Story and Photos by Waysun Johnny Tsai
Every once in a while, I get to take a break from being the coolest guy in the room. While that might not be very often, this is one of those times (kidding of course).
I’m not going to lie; I am not the world’s biggest Forged in Fire fan. Yes, I have seen a couple of episodes, but I have missed more episodes than I have actually watched. I think of that show as a cooking competition, but for knives.
But when Forged in Fire: Knife or Death premiered, it was something different. A group of 40 competitors come on the show—some are martial artists, some military and some I think just faked their way past producers—and demonstrate their abilities with an edged weapon. Whatever their background was, the hosts Bill Goldberg and Tu Lam kept a fun commentary going as the competitors did their best against the clock, to chop and destroy everything in sight.
One guy that caught my attention was this dude in black vest, backwards baseball cap, arm sleeves and a pair of goggles. You could tell that he meant business by his demeanor, and by the end of his run he had the best time—winning his episode. That dude’s name was Zeke Menacho and he dominated the obstacle course that most couldn’t get past.
We recently invited Zeke for a chat, to allow our readers the opportunity to get to know him better and hear more about his knife design with Work Tuff Gear, the Nomad.
So, without further ado, we would like to introduce you all to the winner of Forged in Fire: Knife or Death, season 2, episode 2: Big Zeke Menacho.
Knife & Gear Society: Hi Zeke, thank you for joining us today. Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Zeke Menacho: My Name is Zeke Menacho. I am a knife designer, and community builder, for Victor Lin of Work Tuff Gear. My current designs with Work Tuff Gear include the Nomad Camp Knife, Nomad Field Knife and Nomad EDC. I also have some upcoming knives and projects in the works, with the upcoming Seax/Cleaver hybrid, the Proper Chopper and the Work Tuff Gear Adventure Team Group.
Prior to that I worked with Peter Kohler of Dark Timber Custom Knives, helping him become one of the best known custom knifemakers in the world, and collaborating with him on the Hooligans and Timber Hawk— as well as building out the Dark Timber Brotherhood Group, which I still help out with today.
K&GS: Tell us about winning Forged in Fire: Knife or Death. Which episode did you win?
ZM: I have always been into Blade Sports, but it is a Southern States competition. Being a west coast guy, I haven’t ever been able to compete like I want, due to being a working man—it’s always the day jobs that pay the bills.
When I finally did get a chance to compete it was on the nationally televised Forged in Fire: Knife or Death, episode 2, season 2, Blade Runners—which I won.
I then competed again in the Grand Finale Tournament.
K&GS: You are a chef by trade, what got you into Forged in Fire: Knife or Death?
ZM: I was an executive chef at the age of 19. I am a Le Cordon Bleu silver star graduate and have run food services in both production kitchens, restaurants and for the City of Inglewood, California.
Fire, Food and Knives have always been a real passion. I had heard about a television show, on the History Channel, where you could showcase your skills as a knife wielder; something kind of unheard of in this day and age.
It reminded me of the old Jousting or gladiator matches that I would read about as a kid. So, I trained for it like a fighter would, utilizing my background in Krav Maga and edged self-defense applications. Knife or Death was an exciting concept, so it was a no brainer to try out.
When I did, the producer called me back at first to tell me I was an alternate. I told her I was nobody’s second pick and that they needed a badass dressed in black for the show, then hung up. They called me back in two shakes of a lamb’s tail and I was on a flight to tape the show 3 weeks later.
It’s never worth it to be arrogant, but always worth it to know the value of what you bring to the table, regardless if others see it at the time.
K&GS: What went through your head when you learned that you won the episode?
ZM: Well, a few things really. In the moment I thought “Winning feels a whole lot better than losing.” Right after that I thought, “Man, I hope my dad sees this and my wife is proud of me.”
Peter Kohler built me a killer knife, it performed flawlessly and still gets used to make BBQ and covet while watching reruns of The Walking Dead.
The ultimate thought throughout though, is I hope my godson Isaac gets to check this out and realize you can be great at something if you work really hard, apply yourself and never listen to those who would bring you down.
K&GS: Would you do anymore TV competitions or reality TV if you got the call?
ZM: In a hot second. I love nothing more than proving people wrong who think I cannot do something—anything really. It might just be a character flaw.
Hell, I once competed in a national poetry contest just to fulfill the poet side of being a warrior-poet. I came in second place by the way. It’s a recurring theme.
K&GS: How did you hook up with Work Tuff Gear?
ZM: I had met Victor Lin at Blade Show West in Portland. Multiple Forged in Fire champion James Helm had pulled me over and said, “You’ve got to see what this guy is doing.”
So, we went over to the Work Tuff booth and here is this small, unassuming, genuinely smart looking man greeting people kindly and putting knives in their hands. It was a good connection immediately.
His knives spoke volumes. They have a great fit and finish. They are built to work hard, using tool steels that were absolutely appropriate to being great users, with the most amazing sculpted G10 handles.
Vic and I spoke for a bit and then he handed me his business card, which I still keep in my wallet. I told him I had some ideas about a couple of knives, and he was game. Since then, it has really turned into a wonderful relationship, both personally and professionally. Calling Vic a friend is a huge honor.
K&GS: What were your thoughts going into your Nomad design?
ZM: My initial thought was to push the hell out of the envelope on what people would carry as a camp knife—an uncompromising hard use design.
I wanted to challenge potential customers and flex on the industry, where most knives are made to look a certain way, then perform after. I always thought that was a bullshit equation. A knife is a tool first and should be able to savagely do what its required to do, with a minimum amount of compromise.
The Nomad design philosophy is a modern, out of the box take on a Bowie knife. Stab like a dagger, chop like a cleaver and still be able to cut like a kitchen knife. It’s an evolutionary process and we have tried different finishes, different steels, different handle materials and are still evolving the design.
It has to be an organic process, defined by the end users’ experiences with the knives. If it’s not, it’s simply lazy knife making.
K&GS: Will you be joining the Knife and Gear crew for drinks at Blade Show this June?
ZM: Oh, hell yes man! A Basil Hayden Rye Old Fashioned! Cheers and thank you for taking the time. See You at Blade!
Knife & Gear Society would like to thank Zeke Menacho for his candor and taking the time to speak with us. We appreciate the opportunity to learn more about him on a personal level and the chance to learn more about his great knife designs. K&G
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Blade Material: SK85 Steel with 56-58 HRCBlade Length: 10 inchesOverall Length: 15.7 inchesBlade Thickness: 0.25 inch with distal taperWeight: 28.8 ouncesHandle Material: G-10Grind: Saber grind with convex cutting edgeSheath: Black KydexMSRP: $229
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Work Tuff Gear
SIJO Waysun Johnny Tsai is a Chicago native and the founder of C.U.M.A. Combatives and the C.U.M.A. Survival School. A Master level Instructor, Sijo has over 33 years of combined experience in teaching practical street defense in the civilian, military and law enforcement sectors and is considered one of the World's foremost experts in practical street defense and Combatives. He is a published book, magazine and DVD author, as well as a highly established impact and edged weapons designer. Sijo has knife designs on the market and available through TOPS Knives, Slysteel Knives, Day One Gear, Combat Ready Knives and Grunt Style.
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