Bad, useless knife grips!
The Cancer Knife Grip by W. Hock Hochheim
Once in a while, I get an email or see a remark on the talk forum asking, "What is this Cancer Grip?" And I bite my impatient lower lip and realize the word still needs to be spread. It was something I featured in my old and first knife book, The Knife Fighting Encyclopedia.
The knife underground of the day embraced this first 1990s knife book. Big names known today bought this book before they wrote their knife books or filmed their knife courses. We sold mucho copies back then. But we quit making them for several reasons. One reason was I learned a lot more and shied away from such a heavy Filipino approach to the blade.
In 2002, Christof Froehlich and I pulled up in his car to our first seminar in Frankfurt, Germany, and we saw a group of people standing around in front of the school leaning on their cars. The school was already open, and seminar attendees were waiting inside. Not these guys. When we approached they asked me,
"Do you have the Knife Fighting Encyclopedia?" in broken English.
I said, "No. We no longer make that. Years now. I have much newer and better information. It appears in the hand, stick, knife, and gun books and DVDs."
"Oh," they said collectively and all got in their cars and drove away! They weren't there for the seminar, just that damn book. I think they were brainwashed about it or something? And for some reason, it is still spoken well of today, despite the fact it is a mere pimple compared to my newer, better 2009 Knife/Counter-Knife book.
Since the mid-90s, I worked myself free of martial arts clinging restrictions, did massive research on military knife incidents, and went completely generic and tactical with the newer book. It is tons better. Smarter. Digestible. Tons.
One of the things I wrote about in the 90's book and kept in the 2009 book was the Cancer Grip. This very, very silly thing any citizen, soldier, or even a small child would look at and know would not cut a baloney sandwich on soft white bread. (See left below.) The thumb and the ball of the thumb simply MUST be on the knife to stab or slash and keep hold of he knife. Normal people look and say, "Why of course!"
Probably the most trouble I have gotten into in the martial arts' world was over this very point (pardon the pun). Worldwide, I was accused of defaming and disrespecting famous Filipino "Godheads." Called rude and disrespectful. A Kali group in Munich, Germany, declared that:
"... what Hock doesn't know is that, yes, we hold the knife that way, but when we stab, we grab it completely during the stab."
Oh? What Hock actually sees is a bunch of unexplained cancer-grip activity, especially when sparring and doing drills, where these and other folks are doing all these many motions with the cancer grip. First, I've seen a ton of FMA people pretending to stab while using this lame grip. Never mind just gripping it tightly during the stab. And what about the slash? And if you have any unexpected, slight contact during sparring, you greatly risk losing the knife from your hand. Hells bells, if you sneeze on the knife, it will come out of your hand in this lame, play-pretend grip. These are coverup excuses for poor and unrealistic doctrine.
I called it the Cancer Grip in the 1990s because it is an insidious little movement that student upon down-line student mimic and mimic and mimic innocently. And it spreads like cancer. Soon it becomes mindless muscle memory. Soon, someday your troop dies in a knife fight because he ignorantly used what he has seen or been taught.
The grip appears on the cover of 1990s knife books where the still-famous author is stabbing a bad guy! Not so fast, author! If you actually touch the tip of your knife upon the chest of the enemy? With your thumb sticking up like a flagpole? That knife will go flying out of the top of your hand!
Then came the next lame excuse -
"Well, Hock, that high thumb is used for
hooking the wrist."
Okay. Hooking the weapon-bearing limb and the support limb. How often in a knife fight does that really happen, Sherlock? REALLY? One out of 1,750 knife fights? I think almost never. Why then is there such an over-preponderance of unexplained "air" practice time and "no-body-contact" sparring with this high thumb grip if this is the only rare, rare time you use it? People are working out with this grip with no intention of hooking the wrist. And I don't need your hooking excuses. Both these photos came from my 1990s knife book. And I knew well about wrist hook and explained it in the book. I used the above photo right in the book. On the same page as the cancer grip. Still, it was used as an excuse for various FMA people to justify the massive overuse of the cancer grip in training.
I am told that to this day, you will still see some of the very big FMA names doing knife drills and slipping mindlessly off into the lame cancer grip. It's prissy and artsy and looks ... I don't know ... what? Cool? It's an addictive dance. In my travels, I still see students mindlessly practicing with the worthless cancer grip. They are all FMA vets. I actually walk over and grab their hands and squeeze their hands around the knife when I see it. I only see FMA people do this.
Throughout military history and in and around recent times such as World War II, the veteran militaries reinvented the so-called "hammer grip" for the knife, trying to overcome the reports of soldiers losing knives on contact in close-quarter combat. A troop held the handle super tight in his hand as though gripping a hammer. This went well with the effective knife-hooking uppercut into the enemy's stomach and lower lungs. Here you have the difference between the real men with experience and boys with rubber toys in a gym corner.
As the old Zen expression goes, "If you see the Buddha on the side of the road, kill him...." Well, "if you see the 1990's Knife Fighting Encyclopedia on the side of the road? Burn it." Some people still like it, but maybe as a collector's item? I don't know. I don't. It's out of print and out of mind. The new Knife Counter-Knife book is tons better and, yes, it also still covers the same issue of the dastardly, ignorant Cancer Grip. I have been beating that Cancer Grip drum for a long time now. Took a lot of heat for it, too, all around the world. But you know, I do think I have made something of a difference on the subject.
By the way, I never once saw Remy Presas or Ernesto Presas hold a knife like that, just some people and some systems, but they are popular people and well-known programs. You can't skin a deer or cut a Christmas turkey with the Cancer Grip. Can't even cut a baloney sandwich with it.
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"Hock's latest blog reminds me of another no-no I hate to see: the open-hand twirl with just the finger and thumb holding the stick. I have also seen it with people holding knives in a fancy three-finger-only method with thumb and pinky pointing in opposite directions, especially when doing their idea of Espada Y Daga. Yeah, I know they are doing the stick twirl out of range and thus can avoid a strike to the stick that, due to their lame two-digit grip, would see it flying off into the audience, but that is beside the point for me. Why do that in the first place when proper technique and enough practice has you twirling the stick just as fluidly while holding it with all your fingers and, thus, never risking an easy disarm? As for the knife grip, are they that much in control of the fight they can posture like that?
Sam Corral, my main FMA teacher, had killed men with a knife; and he was taught by men who had also killed with a knife, and he had one grip. A hammer grip in either knife or reverse position. He acknowledged other grips - sabre grips, file grips, and whatever else you fancied - but his belief was that you wanted to have the maximum grip on the weapon; and that meant as many fingers and your thumb holding it as you could still use. He had seen knives knocked out of hands and wrenched from grips when caught in ribs and so on, hence, his belief in the hammer grip as the safest.
I don't know where the photo came from, but I have seen this "style" for many years, first with JKD-Kali people and since then with many others. Modern media may be guilty of helping a bad habit spread beyond the original habitue! I would (respectfully) suggest these people are fine martial artists and no doubt highly skilled and dedicated, but I don't think they have had a lot of, dare I say it, hands-on experience. Neither have I when it comes to killing people with knives, never done it and don't ever want to; but if I had to, I am damn sure I would be gripping the thing like glue! - Cheers, Redcap, Australia