Home / News / Lin Rhea is 2023 Arkansas Knife Cutting Champion after close Saturday competition at James Black’s Bowie Heritage Festival

Lin Rhea is 2023 Arkansas Knife Cutting Champion after close Saturday competition at James Black’s Bowie Heritage Festival

Oct 27, 2023Oct 27, 2023

The climax of the well-attended two-day James Black's Bowie Heritage Festival was the Arkansas State Knife Cutting Championship, which saw 13 handlers testing the knives they had forged in five successive rounds of competition. Having accumulated 48 points, Lin Rhea, a master smith and designer of the X-Rhea Knife, won the championship by two points over Ben Seward and took home an impressive leather belt.

In the first round, in which contestants were challenged to chop a 2 X 4 in two in the least amount of time, Ben Seward turned in the fastest time of 9.18 seconds, followed by Ramsey Richardson at 9.43 and James Stevens at 13.4. This was the most spectacular competition, with all thirteen contestants chopping with all their might as wood chips flew and the host of the competition Jerry Fisk, cajoling them on. With the eventual winner, Lin Rhea, earning no points here, though, it allowed Ben Seward and Ramsey Richardson to take the early lead.

In the second round, in which the challenge was to cut a thick rope dangling from a scaffold so that the end drops into a bucket directly below and then to cut a second section of rope so that it too drops into the bucket, the highest points earner, six contestants topped out at ten points for cutting the rope with the end dropping into the bucket. These were Brandon Marvel, Richardson, Lin Rhea, Mark Fleming, Thomas Franklin and Stevens. No one managed to drop another end into the bucket with a second cut.

In the third round, in which contestants had to slice through three water-filled aluminum cans set on a table without them leaving the table, five earned 12 points. These were Marvel, Rhea, Fleming, Seward and Stevens.

In the fourth round, the object was to slice through three waterbottles, one of which lay horizontally between the others which stood vertically. Three points were earned for slicing through the vertical bottles, four for slicing through the horizontal one. Earning 16 points, Rhea and Stevens tied for the lead while six contestants earned 12 points each.

In the fifth round, the goal was to slice through two sheets of 8 ½ X 11 inch paper hung from a scaffolding with nails and weighted below by two clothes pins. Here, seven contestants got their knives clean through the pages. These included Jim Bob Lamb, Marvel, Rhea, Corey Yates, James Carlyle, Fleming and Franklin.

Having piled up 48 points, Lin Rhea was declared the winner. Second place went to Ben Seward, who had 46. Third was James Stevens with 45 points.

The contest was hosted by Master Smith Jerry Fisk, who kept up a rolling banter of jokes and insight as Doug Marcaida, judge on the knife-forging reality show Forged in Fire as well as edged weapons combat specialist, and Ricardo Vilar, former Forged in Fire champion from Nashville, Arkansas, provided additional commentary.

Lin Rhea, who won by virtue of steadily gaining points after a scoreless first round, is an Arkansas resident who hand-forges his knives. On the same day, he was presented with the Arkansas Living Treasure Award for 2023 by the Arkansas Arts Council. On his website, Rhea calls Arkansas "the heart of the knife-making world." There are plenty of reasons to think so, since Jim Bowie, a Kentucky-born American pioneer, according to legend, commissioned the knife that would bear his name from a Washington, Arkansas blacksmith appropriately named James Black.

Rhea, who says he learned to make knives as a 2002 student at the Moran School of Bladesmithing in Washington, will be honored again June 17 at a reception to be held from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at Little Rock's Historic Arkansas Museum. At that time, the museum will be opening its knife gallery again after a hiatus. Many historic knives will be on display there, including many by Rhea.