Filipino martial artists are noted for their ability to fight with weapons or empty hands interchangeably and their ability turn ordinary household items into lethal weapons. Weapons-training takes precedence because they give an edge in real fights, gears students to psychologically face armed opponents, and any object that can be picked up can be used as a weapon using FMA techniques. Empty hands training is then taught as the stick is merely an extension of the hand.
Another thing to note is that the Philippines is a blade culture. The Southern Philippines with the Moros were never really conquered by the Spaniards and the Americans; nor the Northern mountains of Luzon with their feared headhunter tribes so they kept their weapons and their fighting skills. For the more "civilized" provinces and the towns where citizens had been "disarmed", bolos (a cutting tool similar to the machete) and other knife variants are still commonly used for general work (farming in the provinces, chopping wood, coconuts, controlling talahib (sword grass), which could grow higher than roofs if not cut, etc.) and of course, the occasional bloody fight. Production of these weapons still survives and there are a few who still make some. In the province of Aklan, Talibongs are still being made in the remote areas. Until the 80s, balisong knives were still commonly used in the streets of Manila as general purpose pocket knives much like Swiss army knives or box cutters until new laws on allowable kinds of knives made it illegal to carry them in public without a permit or proof that it was a vital to one's livelihood (e.g. Martial arts instructor, vendor). They're still openly sold in their birthplace of Batangas, in the streets of Quiapo, souvenir shops and martial arts stores, wielded by practitioners and of course, street gangs. Thus, even when fighting systems were outlawed by the Spaniards, Filipinos still maintained their centuries-old relationships with blades and blade fighting techniques that survive from ancient times and are still much alive as they have been adapted and evolved to stay relevant and practical in colonial and modern times. What separates Filipino Martial Arts from other weapon-based martial arts like Japanese kendo & kenjutsu, European fencing and traditional Chinese Martial arts that teach the usage of classical Chinese weapons is that FMA teaches weapon use that is practical today: how to use and deal with weapons that one can actually encounter in the streets and how to turn ordinary items into improvised weapons. No one walks around with sabers, kantanas or jians anymore, but knives, machetes and clubs are still among commonly encountered weapons on the street and in the field, thus making FMA very practical and geared towards military and street fighting.
Traditional weaponry varies in design, size, weight, materials and usage but because of the similarity of techniques and that the human being can move in only so many ways, any object that can be picked up can be turned into a weapon by a Filipino martial artist as a force multiplier.
Get a Grip: A Complete Guide to Knife Grips by Mike Janich - Martial Blade Concepts Whenever you use a hand-held weapon, grip becomes a major factor in determining how effectively you can use that weapon. Over the years, much has been written about knife fighting grips and their significance to both the offensive and defensive use of the knife; however, the best information I've obtained on this subject was not found in any book. It was obtained by watching talented knife players in action and experimenting with various grips in full-force training.
Before I discuss any specific gripping methods, I'd like to explain my criteria for a good knife grip. In my opinion, a good knife grip must accomplish three things: 1) it must allow you to hang onto your knife throughout the duration of the fight 2) it must enable you to use the knife effectively as both a cutting and thrusting weapon, and 3) it must allow you to count to five on the fingers of your knife hand when the fight is over.
Criteria 1 and 2 are pretty much self-explanatory. What I mean by criterion number 3 is that a good knife grip must enable you to manage the shock of full-force impact without suffering damage to your own hand. For example, if you thrust at an attacker's abdomen, even though you are targeting soft tissue, the possibility of hitting something hard like his sternum or belt buckle still exists. And if this happens, the force of your thrust, as well as the force of his forward momentum, will converge on the grip that you have on your knife. If that grip isn't strong, the odds of you either dropping your knife or damaging your own hand are pretty high.
With these criteria in mind, let's take a look at the different types of knife grip. Note that all descriptions are based on a right-handed grip.
The Hammer Grip: This term was coined by the late Col. Rex Applegate in his classic work Kill or Get Killed. To assume this grip, simply make a fist around the handle of the knife with the blade extending from the thumb side of the hand. Curl the thumb down and squeeze the hand tight.
The hammer grip is a very strong grip that is great for weapon retention and management of impact shock. However, it is not very maneuverable and does not allow the user to cut or thrust with speed. This grip is best reserved for heavy-bladed knives suited for chopping and hacking tactics.
The Saber Grip: The saber grip is so named because it resembles the traditional grip taken on a fencing saber. With the plane of the blade held vertically, the fingers are curled around the handle and the thumb is pressed against the upper quillon of the crossguard. The wrist is also turned downward to aim the point of the knife at the opponent.
This grip provides much better maneuverability than the hammer grip, but is not nearly as secure. During strong thrusts, the thumb often impacts painfully against the guard and the hand slides forward on the handle. If no guard or finger grooves are present, the hand may slide onto the blade itself. The canted wrist position also makes wrist sprains possible during powerful thrusts.
The saber grip is best suited for large knives with crossguards that actually handle like a saber (e.g. Bowies). To protect the thumb from impact, it can be held slightly away from the guard or to the left side of it. This latter position is sometimes called the quarter-saber grip.
The Foil Grip: The foil grip came to us from fencing. It is very similar to the saber grip, except that the plane of the blade is held horizontally with the edge to the left. In this position, the thumb rides on the left side of the handle.
This grip provides excellent speed and mobility for inward and downward slashes, but is very poor for backhand cutting and thrusting. Since it is by nature a very light grip, it is also a poor choice for weapon retention.
The Filipino Grip: This is a term that I coined after years of observing skilled practitioners of the Filipino martial arts in action. I later learned that this grip is also very similar to the traditional grip of Japanese tantojutsu knife fighting.
To assume this grip, lay the handle of the knife across your palm at the base of your fingers. Curl the little, ring, and middle fingers tightly around the lower portion of the hand focus of your grip. Extend your thumb straight along the back of the blade (or top of the guard if the knife is so equipped) and gently curl your index finger in to complete the grip.
The Filipino grip offers several unique advantages over other knife grips. First, by gripping the handle of the knife with the last three fingers, you anchor it securely to the base of the palm the portion of the hand best suited to absorbing impact shock. At the same time, by not forcefully contracting the index finger, you maintain wrist flexibility for maximum mobility and speed. Also, if your hand should slide forward during a powerful thrust, the combination of the firm three-finger grip and the light grip of the index finger will keep the index finger off the blade edge.
Another advantage of this grip is that the position of the thumb allows it to be used as a natural, almost instinctive guide for the blade. Since the thumb is highly coordinated, it is possible to use its existing muscle memory to guide the blade accurately to the target. To cut, you simply concentrate on touching the target with the ball of your thumb. To thrust, think about touching the target with the tip of your thumb.
There are two common variations of the Filipino grip. The first has the thumb extended a couple of inches above and parallel to the back of the blade. This grip is used to trap and control an opponent by catching his limb or his weapon between the thumb and the back of the blade.
A second variation has both the thumb and the index finger extended and the entire focus of the grip on the last three fingers of the hand. This provides an excellent index for thrusting since the blade bisects the angle of the thumb and fingers. Just reach for the target as if grasping it and your thrust will be on target.
The Index Finger/Pistol Grip: This grip is often seen in the Indonesian martial arts because of their preference for the kris and similar pistol grip-style knives. To assume this grip, place the butt of the handle against the base of the palm and curl the thumb and last three fingers of the hand around the handle to anchor it in place. Extend the index finger along the handle and the flat of the blade so it points right down the centerline of the blade.
Like the thumb in the Filipino grip, the index finger provides an excellent index. Just think of touching the target with your fingertip and your thrust will be right on the mark. For cutting and weapon retention, however, this grip leaves something to be desired.
The Claw Grip: This grip is particularly suited to hook-blade knives and very short blades. The handle of the knife is again held against the palm with the last three fingers of the hand, but the index finger is placed right on the back of the blade. This transforms the index finger into a lethal talon that can be used almost instinctively for slashing and clawing movements. Unfortunately, this grip is poorly suited to thrusting and offers marginal weapon retention potential.
The Reverse or "Ice Pick" Grip: This grip can be assumed exactly like the hammer or Filipino grips, with the exception that the blade extends from the little-finger side of the hand. Although the hammer grip-style is stronger, the Filipino grip is more flexible and provides a better index. By "capping" the butt of the handle with the extended thumb, you can virtually eliminate the possibility of the hand sliding onto the blade during impact.
The reverse grip does not work well at long range because it requires excessive wrist movement to cut effectively. At close range, however, it allows powerful upward cuts and devastating backhand and downward thrusts. It also enables the user to employ a variety of unique hooking, trapping and redirecting tactics. Finally, the reverse grip can be used with short knives to turn seemingly innocent punches into powerful and highly deceptive cutting attacks.
Ultimately, your choice of grip will depend upon your hand size, your choice of knife, and your tactical needs. To find our which grips work best for you, get some realistic training knives and do some full-power cutting impact on resilient training targets. Then carefully do the same with live blades. Like everything else, when it comes to knife grips, there's no substitute for experience.
Last Update: --2/15/2019 -- Est. Circa 1989-2019 Punong Guro/Sifu Mike ESAELD is a private (Not-For-Profit) exclusive club.