NEW ROLES FOR AN ANCIENT INDONESIAN KNIFE DESIGN
PHOTOS BY TIM STETZER
I recently had the opportunity to check out the TOPS C.U.T. 4.0 knife (Combat Utility Tool) designed by Joshua Swanagon. It seemed ideally suited to my experience, because I’ve trained with and used karambit-style blades extensively for more than 30 years. I currently teach and program cadet training at a police academy and have done many years of field work as a former Army Ranger and Ranger instructor.
READY FOR DUAL ROLES
The dual nature of the blade seemed custom tailored to my background. I was anxious to see if it really could fulfill the roles of both a defensive blade and field knife while still maintaining the aspects that make a karambit unique and practical.
The acronym, C.U.T., stands for “combat utility tool” and was conceived by Swanagon to provide function equally well in both violent encounters and out-door survival situations. With this intent in mind, the blade specifically fills a dual role as both a combative karambit-ringed knife, as well as a utility-style blade that is robust enough to stand up to extended field use.
While many people use such terms, what do “combat” and “utility” really mean to most of us? Let’s take a more analytical look at these two terms, expressed in a truly functional sense.
FUNCTIONAL INTENT: COMBAT
Generally, when people use the term, “combat,” they’re referring to a knife designed for lethal applications against highly trained and experienced adversaries. For true combat professionals, I would suggest that the TOPS C.U.T. 4.0 is not the best blade-of-choice.
However, law enforcement officers or citizens who may encounter a street thug should be well served by the TOPS C.U.T. 4.0. This blade fits the bill to enhance survivability in the face of adversity and facilitates an appropriate response option, should they be attacked.
Specific to functional law enforcement applications, there are often two levels of common hostile encounters. Both levels of tactical response address the human factors cops must face during force-on-force engagements using control principles.
Level 1: This level entails building a solid foundation of intuitive and instinctive responses to engage aggressors with appropriate and effective counters to strikes, grabs and attacks with weapons. The TOPS C.U.T. 4.0 meets this need foremost in that it is a fixed-blade knife with a blade length of 4.25 inches and a cutting edge of 4.0 inches. Its 1095 RC 56-58 carbon steel blade’s thickness is a robust 0.19 inch. The take-home point here is that the blade’s dimensions provide more than enough heft without the concern that the blade could collapse on impact—a problem germane to the blades on folding knives—and won’t slip out of your hand during the friction of a violent encounter.
Of course, the karambit ring’s greatest strength is that it ensures the knife stays in place. I used the blade for many hours without it once sliding around in my hand.
If you’re holding the blade properly, it will stay where you want it to be. This is unique in my experience, because many dual-purpose blade configurations often don’t lend themselves to finer motor skill manipulations while you are defending yourself.
Level 2: Cops, by necessity, must develop proficiency in dominating the “tactical engagement space” by gaining and maintaining motor control over violent bad guys. Various subject control tactics abound here, beginning with verbal commands telling the bad guy exactly what he is supposed to do and escalating from there to increasingly more sophisticated uses of force, if necessary.
Not only are subject control tactics executed bare handedly, they also involve the use of tools (i.e., batons). The focus task is to function effectively during an adrenaline dump/fight-or-flight response. The TOPS C.U.T. 4.0’s total 8.50-inch length and 9-ounce weight, as well as its Kydex sheath, meet the need for an emergency pain-compliance instrument to be tactically applied to bio-motor points when executing advanced control and takedown methods.
Additionally, the knife’s weight supports its use as an emergency impact tool when secured in a clenched fist in thrust punching applications, while its karambit ring acts as a “knuckle duster” in slashing applications when held in an ice pick grip.
What I really liked about the TOPS C.U.T. 4.0 was that the karambit ring was large enough to allow gloves to be worn to further protect the hand. This is in stark contrast to most karambits I’ve used over the years whose rings simply were too small to wear gloves with.
TOPS Knives C.U.T. 4.0
- Overall length: 8.5 inches
- Blade length: 4.25 inches
- Cutting edge: 4.00 inches
- Blade thickness: 0.190 inch
- Blade steel: 1095
- Blade hardness: 56-58 RC
- Blade finish: Black traction coating
- Handle material: Tan canvas Micarta
- Handle style: Dragonfly tread
- Knife weight: 3 ounces
- Weight with sheath: 9.0 ounces
- Sheath material: Black Kydex
- Sheath clip: Beta Loop
The karambit design originated in Indonesia during the 11th century. Its most distinguishing characteristics are the curved blade inspired by the slashing claws of big cats such as tigers and the finger ring that allows exceptional retention and unconventional hand manipulations of the knife in circles and orbits.
KARAMBIT FINGER RING
When an assailant grabs your wrist in an attempt to control your knife arm, the karambit’s finger ring feature allows you to release your grip—while a finger remains inside the ring—and spin the blade onto the top of the assailant’s wrist in order to snare and slash it. The nature of this tactic causes the attacker to involuntarily jerk their arm back, which, of course, further damages their arm as they attempt to free their wrist.
OF COURSE, THE KARAMBIT RING’S GREATEST STRENGTH IS THAT IT ENSURES THE KNIFE STAYS IN PLACE.
FUNCTIONAL INTENT: UTILITY
No one puts a rugged utility knife through its paces more than preppers and outdoorsmen. There are often two levels of common adverse encounters specific to outdoor applications that outdoorsmen must face and prevail over. These challenges appear when superior tools and equipment are not available and while operating in inclement weather conditions.
Level 1: My years in the field with the Rangers gave me plenty of experience in several skill-base families such as finding natural insulation, improvising shelters, building fires, water procurement and cleaning game.
I subscribed to a two-blade system in these environments. While one of the knives must be a large Bowie-style knife for cutting tree boughs and the like, I can see the TOPS C.U.T. 4.0 being very capable as the smaller of the two blades. It is well suited for cleaning game and the many other, more-detailed tasks around camp. While messing around with it, I easily carved out a few wooden triggers and trap parts for simple snares.
In fact, the karambit design was originally a field knife used for cutting/scraping game. The ring kept the blade in the laborer’s hand while slick with blood or water. This is a big plus for the TOPS C.U.T. 4.0 when the user is working on the variety of cutting tasks one would encounter in the bush.
Level 2: Outdoorsmen, by necessity, must develop proficiency using their tools and equipment during inclement weather conditions such as rain, snow and sleet. The TOPS C.U.T. 4.0 features a tan canvas Micarta handle whose dragonfly tread design molds to the hand very nicely. The blade sports a black traction coating finish that ensures a secure grip when performing precise cutting tasks with a bloody blade and in poor weather conditions.
I found the knife’s scout mount sheath design a tad bulky for easy EDC, but it does feature two beta loop clips with secure, Pull-the-DOT snaps that make attaching the knife to a belt, web gear or a back pack a snap (no pun intended). The sheath also features an attached plastic whistle—one of the lightest, cheapest survival tools you can have for getting found if you’re lost or stranded.
Ultimately, the TOPS C.U.T. 4.0 exceeded my expectations: Dual-purpose karambits often get very busy trying to meet too many uses. As a result, they can fail to meet any one use very well. However, the TOPS C.U.T. 4.0 knife covered all levels of functional use in both roles of combat and utility.
With a street price of $170, I think the TOPS C.U.T. 4.0 is more than a bargain for the capabilities it brings to bear.
TOPS KNIVES, INC.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the May 2017 print issue of American Survival Guide.