Guns, Gear & Skills

Shiv Life over $hiv Culture

Standing in the security line at Mexico City International Airport to fly home I realized I had a dilemma. There in it’s sheath sewn under the lapel of my tan summer weight sport coat was my aptly named, lapel dagger. Made famous by the O.S.S. as a last ditch weapon I had picked one up on the cheap at a gun show if memory serves, and it was clear that the three inch stainless steel blade was going to buzz the metal detector once I passed through. “Should have put it in my wallet”, I thought. In those pre-9/11 (about three months prior to be exact) airport security was extremely lax to the point pocket litter went into a tray and handed back to you after clearing the metal detector.

On the one hand, you had to figure that enough contraband moved through the airport that would these Federales’ really care about a bitty little old shiv. On the other hand, the Mexican government was infamous for locking people up for a single shotgun shell in the trunk of car driving across the border.

The prior three days had been a whirlwind of Eddie and I running our advance detail with our security counterparts in Mexico City as part of our due diligence. Driving all of the routes, running an inspection on the armored suburban, that included four inch think windows “don’t roll the windows down please. It’s very hard on the motors in the doors”, checking the rebreather system, the tires, the oil, on down the line. Mexico being Mexico, a twenty man security detail, myself included, would be protecting the C suite executives and board members…with one gun. Our man, was a retired Mexican General, benevolently permitted to carry a firearm post retirement. In this case a Sig Sauer P220 in .38 Super. Yes, I see you old keyboard expert, as you mouth those words “you can’t ‘bodyguard’ someone without a gun”.

One would be surprised to learn that the World’s fifth oldest profession actually predates firearms by several thousand years, and that there is much, MUCH more that goes into the job than ever pulling a trigger. That said, I would have felt more comfortable being armed, especially in a country awash with guns. Gun control be damned.

There were two people to go now in the security line. I breathed a sigh of irritation. Slipping my sport coat off I let my hand pass under the lapel and felt the rubber band that was wrapped around the diminutive thumb grip that acted as a friction grip to keep the little blade firmly in the thin leather sheath. Dropping to a knee to tie my desert boot, my palm passed over a nearby trash can, letting the small steel blade fall directly in, standing up I walked on through the metal detector without incident.

The “shiv” as it were is designed to break contact with an attacker in non permissive environments where carrying a far more suitable weapon is either unattainable or compromising. I was once tasked to gather intelligence on an illegal night club, that sold booze under the table, strippers on the pole and a VIP lounge where anything went. I was reduced to carrying a four inch, thin bladed knife that quite literally rode up my coat sleeve and a NAA .22 revolver duct tape to my calf, because you had to pull your pant legs up and show the heavy at the door you were not running an ankle rig. The strippers were going to freely locate any other location a pistol was concealed. It was far from ideal but, fearing that my biggest risk was leaving the “club” and contending with a confrontation on the street. Prior to leaving I went into a stall in the restroom, withdrew the slim knife from the inside of my sleeve, the little revolver from my calf, ensured it’s function and dropped each into a jacket pocket and left without incident.

A shiv strays out of the realm of being a knife to a certain degree. It’s not a hunting knife, nor is it a “combat” knife. It is a last ditch tool, that for various circumstances also be the only tool available to thwart an attacker, kidnapper, or killer. So we should have a clear understanding of not just it’s role but it’s function. A good illustration of this, is the blade’s sharpness. Ideally a razor sharp edge is desired for any knife, but shivs are often of varying quality steel, thickness and grind. I have one that I spent close to $80 on and can not keep and edge on it to save my life, by contrary a shiv I quite literally made by removing the blade from an inexpensive, and oversized Italian styled stiletto knife, has held a very sharp edge. Which brings us to main concept of this writing.

That little lapel dagger abandoned so long ago in that airport trash can, cost me ten dollars at a gun show table so long ago. I now see the same blades going for $75 that are of similar quality and current production. We sometimes think, with regards to our personal defense, that we can purchase victory against an onslaught attack just so long as we spend enough.

No doubt there is a place for quality but, at what point does it just become consumerism? The small, two to three inch fixed bladed shivs that are hawked by some of the “tactical elite” of social media for two and three hundred dollars at some point gives one the impression that if you spend enough you can be in the tactical clique.

One manufacturer on the regular has managed to sell overbuilt, thumb held box cutter style blades that retail for a hundred dollars. Some years ago I bought one of their “street scalpels” for well over a hundred dollars. I liked the concept but the execution was more akin to a small pry bar than knife. Ironically around that same time, I purchased an Esee Izulu II from a buddy at half the price. The Izulu II was not only two ounces lighter! but it holds an edge and is a great every day knife and have used to to field dress deer and small game on a few occasions. In the summer months when we head to the mountains, it replaces my everyday folders as a pocket knife. It has also however been pressed into service as a small defense blade in urban areas. Because of its overall use it serves as a general purpose knife.

Recently I began looking for another street styled shiv blade, admittedly more out of want than need, but it’s purpose was intended. In the summer months before the heat of the day really kicks off I trail run at a nearby parks that is heavily wooded and hilly. My trail gun for this endeavor is a Smith & Wesson M&P Compact, chambered in 22 Long Rifle and stoked with CCI Stingers. As a companion knife to ride in the Hill People Gear Runner’s Kit Bag I wanted something with a needle or spike styled blade about 3 inches long, and a ring on the butt large enough to slip a pinky finger through to aid not only in grip maintenance during a fight, but also ensure a quick retrieval from it’s sheath.

As I searched I found a knife that fit this specification from a former operator turned blade-smith. If I didn’t mind the six to eight week wait, it could be mine for $275, and it shipped with a free swag sticker. A little more searching and I found another knife that met the same specifications for $35 on Amazon. It arrived the next day.

One must understand. I’m not opposed to buying quality and investing in my gear (let my wife assure you). By and large my everyday carry knife line up includes a near twenty year old Microtech Scarab, or a Spyderco Valloton Sub-Hilt Folder. Those knives see use day in an day out. But the shivs, they don’t. They are their for a single solitary use. To puncture a lung, or the carotid and subclavian arteries on an attacker. To pierce the ear canal, the eye socket or the top of a hand. Any available target of opportunity an attacker provides so that I can break contact and either get away or transition to my pistol. That’s it. That is the shiv’s sole purpose.

My job, on the regular for the last twenty-five years has been to go into those unsavory places, both here and abroad, and do so alone. I’ve spent lots of money of somethings and next to nothing on others. What I’ve learned is at the end of the day, you don’t need to spend a paycheck to cut and run.