martial art

All posts tagged martial art

I have been carrying one for years, but only today am I thinking of reviewing it. An every-day-carry knife should not be an impulse-buy. You will use it for countless tasks, from opening letters and boxes to saving your life in an emergency. How many times have I heard “Hey, someone got a knife?” How come you don’t have one? Is my answer, as I pull my Emerson Commander out of my jeans pocket. The day you need to cut yourself free of a sinking car, or stop someone from choking you to death, I probably won’t be there to hand you mine. A knife is a tool, the simplest one of all, and we have been carrying them since we earned the name “humans.” They are as vital today as they were back then. What type of knife to carry? You already know what my favorite is, let’s see why.

Folding or fixed blade. Any fixed-blade knife that isn’t junk is stronger than a folding one. Your choice might be a legal one. Most states or countries do not allow carrying fixed-blade knives. Open-carry raises eyebrows. My friend Kolyma, who works at a farm was once shopping at Whole Foods with his knife on his belt. He was promptly surrounded by police officers who politely asked him not to carry it in the store, even though it was perfectly legal. Next time you go out, pay attention to the little metal clip of a folding knife on people’s pants. Nobody pays attention to that, but many do carry them. The legal limit is usually four inches for the blade, single-edge. If you can carry a strong fixed-blade knife, do it. Otherwise, keep in mind that the most important part of a folder is the lock. Since this article is about folders, let’s see what makes a good one.

The lock prevents the knife from folding on your fingers while you use it. These days, because one of America’s favorite sports is litigation, folders made in the United States have decent locks for normal use. The same can’t be said of cheap imitations from China. Stay away from unknown brands, Ebay deals and dubious cheap folders. Your life or your fingers may never depend on it, but why take the risk. I usually shop from three reputable brands, Emerson, Cold Steel and Spyderco. You can read all about locks and watch a great video on Bob’s Knife Town locks page.

The grip: I was once looking for a folder at a Manatee Civic Center gun-show. I came upon a large table full of knives and started handling them one by one to find the best fitting one for my hand. This is where hands-on shopping beats the Internet. The salesman was getting impatient, as I took my sweet time to find the best model. I grabbed an Emerson Mini Commander. Love at first grab! The handle was perfect, both in standard and reverse grip. I had never handled a folder that fit my hand so well. It wasn’t only my hand actually, since many friends trying my knife made the same comment. Next came the bad surprise, the $175 price tag. I looked at it more closely. The quality was obvious. The knife is very strongly built and looks like it would survive pretty much anything. Five years ago I had a bad motorcycle accident, and while I lay on the asphalt with a broken femur and dislocated shoulder, someone stole my Mini Commander. As soon as I recovered, I immediately ordered the full-size model. I hear they have a super-size one now, guess what I’m going to buy next.. I also own the Commander Trainer for Systema practice. This knife is worth every penny they charge for it.

The blade will most likely be stainless steel. There is no need for a strong carbon steel blade of less than four inches. I prefer straight edges, as they are easier to sharpen without special tools. Spyderco has nice short, serrated blades like the Co-Pilot (not sure if they still make that one), which I used to carry on flights before 9/11. I unfortunately lost it in the snow near the Lille (France) train station more than a decade ago. The blade should be thick enough to be strong, but thin enough to cut efficiently all the way through. Buying from a reputable brand will assure you that it won’t be brittle and keep a decent edge. My Emerson Commander had a chisel grind, meaning that it was ground on one side only. I gave it to a friend once for resharpening, and he suggested to turn it into a regular “V” grind, I agreed. The problem was, 154CM steel is pretty hard, and it took forever to get it to cut again. I finally took it to a grinder and at last, it shaves hair again. Fortunately, Emerson listened to it’s customers, and the new Commanders do have a conventional V Grind.

Opening your knife is a very important function. You must be able to open your folder with one hand, left or right. Read my story about having to cut a banner towline during a tricky go-around with an ultralight. I can’t emphasize enough that you need to practice pulling your knife out of your pocket and opening it. Practice without looking at it, with your knife in any position in your hand. You must get a feel for it, and get proficient at opening it quickly in any circumstances. The Emerson Commander has the advantage here, with it’s wave feature:

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You can make your own “poor man’s wave feature” on knives which have a hole for blade opening, like Spydercos. Simply put a tie-wrap around the hole (those ties used for electric wires), et voila! Instant wave feature. Some people cut one into their knives, but you must be careful not to overheat the blade with power tools, which destroys the hardening process. Unless you know how to re-harden a blade and have the tools, your knife is junk.

Self-defense with a knife is a touchy subject. Never pull your knife out of your pocket unless not doing so will result in your death. That might not always be true, so use your best judgment. I once saw a man pull a knife on another in a bar, when the other guy also pulled his. They then looked at each-other with an expression that said “What the hell are we getting into here..” and they simultaneously pocketed their folders, exchanged a few more insults, and the incident was over. That took but three seconds. The outcome could have been much different, but the fear of injury cooled them down. Whether to draw or not is a difficult decision, most of the time, in my opinion, don’t. Training is most important here. Pulling a knife without knowing how to use it is not a wise option. Get some Systema or Filipino martial art instruction, it will be time well spent. Keep in mind that no matter who’s right, if you use a knife against an unarmed attacker, you will go to jail. Avoid buying a knife that looks too “tactical” or has a name like “Combat Skinner” or anything aggressive. Avoid black-coating blades. Judges and jury do not like tactical looking weapons. If the Commander came in pink, I might be tempted, just for that reason. A Karambit might be a great weapon, but it isn’t anything else. Make sure your knife looks somewhat like a regular pocket knife, not a weapon someone looking for trouble would carry.

My best advise to you is, carry a knife. Buy a good one. Ask one for Christmas, it’s coming.. I feel naked if I don’t have my knife with me, and never leave the house without it. Many times I was happy to have one for simple tasks that would have been a hassle without it. It sucks not to have one when you need it most. Hopefully you’d never need to defend or save your life with it, but if need be, it should be there for you.


Here is an excellent self-defense weapon, the Cossack whip, or nagaika. I received mine directly from Siberia (thank you Andrei!). It is a short braided leather whip with a hard handle and a tip which sometimes contains metal (mine doesn’t) like a small lead bullet. Overall length is thirty seven inches.

Click on the image to enlarge..

It feel very good in the hand. I can’t imagine a better weapon against an armed attacker. I don’t mean someone with a gun twenty feet away.. However, I would rather have a nagaika against a knife, than holding a knife myself. Unlike a bull-whip (the Indiana Jones kind), which is much longer, the Cossack whip is used for horseback riding. It is ideal to strike targets from a foot to about six or seven feet away, if you have long arms. Otherwise, it can be wrapped around arms, neck, or any part of the body for a take-down or choke. The handle can be used to strike. You can aim for an attacker’s ankle and send him flying.. Combined with Systema, which is a Cossack style of fighting, it becomes a redoubtable tool. Sure, it isn’t as easy to carry as a folding knife, though I have found a pretty good way (see photo below).

Click on the image to enlarge..

The handle sticks out a bit much. I could have one made with a handle a couple of inches shorter, but I don’t think I will be packing a whip that often! Which makes me wonder about the legalities of doing so. Maybe a LEO reading this could post a comment.. The tip is secured through the lanyard with a hair-tie. Another way is to stick it down my pants with the handle coming up on the side, which makes it practically invisible under a shirt. Though I did not buy it for carry, I would not hesitate to go investigate suspicious noises outside with it, even having a large selection of other items at hand for that purpose 😉

When I have time, I will make a video showing Systema principles applied to the whip. I need practice though, so you will have to wait a bit, so that I can make a decent one and post it right here.

Except for the diameter of the braid near the tip, which could be slightly thicker, I have put praise for the design, which I am sure evolved through centuries of practical use. They certainly know how to make them in Siberia! If any of my readers want one, you have two options: Order one there for $220 if you can’t wait, or let me know, and when I have five or ten buyers, we can place a group order, $180 a piece, shipping included. I am just doing this as a courtesy to my readers, it could take a LONG time.. A cheaper alternative would be the Cold Steel Sjambok at $15, made of polypropylene. Of course, you could also cut a piece of garden hose.. What would you rather say to someone asking you what is budging under you shirt though, “a garden hose,” or “a Cossack whip?” Well, either way, they will deem you crazy, but the Cossack whip sounds way cooler!

Having a good opinion of yourself is great. An inflated ego in martial arts however will hamper your training. Sport-based martial arts (I just called them sports), do use ego as a driving force, pushing competitors to train harder and perform better. In that sense, it works, as long as nobody’s life is in the balance. I am not an instructor, but I have taught a few Systema classes while my instructor was away, and of course, we get the occasional new student. I can classify students in two groups: Those who want to learn and are willing to let you show them, and those who, although they also want to learn, are very reticent to let you take them down or strike them, even just as a drill or to show them a move. They usually are very tense, which in itself slows their progress. It is the job of the instructor to make them realize that it isn’t about who can kick who’s ass.

Let’s look at this latest statement. We are dealing here with survival, not a competition or simple bar-fight where one opponent has to achieve control of the other, thus increasing his social position, to the detriment of the other. A simple premise like “I can beat that guy” makes no sense. You can beat him when? When you had a good night of sleep and he didn’t? When he had a nice breakfast and your stomach is bothering you? Or simply when it’s your lucky day and not his? There is no point in wondering about anything like that, because you can’t know the answer all the time, and really, it doesn’t matter. When a beginner slugs me in the face nicely because I failed to move, I laugh and congratulate him/her. I can hit my instructor too, he finds it funny as well. We do have a lot of fun in class, because we don’t care. We have no belts or ranks, and that makes training much more relaxed. Being worried about your group social standing puts too much pressure on you. In many martial arts, high-ranking students do not even practice with beginners. Would a white-belt take-down a black belt, oh my God, how could he dare do such a thing! Ranks give a false sense of superiority and breed contempt for lower-ranking students. It is often all about testing fees, selling ego-boosts for money. That’s how you get ten-year-old black belts anyone can beat-up.

What matters most is increasing your odds of survival.

Ego or should I say insecurities, can get you in trouble faster than a chameleon gobbles a fly, and you can end-up just as dead. You must recognize what’s important to you, physical integrity or perceived social standing. You can insult me as much as you want, I don’t care. As long as you are not threatening me physically, there is no need for me to “teach you a lesson.” My social standing might go down in the minds of whomever witnesses the incident, but the victory is mine, having shown self-control and avoiding possible injury, or worse. It might be more difficult when someone insults your wife, girlfriend or other family members, but the problem is the same. You need to be ready to defend their lives, not their ego or yours. I am not talking about a simple argument here, but an escalating situation when violence becomes likely. After all, that is why we train, so that we can go back home with our families after a violent encounter. Get used to defend your ego in training, and you might be inclined to do as well in real life, at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons!

Insecure, competitive, or ego-centered students usually realize early that their weaknesses will be exposed in training (nothing wrong with that, that’s the goal of training), and will soon leave. I can spot them immediately. I had new students try to teach me on their first class, when I have been training for years. I always welcome feedback and suggestions, but the intention here is misplaced. Those who stay will be a challenge for the instructor. They will try to teach other students their “own things,” or simply do what they want and miss the fine points of learning that the instructor might pass down to them. They’ll say things like “Yeah, yeah, I know,” or always try to have the last word. They’ll try to fight you when you show them something, resist take-downs, put a lot of tension in their work. I am not saying that they are bad people. I have seem very motivated students, great individuals, missing the point, so to speak. It is often the result of many years of competitive mindset beset upon them, or insecurities that have not been dealt with. A good martial arts training is probably the best thing for them, but they will have to check and change their premises to get the most out of training.

After weeks of consideration and research on the web, I finally decided to buy a katana. Not a cheap wall-hanger, but a practical sword, forged by hand and differentially hardened. I am very familiar with knives, even started to forge my own. Swords however are mostly unknown to me. Why would a grown man buy a sword you may ask, well, I have a few reasons, and they have nothing to do with the “cool” factor. Swords are not toys, but deadly weapons. I place them in the same category as handguns and rifles. I came to believe that they are one of the best home defense weapons available. My interest in knives came from the staggering number of designs found for such a simple, primary tool. Metallurgy, the forging and hardening processes have always fascinated me. I have barely scratched the surface of that art, but I can certainly appreciate the skills it takes to forge a blade longer than a few inches, then harden and temper it properly. My life-long interest and practice of the martial arts also influenced my decision. I have long ago found out that most Asian disciplines only work in their context. Russian Systema however works in any circumstances and can make use of any weapon. Give me a frying pan and I’ll be immediately efficient with it using Systema principles. A sword, though presenting some challenges, shouldn’t be too much trouble. Of course, I will use a dull one or bokken for practice. Other sword designs were interesting, but the Japanese katana in my opinion is the best sword. It is light, razor sharp, and simple in design. Nobody wears armor these days, so a heavier sword would make little sense. The way these swords are made is also fascinating. Even if you have no interest in swords, you can’t but admire the dedication and skills of Japanese sword-smiths in their pursuit of perfection. I never get tired of watching the following documentary from National Geographic:

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I can’t pay three highly skilled artisans for three months to forge me a blade, so I have to accept some technological shortcuts. Modern steels like 9260 Silicon Alloy Carbon Spring Steel are even better than traditional tamahagane. It’s not traditional of course, but much cheaper. The folding process becomes superfluous, since the carbon content of modern steel is constant throughout the material. I would love a folded blade, but the cheapest ones, forged in China, start at around $1000. More than I am willing to spend for a first purchase. A San-Mai construction like my Cold Steel Master Tanto would be desirable too, but simply too expensive. There is one feature I really want however, and that is a differentially, clay-hardened blade. This process of covering the back of the blade with thick clay before quenching in water produces a very hard edge and a soft back (watch video above). This way, a sword will bend but not break, while still holding a razor-sharp edge. It also produces a visible line of hardness called the hamon. Most replicas have a fake one, acid-etched on the blade. I can’t accept “fake” anything, so my choice becomes fairly limited for an affordable real sword. Thanks to companies like CAS Hanwei and Cheness Inc., real forged blades from China are available, starting at around $160 for something that won’t come apart in your hands and take a lot of abuse before breaking. Shell-out $200 to $300 and you get a serious tool. My choice is the Kaze Ko-Katana. With a 21-inch blade, this katana is about seven inches shorter than a regular sword. These swords are also called chisa katanas, and are easier to use in tight places. Here is another review of the Kaze (watch the cutting test video). I got a 10% discount and ordered mine for less than $200, with free shipping.

Proceed to the full review

Well, that’s a bit of a pompous title for such a simple routine. I am not a fitness (nor combat) expert, mind you. The question everyone should ask themselves about exercising is “why?” Aside from the obvious health benefits. Knowing why, you can find out how.. My goal is to improve my Systema, and of course, looking better naked wouldn’t hurt. I have learned that there are three important exercises related to martial arts: Push-ups, abs and squats. You can find a flurry of great drills online to build muscles, some pertaining to strength building, others to looks, but those three are the strict minimum. I would even add pull-ups to the list, if I was doing them, but I still need to set-up a bar somewhere in the back yard.. By the way, follow my advise at your own risk.. As I said already, I am no expert, and I might be wrong. Advise from professionals is welcome by the way..

Push-ups: Are great to build your shoulders, arms, and strenghten your wrists, if you do them the right way, that is. They also can teach you to relax muscles that are not necessary to hold your position or go up and down. Breathing properly is of the utmost importance, as with any other exercise, your immediate strength comes from oxygen. Food energy gives you endurance, but in martial arts or dealing with violence (I mean civilian), you most likely wouldn’t be engaging long enough to deplete those resources. Not breathing properly though will bring you to your knees fairly quickly. So, get into your push-up position considering it mostly a breathing and relaxation exercise. Keep your body straight, but do not tense up too much. Muscles burn oxygen quickly, and you need to conserve it. Besides, tense muscles when hit will get damaged, and we want to avoid injuries when training in martial arts. Remember that drunk drivers often don’t get hurt in accidents, because they stay loose. You want to keep just enough tension to keep things in place, no more. That by the way includes your face muscles. Squinting, puffing and grunting won’t help you. Just keep breathing slowly in through your nose, out through your mouth. These principles hold true for the other exercises by the way. One last thing to consider is your wrist position. Bending your wrist ninety degrees is not a natural position. It might be less painful to have your hands flat on the ground, but there is nothing to gain from it, and it isn’t good for your wrists. In Systema, as in many other martial arts using strikes, we do push-ups on our fists. Make sure you leave your thumb ‘outside’. You will strengthen your wrists that way, which is great for striking. Do your push-ups slowly. I start by doing as many as I can, then rest a couple minutes before the next drill. I repeat the operation between all my other exercises, and one last time at the end of my session.
Holding a push-up position is also a great way to gain core strength. I like to stay in push-up position, elbows unlocked, relax and breathe with my eyes closed, listening to a song on my Ipod. You might only be able to hold one minute at first, but ten minutes is an attainable goal. I am now up to nine minutes, when I can relax enough. That’s two songs.. Knowing how much time is left seems to make it harder, so listening to songs allows you to forget about the time and concentrate on the music. You should try not to feel sorry for yourself and just keep going. You can always do more than what you think is possible. The mind quits first, not the body. If you can reverse that, you’re doing better than me.

Abs: Everyone wants a sixpack.. However, nutrition plays a big role here, and you won’t get one eating ‘normal’ meals. The goal in martial arts is core strength, which helps you keep a good form while moving around, and is also very important for ground fighting. I start by laying on my back, and doing a hundred crunches, looking up, lifting my shoulders off the ground. You don’t need to go all the way up, just rise straight up a few inches. Keep breathing, and use only the necessary muscles. After resting a couple minutes, and doing a series of push-ups, I repeat the operation, but with my left arm along my side, and my right hand behind my head, lifting my right shoulder up and to the left fifty times. Rest, push-ups, rest, and I repeat on the other side. At last, I put both my arms along my sides, straigthen my legs and do fifty leg raises up to ninety degrees (straight up), and down an inch from the ground. That works your lower abs. The numbers here depend on you. Do as many as you can, and that will be your starting numbers. As it gets easier, you can add weight by holding something heavy behind your head or on your chest. I use a cannon ball.. If you do so however, you will have to rest your muscles for a few days between sessions. Otherwise, you can do it without weight every day.

Squats: This one is very simple. Keep your back straight, heels on the ground, and slowly go down while trying not to bend forward. Breathe, relax. Repeat as many times as you can, then do a few more (good general policy ;-). In a fight, real or training, you don’t want top bend over or backwards, too dangerous. Someone can easily grab your head then and smash it on their knee, ground, or whatever other hard surface might be around. When you go down, you should keep your form and use your legs, just like you should do when picking up something on the floor. I do fifty squats, but again, that depends on your level.

Pull-ups: One thing I learned about pull-ups is to do them with the back of you hands facing you, not the other way around, which is pretty useless. Imagine having to go over a wall.. You can’t grab a wall palms up.. I am pretty bad at pull-ups, so I will probably start with a low bar, hanging at an angle, so that I can do more than one. As I get better, I will keep raising the bar until I can hang straight from it and do at least a few pull-ups. If you think about it, you really should be able to pull up your own weight, at least a couple times to go over an obstacle.. Sometimes, you might need to climb to safety. Accidents happen, you never know..

Cardio: Don’t forget to exercise your heart.. Running is good, but I can’t run with that titanium rod inside my femur, the impact hurts my hip, where the screws are.. So, I decided to try rope jumping. I haven’t gotten to it yet, but it seems to be a great workout and very popular with boxers. Right now bicycling works fine, although it isn’t quite intense enough, but it’s almost July here in Florida, and the temperature is in the high nineties. I wish there was an Olympic pool nearby, that would be great.

Right now, I exercise two to three times a week on top of my one or two Systema classes, and one Yoga class a week at Rosemary Court. Yoga helps my back tremendously, and I need to be more flexible. Not that I need to be able to kick high, we don’t really do that in Systema. I kick knees.. If I want to kick someone in the head, I’ll put him down first and kick his head then, much safer that way.. I will work my way up to a daily routine. It is hard to find motivation at home, but I am seeing some results, and that makes me wanting more. When the going gets though, just remember: “Pain is weakness leaving the body!”