Good Luck Defeating The Red Army With Your CQC-7, Mate

Where I with tact aim to explain why we should not call our knives “tactical”.

Article by David Lew

Tactical knife cartoon
Illustration : Jean-Phillippe Thivierge

It seems nowadays everything can be branded “tactical”. Log onto any internet shop catering to the soldier, gun owner or general outdoors person and you will find everything from trousers (pants), shirts, socks, gloves, load-bearing equipment, boots and pens with a “tactical” prefix. I believe this illustrates the point well : http://www.511tactical.com/All-Products/Bags-Backpacks/Business-Tactical.html

In the middle of the last decade when I was a young ‘un who was still being bossed around by my betters in basic and later NCO-school, we learnt the definitions of “battle/combat technique”, “strategy” and “tactics” as used by our armed forces. Since then I have ingested much malt-based drink and forgotten a lot of things but I’m fairly sure my socks/shorts/shirt were not discussed. Now that I think of it, neither was my knife of choice.

Let us be honest here, those of us who read this buy more knives than we need. We may be users, we might study them in detail but first and foremost we are collectors. Nothing to be ashamed of, everyone collects something (even if it’s empty bottles or credit card bills). We buy knives because they interest us; we buy them because they speak to us. We buy them due to clever marketing by the people who make them.

I believe the term “tactical” in general, is just such a marketing rouse and I will aim to show you all why that is the case. We’ll get to the specific topic of folding knives later. But I digress. Let’s talk about the products themselves.

“Tactical” knives come in all shapes and sizes. For the sake of this article I will divide them into the following general categories:

Fixed blade utility/field knives

[Sometimes known as “combat knives” when you order them from dodgy catalogues and men at shows who while not part of any regulated armed forces wear military pattern clothing every day]

Most, if not all armed forces will have one type of common blade used for opening boxes, cutting up food, light field craft and a bit of stabbing enemies on the side. Bayonets, Ka-Bars, Kukris and Puukkos are all fixed bladed utility/field knives.

Mora fixed blade utility knife
Fixed blade Utility

Folding utility/field knives

The classic Swiss Army Knife is perhaps the best example of this kind of blade, but modern soldiers are often found carrying folders from Spyderco, Benchmade, SOG and many other manufacturers. Used for much the same tasks as the fixed blade utility/field knife, in my experience more often than not privately procured according to the users personal taste.

Folding utility knives (Top, Wegner Swiss Army. Bottom, Benchmade Mini Griptilian). Photo, David Lew
Folding Utility Knives

Dedicated Fighting Knife

Fairbairn and Sykes designed their commando dagger for hand to hand combat, specifically stabbing fools in the ear. There are also many other examples of this with one being the Karambit-style knife and another being the TDI by Ka-Bar. They can be found in both folding and fixed blade varieties.

Extrema Ratio Puggio
Dedicated Fighting Knife, Extrema Ratio Puggio

That Knife

For some people* “general issue”, “good enough”, “common” or “regular” will not do. Thankfully for them Emerson knives make their innovative folders and Mick Strider makes his meaty slabs of metal wrapped in cord or G10. They are usually very competent tools made from the finest materials and set trends in the wider civilian knife world. Knives in this category come in all the above flavors but they are more special than your “regular” knife. Why? Because they cost a fortune and they make their owners happier than all the beer in Bavaria ever could.

Rockstead TEI
Luxury knife maker Rockstead’s TEI-S DLC

[Apart from the above blades there is perhaps the most used military blade out there – the one you find on the humble multi-tool as made by Leatherman, Gerber and Victorinox. As I have yet to see one labelled as “tactical” I will refrain from discussing them but have no doubt about it; if you want a blade that’s used by military folks (AKA “Operators”) all over the world every day – this is what you want.]

All of these categories come from high-end to low-end. Steel choice is a jungle with everything from 1095 Carbon to SGPS (Super Gold Powder Stainless) found in full tang, stick tang, and partial tang blades with handles ranging from synthetic polymer AKA “FRN”, “G10”, “Kraton”, “Thermorun” (all fancy names for “plastic”, really) to natural (wood, bone, horn, leather) via every single metal from aluminum and titanium to unobtainium (sorry, that last bit is what Oakley uses to make their “tactical” gloves [TACTICAL GLOVES?!]). Some of them are great knives, some of them are good knives and some of them are downright poor efforts.

I fear, however, that I struggle to find a single attribute that unites all of these different tools. What makes them “tactical” other than the fact that the very word seems to be a catch phrase in a western cultural sphere that has been at war for more than a decade? Kyle Defoor, a bona fide “operator” (AKA “proper military bloke who’s been there, done that and shot them in the groin several times”) if there ever was one, wrote a great piece on the 5.11 “tactical” trouser.

The point raised in Kyles’ blog post, is that the term “tactical” in relation to trousers is empty to the point that users will fill it with whatever vague idea they have. This also applies to socks, boots, pens, sporks, stoves and yes, even our beloved blades.

Kyle Defoors’ post: http://www.kyledefoor.com/2011/10/brief-history-of-tactical-pants.html

So let us call our tools/collectibles what they are: Fixed and folding utility/field knives, fighting knives and exclusive production/custom knives. Call it a “combat knife”, a “heavy duty folder” or use the prefix “military” if you must. None have anything to do with small unit, large unit or indeed, squad level tactics.

So let’s agree, for the sake of the argument, that it’s quite silly to bunch all of the above categories into a single genre be it “tactical”, “combat” or “military”. But what about “tactical” folders? Surely that name is decent and proper? Not so.

If we travel into the dark depths of the past, to a time where the Madonna did not steal all the babies of Africa and still kept the Catholic faith, where Tom Cruise was more famous for kicking ass/taking names/playing volleyball in Top Gun than jumping on Oprahs’ couch/being crazy. We will find ourselves in the mythical times known only as “the 80’s”. It was in this dark time that bladesmiths of rank such as Bob Terzuola, Michael Walker, Chris Reeve, Sal Glesser, Ernie Emerson and many others defined what we now consider to be the modern folding knife.

Slowly but surely folding knives evolved from slip-joints and back-locks that you opened with two hands and stored in a sheath (such as the Buck 110) to the marvels of design and technology we carry around every day.

In his book “The Tactical Folding Knife” Mr. Terzuola, arguably the “father of the tactical folder” defines it as “…one that can constantly be carried in a legal, comfortable and easily accessible manner…must have a provision for rapid deployment such as a hols, stud or disc…finishes to the blade, materials from which they are made and decorative embellishments, I believe are of no real consequence to the definition of a tactical folder.” He rounds it off by stating: “While this definition is probably incomplete, it does reflect accurately my concept of the tactical folding knife and does describe the majority of knives being sold as such today.”

Now walk into your local knife shop or check in with your favourite web-based dealer. The attributes that mr. Terzuola stated defined the “tactical” folder are now found in almost every new folding knife, even those made by companies that previously made more traditional offerings. You can today get a Buck, Kershaw or Swiss Army Knife that according to the old rules would be “tactical”.

We have to remember that the term was coined more than 20 years ago in a time when the concealed carry of firearms was rare, even in the US of A, and the last big war the West had taken part in en masse was Korea. Today what used to be “tactical” is just “ordinary” in folding knives the same way trousers with cargo pockets or trench coats used to be considered “military” but today are just regular clothes. What in the year 2000 might have been rightly called a “tactical folder” I would today call a “modern folding knife”. My EDC, a BM556 in blue, might fulfill Mr. Terzuola’s criteria but I’d feel silly calling it a tactical knife.

In short: “Tactical” is a cool word today and it was without a doubt a great way to separate the new wave of folding one-hand-openers (OHOs) from your dad’s Buck 110 back in 1990. Today it’s an empty term overused by a community used to more than a decade of war. In fact, if you want to keep your defensive/fighting knife à jour with modern mil-speak you should probably call it your “kinetic” knife (don’t, it’ll make you sound like a numpty**). Compare this with other “cool” prefixes; the way makers in the 70s-90s put “survival” on anything with a serrated/combo edge and put serrated/combo edges on things that never should have had them.

To put it simply (some infantrymen know how to read after all):
A low-yield nuclear warhead is tactical; your brand new Benchmade 580BK Barrage is not.

To put it even simpler (some of us find “nuclear” too big of a word):
You would never call your magazine/radio/admin pouch just a “tactical” pouch, would you?

Don’t cut yourself

– David Lew

Notes:

*Call them geardos, the Gucci-crowd, flash-operators, the shiny professionals, discerning consumers or what you will. All units and crowds have them and they range from the Doritos-eating champion to the PT god, from actual navy SEALs who spend their working lives slaying tangos in Durkadurkastan to guys that get mistaken for Shamoo the Orca on a regular basis. All knife-collectors in the service are at least halfway there (we all have that guy in our platoon who can blow an entire months’ pay on gear) and most knife-collectors in the general population have a fetish for at least one “Gucci”-brand be it CRK, Emerson, Strider or your custom maker of choice. I am not talking about “mall-ninjas” here, these are people with huge amounts of knowledge and highly advanced skills of quality spotting/a penchant for the exclusive.

*Numpty (noun) = British English for a grade A moron.

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28 thoughts on “Good Luck Defeating The Red Army With Your CQC-7, Mate

  1. You pretty much said everything that neded to be said there, I just wanted to congratulate you on he use of the word ‘numpty’! It’s not used enough in my opinion!

    It’s hard not to look around at all of the ‘tactical’ goodies on sale today and laugh. Since when has painting something black made it tactical? I have a black umbrella, is that tactical? I guess it’d be easier for me to sneak up on you in the dark and beat you with it, so maybe it is!

    The tactical banner seems to get slapped onto anything that not only serves it’s original purpose, but will do other things too. A knife may be tactical because it has a glass breaker pommel or a wire cutter in the sheath. Well look at my tactical umbrella! Not only can I beat you with it, but I can keep dry, use it as a walking stick, as a ‘check if it’s dead’ prodder, a ‘rescue my tactical velcro boonie hat from the pond’ thingy, and many other things. Actually, pretty much everything is tactical in that respect, providing you have the imagination and skill to adapt something to a use other than intended.

    I wonder if I can market everyday toilet paper as ‘Winter Tactical Bog Roll’?

    1. First of all, thank you for the praise. I do agree that “numpty” is used to little, such a handy term.

      The point you raise is a very good one. The term “tactical” and to a lesser extent “operator” might once have meant something when related to certain things (much like the example of the “tactical” knives in the article) but in this day and age it’s a bit like the term “ninja”, “survival” or “combat”; people use them way too often to market everyday items as something new.

      Me, I love “tactical” products such as clothes, web gear, lights, knives, firearms (etc) but I wince everytime I see the marketing. Chess and football (both the “american” and the “rest of the world” kind) are tactical games, an operator is a person why connects phone lines and a contractor puts up drywall.

      Example:
      My first issue rifle was an FN-design and I wouldn’t take my section anywhere without our MAG58s but pretty soon their marketing will actually look like this:
      http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m6b863Jow81r2tt0ro1_500.jpg

      …also, if you don’t mind a bit of foul language and innuendo this article from the sadly missed blog Death Valley Magazine deals with the sillyness of “tactical” items.

      http://www.deathvalleymag.com/2010/04/10/tactical-gear-gear-company-add-silliness/

  2. Well
    I looked up the definition of the word tactical.
    and yes, your umbrella meets the criteria.
    Me? I have no mechanical, tactical response, to the rain other than to
    run inside.

  3. In my experience, I’ve just translated the word “tactical” to mean “blacked-out.” 9 times out of 10, if there’s a tactical version of a knife, its the black one.

    I carry a blue BM556 also. If that’s actually a picture of yours in this article, mine has the same scratches on the front of the handle too (from opening a beer).

    1. The problem is that “blacked-out” isn’t always best for “the operator”. Producers are finally cathing on to operators being made by their black knife and are starting to produce tan “tactical knives”, but in my AO there is snow six months of the year. When are they going to make tactical knives in all-white? I can’t operate otherwise.

      And yes, I might have used that 556 to open a bottle. Quite a few of my knifes have that mark, somehow ^^

  4. I’m not as down on branding as you guys are. Quality knives are so common nowadays that one can choose almost any quality brand and be okay. True, some knives may be too heavy or not strong enough to baton; however, in most cases users are intelligent enough to make responsible choices. I make no bones about a brand fanboy. But when I need a specialized knife, I do t ake into account prices, weight, size and yes, reviews! Instead of leaning towards a certain brand, I’m more apt to avoid certain brands. Why? Because I’m more likely NOT to like them.

  5. See this is what I’m talking about…I seriously cannot figure out what people mean by a “tactical knife”. Oftentimes a folding knife or boot knife is labelled “tactical” but it’s no different.

    Looks to me like a marketing scheme.

  6. There is a difference between tactical folding knives and regular folding knives.

    1)The way it slices do to blade length and design eg..tanto blades can be used for push cuts, spearpoints and drop points cannot.I can cut a wrist off with a 5″ blade in one slash, but cannot with a 3″ blade.

    2)The way a lock will hold under pressure and strain when stabbing hard and not get in the way to release the blade.

    3)The speed and ease of deployment of the blade, depending on your position…eg, on the ground rolling around with an opponent.

    4)The way the handle fits your hand and prevents sliding while the pommel can also be used for backhand strikes.

    5)Blade finishes to avoid reflection

    6)Blade thickness and pivot strength, the length of the back of the curved spine on a folder can determine whether its going to stay together while prying.

    Tactical folding knives DO exist and are feasible and not every knife is created equal. Do knives over $100 have any advantages over sub $100 knives? Only a few do.

  7. Tactical is just a buzzword these days meant to attract and appeal to a certain group of buyers. The definition of a “tactical” knife is blurry at best. At the end of the day, a knife is meant to cut things, nothing more and nothing less…and calling it “tactical” or not doesn’t change this fact.

  8. “That Knife” is my favorite kind of knife. they’re weapons about as much as a ballpoint pen is a weapon in that they are sharp and pointy and a poke from one would be quite painful. they are cutting tools, they are beautiful things made of fancy materials and exist to sit on my desk or in my pocket and make me smile whenever i get a chance to use them.

    1. I love “that knife” even if the budget doesn’t allow enough of ’em.
      That smile and feeling of strange pride though, I get that from all of my knives.

  9. For me, tactical, isn’t the knife itself. It is how the knife is carried and then its ability to be deployed to use. The tactical in a folder is the clip, locking system, and opening hole or stud. In a fixed blade, the only tactical part of it is the sheath.

    As for dedicated fighting knives, I make a lot of distinction that they’re very rare. They, like handguns calibers, must have a certain level of penetration in a stab to hit vital organs to stop life or size and cutting power to destroy a large amounts of flesh, bone, or organs. I really consider anything under 6inches in length to be a defensive knife rather than a fighting blade. They can kill, but they’re not able to do so quickly in most circumstances and more often leave the target able to do you harm.

  10. It’s true the term ‘tactical’ these days is a marketing one. One could argue there are no tactical weapons, only tactical people. :)

  11. Great and well written article. I HATE the word “tactical” but I love capable knives – more than I can even use (like you pointed out). I carry a CS Rajah 2 as my edc. I collect knives and creditors too. And yes, I know that it’s not the knife that is “capable”, but the user. Just an expression.

  12. After reading this article, I found many commenters are arguing each other with the word “Tactical” I knew the word but now I know about the word “tactical” I agree with Lew and Matt as well.

    Great job David Lew

  13. Agreed, its now just a useful ‘hook’ to hang on an item to mean ” contains a vague military design element” or, as mentioned above… ” it comes in black”. Thanks, not seen this site before, I’ll be back.

  14. Tactical knifes have many features and it comes with different color combinations and its price are also cheaper.

  15. Why are you relating “tactical” folders to military tactics (ie squad level tactics or tactical nukes)? Of course that will make it seem ridiculous. These knives are described as “tactical” as it relates to the tactics of individual self defence. The word is quite often used legitimately in that context, albeit used to death for marketing effect. Even equipmemt like pants, or underpants for that matter, could play an important role in individual self defence or SHTF survival tactics.

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