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The Truth About Knife-Fighting

Top 4 Takeaways from Michael Janich’s Martial Blade Concepts Seminar

Knife fighting has been both glorified and exaggerated by Hollywood for decades. Recall gangsters dancing with switchblades in 1961’s Westside Story. Or Steven Seagal literally clashing knives (not swords, but knives!) with Tommy Lee Jones in 1992’s Under Siege. What mainstream society thinks happens in a knife attack is pure fiction when compared to the ugly, spontaneous, and viciousness of real-life knife attacks.

Few people understand this better than Michael Janich. Perhaps best known as the co-host of the Outdoor Channel’s The Best Defense TV show, the U.S. Army veteran has studied martial arts, military combatives, and tactical firearms for four decades. And in that time he’s realized the vast majority of techniques taught by mainstream instructors don’t jibe with the news stories, criminal cases, and medical reports that describe real-life knifings.

So Janich founded Martial Blade Concepts (MBC) as a self-defense style that’s rooted in the Filipino bladed art of Kali but built around how human anatomy and physiology works under duress. Its core philosophy is both moral and efficient: The quickest way to end a lethal encounter using a knife is to not necessarily kill the attacker but rather to sever the muscles, tendons, and nerves that allow him to attack, thereby destroying his ability to attack.

“MBC focuses on stopping power because it is the core of legally defensible self-defense,” Janich says. “No matter what weapon you use, as soon as the attacker is no longer capable of posing a lethal threat, you are legally obligated to stop your application of lethal force—otherwise, you become the aggressor.”

“Just as importantly, MBC is primarily designed to work with the small, legally permissible knives most people really carry—and the actual destructive capability of those knives.”

We got a taste of his science-based combatives system recently in Southern California at Pacific Blades 2018, an annual MBC seminar taught by Janich and hosted by combatives and firearms instructor Uli Gebhard of Gebhard Solutions. The two-day intensive course explained everything from the most common angles a knife-wielding bad guy will attack from to how to properly carry, deploy, and grip a folding knife.

The following are four eye-opening lessons we learned while attending Janich’s seminar.

TAKEAWAY 1: REDEFINE STOPPING POWER

With firearms, stopping power refers to a gun’s ability to impart enough ballistic trauma to incapacitate a threat. When it comes to bladed attacks, a clear definition is not so easy to describe.

Why? Because both traditional martial arts and military combatives have perpetuated for generations certain myths, such as slicing the carotid artery to immediately stop a threat. During the Pacific Blades seminar, we watched a montage of real-life surveillance footage of people being repeatedly stabbed and slashed in vital organs and arteries yet they continued to fight on, sometimes for more than a minute!

“Most people think that if you thrust a knife into an attacker’s torso, he bursts into flames and you’re done,” Janich says. “In reality, even though deep wounds with large knives can definitely be lethal, they are rarely immediately disabling.”

The intent of MBC is not to kill the attacker but stop him. So, there’s no slashing of throats or stabbing of eyeballs. Instead, Janich teaches his students to inflict structural damage to prevent a criminal from continuing his assault. For example, slash the tendons and muscles on the inside of the bad guy’s forearm, so he no longer has the ability to grip his weapon.

“The bottom line is that the more time you give your attacker to kill you, the more likely he’ll be successful,” Janich says. “That’s why stopping is more important than killing. It keeps you safer and does it sooner. ‘Winning’ in self-defense means going home safely.”

During our seminar, we often finished self-defense techniques with a “Mobility Kill” — a technique in which the defender stabs the attacker’s quadriceps just above the knee and follows through with a U-shaped slash (a “Comma Cut,” as Janich calls it) to sever the tendons and ligaments. After all, if a bad guy has only one operational leg, he’ll have a hard time chasing after you.

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TAKEAWAY 2: CLOTHING MAKES FOR CRAPPY ARMOR

We’ve heard it more than once at martial arts seminars, at knife trade shows, and on web forums: “You should get a semi-serrated blade so you can cut through an attacker’s jeans or leather jacket if you need to.” Janich says that’s a myth on two fronts, and he proved it with one eye-opening demonstration at Pacific Blades.

In front of about 50 students, he performed a test cut on his trademark “Pork Man” — two pork roasts tied then plastic-wrapped around a PVC pipe and finally covered with a pair of jeans (pig meat closely resembles human flesh. The rope, plastic wrap, and pipe represents a person’s tendons, skin, and bone, respectively). With no windup and about 30-percent speed, Janich used a Spyderco Yojimbo 2 folding knife with a plain edge to easily cut through the jeans all the way to Pork Man’s PVC “bone.”

“I’ve performed that demo for hundreds of medical professionals over the years, including surgeons who have done extensive cutting on real human tissue,” Janich says. “They agree that, with the exception of blood pressure — which makes live tissue easier to cut — it’s a very accurate facsimile of human tissue. As such, it’s also a great testing medium for various types of knives, edges, etc. to quantify their performance.”

We got two huge revelations out of this demonstration: 1) clothing makes for crappy armor, and 2) semi-serrated blades aren’t as ideal for self-defense as many believe.

TAKEAWAY 3: RESEARCH REALITY

Whether it’s Pork Man’s public execution or the Mobility Kill technique, these demonstrations of what a small pocketknife can do to the human body were eye-opening. But Janich didn’t invent them out of thin air. For years he studied not just martial arts and military combatives, but he also researched human anatomy, physiology under stress, and surveillance footage of real knife attacks.

He encouraged those who attended Pacific Blades to study YouTube videos of actual street-fights to learn “pre-incident indicators” — signs that an attack is imminent. Janich outlined four stages of action to take before an encounter turns into a bloody battle:

Awareness: Keep your head on a swivel and watch for unusual behavior — such as shifty eyes or excessive hair combing — that could indicate a criminal is about to attack.

Avoidance: You’ll win 100 percent of the fights you don’t get into, Janich says. So, he recommends leaving a heated situation rather than stoking the flames: “Make your brain smarter than your ego.”

De-escalation: If you can’t immediately leave a sticky situation, he recommends you talk down the other person so that cooler heads prevail. After all, you don’t always know if someone’s armed. “What you think might be a fistfight,” Janich said, “maybe the other guy’s excuse for a stabbing.”

Boundary Response: Should awareness, avoidance, and de-escalation not work, Janich says to use your verbal weapons on an encroaching bad guy. Janich suggests having and using a set response, such as “Sorry, I can’t help you. Stay back!” Raise your volume if he continues to get close — both to signal that you won’t cower but also to get the attention of bystanders.

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TAKEAWAY 4: ALWAYS HAVE A BACKUP

For law enforcement, having a backup usually means a small wheel-gun in an ankle holster. But what if you’re a civilian in a non-permissive environment, and your knife then becomes your primary weapon? Or worse yet, you’re not even permitted a blade — what tool will you use then?

At Pacific Blades, Janich emphasized that folks should train with specific improvised weapons such as flashlights and pens; people can’t assume they’ll magically become Jason Bourne and turn random objects into deadly tools … especially if there aren’t random objects around in the first place.

“Weapons of opportunities are not as common as you think,” Janich says.

Headed to the mall when a mugger grabs you? You won’t see a big rock lying conveniently in the parking lot. Going for a job when two gangbangers jump you? Good luck finding a broomstick nearby.

Instead, Janich suggests people learn how to fight with a flashlight or tactical pen and carry one (or more) as backup, whether as a secondary or tertiary weapon. In MBC, both items can be used in a similar fashion as a blade in reverse grip, so the student doesn’t have to learn a dozen new techniques to be proficient with a different tool.

“MBC is based on the Filipino martial arts, which are very pragmatic,” Janich says. “One of their key principles is that, regardless of the weapon you’re using, the mechanics of your technique should be consistent. Rather than having ‘knife skills’ or ‘stick skills,’ the goal is to have ‘universal skills’ that you then apply based on the attributes of the specific weapon.”

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