Spyderco byte February 2024 - History of the "Tactical Wharncliffe"
Did Spyderco Invent the Tactical Wharncliffe:
Michael Janich’s long affiliation with Spyderco goes back to the mid-1990’s, when he first began writing for knife, gun, and self-defense magazines. His insightful reviews of Spyderco knives caught the eye of Spyderco’s founding family and soon marked him as a friend of the brand.
Later in that decade, company co-founder Sal Glesser attended James Keating’s “Riddle of Steel” training camp and rekindled his lifelong interest in the martial arts and edged-weapon tactics. While there, he also met fellow Coloradan Bert Locke, who was a military special operations veteran, a martial arts instructor, and one of James Keating’s COMTECH disciples.
When Sal returned from the Riddle, he was determined to create a “Martial Blade Craft” (Sal’s preferred term for defensive edged-weapon skills) training program under the Spyderco banner. He recruited Bert as the instructor and soon Spyderco was hosting classes in their old Factory Outlet location.
After a time, Locke decided to relocate to Montana. When Sal asked him to suggest a replacement instructor for the MBC program, he suggested Janich. Janich gratefully accepted the opportunity and began teaching his curriculum for Spyderco in late 2000.
Cutting TestAs part of his Spyderco MBC courses, Janich conducted extensive testing of various blade shapes and realized that their cutting performance varied considerably. In particular, he found the accepted wisdom that defensive knives needed to have “belly” or curve to the edge actually diminished their effect in ballistic cutting. In fact, after testing dozens of knives of all shapes, he found the blades that cut most decisively were his Spyderco Centofante and Centofante II folders—both of which featured straight-edged Wharncliffe blades.
That revelation totally changed Janich’s thoughts on defensive blade design and he soon set about crafting a prototype of his own vision of the perfect tactical folder. It combined the defining features of Sal Glesser’s revolutionary CLIPIT® platform—clip carry and one-handed manual opening—with a modern interpretation of the Wharncliffe-style blade.
The Janich/Snody Ronin™Since Janich was teaching under Spyderco’s auspices, Sal thought it would be a good idea for him to design one or more knives for the company’s growing MBC family of products. Janich, who already had one successful commercial knife design to his credit—the Masters of Defense Tempest—immediately embraced the idea and proudly showed Sal the prototype he made.
Although Sal was intrigued by the design and Janich’s explanation of the benefits of the Wharncliffe blade shape, he knew that it would require some significant redesign to become a viable Spyderco product. Undeterred, Janich then shared a second knife with Sal—a similarly styled fixed blade designed by Janich and crafted by custom knifemaker Mike Snody named the Ronin.
Janich had written an article about Snody that was published in the May 2001 Tactical Knives magazine. The overwhelming response to that article was the tipping point that allowed Snody to become a full-time knifemaker. To show his appreciation, he invited Janich to design a knife for him. Since Snody only made fixed blades at that time, Janich adapted his folder concept to a fixed blade and sent it to Snody for consideration.
Initially, Snody was skeptical about the design. However, when he finally made a prototype of it and did some test cutting, he became an instant believer. He also quickly added the design to his custom offerings and continued to make it for several years.
Sal liked the Ronin and felt it was more of a turnkey solution for a production design than Janich’s folder. He decided to send the design to Japan for manufacture as a one-time Sprint Run™—what today would be considered a “Flash Batch™.” He also enlisted the help of legendary knifemaker Bob Terzuola to teach members of the Spyderco factory Crew to make Kydex® sheaths for it.
The Ronin was officially introduced in the 2003 Spyderco catalog and, over its brief lifespan, sold with several different sheath designs. Although it attracted a small, hardcore audience of followers who understood its cutting power, it was short lived.
The Yojimbo™While the Ronin was in development, Sal encouraged Janich to rework the design of his prototype folder to fit Spyderco’s design style. Janich incorporated a Round Hole in the blade and crafted a plastic model to validate its ergonomics. Initially, the plan was to use the same unique pocket clip as Sal’s Lil’ Temperance™, which featured three holes that aligned with matching divots in the handle to provide pivot points for grip changes. Instead, Janich designed a custom clip for the Yojimbo with a single hole and matching divot.
One very unique aspect of the Yojimbo design was its blade-to-handle ratio. At that time, knives were still allowed in the cabins of airplanes. Under heightened security conditions, FAA regulations limited them to three-inch blades. The Yojimbo’s blade was designed to be exactly three inches for that reason, but paired with a long, tapered handle that could be used as a focused striking tool when closed. It also featured an early version of the Compression Lock® before the addition of a ball-bearing detent.
Although the Yojimbo design was finalized in 2001, Spyderco’s U.S. factory was operating at full capacity, so development of the design was slow. Impatient to see his idea rendered in steel, in 2002 Janich approached Mike Snody, who was now making folding knives as well as fixed blades, and called in a favor. Snody crafted a one-of-a-kind prototype of the Yojimbo design with contoured carbon fiber scales, titanium liners, a LinerLock mechanism, and a D2 tool steel blade. Photos of that knife created a significant buzz and helped spur interest in the design.
The Spyderco Yojimbo was officially released in 2004. Ideally, Janich wanted it to have denim-colored G-10 or Micarta® scales to blend unobtrusively with blue jeans. Since G-10 colors were very limited at that time, the base model of the Yojimbo was instead made with “IBM blue” peel-ply-textured G-10 scales. Later, a variation with black G-10 scales was also offered.
Unfortunately, the Yojimbo’s unorthodox design—and the concept of the tactical Wharncliffe—did not find immediate favor with Spyderco customers. The same year as its release, Janich also went to work for BlackHawk managing two competing knife brands, so he could not help in the promotion of the design. After a short production life, it was discontinued in 2006.
The Yojimbo 2In 2009, BlackHawk de-emphasized its knife production and eliminated Janich’s position. Looking for a new opportunity, Janich reached out to Spyderco and soon joined them as their “Special Projects Coordinator.” That same year, Sal invited Janich to design another knife for Spyderco. Having learned a lot about knife design and Wharncliffe blades since the Yojimbo project, Janich suggested a second-generation Yojimbo 2.
Released in 2011, the Yojimbo 2 features a shorter, more ergonomic handle than its predecessor, a broader, deeply hollow-ground CPM S30V blade, a high-strength Compression Lock, and a four-position pocket clip. Its design is also less radical than the original Yojimbo and has a more balanced blade-to-handle ratio.
While Janich never really stopped his efforts to proselytize the tactical Wharncliffe concept, the Yojimbo 2 added new fuel to that fire. Customers soon took notice of the design and it gradually became a respected mainstay in the Spyderco product line. The original satin-finished version of it was later joined by an all-black expression with a Diamond-Like Carbon (DLC) coated blade and a dedicated, red-handled trainer.
As the popularity of the Yojimbo 2 grew, it also prompted requests for a larger, even more capable version better suited to users with large hands. In response to that calling, Spyderco asked Janich to return to the drawing board, where he created the YoJumbo™. At 4.0 inches, its hollow-ground CPM S30V blade is 25 percent longer than its progenitor, but still boasts a perfectly straight edge to cut with full power all the way to the point. Its fully accessible Trademark Round Hole provides excellent leverage for swift, positive, one-handed opening with either hand, while its smooth, contoured thumb ramp supports Janich’s preferred thumb-forward Filipino grip.
The YoJumbo’s handle construction is identical to the Yojimbo 2, with the exception of its G-10 scales, which have a coarse peel-ply texture for a secure grip. The handle ergonomics are finely tuned to accommodate both average and large-sized hands comfortably, and its Compression Lock mechanism is specially engineered to support the knife’s extended blade length. Like the Yojimbo 2, the standard satin-finished YoJumbo also inspired an all-black version with a stealthy DLC-coated blade.
The MicroJimboWhen it comes to knives, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. As detailed in the previous article, the popularity of the Yojimbo 2 also prompted requests for a more compact expression of the design. The result is the newest member of the Yojimbo family, the MicroJimbo.
The Ronin 2Mickey Yurco is a talented custom knifemaker and designer and a retired law enforcement officer. He is also a long-time friend of Michael Janich and an Associate Instructor in MBC. Following the release of the Yojimbo 2, Yurco traced the profile of the knife on a piece of paper and used it to craft a handmade fixed-blade version, which he gifted to Janich. Janich was extremely impressed with the knife and, with Spyderco’s permission, commissioned Yurco to make several more. When Janich took delivery of those knives at the 2013 Blade Show, Spyderco’s leadership was so impressed they asked to include one of them in their prototype case. Customer reaction to the knife was extremely positive, and soon led to the second-generation Ronin 2.
If you look around the knife industry today, tactical knives sporting Wharncliffe-style blades are commonplace. Twenty-three years ago, however, that was far from the case. Michael Janich’s unique Ronin and Yojimbo families of knives have spanned more than two decades of evolution and refinement. In the process, he and Spyderco have challenged conventional design wisdom to create an entire genre of knives optimized for personal defense, but also perfectly suited to everyday utilitarian carry. At Spyderco, we have always dared to be different. This gamble literally made history.
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