Behind the cover: No more knife hands


It’s no April Fools’ joke, Marines — some leaders want you to think about sheathing your knife hands.

Most Marines are introduced to the crisp, flat-palmed gesture in boot camp. It’s one of the tools drill instructors use to emphasize to civilian recruits how they want things done.  But beyond a training environment, some say Marines should exchange knife hands — and the yelling that typically accompanies them — for better leadership tools.

The shift from 12 years of combat to a garrison environment is going to pose challenges for leaders. They’ll need to continue to motivate the young corporals and sergeants, who were empowered during the wars, called on to make strategic decisions as they worked in a dispersed battlefield. That is going to require a renewed emphasis on core leadership values.

Sgt. Maj. Anthony Spadaro, the top enlisted Marine with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., said it’ll be a “back to the future” approach.

Reviving good leadership isn’t anything new, he said — it has always been there. But it means leaders need to think about how to better stay engaged with their Marines and how best to  mentor those future staff noncommissioned officers.

And that comes at a time when data suggests about a quarter of Marines aren’t satisfied with the way they’re being treated by their superiors.

Spadaro and other leaders say there’s still a time and a place for knife hands — just don’t use them as your go-to leadership tool.

Right or wrong, knife hands have become a popular meme unto themselves. Some examples:

A knife hand Marines can wear. (COURTESY GRUNT.COM)

A Marine knife hands during the 2012 Super Bowl. (MARINE CORPS)

The commandant displays a knife hand during his holiday message. (MARINE CORPS)

The Humanitarian Service Medal — looks like a knife hand. (STEVE WHITE)

Be sure to pick up a copy of this week’s Marine Corps Times for the complete story on knife hands. Also in this issue: why the Corps is looking the other way on contract marriages; how budget cuts might slow permanent change-of-station moves; and new officer military occupational specialties that are opening for early separation benefits.

You can read the full story about knife hands on Marine Corps Times PRIME here.


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  1. This is the influence of the White House terrorist insurgents sent in to F*** up The Marine Corps. It also tries to mimic the failed social experiments that are destroying this country. Next, they’ll be saying that you can’t yell because it hurts their fragile egos. You can’t punish someone, because they will feel shame, and that’s not nice.
    And finally, you can’t use any phrases with the word “kill”, because the flower power group in the Corps finds it offensive, and it’s not Politically Correct.
    Where is General Mattis when we need him more than ever to save the Marines from the weak mind/body politicians??

  2. This is truly sad, and no doubt fallout from a society that has resorted to issuing everybody trophies for participation. The yelling and hand gestures are a way of hardening somebody mentally for the tasks that they are expected to successfully complete in the rigors of combat without actually firing live rounds at them. Politicians should stick to what they know best, being a pack of weasels and leave the military matters to the military minded.

  3. No doubt we are witnessing the end of American Warriors, it is over just like the Spartans, Romans, and Samuri. No use fighting it nothing will work. Same sex marriages, no more club activities, Penthouse and Playboy out of the PX, and restricted liberty. So glad I served when I did.

  4. Being an Infantry Marine for eight years with multiple tours to Iraq and Afghanistan I cannot believe what our Marine Corps is turning into. I remember being so called hazed along with the use of the KNIFE HAND, my senior Marines used making sure I was ready for Iraq. As well as the last month before coming home, and my team leader telling me you don’t have to use my rank anymore you made it and it was an honor to lead you through battle. The amount of respect and gratitude I had for my leadership was not because I liked them nor were they friends with the junior Marines until we proved our selves. It was because they were so hard on us making sure that we fully understood who was in charge by use of the (Knife Hand) as well as other tactics. I will close with this, If we keep letting a society that has never been to war; tell us how to fight a war, and train the MEN that have never seen combat. How in the hell do they expect us to bring there SONS home. If you want us “WAR DOGS” you so much hate to bring your kids home shut your mouth, and sit back enjoy the freedom you didn’t have the balls to fight for and let us do our jobs.

  5. The same things the commenters are saying have been echoed for years by generations of Marines. While things always change, they remain very much the same. The Marine Corps will always have the best warfighters, that will not change. The ‘attitude’ will not change unless you as an individual Marine let it. Carry on!

  6. Silly. Knifehand was instituted because pointing was too offensive and intimidating. Next we will have que-tip gloves?

  7. Hmm, is anyone surprised that there’s now an Air Wing Commandant, and the only person they could find to quote about this as a “good thing”, is a winger Sergeant Major? I think the Air Wingers are using this opportunity to change the Fleet so Fleet Marines won’t mock them so much.

  8. Do you know the affective area of a knife hand? Its as great as your wingspan.

    Maximum affective range? INFINITY! You can always move forward.

    Leave the knife hand alone. Its tradition, a trademark, and an unbreakable habit for Marines. I remember them telling us not to use “Devil Dog” anymore because it was being used negatively. To which I responded “Good to go Devil Dog”. Its a term of endearment. Next we wont be able to call each other “Killers” because it may reflect poorly on our mental state or some crap. Everyone needs top leave the Marine Corps alone and let us do our thing, Its been working well for us for quite some time now and as a result our nation.

  9. Sorry Joe, SgtMaj. Spadaro has never been a winger. He has been arty, intel, MSG, metoc, and a DI. I am a winger (Phrogs), and I have personally pulled out the knife hand to illustrate my point to a wayward Marine. I believe in hard training and discipline. It is what brings my Marines and aircraft home in one piece. To hell with them if they are offended or butt-hurt about it. Oh, no one seems to complain when we come to pick them up, or bring them chow, ammo, mail etc. Semper Fi!

  10. “And that comes at a time when data suggests about a quarter of Marines aren’t satisfied with the way they’re being treated by their superiors.”

    ….and that’s because a quarter of Marines hitting the fleet are flat out 100% stupid as fuck. NCOs and SNCOs would use less knife hand if they would show some common sense and stop doing dumb ass shit.

  11. Knife handing: aka flat handing is used by all instructors vs pointing, as pointing in impolite and inconsiderate. What in the world is wrong with indicating an item or an individual with all the digits of the hand joined, everybody does it, even priests and ministers. In my humble opinion, I don’t see a danged thing wrong with the gesture, as it isn’t the gesture that is demeaning and humulating to a raw recruit but the vulgar and filthy language that often is yelled into the persons face from the BTIs and DIs. Now I could agree with making BTIs and DIs clean up their language, but “knife hands,” are harmless.

    A retired, 25yrs, ARMY Staff NCO.

    Drive On.

    Keep strong Marines.

  12. Coming out of war times? North Korea is about to bring us into world war 3, and the knife hand is a motivational teaching tool within the 03 Community, we love it and love seeing it. It doesn’t always come with yelling and if it does get over it. You became a Marine. We can only maintain the standards if we don’t chip off the training.

  13. Pardon my ignorance I’m Army and have to deal with crazier bull than this. So is the wholle hand bad can you use just the tip???

  14. I am not a Marine. Just a grateful civilian. I am grateful that we have dedicated people willing to fight and die for us. I am grateful that we have people willing to run TOWARD gun fire. I cannot imagine a fighting force doing battle with bullets, missles, shrapnel, fire, and hell itself raining down all around them and simultaneously having to worry about hurting somebody’s “feelings” with a hand gesture.

    Sounds like just the kind of thing the enemies of America would sit back and laugh about as they placed their IEDs.

  15. Ummm…. the SGM isn’t saying you can’t use them. He’s saying your style of discipline and go-to move shouldn’t be knife-hand (I prefer “authority hand” a lot more). Once again people look at part of the article, or just the title, instead of what is really going on. He’s saying lead, don’t just scream. Chill the fuck out Marines.

  16. I came to this page because I saw a “knife hand petition” on and was utterly confused and clueless about what “the knife hand” was and why it was being “banned”.

    Now that I know what it is I find it utterly ridiculous to ban what is a common hand gesture everywhere in the world used for indicating motion, direction, or punctuating communications.

    My Itallian grandmother “knife handed” the grandkids throughout our entire childhood and it didn’t hurt us or affect us any. This being the case I’d wager that US Marines can handle it without getting ill effects too.

  17. Juan Garcia on

    Good job Brass…way to turn the Corps into the Air Force. Turning it into a pusyfide branch. No pressing and polishing. no spit shines, tattoos, wearing bracelets and now no knife hands. Chesty would be proud to call you Marines and very happy to see what you’ve turned his Corps into. Politicians and Brass with no field time or have been battle tested need to leave the policy making to real leaders like Gen. Mad Dog Mattis

  18. Juan Garcia, say what you will but the USAF can still knife hand. In fact, I’m knife handing you right now. Eat it.

  19. The knife hand came about when pointing one finger was seen as too “aggressive”. This politically-correct BS came from those good idea fairies in higher government, too.

  20. I was never scared of the knife hand it just let me know I was unsat. I just fixed it and moved on that’s what marines do adapt and overcome. Suck it up and move on devil dog thanks democrats. Semper fi!

  21. Jack Shipman on

    Jesus f***ing C… What the the hell has happened to our country. If a flat hand jesture offends a Marine, then use the flat hand the way it was used during our time – the Vietnam years – and slap the pansies hard to get their head and ass wired together. Jeeze! In our day we went right to the fist. Read Yellow Footprints 1969 and get a real bearing on hard Marine Corps. You whiners act like you would prefer Walmart to train you.

  22. HabitualKnifeHander on

    Who’s gonna stop me from using a “knife hand”.

    If there was’nt a name for it we would’nt be talking about it. We will just change the name.

    This is a form of hand and arm signals, it warns Marines in the area.

    You can’t miss the Marine knife handing and yelling.

    Nobody is going to walk towards the Marine using a knife hand to chew another Marines ass. It means if your not squared away you might want to walk away or your next!

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