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WHEN ARMED WITH A SOG NAVY SEAL issue tactical fighting knife it may be easy to allow oneself to consider not only becoming entangled in a knife fight, but also as the half-as-likely victor of said vicious entanglement. Just take a look at that photo. Normally, I am your affable, everyday-havin’-fun kind of Joe, but that doesn’t come through here. What comes through is straight mercenary. There is no doubting the soldier-for-hire vibe that I am putting—strictly killer. I can tell you that when I had that knife in my hand, striking poses, channeling Steven Segal in the final fight scene from Under Siege, when he takes down an Axl Rose-looking terrorist played by Tommy Lee Jones, I was stabbing the air aggressively, taking broad swipes and making quick jabs, draining any and all opponents of their well earned vital fluids. We’re talking ninjas shrouded in black and tank top-sporting French legionnaires, bad dudes in red bandannas wearing wayfarers with a gold cross hanging from one ear, hep cats in berets and turtle necks, gangbangers in wife beaters and dark blue dungarees, the list goes on. And I was casually taking down each one, methodically like someone folding clothes.

After relishing in the champagne-fueled victor’s palace of my mind, I researched knife fighting and learned a few things. The first and most important lesson is that I never, ever, want to be involved in a knife fight.”

My research showed that these things don’t end well, especially for a person like me, a person who relies on movies and brief fictional accounts for the totality of my knife fighting education. Knives—fighting knives—are made to put holes in people, long holes, deep holes, wide holes, all kinds of gashes and openings out of which blood can pour. Knife fights are scary, quick, and without etiquette. There is no formal understanding between blade opponents, no agreed upon technique: this is kill or be killed, last resort, eye to eye aggression. Since man first got pissed off at another man for stoking a fire the wrong way, we humans have been liable to do harm to one another. And when the first hominid figured out the vicious power of draining the blood out of someone else, the knife place has been solidified as companion and killer. Of course, they are powerfully useful instruments, suited for so many non-lethal tasks. But that is not our current focus. Knife fighting is gnarly.

A Brief History of Knife Fighting

Gleaned from the Wikipedia entry of the same name, with additional speculative points added by the author.

  1. The Big Bang happens.
  2. Gravity and heat happen.
  3. Earth happens.
  4. Dinosaurs happen.
  5. Hominids begin to walk upright.
  6. Sharp things are discovered.
  7. The first murder happens.
  8. More murders happen.
  9. The Bronze Age happens, and more murders happen.
  10. The Italians up the knife fighting game with the stiletto, A long, thin knife with stabbing in mind. Not a high heel. Schools accompany the knife with specific styles and hidden techniques. Plus, more murders happen.
  11. The Spaniards take the Italian style to the next step using the navaja, A folding blade.  and establishing major knife fighting schools throughout the region. Think AYSO or 4H, but for knife fighting. Educated murders happen.
  12. The last major school in this Wiki article is that of the Filipinos, who start where the Spaniards left off by developing the butterfly knife, along with a complete set of techniques around the use of this blade. Nuanced murders happen.


One memorable fictional account of a knife fight occurs in the Italo Calvino novel If on a winter’s night a traveler. I encourage you to read this book, not strictly for the knife fight rendered with a deft hand by Mr. Calvino, but also for the superb storytelling and ingenuity of his writing.

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