Friday, February 18, 2005

My training knife is back!

About 15 years ago I designed a training knife for Serrada lock-and-block training, which lots of other folks know as numerado. One person feeds strikes using espada y daga and the defender flows through continuous defenses. Lots of people just put a short stick in their left hand and use that to represent a knife. That's ok, but using something with the real shape and weight adds realism and facilitates learning both how to use the weapon and how to face it. Perhaps I'll say more about that training another time, but right now this is about my knife.

I put a lot of thought into what I wanted. First, it is 12" long. I didn't want something as big as a barong, more like what might be carried as a military or hunting knife. Next, I wanted the versatility of a double edged weapon. This is to increase awareness. If you can handle going against a a double edged knife, a single edge won't be any more dangerous, but the reverse is not true. You could have a good stripping disarm against the blunt spine of a single edged knife, but with a double, this could be folly. Also, a lot of S.E. Asian weapons and military daggers are double edged, so this gives a nod to those traditions. Last, I wanted a strong functional cross guard. This is to train the attributes of that. The guard protects the hand and can also be used to aid in countering defensive strikes against the knife. The handle is shaped loosely after the German daggers of WWII, using one I had available as a template. The blade is different in that I copied the broader, more modern leaf-shape tip from a Collins boot knife

Finally, I had to choose a suitable material. Wood is inconsistent in quality, and with issues of deforestation and destruction of tropical habitats, I wasn't comfortable with it. Aluminum has that shiny metal look, but is too damaging for sticks. I finally chose to use solid billets of half-inch thick delrin, a very strong plastic that has similar weight to that of a real knife with similar length and profile. It is easily machined and is no harder on sticks than a hardwood knife. My first knives were made by hand. One of the original trio was bought by Mike Krivka and given as a gift to Dan Inosanto. I then got a program written so these could be machined on a CNC machine, which costs many tens of thousands of dollars, but allowed me to control quality and produce quantity.

I was excited about these because they have great balance and feel in the hand and did everything I wanted for training. I did try some other knives from a source I won't name; my students broke three in about a minute, so I wrote the guy back. He asked what we were doing and I told him, then suggested he try something other than cheap injection molding, to which he replied he could break my knives. For the record, I don't know of any that have ever broken and they've endured full-power abuse in training.

I originally had 20 made. These took about 3 years to sell. I then had a second run of 20, and these took maybe 7 years to sell. That averages four knives a year, mostly bought by students and local friends ... and they weren't cheap to do up front, with costs for programming, prototype, material, machining .... certainly it is much easier and cheaper to get real blades from China or Pakistan. People would say $50 was too much, then turn around and spend $100 or more on trainers that couldn't be used like mine, either because the wood was too nice to destroy with sticks, or the aluminum chewed their sticks to pieces.

When I finally sold the last one 5 years ago, I went back to the shop that had made them, but they were making parts for Silicon Valley at huge mark-ups and were too busy for my little project. About the time the dot com business went bust, they started making golf clubs and that took off too, so they gave me a copy of the program and sent me out the door.

Problem is, machine code is supposed to be universal but isn't, and my code didn't make sense on other machines. I ended up doing some smaller knives in aluminum from a completely different design, and then tried adapting this numerado knife to aluminum, but it wasn't the same. They didn't have the balance or angle cuts and were harder on sticks.

A year ago I found a small shop struggling to get work and took my project there. They seemed anxious to do it, but for one reason or another I kept getting put back on their schedule. Finally, after a full 12 months, they called and said they'd run a prototype. It needed tweaking, and is slightly different than my original ones, but close enough to put that big smile on my face!

So, now, for the first time in years, I have these great training knives again! I'm expecting the same snail's rush to get them, but that's ok, because those who have bought these have been happy campers. They are still sharp, so I have to buff down the blades to make them safer for practice, but other than that, they're done. Hallelujah!

I have a picture of the original production on this weblog here, and I'll try to post pictures of the newest ones on my escrima products site soon ....

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