Pencak Silat – The Karambit or kerambit is a small Southeast Asian hand-held, curved knife originating in Indonesia. The karambit spelling is mostly used in the Philippines. In Western literature it is occasionally misspelled as “korambit.”
As proven by its etymological roots, the kerambit originated in West Sumatra where, according to folklore, it was inspired by the claws of big cats. As with most weapons of the region, it was originally an agricultural implement designed to rake roots, gather threshing and plant rice. As it was weaponised, the blade became more curved to maximise cutting potential. Through Indonesia’s trade network and close contact with neighbouring countries, the karambit was eventually dispersed through what are now Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand.
Culturally the kerambit was a subject of condescension in Java because of its history as a weapon of the agrarian peasantry, as opposed to the kesatria (warrior class) who were trained in the keraton or palace. European accounts tell that soldiers in Indonesia were armed with a kris at their waist or back and a spear in their hands, while the kerambit was used as a last resort when the fighter’s other weapons were lost in battle. Nevertheless it was popular among women who would tie the weapon into their hair to be used in self-defense. Even today, silat practitioners regard it as a feminine weapon. The renowned Bugis warriors of Sulawesi were famous for their embrace of the kerambit. Today it is one of the main weapons of silat and is commonly used in Filipino martial arts as well.
Superficially the kerambit resembles the jambiyah but there is no connection. The jambiyah was always designed as a weapon and serves as a status marker, often made by skilled artisans and jewelers using precious stones and metals, whereas the kerambit was and still remains an unadorned, modest farmer’s implement and useful utility knife.
While it is primarily used in a slashing or hooking motion, kerambits with a finger ring are also used in a punching motion hitting the opponent with the finger ring, as well as some kerambits are designed to be used in a hammering motion. This flexibility of striking methods is what makes it so useful in self-defense situations. The finger guard makes it difficult to disarm and allows the knife to be maneuvered in the fingers without losing one’s grip.
Generally, the short Filipino karambit has found favor in the West with some martial artists because such proponents allege the biomechanics of the weapon allow for more powerful cutting strokes and painful “ripping” wounds, and because its usability is hypothesized as more intuitive, though there continues to be debate about this matter.
There are many regional variants of kerambit. The length of the blade, for example, could vary from one village or blacksmith to another. Some have no finger guard and some feature two blades, one on each side of the handle. Traditional Indonesian forms of kerambit include: kerambit kuku bima: Bima’s nail kerambit, endemic to West Java kerambit kuku Hanuman: Hanuman’s claw kerambit, endemic to West Java kerambit kuku macan: tiger’s claw kerambit, endemic to Sumatra, Central Java and Madura kerambit Sumbawa: larger, sturdier kerambit made specially for battle. From the Sumba Islands kerambit Lombok: larger, sturdier kerambit made specially for battle. From Lombok lawi ayam: chicken’s claw, created by the Minang community.