The karambit or kerambit is a small Southeast Asian hand-held, curved knife originating in Indonesia. The karambit spelling is mostly used in the Philippines. In Western literature it is occasionally misspelled as "korambit".
As proven by its etymological roots, the kerambit originated in West Sumatra where, according to folklore, it was inspired by the claws of big cats. As with most weapons of the region, it was originally an agricultural implement designed to rake roots, gather threshing and plant rice. As it was weaponised, the blade became more curved to maximise cutting potential. Through Indonesia's trade network and close contact with neighbouring countries, the karambit was eventually dispersed through what are now Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand.
Culturally the kerambit was a subject of condescension in Java because of its history as a weapon of the agrarian peasantry, as opposed to the kesatria (warrior class) who were trained in the keraton or palace. European accounts tell that soldiers in Indonesia were armed with a kris at their waist or back and a spear in their hands, while the kerambit was used as a last resort when the fighter's other weapons were lost in battle. Nevertheless it was popular among women who would tie the weapon into their hair to be used in self-defense. Even today, silat practitioners regard it as a feminine weapon. The renowned Bugis warriors of Sulawesi were famous for their embrace of the kerambit. Today it is one of the main weapons of silat and is commonly used in Filipino martial arts as well.
Superficially the kerambit resembles the jambiyah but there is no connection. The jambiyah was always designed as a weapon and serves as a status marker, often made by skilled artisans and jewelers using precious stones and metals, whereas the kerambit was and still remains an unadorned, modest farmer's implement and useful utility knife.
|The weapon is held by inserting the first finger into the hole at the top of the handle so that its blade curves forward from the bottom of the fist.|
|Next the user closes their fingers tight around the handle locking the handle into the hand.|
|The user then closes the index finger around the finger ring.|
And finally, the thumb is closed tightly against the fingers in a typical fist fashion.
While it is primarily used in a slashing or hooking motion, kerambits with a finger ring are also used in a punching motion hitting the opponent with the finger ring, as well as some kerambits are designed to be used in a hammering motion. This flexibility of striking methods is what makes it so useful in self-defense situations. The finger guard makes it difficult to disarm and allows the knife to be maneuvered in the fingers without losing one's grip.
Generally, the short Filipino karambit has found favor in the West with some martial artists because such proponents allege the biomechanics of the weapon allow for more powerful cutting strokes and painful "ripping" wounds, and because its usability is hypothesized as more intuitive, though there continues to be debate about this matter.
There are many regional variants of kerambit. The length of the blade, for example, could vary from one village or blacksmith to another. Some have no finger guard and some feature two blades, one on each side of the handle. Traditional Indonesian forms of kerambit include:
- kerambit kuku bima: Bima's nail kerambit, endemic to West Java
- kerambit kuku Hanuman: Hanuman's claw kerambit, endemic to West Java
- kerambit kuku macan: tiger's claw kerambit, endemic to Sumatra, Central Java and Madura
- kerambit Sumbawa: larger, sturdier kerambit made specially for battle. From the Sumba Islands
- kerambit Lombok: larger, sturdier kerambit made specially for battle. From Lombok
- lawi ayam: chicken's claw, created by the Minang community
Additionally, modern kerambit may have spikes or spurs on the front or rear ricasso, which may be intended for gripping clothing or horse tack, tearing flesh or for injecting a poison, such as the upas.
The modern Western interpretation of the karambit is far removed from the original agricultural tool. They may have folding blades (more dangerous to utilise in agrarian contexts) and finished to very high standard, as opposed to being rudimentary and makeshift. As they are made from expensive materials, the Western variation is beyond the financial means of most South East Asian peasants.
They also are generally larger to accommodate larger hands and the sheath is usually made of modern materials rather than wood or leather.
The West has recently found the karambit to be useful for self-defense. Most of those produced in the West for use as weapons are based on the small Filipino variety, which features a short blade and index finger ring. Both fixed blade(generally double-edged) and folding (generally single-edged) karambit are produced by a number of makers, including Mantis Knives, Emerson Knives, Strider Knives, Spyderco, Cold Steel, Craig Camerer, United Cutlery, Rich Derespina, Cutters Knife and Tool, 5.11 Tactical, Kramer Custom Knives, Tom Ferry Knives, Quartermaster Knives, Tindle Knife Works, and Fox Cutlery.
In popular culture
- A fighter wields two karambit in the Thai movie Ong Bak 2.
- The famous Javanese playwright Nadiputra titled one of his three plays Awang Kerambit.
- A folding Emerson Karambit is briefly seen in the Thomas Jane film, The Punisher.
- The opening scene of the film Merantau shows a silat routine with a kerambit.
- In the movie Taken, Liam Neeson fights Sheik Raman's guard who uses a karambit.
- A karambit is used by Lazlo Mourne in the Mushashi Flex novel by Steve Perry.
- A folding Emerson Combat Karambit is used by Michael Westen in the Television Series Burn Notice.
- An Emerson Karambit Fixed Blade is used by Alex Mason and Frank Woods in the level Executive Order in the 2010 video game Call of Duty: Black Ops.
- A Cold Steel Steel Tiger Karambit is used by a gang Thai member in The Man from Nowhere.
- A folding Emerson Super Karambit is used by Roan in TV series Nikita.
- A karambit is used by the antagonist Alphard in Canaan.
- A karambit is used by Katya (Sam Phillips) a mute female terrorist working with Simon Gruber in Die Hard with a Vengeance.
- The Emerson Karambit Fixed Blade also resurfaces in the mission "Old Wounds" from the video game Call Of Duty: Black Ops 2, it is used by Sgt Frank Woods in order to interrogate Lev Kravchenko.
- A kerambit is included in the crest of the Royal Malaysian Police.
- Sam Fisher (portrayed by stunt actor and International Combat Systema founder Kevin Secours) in Splinter Cell Blacklist is armed with a modern westernized karambit for close quarter combat.
- A hitman in the film Bullet to the Head kills Stallone's partner with a folding karambit.
- A Karambit is a unique custom knife type in Counter-strike: Global Offensive
- A Karambit was used by Hannibal Lecter in the film Hannibal to kill a hitman and cut open Chief Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi's gut.
- Screaming Mantis in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots uses multiple Karambits during her boss fight.
- Proyek Pembinaan Permuseuman Jakarta (Indonesia). Koleksi pilihan museum-museum negeri propinsi. Proyek Pembinaan Permuseuman Jakarta: 1989. 65 pages
- Sheikh Shamsuddin. The Malay art of self-defense: silat seni gayong. North Atlantic Books, 2005 ISBN 1-55643-562-2, ISBN 978-1-55643-562-1. 247 pages. pp234
-  Mantis Knives
- "Emerson Combat Karambit". Emerson Knives Inc. Retrieved 2008-09-15.
- "Model HS Karambit". Strider Knives Inc. Retrieved 2008-09-15.
- "Steel Tiger". Cold Steel. Retrieved 2008-09-15.
- "Custom Knife Gallery". Derespina Knives. Retrieved 2008-09-15.
- "Bengal folding Karambit". Cutters Knife and Tool, Inc. Retrieved 2008-09-15.
- "5.11 Tactical Knives". 5.11 Tactical. Retrieved 2008-09-15.
-  Fox Cutlery
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