One of the most common questions I get regarding edged-weapon training is: How do I train if I don’t have a partner? Since self-defense is all about defending against another person, self-defense training is obviously more effective when done with a motivated, like-minded partner. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t develop usable, dependable skills without one.
In simple terms, training involves knowing what to do and then practicing doing it over and over until you get proficient at it. Let’s assume that you have a head start on the first part of the process—knowing what to do—and have learned the mechanics of basic knife tactics through a seminar or some other means. The challenge now is to refine and polish those mechanics by training on your own.
Solo Form Training
In the Japanese martial arts, solo forms, or kata, have been the basis of individual training for centuries. Approached properly, this training method can also be an excellent means of developing sound, combative knife skills. First, visualize your partner’s attack so you define a clear stimulus to prompt your response. Then, break down the component movements of your technique and identify them. Pay particular attention to the respective movements of your knife hand, your free (or “live”) hand, your body, and your footwork. Coordinate the timing of these parts and practice them slowly with a blunted training knife.
During your solo form, try hard to visualize every detail, including your attacker’s body position and the specific areas you’re targeting with your blade. As you get more comfortable with your movement, gradually increase your pace and intensity until you reach realistic combat speed.
To develop your balance and really test your ability to visualize your technique, you can also practice your solo form with your eyes closed. This really forces you to “feel” every detail of your movement and is an excellent method of fine-tuning your technique.
Although solo form training can be a very beneficial training method, it does not provide any type of contact or physical reference points. To achieve this, it helps to have some type of training apparatus. And one of the simplest and most useful I’ve found is the Filipino Cross. The Filipino Cross is basically a “plus” sign about 4 feet across and 4 feet high that hangs from a rope so it can spin on its vertical axis. By spinning it, its horizontal arms can be used to simulate strikes, while its vertical axis provides physical targets that represent the attacker’s head, body, and legs.
Traditional Filipino Crosses were usually made of wood lashed together in the center. An inexpensive and easy-to-make alternative is to use 1-inch PVC pipe and a 4-way PVC plumbing connector. Cut the pipe into four 24-inch lengths, sand the ends smooth, and use PVC cement to permanently bond the pipes into the 4-way connector. Drill a hole in the end of one pipe and thread a piece of rope through it so the cross can be hung from a rafter or tree limb. To keep it from swinging excessively, you can also drill a hole through the bottom end and use a second rope to anchor it to the floor or a weight.
To understand how to use the Filipino Cross, let’s first imagine a typical combative knife tactic: If an opponent attacks with a right forehand attack to your head, you cut the inside of his wrist with a knife in your right hand while you use your left hand to slap his hand into the cut—a tactic called a crossada. You then follow with a backhand cut to his right triceps and a thrust-and-cut “comma cut” to the quadriceps muscle of his thigh.
To replicate this sequence on the Filipino Cross, first spin the horizontal arms to simulate the initial attack. As the far arm approaches, execute the crossada motion on the arm, simulating the cut as you slap the arm across. Follow with a backhand cut to the vertical axis (representing the triceps), check with your live hand to stop the cross from spinning, and finish with a comma cut to the bottom of the vertical axis (representing the quadriceps).
The Filipino Cross provides very useful physical indices that can help you visualize key parts of your attacker’s body. With practice, it also allows you to develop the timing and distance appreciation necessary in a real encounter. To ensure safety during practice and prolong the life of your cross, only use training knives when working with it; never use live blades.
Just because you don’t have a partner doesn’t mean you can’t train. With proper solo training methods, good visualization skills, and the motivation to learn, you can effectively hone your skills all by yourself.