tactical, shmactical

Aug 24, 1999
What exactly is all this stuff about "tactical"? Is this just a marketing incantation for sucking money out of college kids and arm-chair warriors, or is it in fact a useful term?

As much as I'm seeing "tactical" plastered across the internet these days, I wonder whether it's a sign that the more we sit in front of computer screens, the more we dream (and only dream) of "spec ops" heroism and saving the world and all.

Do any of you guys who buy "tactical" blades actually engage the enemy with them?

Maybe I'm naive. Enlighten me.

I don't want my children fed or clothed by the state, but I would prefer THAT to their being educated by the state.
Uncle Bill, I tend to agree with you. A good knife is a good knife, and the better ones can be used for many purposes, including self-defense. I didn't know there was such a thing as a "tactical" knife until I joined the forum.

On the other hand... some of the "tactical" knives are gorgeous.

I'm in agreement with you guys.I think it is
a sales gimmick.
I'm thinking of spray painting some old hand tools black and taking them to a swap meet
and sell them as tactical tools.
Maybe stencil some intimidating names on each individual weapon,I mean tool.Like'

Finishing Hammer---Thor

Bubble Level----The Leveler

Cold Chisel---The Seperater

What do you think?Road to Riches?

I'd like to take a more serious look at this and explain why I've abandoned the "tactical" concept.

"Tactical" is hard to define (largely due to its buzzword status). Dictionaries don't help - unless there are also "strategic" knives, I've never had much luck using their definition. We've spent many threads on the subject and reached little consensus on what the term means. The one common thing that seems to unite most folks' concept of tactical, though, is the dual role of defense/utility.

Now, Sal Glesser and others have made a very strong case that a defensive knife must never be compromised by day-to-day chores. Its edge must be in the sharpest possible condition for its rare time-of-need. I've also argued that I look for some specific qualities in a defensive knife such as a secure, single-purpose grip, a sheath that stresses concealment and fast access, and a steel that stresses toughness above all else.

A knife that serves for utility will be in daily use and will thus frequently be dulled. Yes, we all sharpen our knives at any chance we get, but Murphy dictates the day you forget will be the one you need a good edge the most. Furthermore, on a utility knife I'd like a sheath that is not concealed but rather holds the knife very securely and protects it from dings and scratches (a pouch-type is ideal) - not generally the fastest access. I'd like a very versatile grip and a steel whose main attribute is edge-holding.

Now, if you agree with my ideas about a defensive knife and a utility knife, you probably see that they're very different knives. Combining them must include compromising each. Compromising on a utility knife will be a daily annoyance; compromising on a defensive knife could prove far worse.

So, if you agree with that reasoning and also agree that the closest defenition for "tactical" is "defense/utility," you must agree that the tactical knife concept is one of the worst possible ideas in knife design.

I'm not condemning the whole breed of "tactical knives." I do feel that the class as a whole is characterized by low levels of finish and designs that often have more sex appeal than thoughtful design. This is a generalization, however, and as such it cannot be applied to every piece and is also somewhat prejudicial. Many "tactical knives" are well-considered tools and some are well-considered defensive implements. A very few serve well in both roles - but not at the same time! Don't mix defense and utility. That's my $0.02

If "tactical" is just a fancy way of saying the knife is designed to cut human beings, I think we can draw some parallels from guns.

By this definition I have a "tactical" shotgun under my bed. I say it's "tactical" because it has an 18-inch barrel and 7 rounds of #1 low-recoil buck shot in it--not a good choice for pheasant or geese, but just the ticket for a midnight intruder trying to get at my daughter.

If this is all we mean by "tactical," why don't we just call these things fighting knives, or military knives, or self-defense knives? Aren't we using "tactical" as a squeemish euphemism so as to avoid the blood and guts of what we really mean?

I don't want my children fed or clothed by the state, but I would prefer THAT to their being educated by the state.
I like your analysis, Corduroy.
I put tactical and weapon together, as knife words.
In my Marine days, at some point in our training operations the instructor would say, "Everybody go tactical," meaning, from this point forward put aside your everyday lives and put on your "tactical" mind set.
If I extend that thinking to knives, tactical knife would mean "not everyday knife".

Luke 22:36, John 18:6-11
The theory of using your "tactical" knife for no other chore is spread by a lot of people. I have not decided completly myself. Muscle memory will kick in when ever you are stressed or your mind is occupied. I reach for my knife a lot more times for work than for fighting. I also carry several knives that can be reached with either my right or left hand. I do not have to worry about having or reaching for a dull knife. I do not let them get dull. There are a couple of knives that I will only carry if I think I might need a back up.They are not used for utility chores (normally). There are very few good utility knives that are not good "tactical" knives as well.Tactical was first used to describe and sell a particular pattern knife. It has been used and abused and missused since then but so have many other "BUZZ" words. Give it time a new word will appear.

The most wicked "tactical" knife I used against another person was a Buck folding filet knife. I will not fill in the blanks.

Get a grip!


"Cet animal est tres mechant;quand on l'attaque il se defend."("This animal is very mischievous: when it is attacked it defends itself")
Tactical Knives magazine rules. Ask them what they think it means, be interesting to see their thoughts. It could mean a few different thing I suppose. I think of it as, tactical - having many uses and a good all around knife. That's just what comes to my mind when someone says it...
I tend to poke fun here and there at some things 'tactical' but I do like some of the designs. It's not much different than the survival knife craze awhile back, other than that the typical one hand opening lockblade is a much more functional knife for daily use. Firearms have, I guess still are going thru a similar phase, which a few decades ago use to be called 'para-military'.

I have a couple of ideas for tactical knives. Instead of having to buy a bunch of new knives one could buy a sheet of stickers and make whatever tactical knife one wanted; the ninja knife, the rattlesnake knife, the pirate knife, etc., or even the ninja rattlesnake pirate knife. Another idea would be to make the biggest tactical folder available; screw a clothespin on a 10in folding pruning saw, grind the tip to a point, put on some tactical stickers, and wow, a 10in serrated tactical knife ! We could call it the 'New Red-Green Tactical Folder' :^)
I tend to define "Tactical" in a knife sense as versatile, strong and readily available in other words an excellent all around utility knife that can be used for combat in a pinch.

I strongly suspect that the real Spec Ops warriors use knives for utility far more often than for combat.

Look at the famous USMC Fighting Knife that goes back to World War II. I would be willing to bet that if an accurate accounting of actual use were possible it has spent twice as much time as a Utility tool than as a fighting weapon.
Look at the famous USMC Fighting Knife that goes back to World War II. I would be willing to bet that if an accurate accounting of actual use were possible it has spent twice as much time as a Utility tool than as a fighting weapon.

And it didn't need to be painted black, or test marketed in four different blade styles.

I don't want my children fed or clothed by the state, but I would prefer THAT to their being educated by the state.

[This message has been edited by Uncle Bill (edited 10 September 1999).]
It's nothing more than a way to classify cerain knives. They could be called "Finkerzeplle knives" and they would be the same thing.
I think the idea of "tactical" knives is versatile, usually single-bladed knives which are strong and sharp (like any other knife), but small enough to keep on one's person without attracting attention, and sutable for combat if need be. They also SHOULD be designed with the possible needs of "easy access" and maybe even opening/use with gloves. For REAL "tactical" operations, I suppose black blades are ideal. Since it has spread to civilian use, some of these features have become either emphasized or played down on most knives. For instance, I have no use for a black blade. I cannot carry a fixed blade, nor do I have a use for one, almost ever when I'm not camping.
Of course people who own tactical knives haven't all drawn blood with them. Part of it is "what if?" Some people just think they look neat. Part of it is the age-old phalice phactor ("My knife's bigger"-> "Well mine is sharper", etc.") Then again, what good is a large knife/phalice if it isn't used? This doesn't mean that these individuals have to be put down, though.
I don't know. Good question!

The word 'tactical' is an adjective meant to describe the adroit management of a situation.

Given that, any knife could be 'tactical' depending on the situation. Cleaning fish is a situation so your filet knife is also a tactical knife for the purpose of slicing fish.

The popular use of the term 'tactical' can probably be traced back to the rise of special military and police tactics to control situations, so we naturally think of 'tactical' as something that is used in relation to other human beings.

I've met many law enforcement officers and military folk with the latest 'tactical' blade clipped in their pocket that would probably be better off with their momma's kitchen knife, so 'tactical' knives do not always make a tactician - but then again, a strategist beats a tactician every time.

Personally, I like tactical camp and wilderness blades


Randall's Adventure & Training

SDouglas, your comment
I strongly suspect that the real Spec Ops warriors use knives for utility far more often than for combat.
reminds me of one of my all-time favorite quotes in rec.knives, from one Michael Koblic:
I was told by a sniper that the main use for a tactical knife in his line of work was to spread peanut butter on crackers while waiting for the next shot.

The original post can be found at: http://www.deja.com/getdoc.xp?AN=253036533

I tend to think of "tactical" to mean strong, versatile, overbuilt (in a good sense), and suitable for use by soldiers (keeping in mind that soldiers tend to spend more time hiking and camping than fighting), though the definition in current usage seems to have devolved to: "we put this on the box so that you would buy it".

-- Carl
"Tactical" is a military term which refers to the maneuvering of troops in the presence of the enemy, as opposed to "strategical" maneuvers which require long-term planning and take place "outside of the range of cannon". In football terms, a tactic would be an offensive lineman's chop block, while the offensive formation would be a strategy. In this sense, "tactical" knives are so named because of the cool, but meaningless, military connotation (a knife can't be strategical).

"Tactical" could also just mean "adroit management", as I think JeffRandall pointed out. "Adroit" means, among other things, "dexterous". Both dexterity and adroitness are, literally, "right-handedness", which refers to skill and ease in using the hands or proficiency in manual tasks. Following this definition, I think a tactical knife is one that is "handy" and easy to use. It would be a relatively simple folding knife with one blade. The blade would be 1.5" to 4.5" long and the handle would have good ergonomics and a pocket clip. A SAK would not be a tactical knife because it is too small and complex, while a large fixed blade is too inconvenient. (Yeah, I know I thought about this too much)
Fascinating discussion. I agree with Uncle Bill that a lot of hype is present in the word these days; but Howie Lintz's post makes the most sense to me.

I carry a knife constantly, but I also carry a firearm. The knife is for cutting things; if for some reason I am attacked, the attacker becomes a "thing" and the knife will be used if I must; but that is not it's primary purpose.

When on SWAT ops, I carry a Spyderco Military clipped to the leg strap of my handgun holster. In addition to a ton of odds and ends, I am packing a shoulder weapon, handgun in a thigh holster, and an airweight S&W .38 revolver in the upper left breast pocket of my jump suit. The Military is absolutely the last tool I will employ for personal combat. But it is there, and if it is all I have left, it will do.

Corduroy's assertion that utility and defense should not mix is correct in the purest sense; but except for the man who relies solely on a knife for defense, I believe there is some leeway in there. Most of us buy knives for their utility and our fascination with blades; yeah, there are some who have aspirations of putting the latest custom-whatever between their teeth and taking out a host of armed sentries (quietly, of course), but these folks are in the minority. And there are some who actually DO this sort of thing; but very few.

So,I think the current crop of "tactical" knives, fixed blade or folder, serve the same purpose as any other consumer product; variety. Pick the one that strikes your fancy. And if it gets your imagination working a bit, well, that's okay too.

I think there were and still are some makers of good tactical knives. It's just become so popular that every crappy company and their mom has decided to come out with their version which usually turns out to be pretty bad.

I'm always surprised when folks are unwilling to carry a purely defensive knife. Yes, it's a once-in-a-blue-moon situation that will require it. Yes, a gun is nearly always preferable, unless you're somewhere crowded, or in a grappling situation (especially grappling over that gun), or if gun carry is impossible for legal or other reasons. But from a cost/benefit standpoint, what's the harm in tucking a defensive knife in your pocket just-in-case?

Look at Mr. Campbell's situation. He has three firearms, weighing I'd guess 10-12 pounds and taking up a lot of space. Even his last-resort backup is a bulky 9oz item (and it's about as light as handguns come). Adding a slim, 4-oz Civilian to that load certainly isn't going to break his back. Knives are small, they're easy to carry, and I'd think most folks on these boards would jump at the opportunity to carry an extra one.

As for familiarity and muscle memory, that's what practice is about. I don't deploy my knives for utility the same way I do when practicing for an unfriendly situation. If I did, folks would jump out of their skins every time I went to cut a box. I feel I'm plenty familiar with the knives I carry for emergencies, and I got that way through practice, not day-to-day chores. If I do use them for chores (I admit I do, rarely), I have to be careful to take them out slowly and open them in a non-threatening manner.

What I'm saying is that I feel a defensive knife is a small, easy addition to whatever you carry, and it requires very different motor skills than those you develop with your utility knives. Why rely on your "beater" if that rare and awful moment ever does come to pass?

Please note that "defensive knives" are not the same as "tactical knives." I feel the latter are designed to compromise defense and utility, and that this is a fundamentally misguided concept.

'Why not carry a self defense knife' is not so much about what knife, instead it's really about what frame of mind. The difference between a knife designed for self defense and a utility designed for daily use is a small one, considering the likely range of situations where one would draw a knife, and assuming that one isn't carrying a sword, machete or such. If you're worried about self protection you are always better off choosing something that projects force at a distance, and if it's not possible to carry such an item you are almost always better off putting yourself at a distance from the threat. With that in mind I agree, it seems reasonable to carry a larger one hand lockblade if you feel the need to do so, but without that in mind you're kind of dancing with devil.
Words like tactical and combat knife, and a slew of others being used by the knife indusrty is going to eventually come back and bite them in the butt.
The term assualt rifle was used for years to hype guns and when the media and legislators jumped on that term to use it against them the moaning began. After the industry found that the concept that they themselves portrayed did them in they tried to whitewash it and failed. I see the same things in the cards for knives and yet I bet it would be interesting to pick up any knife magazine and count numerous phrases that can and inevitably will be used against knives in the near future. History repeats itself. it's unfortunately few people ever learn from it.