Posted on Leave a comment

Knife Defence: Is Karate Training Useful?

The picture shows a knife and this article we are going to shows you whether karate works in knife defence.

Knife Defence is a very controversial topic and Karateka seldom train it. However, it is important to know what it means and how Karate can be utilised to defend against a knife, if one has no other chance to remove oneself from a situation. By T.D. McKinnon in his column Karate Essence

This is a topic that is always controversial. Everyone has an opinion on the subject, some through the mirror of their own experiences.  However, many seem to have an inflexible opinion on the subject, with little or no real experience and with a very rudimentary education on the topic.

I think that one point should be made here before we go any further. If you are confronted by anyone with a stabbing or bladed weapon, if at all possible, you should remove yourself from the situation immediately.  Do not make it an ego thing! Even if you master knife defence; having to disarming someone with a blade, regardless of the antagonist’s skill, or lack thereof, is extremely dangerous. However, if you are unable to remove yourself – you may be cornered or protecting someone – you owe it to yourself to be as prepared as you possibly can be.

My own Experience with Knife Defence

Growing up in the coal-mining communities of Scotland and England, in the 1950s and 60s, blades were an ongoing reality.  I escaped most confrontations by running away, very fast. However on one occasion, when I was 14 years old, I was cornered by two 17 year- old youths who wanted my leather jacket. I had been delivering papers, morning and night, for an entire year to pay for it; they would have to take it from my dead body. One of them produced a flick-knife to cut it from my body if necessary. I was terrified. Pure luck got me out of that situation, when the sudden appearance of a bunch of motorcyclists caused my assailants to run away.  

A couple of years later, while serving in the British Parachute Regiment, a soldier in the neighboring bed had a psychotic episode one day. I found myself (whilst lying flat on my back on my bed) with the point of his bayonet pressed firmly against my jugular vein. 

I had trained in close quarter combat but I was not prepared for that. If you have never been in that situation – when you feel you might die at any moment and there’s nothing you can do about it – it is a chilling experience!

I somehow managed to reason with him; remaining calm (at least I made a fair approximation of sounding calm) I talked him out of a bloodletting. As he stood up, the tension left his body, and the hand holding the bayonet went limp. Springing off the bed, I slapped it out of his hand. Adrenaline pumping, I slammed him against a metal locker; one hand around his throat, I was ready to smash my fist into his face. Long story short, I didn’t hit him; the poor guy was mentally very ill.

When I left the Paras I started working the nightclub scene in the Glasgow area (once reputed to be the knife attack capital of the world) where I encountered several situations where a knife or an open-blade razor was presented threateningly. We were of course prepared for these predictable displays. Funny how the site of a baseball bat changes the mind of a knife wielding lunatic. Suffice to say that the sight of someone wielding a knife is not strange to me.

Kase Taiji and Knife Defence

I attended a Kase Taiji Sensei seminar in the 1970s. Sometime during the course, while we were doing a lot of basic blocking techniques, he was trying to stress the importance of good, strong basics. Some of us were obviously not getting it to his satisfaction. 

Kase Sensei began to tell us about a time when he first went to Paris and he was confronted by a knife wielding thug, who demanded that he hand over his wallet.

Kase Sensei did not have good English; he had been living in France for many years and I don’t know how good his French was but he had a strange way of speaking, a heavy mixture of Japanese/French accented Pidgin English. However, with the aid of mimicry and simulation he certainly got the story over.

It happened one evening as he was going for a stroll, taking in the Paris sites. For those who don’t know, I would describe him as a 4X4 (very short, he was as wide as he was tall) and I can imagine that a would-be mugger might not see the potential danger in him. Kase Sensei wasn’t sure what his assailant was saying but he understood the drift of the situation and decided not to hand over his wallet.

When he made no reply and no move to comply with his attacker’s demands; frustrated, the man tried to stab him in his ample belly. With a classic soto uke, Kase Sensei smashed the mugger’s arm at the elbow and then, while delivering a devastating yoko empi to the jaw, he wrenched the smashed arm across his ample chest.

“Cut…” he said, showing us a scar on his forearm, and shaking his head as if it was nothing. “I break ‘is arm…” he continued, indicating with gestures that told us he had snapped the elbow in the opposite direction. “And ‘is…” and grabbing his own jaw, shaking it, he added, “Shatter!”

Knife Defence requires Strong Basics

Twenty years later, while working at a night club in Sydney’s Kings Cross, I stepped between a patron and a woman he was in the process of beating-up. I actually suspected that she was one of his working girls. Without the slightest compunction, he pulled out a knife and stabbed me in the stomach. Well, he tried.

I smashed his elbow the wrong way and shattered his jaw into a dozen pieces. The circumstances were completely different to Kase Sensei’s incident, but the knife attack and the results were exactly the same. And I too sport a scar from the incident on my right wrist.  I agree wholeheartedly with Kase Sensei: strong basics are indeed essential.

As well as being a martial artist for the past 57 years; learning to defend against weapons, knifes in particular, has been a lifelong objective.   However, It wasn’t until I worked in close protection (real bodyguard work, not there just for show), protecting someone who was afraid for their life, that I had real close encounters with knife wielding individuals intent on doing me serious bodily harm. 

I have defended myself against four serious knife attacks, I was cut in three of them, minor injuries, only one of which needed fairly immediate attention. However, after all four attacks, I was back on the job straight away, while all of the attackers spent considerable time (1-6 weeks) in hospital; before doing serious jail time.

Teaching Knife Defence is a Serious Affair

Teaching knife defence to Close Personal Protection (CPP) operatives who just might find themselves up against someone with a knife is a serious affair. It needs to be practical, and they need to believe that it will work; because doubt is the back stabber (pardon the pun).

I think we should differentiate between the categories of knife or bladed threats. There are some dramatic differences in threat levels; consequently, there is a difference in the defence strategies used.  There are three main threat levels but with a myriad of intensities:

1. The knife presented to intimidate or as an overt threatening device.

Generally, in this case, the intention is not to kill or do serious damage. However, there can be many and varied mitigating factors and this kind of threat can still progress to a real and sometimes life threatening danger. If you are presented with a knife threat situation, remember that an action is quicker than a reaction: initiate the action (Deai).  Examples: 

Thomas D. McKinnon teaching knife defence.
Thomas D. McKinnon teaching knife defence.

2. The knife used in an aggravated assault. Perhaps to intimidate during an attempted robbery/mugging/rape et cetera, where injury is not the main intention, but where it all too often escalates to the next level.

I am not talking about the legal definitions here; what I am talking about is the intentions of the knife wielding assailant. This, by degree only, is a more serious situation for the victim of threat level 1. 

Thomas D. McKinnon teaching knife defence.
Thomas D. McKinnon teaching knife defence.

3. The knife deliberately used in an attempt to murder or seriously injure.

Again, I am not talking about the legal definitions; I am talking about the intent of the assailant. There can be a hairs breadth between attempting to seriously injure someone and killing them.

Mushin

In answer to number 1 and 2, your responses need to be instinctive and immediate.  There will be a variance in the degree of danger and the method of intimidation; however, providing you train your responses until they are instinctive (Mushin), you will minimise injury to yourself by remembering these rules:

  • An action is always quicker than a reaction: implement the action.
  • Act without doubt and without hesitation and don’t stop until your assailant is disarmed and nullified.

In answer to number 3, if you get the opportunity to initiate the action the same rules apply.  However, considering the nature of number 3, you may not get the chance to initiate the action.  There are far too many variables to generalise; however, when I was putting together my knife defence seminars, apart from utilising my own personal experience, I studied hours of CCTV footage of brutal knife attacks, from all around the world.  The situations were many and varied but the outcomes were all pretty grim; mostly ending in a fatality. 

How defend against a Knife Attacker intent on Murder?

However, after studying the different ways that people are attacked on that footage, I determined the best ways in which to combat each different kind of attack. There is one defence I teach for a very distinctive type of recurring attack that is used when an assailant is determined to kill his victim. This attack is a rapid stabbing motion; not unlike a rapid, repeating gyaku-zuki type motion, while controlling (pulling/pushing/grabbing) the recipient with the free hand. 

I watched CCTV footage of an attack on a police officer. The recipient of the attack was a big policeman; when he stopped a small, suspicious looking, man to questioning him. Attacking suddenly, viciously, without provocation, a knife appearing in his right hand, the small man used his free hand to clamp the policeman’s gun hand against the gun as he was frantically attempting to draw, while stabbing him repeatedly, to death right there on camera.

Here is a step by step sequence of still photographs, and a slow motion video of the defence for just such an attack.  Perhaps you can recognise the entry from Sochin Kata.

9 Steps

  1. You must meet the attacker head on; do not wait until he has got the first stab in. This is a repeated stabbing action, meant to kill you.
  2. Do not let his free hand control you.
  3. You must strike, simultaneously ramming your forearms, a/into the forearm of his knife hand, and b/ into the attacker’s face: jamming his first stab and smashing his face (Sen no sen).  This action will halt his forward momentum.
  4. You can see the first technique from three different angles.
  5. It is then important to move quickly, smoothly into the next action, taking advantage of the first shock to his system. 
  6. Vigorously, simultaneously, push his head down and lift the knife hand up in the manner shown.
  7. Keeping your back straight for best results and least chance of losing your balance, bend your knees and drop your centre of gravity, to pile-drive the attackers head into the ground.
  8. To finish, using a wrist/arm lock, wrench hard to take control and or break the arm. 
  9. It is doubtful that the knife will still be in his hand, but if it is it will have been nullified all the way through and can be taken easily at this point.

Repetition with Full speed is important

Let me be quite clear about this; I know from practical experience that this technique works, and I taught it to the high risk section of the security industry for 25 years with nothing but positive feedback.   

It is not practical (from the point of view of the damage you can cause) to practice this technique, repetitively, with a partner at full speed with power. However here is a demonstration of a method of practicing a modified version of the technique, along with 3 other possible knife defence techniques with a partner, with a little speed.  Some training tools if you will:

Thomas D. McKinnon teaching knife defence.

Ultima Ratio

At the risk of repeating myself, I must reiterate: If you are confronted by anyone with a stabbing or bladed weapon, if at all possible, you should remove yourself from the situation immediately. Do not let your ego get you seriously injured or killed! Even if you master knife defence, disarming anyone who has a blade is extremely dangerous and should be a last resort.

When there is no other option: ultima ratio; if you have no choice, do it boldly, with Mushin and Zanshin

The Unmentionables of Knife Defence

There are still a couple of areas not yet mentioned.  To talk about knife defence and not mention the most difficult types of bladed weapons to defend against would be grossly duplicitous. I could do what most people do when covering knife defence: put these weapons in the too hard basket and just ignore them!

Obviously, anything involving knives is more than a little dangerous. If you are thinking of employment in the close protection industry you should consider training in one of the knife fighting systems. You might also familiarise yourself with as many others as possible. My initial knife fighting training, in the military, consisted of a mishmash of the most useful, deadly techniques from a variety of origins. My additional knife fighting education comes care of Tantojutsu from Bushido, and the Filipino knife fighting of Kali. I also acquired some of the practicality of stick fighting from Kali; which applies very nicely to an extendable baton; and is extremely useful against a knife.

Slashing

I grew up on stories of the Glasgow razor gangs. There was still the occasional incident, but on the whole the open-blade razor had gone the way of the dinosaur. Quite obviously, they were not used for stabbing but for slashing. They could be used with devastating effect: blinding, opening up or slashing pieces off face and hands et cetera. In an experienced hand they could kill quite easily but, for the most part, they were meant to menace and intimidate. Designed to cause extensive damage without the risk of accidentally killing someone; they were quite a terrifying weapon!

The box-knife is fairly commonplace in Glasgow nowadays: with a capacity to do massif amounts of damage, but without the depth of blade to accidentally kill someone in the process. Another terrifying weapon!

Defence against the two aforementioned weapons, mostly because exponents of said weapons usually train in their use, I would put firmly in the realm of ‘the knife fighting cultures. I would therefor advise that defence against them should follow the same lines as any of the knife fighting martial arts.    

Knife Fighting Martial Arts

Lastly, I’ll touch briefly on knife fighting martial arts, which are numerous.  Here are just a few of the most prominent:

Pencak Silat (Indonesian)

Silat practitioners use a curved blade called a Karambit. In trained hands, this is a deadly weapon.

Kali Escrima (Filipino)

Kali practitioners use a relatively short, single bladed, stabbing and slashing knife. This is another devastatingly dangerous weapon.

Paranza Corta (Italy)

Practitioners of this deadly art use a stiletto bladed knife; primarily, a deadly stabbing weapon.

Tantojutsu (Japan)

Using a Tanto; this is a devastating, stabbing and slashing knife fighting art.

Military Special Forces (various countries)

This is usually an amalgamation of the deadliest techniques from various classical knife fighting arts. The weapons vary, my experience was with a bayonet; however, it is adaptable to most knives.

Distance and Weapons

If you are cornered and you have no weapons, distance is your only ally; long range striking is most advisable. Utilise, as a weapon, anything that you can get your hands on. If you are protecting someone, professionally, then you should be carrying some kind of weapon, an extendable baton at the very least.

Will Karate help you in knife defence?

So, will Karate help you in knife defence?  Certainly there are tools within your Karate training that will assist you. However, you really need to train, specifically, for knife defence to stand a decent chance against someone with a knife. And the more skilled your adversary, the more skilled you need to be.

Posted on 2 Comments

Senshin: The Fifth Element of the Karate Spirit

The picture shows the Fuji Yama, which stands for enlightement and wisdom. Therefore, the mountain manifests senshin like Shotokan karate und Budo do.

Senshin (洗心) means the purified spirit and enlightened mind. It is the fifth element of the karate and budo spirit every karateka should cultivate and strive for. In his monthly column Shotokan Essence Thomas D. McKinnon examines how Senshin is related to the other four budo spirit and how one can achieve it.

During the last several months, we have explored a number of concepts. Four of which are elements of the full Mantle. Zanshin, Mushin, Shoshin, and Fudoshin make up four fifths of the seamless, shining armor of the advanced karateka or budoka. 

Zanshin raises your total awareness, enabling you to see everything, not missing anything. Mushin releases you from anxiety. Acting and reacting without emotion allows your training, skills and abilities to function at maximum proficiency. Shoshin frees you from the frustrations that often accompany learning, giving you the sight to see what you may have missed. Fudoshin provides the confidence to stand your ground in the face of overwhelming odds. 

Senshin to Complete the Mantle 

The fifth element, Senshin, has no exact, literal translation. However, in line with the teachings of Ueshiba Morihei, Founder of the Japanese art of Aikidô, Senshin takes on the Budo meaning of the ‘enlightened’ or ‘purified’ mind/heart or spirit. In Chinese Medicine, the heart is the location of the mind, which is probably why the most common translation for Shin is mind or heart. So, concerning the Karateka/Budoka, Senshin might be said to be
‘the state of the enlightened mind’. Senshin completes the five spirits of Budo, or the full Mantle, of the advanced Karateka/Budoka: the Spiritual Warrior.

Senshin transcends and harmonizes the first four elements in a spirit of compassion to reconcile discord and hold all life sacred. Fully embracing Senshin is to become enlightened. 

You can learn as many physical arts as you want, and I’ve studied a few. But unless you take on the full Mantle you will only skate across the surface. The physicality of the arts will only be a sequence of moves. Consequently, in combat, whomsoever is most inspired on the day will be the victor. 

This Mantle I speak of doesn’t just find you when you train, study and learn the physicality of your art. You must actively seek it out. Prior to beginning my traditional Shotokan training, I had been a British Parachute Regiment soldier and so, quite naturally, Zanshin was the first constituent of the Mantle that I cognitively understood. 

KARATE & BUDO NEWSLETTER

Zanshin (残心): Lingering Mind 

‘Zanshin: being still within, while aware of one’s surroundings and totally prepared, for anything. Zanshin is a state of totally calm alertness; a physical, mental and spiritual state of awareness before, during and after combat.’ 

Intellectually, I understood, quite early in my Karate-do, four of the five elements of the Mantle. However, my cognitive knowing of Mushin, Shoshin and Fudoshin took a little longer to realize. Following a particularly adverse situation, avoiding a potential disaster, I would suddenly realize that I had done so by exhibiting one of the Mantle’s features. 

For instance: while employed in high risk security, it was my habit to size up a situation and plan several, rational, contingencies so that I might not be taken by surprise in an unfolding situation. I was in actual fact limiting my options by overthinking the situation. A completely unexpected situation arose one day, which I came through smoothly, reacting in the most appropriate manner at several twists and turns. I then understood, cognitively, the concept of Mushin: trust and live in the moment. 

Mushin (無心): No Mind 

‘Mushin: not over-thinking things, being open and ready to receive whatever might come. Without the clouds of judgement, driven by emotion, the uncluttered mind deals with life from the moment point.’ 

The element that makes most sense, and is so obvious, took me the longest time to cognitively realize was Shoshin. Again, I tended to overthink and complicate things. All I really needed to do was clear away preconceptions: simplify. 

Shoshin (初心): Beginners’ Mind 

‘Shoshin: beginner’s mind is the quintessential mindset for learning. In the beginner’s mind there is openness, eagerness, a lack of preconceptions. With Shoshin there are many possibilities no matter the level of study.’ 

The fourth element to click into place, for me, was Fudoshin. Your skill levels need to be fairly advanced but, more importantly, your belief in yourself needs to be flawless. It is important to hone your skills to the point where ‘you believe’ they will emerge when and where you need them. You must erase any doubts. 

Fudoshin (不動心): Immovable Mind 

‘Fudoshin: a peaceful state of total determination and unshakable will. It is the state of a spirit that is determined to win. Filled with courage, endurance and self-confidence through self-knowledge, Fudoshin provides you with the resolve to surmount any obstacle.’ 

Finally ‘the enlightened mind’. What does that even mean? I never tried to intellectualize Senshin. ‘The enlightened mind’ sounded a little too airy-fairy. However, once Fudoshin slipped into place, Senshin, the final element, settled upon me like a Mantle. Henceforth, I knew the comforting surety of the full Mantle

Senshin (先心): Purified spirit and Enlightened Attitude 

‘Senshin: the enlightened mind of the advanced karateka/budoka. Holding all life sacred, you strive to protect and be in harmony with all life.’ Seeing the best in humanity, you endeavor to foster compassion even for those who would do you harm. With Senshin, recognizing the universal connectedness of life, you understand how one simple act affects every aspect of life. You see the dilemma and the worth of life with your heart, mind and soul.’ 

Senshin is achievable. However, not only must the mind be enlightened but the spirit must be cleansed too. Only the advanced karateka/budoka – with the enlightened attitude and purified intention – will achieve ‘the full Mantle of the Spiritual Warrior.’ 

Senshin: Enveloped in the Mantle

The high-pitched screech of brakes echoes through the chilly winter’s night. Piling out of two cars, they come in an angry rush. 

Spaced a couple of meters apart, one hand out, palm facing them, one hand on a holstered Glock 19 pistol-grip, we stand our ground. Two against many, but they stop. 

‘Hands off the guns!’ yells one, nervously. Hands under coats, their weapons are hidden but evident. Undisciplined, noisy, cursing and issuing threats, they mill together like fish in a barrel. They are gangsters, bullies… 

We are professionals, and they know it. I pitch my voice to be heard over the din… ‘Get back in your vehicles and drive away!’ I don’t threaten, but the warning is implicit. 

They hesitate… and one of them says, “What! Are you nuts! We outnumber you better than four to one… Do you think you’re invincible or something?!” When my response is a small, enigmatic smile his expression is priceless. But then, still verbally abusing us, they back off. Continuing to yell abuse from the cars, they speed off, as a police siren pierces the night air 

Our clients are safe… for tonight anyway. 

I have no doubt that – recognizing we were highly trained professionals unaffected by bullying and bluster – they knew that, had they pushed the envelope, some of them would have died. We were not invincible; simply, uncluttered by emotion (Mushin). Calm, alert, aware (Zanshin). Focused completely, confidently, in the moment (Fudoshin). No… not invincible, but securely enveloped in the Mantle.

Posted on 7 Comments

What is Mushin? And How to Achieve It?

Mushin belongs to the central concepts of budo. In this article we present you what it is and how to achieve it. By Thomas D. McKinnon

What is Mushin?

Mushin: the term is a shortened form of, ‘Mushin no shin’ (無心の心). This Zen expression means, basically, ‘mind without mind’. It refers to the state of ‘no-mindness’. Or the state of mind that is not fixed, not cluttered by thoughts or emotion. Therefore nothing will get in the way of the self as it acts and reacts according to its training and exactitude’s. In combat or in any part of life where much preparation has been undertaken.

What is Mushin in Practice?

Mushin is achieved when a karateka’s mind is free of random thoughts, free of anger, free of fear, and particularly free of ego. It applies during combat, and or other facets of life. When mushin is achieved during combat there is an absence of loose or rambling thoughts. It leaves the practitioner free to act and react without hesitation. He reacts according to all of the study and training that has brought the karateka to this point. Relying on, not what you think should be your next move, but on what your trained, instinctive, subconscious reaction directs you to do.

The Zen Foundation of Shotokan

This Zen mind state is just one of the esoteric accoutrements which complement the consummate, experienced and well-practiced martial artist. Legendary Zen master Takuan Sōhō is reputed to have said,

“The mind must always be in the state of flow, for when it stops anywhere that means the flow is interrupted and it is this interruption that is injurious to the well-being of the mind. In the case of the swordsman, it could mean death. When the swordsman faces an opponent, he is not to think of himself, his opponent, or of his enemy’s sword movements. He just stands with his sword which, forgetful of all technique, is ready only to follow the dictates of the subconscious. The swordsman deletes his rational mind from the situation as the wielder of the sword. When he strikes, it is not the man but the sword in the hand of the man’s subconscious that strikes.”

This documentary about Kendoka Naoki Eiga shows in excellently his way to mushin.

No Doubt, but Belief!

Belief is the ally of the highly trained karateka, soldier, police officer, or high-risk security operative. Belief is the supporter of mushin, and will have your back. Doubt, on the other hand, the enemy of mushin that could cause your downfall. It will save your life in the worst case scenario. However, make sure you have put in enough time, training and dedication to dispel any doubts. Because doubt can destroy your mushin. In that worst case scenario mentioned, doubt is the backstabber that could get you killed.

Kata and Mushin

Although it is difficult for the inexperienced, inept or novice kata judge or instructor to identify. Mushin can be and must be demonstrated during the performance of kata. Without it, kata becomes just a sequence of moves strung together in a kind of karate dance. When practicing kata, practice mushin also.

Keinosuke Enoeda was a master of mushin.

Similar to many of the esoteric concepts utilised by the martial arts, it is by no means exclusive to them. Mushin, in Japanese, or wuxin, in Chinese, could be termed as a light, Zen meditative state. All arts can recognize and utilize it: painters, actors, singers, dancers, sculptors, poets, writers, and much, much more.

Mushin Means to Trust Yourself and Let it Flow

So, for the advanced karateka, all of the training, all of the drills, and all of the countless repetitions of all the various computations of combinations that the karateka has performed over the months, years and decades are like money in the bank. The more you put in the less you have to worry about. All you have to do is ‘trust’ that you have enough in the bank.

Operating on that level you must be confident that you have done more than enough to be ready for anything that might occur. Having complete trust in your skill-set, you do not have to think about exactly what it is that you will do. You just have to know that you will react to whatever occurs, in the most appropriate way, at that moment of necessity. That is mushin.