Friday, April 10, 2015

Sharp is safe

A sharp knife is a safe knife. You're less likely to force through, it's less likely to buckle and, if you get cut, you heal much better. Much. Really.

In the knife-using circles I've known, those points above are so basic, they're often not even told. The same way you're not told your feet touch the ground.

Remember the kid from last week? Thanks to him, I found an interesting site on teaching knife-use to kids.

It's interesting. Because it's mostly about empowerment, respect, some family bonding... All those nice things when you apply them to abstract knowledge, but oh so scary when you put a knife in a kid's hands.

Some years ago, I was talking with a senior field officer in the Spanish army. He mentioned that he'd rather hire a climber than a soccer player. All that being up there hanging from a rope gave a calm and introspection that soccer simply didn't, even before you accounted for the frequent association between soccer and violence.

What I'm finding is a certain correlation between people who're comfortable around knives (may or may not carry them, or even know their knives, depending on their background) and people who're comfortable with themselves.

And I think on the 1001 ways I use a knife... not quite daily. And I think about the 1001 ways society is trying to teach that kid to misuse knives, to fear them... (Insisting on dull knives and teaching him to play with them; fussing around him when there are knives in the open, to the point of blocking his parents' access in case of an accident; and so on) A kid that knew how to handle knives before he could walk, who keeps trying to help in the kitchen, slicing included (and the reason for his father's search; he finally got one). A kid a goodly part of society can't accept as a responsible "adult-in-making" and tries to dumb down.

And society usually wins. And then we complain that "kids these days", that "most people can't", that "this thing is too sharp". When, really, what happens is that we've been dulled down.

Take care.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Techniques' inflection point

Usually, martial arts techniques are responses. A succession of moves that take you from a losing situation into a winning result. So, if things start going downhill and yet you manage to succeed, there must be a point at which this changes, yes?


Again with my old system's technique. Yes, check it out again, please. Where does that thing go from "I'm going to get smashed" to "I have him"? Where do you think it happens? My opinion? The moment you control his elbow to your abdomen. Everything after that is commentary. It's very difficult to recover from that, and I'd say impossible once you put your other hand to him.

However, a bunch of instructors, even arts, concentrate in the shiny bits. The lock, the control, the takedown. They're nice, funny, often spectacular. But you need control of the situation to get there. And that's where many fail.

Now, yes, this point can change. A very good judoka can intercept a punch and put you down with no intermediate moves. It's not a safe way to bet or train, though.

So, where are your techniques' inflection points? When do you start controlling the situation?

Can you do properly what comes before?

Take care.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Again with blades

I seem to be repeating myself a lot, today.

Some days ago, I mentioned that blades seem to have a weird "feeling", a balance that pushes you towards certain fluidity. In that trip with friends this last weekend I bought several knives. A chef's knife, a MCusta folding knife, a Martiini one, and two fixed Spanish blades: a Muela inspired on Argentinian blades and a Nieto skinner.

I've ranted on some ideas on Spanish knives ust today, so I'll save you the bad points on that. Also, I'd have preferred the MCusta to be one with a thumb hole, unlayered, instead of a thumb stud, layered steel one. Functional preference[*].

But. Those blades have their own preferences of movement. The long Argentinian blade, a 6 2/3 inch blade, reaches out, changes your feel, makes you, perhaps, a tad more daring, asks for a guard. The skinner wants to be kept close to the body. With the very same movements. The folding ones are similar to the skinner, but faster, more inclined to "nick" instead of cut; maybe more puncturing, too.

Now, most of my short blade instruction is a weird mix of Kali, Silat... My Japanese learning is scarce on short blades and... well, a tanto is a rather long short blade. So maybe my ideas are restricted. But... I had similar feelings with that talwar I mentioned in my earlier post, and I'm told they were legit.

Hm... More feeling, less technique? Where have I heard that before...?

Take care.

[*] Layered steel, today, is not any more functional (and, sometimes, even less) than good factory steel. And I think thumb holes work better under stress.

Knives and responsibility

This kind of follows on the previous post, kind of doesn't. It has more general implications WRT awareness.

Some friends of mine are rearing their child with some... old fashioned? ideas on responsibility. As in, they're teaching him more things like left / right and less things like "hippopotamus". And he's been grabbing knives the proper way since before he could walk.

I was with them this first weekend of Easter and... it's curious. Curious how some people will freak out at the kid grabbing (properly) a knife, but will put him dessert out of reach, insuring an accident when the kid reaches for it (or tries to) at the same time the rest of the adults are busy staying out of the way of said waiters (and, then, presenting the bill to said kid; how come he needs better access to a bill than to his own food?).

Earlier that weekend, at a knife shop, the father was buying a shaving razor... just after a professional chef cut himself with a knife... and kept denying it. Still, there was blood on the floor when he left and no one else was bleeding. Denial. But... No one cleaned those knives he'd touched (or the floor). Let's just say my friend made sure his blade was in a factory-sealed container. You're left to wonder what happens if that guy bleeds on the menu.

Another knife shop, same guy, weeks ago, looking for a knife that would fit his kid's hand. In certain circles, "sharp is safe". Apparently not in a shop where they kept insisting on dull blades (the kid has several of those, gifts; those gifts are teaching him, basically, to play with blades... suboptimal), and that he could not carry the kid above knife-level (in case he fell on those knives; because, of course, the fall itself is meaningless)... and then promptly interfering with his range of vision and staying between parent and kid every single time they showed him a knife. There were Japanese blades on display.

But they were Following the Rules. That parent was a Maverick (TM). And so on... Still, the rules followed, they forgot about the meaning of those rules at the same time said parent tried to teach his kid how to safely work with those things.

What kind of parent do you thing raised the self-mutilating chef?

Take care.

Spanish knives

Spain has a long tradition WRT knives. Blades, in general. Then, folding blades. The winch-like noise the kind of knife there makes as it opens used to be a staple of books and comics.

And yet... Go to international knife forums or suppliers and try to find Spanish makers. You won't find the artisans (they apparently created a guild a couple of years ago, but I can't find it now), and you'll have trouble finding them here, even. Web 2.0 is so last year, guys! Don't give me "we can't reach that" market / forum... when people from Scandinavia, France or Brazil do.

And if you try to browse those brands online catalogues... Ergh! At most, scanned physical catalogue pages. Without info. "Steel: Stainless" is not a valid description. Locking mechanisms? Frame or liner-lock, that's it (or none, in some really traditional makers). Not even the classic one pictured above, not much. Nothing new, no patents, no... Opening mechanism? Friction or stud. Some, very rare, "spyder hole" -like.

Sheaths are about as bad but, then, that's more normal.

Oh, and they could learn some packaging, too. Just sayin'. Blergh! [*]

So what?

Mindset. If that's how aficionados treat their trade... imagine the standard population. Even LEOs. Flipper knives? Assisted? How do you teach knife defence when people still believe that a knife takes so long to open?

Take care.

[*] Basically, knives are not shoes. Really. Trust me. They aren't.

Friday, March 27, 2015


Soemtimes you have one of those glimpses that makes you see things much more clearly... and realize you've been a fool until then.

I've said for a while (though I admit that I took most of those posts offline a couple of months ago) that I'm surprised about the relationships between Tatsumi-ryu (early XVIth century ryuha, Japan) and Kajukenbo (sort of Chinese ancestry, 1950s, Hawai'i). Both are very forward, frontal, arts... until they're not. Both require a weird fluidity, a transition between strength and bounce, a pressure...

And both share the same basic deflection.

I'd seen it, sort of, before. The idea was the same, but instead of using the arm, you were using a 3-feet blade.

Except it's more than that. Kajukenbo deflects with the weak arm while the strong one comes from below and shields. In an emergency, you can simply put your strong hand over its ear and your other hand reinforces the arm. It's a rather strong shield that can move around more than you'd expect (and has a pointy end).

Tatsumi ryu has mukou. The strong hand grips the sword while the weak one... grips both sword and arm and reinforces it. Not only the "energy" is the same (both physical and "psychological" [*])... the actual physical structure of your own body is almost a copy.

I'm an idiot. A practised idiot.

Take care.

[*] Willpower, intent... call it as you wish.

Monday, March 23, 2015


He’d never had any patience with those sagas wherein the hero found, was given, or created a famous blade with a name of its own. Ridiculous! These things were just pieces of steel, not something sentient. And when you focused too much on "my famous blade, Gazornenplatz,” you were apt to forget that it was a tool, to be used and as readily left behind if need be. Aksel had felt the same, and when he’d caught cadets naming their blades and refusing to use any other, he often took the weapons in question to the forge himself and had them melted down, if they happened to have come out of the common arsenal. There wasn’t a great deal he could do about heirloom blades or gifts, other than to ban them from the salle, but that’s exactly what he had done.

Mercedes Lackey, Exile's Honor
Maija mentions she's been playing with Western swords, and about the differences in mindset due to different kinds of design. Personally, what I'd likely find annoying of a good deal of Western swords is the lack of guard to the sides of the cutting plane in the classic medieval "cross" design (Oakeshott).

But what I've found so far is that there's a kind of "feel" of blades. And considering how hard it was for me to switch practice swords and how natural some moves seem with completely unknown blades... And I mean going from katana-like designs to one handed sabres, or knives. I have the feeling that a lot of the problem with swords is not what you don't know.

It's what you DO know. To use the previous example: it was knowing the weight of my previous practice swords that made it difficult to me to adapt to the new ones. But when I tried a talwar some time ago, there were some movements that just "were" in the blade, movements that didn't come from my martial arts, but my body. Something similar happened with a sabre built to Japanese WWII requirements, and with an old knife with filipino delusions.

And I'm not sure it doesn't tie to those ideas from Rory. That we learn playing, not cramming ideas. That we know how to move and that, if we're not careful, MA learning ends up putting way to many restrictions and destroying the knowledge we already had of our own body.


Take care.