Bill Gold­berg and Tu Lam of His­tory Chan­nel’s “Forged in Fire: Knife or Death” talk about their time on the show and how to suc­ceed. BY JOSHUA SWANAGON

It just keeps get­ting bet­ter.

If you have been fol­low­ing my se­ries on the “Forged in Fire” judges over this past year, it will be ob­vi­ous that I am lov­ing the knife-re­lated air time hap­pen­ing over at His­tory Chan­nel. So, last year when “Forged in Fire: Knife or Death” was an­nounced, I was al­most be­side my­self with an­tic­i­pa­tion. A knife show, where the con­tes­tants are ac­tu­ally get­ting out onto a course and show­ing the world what knife sports are all about? That sounded like my kind of show.

Add to that the fact that it is hosted by ac­tor, re­tired NFL de­fen­sive tackle, mixed mar­tial arts color com­men­ta­tor and WWE Hall of Famer Bill Gold­berg along with re­tired Green Beret, founder of Ronin Tac­tics and edged weapon spe­cial­ist Tu LAM—OK, His­tory Chan­nel, now you’re just show­ing off. I re­cently had a chance to speak with Bill and Tu about their time on “Forged in Fire: Knife or Death” and their thoughts on what it takes to be suc­cess­ful on the show.

Bill Gold­berg

KI: How did you get in­volved in “Knife or Death”? BG: My in­volve­ment with “Knife or Death” was no dif­fer­ent than pretty much 90 per­cent of the cast­ing in­quiries that I have had about host­ing, ex­cept that it was from a gen­tle­man that I had seen his work be­fore and was ex­cited to work with him. This was just a dif­fer­ent project. Be­cause of the con­tent and his back­ground, I said yes.

KI: Have you al­ways had an in­ter­est in knives and cut­ting sports? BG: No, I have not. But now that I am in­volved, I am ex­tremely sur­prised I wasn’t in­ter­ested in it in the past. It’s a whole dif­fer­ent world in and of it­self. It’s an ex­cit­ing world with a lot of var­ied blades and a lot of var­ied char­ac­ters that come with those blades [laughs].

KI: Do you have a per­sonal fa­vorite knife style? BG: I do have a per­sonal fa­vorite knife style, but it’s not nec­es­sar­ily the most


strate­gic to take on, shall we say, “Knife or Death.” My knife style is ba­si­cally an ex­ten­sion of my per­son­al­ity; which is, I try to smash ev­ery sin­gle thing in front of me, and the blade that I carry is rem­i­nis­cent of that. It’s a de­struc­tive blade and my tech­nique is not about fi­nesse. Now, when it would call for fi­nesse, I might con­sider a dif­fer­ent blade. But I’m a pow­er­ful guy that wields a pow­er­ful blade.

KI: Have you had a chance to play on the course your­self? If so, what did you think? BG: I have not had a chance to go through the course my­self. I’ve been able to take on a num­ber of the ob­sta­cles in­di­vid­u­ally, but not the course in its en­tirety.

KI: What was the best run you saw last sea­son? BG: I’d have to go Ja­son John­son, in my eyes, be­cause it was the per­fect blend of speed, anger and vi­o­lence.

KI: What do you feel is the hard­est ob­sta­cle in the course? BG: I can’t an­swer the hard­est ob­sta­cle in the course be­cause it de­pends on the blade that you are wield­ing. But for the most part, what’s held the most com­peti­tors up this sea­son has been the ratchet straps.

KI: Do you feel that power can suf­fi­ciently com­pen­sate for an in­ad­e­quate blade? BG: Again, it de­pends upon the ob­ject that you are smash­ing or cut­ting. In cer­tain in­stances, yes, I think power can com­pen­sate for an in­ad­e­quate blade. But, where is it in in­ad­e­quate? Is it not sharp? Is it the wrong blade for the ob­sta­cle it­self? There are a lot of things that go into play.

KI: As a pro­fes­sional ath­lete and com­peti­tor your­self, how much do you feel that heart and de­ter­mi­na­tion can help a com­peti­tor over­come a poorly made blade—in re­gard to dull­ness or poor ge­om­e­try? BG: Well it’s very hard to judge how heart and de­ter­mi­na­tion can make up for a poorly con­structed blade on the course. There’s only so much that heart, de­ter­mi­na­tion, strength, power and car­dio can do for you. Be­cause if you have an in­ad­e­quate blade, it doesn’t mat­ter

how good your car­dio is, how strong you are or how much you un­der­stand an­gles of en­try. So, though heart and de­ter­mi­na­tion are an in­te­gral part in for­mu­lat­ing the per­fect com­peti­tor, I don’t know how much they can ac­tu­ally make up for an in­suf­fi­cient blade.

KI: What are you watch­ing for specif­i­cally when judg­ing “Knife or Death”? BG: I’m not re­ally judg­ing “Knife or Death;” I’m just com­ment­ing on it, and what I am look­ing for in the ul­ti­mate com­peti­tor is the per­fect blend of the per­fect knife, the right amount of car­dio­vas­cu­lar fit­ness, the right amount of speed and power and most im­por­tantly, strat­egy. Be­cause de­pend­ing on your sta­tis­tics in all of the things I just men­tioned, you have to go about things in a cer­tain me­thod­i­cal way, tak­ing ev­ery vari­able into con­sid­er­a­tion.

KI: What is your fa­vorite mem­ory of work­ing on “Knife of Death”? BG: My fa­vorite mem­ory is meet­ing the won­der­ful peo­ple and get­ting to know them, whether it be the pro­duc­tion crew or the guy sit­ting right next to me (Tu Lam)—which is an honor and priv­i­lege to know more about him, each and ev­ery episode, and to get closer to him—and Travis (Wuertz) and our en­tire pro­duc­tion team—an un­be­liev­able fam­ily of peo­ple, and that is a rar­ity in Hol­ly­wood— I’m greatly ap­pre­cia­tive of that more than any­thing. But it does give you an op­por­tu­nity to meet dif­fer­ent peo­ple, from dif­fer­ent walks of life, that all have one thing in com­mon—and that’s the blade.

Tu Lam

KI: In your time with the Spe­cial Forces you have had a lot of interaction with knives. What style of knife have you found to be the most ver­sa­tile? TL: The Spe­cial Forces Green Beret mis­sion re­quires the A-teams to not just op­er­ate, but also sur­vive in some of the most ex­treme con­di­tions in the world. While work­ing with for­eign mil­i­tary and rebel forces, dur­ing my time with the A-teams, I have seen many for­eign weapons. There­fore, when I look at a blade I un­der­stand the re­quire­ments needed, based off its ge­om­e­try, ma­te­rial and sharp­ness. When pick­ing a com­bat style blade, it needs to be bal­anced for speed while fight­ing, yet have the ge­om­e­try to hack, chop and build things to sur­vive. The Spar­tan Blades NYX has al­ways ex­em­pli­fied that for me.

KI: What is your per­sonal fa­vorite style of knife if dif­fer­ent from your first an­swer? TL: For an ev­ery­day car­rier, I like the Ronin Tac­tics Sakura blade. The ge­om­e­try works well with a for­ward mass to al­low the blade to spin faster with a ta­pered han­dle and ring. The blade slop­ing lead edge is ideal for slash­ing and the false edge al­lows for a dag­ger point pen­e­tra­tion. This blade is ideal for close-quar­ters pro­tec­tion.

KI: How did you come to get in­volved with “Knife or Death”? TL: Af­ter I re­tired from the Spe­cial Forces, I started a com­pany called Ronin Tac­tics, Inc., which spe­cial­izes in de­vel­op­ing tac­ti­cal gear, reengi­neered from my time and ex­pe­ri­ence serv­ing through­out spe­cial­ized units within Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions. We also travel around the U.S., teach­ing law abid­ing cit­i­zens, mil­i­tary and law en­force­ment com­bat-proven tac­tics needed to sur­vive in a high-threat sit­u­a­tion. One of the cour­ses our com­pany teaches in­volves a com­bat form of blade tac­tics.

In Novem­ber of 2017, the His­tory Chan­nel’s tal­ent scout reached out to me re­gard­ing the “Knife or Death” TV show. The net­work asked me to look at a few videos, along with sev­eral celebri­ties and MMA fight­ers, as host of the show to see how we in­ter­acted. I re­mem­ber get­ting along with Bill Gold­berg right away and we quickly be­came friends.

The first sea­son aired May 2018 and the show did very well through­out the net­work. We are cur­rently film­ing sea­son two of “KOD,” and I can tell you this sea­son is big­ger and meaner than last sea­son.

KI: Where do you see peo­ple make the most mis­takes in the course? TL: I look at more than just their blade. I study the com­peti­tors. I study their story, up­bring­ing, mo­ti­va­tions, etc. I find the big­gest mis­take most com­peti­tors make is their in­abil­ity to adapt and over­come to the chang­ing en­vi­ron­ments the “Knife or Death” course brings. This


course isn’t just about the blade. It’s about study­ing past “KOD” sea­son one events and pre­par­ing for it phys­i­cally and men­tally while build­ing the skills needed to ef­fec­tively gage speed, ac­cu­racy, dis­tance and lev­els of quickly chang­ing ob­sta­cles found on this course. There is no one blade that will ex­cel on this course, so it is crit­i­cal they know how to ef­fec­tively use ev­ery part of their blade.

KI: Do you test each test to make sure it is dif­fi­cult enough, yet not un­re­al­is­ti­cally dif­fi­cult? TL: Ev­ery ob­sta­cle on this course has been tested sev­eral times by the safety crew or Bill and me. I usu­ally test the more chal­leng­ing ob­sta­cles that re­quire more speed and pre­ces­sion. This sea­son we started film­ing a seg­ment of the show called, “TU to­rial” where I “TU Lam” demon­strate—play for play—my ap­proach to de­feat­ing the more dif­fi­cult ob­sta­cles. In this seg­ment, I go over the mind­set, body me­chan­ics and strat­egy needed to gen­er­ate ex­plo­sive force through short burst move­ments. We dis­cuss speed and an­gles of en­try to the ob­ject, based off the struc­ture, con­struc­tion and pre­sen­ta­tion of the ob­ject. I also dis­cuss the ge­om­e­try of blade needed to suc­cess­fully com­plete th­ese harder ob­sta­cles.

KI: What is more im­por­tant? Blade de­sign and edge ge­om­e­try? Or the con­tes­tants body me­chan­ics and struc­ture? TL: I have seen weaker and smaller stature com­peti­tors bring a blade with the right ge­om­e­try to make up for their lack of size or strength. A small per­son can gen­er­ate more power on a chop if they have a heav­ier for­ward mass, with a tip down re­curve. This

re­curve will al­low more trans­fer of power upon im­pact, which is very much like the chop­ping power found on an axe.

I also find that the com­peti­tor must know how to ef­fec­tively use the ge­om­e­try of their blade to their ad­van­tage. Dur­ing this com­ing and last sea­son of “KOD,” I have seen near per­fect body me­chan­ics and power, while us­ing poor blade ge­om­e­try and the re­sults were usu­ally un­fa­vor­able—re­sult­ing in ei­ther fail­ure to de­feat the ob­sta­cle or cat­a­strophic dam­age to the blade.

KI: What are you watch­ing for specif­i­cally when judg­ing “Knife or Death”? TL: I usu­ally get a short bi­og­ra­phy on each com­peti­tor and their blades prior to their run. My ap­proach to un­der­stand­ing, or pre­dict­ing how they would do, starts with un­der­stand­ing their his­tory. I look at things that mo­ti­vate them to com­pete in this com­pe­ti­tion. Some are here to prove some­thing to them­selves and their fam­i­lies; some fight to em­power oth­ers; oth­ers have com­peted at a chance to win $20,000 so that they can take the win­nings to sup­port their child’s med­i­cal needs. There are so many rea­sons they com­pete, and as a co-host I must try to un­der­stand their mind­set along with what drives them.

I also study their cur­rent fit­ness level, train­ing, oc­cu­pa­tion, etc. Fi­nally, I go into their blade ge­om­e­try. Once I un­der­stand th­ese things, I then go into their abil­ity to wield the blade, based off of my anal­y­sis of the col­lected data. What I’ve no­ticed as th­ese com­peti­tors run through the course is their mind­set, body me­chan­ics and abil­ity to quickly prob­lem solve to adapt and over­come the sit­u­a­tion.

KI: What is the clos­est you have come to stop­ping a com­peti­tor other than a cat­a­strophic blade fail­ure? TL: Our blade expert and two-time “Forged in Fire” cham­pion Travis Wuertz is our safety on the ground. Be­fore any com­peti­tor can com­pete in Knife Fight (in­door course) and Blade Run (out­door course) they must pass a fi­nal blade in­spec­tion, per­formed by Travis. He per­forms this in “The Cut” as he checks the blade and then per­forms a cut on a tatami mat, to check the blades ge­om­e­try and sharp­ness. There have been a few com­peti­tors who have failed mak­ing “The Cut” and there have been a few times where safety had to step in to stop the com­pe­ti­tion due to the phys­i­cal safety of some com­peti­tors.

KI: Who do you feel has an ad­van­tage be­tween some­one with an ag­gres­sive at­tack or a calm fo­cused ap­proach? TL: I have seen the ex­tremes on this show. I have seen ex­tremely ag­gres­sive com­peti­tors, all the way to com­peti­tors that are calmer and more fo­cused. As a com­peti­tor, they must be calm and col­lec­tive in their ap­proach to the course. This ap­proach will give them clar­ity, but they still need to be able to hit some of th­ese ob­jects with speed and vi­o­lence. The best com­peti­tors are the ones who have the sit­u­a­tional aware­ness to know when to be calm and when to be ag­gres­sive.

KI: What is your fa­vorite mem­ory of work­ing on “Knife or Death”? TL: I would have to say it’s the ex­pe­ri­ence. The abil­ity to go on the “KOD” set and study dif­fer­ent types of com­peti­tors and their blades. I love see­ing the cre­ative minds of the writ­ers and pro­ducer of the show. The crew is very pro­fes­sional, and I feel very lucky to get a chance to work with them. Be­fore the start of ev­ery day I like to talk with our blade expert, Travis Wuertz, to get his as­sess­ment of ev­ery weapon that’s com­pet­ing that day.

It has also been an ex­treme honor to work with Bill Gold­berg. The man is ex­tremely in­tel­li­gent and un­der­stands that this show is about more than just the blade. Ev­ery night Bill and I would read over each per­son’s bi­og­ra­phy, study and de­bate over our ed­u­cated anal­y­sis of how we think they will per­form. I also, en­joy meet­ing each and ev­ery com­peti­tor. Af­ter study­ing their bio, I feel there is a per­sonal con­nec­tion in meet­ing and watch­ing each of them per­form. I find my­self be­com­ing a fan of the show and of some of the KOD com­peti­tors.

Knives Il­lus­trated would like to thank Bill Gold­berg and Tu Lam for tak­ing time out of their busy shoot­ing sched­ule to speak with us. It has been a plea­sure to get to know you guys and gain a fur­ther un­der­stand­ing of your ap­pre­ci­a­tion and love for blade sports. KI

Bill Gold­berg and Tu Lam pre­par­ing for a con­tes­tant.

Bill Gold­berg and Tu Lam on set, find­ing a mo­ment of zen.

Tu Lam wield­ing the Ronin War Sword on the set of “Forged in Fire: Knife or Death.”

Be­low: Bill Gold­berg and Tu Lam on set.

Above: Bill Gold­berg and Tu Lam on set, pre­par­ing to test a course chal­lenge.

Tu Lam wield­ing the Ronin War Sword on the set of “Forged in Fire: Knife or Death.”

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