A knife for father’s day

My nephew loves his dad.

I said I would help my nephew to make a training blade as a father’s day gift. I’d planned on a simple wooden trainer – but he had other ideas. After saying that “his dad deserved the best” – he talked over his options with me then spent the day in the shop making a rather awesome knife.

I was impressed, as it was a lot of time-consuming work. We started with an old piece of scrap, a half finished milling prototype for a knife I made a while back. He used files to finish shaping the blade. The blade was made out of aluminum, and he insisted on 5 sanding passes to get the blade face to look just right.


Once he was happy with what the blade looked like – we stamped in his dad’s name on one side, and “I love you dad on the other”. He even made sure we checked that “I love you dad” would be right way up, and readable, when his dad was using the knife.


We watched a bunch of YouTube videos on para-cord wrapping knife handles. Once we found a pattern he liked, we drilled the handle and he wrapped it up.


It was a tricky process, as he had to hold tension on the cord, while setting the pattern on the top and bottom of the blade. I offered to do the wrapping, but he wanted to do it.


In the end I was really impressed with what he made. It is a sweet training blade in itself, but my nephew was right – you can read “I love you dad” when you are using it, and thats just awesome.


PasaiDai Bunkai – escape and throw from double wrist grab

Sensei asked that the black belts write up two techniques demonstrating Bunka. Since I already keep a martial notebook – I am going to cheat for this second one and use my write – up of a Bunkai he showed me last month for Pasai-Dai. I am choosing this one since – like the other technique I wrote up – it also starts from an escape from being grabbed, only this time from the front.

In the Pasai-Dai kata there is a move representing a response to a double-handed wrist grab from the front. The arms are drawn up and out breaking the attackers grip, while at the same time you strike him in the sternum with your knee. From there things get interesting.


You close with your attacker, going chest to chest, and wrap up his arms with your own. I believe this technique works best on an attacker of similar size – plus or minus maybe 30-35% of your body weight; I have been thrown hard this way by someone 6 inches shorter and fifty pounds lighter than myself.

The throw can be turned into a reap or a hip throw depending on the specific energies going into the attack and response – but in either case the thrower needs to be aware that they have the attackers hands bound up – which can make for an incredibly high hard fall. In other words don’t be an ass – when training the technique let the person out on the way to the ground a bit early so they can break fall.


Another interesting part of this throw is that you can hold the person with their arms bound up, and your hips turned to avoid a groin strike giving them a moment to calm down while you have a quiet few words with them. Then if they don’t calm down you can throw them to the ground and pin them there as needed. So it’s a throw for calming down someone you don’t want to hurt if you don’t have to.

Not my favorite technique – but I thought it was interesting enough to record and come back to and practice. The weird arm entanglement looks like it would be ineffective or hard to get to – but when the technique was shown to me I found it was unexpected and effective at locking up my upper body and my normal responses.

Response to “come along” grab of the arm

Several weeks ago my Sensei asked all the black belts to generate a lesson plan taking a bunkai (hidden teaching) from one of the Kata and turn it into a lesson.

This is a move from Pinan San-dan kata that I constantly hear people say is not any sort of useful technique. I got the idea I am showing here from Nakiyama’s book on defense against multiple assailants – but he also shows another use of this technique to defend against a knife in his “Defense against Armed Assailants” book. The entire series is excellent.


Basically when your arm is grabbed from the side, or from behind, one response is to anchor your hand to your hip. Mechanically coupling your arm to your hip then lets you bring the power of shifting your hips to bear on the arm, generating techniques for breaking the attackers grip, off balancing the attacker, or even throwing them. If possible technique should be timed when it will maximally off balance the person grabbing you – like between their steps. This technique is especially useful for with uneven or slippery ground, or stairs. If possible step into the hip twist for extra power. You want their grip fighting the momentum of your entire body.

In the even that the attacker holds on during the twist – they may open themselves as a taget for a back fist to the face or shove outwards. Ideally the strike / shove will continue to unbalance them, while it opens distance for escape or counter attack.

Böker Gnome Training Blade

While the glue was drying on the kitchen knife trainers I am making – I decided to make a trainer for the small knife I sometimes carry. It is a Böker Gnome. It is only 4 inches long in total, with a 2.125 inch blade length, so you can carry it anywhere – but it is a tiny knife.


Working with small knives is always different, as they tend to just disappear in your hand. The Gnome has that same property of being hard to see – yet its curving blade feels like an extension of your hand. It should be interesting to train with – especially to defend against.

Starting over with a black belt

It is funny, rather than feel like I accomplished something by getting a black belt it feels more like I am just starting out. For comparison it was as much shear work and learning as obtaining a college degree. However, rather than closure or accomplishment the primary result is an increased self imposed pressure to improve my technique. Rather than “whats next?”, the feeling is more like that of the minimum acceptable quality bar being raised significantly.

I think the pressure to improve comes from having new people starting to watch and copy your technique. Seeing your own errors mirrored in someone trying to learn is horrifying. At the same time the quality bar gets raised and you start getting more fine-grained feedback from peers and seniors. The net result is this feeling of looking at your own technique and going “ick”. I don’t think it is just me feeling that way either.


The other day I was training with a friend who had just gotten his second-degree black belt, and who was nice enough to work with me to correct a bunch of mistakes in one of my kata. A little while later when I looked up from practicing what we had gone over – and I saw he was working with one of the third degree black belts on one of his kata. After noticing that I started paying attention, and it turns out all the black belts in the dojo regularly take time to come in early, or stay late, and doing extra training with each other. I mean we all do that – it’s the entire point of training – but the black belts have apparently been doing this whole extra level of training I was unaware of the entire nine years I have been at this dojo. I am embarrassed that I never really noticed before. I am still wondering what else I have missed.


The other weird thing is that I think I had been worried about quitting after getting my black belt. I had not really acknowledged that worry, but it feels a bit like exhaling after having held your breath. People don’t talk about it much, but post belt quitting happens a lot. Some people say they just lost interest, others that they had finally “mastered” enough of the art and were ready to move on to something else. Most just disappear. I have trained at a lot of different dojos, and if I had to guess I would place the drop out rate in the first year at 30+% on average. Luckily our dojo seems to retain people, but we have still lost a few over the years. So I think I feel quietly relieved that it seems like Karate is going to be one of those life long pursuits, and that I can ask “What’s next?” without first giving something up.

Thank you to all the amazing teachers I have had in my life, both on and off the mat. For anyone looking to train I can’t recommend Koei-Kan enough.

A weekend of Aikido

It was a pretty awesome weekend. While visiting some friends in Chicago we all got to attend the Seiso Aikido Organization’s Friendship Seminar. We meet and trained with a bunch of great Aikidoka in IL, and more importantly got to meet a bunch of great people that I hope to get to train with again.


That has got to be one of the best parts of the martial arts – when you show up at a dojo you are going to meet a bunch of martial arts nerds. It doesn’t matter what country you are in, or where you are from, you instantly have this huge thing in common. Looking at the picture of me from the end of the day I am not sure I would have let myself on the mat, but they were very welcoming.


Come to think of it, that’s actually how I met Phil, Belinda, and Dusty in the first place, at a martial arts training camp. Then here we are a few years later meeting up to catch up and train. It is funny how many of my friends I have made while I was trying to stab them!

No pictures in the dojo!

And this is a clear example of why you don’t let people take your picture when using the Makiwara…


…or no pictures in the dojo for that matter. The person who took this picture took several shots, so if this is the one she chose to post, then wow – how bad must the others have looked! Best part is my form is awful to.

Awesome Makeshift Makiwaras

The Makiwara is one of the tools of traditional Karate training that fell out of widespread use as Karate moved out of Japan. I would be surprised if 5% of the Karate dojos in the United States actually have a Makiwara in them, which frankly is unfortunate since the Makiwara is probably the single most instructive tool for learning how to strike properly.

Given how uncomment they are – I was pleasantly surprised to find “How to Protect Yourself with Karate” today in a used bookstore. I still need to read through it, but what caught my eye – and why I bought the book to read was their unusual use of Makiwara.

They book showed using an ironing board as a make shift Makiwara in the home. The book is old enough (1966) that I think the assumption was that women would be housewives, and need to train out of the house. Hard to believe that was only one to two generations ago.


I cannot even imagine doing technique in a set of high heals, but it was fairly common for the books targeting technique for women to show them that way. I especially liked the Nakiyama book on self-defense for women, where they demonstrate technique fighting on stairs while wearing heals.


The book also shows using a table as a makeshift Makiwara – though now that I think of it I am not sure a horizontal striking surface does not have a different name. I never use one.


While I love finding gems like this, and love the insight they give on the state of Karate looking back into the past, it is bitter sweet. A book as awesome as this one, it is awesome in part because it is unlikely to end up making the jump to being digitized. So who knows if it will be available for martial historians even 50 years from now?

Transitioning a punch to guard into an arm bar

A friend was in town a few weeks ago and showed me this technique. It’s not a Koei-Kan technique so I can post it here. Which is good, because I want an easy way to ask people about it – I can’t tell what I missed.

You deflect the punch while shrimping out of guard. The punch gets directed into the ground, while you flip your leg over the attackers head and go for the arm bar.

Full disclosure – I am posting this technique since I think I missed some of the subtle parts of it, and this makes for an easy way to ask.