If someone chooses a shorter knife over a longer because they lack the skills to use the longer knife profitably, it seems to me that the best course of action is to acquire the skills and then reevaluate the choice. That's very frequently the situation here when people ask, as they so frequently do, "What's the best knife for ME?" What allows the discussion of length and recommendation to the 9-1/2" - 10" range is that the willingness and desire to improve knife skills is almost always part of the motivation in buying a good knife.
Just to be clear, at the end of the day, in my opinion, the best length for anyone is entirely a matter of taste. You should use whatever you enjoy you most.
In terms of my own preference, I like two knives as my go-to gyutos. One is 10" K-Sabatier, and the other a 27cm Konosuke gyuto. I also have a 12" K-Sabatier au carbone which I use as a "chef de chef," for splitting chickens and the like; and while I'll use it to chop onions if it's out, it's too heavy and awkward to be much fun. On the other hand, my Konosuke 30cm suji, is a helluva lot of fun to use as a gyuto in the sense that using it impresses the heck out of me with me. But it's not a rational choice, I don't recommend it, and I must be easily impressed by myself because it sure has heck doesn't impress anyone else.
Most of the time when you hear someone say he uses a 12" knife he's trying to say more about his own bad self than the knife. Present company excepted, of course.
"Elegance" is a very good way of putting it -- don't be surprised if you're imitated. You'd be surprised -- or maybe you wouldn't -- how much of that comes from grip; and how much a good grip makes a little extra length a non-issue.
You often hear (and read) women who want a short knife because they have small hands or petite stature; but far more often than not, the preference disappears when they start using a good grip -- which, by the by, requires a sharp knife.
Given that you were comfortable with a 12" knife, how would you compare a 10" MAC Pro to your 8" MAC Pro? Do you find the 8" that much more agile.
Big Green Egg IC,
Don't be put off by the thread drift. Your questions and expectations are perfectly reasonable, and there's no reason you shouldn't get yourself an adequate knife.
You've made it very clearly that your current knives make you feel you're missing something -- and you're right. Your "knife care class" is a normal reaction to the very powerful paradigm shift that a sharp knife is more about sharpening than the knife itself. Don't panic, you're not in over your head. Fortunately, there are some relatively simple and [ahem] relatively affordable ways to deal with sharpening. But it is something which needs to be addressed in order for you to start developing good enough knife skills to make prep fun instead of a chore. You'll also find that a lot of ingredients like onions and herbs taste better when they're cut cleanly instead of hammered or sawed into submission.
More fun and taste better are two things you should have.
Edited by boar_d_laze - 1/27/12 at 9:32am