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What is a Balisong?

What is a Balisong?

Posted by PT on Aug 8th 2023

I. Introduction

A. Definition of a Balisong

A balisong, often referred to as a butterfly knife, is a folding pocket knife with two handles that counter-rotate around the blade's tang. When closed, the blade is concealed within the two handles. A skilled user can quickly flip the knife open with one hand, allowing for both practical use and intricate manipulation, also known as "flipping."

B. Historical Origins (Philippines)

The balisong is believed to have originated in the Philippines, where it has been a part of the local culture for centuries. Though the exact historical origins remain a subject of debate, some sources trace the balisong back to the early 1900s in the Batangas province. The knife's unique design has been influenced by Spanish navajas and traditional Filipino blades.

C. Overview of the Balisong's Cultural Significance

In the Philippines, the balisong is more than just a tool; it is a symbol of pride and craftsmanship. Known locally as the "Batangas knife," it represents an essential aspect of Filipino heritage, reflecting both artistry and functionality. Artisans skilled in making balisongs are highly respected, and the knife is often seen as a rite of passage for many young Filipinos.

D. Brief Mention of Modern Usage and Popularity

Today, the balisong has transcended its cultural roots to become a popular item worldwide. It has found its way into various subcultures, such as the martial arts community, where it is used for training and demonstration. Its elegant design and unique flipping action have also made it a sought-after item among collectors and enthusiasts. However, the balisong's modern popularity comes with legal considerations, as it is restricted or even banned in some jurisdictions due to its potential as a concealed weapon.

The introduction to the balisong provides a glimpse into a knife that is both practical and symbolic, deeply rooted in Filipino culture, and appealing to a global audience. Whether viewed as an artistic expression, a tool, or a sport, the balisong continues to captivate and inspire, reflecting a rich history and an ever-evolving modern relevance.

II. Historical Background

A. Origin in the Philippines

The balisong's roots are firmly planted in the Philippines, specifically in the province of Batangas. The town of Taal is often credited as the birthplace of this unique knife. Local craftsmen, utilizing traditional forging methods, created the balisong to serve the everyday needs of their community. The name "balisong" itself may derive from the Tagalog words "baling sungay" (broken horn), as early handles were often crafted from animal horn.

B. Spread to Other Parts of the World

The balisong began to gain international recognition during the American occupation of the Philippines in the early 20th century. American service members stationed in the region were introduced to the knife and brought it back to the United States, sparking interest among collectors and enthusiasts. The knife's appeal soon spread to Europe and other parts of the world, leading to variations in design and a growing market for both authentic and mass-produced versions.

C. Historical Uses (Fishing, Agriculture, Self-defense)

In its place of origin, the balisong was a versatile tool used for various tasks in daily life. Fishermen found it handy for cutting lines and cleaning fish, while farmers utilized it in agriculture for pruning and harvesting. The balisong's compact and quick-deploying design also made it a preferred choice for self-defense. Its functionality across diverse applications contributed to its widespread adoption among the local population.

D. Transformation into a Symbol of Craftsmanship and Skill

Over time, the balisong evolved from a mere tool to a symbol of Filipino identity and craftsmanship. The intricate process of forging, shaping, and assembling a balisong became a revered art form. Master craftsmen, known locally as "panday," pass down their skills through generations, maintaining traditional techniques while adapting to modern aesthetics. The balisong's transformation into an art piece reflects Filipino ingenuity and the pride of a community that has elevated a simple knife into a cultural icon.

The historical background of the balisong illustrates a remarkable journey from a practical tool to a globally recognized symbol of artistry and skill. Its origins in the Philippines, shaped by local needs and traditions, have given way to international fascination and adoption. Yet, despite its worldwide appeal, the balisong retains its connection to Filipino culture, a testament to a heritage rich in creativity and innovation. Whether used for fishing, farming, or flipping, the balisong's history is a compelling story of function, craftsmanship, and cultural significance.

III. Anatomy of a Balisong

A. Basic Components

The balisong, while appearing intricate and complex, consists of a few fundamental components that allow for its unique functionality:

  1. Two Handles (Safe and Bite): The balisong has two pivoting handles. The "safe" handle is the one that, when gripped during normal manipulation, doesn't allow the blade to cut the user. The "bite" handle is the one that will cause the blade to cut the user if they are not careful. These handles rotate independently, allowing the user to flip the blade open or closed.
  2. Blade: The blade of a balisong can come in various shapes and sizes, often influenced by its intended use or the preferences of the user. Common types include tanto, clip point, and spear point, among others. The blade's design contributes to the knife's balance and flipping ability.
  3. Latch: The latch is a small metal piece that locks the handles together when the knife is closed. This ensures that the blade stays securely concealed. Some balisongs also feature a spring-loaded latch, making it easier to lock and unlock.

B. Different Types and Sizes

Balisongs come in a variety of types and sizes to cater to different users and purposes:

  • Traditional Balisongs: These often adhere to classic Filipino designs and are crafted with natural materials like bone or horn.
  • Modern Variants: These include adaptations with innovative locking mechanisms, blade designs, and handle materials.
  • Training Balisongs: These are designed for practice, with dull blades or even blade-shaped pieces of metal, allowing users to practice flipping without the risk of injury.
  • Sizes: Balisongs range in size from small and compact versions to larger, more robust models. The size can affect the weight and balance, which in turn influences flipping dynamics.

C. Materials Used (Blades, Handles)

The choice of materials in a balisong plays a significant role in its performance and appearance:

  • Blades: Often made from high-quality stainless steel, carbon steel, or Damascus steel, offering various levels of sharpness, durability, and corrosion resistance.
  • Handles: The handles may be made from metals like titanium or aluminum, natural materials like wood or bone, or synthetic materials like G-10 or Micarta. The choice impacts the weight, feel, and aesthetics of the knife.

Understanding the anatomy of a balisong reveals the careful considerations and craftsmanship behind this unique knife. From its basic components to the diversity of types, sizes, and materials, each aspect plays a part in its functionality, beauty, and appeal. Whether a traditional Filipino creation or a modern adaptation, the balisong stands as an impressive fusion of form and function, a true testament to both heritage and innovation.

IV. Cultural Impact and Symbolism

A. Symbol of Pride in Filipino Culture

The balisong is more than just a knife in the Philippines; it's a symbol of national pride and a testament to the skill of Filipino artisans. Known as the "Batangas knife," it represents a blend of functionality, artistry, and tradition. Many families pass down balisongs through generations, viewing them not merely as tools but as heirlooms that embody a rich cultural heritage.

B. Influence on Martial Arts

The balisong's unique design has made it a prominent weapon in certain martial arts, particularly in the Filipino fighting system known as Eskrima or Arnis. Practitioners use the balisong to train in precision, speed, and coordination. Its flipping and twirling techniques have been integrated into martial arts demonstrations, highlighting both its practical applications in combat and its aesthetic grace.

C. Portrayal in Movies and Pop Culture

The balisong has captured the imagination of filmmakers and has been featured in various movies, television shows, and even music videos. Its flashy opening action and distinctive appearance make it a favored prop for characters exuding coolness or skill. The portrayal in pop culture has contributed to the balisong's mystique, often associating it with rebels, warriors, or skilled artisans.

D. Global Communities and Enthusiasts

The appeal of the balisong extends far beyond the Philippines, reaching enthusiasts and collectors around the globe. Online forums, social media groups, and local clubs bring together people who share a passion for flipping, collecting, or crafting balisongs. Competitions and meetups are organized, fostering a sense of community and camaraderie among lovers of this unique knife. These global connections further underscore balisong's status as a transcultural icon.

The cultural impact and symbolism of the balisong are multifaceted and profound. From its standing as a revered symbol in Filipino culture to its influence on martial arts and popular media, the balisong resonates on many levels. Its blend of art, utility, and cultural significance has given rise to communities of enthusiasts worldwide, reflecting the universal appeal of an object deeply rooted in tradition yet continually evolving in the modern world. Whether seen as a weapon, a work of art, or a piece of history, the balisong continues to captivate and inspire. It is a lasting emblem of skill, creativity, and cultural identity.

V. Art of Flipping: A Skill and Hobby

A. Introduction to Flipping Techniques

Flipping a balisong is an art that requires skill, practice, and finesse. The act of manipulating the knife by pivoting its two handles around the blade, opening and closing it fluidly, has fascinated many. Various techniques, ranging from basic to advanced, offer a wide array of possibilities. Beginners may start with simple openings, while experienced flippers can perform intricate combinations of twirls, aerials, and rollovers. The mesmerizing motion of a well-flipped balisong is a captivating sight and can be a deeply satisfying skill to master.

B. Role in Martial Arts and Self-defense

In martial arts, particularly in Filipino styles like Eskrima, the balisong's flipping techniques are not just for show. They're an integral part of the training, teaching students how to handle the knife with agility and precision. Flipping promotes hand-eye coordination, timing, and control, valuable skills in self-defense scenarios. A well-flipped balisong can be deployed quickly and effectively, making it a formidable tool in the hands of a trained practitioner.

C. Modern Sport and Hobby

Beyond its practical applications, balisong flipping has evolved into a modern sport and hobby enjoyed by enthusiasts of all ages. Competitions are held where flippers showcase their skills, creativity, and style in front of judges and spectators. Online platforms host tutorials, challenges, and forums where individuals share techniques, advice, and encouragement. The sense of community and shared passion has transformed flipping from a solitary practice into a vibrant, global movement.

D. Safety Considerations and Equipment

With the thrill of flipping comes the need for safety and caution. Balisongs are sharp tools, and improper handling can lead to cuts or injuries. Proper training, awareness of the blade, and the use of safety equipment like gloves are essential. Many opt to practice with trainers, special balisongs with dull or unsharpened blades designed for safe flipping. Adhering to safety guidelines ensures that the art of flipping remains an enjoyable and injury-free pursuit.

The art of flipping a balisong is a fascinating blend of skill, discipline, creativity, and community. From its roots in traditional martial arts to its evolution as a modern sport and hobby, flipping encompasses a wide spectrum of practices and meanings. Whether seeking self-mastery, self-defense, competition, or simply the joy of movement and control, balisong flipping offers a rich and rewarding experience. With proper training, safety considerations, and a sense of exploration, the world of flipping opens up endless possibilities, connecting individuals across cultures and generations in the shared pursuit of a unique and captivating art form.

VI. Legal Considerations

A. Laws and Regulations by Country

Balisong knives, while intriguing and appealing, are subject to a diverse array of laws and regulations around the world. In some countries, possession, sale, or carrying of a balisong may be strictly regulated or outright prohibited. The laws can vary widely, even within regions of a single country. It is crucial for owners, collectors, and enthusiasts to be aware of and comply with their local laws, as failure to do so may result in legal consequences.

B. Age Restrictions

In addition to general regulations, age restrictions often apply to the purchase or possession of a balisong. These limitations are typically implemented to ensure that balisongs are handled by individuals who are deemed mature and responsible enough to use them safely. The specific age requirements can vary widely, so it is essential to understand the local regulations pertaining to age.

C. Implications for Collectors and Enthusiasts

For collectors and enthusiasts, the legal landscape can present challenges. Knowing where and how to legally purchase, carry, and display balisongs is vital. Engaging with community forums, consulting with legal professionals, or joining collector's clubs can provide valuable insights and guidance. Being aware of the legal considerations and acting responsibly helps to preserve the integrity and reputation of the balisong community.

VII. Collecting and Crafting Balisongs

A. Different Types of Balisongs for Collectors

Collecting balisongs can be a fascinating hobby. The variety of designs, materials, and craftsmanship offers endless opportunities for exploration. From antique and traditional models to modern and custom-made pieces, there is a balisong to suit every taste. Understanding what makes each type unique aids in creating a meaningful and diverse collection.

B. Renowned Makers and Brands

Certain makers and brands have earned a reputation for excellence in balisong craftsmanship. Names like Benchmade, BRS, and Filipino artisans are synonymous with quality, innovation, and tradition. Recognizing and seeking out these renowned creators adds value and authenticity to a collection.

C. Tips for Choosing and Caring for a Balisong

Choosing the right balisong requires consideration of purpose, design, material, and budget. Whether for flipping, display, or utility, understanding personal preferences and needs is essential. Proper care, including cleaning, lubricating, and storing, ensures that the balisong remains in optimal condition, preserving both its functionality and beauty.

VIII. DIY Balisong Making: A Growing Trend

A. Necessary Tools and Materials

Creating a DIY balisong is an ambitious but rewarding project. It requires a selection of tools such as files, saws, drills, and specific materials like metal and wood for handles and blades. Careful planning and preparation are key to a successful build.

B. Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

Building a balisong from scratch is a step-by-step process that requires patience, precision, and attention to detail. From shaping the blade to assembling the handles, each stage demands time and effort. Utilizing guides, tutorials, or workshops can provide invaluable support for beginners.

C. Customization Ideas

A DIY balisong allows for unique customization. Choices in blade shape, handle material, color, and engravings provide opportunities to create a personalized and one-of-a-kind piece. Experimenting with different styles and finishes can add a distinctly personal touch.

D. Safety Considerations

Safety is paramount when crafting a balisong. Proper protective equipment, including goggles, gloves, and proper ventilation when working with chemicals, is essential. Awareness of safety protocols, tools, and techniques minimizes risk and ensures a pleasant and successful crafting experience.

The world of balisongs is filled with history, art, sport, legal considerations, collecting opportunities, and even the chance to create a personalized knife. Each of these aspects contributes to a rich and multifaceted understanding of this unique and captivating tool. From its cultural significance to its modern-day community of enthusiasts, the balisong continues to inspire and engage, a blend of tradition and innovation that transcends boundaries and unites people in shared passion and respect.

IX. The Balisong in Modern Times

A. Continued Cultural Significance

The balisong continues to hold a special place in various cultures, particularly in the Philippines, where it originated. It symbolizes skill, artistry, and tradition. Festivals and cultural performances often feature the balisong, reflecting its deep-rooted significance. While modernized and globalized, the balisong's cultural ties remain strong and cherished.

B. Emergence as a Tool and Accessory

In contemporary times, the balisong has evolved into a practical tool and fashionable accessory. Many appreciate its utility as a cutting instrument, while others view it as an artistic object of personal expression. The fusion of function and aesthetics has widened the appeal of the balisong, drawing new audiences and fans.

C. Growth of Online Communities and Forums

The internet has facilitated the growth of vibrant balisong communities and forums. Enthusiasts, collectors, and artists gather online to share knowledge, techniques, and experiences. These platforms foster collaboration, friendship, and a sense of belonging, enhancing the global appreciation of the balisong.

D. New Innovations and Designs

Modern balisong makers continuously explore innovations and designs, blending traditional craftsmanship with contemporary technology. From unique blade materials to ergonomic handle designs, the pursuit of perfection and creativity drives the industry. These advancements not only cater to the demands of a growing market but also contribute to the ongoing evolution of the balisong.

X. Conclusion

A. Summary of the Balisong's Rich History and Cultural Impact

The journey of the balisong is a remarkable tapestry of history, culture, and innovation. From its humble origins in the Philippines to its global recognition, the balisong stands as a symbol of skill, beauty, and tradition. Its multifaceted nature captivates those who encounter it, inspiring continued exploration and appreciation.

B. Recognition of its Evolution into a Modern Tool, Sport, and Art Form

Today's balisong is more than a knife. It's a modern tool, a sport, an art form, and a connection to heritage. The evolution of the balisong reflects the dynamism of human creativity and the timeless appeal of craftsmanship. Its modern manifestations celebrate a rich legacy while embracing the future.

C. Encouragement for Safe and Responsible Enjoyment

The enjoyment of the balisong must be accompanied by responsibility and safety. Recognizing legal considerations, following safety practices, and engaging with the balisong community in a respectful manner ensures that the balisong continues to be a source of joy, pride, and positive engagement.

D. Final Thoughts on the Continued Legacy of the Balisong

The balisong's legacy is alive and thriving. Its allure transcends generations, cultures, and borders, uniting people in shared admiration and pursuit. The continued legacy of the balisong is a testament to human creativity, resilience, and the power of a simple yet profound object to inspire and connect.

XI. Additional Resources

A. Links to Reputable Dealers and Makers

For those interested in acquiring a balisong, you will find a great source for your next balisong.

B. Tutorials and Guides for Flipping and DIY Projects

The internet is rich with tutorials and guides for flipping and DIY balisong projects. From beginner-friendly instructions to expert-level techniques, there's a wealth of information available to guide and inspire.

C. Books, Documentaries, and Other Media on the Balisong's History and Culture

For a deeper understanding of the balisong's history and culture, various books, documentaries, and media explore its multifaceted journey. These resources provide insights, stories, and perspectives that enrich the appreciation of this unique and captivating knife.


The balisong's story is one of transformation, community, artistry, and enduring appeal. Its past, present, and future intertwine in a dance of creativity, skill, and human connection. Embracing the balisong with respect, curiosity, and mindfulness ensures that its legacy continues to flourish, reflecting the richness and complexity of our shared human experience.

XII. Review of Top 5 Brands for Balisongs

A. Benchmade

Benchmade is a brand synonymous with quality and craftsmanship. Among their standout products in the balisong category:

  1. Benchmade Model 62: This classic design features stainless steel handles and a D2 tool steel blade. Known for its durability and precision, it's a favorite among enthusiasts.
  2. Benchmade 87: With its titanium handle and distinctive Wharncliffe blade, it's a modern masterpiece that showcases Benchmade's innovation.
  3. Overview: Benchmade's reputation for quality extends across its product range. Their commitment to innovation, customer service, and attention to detail places them among the best in the balisong industry.

B. Microtech

Microtech represents the fusion of cutting-edge technology with traditional craftsmanship:

  1. Microtech Tachyon III: Lauded for its smooth flipping action and sleek design, the Tachyon III provides an exceptional experience for both beginners and seasoned flippers.
  2. Microtech Metalmark: With a unique aesthetic and versatile performance, the Metalmark showcases Microtech's innovative spirit.
  3. Overview: Microtech's approach combines aesthetics with performance, ensuring each balisong offers something unique without compromising on quality.

C. Bear & Son Cutlery

Bear & Son Cutlery emphasizes American-made quality and accessibility:

  1. Bear & Son 114: Popular among beginners, the 114 model offers affordability without sacrificing solid construction.
  2. Bear OPS Bear Song IV: Built with quality materials and offering a precise balance, it’s a great option for more advanced users.
  3. Overview: Bear & Son Cutlery stands out for its dedication to accessible quality, providing a range of options suitable for various skill levels and budgets.

D. Boker Knives

With a rich history in blade-making, Boker brings diversity and quality to the table:

  1. Boker Plus Balisong Trainer: This trainer is a favorite among learners for its safety features and realistic feel.
  2. Boker Plus Channel Construction Balisong: With its full stainless steel construction and premium feel, it’s a real standout in Boker’s lineup.
  3. Overview: Boker's collection reflects a commitment to variety in design, catering to all types of balisong enthusiasts, from the novice to the seasoned expert.

E. Kershaw

Kershaw is known for its innovative design, affordability, and functionality:

  1. Kershaw Lucha: The Lucha is famous for its sleek design, smooth flipping action, and quality construction.
  2. Overview: Kershaw emphasizes value without cutting corners on quality, making it a top pick for those seeking a blend of innovation and affordability.

These five brands exemplify the diverse and thriving world of balisongs. From Benchmade's classic elegance to Kershaw's innovative designs, there's a balisong for every enthusiast. Their shared commitment to excellence shapes the market, offering choices that cater to all levels of skill, preference, and budget. Whether seeking a tool, a piece of art, or something in between, these brands offer a gateway into the rich and rewarding world of balisongs. The perfect balisong awaits; it's a matter of personal preference and intended use. Happy flipping!