My book Bowie Knife Fights, Fighters, and Fighting Techniques is available from Paladin Press. This blog contains additional information about the bowie knife, as well as the fighting knives of other nations.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Letter from Bowie-Knife Authority Norm Flayderman

I had been thinking about writing my bowie knife book but hadn't yet made much progress when Norm Flayderman's The Bowie Knife: Unsheathing an American Legend was published. I immediately ordered a copy. It's a beautiful book and I have to tuck a napkin under my chin every time I look at it so I don't drool on the color plates. I initially thought Norm's book would leave nothing more to say on the subject, but it is aimed more at the collector, while mine is aimed more at those interested in accounts of fights, so I pressed ahead. There is so much history related to the bowie knife that the subject is far from played out.

A color plate from Norm Flayderman's book

While conducting my research I spoke at length with Norm, whom I found to be an enthusiastic, friendly, and extremely knowledgeable person. I sent him a copy of the book a month ago and got a hand-written response from him last week. His graciousness and generosity of spirit come through in the letter, so I thought I'd share it:
Dear Paul,
Many thanks for the inscribed copy of your new “Bowie Knife Fights” book. This aged antiquarian and knife collector was delighted to be made aware of the latest disclosures and revelations and to be made familiar with the most current Bowie knife research. Your generous inscription on the title page was also much appreciated!

After first receiving the book, I immediately brought it home and ever since have spent quite a bit of time “exploring” it/ reviewing it/ skimming through it (etc.) but have yet to find a peaceful moment to concentrate and read it cover-to-cover. However, it immediately became obvious that you have engaged in deliberate and extensive research to uncover much of the material you have provided the reader and that you have added substantially to the lore and legend of the Bowie knife.

I certainly wish you every success!

Sincerely,
Norm Flayderman
Let me explain why this means a lot to me. In every field, there are people who, in the course of a long career, perhaps teaching or publishing articles and books, come to be acknowledged as authorities. Many of these people guard their status very jealously and resent newcomers who dare to suggest that they might have something to contribute. I have observed this phenomenon many times--the snobbishness is probably most extreme in the field of fencing. Every time someone outside the clique presumes to publish a book on the subject, the "experts"--all of whom have some paradigm-shifting manuscript in the works that never seems to get finished--take time off to burn him at the stake.

On the topic of the bowie knife, I am not a recognized authority and I don't set myself up as one. I have considerable skill as a researcher, though, and through a great many hours in libraries and on the internet have uncovered the numerous accounts of bowie knife use that fill my book. These are mostly from primary sources, so the reader does not have to trust in my expertise. The work stands on its own and every source is footnoted. Nevertheless, there are inevitably going to be people who say, "Who does this guy think he is, writing a book on bowie-knife fighting? I've never heard of him." They assume that I am trying to set myself up as an authority, someone of higher status than themselves, when I'm only acting out of my own interest in the subject.

What has been gratifying to me is that the recognized authorities on the bowie knife, people like Norm Flayderman, Dwight McLemore, and James Keating, have been supportive of my project while the only nit-pickers have been pseudonymous commenters on web forums. That I can live with.

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