Elsewhere on the blog (here, for example) I outlined the need to be as complete as possible in our defensive skills. This means not just handgun and even carbine or shotgun training, but also knives and unarmed combatives. Accordingly, I decided to take my own advice! The course was AMOK! Combatives “Functional Disarming”, and it was held April 18-19, 2015, at the Silverback Academy in Chantilly, VA. The cost of the course was $200.
It is safe to say that this course was WAY outside my comfort zone. In 2014, I took 7 classes, six of which were handgun based. This year, my goal was to start addressing some “holes in my game,” two of which are empty hands combatives and knife combatives. This course has started me down this path.
The founder of AMOK! Combatives is Tom Sotis. I first heard his name over on Warriortalk a few years ago. He has been less prominent there the last year or so, but still does some crossover work with Suarez International in their knife and 0-5 feet classes. His name appeared again on my radar when an acquaintance of mine – who works as an instructor for a U.S. Government agency and is beyond what I would call a “Been There Done That” guy – told me he brings Tom in on a regular basis to instruct his “people” on knife combatives. This guy has trained with many of the big names in the business but said he has picked Tom because he “took away all the grey” (and he didn’t mean hair).
Tom has certified AMOK! instructors set up around the world, and his M.O. seems to be to travel around the world (yes, the world, not just the U.S.) to their gyms/academies/dojos and present workshops/seminars on different subtopics of fighting with or against a knife. He tends to visit the Silverback Academy in Chantilly – run by AMOK! instructor Sean Stoopman – twice per year.
I would have taken whatever workshop that might have been offered this April, but I was particularly pleased that it was focused on disarms. Why was I pleased? Well, I don’t make it a habit of stabbing and slashing people with knives, but learning how to defend against one and disarming someone armed with one seemed like a useful skill to begin to acquire.
The class ran from 10-2 both days. Let me say up front that my experience level in the area of knife and unarmed combatives is pretty much nil. I successfully ended one bar fight (I was backing up my brother, who bit off more than he could chew) about 13 years ago with what I still feel was a great takedown on a guy that had me by 8-10 inches in height (I’m short). Once he was down, it didn’t go well for him. Beyond that, nothing. So, I was a blank slate for Tom and Sean to mold.
I had contacted Tom via email to explain this to him, and he assured me that he and Sean would help me out, that I had to start somewhere, and to just go into it with an open mind. Although outside my comfort zone, these brief correspondences helped reduce my anxiety, so that when I arrived at the class, I actually felt pretty comfortable.
On Day One, I didn’t count the students, but it seemed like close to 30 were there. Old, young, men, women, black, white, Asian. The facility seemed pretty good for what it was. There was a small exercise/weight lifting area, Sean’s desk and bookshelves (and his MANY certificates on the wall: BJJ, Krav Maga, etc.), some random old couches and chairs to lounge in, a restroom, and a large area in the back with thin (2 inch thick?) mats. That was where we spent most of our time. On this day I wore an athletic T-shirt, my usual Cabela’s hiker pants, and wrestling shoes. On the second day I wore athletic shorts in lieu of pants. I brought a mouthpiece but didn’t wear it.
Like an idiot, I forgot my notebook on the first day (should have read my own blog post!), and this was the day Tom spent some time with the dry erase board. Tom began by putting into perspective the small piece of fighting that we’d be covering during this workshop. I cannot recall the other 6 or so aspects of fighting that he included in this quick graphic organizer, but his point was that we’d only be able to do so much in two four-hour days. Our focus would be on disarming someone armed with a knife using just our hands and also using a knife of our own. So well thought out is the AMOK! system that there is virtually no difference in the movements utilized in disarming someone who has a knife with your own empty hands, stick, knife, pen, flashlight, etc.
We finished up this grand scheme stuff and were told to grab a training knife (aluminum with a plastic handle), partner up, and get on the mat. I happened to partner up with an older guy who was just a bit bigger myself. He told me he had trained with Tom only once before, and so was almost as new to this as I was. It was clear that many of the students there had more experience than us, but I wouldn’t describe anyone there who I saw as super-proficient. Maybe someone in a far corner, but no one around me seemed like they could compete with Tom or Sean, for example.
Day One flew by. It was basically 3+ hours of Tom using Sean or other students to demonstrate different skills such as traps, blocks, parries, grabs, locks, and strips, and then having us practice them. The pace of the class was pretty quick, I thought. We had just enough time to practice each technique a few times both ways (one person as the attacker, then the other) before we would stop, watch again, then practice again. On a few occasions we formed two long lines so that we were across from our partner and then we could all practice things in unison.
It was during Day One that my right forearm took its worst punishment. I had read of this via reports that others had written about Tom’s classes. On their recommendations, I had brought a pair of neoprene sleeve braces to wear over my forearms as a sort or rudimentary protection. However, on the advice of my .gov acquaintance (who I guess wanted me to get the full experience), I chose not to wear mine on the first day. Ouch. Particularly when playing the role of the aggressor, my right forearm was subjected a frightening quantity of blocks, parries, and blows, so that by the time I got home around 4 PM, my arm had a Popeye effect going on. I would have some residual pain in a few spots of the forearm a week later.
Now is probably a good time to talk about Tom’s basic philosophy for this stuff. The idea is that a committed attacker isn’t going to allow himself to be quickly disarmed. He will be attacking with too much force and be way too fast. So the tactic here is to diminish the attacker by making sure he receives some punishment for every foray he makes into your space. It isn’t enough to block, because this only prolongs the inevitable. Instead, you have to get in a shot, most likely, but not necessarily, at his arm. Each time he receives some pain it will slow him down, potentially compromise his grip, and definitely test his will. This process is referred to by Tom as tenderization, and it is only through this process that the attacker will be somewhat diminished, allowing you to effect the disarm. Tom likes to say, “you have to earn the disarm.”
An example of some of Tom’s techniques are shown in this YouTube video: here.
A few words about Tom. Nice as can be, but intense! This man takes the concept of the combat or warrior mindset to heights I’ve never seen. When asked about this, he said that it’s his job to go home to his family, and he will pretty much stop at nothing in order to reach that goal. He also despises when people say “if you get in a knife fight, you’re going to get cut.” He feels this is defeatist. Is there a high probability you’ll be cut? Sure. But to go into it saying that you WILL be cut is looking at it the wrong way. Your job is to send that other guy to the hospital, not yourself.
My friend had warned me that Tom covers a lot of material in a short time. I’ve had firearms instructors tell me that they’re going to “throw out so much information it’s like drinking from a firehose.” Tom eclipsed all of them by a huge margin. I wasn’t quite dizzy, but there was a LOT to soak up during day one.
On Day Two I wore a wrap on my now wounded forearm and it helped immeasurably. I was concerned the night before that my arm would hinder my training on Day Two, but the padding was just enough to allow me to enjoy the full benefits of instruction on day two.
Day Two was focused on the practical application of the individual skills we covered the day before. So we started by practicing one skill, then we’d add a second one on top of that, then a third, and so on. We practiced against forward stabs toward the neck area, lower stabs toward our midsection, wider angled attacks (forehand and backhand), reverse grip attacks, and many combinations. We did most of our defensive work on Day Two with a knife rather than open-handed (day one was a mix of both). We also started to add in what to do if the attacker’s other arm got into the action and how to induce such an attack in order to trap that arm and continue our counter-attack even further.
I will say at this point that, despite the class size, which I felt was a little big, Sean and Tom were very accessible throughout both days and helped get my partner, me, and all of those around us squared way when we got crossed up, confused, etc. When they observed many pairs having the same issues, they’d bring us all in and explain things further, then send us back out to “have at it.” These guys also really know their stuff. They were able to teach all sorts of subtle little things, little nuances like putting your thumb here vs. there, dropping your weight here, etc., that could mean the success or failure of a particular technique. I was in awe.
By the end of Day Two I was much more fluid in movements as we moved into a period of some reduced structure. I know I made many mistakes defending against some attacks, but the fact that I was more fluid and could “call” many of my errors was testimony to how much progress I’d made in two days.
We wrapped up Day Two with what turned out to be nearly an entire additional hour of Q&A with Tom about anything and everything: systems, knife types, first aid, etc. Tom is full of analogies to describe different things and some are ridiculously funny (I will point out here that Tom can be pretty profane but is an absolute HOOT!), and many of these shined during this portion of the class. Finally, we did some group pictures, got our certificates, and went on our way.
- I don’t know sh*t about knife fighting. I know a TINY bit more now, but I really believe that, with all hand-to-hand skills (more so than firearms stuff), if you don’t use it, you lose it. I think anyone who takes a class like this once or twice a year and then declares himself “proficient” in this area is a fool. My current plan (a hope, really) is to get over to Silverback for their AMOK! classes 1-2 times per month to try to begin to shore up this part of my game. It’s going to be tough to do because it’s not right around the corner for me, but we’ll see.
- If you live in a place or where you cannot legally carry a handgun, but where you can carry a folding knife legally, perhaps your primary focus should be on knife skills?
- Between the testimonial of my friend and my own experience with Tom, I can see that he is a man of character, a man of morals and ethics, and that seems so rare these days, particularly in the self-defense arena. I am not going to go into all of the little things that lead me to this conclusion about him, but for now I will just say that I got a good vibe.
- I recall an online interview with Kyle Defoor where he says that the knife trainer world has even more weirdos than the gun industry, and he may be correct. This is all new to me. But Tom Sotis and his company, AMOK!, seem to be the real deal, and I definitely hope to train with Sean again in the short-term and with Tom again at Silverback or some other convenient location.
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