Monday, November 29, 2010


by Steve Tarani

The Karambit can be traced from Sumatra to Malaysia and Java. The Kerambit of Lombok, is traditionally a larger or “battlefield sized” Kerambit and is much larger than its more personal-sized Javanese cousin. There is also another variation of the Kerambit hailing from neighboring islands. There are also many different shapes and designs of the Kerambit such as Rajawali (bird head shape) and others which include protruding spurs used for tearing flesh in the heat of battle. The Kerambit is also referred to as the Kuku Bima (literally “the claw of Bima”). Pre-12th century influence as a result of Hindus settling in Indonesian archipelago, brought the Mahabharata (“great epic of the Bharata Dynasty”) and the Ramayana, (two major epics of India, valued for both high literary merit and religious inspiration), to Java. Contained within the Mahabharata is the Bagavadgita (“the Lord’s song”) which is the single most important religious text of Hinduism. Bima is a character from the Mahabrapta. Also known as Kuku Hanuman (literally “the claw of Hanuman” -a character from the Ramayana), the Kerambit, magical claw which protrudes from between the center of the hands of Bima and Hanuman, has become the weapon of the traditional arts of the Southeast Asian archipelago namely Pencak Silat.

Traditionally spelled either "KERAMBIT" or KARAMBIT" this amazing and ancient artifact can be used as a utility tool and as the last line of personal defense in a close quarter altercation. The first question that comes to mind is “What exactly is a Karambit?” The Karambit can be defined as a small hand-held, curved fixed blade carried for utility purposes and for personal safety purposes. Similar to the relationship of the Pugio (Roman Dagger) to the Gladius (Sword of the ancient Roman Legions), the Daga to the Espada (Spain), the Wakazashi to the Katana (Japan) or the Dirk to the Basket-hilt (Scotland), the Main Gauche to Le Sabre (France) and the Dagger to the Rapier (England) the Karambit is considered a “backup” or “partner” in personal utility as well as personal defense.

The combination of the original design of the tiger’s claw combined with the hand weapons of the ancient characters of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana– the Kuku Macan, Kuku Bima or Kuku Hanuman has evolved into what is known in modern times as the Karambit. It is now recognized internationally as a traditional weapon of Pencak Silat.

Traditionally, in ancient times, when a fighter unsheathed a battlefield-sized Karambit in the heat of hand-to-hand combat, the cutting edge was almost always smeared with some type of deadly poison which acted almost instantly upon entry into the bloodstream via laceration of the flesh.

Even the smallest cut was good enough to get the poison into the bloodstream. Knowledge and usage of poisons derived from various species of poisonous frogs, snakes, scorpions and spiders were considered an essential element of a warrior’s arsenal of close quarter combative skills. These poisons rapidly accelerated death and were most feared for their nearly instantaneous killing power. This is another reason why Pencak Silat techniques and systems such as Sabetan and Rhikasan focus on the immobilization of the hands at close quarters.

The Karambit, is therefore a utility tool and can also be used as an implement of personal protection and represents, skill, maturity, honor and wisdom. Those who are well versed in its usage as a measure of self defense, have a greater advantage over those who do not. An ancient code of ethics reminds the warrior that his weapon should not be unsheathed without good reason nor draw blood without honor.

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