1. The Story Behind the Greatest Knife of All Time

    The Natrix is certainly not the best knife of all time. It runs a budget steel and has nothing nicer than G10 for handle materials. But best and greatest are different. To me, greatest has an element of narrative power to it--someone's exploits might be technically amazing, but when there is a dash of storytelling to them, that, to me, is when they become the stuff of legends--something great. And there is plenty of story to the Natrix.


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    It starts with the Zero Tolerance ZT0777, the first of the Triple Ubers. These three knives--the ZT0777, ZT0888, and ZT0999 have all pushed what is possible in knife making. Each was a new high water mark, an achievement in the craft of cutlery. The ZT0777 tried to do something that literally only KAI USA could do. You see, they have the patent on brazed blades, that is the composite process that results in a spine of one steel and the cutting edge of another. In the case of ZT0777 they were attempting to make a composite of Damascus and another steel. Even if there wasn't a patent on the brazing process, to this day, no one, custom or production, has attempted this feat.

    But as is often the case when you push the envelope, it sometimes pushes back. The process of making the ZT0777 was difficult and in the end only a handful of the composite blade versions were released. The run was finished out with M390 blades. But KAI USA tried for a very long time. During that trial and error period, Microtech, maker of autos of all kind, decided to blatantly copy the ZT0777 and released their version, with the much less ambitious blade steel (Elmax, if I remeber correctly), as the Matrix. When word got out, the knife world went, justifiably, bananas.

    One thing that people don't seem to understand in the knife world, is that designs cannot be subject to intellectual property protection, either patents or trademarks. Patents are designed to protect inventions and trademarks are designed to protect branding elements (logos, symbols, and wordmarks...very rarely sounds too). A knife design, how it looks, is neither an invention nor a branding element. So it may be possible to patent a locking mechanism, which happens all of the time (and is relevant later in the story of the Natrix), but it is not possible to patent a knife design. I suppose a sufficiently complex and different knife might be eligible for patent protection, something like the Caswell Linkage karambit, but it would a rarity. And so, when Anthony Marifone and Microtech blantantly stole the design for the ZT0777, despite the hew and cry online, there was little KAI USA could do. They had to watch while a lesser maker simply ripped them off.

    When they decided to make the ZT0770, a smaller, tamer version of the ZT0777, they again were beat to market by Marifone the intellectual property thief. Microtech released the Mini Matrix. Eventually both knives faded out of Microtech's line and I don't believe either were especially good sellers, but it was an episode that did real harm to the knife business. Makers complain about their designs being ripped off by Kevin Johns and the Chinese, but here we have someone in America doing something just as bad. In my mind it is worse because unlike the folks at Kevin Johns, Marfione has the talent and capacity to make something better, he just chooses not to. Stealing other people's good ideas is easier, apparently.

    And this was not the end to Marfione's pilfery of KAI USA's good ideas. A few years later, ZT introduced a variant on the framelock, call the subframe lock.


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    It first came to market on the ZT0454 and has since been incorporated into designs all across the KAI USA line up. Well, Marfione's laziness and greed got the better of him again and he copied the subframe lock and released it on his knives. But this time he stole an invention, one that was subject to intellectual property protection, and KAI called him on it. After a lawyer letter to Microtech from KAI USA, they ceased making the subframe lock. But again, it is a sign of Marfione's nature--three times he has stolen from KAI.

    So when I got my press preview of the Kershaw 2017 line up I saw the Natrix and I literally laughed out loud. Matrix--Natrix...HA! Is it a portmanteau for Not Matrix? Maybe....Sitting in my home office, at around 10:30 PM, I chuckled. Kershaw is producing a copy of a rip off of the ZT0777. Talk about making lemonade...But then I read the copy in the catalog more closely and it is clear that they are taking aim at Marfione--they mention someone really liking the design. That is GREAT!

    But there is a deeper level here, one that confirms for me that this is the greatest knife story, and knife, of all time. Being a fan of dinosaurs has led me to an appreciation for taxonomy and I remembered in the crevices of my brain the word "natrix." After a chat with a fellow in the know, I had full recall--Natrix is the genus of a snake, in particular, a group of grass snakes. So here you have the Natrix, a knife aimed at Anthony Marfione, and it is named after a snake in the grass. How wonderfully delicious!

    In life, as adults, we rarely get the chance to give someone their comeuppance. Growing up is a process of learning how to move on from folks that are assholes and jerks to you, knowing that seeking vengeance is expensive and rarely healthy. But sometimes the stars align and you get that chance. This is KAI USA's chance. This is a clear broadside aimed at Marfione. I wish them all of the luck in the world.

    And so I am going to go buy my Natrix, not because I am all that interested in the knife, but because I want to show support for KAI USA in their battle against lesser craftsmen that act like theives. It sucks to have stuff stolen. It is worse when you get punished for trying to achieve greatness. But it is awesome that you get to make a profit on giving some snake his comeuppance.

    The Kershaw Natrix--the greatest knife of all time. Oh and #fuckthematrix


    The Story Behind the Greatest Knife of All Time
    Author: Tony Sculimbrene
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