By Cathy Richey, the Cathy Factor
The Balisong, called a Butterfly knife in the West, and sometimes known as a
Batangas knife, is a form of folding pocket knife with two handles that
counter-rotate around the tang such that, when closed, the blade is concealed
within grooves in the handles.
In the hands of a trained user, the knife blade can be brought forth quickly
using one hand. Manipulations (flipping) are performed for art or amusement and
require great skill. Translated from
Tagalog, the word "Balisong" means "Broken Horn" (literally, "baling sungay")
as the original Balisongs were made from carved animal horns and recycled knife
The balisong can be a lethal weapon in the hands of a skilled professional, and
can be opened faster than a western switchblade.
The early butterfly knives were made from available materials, and were rather
crude when compared to
Japanese blades. But unlike Japanese blades, the balisongs weren't meant to
pierce through armor. In the heat of the tropics, the target of a balisong was
usually a nearly nude human body. For that purpose, they were more than
The first butterfly knives were introduced to the United States by early
Filipino immigrant farm laborers, and by returning GIs who brought them back as
war souvenirs. The soldiers referred to them a click-click knives because of
their fancy but noisy action. For the same reason, the Filipino-American kids of
that era called them balisongs- bali meaning to break and song for the song of
the blade. In the Filipino communities like Stockton, California, the balisong
was as common as baseball to American kids. Every 5 year old knew how to open
one, even though they might not know how to use it.
The balisong almost disappeared in the 50s because of the bad reputation
attached to the switchblade, flick knives, and motorcycle gangs of the period.
Remember Marlon Brando in The Wild One, James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause and
The Blackboard Jungle? All knives were considered dangerous weapons in the hands
of criminals, delinquents, and motorcycle gang members. The switchblade and
gravity knife became illegal to manufacture, import, or carry across state lines
under the “Switchblade Knife Act."
The present resurrection of the balisong can be credited to Les de Asis,
Daniel Inosanto, and Jeff Imada. All famous names in the martial arts world,
with Jeff Imada as a well-known martial arts stunt coordinator in the movie
business. Of course, the Fililipino martial arts and the action films of today
have also given it a boost. It got a further boost from the September 28, 1970,
ruling that lifted the importation ban when the balisong was declared “not a
In the 70s, Les de Asis used modern aerospace technology to produce the best
butterfly knife ever. It took the knife world by storm, and de Asis knife
received the Blade Magazine Award of the Year for the best American-made new
design. Today, he is the president of Pacific Cutlery Corporation, the only
licensed manufacturer of the patented Bali-Song knife and the only registered
owner of the name Bali-Song.
Dan Inosanto began using the balisong in his Filipino martial arts
demonstrations and in films. He created a balisong sequence for the movie Killer
Elite in 1975, but it was completely cut out of the finished movie. The balisong
eventually appeared in Jackie Chan's The Big Brawl, where Dan was Ron Max's
behind the scenes advisor. In 1981, Burt Reynolds chose Dan to portray the
knife-wielding villain in Sharkey's Machine. The balisong was used to open a
bottle of wine in a Cheech and Chong film. Other movies using the balisong are:
Silent Rage, Ten to Midnight, and Outsiders.
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