Forged In Fire: Knife Or Death

There is something slightly disturbing, yet very compelling and entertaining about A&E’s Forged In Fire: Knife Or Death. Saying this, this competition series is likely to become a guilty (or not-so guilty) pleasure for many viewers. The series features some of the most experienced knife experts, martial artists and blade smiths the United States has to offer, as they slice, stab, and chop their way through a blade-punishing course for a chance to win a $20,000 grand prize.

Forged In Fire: Knife Or Death is hosted by Bill Goldberg, former professional wrestler, who you would probably remember best from his time with the WWE and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) under the ring name Goldberg. Joining Goldberg as co-host is Special Forces veteran, martial artist and edged weapons expert Tu Lam, along with two-time Forged in Fire champion Travis Wuertz as the sideline blade specialist.

The show has competitors moving through an obstacle course unlike anything you would’ve seen on TV. The course not only tests the strength, sharpness, and craftsmanship of the blade, it’s also a physically gruelling test of the skills of those wielding them. Only two competitors with the fastest times will gain entry to the final round – the dreaded Dead Run. The victor of the Dead Run earns a cash prize, and a coveted spot in the season finale where they’ll compete in a championship showdown.

The knives and swords wielded are as diverse as those wielding them. Let’s take a look at some of the blades you’ll see in coming weeks on A&E’s Forged In Fire: Knife Or Death.

Competitor Karl’s blade of choice is the devastatingly effective Shinken; the blade used by the Samurai.

Shinken literally means live sword. This type of sword is most often used for iaijutsu (combat) practice and/or tameshigiri (cutting) practice.

Of the shinken made by members of the Japanese Swordsmith Association, there is a limit to the number of these swords allowed to be made.

Japanese swordsmiths are limited by Japanese law to producing no more than twenty-four swords a year each. This limit, along with the highly specialised skills and the great deal of manual labour utilised to make a traditional shinken, accounts for the incredibly high price that a Japanese-made shinken can fetch. There is a large worldwide market for shinken made outside Japan and the one used by Karl was not made in Japan.

You probably would not use a sword that is worth more than most people’s cars on the Forged In Fire: Knife Or Death course.

Rodrigo uses a sword that proved itself one of the most devastating weapons of the classical age, the kopis.

The term kopis comes from the Greek word koptō, which literally means to cut or to strike.

In Ancient Greece the term could be used to describe any heavy knife with a forward-curving blade, primarily used as a tool for cutting meat, or refer to a single edged cutting or cut-and-thrust” sword with a similarly shaped blade.

The kopis sword is a one-handed weapon. Early Greek examples had a blade length of up to 65 cm, but later Macedonian examples tended to be a little shorter with a blade length of around 48 cm. The kopis has a single-edged blade that pitches forward towards the point, the edge being concave on the part of the sword nearest the hilt but swelling to convexity towards the tip. This shape, often termed “recurved”, distributes the weight in such a way that the kopis can deliver a blow with the momentum of an axe, whilst maintaining the long cutting edge of a sword and some facility to execute a thrust.

Braulio brings a fascinating and intriguingly shaped sword to the competition. The barong is a thick, leaf-shaped, single-edged blade sword. It is a weapon used by the Filipino ethnolinguistic groups, the Tausug, Sinama and Yakan of the Southern Philippines. Barong blades are thick and very heavy with the weight aiding in the slicing capability of the sword and vary greatly in length from 20 to over 50 centimetres. Braulio’s Barong is not only a devastating blade, it is a family heirloom.

The kukri or khukuri is a Nepalese knife with an inwardly curved blade, like a machete which is used as both a tool and as a weapon in Nepal. It is similar in appearance to the kopis. Traditionally, it was, and in many cases, still is, the basic utility knife of the Nepalese people. It is the unmistakable blade carried by the Nepalese Army, the Royal Gurkha Rifles of the British Army, the Gurkha regiments of the Indian Army, and of all Gurkha regiments throughout the world, so much so that some English-speakers simply refer to the kukri as the Gurkha blade or Gurkha knife. The kukri often appears in Nepalese heraldry and is used in many traditional rituals.

All Gurkha troops are issued with two kukri, a Service No.1 (ceremonial) and a Service No.2 (exercise); to this day, members of the Gurkhas receive extensive training in its use. The weapon gained notoriety in the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814 – 16 and its continued use through both World War I and World War II enhanced its reputation among both Allied troops and Axis forces alike.

The kukri’s acclaim was demonstrated in North Africa during World War II by one Gurkha unit’s situation report. It reads: “Enemy losses: ten killed, ours nil. Ammunition expenditure nil.”

While most famed from use in the military, the kukri is the most commonly used multipurpose tool in the fields and homes in Nepal. Its use has varied from building, clearing scrub, chopping firewood, digging, slaughtering animals for food, cutting meat and vegetables, skinning animals, and opening cans.

Jason Johnson, Professional knife thrower (yes, such a profession does exist) brandishes a kukri over the Forged In Fire: Knife Or Death course.

There is a saying in Nepal: Does your kukri have enough iron?

After watching Johnson’s performance on the Forged In Fire: Knife Or Death course, this question is answered of Johnson’s kukri very eloquently and succinctly.

Throughout history, the blade and one’s ability to wield it meant the difference between life and death.  As much as this is a competition, Forged In Fire: Knife Or Death provides us with a fascinating insight into the roots of the various knives and swords in a way that showcases what they were initially intended for. Many of the competitors utilise ancient martial arts techniques to move through the obstacle courses and Forged In Fire: Knife Or Death stresses the importance of the art of blade wielding as much as it entertains.

It is also a fascinating lesson in the history of the blade.


By R. J. Hawksworth