Ricasso is an unsharpened length of blade just above the guard or handle on a knife, dagger, sword, or bayonet. Blades designed this way appear at many periods in history in many parts of the world and date back to at least the Bronze Age; essentially, as long as humans have shaped cutting tools from metals.
There were many reasons to make a blade with a ricasso, and in Europe, later longswords, claymores, rapiers and other lengthy swords often had this feature. One very simple influence presently and historically is fashion, which often answers this question for blades where the presence or lack of a ricasso has no effect on how it is used . Leaving a ricasso can also save the blade maker's time - a section of blade that would not be used given the purpose of the piece does not have to be shaped and sharpened. In many cases however, they are quite functional.
Some of the best known historic examples of ricassos are on large European swords used with two hands - this is a highly functional example, and manuals in sword technique from the period specifically instruct when the wielder should "choke up" (shorten his grip, known then as half-swording), which sacrifices reach but enables better control and leverage. It also makes a large sword more effective in close quarters, as one would expect of a technique intended to facilitate faster cuts, more precision, and shorter recovery periods between cuts. The ricassos of two-handed swords may terminate with flukes, which protect the hand gripping the ricasso.
Today, many knives seen outside of the kitchen include an unbeveled section, though the term is seldom used. These ricassos may serve purely decorative purposes, may offer greater blade strength at a high-stress point, or be intended to be gripped to provide greater control when performing precise cutting.
A sub-hilt (an additional section of guard located along the length of the grip of a blade, rather than up the blade as with a fluke), is a related feature sometimes found on knives instead of a ricasso. Depending on design, it can offer many of the same advantages in versatility but makes the choked up grip more comfortable. Some blades may have both a sub hilt and a ricasso, thus offering two possible forward grip positions.
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