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A Sharper Look at Training Knives

The concepts shown here are for illustrative purposes only. Seek professional training from a reputable instructor before attempting any techniques discussed or shown in this story.

For many, a trusted blade is the go-to weapon in areas where firearms aren’t allowed. And for good reason. Knives are lightweight, never run out of ammo, easily concealed, and can be found in various forms all over the world — from shivs in Siberian prisons to karambits on Jakarta trains. Plus, blades are simple to use under duress. Just grab the handle and go. Right? Um, not quite.

Sure, a long kitchen knife in the hands of a 12-year-old on a berserker’s sugar high could definitely do some damage. But it takes more than just swinging and thrusting wildly to properly protect yourself and your loved ones in a life-threatening situation. Like owning a Smith & Wesson J-Frame and expecting it to magically imbue you with Jerry Miculek-level shooting abilities, carrying a knife daily doesn’t mean you’ll know what to do with it when feces hits the fan.

“If you plan on using a knife for self-defense purposes, it’s best to get some instruction and training,” says Dr. Conrad Bui, who holds instructor ranks in multiple disciplines, included the bladed system of Nubreed Kali. “You don’t need to become a Filipino martial arts master or Crocodile Dundee to become deadly, but you should receive some fundamental training and commit to regular practice.”

Of course, doing combatives with a live blade will make you unpopular with your buddies. For life. So, what type of training knife should you use? We take a sharper (pun completely intended) view at the most common types available today — starting from the oldest to the latest technologies — and analyze how effective each one is at increasing your knife defense quotient.

Wooden Trainers
As the oldest type of edged weapon trainer, wooden blades have been used for as long as humans have been teaching each other the art of war. Getting jabbed in the ribs or hacked in the arm with a wooden trainer will quickly teach you to get off the “power line” (aka “get off the X”) of any future thrusts or slices. This makes these tools ideal for training scenarios in which you’re dealing with an aggressor while you’re unarmed.

wood training knife

And unless you’re reenacting lightsaber duels with models made from balsa, these training knives should last for years and are usually affordable.

However, like a woody, they stay rigid. Wooden trainers can’t fold, lack a pocket clip, and are significantly lighter than the real models they represent. This can limit the subtle manipulations needed to access a real folding knife, especially during drills involving blade deployment from concealment or from your pocket. And while it might be only a matter of time, we have yet to see a wooden training knife sold with a realistic or reliable sheath, Kydex or otherwise. Moreover, unless handcrafted by a master woodworker, trainers made from trees look nothing like a real knife.

“There is no metallic glimmer, so a person training exclusively with them will be less familiar visually when confronted by a knife,” Bui says.

Practicing with a wooden training knife is similar to using a paintball gun for firearms training — you can learn certain concepts and tactics, but the tool is only vaguely similar to the real deal.

> Affordable
> Durable
> Ideal for “unarmed good guy against knife-wielding bad guy” training scenarios

> Doesn’t open or close like replica folding knives
> Doesn’t induce acute stress during reality-based drills

Rubber Trainers
Most often made from synthetic rubber, this type of training knife ranges in quality from respectable replicas to horribly flimsy fixed blades.

rubber knife

At the top end of the spectrum, production knife companies sometimes make rubber trainers of their fixed or folding knives. These models offer decent facsimiles in terms of looks, lengths, and grip patterns. They have sturdy blades, which can ruin your day if it pokes your eye or naughty bits — a “good” thing to have if you’re serious about reality-based training. Also, there are color-marking rubber trainers that can show where you’ve been slashed. Just apply a washable paint (or even standard lipstick) on the training knife’s edge. Wear a white T-shirt to help show how easy it is to get filleted in a fight.

But being made of synthetic materials, rubber-like trainers are just a fraction of the weight of the real knives. You can’t open or close them like you can with replica folding knife trainers. If you’re practicing knife draws under the threat of an attack in realistic combatives drills (which we highly recommend), you’ll need to either unrealistically tuck the trainer in your pocket or waistband or start the drill with it already in your hand. Not exactly reality-based training. After all, how many people go about their day with their EDC blade already open and in hand?


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