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.

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.

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