Mostly, this post is for Filipino and Indo-Malay Martial Artists. Anyone not interested in a deep dissertation about combat knife gripping should probably mosey on over to one of he many insightful, if less cerebral blogs in the sidebar to the right.
Chuck and Terry, this one is particularly for you.
The photos are of me holding Catfang.
Many books on the Filipino Martial Arts have addressed the issue of knife grip, and a search on any random FMA forum will be rife with what I like to call “the great grip controversy”. Ask any 20 martial arts masters about this, and you’ll get 20 different answers. Put them in the same room, and in five minutes you’ll have a bloodbath.
Although the token answer “in your hand” has some merit, it really doesn’t paint a clear picture as to why this subject is so important. In short, everything you do with a knife in combat is rooted in THE GRIP. If the grip is too tight, your movements will be tense and slow. Too loose, and you can kiss it goodbye the moment it meets resistance & goes flying off into the next state. I will give a few examples here of my use of knife grips, and I would recommend the practitioner become proficient in both forward and reverse grip, and try not to favor one over the other. This will add to your dexterity & response reflex, and realistically you probably won’t have time to decide such things as which grip you should use in a fight. When it comes down, you just draw and move.
There are three actions occurring simultaneously whenever you hold a knife in this grip: The palm provides a stable base to set the weapon on, the fingers provide the clamp to hold the weapon in place and the thumb provides stability and reinforcement for the clamp (fingers). If the equation is missing any one of these elements, the grip is weakened severely. This is particularly true of the thumb, as it is always the strongest digit on the hand, and acts as a barricade for pressure from the other fingers.
So, with that said, on to the various styles of grip.
This is your standard grip, as far as I’m concerned. The overall reach, 360 degree range of motion and versatility makes this by far the most favored grip of my knife fighting system. Many more angles are accessible for attack and counter with a wider variety of combinations available, as well as a split-second ability to change from one direction to it’s polar opposite. Saber also allows greater control of the tip of the knife for thrusting and surgical cutting, especially where the “Under-Thumb” method is employed.
This is a close range grip, and is typically reactionary due to its limited range. It’s good for exploiting the offensive actions of an opponent, but not as an initiated tactic, or a maneuver that requires reach. This is not to say that such can’t be accomplished, but you must expose more of your body and weapon arm, as well as extend your reach further to achieve it. You can employ this one blade facing either way, as long as you are knowledgeable in the usues and limitations of both. Icepick acts mainly as a defensive grip, working in concert with the empty hand as a hook, check or monitor. There are a number of things you can do with it that can’t be done with the forward grip, but there are some very specialized hand skills you need to develop before you can think about fighting in the range where this grip comes into play
Under Thumb Grip
In this grip, the weak side is made even weaker by lack of resistive pressure against the handle. The strongest digit is pushing in a different direction than the other four, leaving a gap between the fingers and palm. This grip allows for finer tip control at the expense of decreased weapon stability, dexterity and security. This grip is all but useless in stick fighting.
“The Name Says It All”
I'll probably get lambasted from the more conventional FMA groups for this. So be it. I regret nothing.
The cancer grip is one of the weakest of all grips, and I especially hate it. Born of the concept that the Earth is flat and things like gravity don’t exist, cancer grip is similar to the under-thumb grip, except the thumb and index finger are completely removed from the handle itself.
The idea behind cancer grip is to trap your opponent’s hand, fingers or weapon while simultaneously cutting him. This concept has far too little merit to it to be of any real use, as it can only work under an extremely narrow set of unrealistic circumstances at a slowed tempo. While the under-thumb method allows for greater tip control, the cancer grip is a combat hazard due to the absolute lack of reinforcement from the thumb, a critical stress point for ANY grip.
When examined, the cancer grip doesn’t really qualify as a grip at all, because it offers nothing in the sense of weapon retention. With the two strongest digits contributing nothing to holding the knife, the three weaker digits are left to hold the line with only the flat of the palm for reinforcement. There is nothing to add stability to the knife for almost one half of the grip, and if anything collides with the blade or it receives pressure from an unexpected angle, you will lose the knife altogether. Therefore you must sacrifice grip security, cutting and thrusting support, as well as augmented resistance to collisions and contact to gain the sole advantage of perhaps trapping your opponent’s blade, a risky maneuver at best. And non-threatening, since the only direction such a trap would be strong (the backbone of the knife) doesn’t have an edge on it. The pincer-like grip of the fingers is far too weak to maintain any degree of control over the “trapped” hand, nor can they keep both the hand and the knife they’re holding if the opponent fights the trap.
Perhaps the best thing that can be said for this grip is that it has a sexy look, the appearance of the blade jutting out between two fingers gives the illusion of a formidable fighter. This is where the similarity ends, for the cancer grip doesn’t work under actual combat conditions, where it is subject to disarm by misadventure more than anything else. Collisions, impact tremors, just about any forceful contact will send the knife flying at combat speeds. Sparring with a knife in this grip will lead you to this conclusion pretty quickly. The absolute certainty of the blades clashing together in a fight defeat this grip at every turn, not to mention the impossibility of stabbing anything more solid than air. Or a jello-filled balloon man.
The only time this grip is successful is if the opponent allows you to get close enough to trap his hands with a knife in the first place, and kindly holds still for you while you apply it.
Another theory I often hear touted is that you must open and close your fingers around the knife, depending on where you are in relation to your opponent and a flush cutting surface. Such finite motor control under combat stress is difficult when employing a full grip, and damn near impossible with the cancer grip. If your opponent is any good, he will likely recognize the shortcomings of your grip and plan out his attack pattern based on how he believes you will fight. If that happens, you will be eyeball-deep in a cusinart before you realize you have been snookered. And then it will be too late.
Lastly, the protruding thumb makes an excellent target, and often as not by accident. As an experiment, try holding a stick or a machete with the same grip; Can’t be done. The heft of the weapon alone shows the fallacy in this immediately, but the point is made much clear at the tip of the weapon: If it hits anything, even lightly, you will loose the stick. If you can’t deliver a powerful shot, or withstand a forceful attack, how do you expect to survive a fight? Apply that logic one step further; If the knife can’t stab or cut anything without you losing it, what good is it?