Sleight-of-Hand in Knife Fighting

© James Sass 2001


The knife fighter must consider how his attack may be adapted for maximum results. The attack must be considered from the viewpoint of the enemy. Through a thorough training in the basic effects and the means by which they are accomplished, a general foundation in the elements of the use of sleight-of-hand in knife fighting is made available.


First we must consider what constitutes a sleight-of-hand. When you consider a problem, the channels into which your thought is directed are largely encountered by chance. All thought arise as the result of stimulus. One type of stimulus will direct your thought in one direction. Another will direct it elsewhere. This and that idea comes to us. These ideas are suggested by numerous stimuli of varying types from varying sources. So a considerable part of our thinking, and the course it takes, is due to chance. The sleight is to direct the stimuli, thus the thoughts, and thereby the actions of the adversary in order to control their mind and actions, and open them for your attack.


This is achieved by manipulating the elements of sleight-of-hand, which include Simulation, Dissimulation, Maneuver, Ruse, and Diversion. There are many other elements of magic and mind-control that apply to knife fighting, but for now we will consider these.


Simulation and Dissimulation.

Simulation is a way of saying something is made to look like what it is not, it is the act of assuming the appearance without the reality of. Dissimulation is the act of concealing the reality. It is an act of hiding something, covering up, withholding knowledge. Simulation is a positive act; it shows a false picture. Dissimulation is a negative act; it hides the true picture. One reveals. The other conceals. What the first reveals is false, what the second reveals is true. They are exact opposites.



The Ruse is a crafty expedient to divert attention from the magician's real purpose. It is cunning and skillful and designed to deceive the enemy.



Occasionally diverting the enemyís attention to something else may create an opening for attack. The magician diverts they enemy's attention by temporarily substituting a new, and stronger, interest somewhere else. Filipino knife fighters considered the "live" hand to be the most deadly hand. This is largely due to diversion. The enemy is watching your knife, not your empty hand. The empty hand can insert devastating attacks to the eyes, throat, etc. while the attention of the enemy is transfixed on the blade.



The Maneuver is an artfully planned and skillfully executed course of action, preplanned to influence appearances, apparently extemporaneous, without any suggestion of resistance to overcome.


From these foundations another evolution comes into play; the invention of tricks.


Tricks in General.

Original tricks are important in combat because psychologically and physically they should fit the personalities and physical abilities of their inventors. Really there is no need for any more new tricks - as tricks.. We have thousands now that we will never use. There are other thousands that should never be presented.


We do need more tricks fitting the specific personalities of the knife fighters themselves. This calls for new tricks. They must be new because the usual stock of tricks (even the so called classics) is general. They are fitted to no particular person. Many men, skillful enough themselves, cannot perform some of them because they are our of keeping with that particular man's style, personality, attack, and other characteristics. Technically, they may be able to execute all of them. But when attempted in combat, they fail to get maximum results because of something discordant or inconsistent in the combination of man, trick, and circumstance. To the degree that the individual fits the pattern of fighters who have been successful with the "classics" he will be successful with them.


But this forces the knife fighter to conform to the common mold.. It is only reasonable that he loose his individuality in the process. Tricks that are tailor-made to the individual obviously should be the best for him.


No trick is in itself deadly, but made so by intent. The methods we term "classics" have become so through the deadliness breathed into them by those who have actually used them to inflict death. The deadliness of any trick is likely to be reversed upon the knife fighter when poorly performed.


The true skill of the fighter is skill in influencing the mind of the enemy. This is not a thing of mechanics or dexterity. It is entirely a thing of psychological attack. It is completely a thing of controlling the enemy's thinking. Convincingly interpreting, to the enemy, what the senses bring to him, in such a way that the knife fighter's objectives are accomplished.


Using these elements intelligently and discriminatingly, influencing and guiding the mind of the enemy expertly and skillfully, contains, in this, the real secret of sleight-of-hand in knife fighting.


The intent of the knife fighter and the real secret workings of his mind cannot be known by the enemy, unless he is unskilled in the psychological essentials.


The enemy cannot know the intent of the trained knife fighter, and the secret working of his mind, because his knowledge of the fighter's intent is derived from what the fighter reveals to him. It comes from what he does, what he implies. This is completely within the knife fighter's control, to reveal or conceal as he sees fit. Even though the enemy may know all of the secrets of deception, he cannot possibly know when the knife fighter is deploying them.


This is the core principle of feints in combat.


But, knowing how to do something is not the same as being able to. There are of tricks that can be played in sparring and training that no matter how "realistically" you spar or train won't play out in reality. Conversely there are tricks that are discarded because of familiarity between training partners that will work very effectively against the hostile stranger.


My concern is what can be played in the dark alley. Its got to be quick, underhanded, and deadly.


Ambidexterity is one of the best dirty tricks you can have. Everyone plays lip-service to it, but few actually work it. How many times does the weapon-hand wind up being grabbed instead of cut? A lot. How many times have you taken someone in sparring, when they have a grip on your knife hand, by just quickly switching hands and continuing attack? I've seen this happen with trained guys who have seen it done and done it themselves many times.


Where is your left hand when the knife is in your right hand? Is it full of salt that you keep loose in your left jacket pocket, ready to throw in the eyes of your enemy? Or do you have mace, or pepper-spray to shoot in their face? Or your flashlight?Train yourself to draw and flash your flashlight into the eyes of the enemy while momentarily blinking. This is Diversion.


Black knives were originally intended to be a trick. They are so commonplace now, that their original purpose is often forgotten. They arenít black to look cool and tactical, they are tactical because they canít be seen at night. This is Dissimulation. Have your polished blade in one hand, and your black blade in your other. Odds are the decisive cut (if not the killing cut) will be scored with the black knife, before the enemy realizes its there.


If the knife fighter is skillful, there is no external distinction between deception and truth. This is because his deception is as simple and as deadly as his truth.


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