Today we are going to look closer at a fairly new modern Italian-design combat knife that not so many have heard of yet, a knife that due to its design, quality and price certainly deserves more attention. This is the Tinea Kombat Knife, designed by M° Danilo Rossi Lajolo di Cossano and Frank Beltrame of the famous Italian cuttler town Maniago.
Fratelli Beltrame F&C
Beltrame Cutlers was founded after WW2 by Vittorio Beltrame in Maniago, Italy. His father too was a blacksmith and had made sailor and multi-purpose knives, commissioned by various companies. Vittorio had a son in 1941 and named him Francesco, today more commonly known as Frank. Frank started working in the company in 1958, after having studied basic metallurgy and knife making at the Professional Institute of Maniago, thus starting his proper apprenticeship while learning from his father Ivano and uncles. Also in 1958/59 Beltrame Cutlers presented their first design of a Stii (as the stilettos are still called in Maniago1. Frank fell in love with the knife type and has mostly stuck with it since.
After the death of his father in 1969, Frank founded Fratelli Beltram F&C, a now internationally well-known quality stiletto brand and Frank himself is today a world-renowned stiletto maker, still working in Maniago, Italy.
In 1996 Frank's daughter Sara and his son Ivano also joined the company, with Ivano and Frank working together on designing and manufacturing the knives. Together they keep working on preserving the traditions while also improving on their designs, introducing quite modern Italian stilettos to the world.
M° Danilo Rossi Lajolo di Cossano
M° Danilo Rossi Lajolo di Cossano is a renowned martial artist focusing on the traditional Italian martial arts, primarily knife, but also beidana (Italian machete) and bastone (short staff) and improvised weapons such as straight razor, scissors, jacket, hat and belt.
He started practicing martial arts at young age, only six years old, studying judo and karate and since 2003 he is also a certified instructor of Jeet Kune Do, Kali Arnis Escrima and also Pencak Silat Maltese. However, it is not for practicing these martial arts that he is most known.
While still a child, his uncle, Count Clemente Lajolo di Cossano, persuaded him to study their family's martial arts tradition, Pizzica Pugliese (not just a sword dance as commonly believed), and Scherma di colltello Gitana e Barabba Piemontesi.
For some 15 years he then travelled the various regions of Italy and learned more of the traditional regional styles. His teacher Count Clemente sadly died in 1993, but M° Rossi continued his diligent studies, training and research into the Italian martial arts traditions.
In 2007 he created the World Calix Academy to promote and help spread the Italian arts. This academy now has representatives in Russia, Ukraine, Italy, Australia, USA, Spain and England. In 2010 M° Rossi also taught Italian Knife at the historical fencing event Swordfish in Gothenburg, Sweden, and he keeps travelling the world to teach the arts, both to martial artists and professionals in need of training knife combat.
Outside of his research in the Italian martial arts traditions he also worked as a specialist and expert in personal protection and security for executives and even some celebrities like Johnny Depp, George Clooney, Viggo Mortensen, Matt Damon and many others. He has also often acted as head of event security for Hollywood movie premieres and other special events taking place in Italy.
Tradition meets the future
In 2009 Frank Beltrame together with his son Ivano and M° Rossi designed a new knife, the Tinea. This new knife is a clear step away from Fratelli Beltrame' F&Cs other knives, the stilettos, in that it is a fixed blade knife.
The primary function of it is purely combat and not a dual function of combat / utility (such as the "KA-BAR"). However, this sharp and sturdy knife can certainly be used for such purposes too, to some degree.
The Bullo & Er Tinèa
The knife has been named after the 19th cent Roman folk hero from Trastevere named Romeo "Er Tinèa" Ottaviani - a bouncer, tough guy and "bullo".
In contrast to what the term bullo might imply for the English speaking, the bullo weren't considered as proper criminals or thugs but often as heroes, as protectors of the poor, the weak and the oppressed in late 19th and early 20th century, a time of widespread violence and banditry, partly resulting from conflicts with the French supported by the British. As an example, reports from 1797 indicate 3-4 people being stabbed to death every day, this in a city of less than 150,000 people.
Meanwhile the police, the sbirro, were individually tied to one of the great many small jurisdictions of a highly complex and rather ineffective judicial system, and hardly distinguishable from the thugs or criminals which they were employed to pursue, with quite a few being more or less corrupt.
In this violent context some men were considered more honourable and upright than others; the bulli. They were often considered, by themselves and others, as true heirs of Ancient Rome through the Sangue d'Inea, the bloodline of the Trojan war hero Aeneas, the mythological founder of Rome, from which Romeo's nickname "Tinèa" is said to have been derived.
Bulli could be found in all classes, but especially in the popular classes in the districts, the rione, of Trastevere and Monti. The style and conduct of the bulli was quite well defined in that he was
...a big, violent, dashing, athletic, arrogant, courageous, imposing, generous, swaggering young man, touchy about his honour, a man of his word, vain about his looks and his outfits, irresistible to women and given to acting before thinking. He was the winner of the race, the best fighter, dancer, gambler, drinker. A man defined by status, but not money; an individual, not a gang member.2
The bulli of Monti and Trastevere regularly fought ritual battles, sassolate, fought in the Forum and using slingshots and rocks, fights which commonly led to quite bad injuries and even the occassional death, but which were also popular spectacles. Many of the bulli also fought in the resistance against the French, alongside of papal police and gendarmerie.
The bulli are said to have trained their own martial arts in their regional "schools", using slingshots and knives with blades wrapped in cord so that only the tip was sticking out, leaving only light cuts on the training partner's body. Similar martial arts traditions existed all over Italy and it is these traditions that M° Rossi is seeking to learn, document and preserve.
Other known bullo are e.g. "er Carcina" of Monti and his son "Er Paranza", "Er Panzella" also of Monti, Flora la Sfreggiata (a woman!), Romoletto "er Matta", Duilio "il Grande Rabbino" of Ponte and Angelo "Ciceruacchio" Brunetti, but Er Tinèa is clearly the most famous bullo of them all.3 He is known for having stood up against thugs and criminals to protect victims many times and was quite famous for it, so much that his presence and reputation alone would often calm people and stop brawls. With time he even earned the respect of local leaders and police and his house at Piazza Dè Renzi was often visited by people seeking justice and protection. He became so well-known that his actions were regularly reported even in contemporary newspapers and he was considered a legitimate leader of all bulli, mediating on conflicts between the different groups and districts.
Er Tinèa died on April 6 1910, having been stabbed in the back on Via del Moro by a small hunchback called Sebastian "Carnacciaro"4 Sartoretto. All Roman bulli as well as many local leaders and police joined his funeral parade through Rome with pretty much all of Trastevere following the parade, curious to see the bulli honouring their hero5. The knife thus takes its name from him, in his honour.
With that we leave the background history and instead turn to look closer at the actual knife.
Manufacturer: Fratelli Beltrame F&C in Maniago, Italy
Sold at: Gajardoni / Lajolo Sports
Material: Teflon coated N690 stainless steel & G10 glassfibre/epoxy resin
Hardening: HRC 58
Blade length: 16.5cm / 6.5in
Blade thickness: 0.6cm / 0.2in
Full length: 29.5cm / 11.6in
Weight: 370gr / 0.82lb
Sheath: Cordura (Includes chest sheath rig)
Box & packaging
I normally don't comment much on the packaging but in this case I will, since it is relevant if you consider giving this knife as a gift to someone and in that context the box and opening it is part of the first experience of the knife.
Simply put, the box is beautifully designed, and not only that, it is also cleverly designed so you can present the actual knife nicely as a gift with a nice dark-grey, high-density foam that has a prepared cutout for the knife.
The box itself is matte black, made out of quality cardboard and with text and details in silver metallic. It is closed with a black plastic string threaded through holes in the two lids and when opened you first face the foam into which the knife can be placed for nice display. Removing that you find another cover which holds the knife and sheath in place during transport.
Included is also a certificate personally signed by M° Danilo Rossi Lajolo di Cossano himself.
Grip & Hilt
The blade, finger guard and tang forms one single solid piece of steel and the extremely sturdy finger guard is shaped so that it curves inwards towards the hand, similarly to a Swiss baselard. The grip consists of two pieces secured to the sides of the tang with hex nuts. The grip partially covers the narrower sides of the tang causing it to look thinner than it really is (it is as wide as the blade; 6mm).
The grip pieces are made out of a fibre glass composite called G10, quite similar to micarta so commonly used with knives of other high-end brands. G10, however, uses laminated fibre glass instead of canvas or linen, similarly soaked in epoxy resin and then shaped into form and given a checkered pattern for extra friction. G10 is both lightweight, durable, extremely tough and offers great friction even when wet, thus providing excellent grip. And it doesn't expand or shrink depending on temperature, which is a good feature for the longevity of the knife.
Since the grip is secured with hex nuts, this also means it can be easily replaced with custom made grips.
The forward part of the grip pieces are curved to naturally follow the thumb, meaning you can let your thumb rest comfortably there. The square angles of the finger guard however, will chafe your thumb in particular if you grip the knife near the guard and use it for extended periods of time.
The grip has no pommel and instead ends with the tang sticking out with a hook-like shape pierced with a hole for a lanyard.
Blade & Tang
As expected of this type of knife, it is full tang with a 16.5cm/6.5in blade. The blade is 6mm/0.2in wide and has a somewhat leaf-like shape, almost like a mini-"smatchet", and a double-bevel edge that is delivered sharp enough to slice through paper, but not razor sharp and comparing to e.g. Fällkniven knives, it is not delivered as sharp. That of course can be easily fixed using a ceramic or diamond sharpener. A regular stone will have little effect on this steel. If you feel insecure with sharpening, then you can just use a sharpener like an Accusharp, but be aware that such sharpeners give an edge of 20 degrees, which makes the edge very sharp, but also less durable. Of course learning to sharpen your knives properly is better, but the results from the above will do well enough for most things.
Speaking of which, the N690 steel is interesting. I hadn’t seen this before, but reading up on it a lot of people comment on the virtues of it, describing it as very good, similar to VG10 and quite common in Italy, although I believe it is Austrian in origin6. It is hardened to HRC 58 which puts it just underneath a D2 KA-BAR, and looking at the durability test performed by M° Rossi himself (see below) it certainly seems extremely durable and capable of retaining a good edge even with some serious abuse.
The steel is stainless, which of course doesn't guarantee that it won't rust since all steel rusts if you don't treat it properly. It won't rust easily though, particularly since it is also further rust protected by black teflon.
The back of the blade also has a curved hook to catch the opponent's blade with. How useable that is of course depends on your combat training... and I would assume a great deal of luck.
For utility use the knife is not too big nor too small for most uses, but the particular blade design doesn't lend itself to e.g. batoning wood.
The cordura sheath that comes with the knife is quite nice. It is a bit unusual in that it consists of two pieces of cordura glued and sewn onto a U-shaped rubber frame which completely surrounds the edge side. On the edge side, the rubber is approximately 1cm thick. Inside of the cordura pieces of plastic are stitched on to further reinforce and provide stability to the sheath. The sheath extends about 3cm below the point of the knife securing that the point will not wear through the sheath.
It isn't M.O.L.L.E compatible, but comes with enough loops to enable you to carry it either horisontally or vertically on your belt. It also has D-loops at both ends so it can be attached to various carrying systems but also comes with its own chest rig. It doesn't actually come with a loop for hanging the sheath off your belt though, instead intended to be used primarily with the chest rig. However you can thread your belt through one of the loops on the back side of the sheath, although that will place the knife rather high on your hip, or you can add a loop of your own and fasten it to the upper D-ring.
Finally, the sheath is also padded for comfort when wearing and has a small pocket for carrying e.g. a small field sharpener or fire steel.
The knife is just wonderfully balanced with a quite distinct presence and while it can be used for other things, it is clearly primarily designed for combat with both stabbing and cutting motions with the latter being quite distinct in the handling. Make no mistake, this is no light cat fight dagger for flicking with the wrist, but a tiger of a knife, designed to do harm, both through stabbing, slicing, cutting and pommeling and the design of the grip puts your wrist at an angle perfect for the above actions. That same angle however, makes it less ideal for carving. It can still be done and quite well, but it isn't perfect for it, which of course is of little concern here.
The somewhat oddly shaped finger guard is more clever than one might think when first looking at it, as it enables you to both thumb the back of the grip & finger guard in a very comfortable way, but also to thumb the back of the blade, as the finger guard follows your thumb naturally.
Thumbing the flat of the blade is of course quite easy. A reversed icepick grip however is not comfortable since the curve of the finger guard causes it to dig into your wrist, regardless of which way the edge is oriented. Depending on your combat style this may affect you to different degrees.
Maintenance & Durability
They say a picture says more than a thousand words, so here is a clip with M° Rossi himself demonstrating the durability of the knife.
The overall finish of the knife is quite impressive and seems near perfect. As the finger guard, tang and blade are all in one piece. the only fitting in to examine are the two G10 pieces screwed onto the tang and they fit nicely and snuggly to the finger guard and the tang.
The durability of the sheath remains to be seen. The plastic on the inside has taken a bit of scratching just from pulling the knife out and putting it back again and I don't think it will last as long as I would like to.
Final comment & price
Although it is primarily a combat knife and thus not intended for daily use, I still think the finger guards should be rounded off a bit to avoid chafing and blisters. The angles of the finger guard are a simply too flat to be comfortable for extended periods of use, at least without gloves.
The lock for securing the knife to the sheath is a bit awkward for me in that it is tricky to get a good grip or leverage on it, especially to open it quickly. It is designed to be flicked open just using the thumb while grabbing the grip of the knife, but the button is quite tight fitting and it doesn't work so well. Perhaps it will get easier with use as the button wears a bit, but a longer or a more rigid flap, perhaps plastic-covered would be easier I think. I have added the loop from the box to it to make it a bit easier.
Likewise I would really have liked to see a removable loop for belt carrying that can be attached to the upper D-ring. It should be very easy to add without adding much to the price. Perhaps also a paracord string where the lower D-ring is attached for securing the sheath to the thigh too.
Personally, I prefer naked steel without black epoxy or teflon coating and I would love to see such a version of the knife too. It really should just simplify the manufacture.
Oh, and an illustration showing how to wear the chest sheath rig would have been nice as it is a bit confusing trying to figure out how to wear it. I figured it out eventually, but a picture would have been nice and would save time.
All the suggestions above are nitpicking though, as everything else about it is quite excellent and seems carefully thought out. The curves of the blade and hilt are quite beautiful while still maintaining a substantially intimidating impression, a thing of clear value in a combat knife as attested even by famous knife fighters like W.E. Fairbairn7. The grip feels just great and the steel/grip quality and hardening should give you a knife that lasts a long time.
I will leave you this time with a great video on the best defense when being attacked by thugs with knives, as provided by M° Rossi.
- Maniago is a well-known center for making stilettos. See for example this report: http://www.sharperdeal.com/fredde10/maniago.htm and also for just knife making dating back all the way back to 1453AD. See http://www.pordenonewithlove.it/en/curiosita/o/43/The-tradition-of-blades [↩]
- From Imperial City: Rome under Napoleon by Susan Vandiver Nicassio [↩]
- See http://digilander.libero.it/sileggear/bulli.htm [↩]
- Carnacciaro means a seller of meat for cats [↩]
- See http://digilander.libero.it/sileggear/bulli.htm [↩]
- See http://www.boker.de/us/blade-steel.html [↩]
- Fairbairn once said: "I believe that a knife should be bright and highly polished for the reason that 20% of the fight is lost by not striking awe in the mind of the victim that a flashing knife gives." [↩]