As ancient as mankind itself, the knife is the earliest form of weaponry for which there has been no substitute. Essential for survival, the knife was developed out of necessity and has evolved through the ages. From knives made of flint, to copper, to iron, humans have a unique relationship to this tool, creating it out of the strongest material available and adorning them with patterns and decoration. A knife is a personal possession that is valued for its craftsmanship and usefulness.
Perhaps the most recognized knife in the world, the Bowie Knife has an intriguing history. The story begins in 1831 when Jim Bowie brought a whittled wooden model of his ideal knife to blacksmith James Black. Several weeks later, Black had produced two knives. The second was a modified version of Bowie's design. Bowie chose Black's version as it had a double edge. Soon, Black was inundated with requests from customers who wanted a knife like Bowie's. The knife's unique shape and hallmark large blade became popular for its use as both a weapon and as a tool for fishing and hunting.
The knife also gained popularity as a result of a fight Bowie was involved in Texas with three men hired to hill him. Bowie killed his would-be assailants and the reputation of the Bowie knife was established. After Bowie's death five years later at the Battle of the Alamo, both he and his knife became immensely famous.
Over the years, many knives have been referred to as Bowie knives. The term has become a generic one for any large sheath knife. Despite all the variations, it is said that for a knife to be considered a Bowie knife, it must be long enough to use as a sword, sharp enough to use as a razor, wide enough to use as a paddle, and heavy enough to use as a hatchet.
Forged in Japan during the Heian Period when Confucianism and other Chinese influences were at their height, the tanto knife lacked any artistic value and was created purely as a weapon. Later, it developed into an aesthetically pleasing weapon. Yoshimitsu was the greatest tanto maker in Japanese history and during his lifetime the tanto achieved a place of artful design.
A smaller version of the katana, the tanto differs from others as it was designed primarily as a stabbing instrument but possesses an edge that can slash as well. Unlike the katana, tanto are forged in hira-zukuri, meaning they have no ridge-line, unlike the shinogi-zukuri shape of the katana. The classic Japanese tanto shape has the point of the knife in line with the spine of the blade and a graceful belly curve. With a blade length of only 6 to 12 inches, the tanto cuts soft targets very well.
The tanto were most often carried by samurai, the military nobility of pre-industrial Japan. Although commoners rarely carried a tanto, women sometimes possessed a small tanto in their obi, or shash, for self defense.
A 12-inch fighting and utility knife, the Ka-Bar was first used by the U.S. Marines in World War II and has been carried into battle by Marines since. Originally designed as a hunting knife in the 1800s, the Ka-Bar reached popularity with soldiers who needed a knife suited to trench warfare. Its final shape was decided by the Marine Corps, who introduced a slightly longer blade, a smaller fuller, or beveled groove, on the flat side of the blade, and the stacked leather handle. From box cutter to can opener to hand-to-hand combat, the Ka-Bar is the preferred piece of equipment with the U.S. Marine Corps and has become a symbol of the Marines.
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