Balisong Uses & Muses by Jessica Hall
The balisong—also known as the butterfly knife—has a place on infamy in modern Western culture. The culprit: Hollywood. Well, mostly Hollywood. It has been so often portrayed in gang fights and other bad-guy-related confrontations that main-stream society considers them the primary weapon of choice in the Underworld. They have, therefore, been banned in several states, regulated in others, and banned in many countries.
Whether or not they are popular among those individuals is, however, beside the point. (After all, so are ropes, screwdrivers, 2×4’s, tire irons, kitchen knives, cars, rocks….and the list goes on and on.) The real point is that the balisong is a very useful tool with a long and helpful history.
So what is so useful about a Balisong?
The Balisong originated in the Philippines as a basic pocket utility knife. The first Western account of them was probably in 1710, the French book, “Le Perret”, but there is evidence of it being popular in the Philippine islands as early as 800 CE and possibly before that. It very well may be the first folding knife ever invented and almost certainly the first one to require only one hand to open and close.
It’s usefulness begins in the design itself, starting with the one-handed opening design. Say you need to cut something, but you also have to hold tight to something else—a safety rope, perhaps—all you need to do is flick out your balisong and presto! Let’s face it—as much as we like our auto, spring-assisted, and other pocketknives, sometimes they’re a little temperamental, or the spring breaks, or it sticks open, or collapses on your fingers….it can be a hassle, at the very least. But the Balisong? One flick and it’s open. Another flick, and it’s closed. As my kid would say “Easy Peasy!”
Since the two handles actually close over both sides of the knife with a latch at the top, it’s a great pocketknife. And the smaller ones (2-4” blade) are actually more useful than the larger ones (5” or more) in my experience, which is especially great if you’ve got those designer jeans with annoyingly small pockets.
Balisongs were, and still are, used as a straight razor, in the absence of modern disposables & co. And they have hundreds of other uses—sharpening pencils, cutting steak, opening boxes…basically, anything you can do with a pocketknife you can also do with a balisong. And there’s another thing which no other knife can offer: endless hours of entertainment.
No, seriously! The most popular use for a balisong is for doing tricks—commonly referred to as “flipping”. Spin it over the wrist, figure eights, switching hands and others. It’s a great way to develop good hand-eye coordination. And for those who don’t like the idea of flipping a sharp blade around, there are “trainers” out there with no actual sharpened edges.
As far as their reputation as a street-fighting weapon? Psychological tactics may work—If you’re good at tricks and start showing off, and your attacker is not too determined or high, they may decide to find a less-threatening target, but there are no guarantees, However, one of the big drawbacks of a balisong is that, because of the way it’s constructed, sometimes the hand slips down the handle and onto the blade. Ouch!
Outside of playing around with them, the other most popular use for balisongs is Collecting with a capital “C”. Custom balisongs are constructed of some of the most beautiful and valuable materials available: abalone handles, cocobolo and other tropical woods, mother-of-pearl, ebony, and red coral.
The Balisong is a very versatile tool, and probably the most fun to play with. And if you’re good, it’s a great way to impress the guys…or the girls.