Where do we start? Anyone that has read or done any kind of Balisong history research knows that this is a controversial subject. I will go over what I have read in books, videos, and online forums. I also take from discussions I`ve had with people that researched Balisong history at a much deeper level than I. The balisong history has been debated by knife enthusiast all over the globe and still remains a mystery. There are more than a few theories regarding the birth of the Balisong. We will stick with the two most common theories, the Philippines and Europe.
Balisong – Whats in a Name?
The balisong is also known as a balisung, Fan knife, Butterfly knife, folding knife and click click knife. Not only is the history of the Balisong controversial,the meaning behind the word “Balisong” is just as mysterious. It has been said that “Balisong” is just a word with no meaning. There are others that state it obviously comes from the city (Barrio) in the Philippines named Balisong. The barrio Balisong is famous for making knives.Therefore, the butterfly knives coming out of Balisong just ended up carrying the name with it.This city is still making these knives today. In the most common language of that area “Tagalog” balisong simply means a knife with two handles that rotate around a tang.
Balisong history opinions from different authors
There are several books written regarding the balisong. In these books the authors give their definition of the word Balisong. In “The Manipulation Manual for the Balisong Knife” the authors (Tom Wei Ding and Tom Wei Toi) claim the word means “Sharp Knife”. Then we have “The balisong manual” authored by Jeff Imada. He states that Bali means “break” and sung means “horn”.Balisong handles were made of caribou horns along with other animals. Which means they were originally called “Balisung” knives. In the book “Balisong Knife” author Tai Jo states basically the same thing.That it translates into “Broken Horn”.
It seems undisputed that the name “balisong” comes from the Philippines.The word Bali-song with the dash has been trademarked by the Benchmade corp. So, it appears that the term balisong is just a generic word for what Americans call a butterfly knife. Just my humble opinion but if there is a city named “balisong”,they are known for making knives and even have a semi-pro basketball team named “The Batangas Blades”. I think its safe to assume the name originated there?
Balisong Theory 1 (Philippines)
According to oral lore the Filipino butterfly knife is one of the ancient weapons of Kali. This was a Malaya-Polynesian fighting system that was considered the deadliest in the world. Kali was rooted in the Maylay archipelago but its influence reached the Orient, Africa, Pacific Islands, Central and South America. Again, according to oral lore this Balisong dated back to the T`ang dynasty around 800 A.D. There is an ancient Filipino legend that tells the story of a warrior trained in the art of Kali. He apparently killed 29 of his enemies with a folding knife. That Knife is considered the forerunner of today’s Balisong. It is referred to by native Filipinos as the “Veintinueve”. This translates to the number 29 in memory of that feat.
The early balisongs made in the Philippines were sometimes made of railroad tracks and car leaf springs. While researching balisong History I became aware that some filipino cultures thought of the balisong as more than just another knife. It represented the past craftmanship handed down to the next generation. There was even some symbolism attached to the balisong. A fully closed balisong represented “3 in 1 for peace”. Partially opened it symbolized the three geographical locations of anceint forefathers.Fully opened it signifies “3 in 1 for combat”.
Now here is what some researchers, scholars and other knife enthusiast have a problem with. Most of what is known about the balisong originating in the Philippines is from oral lore. This being passed down from one generation to the next.There is no “Hard” evidence to prove that the birthplace of the Balisong is in the Philippines. There is no documentation, no artifacts have been uncovered, nothing that you can hold and say this is the proof! Some Authors have claimed Perfecto De Leon would have Fathered the first Balisong but that would have been after 1905.
Balisong Theory 2 (Europe)
This would be considered blasphemy to many in the Philippines. Some say the Balisong history began in Europe between the 1500s and late 1700s. The main reason for this is the discovery of the earliest known balisong ” Pied-du-Royi”. Translation “the kings foot” (a unit of measurement) and is dated earlier than 1791. It is currently on display at the Musee de la Coutellarie. The earliest known book “Le Perret” from 1710 has pages displaying sketches of the Balisong, was published in France.
One theory accounts the use of the Balisong spread through France and into England. This is where a patent was applied for and given to Bontgen and Sabin in 1880. Bontgen and Sabin was a German Cutlery Firm. It then spread across Spain to which it is thought Spanish sailors would have brought the knife to the Philippines. During this time the Philippines was a Spanish colony.The native martial artists quickly adopted it into their fighting styles. It is documented that Philippine martial artists have done this with many weapons from several cultures. Some believe the Balisong made its way to the Philippines via a national hero. A man by the name of Jose Rizal could have returned with it from Spain.
Balisong introduced to the US
One theory suggests that the Balisong arrived in the United States between the 18th and 19th century. It was thought to be of European origin. May have been brought by a European immigrant or returning US citizen. Some say Filipino immigrants brought the first Balisong to America..? Confused yet? What is known is that the popularity of the Balisong in the US began after US soldiers returned with Balisongs from the Philippines after WWII.
The balisong became so popular that they were mass produced to meet the demand. This led to the US making them illegal. Apparently, the US didnt like the criminals having a small, concealable weapon. The Balisong was much like the stiletto so they came up with the “Switchblade Act”. This happened in 1958 and they found a way to group the Balisong into that law.
Balisong History Confusion
Philippine Balisongs made in the early 20th century resembled the Balisongs made in Germany at the same time. It could be visa-versa?
Regardless of origin, the use of the Balisong was perfected in the Philippines in the early 1900s. In Europe the knife that pivoted and folded around the blade was a novelty to be shown off. The Filipino knife masters were the first to discover that a Balisong could be opened as fast as a western switch blade.The Balisong became synonymous with the Philippines.
Today the Balisong is as popular as ever. You can see it in Hollywood movies, Video games, on T shirts and coffee mugs. Watch a tutorial on flipping or get involved with a Balisong Club. Right now a kid on youtube is making a Balisong Lego knife that is flippable! Studies show that activities that involve hand and eye coordination like juggling can help slow and or prevent Alzhiemers. I think its safe to say that Balisong manipulating could fall into that catagorey. So, it could actually be health promoting to flip. Its great to see companies like BRS Blade Runner Systems and Benchmade usher in a new generation of Balisong enthusiast. They are manufacturing balisongs that cater to flippers and keeping the craft alive.