Many knives are designed as multi-purpose cutting implements.
The Hissatsu is not such a knife. Designed by James Williams
of Bugei Trading Co., the Hissatsu has one specific purpose:
to serve as a backup weapon for close quarters combat. Williams
has over 40 years experience in classical military and martial
arts training and has worked as an instructor with numerous
military, paramilitary and police organizations, both domestic
and foreign. Currently he is head instructor for edged weapons
and close quarter battle (CQB) at the Sure-Fire Institute in
Fountain Valley, Calif.
an article about a knife in a handgun magazine? Because the
Hissatsu is designed for use in conjunction with a handgun.
Stated more precisely, it is intended to be the pistolıs complementary
weapon. Hissatsu means "final blow" or "coup de grace" in Japanese.
Hissatsu should be used in preference to a pistol in specific
combat situations where experience has shown the pistol to have
distinct and potentially fatal drawbacks to the user. This is
in contrast to carrying a knife as a last-ditch or tertiary
weapon. Thus the Hissatsu is not only unusual in design, but
also its intended purpose marks a new dimension in CQB tactics.
First, the knife itself. In developing a knife to meet his needs,
Williams has returned to an old Japanese design. "America isnıt
really a blade culture," he notes. "We donıt have the long history
of knife and sword usage that the Japanese have. Theyıve had
hundreds of years of combat testing of blades. So instead of
studying American knives for ideas or reinventing the wheel,
I thought, why not look into what the Japanese developed, what
worked for them? And I found this specific tanto design known
as the osoraku."
It is perhaps appropriate to acknowledge that contemporary Western
societies feel a certain revulsion toward knives in combat.
For us, there is something ghastly and terrible about stabbing
and slicing another human, But in truth it is no more horrible
than violently crushing, tearing and displacing the organs of
another human by means of a metal pellet travelling at supersonic
the revulsion remains, so if youıre squeamish on the subject,
blade is made from Japanese ATS-34 stainless hardened to about
58 Rockwell. Long and thin, it is meant to penetrate and withdraw
with minimal effort. It is slightly tapered for the same reason.
The blade is unusually thick (.25") for two reasons: to produce
the most traumatic wound possible for the blade size, and to
eliminate the chance of bending or breaking under the severe
usage that Williamsı techniques encompass.
The odd upward "bend" in the blade produces an artificial belly
to the knife that, on soft tissue, produces the same cutting
effect of a true, continuously curved belly. However, on hard
or fibrous tissues such as bone or ligament, the angular transition
is intended to interrupt the wedging effect that results when
a continuously curved blade slices its way inward. Having an
enemy disarm you by pulling your knife away with his ribs or
skull is undesirable.
The blade is about 7.5" in length, just long enough to reach
and damage vital organs housed in the chest cavity and to reach
the brain when thrust upward between the mandibles. "Ideally
it could be a little longer," Williams notes, "But then you
start to compromise the knifeıs handling and deployment qualities.
This length is satisfactory for the majority of attacks."
The blade is not hollow ground. While hollow grinding does produce
a sharper blade, the sharpness comes at the price of blade strength
and edge durability. The V-grind is not only plenty sharp for
the intended purpose, but also it actually increases gross tissue
displacement/ A surgically clean incision that self-seals is
not the goal in combat.
The Hissatsuıs grip is black polymer with a molded-in deep pebble
grain surface. One side of the grip has a small but easily felt
protrusion the enables the user to orient the blade without
touching it. The oval cross-section grip, 4" long, is slightly
narrowed in the middle and flared at the front in order to mitigate
slippage in a stabbing stroke.
One of its more conspicuous traits, especially for a fighting
knife, is the absence of a guard. There are four reasons for
this. Williams says, "Many knife fighting styles are actually
a form of fencing and a guard is appropriate there. But the
Hissatsu isnıt meant for fencing, nor do most of the techniques
used with it have anything to do with fencing, so for starters
a guard would be superfluous."
is strictly a tool meant for close-in, body-contact distances.
If you end up fencing, in my view youıve failed to do your job
right, because youıve left open the outcome of the fight to
chance and reflexes."
More critically, a guard would interfere with gripping the knife
in the prescribed manner and would interfere with the slashing
techniques for which it is intended. A guard of any useful size
might also hang up on clothing- either that of the user or that
of the target.
The Hissatsuıs sheath is made of black polymer, just large enough
to accomplish its intended task. It is extremely robust in construction
with a three-position belt retainer, reversible to either side
of the sheath for left- or right handers. A small diamond surfaced
sharpener is provided, which fits into the unused retainer track.
for the application of this knife, Williams acknowledges that
it is a specialized weapon meant for a specific purpose and
that constant training is necessary to reach maximum effectiveness
in its use, including practicing knife manipulation for 10 or
15 minutes daily. However, the combat tactics behind the knifeıs
creation and its design parameters require no special knowledge
For example, experiments have shown that, starting from several
yards away, a man can often reach and lay his hands on another
man carrying a holstered pistol before the latter can unholster
and aim at his opponent. This is especially true when the pistol
is held in the holster with a retaining device. In a situation
where a rifle has just run out of ammunition or has just malfunctioned,
the rifle man must recognize this fact before he even thinks
about transitioning to the pistol, thus increasing an attackerıs
chances of closing the intervene distance before the pistol
can be utilized.
In such a case, drawing and using a properly sheathed and positioned
knife can be much faster and less error-prone due to the grossness
of the motor actions required- grab, draw, strike.
If oneıs primary weapon has been seized by an opponent or if
one is grappling with an opponent, a properly positioned knife
may often be drawn and used faster and more effectively than
a pistol and with less danger of self-inflicted wounds.
another example in which a knife is preferable to a pistol is
in a situation where one is part of a team facing multiple opponents
in tight quarters. Should your primary weapon malfunction or,
more likely, run out of ammunition, taking out a close-in opponent
with a knife eliminates the danger of shooting a teammate who
might cross into your line of fire. Additionally, if your teammates
note that you are using a knife to remove an opponent, they
will feel safe moving ahead to press the attack without fear
of being hit by an errant bullet.
A last example. In the split-second dynamics of CQB, physically
moving an opponent out of your team membersı path or line of
fire can be crucial. Here is where the proper knife can do what
a pistol cannot. An opponent shot with a pistol either drops,
staggers in a random direction or continues to attack depending
on his wound. However, a knife lodged in an opponent can be
used as a lever to move him. It is for this reason that the
Hissatsuıs blade is unusually thick and rigid.
a small criticism. While
I make no claim to being an expert knife fighter, I have decades
of experience in the outdoors, engaging in rock climbing, mountaineering,
kayaking, backpacking, hunting and other pursuits. Iıve seen
innumerable examples of equipment failure and Iım well aware
of the unexpected and frequently extreme forces applied to gear
via wind, water, ice, falling, striking and catching on protrusions.
Therefore, I feel at least minimally qualified to make the following
The blade retaining mechanism, in my judgement, is not capable
of applying the necessary force to securely hold the knife in
the sheath under rough use, and tests indicate it is subject
to prematurely wearing out in normal use.
second cause for concern is the polymer tab that locks the belt
retainer to the sheath proper, and which is ultimately the only
thing holding the sheath and knife to the belt. I feel this
tab is simply too small to be relied upon alone for such a critical
I spoke to Williams about these two criticisms. His long experience
with edged weapons makes him comfortable with a lower level
of blade retention than would be found in a field knife sheath,
and in act he attempted to duplicate the level of retention
found in the older Japanese sheaths. He feels that for the purpose
this knife was intended, there is a low likelihood of losing
the blade, but he also indicated that he would look into strengthening
the retaining device.
As for the belt retainer, he states that in actual usage the
sheath attachment would most likely be augmented with so-called
"riggerıs tape" or "100 mph tape," a military variant of duct
tape, and that his company is offering Velcro inserts as an
alternative to the belt retainer, which would provide a more
secure attachment of the sheath to clothing or tactical vests.
In any case, he is looking into offering alternative sheath
designs to provide equipment that satisfies individual preferences
this article I performed some simple tests, comparing the Hissatsu
with a very popular knife by Cold Steel, the Recon Tanto. By
the way, I own several Cold Steel knives, and not only do I
like them and use them, but also I think theyıre the finest
mass-production knives available and certainly the best value
around. The tests performed were unscientific and meant strictly
to test the design of the Hisssatsu in comparison to a more
conventional so-called "tanto" blade design.
first test consisted of slashing with one hard stroke into the
end of a pine 2x6. Both sliced in about the same amount. Neither
knife wedged itself into the wood grain. Neither bladeıs sharpness
was detectably affected after numerous slashes.
the "stroke interruption" of the Hissatsu was quite obvious.
As soon as the forward curved part of the blade transitioned
to the to the straight rear part, the blade would "bump" and
lift itself right out of the cut, validating Williamsı theory
second test consisted of stabbing the knives into a fresh sheep
skull. Such skulls have penetrable muscle, cartilage and bone
in areas along with extremely hard bone sections that neither
knife penetrated more then 3/8". What I learned was not altogether
surprising: for a given effort, the Hissatsu penetrated farther.
I would expect the same results, for example, on Kevlar.
However, the Hissatsu, with its deeper penetration was often
harder to withdraw. Of course this makes sense, and in the end
Iıd rather have the penetration and worry about withdrawal later.
Incidentally, neither knife showed any tip damage at all after
numerous strokes into the rock-hard section of the skull.
Again, the motivation for development of the Hissatsu was the
knowledge that in certain circumstances, a knife can be much
quicker to deploy and use than a pistol. Additionally, a knife
can be as effective as a pistol when utilized as a backup or
secondary weapon, depending upon wound location for either weapon.
Without actually using the Hissatsu in combat, which Iım disinclined
to attempt for even the best-paid article, I can say the knife
appears capable of mechanically performing as intended. Beyond
that, it is worth noting the Hissatsu is currently being used
by members of elite U.S. special operations groups and that
back-channel reports indicate satisfaction with its performance
in actual combat.
is well worthwhile to make note of something Williams said during
the course of our conversations regarding the Hissatsu and CQB.
"When you get down to it, no matter if this is the best knife
in the world for this purpose, itıs still just a tool and it
canıt think. It canıt solve any problems. The only real weapon
is your mind. You have got to learn how to use your mind in
these situations, and then youıve got to train."