If there is one thing that is disputed endlessly in the circles (sometimes circuses) of the martial arts world, it's knife grip methods. From the fantastically ridiculous "single finger Chinese death grips" to the "chicken grips" of some secret Southeast Asian systems of Silat and Kali...i've seen it all. Needless to say, your dear brother, Hussein, was not very impressed. Those of you who know me well know that I am a very simple and direct person when it comes to Silat training. And the grip methods I employ and teach are very simple as well. So after years of the debacle and endless questions from students all over the planet, I wish to write this ULTIMATE guide to knife grips so people can have an authoritative guide to what works and what's pure garbage.
The depth and breadth of martial arts and their grip methods is like an endless ocean, but, that doesn't mean everything swimming around us is edible. Sometimes you snack on a technique and get wildly sick, sometimes completely dead, other times, it tastes fabulous. But for the most part in the year 2019...the majority of what you'll see outside of a standard hammer grip is absolute nonsense and hasn't ever been tested in reality by the person showing it. Or even worse, it’s totally outdated and comes from a shoeless time when men fought in mud paddies. Is that 100% true in every case, absolutely not, and you might encounter the unique master who used his One Finger Death Grip to take out a gang of cartel enforcers, but I haven't met him yet so if you got his website please share. That being said, the standard "Hammer Grip" or "Reverse Hammer Grip" (pictured above) is the tried and true method of old times that has sustained a millenium of bloody wars and personal duels to come out as the most practical and reliable for human combat. But that doesn't mean that it's the only way to go, there are other fish in the sea if we explore a bit deeper in the water.
There are several traditional weapons that have unique physical configurations. Some, like the Karambit of Minangkabau (pictured above) have become very famous due to their connection to popular action movies and efficacy in real bloodletting. And some, like the Kujang of Jawa, remain in relative obscurity even among experienced practitioners of Pencak Silat. The variety of blades and their unique configuration also offer a variety of grip methods that are different than the standard hammer grip. These methods of gripping are sometimes very practical as in the case of the Karambit where a finger is looped in the open hole of the weapon, and others less practical when the blade is placed in an awkward location, like on the foot, or used in a "modern" method that hasn't been entirely tested in real combat. If we're talking about "traditional" weapons and their grips then we have to assume they have survived this long and come to us for one of two reasons: they are completely effective and actually worked for people, or they were handed down through a system but also were not entirely tested because the weapon was more ceremonial than combat oriented. In our day, the average person has never had a weapon pointed at them, let alone used against them. So it's relatively easy to fool such a person and scare them into believing that a nonsensical knife grip would work in real combat because neither the seller nor the buyer has ever used the product! Therefore, even if we see a traditional method of knife gripping outside the venerable hammer grip: investigate, test, ask questions. To take it at face value as "functional" or "deadly" because it's part of a martial arts lineage is like saying my 4-year old is deadly because his father is a badass Silat guy. Pure fiction.
One of the nastiest encounters of the funky kind I've had in my experience on the streets was with a gang member who was also training in wrestling or jiujitsu, I'm not sure which, and in noble fashion, he challenged me to a duel after we had an unfriendly verbal exchange. Believe it or not, sometimes physical combat precedes knife or gun attacks in street violence even with gangsters. What I found out (to my horror) is that he was much better at groundfighting than I was. Your author though, being a shameless individual was not ready to lose a match due to a skill imbalance. So I, also having solid ground skills from Silat, maneuvered myself into position and bit his testicle through his jogging pants. The ensuing screams of pain and misery where enough to convince all onlookers that the match was coming to a close. Interestingly though, my nemesis had a natural reaction which was more than verbal: he urinated...a lot...on me. And it wasn't pleasant. Now the nasty part is over but the lesson is clear, eventhough this wasn't an armed encounter, human beings bleed, sweat, cry, shit, and piss when they are scared and face uncommon amounts of fear or physical injury. The US army has been known to supply new troops with diapers to curtail the obvious technical problems from these natural occurrences. Of course, as I mentioned in Warrior Mind Combat, the longer a person, any person, is exposed to violence the less it will affect them psychologically and physically. But for those looking down a barrel for the first time or engaging in violence for the first time...literally, anything can happen. Including a dump in the pants. Now, this isn't always true, because some people are mentally harder than others, but it happens frequently enough that trainers and military administrators took notice over the years. So how does all this smelly mess affect knife grips? Well, you can imagine how easy stabbing and slashing or gripping anything at all will be when you have a slimy substance on your hand, probably blood. Hence, the importance of training for that scenario with simulation blood, real blood (I use animal blood from the ones I slaughter as pictured above), or some other substance that has a similar consistency. DO NOT use a real knife at first. Use a trainer and get the grip strong and used to mess on the handle. This doesn't need to be done daily, but it should at least be done every six months in your training rotation.
There are masters and there are MASTERS. Needless to say, your dear author is not of the capital kind. That variety is few and far between being able to pull off feats of incredible dexterity and physical manipulation of weapons that the average man, like myself, can only dream off. The problem is, I've only ever seen that magic in controlled, pleasant circumstances. Never under direct attack and certainly never when injured and fighting for their lives. The truth is that blade tossing, switching grips, and switching hands are all high-level skills that are not easily duplicated in high-stress situations and offer more risk than reward. I have been able to switch hands and grips under real circumstances (EXTREMELY RARELY) but I would never, and have never suggested to anyone that it should be done as a standard practice. Rather I say the opposite...don't do it...until you need to do it. And I have not needed to do it very much in any case. One case wasn't even a fight yet, it was a blade flip I purposely did to intimidate someone, and yes, it worked. But I wouldn't suggest it to anyone else. I've trained for 20 years, faced enough shit to feel the "cool breeze in hell", and still think it's a bad idea. One of my paramedic instructors was famous as a "cowboy" because he ran into a burning building and ran out, shirts ablaze, holding a baby that was stuck inside. In class, he told us, "Yeah, I did that shit, but you're idiots if YOU do it!" Nuff said. I think you get the point. Do it when needed but don't make the dangerous shit a standard, leave it for those special Batman moments when life just forces you to do more than the average Joe Combat. So we come to a close and I will say what I said at the beginning...use a hammer grip. It's high percentage, will save your ass in the toughest moments, and you'll come out looking uncool...but alive. Leave the rest for your Batman Moment and those guys on Youtube who love showing off fancy moves when nobody is trying to kill them.