The making of a tactical knife for the world market
“We want a knife that will not only be the ultimate self-defense knife for martial artists and civilians, but one that the police and military will want as well” Dietmar Pohl said to me extending his beer glass towards me over the round table waiting for me to tap my glass against his. I answered, “I have the design here, and I know Boker is going to love it.” I then reached for my briefcase that sat leaning up against one of the legs of the polished wooden chair.
Dietmar was the chief knife designer for the world famous German knife company Boker Baumwerk. He had flown from Frankfurt, Germany to the United Kingdom in February 2005 to attend my Reality-Based Knife Survival course, and to take a look at my ideas for the first time over a pizza dinner in Lee on the outskirts of London.
I carefully pulled the papers from my folder and pushed them across the table after the dishes had been taken away by the waitress. After an agonizing long minute staring at my design Dietmar shook his head up and down in acknowledgement saying, “Yes, yes, this different, very different. Now that I have taken your Knife Survival course I understand what features a self-defense knife must have.”
We discussed some of my concepts I had incorporated into the knife at length, and after all questions had been answered I placed a credit card in the clear plastic pocket of the black booklet that contained the dinner check. The waitress came up and said, “Thank you, I’ll be right back.” Then Dietmar said to me, “I will present this to Mr. Felix, the vice-president of Boker.”
I had first met Dietmar in 1999 when I was training Germany’s elite national counterterrorist team Grentzschutzgruppe Neun, more commonly known in the Special Operations community worldwide as “GSG9.” One of my students at the time of this training, and who had been assigned to me as my liaison by the unit commander, was a tough paratrooper from Combat Unit 3 named Hans-Peter. After I had received rave reviews from the Defensive Tactics instructors about my Knife Survival course, Hans-Peter told me that Combat Unit 2, GSG9’s maritime interdiction unit, and Boker were working together on designing a new combat dive knife. Hans-Peter asked me if I was interested in driving to the factory with him that was located in Solingen and taking a look at the preliminary drawings in order to give my opinion before the final plans were approved. Not only would I get my first ride on the famous German autobahn highway in a supped up undercover cop car Mercedes-Benz, but I’d get the first look at a tactical knife that had yet to exist.
Hans-Peter drove me to the factory on Schuetzenstrasse and introduced me to Dietmar in an artsy high-tech glass and steel conference room. After having several minutes to carefully examine the mechanical drawings of the Orca, the name of the new tactical dive knife, and giving some minor suggestions, I was asked politely to bear with them for a few minutes while the rest of the meeting was conducted in the German language. I obliged.
After the meeting had ended Dietmar took the time to give me a full tour of the Boker factory, which I found to be very educational. Upon leaving the factory Dietmar presented me with a gift. It was a slim Boker knife that I could use in my undercover work. At that time I was a sergeant assigned to the Dignitary Protection Unit of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in Southern California.
I had traveled to Germany two more times after my first meeting with Dietmar to train various German units, including GSG9 again nearby the factory, but I did not remain in contact with Dietmar or Boker, other than to supply Dietmar with some photographs he requested of American SWAT teams training with knives. He was working on his first book at the time. It wasn’t until December of 2004 that I would hear from Dietmar again.
Several months later I came across Dietmar’s business card that he had given me and added his work email address to my new Reality-Based Personal Protection mailing list and he wrote me back a day later asking me how things were going and that he was interested in attending my Knife Survival seminar in London scheduled for February 2005. I called him up to talk with him on the phone and posed the question to me, “Jim, have you ever thought about designing a tactical knife?” I eagerly replied, “As a matter of fact, I had.” I wasn’t just saying that to tell Dietmar what I knew he wanted to hear, but I had often thought of the elements that I would like in a knife for self-defense purposes over the years. Putting my ideas down on paper was a mere technicality.
I let a few days pass before I pulled out a blank sheet of paper from my computer printer. I then sketched my ideal tactical knife, and within half an hour I had my preliminary ideas on a hard copy. I drew it at a 1:1 ratio, and even cut out a “paper doll” version to see if it would fit in my hand properly even though it was only two dimensional.
I had no trouble free handing a mechanical drawing because I had taken mechanical drafting courses throughout middle school and high school, and it came easy to me. Also, after being honorably discharged from the United States Army I had worked as an Art Director for a couple of advertising agencies for a couple of years and I new how to draw well and give good presentations.
What intrigued me most about Dietmar’s request that I design a tactical knife was not just the fact that his company wanted to put a new knife on the market, but that they had a new marketing strategy and wanted me to be a part of it. Boker had decided that they wanted well-known knife fighting experts to design knives, which would give each knife a unique story and its own “personality.” They had experimented with a Pilipino knife expert, but he was not as well known worldwide as they had hoped, but the whole concept did help to sell a few knives.
Dietmar knew that I was not only well known among the German Special Operations community, but that my articles appeared monthly in the civilian martial arts magazine Kampfkunst, not to mention I had several training DVDs with German language voice overs. Dietmar also knew that I had a solid knife instructor background, having taught knife tactics for over a decade to police and military units worldwide, and that my new Reality-Based Personal Protection system founded January 21, 2003 was spreading globally at an amazing rate. Police agencies, military units, and civilians alike were being drawn to this revolutionary self-defense system.
After submitting my ideas to Dietmar in the pizza parlor, and finishing up my one-week seminar in London, I returned to Los Angeles and waited to hear from Boker. If I got it approved, great, but if not at least I gave it my best I thought. A week later I received a call from the president of the company himself – Mr. Felix Senior.
Mr. Felix told me that he was impressed with my ideas for the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Blade and that they planned on going forward with the project if we could reach an agreement on terms. I finished the conversation with him by saying, “Sir, you are more than generous with your offer, and I will make myself available to your staff.” Mr. Felix thanked me also and said, “Dietmar will be calling you in a few days to proceed with the next step. Good bye Mr. Wagner.”
For three months Dietmar and I sent design changes and modifications to each other via email attachments and facsimiles. He had to take my ideas and make them practical, yet while all along keeping the final manufacturing process in mind. Fortunately the knife had to endure only minor compromises.
In July of 2005 Dietmar’s assistant, Tobias, sent me the three dimensional illustrations showing my knife from different angles. The Jim Wagner Reality-Based Blade was starting to take form.
On August 1st I returned Dietmar’s phone call. Dietmar enthusiastically said, “Jim, I will be sending you the prototype of your handle by courier. Take a look at it and see if you need to make any changes to it. The handle is the most difficult part of this project. Oh, and by the way, we have many German Special Forces and German SWAT team members who would like to take your Knife Survival course. Do you think it would be possible for you to come out in October for a week? We will pay for it naturally.” I told Dietmar, “I’m there. I’ll spend a week there after my Paris seminar.”
I taught my courses, Boker had me do a few photo shoots with photographer Frank Soens, I met with some other high ranking people, and the rest is martial arts (war arts) history.
A close-up look
Just by looking at this knife for the first time you know it’s a professional self-defense weapon, and there’s no hiding it. Many people who see it for the first time say, “It’s a mean looking weapon.” Of course, I designed the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Blade to be a one-of-a-kind weapon system. I took my martial arts, military, corrections, police, SWAT, diplomatic bodyguard, counterterrorism background and thousand of hours of training others how to survive and use knives and put it all in one package.
The most important feature of the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Blade is the fact that it is primarily a stabbing weapon. In a knife fight cuts to the body usually cut into the muscle. Although very bloody, most cuts generally do not have “stopping power” (enough force and trauma to stop an aggressor instantly) unless the cutting edge slices through an artery or opens up the abdominal wall. On the other hand, puncture wounds 3 cm or deeper can not only induce a phenomena known as instantaneous shock due to the severe trauma to the muscle, but puncture wounds to the torso are likely to penetrate internal organs, which in turn shuts down the body systems faster.
The primary attack throughout the world’s prison inmate population is stabbing, also known as “shanking.” Working in the corrections environment taught me that. Prisoners do not have access to commercially made knives, so they have to make their own out of materials they can get their hands on: plastic tooth brush handles they have sharpened to a point, pieces of scrap metal, wood splinters, or anything else they can strip from an object or inside their cell. Since it is easier to sharpen a point than it is to make a viable cutting edge, most inmates make simple shanks, which are improvised weapons with sharp points. Therefore, the primary technique in attacking a fellow inmate or a custody officer is to pump the tip of the weapon into the target – usually the lower abdomen just above the belt line or into the neck area.
Not surprisingly, most Special Forces military units of the world teach their combat soldiers to stab the enemy as opposed to slashing them. So it is the same even with basic bayonet training for new recruits. The purpose for stabbing is to immediately incapacitate the enemy. In armed conflict an enemy soldier must be put down quick since there are likely to be multiple troops to contend with, and survival depends on efficiency.
In my 8 hour Reality-Based Personal Protection Knife Survival course offered to civilians I instruct my students to rely mostly on deep penetrating strikes, which in our system is called the forward strike (named), or the #1 strike (numbered). This is precisely why the tip of the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Blade is fashioned like the Roman gladius short sword, which was used in close quarters by legionnaires and gladiators alike by applying a straight quick thrusting motion. I had a chance to study some well preserved gladius swords in national museums both in Europe and the Middle East. The point of my blade is very sharp and meant to pierce deeply upon first thrust. The entire tip of the weapon has been milled down to a strong wedge shape to give the point its incision like, but beefy, strength.
Ripping & cutting edge
The cutting edge of the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Blade is a kriss – an elegant curved. This kriss shape is not just for good looks, but is designed to cut deeper into the muscle all the way down to the bone. The kriss shape has been a prominent feature in both European and Filipino swords and knives for centuries.
As the cutting edge of the blade is pulled along the fleshy target, the trailing edge curve wraps around and digs itself deeper into the target than that of a standard straight edge.
Another feature found uniquely in this knife is the serrations found immediately after the tip, and all along the curve. Most knives have serrations on the far back trailing edge of the blade to be used as a saw tool, whereas the serrations up front is purely for conflict and not utility. The Jim Wagner Reality-Based Blade is the first knife on the market to have this unique feature. The up-front curve-serrations are designed to immediately rip into flesh and clothing whether pulling the weapon away from the target area or slicing across an incoming weapon hand or going for the exposed throat.
For those users who prefer a strait edge instead of serrations Boker offers two different models. One model with serrations and one model without.
The blade is made of 440C high performance corrosion resistant stainless steel, which guarantees superior edge-holding ability and makes it corrosion resistance.
The top of the blade has a protruding blade guard to keep the grasping weapon hand from moving forward against the cutting edge should the tip of the blade strike bone and force the blade to stop suddenly.
A hole is located in the blade guard, the same diameter as the lanyard hole, for wilderness survival situations. Often times in primitive survival situations a knife must be fastened to a long straight stick to be used as a spear. With a hole in the blade guard up front of the knife and a lanyard hole to rear of the knife, parachute cord or vegetation fibers can be laced through the two holes to securely fasten the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Blade to the end of a stick. Such a device is used as a last resort protection device or for hunting.
The blade guard also serves as a blunt trauma striking nub when the blade is in its folded position. When folded into the handle the Jim Wagner Reality-Based blade doubles as an impact weapon similar to that of the Asian kubotan.
Another feature of the blade guard is that it catches the corner of a pocket when being pulled out, if the weapon is properly set in the corner of the pocket, and this action instantly deploys the entire blade in an instant.
You won’t see a blood groove on any tactical folder knives on the market, until now that is. The Jim Wagner Reality-Based blade does not just have one blood groove, but two one side of the blade. Blood grooves, or a fuller as they were called before the 20th century, are typically found on military bayonets and some swords to lighten the blade by 20% to 30%, yet keeping its structural strength. Many believe that a blood groove allows blood to flow from a stabbed person to alleviate the suction effect or clenching of the muscles around the trapped blade, thus making it easier to withdraw the knife from the wound.
On the same side of the blade where the blood grooves appear one can’t help but notice a silver line that is 3 centimeters rear of the tip. This 3 cm mark is what I call “a conversation piece.” As mentioned before a puncture wounds 3 centimeters, or 1 ¼ inch, or deeper can induce a phenomena known as instantaneous shock. It doesn’t mean that the victim is instantly going to pass out, but there is a strong possibility that shock can come about instantly or even minutes later, even if it is only passing out for a few seconds. The mark is merely for the owner to understand this phenomenon and to visualize the length of 3 centimeters. It is obviously not a visual marker to be looked at while engaged in conflict. The goal in any real conflict would be to shove the blade in as deep as it goes if a penetration is required. The 3 cm mark is for educational purposes only.
Boldly emblazoned along the side of the blade are the words JIM WAGNER REALITY-BASED BLADE. This is the first official knife of the internationally popular Reality-Based Personal Protection system that I created. For a self-defense system that is relatively new on the world scene, born January 21, 2003, having a knife bearing the founder’s name and system is a testimony of the effectiveness of this easy-to-learn and easy-to-teach system, especially when it comes to knife tactics taught in the 8 hour course Knife Survival. This system has been adopted by police and military units the world over as well as by thousands of civilians seeking realistic self-defense training. I have taught my system to the American FBI and U.S. Marshals, Brazilian GATE, Argentinean GOE and Air Force commandos, Israeli Special Forces, German Federal Police, Canadian Royal Mounted Police, security companies, bodyguard schools, and the list goes on.
The best way to maintain positive control of a knife in battle is to use a fist grip; the same grip someone would have if grasping a hammer or a baseball bat. A good strong fist grip on the handle, whether the tip is facing up or down, prevents the weapon from getting knocked out of the hand in the event the blade is stopped by striking a bone or the enemy attempts a disarm. The Jim Wagner Reality-Based Blade was designed with the fist grip in mind – especially for military, police, and deadly force self-defense situations.
When the blade is retracted, the handle and exposed blade black is designed to be a tight impact weapon. To absorb the tremendous forces one can put to the knife, there is a solid lock back mechanism. Nobody wants a folding knife to fold on their fingers while defending themselves. This lock makes sure that it doesn’t happen.
Under the fiberglass-reinforced plastic, there are two 1 mm stainless steel liners to strengthen the handle construction and to give the right weight to the hand and strength to the handle.
Along both sides of the handle there are finger grip impressions. Not only do these friction pattern impressions keep the hand and fingers firmly in place during intense conflict, but slippage is reduced significantly when blood pours over the handle and onto the user’s weapon hand. Blood is always an element that must be considered in a knife conflict. This is one reason why we in the Reality-Based Personal Protection system train with Hollywood style stage blood in the Knife Survival course. We strive to make our training as realistic as possible.
To make holding onto the blade even more redundant in adverse conditions three of the finger grip impressions have a non-slip texture on three of the four grooves. The first impression groove, forward of the handle closest to the blade, is smooth which serves as a Thumb Slide Guide, my own invention, that guides the user’s thumb right to the Thumb Stud for manual blade deployment in low light situations or where noise discipline is essential. This unique feature allows the operator to deploy the blade entirely by feel whether with the right hand or the left hand.
Palm Friction Ridge
Running the entire length of the top of the handle are grooves milled into the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Blade handle. These grooves make contact with the palm, whether the user is gripping the weapon with a fist grip or an ice pick grip, and reduces slippage along the entire length of the palm of the hand.
Most folders on the market have a friction ridge on top of the handle, but only along a small portion near the front of the handle to prevent the thumb from slipping while using the fencing grip. In the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Personal Protection system we do not use the weak fencing grip, or “Hollywood grip” as it is often called, but recommend that the entire hand be wrapped around the handle to prevent the weapon from being disarmed, slipping from the hand upon contact with a bone or other obstacle, and to seal the handle tightly in order to keep slippery blood from coating the handle surface. The fist grip is the system’s grip of choice, along with the ice pick grip, and the Palm Friction Ridge helps maintain that strong grip.
Back when I was conducting yearly Maritime Interdiction Operations training in the ports of Los Angeles, San Diego, and Miami I quickly learned from my U.S. Marine and Navy instructors that every piece of equipment had better be tied to the body or web gear one way or another – especially weapons and tools vital for survival. Once you drop something into the black ocean or a muddy river that is not attached to your person, whether doing surface swims or underwater ingressions/egressions, you lose it forever. This is why I made sure the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Blade had a good sized lanyard hole milled into the rear of the handle.
By running some parachute cord through the lanyard hole and attaching the other end to your uniform or web gear you won’t lose your knife, whether it’s waterborne operations or tactical rappelling from a building or helicopter.
The Jim Wagner Reality-Based Blade comes with a pocket clip that can be attached to the end of the weapon or detached, depending on your tactical profile needs. Easy to remove and put on again, the clip can be arranged for a right hand or left hand configuration.
The easy-to-use tool that first comes in the box with the knife is placed over the false writing pen or the glass breaker and turned to release the friction. Once completed the end screws right off and the clip is removed.
False writing pen end and glass breaker
The Jim Wagner Reality-Based Blade comes with two handle ends that the user can choose between and attach instantly: a false writing pen end, which looks like an ordinary pen clicker when placed in a pocket, or a glass breaker. For those military and police personnel doing undercover operations who don’t want casual observers to notice that they are carrying an edged weapon, but want easy access to their knife, the false writing pen end is the perfect solution and an original idea that I came up with when conducting diplomatic protection missions for the Sheriff’s Department and later when running counterterrorist missions for the U.S. Air Marshal Service after 9/11. The second option for the butt of the weapon is a glass breaker that is ideal for uniformed duties where breaking through glass or hammering on an object is required for emergency situations. Tobias at Boker had the fun job of busting out car windows to field test its effectiveness.
Regardless of whether the false writing pen end is used or the glass breaker, the job of changing out ends is a cinch because an easy-to-use tool comes with the knife kit.
The Jim Wagner Reality-Based Blade’s handle and razor sharp blade comes in tactical subdued black making it virtually invisible in low light situations.
Boker wanted this ultimate tactical folder to be affordable to all police, military, and security personnel worldwide and that is why the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Blade is priced at $89.95 in the United States and 89 euro in the European Union. Although designed in America and engineered in Germany, the manufacturing process is under license in Taiwan in order to keep the price down and the quality up.
Boker’s first DVD
The Jim Wagner Reality-Based blade is so original and necessary to the tactical community that Boker felt it necessary to make a DVD, their first ever, by having me describe the weapon point by point in Knife Defense.
Not only is the Reality-Based blade described in great detail in the DVD, but I explain and demonstrate my Jim Wagner Knife Disarm Rule which is used by police and military units worldwide.
Tactical Knives magazine
Article about the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Blade written by Ralph Mroz