Story and Photos by Michael Janich
If you’re serious about edged-weapon and/or counter-edged-weapon skills, proper training knives are a must. They are the key element in balancing safety and realism to achieve a high-intensity training experience.
During more than four decades of training in edged-weapon tactics, I’ve used every type of training knife imaginable and was convinced I had seen it all—until I met Dwayne Horvath, founder of Aku-Strike.
A lifelong martial artist and an incurable tinkerer, Horvath has seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm for his craft, as well as a distinctly different way of approaching the training knife challenge.
When I first met Dwayne several years ago, he proudly shared an early version of his Mimic T-16 training knife with me. Constructed of high-impact plastic, the T-16 is a fixed-blade trainer that allows a slight bit of movement of the blade. When the blade moves, a sensor in the handle completes an electrical circuit and causes an LED in the front of the handle to flash. At the same time, the knife emits an audible sound, announcing to all within earshot that contact with the blade has been made.
The unique design of the mechanism allows it to confirm both cuts and thrusts and the LED color is switchable from red to green to allow visual distinction between two training partners. The beeping function can also be switched off if desired.
As the saying goes, “timing is everything.” At the time Dwayne shared his invention with me, the trainer version of my Spyderco Yojimbo™ 2 folding knife had just been released—almost six years after the live-blade knife. Although I had been carrying the live blade as my primary defensive knife since the first one came out of the factory, I was extremely frustrated that I didn’t have a mechanically identical trainer.
Most of the time, I had been using a non-folding aluminum trainer made by Keen Edge Knives (keenedgeknives.com) to replicate the size and feel of the Yojimbo 2. During knife deployment drills, I had to use an Endura® 4 trainer, which folded like the live blade, but had a different lock mechanism and ergonomics.
When the Yojimbo 2 trainer was finally released, I was ecstatic. Unfortunately, I was also not particularly receptive to the idea of another non-folding training knife. Since I carry a folder and my system of Martial Blade Concepts (MBC) focuses intently on high-speed deployment skills, I considered a fixed-blade trainer—even an innovative one like the Mimic T-16—to be a step backward. I realize now that I was wrong.
Over the past couple of years, I have come to appreciate the benefits of Mimic T-16—not from the perspective of the wielder, but from the defender’s perspective. Whether training MBC (the defensive use of a knife) or Counter-Blade Concepts (CBC—unarmed defenses against a knife attack), the T-16 is an outstanding tool to “keep you honest.”
If your technique is flawed in any way and your partner’s blade makes contact, you and he know it instantly. That immediate and undeniable accountability adds a significant element of realism and performance anxiety to the training. That’s exactly what you need to develop skills that hold up under stress.
Although MBC’s self-defense-oriented focus doesn’t emphasize knife-to-knife sparring, if that’s your thing, the Mimic T-16 is also a great tool. The broad contact area of the edge and tip, light weight, and the inherent “give” in the mechanism allow solid contact without injury. Obviously, heavy-duty eye protection is a must for this type of training and other safety gear might still be wise.
As noted previously, the LED light is switchable from red to green, so sparring partners can tell who “scored” based on color. Since things happen fast during sparring, if you really want to keep score, video your matches and play them back in slow motion to see whose knife lights up first and keep an accurate score.
The T-16 is available with a choice of black or safety blue handle and either a clear or frosted blade. A bright silver “nickel” blade was also an option, and hopefully will be again, once Aku-Strike sorts out some vendor challenges. Of the three blade finishes, that is my preference, as it adds the look and intimidation of a steel-like blade, even if it’s only plastic.
Although its blade doesn’t fold, it also comes with a pocket clip, so it can be clipped to and drawn from a pocket. To simulate a fixed-blade draw, an optional Kydex® accessory sheath is also available for it.
At just under $50, the Mimic T-16 is well within the budget of serious edged-weapon enthusiasts.
Another style of training knife available from Aku-Strike is their Spring-Bar trainer. Manufactured from high-impact 3-D-printed plastic parts, Spring Bar trainers get their name from the spring steel bar in each, that allows the blade to pivot backwards slightly when pressure is applied to the “edge.” This function simulates the feel of actually cutting—and sinking into—a target and is a great way to learn proper cutting mechanics.
I often see martial artists and other practitioners of knife tactics “going through the motions” when applying cuts to their training partner. To be effective, every combative cut must be well targeted and mechanically sound. Done properly, the result would be quantifiable damage to a specific physiological structure. Anything less is just burning calories.
Spring-Bar trainers not only allow you to “feel” every cut, they teach you to maintain the proper grip necessary to deliver power in the cut and manage impact shock. In fact, when a cut is done properly, the release of the blade at the end of the motion creates an audible “snap,” giving you auditory confirmation of a job well done.
Another example of Horvath’s unique brand of genius, the blade’s mounting hole is eccentric. That, combined with a cleverly designed ramp on the tang of the blade, allows the spring to do double duty. It not only allows the blade to pivot, but also enables it to retract about .25-inch when you thrust with the point, effectively mitigating the impact of linear strikes.
When I visited Horvath’s booth at the 2021 Blade Show, he had a number of different styles of Spring-Bar trainers available for sale. He is still in the process of adding these to his website, but I’m confident they’ll be available very soon. If in doubt, call or email him and ask.
Some knife systems focus almost exclusively on thrusting tactics. Among these, some concentrate even more specifically on stand-up and ground-based grappling contexts. Although that’s not my thing, if it’s yours, you’ve probably learned the hard way that getting poked in the ribs repeatedly with a steel or aluminum trainer is no fun.
To make that style of training safer, Horvath developed the Grapple Shiv. Its 3-D-printed handle, which is styled somewhat like a classic Kasper/Crawford Folder, is hollow, and allows the blade to retract into it—almost like an out-the-front auto. The blade is kept extended by spring tension from a heavy rubber band.
When the knife is thrust into a target, the blade retracts, dissipating the force of the impact and very realistically simulating deep penetration into the target. When the knife is retracted and the pressure is removed, the blade automatically extends. If applied with cutting tactics, its brilliant design also allows the blade to pivot upward, just like the action of a Spring-Bar trainer.
This basic style of knife has been used for decades in the movie industry to simulate stabbing attacks. Curiously, in World War II, the Brits also had a training version of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando dagger with a spring-loaded retractable blade. However, the Aku-Strike Grapple Shiv is the first time I’ve seen this concept made available to the average martial artist.
As of the 2021 Blade Show, the Grapple Shiv is a brand-new product for Aku-Strike. I was lucky enough to get my hands on one of the first production samples and have been using it in my training sessions since. For specific MBC techniques—like thrusting to the armpit and the thrust-and-cut “Comma Cut” to the quadriceps, it provides a degree of realism and safety you won’t get from other styles of training knives.
Simply put, Dwayne Horvath’s Aku-Strike training knives do things that conventional trainers don’t. As such, they facilitate training realism and types of skill development that no other products do.
The more I use them, the more I appreciate them. I’m sure you will to. 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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