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The Fixed Blade in Combative Measures

The history of the knife in fighting ranks amongst the oldest records we have. Artifacts and cave drawings depict what is believed to be edged and pointed weapons. In terms of modern militaries around the world, knives have always been part of the first-line gear of the combatant, i.e., gear which is attached to the body when entering into combat. Prior to continuing, let us define what we mean by the fixed blade. We are here referring to the officially issued non-folding knife and/or detached bayonet issued to members of the U.S. military services for use in hand-to-hand combat. Another point of understanding must be made before continuing. When we speak of knife-fighting in combat, we are distinguishing this from the "fad" of knife-fighting we see today via books, competitions, and videos. A knife fight, especially one used in combat, is not a sport, a game, or a competition. It is a deadly encounter where, at the very least, one party will be maimed or seriously injured. In all likelihood, one person will die. There is a different mindset the soldier (this term will be used to represent all members of all branches of the services) must have than one using a knife for self-defense in a civilian setting. The civilian must decide on a personal morality as to the justification for the weapon's use, and the potential for taking another's life. Factors as this morality, the situation itself, and an evaluation of what is "worth" fighting for with a deadly weapon all go into the split-second decision making process. The soldier does not have this luxury. When he has to draw his knife in combat, it is for one purpose-- to kill the enemy.

During World War II, many who have become icons in the field of military knife-fighting wrote manuals on the subject, and for decades, combat units were taught one or another of them. Styres, Biddle, Fairbaine are some of the names which may be familiar to many. Over the years, however, some weaknesses have been perceived in parts of the systems taught by these men, and they have been modified with techniques from other styles of knife-fighting, particularly the Filipino (although modified to suit military needs). While some have questioned whether or not these are the best techniques, the answer seems to be more subjective than objective, depending on an instructor's preference. Regardless of which styles or systems can be seen, hand-to-hand combat is, in general, fluid, demanding speed and agility. This must reflect in knife-fighting as well.


There are many books and videos to be found on knife-fighting these days, some written by expert, well-respected knife fighters, others by martial artists and non-martial artists "combat specialists". In many of these books and videos, one is taught to use five or six or seven techniques when countering knife with knife. In the real world of military combat, two or three moves are the maximum one would generally use. The object is to kill the enemy quickly and efficiently, and move on. There are two or three basic grips usually taught, along with two or three basic stances. Techniques found include knife against knife, knife against rifle (as when the rifle is used almost like a hanbo), knife against fixed bayonet, and knife to silently neutralize a sentry. Training with trainer knives is the first step, where techniques are practiced solo, as in a kata. The soldier then progresses to practicing against an opponent, allowing him to gain the necessary "feel" of what it is to go up against another with a knife or other weapon. The actual number of techniques is few, due to training time limitations, but variations of the techniques are practiced and defended against. This is most important, since one does not know what the enemy might know.

Aggression is a must; one cannot be defensive and merely attempt to counter the enemy's attacks and hope to restrain and control him. Again, the object is to kill the enemy. To do this, a basic knowledge of anatomical kill zones is taught, along with disabling techniques. The brain, brain-stem, and heart are the primary targets for the instant kill. With other zones attacked properly, the enemy will die within 15-30 seconds, depending on which organs are hit. Arteries are preferred over veins, since the enemy will bleed out quickly when they are slashed. Techniques are learned from close and long range, and are often accompanied by movements which are essentially identical to taisabaki. Those in Special Forces receive more extensive training in these methods.

A question arises as to why the techniques of Japanese tanto-jutsu are not included in the curriculum. The short answer is that many of the techniques of the tanto are part of select JuJutsu and Aiki-JuJutsu systems, and although a number of the techniques are truly vicious, they are too complicated to learn in the relatively short amount of time the soldier has to train in them. This is true of the tanto techniques found in ninjutsu as well.

On the battlefield, the fixed blade has a time-honored and proven history. This vital, sometime overlooked, weapon remains a valuable addition in helping to preserve the lives of our fighting forces.

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