It used to be that a pocket knife was an essential item that a man carried with him. You had your wallet, your keys, and your trusty pocket knife.
It still is an essential item, for me!
Wallet in right rear pocket, comb and handkerchief in the left; keys in left front pocket, knife and any loose change in the right. Sometimes, but not always, watch on wrist; if not, it joins my pocketknife in my right pocket. I usually pat-check myself to make sure I have everything, and everything in its place, before heading out the door.
In fact, I feel rather naked if I realize that I have gone out without even one pocketknife – or even just the small Victorinox “Swiss Army” one that hangs on my key-ring (2.25″ overall size, 1.25″ blade). Typically, as noted above, I have at least one more, in my right pocket, balancing the key-ring in my left; and sometimes a larger one, either in a cargo pocket – if my pants are so equipped – or in a belt case.
It’s a tradition that is no longer as common as it once was, however. Some of Brett’s videos are a little corny, and the one that accompanies this post certainly falls into that category! But nonetheless, this is a good short article explaining the reasons why the tradition of carrying a pocketknife is still a good one in the 21st century. He comments,
“Men have been carrying pocket knives for centuries. But with increased security at the airport and other buildings, knives have been disappearing from men’s pockets. Yet these minor obstacles are not sufficient reason to give up carrying a knife completely. The carrying of a pocket knife is a manly tradition that should be continued.”
He continues with a variety of reasons why carrying one remains a good idea. These include opening boxes; cutting tags, twine and other binding materials (I’ve used mine on zip-ties more than once); opening letters and other packages; eating apples (and many other things, as well); camping; and what he calls “MacGyvering your way out of a crisis,” which covers a myriad of possible uses that don’t fit into any of the other categories. And of course, there is whittling, for pleasure and relaxation – an under-appreciated and almost forgotten art, these days!
I’m reasonably sure that “You need something to clench in your teeth when swinging from a rope” is intended to be tongue-in-cheek, but his suggestion that a knife may be useful as a weapon – “not the most effective, but it’s better than nothing” – is legitimate, and it’s why I like to have a larger knife with me when I can.
I live in Maryland, which is known for being “America in miniature,” blessed with natural resources and scenic wonders galore (when they’re not being paved over and turned into strip malls and residential developments by our burgeoning population), and famous for the Chesapeake Bay, Baltimore Orioles, oysters, blue crabs… and draconian gun laws.
With neither concealed nor “Constitutional” (open) carry permitted for the vast majority of Marylanders, if you don’t have a knife, you don’t have anything. And while I know some martial arts, I want something to even up the odds at least a little, should I encounter a malefactor bent on mayhem. And of course, if an X-class solar flare and its associated coronal mass ejection takes out the power grid, a bushcraft-capable knife could come in handy in all sort of ways…
Still, it’s not for such extreme situations that a pocketknife comes in handy, for most of us, for most of the time; it’s mostly for those little things that life presents us with – and it’s remarkable how often we find ourselves dealing with things that would be a lot easier to cut than to tear. That’s probably why knives were invented in the first place!
But on a psychological level, a knife is also a symbol, and the power of symbols should not be underestimated. A knife is a sword, and/or perhaps a spear, writ small. There is no reason a woman can’t carry a knife; and in fact, throughout history, many if not most have: typically smaller and more delicate than those carried by men, but knives nonetheless. Still, for a man, carrying a pocketknife is or can be a reminder of our responsibility to protect and provide for those who may not be able to protect and provide for themselves – or at least, to stand ready to do so, at need.
And in my personal case, I tend to choose knives that have an outdoorsy, and often a traditional or historical, “flavor” or feel to them. By so doing, my pocketknife is also a symbol of my love for and connection with the larger world of nature and the outdoors, and to our long human (and American) tradition of hiking, camping, bushcraft, and exploration, and the values derived therefrom: what Aldo Leopold referred to as “split-rail values.”
My pocketknife is a reminder of my connection with a wilderness to which I am able only all-too-rarely to escape… but it helps to anchor me with the knowledge that that wilderness – or just the local woodlot – is out there, even if I can’t be there, currently.
Whether as tool or symbol – or, for most of us, some of each – it is not hard to understand the truth behind the Old Norse saying:
“Knívleysur maður er lívleysur maður” —
“The knifeless man is a lifeless man.”