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When I first started this website, it was simply a place to put some knife reviews. I enjoy collecting knives and building websites so it was a natural progression. I would have never guessed that I would soon be meeting fascinating people from around the world sharing a passion for knives.
One of those people is David Decker. A martial artist, author, knife designer, teacher, collector, enthusiast, scholar and father, Dave is truly a renaissance man. Yet despite this diversity of interests Dave has managed to channel his energies in his quest to find the “Pure Warrior.”
He also has a lovely daughter, Gwynne, whose story is perhaps even richer than her father’s. Trained in all forms of combat, she has traveled the world working, studying and enjoying life to the fullest.
Dave and Gwynne currently work together operating White Shadow Security, a firm that provides executive security, martial arts training and high end weapon sourcing. Dave designs knives on the side and the two have written several books together. It’s with great pleasure that I welcome Dave Decker to BladeReviews.
Hi Dave, great to have you here. Since this is BladeReviews let me start off by asking what got you into knives.
Hi Dan, That is an easy question. As a child I had an uncle close in age and we always played knights, cowboys and Indians, army, that sort of thing so we were always making swords and shields, knives and toy guns for whatever we were into at the time. Notice I said “make” because in the 50s money was very tight and we used our imaginations to make whatever we needed.
At about age ten my father went into the National Guard to supplement our income. Every Summer, while he was at camp, he would buy me a knife of some sort. Now as I said, I was maybe only ten years old, and I regularly traveled the woods with a knife and often a 22 caliber rifle all by myself. The need for a knife was ever present when camping for building shelters or cutting kindling for a campfire.
The knife that really got me into collecting and interested in learning how to use a fighting knife was an old WW-II Fairbairn -Sykes. I have always admired the clean lines of an F/S and have collected them now for over forty years. So the focus of my collecting quickly centered on fighting knives.
When did you begin studying martial arts?
About 1995 my daughter heard about a karate class in our small rural town and she wanted take lessons. She was age twelve and I took her to meet the instructor. After a couple months she said to me that the class was quite small and I ought to come too. Besides the instructor, I was the only adult student at that time.
I was forty years old and not very limber. When I was a child I was fascinated by David Carradine’s character in the TV series Kung Fu. During my stint in the Seabees in the late 60s I went through military training before deploying to Vietnam but there was no Hand to Hand combat training. So I jumped at the opportunity to study karate.
I asked the instructor if I could train without taking any rank. I had seen a lot of black belts who were full of themselves and I wanted to make sure that my training was dedicated to learning not just advancing in rank. I trained, and also taught, as a white belt. Our instructor taught GoJu Ryu karate and Filipino martial arts, some Silat, and other forms that included knife work. I encouraged that of course.
After five years, at a meeting of three dojo, the instructor promoted me to ShoDan (black belt). He did this in front of the assembled karateka so I could hardly refuse. You should have heard the buzz among the younger students. “Did you see that? He just went from white to black belt.”
That is pretty cool that you took up martial arts at 40! That gives people like me some hope…
I suppose a love of knives and martial arts had to result in a study of edged weapons combat. Was this an immediate goal when you began training or did you eventually study this specialized form of combat?
I guess I have explained some of this in the above paragraph. The knife-fighter who inspires me the most today is James Keating, a true master of empty-hand and the bladed arts. Many people consider knife-fighting a less noble art. If you use a sword to fight with you are somehow seen as a superior artist to one holding a knife. I disagree with that bias. Knife-fighting to me is the natural extension of empty-hand fighting.
But, I want to make it very clear, that you cannot stick a knife in your hand and use empty-hand techniques unless you want to die quickly! In my early karate years our first instructor taught this style of suicidal knife work. I could clearly see gaping holes in these techniques. The training was useful though because now I knew the way that most “trained” knife-fighters would attack or defend. From that base I began to develop counters to all of those techniques.
This study resulted in my first book on knife defense, The Rhythm of One. My coming book, When Two Tigers Fight, will be an in depth exploration into knife fighting not just knife defense. I have read every book I can find on knife fighting and many old texts on European sword work, especially small sword and rapier. I took fencing classes for a little while too, in search of commonalities of movement.
I really admire how you continue to study and advance your training. I think that kind of attitude is inspiring because so many people become complacent. It’s my opinion that if you aren’t learning, you aren’t living.
What got you into designing your own knives?
Simply put, the search for a weapon that worked the techniques I wanted to use. Laci Szabo (martial artist and knife designer supreme) said that a knife must be adapted to the person not the other way around. That’s a poor paraphrase of Laci’s comment but you get the idea. I completely agree with Laci’s philosophy.
You currently have a knife in production, the Cobra, what went into designing this knife?
If the knife doesn’t fit your techniques you have two options, change the knife or change the techniques. I liked my techniques so I designed a knife to fit them.
My first knife design was more traditional with a seven inch blade with a sharpened back edge and a re-curved primary edge. It is a beautiful design but too large for most people for EDC (every day carry). So I decided to scrunch up the design and out of that came the Cobra. They are handmade by Brent Sandow of Auckland, New Zealand. The Cobra in the photos is the final evolution of four design changes. The major shape never changed, only the details. When people first pick it up they instinctively put it in reverse grip. They are pleasantly surprised to find it fits equally well in forward grip. The short, curved handle really facilitates grip changes. The teeth on the backside are very aggressive and designed for the trapping and passing techniques commonly used in the Filipino and Indonesian Martial Arts.
My other favorite fighting knife is the traditional Bowie, but obviously I have to alter the way I fight. This is where my short training experience on the fencing strip pays off, because Bowie fighting tends to be more linear than Indonesian styles. I am currently waiting on two prototype “Snubby” Bowies as my next design offering. These would be maximum blade, minimal handle, for a powerful concealed carry Bowie.
Very interesting. I read some materials on the Cobra and I was impressed by how much thought went into every detail of the blade.
Tell us a little about your daughter. I would love to get her on here for her own interview at some point, but from what I could tell she has an amazing story so please share some of it.
Her karate studies waned as she went off to college, but after graduation she spent a year in Japan training in Yagyu Shinkage Ryu and even took some naginata classes. She took fencing in college and also the local classes with me. Her martial ways, and desire to be a warrior, led her to enroll with ESI, Executive Security International, to become a close protection specialist. Gwynne is the first woman at ESI to be recognized as a certified instructor. She is currently working in the field of close protection and has developed skills with firearms that far exceed my own. She has been my inspiration and training partner for many years now. She also co-authored and edited our first book.
That’s right, you and your daughter have written a number of books, what made you guys decide to do that?
I have always enjoyed writing and continue to do so with my blog. I do not have any formal background in writing and I am sure my high-school English teacher would be appalled.
Our first book began as a compilation of short articles written for my knife and karate students. I finally decided to put it all together in a format that flowed a little better and then have it bound. It is in a spiral binding, which publishers strongly dislike. I have kept it that way so that it can be laid flat on the floor and used, not just read and stuck on a bookshelf. We have sold copies all over the world in small numbers.
What are your future plans for White Shadow Security?
Actually Gwynne is White Shadow Security LLC! I am her supporter and confidant. My position with regards to the company will be as an instructor in edged weapons as we begin to develop a presence in the industry. I have a complete course written and we already rolled it out once for a trial run. Gwynne is planning to expand her close protection services under White Shadow Security LLC as a contractor for high profile clients, domestically and abroad. She is already making a name for herself as a highly qualified and sought after female agent.
That is really cool. I will be keeping my eye on White Shadow Security and look forward to following up with Gwynne as she expands the business.
What is your current EDC knife?
Generally I carry a Benchmade® folder of some variety on a daily basis. As far as I am concerned Benchmade® provides the best quality for a reasonable price. I prefer something with the axis-lock for its smooth opening and solid lock-up. When I travel by air I always pack a Cobra in my checked bags, a Gary Bradburn Tanto, or even a Bowie as well as a folder. The bigger knives give me something to “play with” in the hotel room as I continue to refine my techniques. If I travel by auto I also pack a handgun, either my Kimber® 45ACP or perhaps one of my Smith and Wesson® 357 magnums. (I have three concealed carry permits that are accepted by most of the states I travel in.)
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I want to thank you for this wonderful opportunity to talk a little about my interests, my daughter, and our company. I have a small batch of The Rhythm of One books still available. If anyone is interested they can contact me directly by email. I hope they will visit my blog and our website. I am always interested in hearing from other people of like interests, especially those with any constructive comments or critiques of my book or blog. Have a great day!
My pleasure Dave, thanks again for doing the interview!