Pakal Edge In Critique
About the Videos
The pakal or reverse grip/icepick grip has currently become the next big ne plus ultra ultimate fighting technique in the Internet forums and Commando Chatrooms. I have been around the martial arts long enough to know that the my knife fighting grip is so superior to your knife fighting grip stuff is cyclical, as is the striking versus grappling versus flavor-of-the-year art debate. I recall in the late 1980s when reverse grip edge out was supposed to solve all knife problems. Now it is reverse grip, but edge in. In reality, there is nothing wrong with reverse grip edge out, reverse grip edge in, or any of the forward grips, edge up, edge down, edge sideways and knife flat (French foil or the like). All of the grips have their uses, all have their strengths, and all have their weaknesses. The edge in pakal grip can be a very useful grip utilized in many effective techniques for close range combat with a knife. There are a few things about the current edge in fad that I take issue with, however.
First of all, there is the argument, espoused by some proponents of edge in pakal, that a user does not lose some range and can strike a target at the same distance that he or she could strike an opponent when the knife is held in one of the forward grips. This is just false, and is biomechanically impossible without dislocation of a wrist, elbow, or shoulder (which would, of course, sap any strike of power if such a strike could be completed with the arm joint(s) in such a condition). Forward grip always has a reach advantage when compared to reverse grip.
Secondly, many have stated that a pulling or ripping stroke is much stronger than the push stroke that occurs when edge out pakal grips are utilized. In general, the pull could be seen as advantageous, compared to the push when only the muscles and mechanics of the arm are being examined. Of course, the argument can be made that a knife in a forward hammer grip is also mostly used in cutting on a pull rather than a push. However, in order to address the specific criticism of edge out and cutting/striking power it is merely necessary to look at silat and kali elbow techniques. Anyone who truly understands the use of these elbow strikes and the use of reinforced punches in these arts realizes that these same motions which lead to devastating strikes with only the natural weapons of the body also lead to incredibly powerful reverse grip edge out cutting techniques. I have had many students who felt weak and ineffective when training with edge out reverse grip knife techniques have an epiphany and suddenly turn into pakal edge out tigers once I showed them the mechanics of elbow strikes, the mechanisms to generate power in such strikes, and then showed them how the mechanics of the knife cut were related to the elbow strike. The bottom line in this debate is that, if you have good kali or silat empty hand skills, your reverse grip edge out cutting is going to be incredibly powerful with just a little practice and tweaking of the empty hand technique.
The third item that bothers me in regards to the ecstatic shouting over the edge out pakal grip is that many suggest that it is a natural grip or very easy to learn. There is no such thing as natural technique. If there were, then no one would have to train to be a truly great and effective fighter. There are motions that are easier for the human body to utilize than are other motions, and there are some techniques that feel more natural or comfortable to some people than they would to others, because of range of motion, body type, personal temperament or fighting style, and the like. The pakal edge in grip is a close quarters combat grip. In a largo or long range engagement (where the opponents can just touch each others hands with their blades), the forward grip is preferred due to its reach advantage. In this kind of engagement, the checking, tapping, or live hand (the hand that does not have the blade in it) does not have to be used, as the opponents strike will not hit your body and you just have to keep your arms out of the way of his or her blade. At the medium and close ranges where pakal grips are most effective, the checking hand is critical. Without checking the arm while cutting it, the arms momentum will cause it to continue its motion and it will strike you even if you shred the muscles and tendons that allow the arm to move. I have seen some very skilled users of the pakal edge in grip. All of them were highly skilled at tapi tapi (checking hands). With some training and experience in checking and medium and close range work, pakal edge in can be very effective. The people who have no, or almost no, training and who think that they are going to be able to use pakal edge in effectively have a high probability of cutting themselves when trying to check the opponents attack or of being struck by an opponents attack when they miss a check.
Please click on the link on this page to display a video where I demonstrate the points made in writing above. Please note that I am not saying that pakal edge in grip is ineffective. My main points are that the grip is not as good as some other grips in a longer range engagement, that you lose some range when holding the knife in any reverse grip compared to a forward grip, and that those without good checking, tapping, and trapping skills have a significant chance of being cut or injured when using the pakal edge in grip. If you have the checking skills and feel most comfortable with this grip when working in the closer ranges then it can work very well for you. For complete neophytes, I feel that recommending this grip as a natural technique is a disservice. Take care and train hard.
Tuhan Jon Holloway, June 2008