Knife fight

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Argument over a Card Game, by Jan Steen, 17th century Jan Steen (10)Kartenspiel Streit.JPG
Argument over a Card Game, by Jan Steen, 17th century

A knife fight is a violent physical confrontation between two or more combatants in which one or more participants is armed with a knife. [1] [2] A knife fight is defined by the presence of a knife as a weapon and the violent intent of the combatants to kill or incapacitate each other; the participants may be completely untrained, self-taught, or trained in one or more formal or informal systems of knife fighting. [1] [3] Knife fights may involve the use of any type of knife, though certain knives, termed fighting knives, are purposely designed for such confrontations – the dagger being just one example.

Knife Tool with a cutting edge or blade

A knife is a tool with a cutting edge or blade attached to a handle. Mankind's first tool, knives were used at least two-and-a-half million years ago, as evidenced by the Oldowan tools. Originally made of rock, bone, flint, and obsidian, over the centuries, in step with improvements in metallurgy or manufacture, knife blades have been made from bronze, copper, iron, steel, ceramics, and titanium. Most modern knives have either fixed or folding blades; blade patterns and styles vary by maker and country of origin.

Fighting knife knife designed to inflict injury

A fighting knife is a knife with a blade designed to most effectively inflict a lethal injury in a physical confrontation between two or more individuals at very short range. The combat knife and the trench knife are examples of military fighting knives.

Dagger Fighting weapon with a sharp point

A dagger is a knife with a very sharp point and usually two sharp edges, typically designed or capable of being used as a thrusting or stabbing weapon. Daggers have been used throughout human history for close combat confrontations, and many cultures have used adorned daggers in ritual and ceremonial contexts. The distinctive shape and historic usage of the dagger have made it iconic and symbolic. A dagger in the modern sense is a weapon designed for close-proximity combat or self-defense; due to its use in historic weapon assemblages, it has associations with assassination and murders. Double-edged knives, however, play different sorts of roles in different social contexts. In some cultures, they are neither a weapon nor a tool, but a potent symbol of manhood; in others they are ritual objects used in body modifications such as circumcision.



Traditional schools

During the long history of the knife as a weapon, many systems or schools of knife fighting have developed around the world. Each is usually distinguished by region and culture of their origin. In past centuries the repeated invasion and conquest of foreign territories by invading armies frequently resulted in the dissemination and adoption of knives and knife fighting techniques. These were in turn adapted and improved upon through long practice and drills, sometimes over hundreds of years.

Scherma di stiletto siciliano

The Italian stiletto, originally a purely offensive weapon used to kill an unsuspecting or wounded adversary, was later embraced throughout Italy as a fighting knife for close combat confrontations. [4] [5] The popularity of the stiletto in the Kingdom of Sicily resulted in the development of the scherma di stiletto siciliano (Sicilian school of stiletto fighting). [5] The stiletto was purely a thrusting or stabbing weapon, and the scherma di stiletto siciliano accordingly taught fighting movements designed to avoid the tip of the opponent's blade (scanso). Techniques characteristic of the scherma di stiletto siciliano include sbasso (bending to ground), in quarto tagliata (tacking to left or right), and the balzo (leap to evade the enemy’s blade). [5] A person skilled in the use of a stiletto would thrust the knife deep into the victim, then twist the blade sharply in various directions before retracting it, causing the sharp point to inflict severe internal damage not readily apparent when examining the entrance wound. [6]

A stiletto is a knife or dagger with a long slender blade and needle-like point, primarily intended as a stabbing weapon.

Close combat violent physical confrontation between two or more opponents at short range

Close combat means a violent physical confrontation between two or more opponents at short range.

Kingdom of Sicily Former state in southern Italy, 1130–1816

The Kingdom of Sicily was a state that existed in the south of the Italian peninsula and for a time the region of Ifriqiya from its founding by Roger II in 1130 until 1816. It was a successor state of the County of Sicily, which had been founded in 1071 during the Norman conquest of the southern peninsula. The island was divided into three regions: Val di Mazara, Val Demone and Val di Noto; val being the apocopic form of the word vallo, derived from the Arabic word wilāya.


A navaja of traditional design, with a 5.5-inch (140 mm) blade. Navaja2.jpg
A navaja of traditional design, with a 5.5-inch (140 mm) blade.

In Andalusian Spain, the use of the large navaja (folding knife) as a fighting knife has been commonly used by the peoples of that region since the 17th century. [7] [8] In that part of Spain, sword and knife fighting techniques (espada y daga) were regularly taught to young men as a necessary skill, often passed down from father to son as a rite of passage to adulthood (and in some cases, to daughters as well). [7] [9] [10] In 18th- and 19th-century Spain esgrimas de navaja (fencing, or knife-fighting schools) could be found in the major cities and throughout Andalucía, particularly in Córdoba, Málaga, and Seville. [7] [8] [10] As time went on, these schools began to depart from teaching traditional sword-fighting and fencing techniques in favour of simplified attacks and defences based largely on the concept of deception, distraction, and counterstrike. [11] Among navaja aficionados, the gamblers or barateros of Málaga and Seville were cited as the most skilled practitioners of fighting with the navaja. [7] [12] [13] The firmly-established knife-fighting tradition with the navaja in Andalusian Spain would later spread to other Spanish-speaking countries, and was known as el legado Andaluz, or "the Andalusian legacy". [14]

Navaja traditional Spanish folding-blade fighting and utility knife

The navaja is a traditional Spanish folding-blade fighting and utility knife.

Córdoba, Spain Municipality in Andalusia, Spain

Córdoba, also spelled Cordova in English, is a city in Andalusia, southern Spain, and the capital of the province of Córdoba. It was a Roman settlement, taken over by the Visigoths, followed by the Umayyad Caliphate in the eighth century. It became the capital of a Muslim emirate, and then the Caliphate of Córdoba, which encompassed most of the Iberian Peninsula. During this period, it became a center of education and learning, and by the 10th century had grown to be the largest city in Europe. It was conquered by the Kingdom of Castile in 1236.

Málaga Municipality in Andalusia, Spain

Málaga is a municipality, capital of the Province of Málaga, in the Autonomous Community of Andalusia, Spain. With a population of 571,026 in 2018, it is the second-most populous city of Andalusia and the sixth-largest in Spain. The southernmost large city in Europe, it lies on the Costa del Sol of the Mediterranean, about 100 kilometres east of the Strait of Gibraltar and about 130 km (80.78 mi) north of Africa.

Esgrima Criolla

The Esgrima Criolla ("Creole fencing") method of knife fighting was popularized by the South American gaucho and his large-bladed facón. Deprived of their ability to wear a sword by various edicts, Spanish gentlemen in South America adopted the facón, [15] together with fighting techniques developed directly from el legado Andaluz, [15] including the use of an item of clothing such as a poncho or cloak to protect the weaponless arm. [15] [16] The facón was later universally adopted by the gaucho in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay and later by men of the rural working class of those countries. [17]

Gaucho residents of the South American pampas, Gran Chaco, or Patagonian grasslands

A gaucho or gaúcho is a skilled horseman, reputed to be brave and unruly. The gaucho is a national symbol in Argentina and Uruguay, but is also a strong culture in the far south region of Brazil. Gauchos became greatly admired and renowned in legends, folklore and literature and became an important part of their regional cultural tradition. Beginning late in the 19th century, after the heyday of the gauchos, they were celebrated by South American writers.


A facón is a fighting and utility knife widely used in Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay as the principal tool and weapon of the gaucho of the South American pampas. Often fitted with an elaborately decorated metal hilt and sheath, the facón has a large, heavy blade measuring from 25 cm to 51 cm in length.

Poncho cape- or blanket-like outer garment

A poncho is an outer garment designed to keep the body warm. A rain poncho is made from a watertight material designed to keep the body dry from the rain. Ponchos have been used by the Native American peoples of the Andes since pre-Hispanic time, from places now under the territory of Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Ecuador and are now considered typical South American garments.

Knives similar in style and length to the facón were carried by a wide variety of South American men who were either prohibited from carrying swords or who needed a more convenient, wearable close combat weapon. In an 1828 account of the capture of Las Damas Argentinas, a pirate schooner carrying a mixed group of Spanish-speaking pirates, the carrying of knives very similar to the facón is mentioned:

"Amongst these [weapons], were a large number of long knives – weapons which the Spaniards use very dexterously. They are about the size of a common English carving knife, but for several inches up the blade cut both sides." [18]

After the turn of the 19th century, the facón became more of a utility and ceremonial weapon, though it was still used to settle arguments "of honor". In these situations two adversaries would attack with slashing attacks to the face, stopping the fight when one of the participants could no longer see due to bleeding from shallow cuts. [19]


Arnis, also referred to as Eskrima and Kali, is an indigenous Philippine martial art involving the use of sticks, knives and other bladed weapons. Like most other knife fighting traditions, Eskrima is learned by constant practice, using sparring encounters between two or more opponents in order to hone a practitioner's physical skills and mental concentration. This martial art flourished for hundreds of years as part of a society with a blade culture, and the system's already impressive indigenous techniques were later directly influenced by Spanish and Andalusian fencing and knife fighting systems with the introduction of the angles of attack and the use of espada y daga (the word eskrima is a Filipinization of the Spanish word esgrima, meaning a fighting or fencing school). [20]

Modern techniques

British section of the International Settlement in Shanghai, during the 1920s. Shanghai tram, British section, 1920s, John Rossman's collection.jpg
British section of the International Settlement in Shanghai, during the 1920s.

Modern tactics for knife combat were developed by two British members of the Shanghai Municipal Police of the International Settlement in the 1920s. At the time, the Shanghai streets were rife with criminal activity, exacerbated by the political tensions of the time and the breakdown of social order in much of the country.

Captain William E. Fairbairn and Sergeant Eric A. Sykes developed knife fighting skills and defences, which they began teaching to both police recruits and members of the British Army, Royal Marines and U.S. Marine units then stationed in Shanghai. [21] Fairbairn reportedly engaged in hundreds of street fights in his twenty-year career in Shanghai, where he organized and headed a special anti-riot squad. [21] Much of his body – arms, legs, torso, and even the palms of his hands – was covered with scars from knife wounds from those fights. [21]

During World War II, Fairbairn and Sykes continued to refine their knife fighting techniques for military and paramilitary forces, teaching British Commandos, Special Operations Executive (SOE) personnel, selected American and foreign soldiers and covert espionage personnel, including members of the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and US/UK combined Operation Jedburgh teams. [21] Their experience in training both soldiers and civilians in quick-kill knife fighting techniques eventually led to the development of a specialized fighting dagger suited for both covert elimination of enemy sentinels and close-combat knife fighting, the Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife, a landmark weapon of its type.

Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife diagram from Kill or Get Killed, by Rex Applegate. Fmfrp 12 80 p69.png
Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife diagram from Kill or Get Killed, by Rex Applegate.

The knife was designed exclusively for surprise attack and fighting, with a slender blade that can easily penetrate a ribcage. The vase handle grants precise grip, and the blade's design is especially suited to its use as a fighting knife. Fairbairn's rationale is in his book Get Tough! (1942).

"In close-quarters fighting there is no more deadly weapon than the knife. In choosing a knife there are two important factors to bear in mind: balance and keenness. The hilt should fit easily in your hand, and the blade should not be so heavy that it tends to drag the hilt from your fingers in a loose grip. It is essential that the blade have a sharp stabbing point and good cutting edges, because an artery torn through (as against a clean cut) tends to contract and stop the bleeding. If a main artery is cleanly severed, the wounded man will quickly lose consciousness and die." [22]

The length of the blade was chosen to give several inches of blade to penetrate the body after passing through the 3 in (7.6 cm) of the thickest clothing that was anticipated to be worn in the war, namely that of Soviet greatcoats. Later production runs of the F–S fighting knife have a blade length that is about 7.5 in (19 cm).

In all cases, the handle had a distinctive foil-like grip to enable a number of handling options. Many variations on the F–S fighting knife exist in regards to size of blade and particularly of handle. The design has influenced the design of knives throughout the many decades since its introduction.

Basic knife fighting techniques

There are several ways a knife can be held for offensive or defensive use. The two most common are the forward and reverse grips.

Each grip has advantages and disadvantages. Holding the knife in one of the forward grips allows for more finesse and a longer reach, while a reverse grip allows for more power. The reverse grip is regarded as more difficult to master in knife-on-knife combat, as it may require additional skills in footwork and rapid defensive body movements to offset the increased danger of moving closer to one's opponent and the reach of his/her blade.

Forward grips

The following are variations of the forward grip:

Reverse grips

The following are variations of the reverse grip:

See also

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  16. de Rementeria y Fica, Manual of the Baratero, pp 5–6, 9, 12: The escrima de Criolla method of knife fighting employed by the gaucho, using clothing to protect the weaponless arm, is derived directly from el legado Andaluz.
  17. Foster, David W., Lockhart, Melissa F., and Lockhart, Darrell B., Culture and Customs of Argentina, Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN   0-313-30319-3 (1998), pp. 42–43
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