Trainer Knives: Are You Prepared for Live Contact?

Few people know what it means to defend your life with a knife like martial artist and knife designer Bram Frank. He is best known for the Gunting: a line of knives made specifically for self-defense and manufactured by a number of companies over the years. But his biggest contribution to the industry isn’t a specific blade, it’s an instructional idea: trainer knives. To learn how to wield a sharp knife you need to work with a dull one.

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Frank is responsible for designing the first folding trainer specifically designed to work and feel just like a live knife. “The reason I use trainers – I call them drones, bees without a sting – is that they teach you to make contact,” says Frank. “If you learn to make contact all the time, when something happens under duress you take your real tool and you can do the motion you’re supposed to do.” If you carry a knife for self-defense or tactical applications, Frank insists you need a trainer. In fact, if you haven’t worked with one, you may be doing more harm than good. “If you’re not using a trainer you’re teaching yourself not to make contact. It’s sort of like dry firing a gun: you have to put rounds down the range or you don’t get it.”

The idea of training blades isn’t necessarily a new one. Martial arts like Kendo, which uses bamboo swords, have been around for centuries. But after the advent of the modern tactical folder, Frank was frustrated that he couldn’t integrate these powerful defensive tools into his martial arts practice. He took it upon himself to carve facsimiles of commercially available knives. The wooden replicas worked in a pinch, but he wasn’t satisfied with their level of realism. “I always said that when I make my own knife, it will have a matching training drone,” remembers Frank.

At first, convincing manufacturers that trainers were worth making wasn’t easy. Why would they go to the trouble of making a fully functioning folder that couldn’t out-cut a spoon? “They thought nobody would want it!” he says. Spyderco was the first to give it a chance on an early iteration of his Gunting design which also happened to be the debut of Spyderco’s Compression Lock. They produced two Gunting folders, one with a live blade and one with a blunted training blade and bright red handle. The sales spoke for themselves: “We couldn’t believe that we sold more training drones than we sold live blades to martial artists and tactical guys,” recalls Frank.

Bram Frank Gunting Trainer and Live Blade

Today, many manufacturers have seized on the trainer concept. Emerson, Kershaw, Benchmade, Cold Steel and Spyderco all offer drones of one or more of their models. Frank believes in the importance of trainers so fervently that he takes it a step further. He refuses to sell a live tactical blade without a trainer to go with it. On the other hand, if you just want the trainer he’s happy to oblige.

Knife featured in image: Benchmade Griptilian MDP Trainer