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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

Dead or Alive (Blades)

I've heard a rumor of a martial arts instructor that trains drills - partner drills - with live blades. Not super-high level people too, but normal, sub-black belt level students.

Actual real-deal sharp knives and swords.

This specific instructor doesn't have any formal knife or sword training (at least not offline and with a real instructor) to my knowledge, but even then... you can imagine how far my jaw dropped when I heard this news.

Look, I get it.

Some of us think that to be authentic, to prove that you really know your stuff, you gotta train versus real-deal 100% resistance (or as much as you can get in a training environment that doesn't involve psychopaths and/or sadists).

It's just like with empty hand training. If you never actually fight or test what you do against someone who isn't letting you do it, how do you know that you can?

Taking that same attitude into weapons training does make a kind of sense, especially if you claim to train weapons that are useful in a modern self-defense or combat context.

If you never have the actual risk, how do you know the skills you've learned actually work to save your life? If you believe in pressure testing, then you can't ignore weapons work in that.

So yeah, I get it.

Now I'ma gonna go ahead and say this:

I mean, WOW.

I'm going to put aside the very real risks of serious injury or even death if someone makes a small mistake in these drills. I'm also going to put aside the fact that the responsibility for that lies 100% on you, Instructor Live Blade. I shudder to think the risk you're taking with insurance (and given who this instructor is - again, it's a rumor I can't confirm - I don't think that is a problem because I bet this instructor doesn't have any insurance).

That's Instructor Live Blade's problem to deal with.

I'm going to make the case today that live blade training in partner drills is less realistic than a training blade.

Typical martial arts drills have an attacker and a defender. It is just as vitally important that the attacker does certain things accurately as well as the defender.

Let me say that again. The attack - and doing it correctly - is JUST as important as the defense.

Let's presume you aren't training a bunch of blood-thirsty sociopaths who don't care if they hurt other people or not. You're training normal people, and most normal people don't actually want to hurt other people unless they absolutely have to. They really don't want to hurt the people they train with, people they probably consider as friends.

Normal people actively avoid hurting others.

It's a problem we have in our Arnis classes all the time - getting people to attack properly because they're good people and they're afraid of hurting their partners. So they go too soft, or they hit too high, or they aim for a less risky target vs. the one they're supposed to try for, or they'll move out of range so their friend doesn't get hit.

They do this instinctively, sometimes without realizing that they're doing it until you point it out. It takes time for a person in Arnis to feel confident enough in their own skills and in their partner's skills to feed properly.

Now take that normal good person and put a live blade in their hand, and ask them to do a realistic attack.

The attacker knows it isn't safe to attack realistically - so they won't.

Again, unless they're a psycho or a sadist and what the hell are you doing training people like that?

What actually happens is that students will feed without any intent, without any speed, and off-target, for safety reasons. And the defender won't learn how to actually defend with any kind of realism whatsoever.

And everybody gets a false sense of security because a single failure can't happen. So they're always "perfect" from the first rep. If there's no room to make mistakes, there's no room to learn.

Thus, training drills with live blades utterly defeats the supposed reason you want train with live blades to begin with.

LESS realism, not more.

In our training with edged weapons, we use training blades - usually aluminum ones - and they mimic realistic weapons without the risk of cutting a vital artery or other relatively important body parts while you're learning how to use or defend against them.

Since our students know that we're keeping them safe, they can feel free to try to simulate actual attacks (and even then it's still never 100% accurate because there's always risk involved and rarely doesn't anybody attack with actual intent to hurt someone). This way, our attackers learn how to really attack, and our defenders train in a way that they can actually, realistically test themselves in drills.

Our guys make mistakes all the time, and we learn from them.

Our students learn to attack PROPERLY, and thus, defend PROPERLY.

MORE realism, not less.

I truly hope that the rumor I've heard is wrong. I hope they're just using live blades for things like cutting practice or for forms or something, and not putting themselves and others at risk in partner drills with sharpy, pointy, deadly things.

And one more thing, if you've been considering using live blades in partner drills for realism, I really hope I've talked you out of it.

Please. Don't. Do. It.

What other incredibly risky behavior have you seen martial artists do in the name of "realism" that utterly defeats the purpose? Or do you believe that the ONLY way to know for sure is to take the risks? Let us know in comments!

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