Karambits have a premium status in the knife world. This is from their connection with Filipino Martial Arts and their use as high-tier weapons in video games. This of course leads to a lot of questions about the knife itself.
These questions range from what is the history of these knives to “Why do Karambits have a hole?”
Let’s look into these two questions.
Why Karambits have holes
Karambits have holes in the handle in order to help the user retain the knife while they use it. The hole or ring are also used as an impact device and a method to extend the reach of the knife in Filipino Martial Arts.
But why was that ring or hole developed? To find out we’ll have to look at its development.
History and development of the Karambit
The karambit is a distinctly Indonesian blade. It is a knife that comes in a variety of styles in the modern world but all of them feature three basic sections: a blade, a handle, and a ring or hole at the end of that handle.
That end ring makes a karambit easily identifiable especially when it is combined with the curved or slightly curved blade. It supposedly drew inspiration for the blade curve from claws of the local wildlife.
However the knife’s original design came from a small hand sickle used to plant rice or to perform other agricultural necessities. Some theorize that the smaller versions were actually utility knives for fishermen.
Either way the karambit’s origins are tied to the working man’s knife. A tool and a peasant weapon without the status that other knives had, but a useful backup weapon when it was needed.
To get a better understanding of this type of knife we’re going to look at each section starting with the ring.
The Ring/Handle Hole
While the hole in the handle of the karambit is iconic, not all early karambits feature it. Like many handcrafted items, many were unique in their design, picking up certain styles due to the region they were made in or due to the craftsman who made them.
However as time went on, the karambit began to feature the handle hole more and more. This was most likely due to the utility it offered. The hole allows the user to keep some control over the blade while still being able to use the hand to some extent.
Additionally the hole or ring can be used to swing the entire knife forward to extend the reach. This can aid in the more agricultural uses of the knife, to drag something closer that’s just out of reach, or to slice something farther than normal in a combative sense.
More modern designs feature spikes or other reinforcements of the ring to add combat utility.
The handle is always an important part of a knife. It’s where we interface with the knife and generally how we control it.
In terms of the karambit, you will see that those styles that feature a hole or ring in the handle will have smaller handles overall compared to those that do not.
This is connected to how much the ring or hole is used to control the knife. If we look at our hand, the space between the bottom of our hand and the middle finger is shorter than the entire hand. If the ring is the primary source of control, then you just need a handle long enough to fill the rest of the hand.
The additional leverage needed to control the knife without the ring requires a longer handle. Although there are some examples of karambit that feature a half ring and a shorter thicker handle.
This brings us to the final part of the knife, the blade.
There’s no one style of karambit blade. Most traditional versions have a curve to them in connection with its sickle origins. Some have significantly smaller blades with a slight curve to them. Other modern designs have tiny straight blades.
Some of the blades are single edged, others double edged. Some feature an extremely curved blade like a hook while others are more cat-like in their design.
There are some traditional designs that are reinforced for combat. But most modern commercial designs are combat oriented. They have shorter, thicker blades and some have a heavy “fantasy knife” inspiration.
The simpler single or double edged blades are more use-driven while the ones with embellishments are more decorative items.
Some historical examples are heavily embellished but these embellishments are found on the handle rather than the blade. This generally results in narrower “pointier” blades on historical examples compared to modern style blades.
Karambits are fascinating knives with a rich history across Indonesia. Because of this many of the martial arts styles of the areas adopted this prevalent knife into their systems. As a result, the hole in the handle became more than just a means to hold the knife in place.
The utility of the handle hole went from one of a worker needing both hands to work, to one of versatility in the hands of a martial artist. The ring adds another impact area on the knife and provides a way to extend the blade beyond the normal reach of the hand.
Such a simple addition to the blade has added so much mystery to an otherwise standard curved knife while increasing its utility.