Sunday, April 14, 2013

Spyderco Civilian – The Man-Opener

In the 1990s Spyderco was requested by a branch of a U.S. law enforcement agency to make a knife for their undercover agents. They needed to have a last ditch weapon just in case they found themselves in a situation that prevented them from carrying a handgun. The knife should allow an officer with no formal knife training to escape life-threatening situation.

The Civilian is the result of that design challenge. The current production model now has a G-10 handle but the business end of the weapon is unchanged; a fearsome 4.125" (105 mm) fully serrated, hollow ground S-curved VG-10 blade with a 3.75" (95 mm) cutting edge. Blade thickness is .125" (3 mm) at the base near the handle and the overall length when opened is 9.188" (233 mm).

You’re not reading this review for just the specs right? Let's go on to what this knife is meant for.

The Civilian is the only production folder that I know of that is intended for cutting human flesh and nothing else. In fact, using this for gardening, cutting rope, opening boxes or any other utilitarian task will void the warranty. The card that came with the knife – along with the cool fleece-lined storage case – is quite clear about what the knife is designed for. This is a self-defense knife only and for that purpose I think it’s very well designed however the design also limits its use as a tool. I’ll explain more about the reason for this limitation later.

The S-curved blade looks even more terrifying in person. I’m not a believer in using a knife to simply intimidate an attacker in a self-defense situation but this knife has spectacular pain and brutal dismemberment written all over it, in bright neon colors. An attacker would have to be completely drunk, stoned out of his mind or just crazy not to notice the wickedness of the blade and consider what it will do to him.

The knife blade is indeed 3mm thick at the base, near the handle. But it tapers to a very thin profile at the tip. My guess is it’s shaped that way to allow for easier insertion into the target. The knife is obviously for slashing only, a gross motor movement that will be much easier to do under extreme stress than fine motor movements. If the user contacts the target with the tip, the continued motion of the strike will drive the blade deeper into the flesh and the follow-through will push more material onto the serrations.

The result would be a very deep gaping wound, with tendons and tissue sliced to the bone. Cutting to a forearm, bicep or leg with this blade will render that limb useless. The attacker can’t hold onto his weapon if he no longer has tendons and muscles controlling his fingers. Even if the blade hit the target toward the belly of the edge, the damage from the follow-through will still be massive as the material goes through the length of the blade and the tip ripping out the last bits of resistance.

Its design as a slashing weapon makes it naturally comparable to a karambit. Although both are indeed meant for slashing and not stabbing, the karambit has the finger hole in the handle that reinforces the grip and prevents the user from dropping the weapon or being disarmed by his opponent but the Civilian gets plus points for having a blade that I believe is better designed for its intended use. The tip though of the Civilian’s blade is very thin and could break off in actual use. I imagine that this is the primary reason for the product’s usage limitations. Another clue to the knife’s design as a slashing weapon is the absence of any jimping (notches carved into the blade to increase friction between the metal and the thumb) on the blade, behind the hole.

From what I gathered from my research on this weapon, the design was meant to not be lethal, in the way a British commando dagger is. The latter is designed purely as stabbing weapon – for taking out enemy sentries - and it certainly does the job well. In contrast the Civilian is designed to make devastating wounds that will stop an attacker but not necessarily result in his death.

Having said that, I can imagine how this weapon can be used that will make it truly lethal. Slashing at some targets on the human body will result in overwhelming shock, massive blood loss and eventually death. Such lethal methods – to access these targets - would require training, which is exactly what the Civilian user is not required to have.

It’s a mistake though to think that anyone can pick up a Civilian and deploy it effective in self-defense. As a folding knife, it still requires practice to access and open under stress. This makes me wonder why Spyderco never made a training version of this knife; granted that Civilians probably don’t sell as much as their other products, Spyderco should still consider offering a specialized training version of this weapon just for practicing deployment. I’m considering adding a zip tie on this to make it “waveable” and thus more accessible.

There’s nothing that says that one can’t practice for using a Civilian. Anyone with enough knife training will know exactly how to maximize the knife’s potential as a weapon. Such training though will have to be specially adapted to its unique profile. That means replacing thrusting responses in training with slashing; not an easy transition to do once you’ve put in many hours of training with a conventional knife.

So would I recommend this for an untrained person, as a self-defense option? Yes, but only if he or she trains to get to the weapon under stress, which is easier said than done. This knife is certainly going to be very devastating once it’s opened fully by the user and heading toward a target. Until that happens, the defender needs to have some skill to create the time and space needed to properly and effectively access the weapon.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

The Balila – a tool of discipline

I was at Palawan for work recently and brought home an unusual weapon for my collection.

The Balila is a machete-like baton used by trusted inmates at the Iwahig Prison Farm in Palawan to help maintain order within the facility. Unruly or undisciplined convicts get a taste of the weapon if they fail to follow the rules and regulations of the prison. The target areas are the arms and legs, and not the head or spine. The inmates allowed to carry the balila are under strict orders to not strike at those lethal targets.

The weapon is 24 inches (61 cm) long and 2.5 inches (6.35 cm) wide at its thickest point, at the tip of the blade. The thickness of the blade at the tip of the blade is .5 inches (1.27 cm). It weighs 12.17 ounces (345 grams).

It’s made from old kamagong hardwood logs that the inmates find in the forests near the penal colony, since they are strictly forbidden from cutting down any trees.

My first impression of the weapon is that it’ll hurt like hell to be hit by it. The small point of contact (1 cm near the tip) and the weapon’s bolo-like characteristics equates to serious blunt trauma if wielded with even a modicum of skill or intent. The one drawback is the uncomfortable handle, which I’m sure doesn’t bother the men who use these, having callused hands from working in the forests and the fields of the prison. I can just wrap the handle in some paracord and the drawback is negated.

The cheesy touristy artwork on this weapon contradicts the nature and use of this implement of discipline. It’s a fearsome weapon, one that certainly deserves a place in my weapon collection.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

S&W MP tactical pen

I recently received a neat gift from a close friend of mine, a Smith and Wesson M&P (Military and Police) tactical pen. I've always wanted one of these for testing and evaluation and here's a review of the pen and the concept of tactical pens in general.

The pen is 5.7 inches long and weighs 1.4 oz. , machined out of 6061 type III aluminum, with a hard anodized coating. With the cap on, one end tapers to a point, just blunt enough to make it useful as a stylus for touch screens on smartphones and other devices. The caps snaps on and off the pen and when the pen is used the cap attaches to one end. The ink cartridge is a Schmidt Refill P900 which writes rather smoothly. I've used it for a few days as a daily carry pen and aside from being somewhat heavier than the plastic gel ink pens that I usually carry, it's just like any other writing instrument.

It looks a little "tactical" but it is just a pen

The cap snaps onto one end, and it feels just like any metal pen

Now you and I know that you didn't check out this review to read about how it well it works as a pen. So let's examine this pen's capability as a defensive tool.

I don't consider this as a pen masquerading as a weapon, regardless of how it looks. It's more of a pen with a functional stylus on one end, which can be used as a self-defense tool. It's far different from those crappy pens with hidden knives inside them. This is a multi-functional instrument, and one of its uses - as a weapon - is in plain view.

I've always believed that kubotan / palm stick type weapons are practical, in the right hands. Note the emphasis. I remember an online discussion with a fellow martial artist who runs a popular MA messageboard. He stated that palm sticks don't work, and I disagreed with him. He said, “Well, they'll work for you, but not for others”.

It doesn't take MENSA membership to figure out what the pointed tip is meant for. The “business end” of the pen can be driven into both soft and hard targets of the human body, with predictable results if done correctly. The knurling on the body of the pen is positioned in such a way that it helps my pinky get a good grip on the pen and I can rest my thumb on the flat top of the cap. This pen feels good in my hand as a weapon.

It's pointless to test the pointed end on all sorts of materials and targets. It's not designed to go through kevlar, sheet metal or brick walls. That's not what it was meant for, but I think this can be used to shatter a car window in an emergency. I'll update this review after I get a chance to test this idea. 

It's sculpted from high grade aluminum, making the point more than hard enough to do damage to human bone and flesh. Imagine someone trained well in FMA using his or her superior hand speed and power to drive this pen into someone's more tender parts, concentrating all that force onto a tiny point. It's definitely going to hurt.

What are these choice spots on the body that should be jabbed, stabbed, pressed or hammered with this pen? As with all similarly dangerous topics I might discuss on my blog, I'll let those who have training figure that out. These targets should be common sense to even the novice Filipino martial artist.

I prefer to use this weapon as primarily an impact tool, rather for just pain compliance techniques. I'm leery of any palm stick training that is all joint locking or attacking pressure points from a static position. In my opinion, slamming the pointed end of this pen onto a vulnerable spot with maximum speed will very quickly create more overwhelming and shocking pain, a lot more than using this tool to reinforce a joint lock.

I can only imagine what it will feel like to be hit by this instrument. People who question the necessity of causing enormous amounts of pain to an attacker in a self-defense situation with this pen clearly do not understand the role and effect of drugs and adrenaline in most assault cases.

Tucked into a shirt

To deploy it, grab it with your thumb and the base of your index finger

Then close the grip and the sharp end is ready for use

So are tactical pens worth it? It depend on how serious you are about being prepared for self-defense. I can pick up any pen or pencil and use it in the same way as this tactical pen. They can do the same damage but they'll also probably come apart in my hand after the first strike. I always have a pen on me, but I want to carry one that will survive first use as a weapon. I can also get a cheap stainless steel pen and use it without fear of it shattering or breaking. But why not go a step further and use a pen with knurling to improve my grip on it and a sturdy aggressive point that is designed for use as a last ditch weapon?

In my opinion a tactical pen is not a revolutionary self-defense essential but rather an interesting evolution of the palm stick, one that was bound to happen. It's a kubotan with other uses, and as such it's quite handy. I can keep this clipped on my shirt and and get to it faster than a keychain kubotan. I doubt if the police and security guards in the Philippines know what a tactical pen is and looks like. I can probably carry this on me for years before I get questioned for it.

Which brings us to the next question: how long before this becomes illegal? Hopefully not soon, unless some miscreants start using these to attack people on the street for kicks. Then it gets put on the lengthening list of objects that are deemed too dangerous for innocent people to carry for self-defense. The TSA in the US is already starting to spot these and ban them on flights, but so far the policies on these are inconsistent (as with many TSA regulations, I suspect).

I'll end this review with a caveat. A tactical pen, regardless of how many sharp points or vicious features it has on it, will not jump out of your pocket to defend you if you get attacked. You need to pick it up and use it, and use it well. Like all self-defense tools, it requires skills to deploy and use for maximum effectiveness. If you train properly enough, you can extend those skills to using everyday objects as weapons. Which is precisely why the Filipino Martial Arts are so effective as self-defense systems. A tactical pen is just a tool, the person wielding it is the actual weapon. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

The slow decline of the balisong industry

An excellent short clip on the current state of the balisong making industry in Batangas. Almost every PTK visitor (and FMA practitioner in general) who has been to the country has been to Bario Balisong and the huge number and variety of blades being sold apparently does not reflect the true condition of this knife making tradition.

The problem also lies with the image of the knife. The knife really has a fearsome reputation, one that is tied to criminals and violence. There is no escaping that image. If I got caught with a balisong on me in Manila, I stand a far greater chance of being dragged to the nearest police precinct and treated like a wanted murderer than if i carried an imported folder. The balisong is still being used by muggers here and the police do have a reason to suspect anyone carrying this knife.

But the balisong is also a part of Filipino culture, a knife that was used by Batangas men to defend themselves and their loved one. Duels were fought with them, and I'm sure not a few families have stories to tell of how their kin have used them to settle matters of honor.

For the balisong to survive, it has to fight to distance itself from the criminals that use them and have made the knife infamous. The industry needs to upgrade and make better products, using better blade steels. Non-government entities can help create apprenticeship programs to teach the balisong making skills to a new generation.

It will be a sad day for Filipino martial culture when one of the best knife designs in the world dies out in the country of its creation simply because criminals sullied its reputation and the average Filipino could not care less.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Arnis Law

Last year the Filipino Martial Arts got a much needed shot in the arm with the passing of the Arnis. Here's more about it, in case you missed it.

The law will definitely help FMA to finally get the official recognition and support that it needs from the government and non-government institutions as well as the general public. However, my optimism is a bit tempered by what I see as potential problems along the way to FMA's truly benefiting from this law.

The Arnis Law promotes the practice of Arnis as a sport, to be taught in schools. I'm fine with that even if, in my opinion, Pekiti Tirsia won't participate in this aspect of the law. I'm sure kids will really get into whacking at each other with padded sticks, decked in padding from head to toe. I may have misgivings about the lack of realism with a lot of padded stick sparring I've seen, but I see kids and teens enjoying arnis as a sport, as long as it's safe and well officiated. Hopefully the kids will look further than the padded sparring they do and delve deeper into the systems and help the preservation of our martial heritage.

One of the problema I see with Arnis as a school sports or activity will be in just getting the program off the ground. For a sport to be taught in schools, I'm sure the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) will require that the sport be standardized, with clearly defined rules and techniques to be used. Of course Modern Arnis' sparring rules can be use (or some other system with well developed and defined padded stick rules) , but then other systems will also want to have a say in how these standards are to be developed. If a particular system's preference is corto and uses the punyo as one of its primary weapons at that range, then they will want to include that into the standards. Naturally others may oppose that idea and then we're now into that neverending round of proposals and arguments. The school Arnis sports programs will have some degree of funding, from the government or otherwise, and that possibility will not escape the attention of those who will participate in the programs.

I'm still crossing my fingers and hopefully my worst fears will be unfounded and arnis teams in schools will spark new interest in FMA. This law is the opening that FMA's been waiting for, and we should take full advantage of this, without the usual bickering and politics.  

Friday, November 26, 2010

Missing the point

I’m usually very diplomatic toward other Filipino Martial Arts practitioners from other systems and don’t criticize other groups and organizations but I’ll make an exception with this post. It’s not every day when someone comes up with an idea so dangerous and illogical that I’m driven to give my two cents on the matter. A particular FMA system is promoting a radically different approach to knife training. They train the knife as a less-than-lethal weapon, used with locking and trapping techniques, avoiding cutting or stabbing the attacker if at all possible. According to them, they would like to have the option of selecting whether to use the knife or not in a lethal manner. They demonstrate applying locks and takedowns using the spine of a fixed blade knife, applying the weapon as a tool for leverage and pain compliance. 

At first glance, this strategy would seem to be intriguing and worth exploring further. But if you take time to consider exactly what is being proposed, it’ll soon be apparent to anyone who knows and understands weapon use in self-defense that this strategy is, to put it as nicely as I can, extremely dangerous, na├»ve and ill-advised. The strategy displays flawed rules of engagement (ROE) and a lack of understanding of the nature of knife use in self-defense.

I’m not a lawyer but I know that deploying a knife in a self-defense situation is already an application of deadly force. Maybe a very good lawyer can get me off of a serious assault charge if I used a knife in a fight without actually cutting or stabbing my attacker, but it’s more likely that I’ll be charged for using a knife as a deadly weapon even if never even opened it (for a folding knife) or stabbed or cut with it. If I ever deploy a knife to defend myself, it will be because I truly fear for my life or those of my loved ones and I’m forced to resort to deadly force by the circumstances I’m in. Bringing a knife into play when it’s not legally warranted and relying on the courts to see your actions as benevolent and non-lethal is highly unrealistic. A more rational ROE is to only resort to using a knife when your actions can be legally and morally justified. 

Deploying a knife in a fight should be considered as a deadly escalation of counterattacking options in response to a threat, and that escalation can only be interpreted as the use of lethal force. Training to use the knife for anything other than stabbing and slashing in self-defense will instill hesitation to use the weapon properly. Hesitating to use the weapon fully for just a fraction of a second could mean the difference between surviving the attack or not.

Those who are serious about training to use knives in self-defense consider how to deploy their weapon under stress and train to get their weapon into play in a short a time as possible, precisely because they know that time and distance are vital elements in self-defense that they need to be gained and exploited, not to be squandered going the less-than-lethal route when immediate lethal force is needed. A life-or-death struggle against an attacker or attackers who are probably armed as well isn’t the time to play games with pacifist strategies and hoping to protect your attackers from harming themselves with your knife.

The nature of knives used in self-defense is that if you have to use one, it’s probably under very dire circumstances and you need to stop the attacks immediately, not after a few seconds of locking and taking down the attacker. You don’t use a knife to stop an unarmed drunken uncle making a scene at a family reunion; you use empty-handed skills for that. If your attacker also has a knife and is obvious determined on killing you, you need to strike to stop him dead in his tracks, literally and figuratively, or else the fight becomes a drawn out battle with edged weapons, a worst case scenario for the both of you. At that point, the decision on whether to potentially kill him or not has already been made by him and the circumstances he brought about. You as the victim need to protect yourself and everything else are all secondary considerations.

A closed folding knife can certainly be used as impact weapon or pain compliance tool if circumstances demanded it. But what circumstances are these? The only situation I can think about that might allow me to use this strategy is if I’m suddenly forced to use a folding knife immediately after I get to it, having to respond to an attack and I haven’t had the opportunity to open it yet. Even then I’ll probably be using the knife to gain time and space so I can finish the deployment, opening the knife and immediately using the blade’s point and edge. Knife use in self-defense is more than just having extremely effective technique and tactics; it’s also understanding the circumstances that make it morally and legally acceptable and having a sound, reality-based strategy.

Training to use a knife as a less-than-lethal tool for join locking, taking down and pinning an attacker is pointless and unnecessary, and will only teach habits and instincts that will get you killed. If you’re going to use a knife, it better be for only one reason: to make sure your attacker stops attacking you and you survive, period.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Scary live blade demo

Here's a video of Madala Nonoy Garrucho (in the white shirt) and Mandala Rommel Tortal (camo shirt) doing a live blade demonstration at the end of the seminar conducted by Mandala Garrucho at Pekiti Tirsia Kali Manila in July of 2010. Both of them were using razor-sharp ginunting swords brought over by Mandala Garrucho from Bacolod. 

Every since I started training in Pekiti Tirsia Kali I've always wanted to see a demonstration of the system by these two legends in PTK. I know that they haven't done a demo together in years and this would be a historical event for Pekiti Tirsia Kali Manila. I promised myself that someday I'd do my best to arrange a demonstration by the both of them.

What I witnessed surpassed any of my expectations. Everyone who was there, myself included, held our breath throughout the demonstration. It was that fast and scary. The video doesn't do justice to the spectacular skills displayed by two of the most talented Pekiti Tirsia Kali instructors in the world.


Three leaders in the Filipino Martial Arts recently left us. Grandmaster Ben Largusa from Villabrille-Largusa Kali passed away on October 3rd. Christopher “Topher” Ricketts succumbed to cancer on October 5th and Ernesto Presas, the founder of Kombatan, died in his sleep on November 1st. 

Their passing has again reminded me of the need for more Filipinos to value their own martial culture. The remaining grandmasters, founder of systems and other pillars of the Filipino Martial Arts aren’t getting any younger. Many have passed away in relative obscurity, ignored by Filipinos who prefer to study and support foreign martial arts. How many teachers of little-known systems have died without passing on their knowledge to their heirs? How many more of the FMA leaders will die of old age before Filipinos snap out of their colonial mentality and begin to value the knowledge and skills that our forefathers have used to fight for freedom and their lives, the very same martial heritage that foreigners consider as some of the deadliest in the world?

It’s a free country and anyone has the right to study what martial art they want to learn. But when a Filipino who is studying a foreign system is asked if he has also studied a Filipino martial art, he’d better answer in the affirmative. Anything less than is a disgrace.