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. 

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.  

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Let’s talk about sticks

Unlike Tuhon Gaje, who’ll pick up any stick in class and proceed to amaze everyone with it, I prefer to switch among the wide variety I keep in my stick bag.

For me, sticks are like golf clubs. I have about a dozen at one time in my bag, and they range from the garden variety 2.5 cm diameter to a forearm-abusing 3.2 cm monster that look more like a rattan table leg than a weapon. At the thinner end of the scale, my skinniest stick is a little over 2 cm. I consider that my personal limit for practical training use; any thinner and lighter and it’s more of a whip than a stick. A stick that thin will sting on contact but for true shock and awe you need more mass.

I used to have two bahi stick but they got smashed by Doug during the filming of the Fight Quest FMA episode and I never replaced them. Bahi sticks are excellent, since they’re almost as heavy and hard as kamagong but don’t crack and shatter as abruptly as the latter. I only have one kamagong stick right now, which is my heaviest weapon.

Each stick I have is just the right weight, length and diameter I like for a specific kind of training. For example, I use the biggest sticks for working my forearms but I don’t try power shots with them. The same for my kamagong stick; I use that for wrist rotations and low and medium power training but I never use it for power striking. My thinnest sticks are for some drills when I’ll be using medium power. I prefer an average sized stick, around 2.5 cm, for power striking and general practice. As for length, I’m comfortable with a 28 inch stick, but I do have a pair of 31 inch sticks for when I have to feed a training partner for some forms of doble baston training. Those extra inches give me that much needed standoff distance.

Almost all my students have sticks they use specifically for hard contact. Those are the one they don’t mind bashing to bits by the end of the class. I have my own set of “contact sticks” and they get replaced regularly, or as soon as they’re no longer fun to use. At the end of their training days, my sticks get recycled as dagger-length pieces for tire contact knife training or off-sized training tools. For example, I have a 21” stick which is the same length as my collapsible baton.

I seldom put duct tape on my sticks. I just love that crisp sound and feel of rattan to rattan contact. Taped sticks feel and sound “dead”. Sure they’ll last longer but you lose the auditory and tactile experience that’s part of FMA training. I do use tape on sticks that are coming apart on one end and use it by gripping on the taped end. My tire contact sticks are usually the ones that are nearing the end of their useful lives, and I use duct tape to make them last a little bit more.

Close node sticks are widely regarded are being more resistant to impact and, depending on the number of nodes and the quality of the rattan, they are quite tough. But “close node” doesn’t mean “indestructible”. At the end of the day, no stick will last very long with hard use. Close node sticks last longer than usual, and you can save money in the long run, but they will still come apart once you go heavy on the contact. If I have close node sticks with rough spots at the nodes, I grind them smooth with a rotary hand tool. It doesn’t make sense to needlessly mess up my hands when I can make the weapon easier to use. I always chamfer new sticks on a belt grinder so they don’t splinter along the ends

Some of the sticks I’ve seen being sold at sporting good shops are really disgusting; the varnish and the finish are hideous. I’m not looking for fancy burn marks or carvings on them; I consider sticks as disposable training tools and weapons, made to be used and tossed away when they’re bashed beyond use. One of the great benefits of training in the Philippines is cheap sticks. The goal is finding cheap, good quality sticks.

Elaborate carvings and finishes aren’t going to make the weapon any better. This is why I prefer a natural finish on sticks, rather than a questionable coating that will get sticky and grab my palm, causing blisters. Some of the best sticks I’ve seen locally are found in the shops downtown, along Quezon Boulevard in Manila. I’m sure there are other good sources in Metro Manila.

I avoid going fast and hard with anything kamagong, bahi or anything much heavier than an average rattan stick. I had a terrible case of tendonitis in my first year of PTK training when my training partners and I got it into our heads to “fast track” our training by using metal pipes and bars. It took me months to heal enough to train effectively. I learned the hard way that you need enough training time to build up tendon strength in the forearms.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not too picky about what I may have in my hand at the start of a class. If Tuhon Gaje starts the class, and I’m using a thicker stick than I prefer, I have no problem using it. But if had a choice, I’ll switch to something that I feel meets the needs for that particular class, and in the case of a session with Tuhon Gaje, it may entail a lot of full power strikes and long repetitions.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Arnis is now officially the national sport of the Philippines

President Gloria Arroyo recently signed into law Senate Bill 1424, authored by Majority Leader Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri.

Here’s are some PDFs on the bill.

According to the documents I’ve seen, the bill dictates that:

1) April will henceforth be “Arnis and Kali month”, and will require all educational institutions and public offices throughout all the provinces of the country to support the celebrations through related activities. Among these institutions is the Philippine Sports Commission and the Department of Education.

2) Arnis will be integration in the Physical Education curriculum of schools all over the country, in primary, secondary, and tertiary public and private schools.

This bill is long overdue, a much needed boost to the Filipino Martial Arts. It’s about time that we finally get official recognition for our martial culture. This will undoubtedly help make Filipinos more aware of their heritage, one that they should be as proud of as the boxing excellence of Manny Pacquiao.

I contacted Senator Zubiri to suggest that the "Arnis and Kali" month be changed to "Filipino Martial Arts" month. This is so those who use the word "escrima" won't feel left out, and it deflects another potential cause of debate. This way the cause of promoting and reviving FMA here keeps going forward instead of being bogged down by arguments and politics.

I’m certain that some systems will not want to participate in any sport form of FMA. That’s fine and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Like all martial arts that have a sport version, certain changes will surely be made in the transition from traditional fighting systems to a sport and some will rather not change the way they train.

What’s important is that there’s now a law dictating that arnis is the national sport. This should have a favorable effect on all the systems. I’m just hoping that the Modern Arnis and the different systems that will take part in meeting the sudden demand for instructors in schools will have enough qualified teachers.

This is a huge step forward for FMA and I'm hoping that it's followed by action to make the most of this opportunity.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Knife Review: Spyderco Endura 4 with the Emerson opener

I’ve recently added to my knife collection and I’ll start posting knife reviews here. First off, I’d like to make clear that I always consider knives as both tools and weapons, as they have always been since our hirsute ancestors discovered sharp flint. So my reviews will touch on both uses. I realize that my readers might want to go straight to the weapon usage info but I like to present all the information and let the reader decide on what they need. Please check your local laws on knife carrying in public and blade length limitations.
I’ll start with the Spyderco Endura 4 with the Emerson opener.
To begin with, here are some numbers. At 97 mm, the blade length of an Endura 4 with the Emerson opener is just 1 mm longer than the same knife without the opener. The blade thickness for both knives is 3mm. The overall length of the Emerson opener model is 224 mm, 2mm longer than the “simpler” Endura. A 97 mm blade is in my opinion a suitable blade length for most of what people will use this knife for, including self-defense.

The VG-10 steel of the blade is excellent, and sharpens to hair shaving sharpness easily and quickly. I did a few strokes on my Spyderco Sharpmaker’s fine rods and it brought the already impressive factory edge to my preferred hair-splitting sharpness. One thing I can say about Spydercos, the edge geometry on their knives is outstanding, even out of the box. The edge retention of the VG-10 steel is also quite good; the blade keeps its sharpness more or less even after moderately heavy use such as cutting up cardboard. Cardboard is notorious for dulling blades and my experience with VG-10 is that it only requires a touch-up to get the edge back after using the blade on this material.

For my hands – which are 9.5 cm across the palm - the handle length of 125 mm offers a full and stable grip. The FRN (fiberglass reinforced nylon) handle is tough and I’m confident it can take massive amounts of abuse. The FRN makes this knife quite light and yet you feel confident that the handle can take whatever stress the blade will put it through in regular use. The Endura 4 with the Emerson opener has skeletonized stainless steel liners that further reinforces the strength of the FRN handle. The Bi-Directional Texturing on the FRN handle ensured a good grip on the knife, even with wet hands.

The well made gimping right behind the hole and opener hook on the blade gives my thumb secure purchase for thrusts or cutting actions. The gimping, coupled with the graceful curve of the handle that follows the natural arc of the palm and the base of the thumb, gives this knife great ergonomics and feels really good in the hand. It feels just as comfortable when held in reverse grip, with the edge out.

The lockback locking mechanism engages solidly, with absolutely no blade play when the blade is locked in position. I’m not thrilled about the possibility of having a folding knife accidentally close on my fingers, God forbid when I have to use it to save my life, and the lockback on this knife really inspires confidence. The Boye dent on the lock bar lever minimizes the risk of accidentally releasing the lock when gripping the handle hard. Nevertheless, the lock has to be kept clear of lint or dirt at the pivot point, which may prevent the lock from fully engaging. There’s no excuse for not maintaining critical gear like a folding knife.

As far as I know, this knife and the smaller Delica are two of the only k
nives on the market that sell for about USD 70 with the patented Emerson opener. Spyderco also offers a model of their Rescue knife with an Emerson opener. If you don’t know what the opener does, here’s a video that demonstrates it. If that's too fast to figure out, Spyderco has a set of pics that show how this useful feature works. The opener hook on the knife is larger than what you’ll find on an Emerson knife and it really grabs securely on just about every pocket I’ve tested this on – slacks, jeans, shorts, etc. – and it opens the knife smoothly coming out of the pocket. The opener was my primary reason for buying this knife and it always performs flawlessly. The opener catches so easily that I have to make an effort to put my index finger over the spine of the blade to prevent the opener from engaging when someone asks me to take it out of my pocket.Using the Emerson opener does need to be practiced for it to become an instinctive gross motor movement. The user needs to experience opening the knife from a variety of positions. It doesn’t work well while the user is seated. Unless the seat is a stool or something narrower than the user’s hips, the knife will run into the cushion of the chair if it’s deployed with the opener. Using the opener forces the user to hold the knife with the fingers away from the path of the blade’s opening, so the grip on the knife isn’t completely secure until the user adjusts his or her grip on the knife after the blade has deployed. When used properly the opener allows for very quick deployment, probably faster than a switchblade since it opens the knife as it exits the pocket. The phosphor bronze washers make the deployment of this knife silky smooth.One other drawback of the opener is that it juts out from the blade and prevents the knife from being held completely, to be used as palm stick or fist load. Either way you hold it, the opener will either smash against the inside of your index finger or the meat of your palm if you do punch with the knife unopened in your hand. The bottom of the handle isn’t pointed enough to deliver crippling blows but it will still ruin someone’s day, if applied with the right technique and power. I advocate using empty handed skills first before going for a defensive weapon and I would have wanted this knife to work well in a less-than-lethal role. But nothing’s perfect and this one disadvantage does not in any way overshadow the knife’s excellent advantages.
I really like the light weight of this knife. It’s only 1 cm thick and when I carry it as an EDC (every day carry) I almost forget it’s in my pocket. The clip is a discrete flat black and I particularly like how the tension of the clip on the handle is just right so it doesn’t damage my pants when I have to carry it daily. Some other folding knives I own have clips that are so tight it’s almost a struggle to take the knife out of my pocket. The clip is also cleverly designed to allow a lanyard to pass through it, and the clip can be position for a tip-up or tip-down carry, for either left or right hand carry.

I highly recommend this knife as an EDC. It’s light, compact, feels secure in the hand, features the Emerson opener, a very well made and sturdy lock and has an excellent blade of VG-10 steel. That pretty much covers what most people will want in an EDC knife. You can’t go wrong with this knife.