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There’s a strange relationship between martial arts weapons and UK law. Or, at least, there’s a nondescript relation between the martial arts weapons available on modern websites and the Criminal Justice Act (Offensive Weapons Order) of 1988, introduced by Douglas Hurd and subsequently modified in 2002 by John Denham, then Minister of State at the Home Office.

According to UK law, as embodied in the Offensive Weapons Order, a great deal of commonly available martial arts weapons seem to be illegal. That is to say, butterfly knives – which are found in great profusion on every website selling martial arts weapons – are explicitly banned in Section 141, division i) of Article 2 of that bill.

Section 141, division i) of the Offensive Weapons Order describes the martial arts weapons commonly known as butterfly knives thus: “the weapon sometimes known as a balisong, or “butterfly knife”, being a blade enclosed by its handle, which is designed to split down the middle, without the operation of a spring or other mechanical means, to reveal the blade”. Anyone looking for martial arts weapons on the net will find sites amply stocked with these knives – though the photographs and descriptions contained therein don’t make it at all clear whether these butterfly knives are designed to “split down the middle” – or whether they’ve been modified in some way to circumvent that law. It’s certainly true that the butterfly knives remembered from a youth in the 1980s weren’t martial arts weapons at all, but complicated oversized penknife-style contraptions that were as likely as not to cut off the fingers of the wielder when he or she tried to open one. A far cry from some of the rather disturbingly beautiful (and apparently static-bladed) martial arts weapons openly sold on UK websites.

Some of the other martial arts weapons available on the internet these days, however, range from the definitely illegal (the shuriken, or “throwing star”, also known as the Death Star, which appears on one site photographed as a blowdart) to the frankly bizarre: a site visited during the course of research for this article offered, among its martial arts weapons, a bright yellow rubber revolver. Presumably to aid in the training of self defence?

It’s difficult to know where the line between genuine martial arts practice – which legitimately requires the use of what are effectively showcase martial arts weapons in its disciplines – and thinly-veiled Rambo desires, is drawn. The only thing one can say for certain is that wherever it’s drawn, that draughtsmanship takes place on the internet – in the area between genuine supply and demand of martial arts weapons for display and training purposes, and the trade in potentially lethal devices for heaven knows what ends.

The relationship between the law and those martial arts weapons is as inconclusive as the location of the line itself – which leaves responsibility for the safe sale of martial arts weapons exclusively with the sites doing the selling. How they’re going to police it is anyone’s guess.