Monday, October 4, 2010

The CUMA RAM Tactical Pen, designed by Master Waysun Johnny Tsai.

Tsai on the cover of Inside Kung-fu Magazine in 2007.

Tactical Pens have been one of those industry trends whose popularity just doesn't seem to subside. It's likely that the tactical pen craze won't subside, ever, because it's such a simple idea that makes amazingly great sense. You obviously can't always have your knife, firearm or other favored weapon on your person due to societal restrictions, like when you fly or go to court etc. But being "knife & gun people", we usually always want something on us that can act as a force multiplier. It makes sense to have a variety of options to carry for personal defense in different environments. Tactical pens are perfect for situations where firearms are prohibited, and the carry of an edged weapon may be a bit dicey. Unlike standard kubotans, they serve a practical dual purpose, seeing as they're high quality writing instruments.
The RAM's wickedly pointed tip.
A ballpoint pen, even one that looks blatantly weaponized as some on the market do, can go far more places with you than your favorite folder or handgun. A metal ballpoint pen that has extra knurling or machining to enhance grip is just a smart, simple and tactically savvy option for every day carry. My first tactical pen was the Benchmade model 1100, with a black tip & black ink. Since Benchmade's launch of their pen line several years ago, a flood of tactical writing pens have become available, and are popular with regular ol' citizens like myself, cops, firemen and other public safety and law enforcement personnel. The advantage of most of these pens over their cheap, plastic every day counterparts, is their strength, and ink style. Most of the tactical pens available on the market today are made of aircraft grade aluminum, or in some cases steel or other hi-tech materials. Benchmade even manufactures a variation of their classic pen in Damascus! You'll even find tactical pens made by noted custom knifemakers like Rick Hinderer and Allen Elishewitz.

Most of these designs also sport durable pressurized ink cartridges, like the ones pioneered by companies like Fisher, makers of the famous Space Pen. These types of ink refills usually consist of a steel ink tube filled with ink under extreme pressure, giving them the ability to write on textured surfaces, vertically, and in varying temperature extremes. Pressurized ink cartridges won't fail you when your fifty cent Bic pen will.
For the last few weeks, I've been carrying and using my new tactical pen, the CUMA RAM pen, designed by overall martial arts expert & Master Kung-Fu instructor, Waysun Johnny Tsai, who calls the Chicago area home. Waysun (rhymes with "Jason") Johnny Tsai (pronounced 'Tai', silent "s") has been training in martial arts since early childhood, and he's been teaching Kung Fu and self defense for well over 25 years. Master Tsai is also the founder of the C.U.M.A. (Combined Universal Martial Applications) system.
According to the CUMA manual's tenth page, explaining the "Tao of CUMA":
"CUMA is a “Hybrid Fighting System” designed to develop a practitioner's skills in the art of PRACTICAL martial art applications, nothing less." 
  "It focuses on all ranges of practical armed and unarmed combat." "The four fighting ranges in CUMA are: 1) Outside striking range. 2) Close range striking . 3) Standing grappling and throws. 4) Ground fighting."  These range principles remind me quite a bit of some concepts that were presented when I was training in Filipino martial arts in 2005 & 2006. In fact, amusingly enough, Johnny is ready for folks with some martial arts experience to say something similar.  The manual continues on:  "In fact, if you are an experienced martial artist, you will probably have plenty of “we do something just like that in our system, it’s called…” moments. That’s the point. Don’t worry about what a technique is called, worry about how it works."  CUMA seems to stress the form & function of techniques, not complicated names and labels. Johnny's instructional DVD series is outstanding, and I'll be unleashing a separate review on his DVDs within the next few weeks. From a few email conversations, facebook contact, and watching Tsai's instructional series, it's clear that this man is a born teacher. As I told him via email, he seems to have the Heart of a Lion and the Soul of a Teacher. Tsai's CUMA instructionals are presented clearly, and are a perfect way for "visual learners" like myself to grasp and implement the simple and effective concepts that make up the CUMA system. Again, I'll be presenting another review on his DVD series later on...

 Around the neck the CUMA RAM wears comfortably and stays out of the way.
To learn more about Johnny, as he's called by friends, visit the official site of Tsai's Kung Fu International.
The CUMA RAM Pictured here, next to my Alpha Innovations flat ended polymer kubotan, they're about the same length, 6 inches.

Before we continue, let's take a quick look at the basic specs for the pen.

      • 100% Made in U.S.A.
  • 6 inches in length tip to tip (with the clip on)
  • Crafted from ultra durable aircraft grade aluminum
  • Made to fit most 3 7/8" standard pen refills including: Parker, Hauser, Fisher (it comes with a black Hauser cartridge)
  • Ergonomic design for comfortable writing (very comfortable, IMO)
  • Extra large lanyard hole capable of fitting a paracord, dog-tag (ball chain) chain, or key ring
  • Features the patented "High Speed, Quick release, Clip-Cap" eliminating the need for a sheath (this feature is genius IMO)
  • Stainless steel clip (very strong)
I was glad to learn that these new pens are made in America, well... not just America, but basically in Tsai's proverbial back yard! Johnny and his business partners have an impressive 30,000 square foot manufacturing/cnc (computer numerical controlled) facility in Illinois where they make everything on the aircraft grade alluminum pen except for the ink refills and rubber o-rings, impressively, that includes the screws, & the stainless steel clip as well. I must say, the quality USA manufacturing on these pens shows immediately, it's apparent from the moment you pull the pen out of the plastic tube it ships in. My CUMA RAM came shipped attached to an olive drab paracord loop, the perfect length to wear around my thick neck!

This is definitely NOT another "me too" design put out by some fly-by-night company intent on making a buck off of 'We, the knife & gear loving public'. The CUMA RAM pen is a fine example of thoughtful design, serious engineering, and mega high quality manufacture.

The CUMA RAM sans its quick-release clip cap. The more blunt end can also work effectively as a kubotan-esque control device without the risk of puncturing an assailant's soft tissue.

     Despite the pen's 6 inch length, it's extremely comfortable around the neck, and I've found it doesn't interfere at all with every day tasks or movement of any kind. The stainless clip attaches the pen securely to any sort of cloth pocket, be it jeans, a hooded sweatshirt's 'kangaroo' pouch pocket, or my usual khaki chino shorts. The end of the clip is nicely fluted upward, so insertion into pockets, pack straps and other materials is struggle free. I'm 6 foot 4 inches tall, and about 300 lbs. When I wear the CUMA RAM on the included length of paracord, the tip rests just about where my solarplexus is.
The CUMA RAM, in black, next to Benchmade's original tactical pen, the model 1100-2, also in black. The CUMA is just a bit longer than Benchmade's original tactical pen.

The RAM's quick release cap is ingenious, a feature I personally have not seen on any other tactical pen.  The quick release cap allows the wearer to constantly have the pen right around the neck, ready for action, and instead of fumbling to unscrew, or un-clip something, all you've got to do is pull downward, that's it.  Off comes the entire pen, while the clip end of the quick release cap stays around your neck.  At that point, not only do you have the wicked pointed end to work with, you also have a slightly rounded-off cylindrical butt end that can also be used for compliance and pressure point techniques with less danger of puncturing an assailant or a suspect (if you're in law enforcement).
The pen is set apart from the crowd yet again, with its o-ring sealed quick-release clip cap, wear it around your neck and if the need arises, simply pull downward, the clip cap stays attached to you, while the pen comes free, and the business end is ready for action.

In addition to the type of comfort that makes it easy to wear all day, I should mention also the sheer range of options for carry of the CUMA.  As mentioned and demonstrated, I found it was a snap to wear around the neck, yet you can carry it as you would any other pen as well.  Clip one into your checkbook, tuck one away in your car's visor.  I've even carried the CUMA RAM clipped into my strong-side pants pocket as I do with folding knives.  It's small enough that just as with a standard, ordinary pen, there are tons of carry options, but it's long enough, and obviously ingeniously designed and engineered to the point where it can be used as an effective self defense weapon if the need arises.  I have worn this pen everywhere, from the bank to the book store and one thing is certain, it's a conversation starter!  Those rare strangers in public who are familiar with kubotans & tactical pens give it a knowing glance, maybe trying to figure out what manufacturer it's produced by.  Others (like the wide-eyed grocery checker) are bewildered and have no idea what the object around my neck is!  Of course, it's only a conversation starter when worn outside of your shirt or jacket, and if you want to go low-pro, it does so very well, and barely prints under clothing.

The CUMA RAM wears extremely comfortablly in all environments, it lays nice and flat under clothing, and doesn't "print" too much under jackets/shirts etc, if concealability is important to you. Over a t-shirt it's very light and you'll forget it's there until you need to write with it. Even in the car, with a seatbelt on, it stays out of the way.

As noted below, I really didn't put much effort into these quick pokes at the cardboard, I shudder to think what the pointed end of the CUMA RAM could do if driven into say, the arms and hands of an attacker with real force.  Don't forget the less tapered end under the quick release cap, it can function more like a kubotan without severe risk of injury to your attacker as well.  I used a reverse grip sort of picking motion here and still managed to put the business end of the pen through the cardboard mailing container like it was butter.
These are the product of light little "love taps" with the pointed business end of the RAM, on a shipping box of thick corrugated cardboard, I used very little force to produce these holes, and many of the visible areas are covered in multiple layers of strong shipping tape.

If you're in the Chicago area, check out Tsai's Kung Fu International at

A flyer for Tsai's Kung Fu International, in Chicago.
Waysun Johnny Tsai's CUMA RAM pens retail for about a hundred bucks, and for now, they're available via the CUMA RAM website.  I'm guessing we'll see them more widely available through other sites & dstributors as the word gets out on these very well engineered pens.  Most of us will be happy with the standard black body pen, but Tsai is big on offering something for everybody, and the pens are also available in a host of other colors.  All pens ship with a paracord lanyard and an instructional dvd.  I've been watching Tsai's dvd series, and as I mentioned, the man is a born teacher, I'll bring you more on the DVDs next week.

There are tons of other pens out there, but in my opinion, this is a lot of pen for your money.  Just the quick release cap alone makes this pen more valuable to me than my good old Benchmade 1100-2 pen, and the versatility offered by the fact that these pens will accept nearly any pressurized ink cartridge, to me, that's just gold.  Overall, I think this is my favorite tactical pen design from any manufacturer.  Tsai's design just makes sense, and is effective both in concept and manufacturing execution, not to mention it's built like the proverbial tank.

So, we've got a renowned real world martial artist and defensive expert, and he's got this great design for a tactical pen.  Sounds like a win to me!  Before I had the opportunity to feel this design in action, I wouldn't have thought there was much a person (even an experienced martial artist) could do to improve upon the current state of tactical writing pens.  Now my whole world is thrown into chaos!  If Johnny Tsai can improve the tactical pen, what else can he improve?  The economy?  The American automobile industry?  The Middle East "peace" process?  Hmm, Waysun Johnny Tsai for President?  I'm willing to guess that his current job suits him just fine, but I'm pretty sure he'd get my vote!

Another great promo shot of the CUMA RAM in 3 colors, pictured with Benchmade's sweet Bedlam auto, which Johnny uses in one of his defensive training DVDs.

Damn dude, look at those perfect lines.  What a magnificent pen this is!

The CUMA RAM comes standard with a German Hauser brand ink cartridge, but it will accept most other pressurized ink cartridges from manufacturers like Fisher (Space Pen) and Parker, the pen company based in the UK. This pen writes flawlessly.

Waysun Johnny Tsai also has a signature model fixed blade fighting knife produced by Idaho's TOPS Knives, and rumor has it that the CUMA brand may be working on potentially manufacturing knives out of the same facility where the pens are made!  How cool would that be!?

You owe it to yourself to check out a CUMA RAM pen, it writes like a beast (a smooth beast!) and it could potentially save the day for yourself or a loved one.  It's a smart design that in my opinion is worth every penny of its recommended price,


aeric_7734 said...

Good stuff. I honestly would like to get one of these tactical pens, though I'm hard pressed to see a real difference between the models and manufacturers out there. Certain people, though, would be far less receptive to that cost than I.

Aaron said...

if you prefer a more affordable model, the Smith & Wesson & Schrade (both made by Taylor Cutlery Brands) are supposed to be very very good for the $25 range.

Jes said...

I really like my TOPS tactical pen.
not trying to push it or anything, just another good, affordable option

Aaron said...

Nice Jes, don't worry, I'm never worried about people trying to push anything, if I get obvious spam on post comments, I'll erase it, but I love to get recommendations from real people. I have heard that the TOPs pen is great, Johnny Tsai actually uses one in one of his self defense DVDs, which I'll be reviewing soon, I may have to order a TOPs pen anyway, aren't they pretty inexpensive, like $20?

Jes said...

yeah I think it was about 25 shipped, not bad, but it took a while to get out the door fyi.

Brent Beshara said...

Great work Aaron, very extensive and informative article.

Thank you for this post!

Continued success,