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Updated: Dec 30, 2023

Yeah right, and I'm Jim Bowie. Now where can I find me a grizzly bear? 🐻 LOL!

Over the years I've watched many martial arts weapon technique videos, especially in the bladed realm. Throughout that same time I've "dabbled" in some of those weapon-based systems as well. My curiosity simply compelled me towards them. Call it a quest for knowledge.

There are many experts worldwide that teach techniques for stick vs stick, or knife vs stick, or knife vs knife, or even knife/stick vs empty hand. Let's not forget about those that teach combat firearms instruction or "gun fighting". Through hundreds of hours of training in various systems, and perhaps some with real life experience, those same experts make what they do look easy. They also make what they do look believable. As if when presented with the problem at hand, what they teach will work for you, the consumer, when you're stumbling into the worst day of your life.

Personally, I've trained with various instructors who taught these methods or systems. One of my instructors, Burton Richardson, is arguably one of the most knowledgeable people I've met when it comes to bladed weapons. He doesn't just focus on one aspect (i.e. knife, sword, machete, axe, etc.), Burton has studied, trained, experimented in many areas. However, one aspect I respect is his desire to pressure-test everything via sparring. This included the use of shock knives when dealing with bladed attacks.

To be clear, sparring is not fighting, nor is it combat. In my opinion, it's the dynamic act of fleshing out the theoretical from the reality. This is done through resistance being applied by both people involved in the exercise. Fighting is essentially a duel, between one or more individuals, with the objective of "winning", or coming out the victor of, the exchange. There may be rules, or there may not be any rules.

So how do we get sparring closer to actual fighting? Easy, up the intensity, or the resistance, or both. I've seen and experienced this time and time again. Two people sparring and getting after it, only to have one person "turn up the volume" and the other to reciprocate, until it becomes a battle of egos more than skill. Once it goes there it's difficult to come back down again. Now, the fight is on.

When I conversed with Burton about this topic, he was very clear that he never proclaimed to be a knife fighter, nor does he teach "knife fighting." What he does is teach weapons-based sparring. This is to increase skill and attributes, develop awareness and strategy, not to make anyone a "knife fighter." This is important, because when it comes to a knife attack, there is basically a doer and a receiver. I'm choosing my words carefully with this.

In the video below, I attempt to show why there's a doer and a receiver. Years ago, during one of our MMA For the Street training sessions I donned long underwear, put on a protective helmet, coated an aluminum knife with red lipstick, and gave it to my son. We set the round timer to 30 seconds, and I gave him simple instructions: "Cut or stab me as many times as you can until the timer goes off." He was reluctant at first but understanding the importance of the exercise he carried on.

To be clear, the artificial timeframe we set doesn't reflect how much time a person will have if a real attack happened. We went with 30 seconds simply to see how much damage could be done in that amount of time, and how exhausting it would be attacking someone with a blade. Results: Lots of damage, and very tiring work.

That exercise taught us some very valuable lessons when it comes to a blade attack:

  • You most likely won't know you're being cut or stabbed until it happens, so be aware of your spacing and environment

  • Avoid engaging with someone holding a blade because you will be cut or stabbed

  • There's a huge difference between being cut and being stabbed - a cut causes a slice, but a stab creates a hole

  • Going backwards defensively gets you stabbed or cut quicker because moving backwards provides more targets as the attacker is moving forward

  • Getting away is important, but not guaranteed, so find an equalizer - always use some type of object if available, and that includes something to slam the attacker into

  • You must hit back, or more importantly, HIT FIRST - the weapon isn't the blade as much as it is the brain inside the person holding the blade

  • Use your surroundings to your advantage - barriers, walls, objects, and the ground can be used for more than hiding behind or running on 😉

  • If you end up on the ground with the attacker whether on top or bottom get control of that hand holding the blade, don't let the other hand near it and find a way to disable the attacker - disable means many things in this context

  • The ground is by far the most reliable way to disarm the blade, followed by a barrier or solid object. However, don't rely on getting a disarm as the attacker will be holding the knife very tightly

  • There is no "knife fighting", there is a doer and a receiver, so be the doer even if the other person has the blade. Yes, they may be holding a blade, but if you're holding a stick, a rock or even a closed fist then get to work and be the doer

It's difficult to accurately train for bladed attacks. Most data is gathered from actual video footage of blade attacks perpetrated by others. However, even that isn't necessarily accurate because every occurrence is unique to that situation, and to those individuals.

One thing is for certain, your brain will only go where it has gone before. If you train, you will most likely go there, regardless of whether the training was "correct" or not. If you don't train, you will most likely do nothing, which may be worse.

That's it for now.


DISCLAIMER: The attached video depicts a violent situation, and its content may be disturbing to watch. It's not suitable for younger viewers. People in the video are trained, professional martial artists. The video is for training and information gathering purposes. No person in the video was injured, maimed or killed. Do not perform the techniques or actions shown in this video without proper instruction and supervision. Never attack anyone with a bladed weapon. Check your local self-defense laws especially when it comes to the use of bladed weapons.

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You're walking back to your apartment by yourself after a night out with friends. Midway home you encounter someone watching you from their car. After a few minutes you notice that vehicle is following you. As you get closer to home the car speeds up until it's on you and slams on the brakes. Out comes a stranger who charges to attack. You drop into your fighting stance and prepare to defend yourself. All of your training had led up to this moment.

Scary, right? Some people might even think it's exciting. A majority of people take up martial arts or self-defense training for exactly this type of scenario. However, as scary or exciting as it may sound, what happened to me that night was terrifying, and changed the way I looked at my martial arts training.

The year was 1990 and I was almost 20 years old. Living on the north side of Chicago near Broadway & Surf, it was the first time being out on my own. I shared an apartment with a co-worker during that time. That area of the city was always alive with something to do around every turn. Going to nightclubs was the standard on the weekends, typically on Friday or Saturday nights. It was a blast and we always had fun.

One Sunday night some friends and I decided to go hang at a nightclub called Medusa's. It was an off-night for that type of thing, but we had a good time nonetheless. Eventually, I left and began walking back to my apartment. Normally the walk was about 15 minutes depending on the route. However, there were a few alleys we'd cut through that would save some time.

As I walked down Clark St I came to a point where we normally crossed the road to head east down Brown St. That street had brownstones and trees on either side of the roadway, and was what I remembered as being more residential. When I crossed the street something caught my eye. Someone was watching me from their car via their driver's side mirror. How I even noticed it I don't know, but this person was glaring at me.

It's said that the eyes are the gateway to the soul. If that's true then what I witnessed in that moment was pure hatred. That man's eyes broadcasted his disdain for me with every fiber of his being, and we didn't even know each other. Who was this individual sitting in his vehicle watching me cross the street? Why did he look so angry, or why would he want to hurt me or worse?

I told myself that once I crossed the road and got to the corner of the building I'd be out of site and safe. However, right as I crossed the street and landed on the sidewalk I looked over my shoulder and saw the car start up and the headlights turn on. I fast as my legs would go. There was at least five seconds before I saw the headlights of his vehicle begin driving down that street. Fortunately for me I had a plan.

Now most people believe that they would be able to handle a situation like this, including myself. I mean, remember that I was almost 20 years old, a grown man out on my own, already training in martial arts for years, and was very fit and physically active. NONE OF THAT MATTERED! My family wasn't there to save me. My friends weren't there to back me up. It was almost midnight, I was all alone and in a neighborhood I barely knew. Strangely this guy was chasing me in his car and I had no idea why. Was there another person with him? Did he have a weapon? I had to hide and figure out my next move.

As I came up on one of our alley shortcuts I thought about taking that route. However, I figured this guy would think that was where I went. Suddenly, I remembered there was a very dark alcove on the opposite side of the house next to that alley. So I hid between the buildings, crouched down behind a bush, with my back up against the wall waiting for him to take the bait. I was wrong.

What I didn't count on was his intent on finding me. The vehicle pulled up so it was lined up directly across from the space where I was hiding. As I crouched there I knew he was staring right at me. I kept my gaze facing away from him so he wouldn't cue in on my eyes. Thus, I never got a good look at him. We both sat motionless for about 20 seconds or so, but I could hear him talking to himself.

I have never been more scared. If this guy got out of his car I would most likely have to engage him. This wouldn't be a martial arts "duel" scenario where we slap and tap. We wouldn't be sparring, and there wouldn't be a referee to break up the action. In fact, there would be no one there accept us. This predator would most likely have something with him to subdue me. This would be a zero-sum situation and I would have to go completely primal. I wasn't ending up in his vehicle.

Fortunately for me, he must have decided that I went down the alley. The vehicle eventually reversed and then turned to drive into the alley. I remainded in my spot for another couple of minutes until I mustered up the courage to continue moving. Though I had my head on a swivel the entire time I eventually made it home unscathed.

So, when it comes to self-defense, or more appropriately a violent encounter, we have a decision to make...freeze, fight or flight. Most times you have seconds to make that determination. Freezing could have been completely detrimental to my wellbeing. Fighting was definitely something I could have done, and would have done, if it came to it. But again, this wouldn't have been sparring or rolling. It would have been much more serious than that. Plus, survival instincts really overrode my desire to fight a complete stranger whose intent was unclear to me. So I chose the one option I knew I could use to my advantage. Flight.

Understand that the "freeze, fight or flight" mechanism within us can be summed up in one word... fear. It's that fear of the unknown that determines our actions in the moment something happens. Knowing the difference between a social "dueling" situation vs an asocial "fight for your life" encounter is paramount. Scenario training and skill set development helps mitigate the fear one feels when involved in an unknown, high stress situation. In my opinion, this should be intelligently incorporated into our training.

Writing about these three incidents over the last couple of weeks has brought up some uncomfortable memories. Unfortunately, the reality is there are people in this world that simply look at things differently than the vast majority of others around them. There's something "evil" that drives their malicious intent towards humans amongst them. Being involved with one these individuals isn't a possibility more than it is a probability. Be prepared or be a statistic.

Chris Mikuta

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It was an Easter Sunday and as such we attended a family gathering in Chicago at my grandparents home. City living was much different than what we were accustomed to living in the suburbs. The close bungalow-style housing with small yards and no driveways provided us with a different view of the world. City parks are normally very large and engulfed by the neighborhood they belong to.

Our normal protocol for this holiday was a big midday meal followed by visiting with family members and eventually kite flying in the park. I remember being out there with my brothers and cousins for hours having a great time. This was the norm.

This particular holiday found me in my mid-teens and kite flying wasn't as interesting to me. However, it was for my youngest brother Jimmy, so I was tasked by my parents to take him to the park to fly his new kite. After an hour or so I wanted to head back to the house because I saw my father and older cousin Joe on the front porch. Jimmy wanted to stay there to continue flying his kite. So I left because he could be seen from my grandparents house.

After awhile I remember seeing a very cool looking stunt kite being flown. It was doing loops and dives, but more interesting to me was its proximity to my brother's kite. My father told me to go check on Jimmy and bring him back because we were going to be leaving soon. So off I went.

I walked up and found Jimmy, who at this time was 6-7 years old, talking with an adult man who was piloting the stunt kite. At first everything appeared normal. Jimmy was enthralled by the stunt kite, as was I. The guy made some small talk and I informed Jimmy to begin bringing his kite in so that we could head back. All was good until Jimmy said, "But I want to see his rabbit. It's in his car."

It was at that moment I turned to look at the guy and he was staring at me, almost with a surprised look. But it wasn't a surprised look, it was a look of someone who just had their secret exposed. Then the guy, seeing the look on my face, stated he had a rabbit in his car and wanted to show it to Jimmy, but we could both see it. That's when the alarms began going off in my head.

At first I told Jimmy no and that we had to leave. He immediately began begging to see it. Then the guy began playing Jimmy against me, working his emotions. I eventually relented and agreed to let this guy show us. Plus, I wanted to actually see what he had in his car. Maybe this was just an innocent thing and I was overreacting, or maybe it wasn't.

Once the kites were down the guy stated his car was parked over by the concession stand, which happened to be away from the action and other people in the park. As we walked towards the concession stand I noticed the car was parked around the back out of view. The guy was ahead of us about 30 feet or so, and when he went around the corner I began getting nervous.

As Jimmy and I came around the corner we found the guy digging through the trunk of a black Crown Victoria, which was full of toys. When he turned around he had a rabbit puppet with it's arms and legs wrapped around him. He began projecting his voice through the puppet and asked my brother to come over to pet it. Jimmy was excited by this, but I wasn't. I was terrified. This man meant to do us harm.

Immediately, I grabbed Jimmy by the arm and said, "Let's go!" My brother began whining and questioning me. As we rapidly walked away I turned to see the guy standing at the corner staring at us. His eyes were glaring and he was motionless. As we got to about mid-field the guy turned suddenly and went behind the concession stand. That's when I began to run while dragging Jimmy behind me crying.

As we came crashing through the front door I began yelling for my dad. He ran up and I quickly explained the situation. He and Joe went bursting out the door running towards the park. Unfortunately, the guy had left. At that point, we knew that it had been a close call for my brother.

I apologize for the length of this story, but context is important. When I speak with students or prospective students about why they begin martial arts training they or their parents often tell me they want more confidence, which is a good thing. However, confidence is defined as "a belief or firm trust in one's ability." Yes, this can be a useful trait, but not necessarily when it comes to self-defense or violence. In fact, the predators in our society, like this particular individual, can care less about your confidence because they have an objective and in their mind they're going to meet that goal.

Instead, I suggest we look more at developing our, or our children's, courage, which is defined as, "the ability to do something even when it frightens us." This trait is what gets us through a difficult situation, or when our lives are thrust into chaos. It's this behavior that predators dislike most because someone exhibiting courage disrupts their plans.

This personally was my second encounter with someone with evil intent. It went the way it did because my 15-16 year old self had the courage to protect my brother, keep our distance and flee the situation when it was absolutely necessary. This is self-defense in it's purest form.

In the next blog, I'm going to tell a story about my third encounter with someone I considered evil and how it relates to self-defense. Just thinking about this incident again is upsetting to me. My hope is it helps someone someday if they find themselves in a similar situation.

Chris Mikuta

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