I was first exposed to the exotic Indonesian karambit in 1998. My instructor had recently trained with his teacher, the legendary Guro Besar Herman Suwanda, and he was taking me through the movements of Mande Muda Silat. Once the techniques were in place, he added the use of this awesome looking claw knife which he called a grappling knife or a karambit. Shortly afterwards, another of Guro Besar Suwanda’s students came to Atlanta to teach a seminar on the karambit which I found very enlightening and informative. Needless to say, I was “hooked”.
The karambit is a wonderful training tool, and it has devastating self-defense as well as battle field applications. From its beginnings in Sumatra, the karambit has been used as a weapon of surprise, often being concealed within the folds of a sarong for quick deployment to engage an enemy. It is not, however, a standard knife and should not be treated as such. Even Hollywood is catching the karambit fever with the blade popping up in several big name media properties such as Dexter, Taken, Judge Dredd, Counterstrike: Global Operations (CS:GO) and many more. The karambit is here to stay.
The Atlanta Blade Show is the southern Mecca for the knife devotee, an immense gathering of knife makers, collectors, and dealers. In 2001, it was here that the original Karambit.com first launched. The original booth offered sexy Karambit.com models and karambits as well as lots of promotional swag. My students and I were on hand to demonstrate the deadly and “cool looking” techniques associated with this new and exciting blade. Crowds gathered every time one of us would grab a training karambit to assist an interested potential customer to the ground with the aid of its lethal techniques.
From that first public exhibition of this previously unknown type of blade, unforeseen problems started to arise as more uninitiated folks began to get their hands on these knives. This first became apparent to me the following year at a table filled with knives and karambits. A man who approached the booth, picked up a karambit and slid his finger into the ring. In his attempt to poorly mimic one of the guys working the table, extending and retracting his own karambit, his eyes lit up in pain as he donned a helpless look when the blade sunk directly into his forearm with a solid *thunk*. He was quickly treated by one of the fast moving table workers who extracted the blade from his forearm. As they were doctoring the man, several other guys at the table started to chime in about similar wounds they had also received from this blade, a few even had a scar in the exact same place.
Take a minute to look at the structure of the karambit and the various ways that it can be held. Grip the knife with your index finger in the ring and the blade protruding from the bottom of your hand in a tip down grasp (reverse grip). When you slide your index finger into the ring of the karambit, it needs to be held as close as possible against your palm, ideally from the first finger knuckle to the base of the finger. This position will create an arc away from the forearm. While extending and retracting the blade, your arm will be safely out of the blade’s path. After all, the goal is to harm your attacker, not yourself.
If the ring of the karambit gravitates too close to the first knuckle or closer towards the second finger knuckle, the blade has the ability to travel directly into the forearm.This grip is sometimes seen in flashy videos where the ring is extending from the line of the bent first knuckle. Think about the proper technique for holding brass knuckles. They fit fine at the first knuckle, but you cannot hit with any effect in that position. However, if you slide the brass knuckles to the base of the fingers, then anything you hit will be crushed.Being cut by your own blade does not have to be inevitable if you learn the proper grip on the knife. One way to avoid injury when embarking on this educational quest is to get (and use!) an identical training karambit of your personal blade to practice with until you have the proper ring placement.
For the first timer: when you first pick up a karambit, there are two paths you can take. Use a trainer for a short time that will give you a chance to learn the mechanics of a proper grip and enable you to properly extend and retract the blade, or jump right in and start swinging it around like a party favor and win painful prizes. For the hardened martial artist, check your grip and see if it lines up with the scar on your arm or not. If you follow my advice above, you should be scar free.
However, if you still manage to plant the blade in your arm, we have a morale patch available in our store just for you:
About the author:
Lakan Guro Chris Caban is the Chief Instructor of the Atlanta Kali Group. He has 16 years of training in the Filipino Martial Arts, a Brown Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, 9 years of Muay Thai, 7 years of Mande Muda Silat, 9 years Folk/Freestyle Wrestling, and over 5 years of Tactical Training with Local Law Enforcement. Chris was also the head instructor of Carlson Gracie Guatemala (2010-2011), and currently is the director of the Dojo American Karate Center in Dacula, Ga.