– Knife Fighting Art of Self-defence & Sport by George B Wallace

Reviewed by James Farthing 


Let’s start with the physical aspect and the biographic details. The book is an A4 format, 35 pages in length (inc. cover and content pages), and is published by Walmac books in California as are his other titles. The book is copyrighted 1977.

I first thought that this was one of his “survival series” of  books but now i am not sure as the production and format are totally different to those in the series I have been fortunate enough to view. Without any details on Mr Wallace however that fact remains uncertain.

So to the book itself. It is divided into 40 sections and includes typed text and small, but still very clear, black & white photographs ( one can only assume that the figures in the book are Messser’s Wallace and Moody).  

The introduction gives a little history of Mr Wallace, stating that he taught self-defence (jiu-jitsu), and the knife skills herein come predominantly from an associate who grew up in 1920s Italy. This associate was involved with the gangs in Italy in some way which lead him to train his knife fighting skills. He also emphasised kicks ( suggesting a knowledge of Savate) which can be seem in the text.

Wallace discusses the possible weapons and divides them in two, one being a purpose built fighting knife and  the other a general utility knife. He goes through the similarities and differences between the to and how this impacts knife fighting. He next talks about stance and the elements of a “proper”knife fighting stance. The basic stance (for a right hander) is right foot forward, right hand holding knife close to right hip, left hand close to body about waist/ chest height. Included in this section also are details on how the body and muscles should be held.

Next Wallace discusses how to hold the knife, footwork / mobility and “fighting measure.” Under the subject of grip he also covers whether a simple edged blade should be held cutting edge up or down. In regard to this he states “… it really depends upon your speed, aggressiveness , use of strength,  footwork, defense against kicks, etc.” The desired footwork of a knife fighter is “….. Light-foot-ed, agile and fast,” and this can only be achieved through “….practice and attention to details.” He goes into detail about what footwork should be like and the reasoning behind this. The fighting measure is the next section and this covers the distance maintained between two knife fighters in a ’bout’- here we see Wallace’s emphasis on the ‘duel’ as opposed to an attack with the knife on an unarmed assailant {a shame in my opinion as that would have made an interesting read I am sure!}.

Following on from the stance, grip, footwork, etc. are the striking techniques employing the knife and as can only be expected these are the thrust and the slash. Covered are the ways in which the knife should be held and manoeuverd as well as target areas for the strikes. He also states heavy clothing can be a hinderance to the knife fighter and in these circumstances on should ” ….concentrate upon the exposed portions of the body.” A hint to Wallace’s slant towords more realistic combat perhaps?

Next we have an interesting examination of the opponent their type to be precise-  are they  i) the novice,  ii) the aggressor, or iii) the defender. As many of us will empathise with what he states that “the untrained knife fighter is often more difficult to deal with in a fight.” A statement which I like as being honest but also showing a possible flaw in Wallace’s method for street use is “[the novice] makes uncoordinated movements and fails to respond normally (or at all) to orthodox feints or other forms of attack.” I do support him for saying that “…. such people should be treated with respect,” but would hasten to add that, as Peter Consterdine has written, there is only “high risk and unknown risk.”  

Attack and defense are the next topics and these are covered separately with a caveat stating that “….you cannot really discuss them separately for both are so closely linked together…” Attacks are advised to be as simple as possible {reminding me of the K.I.S.S principle} and split into direct and compound. Direct is as it sounds, directly to the opponents knife hand or a vital target. Compound is a series of cuts where the final telling cut is preceded by a series of false attacks, aka  feints.  

Within the general attack section are covered some specifics such as “the flick”, which is a whip-like action of the blade against fingers/knuckles/hand /knife blade. The “renewed attack” is an offensive movement carried out immediately after a failed attack, taking advantage of an opponents side step for example. A “false attack” is simply a feint made with no intention of making contact. As with feints used in boxing this can be to lure the opponent into a specific movement or to test the skills of an opponent. Switching the knife is next discussed as is the use of the kick. He states that the foot, for those skilled, is “….an important and effective tool[as a weapon] in knife fighting,” but should be used “…. as an adjunct to the knife and not as the principal weapon.” To me the kicks have a Savate feel to them.  

Modes of defense are  the “invitation”which is the intentional exposing of an area, giving the opponent a nice easy open target but having a little something waiting for them should they choose to take it. The “counter-attack” is as per all aspect of fighting, attacking directly off of a parry/block/evasion etc. “Attack on preparation” is maybe as close as Wallace gets to some kind of pre-emption, this being an attack as the opponent is preparing to make their attack, taking advantage of the split second drop in concentration. The “stop-hit”again is a principal covered in other arts so I won’t dwell on it here- in my opinion though you’d need to be very confident to trust a stop-hit in a knife fight! Lastly comes the defensive use of kicks and punches, again with the kicks having a Savate feel. Only kicks are pictured but shown also is the use of a stool in conjunction with a kick.

The follwing section of the book is generally titled “knife fighting tactics” and covers a number of different areas. Again these are all based  on a knife v. knife scenario and assume a good degree of expertise with the knife and accompanying footwork etc. Covered is how to observe and assess the opponent, the right time to attack, dealing with the opponent, style, altering your play, reaction and timing, speed & distance. Interesting to note is Wallace’s idea that “….. an opponents habits and preferences can be anticipated by taking note of his particular style,”  indicating a long and drawn out match instead of a quick and dirty fight to the finish. This is also evident in his advice to alter your ‘play’ so as the opponent cannot assess your style and weakness.

This is the end of the self-defense section so to speak and although I may have sounded a little negative I do indeed like some of work put forward by Wallace (having all of the text and accompanying photos will help!). There is  a lot of good material that you can take from this, though of today’s climate some of his ideas might be better suited and worked though as knife v. empty hand. You can also work some of the ideas with impact weapons as opposed to the knife, instead of a slash to the arm a strike with a blackjack for example… just takes a little thinking and reading between the lines! As an end to this section I’ve included a copy of the last page off Wallace book, entitled ” Some Quick Notes on Self-Defense”, which may well counter some of my points above…


  If attacked by assailant with  knife and you are unarmed.

  1. RUN!!
  2. If unable to escape, wrap jacket around arm and use protected arm for receiving knife cuts while kicking at knifer’s legs.
  3. Throw keys or coins into face of attacker, then kick.
  4. If there are stick shape objects about, such as a ruler, keep moving about until attack reaches out to strike. At the moment use the ruler in whip-like action and strike at opponent’s knife arm. Keep at it until he quits , drops the knife or is distracted, allowing you the opportunity to kick at legs and run.
  5. If a stool or light chair is at hand, drive leg into attacker’s upper body and kick at his legs while he is occupied with chair.
  6. If armed with nothing but a flashlight, use light to blind him(at night) followed by kick to knee. If flashlight is long enough, use in similar manner as mentioned in note #4.
  7. If held-up while carrying a bag of groceries, either throw the bag at him or grab a tin can or bottle as a weapon.
  8. A trick that worked for a friend of mine. He was held-up and he persuaded the knifer that he kept money in his shoes for safe-keeping. As he squat to remove shoe, he let loose with a kick to knifer’s kneecap and dropped him.
  9. Self-defense as regards to above notes depends greatly on how fast you react to attackers appearance as to whether you are successful or not.

If you and your attacker are armed with knives.

  1. Concentrate on the business at hand.
  2. Keep loose. Tensing causes awkward movement and slowing down of response. Do not spend more than a few seconds on moves before breaking pattern or opponent will be able to stop-hit. Withdrawing is wiser and wait for another opportunity.
  3. You will find that loose fitting clothes will diffuse the body outline and can cause miscalculations in range on the part of the attacker.
  4. Small stones, dirt, keys and coins thrown at face of knifer can cause momentary distraction.

Finally, a noted sword fencer of 16th century, by the name of Marozzo, advised that, when daggers are drawn, a man with some regard for his life should come as quickly as  possible to the close. The final five pages are concerned with the sport of knife fencing.


I won’t go in too much detail here as it’s not really my area of interest…I will however go over what’s covered. That is as follows: some historical information on how the sport came about, training measures, attack& defense and finally rules and regulations. For those fencers out there interested in a smaller blade this may be worthwhile investigating?!

Published on January 3, 2007 at 4:12 am  Comments Off on – Knife Fighting Art of Self-defence & Sport by George B Wallace  
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