Where did the butterfly knife originate?
While its exact origins are unclear, the butterfly knife is commonly debated to have either originated in the Philippines around 800 AD or was invented by the French in the 1700s and then introduced to the Phillippines by the French in the late 1800s.
Origins of the Butterfly Knife Debate
Butterfly Knife History Philippines Origin
Many believe that the butterfly knife originated in the Philippines around 800 AD, when Filipino warriors invented the knife to use as a self-defense weapon.
Butterfly Knife History French Origin
Others believe in the 1800s, the French, who were involved in trading with the Philippines, brought with them the butterfly knife or a measurement tool called Pied Du Roi (“Foot of the King”), which was adapted into what we know today as the modern butterfly knife. The knife's unique design quickly caught the attention of the Filipinos, who began to use it as a tool and weapon.
In both origin stories, the butterfly knife became known as “balisong” adopted from the Tagalog word "baling sungay," which translates to "broken horn." This refers to the original handles of the knife, which were made from carabao horns, a type of water buffalo, deer horns, and sometimes bone.
History of the Balisong
Eventually, the balisong became an useful tool for farmers and fishermen in the Philippines. Filipino farmers and fishermen incorporated the balisong into their daily tasks, like cutting rope, opening coconuts, and scaling fish. It was also incorporated into Filipino martial arts, such as Kali and Escrima, where it became an essential weapon for self-defense and combat.
The balisong's prominence in the Philippines continued to grow throughout the 20th century, with many Filipino knife makers specializing in the craftsmanship and making of the balisong. The knife's design was refined over time to contain a blade and two handles connected by a pivot system (see Baisong Anatomy). Common balisong handle material at the time included brass, steel, and wood being used to create the handles.
The balisong's traction as a weapon peaked during World War II when American soldiers in the Philippines encountered the knife. It’s said they were fascinated by the knife's design and brought it back to the United States, where it gained favor among knife collectors and enthusiasts.
About two decades later, between the 1950s and 1960s, the balisong’s popularity once again grew in the United States. This time, the balisong was especially popular among motorcycle gangs. The knife soon became associated with violence and was often depicted in movies and TV shows as a dangerous weapon. As a result, many states began to ban the possession and use of balisongs, leading to a major decline in it’s popularity.
In the 1980s, the balisong, again experienced a resurgence in popularity, but this time amongst knife enthusiasts and collectors.
Balisongs Today - A Skill Toy
Today, the balisong has become a popular collector's item and skill toy, with many enthusiasts around the world perfecting their flipping techniques and incorporating the knife into their routines. The modern-day balisong community strives to distance itself from the violent connotation once held with flipping balisongs and instead promote it as a skill toy hobby and sport.
Flipping balisongs is a niche but growing hobby. Companies like Squid Industries host an annual balisong flipping competition called West Coast Flippin Championships (WCFC), where flippers worldwide come and compete head-to-head for the title.
Balisongs are now legal to own in many countries, including the United States, but their legality varies from state to state. Some states prohibit the possession, sale, or use of balisongs altogether, while others require a permit or limit the blade length.
Generally, balisong trainers are 50 state legal. However, we always recommend familiarizing yourself with your local laws and regulations to stay up-to-date on balisong regulations near you. The "blade" on a balisong trainer is merely a dull (not sharpened) slab of material used to mimic the weight and feel of a real blade. Balisong trainers offer flippers a way to practice safely and in public.
Ready to start flipping?
If you're new to the balisong community, we recommend checking out our post on how to get started with flipping balisongs.