I have wanted to take a knife class for years. Just like I wanted to get quality gun training when I chose to start carrying a firearm for self-defense, it was a natural progression of my training to want quality knife training when I chose to carry a knife.
Through a series of force-on-force (FOF) scenarios and some research and careful thought I had chosen the Tactical Defense Institute (TDI) Law Enforcement knife made by Ka-Bar as the edged companion to my firearm for every-day carry. When I brought it home and showed my husband my newest acquisition he informed me that TDI was actually a training facility in Ohio that did defensive knife classes. I immediately became interested. After all, it made sense to take a class from the people who designed the knife I chose to carry.
It took another two plus years before I would be in a position, financially and logistically, to take a knife class and after hearing many wonderful things about TDI I finally signed up for their two day Defensive Knife class that took place on December fourth and fifth of this year.
The confirmation email I received said to bring any and all knives I wanted to train with but that if I had no knife it was not an issue as TDI would have several knives available for trial and plenty of trainers to work with. Even though I didn’t need to take my TDI trainer I stuck it, my Cold Steel Ti-Lite and my Ka-Bar TDI Law Enforcement knife in my suitcase and drove to southern Ohio for my class.
A look at the TDI website gives you a run down of the facility with multiple ranges, classrooms, force-on-force houses and everything else a defensive student could ask for.
In anticipation of getting lost (as I usually do) I left my hotel an hour and a half early to make what was reported to me to be only a half-hour long trip. The directions were not hard to follow and even though I arrived to class an hour early there was already instructors there with heaters cranked setting out equipment for the class.
The classroom was clean and neat with comfortable chairs, clean tables, a small kitchenette, two bathrooms, a case to display TDI products for sale, a large television and (blessedly) two heaters to combat the Ohio cold that had swept in for the weekend.
They weren’t kidding when they said they had plenty of knives and trainers. The table at the front of the class was covered with trainer knives and live knives that could be borrowed by students.
As the rest of the students arrived we mingled and got to know each other and it wasn’t a surprised to find that I would be the only woman in the class. I was delighted to find out that John Benner, the designer of the TDI knife, would be an assistant instructor for the class as I was eager to meet him after our wonderful chat on the phone when I had called to sign up for the class. When our head instructor, Greg Ellifritz, arrived with plenty of time to spare we all settled in, some finished paying for their class and it was time to start.
There was a ratio of three instructors for twelve students (I believe), which made for a very safe environment. With any kind of class featuring weapons safety is a main concern and when you have twelve people with knives working them and trying things they’ve never tried before it’s nice to know there’s more than one set of eyes making sure everyone is being responsible and safe. Two instructors walked around the perimeter of the class checking for safety and giving tips when needed as Greg taught. Even when we sparred or did our force-on-force there was someone there to check our pockets and waistbands to ensure we didn’t forget to remove any live weapons (which I had forgotten to do after lunch on the second day and the instructor caught it (thank goodness)). That, along with the continued safety reminders, made me feel very comfortable that no one was going to end up with a knife buried in their belly or their fingers chopped off.
I think the worst wound of the weekend was a student who cut the top of his finger on the hilt of his training knife during the final force-on-force exercise. A quick rinse and a bandaid and all was well again.
Before I went I really wondered what was going to be taught in this class. After all, how much instruction does it take to figure out how to use a knife? All of us have been using knives to cut our food since we were small children and most can figure out which side to point toward the enemy. I didn’t doubt there was going to be fighting techniques taught that I didn’t know but the rest was a complete and eager mystery. I was not disappointed.
Right away, on day one, we opened with a brief introduction of the class and instructors and dove right in to the types of knives available for self-defense and how to choose the right knife for you. There was even a short lecture on how to ensure the locking mechanism on folders would stay secure so as not to collapse on your figures mid-fight. Greg had a bag of knives he brought with him that were passed around for all to see what was available and how it worked.
John talked about the TDI knife and how and why it was designed and it was great to hear it from the designers own mouth. I also learned that my other favorite little knife, the TDI Last Ditch Knife (LDK), was designed by the instructor, Greg Ellifritz. Right about then I was feeling really glad I chose this class.
Then we all moved to the training area and went right into learning different opening methods for folders. We talked about the different grips available for knives and the stance to go along with fighting with a knife. We practiced deploying our knives from various positions such as kneeling, on our backs, sides and what not. Then we had to “earn” our lunch.
Greg wanted to prove that deploying a knife while exhausted was different than from standing and rested so he had us all get down and do twenty pushups and from the top of the pushup position we were to deploy a knife. When we thought we were done he had us do twenty more and try again. It was then we were beginning to see a number of fumbled and failed openings.
After lunch we talked about the rules for close quarter drawing of weapons in general which was either creating distance in order to draw or gaining control of the attacker long enough to draw so that your defensive tool of choice could not be taken from you or the draw interfered with. We did a number of exercises to create either distance or control through sparring with partners.
We learned a twelve-step slash and stab drill and practiced that extensively. We did live deploying and cutting drills to demonstrate the difference in speed between fixed blades and folders. We worked with our knives in our off hands and did the knife equivalent of the Tueller drill by having to draw our knives and deploy them against an advancing attacker. We talked about anatomy and targeting areas on the body that would either cause enough physical damage to end a conflict or cause rapid blood loss which meant that, naturally, we would have to practice them on our sparring partners. Then we talked about wound enhancement by maximizing trauma with the knife. We also talked about the legalities of using a knife for self-defense.
After working knife defense against common grabs and attacks we were given a demonstration on just how quickly one can be rendered unconscious from a choke hold by a volunteer being choked out (a sobering exercise to be sure).
It was a long first day but very educational and hands on.
Day two started with knife care and sharpening. We were fortunate enough to have a custom knife maker in our class who gave his professional opinion on knife sharpening techniques and products. It wasn’t long before we were back out on the training floor learning drills for an unarmed person defending against a knife attack and fighting a knife attack with a knife and some more techniques to thwart off multiple attackers.
Just before lunch we went outside where they had hung up a deer carcass and we all took our turn slashing, stabbing, hacking, coring and cutting this poor deer carcass until it looked like something out of a bad horror movie. I was amazed to personally feel how easy it was to stab right through ribs as I felt them crunch and crack under the force of a TDI wielded by my little hand.
On the other side of the deer we dressed it in clothes and got to try for ourselves how clothing can change the results of slashes and cuts. We even got to try stabbing with other tools like tactical pens and one student went to town with a tactical flashlight that buried itself into the neck of the deer making a very wicked little wound.
While we ate lunch we watched a video on how easily skin cuts and the demonstration of cutting a pig carcass dressed in various clothes (wonderful meal-time entertainment!).
After lunch we pulled out the mats and did fighting from the ground when an attacker already has you on the ground and mounted you. We talked about secretly getting your knife out and then it was time for the force-on-force.
Greg got dressed up in a training suit and laid down the rules. He would attack us in any way he saw fit and the fight would not be over until he felt he was dealt a fight-stopping blow or until we fought our way to the other side of the classroom (through him, of course). Those of us not fighting would play “jury” and decide whether or not the actions of the person fighting were justifiable. This I found to be most unique and interesting as each person fighting was forced to think more about their actions in regards to the law and how they would defend them.
When it was my turn I was very nervous (what 100 lbs woman going up against a 220-plus lbs instructor wouldn’t be?) but I didn’t back down. He confronted me and attacked. I fought open hand until I had the chance to draw my knife. A good cut to his inner leg and I escaped to “safety.”
It was a relief to hear my classmates say I was entirely justified in my actions.
Greg Ellifritz and John Benner were both excellent instructors that I would be happy to work with again and again. Greg, a police instructor with thousands of hours of training in everything from knives, firearms, hand-to-hand combat and even field medicine, was knowledgeable and confident in his teaching without being cocky or overly opinionated. He was humble enough to give credit where credit was due and not pushy with his techniques. He had a likeable sense of humor but didn’t let us get too far off topic before he reeled us in again. He promised he would never try to take away anything that someone had adopted to work for them and he was true to his word even praising those who had adapted different ways to accomplish a goal. We all teased him that at times he got a manically gleeful smile while sparring that indicated he had far too much fun with his job.
As a woman it’s sometimes intimidating to go to a male-dominated class as sexism can be very alive and well but I felt very respected, not feared or undermined. Greg and John both listened and responded to me as an equal student to my male counterparts. While some of the other students were gentler in their sparring with me Greg gave me the training I was seeking by apply a more forceful approach that I would have to repel. John was not far off giving tips and helping to drive home certain points. I was greatly impressed with their professionalism, knowledge, clarity, organization and teaching ability.
I learned more than I could have previously imagined and in the best way possible—by doing the work instead of just listening to a lecture or watching a video. Aside from the techniques of slashes and stabs some of the most important lessons I took away from the class have been the cardinal rules for drawing a weapon (distance or control), the speed of drawing and readiness of the fixed-blade vs the folder and how even the simplest of clothing items can frustrate the outcome of a slash but have little effect on the outcome of a stab. I was not the only one ditching my folder knife in favor of a fixed blade and many people purchased the TDI Law Enforcement knife before the end of the first day to replace their primary carry knife. Knife placement was always driven home as often you cannot draw your knife with your dominant hand and keeping your knife in a location where both hands have access to it is very important.
I like to vary my training by spreading it out amongst different trainers and schools but I am fairly certain I will be going back to TDI for another class or two or ten. I would recommend to others that they do the same.