Karambit, or alternately, kerambit, loosely translates from Bahasa as “tiger claw”, it is also known by other names, depending on size, or place of origin, such as lawi ayam (spur of the chicken) for smaller versions, or sangot for the large versions from the southern Philippines.
Originating in the kampongs (villages) and jungles of the Indonesian Archipelago as a small, every day carry/utility knife, it has garnered a reputation as a fearsome weapon, so much so, that they were illegal in parts of Indonesia as an assassins weapon. Closely associated with the indigenous martial arts of Southeast Asia, particularly Pentjak Silat and Kali, it has deserved much of its fearsome reputation.
Looking at a karambit, it is a very simple concept, finger ring on the end, a handle that is curved to be comfortable in the palm of the hand, and a claw shaped blade. The blade shape is very important in a small knife. By being curved, you maximize the cutting efficiency by gathering or pulling the material into the blade edge as you are cutting. In essence, the curved blade fits a longer straight blade into its smaller size.
The finger ring provides a few benefits. First, a secure draw. By hooking your finger into the ring, you have begun your draw, and by design, the knife becomes married to your skeletal system. Next, it allows an increase in grip security. Because of the way it is held, the kerambit becomes very hard to dislodge or disarm while the finger is through the ring. And finally, as with other ringed or holed blades, the ring on a kerambit allow you to keep the knife secure in your hand, while using that same hand to perform other tasks. And then, a quick twirl or spin, close your hand, and the knife is ready for more work.
The final aspect of the finger ring is its use on the kerambit as a fighting weapon. By securing the knife to your hand using the ring, it increases the force with which you can safely cut and thrust with the kerambit, especially on pull cut motions. This is where its likeness to a claw really becomes noticeable.
Now, we move into modern versions of the kerambit. There are plenty of knives out there with finger rings, but there are a few attributes that really make one usable in the manner intended.
If it is a fixed blade kerambit, you want it to be on the smaller side. The bigger it is, the more trouble you will have drawing and manipulating it safely and efficiently. You want a simple sheath setup, preferably made from kydex, or some other hard, friction fit material. Excessive straps, loops, or safety buttons like those used on nylon or leather sheathes, get in the way of quickly drawing your weapon. Preferably, you would want your sheath capable of concealed or IWB(inside the waistband) carry if you are intending to carry it for self defense.
If you are carrying a folding kerambit, aside from the above considerations, you need to look at how the kerambit opens, and the position of the clip, in order to get the most out of it for the job you assign it. The best folding kerambits will will have the clip located right below the finger ring, so the ring is accessible for you to draw into a proper grip, the clip should be reversible to allow you to carry either right handed, or in left hand support position. As far as opening a folding kerambit, hands down, the best option is to purchase one that incorporates the Emerson Wave Opening system. This way, as you draw the kerambit from your pocket, the wave catches your pocket edge and opens the blade, so the knife is open and ready for use as soon as it clears your pocket. Any other method of opening does not lead to rapid, secure deployment, and requires more manipulation to be ready for use. There are plenty of available models from Fox, Bastinelli, Emerson, and Spyderco that employ the wave feature.
In closing, kerambits are definitely a niche tool, but very effective in both a utlity or combative situation. Buying a good one, with the features discussed above, and seeking proper training is well worth it.
To see the kerambits discussed in the article and video, please visit our two locations in Lubbock, TX, or click on the link below to the Karambit page.