Get a Grip

11 Jun

      Surely one of the more esoteric debates within the martial arts world is the argument over how one should hold a knife in combat. The two basic positions under consideration are: the forward grip, in which one would hold the knife with the tip facing forward or upward, as if it were a sword or a hammer (the difference would be in a slight adjusting of the fingers and the angle of the wrist but both are still essentially a “forward” grip); and the reverse, or ice pick grip, in which the tip of the knife points downward (think Norman Bates in the movie Psycho) with the cutting edge of the blade either facing back toward you or outward toward the opponent.
      Both types of grip have their supporters with numerous experts arguing vehemently that one is far superior to the other, though the majority of these “experts” have likely never cut anyone with a knife using either grip. There are certain styles of knife fighting that make use solely of the forward grip and others that make use only of the reverse grip, while a few styles make use of both grips. My own opinion (not at all an expert one since I’ve never actually stuck a knife in anyone either) is that both grips have their advantages and disadvantages and one or the other may be better under certain specific circumstances.
      As for the forward grip, its main advantage is the extra reach you have with the knife when it’s held this way. Depending on the length of the knife, you may get an extra six inches or more of reach when holding a knife in the forward grip as opposed to the reverse grip. Obviously, this extra reach can come in handy, particularly if you and an opponent with a shorter knife (or an opponent holding his knife in the reverse grip) were to stab at each other simultaneously. Other advantages for this grip are an increased dexterity and superior ability to cut and slash with the edge of the blade. Additionally, upward thrusts with the knife are obviously far easier when it’s held in a forward grip than a reverse grip. Though I won’t get into the specific targets on the human body one should aim for (you kids will have to learn that out on the streets like everyone else) suffice to say a couple of the more vital ones require an upward thrust and unless you were going to do some rather odd maneuvering with your arm, a forward grip is simply easier to accomplish this with. While all that may seem to recommend the forward grip over the reverse grip, the latter does have one strong advantage, namely its stabbing power.
      There are obviously two main ways one does damage with a knife: stabbing with the tip, or cutting and slashing with the edge of the blade. Of these two methods, stabbing is believed to be a superior method for doing major damage to an opponent (surgeons studying the results of old sword duels in Europe generally found the thrust to be more lethal than cuts with the edge of a blade). In stabbing someone with the knife in a forward grip, you simply may not have the power to plunge the blade deep enough into an opponent’s body to hit a vital target. But when stabbing – usually straight downward or on a downward diagonal – with the knife in a reverse grip, you will have more force in your thrust and a better ability to drive the blade deeper into your target (I’m not recommending anyone go out and do this, I’m simply going over the technical pros and cons of it). Given that stabs are usually more effective than cuts with the edge of the blade and stabbing with the knife in a reverse grip is usually more powerful than stabbing with it in the forward grip, one might then assume that the reverse grip is, in fact, the superior method for holding a knife in combat. But that assumption may also be wrong.
      As I said above, different grips may be superior under different circumstances. The two main circumstances I’m referring to are the length of the blade you’re using and your specific intentions in using the knife.
      Though many instructors who teach knife fighting techniques teach cuts with the edge of the blade as much or more than stabs with the tip of the knife, what a lot of these instructors fail to understand is that these techniques were originally designed for use with a larger blade like a sword or a machete. But if the blade of your knife is much under ten inches or so, cuts with the edge just may not be fully effective in doing severe damage to an opponent, particularly if he’s wearing some heavy clothing. The blade may not have enough weight behind it to cut deep enough and forcefully enough to stop an attacker. Given that most of the knives people commonly have available are under ten inches, it would seem cuts with the edge of anything short of a Bowie knife may be less practical and one should instead consider holding most of these smaller knives in a reverse grip. However, this advice may not hold if the blade you’re using is less than about four inches. The reason is that many of the vital areas you’d look to attack are buried somewhat deeply in the body, often at least three inches below the surface. Given that you can’t necessarily count on driving a knife all the way up to its hilt – in other words, driving a three-and-a-half inch knife a full three-and-a-half inches into an opponent – a smaller knife may not be as effective in stabbing most of these areas regardless of the grip you’re using. In this case, you might have to make use of stabbing at the few vital targets that are closer to the surface, which can probably be done as effectively with the forward grip as with the reverse grip.
      The other circumstance that will effect what grip you use with a knife is just what your specific intention is when using the knife. While most people would think your intention when using a knife is pretty clear – to stick your opponent – the situation you find yourself in can effect your exact intentions with the knife. For example, if you are merely looking to escape from a group of assailants, you don’t necessarily have to kill them all (besides the fact this may be difficult to accomplish, it may also land you in a great deal of legal trouble unless you can clearly prove your life was in direct jeopardy). Simply jabbing and slashing at an opponent with your knife may be enough to make him keep back and give you an opportunity to flee (keep in mind, even using a knife in this manner, when you are the victim of an attack, can cause legal problems for you if the opponent is unarmed unless, again, you can show your life was in imminent danger). The forward grip, due to its extra reach and dexterity, would likely be more effective for this. But if you were ever in a circumstance where you needed to fully and quickly dispatch an opponent with a knife, such as a soldier in a battlefield melee who’s armed only with his combat knife, the reverse grip may be the superior method for delivering one quick, solid finishing strike with a blade.
      One other circumstance, one that may trump all other considerations, is just how you are restricted in grabbing hold of your knife when you first have to grip it. For example, many folding knives come with clips on them that allow them to attach to the inside of a pocket or waistband from which they can be quickly drawn. But the position the hand will be in when it draws these knives will usually allow only for a quick opening and deployment of the knife in a forward grip. If you are attempting to draw a folding knife while under attack (a very difficult prospect to begin with and one not easily accomplished) trying to then somehow turn the knife so you are gripping it in a reverse grip may be all but impossible given that you may not have the time. And even if you do have a split second to try and reverse the grip of the knife in the middle of a combat situation, you may be so nervous and adrenalized, you risk fumbling the knife and dropping it.
      Of course, a far simpler answer over which grip to use is simply to avoid fighting with a knife whenever possible. Then the grip doesn’t matter so much.


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