MNKF: Emerson’s Purpose Driven Knife, the Rhino

emerson rhino
| November 14, 2016
Categories: Assorted Ramblings

Monday Night Knife Fights: Emerson’s Purpose Driven Knife, the Rhino

Mike the Mook


After building a number of custom tactical knives for the US Navy SEAL teams in the 1980s and 1990s, the Department of the Navy turned to Ernest Emerson to develop a specific knife for what most people imagine when they think of military knives: sentry elimination.

We think this was mostly a product of top Navy brass watching too many movies movies or reading too many Mack Bolan pulp novels when they were in the Naval Academy. If such a task is needed by a military unit, 95% of the time the top choice is a suppressed firearm. For the remaining 5% it is the fighting knife.

Personally, I would rather use a framing hammer, but that’s another story for another time.

The problem with textbook sentry elimination is in the execution. Military manuals and misguided martial arts instructors taught the classic method of drawing the blade across the throat while driving a knee in the back. This might work well in a movie or in a classroom with compliant students, but in reality it means the operator must struggle with the target who’s fighting for his life. It also means drawing the blade toward oneself with an over compensation of strength, which has caused serious injury or death to some attackers (as well as their intended target).

The solution was to design a knife to go into the base or rear of the neck, and for the SEAL to push it forward and away from himself.

Emerson came up with a folding knife that fit the bill and was originally called the SRT (Sentry Removal Tool). It had other nicknames such as the SSDS or the Rhino, because the profile is shaped like the prominent horn of the animal with the same name.

Its one-sided razor sharp chisel ground blade is curved and features a top section which is equally sharp and fully serrated. Emerson crafted a handful of prototypes which were heavily field tested by the SEALs.

One change he was asked to make was the addition of a “grenade pin hole” to keep the blade locked in place because the knives were causing injuries to SEALs when they would unintentionally open on parachute jumps. Grenade pins are actually a little too big, but a paper clip works well.


Two of the knives were destroyed in missions and the remainder have become valuable collector’s items, selling for thousands of dollars. Emerson has made a few of the custom versions over the years for sales at shows to collectors, but these have titanium bolsters and lack the retaining pin hole. Still, they bring as much money as the original military issued versions, which is a rarity in the knife collecting world.

SEALs liked the design, but its intended use and appearance were too hardcore for the Navy Brass to accept in their inventory, so a more genteel design was requested. That knife would be known as the ES1-M and would evolve into the Commander series of knives.


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Searson 1About the Author: Mike “the Mook” Searson is a veteran writer who began his career in firearms at the Camp Pendleton School for Destructive Boys at age 17. He has worked in the firearms industry his entire life, writing about guns and knives for numerous publications and consulting with the film industry on weapons while at the same time working as gunsmith and ballistician. Though seemingly a surly curmudgeon shy a few chromosomes at first meeting, Searson is actually far less of a dick and at least a little smarter than most of the Mad Duo’s minions. He is rightfully considered to be not just good company, but actually fit for polite company as well (though he has never forgotten his roots as a rifleman trained to kill people and break things, and if you look closely you’ll see his knuckles are still quite scabbed over from dragging the ground). You can learn more about him on his website or follow him on Twitter, @MikeSearson.

Mike Searson 4

The Mook doing his Boondock Saints thing (and accurately, perhaps not surprisingly).


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