Kerambits, Korambits and Karambits
I first heard about the karambit in Donn F Draeger's book "The Weapons and Fighting Arts of Indonesia" (pp129)
Known as the karambit, it is a curving knife modeled after the Arab Jambia. It is gripped with the hilt perpendicular to the ground , thumb over the cap. The forefinger is inserted in a hole in the head of the hilt. The blade extends outward, covex surface to the right when held in the right hand. The karambit is used in an upward, ripping manner into the bowels of the victim.."
He also describes similar weapons such as the beladau (another curved knife) and the tjaluk, a small scythe with a short handle and knuckle bow.
This weapon is more commonly called a Kerambit these days, but may also be called a Korambit or Korambi.
When I first started looking for information on the kerambit on the internet I came across an interesting story. That webpage has long since vanished, so below is what I can remember of the story.
Once there was a famous warrior. While his good deeds and exploits had become famous, no one knew who he really was. In fact he was the butcher in a small peaceful village.
One day the butcher was conversing with a young warrior who was new in town. The warrior announced that it was his intention to find and kill the mystery warrior.
"Why?" asked the butcher, surprised "has he wronged you"
"No, " admits the young fighter " but I'm tired of hearing about him"
"He must be an old man by now, not much of a threat or challenge to a man like you" observed the butcher.
"True, but think of how my reputation will grow if I am the one to kill him!" gloated the youngster.
And the butcher was sad, because he realised that the young warrior would never be at peace until he had either killed the mystery warrior or been killed by him.
A few days later the young man was walking through a crowd of villagers when he suddenly stopped, gripped his stomach and fell to the ground. The villagers gathered around, uncertain of what to do.
"He has the fever" announced one.
"No," argued another "he has eaten bad shellfish, I have seen this before"
"Witchcraft" asserted another.
They turned the young man over to find him quite dead. Peeling back his sarong they found his belly ripped open as though attacked by a savage animal. While the villagers argued over the cause of such an injury, the butcher slipped away, his karambit hidden once more beneath the folds of his robes.
There has been an increasing interest in kerambits in the west, and there are now available many varieties of knife inspired by the weapon. The Kerambit seems to have been as an aggressive weapon for assassins and other covert attackers, but nowadays some advocate it as a self-defence tool. Advocates of the Kerambit point to its ability to make powerful slashing actions and claim that it is easier to use intuitively. It is sometimes suggested that slashing attacks to the limbs are more likely to disable or disuade an attacker without killing them.
Many of the designs currently offered are combat folders. The traditional Kerambit is used in a reverse hold, with the blade projecting from the little finger side. I'm dubious that in a self-defence situation you would have time to open a folding kerambit and reposition it in your hand into a reverse grip, so you may be wiser to practice with your folding kerambit in a forward grip. Unfortunately this will probably prove less powerful than the reverse hold.
My own informal experiments with knives against old clothing indicate that cloth provides a better level of protection against slashing attacks than you might expect. Where possible you should attack clothed targets with the point rather than the edge. Traditional Kerambits seem to be designed so that the point penetrates the target first, but many of the more modern western designs seem to favour the edge more. This is something to consider if you think the Kerambit has a place in your armoury.
Allegedly Kerambits have been seen in Iraq used by Indonesian Moslems and American troops.
The suggestion that the karambit was derived from the Indian Bagh Nakh weapon I find rather unlikely. Tiger claw is an obvious name for a slashing weapon in areas where tigers are known. As Draeger suggests, it is probably a derived from the Arab Jambiya, which is a common weapon in this area due to its moslem population. The idea that a small knife such as the kerambit was intended for rice harvesting is rather far fetched, given that the Indonesians had plenty of larger and more practical Sickles (Arit). The kerambit might make quite a useful gardening knife. It also bears a resemblance to modern Lino knives although I'm not aware of extensive use of this floor covering in Indonesian huts.
The kerambit does have utility applications. It makes a great box-cutter or pruning knife and they have been suggested as rope cutters for climbers. Many designs have one or more finger rings which allows the knife to be retained while the fingers are being used for something else, such as climbing or grappling.
Another trend in western kerambits is to have a very small blade. In Cameron Stone's book "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" he describes the Korambit as having a blade of between four and six inches, although his photographs include an 8" bladed example. The selection that Stone shows also indicates that not all of them have a finger ring. Some have a depression for the thumb, while others have a more conventional hilt. One example has a sheath with a hinged section secured by a curved flat spring.
Stone also shows a Mahratta form of knife called the Bank, although there is no information as to if they are used like Kerambits.
I currently own three kerambits.
The first (far left) is a pakistani made item that was either called a Terradactyl or something like "Ninja Talon". Good features on this are the ring and the handle scales. There is a grooved area for the thumb when using the tool claw upwards. The cutting edge is very short, and I had to regrind it to get a halfway decent cutting edge. The point is rounded too and I've yet to rectify that. The blade ends in what looks like a gutting hook, but if this is what it is, the section that should be sharp is not, and unlikely to be easy to sharpen given the bevel. This feature is also of little use as a weapon for backhand strikes since it is unsharpened and too close to the hand. The sheath is quite nice and rather resembles a handcuff case, with the handle of the knife laying horizontally.
Second model is a Gil Hibben "Claw". This has a really nice handle shape that fits nicely in the hand. There is also a press stud that works in conjunction with the sheath. Blade is at least twice the length of the Terradactyl and ends in a very acute point. The blade looks like it is double edged, but the angle and the use of 3/16th thick steel means that sharpening this up is not really that practical. The thickness of this blade also limits how fine an edge you can put on the main edge, particularly near the point. Like the pakistani model, there is a textured section to place the thumb on when claw upwards.
Third model was made by my friend Jason Chasse. This was a 4x11mm strip of steel that he has forged and twisted. The finger ring is very generous, and handling this knife you begin to realise that with such a feature you possibly don't need a palm filling grip or scales. This is the same thickness as the pakistani knife, but the edge is miles better, since Jason has given this a full bevel from spine to edge. The blade is also longer than the previous types, as can be seen. Only questionable feature with this is the point. Jason chose to create a hatchet point with a slight double curve. Something more inline with the direction of thrust and more suited to penetration more effective. Notwithstanding this, this knife is a very fine peice of work
When I was in LA a very lovely German martial artist showed me her kerambit-inspired knives, which were intended for attacking the arms ("Gunting"). These had blades of only about an inch or two long and handles the size and shape of a kidney bean. They'd been made from ¼" stock, so I wonder if she ever got an edge on them.
I turned my mind to improving on the idea of "micro-kerambits". The most obvious move is thinner stock material. My other idea was to replace the scales with a D shaped ring, effectively making a one-blade bagh nakh. Jason has mentioned SOE "Tyre-slasher" rings to me. A similar idea, but this would have the ring projectiong to from the side of the blade, to form a "P" when looked down upon. The blade would either project from the fist or be concealed in the hand.
So called because I see this as a utility item, particularly for climbers. Cats are good at climbing, and have smaller claws than tigers, hence Cat claw.
For a small bladed "utility" kerambit I'd go for something resembling Szabonic's Filipino box cutter, probably adding a slightly concave edge and more hooked point, as is shown in the modified image.
Blade length is about 2. A serrated (Spyder) edge would be appropriate to its cardboard and rope cutting role and I have tried to show this on the version labelled B. There is the option of adding grip panels or a cord wrap and I'd narrow the grip towards the centre to make the tool less of a hinderance if using the hand for something else. The ring pommel allows the tool to be swung out of the way, and there should also be provision for a wrist loop/lanyard. I've shown this on B as two holes, either of which cord could be threaded through. The wrist lanyard also adds the potential for various interesting martial arts moves, such as swinging it by the cord in the manner of a kama or blocking and entangling with the cord stretched between the hands. The variation labelled B also has a Seat belt cutter feature added.
I also like the concept of the HideAway Knives.
For combat, my inclination is more towards a weapon the size of the originals, incorporating useful features such as the multiply curved edge of the Spyderco Civilian knife.
Illustrated on the left is a sketch of such a knife. I've called it the Dragon Claw following my friend Ed's comment about its flame-like edge. It is shown with a half guard to stop the little finger of large handed users straying on to the edge.
As you can see, I've made the point sturdier than on the Civilian, and added an extra curve or so. The width of the blade allows a good bevel for a very sharp primary (concave) edge. Given the intended role of this knife, a scalloped/serrated edge is a possible and likely feature.
Both the Cat's Claw and Dragon Claw would be supplied "bare tang" so the user can add cord wraps or grip panels as they see fit.
Many of the larger kerambits are double edged. A nice article on the use of the kerambit can be found here
The author describes six possible attacks with the kerambit
- "Hook" cutting with the concave edge
- "Slice" cutting with the convex edge
- Stab use of the point
- Hitting with the pommel/ring
- Hitting by using the convex edge in a hammerfist strike
- Extended hit- holding the knife just by the ring and using either the point or edges.
To this we need also add on of the main applications of the weapon; a stab that continues as a pushing cut.
The author observes that the convex edge of the knife is not particularly effective at either slicing or a hammer strike (which he terms a "Hit"). Given the extreme curve of this section this is not unexpected. Having the convex edge serrated or barbed would go some way to addressing this, and would also increase the utility role of the weapon for cutting ropes etc.