Story and Photos by Michael Janich
Serious students of edged-weapon tactics typically have a number of characteristics in common. One of the easiest to spot is their appreciation for, and often obsession with, a wide variety of training knives.
Just go to any seminar and look around at the students’ training bags. Invariably, the guys with the most complete collection of trainers are also the ones who tend to “know their stuff.”
If you look even closer, you’ll probably notice another trend. Hardcore knife players almost always have at least one Keen Edge Knives trainer in their kit. Let’s face it, skilled people also know quality.
Keen Edge Knives was founded in 1999 by Steve Rollert to provide high-quality training knives to serious martial artists. However, the origins of the story—and Steve’s incredible skill set—go back much further than that.
Steve’s interest in knives actually began more than 40 years ago, when he started attending Skunk Hollow Blacksmithing School and began learning the art of forging. After graduating with a solid skill set in blacksmithing, he sought out legendary swordsmith Kuzan Oda to not only refine his skills as a knifemaker, but to learn the deeper philosophy and mindset that define the Japanese approach to bladesmithing.
Steve made his first knives in 1980, with a Burr King grinder, in the spare bedroom of his Denver, Colorado duplex. As his skills rapidly developed, so did the scope of his work. He later relocated to Keensburg, Colorado, and set up a shop, where he crafted world-class hand-forged blades and mastered the art of forging pattern-welded Damascus and cable Damascus.
He also became a highly sought-after instructor of both bladesmithing and stock-removal knifemaking and teaches regular public and private classes in both.
Besides knifemaking, and a full-time career as a paramedic (now retired), Rollert is also an extremely accomplished martial artist. He began training in his late teens and has studied a wide variety of disciplines, including a number of arts that focus heavily on edged-weapon tactics.
A long-time student and confidant of Kuntao Silat legend Willem de Thouars, Steve’s deep understanding of martial knife technique and traditional edged-weapon design has a profound influence on his approach to crafting both live blades and trainers.
Based on this impressive set of knowledge and skills, Steve created Keen Edge Knives to “raise the bar,” with regard to martial arts training weapons. He also wanted to create a family business that would provide a back-up plan for his wife, should anything happen to him.
Back in the late 1990’s, commercial training knives were not widely available. The ones that were, typically included traditional wooden tanto knives and floppy rubber trainers from martial arts supply stores, or molded plastic trainers from a few small-scale specialty makers. Although better than nothing, these trainers were relatively crude and did not offer the realism that only a shiny metal blade can provide.
Steve solved both these problems by creating trainers painstakingly machined from aircraft-quality aluminum. In the process, he single handedly set a new standard in martial arts training blades.
Keen Edge’s selection of trainers includes literally dozens of different designs that complement the most popular styles of edged weapons. They also include both modern trainer styles that replicate state-of-the-art tactical knives and traditional ethnic patterns, like Filipino ginuntings and barongs, Spanish navajas, Japanese tantos, Nepalese kukris, Bowies and several styles of karambits.
Most Keen Edge trainers are Rollert’s own designs, but he has also worked closely with a number of noted edged-weapons instructors to produce training knives in their signature styles, including James Loriega, “Snake Blocker,” James Smith, Mickey Yurco and Guru Daniel Prasetya.
Most standard Keen Edge trainers are precision machined from a single billet of 6061-T6 aircraft quality aluminum and feature intricate parachute-cord-wrapped handles, for a comfortable, secure grip.
Some, however, like Rollert’s innovative “Change-a-Blade” system, consist of a machined aluminum handle that is compatible with multiple blade styles, including saber, cutlass, ginunting and Moro-style blades.
In a similar vein, he offers his “Axe-Change” Pole Arm System—a modular system that consists of a machined aluminum handle shaft that accepts a variety of training blade heads, including various axe and tomahawk heads, a Japanese kama (sickle) blade and various spear heads.
All Keen Edge trainers are beautifully CNC machined to achieve smooth, radiused edges and rounded points, for safe contact with a training partner. They also include machined blade bevels that give them an extremely realistic look and balance. Their paracord-wrapped handles are available in a choice of colors and have a central ridge on both sides, to offer a hand-filling grip that is extremely secure.
For practitioners who want to integrate weapon-deployment skills into their training, Keen Edge also makes Kydex® sheaths for many of its models. Expertly crafted through a vacuum forming process, these sheaths typically feature durable Nite Ize® belt clips.
Although 6061-T6 aluminum is incredibly strong and durable, for training that involves a lot of blade-to-blade contact Keen Edge also offers all its trainers in a “hard impact” version, crafted from 7075 aluminum. This hardened material is less susceptible to the edge “dings” that inevitably come with high-speed blade banging.
Normally when I write a review of a knife, it’s after a month or two of carrying and using it regularly. In the case of Keen Edge trainers, however, my “evaluation period” is much more significant.
I got my first trainers from Steve Rollert around 2002 and they have been in constant use since then. Along the way, I have added many more Keen Edge products to my personal training kit. I have also commissioned custom trainers from him for the souvenir packages at several of my annual Martial Blade Camp events.
Over the past 15-plus years, I have logged literally hundreds of hours using Keen Edge trainers in my own personal training and teaching seminars all over the world. I have also used them as realistic props in the 11 seasons of The Best Defense TV series I co-hosted on Outdoor Channel.
Simply put, they are outstanding training tools. Their realistic appearance, weight and balance create a “performance anxiety” that simply can’t be equaled with rubber, wooden or plastic training knives, yet their excellent design and flawless execution make them extremely safe for controlled contact with a partner.
Keen Edge’s large trainers—like their ginuntings, barongs, and kukris—allow students to practice the fine nuances of “big blade” work better than any other trainers I’ve used. For example, proper blocking with large blades should be done with the flats of the blade, not the edge. The tough aircraft aluminum of Keen Edge trainers tolerates this type of blade-to-blade impact without any significant signs of wear.
If you do make a mistake and ding your edge, the slight dent lets you know, but is easily fixed with a fine file or sandpaper. Steve is also happy to recondition well-worn trainers upon request.
Serious edged-weapon and counter-edged-weapon training is only possible with proper tools. Fueled by Steve Rollert’s impressive skills as a knifemaker, martial artist, and machinist, Keen Edge trainers are the perfect tools for that job.
For more information, visit https://www.keenedgeknives.com. K&G
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Keen Edge Knives(303) 732-4858www.KeenEdgeKnives.com
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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