THE BUTTERFLY KNIFE MAKES A RESURGENCE IN POPULARITY
The renaissance is here! Anyone walking around this year’s BLADE show would have quickly noticed a rather large representation of younger conventioneers in attendance. Equally remarkable is that many of them were dexterously flipping knives—playfully spinning their blades in complicated swirls and tosses like it was a psychopath’s fidget spinner. The click-clack of these unique double-handled knives could be heard throughout the convention floor.
It seems that the balisong knife has made a comeback after several years of obscurity.
“What we are seeing is a renaissance of the balisong,” says Ben Peterson of Bladehq. “Knife manufacturers are waking up to this. Twenty years ago, if you wanted a balisong, you had Benchmade and maybe some custom makers. Now—with social media platforms like Instagram—makers, collectors and ‘flippers’ are connecting directly and driving the design, market and production of new balisongs.”
The main impetus of this balisong revival are kids and millennials who collect these blades for their uniqueness and enjoy the friendly competition of trying to out-stylize other flippers with new moves and chains of flips, aerials, hand switches and limb-defying catches. (One particularly terrifying move, fittingly called The Van Gogh, involves tossing the spinning balisong toward your face then reaching behind your head with your other arm to catch and close the blade right next to your ear). Modern-day balisong shoppers are a discerning group. They collect their “balis” for rarity, beauty and most of all, “flippability.” They hunt for the perfectly balanced combination of weight, size and pleasing aesthetic lines. This has also lead to a cottage industry of balisong parts, with custom makers crafting everything from handles to screws and pins to stylized blades. Even the market for balisong trainers (the blade replaced by a dulled, but properly weighted facsimile) has expanded, with many makers creating high-end models.
The newest entry into the Benchmade Balisong line-up is the long-awaited Benchmade 87. From stem to stern, the 87 is meant to please the new generation of balisong fans, while pushing the envelope on the use of newer materials, shape and blade profile. The sleek and clean sweep of the CPM-S30V blade, which blends so seamlessly with the milled titanium handles, has an eye-catching and unique Wharncliffe design. This is a distinctive profile choice for a balisong that also allows for an appropriate blade mass to balance with the beefy handles, helping to make slick openings a breeze.
The thick 5.5-inch handles are milled from billets of quality titanium with perfect precision, attention to detail, and a sandblasted coating for grip. Though the two handles together may first appear too bulky for those with average-sized hands, one just has to pick up the 87 to feel how each one is machined so that the shaped grooves sit comfortably into the hand. The latch uses a magnetic locking system, which keeps the latch in place when flipping, or locked when closed. There is no greater buzzkill than to be in the middle of a balisong flipping trick and have the knife-latch lock the handles together.
“IT SEEMS THAT THE BALISONG KNIFE HAS MADE A COMEBACK AFTER SEVERAL YEARS OF OBSCURITY.”
Bear OPS Bear Song II
As balisong manufacturers forge ahead with new materials and stylizing, the price point rises, oftentimes dissuading those looking for an entry level balisong. Bear & Son have always been the go-to for affordable balisongs and their new Bear OPS Bear Song II B-200 is the perfect blade for the novice.
Designed for Bear Ops by BRS (Bladerunners Systems, an original balisong manufacturer started by dedicated “flippers”), the Bear Song II is intended to please young flippers. The blade is in a clip point style made from 1095 high carbon steel with a partially skeletonized spine for styling and reduced mass that balances nicely with the just-right grippy G-10 handles. For the tenderfoot balisong player, this edition comes with an interchangeable training blade that is easily swapped out with a T10 Torx bit (which also helps adjust the tightness on the handles for smoother flipping).
“MODERN-DAY BALISONG SHOPPERS ARE A DISCERNING GROUP. THEY COLLECT THEIR ‘BALIS’ FOR RARITY, BEAUTY AND MOST OF ALL, ‘FLIPPABILITY.’”
But not everyone sees the balisong only as a high-speed, sharp fidget-spinner. A name synonymous with tactical folders is Ernest Emerson. The Emerson CQC-6 and CQC-7 folders are closely associated with the Special Operations community and their adoption by many military and federal agencies is a de-facto endorsement of Emerson’s focus on the tactical effectiveness of all its folders. The Emerson Balisong is first and foremost intended as a functioning tactical folder and the first open-close flip will attest to its superior workmanship.
The G-10 handles are just grippy enough to not interfere with complex flipping tricks, and are easily interchangeable with different scales for those who wish to pimp their blade. The ubiquitous Emerson wave on the back of the blade looks, at first glance, as if it would interfere with some advanced opening and closing techniques, but instead serves the original purpose: a secure rest for the finger when using the blade.
Ernest Emerson’s balisong is influenced by his years spent studying the martial applications of the butterfly knife and he feels that, contrary to popular opinion of this blade as solely a flipper-toy, the balisong’s unique design makes it a superior folder. Emerson believes that there is a tactical weakness to most folding knives that a balisong addresses with its unique design.
“Every knife lock can be defeated with the right or wrong condition. Blade locks fail!” Emerson emphasizes. “The balisong is a folding knife that once you have a grip on it, it cannot close accidentally; an almost undefeatable ‘locking system.’ If my hands are around it, it’s not folding!”
In keeping with the tactical purpose of the Emerson Balisong, the opening is smooth, quick and efficiently indexes to a secure grip. The trademark Emerson wave is featured on the blade for its original intended purpose: as a thumb ramp for precision cutting/ stabbing. This combative balisong is balanced with a blade-heavy bias to allow the handle to swivel effortlessly from a drop-draw or pocket deployment.
“WHETHER YOU EMBRACE THE BALISONG AS A HANDY TACTICAL/UTILITY KNIFE OR AS A FUN FLIPPER, IT IS A GOOD TIME FOR THESE BUTTERFLY KNIVES.”
Emerson is now working with input from a community of balisong flippers to create a separate line of flipper balisongs.
Blade collectors will be able to benefit from the current renaissance of balisongs, as more makers and manufacturers contribute to the mix. Just be sure to check your local laws and ordinances to make sure that the balisong is legal in your state or town. Whether you embrace the balisong as a handy tactical/utility knife or as a fun flipper, it is a good time for these butterfly knives. KI
Left: Benchmade 87 has solid weight and flips smoothly.
Left: The Benchmade 87 has a rugged yet smooth design. Right: The Benchmade 87 comes with quality cocoon-style nylon sheath. Left: The ingenious Benchmade 87 magnetic lock keeps the latch in place.
Right: The Bear Song II comes with interchangeable trainer blade for safely learning flips and tricks.
Above: The Benchmade 87 (top) and Bear Ops Bear Song II (below).
Right: The Emerson Balisong prototype is easily recognizable by the profile and distinctive wave. Bottom Left: The Emerson Balisong Prototype promises smooth openings and the tactical capability expected from Emerson Knives.
Top Left: The Emerson trademark wave works as a thumb ramp.