Karambits – The Karambit Gambit
There’s an old story going around about me and a karmabit. The tale goes that during a seminar, lunch break, in the 1990s, a guy walked up to me and showed me his karambit, and I looked at it, opened a nearby window and threw it out the window of a two-story building. This isn’t true. I would never do that to a guy’s property. I can say confidently that not only would I not be so rude as to throw his property out a 2-story window, I would never throw my own karambit out a window either – because I would never own one in the first place.
Being somewhat in the business of knives, I am all too often shown kerambits and asked questions about karambits. You know, the curved bladed knife that looks like a single animal claw. Some folks think they are God’s gifts to knives. And I am shown and see way too many karembits. I see photos and photos of them in the web. God, they look cool. All kinda’ science-fictiony. Klingon-like. Deadly. Tiger-paw looking. I can honestly proclaim I have never seen a karambit I didn’t think was very, cool looking.
Lord knows I don’t want to be attacked by one. But I don’t want one. Don’t need one. Don’t have one. Because of the Karembit Handicap. I hope I can leave this up here on the web as a source for people with these questions for me and questions in general about the true value of the knife in the big picture. I hope I can offer some reasoning and answers about the subject. The following are my personal beliefs and how I have come about them. If you love you some karembits? That’s fine. Enjoy a happy, healthy life. For me? Out the window they go! Figuratively of course.
As a questioner, as a skeptic, never a fan-boy, not naïve, I just don’t fall for people or systems. Worshipping a system-head or a system is a recipe for potential mistakes and failure. If you never question your revered leader, you fail to evolve. So does he and the system he does. Or folks never question gear of the revered. Do you think you must fight with a Klingon knife because you worship the culture, look, feel and history of Klingons? Or are you really looking to fight and survive with the best edged weapon? Are you so mystified by a culture that you can’t see the faults? I know Systema people who like it so much, they start believing in and supporting Communism. I know Kung Fu people who change their religion. Communism and Zen Buddhism should have nothing to do with kicking a guy on the nuts or selecting the best knife. If you want to learn how to fight with hands, sticks, knives and guns? Keep hero-worship OUT of the picture. Keep system worship out of the picture. I think this imperative. I constantly see folks doing unnecessary things just because Dijon Superfly does them, and they are too blind to question. I think you can respect a system head and, or a system, but worship is not good. How much do you salivate?
The karambit handicap. I cringe every time I see an attendee with a karambit trainer in a seminar. I know that this person will have an extra and harder time doing even the most simple, obvious, historically successful knife moves. My knife training course is built to be as simple as possible, as fast and effective, with the obvious and simple tools, which are the straight blades. Curved blades complicate simplicity.
Am I just untrained and dumb in the wild and wooly ways of the karembit? I frequently get hate mail over this from fan-boys and faddists, people apparently in some sort of odd, over-love with their knife. Someone will always suggest that I am ignorant and suggest that maybe I should take a karambit course and see the wonders and magic of the knife. Dear Dipshits, I was force-fed balisong and karambit material since the late 1980s, since before many of you reading this were born, or as they say, were mastering potty training. Force-fed in multiple training trips to Negros Island and Manila, the Philippines, and many times since there and here since. These knives were part of curriculum we had to learn all the way to Filipino black belt, along with a lot more of straight knife material. I will always prefer the straight knife to the karambit, and well – just forget about the odd, opening process with the balisong. I mean, seriously, why bother? (Unless of course you are an weapons, historian of some sort. I am not.). As soon as I held a karambit in my hand, it felt wrong and much of what they asked me to do was clearly unnecessary when compared to all the other straight blade training. As a former Army and Texas cop and an investigator most of my adult life, from arrests, cases and forensic training, I learned the straight knife is far superior and can do everything better and simpler than any curved knife, just about any time. The curve of the blade is a handicap. The more the curve, the more the handicap.
I recall the first time it happened in a New England seminar in the 1990s. A rather famous, Silat guy showed up with his curved plastic trainer. He had difficulty doing even the most simple, primitive knife things all day long. He couldn’t stab deep which is forensically the most successful, quicker kill method. It was plain to see that when slashing, his curve and tip would get stuck in body parts. Did he know he had to improvise and construct more steps, more “work-arounds,” to get the job done? I don’t know because he just flow drilled around the reality like there were no obstacles. Some do see this truth. Through the years the curved blade trainees still appear in my classes. The curve group often has to pow-wow off in the corner to make a simple thing work, because they are mentally and physically confined from the shape of their knife. Their adaptations always involve extra work-arounds and extra training and extra movement to do something otherwise done simpler with the straight blade.
What do I mean by simple, proven moves? One simple example? Studies by the Marines in 1980s – while researching World war II knife tactics in the South Pacific, the USMC study group discovered that the uppercut stab to the groin/intestines, and, or the diaphragm/heart and, or even up inside the jawbone – the common hooking uppercut was a very successful. Successful, but oddly, not really emphasized and in most cases not taught. Yet, Marines instinctively still did them. Naturally. Natural. This research led to the implementation of these very natural moves in training courses. Instinctive. Natural. Simple. Now, can you do this natural, saber grip uppercut into these areas with a karembit. No. You can’t plummet a karmabit, even one with a bottom side out grip, as deep and powerful into these vital parts as a saber, straight knife. Aside from results, the saber, straight knife movement is more natural, and the karambit will require extra training and still won’t garner the same success. Don’t get me started on all these examples as this will become a book and not an essay.
Now look, you can cut somebody with a torn-open, tin can. I also don’t want to be attacked by a torn tin can or anything sharp. Broken glass bottle. Nope. A spear? Hell no. But the question remains is, yes, a tin can will cut you, but is it the smartest thing to use? Do we need the Tactical Tin-Can course? No. You just get a knife. Get the best knife. A straight knife that stabs with deep efficiency potential and slashes without getting stuck in bodies and some clothing and can also, easily perform dozens of life-saving and survival chores.
Sellers of Karambits have much sales-pitch, yadda-yadda about the cancer-curing perfections/wonders of the curved shape. They proclaim that just about everyone on the planet already uses, benefits and really needs the really curved knife. EVERYONE uses and loves the karambit, everyone except the real people you see, you know, work with and read about and watch in documentaries, etc. I suggest you challenge every line of the sales pitch because in the end, it is not the selection of the practical. In actuality…
- Butchers don’t use them.
- Surgeons don’t use them.
- Cooks don’t use them.
- Hunters don’t use them.
- Fishermen don’t use them.
- Soldiers & Marines in the know don’t use them.
- People don’t use them to camp.
- Workers with real labor jobs won’t use them.
- People don’t eat with them (this is a big point).
- Prosecutors and police love to see you use them.
If they are so perfect and superior, why are they not used by all humanity most of the time? Try giving a farmer, a factory worker or a camper just a karambit and see how long that idea lasts before they trade out for a straight blade. Give a carpet layer a karambit and he will quickly resort back to his carpet knife. Many, if not most, of the big name karambit twirlers have never been in the military. They just don’t know that a military knife in the field must be very versatile and able to perform many everyday chores, as well as possible fighting. (And by using them, I mean predominantly use them. I am sure in my incoming hate mail over this, someone will name a special circumstance where someone drops his regular straight knife and reaches for a curvy hook knife to catch an oddball body, fish or animal or autopsy part.)
The biggest point in the above list, to me is that the human race has evolved to hunt, grow, prepare food and eat with a straight knife. Ever try to eat a steak with a karambit? Cut and butter bread? I have a friend who likes to tease me on this point and threatens to send me a video of him eating a steak with his curvy kerambit. I’ll bet he can! I’ll also bet he can eat a steak with a torn, tin can. The point is, not that you can or can’t, but rather – what is the smartest tool to use. And we can’t forget, kitchen cutlery has reeked international havoc in self-defense, crime and war. In civilized countries over 99% of all knife violence is with simple, kitchen cutlery. A pretty good success rate for the straight blade.
Chopping off limbs with the Karambit. Did we mention butchers above? A good friend of mine, consumed by all things “distant” and eastern, oriental and Indonesian, was telling me that a butcher he knew, using a very stout, big karambit with a sharp outside edge, could flip/spin the curved knife and chop off the limbs of large animals in his shop. It took some practice, but he could. The message for me was that the karambit could, if worked right, with the right momentum, chop off big things in a power spin. CHOP! I just nodded my head. Whatever. But such takes more work, awkward applications, etc. and stouter karambits with a sharp outside edge. If it were a big folder? How do you have a sharp, outside edge and carry it? Not in a pocket, but in a sheath…in case you know…you have to lop off a hand. I am quite sure the butchers of the world will still prefer regular straight knives and cleavers for more efficient, consistent success. What will be this butcher’s tool of day-to-day preference. The easy one. And then I must ask, will you always carry around this oversized karambit with the complete outer side sharp? Whose forearm do you imagine you will be cutting off in your day-to-day? In YOUR world? Jaime Lannisters?
And needless to add, take a guy with a straight, blade knife in a saber grip versus a guy with karambit and let them duel. Who do you think has the advantage? Spar it out. Take two Superflys and spar this straight vs. curved karambit. I can tell you from doing that for decades and organizing/ref experience that the saber grip straight blade has the advantage. Not that dueling is the end-all knife encounter, a final judge, oh no, but dueling can and does happen. And listen to this – this is telling – even the Superflies still teach and use a whole lot of straight knives too. Most teach more straight knife than curved knife. Why bother? If the Karambit was God’s gift for knife work? Wouldn’t they give up on straight blade material all together?
But they look cool, so Klingon and purty! And Dijon Juan Superfly is soooo cool with his flow drills on youtube!
“Oh my Dijon! Oh my….and…and Dijon does so many arm manipulations.” Do you think you will really hook and push around so many angry, adrenalized arms with a karambit as Dojon Superfly does in a cooperative flow drill on Youtube? And by the way, a straight knife can push arms around too.
Back to Spinning the Karambit. The ring in the handle alone does not a karambit make. I have seen some folks calling a straight knife with a ring in the handle a karambit, just because of the ring. No. It has to have a curved blade to be one. Now, to what degree of a curve, I can’t precisely say. I think you know one when you see one. The ring is for mostly for retention and…spinning. On spinning, another dubious karambit characteristic- the Karambit sellers page says,
“Karambit spinning is showy, flashy and useless without significant training, practice and understanding of the application. New users should not spin karambits until they’re intimately familiar with their blade, its balance, the way it fits into their hand in various grips and while in motion AND, most importantly, until they’ve received instruction.”
Further, “…many people don’t use the smaller muscles in the hands and it takes time to build them up.”
Confessions from a top karambit salesman! And there you have it from the source. More stuff to do. More muscles to build. More unnecessary stuff to do.
Straight, bent, curved. The curve of the knife. The more curve, the worse. There are knives on the market that have some bend to them, some just a slight bend, bended/angled with no curvey claw. Some right-angle bends remind me somewhat of carpet knives. The sharp, 90 degree bend of the carpet knife, its position to the handle, is superior to the more curved kerambits, otherwise thousands of carpet layers would have invented karambits or they would all use karambits. They don’t. Some folks, like carpet folks, work projects that require that sharp point, at the maximum position of their hand grip for the job. As a detective I have worked some serious assaults involving carpet knife attacks.
Stress Quick Draws Issues. A comprehensive knife program covers stress quick draws. It seems all modern knives now try to have some pocket catching device that facilitates a quick folder opening. But some don’t. Sometimes people get their folder out but in the heat of the fight, can’t open right away. The folder then becomes a palm stick until its opened. The selected knife when folded should protrude from the top and bottom of the fisted hand, and it should support the hand inside the fist for punching. I have a pretty big hand and have tried punching heavy bags with various karambits. Due to the curved blade, the folded knives are quite wide and they all hurt to punch with. Probably I might find one not as wide someday, but with all the other negatives surrounding the karambit? I don’t go about searching for it. But this wideness when punching is another survival reason/problem to avoid the karambit.
One of the great advantages of the reverse or ice pick grip of a straight blade is it’s ever-so-natural, stab application. There seems to be an inert, intuitive hammer fist application with a reverse grip stab. Think of the power of just a hammer fist. It alone breaks many boards, many ice blocks, many pieces of cement. Imagine that force delivering a straight knife stab! But wait! Now hold a karambit in its reverse grip application, as in the curved end looping out of the bottom of the hand. Gone is all the hammer fist intuition. Gone is the simple, practical, stab and its extra power shot potential.
The somewhat bent edged weapons list might include the infamous kukri. The kukri is not a curvy karambit. It has its own heft and is used much like a straight edged weapon.
Straighter? “Benter?” Curved? These bended ones are better than the curvy ones, and seem to have some ‘hammerfist-like” and “punching-like,” natural applications. But, the more the bend? The more the pointy curve? The more problems. To use them as efficiently as a straight knife, which cannot be completely done, you have to add-on, learn more, have extra tricks to stab and slash. And, speaking of hammer-fists, the hammer fist is a very natural movement, with very natural target acquisition, and really supports the reverse or ice-pick grip, straight-blade stab. Why ruin that principle with a curved blade that sticks out and then forward from the bottom of hand, killing the hammer-fist instinct. So…more Karambit training is therefore needed. More extra training.
As mentioned in the above military photo, it gets stuck in people and things. The curved point is called a hook, because…it hooks. I see the karambit practitioners simulating cuts with figure 8 patterns and X patterns in the air, or in front of partners. No contact. Do they not realize that with contact, their point embeds into the person and the bones and the clothing, gear, etc.? X pattern over. Figure 8 pattern over. And now they must learn an extraction technique, unique to that knife. Extra stuff to learn. (this is also true with the tomahawk/axe craze. On first impact? THUNK! NO more slap-dash, dancy, prancy axe moves, just a big-ass axe sunk into a skull or chest. Extraction! Use foot if needed to push-pull)
The most curved knife “out there?” The classic rescue knife. One carried just to cut seat belts and ropes. You can’t even clean your nails with this one. I think that anyone can see this is really limited in overall use. The more the curve, the less you can do. I am sure when you need a seat belt cutter? You really need a seat belt cutter. So, get one and cram it on your belt. Squeeze in that two inches more next to your shark repellent, and radiation pills, for those times you really need stuff like that. (Oh, and yes, a “regular” knife can cut a seat belt too, and I’ll bet has many more times than a specialized seat cutter.)
And lastly, need we discuss the stigma again of this Klingon-looking knife. It is bad enough to use any knife for self defense, but this knife, by its very appearance also causes negative, legal prejudices to the police, the prosecutors, the courts and to juries. Think of it in terms of pistols. Would you rather defend yourself with the “Widowmaker” pistol? Or..the “Peacemaker” pistol?” Yes, these…things…count. In a recent self defense courtroom trial, Assistant District Attorney in Texas Aaron Bundoc also said of the defendant’s self defense use of the karambit, “It was not a self-defense tool as Hernandez alleged.” He said “…a Karambit is a combat weapon designed to gut and butcher people.” Just ONE example.
Look, what do I care about people, their fixations, fascinations and hobbies? Why should you care what I think? Some people love history and weapons. Some people like to crack bull whips, while the whip is on fire! Get a hobby! Get a karambit and mess with it. Do all that extra training. Place it on a rotating pedestal in your den. One in each pocket and on a neck chain. Get the t-shirt and ballcap. Follow the Dijon. Smile. Live long and prosper. These are just my personal beliefs and opinions. I know I never want to be attacked or cut by a karambit, or a torn, tin can or a rescue knife. Hell, I hate paper cuts. But to me, a karambit is a handicap to sheer simplicity and ultimate practicality. People are just too damn hypnotized by the shape, culture, history, hero-worship and system-worship.
What did they tell us in school years ago, when writing an essay? “Contrast and compare.” If you really contrast and compare, without bias and fixations, fandom and fads? What do you come up with? Being that we here are Force NECESSARY, and not Force UN-necessary, I will never bother with, or waste my time teaching, a karambit course. Do please, however continue to show me your karambits. They are all very cool looking. And I certainly will not throw them out of any window. Only, you know…figuratively.
Email Hock at HockHochheim@ForceNecessary.com
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