Practical Small Knife Skills with Chris Fry

How many of you out there in reader-land have a knife on you right now? Carrying a knife every day as a normal part of life has been pretty common behavior for a significant chunk of human history. Think about it: Your grandfather’s grandfather probably had a small knife on him most of the time…and so did his grandfather. They are incredibly useful tools that always seem to be in demand. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a situation and heard someone say “Anyone have a knife?”

Most of you probably aren’t carrying a Case pocketknife like my grandfather, though. You’re likely carrying some sort of “tactical” folder. It’s probably a tool for mundane chores most of the time but I’m willing to bet you figure it could be employed as a defensive implement in a pinch…but have you ever actually tried to draw that knife and deploy it in a hurry with somebody pressuring you?

I’ve done a number of classes in firearms but, like most of you, I’ve had next to zero training on the defensive deployment of an edged weapon. That being said, I do have enough sense to know that there’s a ton of goofy stuff out there labeled as knife training. For starters, I have yet to see or hear of a knife deployment on the street that looked anything like, well, this:


So where does one go to get instruction that isn’t goofy Hollywood-dojo crap?

Chris Fry would be a good start. You may remember Chris’s name as one of the forces behind the RCS Pocket Shield I reviewed last year. At the Tactical Conference this year Chris taught an exceptionally useful block of instruction on small knives. As with the other blocks of instruction I’ve covered, this was a distillation of Chris’ program into a bite-sized chunk of learning where people could walk away with some very useful information about small knives and how to use them. It wasn’t going to make any of us experts with a small edged weapon, but you’d be amazed how much folks learned just by having access to some trainers and Chris’ common sense approach.

Chris Fry demonstrates achieving maximum range with a small knife to keep bad guys at bay.
Chris Fry demonstrates achieving maximum range with a small knife to keep bad guys at bay.

The first great big plus of training with Chris is that he rolls in with a number of trainers for popular knife styles that students get to play with. One of the first lessons you learn is that any folding knife that carries tip-down is a pain in the neck to actually deploy one handed. (And given that one hand will be busy trying to keep some violent brute off of you, plan on needing to get the knife in play using only one hand) Chris had some tip-down trainers as well as tip-up trainers and experience using both while I was wrestling around with John Murphy (my partner in Chris’ class) convinced me that I would never carry a tip-down knife again. I also discovered that I greatly preferred having a knife that opens with an ambidextrous stud as opposed to the hole that Spyderco tends to use on their knives. The stud is just easier to reliably index and open when I’m using one hand to hold off an angry-looking Marine.

Chris talked a good bit about how the knife is carried for access, pointing out that the traditional practice of carrying it in the back pocket is far from ideal as it makes drawing with either hand difficult (if not impossible) and tends to make the strong arm vulnerable during the draw attempt. Odds are when you reach back to get a knife carried on the strong side you do so with your elbow pointing out, making a nice hole that someone with even a little bit of skill can use to get a better position on you at best and perhaps completely disable your strong arm at worst. Carrying more toward the centerline, however, makes access by either hand much easier and allows a draw that doesn’t leave your strong arm a ripe target for somebody with a couple of month’s worth of BJJ under their belt.

Chris spent a good bit of time working through the draw and deployment of the knife step-by-step and then having the students work with their partners to work through the process with some opposing pressure. (Always a sign of quality instruction) In working through the drills he put us through you begin to see the value of Chris’ approach. The people we were working against were similarly normal folks doing what came naturally…not carefully selected acolytes providing best-case resistance to make some goofy technique look plausible. Chris’ stuff just flat worked time and time again.

When it comes to the topic of knives, I know a lot of us are stuck thinking something like this:

Unfortunately that’s not how it works in the real world. It’s not like the game of rock, paper, huge-knife that ol’ Mick Dundee played there. (And in real life you don’t win the attractive blonde either…bummer.) A small blade can maim or kill you very easily, and perhaps do so without you even realizing it at the time. More on that another time…

On the plus side, though, with intelligent gear selection and a little bit of knowledge you can defend yourself very effectively against a number of serious assaults with a small knife. A small female being assaulted by a guy my size doesn’t have much hope of winning through sheer physical strength and would need considerable skill as a fighter to overcome the size and strength deficit I have on her…but arm that same small female with even a small knife and Chris’ instruction in the use of it and a bad man my size or bigger would be in serious trouble. As would any accomplices.

Do not underestimate the power of a small knife. If I took nothing else away from this course I learned how dangerous a small knife could be in close quarters. Look at Chris’ schedule and find a date and location that works for you and learn how to effectively employ that practical tool you carry every day as a last-ditch defensive implement. Don’t just get the tool, get the knowledge to go with it.



RCS Moduloader Pocket Shield

A couple of weeks back Chris Fry of MDTS training sent me an email asking me to try out a little invention that I’d been hearing rumors about for quite some time. A device designed to make carrying self defense related tools in what is termed the “non-permissive environment” easier.

Before we can even begin talking about the product and my experience with it, it’s probably necessary to talk about the “non-permissive environment” or NPE. There are places in our country where you can legally carry a gun and, if you’re spotted carrying one, nobody will much care. There are other places where being caught carrying a weapon of any sort can lead to life-altering consequences. People often think of this in terms of criminal charges, but it goes far beyond that. Being fired because you were carrying an effective defensive tool, for example, would be a real bummer. Most workplaces frown on the idea of employees being armed while at work whether that’s with a firearm or an edged weapon of some sort. Items like OC spray or even some flashlights can also be prohibited in various circumstances.

Frequently these environments also have a dress code that isn’t favorable for concealment of defensive instruments. There are certainly some places where you could show up looking like a model from a 5.11 catalog and never get noticed, but in a number of workplaces you cannot get away with a prolifically pocketed vest (or “gun burkha”, as Tam might call it) sort of covering a utility belt loaded with goodies. Batman has a utility belt but Bruce Wayne can’t exactly show up to a charity fundraiser wearing it without drawing attention to things he’d rather keep hidden from public knowledge. A police officer on duty has to wear a Sam Browne when he’s in uniform to carry all the weapons and tools he needs to perform his duties, but while off-duty or on special assignment in plain clothes or a suit the officer is going to need to carry a smaller subset of gear without it being obvious.

Things like the pocket clips for knives or flashlights or the outline of a small handgun in the pocket are clues that somebody paying attention…or with whom you have to interact regularly…can pick up on to determine that you might have a weapon. If you’re an accountant, this can mean getting fired. If you’re working plainclothes security for an elected official, celebrity, or political dissident from another land under threat by an authoritarian regime, this can mean you get shot first. There are a lot of people on forums and youtube who have opinions on concealed carry, but in my experience few of them seem to have significant experience dealing with the restrictions and requirements of the NPE day in and day out. It’s one thing to not have total strangers who interact with you for brief periods of time occasionally notice that you’re carrying a weapon. It’s quite another to have people who know you pretty well and who are in close proximity to you for at least 40 hours per week not notice that you’re carrying a weapon.

That’s where the Moduloader Pocket Shield made by Raven Concealment Systems comes in. I discussed the philosophy behind the product with Chris to sort of wrap my head around what he was going for.

Photo of the RCS Moduloader from the RCS Website...because my pictures stunk.
Photo of the RCS Moduloader from the RCS Website…because my pictures stunk.

The shield provided me the ability to carry a myriad of weapons, tools, items, whatever I chose to EDC that I did not want anyone to get visual on while still providing consistent orientation of the item in the pocket. This is the overreaching issue with any type of pocket carry system. Most, if not all, until the pocket shield, would move around during the day, change position, shift and you would lose orientation of the item you may have to rapidly access like a folder, small fixed blade, spare pistol magazine, pepper spray, flashlight, whatever. With the pocket shield, the items outline or profile is masked, it is moldable and contours to the end-users leg and pocket AND the item, when attached, will maintain consistent orientation allowing rapid access and draw-stroke. No ‘fishing’ in the pocket you dropped your folder into because you didn’t want anyone to see the clip and so on. The shield also allows the opportunity to mount a small frame pistol or small fixed blade, which is where it really shines.”

I’ve done pocket carry in everything from gym shorts to suit pants and I get where he’s coming from. If you carry regularly you generally rely pretty heavily on your pockets to keep stuff like a backup gun, a spare mag, or an edged weapon out of sight because you’re either not wearing a belt or have to have a tucked-in shirt…but that stuff gets shifted around so much it’s often difficult to access quickly. I’ve taken to carrying my Surefire E2E (with LED conversion head) in a rear back pocket simply because I was never able to draw the bloody thing in a hurry when it was in a front pocket. With the Shield I can guarantee that it stays in pretty much the same spot and orientation so I can get hold of it in a hurry. The clip on my E2E doesn’t work ideally with the Pocket Shield, so I’d advise a different light…but I’d wager most who would want to carry a flashlight in a front pocket are going to pick a different light anyway.

shield1Chris told me up front that the Pocket Shield wasn’t intended to work in jeans, but I found that it fits into most of my jean pockets pretty well and does a good job of hiding the outline of whatever I have attached to it. So far I’ve attached my Clinch Pick, flashlight, and Leatherman Skele-tool to the Pocket Shield chassis and it’s hidden them all nicely in my pocket while allowing me to access them without too much fuss. I will say at least for the gear I’ve tried using so far, two items on the Pocket Shield seems to be the best way to go, as three gets a tad crowded and can impede the draw a bit. The PS comes with some mounting hardware that works well with riveted kydex knife sheaths, magazine pouches, tourniquet holders, and even small handgun holsters.

I’ve been playing with it for a couple of weeks and I’m thinking having one in each pocket just to serve as a pocket organizer that will hold stuff like my cell phone in a consistent orientation and location in the pocket would be useful in and of itself even if I never carried any sort of defensive implement with it. The PS keeps your pocket from collapsing when you sit, making access to pocketed items easier. shield2

…and I don’t know about you, but I carry so much stuff around all the time that I’m forever giving myself a pat-down just to make sure I’m not leaving something important (like my cell phone) when I’m about to walk out. Having a PS for each front pocket that has the stuff I need mounted to it that I can just drop into each pocket has some appeal.

If you’re looking for something that will let you discretely carry defensive implements or even more mundane items in your pocket while making access easier, the RCS Moduloader Pocket Shield might be just the ticket.