Let’s get back to talking about how to kill people. It is, after all, what our characters do, right? This week, the topic is knife fighting.
Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune to train on guns and knives with Steve Tarani, whose martial arts skills are the stuff of legend. My most recent training was about a year ago at Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona, where I spent a week training with carbines, pistols and . . . wait for it . . . knives. While I’ve done a lot of shooting in the past, this was my first exposure to knife fighting, and it was, frankly, terrifying. As you might imagine, on the pistol and carbine courses, there’s no shooting at each other, but when it came to the knife sessions, there was sparring among the students, albeit with practice knives. In part because Tarani and I are friends–and in part because my nickname was “Writer Boy”–I was frequently called out to be the victim during demonstrations. The most embarrassing of those episodes was when Tarani disarmed me and “killed” me with my own knife before I even knew he’d moved.
The 21-Foot Rule
A long time ago someone did research to show that within 7 yards, and attacker with a knife can close the distance and kill a skilled shooter before the shooter can clear his gun from his holster. Our class proved that to be a bogus number. The real number is closer to 30 feet, and once the attacker with knife skills is within arm’s length, the shooter doesn’t have a chance.
Fair Warning: It gets a bit gruesome from here. While there are no upsetting pictures, there are some toe-curling concepts. Read on at your own risk.
Once you’re close enough to touch your gun-wielding opponent, slash the tendons of his wrist and the guy can no longer hold his weapon. We were taught to next slash his eyes to blind him. From there, it’s a matter of evaluating the threat. If he’s done, then so are you, but if he’s still got fight in him, you go for the kill.
The (Other) Kill Zones
A knife fight is an exercise in exsanguination. The last one to bleed out is the “winner”. Thus, knife fighting is geared toward severing major blood vessels. Arteries produce a more crippling blood flow than veins, but they arteries lay buried significantly deeper in the body than veins. To get to an artery, then, you’ve really got to want it. To sever the carotids, for example, we were taught to start the strike with the fist of your knife hand in direct contact with the victim’s neck and push through. Same thing with the femoral arteries, which made for some awkward posturing while sparring.
Best access to the subclavian arteries is via the arm pits. Like the carotids, they branch directly off the aorta, but I found the armpit thrusts difficult to execute. There’s also a belly thrust that will take you through the navel to the abdominal aorta, but it involved the assistance of a knee strike to get the blade deep enough, so we didn’t practice it.
While all of the above applies to defense against a lethal attack, we were taught potentially less lethal moves to be employed if we’re more interested in discouraging an attack than engaging in one.
The Windmill. Say you’re at the bus stop with your kid or your mom or with your significant other, and that skeezy guy who’s been eyeballing you approaches in an unsettling way. You tell him forcefully to stay away, yet he keeps coming. You want to break off the encounter, and you certainly don’t want to fight the guy. This is where the move I call “the windmill” comes in (if Tarani gave it a real name, I don’t remember what it was). You draw and open your locking blade folding knife–if you don’t carry one, I think you should–and hold it in a thumb-support or fencer’s grip (the blade on the thumb end of your fist, not the pinky end) and as you back away, you make slashing motions in the air. Big figure X’s at face-to-shoulder level. You tell him over and over to stay away. No sane person would walk into that razor-sharp windmill.
Which brings us to The Filet. So, Mr. Skeeze keeps coming and he gets a hand around your free arm or he gets a fistful of your clothing. You bring the edge of your blade down perpendicular to his arm bone and dig deep. Then, in one fast, continuous motion, you pivot your blade to be flat against the bone and you slice from wrist to elbow, separating the flesh and muscle tissue of his arm completely off the bone. I’m told it’s not a fatal wound, but goodness gracious it would be an ugly one.
On the final day of classes, Steve Tarani brought in a bunch of pig carcasses and dressed them up in clothes from all seasons. Pigs in T-shirts, pigs in leather jackets, that sort of thing. The point was to employ the lessons of sparring with real blades on actual flesh and bone.
While I always carry a sharp knife, I’m not obsessive about the edge. I certainly couldn’t shave with the blade. So I was surprised–shocked, actually–by the ease with which I could slash through the heaviest clothing all the way through the carcass’s thoracic cavity. On one of my slashes, in fact, I thought I had whiffed it, only to find out that I’d gone through to the bone.
Now I Need Input
I’m told sometimes that my filter for that-which-is-disgusting is out of sync with those of normal people. If posts like this are a step too far into the violent side of reality, I can tone them back. All input is welcome.
And I have mentioned that I have a YouTube channel called A Writer’s View of Writing and Publishing. Feel free to visit and subscribe!