The Contemporary Light Fighting Knife.

In a recent post I did about the Altairs retractable blade from Assassins Creed, I made mention of the the characteristics of the ideal fighting knife. While any knife will only be at it’s best when used in manner and environment it was the designed for, most small, fast fighting knives have very similar properties.

Today, I thought i’d talk about a classic example of one of the best engineered fighting knives of the last century or so. The British Commando knife, AKA the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife:

Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knives

British Commando Knife British Commando Knife Special Edition
[view full size] [view full size]

Fighting knives have been around since the beginning of man. Blades such as daggers, dirks and stilettos have always been popular fighting tools, due to their speed and flexibility. However the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife is a knife that has had a very profound influence of modern day combat fighting knife design. Developed in China, just prior to WWII, it was based on a design called the Shangai Knife:

The Shanghai Knife

The Shanghai Knife
[view full size]

This basic design was developed specifically for closed quarters knife fighting speed, agility and effectiveness. In contrast to the many other fighting knife designs, this was focused on very specific things. This fighting knife was designed to meet a very specific set of criteria. For instance, it had to be slim enough to be thrust between the ribs of an opponent. It had to be long enough to penetrate several layers of heavy clothing (like winter greatcoats and such,) and still strike vital internal organs. It had to be relatively small and easy to conceal. And it needed to be light, fast, and well balanced. But it also had to have excellent thrusting and slashing ability.

The FS (Fairbairn-Sykes) fighting knife design was the end result. Featuring a strong but narrow tapering double edged blade, it was one of the most well designed fighting blades of it’s time. After being adopted by the British army, and later variants of it by American, many other armies, it has had a significant influence on numerous combat blade designs since. Even your common boot knife and push dagger share roots with the FS design:

Boot Knives

Bodyguard Knife Bodyguard Boot Knife
[view full size] [View full size]


USARA Dagger

USARA Dagger
[view full size]

To be fair, the basic FS design is a revamp of a very old one. The idea of a strong, but slender, pointed, double edged blade has been around for a long time. However the FS design really brought it to the forefront of combat fighting knife design.


13 Responses to “The Contemporary Light Fighting Knife.”

  1. 1 ladyofspiders
    December 17, 2007 at 12:32 am

    Simple but pretty sweet.

    I have a boot knife, looks kind of like the one on the right, but with a cooler looking sheath, black with silver, and a silve lion maddlion on the hilt.

  2. December 17, 2007 at 7:42 pm

    Ah, yours sounds a lot cooler than mine. I actually have both of the boot knives above… But mine have the plain nylon mesh sheath. None of the fancy stuff yours have. They are still both well-built knives though. I love ’em…

  3. 3 ladyofspiders
    December 17, 2007 at 11:39 pm

    Hehe yeah mine I bought at a Celtic fair so they were made with a sort of flair of the ye old days. And the Lion is a symbol of Ireland, often used in Irish crests

  4. 4 rockhead
    May 8, 2008 at 9:06 pm

    Interesting website. With my, admittedly limited, knowledge on daggers, I have one question. I was under the impression that daggers have excellent penetrating ability, but that internal organs can slide past the blade without being severed. Any comments?

  5. May 10, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    Can internal organs “slide” past the blade? I think that is highly unlikely unless your aim is horrible or you are trying to kill someone with a spoon… A well aimed thrust with a properly sharpened double edged dagger, will usually impale whatever it hits.

    It is possible, if your aim is bad (or you are not aiming at all) for you to miss an organ, or to enter such that the organ ends up on the flat of the blade, in which case yes, certain organs could conceivably be pushed out of the way as you continued to thrust, but I think that is a big if.

    With a properly sharpened knife, an good knowledge of anatomy, knife use, and good aim, I don’t think this should happen… Barring congenital physiological defects in the target of course… LOL…

  6. 6 rockhead
    May 11, 2008 at 1:55 am

    Thank you for the response. In case my question didn’t already clue you, I am not any kind of expert on knife fighting. I carry a “tactical folder” that I keep very sharp, and my stint in the military contained some unofficial training, but that’s it.

  7. May 11, 2008 at 8:50 am

    No problem. Since it sounds like you are considering using your knife for self defense, I thought I should add that using a knife for self defense is not the same as knife fighting. If you intend to use it for defense it should be considered a means of creating a way for you to escape the situation, and not to subdue the enemy.

    In your case, with little knife specific training, and a tactical folder, I should also point out that stabbing might not be the best defensive maneuver. Most folders do not make ideal daggers. They are usually single edged, and generally have the wrong point profile. A defensive folder should ideally be used for cutting easily accessible targets, usually the arms, hands, face, neck, or ideally, inside of the forearms or elbows, groin, inside of thighs, etc. The idea being to create enough of a distracting or disabling cut to allow you to get the heck outta dodge.

    Keeping your defensive blade razor sharp is an absolute must. If you have to use it for everyday tasks, but still need a defensive blade, then carrying two. Do not use the defensive blade for anything else, and keep it razor sharp at all times. It should always be sharp enough to make deep cuts simply by dragging it across the target without the need to applying any major pressure to the blade.

    Most importantly keep in mind that blade defense is all about defending/distracting and escaping, not fighting. There is a big difference. Sometimes the best option is to not even use the blade. You can deploy it, and while your attackers focus is fixed on the blade hand, punch or kick them, hard, where you can do the most damage. Then run like there’s no tomorrow. But should you ever have to use your blade for defense, this will be a very important consideration if there are any subsequent legal ramifications…

  8. 8 rockhead
    May 11, 2008 at 8:08 pm

    Very good advice. Thank you.

  9. 9 MoZZA
    August 25, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    i have my dads boot knife from when he was a hells angel in the nottingham chapter plain steel blade brass guard and pommel with a nice wooden grip and an awesome hard leather sheath bloody old though i still want his straight razor >_<

  10. August 26, 2008 at 11:48 pm

    Me personally I tend to prefer the aesthetics (and flexibility) of a boot knife over the straight razor… But to each their own… 😉

  11. 11 MoZZA
    September 16, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    well yeah me too but i just love straight razors dunno why, i just do!

  12. August 16, 2010 at 2:02 am

    i love the throwing knives they are just awesome if you are a sharp shooter then you can get your target from a distance.

  13. December 20, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    The Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife is a thing of absolute beauty and the epitome of what a knife should be. It’s simple, cheap to manufacture and absolutely effective. It’s a deadly knife honed down to it’s basic elements: a pointy end and a blunt end. It works OK as a throwing knife too, although it takes some practice.

    They are all business and that’s what I admire in a knife. I can’t be doing with great bloody big macho blades with notches in them and sewing kits in the handle. This is a chunk of pointy steel.

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