Dave Spaulding and I were discussing knives on the Combatives Podcast when I brought up the difference in grip angles when grabbing a handgun versus grabbing a fixed blade knife. At that point, Dave pointed me toward a knife that I was not familiar with, the Kabar TDI LE Knife. The next day, I got in touch with the folks at Kabar and I soon had a stack of knives ready for me to “play” with.
The background: The Kabar TDI LE Knives are the result of a collaboration between John Benner(president of the Tactical Defense Institute) and Kabar Knives(famous for their Marine Corps and Navy fighting knife). TDI has been training both civilians and law enforcement for more than 15 years and their defensive knife class has been adopted by the Ohio Peace Officer’s Training Academy as the first defensive knife class for Ohio police officers. They have no shortage of experience when it comes to physical self defense and it shows in their knife design.
The blade: With a 2 5/16” blade, the Kabar TDI LE (Small) is easy to describe as a defensive knife. The blade is made from AUS 8 Stainless Steel, a Japanese made medium-carbon, high chromium stainless steel. At 57-59 Rc, this steel offers a good balance of toughness, edge sharpness, and corrosion resistance. All the Kabar TDI LE knifes(except the training knife) have a non-reflective black powder-coat finish. There are three different types of blades available:
These three blades(from left to right) are referred to as the straight blade, combo blade, and serrated blade for obvious reasons. Bear in mind that not all blades are available for each color.
After shopping around, I was able to find the following combinations:
- Black Grip: Straight blade and serrated blade
- Coyote Brown Grip: Combo blade
- Foliage Green Grip: Combo blade
- Orange Grip: Straight blade
- Red Grip: Training “blade”
What’s the point of all the different grip colors? Besides the fact that they make for cool photos, the different colors allow the knife to be less conspicuous when carried openly. The most obvious example is the soldier who wants options to keep the knife/holster combo from conflicting with his uniform, load bearing vest, or just his gear in general. Similarly, the civilian doesn’t always want to broadcast the fact that a knife is being carried.
One of the biggest advantages of a fixed blade and this angled grip in particular is the speed of deployment and it would be a shame to slow the draw by covering the knife. The different colored grips allow you to camouflage your knife by matching it to your shirt and making it less noticeable.
Conversely, the brighter colored grips can be used outdoors so that the knife can be found easily if dropped or set down. Bear in mind that even though you cannot buy certain blade and grip color combinations, you can always change the grips yourself with the included torx allen key. This means you can even use the red grips from the training knife with another real knife.
Carry Methods: John Benner suggests that the knife be carried on the weak side so you can grab it while the strong arm/hand is attempting to retain a sidearm. He has good reason for suggesting this, but there are a number of other options to consider.
- Ankle carry
- Appendix carry
- Strong-side carry behind a handgun
- Strong-side carry in place of a handgun
Different situations or gear configurations may require different carry options, but I believe the biggest advantage of this knife is the ability grab, grip, and draw in a manner not unlike a handgun. Notice the similarity in grip angle:
Many concealed carriers have spent many hours and much money perfecting their ability to quickly draw their handguns. It only makes sense that they take the fullest advantage of that training. For that reason, I personally prefer carry on the strong side of the body. That way, you can use your ingrained reflex to access the knife.
Price: When it comes to self-defense tools, it is important to remember that they are just that – tools. This is not to say that you should not own or use expensive knives, just that you should not discount a knife(no pun intended) because it doesn’t carry a famous designer name or high-end price tag. Whether we admit it or not, the price we pay for our tools or effort put into customization plays into how we handle and use them. Tools should be taken care of, but not babied. If a knife has to be left behind or confiscated, this should not bring us to tears or require a bank loan. The Kabar TDI LE Knives (Small) can be found for $40 or less. No, it’s not the price of a breath mint, but it’s a reasonable price for a solid EDC self-defense tool. It’s not priced out of reach of the masses and most can even afford to grab a backup knife.
Ergonomics: I already mentioned the similarity in grip angle to handguns, but there is a reason that handguns have the grip angle that they do. Your joints have an optimum position. A position where they are strongest. Make a fist. You will automatically set your wrist in it’s strongest position. Typically, that means your knuckles are close to perpendicular to your forearm:
The Kabar TDI LE knife’s curved shape allows you to draw the knife with your wrist in a position of optimum strength. The situations that would employ the use of this knife are not typically situations where the defender has much time or distance. For this reason, it is critical that the knife come out of the holster with a strong grip and ready for immediate use.
Also of note is the ability to reverse the grip on the knife:
The reversible grip means that you can draw the knife from either side with either hand and it will still come up ready for use.
Size and weight: Here is a photo of the knife next to a key for size comparison:
Here it is on the scale:
In case you can’t read the scale, it weighs 3.0 ounces. Lets compare that weight to a Kershaw Blackout folder:
Holsters: A good holster is nearly as important as the knife itself and the Kabar TDI LE Knives come with a good sheath:
The black, coyote brown, foliage green, and red knives all came with sheaths with an attached metal belt clip(left), while the orange knife’s sheath came with the belt loop attachment(right):
I use the word “attachment” because the metal clip or belt loops are easily removed or exchanged with a phillips head screwdriver:
I like the sheath that comes with the Kabar TDI LE Knives. I particularly like the how the factory sheath is only tight for the final 1/2″. I also like the flattened area with serrations that allows me to use my thumb to push/pull it out that first tight 1/2″. This keeps me from pulling up my belt when drawing.(An important consideration for skinny folks like myself)
There are also several aftermarket sheaths designed specifically for this knife. Mr. Peter Janda of Fin Designs LLC makes an innovative sheath that is specifically designed for tuckable IWB carry. Even the clip that comes under the belt can be hidden behind a belt loop. The following photos are from his website:
Here the sheath inside the waistband and latched to the belt:
Conclusion: If you carry or train with a handgun, the Kabar TDI LE Knife (Small) is worth checking out. See if it fills any gaps in your EDC plan.