Under: karate, Self-defense
1 Dec 2015


As you might know from reading this website I tend to focus on self-defense over martial arts (MA). Martial arts are interesting to me in the various forms such as studio sparring, tournment fighting (back in the days of the legal groin kicks), sport (boxing, mma, kick boxing) and what I started karate lessons for – self-defense so many years ago.


So while sport MA are fun to watch – they have no basis in reality as they have rules. I hear some of you yelling to the screen that (insert sport here) works in the street (insert expletive here)! I want you to know that I think any top fighter in any sport will do ok on the street. I don’t disagree.


But – with rules you leave out targets that I as a self-defense practitioner can take advantage of – for instance the groin, eyes, throat, knees and such. I also know some of you have iron nuts and not man (or even a woman) can harm you… sure they are… I’ve stopped listening to fairy tails when I was a boy. So lets agree to disagree on this point and get to the point of this post.


Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) daggar training is one type of improvised martial arts training we are starting to use. Here is a video of some basic HEMA dagger sparring for your perusal and then I’ll speak how Kenpo Karate initial movement can blend effectively to make the dagger an effective improvised weapon.


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Fun video to watch a couple of guys with the medieval daggers (longer then modern daggers) geared up and going at it. You can see the difference in grips such as the common reverse grip (so one can stab down easily) and forward grip (so one can stab forward easily). I cannot tell how experienced these guys are since I don’t train in HEMA daggers but they seem to have the basic moves down.


So how does Kenpo Karate initial movement fit in with HEMA dagger training you might ask? Well if you understand initial movement as Bruce Lee taught Joe Lewis (he did a lot of seminars) then you will notice that is not being used in this dagger fight. For example the few times you see one of the fighters attempt to lunch in and stab the other – the whole body moves at the same time.


I would like to point out that Bruce Lee seems to get part of his initial movement ideas from watching his brother train in modern fencing. So I absolutely would not dismiss a modern or HEMA MA as not understanding initial moment. It is just I’ve not seen in a lot in youtube examples so far.


So can a Kenpo Karate fighter pick up a dagger and know how to knife fight? I’ve made the point NO in previous posts but using a dagger as an improvised weapon should not deter one from throwing a jab or back knuckle with a dagger effectively.


As well rounded martial artists in any style that has had instructors understand initial moment (the difference between hitting someone or not in an initial attack), if you have the motion down – you can easily adapt it with a knife, club, cane or whatever in a street fight.


So for our training at San Diego Kenpo Karate Dojo – we have started to incorporate some weapons into our sparring drills. To get deeper into it I am going to get some three weapon masks (better padding for the face) so we can start using limited contact in our practices.


As my Kenpo Karate instructor Dick Willett (R.I.P.) used to tell me, “You cannot practice flag football and expect to win pro football” and, “the proof is in the pudding!”


I hope you have enjoyed my opinion regarding incorporating HEMA Dagger training into your improvised weapon training!

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5 Responses to “HEMA Dagger Sparring for Improvised Weapon Training?”

  1. Dr. J Says:

    Interesting thoughts, John! I’m glad I have the kenpo training that can be applied to improvised weapons. We have a woman at the dojo that is on the fencing club at UF. I’m going to talk to her about initial movement in fencing when I get the chance as it is not stressed at the dojo that this Ronin works out at.

  2. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Wonderful opportunity Dr. J! I like it – going right to the source of the movement. I used to think fencing was just a game of tag but I have a new appreciation of those tag’s. :)

  3. Matt Klein Says:

    Interesting vid, that reverse grip I did not see much when I trained in Kali. I really like the Kali weapons skills, but can see some value in this. It is all good. Love Dick Willett’s quote about flag football. It is gold. RIP Master Willett

  4. Chris Berg Says:

    So I have some thoughts on this actually. I believe what you are saying may in fact indicate what a lot of others are thinking in the martial arts community though its certainly not main stream. But western knife fighting and kali are both becoming more popular. When I was a kid no one ever even heard of Historical European Martial Arts but they are starting to make their way into modern self defense. Such as in this video. https://youtu.be/gTph5BjjCP0 you’ll see my point at the later half of the video. Another thing you mentioned was how the kenpo or fencing could improve this knife fighting you also reference Bruce Lee and JKD and actually this combination style of knife fighting between JKD, Fencing, Boxing and Kali already exists its a style that was created by Ron Balaki and Lynn Thompson from Cold Steel Knives. It is one of the best knife fighting styles. Here is a demo of some of the more fencing type knife use https://youtu.be/f7k0iBl4y58 its a much shorter video..

  5. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Chris – thanks for the links to the videos.

    Just to be clear – what I am trying to do reality based martial arts training with improvised weapons. That means the weapon does not matter so much as how it is used.

    So the thing Bruce Lee got out of fencing that I like anyway – is the use of initial movement. That mean one starts the thrust of (insert short range weapon here) all the while isolating the rest of the body. This makes the thrust nearly invisible to the opponent.

    Then when the thrust is about 12″ or so out – and only then – let the rest of the body follow.

    So I’m not going to transition into knife fighting but rather just look at videos to see the basics maybe… then try to incorporate an improvised weapon into our training to see what actually works.

    Having said this – I think with medieval daggers one can actually strike the face and neck much like the old tournment days in karate used back knuckles.

    I’ll study these videos too – thank you for opining – you make some good points