The White Shadow Dojo is a Martial Arts school run by Gwynne and David in western New York. This blog features information on our book "The Rhythm of One", our class offerings, a calendar of events, an edged weapons forum, articles on knife design, and a community space for the research and dissemination of Martial Arts. "Sometimes irreverant, often opinionated, always brutally honest."

Friday, May 14, 2010

Cobra Part II

Working With the Cobra:

I have now had some time to work with the MacDonald/Fairbairn Cobra. It is an intriguing design for sure. I should not have expected anything less from the mind of William E. Fairbairn, its designer. Some people have remarked that it looks like a Kopis or a narrow bladed Kukri, but it does not quite resemble or handle like either one. The closest design I can find are the Choora or Khyber style knives but they tend to have straight blades. You can see the difference between the two Kukri on top and the Cobra, bottom.

Design: The forward 4.5 inches of the knife looks like a gently curved F/S dagger. The rest of it looks like it could have come from a bayonet because it is so rugged and also because of the fullers. I really wonder if……naw old W.F. wouldn’t have taken a bayonet and had it bent in a forge to make a prototype would he? Probably not since this knife has more taper than your typical bayonet. But still….. I wonder? Legend has it that his first fighting knives were made from bayonets cut down in the Shanghai Armory. The handle shape is definitely Mid-Eastern, Central European, or Mediterranean in style. Wherever it came from it gives the user a tremendously secure grip. Not only does the bird’s head shape improve weapon retention but it also provides another more subtle advantage as we will see.

Stabbing: Picking up this knife and holding it naturally, as the handle shape demands you to do, the point comes directly on center, parallel to the line of your extended arm. Look at the illustration for clarification. This knife is perfectly designed for stabbing. Due to its curve, as the thrust enters the target the blade slices off to your right, assuming the knife is held flatways, right-handed. This skewing action creates a large wound channel. The downside to this is that you might miss your intended target if you are trying to hit a specific organ or blood vessel. Some people have questioned whether this knife might be used in reverse grip like a long karambit. I tried it in reverse grip and I think it would be completely useless to try fighting with it held that way. The blade is too straight (compared to a karambit) for reverse grip fighting. It’s like trying to fight holding a walrus tusk. For you grip change fanatics, not every knife has to be functional in all eighty-nine grips to be a good fighting knife.

Cutting: My first practice movements with the Cobra were quick cuts. Not quite understanding what Maestro MacDonald meant in his email to me I used what I refer to as a snapping-in cut. This is where the subtlety of the handle shape comes into play. As you cut, your pinky finger presses backwards against the bird’s head and accelerates the tip. The tip drives in and the inward curve of the blade causes it to pull itself in deeper, almost to the hilt. A-ha, now I think that I understand what the MacDonald meant. Admittedly this was only a cardboard box but my first cut, at quarter-power or less, created a nine inch slice! There is something almost malevolent about the way this knife draws itself into the cut. Cuts made on a forty-five degree angle tend to twist their way toward center, again due to the concave curvature of the blade. This is a little disconcerting at first, so you need to tighten your grip as you cut, or the blade will take control and choose its own path. There is no doubt that this is a living, breathing weapon. Last night I took the Fairbairn Cobra to the dojo. I wanted to test it on foam pool noodles. They are really tuff buggers to cut. The first attempt was a no-go as the noodle flew across the floor. It only had a slight gouge in it. So I knew I needed to rethink my angle of attack. Referring back to the testing I did with three different blade profiles (an older blog) I decided to use the same angle I used then for a straight blade. (see the photo) Bingo, it sliced a piece right off the old noodle. Using the same angle I repeated the cut three times in a row. I think it would be less fussy about cutting if I could get a better edge on it. The bevel angles are quite steep and perhaps the edge is not as hard as I am used to. When I use a whetstone on it, it feels about the same hardness as a bayonet or a KaBar, maybe mid 50s on the Rockwell C scale. The design would be even more efficient if the tip had more weight to it, like a kukri, but that might reduce penetration when thrusting. That is always the tradeoff.

Honestly, the Fairbairn/MacDonald Cobra is not a blade for Everyman. To begin with it is obviously a little long for EDC (Every Day Carry). By the way Mssr. Paul MacDonald has already modified the sheath design, just since my previous blog, to incorporate a belt loop. Now the sheath is just as Fairbairn suggested. The Cobra also demands that you learn what it wants and work with it to develop a body of specific techniques, different from those of a more mundane fighting knife. It is something like comparing a Ford and a Ferrari, they both get you where you want to go, it’s just a matter of how you get there! Kudos to Paul MacDonald and the late William E. Fairbairn for an intriguing knife.

1 comment:

Juan Carlos Acuña Hinojosa said...

Very interesting knife...look like the chilean atacameño corvo, and the indonesian Kuku macan...