Cold Steel Kobun Tanto review

In this article, I’m going to review the Cold Steel Kobun Tanto blade and try and help you not only see if it’s worth your money, but specifically discover how well this particular knife compares to others in its class.

But before we get to that, let’s briefly talk about the tanto blade itself, its history, and how it became part of the Cold Steel family.

But first, please take a moment to see how well the Cold Steel Kobun compares to other great knives on the market today.

Cold Steel SRKCold Steel Survival Rescue Knife (SRK)$$$
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Ka-Bar Fighting KnifeKa-Bar Fighting Knife$$
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SOG S37-K Seal Team KnifeSOG Seal Team S37-K$$$
cold-steel-recon-1Cold Steel Recon 1$$$

Why Tanto?  And Why Cold Steel?     

The tanto-style blade goes all the way back to the days of the Samurai, from 781 AD to 1150 AD. It has been a staple in Asian Martial Arts blades, and since the 1980s, a common style used in tactical blades.

The word “Tanto” has nothing to do with The Lone Ranger. It is Japanese, and actually refers to the point of the blade, translating loosely as, “much point.” It was the preferred point on most Japanese swords and knives, such as the Katana, Wakizashi, Daito, etc.  The point was so popular on knives that it became almost standard.

Cold Steel Kobun

A tanto point is simply a fairly straight or slightly curved blade that has a very acute sweep curve up to the point in the last few inches. These are seldom seen anymore, except on Japanese swords and historical-styled knives.

In the 1980s, Lynn Thompson created a company called Cold Steel, dedicated to making the strongest, sharpest knives in the world. His first model, and the one that put them on the map, was the Recon Tanto, with a modified tanto-style blade referred to as an American, or Westernized Tanto.

Instead of a sharp sweep, the American Tanto actually has two separate blades and points. The secondary blade, from the tip to the secondary point, has a saber-grind, whereas the main blade has a hollow-grind.

The secondary blade and tip make for some interesting uses not possible with other blade styles. They are great for delicate jobs like opening boxes, scraping, and “flick” cuts when there is no room for a traditional cut—such as in a car engine, or other confined space. The tip is incredibly strong, and really can penetrate car tops, and oil cans with ease, depending on the steel used in the blade. Most American Tantos also have a slight belly to the main blade, making them acceptable slicers.

Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling fixed blade knives currently for sale on Amazon:

1) Mossy Oak
2) Ka-Bar USMC
3) Cold Steel Survivalist
5) Camp Lore PR-4
4) Cold Steel San Mai SRK

Enter, The Kobun

The Japanese word ‘Kobun’, like most Asian words, has many meanings depending on how it is used, and really does not translate to English exactly. One meaning is that Kobun is one of the oldest styles of Japanese writing known. Another meaning is “soldier,” but that meaning is usually only applied to members of the Japanese Mafia, known as the Yakuza.

Whichever meaning you prefer, there is no doubt that the Cold Steel Kobun is an elegantly styled knife. The softly sweeping belly of the main blade, the thin cross section, serious-looking point and secondary blade have a certain artistic beauty that is lacking on many other models.

Where the Recon Tanto is a front-line bruiser, the Kobun is a delicate ballerina with a bite.

The Kobun is designed to be used as a boot knife, or concealable tactical blade. The clip on the friction sheath is on the right side, so the sheath can clip to the inside of a boot, or your waistband, keeping the knife well concealed, but easily accessible.

Here are some of the specs:

  • Weight: 4.4 oz.
  • Blade Material: AUS 8
  • Blade Length: 5-1/2”
  • Total Length: 9.78”
  • Blade Thickness: 1/8”
  • Scales: Kray-Ex

A Mix of Beauty and Strength

Even though the Kobun is reasonably priced, it has many features found on expensive custom fighting knives. One of the first things you will notice when you get a Kobun is how light the knife is. At a mere 4.4 oz, it is lighter than some folders. You can carry this all day, and forget you have it on. 

The next thing that will strike you is the thinness of the blade and handle. It lays against your side like it was custom-fitted just for you. There is no gouging, poking or rubbing, either in a boot, or in your waistband. The blade, like with all CS products, comes scary-sharp, and the thin blade feels like it would make some serious cuts. AUS 8 steel is tough, and takes a great edge on almost any stone or sharpener. It also resists rust very well. I’ve reviewed many other AUS 8 knives, so there is no point in rehashing it’s incredible cutting power here. I will say that the points on the Kobun are just plain wicked.

The checkered Kray-Ex handle is very grippy, and surprisingly secure for one so thin. The knife does not try to twist or shift at all, in any grip. The handle is on the thin side, to aid in conceal-ability.

If you have really large hands, this may be a problem, but then again, I am not sure. My hands are about medium-sized, and the scales almost feel custom-made. The whole knife feels light, maneuverable and incredibly quick. The small blade guard never hung up on the draw, even though I tried several different draw techniques. It was smooth and fast no matter how I drew it. The knife fits the sheath perfectly with no rattle, and the only way I could make the blade accidentally come out of it was gripping the bottom of the sheath and swinging it like a tennis racquet.

Kobun vs the Competition     

Cold Steel Recon 1 Tanto

Cold Steel has three other non-folding tanto-style knives that are popular; the Cold Steel Recon Tanto, (Cold Steel’s second production knife), the Cold Steel Tanto Lite, and the Cold Steel GI Tanto.   

Countless articles have been written about the Recon Tanto, and it is a legend in the knife industry. Introduced in 1986-87, it was offered as a cheaper alternative to their original Tanto. I am lucky enough to have one of the first-generation US-made Recon Tantos. I carried it as a personal knife when I was in the Marines, and it has been all over the world with me.

The Recon Tanto came out with brass fittings, early Kraton scales, and a Carbon V steel blade. It was (and still is) one of the toughest, most durable, and dependable tactical knives ever made. The newer models are made in Taiwan (I think) and have stainless steel fittings, Kray-Ex scales, and an AUS 8 blade. They are still top-shelf, but in my opinion, they are inferior to the older models. It may just be my incurable sense of nostalgia.

The GI Tanto is pretty much a tanto-styled Bushman, which is one of the greatest knives in Cold Steel’s line-up. It is a solid piece of tough 1055 high carbon tool steel. The old style models (like mine) have a simple paracord wrap for scales. The newer ones have polypropylene scales, which in my opinion is a step backwards.

Poly scales are almost indestructible, but if you needed some paracord—for first-aid, to tie something, make a trap, etc—with the old model, all you had to do was unwrap the handle and you still had a perfectly usable knife. On the up-side, the newer model comes with a Secure-Ex sheath, a good improvement over the original nylon sheath.

Cold Steel GI Tanto
Cold Steel GI Tanto

The GI Tanto is a cross between a vicious tactical knife, and a life-saving outdoor knife—sort of like an offspring of a fling between a cute Recon Tanto and a lonely Cold Steel Bushman.  And it does a good job of being the best of both worlds.

It is marketed as being an important part of your wilderness survival gear. You can’t skin a Woolly Mammoth with it like you can with a Bushman, but it is a better fighting knife than a Bushman.

You can’t have everything. But the GI Tanto is a great all-around compromise.     

The Tanto Lite is a less expensive tanto-version of the Cold Steel Outdoorsman. A thinner blade with less expensive materials, it is an acceptable outdoor knife, although the tanto blade is not the best style for an outdoor knife. It features poly scales, a German 4116 Krupp blade (which I actually prefer over AUS 8, even though it is cheaper), and an inexpensive but fully functional nylon sheath.      

It’s somewhat hard to compare the Kobun to the Recon Tanto, GI Tanto, and Tanto Lite because they are all designed for different purposes. The Recon Tanto is a battlefield bruiser with an attitude. The GI Tanto is a tactical/outdoor knife for when the Zombie Apocalypse happens, a last-ditch survival knife for when the chips are really down.  The Tanto Lite is a medium-duty outdoor knife for those who really like the tanto-style blade.

The Kobun is a light, fast, tactical blade designed for easy concealment and rapid deployment. The Kobun will not stand up to the extreme use that the Recon and GI Tantos are designed for, but it probably has equal utility to the Tanto Lite, while being more comfortable to carry out of sight.

The Bottom Line

The Kobun is an outstanding tactical knife for Police Officers, a military back-up knife, people who prefer a non-folding knife for EDC, people who want to carry concealed in a boot or inside the pants, or a lightweight self-defense knife to keep under a pillow. In a self defense situation, it can hold its own, depending on the users skill, and of course, luck. It is tough, sharp, light and reasonable-priced.

What more could you ask for in a lightweight knife?

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