In this week’s episode of The Best Defense, you’ll see me demonstrate the use of a small folding knife with a 2.5-inch blade to neutralize an active shooter armed with a rifle. That knife, a Kahr Arms version of the Spyderco Delica 4, has an interesting history and is based on a modified version of the Delica that I originally developed for a student of mine. Since we always get lots of questions about the gear we use in the show, I figured I would “think ahead” and provide the answer right up front. The following is the “inside story” of the Kahr Arms Delica and its evolution, as well as a few comments on where it fits in today’s knife market.
The idea of a short cutting blade attached to a long, easily gripped handle is nothing new. Scalpels, utility knives, and countless other cutting tools have done this for centuries. However, the idea of purposely shortening the blade of a knife to comply with the legal requirements of a particular jurisdiction is a much more recent concept.
Although I first experimented with this idea in the late 1980’s (a “California-legal” balisong or “butterfly knife” with normal length handles and a sub-two-inch blade), interest in the concept really piqued about 10 years ago. One of my Martial Blade Concepts (MBC—a system of personal-defense with knives) students worked in a U.S. Federal building in Washington, D.C. Per federal regulations, he was allowed to carry a knife provided its blade was no longer than 2.5 inches. He had shopped extensively for knives that met the blade-length requirement, but invariably found that short blades also meant short, difficult-to-grip handles.
When he approached me with the problem, my immediate thought was to take a Spyderco Delica4 and shorten the 3-inch blade to 2.5 inches. The Delica4 was already a personal favorite of mine (I’ve been carrying a Delica as part of my daily kit since 1998 and a pair of Delica4’s since they were introduced in 2006), and it has the great benefit of having a dedicated matching training knife that allows for the safe practice of defensive tactics. He thought it was a great idea and asked me to grind one for him. I complied and quickly shipped it off to him. He replied by not only giving the knife a glowing review, but ordering several more for himself and some of his like-minded co-workers.
A couple of years later, I was teaching a seminar in New Hampshire and got a similar question from a student who lived in Boston, which also has a strict 2.5-inch blade carry limit. I showed him photos of the knives I had ground for my other student and he immediately asked if I could do the same for him. Soon the other members of the class caught wind of the conversation and my list of orders got longer.
That history repeated itself a few months later at a seminar in Chicago, which has the same knife carry restrictions as Boston. And once again, I was back at the grinder. My custom-ground version of the Delica4 was quickly developing a devoted following among dedicated knife users who wanted to carry the most potent cutting tool legally permitted in their jurisdiction. They were smart people who respected the law and went the extra mile to comply with it.
Sometime later, Marc Galli, a long-time friend, an Associate Instructor of MBC, and then Kahr’s Eastern U.S. Sales Manager commented that he would like to see Kahr offer a high-quality knife that really complemented the spirit of Kahr’s immensely popular pistol line. Although Kahr had offered knives laser engraved with their logo in the past, these were stock knives with nothing really distinctive about them. I thought about it for a few moments, and then told Marc the story of my custom-ground Delica 4s. I also explained that, like a good carry pistol, I took the time to remove the jimping (textured grooves) on the thumb ramp of the knives I grind to eliminate any abrasive surfaces that could cause damage during high-speed, full-power application. In short, I felt my modified Delica 4s fit the same niche and same criteria as Kahr’s best-in-class compact pistols: compact, easily carried, highly effective tools specifically designed for responsible citizens. Marc agreed and offered to present the idea to Kahr’s leadership.
A few months later, I met with Marc, Kahr’s founder Justin Moon, and other senior members of Kahr’s management at a trade show and explained the history and concept behind my modification and why I believed it was a fitting companion to their pistols. The idea was not only well received, but prompted a detailed discussion of carry knife attributes. While discussing the Delica 4’s injection-molded-nylon scales, Justin Moon asked if they could be made it colors that would blend with the common pants colors—specifically denim blue, khaki, and black. I had actually tried to have this done on the first folder I designed for Spyderco, the Yojimbo, but its handles were made of G-10, which came in a limited selection of colors. Achieving this in molded nylon was brilliant idea, and much simpler to achieve than in G-10. To make the knife even more discreet and support a “gray man,” carry-anywhere theme, we decided to give the blade, clip, and all other metal hardware on the knife a subdued, “stonewash” tumbled finish.
Ultimately the Kahr Delica4s faithfully capture all the detailed features of the knives I customized for my students, but offer the additional advantages of discreet “urban camouflage” handle colors and subdued clips, blades, and hardware. They also epitomize the concept of responsibly carrying the most potent and capable tools permissible.
One criticism of the Kahr Delica that you’ll see some internet “experts” voice is that its street price is higher than the street price of a standard Spyderco Delica. In their overly simplistic view, you’re paying more and getting less because the blade is shorter. That kind of narrow-minded thinking totally misses the point of the knife and fails to take into consideration the basic economics of product distribution (i.e. every link in distribution chain needs to make some profit to remain a viable business).
If you like the concept of a compact folding knife that is legal to carry in virtually every jurisdiction in the U.S. and is available in colors that blend discreetly with the most common pant colors, the Kahr Delica is worth considering. The fact that the Delica 4 Lightweight is also available in a blunt trainer version should make it even more appealing.
If you shop around on the internet, you can find Kahr Delicas at slightly lower prices. Or you can go straight to the source and find them at www.kahr.com.