By Ed. Downey
American GIL HIBBEN is a 3rd degree black belt in Ed Parker's Kenpo Karate system and a master knife maker. He designed the 'Kenpo knife' - also known as the 'Parker knife' in 1968 for his black belt thesis on knife fighting using Kenpo tactics. It was this thesis which led to the development of the system's long Form VIII ('the double dagger form) which uses two knives in mock combat.
Last year after many years and hundreds of requests from Kenpo enthusiasts, Hibben produced a production replica of his now famous knife.
His work is well known to any one who has seen the Rambo, Deep Space Nine or recent Star Trek films for he is the craftsman who made the knives and edged weapons for these films. Kenpo expert Jeff Speakman used a Hibben knife in his movie Perfect Weapon and his blades were also used in the film Mortal Kombat.
I met Hibben at the American Kenpo Karate Systems' Kenpo Camp '96 in Baltimore, Maryland. I took the opportunity to ask him what makes the design of the Kenpo knife so special?
'A Chinese fist'
"The knife is designed so that you can use it with the thumb on the top of the blade. On the one that I designed in 1968 - the 'Parker knife' - I put a slight angle on the guard which allows you to put your thumb up on it. This incorporates what we call a Chinese fist - where we have a greater muscle structure in the wrist holding the knife and you are able to manoeuvre more and in a much faster way to protect yourself" Hibben explained. "This slight angle on the guard also works if you turn the knife in a back position and it still fits very comfortably. So the blade is basically a standard fighter's blade that has been around for a very long time."
He continued: "The major part of it is the handle design in the way that the blade can be used with the grip. We put finger grooves along the bottom for absolute control so that you won't be able to have it taken out of your hand. The guard also protects you from your opponent's blade but it can also be used as part of the offensiveness of the knife. A lot of thought has gone into the design of it.
"He also explained that the back of the weapon allows you to hook or to catch and also affords protection if you have it forward in the front part of the hand. This section can also be used to strike with after a cut, or to keep from cutting depending on the situation.
"Of course, you wouldn't want to cut anyone unless you had to - say in a wartime situation We made a lot of these types of knives during the Vietnam War days and we sent a lot of them over there. So, unfortunately they received some action. But you don't like to think about those things, "Hibben added.
Some of the Kenpo techniques are designed for two knives. Are these knives designed to be used as a pair or singly?
'Ancient sword play'
"Well some of the guys in competition will use two knives but I think in the real world you should use the sheath in one hand for protection to catch the opponent's edge. It's like the ancient sword way. They had a long sword and a short sword and you kept your opponent away with the long blade so that you could use the short one." Hibben added: "The two knife form is, I think, more for demonstration purposes. I also believe that you would be limited using two knives because your mind can only concentrate on one thing. To start doing multiple things isn't easy. It's difficult for the human mind to do that, especially for an untrained person."
Is Hibben still active in Kenpo Karate? "Yes. I teach on a limited basis. I have six black belts under me in Kentucky and I'm also an advisor on knives. I have a busy schedule, as I'm a professional knife maker. I'm going into my 40th year making knives so I travel a lot - almost too much to have a regular base - but I do private lessons and still do seminars."
Ed Downey is a professional martial artist and the representative in Ireland for Jeff Speakman's American Kenpo Karate Systems. He runs his full-time International Kenpo Karate Academy in Celbridge, Co. Kildare.