Story and Photos by Michael Janich
A few years ago, my boss, Spyderco founder Sal Glesser, walked into my office and asked me an interesting question: “If society were to collapse tomorrow and you could have only one blade in your kit to deal with the aftermath, what would it look like?”
My immediate response, which he did not expect, was “I’ll bring it in tomorrow.”
The next morning, I went to work with a barong—a machete-sized single-edged knife with a leaf-shaped blade and a thrusting point. To be more exact, it was a custom-made barong, co-authored by Canadian ABS Master Smith Wally Hayes and Special Forces veteran/knifemaker Brent Beshara.
I created the original design for it in 2005 so I could commission a batch of aluminum trainers for my annual Martial Blade Camp event. The design—and the big-blade training we did at that event—were so well received that my students conspired with Beshara and Hayes to bring it to life, in steel, as a special gift to me.
While it is still my ultimate Armageddon edge, in simple terms, it’s basically a machete with a point. It is also generally what I would want as an edged weapon if society as a whole began to misbehave—kind of like it did last year.
My affinity for machete-sized blades started a few careers ago when I was working for the U.S. government, trying to resolve the fates of American POW/MIAs in Southeast Asia.
During our one-month deployments into Vietnam and Laos, we spent a lot of time humping through the bush looking for aircraft crash sites and alleged burial sites. We also spent a lot of time clearing trails and excavation sites and cutting LZs (landing zones) for the helicopters we used for transportation. That experience taught me a lot about the qualities of a good machete as a tool.
At the time, we had not yet normalized relations with Vietnam and anti-American sentiments still ran very deep in many of the areas where we traveled. Even though there was a tangible threat to our safety, we were prohibited by our hosts from carrying purpose-designed weapons. That rule inspired me to love my machete and the other cutting “tools” I carried even more.
When I was not in the field in Vietnam and Laos or traveling to refugee camps in other countries of Southeast Asia, I was stationed with my family in Bangkok. Although I was assigned to the U.S. Embassy and had diplomatic status, it was still illegal for me to own—let alone carry—any type of firearm for personal defense.
That experience was one of the driving factors behind my pursuit of edged-weapons training. For most situations, I focused on tactics that would work with an ordinary folding knife. For home defense, while in the field, or, again, if society went off the rails, I also diligently cultivated big-blade combative skills.
People generally think of machete-sized blades exclusively as chopping and hacking weapons. While they certainly do that well, they also excel at more precise ballistic cutting and “push” cuts—pressure cuts in which the cutting edge is driven forward into the target. If pointed—like a barong—they can also be used to thrust, creating huge wound channels.
However, the benefits of large blades don’t stop there. Machetes and their brethren also have the potential to be incredibly effective less-lethal weapons. The flat of the blade can be used like a sap to deliver stunning blunt trauma, while the spine of the blade can be used to strike with highly focused, bone-breaking power. Both of these tactics can be true fight stoppers without necessarily resorting to lethal force.
Although banging blades edge to edge is commonly seen in the movies, and even among many practitioners of the Filipino martial arts, in real big-blade fighting, the goal is to always block with the flat or the spine of your blade to avoid dulling or chipping the edge.
The broad blade of a machete or barong makes this skill easier to learn and provides a large surface area for this purpose.
The easiest way to employ the machete defensively is to use the same tactics that work with smaller knives, focusing on disabling your attacker quickly and decisively.
When employed in this way, the length of the blade mandates long-range, or Largo mano (sometimes expressed Larga mano) techniques. In these tactics, you take advantage of the reach of the weapon and focus on cutting, eliminating the need to block the attacker’s strikes.
In the Martial Blade Concepts (MBC) system, the target priorities are the inner forearm of the weapon-wielding arm, the bicep and/or triceps muscles of that arm, and the quadriceps muscle just above the knee.
With the forehand-backhand-forehand sequence of MBC’s “Master Technique,” you can harness the body’s natural power by turning your hips and shoulders to power the blade as you attack these targets. To gain greater control and power, place your support hand on the wrist of your weapon-wielding hand and use it to transfer the power of that arm into the swing. This reinforced grip also helps you manage the follow-through of the weapon to quickly and safely decelerate and reverse direction for a follow-up.
With a little practice, this basic sequence can become an incredibly powerful series of cuts. Once you’re comfortable delivering these strikes with the edge, experiment with changing the plane of the blade relative to the plane of motion of the weapon, so you can bring the flat of the blade into play.
For example, instead of three sequential cuts, target the forearm of the attacking limb with the edge and follow up with a backhand blade-flat strike to the attacker’s elbow or the side of his head. From there, finish with the quadriceps cut or, as a variation, slap with the flat of the blade across the shin to shatter it.
The Filipino martial arts have a saying: “Wood seeks bone; steel seeks flesh.” In other words, impact weapons work best when breaking bones and edged weapons cut muscles and tendons.
Big blades have the capability to do both.
The broad, flat surface of a machete or barong blade lends itself well to learning and applying proper blocking technique.
While many Filipino martial arts (FMA) practitioners equate the tactics of using a stick to those of a bladed weapon, it’s not that simple. Cutting should obviously be done with the edge, but blocking is best done with the flat of the blade. This avoids damaging the edge, keeps the edge from binding in softer weapons (like sticks) and spreads the force of impact over a larger surface area.
Based on the goal of blocking with the flat of the blade and the need to make your close-combat skills as foolproof as possible, my preferred method of using the machete combatively is an FMA tactic called de cuerdas.
Start by gripping the machete in a normal grip, in your dominant hand (since most of the world is right-handed, I’ll describe it from that perspective). Put your right foot forward and hold the machete vertically in front of your body with the edge facing to the left and the plane of the blade parallel to your chest. Now place the palm of your left hand on the flat of the blade, about one hand width up from your right hand, being careful to avoid the edge.
In this guard position, you pre-orient the flat of the blade to use it as a shield. If an attack comes in, pivot toward it and drive both arms out simultaneously to block the incoming weapon or, even better, crush the fingers of the hand swinging it. Since you’re starting with the flat of the blade pre-positioned for a proper block, you don’t have to worry about trashing the edge of your blade.
Once you’ve stopped the incoming strike, quickly grab or check the attacker’s arm with your left hand as you chamber your right hand to chop. With the attacker’s arm momentarily frozen in place, clear your left hand, if necessary, and deliver a short, focused, downward chop to his bicep or triceps.
Done properly, this will sever the muscle and instantly disable the arm. On the biceps side, it could also sever the nerves that control the hand and the brachial artery, which carries 10% of the body’s blood flow—more than the carotid artery of the neck. Done with extreme enthusiasm, you could quite literally “disarm” your attacker.
To finish the job, deliver a powerful forehand cut to the front of the thigh, just above the knee. This will sever the quadriceps muscle, which is responsible for extending the knee and allowing that leg to support weight. Destroying this function creates a “mobility kill,” dropping your attacker in place and allowing you to create distance and safety.
As with the Largo mano tactic described earlier, to put maximum power in your follow-up cuts and speed up the transition between them, reinforce your grip by putting your left hand on your right wrist. You can also experiment with changing the plane of the blade, relative to the plane of motion of the weapon, to slap with the flat.
If a situation doesn’t warrant lethal force—or you simply prefer to apply a lesser degree of force—a flat-blade slap across the knuckles or shin could be the less-lethal game changer you need to manage it effectively.
Machete-style big blades are extremely potent weapons with a broad range of potential applications. To make the most of them, learn to wield them with tactics that maximize that potential. K&G
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Nine-year veteran of the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, Michael Janich also served a 3-year tour at the National Security Agency. Highly decorated, Michael is a two-time graduate of the Defense Language Institute and served around the world in intelligence and investigative capacities for many years. Utilizing his extensive training in various martial arts and military/LE combatives, he established Paladin Press’ Video Production Department in 1994, running all aspects of video production for 10 years – personally recruiting some of Paladin’s most popular authors and being selected to work with the late Col. Rex Applegate as the producer of his landmark instructional videos on handgun point shooting. Published book and magazine author, Michael has been featured on various television programs and designed knives for many different knife companies throughout the industry. Michael is the founder and lead instructor of his signature knife defense program, Martial Blade Concepts.
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