Common Butterfly Knife Tricks and Their Names
Butterfly knives are currently seeing a surge in popularity, and it’s no wonder why! Butterfly knives, also known as balisongs, have a lot going for them.
They’re considered stronger than a standard folding knife due to the dual pivot system, come in a wide variety of makes and models at different price points, and let’s be honest - they just look cool.
Whether you’re a collector looking for a new custom for your collection, or someone who needs a rugged and tough blade that you can EDC, there’s a balisong out there for you. Just make sure you’re keeping your pivots lubed up with some KPL for smooth action and no squeaking or creaking!
Now that we’ve established that butterfly knives are awesome, let’s take a look at some of the most common butterfly knife moves that you might see.
Check out this breakdown of how balisong tricks are named, who names them, as well as 9 of the most common butterfly knife tricks, what they’re called, and where you’ve probably already seen them.
Then, once you’ve seen them and know what they’re called, head on over to “20 Easy Balisong/Butterfly Knife Tricks Anyone Can Learn” and learn them yourself!
Butterfly Knife Tricks’ Names and How They Get Them
The first thing to understand about butterfly knife tricks and how they get their names is the difference between fundamentals and combos.
Flipping, at its core, is essentially made up of just a handful of basic butterfly knife moves.
These basics can then be strung together in sequence to build combinations (“combos”), some of which become so ubiquitous that they are then given names as well.
The names of balisong combos have come about according to varying naming conventions, but the fundamental moves in balisong flipping were named in a strictly descriptive manner.
When the knife rolls over a finger, it’s called a rollover. When thrown in the air, it’s called an aerial.
All of the basic balisong manipulations have names according to this convention, and are as follows:
- Rollouts: the blade and one handle are flung out, and the momentum is used to rotate the knife 180 degrees at a time in a circular motion.
- Ricochets: the direction that the knife is swinging abruptly changes from one direction to its opposite.
- Fans: holding one handle, the blade and other handle are made to swing in a circular motion.
- Rollovers/Rolls: the knife spins around one finger, with the finger being between the two handles on the opposite side of the blade.
- Chaplins/Chaps: the knife spins around one finger, with the finger being between the spine of the blade and the safe handle.
- Twirls: any manipulation that involves passing one handle between alternating fingers.
- Aerials: any manipulation that involves the knife temporarily leaving the hand, i.e. being thrown into the air.
- Transfers: any manipulation that involves the knife being passed from one hand to the other.
Bonus Balisong Flipping Jargon:
Zen: In the context of balisong flipping, the word “zen” refers to a variation of a trick that is performed with the edge of the blade where the spine typically is.
Examples include the zen ricochet, zen chaplin, zen twirl, and most popularly, the zen rollover.
Locked (open/closed): Some tricks can be performed with the knife in its fully open or closed position.
These tricks are referred to as “locked”, regardless of if the knife is actually latched open or closed. Common examples include open/locked twirling and tabletops.
Parabolic: Parabolic refers to any aerial that rotates off-axis. Nearly all balisong manipulations can be described in terms of these fundamental butterfly knife moves.
By using the name of the fundamental, the finger(s) used, the direction of the trick (normal, reverse), and the orientation of the hand/knife (vertical, horizontal, 0g), you can describe 99% of all balisong tricks and break down any combo into its component parts.
Just because you could describe 99% of all balisong combos according to these 8 rudiments doesn’t necessarily mean you should.
Sure, you could tell your friends all about the new combo you learned: a horizontal thumb rollover to a 0g index roll into a zen rollover and wrist pass, but you’d sound a lot cooler (and more knowledgeable about flipping) if you told your friends that you finally learned the ‘helix’.
The naming conventions for balisong tricks have certainly changed over the years.
In the earlier stages of development of the hobby now known as “flipping,” it was much more commonplace to give a name to a combo or new trick.
Sometimes tricks were named after the flipper who created or popularized the trick (such as the Choker Fan or Sinister’s Roll), sometimes they were given names because they resembled or reminded the flipper of something else (including the Helix and Blender), and sometimes the names had nothing to do with the combo or who invented it, but were just simply catchy!
Ultimately, however, this led to too many tricks being named, so much so that it was hard to keep track of what was what.
The community ultimately decided that new combos generally did not warrant their own names anymore, as more names just muddled up the jargon pool and often times new combos were not distinct enough from existing ones to warrant their own name.
This is the current state of balisong trick naming conventions - unless it’s new or out of the ordinary, it’s very hard for a nameless trick to acquire a name.
Common Balisong Tricks and Their Names:
Now that you know all about the basics of flipping, building combos, and how both fundamentals and combos got their names, it’s time to look at some of the most common balisong tricks and what they’re called.
1: Double Rollout
Starting this list is perhaps the most popular balisong trick in existence.
It’s the one you see in all the movies and tv shows when someone flips open a butterfly knife, and is typically the first trick people learn when learning how to flip.
It’s simple enough to understand - just two rollouts and flip the knife open/closed - but will take new flippers a bit of practice to get looking smooth and effortless.
This trick also goes by the name “basic horizontal” and “basic opening.”
2: Behind the 8 Ball
Often just referred to as “8 ball,” the “Behind the 8 Ball” is one of the first balisong combos that many flippers learn.
It’s composed of two linked chaplins followed by a unique grab that could be considered the “essence” of the trick, where the knife is momentarily held near the pivots with the safe handle open and the bite handle closed against the blade, before turning the wrist and completing the combo with a zen rollover.
This specific move is also used in the “blender” trick, and its ability to be easily looped makes it a favorite among both novice and experienced flippers.
One of many ways to spice up your aerials, bumps are a great way to add some flash to your routine and build up confidence with the balisong.
Starting with a helix aerial, bumps are performed by hitting the knife mid-air from underneath to pop it even higher into the air without disrupting the spin.
The most popular bumps are wrist bumps, where the knife is bumped with the back of the wrist, but you’ll also see knee bumps, finger bumps, and even the occasional head bump in some flipping videos!
The scissor is an advanced balisong move that combines twirling with aerials.
To perform the basic version of this trick the knife is thrown into the air for a full rotation, the same handle that was thrown is caught with the index and middle fingers, and a twirl is performed seamlessly along with the catch.
Presumably named because the knife is caught with the hand making a “scissors” gesture, this trick is an essential component of advanced flippers’ repertoires.
5: Choker Fan
The choker fan is one of those tricks that is named after the flipper that created it, rather than having a descriptive or just cool-sounding name.
Invented and popularized by flipper @sirhorsechoker, the choker fan is essentially an underhand fan that incorporates twirling by fanning the knife between alternating fingers.
This move takes a lot of practice to learn, and is difficult to master, but is an extremely fun move to watch and even more satisfying to perform.
The uniqueness and mesmerizing nature of this trick makes it a favorite among flippers, which is why you’ll see it performed often.
Another one of the first tricks that many flippers learn, the helix is a classic intermediate combo that will help new flippers learn rollovers, flow, and confidence with the bite handle.
The trick consists of 3 rollovers: thumb roll, 0g index roll, and finished with a zen rollover.
The over/under/over order of these rolls calls to mind images of a helix strand, hence the name.
This combo can be performed using either handle to start and it can be looped indefinitely, helping to make it one of the most popular balisong tricks to this day.
7: Figure 8
Not to be confused with “Behind the 8 Ball,” the Figure 8 is more or less a flashy double rollout-style trick.
Instead of the second rollout going outward in the same direction as the first, though, the second rollout is an inward rollout, and the wrist is kept loose in order to smoothly link the two together.
The wrist flick does a figure 8 style motion, which is where this move gets its name. This move is not too difficult to learn, making it a great beginner trick.
This move appears frequently in the middle of combos by flippers of all skill levels, and can be performed both forehand and backhand.
Unlike most of the other tricks on this list, the shortstop is a move that strictly ends a combo, as the knife will end up in the open position.
This move is at the high-intermediate/low-advanced level, but is also one of the first tricks that many flippers want to learn because it’s such a neat trick!
Another staple of balisong flipping, a clean shortstop is sought after by nearly every flipper.
You may even see occasional contests (just for fun) for cleanest shortstop, fastest shortstop, or even slowest shortstop.
9: Knife Throw
So this isn’t actually considered a balisong trick by most flippers, but it is certainly a common balisong trick in the town of Hollywood.
Although many modern balisongs are built tough so that they’ll be able to survive countless drops onto hard surfaces like concrete, it’s still not recommended that you ever throw your balisong!
The movies do make it look pretty cool though...
Now that you’re familiar with some of the most popular balisong tricks, their names, and how they got them, you’re ready to sound like an expert next time you’re watching Kick-Ass and you can name all of the butterfly knife tricks that “Hit Girl” does.
Even better, get your own balisong and go learn that sweet combo you’ve seen in your favorite video game!
Just remember to stay safe, practice often, and of course make sure your butterfly knife is lubed and maintained properly with high quality pivot lube like KPL!