Skip to main content

A Conversation with Michael Janich & Mark Hatmaker

This following is an interview with a damn fine martial artist and, more importantly, a man I call a friend. Chances are you know the man, but for the uninitiated.

Michael Janich has been an avid student and instructor of self-defense for more than 40 years. He has an extensive background in the martial arts and military combatives and was inducted into Black Belt magazine’s prestigious Hall of Fame as Weapons Instructor of the Year in 2010. Janich is also one of the foremost modern authorities on handgun point shooting and is one of the few contemporary instructors to have been personally trained by the late close-combat legend Colonel Rex Applegate.

Janich served nine years in the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, including a three-year tour at the National Security Agency (NSA). He is a two-time graduate with honors of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California (Vietnamese and Chinese-Mandarin) and a recipient of the Commandant’s Award for outstanding linguistic achievement. Janich also served as an Intelligence Officer in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and an Investigation Team Leader for the Joint Casualty Resolution Center (JCRC) and Joint Task Force-Full Accounting (JTF-FA), leading numerous investigations into remote areas of Vietnam and Laos to resolve the fates of American prisoners of war and missing in action (POW/MIA).

A prolific author, Janich has been published in all the major publications in the tactical and martial arts industries and is the author or co-author of more than a dozen books and over 20 instructional videos, including Bullseyes Don’t Shoot Back: The Complete Textbook of Point Shooting for Close Quarters Combat, which he co-wrote with the late Col. Rex Applegate.

Janich is a leading authority on edged-weapon design and tactics and his knife designs have been produced by Spyderco, BlackHawk Blades, Masters of Defense, Combat Elite, and many noted custom knifemakers. He is best known as the founder and lead instructor of the Martial Blade Concepts (MBC) and Counter-Blade Concepts (CBC) systems of self-defense, as well as their related systems of unarmed and impact-weapon tactics. Janich is in extremely high demand as an instructor and teaches regular seminars for civilians, law enforcement, and special units around the world.

Janich is currently the Special Projects Coordinator for the Spyderco knife company of Golden, Colorado. He is also the co-host and subject matter expert for The Best Defense ­television show on Outdoor Channel, sharing his knowledge of armed and unarmed self-defense and personal and home security. The longest-running personal-defense-related show on television, The Best Defense will soon be entering its eleventh year of production.

First things first, Brother Mike, thanks for taking the time to have this chat. I’ve known you for years upon years and know you to be a good man, a man of your word. Before I met you and was fortunate enough to call you a friend, I knew of your formidable blade work. This isn’t blowing smoke, you are simply one of the most thorough technicians I can name.

Thank you for the kind words, Mark. I’m truly honored. From the very first time I saw your work in the video proposal you submitted to Paladin Press many years ago, I was extremely impressed with your amazing breadth of knowledge and your skills as both a martial artist and a teacher. You were always one of my favorite authors to work with and I’m honored to call you a friend.

With the gushing out of the way, let me hone in on a few areas that I want to dig into. Asian, Filipino, Indonesian blade arts have a deep history, as does the Western blade tradition. In your expert opinion, how much cross-over influence do you see? That is, do we see the Spanish influence impacting the Filipino approach more or is it vice versa, or is it simply that human motion is finite, and much ado is made out of necessary commonalities?

Regardless of culture, we all have two arms and two legs, so commonalities of movement are inevitable. Smart fighters also tend to arrive at the same conclusions based on what works and what doesn’t. Where I think the differences are more apparent is in the mindsets of various cultures and, to a degree, the physical attributes of the people associated with them.

For example, the Filipinos tend to be very practical and clever in their approach to fighting tactics and have a deep bucket of dirty tricks. Rather than duking it out on equal terms, they like to debilitate their opponents with limb destructions and other unorthodox tactics to pave the way for finishing shots. Since they are of smaller stature, this gives them a “guerilla warfare” approach on an individual basis that works well against larger, stronger opponents.

Indonesian arts share many similar qualities, but tend to be very stylistic in their approach to skills and tactics. There’s a lot of great stuff in there, but it is very much hidden in the secrecy of their form. In many cases, the application of the movements is even less self-evident than the forms of other Asian martial arts.

Western arts—especially blade arts—are often more straightforward and somewhat more simplistic. What you see is what you get. The blade arts tend to be based on fencing, with the movements adapted to the different attributes of shorter knives.

Where I really see a significant difference is in the Filipino martial arts (FMA) use of “flow” drills to develop skills and reflexes. Although all arts have some form of training drills, the cyclical or reciprocal drills of the FMA are pretty unique and really accelerate skill development. They also provide a great “adrenal vehicle” for scalable training intensity. I haven’t seen that same type of training in Western arts.

As far as assimilation of techniques and tactics from other arts, I think that’s human nature. The real question is, do they acknowledge the influence and give credit, or just claim to have invented it on their own? While that may seem to be a trivial point, I believe it makes a lot of difference—especially in the accuracy of the material borrowed. For example, a lot of military combatives techniques were adapted from Asian martial arts like judo and jujitsu, but not always with a full understanding of the nuances of the original technique. Knowing the source helps you dig deeper to learn those nuances if you’re really serious about training or are having trouble making the “once-removed” method work. Giving credit and acknowledging your own roots are also direct reflections of the integrity of an instructor.

I have a deep appreciation and love of early boxing and wrestling as well as an equally deep love of rough and tumble combat as found on the frontiers of the Americas. Whether these disparate arts come from Western traditions, South-American, Canadian, American Indian, I love it all. Now, what I want to ask is, we hear much about Indian blade work, and some deep systems are offered, but in my research I have as yet to come across more than scraps of specifics. Keep in mind I am a man foolish enough to immerse myself in the Comanche language, a trade language with wide influence, to get closer to certain sources. Still, I find little that outlines complex systems. Have a missed the research boat here and you know of resources more defining than what I have found?

I wish I could be of more help here, but I have nothing substantial to offer. Like so much of Native American culture, whatever formal fighting tactics or training methods they had were passed down largely as oral and physical tradition and were never documented the way other systems were. As the cultural identities of various groups became less distinct and their traditions faded, unfortunately, so did the detailed knowledge of their fighting arts.

Those that do claim to teach in-depth, historically accurate systems should logically be able to provide a solid lineage and provenance, since the knowledge was probably passed through firsthand teachings from specific family members or elders in their community. Unfortunately, I think much of what is claimed as historical knowledge isn’t.

Like the FMA and Indonesian arts, there’s probably also an element of secrecy involved and a reluctance to teach outside the cultural group. When someone does choose to “reveal the secrets,” it’s hard to tell whether the secrets are legit or not. Like anything else, the ultimate arbiter is whether the techniques and tactics actually make sense and can be made to work.

I remember arguing with a knife magazine editor about James Keating’s Crossada design and his interpretation of the functions of the Spanish notch and blade catchers. The editor claimed to have read everything available on Bowie Knife fighting and had never seen any historical reference to the fighting function of the Spanish Notch. I told him it didn’t matter. If you had a knife and Keating had a Crossada, he would swiftly bind your blade and use the notch to disarm you. Whether his tactics were historically accurate or not, he still took your knife away and was damned good at it!

Sometimes, if we don’t have the full historical story, the best we can do is fill in the blanks and apply logic to come up with sound, workable tactics. We shouldn’t “mistake” them as history, but we also shouldn’t willfully remain ignorant because history wasn’t well documented.

While I’m on the topic of Keating, he has done lots of research on Native American fighting arts and has an encyclopedic knowledge of esoteric fighting skills. He is also highly respected by the Native American community where he lives. Jim would be an awesome subject for an interview like this and might very well be able to give you some specific direction for further research. [Youcan find Mark’s conversation with Mr. Keating here.]

To be clear, I am not suggesting that the professed systems are made up whole-cloth. I merely state that I haven’t encountered this depth of material yet. I may very well be seeing good elaborations of the bits and pieces that do exist. With that said, are there areas of blade work where you’ve had to do your own archaeological work, so to speak? That is, dig and make likely connections.

Definitely. My system of Martial Blade Concepts (MBC) was almost entirely based on “martial archaeology” and lots of analysis.

When I first started training with knives as a teenager, I was grasping at straws. There wasn’t any organized training out there that I could find. The books available back then (mid-1970’s), mostly referenced or rehashed the World War II combatives classics from Fairbairn, Applegate, and Styers. With the exception of Styers Cold Steel, there wasn’t much substance in those either, yet they were still better than nothing.

When the FMA started gaining some prominence in the late 1970’s and early 80’s, I knew that’s what I wanted to study. However, even when I was in the Army and stationed in Hawaii—which has a large Filipino population—the FMA instructors there were largely unwilling to teach their arts to non-Filipino students. I eventually found one who would, but he would only teach me stick—no knife. Based on that foundation, Dan Inosanto’s book The Filipino Martial Arts, and later his FMA video series, I learned that all FMA skills used the same body mechanics, but adapted their application based on the attributes of the specific weapon being used. Since I was an NSA-trained intelligence analyst, I applied my analytical skills to adapt the FMA stick work I learned to knife applications.

It wasn’t until years later, when FMA knife skills were finally being openly taught, that I was able to “compare notes’ between my approach and the traditional FMA approach and round out my system with carefully selected reflex training drills. MBC, which continues to evolve to this day, is the result of that analytical and evolutionary process.

In our many conversations I know both of us share a bit of disdain for “Shit that don’t work.” In unarmed combat play that can get you hurt, in blade work that can get you killed. Without naming individuals, may I ask what blade practices do you find ludicrously misinformed?

Way to stir shit, Mark! Seriously, it’s hard to answer this one without naming names, but let me take the moral high road and try to address it based on principles, what to look for, and what to look out for.

One of the things that drives me crazy is a system that claims to be super deadly because it has a highly evolved understanding of anatomical targets. If you use their angles and cut the parts they tell you to cut, they promise you’ll be unstoppable. They then proceed to identify targets like the jugular vein. Anyone who passed high-school biology knows that veins have low blood pressure, while arteries have high blood pressure and bleed profusely. While bleeding people out isn’t actually an efficient means of achieving stopping power, if you’re going to claim it is, at least get you basic biology right. If you can’t do that, the very foundation of your “system” is weak.

Thanks to YouTube, Live Leak, and similar video web sites, there is no shortage of video of people actually being attacked with knives. Between that and the many medical studies that have been done on the effects of various types of knife wounds, we have a pretty good idea of how a person reacts when being stabbed—even repeatedly. Theyy don’t immediately burst into flames and they don’t stop. Based on that knowledge, we can easily figure out that going apeshit on an attacker and stabbing him multitudes of times isn’t likely to stop him quickly—even if he dies later. Nevertheless, some systems that take this exact approach have near-cult-like followings. In the process, they also undermine the principle of using knives for justifiable self-defense.

Imaginary scenario. The Feds pass a law, only one blade per citizen. What blade do you choose?

If blade length wasn’t an issue and that knife had to do everything for you, I’d opt for a good chef’s knife and have a quality sheath made for it. Its basic design is not far off from a Searles Bowie or the classic working knives of many cultures. With it, you could do everything from chopping vegetables to putting up a really good fight.

Even if blade length was limited, a compact, stout fixed blade with good edge geometry and handle ergonomics would be my preference.

As I mentioned, I am learning the Comanche language and the sign language of the plains, but I know you are an absolute maven of languages. How many do you speak?

I graduated from the Defense Language Institute twice—once for Chinese-Mandarin and once for Vietnamese. Chinese is a very difficult language and, although I was once very good at using it for my government analytical job, I never had the opportunity to speak it conversationally. I’m sad to admit that I no longer have any real fluency in it.

Although I haven’t used my Vietnamese since the early 1990’s, because I spent a lot of time actively using it in Vietnam and in debriefs of former Vietnamese citizens all over Asia, it’s well entrenched in my brain. I still speak it fairly well.

My wife is Hispanic and I studied Spanish in high school, so my Spanish comprehension is pretty good; speaking, not as much, but I plan to change that.

I also lived in Thailand for a few years while I was traveling in and out of Vietnam and Laos, so I know some basic conversational Thai.

As a matter of fact, you’ve written a book on quick language acquisition. What basic advice would you offer to those of us who want to supplement our native tongue to make the job a little easier?

Buy my book! Seriously, many people who work hard enough to become adept at a language say that they knew they were “good” when they began to “think” in the language. Rather than waiting for that epiphany to occur naturally, research your target language and talk to people who have learned it as non-native speakers. Specifically, get their take on the logic of how the language expresses ideas. Ask them how they structure their thoughts to power speech in that language differently from doing that same process in English. If you can embrace the logic of the language sooner, you’ll learn much more easily.

What’s next in the pipeline for Mike Janich?

I recently set up—a web site that sells my current series of instructional videos produced by Stay Safe Media as well as my Paladin Press-produced videos. It will also be the primary delivery platform for some new video titles I’m working on with another producer. I really want to focus on serving the needs and interests of the MBC community and other folks who like my work through that platform. I will also be bringing my Paladin books back into print through Amazon and want to write books on the MBC and Counter-Blade Concepts (CBC) systems very soon.

Mike, again, thanks for takin the time. Thanks for your friendship and I will always hold our professional association as one of the finer points of my life. My best to you and yours and may you always possess the grit of a squirrel.

Thank you for the opportunity, brother.


Popular posts from this blog

Apache Running by Mark Hatmaker

Of the many Native American tribes of the southwest United States and Mexico the various bands of Apache carry a reputation for fierceness, resourcefulness, and an almost superhuman stamina. The name “Apache” is perhaps a misnomer as it refers to several different tribes that are loosely and collectively referred to as Apache, which is actually a variant of a Zuni word Apachu that this pueblo tribe applied to the collective bands. Apachu in Zuni translates roughly to “enemy” which is a telling detail that shines a light on the warrior nature of these collective tribes.
Among the various Apache tribes you will find the Kiowa, Mescalero, Jicarilla, Chiricahua (or “Cherry-Cows” as early Texas settlers called them), and the Lipan. These bands sustained themselves by conducting raids on the various settled pueblo tribes, Mexican villages, and the encroaching American settlers. These American settlers were often immigrants of all nationalities with a strong contingent of German, Polish, and …

Awareness Drill: The Top-Down Scan by Mark Hatmaker

American Indians, scouts, and indigenous trackers the world over have been observed to survey terrain/territory in the following manner.
A scan of the sky overhead, then towards the horizon, and then finally moving slowly towards the ground.
The reason being that outdoors, what is overhead-the clouds, flying birds, monkeys in trees, the perched jaguar—these overhead conditions change more rapidly than what is at ground level.
It has been observed by sociologists that Western man whether on a hike outdoors or in an urban environment seldom looks up from the ground or above eye-level. [I would wager that today, he seldom looks up from his phone.]
For the next week I suggest, whether indoors or out, we adopt this native tracker habit. As you step into each new environment [or familiar ones for that matter] scan from the top down.
I find that this grounds me in the awareness mindset. For example, I step into my local Wal-Mart [or an unfamiliar box store while travelling] starting at the top, t…

Warrior Awareness Drills by Mark Hatmaker

THE Primary Factor in self-protection/self-defense is situational awareness. Keeping in mind that crime is, more often than not, a product of opportunity, if we take steps to reduce opportunity to as close to nil as we can manage we have gone a long way to rendering our physical tactical training needless [that’s a good thing.]
Yes, having defensive tactical skills in the back-pocket is a great ace to carry day-to-day but all the more useful to saving your life or the lives of loved ones is a honed awareness, a ready alertness to what is occurring around you every single day.
Here’s the problem, maintaining such awareness is a Tough job with a capital T as most of our daily lives are safe and mundane [also a good thing] and this very safety allows us to backslide in good awareness practices. Without daily danger-stressors we easily fall into default comfort mode.
A useful practice to return awareness/alertness to the fore is to gamify your awareness, that is, to use a series of specific…