Coming to grips with the knife

Prepping for the new school again, and working over some of the material. As always, this means digging up my notes on Marozzo, checking what’s up with the latest translations, and re-reading the original.

With Marozzo, I found my key to understanding him best comes from his self-defense section at the back. It mirrors the layout of the rest of the manual, but the accompanying pictures aid in mnemonic learning. You can hear the words, and see the actions, and the choice of words and patterns these are presented in added a kinesthetic element. “Prese” I like to hear as “catch,” for example. All these actions feel like they involve some aspect of catching…either catching a blade or a hand, and then following up. Which also reminds me of Catch Wrestling, which leads to the follow up. Catch the hand and wrestle.

The first four catches are a perfect example. The general advice get is to watch the opponents hand. Observe if the knife is an overhand or “sabre” grip, or in an underhand or “icepick” grip. What you do depends on knowing this grip. If it’s an overhand grip, you will either be attacked with a straight stab, or a rising thrust….maybe a slashing cut of some kind. With an underhand grip, it’s going to be an attack from above.

Any competent knife-trained martial artist can tell you there are more options than that when attacking with a knife…but any competent swordsman can tell you that the first thing you do is shut down every option the enemy has. You either reduce their potential actions down to nothing, or the one or two things that you are prepared to deal with. If you aren’t doing this then you better be making as much space as possible between you and the bad guy. You reduce the options of the knife-wielder primarily via time and movement. Move quickly to draw a reaction attack instead of a composed attack, and move in such a way as to draw the best attack for you to deal with.

It’s difficult mentally and physically to pull off a fancy, elaborate or clever attack against an aggressive and intelligent opponent…so it’s in our interest to the aggressive and intelligent. Being a clever monkey sometimes means being more of a mountain gorilla than a tricky capuchin. We need to be a charging bull, but we need to smart about it. Stealing from Sun Tzu, we want to know both ourselves and our enemy to win our battle. We see the knife grip, so we know the enemy…in later parts we will want to know what leg he has forward, or what other methods he may be using the knife with, but for now it’s just the grip we care about…and now we need to know ourselves.

Are we predisposed to moving first with our right leg or our left? You have to know this. It’s a such a critical part of understanding your defensive options that I think the later martial art’s focus on right-leg only forward was a way of overcoming the difficulty of this realization. You’d think you know what leg you have forward, but you’d be wrong. It’s a thing you have to drill to recognize if you train in a stepping style as opposed to a line style.

Right. So we have either an intention to step with our left or our right. We are watching the opponents knife hand. It’s either over or underhand. Let’s take a look at our tetraptych again:

The first two action we are stepping with our right leg. The second two actions we step with our left leg. The first panel is our defense against an attack from above, the second from below. The third is an attack from above, the fourth from below. Simple, yeah? Know what you want to do, know what the opponent is capable of doing and drive in to limit their options, catch the knife hand…complete as seen in the image.

Well, not that easy. Nothing is. The first attack can be interpreted a few ways. I teach it as an icepick attack for simplicity’s sake, but it’s more likely a response to a slashing attack. I teach the step as a completion action after the catch, with the initial attack being done with a driving action from the lead foot. Done that way, I find that students can become competent in the material really fast. Is it necessarily the correct way to interpret Marozzo’s writings? No idea. I’m not a linguistic historian, I’m a fighter and a teacher, and my experiences shape my interpretation.

I do know that if you look at the remaining material in this section, at the bottom of this page with nice translations, and read the section by first seeing the grip, and what foot you move (or don’t move in some plays), you should find the entire section of twenty-two techniques fairly easy to go through.

And after you do that, you can apply the same method to the rest of the book, and suddenly Marozzo is a pretty easy read, full of simple, practical techniques that you can apply with only a little practice.

Mostly.

And hey, did I mention we are fundraising to open a new school in a nine days? If you like these posts, check out our campaign and maybe send us a little love…

ps.

I should also point out that we are often told as martial artists that catching a knife hand is almost impossible to do. Training in this method will teach you otherwise, as I’ve written about before. Experiment with it yourself…start with some drills, then mask up and grab some trainers and go to it. Might surprise yourself. Might not…but you never know until you try. Shouldn’t believe when people tell you can’t do something as a fighter. Try it for yourself, grow your own wisdom from training experience…

 

 

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