Jared Wihongi’s life and career is built on the warrior spirit of his Maori ancestors. He has practiced martial arts since he was a 10-year-old living in New Zealand, and the Filipino style of knife fighting, since he was 20, some 20-plus years ago. He also has his own signature line of edged weapons through Browning, knives that he hopes inspires “the warrior spirit that lives in each of us.”
Jared has reached the tuhon or master level of Pekiti Tirsia Kali and instructs police officers and elite military operatives in what he calls close quarter force integration tactics, or CQ-FIT. He applies the circular arm movements, the footwork, angling and distance control of Pekiti Tirsia Kali, using empty hands, sticks, knives and even guns, to reality-based training so that police officers are better able to subdue threats, or a special forces member is able to eliminate enemies in close-quarter combat.
One of Jared’s most interesting-to-watch training sessions involves using a tomahawk in close-quarter fighting. Essentially, the circling motions, overhand and underhand, forward and backhand, are coordinated for attacking your opponent while simultaneously avoiding his advances. The tactical tomahawk in the Wihongi Signature Series is a true straight-handled tomahawk. The blade is made from ¼-inch 420 stainless steel, and the spike end includes a semi-sharpened blade. Three lightening holes are drilled into the blade, maintaining the integrity of the head while removing material to lighten the weapon, making it easier to wield in a fight—or to be fast as lightning.
The forked tang is secured with three flush-mounted screws but is also reinforced by a wide metal ring surrounding the handle. The Wihongi Signature Series Tomahawk carries Browning’s Black Label tactical line logo, along with the familiar Buckmark. The handle is wrapped in paracord, a lighter weight than 550 to eliminating bulkiness, Jared explained.
What is most notable about the weapon is the Maori tribal motif acid-etched into the steel. The warrior culture often carved facial features into wooden taiaha, or fighting staffs. These weapons would include eyes and ornate details that culminated in the familiar out-stuck tongue. Having these designs in a tattoo or engraved on a weapon meant that the warrior was carrying the strength and courage of his ancestors with him into battle.
Jared’s mother hailed from the Lone Star State, but being Mormon she decided to move to Utah. Jared’s father, living in New Zealand, attended a private school run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He excelled and was granted a scholarship to attend a university, also in Utah. The rest is history. By the time Jared was 1, the couple had returned to New Zealand, raising a brood of six.
Although native New Zealanders only make up 15 percent of the country’s population, the Wihongis lived in a small town that was predominantly Maori. Having grown up the late 1950s when there was little opportunity for Maori youths other than to become farmers, Jared’s father put great importance on education and became a school principal. Two of his sons followed in his footsteps, but Jared and another brother became police officers, with Jared going on to become a SWAT operator for 14 years and counting. He now teaches knife-fighting skills to SWAT teams and elite special forces in the U.S. and allied countries. “I’m an educator too,” Jared said, just in the warrior arts and lifestyle.
Jared Wihongi reviews his tomahawk fighting tactics.
Jared’s father died at a young age and when Jared was 17, the family moved back to the Salt Lake City area. Mormons are expected to go on a two-year mission before attending college. Jared served in the Philippines, which is where he began training in the Filipino knife-fighting arts. He attended college in Hawaii, where he worked as a bouncer, often having to apply his skills in a real-world application. He then returned to the Salt Lake City area and has advanced exponentially in his martial arts practice and his real-world curriculum, which incorporates both the warrior spirit of his Maori ancestors and the premier knife-fighting skills of the Filipinos.
He recommends that anyone who wants to be able to defend themselves against a knife attack seek out a Pekiti Tirsia Kali instructor who offers real-world-scenario training. “Take a sample class,” Jared suggested. “You’ll be able to tell.” Learning to defend yourself against a knife attack is part of learning how to wield a knife in close proximity. Amazingly, this can be done with a tomahawk by choking up on your grip to right under the head. Don’t worry, practice is conducted with training knives. “But you have to make contact to understand knife fighting,” Jared explained
“When I presented this line to the sales force, I asked Jared to lead a haka dance,” said Diane Carver, knife and light product manager at Browning. The feedback she received was intense. Some had never seen the Maori warrior dance that has now been made popular by the New Zealand rugby team and others on social media. Some were inspired to see it live. “I’m so excited about this line,” Diane said.
Jared Wihongi introduces his signature knife line−and leads a haka.
If you’d like to read more about Jared and the four styles of knives in the Jared Wihongi Signature Series by Browning, be sure to pick up the July issue of BLADE® magazine or subscribe.
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