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Friday, April 12, 2013

My first attempt at knife making

One of my Tai Chi students set up a private class with a local knife maker, David Lisch. "What a great opportunity..." I thought. "...To learn how patience and hard work forge into something sharp".  A full two day workshop, we were excited, and a bit nervous.

David's school, "Studio 4" (which ironically is in room #3 in the building) was in an old metalworks building in industrial Seattle. Drafty and cold, we soon forgot the chill as we got down to business. David had already laser cut knife blanks for us, and we had a choice of style.....skinner, hunter, or Santoku style kitchen knife. I chose the hunter.
I looked at this hunk of steel and thought...."Now how am I supposed to get this blank looking anything like a real knife?" I was actually questioning my ability to make it happen. But David assured that if we paid attention and "didn't try thinking about shortcuts", we'd go home with a beautiful knife by the time the weekend was over. We chose our handle wood....I chose a beautiful purple analine dyed multiplex.

David took the time to explain geometry, steel characteristics, Metallurgy of carbon steel, safety precautions, etc. Then, down to work. Our first duty was to establish our plunge line and initial bevel, as well as rough shaping the handle. Standing at the grinder I was pretty happy to have a bracket that established the exact grinding angle for the plunge line . I would've freaked out if I was told to do it "by eye". hahahaha!

Luckily, establishing the plunge line and grinding out the rough shape of our handle wasn't as hard as I thought. But I knew it was going to get more challenging. Next, we drilled our pin holes and we rough shaped our wood.
The fun part....heat treat! We watched as our teacher explained using a forge, and we had a choice of using the forge or the salt pot (which was much more consistent and suggested for first timers). No brainer....we chose the salt pot. We had to pre-treat our blanks with a torch to drive out extra moisture. When he reminded us that the blanks still carried a bit of moisture, we all shuddered..."Single drop of cold water in a pot of high temp molten stuff....that's an explosion!!". Needless to say, we all made sure to have Dave check our blanks to be sure they were good to go before we dropped them in the pot! Two treatments in the salt pot and oil quenched, we were good to go for that first class. Dave would put the blanks in the oven to temper, and by the next morning, we'd be set to for the real grinding and polishing.

David explains and demonstrates at the furnace

Knife held in the salt pot

Day Two:  The polishing begins. After the tempering, we each had stations where we stood with sanding sticks, starting with 400 grit sandpaper and gradually going to 1200. Funny, just as I thought the steel was beginning to polish up, scratches that weren't there before, revealed themselves. I thought I was going to be sanding and polishing for hours.....which was pretty much the case. Two hours of patient polishing, and I had a shiny blade in comparison to the dull salt pot/oven tempered color that I started out with.

Where the heck did those scratches come from?

Almost there!

After the polish, which evened out the harsh bevel, it was time to epoxy the scales to the handle. Dave mixed the epoxy for each of us, as "two part epoxy was a tricky thing....if you don't mix it right, it will screw everything up and you'll need to clean off all the gunk and start over". Well, no one wanted that, so we welcomed the fact that he was willing to mix the epoxy for us.

Ready for epoxying to tang....
Then...the fun but mind bendingly exhausting part......grinding and shaping the scales to the tang. I was doing fine until I messed up the underside of the handle (the area that sits above your fingers when holding in a standard grip). I had inadvertently put a bit too much pressure on on side, and completely lopsided that area. But Dave said "No worries...." and helped me fix it without changing the profile too much. I did my best to learn as he shouted over my grinder, and voila....all fixed.

This underside part was all lopsided until Dave helped me fix it....

After things were all even, I opted for a slight palm swell. Dave gave great tips on how to use not only the belt part of the grinder but the platens as well. A final deep polish on the handles, and it turned out to be a beautiful blade.

After a final profiling of the blade, we all had Dave put the final sharpening on each blade. We all watched intently, and I tried to take mental pictures of how he did it....even down to how he took his stance in relation to the grinder and blade. Each of our blades were sharp.....mine not "crazy sharp" as Dave noted that since I wanted a utilitarian knife, he left enough "tooth" so as to cut through rope and twine, whittle wood, etc. Now my students who made Santoku style kitchen knives.....those knives were crazy sharp. Like "cut paper thin slices of tomato" sharp.

The youngest of our group, a 14 year old kung fu student of mine, turned out a beautiful hunting knife. Dave was there with Isaac all the way, guiding him through the power tools. I was so proud of this young man making his own knife, with the scary power tools! His mom, the Tai Chi student who initially set up this workshop, was a proud mama hen too.

The finished product!

All and all....a wonderful weekend. It felt great to know that a little bit of "me" was in this blade...and no amount of money will buy this blade from me. save up my $$ for more classes. The "great grinding" class sure sounds like fun......

Book Review: "When the Fight Goes To The Ground", by Lori O'Connell

This book can be purchased here: When the Fight Goes To The Ground, at

Being a Kajukenbo practitioner, I looked forward to reading this book mainly because of the expectation of seeing a mix of striking, kicking, and ground work. I wasn't disappointed. Now, before I go on, I just want to say that although I've learned very basic groundwork through Kajukenbo, I'm in no way skilled enough to even so much as compare myself to Brazilian Jujitsu or MMA. *This is why I read this book*!!

The Book:
First off, I'd like to say that I've already read a few reviews of the book. What I've noticed in one review that was a bit less than favorable, is that it was written from a *established grappler/BJJ* point of view. I think that some others who reviewed the book, were looking at it from a competitor's point of view, and I'll bet, flipping through the pages to see if the triangles were done correctly or if Kimuras were locked in tight enough. Ms. O'Connell clearly states that she is not a BJJ black belt, so I find it unnecessary that people review the *techniques*. Its so easy to read into things and get a bit critical as an "expert" rather than look at this book from a "martial artist's point of view" or a "teacher's point of view", I'm going to get right into it as a "practitioner's" point of view....a view stemming from several decades of martial arts but not as much groundwork, and also look at the book from a woman's point of view.

It is refreshing to see a book that gets to the point right away, without leaving a reader guessing as to whether or not the book was a "win in the ring" or an "introduction to grappling". The author, Lori O'Connell, has been a practitioner of Can-Ryu, a "modern/traditional" system of sorts....and being a woman, she mentions "What I lack in size, I make up with tenacity". This drew me to the book because 1) In the case of women using ground skills for self defense, its one thing to get a  man teaching a woman how to handle herself on the ground if she's ever put in that situation....its another when you get a woman teaching a woman. Women who are skilled at the ground game already know what tools they have at their disposal, and what limitations they have to consider. Guys....well....have to guess at those. Even if men are smaller in stature, the upper body strength factor is still something that won't allow men to really understand how women roll. No pun intended.

Ms. O'Connell adds well researched information on the percentages of fights going to the gound. These percentages aren't educated guesses.....she took the time to research legitimate sources to attain the statistics, and the statistics would make anyone consider learning even basic ground skills if they didn't have it already.

Before the book even gets into techniques, Ms. O'Connell makes a clear delineation between the ground "game" in the competition situation, and the ground skills for actual self defense. She makes it clear from the get go that the street has no rules, and that no announcer is going to preface your self defense situation with "Let's get ready to Rumblllllllllllle!".  When the book does get to techniques, it covers the primary tools...understanding the ground, how to stay safe on the ground, understanding size differences, training options, vital targets for striking and kicking (not just grappling, but yes, striking and kicking),  and other "need to know" (or "need to be reminded") items. This was a good thing to see, in that I've seen many books that cover history, then shoot right to techniques.

The Techniques:
Ms. O'Connell starts off with "weapons of opportunity". Let's face it, we're probably not going to be wearing our sponsor-patched keikogi and obi out on the street, so it makes sense that she introduces the use of found objects, the environment,or things in our pockets as equalizers to the fight.  I liked the reminder that there are no soft mats to roll on in the street, and  introduction of how to fall on concrete.

The photos in the book are very clear....great choice of contrasting shirt colors to make it easier to follow the photos. Techniques against standing attackers and mounted attackers led the segment. All of the techniques were photographed well, and each photograph is accompanied by steps on performing the technique, and things to watch out for.

What I found interesting, was defenses against side controls and bottom controls. One might think "If I were to be using ground skills in a real self defense scenario, why would I need to worry about being put in a side control, bottom control, or even neck restraints and submissions like in the ring?". Well, a good point made was that you never know if a grappler will be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or even just showing off to friends and don't know their own strength or have proper control. I also see that many split second moments in time during a fight, will have physical reference points with which these techniques against side controls, bottom controls and neck restraints will apply.

For the most part, the techniques are easy to follow, although there were just a few places where I couldn't quite get the gist of a movement. But....that's what the DVD is for.

The DVD!
Okay... a DVD was included with the book! Good call, Sensei O'Connell. One can actually see the techniques depicted in the book, done in real time. All you have to do is rewind a bit to catch a technique over and over. Well filmed. Kudos to Sensei O'Connell's Ukes for taking the brunt of the techniques!


Final Words:
In short, the book is an excellent source of reference for students of grappling arts, a great introduction to using basic ground skills for those with little or no grappling or martial arts experience, and a good reference for established grapplers to look at the art from a self protection or woman's point of view. By all means, this book is not meant to teach a complete art or system in 192 pages. If you get this book, which I do recommend, use it as a reference for tactics and all means, if you want to get more in depth, seek the tutelage of a qualified instructor. This book will be a good supplement to your training.


Interview w/ Sensei Lori O'Connell

Humorous "Making of" video