Where do we start? Anyone that has read or done any kind of Balisong history research knows that this is a controversial subject to cover. I will go over what I have read in books,online forums and discussions I`ve had with people that researched this at a much deeper level than I have. The History of the Balisong (Fan knife/Butterfly knife) has been debated by knife enthusiast all over the globe and still remains a mystery.
Balisong Theory 1 (Philippines)
There are more than a few theories regarding the birth of the Balisong but we will stick with the two common theories. First off the name itself “Balisong” is said to have been derived from the name Bali-sung, a province in the Philippines. Even to this day this region is known for producing the Balisong. This is also where the use of the Balisong became most popular. There is also speculation that the term “Balisong” was derived from two Tagalog words “baling” and “sungay” which means “broken” and “horn”. Early Balisongs were constructed using broken pieces of Karabaw horns. The Balisong was integrated into many of the Philippine fighting styles and some claim that the Balisong was used in the Filipino Martial Art of Kali dating back to 800 A.D. Now here is what some researchers,scholars and other knife enthusiast have a problem with…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! Personally that doesn’t mean the Balisong wasn’t created in the Philippines but I do understand the technicality.
Balisong Theory 2 (Europe)
This would be considered blasphemy to many in the Philippines but some say the origins of the Balisong began in Europe between the 1500s and late 1700s. The main reason for this is the discovery of the earliest known balisong “Pied Du-Roy”. It is currently on display at the Musee de la Coutellarie. The earliest known book on the construction and use of a Balisong was published in France in the early 1700s. One theory accounts the use of the Balisong spread through France and into England. This is where a patent was applied for in 1880. It then spread across Spain to which it was brought to the Philippines (at that time a Spanish colony) and 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 when a Philippine national hero by the name of Jose Rizal returned from Spain. Others say Jose Rizal could have introduced the Balisong to Europe..?
Balisong introduced to the US
One theory suggests that the Balisong arrived in the United States between the 18th and 19th century and was of European origin. Could 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. They became so popular that they were mass produced to meet the demand, which led to the US making them illegal. Apparently the US didnt like the criminals having a small,concealable weapon much like the stiletto so they came up with the “Switchblade Act in 1958 and found a way to group the Balisong into that law.
Philippine Balisongs made in the early 20th century resembled the Balisongs made in Germany at the same time..or 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 Filipino Balisong surpassed that of any European butterfly knife design in decades to come. 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! It has been scientifically proven that people who flip and practice flipping the Balisong and similar activities like juggling sharpens the mind and helps to prevent diseases like Alzheimers.
This is my brief history of the Balisong, for more information regarding butterfly knives I have added magazine articles collected by Balisongcollector.com.