A Good Knife?

  • Beau Doboszenski, Owner/Lead Instructor

  • Originally published August 2nd, 2017

A reader named Mike asked a question that inspired this week's Training Newsletter:

"I looked into the Emerson knives after your recommendation. They look like a very well thought out, nicely made knife. There's an overwhelming number of models. How do you chose one for everyday use and also as a weapon? 

So my question is, what is your recommendation? Maybe a little explanation why." 

Emerson knives are great and yes, there are a bunch of models. But I recommend the Commander with the Wave Assist opening feature. The Commander has been used and carried by U.S. Special Operations Forces for years. It is an extremely solid knife with a terrifically hard steel blade. To give you an idea, when I was at SHOT Show two years ago, a vendor with a sharpening system saw my knife and offered to sharpen it for free to demonstrate his equipment. I took him up on the offer because the Commander I was carrying hadn't been sharpened in a long while. He got started and after a few minutes he exclaimed: “What the hell is this made out of? Damn, it’s hard steel.” He’d been sharpening knives for years and hadn’t encountered a folding knife with a blade that hard before.

The Wave Assist feature self-deploys the blade when you take it out of your pocket, which is a phenomenal asset, but it takes some practice to learn to deploy the knife correctly - not to mention taking it out of your pocket without cutting yourself. :) 

Choosing the right knife is combination of factors, such as use, size, and carry method.

What are you going to use the knife for? I don’t personally carry a “universal” knife. I have knives for fighting and knives for utility, with a little crossover. As the utility knife will be cutting all kinds of crap and being used like a screwdriver, etc. I generally go pretty cheap there. I happen to have an Emerson as a utility knife, but it’s a cheaper one that I was given as a gift. I think having serrations on your utility knife can be good, so even if the blade goes dull, the serrations will still cut. The utility knife also doesn't need to be large - a 2" or 3" blade should be plenty. A hard steel here is again useful, as that utility knife could get used for all kinds of jobs. You can use your utility knife in a fight if necessary, but they're generally more useful for cutting boxes than for self defense.

Fighting knives are a different story. It's prohibitively risky - and typically illegal - to carry knives big enough to use for “slashing," which is what most people are taught to do with a knife. In Kali, which is an overarching term for about a hundred martial styles from the Philippines, the knives intended for a slashing style of knife fighting were machetes. Our puny 4” blade folders are about 12” too short for effective “slashing.” I can't help but remember the classic scene in the movie Crocodile Dundee where Paul Hogan laughs at the mugger's knife and announces "That's not a knife. THIS is a knife!" as he pulls out his own knife that's about three times the size. If you remember that scene, THAT was a slashing knife.

To keep yourself safely legal in most states, a blade of 4” is generally okay, though you should check for knife laws when you travel, of course. However, generally speaking, a 4” knife won’t cut deep enough in a slash to be seriously effective. At DMT we live in the frozen tundra of Minnesota where half the year we have 3 or 4 layers of clothing on. 4” of blade just won’t slash through all that.

Since those of us who aren't Crocodile Dundee or can't carry machetes with us, our primary goal in knife fighting should be insertion: stabbing, not slashing. Another Kali style, Pekiti Tersia, almost exclusively advocates for this type of attack with a short knife, because that 4” blade can definitely reach a major blood vessel or organ if you punch your threat with it as hard as you can. On top of that, if I hit you so hard that it hurts you AND a knife happens to be in the way, that’s the best of both worlds. For me, at least.

What does this mean for us carrying knives? You need to find a blade that you can pull out easily, grip tightly, and use to stab areas of the body that will do the MOST damage, as fast as you can.

If you want to test this yourself, I recommend taking old coat and shirt and rig up a “cutting dummy” by dressing up a big roast. Then try to slash it or stab it with your 4” folder through the coat and clothes. You'll pretty quickly get the idea of which technique is going to cause the most damage the fastest.

When it comes to carry method, people generally carry knives in their pockets. I think that’s fine so long as you’re practicing draws. I personally carry one in every pocket except the front left, where my reload mag is. Back left, back right, and front right all have a blade. The idea here is that there shouldn’t be a position where I cannot draw a knife if I have to.

Folding knives will be easier to place on your body than fixed blades, but they have the drawback of needing to be opened after the draw. More coordination means more practice, and more tasks before use means slower application. If you can find a way to comfortably carry 3 or 4 fixed blades that's cool, but if you can even carry just one fixed blade, you now certainly have a very fast drawing knife option. But so far, I haven’t found a fixed blade to carry that wasn’t terribly uncomfortable. So, I'm still looking, and in the meantime I carry folders.

I suggest that you cross-train your DMT firearms work with weapon arts like Sayoc Kali or Pekiti Tersia, striking arts like Thai Boxing or Western Style Boxing, and ground arts like Brazilian Jujitsu, and get in some serious fitness time in as well. The more well-rounded you are, the more effective all of your other training will become. I’m hoping to be able to bring a lot more opportunities for students to grow in the areas they desire to see improvement, from handguns to martial arts/combatives to scenarios to knife to rifle. So stay tuned to the DMT website for more info.