Posts Tagged ‘Traditional’

Killer Karambits!

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

In a previous post, I wrote briefly about a very interesting weapon design. One that utilized a forward sweeping blade, as opposed to the traditional blade belly that curved outwards. In that post, I pointed out that there are good reasons why we generally do not generally use out ward curving blades. For one thing, a cut using an outward curving blade, would be difficult to achieve on a flat surface.

For whittling wood, it might be helpful, but because the shape of the edge would cause all of your cutting strokes would tend to want to pull the knife out of your hand, I think it would be a rather fatiguing design. However there is a specific knife style that utilizes just such a design, but in a way that makes it perfect for it’s intended use. And a wicked little knife it is. Ladies and germs, allow me to introduce you to: The Karambit.

Filipino Karambit

Filipino Karambit

Ain’t it a beaut? The Karambit (sometimes also called a Kerambit or Korambit) is of southeast Asian origin. Much like the Japanese kunai, it started off as a simple utility knife, used for household tasks, the southeast Asian equivalent of the American pocket knife, or hawkbill utility knife, and eventually ended up being used for self defense, and martial arts. However unlike these knives, the Karambit possesses a number of very interesting and unique design features.

The most noticeable feature is the large ring on the pommel of the knife, much like how many Kunai are depicted today. However that is where the similarities end. Karambits have a very pronounced reverse curve to the blade, and depending on the design, may have any number of other unique features as shown below:

Parts of a Karambit

Parts of a Karambit

Now that’s just a mean looking little knife. My kind of pocket knife. It would probably make your average pocket knife run screaming in terror. But that’s a plus in my book. Modern day Karambits come in a variety of shapes and sizes, some features are removed to meet the restrictions of local laws, and others simply a matter of tradition. Some are double edged, others are single. Some have rippers on the spine, others don’t.

Karambit Designs - Strider Knives

Karambit Designs - Strider Knives

However the things that are common to all karambits, is that characteristically curved blade, with an sharp inside edge, a grip, and the ring. And therein lies the beauty of this design. Remember before how I said that a concave blade design actually placed more drag on the knife in use? Well this design actually allows you to use that drag to your advantage.

That ring in the pommel gives the wielder a very solid purchase on the knife, allowing very strong cutting strokes, and even low pressure draw cuts, simply by laying the edge on a target and pulling the knife across by the ring. It is really quite an effective design. And, unlike like most over knives, you get a very secure forward and reverse grip.

Undercover Karambit (Black)

Undercover Karambit (Black)

Incidentally, I am not particularly impressed with those little mini blades on the spine, (aka rippers). At least the way I often seem them implemented. They are a very cool (and sinister looking) design feature, but most of them do not appear to be designed for maximum efficiency. But a properly designed set of rippers, shaped more like small sharp gut hooks, than flat chisels, could really do some damage. Kinda like this:

Dawson Large Karambit Field & Tactical Knife

Dawson Large Karambit Field & Tactical Knife

Nowadays, the Karambit is a fixture in several southeastern Asian martial arts, where it is used, with great effect, to inflict large numbers of superficial cuts, deep major artery cuts, joint or limb control, weapon defence, or any combination thereof. About the only weakness of the Karambit is that you have to learn a whole new set of techniques for fighting with it, because it does not work the same way a traditional straight bladed knife does. And there are so many more things you can do with a Karambit that you could not easily replicate with a regular knife, that you really need training in order to use it to it’s fullest potential.

Traditional Karambit With Wood Sheath

Traditional Karambit With Wood Sheath

However it is definitely a very cool tool. My kind of tool. In fact, I could see someone like… Riddick… using a karambit. It’s totally his style. I bet if we upsized the karambit to large knife proportions, this would probably be a much more effective weapon than the saber claws Riddick uses. Hmmm…

Dragon Claw Toenail Set

Dragon Claw Toenail Set

I think I’ve got an idea for this piece of steel I just so happen to have lying around. I’m off to the workshop. I have a karambit theory to test! ๐Ÿ˜€

Traditional Ninja Weapon Design – Part 3: – Tekko-Kagi

Friday, August 28th, 2009

Ohayou gozaimasu! Welcome to the next installment of my series on traditional Ninja weapon designs, featuring the work of Matthew Wright of Ninedirections.com.

I thought I’d finish off the week with a little bit about one of my favorite traditional ninja weapons, the Tekko-Kagi (aka the Tekagi or “hand claw”). Tekko-Kagi were multi purpose tools traditionally used by by Japanese ninjas for defense and offense against sword wielding opponents. The tekko-kagi design was very well suited for the purpose. The large heavy claws made it easier to deflect, block or trap swords, and in a pinch could quickly be used for offensive attacks as well.

Tekko-Kagi

Tekko-Kagi

Tekko-Kagi are one of my favorite ninja weapon designs because, as I mentioned in a previous post, it is one of the few hand claws I have come across that was designed to use both the hand and wrist muscles, in addition to the wearers fingers, (unlike many weapons from previous posts) to control the weapon. And as we can see from Matthews reproduction, you would certainly need all that strength to use it effectively.

I mentioned in my previous Ninja weapon series how traditional Japanese ninjas may not necessarily have had the resources to forge the high quality steels that the Samurai used, and would have been forced to use cheaper metals, like iron or cheap steels. In order to compensate for this, they would have made much bigger, thicker tools. Matthew has take great pains to remain as true to tradition as possible and his reproductions do capture this design philosophy very accurately.

Tekkokagi - Top

Tekkokagi - Top

However, as you can see from the pic, the hand grip is really very long, and I personally think the design couldย  have done with some major trimming in the grip area. My personal experience has been that weapons like these are much easier to use when you can wrap your entire hand around the grip. However Matthew can be commissioned to custom design the weapon to any specification you might require, so for the most part, it is a non issue

In stock form however, the thick steel had grips, thick claws, a very solid wrist hoop all combine to make each claw a whopping 5lbs each. Heavy, as hand claws go, yes. But also very, very strong, and this would have been a requirement for blocking an incoming sword strike with one of these, back in the old days. I don’t know about you, but I’d certainly be willing to sacrifice a little lightness in order to be able to use my Tekagi as a shield against multiple sword strikes. ๐Ÿ™‚

Tekkokagi - Front

Tekkokagi - Front

Overall, a great design, one of my favorites. It isn’t pretty, or flashy or covered in mirror polished gleaming stainless steel, but it is exactly the kind of weapon design I love. Dark, strong, with a wicked set of fully functional claws that quite simply mean business. A definite must-have if you are into accurate reproductions of traditional Ninja gear… ๐Ÿ˜€

Tekko-Kagi – Matthew Wright – [Nine Directions]

Traditional Ninja Weapon Design โ€“ Part 2: Shuko

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Today, I thought I’d move on to part two of my series on traditional Ninja weapon design, featuring the work of Matthew Wright of Nine Directions. And the topic of today’s post will be the infamous Ninja Shuko or “Tiger Claws”:

Ninja Shuko

Ninja Shuko

Ninja Shuko, which I posted a little bit about before, are interesting weapons. Or more accurately, interesting tools. Although they can be used as weapons, much like the Kunai I posted about last week, and are most commonly used as climbing tools, some believe that shuko were also descended from farm implements. As Matthew suggests on his site, there are those who believe that shuko were originally created by farmers to ease carrying hay bales and such.

However there is little evidence to either support that hypothesis. And given the difficulty and cost of constructing shuko, I highly doubt the hay bale carrier theory, since the Japanese were much more the practical field expediency type back then, and I think it would have been easier to just use more rope to carry those bales around, than to fashion something as relatively complex as shuko… ๐Ÿ™‚ But I digress.

Again, Matthew has employed a very traditional shuko design; a large oval steel hoop, with spikes embedded in it, connected to a large steel arm ring using a leather strap. At the hoop end, the strap is riveted above the spikes, covering the base of the spikes, protecting the hand, and providing a relatively soft internal surface for the hand.

Ninja Shuko - Hand Claws

Ninja Shuko - Hand Claws

The leather strap is also riveted to the very traditional a large steel arm ring, instead of the modern day nylon webbing and velcro wrist strap versions that are floating about all over the place. Now to be honest, while the traditional design works, I tend to favor the modern designs when it comes to practicality. Not necessarily how the spikes and claws are set up, but rather in the overall ergonomics of the arm/wrist hoop design.

Shuko - Steel Hoop

Shuko - Steel Hoop

For one thing, as a climbing device, having an adjustable wrist/arm retention system seems like it would be better than a fixed size steel hoop. So if I were designing something like this, that leather strap riveted to the spike band would be connected to another leather strap that went around the wrist, and was fastened using a buckle, or other similarly secure fastener that could be adjusted and tightened.

To some degree, I think this design would allow you to rest some your weight on the wrist strap during climbing, which could allow temporary stress relief on the muscles of the hand during extensive climbing exercises. But it would really depend on your climbing technique. The mechanical characteristics of shuko suggest that it would require a lot of hand and wrist strength to use, so the benefits of that design modification would vary from person to person.

Shuko - Grip

Shuko - Grip

And another thing is that, it is generally easier to grip something that is not the full width of your hand. If you can wrap your fingers around it, it is much easier to get a firm grip. As you can see from the pic above, this design unfortunately does not let you do that. This is not a problem with modern day designs, which are much narrower and fit the hand much closer.

It is, however very much in keeping with traditional design, which as I mentioned in the previous ninja weapon post, does seem to rely on overly large hoops and very thick components, primarily, I believe, to counteract the low quality of the materials traditionally used. So from a traditional standpoint, these are a quite accurate, functional and beautiful design. Definitely a collectors item.

And since he hand-makes these, I’m sure, if you asked nicely, you could convince Matthew to make a pair to whatever specifications you’d like… ๐Ÿ˜€

Traditional Ninja Shuko – [Nine Directions]

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,ย  is definitely one of my favorite things about them. ๐Ÿ™‚

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,ย  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, NineDirections.com, 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!ย  ๐Ÿ™‚

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,ย  I’m just saying. ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ironย  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… ๐Ÿ˜€

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

The Rustic Blade…

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

While I do like the funky curves and and sharp angles of many contemporary knives, I also tend to find certain kinds of knife primitives interesting, not really for any specific aesthetic purpose, but rather for the transparency and deceptive simplicity of their design…

Blacksmith Twister Shank Knife

Blacksmith Twister Shank Knife

[view full size]

Take the above knife for example. This knife is a modern recreation of a very old knife making style. Seeing as it would be rather costly to make something like this in the old way, I imagine it was made using modern forges and hydraulic equipment, etc. However the design idea is a fairly old ornamental wrought iron one.

Essentially, the traditional medieval black smith would have started with a steel (or iron), blank. This blank would have been heated in a furnace and the middle section (if not the whole thing) pounded out slowly, section by section, into a long rod. In order to get the twist, the black smith would have heated the rod up, clamped one flattened end section of the rod to the anvil, and used a pair of tongs to twist the other section.

The smith would do this over and over, heat and twist, section by section until the desired amount of twist was attained across the appropriate sections of rod. Then the center would he heated, and the rod folded over on the point of the anvil to provide that very useful loop. The ends would then be heated to welding heat, and pounded, heated and pounded, heated and pounded, until the ends were one seamless piece of iron/steel, and it was the right blade shape.

Then finally it was time to take it to the grinding wheel, usually a great hand turned stone wheel, which was used to grind a useful edge onto the knife. This took a lot of patience and skill to do properly. At this point the metal could then be tempered, and further refinement of the edge could be performed. The end result was a good and very useful knife which probably wouldn’t win any beauty awards, but would last forever. And all that work was just for simple knives, like the one above.

It is hard to imagine how much more work went into things like swords. When I Imagine how much pounding, grinding, perfect tempering, polishing, etc. it would have taken to make a single high quality Knight or Samurai sword I can’t help but have a lot of respect for the Medieval black smith…

Blacksmith Twister Shank Knife – [True Swords]

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