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Hank Reinhardt and I met, as best I can recall, in the early 1980s. I was a state trooper from up in Michigan, and had served with the Michigan State Police since turning twenty. With six years in the outfit, I had just transferred to my fourth post after serving a hitch in Detroit. I had my share of service awards, and I knew my business pretty well, even if I occasionally had to be the one who said so.

Hank was the instructor of a Knife/Counter-knife course he had devised for Mas Ayoob’s Lethal Force Institute. Although MSP had taught me some rudimentary knife disarming, the general counter-knife protocol seemed to be, “If somebody is foolish enough to draw a knife on a policeman, he should be enthusiastically shot to pieces.” Prevailing theory at that time held that in order to successfully defend against knives, a person should first learn how to use them. My patrol partner and I took personal leave and spent our own money to obtain the knife training Hank offered.

Knife class. Hank Reinhardt, bottom row, second from right. Mike Stamm, top row, farthest right. Massad Ayoob, top row, farthest left. Photo by Richard Garrison

Knife class. Hank Reinhardt, bottom row, second from right. Mike Stamm, top row, farthest right. Massad Ayoob, top row, farthest left. Photo by Richard Garrison

It would prove to be the smartest money I have ever spent, before or since.

It’s safe to say that I had rather a high opinion of myself when first I encountered Julius Henry a.k.a. “Hank” Reinhardt. He was, I noted, a solidly built broad-shouldered man, somewhere near six feet tall, with smooth sun-browned skin and thick glasses, though he rarely saw fit to use them. What hair he had tended toward gray, and he spoke, walked, and gestured so slowly that I thought you’d have to set pins to see whether he was moving. I attributed his apparent sluggishness to his somewhat advanced years—the poor old gent was, after all, nearly twenty years my senior. I was smart enough to pick up the obvious thickness of his wrists, hands, and neck, which I recognized as good indicators of physical strength, even in men as old as he had managed to get.

Hank and I began verbally sparring immediately upon meeting at his home in Atlanta, Georgia. When he asked whether any of the dozen or so men attending the class had questions or comments before training began, I commented that the hand-written maps he had provided were pathetic, and added that I had seen clearer drawings on bathroom walls. Hank considered that observation, peered at me suspiciously, and asked, “You’re a Yankee, aren’t you?” I admitted I was, and he allowed that I was probably an authority on whatever is written on bathroom walls, then suggested that the others in the class make allowances for my whining because “Yankees get lost and confused real easy.” When I mentioned that General Sherman certainly did a job of locating Atlanta some time before, I was gifted with a maddeningly disconcerting, carnivorous Hank smile. “You’re a cold, cold man,” he noted. “We’re gonna get along just fine.”

We were issued dummy knives, paired off, and began sparring. Hank demonstrated some basic moves that were different than I had seen before, then moved among the students offering suggestions and casually sparring with each person. He gripped his knife with his thumb and his first two fingers, as a skilled carpenter does his hammer. He snapped the blade outward with blurring speed, striking any part of his opponent’s body within his reach. It seemed that just about everything was within Hank’s reach. I couldn’t help but notice that he moved with a fluid economy that made him seem to glide toward his targets, and I also observed that he didn’t seem to be getting touched with anyone else’s blade. I began to regret having taunted him and sincerely wished I had not mentioned General Sherman at all.

It was my turn to square off against unscathed Hank. As my Dad would have summed it up, “School was in session.”

I never touched the man. He was there, and then he wasn’t. When I struck at him, he moved just out of my reach. When I attempted to recover, he literally sliced through my defenses with impunity. Attempting to anticipate his movements only resulted in blundering that left me even more open to his apparently effortless counters. The only way I could have possibly touched him would be to charge forward suicidally and hope that my momentum might draw some of his blood. It was beginning to seem like a fair trade.

I was gasping for air like a fish, while Hank hadn’t bothered to break a sweat. I hoped to goad him into angry clumsiness, and said, “You move well for a man of your age.” I received another wolfish Hank smile. “You do quite well,” he allowed. “For a Yankee.”

I spent the remainder of the weekend following Hank around like a puppy, pelting him with questions and scribbling down his patient and thoughtful responses. He was one of those rare individuals whose knowledge was vast and deep, and over the decades of our friendship I never found any subject that he could not discuss with passion and insight. He understood the mental and physical aspects of personal combat, and although he was astonishingly skilled at anything he sought to learn, Hank never boasted. His abilities were so apparent, he simply didn’t have to. He knew more about battle implements of all types and origins than I would have believed possible, and he would share any knowledge he possessed with anyone who asked him. He balked at being called an expert in edged weaponry and its uses, as he considered himself “a student.”

If you, too, are a student of knives, you will enjoy and benefit from Hank’s work. Thankfully, he wrote just as he spoke, and when I read Hank’s words I can honestly hear his deep clear voice with an aching clarity that reminds me how much I miss his wisdom and humor.

Hank Reinhardt knew knives, and you’ll not go wrong listening to his advice.

—Mike Stamm, 2011

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