Monday, August 27, 2007

A weapon with an image problem

Among the many weapons used by Filipinos, none is as controversial and shrouded in infamy as the balisong. The history of the knife is well known to Filipino Martial Art (FMA) people and I won’t bother going through the well worn facts.

What may surprise foreign FMA practitioners, especially those who have never been to the Philippines, is just how common and reviled this weapon has become. Because of its common use as a mugger’s weapon, getting caught with one by the police is a guaranteed trip to the nearest police outpost for further questioning and probable arrest. It’s fair to say that it easier to get away with having a conventional folding knife than it is to be caught with a balisong.

The notoriety of the balisong is unfortunate, since it detracts from the weapon’s many excellent attributes. By design, the knife’s blade is held in place by both sides of the handles clamping onto the blade's tang, making the balisong one of the sturdiest folding knife designs ever made. The only way the blade will ever collapse onto the hand holding it is if the handle completely shatters or the blade breaks at the tang, which is highly unlike given the metal construction of balisong handles and the hard steel used for the blades.

The knife folds into its own handle. This makes the folded balisong quite compact. It also allows the weapon to be used as a pasak (dulo dulo, tabak maalit). A folded balisong can do damage as a weapon even before it’s used as originally intended. A skilled balisong user can even use one side of the handle as a whip if he’s caught in a bind before fully opening the knife.

Nothing is perfect and the balisong does have its drawbacks. It takes some practice to open one under the stress of an actual self-defense situation. I’m not even talking about learning fancy ways of deploying the knife. Under extreme stress fine motor skills are quickly dumped in favor of gross motor skills, and flipping open a balisong when attacked requires a degree of finesse.

Of course we end up at negative image of the balisong and how it deters the FMA practitioner from carrying one in the Philippines. The decision to carry one in the face of the risk it entails is really up to the user. The risk of being arrested just can’t be disregarded; it’s a reality that has to be taken seriously.

This is all too bad for what is an excellent knife design, one that will always be identified with the Filipino Martial Arts.


Stephen Renico said...

Hey, it's nice to see you posting again!

jrf said...

I bumped into your blog today and wanted to compliment you and encourage you to keep up your blog.

You obviously have a very mature view of martial arts and it shows in every posting. Please post more often. Too many martial arts blogs are macho BS from people out to inflte their own egos. The post on the Force Recon Marines who have actually used their knowledge was spot on.

Keep up the excellent work!

island_man said...

Thanks. I'll try to post more frequently :)

Kiora said...

You write very well.