Some years ago, an unusually curved blade called the kerambit or karambit became something of a fad among knife enthusiasts and self-defense exponents. Intended for use in the reverse grip, and bearing a ring for the index finger that enhances retention of the blade, the kerambit immediately sparked the imagination of martial artists and blade-aware citizens who wanted a compact weapon to deliver tight slashing and cutting techniques.

According to Michael Janich, Special Projects Coordinator for Spyderco, and a well-known martial artist, author and knife-fighting instructor, the kerambit was originally a horticultural tool—which is really no surprise, given the traditionally agricultural applications of the hawksbill blade shape.

“The kerambit was supposedly a utility tool for agrarian tribes in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines,” says Janich. “The ring was originally intended to allow the knife to hang from the pinky finger in the middle of a chore, giving the user full use of both hands for tying bundles and similar tasks. When it was needed again, it was easily swung up into the hand and ready for cutting.”

Janich, author of such books as Street Steel and Knife Fighting, a Practical Course, explains that he first became aware of the kerambit in the late 1970s while reading Donn Draeger’s Asian Fighting Arts. He would later encounter the blade again in Southeast Asia, prior to the kerambit’s widespread acceptance among Western knife enthusiasts. “In the early 1990s, while living in Bangkok, I traveled frequently to Malaysia and Indonesia and saw traditional examples in museums,” he says. “That piqued my interest, so I started researching [the martial art of] pencak silat and found a few obscure videos that demonstrated a little bit of their use.

“However, my first real exposure to it, especially as a popular trend, was at the Gunsite Edged Weapons Symposium in 1998,” Janich said. “There kerambit expert Steve Tarani and I taught together, along with three other featured instructors. At that time, Steve was establishing himself as a leading authority on the kerambit and was a driving force behind its popularity. Based largely on his efforts and those of several very focused collectors, like Liong Mah, the kerambit became increasingly popular. The introduction of Ernest Emerson’s folding kerambit sealed the deal and made it a veritable trend.”

Folding Kerambits

The kerambitd’s rising popularity, propelled by the Emerson Kerambit and other such knives, ultimately, led to the introduction of kerambit models by companies like Spyderco (since discontinued).

“The folding kerambits that are so popular don’t really offer any advantages over conventional folder designs,” admits Janich. Aficionados of the little blade point out, however, that this “agrarian” design makes the kerambit particularly well suited to infighting techniques. Specifically, the kerambit, held in the reverse grip, can be used for uppercut-like slashes and thrusts while maintaining the elbows close to the body, keeping the body tight and well-defended while bringing in strikes from under the opponent’s line of sight (one of the reasons uppercuts and World War II–combatives style chin jabs are so effective). Lateral strikes are also possible, although the user’s range of motion will be limited by the reverse grip and the angle of the kerambit’s curve. This limitation is seldom confining, given the manner in which the knife is used at close quarters.

Pages: 1 2
Show Comments