What I Learned From Taking a Knife Defense Class

By Leo Babauta

I took a knife self-defense class this past weekend with my friend Jesse, and it was way harder than I expected.

Now, you might be wondering, what is a peaceful guy like Leo doing taking a knife class?

Lots of reasons, but curiosity was the biggest one. I wanted to join Jesse and do something fun together, and he wanted to take this class at Triple Aught Design, and it sounded interesting.

So I took the class, and it was intense. Hard drills for two very full days. But it was also amazing — a world-class instructor (Craig Douglas) giving us very practical tools that we drilled over and over until we could do them under pressure. I learned more in that weekend than I have in almost any other two days I can recall. The class isn’t for everyone, but I do highly recommend it (check out Craig’s company, Shivworks).

Leo struggling in class

Photo by Andrew Frazier

So what did I learn? A handful of incredible things:

Pushing through discomfort: The whole weekend was uncomfortable for me. Intensity, tiredness, people bigger than me wrestling me, doing drills where I get stabbed in the face (wearing a protective mask, but still scary). There were plenty of moments when I wanted to walk away, out of discomfort, but I learned about pushing through that, and that my mind’s avoidance of discomfort isn’t something I have to listen to.

I know very little: I knew before I took this class that I’m not trained in self-defense (at all) … but I didn’t realize how vast my ignorance was until I took this class. Now I have a tiny bit of knowledge, but more interestingly, a bit of an awareness of my vast ignorance. This is humbling, and at the same time exciting, because it shows how amazing this world is … how much there is to learn, in so many different fields, how much there is to explore. I could study and learn all kinds of things for another 100 years and only be at the beginning edge of exploration. Wow!

You don’t know something until you’ve done it over and over: When the instructor explains something, it makes sense, and it feels like you know the concept. Then you try to do it and realize you didn’t understand it at all. Then you learn how to do it, but you’re still getting several things wrong. Then you start to correct those but realize you don’t know how to put it all together. It’s so interesting to me how much we think we know, but are wrong about. Drilling something over and over, though, helps get you closer to knowing.

You can be mindful in the middle of chaos: If you have two people attacking you at once, and lot of information to process, it can be chaotic and overwhelming. People are yelling at you, other people are stabbing you in the face (mask), another big dude is punching you hard with boxing gloves … and yet, in the middle of that, you can find mindfulness. You can be present, no matter how stressed out or fearful you are. This, of course, applies to all of life, and obviously it takes practice, over and over.

Fear is best experienced physically: There is a time when fear overwhelms you, and you just want to quit. At this point, you can run away and avoid the fearful situation … or you can drop down into your body and notice how the fear feels, physically, in your body. It’s not just a thing that’s happening in your mind — it’s happening in your body too. If you can stay present with this fear, you can realize that it’s just a physical sensation, like having soreness after a workout or a little bit of a hunger pang. It’s not that bad. You can act, even if you have this feeling, just like you can still walk when you’re sore.

Rest is the best medicine: After the weekend, I was sore and exhausted. I rested for nearly three days. I did a little walking, a smattering of work, but not much really. It feels good to do something hard and intense, and then let yourself recover.

I’m no badass, even after taking the class. I hope never to have to defend myself, I hope never to use a knife on anyone, ever. I don’t think I know very much. But I am grateful for the experience, and I did learn some valuable lessons.

Thank you to Craig, and all the great people in that class. I had the time of my life.

Leo wrestling with Jesse

Photo by Andrew Frazier. Leo wrestles with Jesse Jacobs.

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