Stabbing is really fast and represents the longest range attack available to you. Speed and accuracy is a higher priority than power. The strike is concentrated in the tip, which is a small diameter (maybe a point) and so is a high force concentrator. Epee and foil fencers make a whole art out of stabbing. As my friend and teacher Vernon B. pointed out, if you an escrima guy holding your stick out in front of you, facing down a fencer, before you even twitch you’re going to get an epee shoved right up your forearm. Hence the value of mindfulness around where your hand is (unless you’re hitting, it should generally be back in the plane of your body) and the sheer destructive joy of the fast and subtle stab.
Credit to Vernon B. for several of these drills and the general idea.
Geometry of stabs
Considering the geometry of stabs, imagine a cone whose base is any position within the plane of your body where your hand could be, and point is on any target (for simplicity, think of the base of your opponent’s throat as one possible target). Your weapon begins the stab anywhere within that cone. The cone can be wide or narrow. Generally you want your hand back within the plane of your body, to keep it protected, and the tip forward. There’s an infinite number of possible stabbing vectors within this cone, and if you then move the point of the cone to a 180 degree arc around you, thus changing the targeting points, OR vary the base-width of the cone, etc., you multiply the possibilities.
We concentrated on two basic stabs: upward, with the hand at the hip and tip aimed at the lower chest, and downward, with the hand held above the shoulder with the tip angled down toward the clavicle.
Partner drill. Work both stab angles with your partner holding the end of the weapon and stabilizing it. Start with the stab in extended position, then lean your body forward, which brings your hand back into the plane of your body, and your weight forward in front of your feet (you are at the bottom of a one-handed pushup). Then push off the stab. We had worked a bit on this a couple weeks ago, placing the point against a spot on the wall.
This is great for building strength within the large muscles in the back that power these hits, for building forearm/grip strength, and to learn how to keep the wrist in a stable and strong position.
Speed with accuracy
Using the forward half of the 10-step drill Andrew taught last week, work both stab varieties against a feeder holding a focus mitt. Our mitts have a 2″ diameter spot in the center, which makes a great target. Footwork is (from point):
- Right foot straight in
- Right foot forward / diagonally
- Right foot directly sideways
Then repeat with the left foot. With each step, work the stab, hitting the target strongly and with accuracy. Key coaching points:
- Hand first, followed by the body
- Start with the fist back in the body-plan and thrust straight in from there
- Keep the other hand high for guard (we worked with each partner holding a stick in one hand and the target in the other… holding the target high by your head, imagine it as a shield)
Speed, timing, and accuracy
Pair off and work the stabs within the stalking pattern. One partner is hitting and for each round, works one of the two variants (i.e., hand above shoulder or hand at hip). Feeder holds the target extended and flipped at the side. So, the hitter is imagining the opponent’s position as being next to the feeder. When the feeder flips the target forward, the hitter strikes, attempting to reduce reaction time and hit with speed and accuracy.
We did rounds of this, five attacks per partner and then rotate the circle. Feeder should watch the partner, give occasional coaching tips about timing, etc., and gather intel for future sparring matches.
Stabbing with knife and responding to stabs
Working the stabs with the front half of the 10-step pattern, attack your feeder with a training knife. Stab forward and follow with the body using the six forward step variations. You place the point of the knife on the partner’s body, then move in behind the stab with your footstep. Not percussive, just make the stab slowly, establish contact with the point and then press forward following with the body.
This pressure is obviously unpleasant for the feeder. Rather than stand there square and present a solid target to stab into, once the point is on your body, you moves in whatever natural way would make sense to relieve that pressure. There’s no counterattack, but you are encouraged to think about what the counterattack would be should the drill allow one.
How does this drill map to reality?
In many knife attacks the victim doesn’t ever see the knife. You just get stabbed. The ability to move in a relaxed way to absorb pressure, whether from a punch or a stab, is a good survival instinct. The feeder doesn’t need any major instruction on what to do here. The analogy is that you are walking through brush, and suddenly hang yourself on a pointed branch. The branch pokes your body and if you’re smart, you adapt your position to relieve that pressure.
- Great practice for the hitter working the stabs, using the body followup to drive the blade forward while avoiding over-reaching.
- A more practical version of this would involve the feeder/defender moving preemptively, possibly using the forearms to deflect, and/or simultaneously counterattacking
Key thing here as with any drill is to recognize it for what it is: a drill. One of my students didn’t want to hand the knife to his partner upon turn-switch, saying that he would never hand a knife to an opponent. So instead, he was placing the weapon on the floor and his partner would pick it up from there. That’s great, but keep in mind this is a drill! To extend that concept, would you deliberately drop your weapon on the street? Or allow an attacker to bend over and pick up a knife that had fallen on the ground? Only in a class situation, never in the street.
Technical Application Wrap-Up
- Two-handed sword: both partners begin in left stance. One partner attacks with a straight thrust followed by passing step. The defender stabs forward simultaneously but utilizes a sloped angle thrust to deflect the stab upward and simultaneously counter-stab
- Roof attack against a #1 strike, stepping with the left foot. Check the weapon hand to bounce the weapon away from your fingers. One possible ending position is in the high stab starting point: with a good roof block, your fist is high over your shoulder and the tip is in front of your other shoulder. Small angle change (which is typical with this left sloping footwork) brings the weapon into perfect position for the downward stab. Finish with an abanico to head or to arm.
- Partners pair up with hockey gloves and single stick. One partner feeds forehand or backhand hits, and the other partner stabs to the weapon hand. You can mix in long-range strikes to the weapon hand as well. Here, the lateral footwork is key; you move your body out from under the attack and strike into the weapon hand of your enemy.