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My first meeting with Michael Janich was in 2008 at a trade show. I had been walking through the show area and met Clint Smith, who was kind enough to sit down with me and my wife and chat for a few minutes. We spoke about the show and the industry and I had the chance to show him my first production model Tuff Writer pen, the Frontline Series. He then mentioned that if I liked training, he knew just the man I should talk to—Mike Janich. I had recently read one of Mike’s articles on the application of pens as improvised weapons and spent the next 45 minutes hunting through the maze that was the show floor before running into him at the Spyderco booth. I probably looked like a starry-eyed fanboy when I came up and blurted out something similar to, “You’re Mike Janich, I read your article!”

Janich’s Background

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Mike, let me give you a little background on the man. Michael Janich has been studying and teaching the martial arts and edged weapons tactics for more than 30 years. He served nine years in the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command as an intelligence analyst/linguist and five years as a Department of Defense intelligence officer. He also founded Paladin Press’ video production department and worked closely with leading edged-weapon experts including James Keating, Kelly Worden, and Kelly McCann on the production of their instructional videos. In addition to being the founder and lead instructor for Martial Blade Concepts (MBC), he has authored more than two-dozen books and videos and designed knives for Spyderco, Masters of Defense, BlackHawk Blades, Combat Elite and several noted custom knifemakers. In other words, the guy knows a thing or two about defensive-tactics and edged weapons training. When he has something to say, it’s probably worth at least hearing the man out.

Fast forward three or four years of staying in touch with Mike, I had the opportunity to attend the 10th annual Martial Blade Camp. This was my second Martial Blade Camp outing, but for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, think of Martial Blade Camp as less of a training class or seminar and more of a training event. You don’t simply attend Martial Blade Camp, you experience it, and when it’s done you usually have a few souvenirs to bring back (some from the many camp sponsors and a few of them of the black and blue variety as well).

While the original Martial Blade Camp was started with the intent of being an alumni gathering for folks who had attended MBC seminars and were looking for both a refresher and a venue for exploring topics beyond the scope of seminars, the annual event has grown beyond its humble beginnings to become one of the absolute “must-do” items on any real martial artist’s bucket list. With over 36 hours of training and instruction in the mountains of Colorado, the camp has grown from 20 initial attendees to almost 70 people strong. Plus, people don’t come just once; about 65% to 70% of the campers have trained with Mike before and most of them had attended previous camps. This makes for a very fertile learning environment, as the high rate of veteran Martial Blade Camp attendees creates an amazing instructor-to-student ratio. When learning new material, especially drills, novices are encouraged to pair with one of the many veterans. This greatly accelerates the learning process and also provides a format to help veterans develop their teaching skills. This is one of the key differences between Martial Blade Camp and other seminars I’ve attended; anyone who’s ever taught understands that you have to have a very solid level of understanding of a given concept to be able to teach it effectively to others. Many seminars work on developing technical proficiency and stop there, while at Martial Blade Camp everyone is also encouraged to not only master the material, but also just as importantly, learn and pass the information on to others.

Concerned Citizens & Armed Professionals

Martial Blade Concepts is an edged-weapon training program designed for the concerned citizen and armed professional. Based on Mike’s extensive analysis of the Filipino martial arts and many other systems, MBC emphasizes the development of “all-purpose” defensive skill rather than learning a large number of specific techniques to defend against predetermined attacks. These techniques are based on research into body mechanics and solid principles, and create a foundation for your personal defensive system. MBC focuses on developing understanding of the principles, then underscoring these principles with a few proven techniques and learning how to apply them to literally hundreds of different defensive situations. Through this simple method, students develop proficiency quickly and have both the ability and the confidence to employ their skills after a relatively brief period of training. Obviously the mastery of any technique takes time and practice, but you would be amazed at how quickly it’s possible to develop proficiency in a dedicated training environment like this.

Once novices have a foundation of skill, they are paired together to get repetitions, and advanced students are paired together to work the same material at higher levels of sophistication and intensity. Whether working through drills or practicing specific techniques, there’s something wonderful about watching a group of highly skilled practitioners going quickly and fluidly through their paces. This is where the strength of the Martial Blade Concepts system becomes apparent; the core material focuses on getting the student to understand the realities of self-defense with a knife or improvised weapon. It emphasizes small, legally carried knives or defensive implements (such as pens or Kubotans), their real destructive capacity, an understanding of human anatomy and the importance of stopping power in the context of self-defense. In other words, instead of “secret” techniques, MBC focuses on applicable and legally defensible skills. Whether this means using a mobility strike to limit the bad guy’s ability to come after you or just taking away the use of his arm to prevent him from being able to wield a weapon, MBC tactics are simple and practical. More importantly, the techniques flow from one to another and build upon themselves. After all, there’s no guarantee that even a perfectly executed specific technique will work on everyone every single time, and the bad guy may not know that he’s supposed fall to the ground crying or explode into flames. With MBC you learn a bunch of great “dance steps” and soon realize that you can combine them in different ways to create a “dance” that works for you. As Mike is fond of saying, “You don’t have to fight like me; you just have to fight well.”

Defensive Skills

The MBC curriculum is actually only a small part of the parent system that Janich practices and teaches; however, since it is the best-known element, it has become recognized as the name of the system. Janich’s full curriculum also includes full range of empty-hand, contact-weapon and firearms skills, as well as a heavy emphasis on skills of tactical awareness, avoidance and de-escalation. In fact, after a solid foundation in knife skills, camp training usually moves on to Counter Blade Concepts (CBC). This is an extension of the curriculum, which includes a full range of empty-hand and contact-weapon skills for dealing with an edged-weapon attack. CBC is a key element of camp training and was a major attraction for the many law enforcement officers who attended the event (about 15-20% of the student composition). Disillusioned with the impractical and ineffective counter-knife tactics that they are often taught in their defensive tactics programs, these officers specifically sought out the Counter Blade Concepts curriculum. Several of them are now helping to have CBC officially incorporated into the defensive tactics programs in the Colorado, Virginia, and New Jersey state correctional systems.

One of the other highlights of camp is being able to watch the proficiency and instructor testing. This is a fantastic way for someone new to the system to be able to see just how far it’s possible to take MBC and what high-level skills looks like. Proficiency testing at camp, in front of all attendees, not only provides a high degree of performance anxiety, challenging those testing to perform in front of highly seasoned peers, but it also provides a large body of extremely skilled testing partners. The fact that the testing occurs at 9,000+ feet altitude also makes it a significant physical challenge. It’s really one heck of a show.

Sponsorship

Over the years, as the camp has grown, camp sponsorship by companies within the industry has greatly increased. Sponsorship for this year’s camp was incredible and clearly speaks for the support that MBC has earned from the tactical community. More than $15,000 worth of prizes were donated by Lane’s Gun Shop, Kahr Arms, Tuff-Writer, ArmourLite watches, Warrior Rx, Outdoor Channel, BlackHawk, and custom knifemakers Brent Beshara and D.J. Urbanovsky. With Spyderco’s support, Mike presented every attendee with an engraved Yojimbo2 knife designed and signed by the man himself. Get the tool and the skills to use it at the same time; it’s a hard combination to beat.

As exciting and fun an event as the camp is, it still all comes down to the training. Without it, all the knives, guns and sharp sticks in the world are nothing more than good luck charms used to ward off evil. With training, they become useful tools to help keep yourself and your loved ones safe. Martial Blade Concept’s basic physical goal is to “learn how to fight effectively with a knife”—applying the attributes of the knife to the broadest possible set of defensive circumstances. At a more advanced level, the physical skills of the MBC method are also designed to form the basis for unarmed defensive skills—including unarmed defenses against knives—and the use of improvised weapons such as pens, or any tool at hand, for personal defense. The core material focuses on getting the student to understand the realities of self-defense and prepare them, both physically and mentally, should the need to use these skills ever arise. The Colorado camp then becomes more than just a vacation or training event, it is an opportunity to build a foundation of safety. The question is not whether you can afford to find the time to make it out to next year’s camp but rather, can you afford not to?

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