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Old knives for new roles.

Jambiya, Kukris, Barongs and Pesh Kabz.
Old knives for new roles.

        The world of survival/ combat/ fighting knives seems to be currently dominated by the bowie and the tanto. These are both fine designs, but one often can wish that they were copied more faithfully.
        Most bowies have too much of a clip point. A survival knife needs a good amount of belly for skinning. The blade form used on the Ka-bar is a good shape, although the handle of leather washers has drawbacks in both shape and texture. Versions with other handles are available, but often with a steep price tag.
        The tips of modern tantos are often very angular. If you look at pictures of real Japanese tantos you'll see that usually the edge follows a graceful and useful curve to the point, and that often this section has the same angle of sharpening as the rest of the edge.

The Alphamega
        Over many years I've worked on an alternate design for a survival knife. After considering many configurations I sat down with a blank sheet of paper and drew what seemed right.
        This tool would be 12" long, with a 7" blade. The first three inches of the back nearest the guard would be straight and square cut for scraping. On the left side would be a fuller that provided more grip when the blade was held for fine work. For the next four inches the back edge curves down to the point. The section of the edge furthest from the point is serrated for cutting and filing, a feature taken from the M7S survival knife. The main edge follows an S shape, being convex near the point and becoming slightly concave near the guard. The guard is a half guard, the tip designed to serve as a flat and Phillips screwdriver. The pommel was shaped so that it would serve as a wire breaker, nail puller and ice chipper. The point of the knife is on the same line as edge near the guard, a geometry that I later noticed was found on most Yataghans.

Yataghans from Cameron Stone's book
Kukris from Stone's book

        The main inspiration of the Alphamega was the Greek Kopis sword and a knife I saw in a museum in Thessaloniki. Those who have seen the design have often commented "kukri". The blade is actually straighter and shorter than a kukri, but since I've been an admirer of kukhris since childhood, they were doubtless an influence, and it is very likely both the kukri and yataghan evolved from the kopis.

        My good friend Jason Chasse has made a version of the Alphamega (left), but only had 1/16th L7 steel to work with at the time. Shown with it is a 8" bladed Kukri I have, which is a little short in the handle but shows promise. The true Alphamega should probably be made of 3/16th material.
        At the moment the Alphamega only exists as drawings and a few prototypes such as Jason's. A few years back I did find a widely available blade that might prove a good substitute, the 10" bladed "Officer's" kukri. This is somewhat bigger than the Alphamega, but this is not likely to be that noticeable for overt wear. My example weighs only a pound, which makes it lighter than many smaller bowie-based knives, and its shape gives it superior cutting power.

        I have only two reservations about this kukri (right), and both concern the grip. The gripping surface of this model is only about 4" –this is fine for me, but if you don't have small hands you may want to consider a larger model. The 12" bladed kukris I have have grips of 5". The more serious issue concerns the width and texture of the grip. The larger kukri's hilt has a raised equatorial rib which fits nicely between the second and third fingers of the hand and provides a very secure grip, but the Officer's model lacks this and is of smooth horn and narrower. I intend to correct this by wrapping the handle with paracord inner, varnishing this then covering this with twisted and doubled paracord outer, which will be unvarnished. The result will be a Japanese look, and I'll post pictures when this is done.

More Kukris Here

        On many kukris you may find you have to regrind the bevel to get a good edge, but this is a simple thing to do with something like a dremel tool.

        Another kukri inspired knife I own is shown below. The grip is very pretty, but rather heavy, which places the balance further back than ideal.kukri inspired knife= handle a little too heavy.

        In my copy of George Cameron Stone's book, the wonderfully titled
        "A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration, and Use of Arms and Armor in All Countries and in All Times: Together with Some Closely Related Subjects"
is the interesting entry:-

"The most widely used knife is the Arab jambiya………. It is one of the best fighting knives ever made. The best purely thrusting knife is the Persian peshkabz (which is the same as the Afghan choora), either the straight or curved variety. The best slashing knife is the Gurka kukri, a blow of which can split a man to the waist. The Moro barong is also excellent, especially if back-edged, as it is effective for both thrusting and cutting. The Japanese knives are among the best, largely because they are made of better steel and extraordinarily well ground."

        The kukri we have already discussed, although I will add the observation that the kukri can also be used to thrust –the curve of the blade is such that the point lies parallel to the forearm.


".......and despite the gloom, the curved blades of the knives which they carried glittered menacingly. The passage was full of dacoits!"

The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu by Sax Rohmer

        There are many designs of knife with a blade shape similar to the Jambiya. In this class we can include the Khanjar, curved Kindjals, Kubikiri and the
Korambit (aka Karambit, Kerambit or Korambi). In his final years, Fairbairn of FS Commando knife fame began to advocate a jambiya type weapon he called the Cobra.

Fairbairn's Cobra Knife manual

Jambiya from Stone's book
Khanjar from Stone's book
Kindjals from Stone's book

        The Jambiya can be found in any part of the world where Arabs have ever been, which in effect is a swath from Spain to Indonesia. It is, however, a blade form much neglected in the west

His Divine Shadow shows how not to use a Jambiya

        When one sees the Jambiya one often sees it gripped in an icepick hold, with the convex edge forwards and the point curving back to the user (left).
        This is actually the least effective way to use the blade. Such a hold only really lends itself to a downward stab, and there is a good chance the blade will glance off and possibly injure the user.
        Suppose the knife is instead held with the concave edge and the point forward? In this configuration the hand can be punched and the blade used for vicious horizontal and upward ripping actions. Having the point forward counteracts the tendency of the edge to glance off clothing. The Kerambit is specialized for this form of attack

        One of the few double edged curved fighting knives to gain some recognition in the west was Round Eye Tool's Hobbit (right). This, to my mind, was the wrong way around, and should have put the serrations on the convex side. All the pictures that I've seen of the Hobbit in use have had it held ice-pick fashion in the comic-book convex edge forward style. Suppose instead it was held point forward and had the convex edge serrated? Such a weapon could be used like a keramabit. When performing backhand strikes the serrations would "bite" and counter any tendency of the convex edge to glance off.
        So far I have talked about using such knives in an ice-pick hold, since, rightly or wrongly, this is the hold usually associated with such blade. Such a blade shape is also effective in a fencer's or hammer hold. Once, again, the correct way to hold this is with the point curving forward. This drives the point into the target when making an upward thrust. It is worth remembering here that a curved blade will cut a wider wound channel than the equivalent width straight blade. For slashing moves a point forward hold allows the blade to behave rather like a short yataghan.

        If further proof were needed, both the Moroccan Jambiya I own have an obvious "public" and "private" side. If we assume that the owner was right handed and held his knife in a non-icepick hold then the knife would be held with the point curving away when drawn. In fact the knife will only draw with the point curving back if drawn with an icepick hold with the right hand when worn on the right side. All other combinations of position and grip present the blade curving forward. blade of my other morocan jambiya
        Many jambiya style blades have a central rib that reinforces the point. Many also have a fuller to either side of this rib, a functional and attractive feature. It is possible to have a blade with very sharp hollow-ground edges and a point strong enough to penetrate bone and armor, which is not a bad feature for a fighting knife
        Grips of such knives vary. Many can be described as "horse-head" or "pistol grip". Depicting a horse head or other animal form is actually contrary to Moslem custom, but such hilts do exist. All those which Stone shows are Indian, so may be from non-islamic sources. Oddly, all of the illustrations that Stone has of jambiya have the hilt curving away from the point, while all the khandar curve towards it. There are other grip forms too. Some are cylindrical but narrowed in the centre, rather like an apple core. Others have a hilt of the form commonly seen on a kindjal (right) –narrow in the centre with the pommel a flattened hemisphere or arch. This is a really good design for a long bladed thrusting weapon. When the blade is held horizontal and the hand pronated the pommel presses up on the palm, perfectly counterbalancing the blade.

        One of the nicest curved blades that I've seen is the Japanese Kubikiri (aka Kubigiri). Stone (p394) defines this as a short sword or knife used for removing heads. Since concave "capital knives" were used by doctors to remove limbs this is not an unreasonable design. Interestingly, an alternate name for a kubikiri means "Doctor's Knife". The kubikiri Stone shows is a knife of 12.375" blade. The edges of the blade are parallel until the final third, where the convex side curves to meet the concave main edge. On this example the convex edge is unsharpened until the final third.

        My Moroccan Jambiya shown has a 9" blade, with 7" of the concave edge sharpened and 5" of the convex. Further evidence, if any was needed that the concave is the primary edge. This means that the convex edge has a fairly straight unsharpened section that can be laid along the forearm for those that favour such moves, but still has a sharpened edge equal to most boot knives that can be used for back-cuts. I'd not object if this part was serrated or Spyder-edged. Central ribs and fullers would be included as needed. A double edged variant may be available too.

        My Moroccan knife has a kindjal type grip, but with a round butt section. Although intended for display, it is a remarkably responsive and effective grip. Some might object to its bulk, so the grip could be a conventional cylinder or barrel shape of oval section, with the pommel of slightly wider diameter. A feature I'd like to see used more widely on other knives is the ridge already mentioned as a useful feature on the kukri. For smaller versions of the Jambiya a grip like the one on the Puuko pictured with the Jambiya might work well.
        Since this is a fighting knife the guard should be shaped to catch a foe's blade. The concave side should have an inward curved quillion, and another should possibly be provided on the other side. This might be omitted on the smaller models. A knuckle-duster guard is another option, and this would encourage users to hold the knife the correct way.
        As well as two blade styles, there would also be several different sizes of blade. The standard model would be between 8" and 10" of useable blade length. There would also be a smaller more concealable model, not more than 10 ½" overall length. This should give a blade of about 6". It might also be interesting to have a larger model with a blade of at least 12". This would fill a role much like the larger kindjals.
        One interesting feature of jambiya type weapons is that they tend to look smaller than they are. My 9" bladed weapon looks to be about a foot long, but is in fact 15". If you look at these images and relate them to the descriptions you'll see the same effect.

        Although we have mainly looked at this blade shape as a fighting knife, it is worth remembering that designs such as the kindjal and jambiya are also useful utility knives. The concave edge was used for cutting fruit and the convex for meat.

        Another useful application for a jambiya-type blade would be for a short fixed blade defensive knife such as a neck knife.

Pesh Kabz

        Another friend of mine, Ed Sackett, has long been an advocate of the pesh kabz shape, particularly for throwing knives. The first pair of knives I made, a brace of indoor throwers were pesh kabz based under Ed's influence. These are quite economical to make. Because of the shape you can get two 8 ½" throwers from 12½" of mild steel.

The Pesh Kabz I own        True pesh karb are thrusting weapons for use against armoured and unarmoured foes. Stone comments (p494) that "as a piece of engineering design could hardly be improved upon for the purpose". The key features of the pesh kabz are its T section blade and wedge shape.
        I see a modern Pesh kabz as mainly being a replacement for the commando knife. I find the pesh kabz where the spine curves down slightly just before the point most attractive. It may be easier to manufacture a blade with a straight back, and some of these can be quite attractive. Traditional pesh kabz grips are quite bulky with a broad butt. Some have the sides of the butt raised in the manner of European "Eared daggers". For a modern version a grip like that of a kitchen knife or Chinese cleaver may be acceptable. The pommel would be slightly wider for better retention and have a depression for the thumb when the weapon is used in ice-pick hold.
        Standard model would have an 8” blade but there also may be a shorter model.

        The final design of knife that Stone mentions is the Barong. Fairbairn's name also comes up here, since his
“Smatchet” weapon had a leaf shaped blade rather like the Barong. Fairbairn's Smatchet had a blade of 10 ¾”, which puts it in a similar league to the kukhris already mentioned. My personal choice would be a kukhri over a Smatchet. Most true barongs tend to have a blade of 15-17”; and up to 3”; wide. A section of the top edge of a Barong is often sharpened. Unlike the Smatchet the blades are often asymmetrical so the cutting edge has more curve and belly. Barongs tend to have a curved grip, which undoubtedly works better than the straight one of the Smatchet. One feature of the Smatchet worth copying is having a guard. Probably the best choice is an oval disc rather like the guard of a Chinese sabre (Dao).

        I've no idea how thick the blade of a genuine barong is but I have a CAS Iberia version that is 0.13” thick. If constructed of 1/16”; or 1/8” stock the barong shape may make a better military machete than the various civilian/agricultural designs in use. A good brush knife needs to be light so as not to fatigue the user during prolonged use. However, it also must be capable of cutting branches for firewood or shelter construction. While a backpacker can also carry a hatchet, saw or kukri, the Soldier's load is mainly taken up with ammo. Such a tool should also be a good combat weapon. Even in this time of Smart bombs and nuclear weapons, wars are ended by infantry prizing blackguards from their holes, which means the machete, knife and bayonet continue to be used in the 21st century.

        I've made a crude attempt at trying to draw such a machete-barong (left). The main edge is a continuous curve for efficient cutting of most materials, and the angling of the handle gives a good angle of attack. There is a double edged point so the fighter can thrust as well as cut, and I've added a sawback to the spine.
        Such a tool should have a blade of between 12 –1”;. This, I believe, will give the correct balance of effectiveness, handiness and weight. Since first writing this page I have aquired a Philipino Barong with a 14” blade. The blade is more machete-like than many barongs and the handle a little on the thick side but this does seem to be the ideal size for a Military Barong.

        My CAS Iberia model (right) has a blade of more than 16” which is a little too long for military use. The grip is also overly long but a very good feature is the shape, known as a “cockatoo beak” (kakatua) handle. If the little finger is placed in the hook formed you have a very secure grip with very little muscular effort, ideal for prolonged use such as brush cutting. A hooked grip was also a feature of most Kopis but the Philipinos have added the extra innovation of the grip widening considerably just behind the hand, improving retention further.

        A good idea from Ed Sackett:
        "Just thought of a good test for knives and tools of this ilk: use them to open coconuts. It's quite a challenge, esp. if you're after the juice. I'd say if your knife makes that job easy, it's a good design."

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