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Synergy: Empty Hand and Knife

Such a poignant, pithy & pointed a question deserves a much more studied and proven response than what I might think is relayed in the KunTao Silat Video Learning and PracticeGroup training. Any one have an opinion based on experience?


Greetings and Felicitations Mr. Steve!
I would like to inquire about your distance learning course.   Most of my background is in JKD, Kali, Wing Chun, and Maphilindo Silat.   Although I have enjoyed my training, the connections between knife and empty handed techniques/approaches is something that has eluded me for over 20 years and there quite simply isnt much, if any distance material which teaches the connection between blade and empty hand whether you are studying Silat or Kali.
I’m 50 years old now, and to be frank, any exercise or training without purpose now feels like a complete waste of the years I may have left on God’s Earth.    Im not much for forms, mostly due to the fact that previous teachers were rarely able to show any applications of the movements which then (from my persepctive) made learning them wasteful.    If KTS teaches forms – are the applications clearly illustrated in the distance learning system so the student clearly understands the purpose and application of each movement in the form?
 I would love to learn an art where I don’t have to switch operating systems (from Windows to Mac) when i switch from blade to empty hand.  Does Kuntaosilat teach bladed and empty hand applications of the techniques within the system?   Are they based of the same entries and base movements?   I have a copy of the knife video you did for Paladin press some years back which I found very encouraging insofar as there appeared to be both bladed and empty handed analogs for some techniques I have wondered for a while whether the entire art follows that philosophy?
I guess, to sum it up, I am looking for a Martial Art to practice that will provide health and mobility benefits along with superior self preservation skills that allows me to learn a core set of movements that I can apply empty handed as well as with a blade with no or minimal changes between the movements.   Finally,  I need coursework that abhors waste as much as I do and provides everything with a “purpose driven” mentality.   Nothing wasteful and nothing flowery (unless the flower has some very clearly laid out self preservation applications)
Having rambled through all that, from your years of experience in learning and teaching – does Kuntaosilat offer any of the criteria above?
Many thanks in advance for your time and patience!
Marc in Louisiana

KunTao Silat Blades
It has been said that there is no Silat without the knife, but in KunTao Silat that axiom goes much, much deeper. The Founder of KunTao Silat, Steve Gartin, has been well recognized as one of the most expert of the expert knife men in America for over three decades. As one of the three founders of Spyderco Knives, the editor of Sporting Blades and Of Yin & Yang magazines Steve made an indelible mark on the cutlery world. Even the FBI recognizes him as the foremost knife fighting expert in the United States. This video is a glimpse into the knife lore available to those practitioners in the Inner Circle of the Guru Certification Course. kuntaosilat.com

KunTao Silat Blades

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4 Responses to Synergy: Empty Hand and Knife

  1. Estevan January 9, 2018 at 6:55 am #

    My name’s Estevan Mulloni and i’ve been into Martial Arts since when i was 14 ( now i’m 39 ). My background includes Wing Tsun Gong Fu, Kali, some Cidepok Silat, Old Yang Style Taijiquan, Baguazhang and Hsing I Chuan. I’ve always looked for a Style combining Healing aspects with real survival fighting skills. After living for three years in Indonesia, my passion for the fighting systems of the Archipelago has grown, so 2 and 1/2 years ago i decided to join the Distance Learning Program created by Pak Steve Gartin because i was not satisfied by the schools here in Italy and i loved the campuran ( campuran means mixture in bahasa indonesia ) between pure indonesian arts and chinese arts as practiced in Indonesia, that are included into both Malabar and American KunTao-Silat Systems. Now i run a Practice Group here in Italy and i consider the study of the Forms as a fundamental principle. Forms teach us Structure, Proper Alignments and Timing as well. Djurus Satu, in my humble opinion, could be a good example of the synergy between hands and blades: all the movements of the form can be trained with a blade ( Knife, Karambit, etc. ) and not only empty-handed ( they work exactly the same way ). The same movements we use and study in the forms are the ones we use in applications. I consider Blades as a Mindset and through practice it becomes a second Nature.
    I highly recommend the DLP to everyone interested into an effective Martial Lifestyle: just need to be honest with yourself and train, train, train.

  2. Steve January 8, 2018 at 2:30 pm #

    Chas often has an opinion worth hearing:
    https://kuntaosilat.com/chas-clements-talks-knives/

  3. Steve January 8, 2018 at 9:22 am #

    Rick mentioned a Spyderco knife, so I’m sure he’s seen this one:

    Everyday Carry:

    As with all aspects of KunTao Silat, the practitioner trains the way he will fight. By training with the cutting tool you are accustomed to carry everyday, you develop a familiarity with the tool as well as the handwork that wields it. Since KunTao Silat is inherently a bladed martial art, the synergism is exquisite and the combat applications awesome. We pray never to need such skill, but give thanks that it is there.

  4. Steve January 8, 2018 at 9:17 am #

    Rick Vargas, a KunTao Silat PracticeLeader in Florida, sent this reply to Marc by email. It is exceptionally well-written and quite informative, so I pass it on here for posterity:

    Hope this reply gets to the inquirer, if not let me know, I’ll send it to him from my email…

    Hi Marc,

    I’m Rick.

    It’s hard to believe that with a background is in JKD, Kali, Wing Chun, and Maphilindo Silat, the connections between knife and empty handed techniques/approaches have eluded you for 20 years. Put a knife in your hand in either saber or ice pick grip and box, you now know the connection! Guro Dan Inosanto has been an awesome element in my experience, I have a few stories of training with him and some of his anecdotes about life and the martial arts.

    Those are all very respectable arts that I myself have trained except for Wing Chun. Bear in mind, knife use is simple, pointy part or edge against opponent. Untrained old ladies have effectively defended themselves against assailants with a knife just using that intuitive knowledge. As for defenses against knife, empty hand should be your last resort, then go to kill or die. There’re no guarantees in life or martial arts. I haven’t had the occasion to face anyone with a knife, I will hope that my intelligence, intuition, and training,combine to give me the advantage, but I hope to never need to know. I’m not looking for it.

    The sophisticated complex and exciting looking empty hand disarms, counters and recounters in knife work are for encounters with other martial artists, military, special ops people or experienced criminals. Not characters in my average day to day shopping outings. Yes I do train and practice them, but like a friend of mine says; “they’re “dojo work.”

    Let me throw in a personal story I don’t share much.

    I had been training for about a year in a very knife specific style “all blade all the time.” This after being in the Martial Arts 25 years already. One day I was in New York, the South Bronx, if you don’t know it was one of the most dangerous places on earth. And while standing on a corner waiting for a cab, watching assorted thugs walk by and check me out, groups of dudes on the corner, etc. I pulled my pocket knife (hey Steve, it was a Spyderco Endura!) opened it and stuck it open along my watch band so I could draw it open. Pretty slick huh!

    Then, it hit me. I was dependent on the knife! Mind you, I’ve been a hard style karateka since before safety chops were invented, Kyokushinkai and Shorin Ryu. As a younger man I was also a fighter, I don’t care how big or ugly you are , I’ll just hit you that much harder, and I sparred 7 days a week.

    But, I felt ashamed. I know how to fight, I do it all the time, why am I now thinking I need a knife first?

    When I got back home I dropped out of that group. I had become knife centric. I was relying on a weapon rather than being the weapon, which I was before all that. Again, knife use is pretty easy, knife defense is always very risky. If you are the weapon, anything in your hand is just a tool.

    As for the distance learning program.

    I checked out a couple others, found them lame. Pak Steve makes a lot a of material available to you all at once. If you’re an experienced martial artist this is a big plus as opposed to the others which treat you like a rank kid beginner and piecemeal stuff starting with like “how to count, how to punch…” then you gotta buy the next segment.

    Even if you take a course from MIT (MIT has courses available on line!) it’s what and how much you do with it that matters.

    Let me say out front; I’m no sycophant, I’ve joined and left movements and religions once they outlived their usefulness, but, I’m a disciple of Pak Steve and hope to train with him live this year. It’s been about a year I’ve been in the distance learning program. Even though I’m experienced, I’m learning. Steve has an undeniable wealth of knowledge and if you dig deeper, through the morass of internet crap and gossip, Steve has kick ass experience as a fighter. This I’ve heard from people who don’t have a dog in the game and have known him. I won’t be trying to test him. Which I might with others…

    I think you’re looking for a frame by frame breakdown of everything. That’s not how you get it.

    Steve expects us to work the material as best we can by following what we see, which seems to have been the way many learned, work it out, discover, learn, and create. In the forums and on facebook a couple of us connect and fill in blanks as necessary, It’s material that was filmed as it was happening, some 30 years ago, you just have to catch on and up. Hey if the ancients learned from following a scroll, imagine what they would have done with video!

    He has been supportive to those of us I know are in the program, with “Destructive Criticism” and encouragements. But it is still on you to make the most of it. You say you’re 50? I’m sixty something. I’m not in it to get a belt or diploma at this point. I’m in it for the ART, and the skills and challenges involved in earning a DIFFERENT Martial Arts skill set. I’m no longer a competitor (fighting weapons and forms when I was), and have no visions of facing off ninja’s at the mall.

    Yes there are forms. You train them, explore them, develop them, own them. I hear Uncle Bill in one vid say something about people want to train without form, you got to have form otherwise you’re not doing any training. A long time ago I heard one of my teachers saying forms were important because it’s the part of martial arts you can do into your old age, by yourself…

    I run a training group that teaches Kali as I’ve learned it , and Kuntao Silat as Steve presents it. Where I am in Florida there’s not a big market for it (Old people in God’s waiting room), it’s not a money maker. I’ve gone into accepting donations and may have from one to 4 people training at any time. $0 to whatever per session, I pay out of pocket to a dojo owner to let me train there and loose money every month. My students are grown ups, youngest 40 oldest 75, wait, I got a 27 year old this week. But I prefer that.

    This is an art for responsible, dedicated, grownups who want to live in peace, but ready to fight for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (yeah like a line form Superman).

    I hope I haven’t dissuaded you from the program, but like Steve says somewhere else “Kuntao Silat is not for everybody,” and that’s OK. One of the draws for me on this training is that this self defense art “unleashes a horde of destruction on an opponent from head to toe!” It’s not an exact quote but Pak Steve mentioned that when I spoke to him to the other day.

    Other martial arts may be prettier, but honestly, they give a little too much room to an opponent right from the beginning, Kuntao starts destruction at first contact.

    So, that’s my 2 cents. I hope I haven’t misstated anything but Steve left it up to us to reply so here’s mine. Hope it helps. Get the program. It’s a bargain. The value is off the charts…if you make use of it.

    PS. I hadn’t seen this video yet! That’s how much stuff is available!

    Rick Vargas

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