The knife is one of man’s oldest tools. It can feed us, protect us, and give us shelter. It has forged dynasties and gangs alike and taken them down just the same. It has been man’s best friend for millennia. Sorry doggies.
In the 1800s no man went without a knife, it was survival tool number one. And for a short but very intense time no man went without a Bowie knife. The knife inspired awe and fear, It was simple and direct in its complexity. A true innovation in knife design. Till then knifes either slashed or thrust, but this knife could do both, and just as well one as the other. No decay in performance by its multitasking nature yet it only had one job. And it did it well. Soon after its inception by the collaboration of Jim Bowie and James Black it rocketed to the forefront of the American conscious riding on the fame of the man whose name it bore. Schools cropped up on every corner in New Orleans. England, seeing the craze, started exporting “Authentic” Bowies en masse to the shores of America and the people ate them up just as fast. This was no ordinary knife. It was magical, it was mysterious. It was forging a new country.
But like most things that flash so brightly into existence its downfall was just as meteoric. The shark like efficiency at which it did its job was too much for the new softer sensibilities of the city folk in industrialized America and the rapid advancements in firearms soon relegated it to a side arm, a back up to the American cowboy or mountain man expanding into the Wild West. Anti-dueling laws and even laws against the dreaded Bowie itself were the final nail in this coffin. Yet the mystery lived on.
While the methods and men of the bowie were slowly fading into the past it found a way to live on the fringe. Its namesake was a national hero. Not soon to be forgotten. And you just really can’t get rid of something that just makes that much sense. It stayed on with the mountain men who explored and trapped but that too was soon over. So it went where all tools end up in this industrialized machine that was America. The War department. Over the years it was made into a jungle knife and bayonet called the Krag Bowie Bayonet and returned as a favored service issued knife for our troops in Vietnam, in the form of the Western W49.
But the bowie never really left the conscious of America. It was America. Hold a katana and what do you think of? Japan. Hold a rapier and you think Italy, a claymore you think of Scotland. What is more American than a Bowie? But while the bowie knife itself will probably always be a popular choice, correctly made or identified or not, it’s the use that almost truly died out.
And it was with that in mind that a group of 12 men collected in the Pacific Northwest at the Comtech Bowie Seminar in April of 2017. All the players there had strong skill sets and a high aptitude for the material being presented making for a “stellar” weekend. The 2017 Comtech Bowie Seminar kicked off with the clang of steel and the twang of a banjo as we commenced a quick review of the basics. Task accomplished we wasted no time flowing into foot work, stance work, a few drills and master combos. Master at Arms James A Keating had planned the work and we were working the plan and the pace was brisk. After a meal break we covered some of the nuances that make up American fencing and then we masked up. En guard! And that was just day one. It was a very full 3 days and being an instructor level class there was much to go over.
Master at Arms James A Keating brought his seemingly endless knowledge of the rich history and use of American fencing and the way of the Bowie. Keeping alive that which was almost lost and carrying on the echo of a knife and of a man that made a permanent and lasting impression on the foundation of this country. Passing down the secrets verbally and with action! Giving us the task of discovering its secrets, and of evolving the art. Endowing to us the responsibility of keeping this piece of American history alive and sharing with others as he shares with us. Of continuing the echo. Task accepted Maestro.
What a great group of men to train side by side with. A real treat. Its rare to see such a keenly focused group, a thirst for this knowledge a common bond creating instant comradery. The task at hand always in front, always forward. Sharing knowledge and insights, students and teachers at once. I am proud to have trained next to these renaissance men. I am proud to carry on these teachings. But lest you think we would incur the wrath of the gods and our forefathers, homage was paid to those who came before. For like anything else, American fencing has even deeper roots and we must acknowledge them as well. The unique nature of the Bowie allows both longer and shorter range weapon concepts to be used. Of both slashing and thrusting. And in its, once again, unique way, a third dimension, the dreaded…shhhhh, it’s a secret. Ha!, Not really, but I’ll leave something to the imagination, I’ll contribute to the mystery of this American legend. But if you really want to know, stick around and we’ll have a “conversation”.