Confessions of a Knife Fighter Pt. 1: Sgt. Schultz

knife fighter

Back in the 60’s, CBS aired a popular TV comedy set in a World War II German prison camp for allied airmen. (No I did not make that up.) Sgt. Schultz was one of Hogan’s Heroes most popular characters. The portly prison guard had a fascinating catchphrase: I know noth-think! It was a riff on the fact that the majority of the Germany’s wartime population claimed ignorance of the horrors of the Holocaust. The expression was also a reflection of Sgt. Schultz’s character; the German soldier was willfully ignorant. Which made him a figure of fun and endeared him to the TV audience. In real life, Sgt. Schultz wouldn’t have lasted five minutes on the Eastern front. Which brings me to a simple point: when it comes to self-defense ignorance is not bliss . . .

To win a knife fight you have to know how to win a knife fight. Just as most gun owners have no idea what to do when the excrement hits the recirculating air device, most people who carry a knife for self-defense are completely ignorant of even the most basic techniques for defending themselves with an edged weapon. Truth be told, myself included.

I know noth-think!

Seriously. Before yesterday, I had no idea how much I didn’t know about knife fighting. After yesterday, I have a clue. You know; an inkling. A rough idea. A vague understanding. And that’s because I talked to Michael Janich at the Spyderco booth at the 2013 Blade Show.

To say my over-the-counter pow-wow was eye opening would be like saying Noa Tishby has a look about her. The follicly-challenged man behind Martial Blade Concepts gave me a personal peek into my own little world of ignorance.

“Just as there’s no such thing as stopping power with a gun,” he said, “There’s no single move with a knife that guarantees that you’re going to stop the threat. Stabbing someone will not get it done.” So what do you do, I asked. “Cut,” he replied. “You use the knife to incapacitate the threat.”

Janich was quick to point out that he wasn’t talking about “ballistic” cutting (a.k.a., slashing). He was referring to precision cutting on a specific bit of your attacker’s anatomy. Knowing your knife, your own capabilities and anatomy. Like this:

Hey. Guess what? I now have a plan. I find it astounding that I didn’t have one before now. Me, Mr. Gun guy, didn’t have a strategy for using my everyday carry knife for self-defense. Janich was mildly reassuring on that point. “Hardly anyone does,” he said with what passes for a smile on his drop-dead serious features.

Of course, I was lacking something else. Something mission critical for getting a clue about what to do with my knife when someone poses an imminent threat of death or grievous bodily harm to myself and/or my loved ones. A training knife.

If I learned one thing from my firearms odyssey it’s train as you mean to fight. That means training with the tools with which you mean to fight. So how many training versions do I have of my carry knives? Exactly none.

Well, that was before my convo with Janich. Now I have both the [last available at the Show] red-handled training version of the Endura and the razor-sharp black-handled Endura4 FRN with Sypderedge.

Spyderco Endura Trainer (top) and Endura4 (courtesy The Truth About Knives)


And by God I’m practicing with it. The trainer, that is. And not the moves illustrated above. I’m learning how to get the thing out of my pocket, flick it open and hold it in the proper position (thumb on top of the blade). Ready for battle.

Yes, well, I’m about as ready for a real knife fight as my gardener’s T-ball-playing son is for Major League Baseball. But I’ve made a start. If worst came to worse, I have something remotely resembling a plan. I have an idea of what needs doing—other than trying to stab my attacker’s vital organs (wrong answer). That’s way better than no plan.

Regular readers know that I know enough to know that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So I’ve warmed-up the YouTube generator and resolved to learn more about edged blade self-defense. If the longest journey starts with a single step, well, I’m stepping out.

I’ll share my training and travails with you, our Edged Intelligenstia, as I go. This I do in the hopes that A) I’ll inspire knife defense newbies to get with a program B) our knife-fighting-trained readers can set me thus my ignorant ilk straight and C) I can generate some page views for TTAK.

Speaking of which, this website is dedicated to the truth about knives. The truth about knife fighting is that there are millions of pig-ignorant knife carriers out there who need to learn the art of edged self-defense. I know noth-think is a comedy line not a viable philosophy for personal protection.


  1. OODAloop says:

    Excellent steps. I came to this same realization about 5 years ago. Being a Gun Guy ™ is great, but a gun is only good in certain situations. What if you can’t carry? What if you’re too close to draw a gun, it jams, you run out of bullets, etc, etc, etc… After a thorough review of knife “systems”, Mike Janich’s appeared to be the most practical and well-balanced and is based more in defense than offense, which is how I plan to use it. He uses common, every-day knives and like most good gun trainers, doesn’t push a certain make and model, rather he helps you learn the tool you have. Doesn’t matter if you’re big/small, old/young, fast/slow, he’ll work with you during classes to help find a stride that you can be comfortable with and confident in. That’s a big part of it- knowing you have the skills and tools to be able to protect yourself. Knife fighting is up close and personal and you need to know that you can protect yourself with your new skills. If you can’t hit one of his classes, check out it MBC and “damithurt silat” (damn, it hurts a lot) videos.

    As for deploying the Endura, you might want to look at an Endura with an Emerson Wave. After the class I can say that my Delica (slightly shorter younger brother to the Endura) with the wave is faster than almost any spring deploy or gravity assist knife out there, and as a simple lockback and under 3″ is legal almost everwhere.

  2. Sam L. says:

    #1–Don’t do it if it’s avoidable.
    #2–You’re really likely to get cut, so…#1.
    #3–Read up on it: Hank Reinhardt; Cold Steel by Styers; The Complete Book Of Knife Fighting by John Cassidy.
    #4–Avoid it.

  3. Eric says:

    Robert: I know about as much as you do about knife fighting, maybe a touch less. I disagree with Janich on the thrust versus slash thing though. Show me a pig hunter knife hunter (youtube it) who slashes the pig to death. They don’t. They use large pointy knives to penetrate deeply. Also see what a bayonet looks like.

    In the chaos of a clinch and or knife fight, you will have great difficulty in using a folder in my opinion, much less be able to think about anatomic targets. For truly serious knife defense, a fixed blade that is long and pointy is the key. Grab to deploy, then stab as quickly and as deeply as possible until physiologic arrest of your opponent.

    For your reading list:

    This interview is a nice counterpoint to Janich:

    I like both Janich and Keating and they are both experts. I carry the exact endura you have daily, but I have delusions about it as a reactive self defense tool. Partially reactive or proactive sure, but if I am caught flat footed, forget deploying it.

    1. Mark Davis says:

      Eric – I agree with you on a number of points, but I’m not 100% in favor of thrusting.

      I too have contemplated pig-sticking as an analog for self defense. However I see a number of differences between pig hunting and self defense with a blade.

      During the hunting that I’m familar with, the hunter dispatches the pig using a long, fixed bladed knife which is thrust into a target (pig) when it is being secured by dogs. The hunter is basically an executioner – taking his time, getting into position, picking his target and making the final move. I don’t want to imply this is easy to do, because I’m sure its not. However it is very different than a fight between humans.

      Also, the pig is physically very different than a human. They’re very tough and essentially armored by thick skin, fat and muscle. Hence the need for a thrust with the long pointy knife. Human’s are much less armored, and have a number of blood vessels, tendons, nerves and connective tissue very close to the skin.

      Additionally, the tools are different. I cannot legally or practically carry a large pointy fixed-blade. However I can carry a small or medium folder. With different tools, I have to think about different techniques.

      As always, YMMV.

      1. Pat says:

        I have knives of all types, but carry an Endura with the serrations when out for a walk. The idea is that if somebody is reaching out towards me with his hands (which may or may not have a weapon in them). My instinct is to slash that offending limb once or twice and then run the hell away, hoping this person did not enjoy getting cut and would have to address the wound. An 8″ fighting knife, or 12″ Natchez Bowie, would be a whole other kettle of fish.
        I suppose that if you noticed the bad guy had a gun in his hand at the time you were taking your first slash at him, you would probably have to try to grab the dude so the gun was not pointed in your direction. Stabbing at the neck, face, eyes would be appropriate.

    2. Aharon says:

      I know even less than you about knife fighting. If possible I too would prefer a longer blade such as my Ka-Bar made Becker BK5 Magnum. I’ve replaced the oem scales with micarta handles. It is an incredible knife with an 8″ blade and a weight of .75 lbs.

  4. David says:

    Your humility has got me psyched Robert!

    Seriously, I watched the whole video and read the article (here and at TTAG). Let me humbly offer the little I think I know:

    Find your own path.

    Train, train, train, & train some more . . . most importanly train w/ intensity. Let people of all shapes, sizes, and speeds come at you w/ all they have. Get your mind and body use to intensity cuz fights of any kind are intense. Your fighting spirit is more important than your technique or philosophy (even though those are very important).

    Realize that on the street there is a very good chance you will face multiple attackers – let that nugget influence your training.

    Spectacles are your friend and enemy – mostly enemy. They can obstruct your peripheral vision, fog up, and/or come off. The upside is they can help w/ protecting against eye strikes and they can help you see if you need them (duh).

    Last, foot work is over emphasized in martial arts and is hard to master and tends towards BS. This guy is obviously influenced by FMA if not matriculated from it (I studied FMA too). Major foot work going on there and is difficult to do and even has drawbacks when you do. If you can be like Brett Favre on the football field – dangerous to anywhere from anywhere in any position – then you will be much more formidable. He broke the foot work rules just like some great fighters have. A major capability of a knife is it (can) gives you much more damage w/ far less kinetic energy. So be like wata my friend.

    Oh yeah – runfu works too 🙂

    Now quit reading words on a screen and stab something.

  5. Mark Davis says:

    Robert – congrats on learning new stuff.

    At the end of the day, fighting is simply fighting. Fist fighting. Knife fighting. Gun fighting. It’s a simply using the tools that are available and most appropriate. Glad to hear you’re expanding your fighting skillset and your toolbox.

  6. Out_Fang_Thief says:

    What do you do? “You use the knife to incapacitate the threat.”

    Is this the kinder-gentler, politically correct version of defensive knife use?
    And no, I’m not trying to be a smart-ass, or crack wise for comedic relief.
    To make a comparison, does anyone using a gun, shoot to incapacitate?
    Do we do like the movies, and wing the shoulder of the bad guys gun arm,
    so he drops his gun, and now everything is okey-dokey? Is that how it is?
    My defensive shooting instructor told me center-mass, repeat as needed.
    Does Janich have other videos where he teaches you lethal self-defense,
    against someone swinging a knife like a crazy person? Maybe one who is
    numb-drunk or amped-up on meth? I’ve seen it, and they don’t come at
    their target of aggression like the trained knife fighters as was displayed
    by the assistants in this video. Someone, on TTAG or here, posted a video
    a few days ago with the 4 cops and the crazy dude with the knife? Not the
    way the cops thought that was going to end, was it? And they had guns.
    You just opined how a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. That’s what
    this video is giving us, a little knowledge, under the most favorable of all
    conditions. My defensive shooting instructor didn’t have any shoot the
    legs, or wing the guy, shoot to incapacitate training to teach me. Clearing
    my holster quickly and safely, and hitting center mass training…that he
    had a lot of. Two shots, pop-pop, repeat as necessary. The only drills we
    practiced were those where the attacker was permanently incapacitated.
    He called them room-temperature drills. You remain at 98.6 while your
    attacker assumes room temperature. Does anyone else do it differently?

    So why is it different for defensive knife use, where an attacker can still
    present a formidable threat? Tactically cutting a leg and arm to disable
    and incapacitate sounds like you’re stopping just short of the real task.
    That task, is saving your life. Defending to wound is no guarantee that
    your attacker will stop. Maybe someone can explain what I’m missing.
    This all sounds unnecessarily….dangerous.

    1. Mark N. says:

      What you are missing is that a small pocket knife, say 2 or 3″, does not have a lot of penetration, and it is difficult to inflict lethal blows to the body. And if you can cut him, he can cut you, so stay as far away as possible. Further, the attacker must necessarily present his arms and legs as part of his attack. It is therefore much easier to inflict disabling cuts and stab wounds–and disabling the attack is a successful defense. That is what the vid demonstrated–attacking the hand with the weapon, then disabling locomotion. Once you do this, you can escape.

      1. Out_Fang_Thief says:

        OK, I was missing the part about having only a 2″- 3″ knife. I guess in that case, what is being shown would make more sense, by using what you’ve got to maximum effect. Even with that missing piece, what do you do if that isn’t enough? Refer to my numb-drunk, amped-up on meth scenario where pain or injury is of little concern to an unbalanced mind that is dead-set on your death. Are there no lethal moves that stop a limping deranged attacker in his tracks? I’ve seen raving madness that took 5 men to subdue and hold for the police. It took all of their effort just to keep him pinned to the ground. If he had a knife, the whole picture would have been frightful. I don’t think cutting an arm and a leg would have stopped him. What do you do when that fails, or have no where to run, like in the confined space of a room, or a bus? I want to have lethal options. My EDC is a CRKT Carson M16-13zm with a 3.5″ blade that can probably reach past 4″ if pushed. That is enough to reach most vital organs, lungs and heart included, but are those necessarily stop in their tracks blows? The knife arts used to be called Perf/Sev, as in Perforate and Sever. Is that the only lethal option? Are there any stop the bad guy in their tracks knife moves?

        1. Mark N. says:

          The major causes of death are exsanguination and CNS disruption, irrespective of weapon. Center mass is more likely to impact and perforate a major organ, leading to exsanguination. The same effect is had with severing the major blood vessels of the neck or of the legs. For the neck, cutting from ear to ear is pretty effective (both blood loss and interference with breathing), as is stab wounds to the jugular. Major blood vessels are also located behind the knee. Disabling injuries include severing tendons behind the knee or the Achilles tendon–hobbling the attacker is effective no matter how messed up he is. If you want immediate lethality, you need a sword, not a pocket knife. Unless you can get behind the attacker and skillfully insert your blade between the base of the skull and the first cervical vertebra. (Easier said than done, but if successful stops the heart and breathing). Actually, any fixed blade with 8 inches or more of blade length will have the same effect in terms of penetration as a bullet, but without the massive wound channel.

        2. Pat says:

          As I stated above: If dude doesn’t have a weapon; slash, slash, run. If he has a knife; slash, slash, run. If he has a gun; slash, slash, grab gun hand, stab, stab, stab (face and neck), til’ movement ceases.

    2. Bryan in Texas says:

      Hi Out_Fang-This is Janich’s conceptualized version of de-fanging the snake (per FMA) or causing structural damage. It isn’t a PC means of using the knife at all. Damaging the limb operating the weapon is immediate and if targeting is practiced, high probability. If you sever the bicep, you cannot retract the arm. A severed tricep cannot extend the arm. Severing the extensors in the forearm degrades the ability to hold onto a weapon. Taking an assailants ability to attack gives options, including a kill or escape. Standing toe to toe with an assailant who has a knife and relying on a stab or cut with a knife that most carry for EDC to dispatch them leaves you in a bad position. Aggression and proximity mean that an attacking extremity can be hit. They have to put their arm out there to cut or stab you. Severing muscle is bio-mechanical. Drugs or rage don’t matter to the severed muscle. Relying on pain is low probability. Structural damage removes that chance. Hog hunters carry some good sized fixed blades that do huge damage from penetrating trauma. My delica or endura won’t get that type of penetration even with compression.

  7. Mark N. says:

    Without training, the last thing you want to get into is a knife fight. Speed is of predominant importance. Practice is the only way to develop the speed necessary to avoid and to attack. Attack the target that is closest to you, usually the arm or the hand, secondary is the leg. The reason is simple–the closer you get to his body, the closer yours is to his blade. Attacking the limbs is likely to disable the attacker from continuing his assault. Stabbing targets are the face and neck. Cutting targets are the inside and outside of the forearms (deep cuts in which will cause loss of muscle control in the hand), the quads, and behind the knee. Most pocket knives are not long enough to cause serious injuries in the abdomen, so don’t bother trying–on top of which there can be a lot of stabbing going on in a clinch, so stay away. Finally, it’s not the movies–you are not there to spar. Get in fast, and get the hell out. And if you are old like me (over 50), get a gun, and keep the knife for your daily tasks.

    1. Out_Fang_Thief says:

      I am over 50, and yes, a gun is my first choice, knife second.
      Unfortunately, I have a problem with the whole escaping part.
      A broken back has left me with no feeling in my left foot, and most
      of my left leg. Walking now requires deliberate thought. Have you
      ever sat, or were laying down, and woke up to find your leg had
      gone to sleep? How were you, or were you, able to walk even a step? That’s me 24/7. I have no sensation of my own weight as I step on my left foot. Running is just a good opportunity to fall while moving quickly, which equates to falling even harder than falling when I’m walking, something I have done on 4 occasions, thankfully, without injuring myself. Which brings me back to the point. My Sig 9mm has lethal stopping power. Is there no equivalent with a knife? If there isn’t, then disabling an attacker becomes only a half measure given my disability. I would hate to think that there were no lethal options available to me if I ever had to use one.

      I was taught to use my gun for the most lethal effect. Center mass.
      If using a gun, which does penetrate, in a way that it’s most lethal,
      why is there a difference when using a knife, regardless of its size?
      Why then, do these two have very different philosophies of use?

      “I don’t want neutralized…I want dead!” Karl

      1. CarlosT says:

        Your situation is exactly what I think of when people say stupid crap like “guns and self-defense aren’t synonymous”. Yes, they are. There’s no self-defense tool that equals the gun for the combination of effectiveness and ease of use. Knives definitely have their place and everyone who is able should learn to use one effectively, but no one should be forced to rely solely on them for defense.

      2. Pat says:

        Fang, if it is legal in your state, you may consider a good Sword Cane (Cold Steel heavy duty is good). A large bowie (heavy, with at least 9 1/2″ blade length) would also work, but would not aid your mobility like the cane. If you watch James Keatings ‘Riddle of Steel’ bowie videos, you will see that a bowie of sufficient size is a whole other animal over a regular knife and can be a one shot kill on a ‘jabbing’ thrust which takes little effort compared to a stabbing thrust (like a punch….which is also easy to block, unlike the jab).

        1. Mark N. says:

          A couple of comments. A sword cane is considered a concealed weapon under California law and is strictly forbidden. Cal state law does not regulate the length of fixed bladed knives as long as they are carried unconcealed–but local jurisdictions can and have passed more restrictive ordinances (e.g. L.A. prohibits fixed bladed knives and only allows folders less than 3″).
          An unbreakable cane, all by itself (such as is sold by Cold Steel) can make an extremely effective self-defense weapon.
          Finally a bowie can be an effective long blade, but there are serious caveats. Any blade that stresses hardness (for better and sharper edge retention) is more brittle and easier to break. Bayonet blades, by contrast, are more flexible for this very reason, as stabs to the chest may often result in the blade getting stuck in the ribs.

  8. rightontheleftcoast says:

    Great post Robt and thanks. Been thinking about getting going on same but procrastinating due to the amount of info out thrre and how to sort out who is best bang for the buck while spending primary funds on handgun training and ammo. Now that it appears thats ging to continue to be scarce and pricey for awhile it looks like a side trip down this newbies path makes sense to me too.
    The key seems to be get going so i hope to be a couple steps behind following your lessons learned.

  9. Aharon says:

    Great post and video.Thanks. Many things to think about.

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Confessions of a Knife Fighter Pt. 1: Sgt. Schultz

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