Basic Balisong Manipulation

Open, a balisong knife or “butterfly knife” is a knife like any other, albeit with a very strong lock (in that the knife cannot close as long as you grip the handles).  Getting the balisong into the “open” position is what makes this knife so much fun, however.

The first time I saw a balisong being “flashed” open was at the school bus stop when I was in sixth grade.  An older boy was opening and closing his brass-handled butterfly knife.  In those days, kids carried things like that without being sent to concentration camps for reeducation.  While I’m sure he shouldn’t have had the knife, he wasn’t looking to murder anyone.  The same boy was in my Boy Scout troop and always had a thing for knives, now that I think about it.

I was fascinated by the way the handles opened and closed.  I couldn’t figure out how he did it without flaying his fingers.  At the time I assumed it took a great deal of skill.

Well, opening a butterfly knife “the pretty way” (as a young woman I knew in college put it) isn’t really all that hard, nor is it unsafe if you know what you’re doing.  The first thing you have to do is determine which of the two handles is the “safe” handle.  On most examples I’ve seen, including my legal Benchmade Trainer, this is the handle that does not bear the latch.

Manipulating the balisong is a simple matter of keeping track of the safe handle versus the “live” handle — the handle facing the blade.  When you hold the safe handle, the opening action of the knife puts the blunt spine of the knife in contact with your hand, but not the edge of the knife.

There are plenty of books out there on flipping balisong knives, including Jeff Imada‘s excellent texts.  Presented here are the methods I use most often.  They’re not particularly complicated, but they work.

Simple Flip Opening to Forward Grip

Grasp the balisong in your hand so the latch handle  is accessible to your smallest finger.  Squeeze the handle or flip the latch with your pinky to disengage the latch.
Shift the closed knife to put the live handle to the outside, away from your palm.
Flip the live handle out and away from your palm while grasping the safe handle.  As you flip the handle open, rotate the safe handle in your hand…
…and let momentum swing the live handle around as you do so.  Done properly, the first shift, flip, and rotate are all one motion.
As the safe handle rotates, snap your hand to flip the life handle back against your hand.  The spine of your balisong will slap lightly against your hand on the outside.  If you’re using a double-edged balisong, you have to learn to time this just right so the momentum of your flipping stops the blade just short of your flesh.  (Double-edged butterfly knives are not recommended for beginners.)
Snap your hand again to let the live handle snap back down, into your palm.  The act of rotating the safe handle to snap the blade spine and live handle against the back of your palm, then into it, is what gives this opening its flashy look.


Closing the Balisong

To flip the balisong closed, snap the live handle up and over the back of your hand, rotating the safe handle as you do so.
As the live handle comes around and falls down, snap it against the back of your hand…
…and as it stops, snap it closed, moving your fingers out of the way to let the handles close.
When you’re done, you’re back where you started.


Streamlined Balisong Opening

Release the latch as before and shift the knife so the live handle is pointing out, away from your palm.
Flip the live handle out and away, rotating the safe handle as you do so…
…and letting it come down and around in one fluid motion.  Open your fingers to receive the handle…
…and the knife is open in one simple rotate-and-flip without flashy handle snapping.  You can arc the knife closed by reversing the flip and arc.  This was the first opening and closing I ever performed.  It’s pretty intuitive.


Reverse Grip Balisong Opening

Grasp the balisong with the handle pointed up.  Release the latch and make sure the knife is oriented with the live handle pointed out, away from your palm.
Flip the live handle down, rotating the safe handle as you do so…
…And jog your hand to snap the handle back up as the knife rotates.
If you’ve done the steps in one fluid movement, you can open your fingers to accept the handle as it snaps up and into your palm in a reverse grip.

If balisongs are legal where you live, make sure you take the time to buy or make a trainer.  You must have a dull edge with which to practice.  I know a young lady who permanently disfigured one of her knuckles playing with a “live” butterfly knife.  

Train safely and flip actively.

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One thought on “Basic Balisong Manipulation

  1. Hey Phil,
    as an over twenty year enthusiast of butterfly knives, i’ve found that if you can’t afford a trainer knife a way to practice without getting cut is to wrap the blade with tape. This helps with learning to manipulate the knife without getting cut.

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