Monday, September 7, 2015

Gear Review: CRKT Otanashi Noh Ken

Life often involves more adapting to it than getting what you want out of it. Travel the world in any small capacity and you learn this somewhat rather quickly. Back when the Afghanistan and Iraq military campaigns were going on strong and Blackwater held a very significant presence there was a common misconception that if you were in the private contractor trade and could pay enough graff that you could travel large portions of the world armed. In some cases it was and is true but by large margin it was not.

When I first started in the executive protection game two decades ago it was surprising how often that work would not involve carrying a gun of any kind. Back then (and still now) in many parts the globe and the U.S. as well conceal carry laws were fewer and reciprocity was essentially unheard of.

The common and predominate thought becomes "How do you bodyguard without a gun?". You just do, liking it has no part in the equation if you are going to go about it. Professionals do it all over the world everyday. For me in these days of late not all work travel is protection. There have been critical extractions, K&Rs negotiations, and intelligence gathering operations for any number of reasons and clients.

On a somewhat now infamous job Central America I had to surrender a Beretta Bobcat for various reasons and was left with being armed with a knife and a collapsible baton. In the ensuing days and nights having a gun of any caliber would have been nice but as the man once said, "wish in one hand...."

Sometime after that I was preparing to go overseas into Pakistan, then India carrying a gun was almost possible right up until it was not. CRKT had just come out with the Hissatsu, this being the original fixed blade model. For me and at that time, it was exactly the knife I needed and wanted. It was slim, trim and a straight up fighting knife and not am over sized wilderness survival knife. The only caveat I had with the knife is that I've never been crazy about the sheath for it. Someday someone will have to explain to me how knife makers can come up with brilliant knife designs, be willing to charge a premium, then do such an incredibly  bad job at sheath design when it comes to either practical carry or for that matter discreet carry.

Eventually I was able to work it out a couple of solid carry methods with for it. One being inverted under my shirt, carried under my arm pit via what essentially was a paracord shoulder cord rig. This worked well for riding in a vehicle for hours at a stretch. The other was an in-the-waistband cross draw, another hung inverted down the small of my back.

The knife did in fact prove invaluable on the job in thwarting an attack along a road side. A large bladed knife transcends any language barrier. But, on the thirty-five hour flight home after carrying the large fixed blade for a month I began working out what I liked and did not like about it.

What I did not like was the difficulty in concealing the knife on my person, and there is also the risk of it not being well received by customs or the local law enforcement should such a knife be discovered. You can expect much in the way of inquiry into your person. Having been there and done that with the questions from across the desk and not being in the land of the free and the home of the brave, I can assure you even when the conversation ends up "okay" you don't care to revisit it anywhere. The Buck Nighthawk that I carried into Central America was confiscated in England thanks to their draconian knife laws. In my experience most countries pay no attention to a fixed bladed knife in a checked bag but as the world gets smaller and tighter they will and knives weird the sheep out.

So upon return home the interest turned towards finding a tactical folder that followed the same lines at the Hissatsu fixed blade. I didn't have to look or wait long because about a month later the Hissatsu Folder came out. I ordered one immediately.

When I finally got it I actually hated it. Quite a bit.

This was partially due to the AUTOLAWKS system on the knife. It was counter-intuitive to anything I had been dealing with at that time of three decades of knife handling. To me it was half lawyer switch/ half boy scout safety knife system. I despised it. When I ordered it I thought it was an optional thing I could use, if desired. Instead it was the button safety on a lever gun. Ugly and I hated it.

Mind you, it had nothing to do with whether or not it worked. It wasn't optional and therefore hated.

Over the next few days the knife started to grow on me and I grew less interested in sending it back, but the AUTOLAWKS system had to go and it did. In somewhat of unglorious fashion with a hex headed driver of appropriate size I stood at the work bench and happily voided any warranty the knife had, but once back together and in fine working order I liked the knife far better.

It did not really see active duty in the everyday carry sense for any period of time. Instead it became relegated to what I referred to "gym" duty and wore it in my waist band as I worked out. Around that time I decided to begin hitting the lap pool at the gym again and two nights a week, there clipped to the waistband of my swim-trunks lap after lap was the Hissatsu folder.

I did have to be mindful about the edge getting rust on it but, not paranoid and it has continued to thrive in water environments onward.

I also liked that the knife also has this element of classic switchblade to it, while not being as delicate, and after a rocky start it found it's way into my everyday carry rotation.

But much like the first season of a television show, sometimes it takes a while to work out the kinks. The overall idea being sound but, the details could use improvement.Eventually James Williams and CRKT found their shui in my opinion with the Otanashi Noh Ken.Whatever first impressions the Hissatsu Folder gave me, the Noh Ken was a complete 180. I liked it from the start and have been carrying it everywhere ever since.

The short description I would give you is, through all of my years running a protection detail or working in unfriendly realms this was the knife I was waiting for. I promise you that is not solicited bullshit.

Mind you there are a lot of wonderful tactical folders out there. I've owned many of them, and I will own more. That's just knife life and there is no sense in apologizing for it.

So why the the Otanashi Nok Ken?

As much as I hate working, consulting, problem solving or however you title the work I do; some of the cities, regions and environs that I traverse to are not gun friendly. Some you who read this corner of the web on occasion work in far far less friendly areas and do so in true black. Many of you also work everyday in gun unfriendly office spaces. But most of us can either carry or smuggle a knife in one way or another if need be. In this vein we are talking about it in a personal defensive role. When folded into it's handle it is both flat and thin. It's very rectangular shape allows for a certain level of camouflaging when placed in a gear bag, shaving kit, or IT equipment pack, if you are of that ilk.

One of the problems in carrying the larger tactical folders is that they are not just big, but they can also be obnoxiously big, rough handled, thick handled and thick bladed. From a durability standpoint these things all sound good because they tend to be tough as hell. But much like the .22 in the hand is better than the .45 at home mantra the same can be true of the behemoth folders. If you don't have it with you it's not going to do you any good.

They also tend to be hard on the liners of pockets and aren't necessarily good at doing sometimes simple tasks. Like slicing something other than an attacker.

If you ever have picked up a filet knife and thought "this would make a good defensive knife if it was sturdier and had a thicker blade" that is kind of what you are getting with the Otanashi Noh Ken.

The blade comes in at 4 and a half inches which can be an issue for carrying some places. That said...the blade is four and a half inches which translates to being very effective against an attacker.

When we talk about knife defense work we have to be very honest about it, because a knife does up close what the bullet does from distance. And sometimes it does more so.

With it's longish blade the capability to deflate a lung, cause rapid blood loss from strikes to the the right and left carotid arteries the trachea, or getting very successful deep wound penetration on areas of the shoulder and biceps is most certainly there.

While that may make you cringe, or read it with some offense it's worth noting that, if you found yourself being shoved into a van, or on your back onto the pavement of some dark parking lot and are armed only with a knife....

This is what you want to be doing, And you want to be doing it with a strong insistence towards repetition.

Regarding the LAWKs system on the knife, either mine is broke or they finally got smart and made it optional where you can engage it or disengage it at will.  While the knife experts like to drone on and on about steel, whether or not is AT593f'd or something. Here is my thought process towards it. It maintains an edge very well, along with a fierce point and is readily touched up or resharped as needed. Knives lose their edges and you have to re-sharpen them. That's life. Much like that green light you see tomorrow will eventually turn red. Deal with both and move on along.

Opening is easy enough via the thumbstud mounted onto the blade. It's also very easy to open via good old fashion inertia. Something that should be encouraged in it's practice.

Large bladed aside, it's size and length are also advantageous as to it's grip length, not only because it will fit a wide array of hands but in colder climates and months the knife is easy to manipulate with gloves, in all fashions.

Lastly, upon the knife itself. They got the clip right on the Noh Ken where they got it wrong on the Hissatsu folder. While I get that the clip is part and parcel to the modern knife industry here is why I am pointing this out specifically.

In cold weather I commonly wear a button up coat or a wool vest. In between buttons, riding vertically, I like to clip a folder to the inside of the garment. While fundamentally functional it is more often than not, not well concealed in this position. Largely this is based upon the fact that of the knives I carry the clip is mounted lower on the knife, which in turn means the knife rides higher....or in this case juts outward.

This is a very accessible angle and position when riding in a vehicle and on the street it allows for primary access to a secondary weapon when my pistol is concealed. The Otanashi Noh Ken's clip is so well placed on the knife that it rides very very deep and is ideal for this type of vertical chest carry. Something not often easily obtained in cold weather defensive carry for any weapon.

Which brings me to my last criticism towards the knife. While the clip on the knife is dark and blends well against all but the lightest backgrounds and it has an Achilles heel with the lettering CRKT running down it. This and the silly Japanese writing and English translation "Otanashi Noh Ken" on one side of the blade and CRKT on the other rob the knife of the sterility that is envisioned behind it's purpose. It also reminds me of the cheap military inspired knives I use to buy on vacation when I was a twelve year old boy. So there maybe some paint remover in the knife's future, just to give it the nod of quiet it is supposed to represent.

Those very minor criticisms aside...

If I were sending a daughter off to college or into her young years of adult life and she was weapon friendly while her locales were not so much but a knife was doable, the Otanashi Noh Ken would be a very good choice as a companion for the subway station or the walks across a dark campus.

Here on the internet everyone is a Tier 1 Delta SEAL Recon sniper agent. I get that. But there is also the reality of the world where there are in fact any number of men and women who work in the intelligence game around the world, with and without the benefit of the diplomatic passport. Some of them come off "the farm" some of them don't and while every regular joe thinks these folks are well trained and well equipped you'd be surprised by how little they operate with. In my experience, they tend not to think about anything that wasn't provided to them by the government (you think I am joking). If they are fortunate enough to carry a gun, it's because they checked it out from someone's armory however, most of them work their careers unarmed. That does not however mean that they don't put their lives on the line in the process.

Faced with the prospect of not having any type of significant weapon at my disposal while working anywhere overseas for a couple of years or longer before coming home and wanted an edged insurance policy that was both readily capable of handling one of more attackers in a close up fight but required it to be discreetly carried, I would be hard pressed to not choose it.


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