Wednesday, August 02, 2006

On Bringing a Knife to a Gunfight

This article was inspired by a fellow blogger's post about her latest present.
Disclaimer: I am not an expert on knife fighting (far from it). But I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

In all the hoopla about the utility of guns, particularly handguns, for self-defense, many seem to forget about knives.

We've all heard the old saw about "bringing a knife to a gunfight" as a warning about being outgunned, as it were. However, knives do have a place in one's defensive armory, and every professional man-at-arms that I know carries a knife at all times. Especially when they can't carry a gun.

Knives have many characteristics that make them as good, or perhaps even better, than a gun for close-range self-defense. These include:
  • A knife never runs out of ammo
  • A knife never jams (especially a fixed-blade knife)
  • A knife is quiet
  • A knife is scary, because everyone has been cut and we all know it hurts
  • A knife is seen by many as not as dangerous as it truly is, making its possession less threatening to the general public
Knives has some disadvantages, as well:
  • You must be within arm's reach to strike your opponent
  • Using a knife effectively requires a modicum of training (as much as a basic handgun course)
  • Most people find that stabbing or cutting an attacker to be much harder from a psychological viewpoint than shooting an attacker, because knife fighting is up close, personal, and brutal
  • You will get bloody, even if you don't get injured
  • If the other person also has a knife, you both will be cut; the winner just gets cut less.
In other words, if you intend to use a knife as one element of your self-defense plan, then you need to be tactically and psychologically prepared to have a reasonable chance of success.

While the use of the sword reached its peak in Renaissance-era Spain, the development of knife fighting techniques and tactics reached its zenith in the Phillipines during the first part of this century when, in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War and the subsequent suppression of the Moro Rebellion, practitioners of Escrima, the Filipino martial art of armed and unarmed combat, traveled, interacted, and competed thus exposing each subgroup's unique techniques to examination and adaptation by all. During four centuries of Spanish rule, the open practice and instruction of Escrima was punishable by death. As a result, Escrima practitioners trained with sticks of varying lengths, first as a substitute to knives and swords and later in addition to them as the utility and effectiveness of stick fighting became apparent. The real beauty of the style is its superficial simplicity and adaptability of the techniques to swords, knives, and the empty hand; a true Escrima master is always armed.

Escrima spread to the Hawaiian Islands and then to the US West Coast via Filipino workers, where it was generally only taught to persons of Filipino descent. Eventually, the style was learned by dedicated Western martial artists.

An Escrima master is someone that you certainly don't want to anger. The speed and skill of a true master is extremely scary, and very effective. Take, for instance, the elderly Filipino man who was accosted by a gang of youths who attempted to rob him a few years ago. When the police arrived, they found one innocuous-looking unharmed old man with a bloody pocket knife, and a half-dozen bleeding youths, each bearing numerous assorted painful yet superficial knife wounds. The old man was arrested and charged, but was found not guilty at his trial by a judge who couldn't fathom how a slight aged senior citizen could defeat several juvenile delinquents with extensive violent criminal records. Before letting the old man go, the judge asked for, and received, a short demonstration of Escrima from the old man in open court, and acquitted him after realizing that the master could have easily killed all of his attackers if he so chose.

So, bringing a knife to a gunfight isn't always a losing strategy... especially if your opponent doesn't realize that you have a knife, and you can lure him close enough to eliminate the advantages of a gun. Tactics, not weapons, win fights.