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There are a number of “exotic” blades that have some interesting stories and have been swathed in legend or some other form of furnish. The butterfly knife, or “Balisong” knife is certainly one of them. As with another piece we made about the Karambit, in this article we delve briefly into the history of the famed folding knife and ask, is the Balisong a knife you can use for defending yourself when SHTF?

History of the Balisong

The actual history of the butterfly knife, or “Balisong” as it’s famously known from its supposed country of origin, the Philippines, is actually rather sketchy.

Many practitioners of Filipino Martial Arts insist that the Balisong originated in a small town of the same name in a province called Batangas, just south of the capital city of Manila. It’s claimed that a certain Perfecto de Leon, a native of Balisong town, “invented” the famed blade in his small shop in the year 1905. At that time, the Philippines was a colony of the US, and it’s presumed that some members of the colonial army “discovered” the locally-made blade and brought the knife back with them to the US, along with whatever legend about a Filipino being the butterfly knife’s “original inventor”.

The story of the Balisong being an original Filipino creation is easily debunked, since there have been many knives from Europe that looked like the knives made in Balisong town. These blades could be traced as far back as the year 1880 to a company named Böntgen and Sabin, a German manufacturer of pocket knives, camping knives, spring knives, and even bayonets in WW1. Their design of a “folding knife” is very much identical to the Filipino Balisong, and even had patents in Germany and the US.

The design submitted to the German patent office of the Böntgen & Sabin “folding knife”. Note its striking similarity to the butterfly knife that was first produced in Balisong town and then called “Balisongs” in 1905 (TheBladeBlog-ulf.blogspot.com/2011/10/bontgen-sabin-germany.html).

A page off the 1880 Böntgen & Sabin product catalog. This is another folding knife design that is similar to many “Balisongs” today. Note the handles that were presumably made from deer horn; Balisongs made in the Philippines usually used similar material, like water buffalo horn. Balisongs are still made in the same town to this day, albeit in a dizzying array of variations in size and design
(BalisongCollector.com/history.html).

 

While the story of how Böntgen & Sabin’s folding knife came to be “reincarnated” as the Filipino “Balisong” is something we may never really know, it’s presumed that Perfecto de Leon came across one of these knives when the Philippines was still a colony of Spain, and he simply took to the task of copying the blade and producing it en masse. The resulting product was of a high quality and low price compared to other blades, and the Balisong thus became popular among US servicemen from 1905, all the way until both US military bases in the Philippines (Subic Naval Base and Clark Air Base) were decommissioned in 1992. The Balisong remains a popular export to the US, and many American blade manufacturers produce them in varying designs, using advanced manufacturing techniques and space-age materials.

Its colorful history aside, is the “Balisong” or butterfly knife a viable blade for combat?

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Balisong as a Combat Knife

As we discussed with another similarly exotic blade, the answer isn’t necessarily a clear-cut “yes” or “no”. There are advantages and disadvantages to using the Balisong for self-defense.

The Pros

There are a number of advantages to using the Balisong, and these may help in considering it as a viable option for self-defense:

  • It’s easy to conceal; a right-sized Balisong can be in your pocket, stuffed in your sock or even your boot and no one would be the wiser.
  • It can serve as non-lethal, blunt impact tool even when unopened. Before you even deploy the blade, the exposed back of the blade’s tang (see photo below) or even the tips of the handle can be used to strike at an opponent’s vital areas. Striking the neck, throat, temple, hands and other vulnerable body parts with a “closed” Balisong can bring excruciating pain.

The parts of a Balisong. This model is one made by Benchmade. (En.Wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_knife).

NEVER train with a “live” blade, especially one that’s difficult to master, and one you
aren’t skilled in using. Be sure to get a balisong “trainer”, which is pretty much a replica balisong that folds open like a real one, but has a blunt stand-in “blade” which can’t be sharpened (Amazon.com/d/Hunting-Knives-Saws-Axes/Practice-Balisong-Butterfly-Trainer-Oliasports/B00MDY95MK).

 

 

  • Deploying the blade by flipping with one or both hands can look intimidating and flashy; your opponent may hesitate engaging you once he’s seen you handle the blade.
  • Pop culture has made the Balisong something to be feared; there’s a certain “badass” vibe to anyone who uses a Balisong.
  • As the blade is encased in the handle when not in use, you don’t need a special sheath to carry it; deployment of the blade in this sense is made easier; there’s no need to remove it from a sheath.
  • The locking mechanism, usually a simple latch, is simple and dependable.
  • The blade is easy to maintain, there are no springs to worry about and there are only a few moving parts.
  • With practice, deploying the blade can be done quickly with one hand.

Part of the “unintended” (?) Hollywood flourish behind the balisong was provided by actress Angelina Jolie, who once admitted to collecting weapons and being proficient in the use of the balisong. (En.Wikipedia.org/wiki/Angelina_Jolie_filmography).

Some of you may not have known that the Balisong’s “Hollywood flourish” was provided by actress Angelina Jolie. Here’s a video where you can see how skilled she was with the blade.

The Cons

It wouldn’t be fair to judge the Balisong solely on its merits. The possible cons of choosing the Balisong as a self-defense implement are:

  • The Balisong is an unforgiving blade. If you aren’t proficient enough with its use, you could end up dropping the blade in a fight, or worse, seriously injuring yourself.
  • It’s not “beginner-friendly”; a novice using a Balisong would be severely outclassed by anyone more proficient with other, simpler weapons like a fixed blade knife, baton or stick.
  • Even if you can quickly get the Balisong out of your pocket, the blade isn’t instantly at the ready compared to a conventional fixed blade knife. If you aren’t fast enough, an opponent with a simple blade could stab or cut you first.
  • It takes time to get skilled enough to use the blade effectively and without fumbling or cutting yourself.
  • The Balisong is illegal in some countries, and in many states and smaller jurisdictions in the U.S. In some states, mere possession is considered a felony, so you could face jail time by simply carrying a Balisong.

The Final Word

Like any weapon or tool, the Balisong comes with its own set of pros and cons. While it is worth considering as a self-defense tool, using the Balisong depends largely on the laws of your state. If owning or carrying one is deemed illegal where you live, then it’s not a worthwhile addition to your “survival bag of tricks”; pick up another type of blade to use and learn for self-defense. However, if there aren’t any issues with possessing or carrying one, then find a certified expert to get proper instruction in its use.

Don’t forget to buy a decent Balisong training knife so you don’t seriously slash your fingers as you train to develop the necessary speed and skill in deploying and using the blade. Like the karambit, when you set aside its flashiness and flourish, the Balisong can be a viable self-defense implement if you’re willing to do your homework, and devote the practice time to use it effectively.

Balisongs aren’t 100% illicit or illegal items, they’re also treasured by collectors. One of the “holy grails” of Balisongs made in the U.S. is this set of rare and discontinued Szabofly Balisongs, designed by Laci Szabo for Spyderco (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/15/Spyderca_szabofly_spyderfly_smallfly.jpg).