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Every man needs a pocket knife by Jack McCall

An old friend gave me a new pocket knife for Christmas last year. I decided rather than lay it up somewhere that I would “carry” it.
And I am most comfortable with a pocket knife in the bottom of my pocket. A pocket knife takes me back to my early days in Brim Hollow. My grandfather, Herod Brim, was an expert when it came to pocket knives. In the Riddleton community, he was a whittling legend.
In my mind’s eye, I can see him vividly as he sat in a cane-bottomed chair, knee-deep in cedar shavings, in the ditch across the road from Leonard Carter’s General Store.
My friend, Bobby Dias, confirmed that the whittlers used to fill that ditch with whittled cedar spirals. He went on to say that a regular prank involved someone sneaking in behind the whittlers and setting the shavings on fire.
“That would make Pa Davis so mad,” Bobby laughed.
Pa Davis, whose given name was Bethel, was a former sheriff of Smith County. My grandfather named one of his favorite dogs after Pa Davis.
I’m sure you have read about his dog, Ol’ Bethel. He’s in chapter three of my second book, “Snowflakes in Summer Time.”
My grandfather got off to a rocky start as a whittler when he attended the fair in Dixon Springs as a young boy. My mother tells of two events at the fair that made lasting impressions on him.
In those days, you could buy all the lemonade you could drink for a nickel. My grandfather spent one of his nickels on lemonade. But he drank so much, his Aunt Kit made him quit. He was not happy.
The other event involved a booth at the fair which advertised on a big banner, “Learn How to Whittle — Five Cents.” After serious consideration, young Herod decided to spend his nickel and go inside.
After all the would-be whittlers took their seats, a man came into the tent and stood before them. He took out a long piece of cedar whittling timber and pointed it toward the ground. Then, he opened a blade of his pocket knife and slowly pushed the blade of the knife toward the end. As he did, a long, slender shaving spiraled ahead of the knife blade.
When he reached the end, he looked into the eyes of those eager to learn and said, “Boys, always cut away from you, and you will never cut yourself.” Then, he turned and walked out of the tent. The demonstration was over.
My grandfather stomped out of the tent. Aunt Kit reported that she never saw him any madder, before or after. I never recall him cutting himself while whittling.
My grandfather had a small collection of pocket knives. He usually toted a Case.
But he took special pride in a John Primble and a Camillus he owned. A Schrade-Walden was another one of his favorites.
He knew knives, and he knew how to read the steel in each one. In his day, the steel in knife blades was softer than the stainless steel used today.
He took many a pocket knife home to sharpen for his friends. I recall he charged 50 cents for his work. He could put an edge on a knife blade that was plumb scary.
I remember his teaching me how a razor-sharp edge felt on the tips of my fingers. But the proof was in the shaving. He would lay the blade to his forearm and the hair would roll off at the stoke of the knife blade. Then, he would look at me with his eyebrows raised, and his eyes would sparkle.
Being a farmer, my father always carried a four-blade pocket knife. He preferred a Buck or a Boker. The largest blade usually had the tip broken off where my father had used it as a screwdriver.
One blade, the second largest with a rounded tip, was his castrating blade. To quote my father, it was always “sharp as a briar.”
Of course, on a farm, the uses of a pocket knife are endless. There are always strings to cut, cans to open and sticks to sharpen. And on Sunday at church, if the sermon got slow, you could always take out your pocket knife and clean out from under your fingernails. I recall with fondness witnessing my father doing that on many occasions.
You might say my affinity for pocket knives is a part of my heritage. That’s why I think every man should own a good pocket knife. You never know when it might come in handy.
And who knows? The world might be a better place if we had more whittlers.

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 So, the barbarians are at the Gates, what should you do?

Well, smart people will already have done something about it, but, well, troubled times, troubled times.  Nobody expects the Visigoths, Mongols, Ottomans, Frisians, Norse, Dane, Swedes, Rus, Rhode Islanders to come crashing through your peaceful estates far from the rough border regions.  Sure, the Border Lords are supposed to keep all the riff-raff on the other side of the invisible barrier between “Us” and “Those uncivilized barbaric nomadic uneducated mean people.”

But, unbeknownst to we civilized folk, the very people who rule over us and tax us have let the very barbarians they are supposed to keep away from us in to be around US!  What is wrong with people?  The Nerve!!!

Now what?  Well, hmmm.  What are we to do?  Oh, sure, one can arm oneself with one’s relative’s cavalry weapons, but there’s an issue about that.  Cavalry weapons are long and designed to be fought with while on a horse.  In the open.  Wide open.  Wide wide open.

Unfortunately, turn around.  We are all surrounded by walls, furniture, household staff, all things that get in the way of wildly swinging a cavalry spatha, sword, saber, longsword etc.  I mean, you can get new household staff but the lady of the manse probably would get perturbed with slashes in tapestries, furniture, the housecat or dog or both, her, and, yes, household staff.

What to do?  The concept of a sword is a good one, and very useful outside if your estates are vast, but in these fallen times, we all live crammed together almost on top of each other.  Long length is a no-go.  So, well, let’s look at other tools of the trade.

Spears and other daggers-on-a-stick – way too long, need room to maneuver, but keep that idea around.

Swords-on-a-stick (like glaives, naginata, rampele etc) – better than a spear, but still too long, but keep that idea around.

Axes-on-a-stick (like halberds, two-handed axes, poleaxes etc) – Come on!  Anything-on-a-stick is too long and unwieldy in one’s domicile.  Plus, some of them require way too much training (you don’t just pick up a great axe and start swinging, as there is an art to not getting yourself killed using one while killing one’s opponent.)

What about smaller axes, like hand axes and tomahawks and boarding axes and and and… Think about it.  Hand axes are for fighting outside.  Same with tomahawks (plus, tool of barbarian, duh!,) and boarding axe means you are on a boat or ship and that’s a whole different type of fighting, totally uncouth for us gentle folk.

And what about broadswords and single-edge cleavers like cutlasses, falchions, falcata?  Getting better, but unless you live in a palatial home, still too long.

Which leaves… daggers and swords.  You know, civilized weapons.  “But Beans,” you say, “you told us swords are too long!”

Well, broad swords and falchions and cutlasses are still to long

No, not all swords.  For there is a class of swords that are designed to be used in close quarters, and they are called “Short Swords.”

Like, well, short double-bladed swords like the Gladius Iberius and it’s cousin the Xiphos and the  Cinqueda.

The Gladius – Short, double-edged, stabby point.
The Xiphos – Short, double-edged, stabby point.
The Cinqueda – Short, double-edged, stabby point.

Beginning to get the hint here?  Short, great for close quarter combat.  Double-edged to cut on either a forehand cut or backhand cut.  Stabby point, for, duh, stabbing.  All three are short enough to use in pretty much even the most cluttered house, heavy enough to chop through one’s target, and, well, STABBY-STABBY!

So how does one use one of these wunder-weapons?

First, determine whether you are right or left handed.  Place handle in that hand.  Now extend your non-sword foot forward and to the side, point that foot at your target.  Slightly turn your swordside foot outward.  Bend your knees a little.  Stand up straight.  Rotate on your hips back and forth, back and forth.

Did you do that?  Good.  Does it feel comfortable?  This is a basic stance in all fighting.  Some call it a boxer’s stance, or horse stance, or fighter’s stance.  From this stance comes all other movement.

Now, bring up your sword hand, up, up, up to around your face level, with your hand, well, like a boxer’s, protecting your face. Your other hand, can have another shorter blade, or a hand axe (yes, there is a place for a hand axe in the house, but it’s for defensive purposes,) or a shield, or your mother-in-law (if you don’t like her) or one of the domestic staff, or a pan, or shield (Do Not Try to Use Cat. Cat will Keeel You) and if so filled, left hand lower and more forward  (you can even use the scabard.)

Swing your hips from swordside to off-side while bringing your sword hand from sword side to off side.  Like, well, a tennis racket.


Swing again.  Does it feel good?  Keep swinging.

Now imagine your opponent is a post sticking out of the ground (this is called a pell.  You can use a tree or a boxing bag or your mother-in-law.  Don’t swing hard, just swing.  Swing away, swing so that your sword hand is past the post towards your offside.  This is called ‘cutting through.’  Always cut through, as that is how you actually cut.

Do it again.

Now, try this.  Swing like that again but stop at the end of the swing  with your hand past the pell, and now swing back, like a backhand in tennis.  Again, cut through the target (you may need multiple mothers-in-law, about the only good thing about polygamy I can see) and bring your hand back up to your resting stance.


Swing forward, swing backward, reset.  Swing forward, swing backward, reset.

Hack and slash, hack and slash.  This is what real swords are for.  Chop, chop, chop.  Like a butcher, which is what you are now.  Swing hack, Swing slash, chop, chop, chop.

Now, once in a while, take the pointy end and go stabby-stabby towards the eyes or the gut.  This is called a fake, makes one’s opponent jump back.  The secret to a fake is to not make it a fake.  If you stab at thee eye, stab the eye.  If you stab at thee gut, stab the gut.  If the idiot at the other end isn’t smart enough to jump out of the way, well, he’s stabbed.

Got it?

Swing and a chop, backswing and a slice. Same Same, Stab.

Now here’s where the skull-sweat comes in.  And it’s called “The Rule of Three.”

Which is… Don’t do the same thing more than three times in a row as it sets up a pattern your opponent can predict.  Be unpredictable.  Which includes… once in a while break the rule of three.  Because unpredictable.

You can do this wearing a toga.  Pajamas.  A tunic and hosen.  Armor.  A flight suit.  Maybe not a space suit, unless it’s one of those snazzy SpaceX spacesuits, but not one of those antiquated NASA orange flight suits that make you look like you’re about 3 times your weight.  You can even do this naked, which can be considered a weapon all unto itself.

Easy, peasy.

Swing and a chop.  If you miss swing back and slash chop.  Poke him/her/it.  Keep it up.  Barbarians recognize a determined opponent and will respect you as they bleed out.

About that other hand… If the object is heavy enough, like a shield or a pan or an axe, you can, if able to, hit your opponent with that object.  Shield bashing works.  Whacking someone with a fry-pan (preferably cast iron as aluminum doesn’t have much mass behind it) works.

And this is how you protect your house against random barbarians with a short sword.

Oh, okay, you can use a single-edged blade the same way, as long as it has a point.  Like a Kukri, or a smaller Sax, or a long-Bowie, or an artillery short sword.

Same thing.  Swing-chop, Swing-slash, stabby-stabby.

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