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History of Butterfly Knives

The butterfly knife, a.k.a. Balisong, has been featured countless times in the movies. The most recent and arguably the most popular one to date is in the hit action movie, Kick-Ass. In one memorable scene Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) presents his daughter, Hit-Girl (Chloë Moretz), with her favorite “benchmade model 42 butterfly knife” as a birthday gift. Hit-Girl proceeds to display her deadly skills by expertly flipping the butterfly knife from one hand to the other. 

The balisong has also seen action in such Hollywood hits as Face/Off, Lethal Weapon 4, The Mummy Returns and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. 

To watch a butterfly knife in the hands of an expert, as in the case of Hit-Girl, gives one an understanding of its enduring popularity.

The butterfly knife, also known as fan knife, balisong, or Batangas, is a pocket-sized knife that features two handles that counter-rotate around a tang. In its closed position, the blade is concealed by grooves found in the handles. To bring it to action, an expert user usually “flips” or “fans” it with one hand.

The better quality Balisongs use hardened carbon steel for the blade and a host of materials for the handles. The Filipino-made butterfly knives typically have handles made of water buffalo (carabao) horn, ivory, bone, and synthetic materials. 

American-made buttefly knives use a range of metals for the blade – from carbon steel, to steel made for tools, to stainless steel. Handles are also made from a variety of materials and inlays.

The history of the butterfly knife is one that remains open to dispute. To Filipinos and most knife enthusiasts, the balisong or Batangas knife is of Philippine origin. In fact, in Batangas province (hence, the name) manufacturing of balisongs is a thriving backyard industry because of that reputation.

To Batangueños the local butterfly knife is not only part of the local economy it is also a part of the local tradition. It is said that no Batangueño feels complete without his trusty balisong by his side.

There are those, however, who trace the roots of the butterfly knife from another corner of the globe. One writer claims to have seen a knife of similar butterfly construction in a museum in France dating before 1791. One knife collector also claims to have come across balisong-type of knives in Europe that are estimated to be manufactured around the 14th century.  

The proper use of a butterfly knife starts with getting acquainted with the “safe” handle which is the the top most handle. The edged portion of the blade never comes into contact with the safe handle. The other handle is called the “free” as it moves around freely.

To put the balisong into action, the safe handle should be grasped between thumb and palm. The free handle is released as the blade is pointed downwards. In a clockwise motion, twist the safe handle using your thumb and fingers 360 degrees.

Pull in the free handle closer to your fingers by pointing the blade upwards slightly. Grasp the free handle as it nears your hand by using your middle finger, then open the rest of the fingers to grasp the opened blade with a full hand. To close, follow the same sequence.

If you are interested to purchase a balisong or butterfly knife, it is best to check first with your local or state laws. Possession and public carry of butterfly knives are illegal in certain states.

By Daryl Taylor 
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