Posts Tagged ‘Heavy’

Traditional Ninja Weapon Design – Part 1: The Kunai

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

I’ve always been a fan of the traditional weapons of the Japanese Ninja. Back in the old days, ninja were the Japanese equivalent to the modern day special forces. Special training, special tactics, and, of course, special weapons! Which, if you haven’t figured it out by now,  is definitely one of my favorite things about them. 🙂

Folklore, history, and Hollywood has certainly added to their glamor and mystique, and in many cases elevated them to the status of magicians and super soldiers, who could, some legends have it, make fondue, sans fondue pot, from mouldy gouda. And tame dragons using nothing more but a finger nail clipped from their left pinky toe, and other such fantasies.

But in reality they were only human. What made them special, was that they were very resourceful, had extensive training, were extremely motivated,  and possessed a unique set of tools. Of the physical, and mental, in addition to the bladed and non-bladed variety. They understood and employed social engineering tactics long before it became such a popular term, and could in fact turn the most innocuous everyday items into weapons. Not magic really, but given the era they lived in, it might as well have been.

But the purpose of this post is not to add fuel to the already epic mythos of the great Shinobi Warrior. No, today, I thought I’d talk a little bit of the practical side of Ninjutsu, specifically, their weapons. Not too long ago, one of my readers, Matthew Wright, aka Mangetsu, posted a link to one of his own hand made Kunai, and I have to admit that I really liked what I saw. It is clear that he went through a great deal of trouble to remain as true as possible to tradition, and it shows.

There are no spring loaded, rocket powered or demon spirit controlled movie or anime style ninja weapons on his site. Not that that wouldn’t be cool. I would love to have some medieval Japanese Da-Vinci style Ninja weapons in my arsenal. But that is a topic for another site. Matthews site,, has only great, realistic, functional designs that are as close as possible to traditional Japanese Ninja weapons design as you can get with modern materials and tools. Interestingly enough, in keeping so close to the traditional designs, he has also illustrated quite graphically, many of the limitations that the old school Ninja had to face with respect to both materials and technology.

This week, I thought I’d run a three part series on my favorite weapons from Matthews catalog of excellent work, and also share some of my thoughts on the designs he replicated. So grab a cuppa Joe, Mountain Dew Game Fuel, Jolt, Red Bull, whatever your poison is, and grab a seat!  🙂

All comfy? Good. Today we will start with one of the most poorly represented weapons of the Ninja’s arsenal: The Kunai.

Now in a several previous posts, I’ve talked a little about how the kunai has either been non-existent (often usurped by the ubiquitous shuriken) or misrepresented in modern media, especially in anime, and how it was originally not really a weapon, as much as a lowly gardening implement. The upshot here is that there are now a gazillion so called “kunai” being sold by collectible knife makers, and sadly, they have little in common with the original.

Traditional Kunai - Mild Steel

Traditional Kunai - Mild Steel

Matthews Kunai, on the other hand, are imho, quite simply just about as realistic as you can get. It has the long, wide leaf shape that would have been required for use as a garden trowel, the point that would have been used for digging in hard earth, and a simple grip. If you look at any modern garden trowel, you will immediately see the resemblance. It’s a bit crude in comparison, but it’s there. This traditional design however, looks like it would actually be much better suited for smacking people upside the head. Hey,  I’m just saying. 🙂

You’ll also note the lack of a ring on the pommel of Matthews kunai. While I believe a ring was present in some traditional kunai, it was by no means a mandatory feature. And its size, unlike the consistently huge ring we see in many ninja anime series today, ranged, from a small whole just large enough to pass a lanyard through, up to a finger ring size, large enough for ones thumb to be placed through in order to make it easier to dig with. However these have a simple flat pommel, which would also serve as a great thumb rest for digging duty, as well as a strong striking surface, which is something that would have been a little more difficult to do with a ring pommel.

Traditional Kunai - Profile & Pommel

Traditional Kunai - Profile & Pommel

Matthew was also commissioned to make a special set of Kunai, with serrations on one edge. A very interesting custom design, that might not have been practical using the original construction materials of the day, but still quite visually impressive. He now makes them full time:

Toothed Kunai

Toothed Kunai

Besides the custom designs, Matthews kunai are in most respects, quite authentic, except for the one major difference. Much better materials. These kunai are made of steel. Traditional kunai were made of iron. This is an important point, as the materials in use at the time played a significant role in the physical design of many traditional Ninja tools.

Toothed Kunai - Profile

Toothed Kunai - Profile

If you look at these kunai, you will see that they are very, very thick. Their thickness, is in fact overkill for what they will be used for, however I believe this is how they were traditionally designed. I think the primary reason for this is that iron  was much softer than steel, and the traditional blacksmiths might have made much thicker tools in iron than they would in steel, in order to compensate for the softness of the iron.

Traditional Kunai - Tree Stump

Traditional Kunai - Tree Stump

Today it is easy to make a kunai that are many times thinner than the traditional designs, and still maintain superior strength and durability than the old iron kunai. It is also interesting to realize that incredibly useful features, like serrations, would not have been as effective on the older kunai, due to the softness of the material, and I think that it is great that we can experiment with them today.

I think these kunai are perhaps the most authentic designs I have seen, at least in form, and should be incredibly strong as well. Quite worth it, if you are looking for an authentic kunai that will take abuse that would make most others on the market today go crying to their mommies… 😀

Traditional Steel Kunai – [Nine Directions]
Toothed Kunai – [Nine Directions]

The devil’s in the details…

Monday, July 27th, 2009

In a couple of previous posts I talked a little about what makes an ideal survival knife. I had actually planned a future post to treat the topic in a little further detail. However I recently ran into a good example of an almost perfect survival machete that I thought warranted a little post.

And I say *almost* perfect because, while it ostensibly meets the requirements of what I consider ideal in a large survival blade in a multi blade set, it falls short in one single area, a small failing, that by my estimates, rendered it almost 50% less effective than if it had been properly designed. Yeah. Small flaw, big problems. This is the tool in question:

The Ultimate Survival Machete

The Ultimate Survival Machete

This is the Ultimate Survival Machete. I may have mentioned in a previous post that in my opinion the ideal survival kit would actually include multiple blades, with a minimum of two, not one survival knife, which is a misconception that many people seem to have. The singe blade solution is a compromise for if you have absolutely have to carry only one blade.

However in my opinion the ideal solution includes at least two knives. One small blade for fine work, skinning, whittling, carving and what not, and one large, heavy blade, like a bowie, axe or a machete, for heavy work, such as chopping, log splitting, cutting down trees, and other heavy camp work. But I digress.

This so called “Ultimate Survival Machete” actually does do it’s name some justice, though possesses a basic flaw, which we will get into shortly. But besides that, I find the basic design concept of this machete would actually make for an ideal large camp knife. On the front edge, like most other machetes, you have a large, strong heavy, full tang blade that would make short work of heavy chopping chores.  But unlike most other machetes, this one also has a rather effective looking saw tooth spine.

Now this is something I have not talked a whole lot about, but it bears mentioning. A properly designed sawtooth spine is extremely useful on a single, multipurpose survival knife. The saw simply makes it much easier to cut through medium to heavy pieces of wood, with surprisingly little effort, especially compared to the energy required to chop the same saplings and branches down with a medium camp axe. This is important in a survival setting. Granted, when it comes to chopping down large trees and such, the axe is a better bet, however a heavy machete is a pretty close second.

So in my mind, this design, a machete with a saw toothed spine, assuming the saw teeth are properly designed, is a near perfect combination of features that could easily replace an axe. And as an added bonus on this machete, you actually have a somewhat decent point, perhaps not an ideal design for thrusting, but one which would allow it to be used as a defensive weapon whose full length could be used to keep large animals and whatnot at bay. Add to that the full finger guard, and the lanyard, and you have a near perfect survival machete design.

BUT now we come to the fly (or in this case the dung beetle) in the proverbial ointment. In their great zeal to create the ultimate survival machete, the designers of the tool forgot one little thing. Kudos to anyone who can guess what I’m about to demerit this survival machete on… Go on. Give it a shot. I’ll wait…

No clue? OK, I’ll give you a hint: Full finger guards rarely work as well backwards. 🙂

The Ultimate Survival Machete - Sheath

The Ultimate Survival Machete - Sheath

Bingo! That’s it. There is a full finger guard. And then there is a saw tooth spine.  And try as you might, nary the twain shall work! 😀 As you can see from the pic, that full finger guard would work great when the machete was being used for chopping. However what happens when you want to use the spine for sawing? You have to flip the machete upside down don’t you?! And then what happens to the guard…? DOH!!

Yeah… I bet you can just feel the calluses forming as you picture it in your mind. Sawing holding onto the grip upside down, with that full finger guard running over the back of your hand, or across your thumb, would be awkward, and get very, very, uncomfortable, because you would be hard pressed to actually get the blade into a 90 degree angle with whatever it is you are trying to saw into.

You could grip the guard instead, but then you’d be holding a very small grip, above the centerline of the saw blade, which wouldn’t be any better. Basically, by adding that full sized finger guard, they have rendered the saw toothed spine almost unusable. BUMMER!!!

Now to be honest, there’s an easy fix. Grab a hacksaw, and lop off the guard flush with the top and bottom of the grip, maybe leave a small, unobtrusive stubby guard instead, and sand it down to match the contoured grip. Voila! This would get you the perfect survival machete advertised.

However I did want to illustrate how important little things can become when they are not fully checked for correct ergonomics across the entire range of possible uses the tool is designed for. Clearly, in this case, either the saw tooth spine was added as an after thought, or the ergonomics of this feature was never really thought about during the design stage.

I already have a small camp hatchet in my camp kit. But this machete would still definitely make it into that, or my bug out bag. After making the aforementioned modification, of course. And I’d probably ditch the hatchet if I had to choose between them. But then again I grew up using machetes for everything from field work, to camping, to a few other out-of-left-field things, so I might be a little biased… 😀

The Ultimate Survival Machete – [The Happy Ninja]

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