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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Fighting Knives Primer

The knife you choose to carry into combat is an intimate choice.  More so, in my opinion, than even your firearms.  Why?  Because when you are forced to kill with a knife you are usually in physical contact with your enemy.  You can feel the blade doing its work, you can feel how his body twists in agony when you twist your blade and extend the wound, you can feel and smell his body react to the invasion.  Often you can see his eyes which may show surprise, anger, fear.  You can smell the blood and feel it on your hand(s) and clothing.  If you must ensure silence during the act, the event will be even more personal, as you must embrace a man as he dies, until he is dead, and your first attack may be insufficient, requiring a second plunge for the heart or deep slash across the carotid and windpipe.

Yet, your knife is also just another tool in your toolbox.

Most of you know my go-to blades are Cold Steel.  As primary combat knives (fixed blade) my first - my only - choice is the Cold Steel Tanto shown above.  My personal preference is the 12" blade, which is too long for most people (and no longer available).  My recommendation for most people is the 9" blade.  Nine inches is the proper length of a primary Fighting Knife, in my opinion, whatever shape you like best.  There are many things to consider when choosing your primary Fighting Knife, and I don't want this to be a full-blown White Paper.

One important point: My Fighting Knives are for fighting.  They are NOT field knives.  They do not cut saplings.  They do not pound tent stakes.  They do not open boxes, open cans of peaches, cut cordage, or serve any purpose but one: They are cherry until they cut my enemy.  Some people are not so persnickety about their knives.  I am.  I'll carry the weight of an extra blade to ensure that when my fighters are deployed, the blades are ready to cut.  My two primary defensive folders are the same - the blades do nothing but wait.  I have a separate knife for pocket knife chores.

H&K KA-BARs - we each have one on a Go Bag

I also like my KA-BAR Tantos (also discontinued by KA-BAR).  My pair were engraved by the great guys at CADD.  One lives on one of my Go Bags, and the other lives on one of Holly's Go Bags.  When you need a knife in a CQB setting in full kit, you need a knife that can get through webbing, push aside magazines filled with cartridges, maybe even through Kevlar.

Here is what I recommend for most people: 9" blade in the tanto blade shape.  I like the superior penetration you get from a tanto point in tough materials.  Your blade must have a handguard, not only to protect your hand if the other guy gets his knife into the fight, but also to prevent your hand from sliding down a blood-slickened handle to the blade.  I demand a pointed pommel - you have to be able to score on defense.  Handle texture is whatever feels best for you.  Just make sure you can still maintain an effective fighting grip when it gets slick with blood.  If you have the opportunity to test a few different knives, put some heavyweight motor oil on the hilt, then see how well you can continue to handle the blade.

Drop Point - too small for duty, but a good sample
Metal is important - but you don't need to be a metallurgist.  There is a lot of junk metal out there from China.  There is a wide selection of specialty alloys out there from excellent knifemakers - most do the job just fine, but there is no such thing as the perfect metal.  Whether you buy 440 stainless or a good carbon steel, or an exotic alloy, just remember the weakest point on a knife is the tip, then the sharpened edge, and finally is the blade just above the hilt.  Many good knives can be snapped with a sharp block just above the hilt, when struck properly at a 90 degree spine block.

A quick word about actual fights with knives and swords: What you see in most movies is just like the CQB you see in most movies - it's a movie.  In a sword or knife fight when you hear the clanging of steel because blades are hitting blades at right angles, cutting edge hitting cutting edge, you know you are in fantasyland.  When you block with a blade you do not try to cut the other guys blade - you intercept the path of his blade, you turn your blade so that contact is made along the spine of your blade (the back/backbone) - NOT the sharp edge.  When you intercept, you redirect the energy, let the blade slide away, you do not seek to stop it abruptly.  Blades break much easier than one may think.  Practice using the spine of your knife to block and land your blows on the flat of the enemy's knife just above the hilt.  It sucks to play defense in a knife fight, but make the most of it.  (CQB note: If you are in a position and find yourself blocking a knife with the spine of your knife, you are probably in perfect position to put your elbow in his face.)


If you just aren't a tanto guy, the kukri is awfully hard to beat if you are headed into hardcore melee.  It is big and well-suited for chopping.  Primary Fighting Knife?  Not in my book, because it isn't great for thrusting - but an awful lot of Gurkhas and dead Brits would disagree.  A drop-point blade is a good middle-ground between the kukri and tanto - it is curved in a manner that suits those times you need to chop, has decent weight, at 9" it is ideal for penetration.

I'm not a dagger guy - but I do own the iconic Gerber MKII - because everyone needs at least one.  ;)

Why the primer on knives?  Because I can't write a single sentence worth reading about how to play a violin.  But I know a bit about blades and fighting with them.  The best advice I can give you about knife fighting - shoot that SOB. 

I also have found that I am simply not satisfied with the knives available on the market - both production and custom.  Don't get me wrong, there are outstanding production blades out there, and there are many custom bladesmiths who turn out magnificent Fighting Blades.  But I can't find what I want.  Even my Cold Steel can be improved.

Today most blades are 1/8 inch thick at the thickest point - hilt and base of the spine.  Most blades taper as they go forward to the point.  Gil Hibben has a monster out there, more machete than knife (and featured in the last Rambo flick), but as a chopper, I guarantee if you want to split a man's head right down the middle, the Hibben IV will do it.  I think one of the Patriots I'd suit up to cover won one of the Hibben's at Brock's last PatCon.  It isn't practical for most combat applications, it's too heavy, has no thrust capacity - but the bad boy has one asset that I want on my 12" Tanto - weight.  Strength.  The Hibben has a 1/4" spine.  That weight and strength applied to my Cold Steel 12" design would make my perfect pair of Fighting Blades for my rig. 

When I get set up in Idaho and find some shop time, I'm going to have to build my own set.

Choose your primary Fighting Knife carefully.  You don't have to spend a fortune, but put enough money away to get the knife you want.  In the upcoming North American Liberty Games, it will probably be called upon to save your life.


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