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A balisong, otherwise known as a butterfly knife or a Batangas knife, is a Philippine folding pocket knife with two handles counter-rotating 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 to bear quickly using one hand. Manipulations, called flipping, are performed for art or amusement.
A large version of balisong is known as Balisword, typically over three feet when opened.
While the meaning of the term “balisong” is not entirely clear, a popular belief is that it is derived from the Tagalog Language words baling sungay (literally, “broken horn”) as the original balisongs were made from carved animal horns. These knives are also referred to as “fan knives” or “click clacks”.
Another suggested origin of the term “balisong” is its place of origin. There is a small town in Batangas called “Balisong” where the balisong is claimed to have been invented. Balisongs are handmade and forged there by makers using techniques passed down from generation to generation.
The use of the balisong is so popular in the Philippines that an urban legend exists about every Batangueño carrying it everywhere he goes. They are a pocket utility knife used by people of Filipino society. They have also been used to fight duels over matters of honor, although such practices have been discontinued for hundreds of years.
The butterfly knife appears first documented in a 1710 French book, “Le Perret”, where an intricate and precise depiction of a butterfly knife is outlaid, explaining that the device was developed in the late 1500’s as a utility knife. It then most likely came into popular use in the Philippines through transference intercontinentally to Spain, which coincides with the Spanish governance of the Philippines during that period.
There is conjecture attending to the balisong being an ancient Filipino invention dating back to 800 AD, stating it to be the most ancient of weapons of the Filipino fighting system of Eskrima.
During WWII ( 1945 ), U.S.Troops island hopping in the Pacific, returned home with balisong knives. These knives came in the typical pocket size lengths, and also lengths approaching 30+ inches. Vintage balisong knives have hand-ground, non-symmetrical carbon steel blades. The sharp edges formed right to the handle, leaving a small tang area, and are not usually marked by the maker with a modern western tang stamp. Collectors viewing antique carbon steel blade knives debate the exact details defining a traditional heirloom knives of the 1930’s, with post war knives made with shell brass. Longer ceremonial vintage knives periodically display hand carved designs that are filled with colored and clear Japanese lacquer, perhaps the inspiration for modern clear plastic designs.
There are two main types of balisong construction: sandwich construction and channel construction.
Sandwich constructed balisongs are assembled in layers that are generally pinned or screwed together. They allow the pivot pins to be adjusted tighter without binding. When the knife is closed, the blade rests between the layers.
For a channel constructed balisong, the main part of each handle is formed from one piece of material. In this handle, a groove is created (either by folding, milling, or being integrally cast) in which the blade rests when the knife is closed. This style is regarded as being stronger than sandwich construction.