Cold Steel Sword Designer, Swordmaster and Stunt Coordinator Luke LaFontaine – The Knife Junkie Podcast (Episode 310)
Luke LaFontaine, Cold Steel sword designer, swordmaster, stunt coordinator and fight choreographer joins Bob “The Knife Junkie” DeMarco on episode 310 of The Knife Junkie Podcast.
LaFontaine has designed numerous swords for Cold Steel (affiliate link), based on historical examples; one even bears his name — the Cold Steel LaFontaine Sword of War (pictured below). Luke has had a life-long passion for Japanese and European swordsmanship and has competed in HEMA tournaments (Historical European Martial Arts).
He works as a 2nd unit director, stunt coordinator, choreographer, swordmaster and stuntman in the movie industry. With 25 years of professional experience his work can be seen in Tin Tin, Green Hornet, Iron Man, Beowulf, Serenity, Master & Commander and many more.
He has worked with directors Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Weir, Jon Faverau,Peter Jackson, and John Woo. He also has had the pleasure of training stars like Brandon Routh (Superman), Brittany Murphy, Katie Sackoff (Battlestar Galactica), George Hamilton and John Neville to name a few. And LaFontaine was the Ancient weapons expert and sword safety/advisor for season 2 & 3 of “Deadliest Warrior.”Luke LaFontaine, Cold Steel Sword Designer, Swordmaster and Stunt Coordinator joins Bob 'The Knife Junkie' DeMarco on episode 310 of The Knife Junkie Podcast. Click To Tweet
Luke LaFontaine, Cold Steel Sword Designer, Swordmaster and Stunt Coordinator
The Knife Junkie Podcast (Episode 310)
Welcome to the Nice Junkie podcast.
Your weekly dose of knife news and information about knives and knife collecting.
Here's your host, Bob the knife Junkie de Marco.
Welcome to the Knife Junkie podcast.
I'm Bob DeMarco.
On this edition of the show, I'm speaking with Luke La Fontaine.
Now when I told my wife I'll be talking with a stuntman on the podcast, she said that's really cool.
When I said he's a fight choreographer, a stunt coordinator in Hollywood, she said, that's really cool.
And then I said he's also an expert in Japanese and European swordsmanship and ancient weaponry and design swords for cold steel.
And she looked at me and she said, what is this guy, your spirit animal?
And I said yes.
If by spirit animal you mean someone who embodies a mastery of skill and talents that I admire greatly, then yes, we can call them that.
Luke can be seen or not in front of and behind the camera on countless film and television productions.
But for you knife junkies, you're seeing him in new video focus series on cold steel.
They are calling the deadliest weapons for the historical take on the weapons they designed there.
I really look forward to catching up with Mr. Lafontaine, but first be sure to like.
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Hey Luke, welcome to the show.
Hey there, good to see you good to be here.
Ohh good well you know I read some of the things you do or are known for but there's a lot more.
You're a second unit director, assistant director.
You do a lot of things it outside of the knife world, but I think I think how people know you initially is your love and mastery of blades.
Where did that all start?
Where that come from?
Boy God I was tiny.
Uh, my father worked in museums when I was a child and my father had a job helping design exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York where I grew up and.
Uh, he knew from a very young age that I had a fascination with swords and weaponry and Knights and armor, and so he'd have to take me to work with him sometimes and they would eventually inevitably get the report over the radio saying Mr. Lafontaine, can you please come downstairs and get your son
off of the night's exhibit in the main hall?
He's done it again, and sure enough, they come down and I'd gone under the rope and was trying to climb up onto the back of the horse with the Knights and.
Summer exhibit they didn't know what to do with me, so they stuck.
My dad stuck me in with the guys in the arm and arms and Armor department.
At the Met and I was mentored by a gentleman by the name of Robert Carroll and Robert was a genius at antique weapons.
He primarily was an expert in ancient firearms.
Matchlocks, flintlocks, wheel locks, but he knew that I was enamored with swords, so he had other gentlemen within the arms and Armor Department.
Start to tutor me and take me through all of the.
The dark corners of the actual arms and arm.
Uh, room so that he had open drawers and they'd show me things and they start quizzing me.
And after about a year and a half, they randomly opened a drawer and say, you know what's in there and I'd say, well, that's a 14th century Italian broadsword.
That is a rapier.
That's a messer.
That's and the growly small Italian Shields, and they kind of roll their eyes and go Oh my God.
He's actually learning all this stuff.
And then from there, uh, it just.
You know compounded itself.
I started studying fencing.
At around 10 years old, by 11 years old I was trying to get into doing kendo.
And I just.
Everything, swords and bladed arts and and knives and swords.
I would read books my father had access to hundreds of books so.
I was reading Richard Burton I was reading.
Uh, getting to look at actual sword treatises.
So by the time I reached my teen years I had amassed a bunch of knowledge and was still.
Daily practicing swordsmanship of you know, various arts where I could and where I could afford to go and train at that age.
I mean, it sounds like you had the education that every boy dreams of.
You know walking.
You know a life lived in the arms and armor department at the Met, so I lived in New York City for a while and one of the inexpensive things I could do was go to the met for lots of reasons.
I love to look at lots of different art, but I always ended the visit in the arms and armor because that's what I wanted the whole time, and the Japanese swords they have there are beautiful than they have.
I mean, they have all sorts of.
I mean, the fact that you grew up in that is pretty amazing.
Uh, how did you?
How did you?
I mean, just from a love of that?
Is that how you started in the martial arts?
Yeah, I I have to admit I think that's what did it I I started taking a class and I jitsu at the age of 9. And in taking that class, I realized that.
I had a profound interest and then I wanted to extend, you know, my my knowledge and what I could learn.
So again I went into fencing.
I went into kendo.
I joined a a karate Dojo in New York that was actually recommended to me by Bill Superfoot Wallace and on the other side of things with my mother.
I was very fortunate because my mother worked for Sports Illustrated magazine and it just so happened that she got put in charge of.
The martial arts scene for the magazine, because they didn't do a lot of coverage on martial arts in Sports Illustrated, but they said well, if we ever do.
We're going to put you in charge of it.
My mother came to me and went.
I don't know anything about martial arts.
You've been studying for years now, so I had to sort of be her wingman and go to all these events.
And meet all these famous martial artists so.
I got lucky in that aspect as well because it really broadened who I met in the martial arts world at a very young age.
Like I said, my first karate Dojo was recommended to me by Bill Superfoot Wallace, who was a kickboxing champion and a martial arts legend, as well as being able to meet Chuck Norris, Keith Vitale, Joe Corley, and a bunch of other martial artists of the time and so.
Having access to these things, I took full advantage and studied with anyone that I could, and it was a it was a daily, weekly, monthly practice for me.
I I, I really became absorbed and.
Was studying all the time and I still study to this day.
I'm still studying numerous arts because the way I feel you never get it done, you never stop learning.
You're always a student, so.
I was very fortunate with.
You know lucky things in my upbringing that I was able to take advantage of.
I'm asking knowledge from great people and I wasn't shy about it.
I jumped on every opportunity so all the way across the spectrum.
I found that this was one of my primary loves in terms of wanting to learn as much as I could, and then that immediately wound up translating over into the fact that the other thing that I love was movies.
I was a movie that I was a movie junkie.
I grew up as a kid, you know, sneaking into the movie theater all the time.
All the grindhouse theaters in Manhattan in the 70s and early 80s.
I was at every single one of them.
So when those two worlds combined.
It wound up creating a career for me and it just expanded because I found that I was still.
I was still working in every aspect of it.
I was still being asked about bladed weapons.
I was still being asked about sort of play and I was and then I was.
Added on to by being asked about stunts and fight choreography and things like that working in movies.
Well, how did it?
How did it actually start?
You know you're going to martial arts classes all the time and grindhouse movies all the time.
But there are lots of us who've done that.
But but you made that transition into actually making it your life.
How is it that that happened?
Funny story, I went to high school.
With a son of a famous director and I didn't really know that his dad was a famous director, he was just one of my buddies in in in grade school and high school and he came to me one day in high school and was jumping up and down and said my dad, my dad, my dad's going to make this karate picture.
You got to be in it I said oh OK and he goes well look.
I've been watching you and you're really good at martial arts and you're amazing and all that stuff.
And this is a karate movie.
So I told my dad about you and and and you're going to be in the movie.
I said OK, I met with his dad and suddenly realized that wait a minute, your dad is John G Avildsen, the director of rocky and tons of other famous movies and the corporate movie he'd been talking about was The Karate Kid.
And that wound up being my first foray into the film industry, and I got brought up to California and through went through a bunch of rigamarole because I was underage and they had stuck me in the film and had given me a part, and I was actually going to fight Ralph Macchio and the social worker
came on set and lost their minds and said, you're underage, and the the the second unit director.
I'm not taking the director of the 2nd.
Ad Randy Saber Sawa had to sign on as my adult guardian.
And I wound up still working in the picture and meeting Pat Johnson, the the Stunt coordinator and and everyone else working on the movie.
And I was fortunate enough and Mr. Johnson was was gracious enough to actually allow this underage kid to do background fights with the COBRA.
Kai and John had stuck me in some other scenes so that wound up being my first foray.
Into the film industry and.
After that I I finished high school.
I was originally.
Putting my focus on being a commercial artist.
I had geared a lot of my school studies towards commercial art and so I wound up going to college as an art major in a film minor while in college I got another phone call.
Hey John's doing Rocky 5 down in Philadelphia, bang.
I literally bail like some kind of bad college film.
I bail on a semester and just run down to Philadelphia and wind up hanging out on the set of Rocky 5. For a month trying to get on the picture.
That was a an event on itself, but bottom line, I I wound up getting, you know, tiny bit things in the movie and and and meeting people and then the turning point was when I got back home and I got back.
To college, I said, you know what?
I don't want to do this I want to work in movies.
I want to work in film.
I can tell that that's where my real passion is.
I've been doing all these things.
Everything else that I've studied.
Is off physical stuff, it's all action.
It's all martial arts.
Why wouldn't I want to go do this?
And I hurried up with my college studies, graduated college and within two weeks I packed a big duffel bag and stuff $700.00 in my pocket and was off to a new life in California.
And that's how it all started.
I mean, I could.
I could see pressure.
I mean, I'm, I'm not suggesting there was in your case, but I could see you feeling pressure.
If you have, you know, an academic father and a mother in the corporate world.
To not do that kind of thing.
You know what I mean?
I could, I could see the pressure to not not become a stuntman, you know.
At least, uh, I I could.
I could say, you know.
You know what I'm saying, it was definitely I'm not gonna lie.
There were definitely a bunch of after dinner conversations.
There was a bunch of, Are you sure?
And OK and or a lot of conversations about it.
But the bottom line was.
I had completed my studies.
I got my degree.
I graduated college and I had to agree now and the degree.
Oddly enough, the degree wound up serving me as well because that came back into play when I had entrenched myself in the industry.
I wound up, you know, doing movie poster designs and storyboards and character sketches.
I I I absolutely in the the range of my career have used on multiple occasions.
You know the degree I have in art.
To help me in in my line of work.
Oh, I could see that.
I think the ability to draw is similar to having a law degree, not not in any way other than it can serve you in a universal way.
The the ability to draw the ability to express yourself with pictures.
I think that's what we are.
Primarily I think.
I think words come later, and if you can express yourself with pictures, I agree with you.
Uh, so how is it that, uh, so you're you, you start, you move out there, you've had a taste of some movie productions, but this is coming off of years of being a movie junkie.
What was it like going from being a an observer and and a consumer of the movies to being in it and seeing the process?
Seeing how the sausage is made?
Well, yeah, oddly, it was fairly smooth because.
My intuition about.
How movies were made.
A number of assumptions that I had made were correct.
I knew that people weren't really kicking and punching each other.
I knew that it was movie magic and so.
When I got to LA, I literally hit the ground running.
You know I was out every day at 5:00 AM trying to make connections going to meetings, trying to go to auditions and things started happening for me.
Very very quickly and so when I got my first few beginning jobs in Hollywood and they they were they were smaller jobs but.
It gave me a chance to really absorb the film set in the process and watch.
What I was correct about and what there was that I still needed to learn and I just soaked it all up immediately so it was a it was definitely.
It still had the dream come true.
Hollywood land amazing.
All the sparkle and the glitz and and and realizing your dream that was definitely there and I was, you know, that was an incredible experience.
But the work side of it.
I got to work very quickly because one of the things that I had been doing ever since the experience on karate kid I had been modifying all of my martial arts per film.
So I understood.
OK, you can't just be a martial artist, you can you.
Can you know?
Spar with five guys and whoop all of them, but that has nothing to do with movie making, so I very quickly started gearing all of my martial arts towards film.
I started stylizing my kicks.
I started looking in the mirror and going oh that looks cool.
That looks goofy.
That's believable, that's not.
And so by the time.
I had my first couple of jobs.
Two of them were acting jobs and one of them was a pseudo stunt job and it it it came about easily.
You know, when I was talking to the stock coordinator and he was telling me what to do and I would go through rehearsals and he was like wow kid, you know you picked this up really quick and.
You know, I kind of explained to him and he says Oh well, he goes.
You definitely get it.
And so those first experiences went really smoothly and.
A bunch of my friends in town were giving me grief because they were sitting there going wall.
How is it that things are happening for you and you're getting these jobs?
And I said I'm going to explain it really easily.
I said by the time you guys have gotten up, gotten your things together and gone to your first audition.
I've already been to five.
So the early bird gets the worm.
You guys don't.
We don't have the same drive and you know hopefully you guys get it.
Hopefully you understand you know what it takes, but that's the only time that I can give you is that I'm there 4 hours before you guys and I'm working harder, running faster, moving faster and trying to get a lot more done in my day than you guys are.
So take that as a tidbit.
Hope it helps you.
And I just started making more and more connections, finding more people to train with.
Because there's no.
There's no secret to.
How you you get in the industry?
There's a joke that we used to pass around back in the days of like you know, I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.
It's a big secret, you know I'm not going to tell you the secret law of how to become a stuntman, but I mean there there was no.
You didn't go to a stunt school, you know you didn't sit there and go.
I'm going to pay 999 ninety five and they're going to give you a certificate.
Tell you're a stuntman didn't work like that.
You had to.
You had to meet people, train under them, go move and hall and stunt equipment and stunt pads for days get muddy, get dirty, climb up and down things go and grab the stunt coordinator coffee.
Do whatever it took, you know, and then at some point during the day he'd say, do you know how to do this?
I would say no, Sir, I don't you'd say alright come over here I'm gonna show you and I would get my tidbit for the day and he would drop a little wisdom on me and I would learn how to do a punch combo better for camera or I would learn how to get thrown into a bunch of barrels or I would learn what
the best angle for.
Doing whatever stunt it was, what's the best camera angle, where to show yourself off so that you make sure that they see what you're doing and you're not doing the gag for no reason?
That just slowly progressed and you know, I I. I wound up working on films like Hook and Army of Darkness.
And numbers of television shows and it just very quickly.
Got a life of its own because I was training all day long so I was living stunts.
You know 26 hours a day.
I literally was, you know, sleeping, eating and breathing it so I would get up at 5:00 in the morning and I was already on to who was I going to go see?
Who is it going to train with?
What movie sets could I go to?
Who could I try and go and hustle up for a job back in those days it was kind of like this beautiful last remnant of the heydays of Hollywood, where you had 12 movie productions going on all over town.
So at one point.
You go downtown LA hustle one set they go.
Yeah sure kid, I got a job for you.
They bring you on put on this ninja outfit.
You get ninja.
You do a 6 minute sword fight, get kicked through a window and he said while you're done.
I don't have anything else for you to do and they said we want me to move pads and I don't my move some equipment for them and you know be done.
You'd say no, it's OK, you're wrapped you can go and I would jump off that set and run across town and find another movie set and be there and they'd say yeah, you know what?
Too short a guy boom.
Go get in that car go be the passenger that cop car and getting a cop car and we race all over the set and.
You know, fire blank comes out the windows and chased people get into car chases and, uh, you know go back and change my wardrobe.
Put a hat sunglasses on and you know run out of a bank and get shot and you know eat it in the street and stay busy all day.
And at the end of the day like I would sit there and say great job, OK, you know fill out your paperwork and I would go home and so it there was a lot of.
Sort of classic.
Having the movie experience.
Back in the day I got very very lucky that it was a time when.
Things were simpler and there was a lot of work going on and that sort of classic Hollywood system was still working.
You know, because after after I did hook an army of darkness, I got on Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula.
And that was that was, you know, they were all amazing movies to work on because they were big studio Pictures and they were all done in giant sound stages with tons of movie stars.
And you know, those are the.
Those are the days when you didn't have two movie stars in a film.
You had six.
Coming on the set, my first day on Dracula and there's Anthony Hopkins sitting in a chair.
And I'm like stupefied and I'm kind of standing there in front of him trying not to stare and he sort of looks up from his book says hello, Dear boy, don't mind me, I'm just doing some light reading and he lifted the book and it was war and peace.
Of course, dear boy, he had an Archie comic book in there exactly and so.
Again, I got.
I was very fortunate.
So many times to be in the right time in the right place at the right time to have these experiences, you know I missed stumbling Gary Oldman by inches.
I have been brought on set to play a different character.
I was supposed to be one of the Romanian Knights and the head of makeup freaked out and grabbed me and took pictures of me and grabbed me by the neck and said don't move, ran over and got the stunt coordinator brought the stunt coordinator back and goes.
Who the hell does this remind you of?
And the stunt coordinator was Billy Burton was a very very famous sort of old school cowboy stunt court and went hard.
Damn, if you don't look like him, I didn't know what they were talking about.
All of a sudden.
It turns out that I looked exactly like Gary Oldman because at that time I was very lean.
I had long hair and a beard and they just sat there and said, my God, you're an amazing double for Gary.
I was getting all excited and everything and all the last minute Billy goes you would be could double for him.
You'd be an amazing double for him but I don't have anything for you to do because there was going to be this giant sword battle between the Romanians and the Turks and they just turned it all into shadow puppets.
Oh, I remember that and I'm sitting there going you mean to tell me if I've been here days earlier that you guys would have gone?
Hey, we've got a double for Gary now we can do this whole battle and.
So you know it didn't come to pass.
I stayed on the movie.
As one of the Romanian Knights in the in the church sequence and got to be there for a big chunk of the movie.
And again, you know another bucket list, amazing experience and it it just sort of rolled along like that.
You know I I got.
Bigger jobs, more responsibility.
I got known in the industry for I got known in the industry for doing a lot of the Hong Kong style fighting and a lot of the antitype reactions.
And so I was one of the only Caucasian kids in Hollywood at that time where everybody would call up and go.
You can do all that Hong Kong Flippy crash into the wall stuff, and I'd say yeah, and they hire me.
So I was one of about three people that could do it in town.
So I was working.
Left and right I was working all week long.
I was getting caught by TV shows and things and you know, I was the perfect bad guy and stringy long hair and you know always looked like a thug.
And so you know I I'd walk into them here and make up room and they go.
You look perfect.
You look like a bad guy.
You look at you do anything to you are not going to waste any makeup money on this guy exactly.
It's like you look scary.
Just go be in the movie how did you?
How did your excuse me for interrupting here?
How did your the way you?
Sort of adapted your martial arts for camera.
How did that affect your training in martial arts?
Did you have to work extra hard to you know?
I mean, it almost seems like, uh, two different systems.
After a while, I'll tell you a funny tidbit.
It didn't affect most of my martial arts ever, because I was able to mentally separate the two things I was able to sit there and go.
This is a movie.
This is your training.
But the one time after a number of years, the one thing I found.
Was that I hadn't been keeping up.
My actual fencing, so sparring with swords and actually sword fighting.
I hadn't kept that up.
I'd still been using swords and I'd still have discipline and I was still training with swords and swordsmanship, but I hadn't actually fenced people in a while and I've been doing so much movie sword fighting that I go back in and I meet up with some other.
Fellow swordsmen and they want to sit there and say, hey, let's have you know a couple of rounds of fencing?
And so we all get geared up when we put our fencing jackets on and our masks and everything.
I suddenly find that.
In a fencing match with someone where we're we're fencing Saber.
And all of my attacks are falling short.
So I'm missing hitting him by an inch and he's hitting me all the time and they start making fun of me.
And then it dawns on them.
They're like my God, you're doing movie swordplay.
You can't do that.
You're supposed to be hitting us.
And then it dawns on me that it's been trained in to me so much.
I mean to work with actors and movie stars.
Don't hit him, don't hit him, don't hit him.
That I've got this conditioned response now of looking great while I'm using a sword, but I'm constantly missing everybody by an inch and I got raked over the coals for it and had a really bad day fencing because I lost every match and it it it.
It dawned on me OK if you really still do love this, you've got to separate the two and you've got to train both.
You know I had always done things where I trained everything ambidextrously, so I did.
Everything left and right handed.
Which came in very handy for films because every once in a while we had a left handed actor.
So any any weapon that I used, whether it was a rapier or small sword or a long sword or anything, I trained everything right and left handed so I would be provisioning both hands, but I literally had to.
Retrain myself to separate.
Sparring and fencing from movie sword work so that when I was doing one I could bring myself out of it and go back into the other.
That's amazing, that's that's just pure conditioning over time and and that's the same conditioning that got you to be an excellent swordsman in the 1st place.
So it's all there inside you.
But it's it's interesting how you practice something long enough.
That's what comes first, and then you realize, wait, I got to turn it on on this guy, he's my friend, but he's not Brad Pitt.
I can hit him right exactly.
So how did cold steel come into the picture for you and and actually designing?
Knives and weapons.
You have this rich education in historical weaponry.
You know, through your Met connections, which is just so enviable it admirable and amazing, and then through all the historical swordsmanship you've done, be it HEMA or Japanese swordsmanship.
How did cold steel come along, and how did you get into actually designing knives?
It's interesting, I got approached by a fellow.
Sword choreographer who's been in the industry a long long time was a super proficient swordsman of software gentleman by the name of Anthony Delongis.
And Anthony and I have been friends for years.
And Anthony said, hey.
I work with the President of Cold Steel, Lynn Thompson, and he's interested in.
Training in Japanese swordsmanship.
He really wants an instructor in Japanese swordsmanship.
And so I said, oh, OK, I'm I'm happy to meet him.
And this was a long time ago, my God.
This was probably.
I don't even know it might have been 2002, 2003 and.
I met, I went up to Ventura and I met Lynn.
And it it was a. It was a great first meeting.
Lynn Lynn's always had a larger than life personality, and Lynn Lynn is that sort of American tycoon that sort of, you know, industrialist, the guy who you know forged his own career out of his own hands.
You know, Lyndon Lyndon started, you know, cold steel entirely by himself, and he was that sort of Americana.
I built this steel mill with my bare hands, and, you know, and I really respected that about him.
I really did.
I liked, I liked him right away.
I said I like this guy.
He's he's big, he's brash.
He's bold, I like and we wound up hitting it off right away.
And so I started on a regular basis on training Lin in Japanese swordsmanship.
And Lynn had already been studying martial arts and and and swordplay for decades.
Under, you know, with Anthony and under, people like Guru Ron Balicki.
He had done dozens and dozens of seminars.
Lynn was already very proficient, so he picked up a lot of the training lightning fast, and we made a lot of progress very quickly, and before I knew it because Lynn and I kind of saw eye to eye and we were we were.
Kindred spirits we were kind of of the same mind, you know, I was a good fit for the cold steel family.
And so, being part of the cold steel crew.
I kind of fit in so you know there were a lot of other other other guys who worked at the company and.
Uh, they razzed me a lot in the beginning, but they saw that we were all like minded.
You know, you're either a good fit or you're not because cold steel is not an easy place at all.
Cold steel is very kind of, you know, rough and tumble and bark orders and you got to work hard and you got to get it done because it's a very.
It was always a very very serious business.
Cold steel got things done.
Through the effort of how hard everybody worked, because the amount of stuff that got put out of cold steel didn't match the people that we had.
You know we didn't have, you know 60 employees, you know we had.
Probably you know 15 guys that did the majority of the work.
In terms of stuff in the warehouse and shipments coming in and having the quality control and inspect and go through things, and I remember when I did.
My first cold steel video and you know I was just a kidney candy store.
You know, when we did the the first we when I was in my first proof video?
We had a lot of people come in.
We had, you know, guest people come in and.
It was a little odd because people would come in and stand around and kind of, you know, want to be treated like dilettantes and you know, I was one of the ones who I got in there.
And you know, while I was there I was like going, oh, do you need help with that box?
Do you need help moving this?
Let me go lift that.
What are you guys doing?
What can I help with?
So I'm back in the warehouse prepping things, moving stuff and helping the rest of the guys.
Do all the stuff for the video behind the scenes.
And that also got back to Lynn.
And the guy said, hey, you know, this guy's really cool.
He's not being intellitype.
He's not standing around going.
Where's my coffee?
Yeah, I'll cut something in a minute.
He's actually helping us out all day working.
And that got back to Lynn, and I wound up becoming friends.
Very close friends with with all the guys that cold steel and it just wound up.
Sort of steamrolling.
From there you know I I wound up working at the company.
That was very odd because I was working at the company part time while I was still doing film work, so I'm still doing movie stuff, but in between I would get a call and you know cold steel will call say hey, can you work this week I would say yeah, I'd go into the warehouse and you know, sort
knives and do quality control and you know and and resort things in the warehouse and lift giant boxes and knives and strain and get laughed at.
And you know, do everything I could to help out and then go home and then either come back to cold.
Real or wind up working on a film.
It just slowly progressed like that until.
I was working at cold steel all the time when I wasn't.
Doing film work.
So when I wasn't working on movies when I had a dry spell or when you know people movies were in development.
I wound up being up at cold steel all the time and if I wasn't training, Lynn.
Lynn and I were just going off the rails talking about knives and swords constantly.
Nice work if you can get it.
Yeah, and and you know we would.
We would ramble on about, you know swords and Lynn.
Loved how much information I had.
Lynn was like my God.
You're like it encyclopedia when it comes to bladed weapons.
So Lynn was perfectly happy to ask me 50 million questions all throughout the day.
You know, Lynn and I would spend lunch hours together.
There were plenty of times when I got razzed in the warehouse because I wasn't working because I was up in Lynn's office and we were spending 4 1/2 hours talking about swords and knives.
And we started talking about.
Sword designs we started talking about, you know, designing pieces and we started discussing.
You know, he started asking me while what does cold steel not have, you know, I know we have this and this, but I'm looking at expanding.
The sword line, and so we would put our heads together and talk about.
What swords might be popular amongst cold steel fans?
What do we want to make that people will buy?
We don't want to make something that nobody's going to buy and go.
Yeah, I know you guys made that, but I didn't like it and I didn't buy one so we spent.
Hours and hours and hours.
What we thought?
Woods and and Lynn was a genius at this.
He built up the entire company, so every once in a while.
I'd get hot on something and start talking about a specific thing and he would go.
Yeah, but that's going to be a pain to manufacture.
I know that's a cool weapon.
I like it too, but I know for a fact that I can't make that and I won't be able to sell it for under 8 or $900.
And that's not going to sell.
So even though it's awesome, even though you and I both love it, that's not a marketable piece and I would listen to him.
And I'd say look, you're the guy who knows, not me.
You know I'm listening to everything you're telling me and I'm learning as I go but you know, I get it and so.
It it we wound up.
Cold steel wound up working towards.
Expanding the line ever further in terms of.
You know, Lynn always had new knife models every year, but there was a period where we really started to push.
And try to come out with a lot more new products and that was when you know we really sat down and started to try and knock our heads together about new swords.
And and new knives.
I didn't have the knowledge that Lynn had about knife production and knife design.
I would design knives or I would do drawings for Lynn.
Lynn is very specifically picky about his knives, so there were tons of times and I'd bring in 20 drawings and he would sit there and go.
That's cool, but no.
I like that I don't like this.
That's cool, but you got to change this.
That handle looks like it's going to be uncomfortable.
No, no, don't like it.
Don't like it, don't like it.
And then I learn very quickly.
I was like, OK. I don't really think that I'm going to push.
Knife designs with Lynn because I I have, I still have a lot to learn so I I stuck to swords.
I stuck to swords because.
I knew what I knew about swords and I had.
Pages and pages and pages of answers.
So if you ask me about something I could give him the history behind it.
I could tell him how it is used.
I could tell him how it could be marketable.
I could tell him, look I'm a sword nerd.
I've bought hundreds of swords.
I know what sword guys like.
I mean, I know you know the whole industry and I may not know pocket knives, but.
I know what people look for when they want to buy a sword.
If they're going to spend a certain amount of money and they want a sword, that sword feels special to them.
I know what it is that they're going to look for.
I know what they appreciate when they open the box.
So it steamrolled from there and I started.
You know, working with Lynn on designing new pieces for the lineup and it it sort of steamrolled from there where in between my doing quality inspections on the swords.
We would sit down and start talking about designs I worked with him on.
The plastic bolkins when the plastic bookings come out we we sat down and and really put our heads together over the Hoboken because, you know, the Hoboken which wound up being very, very popular.
We sold millions of.
That was something else that that when we looked at it, I said, look, it's it's got to be bigger and heftier, but we still have to be able to use it.
We're not making.
We're not making a superhero.
We're not making a big heavy training weapon, we're just making it all broke and we're making something larger.
For people to train with but also for bigger guys to use.
OK yeah this is going to say a boken is traditionally a wooden samurai sword, right?
Or a wooden.
Cortana that you practice with, but cold Steel has done a lot of great stuff with polypropylene or or various really intense plastics and made these clubs and walking sticks I I have, I do myself have an absolutely epic cold steel collection.
I've been a fan since about 88 or 87 when I first learned of the master, tanto and saved up my shekels.
Oh yeah, I went to the Randall Park mall, which no longer exists.
Went to Remington and bought that that thing and it's been next to my bed ever since.
To this day.
My so I, I dig.
I really like the stuff they do because that stuff that you do because.
It's historically based.
You can tell that there's a real love of historical weaponry there, even in the pocket knives, it's apparent you know and not just Japanese, but also, you know well just from all around the world does.
Does Lynn Thompson have some sort of a sprawling collection of swords and knives?
Oh God, Lynn Lynn has got.
A God level collection of knives, swords, Linas, also a firearms enthusiast.
Lynn Lynn is an absolute dead eye shot literally.
When you when you ever get the pleasure of watching Lynn Point shoot it's like watching it on Cowboy film.
It's what he aims at so we put bottles or little ping pong balls and things all over and he just nails everything.
It's literally like watching one of the cowboy heroes in the 1930s.
It's just ridiculous, but he does have a very vast collection and he does have what used to be called as prototype rooms where he would collect ideas so he'd have two giant boxes filled with antique cookies.
So you know you you pull these boxes out.
There would be 120 countries in there from all different ranges of of time, and you know you'd open another one and he'd have stilettos and Italian folding knives and navajas.
And you know other, you know custom one off made knives and you know he would study all these things and say this thing has merit this doesn't.
This is something that can be brought back.
He he really knew a lot about the history of knives and he.
He had an amazing, you know, an amazing collection and his collection of smaller now because he just doesn't have anywhere to put all the stuff.
But you know, an amazing collection and.
You know, impressive in terms of.
The array of things that he had and like I said he he eventually.
Whittled it down because it had to.
It had to fit within a realistic space of eventually when he didn't have the warehouse, he didn't have the two giant warehouses.
There was a lot of stuff, so we had to kind of compress and and and, you know, I know Lynn sold a bunch of his stuff off at the parking lot sales.
And then, but he kept a lot of things and and I was responsible for God.
I bought him like.
Uh God I bought him, I don't know.
Five or ten different antique swords like I'm lucky enough that most of them had the scabbards with them.
The old Dragon head came the polycarpe yeah, I found that cane for him in real like Malaysian hardwood with sterling silver fittings on it was a black cane and had all the stuff.
Now he had already made the prototype dragging cane and polypropylene, but I suddenly found this real one that was all sculpted.
It looked 98% like the one he made.
And I gave it to him as a as a present.
And he still has it today, but it was just.
It was ridiculous because.
I was squabbling with somebody over it because I had found it and was talking to the owner about buying it and this other person just came in and was trying to outbid me and I just kind of sat there and said I got to tell you something, buddy.
You're not going to win this because this is really special and it's something that has meaning and it's got a direct connection, so this isn't something I'm going to lose.
You know, I'm not going to lose this, so matter what you do, and I wound up, you know I wanted.
And I gave it to Lynn.
He still has it.
You designed a sword for cold steel, and I believe it was in the man's man of arms line called the Sword of War, I believe.
So this thing is beautiful and I I was studying it today and it it seems to really distill out some of the best qualities of a number of historical European swords.
Tell me about the that design in particular and and what, what in what went into its creation.
Lynn had talked to me and said.
Blatantly just said, design the sword.
I wanna make a a Luke Lafontaine design sort not help me design something.
I want you to have something that's your signature that you put your name on.
That's you're sorry I said OK. And I went way and I thought long and hard and I thought about doing a Japanese katakana and I went, that's.
That's too obvious.
And so I remembered that that you know there were.
I had a love for him.
I had a love European weapons and I started thinking through.
And I said, well.
I love rapiers.
I love rapiers I've got.
God, I have 60 or 70 rapiers in my collection, but a rapier's not something that is necessarily going to commercially sell because it's kind of a niche sword.
And something for specific swordsmen.
And so I started thinking.
Let's think long sword, let's think.
Fourteen 15th century let's stay in there.
And I started looking and I looked through a lot of my books and I went.
Wait a minute.
A complex hilted longsword, or sort of war.
They come in all different shapes and sizes.
I can combine whatever I want to design a piece.
That will be my signature piece, but will still reflect plenty of historical models of sorts from that period.
So I said about.
Coming up with a health design.
And I chose a classic 2 ring swept tilt design.
And I went even further to pick the counter guards that are on.
Sample of a rapier.
And they are.
Interlinking knots that curve out from the arms of the hill.
The centers touch and then they curve back into the arms of the hills.
Know these counter guards and they they attribute them to tibo's rapier, but they've been on other swords.
It's a, it's a style of counter guard, so I I finished designing this hill with long Queens and I wanted the centers of the Ring guards to flare.
I wanted the the hilt to have a sort of German Flemish feel to it, so a little bit of a Saxon sword as well.
Are the ends of the Queens flared and ended in points and I wanted to sort of have almost.
A Gothic look to it, and that was kind of when we decided on the all black and the man at arms series.
As well as when I did the pummel the pummel.
It's sort of an amalgamation.
It's it's fairly historical, but at the same time not.
Most are a lot of pummels had buttons on the end, and you'll notice mine doesn't, because in my mind you're using it as a weapon, so the pummel as much as a weapon as the crossguard is as the blade on the sword.
So I designed the pommel to have this nasty pointed look to it, but I had.
Compiled this out of three or four different.
Period long swords and the sword.
Had a different.
Set of proportions to it, and I looked at it and I said, you know?
This isn't, I wouldn't really call this a long sword, it is, but it isn't.
It's more like.
And in between sized sort of war.
And a sort of war is.
A in between sized sword that's a little bit heftier, little bit beefier.
It doesn't have.
All of the very, very very graceful lines that a longsword does when you look at Germanic long swords and you get into the 14th 15th century.
The point becomes.
The main weapon of the sword you do a lot less cutting.
There's much more point work.
There's a lot more half swording, so the entire shape of the blade changes, and I had looked at my sword and I went.
This isn't what I would call a classic long sword.
It's beefier, it's heftier.
I'd say that this is.
A combination of a Germanic long sword and a heftier sword of war with the complex guard on it, and I continued, went along that line because I thought to myself it's a little bit more individualistic now it's something that I've designed.
People that really want to try and nitpick it can, but at the same time they can't because it's one of those things where it's like.
Well, every aspect of the sword is a Storyful, so we can't say the sword didn't exist and we can open books up and find swords that look almost identical like that so.
It it was, you know, a piece that when it was all said and done, and the great thing was, I had the prototype built by Dave Baker of for fire fame.
Dave built the prototype need handed to me and I'd move it around and I'd go take more weight out of the blade and I'd hand it back to him and he'd work out it more and he'd hand it back to me like moving around.
And I'd be like take more way to have the plane.
And Dave bless his heart.
Just ground that thing.
To a piece of art you know, he really.
He kept the spine strong, so the center of the blade was really strong and stiff, but he just grounded away so that you know the sword.
The prototype lafonte sort of war was really only about.
It was under three and three quarter pounds.
Wow, for a sword that size it was just under three and three quarter pounds and it was very light and very fast in the hand, but the blade was stiff but you could fight with it.
I moved that sword around.
I said OK, people in Hema will appreciate this because you can fight with this sword.
This is not a big clunker to hang on your wall because I don't want to make that.
And you know, we brought it into Lynn.
And Lynn was like, wow, you know and.
He liked it and he picked it up and he saw its merits immediately.
So wow, this is got a guard on it.
Protect your hands.
You can sword fight and not to chop your hands apart.
He sat and he goes.
You know what crap this thing moves around really well for sword this size the only thing that Lynn was never a fan of was the pubble.
Lynn was just like I don't like this thing.
It pokes me.
Why do you got it so pointy on the end?
And then I turned and I said Lynn Pummel smash and he went.
Oh OK, great I love it and.
Violence that part of the sword did.
Then Lynn loved it so.
The the the sword you know went into production and.
It was, you know, it.
I was really, really proud of it.
Initially it took.
A lot to catch on.
And I got given a lot of grief about that which I had to just take because.
Overthinking, trying to think about how to market the sword.
I wasn't marketing the sword.
I was sitting there and going.
Oh, I got to come up with something for this.
I know I'll do demo, I'll get a bunch of Hema guys.
Well, we'll we'll do all of this in, you know, synchronized, cutting, and I had all these great ideas.
And then the sword started to pick up on its own.
People started to buy it.
It started to get reviews.
The the one thing that was a little bit disheartening was this the production model came out heavier.
It came out heavier than I wanted, and, uh, you know you're always.
Lambasted and cursed and and and you know, dragged through the dirt in terms of everything about the sort of.
There's something wrong with it.
It's your fault so you know I had a hard time in the beginning and the HEMA community trying to explain look.
I didn't want the story to come out at this way and it should be, you know, you know, 2/3 of a pound lighter, but not all the swords of this heavy.
I found light ones that were very stiff and fast and I brought those into a number of HEMA guys.
That said handle this then went wow, this is great.
I said yes, but you understand the production sword you make a thousand of them.
We don't make 10 so.
And we're going to have the quality controller would take, you know, six years to make one sort that must have been especially painful to have the heavy sword, especially after you and Dave Baker worked on getting the you know, dialing in the weight just so.
But like you said, you're making a thousand of these things and they're swords.
It's not like you're making 1000 slip joint pocket knives.
They're big swords, and you know each one is going to probably be ground slightly differently and every everything's going to be a little bit different on each one.
But I I think that whole man of war series was pretty cool, taking some of the some of the swords and and halberds and staff weapons and making them black.
Thought that was pretty cool.
And yeah, it does add a Gothic look definitely to your sword, which already has that feel just from its from its profile.
In closing what?
If you if you could design another sword or when you design another sword, what's what?
Kind of considerations.
Would you look for in another in another weapon?
Uhm, I've got a sword in mind.
It's under wraps, we're we're going to see if it goes or not, but.
I'm taking consideration I've got to take into consideration of.
What people are going to be interested in?
Is the majority of the audience going to appreciate the merits of the sword?
From the esthetics to how it handles to how it performs to where it lays in history.
You have to take all of these things.
That consideration when you're doing this, because again, in the end it's a product and the same way you design A race car, you design A race car and it's got to be pleasing.
But the damn thing's got to win races.
So in the same way, when you have to design A sword.
As much as you find things that you personally are enamored with.
In terms of the performance and the history and your love of particular weapon.
You have to pay attention to the general audience.
You have to pay attention to sword fans and I have to say.
Sword fans fall in love with some ugly swords, they just do and you have to go with it.
You've got to sit there and go well, you can't fight that.
They like the sword and I sit there and I look at my God.
That's one of the ugliest *** swords in history.
Why the hell?
Yeah, I know it cuts well, but most swords cut well and I'll look at this thing and be like Oh my God they're selling thousands of these and I can't stand and it's just an ugly big you know but.
People have their own connections.
To weapons in history.
And a lot of things have to come into play.
How did it perform in history?
Who used it?
What time period was it in?
Does it have a very significant role in the history of the development of swords?
Was it used in a number of wars?
You know, is it a real practical sort?
A lot of swords?
Would they sit there and go?
That is a practical sword.
It cuts well, it handles well, it just just esthetically kind of.
But lots of things are, there are plenty of things you know.
There are tons of revolvers all throughout history that performed perfectly, but they're Ant to look at.
That's what the Messer is to me.
I love the classic, you know, German Messer in its utility, but it's just kind of looking.
But but it's that.
It's that quality that lends to what it is.
It's a hearth knife, it's you know, it's a weapon.
It's for splitting logs.
It's for you know, all sorts of things hunting this and that.
But it's not necessarily getting your heart racing extra fast with how it looks right and and primarily, it's mainly because it's a big knife.
It's literally technically not a sword, because historically.
Sword Cutlers made swords.
So when people were making Messers, Messers came out of I'm a blacksmith.
I'm not part of the sword Cutlers killed.
I'm not allowed to make swords, but I can make this big knife because technically this isn't a sword.
How about that?
When you look at how a messers constructed, it's a big knife.
So sword Cutlers and people that were making $100,000 swords for Princess and kings.
And whatnot couldn't complain they couldn't go to the Guild.
They couldn't go to the town magistrate or whoever the hell they were going to go to and say, hey, this guy's taking my business and doing something that he doesn't have any right to do.
No, he made a big knife.
He didn't make a sword.
This doesn't have the fine quality craftsmanship that your swords do.
It's just a big knife.
And then the guy's going.
Yeah, but I'm mad because people are buying it.
Tough this guys made a really great utilitarian large knife.
He's put slab handles on it.
It's got an exposed Tang.
It's got rivets going all the way through the handle, just like a knife.
It's single edged.
It's you know everything about it is technically it's a large knife, so sword Cutlers had no place to complain about it and.
The practicality of it spoke for itself.
You know, you look at a messer in in warfare in civilian use.
The message just made sense.
It's like the precursor to the Kotlas.
Within the Cutlass family and when you talk about the Cutlass or the Cotto.
Or you know the the the beginnings of the Cutlass and you talk about juice, eggs and things like that.
The the the Messer and the Storta.
Slightly LinkedIn that you've got the single hand cutting sword that delivers a wallop, and.
It became so popular that they developed fighting systems on how to use it.
Luke, we're we're going to continue this conversation in a short conversation for the patrons.
I could talk to you all week about historical weapons, and I'm I'm fascinated.
Always have been by this topic.
Thank you so much for coming on the show and and sharing your experiences with us.
I know we all appreciate it and I hope to talk to you real soon.
Great thank you for having me.
I had a great time.
Thank you for letting me share my tidbits.
It's been a pleasure.
Take care, Luke.
Do you use terms like handle the blade ratio walk and talk, hair pop and sharp or tank like?
Then you are a dork and a knife junkie.
Luke Lafontaine, living the dream and growing up in the Met Sword Department where I whiled away many in afternoon years ago such beautiful work there.
It was really cool to to learn about about his career but also about his the the mastery that goes into designing a sword and all the elements.
We talk a lot about knives, especially a lot about folding knives and we know what what we like there but we forget that there are sword junkies and that they have their.
Very particular taste and desires as well.
Uh, Speaking of which, join us here this coming Wednesday for the midweek supplemental and then Thursday night for Thursday night Knives.
10:00 PM Eastern Standard Time here live and and then we'll see you again next Sunday for another great interview.
Thanks again for joining us here on the Knife Junkie podcast for Jim working his magic behind the Switcher.
I'm Bob DeMarco, saying until next time don't take dull for an answer.
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