Always Wanted to Attend?
Get an Inside Look
Into one of the world-famous
Bowie Knife Seminars
Master at Arms James Albert Keating
For those of you out there who have been living under a rock for the last 10 years, let me bring you up to speed quickly. James Keating is one of the world's premier knife experts and is the man professionals go to when they want to improve their fighting skills. Having training in the martial arts and knife fighting since childhood, and having fought on the street against real guns and knives, he is a man who know of what he speaks.
Yet unlike others who would tout similar backgrounds and proudly wear the badge of a grizzled "streetfighter", Mr. Keating is a gentleman, a warrior, and a scholar of the world's martial arts, history, and philosophy. He is an explorer of all things martial, like a 21st century Richard Burton. Quick to smile and laugh, pass on a bit of curious lore, or to prove his words "at the point of his knife" as the situation warrants. Mr. Keating is one of those men who would have fit in as well hundreds of years ago as today.
If you remember back to the
days of magazines like Fighting Knives and Full Contact
then you've read about the Riddle of Steel on the Snake River Canyon
and the Bowie Knife Seminars that they hold at Comtech headquarters
in Oregon every year. Though those great tactical mags are no
more, the seminars still happen. I'll bet that like me, you
would look at those photos and wonder...just what would it be like to
be there? Well, let me tell you a story....
Class Photo from 3/27-3/29 seminar. ((All photos by "Doc" Parsons (front row, second from right))
"Everyone does things for their own reasons, but why does someone want to become a better knife fighter?" This was the thought I pondered as I packed clothes and training gear into the old green travel bag. For 3 days we were going to eat, sleep and breathe the Bowie knife, learn to fight with the Western methods and apply it all at full speed. Jim had been challenged on his claim that he could teach anyone to become a solid knife fighter in 3 days with this program, yet those same men would not go out to take the class themselves (even when offered free tuition). I wondered if we would have any raw beginners there, so I could see the difference in their skills from start to finish.
The trip out was uneventful though overnight storms had left a solid foot of fresh snow to contend with. On the way out I kept myself alert by playing "spot the others heading to Comtech." I reasoned that since I was heading out a day early, through 3 airports, there was good chance of spotting someone headed there. I was dressed inconspicuously, so I wondered if they would be able to tell, too? "Your battle aura is huge..."
Sure enough at the second airport I spotted an older gentleman with a hat on waiting for the bus. He was calm and polite, but his eyes and focus, his awareness of those around him spoke volumes to me. I got a closer look at the hat's inscription - "Silver Bullet Brigade". This was not a fan of Coors beer here, folks...this guy was a lifetime NRA member. Radar was locked.
As if on cue he looked up and we both smiled and looked away as one does. By the time we got off the third flight in Walla Walla, he'd pegged me too. As I was going to call a cab he walked over and said "Comtech?" Thus I was introduced to "Doc", a lifetime pistol shooter (.45 and he'll tell you why) and tai chi player...with absolutely no background in knives or fighting martial arts...just the man I was looking for.
I had my baseline to watch
now. In 3 days, what could the good Doctor learn about the
knife? As we spoke at dinner I could tell he was ready and
eager to learn, "a fresh canvas".
(L-R) Rob Langford, Pete Kautz, James Keating
The High Passata Sotto
The Comtech school is located in an unmarked storefront on Main Street of a small Oregon town. It used to be a bar, and still has the old neon lights on the ceiling and the bar from those days. The windows are fully covered over and are reinforced with security bars. There is no indication from the street what this place is, or that it is even open. Kind of humorously, there is a small Tae Kwon Do school upstairs and a weight gym, run by different people.
Inside, the Comtech school is
very spacious on the first floor, but their upstairs is jammed full
of 30 years of training gear - a squadron of mad mook jongs that spin
and have balls on ropes attached to the limbs, piles of weapons and
gear, old photos and artifacts. One particular photo caught my
eye - a group of 4 young Kempo black belts standing on guard along
side a powerful looking Ed Parker. Though many years had
passed, I could pick out the smile and piercing eyes of one of these
Kempo bucks...it was a young James Keating!
With proper timing the low Passata Sotto can come in from long range right under the opponent's radar
The training started the first day with Master at Arms Rob Langford teaching solo drills for correctly performing the different attacks and defenses with the Bowie knife. Rob would teach most of the time as James carefully observed, seeing what people needed to be corrected on and what to do next, like the pilot and navigator of a ship.
From the initial drills which were designed to teach attack, defense, and back-cutting, we learned to rely on our partners for feedback about our performance, and this eased us into the mindset of the weekend - everything is working with a partner to help you learn faster. Getting hit is OK if it means you learn. I have to compliment the folks there, because there were no bad attitudes and everyone trained and learned a lot. Sometimes there will be people who have to "win" a drill so badly that they hurt someone or at the very least make learning anything impossible for their partner. Were blessed to have a group there to learn and grow, not pose or impress.
One unique feature to the Comtech Bowie seminars is that once you have attended one, you can come back again for free to tune up your performance. This time, we had a number of returning people, such as knifesmith Rob Patton and Sensei David Elkins (pictured below, tan shirt).
That first day we worked
through a lot of material that we would spend the next two days
really refining. We practiced footwork and mobility, cutting,
thrusting, the lunge, back cuts, evasion, timing, rhythm, and
measure. The drills were arranged so that each concept built on
the previous ones in a logic chain which made learning advanced
skills much simpler.
Sparring was a constant activity! Here Mr. Keating and I dance to the tune of steel
Day two got further into the use and combinations of all the basics we learned on day one, as well as introducing new skills and giving us our first chance for the weekend to put on the masks and apply everything in sparring. The pace was noticeably picked up from day one, now that Rob and Jim had a better idea of where the class was at with the material.
The evasion and mobility
concepts from day one were now drilled in rapid fire
applications. There was no question of whether this would work
- you were both really trying to hit each other, so if you evaded, it
was "for real". I wondered how Doc was doing, but he was just
smiling, moving cleanly, and having a blast. Looked good.
I wondered, how he would do in the sparring.
Bullwhip and Bowie work was taught on the side, as was a series of close-quarter knife disarming drills
After lunch it was time to find out. We worked through a number of sparring drills and then moved progressively into free sparring. The fight was to one touch. As Jim reasoned it, "That one shot may not kill, but it will change the nature of the fight". The double kill (where both fighters hit one another) was the greatest sin to avoid. Normally, a double kill is rewarded with pushups for both men. No point to train good techniques and evasions and then to just rush in pell-mell.
Those not fighting were in a circle around the combatants, so you could learn from seeing the others and observe their personal styles. Some men were fast and used wild gestures and feints, others sat back and used their eyes to advantage, not revealing their game until it was time to act. Since the class was large, you got to experience fighting against a variety of body types and styles. The Doc impressed the heck out of me, keeping his composure against men with a lot of training in the knife and using what he had just learned to telling effect. When he got hit, he knew why, was conscious not to make that mistake again. That was something I noticed with everyone here - you could not underestimate them except at your peril and they learned from fighting you. And this was only day two...
Though we'd fought for hours,
it was not to be the end of the day. Since we could not really
go out in public and be ourselves ("Hey, look at this cool knife!"),
we brought the food and beer to the school and spent a few more hours
talking and training. Jim lead us through an hour of close
quarters knife disarming and taught some of the principles of using
subliminal gestures in combat. Still not tired, I headed back
to the hotel with Rob Patton. Custom knife maker Wendel Fox and
Sensei Dave Elkins joined us, and we talked into the morning
You have got to be one really bad dude to eat here!
"Which supper club were we going to eat at tonight, honey?"
"Oh, you know, what's the name...ah, that M***** F***** Supper Club downtown...you know the one."
"Oh, of course dear... It's so charming!"
Unless MF stands for "Monday through Friday" or "Male and Female"...but I don't think so!
Day three started with a review of all the concepts we'd worked on so far. More work with the beat, bind, trapping, and power-passing actions were taught, and we got to see Jim in action against Rob using the the Crossada vs. a flexi dagger. Jim demoed every aspect of the trapping guard at full speed, talking all the while Rob is working to hit him, and selectively picking up attacks with the horns and Spanish notch of the Crossada!
After this I was asked to present a segment on the shield and knife, so I showed the basics for both the small buckler and larger heater and kite shields. Focusing on the buckler as seen in Marozzo and DiGrassi, we covered some concepts like keeping the buckler in line with the elbow (just like the knife), parrying with the circumference, covering the weapon hand (as in manuscript I33), concealing the weapon, and maneuvering the body around the buckler.
From here we went into a lot of sparring, including fighting with double knives and knife and buckler. Both Jim and Rob were quick to spar with everyone there for all three days, and this was no exception. We had a fine time, and all too soon it was time to go.
To wrap up, Rob reviewed the manuals he'd made for us, and Jim gave a heartfelt lecture about the Western arts. He demonstrated some amazing techniques of how Western fencing principles apply to pistol fighting and described how Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do drew its core concepts from Western fencing, as well as discussing the use of magic as it applies to combat.
From here we had but one more night to sit up late and talk. Rob Langford joined us after dinner and as is the case with martial artists, "talking leads to doing". Rob covered a whole slew of the Comtech trapping hands and hubud concepts with us, and gave an unforgettable demonstration of the frame-shifting concepts seen in both the internal Chinese styles and the Russian systems. Again and again against full speed attacks...he wasn't there and he didn't touch the attacker and they stumbled and fell.
Too soon would come the trip home, no longer in the company of bladesmen, but returned to the world of fussing yuppies and flight delays. No matter. I was so fired up that it was all just good fun. I amused folks in the airport by breaking chopsticks on my throat and vanishing coins, even teaching a wide-eyed little kid how to make a coin disappear. He tried eagerly to fool his mom upon on her return, but she was too self absorbed to pay attention. "You've felt the magic", I said to him as I leave "It's yours now."
I know I had just felt the magic for three days...
Bottom line? If you are looking to learn to fight with the Bowie or any large knife, this program will show you how. Beginner or advanced makes no difference, this can give you a system or turbo charge what you already do. If you have learned primarily a small knife art based on traps and slashes, the Bowie program will open your eyes to a whole new world of knifecraft.
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