The Fighting Knife

Dan Valois Self Defense And Survival Belt

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Every American soldier, officer or enlisted man, should be issued a lighting knife and trained in its use. Although in World War I our men were issued a trench knife for close quarter work, to date in this conflict, the majority of our soldiers have not been issued a true fighting knife, the deadliest of all close quarter weapons. The trench knife of 1918 was a short-bladed, unwieldy thing, with a large combination handle and brass knuckles for its hilt. It was possible to use in only one way due to the peculiar handle construction. Little definite instruction in its use as a fighting implement was given. Knives at present fall into two general categories, those designed for straight fighting and the multi-purpose weapon, called the utility knife. The M3 knife of recent issue is designed as a utility knife but it can be cut down into a true fighting knife with a little effort. Its construction is basically good; others have been designed and issued for fighting alone, but their general design has been poor.

Large numbers of trench knives which were carried over from 1918 have been issued to overseas units of World War II in lieu of a better weapon. At the present, some equipment boards in deciding on a suitable bladed weapon for use of troops try to combine in the weapon a good many different features so that it can be used to cut brush, dig fox holes, and for other utility purposes, as well as for its true purpose of close-in fighting. Reasons for the adoption of such types of utility weapons are good in many cases.

Italian Trench Knife

Top: Trench knife, first World War, with case.

Second: Utility knife, constructed along lines of hunting knife.

Third: Fighting knife.

Bottom: Fighting knife modified from utility knife issued to American troops, cross guard has been straightened, the back edge ground to a cutting edge, and blade tapered to a point.

Though no attempt is made here to criticize such a selection, there is just as much justification for a pure fighting knife in a great many operational theaters as there is for the selection of the utility type knife. It would be much better, if a utility knife is needed, to issue it along with a knife that is designed and suited for fighting, instead of relying on one type for both purposes.

The utility knife is usually constructed on the lines of an extra large hunting knife of commercial variety. It is sharp on one edge and sharpened about two inches back from the point on die non-Cutting side. The handle is usually of the conventional leather disk type, with a metal butt piece. The blade at its widest part is about an inch and a quarter broad and it is about one-eighth of an inch thick on the top of the non-sharpened edge. This knife admittedly has many uses, but its very construction limits its use as a fighting weapon. The balance is usually toward the point unless the butt piece is very heavy. The handle must either be gripped with the wrist on the top (unsharpened side) which permits only an upward thrust, or with the wrist on the bottom or the cutting side, which permits only a downward thrust. In both cases, the only actual fighting quality derived from the knife is that of the thrust and no use except a very awkward one can be made of the knife's cutting edge. The type of handle does not lend itself to that very essential fundamental in a fighting knife, maneuverability.

The single-edge blade does not utilize to the fullest extent the slashing possibilities of the weapon. In addition, the width of the blade, the rather abrupt curve from the point, and the thickness of the blade do not give the best in thrusting qualities. An extreme amount of force is necessary to get penetration in the thrust, especially when heavy clothing or bony structure must be penetrated. The weight, the length of the blade, the single-edge factor, plus the handle construction, all these do not lend themselves to making it the most effective close quarter weapon. A knife of this type, although useful for general utility work, does not readily adapt itself to concealment or ease in carrying and above all, it has nor that personal quality of being strictly a fighting weapon.

This quality is important for psychological reasons in the mind of the knife user. When a man has a weapon which he knows is designed for fighting alone and has been trained in its use, he immediately develops a sense of confidence in it that he will never feel toward the utility knife. His fighting knife takes on a definite personal characteristic. He carries it with him at all times, he sharpens it often, and he will regard it as a very necessary part of his personal equipment.

The ideal weapon for close-in fighting has cutting and thrusting edges, plus extreme maneuverability. This last feature is very important. The handle should be like that of a fencing foil, so the knife can be used for cutting and thrusting in any direction whatsoever without a change in grip. The weight in such a fighting knife is toward the hilt. The blade is about six inches in length, is double-edged and tapers to a point. This length blade is ideal for balance, is good for both the cut and the thrust, and is long enough to penetrate heavy clothing without losing its effectiveness. Its width at its widest part near the guard should not be over one inch. It can either be hollow ground or can taper evenly toward both edges from the strengthening ridge which runs down the center of the blade until it reaches the point of the knife.

The handle is round or oval in shape, its largest diameter is toward the center and it tapers off toward the guard as well as the butt. The over-all weight is approximately ten ounces. The handle, in addition to being rounded, is checkered. Such a knife, with balance toward the handle, lends itself more easily to maneuverability, is more easily passed from hand to hand, and with weight in the handle, gives a better grip for passing, thrusting and slashing. Its very design makes it a true fighting knife, combining both cutting and slashing qualities, due to its double edge. The double edge is also desirable in preventing an opponent from wrest-

Correct grip for fighting knife.
The Best Fighting Knife
Common type grip limiting use to Common type grip limiting use to downward thrust. upward thrust.

ing it from the hand of the user. The opponent cannot grasp its blade without a severe cut.

The proper grip on the handle of a knife of tills type is as follows: It lies diagonally across the outstretched palm of the hand. The small part of the handle next to the cross guard is grasped by the thumb and forefinger. The middle finger also lavs over the handle at the point where its largest diameter occurs. With the knife held in this fashion, it is very easy to maneuver ir in all directions by controlling the direction of the blade by a combination movement of the fore and middle fingers plus a turning of the wrist. When the palm is up it is possible (holding knife in the right hand) to slash to the right. When the palm is turned down, it is possible to slash to the left. The thrust can be executed from either the palm up or down position. At the time of contact in the thrust or the slash, the knife is grasped tightly by all fingers. The initial controlling grip of the fore and middle fingers has not changed and the blade becomes a mere continuation of the arm.

Such knife manipulation is easy and skill can be acquired after a few hours practice, but only if the handle is generally constructed along the lines described above. The handle here described was round. However, a handle of similar size in oval shape works equally well.

Little has ever been written concerning the use of a knife for close in fighting, and in most nations or racial groups in which a bladed weapon is used, little has actually been done in instructing in its use. The knife has been considered merely a weapon characteristic of that particular area and race, each individual using it as he saw fit.

Professional fencing instructors have lately endeavored to lay down programs for training in knife work, but most of them visualize a situation from the fencer's viewpoint, in which two men approach each other from a distance with drawn knives. Thus they have tried to develop a system of knife fencing instead of close-in knife fighting.

As the knife is ideal for close quarter work, in the ma-; jority of cases in which it is used, the victim will not see it coming until it is too late. It will usually be used in total or semi-darkness. Thus proper knife technique begins at close quarters when the blade has been drawn for killing. It may be used because it is noiseless and silence is desirable, or it may be used when ammunition for firearms is gone. In any event, the proper approach in close combat utilizes if possible the element of surprise. Carry the knife in the right hand and a handful of dirt in the left. Throw the dirt in the opponent's eyes and stick him in the stomach. Such tactics are certainly not orthodox, but anything to disturb your opponent's mental and physical balance, distract his attention, or confuse his vision, is certainly applicable when he can see the blade coming. Draw your knife only when you intend to cut somebody. Don't use it as a pencil sharpener or to open a can of tomatoes.

In the present conflict, the fighting knife has had two main uses, one as a reserve weapon to be used when all else fails, and the other for specific missions, such as assassination, sentry killing, or in any situation where silence and quick killing efficiency are desired. That it is important as a major weapon for troops has lately become more evident by reactions and reports from the Pacific theater where our enemies have put it to such good use. In the European theater, Commando type troops have used it with success and in most of the armies, both Allied and Axis, some sort of knives has been adopted and issued to military personnel, although little definite instruction in their use seems to have been given to the troops carrying them. In certain areas, they have played an important part in hand to hand combat. Yugoslavs, Greeks and other natives of the Balkan area, the Finns, and some Russian units are reported to have made good use of fighting knives.

Before going into actual knife fighting technique, we should discount knife throwing as a practical method of combat. There are few individuals in the world who can pick up a knife, throw it at a moving object at an unknown distance, and hit a vital spot. In the main, knife throwing is an art relegated to vaudeville and stage. The reason for this is that to throw a knife properly, the exact distance from the thrower to the target must be known because the knife turns end over end as it travels through the air. The thrower, therefore, must know his distance to be able to control the number of turns the knife makes, so that it may hit the target point first. There are some methods of knife throwing at close ranges without the blade's turning over in the air, but considering the movement of the target, heavy clothing, and the fact that if you miss, you are without a weapon, it is easy to see that knife throwing is not too practical.

There are definite psychological considerations in regard to knife fighting which pertain to both the user and the enemy. In the first place, unless the knife is considered a personal weapon by the individual, such as is common in the case of certain racial groups, the untrained user will have a noticeable aversion to thinking of the knife as a weapon to use in combat. This is especially true of the ordinary American soldier who would much rather use his fists in close contact fighting than a knife, because generally speaking the knife is little used as a weapon in civil life. This affords a very good reason why it is important to train our personnel in using a knife.

This psychological barrier must be overcome and the soldier must achieve skill in handling the knife as a weapon. The average American doughboy when shown a fighting knife for the first time, will have an aversion to its use as a killing implement. This same feeling is apparent in preliminary stages of bayonet training. However, once that infantry man has run the bayonet course and has used the bayonet on dummies, the killing instinct becomes aroused to the point where he has confidence in the weapon and is not adverse to using it. The same thing applies to knife training and the same result will be obtained if individuals are taught to use the knife properly and dummies which can be slashed and cut are used in the course of instruction.

An excellent example of the psychological effect of the knife on enemy troops ofccurred during the early days of the Lybian campaign against the Italians. Native troops on the Allied side were particularly skilled in the use of the knife. They were also excellent stalkers. It was the practice along a certain sector for these natives to slip out into the desert and crawl into the ranks of the sleeping Italians where the knife was used to slit the throat of one of the group only. Upon awakening, the other soldiers seeing a dead comrade with his throat slit would be extremely shaken. This contributed a general lowering of the Italian morale, and in the long run contributed a great deal to their surrender.

To the untrained man, the appearance of a knife in the hands of an enemy causes panic. This is heightened by the use of a bright, flashing blade in place of a blade of blued steel. There is a definite advantage to the attacker who uses a bright blade instead of a darkened one. The knife with the darkened or blued blade is in reality not much advantage because in a very short time, due to sharpening, wear in the sheath and other places, the bluing wears off, leaving it bright. Actually the best fighting knife should be constructed with a stainless steel blade and a dark handle which will not wear bright, so that it will not reflect light when it is in the sheath.

Although the utility knife is the only one discussed here other than the true fighting knife, it may be said that any other type knife which can be gripped and used only in the manner of the utility weapon is not nearly so suitable as the one with the foil-like handle. The argument, used in case of the utility weapon, that it can be used also as a cutting instrument when the saber-like blow is delivered is true, but the utility knife in itself does not pack enough weight to always get a fatal or incapacitating blow by the saber stroke. Much better and heavier weapons have been developed. The ordinary machete, the native cane knife, the British smatchete, are all heavier weapons which can be best utilized for this saber type of attack.

In instructing an individual in the use of a fighting knife, certain initial steps should be taken, certain explanations made to place the instruction in a fertile field and in a receptive mind. This is done by explaining to the individual the general background of knives in combat, such as mentioned in the front part of this article, and also placing him in the position where he can readily see by simple demonstration the various advantages and disadvantages of the two general types of knives previously discussed. Simple demonstrations, showing a fighting knife held with the fencing foil grip and then another knife gripped first with the wrist on the upper side and then on the lower will clearly present to his mind the advantage of the true fighting knife. This advantage, however, needs more than an actual demonstration to take effect. If a man had to use a knife in the course of the next few hours after the demonstration, he would probably grip it in the unskilled manner, allowing him to make only a downward or upward thrust. This can be attributed to lack of practice.

At this point, it is well to enter into discussion with the student on various types of knives he has seen and instances in which they have been used. In general knives with spikes on the butt, brass knuckles for the handle, and any other like addition are not practical. Operationally they don't justify themselves. Their appearance, it is true, does create awe in the eyes of the unskilled. However there is some merit to such a combination knife if the man is untrained. Psychologically he feels better about his weapon and its possibilities until he learns about knives. The discussion will arouse a great deal of interest and a good many questions will arise which the instructor would not have otherwise brought forward. Here again stress the instances in which the knife will be used and build up the picture that in the first place, unless on specific missions, the knife is a reserve or last ditch weapon which will be used at extremely close quarters after firearms may no longer be used. Under the heading of specific missions, go through various accounts, such as the Italian reference earlier in the chapter, to illustrate its dangerous effectiveness in various situations. After the student has had this preliminary indoctrination lecture, allow him to feel and handle various types of knives which you may have available and to demonstrate to himself the three basic essentials of each knife, namely, thrusting, slashing and maneuverability. j

In the next session, emphasize again the essential character- \ istics of a true fighting knife and also the fact that in most cases where it is used, it will be dark or semi-dark.

Show the proper method of attack in the open, where the opponent can see you, by demonstrating the attack from a crouch with the left hand forward and the knife held with the handle across the palm of the right, close to the body. The left hand will act as a guard and a foil or parry, which will help in getting the opening for the slash or thrust. The left hand may also be used to distract his attention by waving it in his face, or by making sudden darting motions toward him. Stress the fact that when the main is in the crouch with his left hand forward to parry, he is in a position of extreme mobility, because his knees are flexed and he is in perfect balance. In the crouch he is also protecting his vital mid-section and throat area from possible vital thrusts by his opponent who might be likewise armed with a knife. He is also in a

European Krav Maga
Front view showing correct grip Side view showing crouch and left and crouch for attack. arm ready to parry.

position where he can possibly foil the usual knife defenses if this opponent is unarmed, such as a chair, a club, or any other object, which may be used to strike or to throw.

At this point, place in the hands of the students dummy knives constructed, particularly in the handle, as the fighting knife and let them practice thrusts and slashes on each other. If dummy knives are not readily available, tent pegs, such as are issued in a bedding roll for use with a pup tent, make a fair substitute. After a preliminary round of this, emphasize the vulnerable spots of the body which are particularly sensitive to knife attacks of both the thrust and slash type.

A man when attacked from the front with a blade has two spots which he instinctively protects. They are the throat and the stomach, or abdominal section. Perhaps the reason that he instinctively protects these two areas is that they are easy to reach, but in any event, the psychological effect of a knife wound in these areas, regardless of whether it is serious or not, is so great that the victim is usually momen-

Arterial Cuts Knife Fight

tarily mentally incapacitated. The throat area is susceptible from either the thrust or die slash, the thrust being most effective when driven into the hollow at the base of the throat just below the Adam's apple. A thrust there into the jugular vein or a slash on either side of the neck, cutting the arteries which furnish the blood to the brain results in extreme loss of blood and death in a very short time. Thrusts in the abdominal area which can be combined with the slash as the knife is withdrawn have a great shocking effect upon the individual and usually incapacitate him to the point where another blow can be given with the weapon before he has a chance to recover. A deep wound in the abdominal area will cause death if unattended, but is much slower than a good thrust or slash in the throat area. The heart is, of course, a vital spot for the thrust, but the protection of the ribs makes it more difficult to hit. In some cases, knife thrusts directed toward the heart have been stopped by the ribs and the point of the knife broken ofF by the bony structure without causing a vital wound. Usually, however, the

Knife Fighting Wounds

Slash across btcepts (slash Inside wrist also very effective)

Slash to insido of thigh.

blade will slide off the rib and go into the vital area. The heart thrust is, of course, immediately fatal.

It is possible to get an effective slash across the sides of the throat from the rear, but one of the most effective knife blows in the rear of the victim is that delivered in the kidney or small of the back area. Penetration here in the form of a deep thrust will cause great shock, internal hemorrhage, but not necessarily death. This back or kidney thrust is best used in the sentrv attack as will be explained later. The vital areas arc still the throat, heart, and abdominal sections, and all other knife thrusts and slashes should be preliminary to the vital killing stroke delivered to these areas. The slash can be effectively used to sever the tendons on the inside of the wrist. This is most effective against a person who is trying to protect himself from the knife and has his arm outstretched to do so. This slash renders the hand useless. A slash across the large muscle of the biceps has the same effect. A slash on the inside of the thigh or arm will cut arteries, and will also incapacitate if delivered deep enough. The slashes of these areas, in addition to disabling the opponent, cut various veins and arteries and if left unattended, will cause death from loss of blood.

After the student has been shown the vulnerable spots, let him take a real knife and practice manipulating it facing a dummy. This dummy can be of an old pair of coveralls filled with straw or any other suitable replica of a man's body which has arms and legs. Make him practice slowlv at first executing thrusts and slashes always from the crouch; speed up the tempo as practice goes along and verbally give him spots to hit as he practices. About six hours such prac-ticc will give the student an extreme amount of confidence in his weapon and a skill in its use which will place him well above the average knife wicldcr.

To cover the various places in which the knife is carried, let us sav first that it should be carried in a place where the bearer can with the least possible effort and with the most speed draw it from its sheath. This place where he carries the weapon may vary greatly due to racial and local

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Knife Throwing Techniques of the Ninja

Knife Throwing Techniques of the Ninja

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  • edvige angelo
    How to kill sentry with knife?
    4 years ago

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