There are a few key elements to understanding why Piper is so effective. One of these lies in the way in which the basic techniques of “shimmering” blade and “twirling” blade are used to rip flesh.
One of the advantages of Piper is that you do not really need a proper “knife” at all in using its techniques. A star screwdriver works superbly and even a sturdy metal ball-point pen could do the trick at a push, which obviously comes in useful in terms of what is possible on an airplane, for example.
I cannot claim to have seen every knife combat system out there, but those that I have seen have all used a fairly high degree of “whole body dynamics” to generate power in a stab or a cut. This is most easily apparent when it comes to a sword art, as for instance in the use of a samurai sword. If you wish to deliver a crippling or deadly blow with a sword, you had better be sure that your bodyweight and your body dynamics act synergistically to produce the maximum amount of possible force. It also comes across in several Filipino systems I have had the privilege of seeing or studying in a seminar context. The body dynamics owe a lot to either work with the machete/bolo or to boxing or both. What this means is that, if you cannot set your body up in such a way as to be able to generate power like this, your technique ends up being weak and ineffective.
The ripping techniques of piper are not just part of its very specific flavor, but also happen to be the only techniques that I know of that can be executed with some power FROM THE WRIST ALONE!
All other techniques, whether you are using the reverse or the saber grip, require you to use a fair amount of “whole-body” dynamics.
This power from the wrist comes from the intention to rip. Yes, there are Piper techniques which can be executed as “linear stabs”, especially after the enemy has been ripped in a few places and is disoriented and bleeding and you are looking to terminate the situation. If you have a quality knife with a sharp blade you might even go for a cut, but the “bread-and-butter” technique of Piper is a ripping action, designed to tear skin, tendons, arteries and muscle tissue.
This ripping action presupposes two elements, both of which are trained for systematically. First of these is flexibility around the wrist joint, i.e. the ability to create as “big” a movement as possible and secondly there is the ability to move the knife powerfully and explosively from the wrist. Both of these are trained by the endless repetition of “shimmering blade” and “twirling blade”, done to the point of exhaustion and leading to that horrible nagging ache in the wrist that every Piper practitioner has learned to loathe but live with.
After this basic practice comes one of Nigel’s favorite drills, working these two basics against an old tire. The tire is held by one of your training partners or tied securely to a tree or post, you take any old blade you are not too attached to and you start ripping away at the tire. After a few months of this you will be amazed how much power you can generate from the wrist. You will also be amazed how it is possible to generate nearly all of this power when your body is out of alignment or moving in some other direction. This ability to move the whole body in one direction whilst generating power in a completely different direction is also a part of why the Piper exponents movements sometimes seem strange or unpredictable.
Finally, what is also pretty much of an eye-opener is how multidirectional this wrist movement can truly be. On seeing Piper, some critics have mentioned that, in their opinion, you have only one or two angles of attack and how limiting this is, but experience shows this to not be the case at all. I can rip in a circle (“twirling blade”) or I can execute a straight-line rip (“shimmering blade”) in any of the eight angles of attack or any angle of the 360 degrees of the compass, for that matter. Which is also, by the way, one of the reasons why it is generally considered inadvisable to grab the arm or wrist of a Piper exponent.
Give it a try, play with it a little. Use what I have just written in conjunction with what you can see on the clips at www.pipersystem.com and see what you can come up with.
Which brings me to an issue I have been meaning to raise: We, as Piper practitioners and teachers, are not and never have been on some kind of crusade or missionary adventure to convert Israeli Krav Maga experts, Russian Systema exponents and the countless tens of thousands of satisfied and proficient Filipino martial arts practitioners to the Piper system.
Why should we? We know our stuff works and works superbly but we also understand that you believe just as strongly that your stuff works. Good for you! However, just as we are open to constantly learning and refining our own personal practice so as to improve our abilities, so do we believe in your right (and if you think you will ever have to use your knowledge to survive, it’s a necessity, not just a right) to improve your abilities as best you are able to.
If you practice any kind of reverse grip knife techniques at all, it might not be such a bad idea to add a little bit of Piper flavoring to what you know. It might turn out to be a matter of life and death. Yours.