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Thread: History of American Tanto Point?

  1. #1

    History of American Tanto Point?


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    I was really into custom knives in the 70's but got out for close to 20 years. When I got back in in the late 90's I was introduced to the American tanto point through Cold Steel knives. Heck, I still carry a 4" Voyager Tanto with the integral clip.

    A few years ago I was told that the late Bob Lum actually developed that particular style of point and that CS stole it without paying any rights. I've seen many posts to that effect as well.

    However, here the other day I was watching the movie "Red Sun" with Toshiro Mifune and Charles Bronson, a wonderful flick by the way. In this European made 1971 release TM uses a tanto several times; for the life of me I thought it had that American Tanto Point on it. Since it was on commercial tv I couldn't rewind and I don't (yet) have a copy of the movie.

    Perhaps the glimpse was just too fleeting. But I was sure that this was the case. But the question that came to my mind is, if Bob Lum developed it, what's it doing in an Italian prop master's properties?

    I had assumed that this particular point was developed during the period I was out of knives. Was I wrong, was this point developed that much earlier by Mr. Lum? Or was it possibly long known prior to it's popularity here in America. Or did I just not see it correctly on the screen?

    Does anybody have a copy of the movie to look at?

    Thanx

  2. #2
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    Bob Lum's tanto grind with the hamaguri appleseed tip is not really comparable to the Coldsteel tantos. CS basically popularized the American tanto, sometimes called the Westernized tanto, which has two separate ground edges and a tip that comes up at an angle. They're hollow ground with a saber grind on the tip as far as I know. The tip would only be stronger because it's saber ground instead of hollow ground like the main cutting edge.

    On the other hand, Lum's tanto design does have a stronger tip because it's a dulled convex grind. It's meant for piercing just like "real" Japanese tantos were meant for. Lum's tip is what is called a hamaguri if I'm not mistaken.

    Lum is credited with bringing the Japanese style of tanto to the states. If CS did steal the design, they made a poor copy of it.

    EDIT: I know Lum made his first knife in '76 in his apartment using a home made grinder. What type of blade that was I'm not sure.
    Last edited by harkamus; 07-07-2009 at 06:14 PM. Reason: added content

  3. #3
    Could it have been a wakizashi that you saw in the movie? I don't remember any details from that movie as it has been years since I've seen it.

    Traditional Japanese tantos had blade tip profiles more like a steak knife than the reinforced tips of Americanized tanto design. Japanese tantos were used as utility knives for everything from chores to cutting off heads of vanquished enemies, there was no need of a strong point.

    Yes, Bob Lum originated the hamaguri tipped "Americanized" tanto. Yes, Lynn Thompson "stole" the design, but he can be credited in making this design popular worldwide -even if it was by pumping-out a load of manure about how tantos were battlefield weapons needed to penetrate armor (or barrels, or car doors...).

    Thompson modified his version so that the tip could be easier to grind than an actual hamaguri point.

  4. #4
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    Actually that design goes back to at least the 5th century AD. These are dated to ~ the 8th century AD


  5. #5
    Bors nails it again.

  6. #6
    I agree that the penetrating point design is old, especially since it already existed in Japanese terminology as "hamaguri" -and goes further back to Korea.

    I was just trying to point out that real Japanese tantos were not used for war and did not need a reinforced point. It was Bob Lum who combined "tanto" + "hamaguri tip". It was at this time that Japanese & American tanto designs parted ways.

    Lynn Thompson showed-up shortly after that and created all the nonsense about armor-piercing needs for tantos.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by CWL View Post
    I agree that the penetrating point design is old, especially since it already existed in Japanese terminology as "hamaguri" -and goes further back to Korea.

    I was just trying to point out that real Japanese tantos were not used for war and did not need a reinforced point. It was Bob Lum who combined "tanto" + "hamaguri tip". It was at this time that Japanese & American tanto designs parted ways.

    Lynn Thompson showed-up shortly after that and created all the nonsense about armor-piercing needs for tantos.
    Tanto refers to a knife with a blade length between ~6-12". Single or double edged knives can fall into this classification. It was not un-common for the tanto to be carried in place of the wakizashi and to be used in close quarter combat (armored) in the field.

    Other than swords I have not ran across any references to that point being used on Tanto sized knives but then again who knows since it was used on swords it may vary well have been use on shorter knives.

  8. #8
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    i think the squared off 'tanto' point was a bob lum thing

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by harkamus View Post
    Bob Lum's tanto grind with the hamaguri appleseed tip is not really comparable to the Coldsteel tantos. CS basically popularized the American tanto, sometimes called the Westernized tanto, which has two separate ground edges and a tip that comes up at an angle. They're hollow ground with a saber grind on the tip as far as I know. The tip would only be stronger because it's saber ground instead of hollow ground like the main cutting edge.

    On the other hand, Lum's tanto design does have a stronger tip because it's a dulled convex grind. It's meant for piercing just like "real" Japanese tantos were meant for. Lum's tip is what is called a hamaguri if I'm not mistaken.

    Lum is credited with bringing the Japanese style of tanto to the states. If CS did steal the design, they made a poor copy of it.

    EDIT: I know Lum made his first knife in '76 in his apartment using a home made grinder. What type of blade that was I'm not sure.
    I was hanging out with Wayne Goddard at that time but I don't remember running into Mr. Lum until the 90's.

    Thanx for the good info.

    Considering the prevalence of trophy swords brought back after WW2 I don't think it would be too much of a stretch to say that Lynn Thompson couldn't have been familiar with the Japanese style point apart from Mr. Lum's contribution. Does anybody have anything that proves that LT actually took Mr. Lums design? It sounds like the two points are really quite different. Don't want to start any sort of a flame war, just curious.
    Last edited by Tonie Nichols; 07-07-2009 at 08:42 PM.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by CWL View Post
    Could it have been a wakizashi that you saw in the movie? I don't remember any details from that movie as it has been years since I've seen it.

    Traditional Japanese tantos had blade tip profiles more like a steak knife than the reinforced tips of Americanized tanto design. Japanese tantos were used as utility knives for everything from chores to cutting off heads of vanquished enemies, there was no need of a strong point.

    Yes, Bob Lum originated the hamaguri tipped "Americanized" tanto. Yes, Lynn Thompson "stole" the design, but he can be credited in making this design popular worldwide -even if it was by pumping-out a load of manure about how tantos were battlefield weapons needed to penetrate armor (or barrels, or car doors...).

    Thompson modified his version so that the tip could be easier to grind than an actual hamaguri point.
    It could have been, it sort of took me by surprise.

  11. #11
    There's nothing new under the sun...
    except INFI.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Bors View Post
    Actually that design goes back to at least the 5th century AD. These are dated to ~ the 8th century AD

    Thanx Bors, great pix. I had always heard that many tantos were recycled swords. So why couldn't that point show up on a knife?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tonie Nichols View Post
    Thanx Bors, great pix. I had always heard that many tantos were recycled swords. So why couldn't that point show up on a knife?
    Probably could very well have been a broken katana or wakazashi where the majority of the blade was damaged but with several inches from the tip back still intact. Maybe someone needed a "knife" but was too poor or short of time to have one made by traditional forging methods. This way, one could just cut the good portion of the blade from the tip back, and then just add some kind of handle.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Lycosa View Post
    There's nothing new under the sun...
    except INFI.
    How about the diamond blade process?

  15. #15
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    Bob told me that Lynn bought one of his customs at a California show and used it as the model for his first CS tanto. Bob really never had any hard feelings about it, it was just business to him. His wife, on the other hand, was not so forgiving. I tended to agree with her.

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by Tonie Nichols View Post
    However, here the other day I was watching the movie "Red Sun" Does anybody have a copy of the movie to look at?

    Thanx
    I have an old copy in VCR so still images aren't sharp but in the scene after the river tussle with Bronson where Mifune is drying his blades it's obvious that the knife has a "tanto" tip

  17. #17
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    IMHO, Bob Lum made functional art, Cold Steel makes tools.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tonie Nichols View Post
    A few years ago I was told that the late Bob Lum actually developed that particular style of point and that CS stole it without paying any rights. I've seen many posts to that effect as well.
    IMO just blade industry drama propogated by on-line pundits.

    Bob Lum may well have been one of the first to combine tanto styling and modern knife materials and design. However, there was a wide varity of exitant blade and point profiles to be found in traditional Japanese bladed weapons. I don't see how anyone can claim that CS "stole" Bob Lum's design, when that design itself was derived from a long line of historical blade designs.

    All that aside, if you look at two examples from each (in this case a Spyderco Bob Lum fixed blade tanto, and a Cold Steel Master Tanto), other than the fact that they are both tantos, they are not particularly similar in design, profile or point.

    Bob Lum


    Cold Steel

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    Whoever stole it, can they please give it back? I've yet to see a need for a tanto blade that couldn't be accomplished with a clipped, spear or dropped point. One of the first expensive knives I purchased was the original Elishewitz BM Stryker and it's the only tanto I own---it didn't see much use after I bought a proper dropped point.

  20. #20
    I want my Tanto!!
    Diamond thing IS new. Thanks.

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