging House and Photographic Studio ...)

Travis said...

Yeah, what Steve said.

Did you ever see the history channel when they apply modern forensics to the OK Corral? Kind of interesting. From their reconstruction it sounds like things were settling out peacably... and then Doc cranked back the hammer on the shotgun

Travis said...