Photography by: Jeff Randall & DEverett Photography
I have been involved in the martial arts for more than 30 years. Although I have studied and researched many different systems, my strongest influence—and my greatest passion—has been the Filipino martial arts. Practical, versatile, and in their pure forms, completely “outcome-based” in their approach, the tribal arts of the Philippines revolutionized my approach to personal combat.
After discovering the arts themselves, it was only natural that I would also develop a deep interest in the vast array of weaponry associated with them. While working for the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong in the early 1990’s, part of my area of responsibility was the Philippines. Since I had the opportunity to travel there several times a year, I considered it the perfect chance to build a collection of traditional Filipino weapons. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy.
During every trip, I budgeted some time to shop for a barong, kris, kampilan, or some other combat-worthy Filipino blade. However, with a few rare exceptions, most of what I found were poorly made wallhangers with loose handles and cheap blades. Over the years, my search for authentic, high-quality Filipino weapons has continued, but still with more “misses” than “hits.” Now all that has changed.
Finding The Real Deal
Ron Kosakowski has been studying the Filipino arts since the mid 1970’s. His study also led to an avid interest in the weaponry of those arts and several pilgrimages to the Philippines to train and shop for traditional blades. After experiencing similar disappointments, he had the good fortune of meeting a man named Daniel Forondo who was a member of a tribe in Luzon that is renowned for their manufacture of edged weapons. Intrigued but still skeptical, Ron asked to see some of the work of Daniel’s craftsmen. The first item Ron saw was a karambit (known in the Philippines as a lihok), and he instantly realized that he had finally found “the real deal.”
After talking with the craftsmen a bit, Ron’s personal shopping goals quickly evolved into a business opportunity. Based on a handshake deal, he soon had a batch of karambits to bring back to the U.S. to show off to other martial artists. The response was overwhelming.
Based on his initial success, Ron decided to invest in Daniel and his fellow craftsmen and soon began sending them money for better equipment. He also arranged to import high-quality steels like 5160 and D2 tool steels into the Philippines to replace the salvaged leaf springs that Daniel’s group had been using. As their success grew, Ron and Daniel researched the wide variety of styles and shapes of indigenous Filipino weapons and began to expand their offerings. Now in his fourth year of business, Ron’s company, Traditional Filipino Weapons, offers more than 30 different styles of combat-worthy Filipino weapons representing many different regions of the Philippine archipelago. They also offer authentic, real-deal wooden weapons that make the stuff you find in most martial arts supply stores look like toys.
When I was given the opportunity to review a few of Ron’s products, I contacted him to find out which ones he felt best represented his work. He responded immediately—and very enthusiastically—that he stands behind the quality of every item he offers. Anything I picked would be of the highest quality and fully combat functional. After a little more consideration, I opted for four blades that would offer a nice cross-section of styles: a barong, a wavy-bladed kris, a golok, and a ginunting.
When the blades arrived, I eagerly tore open the package to see if they lived up to Ron’s claims—and my high expectations. I’ll save you the suspense: These blades rock! Aesthetically, all four of the Traditional Filipino Weapons (TFW) blades were excellent. Their grind lines were consistent and symmetrical, their satin finish was bright and even, and the overall fit and finish was outstanding. Best of all, every blade featured an exceptionally sharp, beautifully ground canneled edge that just begged to cut something.
Looking even closer, I began to notice the subtle things that knife geeks really enjoy. For example, both the barong and the ginunting have fully sharpened false edges. Unlike many false edges that are simply dull bevels ground on the back of the blade (more properly called “swedges”), the TFW blades actually raise the false edge above the blade spine to give it better edge geometry. On the barong, the false edge stops just short of the tip—a detail that leaves the tip thick and strong for thrusting.
A real, functional weapon needs a strong, ergonomic handle. Once again, the TFW blades exceeded my expectations. The handles themselves are meticulously shaped from solid hardwoods like ironwood. There are no file marks or unfinished areas and the entire handle is smooth, even, and perfectly finished. Better still, the attachment of the handles to the blades is rock solid without even a hint of wobble—something you’ll never find with tourist-quality weapons.
The scabbards for all four TFW blades displayed an equal level of quality and attention to detail. Constructed from two recessed pieces of solid hardwood, they are completely authentic with the slight exception of a dual-purpose spring steel belt clip/retention device on the ginunting.
To give you a better idea of the specifics of each piece, here’s a brief look at them in detail.
Visayan Barong: The barong can be thought of in simple terms as a machete or bolo with a thrusting point. It first became popular among the Muslim tribes in the southern Philippines and later spread to other areas of the islands. TFW’s Visayan Barong features a fearsome 18-3/8-inch blade with slightly hollow-ground fullers on each side. This reduces the overall weight slightly and provides excellent balance. Best of all, the hardwood handle is oval in cross section (not round like many replicas) to provide an excellent grip and edge orientation. A polished steel ferrule provides an incredibly strong joint at the hilt—one that did not loosen one bit despite extensive cutting tests.
Kris: The kris is one of the most recognizable blade shapes in the edged-weapon world. Unlike the short, pistol-grip Indonesian kris, Filipino kris tend to be longer and straighter to support both cutting and thrusting. TFW’s Kris #3 is typical of the kris of Sulu or Mindanao, featuring a series of serpentine curves terminating in a straight section near the point. The grind on my sample was excellent, boasting uniform bevels and sharpness along all the curves as well as a serpentine fuller along the centerline. A carved hardwood handle and brass hilt details complete this gorgeous, fight-worthy piece.
Golok: Although there are many different “flavors” of golok in Southeast Asia, TFW’s “North Golok” is a no-nonsense piece based on the style found in the Cordillera Mountains. There it is used as a combat and execution weapon, not as a tool. The broad, flat blade of this golok has incredible edge geometry and is mated to a beautifully carved, rattan-wrapped hardwood handle. Its sheath is a unique “open” design, rather than the encapsulated scabbards typically seen.
Ginunting: The official sword of the Philippine Marines, the ginunting is a do-it-all blade that serves as both tool and weapon. One of TFW’s most popular pieces, their ginunting features a razor sharp 20-inch blade with a slight concave along its primary cutting edge. This concave arc terminates at a sheepsfoot-shaped point; however, unlike the unsharpened back of a sheepsfoot, the ginunting’s point marks the intersection of the primary edge and a wicked foot-long false edge. This profile gives the blade tremendous chopping power and axe-like penetration with the tip.
The handle is beautifully carved, finger-grooved hardwood with a blued-steel cross guard and ferrule. Best of all, it is mated to the blade with a through tang and secured with a brass pommel nut. The result is bulletproof construction that renders a truly battle-worthy sword.
Martial Arts Testing
From an aesthetics and attention-to-detail perspective, TFW’s blades are museum-quality pieces that would be the pride of any collector. But to the martial artist, the true test is how they cut. Again, I’ll save you the suspense: They work as good as they look.
Borrowing a page from my late friend Hank Reinhardt, I did most of my cutting testing on 2-3/8-inch cardboard mailing tubes with a 3/16-inch-wall thickness. Roughly the equivalent of cutting green bamboo, these tubes are tough. By leaving them free standing while you cut, you truly challenge both your skill and the cutting performance of your blades. All four of the TFW blades powered through the targets, cutting cleanly with absolutely no effect on the edge or blade finish.
Cutting and thrusting tests on a foam mannequin torso and chopping seasoned maple branches further validated the tremendous toughness and combat potential of these blades.
To validate shock resistance—especially when blocking with the flat of the blade—I struck the TFW swords full power on the flat with a heavy rattan stick. They held strong. Flex tests—including standing on the blade with over 200 pounds of weight—also showed no negative effects. The blades snapped back straight and true.
Finally, at the end of my testing, I carefully checked the handle attachment of every piece. Without exception, they were as rock solid as when I started.
Whether you are a martial artist looking for truly functional and authentic Filipino weapons or a collector looking for museum-grade investments, you owe it to yourself to check out Traditional Filipino Weapons’ products. They are by far the best I’ve seen and at prices around $200 each, they are well worth the investment.