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So, this is an interesting topic to write about! Have you ever been curious about the origin of the Balisong, where it came from and what it was used for? Well, today, I’m going to do my best to educate you on it! Let’s get right into it!
The history and origin of the Balisong is surprisingly controversial! There are two proposed origins of the knife: with some sources indicating that the knife style originated in the Philippines and others proposing a European origin. The Balisong’s history has been discussed and debated many times by knife enthusiasts and it still remains a mystery. No matter the exact origin, the knife has become an emblematic Philippine export.
Adding to the mystery of the Balisong knife, the name Balisong in itself is a mystery. See, Balisong Knife Butterfly's Balisong history post. It has been said that “Balisong” is just a word with no meaning. Some people say it originated from a location in the Philippines, while others say it has no meaning.
There are a few books written about the Balisong and the authors all give their own definition on the name and word “Balisong”. One example is “The Balisong Manual” by Jeff Imada, where he states that Bali means “break” and Sung means “horn”, as Balisong handles used to be made of animal horns, especially caribou horns.
This would mean the original name was “Balisung”. The same thing is said by author Tai Jo in his book “Balisong Knife”, where he explains that the name translates to “broken horn”.
However, in Tom Wei Ding and Tom Wei Toi’s book “The Manipulation Manual for the Balisong Knife”, they claim that the word means “Sharp Knife.” Either way, it seems evident that the name “Balisong” originated in the Philippines, while the hyphenated version: “Bali-song” is a Trademark of the Benchmade Knife Company.
Oral histories claim that Balisong knives were first created in the Philippines in 800 AD. However, there is no documentation or proper evidence to back this up. However, Balisong mass production in the Philippines was already occurring in the early 1900s. These types of Balisongs can still be found in the Philippines, where they are handmade by skilled craftsmen.
No matter where Balisongs originated, or how they ended up in the Philippines, , the modern balisong was perfected in the Philippines, where it became a phenomenon as an inexpensive tool and weapon and later as a premium product with a martial art to complement its functions. .
Historical introduction and import of the first Balisong knives into the US is also another mystery. One theory claims that the Balisong came to the US sometime between the 18th and 19th century as a derivative knife from the pied du roi measuring tools of the era.
Pied Du Roy Measuring Tool (source: Musée de l'Orfèvrerie of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation)
Other theories include Filipino immigrants bringing Balisongs with them to the US, European soldiers or immigrants bringing their pied du roi and it evolving to become a modernised Balisong or a returning US citizen who visited either location.
What is known though is that the true popularity of the Balisong in the US began with US soldiers bringing theirs back as heirlooms or collection items following deployment to the Phillipines during and after World War 2. This explosion in popularity led to mass production, growing association of the knife with criminal elements (thanks in part to movies and popular media), and the eventual outlawing of Balisong knives in many jurisdictions.
Benchmade knife company also deserves significant credit for beginning the manufacture of high quality balisong knives in the US, starting with the Model 68 in 1980.
Today, the Balisong is a popular type of knife, used as both a cutting tool and as a hobby knife for its fun flipping capabilities. There now exists an entire community of people that flip the knives and do tricks, called “flippers”. There are also trainer Balisongs, with unsharpened blades for practicing tricks without any risk of harm. See, e.g., Squid Industries.
There are many, many Balisong options now, ranging from budget-friendly and safe trainers like the trainers made by Squid Industries Co to robust flipper-made knives, such as the knives made by Bladerunner Systems and HOM Design.
There are even super expensive custom knives, that are usually collector’s items, such as the Litetech and Monarch by JK Design, with the Monarch being a collaboration project with fellow knifemaker, Joseph M Hansen. There are still makers of classic Balisong designs, such as Authentic Balisongs made in the Philippines. These makers are taught down from generation to generation.
To conclude, the true origin and history of the Balisong is a mystery yet to be solved, but it’s an interesting topic to look into either way. The Balisong has evolved from a simple tool and weapon into a full hobby and with a new modernised community, which helps to evolve the Balisong knife and keep the craft alive.
A special thanks to Balisong Knife Butterfly for the research reference!