The Kukri Knife 101 / Everything You Need to Know about the Kukri
A once feared weapon at the hands of the Nepalese Gurkha, the Kukri knife has a proven history of assisting warriors on numerous battlefields. While the term knife was often a ‘suffix’ for Kukri, it is a fighting weapon with features picked up from other cutting tools.
At first glance, the Kukri knife resembles a machete and a boomerang. It feels more like an axe with its forward-heavy balance when picked up. Originally used as fighting weapons, Kukri today is primarily used for ceremonial purposes for the Gurkhas and as a utility tool for those living in the rural areas of Nepal.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the Kukri knife. Read on to discover its features, history, uses, and more.
The Kukri knife is widely recognized as a fighting weapon. It has seen numerous battlefields, from the Gorkha War in 1814 to the Falkland War in 1982.
The Kukri features a long blade, anywhere from 16 to 20 inches. The blade is known for its distinct curve. It is narrow close to the handle and gets wider as it becomes prominent. The blade also tapers to a pointed end but doesn’t get as much use as other curved blades.
Many other knives feature a similar design, like the Karambit. The Kukri knife stands out with its length and how it cuts with it. Rather than striking with the tip of the blade, it utilizes the belly. The blade’s heavy balance adds force to each cut, turning slicing into a chopping motion in a powerful blow.
The Kukri knife’s use with this feature can get deadly in the right hands. The power and control the Kukri offers makes it a highly effective weapon – so much so that it was thought it acted as an extension of the fighter’s arm.
The origin of the Kukri is believed to come from the Indian Nistrimsa, or the Greek Kopis, brought to South Asia by Alexander the Great. All these blades feature a curve that puts the balance forward.
Similarly designed blades have been used across the Indian subcontinent for various needs. From weapons to sacrificial rituals to utility tools, the blades resembling the Kukri can be seen across the regions around Nepal.
These make historians put roughly a date of 1,400 years from the present day for the Kukri’s origins. However, the oldest Kukri that ever was found dates back to 1627.
The introduction of the Kukri to the western world happened when the East India Company clashed with the Gorkha Kingdom (Nepal). The Kukri was one of the most effective weapons used by the Gorkhali Army in the Anglo-Nepalese War. After witnessing the efficiency of the Gorkhali Army, the British soon recruited the Nepalese and their mighty Kukri.
The Kukri gained fame during this time, and it was picked up by various armed groups during both World Wars. Today, all Gurkha troops are issued with two Kukri – one for ceremonial purposes and the other for training.
The Kukri knife features a curved blade design with an angled or smooth spine. The spine is thick and can be up to 10mm in thickness. A thick spine will come in handy given how the Kukri is used and the strength required. It also adds more weight to the knife, resulting in more aggressive cuts.
The Kukri has a very forward-heavy balance. This trait is intentional entirely in the design to boost momentum going into the swing. When it cuts, the Kukri goes through the target like an axe, outputting a lot of force.
Despite the forward-heavy balance, the Kukri doesn’t rely on its tip to cut. The design curves to expose a sizable belly that can chop like an axe.
The Kukri can feature a half or a full tang. The traditionally made Kukris fancy half tang more than full tang for easier replacement. As it is used vigorously, a broken-off handle is much easier to replace when you have a half tang.
Blacksmiths heat treat parts of the Kukri differently. The edge is hard to maintain sharpness, and the spine is softer to increase durability. This discrepancy in the heat treatment makes the Kukri an adaptable cutting tool.
Most Kukris feature cho, also known as the Kukri notch. It’s a design element resembling a Spanish notch with multiple theories on its function. Some say the cho is for cutting the finger to draw blood; some suggest it is to stop blood from running down to the handle. Regardless, the purpose of the cho isn’t certain, but most Kukris do feature this design.
The Kukri has been picked up for various reasons since the early days it was forged. Here are the primary use cases of the Kukri knife.
The most recognized use of the Kukri is as a fighting weapon. As mentioned several times, the blade of a Kukri has seen numerous frontlines across multiple regions.
The curved design is what made the Kukri such an effective weapon in close combat. The blade creates a wedge effect that cuts deep into the enemy. It already faces the opponent, so all the fighter needs to do is a chopping motion.
The grip also made the Kukri effective as a throwing weapon. Although heavy and robust, throwing the Kukri could cut deep into the enemies with its pointed end.
The Kukri knife is the ultimate close-range fighting weapon. The myth goes that the Kukri can’t be sheathed until it has drawn blood. This myth supports the theory that the cho was for drawing blood, but once again, it isn’t definite.
The Kukri doubles as a machete. It is durable, sharp, and comfortable to hold. Perfect for clearing paths in areas with thick vegetation. The belly provides a large cutting area to slice through sugar canes and bamboo.
The center of the knife maintains momentum, and the curved edge acts as a slicer. This balance between force and what the sharp edge goes against makes the Kukri an ideal tool for clearing paths.
While the most renowned use of the Kukri knife is as a weapon, it now gets more use as a utility tool across fields and homes. Although this creates a taboo that the blade must draw blood before it is sheathed, it remains a myth.
Many Nepalese, especially farmers and those living in rural areas, utilize the Kukri for chopping firewood, slaughtering animals, skinning, or even cutting vegetables and fruits. These uses also make the Kukri an appropriate camping knife.
When a job requires a hefty blade, the Kukri is the first one the Nepalese pick up. For many, the Kukri is a versatile tool with multiple uses. The part closest to the handle before the curve functions as a regular cutting instrument, while the broad section can work as an axe or spade.
The Kukri is a versatile tool that can be utilized in any survival situation. Many Nepalese keep Kukris in their homes as means of protection. When venturing out to the wilderness, the Nepalese also keep their Kukri nearby against possible dangers.
The adaptable nature is also beneficial for those that hunt. It’s an ideal knife for skinning deer or butchering and dressing medium-sized game. The pointed end and the curved blade make it easier to skin. The sturdy edge is perfect for chopping down bones, and the straight edge close to the handle makes portioning food convenient.
The history, myths, and being specific to a region makes the Kukri a great collector’s item. There are many Kukri knives that are well over 100 years old. The British Army standardized and mass-produced Kukris throughout the 19th Century. These items are valuable to collectors.
Along with the Kukris from the 19th Century, there is also the Kothimora Kukri. These are Kukris with specially designed sheaths carried by the high-ranking officials in Nepal and the royalty. The Kothimora Kukris function the same as any other, but they have a visual appeal with their sheaths. Some are also made from Damascus steel of different types.
These collectible Kukri knives go anywhere from 100 to 3,000 GBP.
The Kukri is a well-recognized cutting instrument in Nepal and throughout the Indian subcontinent. Whether you view it as a knife, sword, machete, or axe, it served countless Nepalese and continues to do so.
If you’re looking for a sturdy and intimidating knife with a touch of history behind it, Kukri will fit the description perfectly, though getting the right sharpening angle can get tricky.