FPF Training Knife Skills for Concealed Carry Class AAR

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As discussed previously, I like to take a training class every month so as to always be learning new stuff and sharpening my skills. I pay special attention to opportunities to train with visiting instructors, especially on subjects I don’t know anything about. You can therefore imagine how excited I was that my schedule lined up with FPF Training bringing in Greg Ellifritz to run his Knife Skills for Concealed Carry Class.

I don’t know anything about knives. I mean, I got my Whittling Chip card as a Cub Scout, and I’ve done some kitchen work with one. But using one to defend myself in lieu of, or in conjunction with, a firearm? Absolutely nothing. It seemed like a good thing to learn, so it was off to class I went. The rest of the AAR is after the break!

The class was held in a conference room at the Courtyard Marriott in Springfield, VA. Not only is this not too far from my home, it’s a nice enough hotel. I have to wonder if we freaked out the guests at all with everyone running around with training knives on them, but I didn’t hear any complaints, so I guess it was OK. There are plenty of restaurants nearby if you want to go out for lunch.

The class is taught by Greg Ellifritz, of Active Response Training. You can see his bio here. Summarized, he’s been a cop for a long time, and was a full-time tactical training officer for 13 years, during which he took tons and tons of training courses (according to his website, he has 4000+ training hours logged). Besides his classes, he is perhaps most famous for his “Weekend Knowledge Dumps“, which are what I consider required reading for anyone interested in self-defense.

I like to post up the class description so readers can come in with an idea of what I was expecting:

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

Class begins with a classroom lecture session. Before class started at 8:45AM, we had a special surprise visit from FPF Training owner John Murphy. He first bemoaned how classes had about 50% of their attendance coming in during the week before, and was trying to figure out why. (The new (but reasonable) no-refund on cancellations policy was cited, if you’re curious.) I had signed up weeks prior, so I didn’t know. He then talked about a few other upcoming guest instructors, and ran off to go do whatever he does on the weekends (work, I imagine).

[ETA 2/2/25/2019: guys, let me clarify the above. The point is not that John was somehow bitching us out about late sign-ups – he was not – it was that he was trying to figure out WHY all the late sign-ups, which is what a good business owner does. The new policy on refunds had come about because people kept abusing the old policy before classes and it was hurting him financially. I don’t blame him for instituting the new policy. I was personally very surprised and pleased he showed up at all, as I had never met him.]

At 8:45AM, Greg introduced himself, and told us about the course. He’s been teaching it since 2002, and it was designed to address some design/philosophy issues he saw with other knife courses:

  • Other knife courses seemed very focused on the “knife user fighting knife user” (aka, “West Side Story”) scenario. This tends not to happen much in real life – it’s usually against more numerous and/or stronger opponents, in extreme CQB (for example, being grabbed before a sexual assault), weapon retention, and when injuries prevent a firearm from being drawn speedily.
  • The moves taught at other courses were too complex.
  • There was no discussion of what was legally defensible and would look better in court. Stabbing a dude fifty times is not gonna look good.

I have to say that after a short while, I realized Greg was not who I expected. Given the subject matter, I expected a hard nosed cop who was all business and deadly serious. Greg is business enough, but he’s actually a funny, warm, and friendly instructor who I could genuinely listen to all day.

The students introduced themselves at this point, along with what they carry and why they were there. Student composition was almost all male, but diverse in terms of age and race otherwise. Some people were more physically able than others, but this was not a deciding factor in prevailing during classroom drills. (Oddly, there were two librarians… apparently, libraries attract crazy dangerous people, and you need some self-defense. Makes sense, I suppose.)

The knives carried and reasons for being there were diverse. There were a few Marylanders who couldn’t carry a firearm, and some people who frequently went overseas. That said, I think most of the class was ultimately there for the same reason I was: to learn something new that would help them in life. The class delivered on that goal quite nicely.

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This led into a discussion of when you can use a knife. In what I hope is a non-shocking revelation, it’s basically the same as when you can use a gun. Knives are lethal weapons. You can use them to defend your life, or against serious bodily injury. Greg also pointed out that he’d never seen a woman prosecuted for a knife defense against sexual assault.

Next was a related discussion about how to deal with cops when you have a knife. Magic words are “I don’t have any weapons. I do have a pocket knife for opening boxes and cutting my seat belt in an emergency.” A little tape residue on it helps that if they ask to look at it. But, in theory, cops aren’t going to be arresting otherwise-law-abiding citizens because they’re carrying a pocket knife. (Personal note: I would not try this in NYC.)

With the legalities out of the way, we moved into the fun stuff: how to carry, and what to carry. I don’t want to give away the whole class, so here’s a list of topics with my notes:

  • Fixed blades are awesome, especially when carried centerline in an AIWB-esque position.
  • Pocket folders are more practical for everyday carry in a lot of circumstances. If you live in a pocket-knife-only concealed carry regime, you can get sheathes where you carry it open (this blew my mind).
  • Bigger knives make bigger holes, but are heavier, less concealable, and slower to deploy.
  • People often get hung up on the wrong things with self-defense knives; get a 3-4″ Wharnecliffe blade that can ambi-open with a quality lock, and you’ll be in good shape.
  • Discussion of the various lock types. Stay away from liner locks if possible. They all have pluses and minuses. Greg is not a fan of assisted openers due to failure-to-open issues near the end of the deployment.

Greg was distributing knives from his extensive collection while talking about these things, so that we could see how the various liners worked. I had never used a Spyderco before, so seeing their locks in use was pretty interesting.

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The TDI Law Enforcement Knife is superb.

At this point, we disarmed ourselves of real weapons and pulled training knives from the ones Greg provided. Everyone got a TDI Law Enforcement Knife trainer with a belt holster (I acted fast and grabbed the PHLster). You had a choice of a cheapo S&W trainer or a Kershaw Wave trainer. I chose the former; my training partner chose the latter. I don’t think either was better than the other, but you did have to tighten the folding mechanism screw on the S&W fairly frequently, which was distracting. I don’t know if getting some other folding trainer is possible, but it might be something to think about.

After getting “training armed”, we practiced deployment. Deployment techniques discussed included two-hand, one-hand, various flips, and stabbing a partially open knife into someone to get leverage to open it all the way. I think this was the point where I really understood how different knives are from firearms. When you’re deploying a pistol, you really strive to get it out the same way to the same place every time. With a knife, just getting it out and open ANYWHERE is the primary goal. If you can get it to the position you want (blade-up, blade-down-and-back, blade-down-and-forward), that’s even better.

The other thing is that you also find out how great fixed blade knives are. Opening a folder takes time; pulling the TDI and stabbing someone was insanely fast. I had never really seen this in action, but doing it myself made me a believer.

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This was a view I saw a lot of in class: my training partner attacking me with a blade.

Speaking of stabbing, we did various slashing and stabbing exercises, with discussion of the best targets for those. Greg teaches both techniques, since they have different objectives (slash = pain, stab = blood loss). If you are trying for an initial psychological stop, a slash is going to communicate the “hey, I’m cutting you!” message better than a stab. But if that doesn’t work, you need to switch over to the stabbing blood loss and biomechanical stop methods.

Following attacks was “troubleshooting”. Troubleshooting scenarios in Greg’s terms were control attempts on your knife, and failure to stop (eg, not inflicting enough damage fast enough). I don’t want to go into precise details, but the methods presented were decisive and honestly pretty brutal. I wasn’t the only one wincing when he described literally filleting the skin off someone’s bone… but that is undeniably effective way of sending the “stop” message to someone.

Now, we’re at the fun part of the class: drills with a partner. I was fortunate enough to know someone else at the class coming in, so we partnered off. This is just me, but I’m willing to go a little harder at someone I know and trust rather than put some stranger in a simulated chokehold and wonder if I’m accidentally harming the guy.

The attacks drilled were:

  1. Front choke
  2. Back choke
  3. Side chokehold (note: this sucks as a technique and leaves you open to EVERYTHING)
  4. Forward bear hug
  5. Rear bear hug.
  6. Hand grabs
  7. Knife grabs

You didn’t need a lot of physical fitness (lucky for me), but even a simulated chokehold is going to take it out of you. I suspect I’m not the only sore person from this class.

This culminated in a group exercise where half the class stood in the middle of the room and the other half the class attacked them – and then we switched sides. By that point, everyone was A-OK with attacking each other, and we all jumped in with various simulated attacks. I had a good time with this, and it really validated that the techniques could work.

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Greg’s favorite guinea pig.

We took a break from beating on each other to discuss how to carry your knife in places where maybe people are not so hot on you carrying a knife. (BUT NEVER ILLEGALLY.) I am not going to go into details on that, except that it was a very entertaining section of the class and certainly provided some insights into how to have a knife in certain places. (Did I mention that you should never carry a knife illegally? Excellent.)

Finally, because knife guys are often gun guys and vice versa, we did some “transition to pistol” and “retain pistol while knifing other person” drills using some newly-distributed blue guns. Greg teaches a couple retention techniques, but lock down is his preference, and I see why he thinks so – it’s simple to execute and seems effective.

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Me and Greg!

This class is just absolutely excellent, and really opened my eyes to a whole class of weapons that I had very little experience with. It is a bargain in terms of tuition costs and time spent, and there is just no substitute for doing the drills with another human being working against you. Greg is clearly a subject matter expert on self-defense use of knives. TAKE THIS CLASS. You will not regret it!

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