Initially we had to wait for Peter due to the fact his plane had been delayed and he had yet to arrive from the airport (he had been meant to fly in the day before but bad weather had seen his flight cancelled) so we busied ourselves making training 'knives' from cardboard and rolled up magazines (which though they may sound bizarre are actually very effective). The hall at this point looked like 'Blue Peter' for survivalists as we were cutting out cardboard and wrapping heavy-duty duct tape around magazines, it was at this point Peter and his wife Lily made their entrance. If you could convert enthusiasm into voltage then Peter would make enough to light several cities. Almost as soon as he entered the room he was running round helping people construct their knives and giving advice on the best magazines to make them. In no time he had us grouped together and after a brief introduction and an admission that he hadn't slept in 36 hours (having endured that myself I can honestly say he was far more coherent than I would have been) we began.

The object of the seminar was the study of the evolution of the blade; each day was focusing on a general time period in, predominantly, western history and the knife techniques associated with it. The first day was to deal with Medieval Dagger techniques associated with Achille Marozzo's Opera Nova of 1536 and the Southern Fechtbuch of the 15th century, the second day was to concentrate on Bowie knife techniques of the early 19th century Americas and the third and final day was to bring everything up to date and investigate modern day knife fighting which is influenced by the Filipino and Indonesian styles plus the draw and point system developed by Hock-Hockheims American Knife Fighting Congress.

We began day the first day with some joint loosening exercises which were most welcome, Peter was understandably stiff after spending most of the previous day on a plane, I on the other hand was feeling particularly stiff after spending most of the previous evening in the pub. After that we moved to a barrage of conditioning exercises based on the Royal Court popularized by the American Martial Artist Matt Furey, this basically consisted of doing varying types of body weight conditioning defined by the suites in a pack of cards (a 10 of hearts would signify 10 Hindu squats say or a 6 of Diamonds would be a front bridge held for ten seconds) these were particularly evil because we were practicing on a hard wooden floor and I haven't developed enough calluses on my head yet to make a back bridge on it comfortable.

With the conditioning over we then moved into some fun warm ups based on folk games of that era. These basically simulated massed combat, without the blood and broken limbs - if you imagine twenty sweaty people milling around in a big group all trying to lock each other and stamp on feet you're pretty close.

After the fun and games we moved on to the knife work. My previous experience with knife techniques had been primarily with Malaysian Silat. These styles where developed in hot countries where clothing was loose and thin so, from my limited experience, slashing attacks tended to be emphasized. The style of Western combat we studied on the first day came predominantly from German manuscripts, a country which exists at the other end of the temperature scale. This meant that most people at the time would often have been wearing heavy clothing and or Armour, both of which made a slashing attack practically useless. Therefore powerful thrusting attacks were used with a Medieval Knife known as a Rondell, this knife was basically a metal spike with two discs on either end of the handle to protect the hand and give a particularly strong grip.

We worked on various drills designed to instill the basic skills of this kind of knife, we practiced knife against knife using both front and reverse grips as well as unarmed defense against a knife involving various wrestling moves of the time. The interesting thing for me was that even though the style was very different from other eastern arts I'd seen or studied there were also many similarities. There seems to me to be so much mystique built around the Asian arts that we can tend to forget that there were once many equally effective and sophisticated systems developed in Western Europe.

Day two saw us moving on in time frame and location to the 19th century Americas, we were to spend this day studying the American Bowie Knife as taught by Peters teacher Jim Keating.

Before we started training with this weapon we again engaged in some heated 'games' to warm up and this being a 19th century day the games we played were from that period. It is best to remember that, as Peter explained, most games from these periods and in fact many games still played in school yards today are based on and trained skills needed for combat. So though the games were very enjoyable and produced profuse sweating among their participants they were not some throw away exercise that had little or no meaning to improving marital skill.

A lot of the games of involved the use of a knotted bandanna or handkerchief swung at each other and involved a lot of speed, footwork and distance to evade (especially when there were twenty of you). Another was like extended games of tag with one person the fox who has to hop on one leg and tag someone else with there bandanna so they become the fox, or one were there is a bear who can only move from a crouch and a keeper who must keep the rest of the group away from the bear.

Once these games were over we moved on to the knife work for that day, Peter took the time to explain some of the history of the Bowie knife and the time around which it was commonly used. This was interesting and opened my eyes to some American history I was unaware of, for instance dueling was still very common in the Americas at that time (this was not the high-noon type duel as popularized by Hollywood, but the walk ten paces turn and fire as well the fencing duel common in England in the Renaissance) and there were many thriving schools that taught fencing, knife, pistol and unarmed fighting.

With the history lesson over we moved to Bowie techniques themselves. These were loosely based around fencing moves because the Bowie was such a large knife a lot of the techniques could be translated. There were however other moves that were specific to the Bowie because of its design, many Bowies possessed a cleat along the back edge, which was a strip of copper attached to the blade this was used for blocking attacks saving the sharp edge from damage. There were also many with a notch in the top of the blade used for trapping and breaking.

The thing that fascinated me the most with this weapon was the distance fought at, a lot of knife techniques I'd seen involved smaller knives and so the distance was normally quite close. The Bowie however was a large blade some measuring about 18 inches (when Bowie first started carrying a knife it was often referred to as Bowies butchers knife) so the distance was greater than I was used to, a common technique to cover this distance was a forward lunge much like that of a fencer with blade driving straight for the face. I actually asked Peter of the validity of this type of technique as it seemed to me to be slow and left the attacker too open, Peter though assured me that it was a lot quicker than it appeared.

For the last part of this day we got a chance to practice our techniques in sparring, we put on fencing masks and faced off against each other, the rules were simple one hit and your out (this was to make us aware that these would be sharp blades and one hit would be all you needed), if both fighters hit then you had to do twenty press-ups, this was to ensure that the both of you 'dying' didn't constitute a win. Any doubts I had about the lunging attack were instantly dissipated in this environment as time and again I was caught with just that technique, the practice blade banging resolutely into my facemask.

The final day of the course brought us bang up to date with modern day knife work. We began the day with our usual unusual warm ups - this time we did things like creating an obstacle course from the various furniture and kit bags in the hall in order to improve footwork and cardiovascular conditioning.

Then we moved on to the days knife work. This was far more than just the routine practicing of repetitious drills as we covered all sorts of different angles like body language and reading intent. For instance we engaged in several linked exercises that involved one person in a group concealing a knife while the rest had to work out who had it before he attacked. This was sort of like a martial artists version of Cluedo but instead of Professor Plum in the Conservatory with a candlestick it was a large sweaty man in a t-shirt with a rolled up magazine. Joking aside though, it was a very good exercise in awareness, especially when the others in the group tried to distract you and also a poignant reminder that in real life a competent attacker would not produce a blade and wave it around for you to see.
We also worked on close up fighting with a knife as Peter explained the smaller the knife the more like wrestling a fight becomes while the bigger the knife the more it resembles swordplay. This was done both standing and lying down, on the floor and against a wall. This, though it probably looked very undignified, was another good reminder that a real fight would not be a clean and orderly affair.

In the last part of the day we moved on to Hock Hockheims draw and point method of knife fighting, the best description of this type style of knife work I've heard comes from one of Peters fellow Alliance instructors Mike May writing on Peters website. He called it Street Iado and it does bear similarities to the Japanese sword method of drawing the blade and attacking in one continuous motion thereby cutting down the reaction time. We also worked on some other drills from the system that I recognized as similar to some of the Silat stuff I had seen before, but it was put together in such a way that you could see it would be easy to learn and become reasonably proficient in in a short space of time.

At the end of the three days I was battered, bruised and exhausted, but I can honestly say it was probably one the most enjoyable seminars I have ever attended. Peter's enthusiasm is infectious and his obvious love of his subject shined through. He managed to cram in an extraordinary amount of information over the three days without ever making it seem we were rushing. He also managed to create that difficult balance between making the seminar fun for all participants and reminding us at every opportunity of the responsibility and lethality of the skills he was imparting. At no time did I ever think we were just 'playing with knives' - in fact if anything you realize just how vulnerable you are to an armed attacker.

We were also blessed I think with a good group of willing students, everyone from the Chinese stylists through the representative from the ROSS system (Russian Native Martial Art) to the Western Historical Martial Artists of many varying time periods (three of whom had come all the way from Belgium). All mucked in and gave there all, there was no getting on high horses and no members of the 'physco squad' present (there always seems to be at least one at most seminars I attend). In all I can thoroughly recommend the experience to anyone and will definitely be attending any of Peter's seminars the next time he touches down on these shores.

Adam Lammiman

 

 

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