Q&A: Forward Versus Reverse? Both Are Good

transquad said to howtofightwrite: what’s your verdict on forward vs. reverse grips, for combat use? which styles of knife go better with which grip? would it make a difference if you’re fighting something significantly smaller or larger than a human?


The grips aren’t stylistic, they’re utilitarian, and all styles of knife fighting utilize both. Often, they’re interchangeable depending on position and situation. Keep in mind this post will be discussing uses with a traditional combat knife and not something highly specialized like the kerambit.

Some rules about grips:

  • Knife fighting is not really a style of its own, but supplemental to hand to hand. (The knife takes the place of the attacking hand.)
  • Grips and blade position are about application of pressure: i.e. how do you want to slash, cut, hack, or stab.
  • Your type of grip limits your range of motion.
  • Range rules.
  • Knife fighting in the real world is about stabbing your opponent as much as possible so they bleed out. This is the mugger who bull rushes and stabs you between ten to twenty times in the gut.

Forward: For most of what you want to do, forward will be your number one. The forward grip is the most common, the one you’re mostly likely to encounter, and has the widest range of striking options. It also synergizes better with most standard hand to hand techniques, taking the place of the fist or striking hand. It also has greater reach with the straight blade.

However, this is for quick and fast strikes in the hand to hand range. If you just want stick the blade in and drag? Reverse is better. If you’re in standing grappling range, don’t want to simply just stab, stab, stab the gut, and need to economize your blade size for striking room? Reverse is better.

Usually, you’re looking at the standard straight blade for the forward grip.

Reverse: Reverse is about economizing space and power. This grip is about opening up options for ambush striking but also when you’re in very close quarters and don’t have much room. You’re limited to a lot of very tight strikes and cuts. However, this grip allows you to strike with just the elbow rotation rather than needing the shoulder.

The grip halves your arm’s ability to move (because, again, the entire major rotation happens in the elbow and limits extension), thus halving your power generation. Power isn’t as necessary with knives because the blade is doing the work for you, and every cut is a victory. The reverse grip shines when you’re pushed into an extremely close quarters situations, which is the standing grappling range.

The reverse grip is benefited by a curved blade, but you can do both. Curved blades generally specialize more for hooks and control, so it’s a different kind of cutting with a different approach.

If you don’t have a lot of experience with martial arts, the concept of range and the various ranges can be something of a mystery. You always want to remember that the body’s mechanics and motion are the means of generating power, rather than being an outside aggregate based on height and weight. Weapon’s work benefits from set ranges. Both fighters will struggle to maintain their weapon’s effectiveness. In hand to hand, you’re always moving inward. Techniques rise and fall in usefulness based on how close you are to your opponent. The knife, as a supplemental weapon, follows hand to hand rules.

Consider you’re in a position where you’re so pressed up against you’re opponent, your forearm is literally braced against their chest. In this position, you’re knife in the forward grip is either neutralized or more a threat to you. Now, rotate the image into reverse grip. The knife is in their chest or the tip is pressing on it. From here, you have options.

However, if you’re starting the fight from further away and you need to move in to strike, the forward grip will benefit you because you have full extension of the arm for striking. If you’re starting from a reverse grip, you need to close that distance as quickly as possible.

The difference between the two is based on the types of techniques being used and the ranges involved. The irony is while there’s a tendency to debate which is better, the goal of having a variety of techniques is about giving yourself multiple options for different scenarios. There’s no specific martial art or technique which is the best all the time in every situation.

Keep in mind, the knife is a deadly weapon that doesn’t require much skill to use effectively. We can go back and forth in debates, but, as many self-defense experts will point out, one of the most effective knife attacks used in the real world is the bull rush with multiple stabs to the gut, or cutting someone up as much as you can as quickly as you can in a blitz ambush.

Non-Humans: Modern combat with the knife is designed for fighting humans. In hunting, the knife doesn’t see much use except for utility. Martial combat is designed around the idea that you’re going to be fighting a human, and, for the most part, one of similarly comparative size. So, it doesn’t translate well for fighting against an opponent that is significantly larger or smaller than yourself (outside the human range) because an entirely different set of considerations will apply.

When selecting weapons for your characters to use, you should always be asking: how will this benefit me?

This thought takes you beyond the stylistic, beyond the favorite weapon, and dumps you into actually considering what you’d take into battle against an enemy between nine and ten feet tall.

Would you want to go after a pixie with a knife? Probably not.

Would you want to go after a werewolf with a knife? Again, probably not.

You want an advantage. You don’t want to die. You want to give yourself the best shot at winning.

You want to train your mind to be looking for advantages, searching for whatever will give your characters an edge, because fiction is ultimately fake. The onus is on you to provide an internal reasoning beyond, “I, the author, wanted it that way.”

The knife’s role in martial combat is as a supplemental weapon in hand to hand, rather than a weapon like the staff or the sword which requires a significant adjustment to use. The knife is a tertiary weapon utilized in the hand to hand range to give you a significant advantage over an unarmed opponent.


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