How to never stop improving in your martial arts training: Randy’s Law

I’ve often written “The differences are just as important than the similarities.”  It is a core principle of how I view martial arts, how I train to keep on improving and teach others to do the same. I don’t think I ever really explained where I got that from, so here goes.

About twenty years ago, there was a discussion on Marc MacYoung’s email list. I forgot the exact topic but I think it was about Filipino martial arts. One of the members, Randy, said something fundamental that I have to give you some background on first:

Randy’s Law merch available here; click the image.

In many Filipino systems (Kali, Arnis, etc.) you learn weapons before learning unarmed techniques. Often, the stick is the weapon you start with (though lately it seems the knife is used a lot as well) and when you are proficient with it, then you learn the same techniques with other weapons and also how they translate into unarmed techniques. The idea is that you have the same movements in all of your techniques, regardless of which weapon you find yourself with, or when you lose your weapon.

There is a lot of validity to this approach. It makes for a structured and consistent learning experience, which speeds up your progress immensely. It also tends to avoid conflicts between the different parts of your brain when you are under adrenal stress, because you basically do the same thing all the time. So that’s the good news.

The bad news is that there is an inherent trap in this method.

You can avoid it if you train correctly and your teacher drills this into you, but Randy noticed this was getting lost. What he explained was that the stick is used as a “universal weapon” as it has the most similarities with the other weapons in the Filipino systems, like knife, machete, sword, axe, etc. You can indeed quickly learn to wield all of them by focusing on the similarities they share with the stick. As the stick is easier to control and more tolerant of mistakes, it makes sense to train with it first. However…

Randy then wrote what I use every day in my own training:

The differences between those weapons are just as important as the similarities.

This was an eye-opener for me and I’ve been working for decades to increase my understanding of how this concept applies to almost everything.  Let’s first look closer at Filipino arts and then expand from there. Here is a picture of the kind of stick typically used in those arts:

Here’s a compilation of other weapons used in the Filipino styles:

How to never stop improving in your martial arts training: Randy's Law

How to never stop improving in your martial arts training: Randy's Law

One of the ways in which Filipino systems teach is by using numbered angles of attack. I covered that in part in my video on knife basics. If you practice those angles with a stick at first, you can quickly develop clean lines of attack. When you then transition to the small knife, things overall remain the same, but some aspects do change:

  • You now have a point that penetrates the opponent’s body when stabbing with it.
  • You have an edge that can cut both you and your opponent.
  • Your range is shorter than with the stick.

These are the main differences I want to focus on, though there are others. So let’s look at them in more detail.

  1. You can stab with a stick and it can hurt, but that’s nothing compared to using a knife that way. One knife stab to a vital target can end the fight quickly; not so much with a stick. Suddenly, stabbing becomes just as important as slashing and perhaps even more so. Remember that even as far back as the Romans it was already said: use the edge to wound and the point to kill.
  2. A stick is primarily an impact weapon, so you need to develop striking power for your techniques to be effective. With a sharp knife, you don’t need the same amount of power; the blade only needs to touch the target with comparatively little power to cut. With a bit of precision, you don’t even have to cut deep to deliver a lethal wound. So speed and precision tend to be more useful with the knife than raw striking power.
  3. A second consideration is that the knife can cut you too. How you retract it, how you use your live hand (the empty one) is now slightly different than with stick techniques.
  4. You can “play tag” from a relatively long distance with a stick. Using a knife, you have to come closer, mostly into the striking range of your opponent. Yes, I know about Largo Mano, but humor me: my point holds when you compare it to the stick, which is the whole reason I’m writing this article.

Here’s the thing: despite these points, the techniques largely look the same.  There are still more similarities than there are differences. But those differences are just as important to use each individual weapon correctly and most effectively.


There’s more…

Randy’s Law, as I like to call it, applies in more ways than this. For instance, when you fight stick against stick, you can pretty much hit any way you like because sticks are usually round and bounce off each other on impact.  When you have a stick but your opponent has a machete or sword, there are still mostly similarities between both weapons. There is one huge difference though: a metal edge will “bite” into wood.

If you block an angle #1 strike from a machete with your stick the way you block one from another stick, it can lead to a disarm. The blade can bite deeply enough into your stick so you can’t retract it quickly enough, or he can twist it out of your hand. If your opponent also has a stick, those techniques aren’t possible and you can ignore them.

The only way you know about this difference is if your teacher tells you or if you try it out.

Most practitioners don’t try it, so that’s not a realistic option. If your teacher doesn’t show you the relevance, it can get lost and leave the system. This creates a set of blind spots in your training you won’t address until it’s either too late or somebody else points it out to you. Given as we’re talking about using lethal force (fighting against a machete qualifies as such), I’d say this is kind of important information…

It gets worse though.

Just because you know about it, doesn’t mean you understand all the implications of this difference between a machete and a stick. Nor how to compensate for them with the many subtleties you don’t learn when using only the stick. The best way to truly get this understanding and the skill that goes with it is to practice. Which is a can of worms because you need somebody skillful and trustworthy, along with strict limitations on how to train or you’ll end up dead or mutilated. All of a sudden, some of the very codified training you sometimes see in weapon arts starts making sense… Not only does it allows you to practice full-speed and full-power with many techniques, it forces you to incorporate those differences I mentioned above because they are part of a strictly regulated form (kata, taolu, juru, use whatever terminology you like.)

Training in a codified way also helps you avoid debilitating injuries, as even a small mistake with a practice weapon can have lasting consequences. So, all in all, it’s a very effective and useful method of training, but it has been criticized a lot in the last few decades, mostly by people who don’t understand it. Sometimes rightfully so, but in those cases, it is often an issue of the system losing the relevant information for such codified training. Once that information is lost, the students practice an empty tradition: they do it because they always did it that way, not because they know why it is done as such.

My Kuntao teacher, the late Bob Orlando, made an excellent point about that:

There is nothing wrong with tradition, as long as it is a living tradition in which the reasons why you do certain things are explained to you correctly.

Specific details are there for a reason and the goal is that you shouldn’t have to discover those from scratch by going out and fighting. You’re supposed to use the knowledge of those who survived previous battles so you don’t get killed before you can learn them. Then you have to find a way to drill and ingrain them safely without injuring or killing yourself or your partner (codified training). Eventually, you get to the point where you can work more freely and perhaps spar.

What Randy pointed out is that in many Kali schools, those details were getting lost. The result was that practitioners tended to be very impressive in training, but had trouble using their techniques in an actual fight or when sparring all out. They no longer knew the differences and focused too much on the similarities.

A group that tried to address this in part is the Dog Brothers. Their motto, “higher consciousness through harder contact” guided them to full contact sparring with numerous weapons, testing what worked and what did not. They left out bladed weapons of course, so what they found is not exactly what was originally there, but I would definitely recommend checking them out.

There’s still more…

Another aspect is how different weapons can trigger different biomechanics, even if you don’t want to. For instance, there is a technique called “abanico”, which is a fan like movement. The way this instructor does it, it works great with a stick.

But imagine doing that with one of the heavier swords or axes pictured earlier: the leverage would be all wrong and it would be very difficult to pull off even once.

Now look at what this instructor explains. His body mechanics are radically different and more apt to move a weapon around that has more weight and a different balance than a wooden stick.

Unless you train with both weapons, you can get away with what the first instructor does and feel good about your technique. If nobody corrects your form, you will never be able to move like the second instructor, which means you won’t be able to use abanico well with a (relatively) heavy weapon.

This is one example of how focusing too much on the stick as a universal weapon, costs you knowledge and stops you from improving your martial arts skill.


I’ve talked mostly about Filipino systems to explain my point, but Randy’s law applies to other styles as well.

In the Tai Chi Chuan style I teach, we have both sabre and sword techniques. The sabre is heavy and is often used to chop, which means you have to develop mechanics that use the entire body instead of just your arm. If you don’t, you have a weak strike and fatigue quickly in a fight because your arm will cramp up. Despite me saying this explicitly and repeatedly, students still mess it up when we practice techniques with wooden sabers for safety. Those are lighter, which means they can get away with using their arm and wrist for power.

I clearly tell them not to, and they still do it.

Often without intending to, because the lightness of the wooden sabre allows them to do so. As a result, they tweak the technique because they can do it faster than with a real weapon. This ingrains bad habits that fail once they have that real weapon in hand.

So just because your teacher tells you this kind of stuff, doesn’t mean you are safe from making these mistakes…

How to never stop improving your martial arts skill: Randy's Law


I often get a comment on a technique in one of my videos along the lines of “That looks like X from style Y.” or “We have that too in our style.” Invariably, I’m reminded of Randy’s law when I read those. People usually mean well, but they focus on the similarities and then are done with it. They file away the technique as “I already know this” and move on. If they had looked more closely at the differences, there would have been an opportunity to learn something new by contrasting their version with the technique in the video. Every time you see a technique you “know” expressed in a different art, it’s a chance to keep on learning more about your own art.

I firmly believe that compare and contrast is a powerful method, as long as you do the contrasting well. What’s more, I’d dare to say that true learning is all too often only found in the contrasting differences.

So as you practice, read and study, try to keep Randy’s Law in mind: look at the differences and figure out why they are there. Ask the teacher if you don’t know right away or if it isn’t clear. But do try to look deeper than the surface, you’ll be amazed what you can find. In the end, you’ll follow the advice a Chinese martial arts teacher once gave when asked about learning different syles:

Don’t learn the same thing twice.

Understanding the differences helps you do just that.


P.S.: This article originally appeared in my Patreon Newsletter last year. I edited it slightly for improved reading and context.

Addendum 1:

If you want to see all this in action, here’s an excellent demonstration by Dan Inosanto:

Long version, one hour.

Short version, 5min.

Addendum 2:

I never gave Randy’s full name, because he is no longer on that email list and I hadn’t been in touch with him for years. Recently, he commented on this publicly so I can know acknowledge Randy Brannan in full for his contribution to my life. And it’s not just me…

Addendum 3:

Like I said, Randy’s Law is applicable in all fields. Here’s a comment one of my Patrons wrote.

How to never stop improving in your martial arts training using Randy's Law

How to choose a knife for everyday carry

One of the questions I get a lot is how to choose a knife for everyday carry (EDC). This is simultaneously a complex question that requires you to consider many different factors, while also being very simple and straightforward. The simple answer:

Carry the knife you need.

The complex answer comes from figuring out exactly what this means. Your situation will be different from mine, so what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for you. If you live in another country, laws are different as well, limiting or expanding your options.

I will go over several of the factors I feel are the most important to consider before you can pick a knife for your everyday carry. But first, you need to answer another question:

Do you really need to carry a knife?

This may sound like a weird question but bear with me.

The purpose of a daily carry knife is to have it on you pretty much wherever you go, every single day. Then the first step is analyzing where you go every day: do you need a knife there or not? Answer that question truthfully before continuing. The answer may be that another tool would be more useful: a multitool, a sap, a kubotan, a monkey fist, etc. So first of all, figure out if a knife is the best tool for you.

Let’s assume it is, then we can get into the factors you have to consider before making a selection. Key point: these factors are not all equally important. Some factors may heavily outweigh others, depending on your situation. For instance, if you live in a country where open carry is obligatory, there is no legal need to consider how to hide the blade on your body. This will also influence your carry options as the draw will be different than with a hidden carry. All that changes which specific knife you end up buying. Keep that in mind while reading the list below.

How to choose a knife for everyday carry

Consider the following before making a choice on which knife to buy:

  •  What does the law say? Try this page as a starting point for an overview of international knife laws. Do some research to make sure the information is up to date because it changes regularly. If you choose to ignore the law, understand that this has consequences.
  • What kind of hands do you have? Large? Small? Long, thin fingers? Short, stubby ones? Etc. If you can’t comfortably grip a knife, it’s not a good choice for you.
  • Fixed blade or folder? In my country (and in many others), fixed blades are forbidden for carry. Locking folders are as well and police have the leeway to make a judgment call for non-locking folders. Make sure you know what is applicable to your country and State.
  • Blade length. This is often a legal consideration where blades beyond a certain length are illegal to carry. If you mainly use it for cutting, length is less important. For stabbing, a longer blade is more effective.
  • Single or multipurpose? If you buy a “tactical” knife designed primarily as a weapon, this makes it less useful as a tool for other uses while also marking it clearly as a weapon. Should you use it in self-defense, you’ll have to explain later on why you were carrying what was clearly a weapon designed to kill. District attorneys and lawyers enjoy it when you hand them ammunition to convict you… Look at the sales pitch of some of those tactical knives and then imagine how a lawyer could influence a jury with it to make you look bad? There are more than enough other knives available that don’t advertise as such and are just as effective for self-defense. These also have a form and shape that makes them multi-functional. Given that you will likely use your EDC knife much more often for non-self-defense related tasks, it’s something to consider…
  • Blade retention/handle. How well can you hold on to the knife when you cut and stab with it? Blades can snag, ripping the knife out of your hand. Stabbing and hitting the ribs can mean your hand slips off the handle and onto the blade, cutting into your own hand. Other handles and knife designs are good enough to let you break ribs instead of diverting the blade. The type of handle influences your ability to hold the knife and use it effectively.
  • Guard/thumb rise/finger groove or not? Expanding on the previous topic of knife retention, the design can help or hinder in that regard. A knife with a guard or thumb rise can secure your grip and increase the pressure of a cut/stab. The same with a finger groove, as it allows for a more secure grip when things go wrong. But if they are poorly positioned or don’t fit your hand, then they are counter-productive. Sometimes, having none of those is better than having features that don’t work for you personally.
  • Stealth or convenience? My personal philosophy is that if there is no reason to show you have a weapon, hide it. So my preference goes to a hidden carry. But the more you have to hide the knife, the less convenient it becomes as you make compromises to keep the knife from showing. Find the right balance for your needs.
  • Drawing method. If you carry a knife for self-defense, being able to quickly draw it under stress is paramount. A weapon you cannot access in time is just as useless as a weapon you don’t have on you. Different knives will favor different drawing methods, so this is an important factor to consider.
  • Can you afford a trainer? The single best training method for your EDC knife is to get a perfect copy that has a dull edge and rounded off point. That way it is safe to train with for both you and your training partners. More expensive brands sell trainers that are exact replicas and they are worth the investment in my opinion. If you buy a cheaper knife, consider buying a second one and blunting it for training purposes.
  • Expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better. There are some very expensive knives out there. Some of them are worht the money, lots of them aren’t. Some cheap knives or even mass-produced kitchen knives outperform them, strange as this may seem. So don’t just throw money out the window by picking the most expensive thing you see.

There are other points you could consider, but I believe these are some of the most important ones. The key is to take a hard look at your own circumstances and environment and taking into account all these points, one at a time. This slowly guides you towards a specific type of knife that is a perfect fit for you. Once you buy it, then you have to train, a lot, so it becomes second nature to access and handle that knife.


Some examples

To help you out, here is a picture of some of the knives I own. I only bought two of them, the others are gifts. Take a look:

How to choose a knife for everyday carry

How to choose a knife for everyday carry

Before I go on: none of these knives are legal to carry in my country, so I don’t. The same applies to you: before you choose a knife for everyday carry, remember to research your laws as to what is allowed.

Let’s go over them below, but just one note: some of these knives are hard to find nowadays so I did my best to find the closest thing to it in.

1. Spyderco Delica. The first quality knife I ever bought. I got it 20 years ago as a general utility knife. I wanted something small and reliable, this one fit the bill. The grip isn’t as good as I’d like it to be, but the thumb rise compensates for that. The thumb opening via the typical Spyderco hole in the blade works well for me and the clip hooks well into my pocket pants. It can also be unscrewed and placed in the opposite position, making it practical for both left and right-hand carry

2. Cheap knockoff. I bought this knife many years ago at an Army surplus store. It was 10 or 15€, no more. It’s a cheap folder that lies well in my hand and is great for opening boxes, cutting rope, etc. I mainly have it handy to cut through my car seat or break the car window should I ever be in a bad crash or need to cut my kids loose. These reasons are specific to my past: a friend of mine died in a car crash after he missed an exit. He couldn’t get out and burned to death. I vowed to never die like that if I could help it, so I have a tool handy to get free if I still have the ability to do so.

I don’t know the brand and can’t find it anymore. The closest thing I can find to this knife is the Spyderco Matriarch, though the blade has a slightly different shape. Another one that looks like it is the Spyderco Byrd Hawkbill (thank you Jason.)

3. Benchmade Mel Pardue. I received this one as a gift. The grip doesn’t work for me and stabbing hard with it would mean my hand sliding onto the blade. As the spear tip is very good for stabbing, that makes it a problem. The serrated part of the blade allows for cutting/sawing through thick rope very easily, which is a plus. It is matted and doesn’t reflect light, making it a good choice for certain scenarios. The clip isn’t bad, but the design of the knife makes it impossible for me to do a reliable quick-draw; the knife is too small and flat for my hand. Overall, this is a backup blade for me, at best.

4. Old SOG folder. I’ve had the knife for almost 20 years now and I forgot which model this is. I looked it up but didn’t find it right away. The closest thing I’ve found is this one.

SOG makes quality blades and this one is no different. Because it doesn’t have a clip and the placement of the thumb stub doesn’t work for me, it is useless for quickdraw. That makes it suitable as a utility pocket knife, with some limited self-defense use. It is a sturdy blade though and I’ve used it for all sorts of things, abusing it a lot: it has taken it all in stride and except for needing some inevitable sharpening, it performed great.

5. Boker Gemini Law Enforcement Model Knife. This is another old model that used to be reserved for LEOs. I got it as a gift and like it a lot. The grip isn’t perfect, but it works well enough in my hand. The blade is matted, but the coating comes off a bit too easily for my taste. This knife is the only one that is truly ambidextrous: you can change the clip but there is also a thumb stud on both sides of the blade. So you can open it just as easily in your left as your right hand.

The only downside is the locking mechanism. I’ve had a hard time adjusting it so it has the right balance between loose enough for a quick opening and too loose, making it is unstable. That makes it unreliable for self-defense which is why I disqualify it as an EDC tool. At best it is backup or a utility knife.

6. Benchmade AFCK. Another discontinued one, this is one that resembles it somewhat. It is by far my favorite knife for many reasons. The handle has great ergonomics that make it fit perfectly in my hand and the texture gives a good grip. The blade is razor-sharp and holds an edge well; even a quick slashing movement from the wrist would cut deeply. Because of the length of the blade and the grooves on the back, it is also suitable for powerful thrusting techniques without having to be afraid of losing your grip.

Of all the knives in this list, the AFCK is the only one I can comfortably use in both regular grip and reverse grip, increasing its versatility for me. Pikal grip (reverse grip, edge in) isn’t possible because of the handle ergonomics. But as I don’t favor that grip, this is irrelevant to me. Overall, this would be my primary choice for a pure self-defense EDC.

7. Spyderco Civilian. Spyderco designed this knife for undercover LEOs who have some very specific factors to take into account. It is useless for stabbing but is the best folder I know for cutting, slashing and rending. As a utility knife, it sucks, but that is no surprise as it was not designed for that: it is made to cut flesh and bone and does so extremely well. Even if you don’t have a lot of physical strength, you can still easily and effectively defend yourself with it.

Its strength also makes its weakness: I would only use this knife as an EDC in the most extreme of circumstances. If you use this one in self-defense and end up in court, the prosecutor or opposing counsel will show the jury the horrific wounds this knife caused. He will also explain that the purpose of this knife is to kill, painting you as a violent thug who doesn’t care about the lives of others. I would urge you to think for a long time about choosing this knife as an everyday carry…



This is by no means the definitive guide on how to choose a knife for everyday carry, nor was it meant to be that. I wrote it to answer the question from my perspective, because people ask it all the time. As an aside, a knife is far from the only thing you would include in your EDC. A sensible EDC kit has other tools in it as well, including emergency medical supplies. Obviously, you also have to spend the necessary time training to be able to use everything in your EDC when the time comes. The carrying is the easy part…

I hope this article helped you out with your own EDC, how a knife could fit into it and how to choose one. My main point is to think things through and consider what is relevant to you before buying anything.

Good luck!


This article was originally published in my Patreon monthly newsletter. I revised it and slightly expanded it here.


P.S.: I wrote an article a few years ago on a more comprehensive EDC kit. You might enjoy that one too.

How to keep your guard up in a fight

It’s been a while since I wrote a “how-to” guide so here is another one: how to keep your guard up in a fight.

First, a quick explanation: The focus of this guide is combat sports like MMA, muay Thai and boxing. That said, to a degree, you can use the same information for self-defense and traditional martial arts as well. In those, you sometimes have to keep your hands in a specific place, for instance on center-line, chambered at the hip, etc.  Some of the ideas I write here will apply there as well, but not all of them. As always, use whatever you can and ignore the rest.

Second, why is it important? Why is there even a need to keep your guard up in a fight? We’ve all seen fighters with low or sloppy guards beat their opponents, right?

True enough, it happens. The most popular example of this is Muhammad Ali, who routinely dropped his hands or just kept them all the way down and still beat his opponents. Here he is in action. Watch the low guard…

Here’s the thing: just because some other fighter can get away with it, doesn’t mean you can.

You’re not Muhammad Ali. Do you have his level of skill? His footwork? His speed? His elusiveness? His experience?

Probably not.

But all these elements are a part of why he didn’t get punished all the time when he didn’t keep his guard up in a fight. However, when he got older and slower, the low guard didn’t work anymore and he started taking beatings in the ring. So no matter how good you are, there comes a time when a sloppy guard will come back to haunt you. The reason why a high guard is important is simple: you get hit more often if you drop your guard, especially if you don’t know you’re dropping it.

As a final point, there are two parts to learning how to keep your guard up in a fight: [Read more…]

Anderson Silva, his leg kick break and how to avoid it

I watched UFC 168 last night and saw Anderson Silva’s leg kick break. Frankly, it didn’t surprise me one bit as he makes a rookie mistake in how he throws it. He isn’t the first, nor the last, not even at that high level of competition. Does that mean he’s a bad fighter? Not at all. But his mistake is a basic one all muay Thai and kickboxing fighters learn in their first couple lessons in the gym:

You do not lead with the leg kick.

There are exceptions to this rule (Gokhan Saki, who’s leg kick is as fast as a jab…) and some people get away with it for a long time but eventually, there is always a price to pay eventually. Anderson Silva paid that price, just like all the others before him have. He now faces surgery and at the very least 3 months of recovery before he can even consider training again. There will be a long rehab process and only then can he resume training. I don’t expect him back in the Octagon in at least 9 months. 12 months is much more likely, if at all.

He’s also 38 right now and coming near the end of his career. There’ a good chance that he just had his last fight. Going out in this way is really sad for a champion of his stature. Even more so because I believe it could have been avoided. I’ll explain why here below, but first the video (not for the faint of heart):

So what went wrong?

Before I answer that, you might want to read up on my “How To do a Leg Kick” guide and a few other articles. I wrote that guide 4 years ago and just spent some time updating the videos because some of them were no longer available. Some of the terminology I use won’t make sense if you skip those posts, so it might be practical to take a look at them first or do so after you finish reading this post. Here they are:

Now let’s get back to the question: What went wrong and lead to Anderson Silva’s leg kick break? [Read more…]