Your Second Carry Weapon
by Kirk Lawson

[The Two-Weapon Theory]
The Japanese Samurai had a habit of carrying two weapons, formally; a pair of swords, both the short sword (wakizashi) and the long sword (katana). This pairing was called Daisho. The term literally means "big-little." In fact, at the height of Samurai culture, only the Samurai were legally allowed to wear both at the same time. Aside from the formalities and as a mark of rank, the pairing also played a very practical role, tactically speaking. The shorter weapon allowed for use when the longer weapon may have been lost, damaged, prohibited, or inappropriate because of the environment.


[Sōsuke Henmi wearing his two swords]

Pairing of a second weapon, particularly a large knife or small sword, to a firearm has long been recognized as important, particularly when going back to single-shot weapons which were prone to malfunction and slow to reload. The American Longhunter was known to carry not only his flintlock Longrifle but also a Longknife and a Tomahawk. The military man had the same logical courtesy extended to him and he would often have a knife, bayonet, hatchet, or sword paired against his musket, rifle, or revolver. This is a trend that has continued into the era of modern, reliable, repeating, center-fire cartridge firearms, my favorite being the Rough Riders who were issued a type of Bowie Knife as part of their kit. Probably the most famous is the venerable KA-BAR knife adopted by the United States Marine Corps in WWII.


[USMC KA-BAR knife]

[Why Carry A Knife]
Modern firearms used by the Concealed Carry holder and Self Defense practitioner, while vastly more reliable than the flintlock of old, are still vulnerable to failures and malfunctions. The "Tap-Rack-Bang" drill and failure-reload drills are a staple of continued training past the basics. But there are times that the gun is just not going to get back into the fight fast enough and a secondary weapon is required. Some choose to add a second firearm in the advent that their primary firearm goes "out of action," but for some, for a variety of reasons, that is not always practical. A carry knife is often a practical alternative.

There are also places in the U.S. where carry of a firearm is prohibited; the so-called "Gun Free Zones." While we know that posting a sign does nothing to prevent a criminal from bringing a gun into the prohibited area, it does, in fact, prevent the law-abiding from carrying their self defense firearm in that place. However, many (most?) of these "Gun Free Zones" do not prohibit the carry of a knife. In these cases, though a firearm may be a superior tool for self defense, having a knife is a long way better than having nothing more effective than strong language.


[The picture only shows a Beretta M9 so I can carry my 1911 or my Revolver, right?]

While less common, there are also times when the environment may prevent or discourage the use of a firearm but yet Deadly Force is justified. Extremely tight space or a situation where stray, missed, or over-penetrating shots are highly likely to injure innocent third parties are examples of when a knife might be a preferred tool to deploy for self defense over even a firearm.

Further, a knife may be easier to access and deploy. Many times the law or the environment may dictate that the gun must be in what is sometimes called "deep concealment." That is highly concealed and never vulnerable to accidental exposure. Even "printing" is discouraged and minimized. While a valid carry method, carry in this way makes it more difficult to access the firearm and requires more time to deploy it, frequently requiring two hands. However, even when "deep concealment" of the firearm is required, a knife is often more acceptable to exposure and has less stringent requirements for concealment. In these circumstances, a knife is easier to deploy and quicker to get into action. It is far better to be fighting with a somewhat less effective tool than to not be able to access a tool at all. There is an old saying in the firearms for self defense community: The .22 you have on you is worth more than the .45 you left at home. In the same way, the knife which you can access and deploy at lighting speed is better than the gun which takes so long to access that you are dead before it can be deployed.

Finally, when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. OK, it is more than a bit hackneyed by this point but it is still valid. If your only option for armed self defense is with a gun, then the gun will be what you have to use, even when another tool, such as a knife, might be better suited to the circumstance or environment.


[What? I've got really big problems.]

[Folding Versus Fixed]
In all of the historic examples I've listed of fighters and manly-men pairing a blade with their gun, it has always been a "fixed blade" knife which doesn't fold, carried in a sheath with the hilt protruding. Why? Because Jim Bowie, that's why! Legend has it that in his feud with Major Norris Wright, Jim Bowie had a violent confrontation with the man a little before the now famous Sandbar Duel. In that earlier confrontation, Jim was carrying a folding knife but unable to effectively open it and get it into action. He was reportedly fending off or distancing with one hand and trying to open the folding knife, held in his other hand, with his teeth. Jim Bowie found out the hard way what many before and after him had found, that folding knives require an additional action to open them while fixed blade knives are already ready to go. Consequently, Jim's brother Rezin gave him a fixed blade, probably a butcher knife, which he took to, and used to good effect at, the Sandbar Duel.


[Old Hickory Kitchen Knives is making a historical accurate Bowie?]

Practically speaking, a fixed blade knife comes into action faster than a folding knife and requires less actions to get into a state of readiness. Even those knives which open automatically on draw, such as variations of the "wave" concept, or "automatic or gravity knives" which can spring open under mechanical power or gravity still require an additional action which is an additional point of potential failure. No matter how fast and certain an automatic, gravity, wave, or "flick open" knife is, a fixed blade knife is faster and more sure.

That said, folding knives have a lot to offer as well.

Folding blade knives ("folders") are, by definition easier to conceal. They fold down to half of their size compared to when open. Many of them are equipped with pocket clips which allow them to be conveniently stored in a front or rear pants pocket yet easily available for access. They do not require a belt sheath to safely carry because the handle acts as a built-in sheath.

Additionally, folders are often "more legal" to carry than fixed blade knives. Many states and cities have laws against carrying a fixed blade knife except under specific conditions, such as when hunting or fishing, or laws prohibiting concealing a fixed blade knife.

That said, pay careful attention to the laws regarding knives, their types, use, and legal carry in all of the places you may want to carry one. Many states and cities have laws limiting the blade length of a folder, often under 4 inches. New York infamously has an interpretation of law in which any knife capable of being opened one-handed is illegal. Knife Rights, at, can help you navigate the potential legal morass of laws and codes.


[I'm sure there's a joke about length in there somewhere.]

[What Knife to Choose]
If you decide to add a knife to your carry kit, here are a few general suggestions. First, choose one which doesn't require two-hands to open. As we discussed above, if you can't get it into action when you need it, it might as well be a Pager clipped to your pants; i.e., not particularly useful to you, just taking up space, and something you are better off without. I am a fan of buck style folding knives, but, frankly, they are not the ideal knife for self defense because the vast majority of them require two-handed opening. That doesn't mean they're not dangerous. Who remembers the scene in, I believe, Urban Cowboy where the antagonist opens up a buck folder behind his back? Nevertheless you want a knife that you can deploy one-handed.

Buy a solid, strong, reliable knife. Most often this means buying from a reputable manufacturer and paying a little bit more than the cost of one from the jug-o-knives on the counter at checkout of the hardware store. The blade has to be strong, well made, and can hold an edge. The grip material has to be conducive to a firm, no slip, positive hand-hold. Most importantly for folders, the locking mechanism absolutely must be 100% reliable. It should never, under any circumstances, close on you when in use. The knife should be well constructed and not loose or vulnerable to coming apart from use.

Make sure that the knife you choose has a carry method you are comfortable with, will use, and can access. Most fixed-blade knives will have a belt sheath but honestly, most sheaths for fixed-blades do not conceal well. There are a few skilled craftsmen who can make a concealable sheath for a fixed-blade knife, such as River City Sheath but it is an additional expense. Many folders have a pocket clip. Not all pocket clips are created equal. Find one which will allow the knife to come to hand in the proper position for where you will be carrying it. You may need to find a knife with a reservable and switchable position clip, which means you may expect to pay more.


[Folders with a clip.]

Again, make sure that the knife is legal for you to carry where you want to take it.

[Get Training]
Say it with me, "Get training." As with guns, many people seem to believe that they're just going to automatically know how to carry, deploy, and then effectively use a knife for self defense. Knives are not guns, and they certainly are not used in the same way. The methods of handling, target areas, and vulnerable locations on the human body work a bit differently with the knife and require expert training for most effective use. Many self defense trainers make a distinction about the mental and emotional commitment and requirements for using such an "up close and personal" weapon. Using a knife for self defense may require a different mind-set than even using a firearm. With guns you can be a little ways away and insulated, to a degree from the results of use. With knives, you will be much closer and are more likely to need the mind-set of "getting your hands dirty," so to speak. A competent instructor can help you cultivate this mind-set.


[I heard that all knife instructors are the basically the same]

In conclusion, the choice to add a knife to your daily carry kit is a personal one and there are a lot of options to consider, as well as important pros and cons. However, the knife has a long and effective record when paired with a firearm which makes it worth your consideration.