AAR: Active Response Training (Greg Ellifritz) “Basic Knife Skills for Concealed Carry,” Manassas, VA, 02/14/16

As a teacher by trade, there are few feelings in the world like seeing the proverbial “light bulb” go on in a student’s head.  As a parent with young children, there is even more joy in these same moments.  Stepping aside and thinking about it, I believe the joy that we experience as adults in such moments is because we remember who REALLY feels the joy in those moments:  the kids who learn something new!  I think that, as adults, we sometimes forget how awesome it is to finally learn how something works, or the “why” of something.

I mention all of this because I just had the pleasure of training with an excellent instructor.  This is someone who is able to sift through a lot of “stuff” out there in the knife world and give people like me useful—and in my opinion, life-saving—skills that can be applied immediately.  This is in contrast to those who instruct as part of some greater system that a person has to almost devote his or her life to study.

The class I took was “Basic Knife Skills for Concealed Carry,” and the instructor was Greg Ellifritz, founder and CEO of Active Response Training.  The class was held at Elite Shooting Sports in Manassas, Virginia, and was hosted by John Murphy of FPF Training.  This was a one-day class (the class ran from 0900-1700) held on Valentine’s Day, so a quick shout-out to my wife for being cool about me taking advantage of this training opportunity.  Cost of the class was a very reasonable $175.  I am not affiliated with any of the above people or organizations except as a full-price-paying customer.

Here is a description of the course as posted on the Active Response Training website:

The Basic Knife Skills for Concealed Carry class is an introductory course designed to give people who normally carry a concealed pistol an alternate defense option if they venture into areas where carrying their pistols is illegal or impractical. Topics covered will include:

  • Choosing a defensive knife
  • Carry locations
  • Drawing and opening the folding knife under stress
  • Basic cutting angles and targets
  • The three ways to use a knife to stop an attack
  • Escaping life-threatening physical attacks with a knife
  • Transitioning between knife and pistol
  • Weapon retention using the knife

 The class will not be knife specific. Both fixed and folding blade training knives will be provided by the instructor. All ages and fitness levels will be accommodated.

On paper, this seemed like the perfect course for someone like me.  Going into this class, I’d had a total of 12 hours of prior knife training.  However, though I trained with someone who is highly regarded in the knife combatives field, those seminars were part of a larger system.  I am not in any way discounting the system, and I may continue to train in that system.  But Greg’s class would be more of a “one-stop shop,” giving me a lot that I could use immediately without learning an entire system (I have enough pulls on my time).  Quick and dirty was what I was looking for, and let me start by saying that Greg delivered.

A quick word about the venue.  Elite Shooting Sports is one of the coolest places I have ever been!  Picture a building the size of a Home Depot that has 24 25-yard lanes, 10 50-yard lanes, and 8 100-yard lanes, a small restaurant/snack bar, classrooms, great restrooms, lounge, locker rooms, and lots of shelves with lots of “stuff” for sale.  I was told the facility was only a little over a year old, and it is fantastic.  I wish I lived closer.

Our class started in a classroom off the main lobby area.  I believe there were 21 students plus John, the host.  Five of the students were women.  Ages were all over the board; there were twenty-somethings mixed in with septuagenarians.  When asked by Greg if anyone had any knife training experience, myself and one other man raised our hands.

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Greg sharing wisdom in the dojo.

Greg began with his own background, which is primarily law-enforcement (and world traveler) based.  He has worked as a patrol officer and as the primary tactical instructor for his own department, a suburb of Columbus, Ohio.  In that latter position, he was fortunate to be afforded the opportunity to train with some of the best people in the self-defense/tactical community.  He has also worked as an instructor with Tactical Defense Institute (TDI), also based in Ohio.

One of the first things Greg did was share some words to put any fears anyone might have had to rest.  Since it was obvious he would be dealing with a room full of “gun people” (who, I think by definition, prefer to deal with issues at greater than arm’s reach) with no or limited combatives experience, he took the time to tell everyone that we would not have to perform all of the drills.  If we had prior injuries that might limited mobility or flexibility, or were tired and needed a break from the reps, no big deal.  As he said, “It’s your class, not my class.”

We then went around the room and introduced ourselves, noting where we were from and what type of knife or knives we typically carry.  Greg said he was pretty impressed by our blade choices; no one was carrying complete crap.  Among the knife companies I remember hearing were Benchmade, Emerson, Kershaw, Spyderco, and one woman said she carries a nail file in her purse!  I should note here that I brought my own Benchmade Griptilian and Shivworks Clinch Pick, with training knives to match.

Greg then told us how the class would work.  The design of the class was to teach easy-to-learn techniques that do not require a lot of “continuing education.”  He said that goal was for us to successfully deal with a problem in the parking lot on our way home that day.  We would spend the first hour or so at our desks in the classroom, and then we would move into the dojo across the hall to do all the physical work.

Greg talked about his own study of the situations in which people typically use a knife for defense.  His own experience and research revealed that the knife is most often utilized during a physical fight versus a superior opponent.  In those cases, the person “losing the fight” employs the knife to even the odds and, hopefully for their sake, win the fight.  Though that was the most common usage, also notable were situations where one person faces multiple opponents, situations where access to a firearm was prevented (person pinned down by other person with gun carried behind the hip or at the small of the back), and situations where the knife was used to prevent a gun grab by an opponent.  Greg mentioned several times that the “West Side Story”-style knife fights just do not happen.

We then talked about the different type of knife “stops,” which are pretty much identical to the types of stops that one would learn in a defensive firearms class.  There are psychological stops in which the assailant—either before or after getting cut—says no thank you and goes away.  These are great, but cannot be counted on.  Greg mentioned that puncture wounds tend to be more lethal but are often not identified by the person on the receiving end and thus tend not to induce a psychological stop; open cuts/lacerations tend to be more effective with regards to psychological stops.  We then have the stops based around loss of blood, wherein a drop in the blood pressure due to blood loss causes the attacker to cease the attack.  Finally, there are those stops caused by structural damage of some type (skeletal or muscular) that physically prevent the attacker from pressing the attack.

We then moved on to the “choosing a defensive knife” portion of the class, which was very interesting.  Greg started by going over the good and bad points of fixed blade versus folder.  Pros for the fixed blade included easy of deployment, strength, safety (you don’t have to open it so less chance of cutting yourself), and they are often cheaper.  Negatives included legality issues in some jurisdictions as well as overall concealability.  Greg used a great analogy for us “gun people”:  the fixed blade is like the long gun, the thing you want with you if KNOW you’re getting into a fight that cannot be avoided.  The folder is more akin to the pistol that we carry because it is easier to conceal and gives us SOME capability, weighed against the probable need to actually use it.

In terms of where to carry a fixed blade, Greg did not surprise me at all.  He believes in the current “standard” of carrying a small fixed blade somewhere forward of the hips where it can be accessed with either hand.  Also not surprising was Greg’s primary choice of the KA-BAR TDI to fulfill this role, though he also believes in the utility of other knives such as the Clinch Pick that I and at least 4 other members of the class had with us.  We also had some discussion about the “neck knife,” ankle carry, etc.

We moved on to folders, where Greg pointed out the most important attribute of the folder:  the lock.  He mentioned how all of them have pros and cons, and when we choose a knife we must be familiar with those pros and cons so as to take advantage of what they offer while minimizing the negatives.   Greg had brought along an assortment of folders to pass around so that we could familiarize ourselves with the different locking mechanisms.  We started with the back lock, which Greg regarded as very sturdy, but the user runs the risk of deactivating the lock accidentally, particularly in reverse grip.  We then discussed the liner lock, the advantage of which was that the limited pressure on the blade when folded makes inertia opening easy.  However, they are more prone to lock failure at inopportune moments.  Next came the frame lock, whose pros and cons were the opposite of the liner lock (less prone to failure, but harder to utilize inertia opening).  Finally, we got to the axis lock, which is very strong, but the mechanism tends to cause the knife/handle to be a little wider, and thus harder to conceal.

Automatic and assisted-opening knives were also discussed, with Greg coming down outside of both camps.  He felt like people cut themselves WAY too much with automatic knives.  Assisted-opening knives are okay, but if anything blocks the path of the blade fully deploying, then you are left with an unlocked knife.  If you do not train to deal with this possibility and are used to counting on the knife being fully opened, then that could be bad.  To help illustrate this point, Greg reminded us that, in a fight, we would not be drawing and deploying our knife as comfortably as we do it standing in our living rooms.  We would be moving, fighting, falling, grappling, etc., so you have to be prepared for such possibilities.

Knives with the “wave” feature were also discussed, both purpose-built as well as “ghetto” versions.  Greg seemed to like this feature, since it does allow one to deploy the blade faster.  Indeed, he had a few of his personal “ghetto” versions there for us to check out.

Greg then moved on to the blades themselves.  Regarding length, something in the 2 ½ to 3 inch length is probably ideal.  Though more length is good, longer blades can be slower to open, can force you to compromise/shift your grip while opening, and are harder to conceal.  Regarding the shape of the blade (tanto, wharncliff, drop point, etc.), Greg basically said “pick a knife you like and go with it,” regarding most of these subtle variations as just ways to sell people new knives.  One of the things I was most interested in was “serrations or no serrations,” since my Griptilian has a partially serrated edge.  Greg said they’ve done tests on clothed animal carcasses and serrations definitely get hung up in clothing, especially zippers (I had heard this before, but he zipper aspect is something I had never even considered!).  He said if you use your knife like a utility knife cutting rope all day, then go with serrations.  Otherwise, stick with a plain edge, though he did add that, if the knife you currently use has serrations, don’t run out and buy another with a plain edge (I will follow his advice, but if I see a deal on a plain-edge Griptilian, I’ll probably buy it and then reverse the clip on the one I have and carry that on those occasions where I want to carry in my left front pocket).   Finally, we discussed steel.  He said that, for most people, the type of steel is not a big deal and most of us would never know the difference as long as we get a decent knife and keep it sharp.

We then moved on to other features he looks for in knives.  A good textured grip that will prevent slipping when covered with blood or mud is a must.  A decent choil to prevent the hand from slipping up on to the blade (the better ones are found on fixed blades; few folders have a good one).  Finally, in the area of folders, the ability to deploy the blade with either hand is important.  So either a hole like a Spyderco or a stud on both sides of the blade, like the Griptilian, are best.  A few well-known brands’ knives have a thumb stud on only one side of the blade, and this is unacceptable.

Carry positions for the folder were also discussed:  front versus back pocket, strong-side versus weak-side, tip up or tip down, clipped to pocket or deep inside pocket, etc.  Greg definitely preferred front pocket, strong-side if he isn’t carrying a gun, weak-side if he is, tip up, and clipped to pocket unless more concealment is needed.

We finished the classroom portion by discussing legalities of use.  Since a knife is considered a deadly weapon/instrument, its use is governed by the same rules as using a firearm:  reasonable belief in death or serious/grievous injury.  He also pointed out the public perception of the knife; when we hear of a stabbing, because we associate knives with “bad guys,” we tend to automatically assume that the person doing the stabbing was a bad guy.

After a 10 minute break around 10:30, we moved across the hall to the “dojo.”  This room was a bit bigger than the classroom we had been in (maybe 30 x 20 feet, perhaps just a bit bigger), with wall to wall mats and the walls padded up to about 7 feet up.  I felt like the room was a bit small for the number of students in the class, but other than that it was fine.  We partnered up, and the only other student in the class with any knife training experience chose to partner up with me.  He was an older gentleman (I think he said he was 71), but must be related to Jack LaLanne or something, because he was in very good shape.

Greg made sure everyone got a training folding knife, and students could also choose a training KA-BAR TDI if they wanted one.  I used my own training knives for this portion of the class which match my daily carry.   Greg had a few training folders that opened with the wave feature for those students whose typical carry knives utilize that feature.

I really liked the stair-stepped approach to the physical portion of this class.  Greg started with deploying the folder, having us practice the classic two-handed opening (slow, requires both hands, but is very sure!), then full swing out with one hand, then one-handed inertia opening, and finally my typical approach, which is to get it started with the thumb and then flip it out the rest of the way.  After doing ten or so reps of each of these, we then got to do them all with our “weak” hand.  Smart!  I learned I have to work on this!

Next, we worked on the draw of both the folder and the fixed-blade knives, again using one hand and then the other.  I must say that, as long as I’ve carried a folder, I never spent much time trying to access it with my left hand while it was clipped to my right pocket.  This was very useful to practice, and I plan to continue to practice this at home.

We spent some time on grip of the knife.  While some schools of thought put the thumb on top of the blade, pointing forward, Greg prefers the hammer grip.  Though the hammer grip does not offer as much wrist flexibility options when stabbing or slashing, it does provide a very strong grip.  Again and again for the next few hours, Greg hammered home the danger of dropping your knife, and demonstrated a number of techniques to prevent dropping it while doing different things, including just gripping it.

Following the above modules, we moved on to Greg’s 12 strikes.  These are Greg’s, but he heavily borrowed them from other instructors. (Different schools might number them differently, i.e., a “1” in one school might be a “7” in another).  Eight of these are slashes and 4 are stabs, and essentially are diagonal down slashes, diagonal up slashes, vertical up and down slashes, horizontal slashes, edge up and edge down straight on stabs, and then two “hook” stabs.  I liked the system, and though I got crossed up on the numbers a few times, Greg emphasized that the numbers don’t really matter, only our knowledge that those particular strikes exist.

After spending some time stabbing and slashing at the air (in both forward and reverse grips), we moved on to targeting.  Reminding us of the three types of “stops” (and forced to discount psychological, since there tends to be no rhyme or reason to how these occur), we began with the targeting of blood vessels.  So we talked about how bigger vessels—ideally arteries–located near the skin’s surface are the best targets.  Indeed, one student pointed out how some of the best targets are in or near the same spots where we apply tourniquets to someone bleeding profusely.  Anyone with a basic knowledge of anatomy can probably figure out what these vessels are:  the carotid arteries in the neck, the femoral arteries in the legs, the brachial arteries in the upper arms, and the subclavian arteries in the collar bone area.

Next, “armed” with this knowledge and with the knowledge of the 12 strikes, we began superimposing those strikes onto our partners.  We began by just doing this on our “willing participant,” hands-at-sides partners, checking to see which strikes work best at attacking which targets.  Next, and this was fantastic instruction by Greg, he again pointed out how a fight will involve movement and changing positions, so he had our partners put their hands up in defensive postures, and then we got to “attack” them again, noting how some strikes no longer worked against certain targets, but how new ones were now opened to other strikes.

The next targeting segment focused on bio-mechanical stops.  Since a person could potentially continue a fight for a minute or more even after a major artery has been severed (and a lot can happen in that minute!), Greg talked a lot about the importance of the bio-mechanical targets.  So, for example, if a person is choking you, rather than target the brachial artery, which might kill the bad guy but not before he chokes you to death, why not target the forearm and get good deep cuts into the muscles there so he has to release you?  Greg also pointed out that such a cut might end the fight immediately, whereas if you have to stab the bad guy multiple times in order to get him to bleed enough to stop, the latter will go over as well in court as “homeowner shoots robber 12 times!”

We talked about some of the good targets here (front of neck, biceps/triceps, Achilles, hamstrings, etc.), basically anything that allows the bad guy to grab you, hit you, or be mobile.  We then did some of the same drills with our partners that we had done earlier, except this time attacking these mechanical weak points.

We then got to put all of these things into practice against attackers.  Greg demonstrated to us the different types of “grabs” an attacker might use (reverse choke hold, side headlock, front bear hug, bear hug from behind, and front two-handed choke) and our best defenses against these.  We practiced with our partners, and then came the most fun.  He assigned us all letters, either A or B.  He then had the A’s close their eyes and then any B could approach any A and initiate one of the attacks we had just practiced.  As soon as the A’s felt the hands of the B’s, the A’s could open their eyes and then fight to draw and deploy their knives and attack the key target zones.  We did this for a while and then swapped roles, with A’s assuming the attacker role while B’s played the victims.

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Greg “attacking” our host, John Murphy.

We finished the major portion of instruction going over use of the knife in a gun-grab situation.  In other words, the bad guy has figured out you have a gun and tries to draw it out of your holster and use it on you.  Greg went over a few different ways—including his preferred way—of dealing with these scenarios.  They are hard to describe in words, but plenty of readers should be familiar with at least some of the basics of locking down the bad guy’s hand on the grip of your gun and then moving into him so as to negate his leverage, grabbing his elbow with your other hand.  Once you have him a bit more under control, you can deploy a knife with the weak-hand and go to work.  We practiced these techniques using training guns (provided by Greg) and our training knives.

Greg also reviewed for us what to do if we have employed our knife but now want to transition to our pistol.  For example, you were attacked, you used your knife on the bad guy who is now prone on the ground, writhing in pain.  You would rather hold him for the police at gunpoint than knifepoint, so how do you transition and what grip do you employ?

Other tidbits Greg covered included types of attacks criminals might utilize, many of which were first learned in prison (such as attacking a man while he his standing at a urinal).  Greg showed us the tactics used in these attacks presumably not in case we one day end up in prison, but so then we would be familiar with them if used on us on the street, in a bar, etc.  Greg also talked a lot about his extensive travel to third-world countries and how to conceal a knife or other weapons in such environs (I think he said he has so far been to 43 different countries!).  Greg also talked about what he termed “wound enhancement techniques,” which I don’t want to go into here (gotta leave him a few secrets), but terms like “comma-ing” and “stirring the soup” were bandied about; use your imagination.  There were a few other techniques that Greg shared with us that he borrowed from Michael Janich, but this AAR is rapidly turning into Moby Dick, so I will wrap this up.

Final Thoughts

This class was fantastic and was exactly what I’d been looking for.  Greg Ellifritz is, without a doubt, a subject-matter expert in this field, and his ability to impart his knowledge and provide useful drills and feedback is as good as any instructor with whom I have so far trained.  He reiterated safety concerns repeatedly, solicited questions from the students constantly (and had great answers for them!), allowed the students to work at a comfortable pace, and was as approachable as can be with questions/concerns/clarifications.  I would not hesitate to recommend this class to anyone, especially those who, like me, have traditionally been “gun guys” and don’t want to devote decades to studying a knife “system.”  If there is any doubt about how I felt leaving Greg’s class, I plan to sign up for his Extreme Close-Quarters Gunfighting class as soon as I can ensure my calendar is clear.

There are only two criticisms I can really provide, and they are both minor.  First, I wish the class size was just a little bit smaller, maybe 18 students.  This is not because Greg could not handle the number of students, but only based on the size of the dojo in which we were working, where space got a little tight once we started moving around a bit. Mostly, it was fine, but there were a few techniques we tried where just a little more space would have been nice.  Secondly, I would have liked to see Greg tell everyone to treat the training knives as real knives AT ALL TIMES.  A number of times I saw students doing things with the training blades that they would never do with real blades (scratching itches, handling by the blade, etc.), and I would worry that this could form bad habits with real blades.  This is really a minor point, as Greg was very safety-conscious throughout the class in terms of making sure no one had live blades or other potential weapons each time we returned from breaks, as well as making sure no one went “too hard” and injured themselves or others.

Also, a big shout-out to John Murphy of FPF Training.  I have not yet trained with John, but plan to take at least one and possibly more classes with him this year.  He has found a great niche with some of his class offerings and brings in excellent guest instructors–like Greg Ellifritz–on a regular basis.

Also, Tim of Gunnuts.net was in attendance as well.  Great to meet him.  For his perspective on the class, you can read his less verbose AAR here.

Thanks for reading.  As always, if you have any questions or comments, please post them below; we always love to hear from our readers. We have linked to some of the knives discussed in this AAR that are available via our Amazon Affiliate Link. We appreciate your support if you shop on Amazon!

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6 thoughts on “AAR: Active Response Training (Greg Ellifritz) “Basic Knife Skills for Concealed Carry,” Manassas, VA, 02/14/16

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