When I teach courses in knife tactics, I always include detailed instruction in knife carry options, drawstrokes and one-handed opening methods. While students are always keenly interested in this aspect of the training, that interest often turns to frustration when they realize that they’re not nearly as fast as they want to be and that getting fast requires a lot of practice. So, as human beings typically do, they look for ways to use technology to compensate for skill—like assisted-opening folding knives.
Thanks primarily to Ken Onion’s revolutionary Speed Safe design, assisted-openers (AOs) have become a mainstay of the folding knife market. They have also enabled many inexperienced knife users to open their knives more reliably and with less practice than ever before. From the perspective of a casual knife user, that’s a good thing. However, from a personal-defense standpoint, things are a bit more complicated. Any time you trust your life to something—especially something mechanical—you need to make sure you do your homework and that your tactics are appropriate to the attributes of your weapon. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the fine points of choosing, carrying and deploying AOs for self-defense.
The carry positions provided by your assisted-opener should limit the possibility of the blade accidentally opening in the pocket. Tip-down carry with the spine of the closed blade facing forward may allow room for the blade to open.
Once you’ve determined that the overall quality, construction and strength of a particular AO make it suitable for defensive use, the first step in evaluating its ability to be deployed quickly and positively should be to consider the opening methods it supports. Typically, this means evaluating the “purchases” it provides to achieve the leverage necessary to manually open the blade far enough to get the kick spring to engage. For assisted-openers, these usually include a thumb stud, a flipper, or sometimes both.