Saturday, January 23, 2010

Piper Knife

A few years back, I did a post regarding the Cape/SoAfrican knife style, Piper. Rather than rehash that, go here and read my post and the subsequent back and forth. It got quite lively.

To get information directly from those who know, go here. There are also several vids on YouTube; Mushtaq has this, and Bobbe Edmonds has posted some useful material about the art on his blog.

Recently, I was sent a copy of a short, basic e-book, Piper: Cape Knife Fighting Techniques, by Hans-Erik Petermann, available here. 'Twas a freebie, offered because Erik likes my Matador novels, and I appreciate the gesture.

Petermann, listed as a Master Guardian of the Piper System, along with ranks in other arts, has produced a concise, readable, no-nonsense primer on Piper basics, starting with the legality of carrying a knife, a history of the art, and moving into an illustrated how-to for the basic movements. The photographs are clear (and illustrative,) and the philosophy that permeates the book is by and large common sense. It covers hand-, footwork, and body angles.

The core movements are simple, straight-forward, proven-effective, and the advanced stuff is apparently built using combinations of these, which is a plus in martial arts: Simple is better. The more complex a series of fighting motions are, the more likely they are to come apart under pressure.

"Simple" is not necessarily "easy," of course, but that's not the point.

Knife players from different systems are, naturally, going to disagree about the wielding of things edged. There are a couple of things in the material that raise my eyebrows, one of which is the "Flying Chest Pass."

Swapping the knife from one hand to the other is possible, and sometimes necessary. Being able to use a weapon with your weak hand if something happens to your strong hand is a good skill to have. Petermann offers four such transfers, one of which looks reasonable to me; the chest-pass, however, strikes me as something you wouldn't risk without a shitload of practice -- years -- and even then, I have to wonder how well it would work during an adrenaline storm.

Petermann is quick to point out that the FCP isn't his favorite technique, either, and I'm glad to hear that. I'd have left it out of a basics text altogether and stuck to the one that seems the safest, the "Forearm Wiping Pass." Being able to do that smoothly would offer a nasty surprise to somebody expecting to block a right-hand attack suddenly on the receiving end of a left-handed one. And one never loses contact with the knife doing it this way.

Piper favors the icepick grip, though Petermann mentions saber in passing. This isn't a real problem for me, since we like the reverse grip, too, but I'd like to see a bit more on the saber-hold -- it does have some advantages. Saber might be the way you come up with the knife in a hurry and switching grips is like passing the knife from hand-to-hand -- one mistake, and you are unarmed. I switch grips all the time when I'm fooling around, but in a real encounter, that might get iffy. The Fight-or-Flight Syndrome, and its associated tachypsychia, tends to rob you of small muscle control as it reroutes resources to the haul-ass or kick-ass major muscle groups. You need to be relaxed enough so such a thing doesn't happen, and that needs a skill and experience level beyond hormones. There are players who can do this, but they aren't beginners.

Any kind of juggling with your weapon during a life-or-death encounter strikes me as an extremely high-risk move. Dropping your knife at the wrong moment could be a fatal error.

Learning an art from a book or vid, as I have pointed out, is not the best way; on the other hand, if you are curious about a fighting system that mostly lives halfway around the world, hands-on teachers might be hard to come by.

Piper has, because of its youth and criminal roots, sparked a great deal of controversy in the martial arts world. Traditional martial arts featuring the blade sometimes look askance upon Piper and say so. What I see in it has evolved since I first saw a grainy video of it back in 2001 -- and that was scary enough. There's no question that it works, because it came from people who routinely killed folks using it. In South Africa, the Piper folks have a standing invitation to traditionalists who want to test their skills, and apparently, there isn't a waiting line.

Is Piper unbeatable? I don't see that. But I have pointed out over and over, high, wide, and one more time, that a trained knifer in your face is not going to be a walk in the park no matter who you are, and your best bet is to be down the hall and around the corner when the sharps come out. Steel beats flesh.

I don't know the internal politics of Piper, so whether Erik's book has the unqualified approval of Nigel February, the man who codified the prison assassination stuff into a system, and that of his seniormost student, Lloyd de Jongh, I can't say. The book delivers what it claims -- a brief introduction to the core basics of a nasty, unique, and workable knife system. It is well-written, and for those who have never seen Piper, will be an eye-opener. Go to YouTube and watch a couple of the videos and see what you think. There are some follow-up reports that are included with the main text, including interviews with Nigel and Lloyd. I'm assuming if they didn't approve of the book, they'd be disinclined to allow those to be used. There is also a link to Erik's site from the Piper main page, and vice-versa. (Editor's note: Some clarifying emails show that these three men seem to get along just fine, and that the #3 guy -- Erik -- in the system got approval from the two above him as the book was being done.)

I think Piper: Cape Knife Fighting Techniques, is worth having in your library if you are a knife player, or just curious about a system with a different spin.

Note: The e-book wasn't available for Mac download, but now is, and your OS needs to be specified when ordering. It comes with the e-Book Pro Reader, and that doesn't allow for a print out or copying -- you'll have to read it on a computer screen or a reader that uses this software, and you are limited to two units.


J.D. Ray said...

Looks impressive from here, though as I've said before, I'm no martial artist.

The guy from Libre Fighting (California school?) seems to like to have one of his henchmen hold a stick out like a statue while Master attacks him like a whirlwind. That seems good for demonstrating maneuvers, but poor for demonstrating the efficacy of the art.

Of course, I say all this while sitting on my couch wearing fuzzy slippers.

Stan said...

You know what, J.D.? I respect a person who is willing to state their opinion AND recognize that it's just their opinion.

I always hate being preached at by folks who have never bled or gotten dirty! ;~)

Thank you, Sir!

Steve Perry said...

What that is is just a flow drill -- and the Libre guy is mostly faking it anyhow -- he's moving his hands, but there's no intent there.

Check out the same drills from Nigel and Lloyd -- they are the real deal players. And it's still only a drill, you are only getting a hint of what they are about watching those. (Though if you know knife stuff, it's a lot more impressive than it seems if you don't.)

Lloyd De Jongh said...

Hi Steve

Thanks for your review.

I can confirm we gave Erik our full endorsement when he wrote the ebook. Erik's a good buddy and a superb martial artist, his ebook is a good, accurate source of information on Piper.

I admire the integrity you display when you write on your blog about the subjects that catch your fancy - and you've given Piper a fair shake. I don't always agree with your conclusions or assessments with regard to it, however I can understand how you came by them and how they would be valid conclusions to draw.

You're a thinking man's writer and martial artist, and again, I value the integrity you show. And I dig your books ;)

FYI, I should be landing at LAX on May 21st. If you're around it would be an honour and absolute pleasure to meet you or any of your friends while I'm there.



IRTBrian said...

Nice review Steve!

Anonymous said...

Tried your link friend , unfortunately here in UK the censor monsters have with some of the Libre also...

Can u advise on another free source?