Sifu Waysun Johnny Tsai, of Tsai's Kung Fu in Chicago, is one such "pure" martial artist. He's made a career of teaching martial arts in many different ways to people from widely varied backgrounds and professions. Waysun is the son of Grandmaster John Chi Yuan Tsai, one of the world's foremost teachers of Shaolin Kung Fu in modern times.
If Waysun Johnny Tsai's name is new to you, it won't be long before you're hearing it in many more places, in connection with the worlds of self defense and tactical products. Johnny is the founder of his own CUMA system, that's Combined Universal Martial Applications. He has more than a quarter of a century of experience teaching martial arts. Johnny Tsai is still a young man, it makes sense that when your father is a grandmaster, that you're going to get an early start, and lots of individual learning at a young age!
SiJo (founder) Johnny Tsai defines his CUMA sytem as follows; "C.U.M.A. is a “Hybrid Fighting System” designed to develop a practitioner’s skills in the art of PRACTICAL martial art applications. It focuses on all ranges of practical armed and unarmed combat."
I have watched some of Tsai's CUMA instructional DVDs, and as somebody with a modest bit of on & off martial arts experience since I was 13 (that's 20! years ago, gah!) I can say that Tsai's CUMA system IS indeed practical. It seems to take an amalgamation of some of the most logical and effective martial arts techniques across different personal combat ranges and fuse them into a practical grab-bag of knowledge & muscle memory.
|Johnny Tsai making a statement on the cover of a 2007 issue of Inside Kung-Fu|
|This is a gorgeous piece of work intended for hard use, I would not think twice about using this as a camp or self defense blade, if the need arose!|
Mike Fuller and company over at Tops have been putting out a wide array of hard use tactical knives for a long time. Mike's in-house crew is comprised of a group of people with real-life experience in many different fields. From the Tops website; "Our Knives are TOOLS designed, and built, using the extensive knowledge and REAL LIFE experiences of 12 Operators with backgrounds in the Military, Law Enforcement, Outdoor Professions, and the Martial Arts."
Tops has designs that are created in-house, with the input of the core group & lots of other knives which are designed by experts in various fields like military, law enforcement, survival and martial arts. Past collaborators include knife writer/survival expert Terrill Hoffman, Tracker Tom Brown (the knife used in the film 'The Hunted'), survival expert Ron Hood, and Canadian Special Forces Vet & knife-maker Brent Beshara, just to name a small but impressive handful! The aforementioned Steven Dick, one of my knife-writing heroes & a man with a ton of military experience even designed a great all around camp/outdoor knife called the Pasayten. Tops has always impressed me with the sheer number of designs they have produced over the years. They even make folding knives! Their website is a virtual treasure trove of knives for every imaginable use, from big survival knives, to small covert neck knives, they even make a "tactical steak knife"! Tops, as a company does have a refreshing sense of humor in some of their product names, but their knives are certainly no joke. They have a hardcore reputation for real world use, both by military & law enforcement folks, as well as adventurers & civilians.
It's no surprise that Waysun Johnny Tsai would team up with Fuller & Tops at some point. It seems like a pretty natural collaboration. Tsai is one of the foremost street survival teachers out there, who has been practicing martial arts since early childhood, a man who was practically born with a combat mindset. The CUMA Evolution is a nice, large fixed blade with a beautifully clean looking spearpoint, and an additional sharpened edge on top.
Top Edge Blade Length: 4"
Bottom Edge Blade Length: 4 5/8"
Steel: 1095 HighCarbon RC 56-58 (Rockwell Scale steel hardness rating)
Handle: "Rocky Mountain Tread" Black Linen Micarta
Blade Color: Black Traction Coating
Sheath: Nylon with a hard insert.
Waysun Johnny Tsai told me;
"The Cuma Evolution was designed to function both as a combat and a sportsman's knife. The double edged blade was designed for both piercing and slashing. I wanted a combat blade that had great balance and enough cutting edge so that if it should have it's tip broken in the field, it would still have plenty of cutting power."
Wow! Statements like that are why it's clear to me, and many of Tsai's associates, that although his roots are in a fairly traditional martial art, Kung-Fu, that he brings a very modern, open & urban mindset both to his CUMA fighting system, his teachings, and any products he has a design role in producing. I realize that the term "Kung-Fu", because of poplar culture, and probably a bit of Western ignorance, has become a very broad, non-specific sort of catch-all phrase for many martial arts fighting styles of Chinese origin. I'm simply trying to say that it's apparent that Johnny Tsai is a master at combining the most useful pieces of martial knowledge and fusing them together, so they work well together. I am most impressed that Tsai seems to have designed the key points of this blade to be useful in real-world applications, for soldiers, hunters and adventurers. Again, that just speaks well of his "big picture" mindset. I can't wait to see what Sifu Waysun Johnny Tsai brings the world of tactical knives & weapons in the coming years.
|The rear/unmarked side of the blade. Look at those clean lines and gorgeous spearpoint tip! The back edge is sharpened as well.|
"Micarta is a trademark of Norplex-Micarta industrial high pressure laminates and refers to a composite of linen, canvas, paper, fiberglass, carbon fiber or other fabric in a thermosetting plastic"
|An excellent, more artistic photo crafted by my great friend Eric Bauer, who did some gun writing early on when I launched this site in 2008. See more of Eric's fantastic HDR photography @ www.flickr.com/photos/mraeric/5197184829/|
I had lost a significant amount of feeling in that hand up to my wrist, I still had the dexterity to grasp the knife, but I was losing fine control because of the cold. Of course, this is nothing to the conditions that professional soldiers, outdoors-people & hunters might face, I just wanted to see what sort of a grip the RMT handle provided with cold, wet hands. I'm happy to say that I never lost control of the knife, not even while choking back on the handle, as you might for light chopping, with a 3 finger grip. Tops' Rocky Mountain Tread design works as intended, plus it looks really cool.
|A better look at the micarta Rocky Mountain Tread handle slabs, which provide an excellent grip with dry or wet hands.|
I'm confident that Johnny Tsai's design, as manufactured by Tops Knives USA, can take pretty much anything you can throw at it, I'll update readers as I have a chance to really let it perform. Right out of the box it was shipped in, the CUMA Evolution was hair-shaving sharp on both edges. I always emphasize this because on knives that are made from thick, beefy stock, as this one is, it can be harder to get that acute, scary sharpness, even straight from the factory. The back edge shaved, just as the primary edge did, but it took just a tad more pressure to make the arm-hairs fly. Still, the back edge sharpness is impressive, and way, way more than good. I'm pretty impressed when the secondary edge on a knife is sharper than the main edge on many other knives! As far as manufacturing executions goes, everything on my CUMA Evolution is perfect. Bevels and lines are clean, when held to a bright light source, there are no gaps or wide spots between the blade steel & the handle material. There are no uncomfortable areas or 'hot spots' anywhere on the handle that I could find, and I tried a wide variety of grips. Tops Knives gets an "A+" for manufacturing quality, the knife is clean, and looks & feels just about perfect.
The CUMA Evolution comes standard in a ballistic nylon sheath, with a hard polymer insert that carries the blade. There are 2 very high quality hook & loop (Velcro) straps that secure the handle, and they work very well. The sheath is MOLLE/PALS webbing compatible and the only real limit to attachment styles is probably your imagination & your other gear. The sheath also comes with a long length of OD paracord, to use as a thigh tie, I'm assuming, or for the user to use however they find it most useful. There's a nice pouch built into the sheath that will fit a wide range of multi-tools, a folder, or a pocket stone. Some people may want to have a Kydex rig custom made, but for my needs, and for many of us, the ballistic nylon sheath included with the knife is more than adequate.
I'm very impressed overall with the design and manufacture of the CUMA Evolution. Johnny Tsai is a very interesting, multi-talented guy who definitely knows his way around a knife. Both his lifetime of martial arts experience and his calm intelligence serve him well whether he is teaching, or designing knives & self defense tools. Check out my review of Johnny's fantastic CUMA Ram Tactical Pen, if you missed it a couple months back, it's one of the most well-made items I saw in 2010, as far as overall quality, toughness & design. Speaking of "best of" items, I'm going to come right out and say that the CUMA Evolution knife by Tops & Johnny Tsai is also one of the overall best items I have reviewed this year. If the CUMA Evolution is on your list, you can get it straight from Tops Knives, mine was shipped very quickly, and exceeded all expectations, right out of the box. For more info on Waysun Johnny Tsai, check out his site, Tsai's Kung-Fu, and seriously, no bullshit, his CUMA Ram Pen is the best tactical pen I have used yet, and fits my needs perfectly, check out the CUMA Ram.
I'm really excited to see what projects Johnny Tsai is working on for 2011. I'm willing to bet they'll be smartly designed and multi-purposeful, in addition to being manufactured with very high standards.
|The tool/accessory pocket on the sheath's front.|
|The sheath's reverse with PALS webbing.|
|Another great shot by my great friend Eric Bauer, who did some gun writing early on when I launched this site in 2008. See more of Eric's fantastic HDR photography @ www.flickr.com/photos/mraeric/5197184829/|
|Photo courtesy of blog supporter and friend, Alexander Wood, in New York.|
|Another awesome shot of the Tops/Tsai CUMA Evolution at home in nature. Photo courtesy of my friend Alexander Wood, aka: Urban Lex in NY|