"What Is a Karambit?"
Karambit: The Basics
The karambit is a remarkable multi-use knife designed for user safety, precision, and efficiency. It has a curved or hooked blade, an ergonomic handle, and typically least one safety ring. The forebearer of the modern karambit first surfaced in Indonesia during the 11th century as a farming tool and utility blade. Due to Indonesia's thriving trade industry, the karambit quickly spread throughout Southeast Asia. Despite its Indonesian origin, it developed strong roots in Malaysia and the Philippines. The knife's design may vary slightly depending on the exact geographic origin, but a karambit will always have an arcing blade. Additionally, a karambit will always offer its user functionality far beyond that provided by a straight blade. Traditionally, the karambit's design is based on the shape and curve of a tiger's claw. As such, the blade should be optimized for tearing, ripping and slicing.
The karambit's curved blade was originally valued for its precision and stability in use. It is also prized for its suitability for every challenge, job or task set before its carrier, including combative use or self-defense applications. In battle, the blade's arc offers the ability to fluidly attack and counter in a single motion and to change directions of movement with ease. It also allows striking from multiple lines of attack at once, even if you can’t see the angle in question because it’s behind your opponent. The design readily enables hooking, trapping and otherwise manipulating your adversary’s position, limbs and direction of force. This creates a combative advantages for the fighter with the karambit. Additionally, many karambits have multiple cutting surfaces or edges arranged in various configurations, each of which provides distinct advantages and benefits for both utility and tactical use.
Karambit: From Utility to Combat
Historically, the karambit was widely used as a utility blade during routine chores. It would have been considered the "every day carry" or EDC blade of ancient Southeast Asia. Even today, in remote Filipino and Indonesian regions, karambits crop up as the "pocket knife" of choice.
Very early versions (11th-14th century designs) of the Filipino karambit and Indonesian karambit may or may not have possessed a safety ring, which is also known as a retention ring, but as centuries passed and the blade's function, features and use evolved, the safety ring morphed into a karambit design requirement. A karambit's safety ring is positioned at the end of the handle and it allows the user to insert a finger through the ring before closing their hand on the knife's handle. Some karambits have a secondary safety ring located on the shaft of the handle just below the blade itself, which allows palming the blade.
The safety ring was originally designed to prevent the blade from sliding back through the user's hand while working at odd angles, on difficult tasks or in specialized environments (like underwater or while hanging upside down). In battle, the safety ring provides a strong, sure hold in all conditions and through the most unexpected stressors. The karambit's safety ring makes the knife exceptionally difficult to disarm or to turn against its user and it also allows the wielder to rely on the blade’s design for increased weapon retention instead of depending on grip strength alone. Whether the user’s hand is open or closed, moving or motionless, palm-up, palm-down or anywhere in between, due to the safety ring, a karambit knife is always secure and in an optimal position for use. Finally, the grip security and increased weapon retention is particularly valuable when the knife is covered in dust, mud, water or blood or when the karambit is being utilized at the difficult or precise angles required in combative application.
Karambit: Battle Tested, Survivor Approved
There are few weapons, blades or tools able to deal as much damage as easily or impressively as a karambit while still possessing a deadly grace and dark appeal. For a proficient karambit user, the ability to effortlessly maneuver the blade into a variety of positions, especially during the unpredictability of combat, without fear of losing their grip on their weapon is priceless. While the blade originally served solely as an ancient utility tool in the same vein as the modern-day "Swiss Army Knife," in the war-torn villages of Indonesian and the Philippines, the karambit readily lended itself to battlefield use.
At some point , the karambit became intertwined with Pencak Silat (also spelled Pentjak Silat), the indigenous and unimaginably deadly close-combat fighting art of Indonesia. It is now widely recognized as one of several traditional weapons commonly associated with siilat and several other Southeast Asian martial arts, especially Filipino kali. It’s hard to say whether the art and battle impacted the karambit’s design or the unique combative advantages of the karambit influenced the development of Pencak Silat, but regardless of whether the chicken or the egg came first, the karambit is a feared and formidable tool of destruction when found in the hands of a skilled pesilat (or silat player). A “player” is someone who practitices Southeast Asian martial arts, including not only Indonesian Pencak Silat, but also Filipino Kali, Arnis, Eskrima, Malaysian Bersilat, Bruneian arts and Kuntao. It’s very rare to find a skilled karambit player who doesn’t practice one of the Indonesian, Filipino or other Southeast Asian martial arts.
The exact spelling of “karambit” can vary regionally and between various martial arts, but both “karambit” and “karambit” are commonly accepted as correct. The blade’s name is sometimes misspelled as "korambit," "kerambet," “karambite," "carambit" or with some other combination of vowels, but regardless of how it’s spelled, the pronunciation is almost always "kah-RAHM-bit." In the Philippines and in many of the Filipino martial arts (kali, eskrima, arnis), the karambit is known as a "lihok" or "sanggot." One thing about the karambit knife is for sure, though, even when little else may be: no matter what you call it, the karambit is unmatched for its tested combat prowess, proven tactical advantages and time-honored battlefield finesse.