Myth: "Knife Tapping is Knife Fighting."

Knife Tapping is one of the most misconstrued methods of the Filipino Martial Arts. As a flow drill, Knife Tapping is NOT the Knife Fight as many might believe. Even as a singular integrated technique done realistically, the Knife Tap (i.e block/strike/parry) is only a part of what's needed for close-quarter protection and fighting. 

First let's quickly make the distinction of what Knife Tapping (or just Tapping) is. Basically, it's the point in which you must strike/block using your arm as the point of contact (or hand in some cases) to slow, stop, redirect, and/or otherwise neutralize the opponent's striking arm (either armed or unarmed) in order not to be hit in close-quarters. Simply put, it's a type of "blocking" technique.

It's important to understand that no form of Tapping should ever resemble "patty-cake". 

The unrealistic flashy Knife Tapping flow drill (aka. static flow drill) predominantly done by "YouTube stars" usually involves compliant, synchronized practitioners "blocking" or gently "redirecting" the other partner's weapon wielding arm, then returning a strike beat-for-beat and imprecisely targeted. You'll also notice that it'll occur while training knife vs knife or empty-hands vs knife (sometimes during hand-to-hand training) but they're all standing relatively in place when executed – repetitively. 

And that's the problem.

The static-yet-flashy-patty-cake flow drill lacks real energy, doesn't properly develop effective body mechanics, true offensive fighting skill or prepare you to counter a realistic attack. 

If you have trained this way, I know what you might be thinking, "It's about angle recognition." and "It's about understanding how to counter in the flow.". These are all true statements in a broad sense. However, identifying the attack and understanding how to counter while in the flow, believe it or not, doesn't require a flashy flow drill standing in place. True story. 

(And trust me, I've even been there once upon a time.)

 

1. The problem with static flow drills

Many of the static Knife Tapping flow drills are generally performed in contact range, without ever sufficiently maneuvering through the opponent or out of range and without a timing or angle advantage. This equates to each practitioner being in range to be hit by each other's strike, especially when one or both combatants close the distance on-line at the same time. Each will generally end up taking a strike just to give one. This is called a mutual destruction. When a mutual destruction occurs there was no advantage created by either combatant, obviously, and both will be critically injured or soon to be deceased.

 

2. Understanding the Attack

Learning the attack or "fight" will involve gaining the particular understanding and identification of range, timing, intent, dynamic of energy and the spontaneous switching of offensive (the initiating attack) and counteroffensive attacks with its follow-though. And guess what? You get effective and contextual life-saving "self-defense" skills in the process when trained and validated properly.

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What's rarely articulated based on the fundamental formula of fighting is the attack itself. The actual attack is the context that's trying to be solved in the first place. If you have an edged or impact weapon, the objective isn't to allow your opponent to block your strike. The objective of using weapons is to neutralize the threat and dominate the fight with your weapon – striking the opponents hand/arm (the intended target) that's holding/wielding the knife (neutralizing the opponent's strike) while maneuvering ahead of time and offline so you aren't hit in the process; then striking to the eyes destroying your opponent's ability to see and dominating the combat (as one follow-up example).

And this is important:

Whether it's a surprise attack within a scenario (i.e ambush); the identification of the possible threat at distance (based on body language, movement, and other specialized knowledge and cues); the identification of the actual initiation of the attack itself; or during the course of a hand-to-hand fight it escalates to a weapon being pulled – any way you define it – "fight" is the operative word. If you're being attacked with a knife, it's a fight for your life – no matter where it happens, when, or how. 


"The Training Method is the Combat Execution." – Tim Waid


3. Realistic Training & Fighting

Fighting (i.e. combat) involves strategy and tactics, not just a collection of techniques. Among tactics critical to success is the tactic of maneuver. This requires dynamic footwork that covers sufficient range to a position of advantage while striking at the same time. 

The tactical parallel of utilizing edged (and impact weapons) properly is the gunfight or fighting when firearms are involved. Intentionally taking a shot just to give one (mutual destruction) is pointless. You certainly wouldn't train firearm tactics that way, so why should training with knives (or impact weapons) be any different? It shouldn't. 

Is the static flow drill critical to gaining skill? Absolutely not. Beyond basic attributes of techniques, effective skill can be acquired by learning effective strike and maneuver tactics (which contain proper techniques) against an opponent that's trying to counter. If you're in the range and path of a realistic strike, you'll have to move or you'll be hit. It's as simple as that. 

While this process may first appear as drills themselves, however, the difference is the transition from (1) dynamic tactical drill, then (2) the tactical free-flow, and (3) spontaneous scenarios.

Another difference between this process and the static flow drill in question is in the initiation and the extreme closing of the distance from long range into close contact range (using flanking angles), the timing and broken rhythm used, and the dynamic delivery (and follow-through) of a multiple strikes. That doesn't happen in static flow drills.

At this stage of training, there are spontaneous offensive and counteroffensive attacks against a realistic threat.


The foundation strategy of Pekiti-Tirsia Kali (SMF) contains these three elements:

  1. Protection from all attacks.
  2. Neutralization of opponent's weapons and strikes.
  3. Domination of the combat or self-defense encounter.

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4. Train with Intent

When zooming in and focusing on the tactics and techniques needed (and the mental and physical attributes of each), to fully understand countering the knife attack/strike at contact range, you must genuinely experience a strike with intent. This means your training partner must cover ground at least a step and a half with the intent of striking through the target (your hand, head and body) – not just striking the air in front of you only to have the training partner stop the weapon from moving then stand in range while the "defender" slices and dices. And surely not standing in place casually "feeding" multiple strikes without intent.

No, sir. (Or madam!) 

Understand that there are more practical methods to achieve your objective of gaining effective and relevant skill in a short period of time. It's based on strike and maneuvering tactics and techniques while being taught the realistic intent of an attack or combat execution.


Individual skills and tactics must go from dry-fire (practice) to range fire, to paintball scenarios or simunitions with live role players to combat on the street with little or no changes. This philosophy of linear progression will enable you to have a valid system of training that will ensure that you climb the  tactical ladder safely, quickly, efficiently, helping to ensure mission success. 

– MSG, Paul Howe, US Army Retired


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5. When you can't range out

At this point, you've probably already thought, "But knife attacks can happen in places where you can't move out of range."

And you'd be correct. They sometimes do. (This is also where your awareness should've been locked on, you've repositioned for advantage and avoided or mitigated the threat if possible.)

However, if you're not training using methods to understand how to strike and maneuver dynamically with sufficient range, as well as gain the ability to perceive and adapt to the attack accounting for the follow-through, then how would it even be achievable to see a dynamic attack or follow the combat flow in the first place? And yes, it's possible to do. It requires a particular training method not shown in the static flow drill. This is why much of our training in PTK-SMF is based on dynamic striking and maneuvering (fire and maneuver). Your senses become surpercharged training in this way and at the same time learn effective tactics. This would also apply to counter-grappling in a worst-case scenario as well.

 

6. When is Knife Tapping Relevant?

Essentially, Tapping should be primarily executed when your opponent has entered into close contact range ahead of your action (i.e. you're behind in timing) and you have to protect yourself from being struck. A specialized application would be to disrupt the arm/body position of your opponent by clearing the path for you to strike and gain the advantage – but it would still be executed as a dynamic strike. 

Tactically speaking, although Knife Tapping is executed most effectively as a strike, it's not the ideal use of an offense. The ideal and tactical preference is to initiate first while striking directly to the correct target using your knife (as opposed to your arm) at the correct range and time – thus, neutralizing the opponent and giving him the nickname, "lefty".

If you have to become skilled quickly, especially in the context of the military operator or police officer, the above mentioned showy flow drill in question isn't an efficient or effective method to gain practical skill for protection, let alone combat. And if it isn't the most effective and efficient method, why would anyone for that matter engage in flashy knife tapping static flow drills for years if there's a faster, more efficient, more effective way to train to gain skill? 

 

7. Tapping is an Integrated Skill

Tapping is an integrated part of a counter-offense. It is not an offense. If you're behind your opponent's timing of attack and need to protect yourself you essentially must put up a "shield". This is, however, only used when surprised, or behind in timing because you didn't strike first or evade with sufficient range.

Just as a boxer doesn't intend to fight by letting his opponent gain a better position or move with a predicatable pattern or allow his opponent to parry the punches, it's the knowledge of how to attack while preventing the opponent to have the position of advantage or gain offensive momentum. Fundamentally speaking, a good boxer will intend to execute an offense with dynamic range and precise timing (in conjunction with footwork and strikes which may include broken rhythm) before his opponent does (i.e. initiate; attack first) then maneuver off-angle or out of range so not to be hit by a counter-strike. 

Also note that the more you train in the counter-offense context, the more you train your brain (and mindset) to be behind your opponent's attack and not ahead of your opponent's action by being aware, initiating your offense first or positioning for advantage ahead of the threat. An offensive maneuver at the right range and time without being hit in the process will control or win a fight more often than the opposite. Within the flow of your offensive attack, if trained properly, your Tapping skills will already be there on standby just in case your opponent changes the timing and closes before you can evade. 

Tapping is a needed skill, but only secondary to learning the attack (your offense). Knife Tapping is not Knife Fighting. Break from the static flow drill and go dynamic.