You can hunt, eat, and create with a blade, making it one of the most necessary instruments on this planet. And, in the right hands, a knife is a gruesome tool for the battlefield and beyond. Let’s face it, if you’re in a confrontation involving knives then you’re in for pure chaos in motion where you’ll more than likely walk away with some painful souvenirs. There are plenty of knife fighting styles being touted as the best, but only a handful lay out credible systems to give you a decent chance at prevailing in cold steel combat.
Although we have chosen the absolute best knife fighting styles, studying just one isn’t going to be enough. To be honest, studying all of them isn’t going to make you a badass blade virtuoso like you see in the movies. As far as we know, nobody is immune to knives. The very best you can do is practice these knife fighting styles and hope it will give you the edge to survive if you end up cornered by a blade-wielding goon. More importantly, the will to survive enhances the skills you gain, so training realistic rounds is crucial. Drilling is critical to refine angles and techniques, but simulating the real deal is where you’ll gain the confidence and proper reactions to give yourself a fighting chance.
These six blade combat systems have built positive reputations for themselves and although no single style is “the best,” knowledge of the collection of styles will help you avoid getting carved up like a pumpkin.
Obviously, anything involving knives is more than a little dangerous. If you’re planning to train in any of these knife fighting systems, make sure you pace yourself and learn slow. Slow is smooth and smooth eventually becomes fast. Of course, if you encounter someone with a knife running away like Forrest Gump is your number one choice. Flexing your ego and trying to disarm someone with a blade is harder than getting out of the friend zone, even if you master the technique.
As with any physical fitness activity, know your limits and train with professionals. Do your research and question the head honcho to make sure the place is legitimate and not some McDojo selling Steven Seagal level garbage. Training centers with extraordinary deals promising you’ll master a set of techniques in a few months qualify as McDojos. Ask for a free class to test the waters and check for the following:
1. The owner was in the military or has trained military personnel.
2. Instructors welcome questions and answer them thoroughly.
3. The sessions include sparring rounds that simulate real combat.
4. The lineage of the main instructor goes back to a notable practitioner of the system.
5. Higher ranked students at the training center are able to teach concepts and techniques well.
Kali Eskrima aka Arnis is a Filipino martial art with weapon-based fighting, which includes the use of sticks, knives, and improvised weapons. Yes, you can learn how to defeat an opponent using a rolled-up magazine just like Jason Bourne, but we feel like the knife is more straight to the point. Although it’s a weapons-heavy style, every blade technique translates smoothly to the empty hand. Kali Eskrima has battle roots, as strains of the martial art were used in the Philippine-American War where American soldiers were slashed and decapitated by bolo-wielding guerrilla soldiers called the Moros. In close-quarter combat, U.S. troops in the Philippine-American War carried .38 caliber revolvers which weren’t enough to stop all the blades from piercing flesh, ultimately leading to the creation of the M1911 pistol. In WWII, Filipinos used Kali Eskrima to fight the Japanese, and grandmasters like Antonio Ilustrisimo used the bladed hand to swiftly cut down their opponents.
This martial art has a strong focus on combat range with geometric footwork in terms of triangles, so you’re always stepping off the center line at an angle. Moving along in any direction, the combatant’s feet always occupy two spots of the triangle in order to be elusive. For strikes, Kali Eskrima places a strong emphasis on angles of attack rather than specific slashes because real cold steel combat is a storm of ambiguity. All hand-to-hand attacks use these angles, allowing you to avoid punches and kicks just as well as the bladed hand. One of the core concepts of this art involves trapping and disarming using the “live hand” or the extra hand without a weapon. Now, we’ve already mentioned how difficult disarms are, but if the opportunity arises, it’s better to know the skill than to be stabbed in the gut. Dan Inosanto, Bruce Lee’s most famous student, is a master of the self-defense art and still teaches it today.
Blades: bolo, balisong, karambit
Country of Origin: Philippines
MCMAP Knife Fighting
The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) is a complete fighting system, but it dedicates a substantial portion of training to knife-fighting. The entire system focuses on brutal hand-to-hand combat, the mindset of a warrior, conditioning to outlast your opponent, and close-quarter fighting. Altogether, the program is a mix of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, boxing, wrestling, Muay Thai, and other proven martial arts. It also incorporates a warrior ethos from the Spartans, Zulu, and the Apache, allowing U.S. Marines to develop a ruthless fighting spirit to execute the mission under immense pressure. Out of the entire U.S. military branch, Marines are the only ones required to train all members with knives.
A Marine’s knife fighting stance is tight and succinct, as they keep their knife “in the box” or shoulder-width from neck level down to the belt level on their body to prevent themselves from slashing too wide and telegraphing their attack. Marines also take into account prison-style knife attacks called bull-dogging or the prison yard rush, which involves rushing the enemy with a hand to his chest or face followed by lightning-quick swipes to either side of the neck.The knife is kept pointed at the aggressor at all times and the off-hand is held vertically to protect the ribs, head, and neck. To have the upper hand in a cold steel match up, Marines never stay head-on with the enemy, but rather they move at 45° angles to either side to not only avoid getting sliced but also to increase their chances of landing their slashes. Everything is taken into account with Marine knife fighting, including where they put their dagger, which is on the weak side and far back enough so enemies can’t reach it. There’s nothing worse than taking damage from your own sharp sidekick. Marines also take into account prison-style knife attacks called bull-dogging or the prison yard rush, which involves rushing the enemy with a hand to his chest or face followed by lightning-quick swipes to either side of the neck.
Blades: USMC Ka-Bar Knife
Country of Origin: United States
Forged in the 1400s, the stiletto is an elegant blade with an acutely sharp needlepoint and was originally conceived to pierce through chain-mail. In the medieval times, the slender blade was a nightmare for knights, as this thrusting weapon was able to leave them bleeding, turning their shining armor into an improvised coffin. The main Italian knife fighting system is called Paranza Corta, which is also referred to as Schema Di Siciliano. This knife combat style is built around the stiletto blade and is still used for both dueling and defense in the modern world.
Now, when you think of martial arts you’ll probably think of Asia and imagine martial arts legend Bruce Lee doing his miraculous one-inch punch or John Wick performing a clean Ippon Seoi Nage judo throw. However, Italy and Greece actually have the oldest martial arts traditions in the world. Paranza Corta is a method of knife fighting meant for assassins and is still very much alive today. It’s more of an underground knife fighting system, yet if you have enough time and dig deep into the digital world, you may find a legitimate instructor. There’s not an abundance of details about the techniques of Paranza Corta, but it’s known to be a stealthy knife fighting style ideal for executing your target in a dense crowd, although, there are also forms to learn. The knife combat method involves constant movement with the bladed hand swirling in front to keep the opponent guessing while the off-hand is kept closer to the chest for defense. When you see two practitioners sparring it can look like they’re performing an elegant dance number until one fighter switches levels, swiftly transfers weight to their front foot and goes in for a killing stroke. Thrusting attacks to sink the stiletto into the enemy is the main focus, explaining why the style calls for more of a fencing stance.
Blades: stiletto knife
Country of Origin: Italy
Silat is actually a collective term for many indigenous martial arts from The Malay Archipelago in Southeast Asia. The ancestors of Indonesia evolved to protect themselves from human foes as well as wild animals since they were nestled in forests. Indonesians were able to absorb the predatory tactics of animals and incorporate them into martial arts. In doing so, they refined silat to become an art of methodical savagery. Out of all the different versions, Pencak Silat is the most effective and most famous in recent years thanks to films like The Raid 2. Many of the weapons used were originally farming or routine tools, including the karambit blade, which was considered the EDC blade of ancient Southeast Asia. The World Pencak Silat Championships have been held since 1982, however, it has become less combative over the last several years.
At the root of this martial art is the practice of multi-level fighting stances with specific postures, providing you with a strong foundation even when you’re in motion. The goal isn’t to neutralize all the attackers, which is nearly impossible, but to test your skills in an unfair, nerve-wracking situation.The horse stance, which mimics your posture while riding a stallion, is the most important posture of silat and fighters will typically train their bodies to hold the position for at least 10 minutes. Stances are taught along with basic footwork patterns where striking techniques can be utilized naturally so you can use the karambit to slash and fish-hook flesh with ease. Techniques are drilled to pass on the combat techniques in an organized manner, but sparring is where the knowledge of moves are tested. Silat practitioners spar with multiple attackers who can hand off weapons to each other. On the other hand, the defender is able to disarm his opponents and use their weapons against them. The goal isn’t to neutralize all the attackers, which is nearly impossible but to test your skills in an unfair, nerve-wracking situation. One might think of it as life skills orientation. Silat sparring is a walk in the park during a nasty, vicious hurricane.
Blades: karambit, kris, kujang
Country of Origin: Indonesia
Systema Spetsnaz is a comprehensive combat system used by Russian Special Forces and it’s based on traditional self-defense methods. Its roots date back to the 10th century and it was developed to rectify realistic threats, especially on the battlefield where weapons come into play heavily. Like any legitimate fighting practice, it is an entire hand-to-hand combat system which includes knife fighting and arms training. In practicing Systema Spetsnaz, your body becomes flexible and free of tension, so you may charge ahead with confidence and react with explosive force to finish an opponent and shove on to the next mission.
The entire system sits on four pillars to assemble a fearless, precise warrior: breathing, relaxation, body position, and movement. These pillars ensure a special forces soldier is able to adapt and conquer any opponent in their path. Spetsnaz soldiers spend a sufficient amount of time training with knives and the combat knife is sacred to them. They are trained to execute the opposition in the shortest amount of time possible, stripping away any fancy movements to get to the point. Once you approach a striking distance with a piece of cold steel the whole goal is to eradicate the threat in a few movements. There’s no room to ponder any action, which is why appropriate reactions are drilled to perfection. Spetsnaz recruits are trained to be efficient machines that use their knives like it’s the only weapon they need. For example, each recruit must be able to hit a target three consecutive times from a distance of six feet. Many knife fighting methods they practice can be traced back to Kali Eskrima and Eskrima grandmasters are sometimes hired to do sessions for the special forces team. Spetsnaz soldiers are also trained to control the body’s six levers (elbows, neck, knees, waist, ankles, and shoulders) with the blade similar to Kali Eskrima. There are Systema Spetsnaz schools out there, but make sure to check the chief instructor is or was in the Russian military.
Blades: ballistic knife, Spetsnaz machete
Country of Origin: Russia
Japanese Samurai warriors are most famous for their katana blades, however, they were also strapped with tanto blades, which are short daggers. When Samurai entered the chaos of the battlefield and got up close and personal, their katana swords weren’t as effective, which is where the tanto knife comes into play. The tanto has a tapered design to support the blade tip, making it incredibly effective in punching right through armor, making them ideal for fighting in restricted, compact areas. Eventually, the knife fighting style of Tantojutsu was created and practiced traditionally by Samurai women. However, it’s still practiced today, especially in Aikido and Shorinji Kempo.
This knife fighting style has a solid foundation, marrying knife strike movements to footwork. Practitioners train to aim for the most squishy and painful parts of the body to inflict the most damage, including the kidneys, clavicle, nose, and the sweet spots between the ribs. The simple one-handed grip and empty hand blocking techniques of Tantojutsu allow you to move swiftly and slice to the bone of the target.Training also includes going up against an opponent with a samurai sword so you can learn to trust the skills you have with the tanto. After all, a weapon is only as effective as the trust in your skills wielding it. As you develop your abilities in this knife fighting style, you’ll be able to utilize the speed of this cold steel weapon and find the exact angles to attack once you evade a blow similar to boxing. The simple one-handed grip and empty hand blocking techniques of Tantojutsu allow you to move swiftly and slice to the bone of the target. Throwing the compact dagger with accuracy is also part of this knife fighting style, yet pitching a fastball tanto on the battlefield was done sparingly.
Blades: tanto blade
Country of Origin: Japan
Hand-To-Hand: 8 Best Martial Arts For Self-Defense
Now that you’ve gained some knowledge on a few key knife fighting styles, it’s time to round out your combat intelligence. Check out the best martial arts for self-defense that will help you get in the best mental and physical shape.