Roleplaying Feats of Skill: Knife Fighting

(Some highlights reposted from the past)

Originally posted by Bradley (a.k.a. "Jason Ramire")
Date: 21 Feb 2002

Okay, the knife.

Knife fighting is a very quick fighting style. Most fighting knives have blades of at least 7 inches, generally they are about 9 to 11 inches, though traditional filipino knives tend to be 14 to 18. As you can see knife size is dependent upon the user's preference and style. Due to the knife's lack of length (when contrasted with a sword) it is beneficial to always maintain your striking foot forward. This allows the fighter to maintain the maximum distance between the opponents knife and the fighter's own vitals.

Like the sword, the standard posture is with knife tip and top of the hand facing heaven-ward. When the knife's point faces downward, this style is called icepick (the change from oar to icepick I believe is due to difference in schools, though I don't think native filipino's have ever seen or needed an icepick) It is very important to not attempt to fight in icepick style with a dagger (that second edge is murder on your forearm).

Attacking With a Knife

When fighting with a knife you generally do not intend to kill your opponent. Killing with a knife is a very ardous task, and with an opponent who is resisting can prove to be a nearly impossible. Knife fights generally seek to injure to the point of quiting.

The first notable rule, do not swing a knife if you do not intend to get cut yourself. It's going to happen.

Second, since a knife doesn't lend the force that a sword does there is little to know chance of severing bone with an attack, which means that you do not have to rely on the 45 degree attacks. As Jorge and I both learned, there are eight attacks given to knife/stick fighting. Attacks should be short, kept in tight length wise. The longer your swing the greater the chance you have of getting cut. Also, any slash can be turned into a stab/lunge. This flexability, paired with the mass availability of knives, makes the knife a truely awesome weapon with limited training.

The Eight Knife Attacks Given in Flowing Order

(locations denoted are given from the fighter's body, not the opponents. Ideas for damage should be mirrored affects)

  1. Right shoulder, 45 down to left mid abdomen.
  2. Left mid abdomen 45 up to right shoulder.
  3. Right mid abdomen 45 up to left shoulder.
  4. Left shoulder 45 down to right mid abdomen.
  5. Straight thrust to solar plexus (its important to not aim higher or you'll lodge your blade in the sternum/ribs) Angle 5 is drawn straight back to the midabdomen where it was sent from.
  6. Horizontal left to right.
  7. Horizontal right to left.
  8. Dropping centre line, face, neck, upper chest (again, watch the ribs)

When slashing with a knife as the arm bows in for the quick slash, the elbow flicks straight (source of torque) and the wrist draws with the blade (source of cutting force). The free hand posts or slaps either the knife hand wrist or bicep, catching and catapulting the arm and adding a vast amount of power.

Defanging the Snake

Your opponent can not hold a knife when you slash up their forearm. A knife strike is risky business, the fighter is sending the knife blade through no man's land and into the trapping range of the opponent's blade. Defanging the snake merely means that you are attacking not the opponents body, but their hand, fingers, wrist and forearm of their knife hand. It's a hard target to pass up, they're sending it your way.

Trapping and Parrying

Sword parrying is nice because you have a great deal of blade to work with . Knives are faster and smaller and the danger area is that much closer to the fighter's fingers. Parrying is done almost exclusively with the free hand. The free hand bats at the knife hand in much the same manner as the parrys with a sword. Slap the back of the knife hand in the direction of the opponents strike will carry his body in that direction. Slap his hand down and watch his body and head sink after the knife.

Trapping involves both hands, the free hand acts just like the parry but the knife hand guides the blade into the opponents knife arm elbow, forcing their arm to bend (or suffer the damage that comes with a lacerated elbow). From this position it's very easy to disarm, using the free hand grab the back of the opponents knife hand, twist outwards (ie away from their body and agains the wrist's intentions) while maintaining knife-in-elbow and the knife pops out. (Grappler's note, this trap can be done without a knife but the free hand must maintain a thumb upon the back of the opponent's wrist. From this posture the opponent can be brougth to the ground before or after their wrist breaks.)

Killing With a Knife

I know, I said it's not really done. But it's easy to argue that people are stabbed to death on a frighteningly regular basis. Killing with a knife involves either attacks of extreme opportunity (read lucky shots) to the neck, throat, the lymphnodes/artery/vein laden areas of the armpits and thighs, or dead stabs to the intestines or lungs. Pretty much any other strike to that area will result in slow deaths from internal or external bleeding which can last in excess of a 24 hour period.

Moving During a Knife Fight

In a knife fight, being caught thinking in a linear manner is a very bad thing. The best manner is the think of the figher standing in the center of an X. The knife hand foot moves along the top legs first to maintain the body's distance, the trail leg sweeping along behind. When retreating along the lower legs the free hand leg moves first and the knife handleg plays catch-up. At the school where I learned Arnis and Kali these were called male and female triangles.

Dramatic Notes on Knife Fighting

Knives travel fast. You will barely see a silver blur in a knife fight, and those of us who carry knives with subdued blades don't even offer you that much of a chance. You will hear the slaps of hands against biceps and forearm and see the fighters move for distance. Most strikes land on the arms or are glancing body shots. If a knife isn't balanced for throwing, it won't. A quick note on throwing knives: there are two prime types, light and heavy. Light throwers are easier to use but do only superficial damage. Heavy offer a different range and deal a great deal more damage. Either way, the chances of killing with a thrown knife are slim to none. When fighting with a sword and knife (the Spanish term for this, butchered by my Anglo mind, is espada y daga) the sword almost universally operates as the bully, pushing and manuvering the knife in to deal those deep stabbing blows that will wear the opponent down to nothing and result in death. Also, knives work very well in pairs. Although you can't use your free hand to catch and propell your knife arm you do benefit from the flexability of altertnating your forward foot and mixing up slashes to complicate your opponent. Defanging the Snake with two knives is a bloody experience, though efficient.