Updated date:

The Butterfly Knife Is a Flawed Weapon

Mamerto Adan is an engineer by profession, but a writer by night. He loves toys and knives, and has a martial arts background.

why-the-balisong-is-not-the-perfect-defensive-blade

Before we continue, balisong lovers out there please don’t hurt me! I wrote this article not to bash the iconic blade, but to offer some ideas you might find helpful. Because if I did I could call myself a hypocrite since I own one. A butterfly knife is a coveted piece for a good reason. It’s frightening, functional and beautiful bladed implement. Once tagged as a criminal weapon, it became an Asian blade icon and a demonstration of skills among Filipino martial artists.

Originally the balisong is a utility blade, like other folding knives. It then became a weapon both by martial artists and criminals. There is no denying that this pocket knife is a lethal killing tool, as what history showed. But as I found out later, not all local knife experts love the balisong. To be fair I did some interviews and wield the knife for some time. I even attempted to EDC it. As it turns, they make a valid point though. As a weapon, a butterfly knife is a performer but not good enough.

What is a Defensive Weapon?

Before we move on, let’s start a brief rant on what makes a defensive weapon. Me and my friends got a long discussion about this, but we arrived with the following:

  1. Bring the assailant down with minimal strike (stopping power).
  2. Incapacitate the assailant and kill only when necessary.
  3. Legal to carry.
  4. Won’t harm the user.
  5. Easy to carry, conceal and deploy.
  6. Ease of use with minimal training.
  7. Infinite ammunition.
  8. Minimal maintenance.
  9. Readily available.


Unfortunately, humans are yet to come up with a defensive device that will satisfy the above requirements. Firearms do deliver the necessary stopping power, most of the time that is. Bring in the wrong gun type, the wrong calibre size or miss the proper target and we got an angry home invader instead. And people are known to keep fighting despite having bullet holes. And speaking of bullets, do learn to store enough ammo so your guns won’t become useless. Firearms are also illegal to carry in some places. A bad thing indeed as they are easy to deploy, though my friends advised me to get enough training. And yes, mishandle your weapon and you will end up getting shot by your own pistol. There are other options like pepper sprays, and again they don’t satisfy all the requirements either. Did you know that it won’t work on a junkie while it is also deemed illegal in some countries?

That’s why serious defense minded people are known to keep multiple weapons, to compensate for their limitations. Nevertheless the above requirements only cover tangible defensive weapons. In the end situational awareness, conflict avoidance, common sense, low ego and proper compliance should be the first line of defense.

Enter The Defensive Blade

Knives became popular among martial artists and defense experts for good reasons. They are readily available, easy to conceal, quick to deploy (some models are), needs little maintenance, won’t ran out of ammo and brings in a lot of damages. Nevertheless knives are not perfect defense weapons to begin with. I know a friend who advises his students to use knives and guns as last resort. Knives are known to have low stopping power. With pepper sprays, a misbehaving man will go rolling on the dirt almost immediately. Telescopic batons hurt, enough to put a man down in agony. But there are lots of cases where men never noticed they are stabbed until after a fight. That’s why knife fighters are trained to stab in a frenzy and target specific areas on the body to increase the stopping power. And yes, knives are not less than lethal tools. Unless you learned to use it properly, usage of knives will lead to a dead victim.

Now why did I go into this lengthy intro if our topic is all about balisongs? So it will be easy for us to understand why this frightening stabbing tool has serious shortcomings that need to be addressed, if you are planning to fight for your life with it.

Balisongs are Illegal to Carry

My balisong with an assortment of knives.

My balisong with an assortment of knives.

And there you have it! If the law forbids it, then don’t bother. Otherwise a so called defensive weapon will be a liability rather than an asset. I will say it again, knife law sucks. The Italian Stiletto (switchblade) became an unjust victim of melodrama and politics, but butterfly blades do deserve all the frights in the world. In its birthplace, the Philippines, it is a popular tool for settling arguments and fights. It was once a favourite weapon of criminals and muggers and a number of people already became its victim. With a blade length of almost 4 inches, a typical Filipino flipper is bigger than standard folders. The blade is also well made, with edges that could inflict serious cuts.

Lack of Proper Guard

Closer view of my balisong showing lack of good guards.

Closer view of my balisong showing lack of good guards.

Knives use guards for a good reason. So your palm and fingers will not slip to the cold, sharp blade while you do your business. When working outdoor, your hands or the handle could get wet and the guard will come in handy to prevent slippery accidents.

In the world of pocket knives, guards are non-existent. Handle ergonomics make up for the lack of protection, yet pocket knives were never marketed as fighting blades. Butterfly knives share these shortcomings. Yes, some models got those flipper-like extensions in the blade. But I have a feeling that those are not enough to stop your wet hands from slipping into the blade.

Fortunately people learned to deal with the lack of guard by taking advantage of the long handle. The odds of getting yourself cut was reduced by gripping your balisong near the bottom part of the blade. This gives you some space between your hand and the sharp blade.

Lack of Ergonomics

Details of my balisong handle.

Details of my balisong handle.

Among the seas of pocket knives, a butterfly knife is one of the many that lacks handle ergonomics. It was a good thing that it had long handle, for the lack of curves will contribute to the dangerous slips. The shape of the handle is not helping either. When fully opened, the handle tapers towards the blade. This increases the odds of slippage when you are stabbing someone.

Needs Practice to Deploy

Aside from being illegal to use, the complex deployment made the butterfly knife less ideal than other tactical blades. Make no mistake about it, this blade is meant for rapid one handed opening. In fact this is one of the reasons why it got banned in other countries. I once heard how it was branded as “gravity knives,” though I can’t remember which country it is. Rapid opening is not the problem though; it’s the ease of opening. The safest way to deploy the balisong is by doing it by two hands. But doing one handed flipping requires dexterity, skills, and nerves of steel. One could also use some good wrist movements, and I got to admit that flipping butterfly knives are fun.

But good luck staying focus and dexterous in the heat of a fight…

Adrenaline could ruin your composure, and doing complex things while someone is wrestling with you is not a good idea. To prove our point, we conduct pressure testing involving trainers and able bodied daredevils. We subject a willing volunteer to a live headlock (with one arm trapped) to see if he could deploy a folding knife. Even without training, they could open their blades if they are using an ordinary assisted folder. Balisongs are different. Do note that the volunteers have minimal training, and they have trouble flipping the blade open. One even dropped his knife.

I’m sure though that an expert could do better jobs, but as what the test indicates balisongs are not for newbies.

And then there is the fact that flipping open a sharp blade could lead to nasty injuries.

But This Blade Have Potentials

Despite the shortcomings, butterfly blades never lost its charms among martial artists and defense experts. If you ask me, I’ll prefer an assisted folder and fixed blades over those. Yet better have balisongs than nothing. It boasts a long blade and one hand deployment features. I might not carry it outside due to legal restrictions, but the manner of flipping open the butterfly knife will scare any potential thugs out there. To a knife expert, any blade is a weapon, but we could all agree that running away and avoiding conflict is far better than any folders in the market.