Advertising
Advertising

Greatest Tool #10: The Knife

Greatest Tool #10: The Knife
Knife

    If you have been reading my count down, I’m sure it is no surprise to any of you that my number one greatest tool of all time is the knife.

    There are hundreds of different kinds of knives designed for the kitchen alone.

    To choose a knife that is of good quality and best fits your needs, you need a basic knowledge of the various parts and construction of a knife.

    I’ve looked around quite a bit to find the best descriptions at places like the knife depot, buck, and case.

    Let’s start with a few of the blades.

    1. Carbon Steel – Carbon Steel has been used in the making of blades for many years. Carbon steel blades are tough and take a better edge with little effort. Carbon steel blades must be treated with care to avoid discoloration and rusting. Wash and dry thoroughly after use.

    Advertising

    2. Stainless Steel – Unlike carbon steel, stainless steel blades do not discolor or rust, however, neither do they maintain the best edge.

    3. High Carbon Stainless Steel – A combination of the best attributes of carbon steel and stainless steel blades. They have the toughness and ability to hold an edge and do not discolor.

    4. Titanium – Titanium blades are made from a mold of titanium and carbides. When compared to steel, titanium is lighter, more wear resistant, and holds its edge longer. The titanium blade is more flexible than steel but lacks its tensile strength.

    5. Ceramic – Ceramic blades are made of zirconium oxide and aluminum oxide. They are more delicate than steel knives but they hold their edge up to 10 times longer. Once these blades have dulled, they must be sharpened by a professional.

    6. Hollow Ground – Hollow Ground is a process by which a knife blade is manufactured by fusing two separate pieces of metal together. After the pieces are fused, a beveled blade edge is created. Although these blades often have very sharp edges, the blade lacks the balance and longevity of a taper ground blade.

    7. Taper Ground – Taper Ground knife blades are manufactured from a single sheet of metal that has been ground so that it tapers smoothly from the spine to the cutting edge. This type of blade desired on knives that are used frequently.

    Advertising

    Now let’s look at the basic construction of knives.

    1. Tang – It is not what the astronauts drink. The tang is the part of the knife blade that extends into the handle. The length of the tang is thought to be significant in the ability to balance and control a knife. Various manufacturers believe that producing a knife with a tang that extends throughout the full length of the knife is most desirable. Other manufacturers argue that each piece of a knife benefits from using a different metal.

    2. Metal Rivets – Metal rivets are used to secure the tang to the handle of the knife. To prevent irritation to the hand, the rivets should be completely smooth and lie flush with the surface of the handle. In addition, this will help prevent debris and microorganisms from collecting in the spaces between the handle and the rivets.

    3. Bolster – A bolster is a thick piece of metal (collar or shank) that is placed between the handle and the blade. The purpose of a bolster is to provide safety from the blade and add balance to the knife.

    Let’s move on to the handles.

    1. Wood – Wood handles provide an excellent grip, but require more maintenance than a plastic or stainless steel handle. Critics argue that wood handled knives absorb microorganisms.

    Advertising

    2. Wood Handles Infused with Plastic – A combination of the best attributes of wood handles and molded plastic handles. They have an excellent grip but do not require the maintenance all wood handles require. They are also not as porous as wood handled knives, preventing the absorption of microorganisms.

    3. Molded Plastic or Composition – Molded plastic handles are much easier to care for than wooden handles. They will not absorb debris and microorganisms and are easily cleaned. Critics argue that handles made with molded plastics become brittle over time and can become slippery in the hand.

    4. Stainless Steel – Metal handled knives last longer and adds weight to the knife. Critics argue that they become slippery in the hand.

    Above and beyond construction we can look at the styles of knives.

    1. Fixed Blade Knives
    A fixed blade is a knife in which the blade does not fold and extends most of the way into the handle. This type of knife is typically stronger and larger than a folding knife. Activities that require a strong blade, such as hunting or fighting, typically rely on a fixed blade. Some famous fixed blade designs include the Ka-bar and Bowie knives.

    2. Folding Knives
    A folding knife is one that has a pivot between handle and blade, allowing the blade to fold into the handle. Most folding knives are small working blades; pocket knives are usually folding knives.

    Advertising

    Some folding knives have a locking mechanism:

    • The most traditional and commonplace lock is the slip-joint. This isn’t really a lock at all, and is found most commonly on traditional pocket knives. It consists of a back spring that wedges itself into a notch on the tang on the back of the blade.
    • The lock back is the simplest true locking knife. It is found on most traditional locking knives. It is like a slip-joint, but the lock consists of a latch rather than a back spring. To disengage, one presses the latch on the spine of the knife down, releasing the tang.
    • The linerlock is the most common today on knives, especially so-called “tactical” folders. Its main advantage is that it allows one to disengage the lock with one hand. It consists of a liner bent so that when the blade opens, the liner presses against the rear of the tang, preventing it from swinging back. To disengage, you press the liner to the side of the knife from where it is attached to the inside of the scales.
    • The framelock is a variant of the linerlock, however, instead of using the liner, the frame functions as an actual spring. It is usually much more secure than a liner lock.

    Then there are knives grouped by function.

    In general, knives are either working (everyday-use blades), or fighting knives. Some knives, such as the Scottish Dirk and Japanese Tanto function in both roles. Many knives are specific to a particular activity or occupation:

    1. A hunting knife is normally used to dress large game. It is often a normal, mild curve or a curved and clipped blade. Hunting knives are a staple in the extensive world of knives. The term “hunting knife” is used loosely to mean any standard straight blade sheath knife that is at least somewhat geared towards real hunting use. In reality most of these knives are never used to dress an animal or for hunting related uses. There are some types of knives that are made specifically for hunting practices. The use of a “skinning knife” is obvious. They generally have a short, tough, razor sharp blade that is designed to easily separate hide from flesh. Skinning knives will sometime have a dull, barbed hook on the tip of the knife for eviscerating game. This is often referred to as a “gut hook.” There is no perfect “hunting knife”. The ‘right’ knife will be determined by the specific use, kind of game, and hunter’s preference of materials and style. There is certainly no lack of choice for someone who is looking for a knife made for hunting purposes.
    2. A stockman’s knife is a very versatile folding knife with three blades: a clip, a spey and a normal. It is one of the most popular folding knives ever made.
    3. Utility or multi-tool knives may contain several blades, as well as other tools such as pliers
    4. An electrician’s knife is specially insulated to decrease the chance of shock.
    5. A kukri is an Indian fighting and utility knife with a deep forward curve.
    6. A machete is a long wide blade, used to chop through brush. This tool (larger than most knives, smaller than a sword) depends more on weight than a razor edge for its cutting power.
    7. A survival knife is a sturdy knife, sometimes with a hollow handle filled with equipment. In the best hollow-handled knives, both blade and handle are cut from a single piece of steel. The end usually has an O-ring seal to keep water out of the handle. Often a small compass is set in the inside, protected part of the pommel/cap. The pommel may be adapted to pounding or chipping. Recommended equipment for the handle: a compass (usually in the pommel). Monofilament line (for snares, fishing), 12 feet of black nylon thread and two needles, a couple of plastic ties, two barbed and one unbarbed fishhook (unbarbed doubles as a suture needle), butterfly bandages, halizone tablets, waterproof matches.

    I’m just saying its way cool.

    What are your favorite knives and uses?

    More by this author

    5 Tips for Empathetic Listening Book Review: You Were Born Rich Cyber Stalking Becoming a Great Leader Motivating Others: Becoming a Great Leader #2

    Trending in Lifehack

    1 A Review of “The Art of Learning” 2 The Lifehack Show Episode 11: Mindfulness and the Authentic Self 3 What Everyone Is Wrong About Achieving Inbox Zero 4 How to Plan Your Life Goals and Actually Achieve Them in 7 Simple Steps 5 Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on November 14, 2019

    A Review of “The Art of Learning”

    A Review of “The Art of Learning”

    Review of Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance.  New York: Free Press, 2007.

      Josh Waitzkin has led a full life as a chess master and international martial arts champion, and as of this writing he isn’t yet 35.  The Art of Learning chronicles his journey from chess prodigy (and the subject of the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer) to world championship Tai Chi Chuan with important lessons identified and explained along the way.  Marketing expert Seth Godin has written and said that one should resolve to change three things as a result of reading a business book; the reader will find many lessons in Waitzkin’s volume.  Waitzkin has a list of principles that appear throughout the book, but it isn’t always clear exactly what the principles are and how they tie together.  This doesn’t really hurt the book’s readability, though, and it is at best a minor inconvenience.  There are many lessons for the educator or leader, and as one who teaches college, was president of the chess club in middle school, and who started studying martial arts about two years ago, I found the book engaging, edifying, and instructive.

      Waitzkin’s chess career began among the hustlers of New York’s Washington Square, and he learned how to concentrate among the noise and distractions this brings. This experience taught him the ins and outs of aggressive chess-playing as well as the importance of endurance from the cagey players with whom he interacted.  He was discovered in Washington Square by chess teacher Bruce Pandolfini, who became his first coach and developed him from a prodigious talent into one of the best young players in the world.

      Advertising

      The book presents Waitzkin’s life as a study in contrasts; perhaps this is intentional given Waitzkin’s admitted fascination with eastern philosophy.  Among the most useful lessons concern the aggression of the park chess players and young prodigies who brought their queens into the action early or who set elaborate traps and then pounced on opponents’ mistakes.  These are excellent ways to rapidly dispatch weaker players, but it does not build endurance or skill.  He contrasts these approaches with the attention to detail that leads to genuine mastery over the long run.

      According to Waitzkin, an unfortunate reality in chess and martial arts—and perhaps by extension in education—is that people learn many superficial and sometimes impressive tricks and techniques without developing a subtle, nuanced command of the fundamental principles.  Tricks and traps can impress (or vanquish) the credulous, but they are of limited usefulness against someone who really knows what he or she is doing. Strategies that rely on quick checkmates are likely to falter against players who can deflect attacks and get one into a long middle-game.  Smashing inferior players with four-move checkmates is superficially satisfying, but it does little to better one’s game.

      He offers one child as an anecdote who won many games against inferior opposition but who refused to embrace real challenges, settling for a long string of victories over clearly inferior players (pp. 36-37).  This reminds me of advice I got from a friend recently: always try to make sure you’re the dumbest person in the room so that you’re always learning.  Many of us, though, draw our self-worth from being big fish in small ponds.

      Waitzkin’s discussions cast chess as an intellectual boxing match, and they are particularly apt given his discussion of martial arts later in the book.  Those familiar with boxing will remember Muhammad Ali’s strategy against George Foreman in the 1970s: Foreman was a heavy hitter, but he had never been in a long bout before.  Ali won with his “rope-a-dope” strategy, patiently absorbing Foreman’s blows and waiting for Foreman to exhaust himself.  His lesson from chess is apt (p. 34-36) as he discusses promising young players who focused more intensely on winning fast rather than developing their games.

      Advertising

      Waitzkin builds on these stories and contributes to our understanding of learning in chapter two by discussing the “entity” and “incremental” approaches to learning. Entity theorists believe things are innate; thus, one can play chess or do karate or be an economist because he or she was born to do so.  Therefore, failure is deeply personal.  By contrast, “incremental theorists” view losses as opportunities: “step by step, incrementally, the novice can become the master” (p. 30).  They rise to the occasion when presented with difficult material because their approach is oriented toward mastering something over time.  Entity theorists collapse under pressure.  Waitzkin contrasts his approach, in which he spent a lot of time dealing with end-game strategies
      where both players had very few pieces.  By contrast, he said that many young students begin by learning a wide array of opening variations.  This damaged their games over the long run: “(m)any very talented kids expected to win without much resistance.  When the game was a struggle, they were emotionally unprepared.”  For some of us, pressure becomes a source of paralysis and mistakes are the beginning of a downward spiral (pp. 60, 62).  As Waitzkin argues, however, a different approach is necessary if we are to reach our full potential.

      A fatal flaw of the shock-and-awe, blitzkrieg approach to chess, martial arts, and ultimately anything that has to be learned is that everything can be learned by rote.  Waitzkin derides martial arts practitioners who become “form collectors with fancy kicks and twirls that have absolutely no martial value” (p. 117).  One might say the same thing about problem sets.  This is not to gainsay fundamentals—Waitzkin’s focus in Tai Chi was “to refine certain fundamental principles” (p. 117)—but there is a profound difference between technical proficiency and true understanding.  Knowing the moves is one thing, but knowing how to determine what to do next is quite another.  Waitzkin’s intense focus on refined fundamentals and processes meant that he remained strong in later round while his opponents withered.  His approach to martial arts is summarized in this passage (p. 123):

      “I had condensed my body mechanics into a potent state, while most of my opponents had large, elegant, and relatively impractical repertoires.  The fact is that when there is intense competition, those who succeed have slightly more honed skills than the rest.  It is rarely a mysterious technique that drives us to the top, but rather a profound mastery of what may well be a basic skill set.  Depth beats breadth any day of the week, because it opens a channel for the intangible, unconscious, creative components of our hidden potential.”

      This is about much more than smelling blood in the water.  In chapter 14, he discusses “the illusion of the mystical,” whereby something is so clearly internalized that almost imperceptibly small movements are incredibly powerful as embodied in this quote from Wu Yu-hsiang, writing in the nineteenth century: “If the opponent does not move, then I do not move.  At the opponent’s slightest move, I move first.”  A learning-centered view of intelligence means associating effort with success through a process of instruction and encouragement (p. 32).  In other words, genetics and raw talent can only get you so far before hard work has to pick up the slack (p. 37).

      Advertising

      Another useful lesson concerns the use of adversity (cf. pp. 132-33).  Waitzkin suggests using a problem in one area to adapt and strengthen other areas.  I have a personal example to back this up.  I will always regret quitting basketball in high school.  I remember my sophomore year—my last year playing—I broke my thumb and, instead of focusing on cardiovascular conditioning and other aspects of my game (such as working with my left hand), I waited to recover before I got back to work.

      Waitzkin offers another useful chapter entitled “slowing down time” in which he discusses ways to sharpen and harness intuition.  He discusses the process of “chunking,” which is compartmentalizing problems into progressively larger problems until one does a complex set of calculations tacitly, without having to think about it.  His technical example from chess is particularly instructive in the footnote on page 143.  A chess grandmaster has internalized much about pieces and scenarios; the grandmaster can process a much greater amount of information with less effort than an expert.  Mastery is the process of turning the articulated into the intuitive.

      There is much that will be familiar to people who read books like this, such as the need to pace oneself, to set clearly defined goals, the need to relax, techniques for “getting in the zone,” and so forth.  The anecdotes illustrate his points beautifully.  Over the course of the book, he lays out his methodology for “getting in the zone,” another concept that people in performance-based occupations will find useful.  He calls it “the soft zone” (chapter three), and it consists of being flexible, malleable, and able to adapt to circumstances.  Martial artists and devotees of David Allen’s Getting Things Done might recognize this as having a “mind like water.”  He contrasts this to “the hard zone,” which “demands a cooperative world for you to function.  Like a dry twig, you are brittle, ready to snap under pressure” (p. 54).  “The Soft Zone is resilient, like a flexible blade of grass that can move with and survive hurricane-force winds” (p. 54).

      Another illustration refers to “making sandals” if one is confronted with a journeyacross a field of thorns (p. 55).  Neither bases “success on a submissive world or overpowering force, but on intelligent preparation and cultivated resilience” (p. 55). Much here will be familiar to creative people:  you’re trying to think, but that one song by that one band keeps blasting away in your head.  Waitzkin’s “only option was to become at peace with the noise” (p. 56).  In the language of economics, the constraints are given; we don’t get to choose them.

      Advertising

      This is explored in greater detail in chapter 16.  He discusses the top performers, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and others who do not obsess over the last failure and who know how to relax when they need to (p. 179).  The experience of NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh is also useful as “the more he could let things go” while the defense was on the field, “the sharper he was in the next drive” (p. 179).  Waitzkin discusses further things he learned while experimenting in human performance, particularly with respect to “cardiovascular interval training,” which “can have a profound effect on your ability to quickly release tension and recover from mental exhaustion” (p. 181).  It is that last concept—to “recover from mental exhaustion”—that is likely what most academics need help with.

      There is much here about pushing boundaries; however, one must earn the right to do so: as Waitzkin writes, “Jackson Pollock could draw like a camera, but instead he chose to splatter paint in a wild manner that pulsed with emotion”  (p. 85).  This is another good lesson for academics, managers, and educators.  Waitzken emphasizes close attention to detail when receiving instruction, particularly from his Tai Chi instructor William C.C. Chen.  Tai Chi is not about offering resistance or force, but about the ability “to blend with (an opponent’s) energy, yield to it, and overcome with softness” (p. 103).

      The book is littered with stories of people who didn’t reach their potential because they didn’t seize opportunities to improve or because they refused to adapt to conditions.  This lesson is emphasized in chapter 17, where he discusses “making sandals” when confronted with a thorny path, such as an underhanded competitor.  The book offers several principles by which we can become better educators, scholars, and managers.  Celebrating outcomes should be secondary to celebrating the processes that produced those outcomes (pp. 45-47).  There is also a study in contrasts beginning on page 185, and it is something I have struggled to learn.  Waitzkin points to himself at tournaments being able to relax between matches while some of his opponents were pressured to analyze their games in between.  This leads to extreme mental fatigue: “this tendency of competitors to exhaust themselves between rounds of tournaments is surprisingly widespread and very self-destructive” (p. 186).

      The Art of Learning has much to teach us regardless of our field.  I found it particularly relevant given my chosen profession and my decision to start studying martial arts when I started teaching.  The insights are numerous and applicable, and the fact that Waitzkin has used the principles he now teaches to become a world-class competitor in two very demanding competitive enterprises makes it that much easier to read.  I recommend this book to anyone in a position of leadership or in a position that requires extensive learning and adaptation.  That is to say, I recommend this book to everyone.

      More About Learning

      Featured photo credit: Jazmin Quaynor via unsplash.com

      Read Next