All posts by Cecil Burch

Defensive Use of a Knife


There has been a lot of discussion lately in the self-defense training community about the actual use of knives in a defensive context. The current trend with a number of people is to essentially  conclude “we are not seeing it happen very much on video” with the follow on strong implication that it is fairly useless to a) carry a knife for self-defense, and b) it is a waste of time to train it. This is a case of misplaced critical thinking.  Let’s take a deeper look at the missed points.

Before we go too far though, let’s look at some actual documented incidents of defensive knife use to show that, yes, Virginia, people use knives to protect themselves.


A female jogger:

And another jogger story:


A police officer’s story:


And another private citizen uses a knife:


And on, and on, and on. These were all found with a simple google search. So for all the folks crying that we never see it happen, I really have to wonder if they are truly ignorant, or willfully so?

So let’s get to the meat of the matter.

First of all, there is the underlying statement that if we don’t see it on video, then it is not happening. While there are many video clips of incidents of criminal and defensive fight activity (whether empty handed or with weapons) is captured on video, many more are not. How do we know? Take a look at the numbers we know. In a study by the Violence Policy center in 2013, using FBI statistics over a five year period, the estimate is that there are over 67,000 (which is probably on the low ball end of things since the VPC is strongly anti-gun) defensive uses of a gun in a given year. Compare that to how many videos we see. And that is just the US. Add in other countries, and the number will go up considerably. So if we are going by what we “see”, we are missing a ton of actual and factual information. Now, let’s take this further. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that in a given year, firearms are used in 40% of violent crimes, meaning that 60% of the time, a gun is NOT present. So we are literally seeing the tiniest tip of the iceberg when it comes to what we see or what is commonly reported when we overly focus on firearms being involved. While we can learn an awful lot of things from real world videos of violence, we need to be very careful in coming away with hard conclusions in all aspects of self-defense.

Second, there are valid reasons why the use of knives in self-defense may be vastly underreported. There is not a good organized large body of proponents of knife self-defense that has the money behind them that the gun industry has, so there are few places that have taken the time to do what people like Professor John Lott, or the National Sports Shooting Foundation or the NRA has done to promote the idea of good guys using guns legally to protect themselves. The money is not there in the knife world like it is in the gun community, and what there is basically goes to promoting either hunting knives  or high end custom blades. There is no NRA equivalent for knives, so no one has funded real research. It is a hit or miss affair. And what we tend to forget is that up until the 1980’s, there was no real good documented study or compilation of defensive gun use. This whole aspect is a recent trend, so it is not that much of a surprise to anyone who pays attention that knife use may not be as deeply understood as we would like.

Another point to consider in why defensive knife use  is under reported is that many people who arm themselves with knives for defense do so because they cannot afford a gun, and lower socio-economic level people have a tendency to operate outside paperwork. As a glaring example, take a look at statistics on how underreported the population in that community is by the census. People who exist in those communities tend to view all “authorities” with suspicion, and prefer to not interact with officials anymore than they absolutely have to.  And any experienced police officer will tell you that a lot of crime and violence in poorer areas are handled amongst themselves and never get reported. So it is not a stretch at all to conclude that the same people who hide from census takers are also not going out of their way to let the po-po know that they had to stab someone who was trying to rape them.

Another obvious area where knife use will go overlooked is in a Non-Permissive Environment (NPE). If you are carrying a knife because it is easier to hide than a firearm in such an environment, you may not want to report it if you end up using it. It may be a case of using it enough for the attacker to break off his attack and the knife user makes an escape. Calling authorities at that point may not be the smartest thing, especially if you are in a locale particularly hostile to self-defense such as NYC, LA, San Francisco, or Washington DC, or even more worrisome, in a foreign country. A case in point is a place like Singapore. While it is a “democratic” country, it is a stunning example of the mommy state that is in charge of every moment of its citizen’s lives. If you throw chewing gum on the sidewalk you go to jail. I felt like it was an Epcot Center designed by Hitler when I spent a week there a few years ago. Can you imagine using a small folding knife to defend yourself as a tourist? At a minimum, you are spending a few days in a jail that is not known for being a welcoming place. I have been to Rio as well and have no interest in testing my survival skills in a Brazilian prison. So it is not hard to imagine that saying knife use in a self-defense context is under reported in places like that is a major understatement.

Now, all those above points are, in my opinion, good and reasonable justifications to suggest that there are far more instances of knife use than we currently are aware of. However, I think there are two more incredibly huge reasons we don’t see more defensive knife use, especially in the US. These two overwhelming issues are 1) that people don’t train to access and deploy a knife under stress and 2) they carry a sub-optimal blade in a bad location.

Now before we get deeper into this, let me give you a bit of background for my reasoning and to show you that I am not making this stuff up out of thin air. I have been training fighting systems that heavily emphasize the knife since 1984. Not just dabbling, but deeply diving into them, to include instructor certifications in multiple Filipino, Indonesian, and modern eclectic methods. I have also been carrying a knife on a daily basis since ’84 when I bought my first Spyderco (a Police model), and have had one on me pretty much everyday since then. I have trained under some of the most famous knife instructors of the last 30 years, and I have devoted quite literally tens of thousands of hours to working and developing knife skills. What is perhaps even more pertinent is that I have been teaching these skills to thousands of people since 1987. So the following is based on a bit of breadth and depth in the subject matter.

Let’s address the first point from above about people not training the knife in an appropriate manner. What I have seen over the past 30 years is tons of people and lots of methodologies working knife fighting, but absolutely ZERO working accessing and deploying the blade under real world conditions. Everyone loves to work the fun bit- using the knife when it is out and ready to go and you are mentally and physically prepared to fight. No one, outside of a very tiny group, works getting a knife into play when they have to deal with the adrenal dump of a sudden and startling threat, and then has to integrate the knife draw with maintaining distance and trying to deploy it effectively. It does not seem like it would be too hard until you actually try to do it, and then everything falls apart, as anyone who has done the work will tell you. Those of us who spend a lot of time here see it over and over again. Run someone through a very basic deployment drill against an attacker standing less than 7 or 8 yards away who can try to grab you as soon as you move, and what will inevitably happen is the knife is jammed up. Even those with a some athleticism, and a bit of training, as well as having the advantage of knowing what is coming in the drill, and you see failure far more often than you see success. So it is no surprise at all that the person on the street who has given zero thought to these issues, and just as likely has not taken any time to develop or practice good situational awareness skills will not get a knife out and into play, even if it is knife they carry all day long.

To exacerbate this problem, we come to problem number two – the EDC knife is invariably carried in a suboptimal position, and is a suboptimal blade at that. It is an exceedingly rare person who carries a fixed blade knife. The “tactical” folder is far more common. So to get the blade into play, you do not just have to get it out, you then have to get it into the locked position so it does not collapse on you. This is the blade equivalent of carrying a pistol with an empty chamber! And even worse, the folder is almost always, with very little exception, is carried in the pocket. How many people think it is a good idea to carry a pistol in the pocket as your primary and preferred mode of carry? I would venture to say almost no one would believe that, but yet we are supposed to conclude that somehow carrying a folder there is much easier for access and deployment? It just does not make sense. How many of you would voluntarily carry a small pistol like a Smith and Wesson Shield with an empty chamber and in your pocket, and expect to be as good at using it as a Glock 19 in a belt holster with a Gold Dot in the chamber? So don’t be surprised if the incidents of defensive knife use are perceptually low. Until more people train it correctly, and carry a better blade in a better location, it will most likely remain so.

I hope this helps people put things in better perspective. We certainly have much to learn from video footage, and actual documented combat reports. But we need to make sure we take a sound approach to looking at them, and put everything into the proper context.

Train VS Practice



In the Self-defense focused training community – both on the firearm centric and martial art centric sides – there is an ungodly amount of foolish arguments. 9mm vs 45acp, AIWB vs strong side, point shooting vs sighted, combat sports vs street arts, modern systems vs traditional fighting methods, etc and etc. to the point of head spinning nausea. If we harnessed 1/10th of the time and energy spent on such discussions, we would exponentially add to our time actually, you know, training.

One of the worst and most insipid debates is a fairly recent one. In this one, proponents will argue for the merits of “training” or “practice” and assert in the strongest fashion that one of those is better than the other. But is there really any merit to this?

To really grasp if this is valid, let’s look at the standard dictionary definitions of these two terms. First, training:


 the skill, knowledge, or experience acquired by one that trains


And now, practice:


repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.”


Um, that is the exact same thing. So arguing which type of activity to engage in because one is superior is akin to arguing that swimming is better than moving through the water on the surface by using your hands and feet for propulsion. Kind of a waste of time. Basically, both terms mean the same thing, and any attempt to differentiate between them is just an exercise in foolish semantic games.

Maybe we can get back to what really counts?

Recommended Book

if you have any interest in any way in becoming a better shooter, buy this book now:




It is an excellent book that covers practically everything you need to know to build your own dry fire shooting program. She covers it all, and covers it well. Every mistake I made over the years, she eliminates the possibility of it for the reader. And for $4? It is a steal.

Daily Morning Practice

Time. And our lack of it.

This is an issue I keep coming back to it on this blog, because for probably 98% of us, we just don’t have the time we want to train to the level we would like, and to train all the things we think we should. Because of that, I am only trying to find solutions. Not just for myself, but in order to maybe provide help to those of you out there who are in the same situation I am in. I have written a number of articles, and done a number of videos addressing this, but here is another one that I hope fuels some people quest.

Since we all face time management issues, we need to be realistic in how much time we spend training. One way to deal with this is the idea of short, but constant sessions. We can try to carve out 1-5 minutes as consistently as possible and train what we can. Ideally, it would be the same slot every day. Let’s look at the idea of doing something for three minutes every morning. If we set it up properly, we only have a literally get up a few minutes early than normal, but we can start to add mileage to our training flight log.

As an example here, let’s plan on doing one minute of hip escapes, one minute of hip lifts, and one minute of technical stand ups. Set a timer for one minute, with say a 15 second break, and begin with hip lifts. You can use this easy motion as your warm up. One of the added benefits is that they need no equipment. Just get on the ground with enough room to move a bit and go for it! Setting the timer is the most prep work needed. Start with a few slow reps, then gradually push the limit and stretch as far as you can. Not only are you working an incredibly useful physical skill, you are pumping blood and mobility into your lower back, hamstrings, and hip flexors – all very good to get you through a normal and routine day. You should be able to do 10-20 good repetitions in the allocated minute.

Here is a quick tutorial on the proper mechanics of a hip lift (otherwise known as an Upa in BJJ):


When the time signals the end of the round, take a deep easy breath, and start doing hip escapes. Again, you are waking up important parts of the body while working good technique. Make sure you are going to each side equally. In the minute round, you should get 10-30 reps, depending on your speed and how smooth you do the action.

Hip escape tutorial:




For the next round, do technical stand ups at the same pace and once again do a nice bit of therapeutic action on your body.

Technical Stand Up :



At the end of the 3 rounds, go shower, and get dressed for the day. Easy peasy! Don’t even have three minutes? Cool! Do one minute only, and cycle each week or month through these three skills.

Or, if you would rather work another skill set, you could easily fill in the slot with shadow boxing. Or dry fire. Or place a kettlebell close by and do a minute each of Goblet squats and two arm swings.




The possibilities are truly almost endless. Find what you need to work on, and get up a couple of minutes early and start getting in solid reps that don’t seem like much, and take up little time from your day, but add up quickly over time and help performance immeasurably.

Finding A BJJ School




Almost every week I am asked through email or PM advice on how to choose a good BJJ school for someone who has never trained. Rather than answer it over and over, I thought it would be a good idea to have a general go-to place where I cover it. So here we go:

Probably most people will start with a web search. With that as the beginning, I take a look first at a couple of things right off the bat.

  • What belt/rank is the head instructor (or at least the person who will teach the bulk of the classes)? Belt ranks in BJJ still mean something, fortunately. The final arbiter of rank is how you perform on the mat, so it is difficult to lie about a belt for very long. In fact, there is almost a cottage industry of videos where a phony “instructor” is called out by a real BJJ practitioner. And there is a large gulf between belts, though not necessarily in terms of technique. Really, most white belts with at least two years of training know most of the techniques that black belts know. The difference is in what Rickson Gracie calls “invisible jiu-jitsu”, the little details that make the difference between occasional success and dominating the other guy on the mat. And in this day and age where BJJ is massively popular and has high ranking instructors everywhere, there is little reason to train at a gym that has less than a purple belt as the head person. And realistically, unless you live in a very small town, you should not settle for less than a black belt.


  • Where did the instructor get his belt from, and does he still have a mentor relationship with that person? Every single legit BJJ gym owner is proud of his affiliation and where he comes from. If that is missing, that’s a red flag. There are people out there who are “Jiu-jitsu black belts” who have nothing to do with BJJ. They are from a Japanese lineage, or some modern eclectic version, but do everything in their power to hide that and let people think they are the same as that guy who got his Black Belt from a Gracie. If they don’t openly talk about where they got their knowledge, run away. BJJ has very narrow roots. Any legitimate instructor should be able to point to where his lay.



  • Along with the lineage is the mentor relationship. BJJ is incredibly deep and complex. There is not one single person who knows it all. Not one. So everyone needs help and guidance and pointers. It may be a peer group that trains together, or it is a more senior, more experienced coach. But everyone needs someone. If they are not forthcoming about that, chances are they are phony or have a massive ego problem.


  • Does the instructor compete? Note that I said nothing about how well he does. What is important is that he (or she) has no problem showing themselves at a large tournament around hundreds or even thousands of people who know what real BJJ looks like. If he is willing to be around his peers at a major tournament, then you don’t have to worry about if he is a phony. He may not be a world beater, but he is authentic.


  • How does the language of the website sound? Are they trying to dazzle you with how tough they are? Or how awesome the coach is? Do they brag about their competition record but never mention how BJJ can help the average, everyday person? Or do they come across as someone who loves what they do and thinks it is possible for anyone and everyone to train in a healthy, welcoming environment?


Once you have decided that the gym is worth a look, go to the school and see for yourself. Take a look and talk to the instructor, but also be aware that most gyms will let you try a class or two for free. For example, at my gym, we let people take two. If it is only one, the class that day might be an anomaly. More than two is a waste. By the second class, you will get most of what you need to know to make a decision.

When you go to look, watch the makeup of the class. Unless it is a specific class (like a competition class, or a MMA training night) than ideally the class should be composed of all types of people – men, women, younger, older, etc. A class made up of young, athletic dudes is probably not the environment you want as a beginner. A class with all types represented tells you that the gym is open and welcoming to everyone and has no issues accommodating different people.

Pay attention to the “vibe” of the class. Do the students communicate freely with each other and the instructor, or is it a rigid, military type environment? While discipline is a requirement, it can be taken too far in martial arts. I want to see the students laugh and joke with each other. Yes, be focused and serious in their training, but there should be an obvious element of fun present. The same goes for the interaction with the instructor. He should be able to control the group without resorting to being a drill instructor. An instructor that jokes and smiles with students means he does not see himself as too elite and above the group.

Ignore talk about competition, unless that is all they talk about and seem to really push students to compete. For example, at my gym, we are known as a competition school, and yet probably less than 40% ever compete. It is not held against you if you choose not to. If they talk about it as part of the experience, that is fine. If you feel pressured to compete, I am against that very much.

Look at the gym itself. Are the mats scrupulously clean? That kind of attention to detail is important. I want the mats to be constantly taken care of. In a contact activity, where people are continuously touching each other, this is how you prevent infections and illnesses. Being lazy in this area is a really bad sign. For me, this also extends to the bathrooms.

There are plenty of things to look for, but most of the rest come from experiencing it on a regular basis in person. The above are what I would use to at least make the initial choice.

I hope you find this helpful. As always, I am free and open to answer questions. Thanks for reading!

Tempering Pressure During Training

Awhile ago I wrote a piece on “what is Pressure Testing” and how do you know what it entails. I thought it was pretty straight forward. It was fairly simple and  quick reference guide for people out there training to help them navigate or even avoid entirely poor practices. Apparently however, a lot of people like to make straw men arguments and add in things I never wrote.


One of those things was how to actual conduct pressure training, and another attack was that you can’t do that full out all the time. Well, no duh. I never said you should. Nowhere in the previous article was advice on implementing it into a program. It was all a basic “how do we define what this is” attempt. Nothing more.


So in an effort to address those things in an obvious manner and in a way to keep people from making straw man arguments, here is a video of a short talk I give at the beginning of all my seminars. There, I most assuredly give directions on how we are going to do the pressure testing, and how we are going to make sure we do so in as a safe a manner as possible. I have a damn fine track record in that, and this approach is part of the reason why.


The Competition Machine

Norman Triplett was a social psychologist who wanted to look at the effects of competition on people. To eliminate all variables that come up in typical sporting endeavors, he created a specialized apparatus. It was a winding wheel that pulled a long rope. He put hundreds of people through the experiment, with ages ranging from 9 years old up to middle aged people. He had them do a certain number of runs against the clock, and then equal runs against another person in a race.


The results? 50% of the participants did better when they went against someone then against the clock, 25% did no different regardless of situation, and 25% did worse against another person than against the impersonal-ness of the timer. So we know, without a doubt, that competition is really beneficial for the majority of people, and only ¼ is it harmful. And to those it is harmful tend to have other mental and emotional issues going on.


The hilarious part to me? This study was done in 1898! For over 120 years, we have had actual proof that competition is good, and yet here we are it the 21st century, with some people still arguing that competition will “get ya kilt in da streetz.” The simple fact is that competition helps you perform at a higher level. Period.


Weird how when you actually put on your critical thinking cap   things start to make sense.