Weapons-Based Martial Arts for Survival, by Bladefighter

In survival situations, men use tools to get an edge over their opponents. If a man has a pistol, you want a rifle; if a man has a knife, you want a pistol and so on and so forth. Firearms are not very useful without training and the same can be said about bladed weapons such as knives and swords.

Eventually guns do run out of bullets or malfunction and you might find yourself in survival situations with only a knife or a machete. Things that can go wrong in survival scenarios seem to go wrong. You may be separated from your guns for some reason.  Training to fight with a knife or sword only makes sense, because the normal order of effectiveness starting at the top would be rifle, pistol, sword, knife, stick, empty hands. Fighting without weapons using only your feet and hands is dead last, no pun intended.

Instead of spending your time learning an empty handed martial art, I am going to recommend studying a martial art that starts immediately with weapons, including swords and knives but which also includes impact weapons such as sticks and canes as well as empty handed techniques as part of a complete system. For that we look to the Philippines– not because they are the only ones to learn to fight with bladed weapons- which they are not,  but because they kept the martial art true to its roots instead of turning it into a sport or spiritual quest.

The Philippines are made up of thousands of small islands. Waves and waves of invaders have come to these islands, from the island next door and from as far away as Spain, Japan and the United States. The local villages learned how to protect themselves with practical martial arts that started right away with weapons. They were interested in survival and defending the village and not on spiritual pursuits, discipline or sporting contests. They also decided some legal disputes with duels. Their way of fighting didn’t have room for things that didn’t work and were not for sporting games.

The Filipino art of Pekiti-Tirsia-Kali begins with weapons and ends in empty hands. This is the exact opposite of most other arts as taught in modern times.

Weapons categories in the traditional art are:
stick, sword, knife, spear, flexible weapons and empty hands. There are also variations or combinations… double weapons, or even a pairing of long weapon and short weapon, such as sword and knife.

Contrary to popular belief, and silly statements such as “don’t bring a knife to a gunfight”, bladed weapons in the hands of a trained person can beat firearms. Consider that the gun is a longer range weapon. Once a person is close, a knife cannot be grabbed and disabled like a gun can. While a gun pokes a hole in you and the effectiveness depends on the bullet and where it is placed, a sword or machete can remove arms, legs and heads. If you have your head down into your 8x scope on your bolt action rifle and someone sneaks up behind you with a knife  that knows how to use it, the “don’t bring a knife to a gunfight” comment will be seen as sick joke to you. A long range weapon is most effective at long range… a short range weapon has an advantage at close range. Firearms in general are longer range weapons, knives and swords are close range weapons. Either one can win depending on the range you find yourself in.

Two primary reasons to study bladed arts are 1.) to gain the ability to use bladed weapons when firearms are not available or would make unwanted noise 2.) the knowledge of the capabilities of bladed weapons if you are fighting someone using them.

Many gun owners seem to think that their gun is a magic wand and that someone with a bladed weapon is not their equal in the least. This is incorrect as it depends on the range. If you gut shoot someone and they cut off your gun arm at the wrist, then who won? Will your bullet stop a knife in the middle of being swung full force at your neck? Do you really think you will always have a gun and that you will never be the victim of a surprise attack at close range?

You must know your enemy and their capabilities in order to defeat them. Do not underestimate bladed weapons.

Many police officers die every year because of bladed weapons and they are all carrying guns. It has been said that the .45 automatic was created because a .38 special revolver couldn’t stop a charging Philippino with a machete or sword. Look up the “21 foot rule” to find out more what police officers have found regarding the danger bladed weapons pose to gun-carrying officers.

Training in Pekiti-Tirsia-Kali begins with the stick immediately. Though some filipino systems seem to be focused on the stick, a bladed system would also be using the stick but primarily as a training tool and less as a primary weapon. The stick is similar to a sword but without the potential tragic blunders a new student can make; It makes training safer. It also magnifies all the movements for the instructor which become much harder to visually recognize when moving to knives or empty hands. Additionally, the stick being swung and manipulated develops the body mechanics needed for all weapons categories and even empty hand strikes.

A stick can be used as a weapon, but if you train for using the sword, most of the techniques also work with the stick, which can’t be said works in reverse. Stick based techniques don’t transfer as well to bladed weapons. Watch for instructors who grab the stick right where the sharp part of the sword is- you don’t want to learn techniques that are overly focused on the stick.

The basic movements used with the stick in training are the same movements that will be used with all weapons. For example, two common strikes come down on a 45 degree angle from between the head and the shoulder of the person holding the stick. These strikes would be used to hit the clavicle if using a stick, the neck if using a sword, the neck if using a knife and the ear if using your empty and open hands. The base of the stick as a training tool represents the knife held in a downward position and the top of the stick a sword or knife held in the upward position. So when training with a stick properly you are practicing the movements of all weapons categories.

Most techniques done with a long weapon are done exactly the same or only slightly differently with different weapons categories, including empty hands. This is evidence of a system. The whole of the system is greater than the sum of its parts. You have the same responses and movements regardless of the weapon you happen to be holding in your hands. This system can take you far beyond what empty hand only systems can give you.

The problem with most martial arts is that they have lost touch with their weapons based origins or applications. There is a huge gap between firearms training and empty hands that most have neglected and that is bladed and impact weapons training. Would you rather go at a threat with a fist after your gun jams or runs out of ammo, or would you prefer pulling out a sword or knife and continue the fight with that?

Most traditional arts developed their techniques with weapons. Aikido was developed by a swordsman. Thai kickboxing came from an earlier art that included the use of swords. When I look at karate, I can see and explain the weapons based origins of what they are doing. Jiu Jitsu is what the samurai did when they lost or broke their sword. Judo was derived from Jiu Jitsu after taking out some of the more dangerous moves. After all, when you turn a martial art into a sport you don’t want injuries. Wing chun has the double short swords. Wrestling moves can be found in the old western swordfighting books, doing takedown and throws with swords in hand. Most empty hand martial arts originally came from weapons based systems.

When you lived or died and the army was defeated or victorious based on the use of bladed weapons, people spent a lot of time and energy to make the techniques and systems work. If your weapons skills were not good, you didn’t come back.

The mixed martial arts scene is late to the party and have a sports or fair fight mentality. These modern folks who think that the people who lived or died through years of battle based on their skills didn’t have a clue what they were doing need to know they are making a big mistake. Just because something is popular in the martial arts magazines or TV doesn’t mean it will serve you well in a TEOTWAWKI scenario.

Most mixed martial artists or “newly invented” martial arts or self defense systems focus a lot on empty hand techniques. If you are fighting for survival and are using nothing but your hands or feet, you have screwed up several times or are just not that smart. The most highly praised martial arts are highly praised since many of their tests of what martial arts work and which ones don’t work are based on two men getting into a padded ring with no weapons and plenty of rules of what you can and cannot do.  The reality of combat is multiple opponents with weapons and no rules.

Boxing, thai kickboxing, karate, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu are focused primarily on you not having a weapon. This is not a recipe for survival. Quite frequently some of these empty hand martial artists get in fights with people who have knives. The most frequent comment is that they never saw the knife. They are not trained to deal with knives and are trained to think of kicks, punches and takedowns. They get cut and stabbed.

Mixed martial arts are also not a system… they are collections of techniques from other traditional arts, after they had been turned into sports. If you borrow from boxing, wrestling, fencing, thai kickboxing, judo, these all had traditional roots but were turned into sports already.

Fencing is another example. Fencing surely evolved from techniques used in real life or death combat, but was slowly changed into a sport. In sports, they do many things to prevent injuries. Modern fencing has little to do with the sword arts that could be used in a real knock down drag out fight. I am not saying fencers are not deadly or for that matter that a wrestler can’t pick you up and put your head into the concrete. I am saying that those arts have been changed to focus on something other than fighting for survival.

Many traditional arts through the years lost their roots with weapons. Some of the traditional arts will teach you weapons, but only after years and years of empty hand training.

We don’t send soldiers into battle without weapons. We don’t send police to the streets without weapons. Training in empty hand arts is for bar fights, television shows and the playground.

I also like the comment attributed to Einstein- “I don’t know the weapons that will be used in world war three, but world war four will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Learning a bladed martial art with give you the ability to fill in the gap between fighting with a gun and fighting with your bare hands. It will also give you a better idea of the threat that someone with bladed weapons poses to you and also the techniques of how to protect yourself from attacks with bladed or impact weapons. A bladed weapon makes a great backup for your firearms.