Story and Photos by Michael Janich
I have always been fascinated by covert edged weapons—especially the various “hideout” knives associated with the famed operatives of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services—the predecessor of the CIA) and, even more accurately, the SOE (Special Operations Executive—the OSS’ British equivalent).
From a collector’s and historian’s perspective, lapel daggers, thumb daggers, sleeve knives, spikes, and similar esoteric blades are a deep and satisfying rabbit hole. However, as an instructor of practical self-defense, and devout student of the realities of knife wounds, I also know what it takes to reliably stop an attacker with an edged weapon.
With these two conflicting interests in mind, it’s only natural to ask what place hideout knives actually have in realistic self-defense.
Reality-based self-defense starts with getting firmly based in reality, so let’s start there.
The simple truth is that no matter how James Bondy a lapel dagger or other sexy hideout blade might be, because of its small size, it will never be as potent a weapon as a more substantial blade.
Also, while spy novels, movies, and TV want us to believe that there are super-secret targets on the human body, that will produce instant death or incapacitation, when targeted with an inch of sharp steel, there really aren’t.
Stopping another person efficiently with a knife is a matter of either cutting deeply enough to disable key motor/neurological functions or deeply puncturing major life-supporting structures.
The tiny, ultra-concealable blades we’re talking about here don’t do the latter, and can only—barely—do the former if they satisfy three key criteria:
Edge geometry is basically the cross-sectional shape of a blade as defined by its bevels.
Long, flat bevels or hollow-ground bevels generally produce a thin, keen edge that will actually cut. Narrow bevels necessarily create a more obtuse edge angle and therefore don’t cut as well.
For this reason, narrow, double-edged dagger blades typically have suboptimal edge geometry and don’t really cut with much effect. Since you’re already trying to use a micro-sized blade to cut deep enough to disable a man-sized target, you need all the cutting performance you can get.
In order to draw a knife reliably under stress, and simply hold it firmly in your hand, it needs to have an adequately sized handle. What constitutes adequate? In simple terms, large enough to firmly index the substantial skeletal structure of your fingers—or roughly a handle that is as long as two of your fingers are wide. Anything shorter than that is literally going to be pinched between your fingertips with minimal contact surface and minimal support, and held there by strength alone.
Having a handle that allows you to orient the blade well, and apply it with significant pressure, is perhaps the most important quality. From a concealability standpoint, however, it’s also the most difficult to achieve. If you think about using an X-Acto knife or box cutter, what you have is a very small blade (with excellent edge geometry) attached to a very substantial handle. That combination allows you to cut with impressive power, despite the tiny edge.
Contrast that with a hand holding a typical industrial razor blade. Even though you technically have more cutting edge, there’s less surface area to grip. The area that is available also forces you to pinch the blade between your thumb and index finger. This makes it impossible to “back” the blade with any solid part of your hand and makes achieving accurate cuts difficult. If you do make hard contact, the blade tends to spin in your grip, dissipating the force of the cut and quite possibly injuring your hand in the process.
To really cut with substantial power—and effect—with a hideout knife, you need to be able to brace your thumb firmly on the spine of the blade. The double-edged designs of most classic, but undeniably cool, WWII hideout knives make this impossible. Even if you have small hands, there’s just not enough handle to make it work.
One of my true “brothers from another mother” in this world is French custom knifemaker, and combatives expert, Fred Perrin.
In addition to his exceptional skills as a craftsman and practitioner, he is also an ardent student and historian—especially when it comes to old-school weapons and street tactics. Not surprisingly, his wide array of custom, mid-tech and production designs reflects that passion and knowledge.
Fred makes a variety of hideout-sized knives that are carefully designed to actually cut with extreme authority. One of my absolute favorites, however, is his Shark, which combines a short, chisel-ground blade with his signature index-finger ring and a tiny stub of a tail.
Almost the same overall size as a classic thumb dagger, it offers a much better grip and edge orientation. Solidly backed by the pressure of your thumb, its 1-3/8-inch cutting edge will cut with authority far beyond its size and produce wounds deep enough to sever key tendons, shallow muscles and peripheral nerves. Compared to most hideout knives of comparable size, the Shark is a performance powerhouse.
Another custom knifemaker that I am honored to count as a true friend is Mickey Yurco. A retired law enforcement officer with extensive experience in SWAT, Mickey is also a lifelong martial artist with mad skills.
Like Perrin, he is also fascinated with history and has an exceptional talent for taking esoteric edged-weapon concepts, enhancing them, and then expressing them with modern methods and materials. Yurco is particularly fond of ultra-concealable hideout-sized knives and is constantly experimenting with new ideas.
One of my most prized possessions is Mickey’s expression of the “Instructor’s Kit” (seen above at the beginning of this article)—a family of knives, spikes, coin knives, and tire slashers developed by the SOE and tested (though never formally adopted) by the OSS. Given to me in honor of my association with my close-combat mentor, the late Col. Rex Applegate, it has a highly honored place in my collection.
Instead of the thin suede roll of the original kit, Mickey’s features a beautifully crafted tri-fold leather case with dedicated pockets for each item. Of particular note is his rendition of the classic thumb dagger, which is broader and ground only on one side, to give it far better edge geometry than the WWII-era versions.
Its handle is also larger, and cord wrapped for a secure grip. Although cosmetically similar to historical thumb daggers, Mickey’s version cuts with impressive effect and lives up to the original potential of the thumb-dagger concept.
Hideout knives are a fascinating, and undeniably sexy, subset of the edged-weapon spectrum. Designed primarily to avoid detection when you’re searched, they could serve as last-ditch weapons, as well as tools to cut restraints when orchestrating an escape from captivity.
For OSS and SOE operatives—for whom capture meant a slow and agonizing death—their role made perfect sense. In today’s world, it would also be relevant for anyone who, for whatever reason, is at increased risk of being kidnapped. However, in the context of modern self-defense, their application is extremely limited.
With all that said, if you’d still like to include one of these cool tools as an “ace in the hole” in your EDC kit, choose one that truly performs—and validate that performance with your own testing and training.
After all, it’s your life. Only trust it to tools that really work. K&G
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Martial Blade Conceptswww.MartialBladeConcepts.com
Nine-year veteran of the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, Michael Janich also served a 3-year tour at the National Security Agency. Highly decorated, Michael is a two-time graduate of the Defense Language Institute and served around the world in intelligence and investigative capacities for many years. Utilizing his extensive training in various martial arts and military/LE combatives, he established Paladin Press’ Video Production Department in 1994, running all aspects of video production for 10 years – personally recruiting some of Paladin’s most popular authors and being selected to work with the late Col. Rex Applegate as the producer of his landmark instructional videos on handgun point shooting. Published book and magazine author, Michael has been featured on various television programs and designed knives for many different knife companies throughout the industry. Michael is the founder and lead instructor of his signature knife defense program, Martial Blade Concepts.
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