Karate inspires a Fighting Knife

By Barry Steinberg - September 1968

In 1975 I bought some books and magazines from Ed Parker and in one of these I discovered the following article by Barry Steinberg which was published over thirty years ago in September 1968. The article was featured in Ed Parker's first Edition of Action Karate magazine. In the article you will notice regular references to U.S. military personnel in Vietnam and their use of the Parker knife. I would also like to acknowledge the help of Kenpo Instructor Mr. Marc Sigle of Germany who has been very helpful in my research on the Hibben Knife.

Ed. Downey

Gil Hibben Thirty-two year father of five, custom knife-smith and singer in the famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir, black belt in judo and Kenpo karate - this is Gil Hibben of Manti, Utah. At the International Karate Championships held August 3-4 in Long Beach, California, Gil placed fourth in the weapons kata with a score of 27.5, performing with a knife he designed and made himself.

He calls it the 'Parker Knife' - named in honour of Ed Parker, President of the International Kenpo Karate Association. "My instructors are former pupils of Mr. Parker", said Gil. "He is my Sensei, and I credit him with everything I know about Karate." Gil designed both the knife and the kata as part of the thesis required to earn his black belt in the Ed Parker System.

"I feel that a person who studies karate should apply it's techniques to utilisation of any weapon" Gil says. "As I understand it, karate began years ago when men learned the movements of battle without weapons, using the hands instead. I guess I'm taking it back the other way." Gil combined his knife-making skill with the art of Karate to create what he considers the ultimate in a fighting knife. The Parker knife is also designed to meet the Military standards of overall utility. As he says. "a knife that can be used to cut bacon, to whittle or to kill."

The Parker Knife After an intensive study of almost every military fighting knife, Gil arrived at a design that allows the maximum wrist control needed for more sophisticated forms of defence and attack.

Gil's difficult kata with knife consists of original fighting techniques pitting the Parker knife held in various positions against other kinds of knives and attacks. Gil climaxes the kata by throwing the Parker knife over twenty feet into the figure of a man drawn on a one and one-half inch thick plywood board to show the functional extent of the knife's design and balance.

Special features of the Parker knife include:

  1. A double-edged blade sharp both on top and the bottom.
  2. A triangular ridge which adds strength.
  3. Fighting lugs on the guard protect the hand that can be utilised, through hooking techniques, to catch the opponent's blade or eye.
  4. The guard is set at an angle to allow maximum wrist control. (The thumb can be placed behind it or wrapped around the handle.) The handle itself is custom moulded to fit the owner's hand perfectly. The finger grooves on the bottom to prevent slipping while the hump on the top fills the fist whether the knife is gripped forehand or backhand, thumb up or thumb down.

Gil Hibben at work. Gil's knives are hand crafted and tailored to the requirements of the individual customer. The work that goes into the Parker knife is typical of the care Gil takes in making any knife. He starts with 440 series high chromium, high carbon steel, which he buys in twelve foot lengths of three-quarter inch round stock. He cuts off the desired length, heats it to 2000 Fareheit and hand forges it flat into dimensions of approximately 1/4 x 1/2 x 12" . Gil anneals this and cuts the blade to shape on a saw. After hand grinding, he reheats the blade to 1900 degrees, draw tempers it to hardness and gives it a final polish. He adds the guard and fibre handle in mass and shapes them down to conform to the blade as well as the individual requirements of the customer's hand. The entire process takes about three days from start to finish.

Gil does a brisk mail order business in custom crafting a wide variety of knives for sportsmen and collectors. A catalogue describing his line may be obtained for fifty cents from Hibben knives, Box 7, Manti, Utah. Prices for his knives range from $18.00 to $185.00. The Parker knife sells for $78.00. Gil also makes swords and spears to order.

Gil Hibben at work Though he counts three blacksmiths and a foundry worker on the family tree, Gil began making knives on his own as a hobby in 1963 and had to teach himself the craft as he went along. " My first knives were pretty crude compared to what I'm doing now.". But Gil learned fast and the hobby grew into a business. It took a lot of sacrifice to build the business up and he credits his wife, Lira, with great patience during the lean years when they were living on Pork and beans. Gil's friends say that even now his work is improving all the time. In an increasingly mechanised age of mass production Gil is a rarity, a lone artisan who takes pains and pride in his work.

Outside his business, Gil is a man of diverse interests and talents. Active in his church, he has sung in Salt Lake City's famous Tabernacle Choir since 1958. An avid hunter with a bow, snare and rifle, he bagged a Boone and Crockett record caribou on a trip to Alaska in 1966.

Gil took up karate in 1964 after six years study of judo and two and one-half years of Aikido. His first teacher was Mills Crenshaw of Salt Lake City , a former pupil of Ed Parker. "It didn't take me long to realise that karate is the ultimate form of self-defence," Gil says. He also regards his karate as an exhilarating physical outlet and works out regularly under Sterling Peacock, another Parker protege in Salt Lake City. Gil foresees a tremendous future for tournament competition in Karate and for American karate in general, which he believes is now equal to or better than many Asian schools.

The Parker Knife In his few idle hours Gil reads the mail he receives from Hibben knife owners all over the world. A number of them are combat servicemen in Vietnam. Gil's concern with what he feels to be inadequate materials and design in the standard American Military knives inspired the creation of several knives in his line including the Parker model. Says Gil; "It may cost a private a month's wages to buy a superior fighting weapon, but when it comes down to a matter of life and death, the money is well worth it. Gil has letters from servicemen who swear that having a Hibben knife meant the difference between life and death in a tight situation. One very satisfied customer in Vietnam used one of Gil Hibben's to cut his way out of a helicopter after it was shot down. While the enemy riddled the door with bullets he chopped through the aluminium body on the opposite side and made his escape with the rest of the crew. As Gil says "To know that something you made has meant that much is an awfully good feeling. It makes everything worthwhile".