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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bowie Knife Fighter: John J. Styers

On August 5, 1951, the Galveston News published a profile of John J. Styers, author of Cold Steel, military knife instructor, and one of the big names of the knife-fighting art. His name is misspelled "Steyers" in the article.
Marine Perfects Deft Knife Killing
CAMP LEJEUNE. N. C.. Aug. 3.
(INS)-John J. Steyers is a student of the gentle joys of disemboweling, throat-slitting, back carving, mayhem and their allied arts.

With a few deft strokes of a keen blade, he is able to incapacitate an individual for a considerable length of time. There is nothing messy about his work-he is a craftsman who takes pride in doing a clean, efficient job.

Steyers, an ex-Marine, has made a thorough study of the steel blade and its none too subtle uses. His job is to teach some of its more terrifying refinements to young Marine recruits at Camp Lejeune.

The 34-year-old instructor learned his trade from Col. A. J. Drexel Biddle, a famed Marine combat teacher who brought the knife out of mothballs. Biddle's knife style was patterned after Col. Jim Bowie of Alamo fame, inventor of the Bowie knife.

Steyers carries a bizarre assortment of knives to his training classes and demonstrates the techniques preferred by different nationalities.

The Moro bolo knife, used in the Philippines, for example, is employed as a hacking blade. It is swung wildly, usually by fanatics, with little aim or direction.

The Arabian knife, shaped like the ancient Moslem scimitar. Is brought upward with a devastating disemboweling slash.

Tht Russians use an oversized stilletto without a handguard, similar to our bayonet-sharp on both sides.

Russian knife fighters usually are armed with a pair of these weapons. Their technique is to make a preliminary slash inside their opponent's guard and then to stab downward with two blades simultaneously in the shoulder and back.

Latins usually go for the throat after a quick slash at the body and the Portuguese use an upward stab to the ribs. The British favor a delicate cut at the arteries and the Orientals swing their broadswords crazily, like the Moros.

America's heritage with the blade is is descended from Bowie. The Bowie knife, a blade with a sharp cutting edge on one side and a partial cutting edge on the other, is the weapon Steyers uses.

His technique, which he believes to be far superior to any yet developed, is based on the handling of the blade rather than its direction. The Bowie knife is held close to the side of the body and is pushed forward rapidly like a boxer' s jab. As the blade reaches its victim, the hand gives it a sharp snap.

This snapping motion causes the blade to cut up and down, making a nasty wound.

"The other techniques can't touch this method," Steyers says. "Your opponent must come in close and when he does there is no defense for your attack."
I find it quaintly refreshing that Styers names a nationality and then pigeon-holes its knife-fighting style in a single phrase; i.e., the British, sounding rather twee, "favor a delicate cut at the arteries." Asian knife-fighting, particularly the fluid style of the Filipinos, which has strongly influenced Western technique, is analyzed thusly: "Orientals swing their broadswords crazily, like the Moros."

Ah, well.  More articles on Styers here, here, and here.
Cold Steel

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