Review: Spyderco Matriarch

Apr 15, 1999
My girlfriend Beth (Sandra D. on BF) and I have just returned from a trip to Golden, Colorado, where we were very generously entertained on several occaisions by Sal and the Spyderco crew. A full write-up of the trip (well, at least the cool knife parts) is in the works, but I thought I'd write up a quick review of an exciting knife which followed us home. The knife is a Spyderco Matriarch which Sal had been carrying (among many other cool things he carries for personal evaluation) for a week or so.

For those who don't know, the Matriarch is a special design requested for defensive use by South African customers. It is based on the Civilian, but has a Zytel handle and thus does not carry the whopping price-tag of its predecessor. The concept, as with the Civilian, is to allow the weilder under stress to deploy the knife quickly and use it to free themselves from an assailant to escape or gain control (the latter in an LEO weapon-retention scenario). To this end, it uses a pocket clip for easy access, a blade hole for rapid opening, and a unique blade shape that will produce substantial superficial damage no matter where a slash lands. It is not suited to thrusts, which are by nature more targetted and may be harder to use effectively in a sudden encounter with an awares attacker. The emphasis is truly on less-than-lethal wounding and escape rather than lethal stopping power.

Spyderco is a company that makes tools, not weapons, and thus marketing of the Civilian (their only exception to date, and decidedly a defensive piece) has been very circumspect. It has not appeared in any normal catalogs, has been marketed primarily to LEOs, and also carries the highest price tag in their current line (due largely to its complex grind and excellent construction, but also serving to dissuade casual purchase).

Because the Matriarch offers a similar item at a lower price, Spyderco has been very conscientiously concerned with its marketing. It was decided that Matriarchs will not be sold in the U.S. because of negative attitudes towards knives and the use of violence in self-defense, as well as the worrisome possibility that the knives might become a popular item with individuals of less scrupulous intent. Their main marketing will be in South Africa and Israel, where the need for personal defense can be very great and public attitudes on violence in such situations are more reasonable. One run of 500 Matriarchs (with gray handles instead of the standard black) will be made available to Bladeforums members very soon. Go here for details:

Anyhow, let's get to the knife:

(Thanks to Heyns for the picture)

As you can see, the Matriarch uses the Endura handle. The knife is named after the old female elephant who leads the herd and defends the young with all her immense power. Following this theme, Spyderco designed (and even patented) a handle incorporating an elephant motif, but the tooling costs were deemed to great and the Endura handle chosen instead. Mine (more accurately Beth's, as she has taken possession of it) has the gray handle and I was delighted to note that it does say "CLIPIT MATRIARCH" on the handle shield.

The Endura continues to be the most widely sold Spyderco, so many of you will be familiar with its handle. For those who are not, it has the "2+2" arrangement typical of early Spydercos - that is to say, it has two wide finger grooves that can accomodate two fingers each in a secure saber grip. Alternately (as Beth discovered) the user can place one finger in the front groove, two on the second, and let your pinky rest on the ungrooved portion of the handle. This gives more reach and suits Beth very small hands well, though I find it a bit awkward to get my two widest fingers into the second groove. Because of the shape, the Matriarch blade does not use the last 1/4" of handle when closed and does look slightly awkward, though the edge is well-covered. The handle features the time-tested "Volcano-grip" omni-directional pattern.

The blade has the Civilian's S-curve but is slightly shorter (3 5/8" tip-to-handle) with a less extreme hook. The sample I have is fully serrated (as all production Matriarchs will be) and seems to have a slightly longer, more Civilian-like hook than that pictured above. The point is a bit less delicate than a Civilian's and drops far less from the line of grip, but still easily penetrates soft materials and delivers wicked slashes like the Civilian. A few slashes at a threatening cardboard box left gashes from 4"-12" in length with startlingly little resistance. A concern with the Civilian's shape has been the possibility of hooking into material and being pulled from the hands. I can only say that with a factory edge the Matriarch shows far less of this effect than one would imagine just by looking at it.

The blade steel is Spyderco's proprietary ATS-55. For a defensive knife I would prefer a steel that stressed toughness and flexibility rather than edge-retention, but this steel is also standard on new Civilians - c'est la vie!

The action is smooth and the hole well-placed. The lockup has very slight play when pressed from the cutting edge, but held against several sharp impacts to the spine and substantial strikes to the cutting edge. The mid-lock design can be released with one hand and works like any Spyderco, with a smooth travel for most of the distance, a slight pause before closing, and then substantial force drawing the blade firmly closed and keeping it there. It is noteworthy that the Zytel spacer should prevent the blade damage Civilians can suffer when dropped on their spine closed, forcing the blade tip into the steel spacer.

There is only one more detail, and this is the reversible black pocket clip. Like most Zytel Spydercos, this clip is steel, attaches at the lanyard hole, and may be moved to the opposite side for left-handed users. It has an attractive satin-black coating that seems quite durable.

The knife is carried tip-up. I do not feel this is optimal, as it precludes the extremely fast "drop" method of opening (where the blade hole is grasped between thumb anbd forefinger as the knife is withdrawn, a slight wrist movement opening the handle and clearing the blade for an immediate strike). On a smaller knife, tip-up carry allows the knife to be withdrawn in a firm grip with the thumb poised over the opening hole, but on a knife this large my thumb does not reach and I must adjust my grip to open it - losing precious time. Beth's situation is, of course, even worse with her very small hands. One option is to draw the knife and sling the blade open with a wrist-flick, but this still leaves the user awkwardly gripping the very butt of the handle. Beth and I have experimented with several techniques and carry positions with no satisfactory results. It's my opinion that the knife will either need a sheath system or a new tip-down clip in order to deploy as quickly as a Civilian (I intend to try the latter modification). On a knife whose use relies on rapid deployment, the time lost by tip-up carry may be a crippling problem to the design.

Overall, this knife is a very straightforward "said what it done, done what it said" piece - a Civilian blade in an Endura handle. It hasn't got quite the reach or the grip of a Civilian, but at $78.95 MSRP it is less than half the Civilian's price. That's a lot of defensive power for the buck! I do feel that those carrying it will want to invest in a sheath or clip modification, and of course spend a lot of time in practice, in order to deploy the knife quickly and effectively.


[This message has been edited by Corduroy (edited 02 September 1999).]
Thanks for the review, Drew. I knew that "gray handle, new & exciting" something you mentioned had to be the Matriarch. I'm envious & look forward to getting mine ASAP.

As to a sheath, one of the River City designs should fit the bill nicely. I have BF Native & Harpy neck sheaths and they both give you the speed opening you feel is lacking.



Nice review. I will hopefully have mine in about a week.

After looking at all of Spyderco's "s" curve blades, I think the Matriarch's blade looks more like a Cricket's blade on steroids.

The tip up feasture on the Endura sized knife does take some practice. I have found that practicing with very slow, deliberate draws for an extended period of time, will help. Initially I had trouble drawing and getting the blade into play for the same reason you meantioned. Then I began to slow down and deliberately reach a little deeper for the knife, to get a better grip. This does take time and may not apply for every carry situation. Who knows, maybe Sal will make a G-10 version with tip down. Never hurts to suggest.

Paranoia is only smart thinking
when everyone is out to get you.

Thanks for the review. After reading your review I was encouraged to see at least one sheath in the works for the Matriarch.
Yeah, I'm considering throwing a Kydex sheath together myself. I'm really skeptical of neck sheaths for these knives, though. For any reasonably fast access, the sheath would have to be worn outside of clothing, no doubt provoking unwanted interest. If anyone thinks that they can get the knife out "fast" while going under a T-shirt or inside a button-down, I don't think we're talking about the same definition of "fast."

Admittedly, a belt sheath would also be out-in-the-open, but still less conspicuous, plus it's usually closer to your hand and doesn't shift around the way a neck sheath can.

The only advantages to neck carry I can think of are ambidexterity and the ability to keep the knife "tucked away" when not expecting to need it. That last reason is kind of silly, because if I expect I'll need it, I'll be palming the knife, not just keeping the sheath handy. I would be genuinely shocked if anyone could get a folding knife deployed from under there shirt any faster than I can already deploy this one even with its poor clip placement.

For the record, it's not a matter of practice for me to deploy tip-up faster. My thumbs are simply not that long, no matter how slowly I do it.

On a final note, I am a believer in neck-knives. I feel this is a great way to carry a "hideout" piece (where concealment is more important than fast access), and is also the only way I know of to carry a knife 24-7 in all conditions and states of dress. I carried a tiny CS Mini-Pal this way for years, and was on many occaisions (in the shower, in a bathrobe, when I *gasp* forgot my knives, etc.) glad to have it, as nature provided me with poor teeth and poorer claws. I'm merely criticizing concealed neck carry in situations when deployment speed is at a premium.

I tend to agree with your view of neck carry and deployment speed. I haven't convinced myself I can deploy a folding neck knife as well as a fixed neck knife. If I knew ahead of time, the folder or fixed would already be in my palm. Also, I really don't like to carry anything around my neck most of the time. It's only there when I jog and it's always on the outside where I can put my hand on the handle (sort of like palming a folder).

It should be interesting to see how well a sheath will work for the Matriarch. I liked what Mike Sastre did with the BladeForums Native sheath. I'm thinking probably a horizontal belt carry for the Matriarch might work well. Either that or a tucked in the waist band type of carry. If the sheath doesn't work out, there's always the clip.

If you make a sheath Drew, please post a picture and tell us about it.

Thanks for the detailed review of the Matriarch. Any knife starting out in the hand will be faster than from any sheath or pocket. A prudent person perceiving a potential threat would be wise to get the knife in his hand, but this is doesn't always happen in real life. If you leave the button nearest the Spydie Hole undone, you can deploy the knife right into a strike with one flowing motion from under the shirt very quickly. Under a t-shirt - lift shirt with off hand and draw. Perceive a potential need, put sheath outside of shirt or draw and put in hand. I've adapted the same general sheath for belt wear or attachment to backpacks and flotation devices. Neck sheaths are just a convenient and discreet way of carrying a knife. I wear shorts/swim trunks and a t-shirt most of the year and find this the best way for me to carry a knife and not lose it during vigorous activity. The quick deployment aspect is just a bonus as far as I'm concerned. Let me know how your sheath project turns out and if I can help, don't hesitate to ask.

thanks for the review! How about a few photos? I'll post photos after I've received mine (hopefully THIS week!), in a black-handled configuration.

However, IMHO the Matriarch's tip-up configuration might not be so bad, after all!

In the case of "the drop", you STILL need to adjust your grip after opening the blade. A VIGOROUS (pronounce: "AGRESSIVE"
) "wrist-flick" opening will certainly open the blade, even if the Matriarch is gripped in the normal fashion for use. This opening method works on the Merlin, which has a much lighter blade than the Matriarch. Also, it can be effected in a shorter timespan than "the drop", in terms of "threat-identification-to-engagement" time...

I'll maybe post a short video sequence to clarify this line of thought, as soon as I have my Matriarchs...

Just MY $0.00000000000000002 (the exchange rate is KILLING us in South Africa!

[This message has been edited by Heyns van der Merwe (edited 07 September 1999).]

Michael Janich's Book "Street Steel" has a very good explanation of inertia opening techniques that work well with the tip up carry including the one Heyns referred to. Using the "drop" method, you can do a "cat's paw" strike (razor style) without adjusting your grip since you are basically in a foil grip.

Yes, I'm trying to "unlearn" adjusting my grip after the drop. Having seen Sal in action, I realize I'm better off striking with my hand still on the blade (especially for a purely slashing knife) and not wasting the time it takes to get a proper grip. I can "drop" and "hop" pretty quickly, but Sal was on a whole different level skipping the second part (and with many more years of practice, of course).

I'm not comfortable with the grip I have after opening the Matriarch inertially. I can do it just fine, but I'm stuck way out on the butt and worry that a solid strike will lever it from my hand. Maybe my smallish hands to blame again. I also find that it takes a greater motion to flip open the blade than to drop the handle, hence more time (by a tiny amount, I admit). I'm not damning the technique, but I'd like to stick to what my hands already know.

this whole application method is EXTREMELY debatable! At the end, it purely depends on what YOU are comfortable with and capable of, what YOU can handle and what YOU have trained by youself (the so-called "muscular memory" concept)...

Just a tip: do NOT grip the Matriarch at the back of the handle when opening the blade using the wrist-flick! Get a SECURE grip near the blade (as when you would have gripped the knife when it was already open). If you can't seem to get enough inertia going to open the blade in this way, use an arm movement (the arm on the knife hand...) to gain in momentum and inertia... This can turn out to be part of "YOUR" style, depending on what works for you. Please let me know if I need to give more detailed explanations...

I do PERSONALLY not like the sweep cut after the drop-opening, as I feel that losing your grip on the knife is a VERY REAL possibility, especially in a confrontation... You Americans have the saying: "Train as you fight, and fight as you train..." This is VERY true and realistic!

Unfortunately, I won't be able to post Matriarch pics this week, or even the (small) video clips showing some of MY techniques, as Ramrod (local South African Spyderco agent) told me TODAY that the expected Matriarch shipment will not be here until sometime NEXT week!

Well, I can always modify another Harpy or Merlin this weekend, while waiting for the Matriarchs to arrive...

[This message has been edited by Heyns van der Merwe (edited 09 September 1999).]
Just recieved the Matriarch today. This is one threatening looking knife.

Corduroy, I find the tip up carry extremely fast to open. When I draw I grip the clip so that it ends up in a 1-2-1 grip. A wrist flick with an arm swing to bring my hand up beside my shoulder will open the knife and lead into a slash in one motion. The motion is subtly but significantly different than flicking a tip down knife and requires a bit of practice.
I think I follow the technique you're describing. I'm used to inertial opening methods that keep the knife low and as close to the body as possible. Coming up to shoulder level is definitely different to me.

My first attempt didn't open the blade fully - as I went into a strike it promptly closed on my index finger! After patching that up and adjusting my technique, results improved
My hands seem smaller than most judging from the grips folks are able to draw with, but as the knife came up to shoulder level I was able to slip into a 1+2+1 grip as described. After a little practice it's definitely faster than other tip-up techniques I've seen.

Faster than I can drop open a Civilian? I dunno, I'll have to practice more. What's needed here is an electrically scored "fast draw" sort of competition. Sal was discussing this idea to evaluate the hole versus studs, discs, and "the wave," but I don't know if anything will come of it. A simpler idea comes from Jim March - try to drop a piece of paper with your good hand and deploy and strike the falling paper with your knife using the same hand. Whatever technique you use, I'd say being able to do this is definitely "fast enough."

Since I carried an older endura for seven or eight years this opening feels very natural to me. I think coming up to the shoulder naturaully leads into a slash, which is what the Matriarch is all about, but once you get the feel you might try some variations. When I want a less conspicuous opening I bring the knife up just above the belt and then snap it down behind my leg.

You might try for a bit of a downward tug at the end of the flick to make sure that the blade opens all of the way. (Don't forget experience is proportional to blood loss.

BTW, can you describe how you drop open a knive from a pants pocket carry. I think I understand how to do it from a neck sheath but I usually end up with a weak grip on the blade.

I don't think you can really evaluate different opening methods just by timing them since you would end up testing the person as much as the method. I think it probably boils down to what the individual feels comfortable with.
This is a technique for a tip-down knife. The "drop" as I practice it goes like this:

As my thumb goes into my pocket it locates the hole. As I start to withdraw, my index finger goes into the concave portion of the clip and my middle finger urls behind the handle, bracing the spine.

As the knife clears my pocket my index finger slips to the opposite side of the hole, so it is now held between thumb and forefinger. The knife is now moving upwards and slightly away from my body. As this motion changes into a forward slash, my middle finger comes off of the back of the handle and a slight wrist flick swings the handle open.

The knife is now slashing across my body and down at about 30 degrees, beginning slightly below the level of my right shoulder. My thumb and forefinger remain on the blade while my other three fingers wrap around the upper portion of the handle - most Spydercos have a slight guard to permit this.

I was initially uncomfortable with this grip, but after seeing Sal Glesser use it and getting some practice, I feel it is sufficiently strong for slashing. After the initial strike your next move should involve moving to a "normal" grip as you come back for the next one.

I agree that any timed test would reflect the abilities of the participants, but it would be done with people who trained in each method and presumably represented something like the maximum ability. One of the problems that came up discussing this with Spyderco was finding anyone who could match Sal's nearly 20 years of practice with "the drop." He's easily the fastest I've ever seen. Unfortunately, that makes it hard for me to tell if the technique he's using varies significantly from the one described above.

Just had to say that my Matriarch should be here next week (thank you very much SFO). So I'll be working with my Civilian Training video and trainer until then...gotta adjust the draw style though. Peronally I'm a fan of tip up. :)
JakeP - Spyderco Factory Outlet (SFO), see the matriarch thread in the Spyderco forum.

Corduroy. Thanks. That works much better and gives a better grip than the way I had been doing it. I still have some reservations but I will work at it for a while. So far it feels more natural to stab than slash from this opening and I worry that under stress I would end up gripping the blade. I think I end up with a stronger grip, important if the knife snags, and maybe an inch more reach with my opnening.

What I would find interesting for a test would be to take several reasonable size groups, 30 to 50 members (preferably with no previous training), train each group in a particular method and then test them periodically, say after a day, a week, a month, 6 months and so on. This would tend to minimize individual differences and provide more criteria for evaluation. For example one method might give good results with minimal training but not get any better with more practice while another method may require more practice but give better results in the end. The first would be better to teach in a two day seminar but the second would be better for someone who trains regularly.

[This message has been edited by allanm (edited 18 September 1999).]

[This message has been edited by allanm (edited 18 September 1999).]
The fastest way I've come up with for drawing into a strike with any of the Spydercos is from the neck sheath. Initial grip is on the hole, the "drop" happens with the draw, and motion continues into a "cat's paw" strike. You can then transition to whatever grip you want after the stike is completed. Less motion cahanges and less fumbling of fingers Works for me.