Edged Weapon Defense I

While I may have put regularly scheduled empty-hand training on the backburner for a little while, that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped practicing martial arts. Yesterday I took part in a seminar on Edged Weapon Defense.

The seminar was hosted by Leslie Buck at his Tactical Arts Academy, and was presented by Leslie and Erwin Ballarta. Erwin has quite a résumé, which you can read here or check out his present venture, Captiol Strategic Operations. For those who don’t want to click through, know that Erwin has a lengthy background in Pekiti Tersia Kali and spent 26 years as a part of Texas Department of Public Safety (i.e. state police) as the head of their Defensive Tactics group. Both Leslie and Erwin have a great deal of practical experience, both in who they have trained and their own efforts. Their training is used by bodyguards, police, military around the world. What does this mean? What they teach has been tested. It’s not some arm-chair grandmaster teaching secret techniques that will kill your opponent in one blow. It doesn’t turn your hands into registered lethal weapons. What it is is solid, proven techniques that can help keep you alive. That “proven” part is so key.


I must go back a bit to mention something. After I ceased my Kuk Sool practice I was drawn to Filipino Martial Arts. The main reason? Again, proven. It’s not flowery dancing about, no “ok, grab my wrist, then compliantly fall down”. Again, Kuk Sool can be a solid art and I know it laid a good foundation for me, but the teaching methodology and lack of application made me seek something else. I actually learned about Leslie Buck during my researching for a new school, but the main problem was the scheduled times. His school is a fair drive away from where I live, and trying to drive across town during evening rush hour traffic did not appeal to me because it’s a huge time investment and I’ve only so much time in a day. As fortune would have it, I met Leslie through other venues and it’s been a pleasure fostering this relationship and training with him. I’d love to take regular Kali classes with him… just need to figure out the time/distance factor.

I looked forward to this seminar because I knew what it would provide. The seminar is designed to provide fundamental skills towards the subject matter, in this case defending against edged weapons. Do you need to train for years to be proficient in this? Well, certainly years of training can take you to a higher level of proficiency. However, most police on the street don’t have years to master the skills necessarily to handle every possible threat they could encounter. But, they still need some sort of skills to keep them alive and take care of the people they encounter. That’s what this seminar sought to provide. Furthermore, I knew the foundations would be based upon Pekiti Tersia Kali, which further appealed to be because I knew it’d be solid, simple concepts. Furthermore, this class provided 8 hours of TCLEOSE credit, which doesn’t affect me but it demonstrates this work is satisfactory for our law enforcement officials.


The class started with a lecture segment discussing the training philosophy, along with many realities of assaults. What I found welcome was the unintentional commonality of of training. So much of what came here is similar to what I’ve learned from Karl Rehn, Tom Givens, SouthNarc, Greg Hamilton, Claude Werner, and not because these guys are all collaborating to teach the same material. There’s no room for misconceptions, this is looking at the realities and seeking methods to cope with reality. From realizing the psychological realities of being in a fight (how we react, thus training should capitalize on that), to how you carry yourself before a fight (e.g. Always Be Cool, being the lion/sheepdog, being aware and watching for cues) to avoid it in the first place. It’s all there.

A few things about fight dynamics.

The first hit is typically to the head. From there, the hits can go “down the body” and often people will end up on the ground. Edged weapon attacks tend to be similar, first going for the head then down from there (e.g. stab, slash to the body).

The first 10 seconds of a fight determine the outcome. A training implication is perhaps instead of jogging 5 miles, work on going full out 110% intensity for 30 second “sprints”. That doesn’t have to be just running, it could be punching on the heavy bag full power as fast as possible. If grappling with a partner, working as hard and fast as you can for 30 seconds.

When all you have is a gun and that’s all your training is, it becomes the solution to all your problems. Trouble is, it’s not always the right solution. For instance, if you’re close to a person, even within say 10 feet, they will always get the drop on you. I don’t care if you’re some champion pistol shot, you will not draw and get off the first shot before your attacker does. Period. So what’s a possible solution? #1 move. #2, if you are close enough (e.g. within “touching distance”), use both hands and lunge into your attacker and jam their draw of their weapon. Yes both hands, because if one hand goes for them and the other your gun, it just won’t work out as well. Use both hands, jam their draw, keep one hand on them to jam them then you can go for your weapon. This is akin to things I learned with Greg Hamilton.

Consider as well the statical reality that most people are right-handed. Thus if someone’s going to nail you, it will probably be with their right hand. Thus when you must encounter someone at close range, position yourself closer to their right hand. You can observe it, you’re also closer to it so you can stop it. Furthermore, angling yourself at 45º to them provides you with better positioning relative to the other person.

Building upon that, another interesting observation. When people go for their gun what do they do? They will take a step back and draw. In doing so, our heads tend to dip forward as we bend forward and down. This is just what we do. The reality? That will get you killed. We’re naturally doing what we should: trying to make ourselves smaller, trying to create distance from a threat, trying to bear our own claws. This is all natural reactions, but it just isn’t going to work. What is right to do? It depends upon the situation. Again, going in and jamming their draw may be the better solution. What we have to do is stop looking at the gun as our hammer and thus every problem is a nail. We must have additional skills beyond the gun. This doesn’t mean being Bruce Lee, but options are good.

And this is what this seminar was for.

Physical Skills

Yes, this class was physical. You don’t need to be in incredible shape, but we ended up sweating pretty good, sucking a lot of wind, and doing a fair lot of moving about. This is an implied reality about defense: you must keep moving, and sometimes you’re going to have to move very quickly. If you’re going to move, you need to be in good shape.

The skills were Kali-based, being simple concepts. Basic movements that can be applied regardless of situation. It’s the same here, the same there. The movements were also gross motor skills. This works out well given the situation for application.

One key thing? Don’t grab. Grabbing someone with a knife is bad. Yes there may be times it’s the right thing to do, but in general grabbing causes problems. The movements were generally those to deflect, guide, redirect, then reposition yourself such that you ended up in a superior position (e.g. on the outside or at their back). But again, it was all very simple. If you were being attacked in the open air, they worked. If you were pressed against the wall, they worked. If you were on your knees, they worked. If you were on your back and were mounted, they worked. This is why I like Filipino martial arts: concepts that work, instead of specific blueprints for “if he does this, then you do that, but if he does that you do this”… requires too much thinking and in that split second you could be stabbed. Instead, working to build upon natural reactions, simple motions that always work.

I should mention a nice “ABC” structure: Avoidance, Barrier, Counter, (and perhaps a “D” with Disengage). This is a great structure to think about. It could take the form of what you do to avoid the fight in the first place: you try to avoid it, but it’s unavoidable, you can put a barrier between yourself and the attacker, but they breech it thus you must counter their attack and work to eventually disengage. Or within the attack, your movements might be to avoid (e.g. deflect the stab), create a barrier (getting an arm up and in the way), then counter with a stunning strike to the head. ABC was a mantra throughout the day.

Skills were progressively taught. Starting with basic movement, from hip turning to 45º reverse-V stepping. Then moving to basic deflections. Learn a skill, practice it compliantly with a partner, ramp it up a bit. Then we’d rotate through with Erwin or Leslie feeding us rapidly and dynamically we’d be working to apply it. Erwin seemed to really enjoy being mean to us, which was great. 🙂

Defense against a low-line attack, defense against a high-line attack (call these in FMA attacks from the #1, #2 or maybe #3 #4, and #5), defense from very close in and a flinch response. These would be worked with initial “deflect and move”, but then building into use of stuns. Stuns would be things like attacking with elbow strikes or palm strikes to the arm or head. It could also involve the use of your forearm for attack. For example, someone is choking you or has a knife against you and you’re up against the wall. I’d take my left arm and essentially elbow strike upwards between their arms bringing my left again towards the back of my head (like I’m combing the side of my hair). This would be followed then by my left forearm smashing into the side of their neck or head, followed by my right elbow to the side of their head, followed by grabbing them and applying a knee to their leg or stomach area. Large movements, large hard surfaces (elbows, forearms, palms). All good.

I found a lot of this mixed well with my past martial study. A slightly different approach and style, but all good.

Sum Total

In the end, I found the class quite educational. At the present time I’m enjoying moving away from the stylistic trappings of formalized martial arts and instead taking in more direct combatives. Things that work. Do away with all the pomp and circumstance, the things that don’t matter (like sword training), and instead focus on things that can and do work. Focus on helping people defend themselves and get up to speed in a short amount of time. No you may not become a Bruce Lee or a Randy Couture, but for most people that’s fine… they just want to get home safely each night. Seminars like this can work well, be it for military, law enforcement, or just the private citizen.

That said, there’s no question this class is a bit more geared towards the LEO than the private citizen. For instance, there’s little reason I need to get too close to people or let people get too close to me. For a LEO, they must eventually get close to people due to the nature of their jobs. But even for private citizen me, people can get too close and it can happen quite suddenly. I sometimes feel that knives are more dangerous than guns, and a solid take-home from this course is you just don’t want to get into a knife fight. Work to keep distance — distance is your friend. The Fence is your friend. Tactics such as SouthNarc’s Managing Unknown Contacts (MUC) are useful. But if you find yourself in a knife-based situation, skills such as taught in this seminar will certainly be useful and helpful. You can work to avoid the blade, keep fighting even if you get hit, and work to get yourself in a superior position such that you can transition to your sidearm, subdue the attacker, or just get away.

I want to thank Leslie Buck and Erwin Ballarta for putting on this seminar. It was full of good information, well structured, well presented. I do wish the seminar was a bit longer tho, maybe 10 hours. The extra 2 hours could have been used for even more practice of the techniques. Plus some video was shown during the lecture portion. As I think back this morning on the seminar, while we had video and discussion of the jamming techniques, we never got to actually practice that in the class; that would have been welcome. But minor points.

If you’re curious, there are 2 additional seminars being taught in the near future: Arrest & Control / Baton Tactics, and one on Weapon Retention, Disarming, and Improvised Weapons. You can find more about them at Leslie’s website.

3 thoughts on “Edged Weapon Defense I

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