I have spent much of my childhood reading stories about ancient warriors: ninjas, samurai, and knights. Their legends and stories intrigued me into reading about their traditions and combat techniques. But it was the courageous Nepalese Gurkha warriors which really surprised me. A story about a handful of Gurkhas outmaneuvering their opponents with nothing but kukris wasn’t easy to digest. It got me interested in kukri knife fighting techniques.
Should You Learn Knife Fighting?
In this article, I will share with you some kukri combat techniques I have researched. The ability to fight and defend yourself is a priceless skill. You will be ready for every challenge that comes your way, feeling stronger and more self-confident. Martial arts are the best way to build character.
Before looking into the kukri knife fighting techniques, we need to grasp a bit of Nepalese history and combat background. These blades feature a unique design, so we will need to look into that as well.
Disclaimer: Knife fighting and training is dangerous. This article is here to educate, but it is not comprehensive enough to replace actual training with an authorized professional. Avoid risky situations, don’t play with sharp blades. Don’t injure yourself or others. We do not take responsibility for the actions of our readers. So, if you want to learn how to fight with a knife, go to a class and make safety a priority.
What’s the Story Of the Nepalese Kukri?
Personally, whenever I hear Nepal, two things come to mind: Mt. Everest and kukri blades. These weapons are intimately related to the legendary Gurkha warriors, who embody much of Nepal’s history over the past four centuries.
The earliest kukri model ever found belonged to Ram Shah, the king of Gorkha (around 1627 AD). It is showcased in the National Museum of Nepal – make sure you take a peek next time you visit. However, the use of this weapon became widespread around 1768 when the Gurkhas rose to power over the entire country.
The Gurkhas were a small military force in the Gorkha region of modern Nepal. Times were anything but peaceful! The Hindus were fighting the Mughals, many small kingdoms were conquered. There was an enormous incentive to learn how to fight and survive.
So, the Gurkha became proficient fighters and their legendary victories brought fame. We still remember them to this day. They carried an arsenal of spears, blades, bows, which they could use very effectively. But for some reason, people associated the kukri knife with these warriors, and so it came to be… The kukri is now a symbol of the Nepalese Gurkha.
This sharp blade could double as a tool in times of peace, and a weapon in times of war. The primary reason being it was easier to learn kukri knife fighting techniques. Even mere villagers when armed with a kukri became decent warriors.
Since the Gurkhas came to power, the kukri became a national emblem of Nepal. Nepalese soldiers carried this imposing blade in the battlefields for the following centuries. In fact, it was the fearless Gurkha who held off the British invaders from colonizing Nepal.
How Did the Gurkha Fight?
Kukri knives proved their combat effectiveness during World War 2. Nepal declared war against Germany after the invasion of Poland, but they fought the Japanese on the Burmese front. A large contingent of Nepalese mercenaries had joined the British forces. Deployed on multiple battlefronts (South Asia, Africa, Italy, Iraq), they showed remarkable courage and bravery.
They were strategic guerilla fighters. Even without ammo, the stealthy Gurkha ran incursions against the Japanese, using their skills with the blade.
Modern-day Nepalese soldiers still feel inspired by the stories of brave combatants like Havildar Bhanbhagta Gurung and Bishnu Shrestha. They were highly skilled with the kukri and equally brave.
How did they use the knife? I found that they mostly used the kukri knife for slashing and cutting. Thrusting with the kukri was uncommon. We shall talk more about technique later, but for now, let’s focus on the weapon itself.
Kukri Design and Technique
Kukris are long, single-edged curved knives. The blade features a heavy forward bent, and it is thicker towards the tip, narrower near the handle. That means there is an offset in balance; Center of mass is located above the mid-blade section. That makes kukris proficient choppers and we will return to that in the following kukri knife fighting techniques. This blade is a formidable weapon for slashing with minimum force.
Basic Parts Of Kukri Machetes
Blade – The blade is thick and heavy towards the top. It has a flat, wide spine (up to 8 mm) and a sharp bit. The edge is very sharp near the handle, at its narrowest. The heavy side is less sharp and more suitable for chopping. Most kukris are made from high-carbon steel, but there are a few 5160 spring steel models on the market.
Handle – Kukris feature a hardwood or buffalo horn handle. It can be plain or elaborate with lovely patterns and decor. You may find rings and grooves on the handle. These designs are meant to improve gripping.
Cho – You will find a cow’s hoof shaped notch on the edge, just above the handle. Cows are sacred animals in Nepal. This sharp opening is useful for many practical tasks like sharpening arrows.
Butt Cap – Most kukris have a thick metallic pommel. It adjusts the balance, slightly shifting the center of mass towards the middle of the knife. The butt cap can double as a blunt tool – a strike on the back of the head can render an opponent unconscious.
Now that you have some basic knowledge regarding kukri knives, let’s look into the kukri knife fighting techniques.
Before getting into the exact moves and angles of attack, we need to understand the grip, the basic stance and how to wear a kukri knife.
How to Wear the Kukri Machete?
This blade is thick and heavy, which means you need a proper sheath to carry it. You should make sure you are wearing it correctly, for better drawing and unsheathing.
Standard placement is: You secure the sheath to your belt, using its belt-loop. It should rest on the opposite side of your dominant arm. Drawing requires your hand to come across your body, to pull the knife out. If you are right-handed, the sheath rests on the left side of your waist, and vice-versa.
When sheathed, the edge is facing forwards, towards what’s in front of you. To pull it out, you need to use both hands: your cross-hand will grab the knife handle, while the other one will grab sheath and hold it securely as you draw the blade.
Since the edge faces forward (when sheathed) that means when you draw the knife with your cross-hand, it will be oriented towards the enemy.
Kukris are sharp and curved, so be extra careful when unsheathing them. Remember: a kukri should hang downwards in a scabbard close to your waist, on the opposite side of your dominant hand. Be careful when drawing the blade, even though it is not as dangerous as drawing the katana. Practice your draw moves.
What Should Your Stance Be?
Realistic combat styles don’t impose those traditional and highly uncomfortable stances that mimic a drunken monkey, a praying mantis, or a crane. Instead, they focus on the ability to move and shift your body-weight as quickly as possible. That’s the measure of realism.
So, when fighting with a kukri, you stand in the most natural position for fighting. Imagine a typical boxer with his or her guard stance: the dominant leg is one step forward, you bend your knees ever so slightly. Both legs share the weight – you distribute your weight equally. Obviously, there is some space between your feet horizontally; you don’t keep your feet aligned vertically, otherwise, you will lose balance.
The distance between your feet is about a foot (30 cm); but that’s not written in stone, optimize your stance to get the best balance and speed of movement.
If you are right-handed, that means your right arm and legs are dominant. You keep the right foot forward, and the kukri in your right hand. Protect your left side: keep your left foot back, while left arm and shoulder are oriented slightly away. Make sure both elbows are relaxed and slightly bent. If you are left-handed, change and mirror what I just said.
What Is the Best Grip For a Kukri?
I researched a kukri combat guide and even read what martial arts experts had to say… Here is the consensus about knife fighting:
Depending on weapon size, your grip should be the one which offers you the greatest flexibility for movement and speed. A small knife can be gripped in such a way that the sharp tip aims at the opponent. A kukri is too heavy and long for such a maneuver, it will only slow you down. Instead, you need to hold it as you would a hammer. Slashing, chopping and even stabbing becomes much easier that way.
Basic hammer grip is the best for a kukri blade. It provides the momentum to execute chops, and you can even slash and cut using a drawing motion.
Sometimes, the handle is longer than your gripping fist size. In that case, you can grip the kukri from the bottom end to extend your range be more effective at distance.
Kukri Knife Fighting Techniques
Since kukris are single-edged knives, the fighting techniques differ significantly from standard sword combat. From the discussions I read from martial arts experts and former Gurkhas, I have found two kukri knife fighting techniques to be the most effective:
- Body Box Technique
- Conventional Gurkha Warfare
Body box is relatively new. It is easier to learn and offers strong defensive possibilities. The Conventional method is for those who want real combat experience.
Body Box Technique
If you didn’t train much but deeply care about self-defense, then learn a new way to defend yourself (with bladed weapons).
Body box technique was designed for newbies. It is relatively simple to get good at it; a speedy lesson in kukri combat techniques. The body box is a concept that goes like this:
Imagine a box in front of your chest. It floats at the level of your lower abdomen, and its height reaches the top of your head – but it’s as narrow as your shoulder-width. Knife fighters that use this concept know the areas within which the blade needs to move and slice. Leave the bounds of the box, and you expose your vulnerable parts. Under this concept, your knife stays in the box area.
Following this technique, your body would be out of reach to any assailant. They would need to get past the knife to touch you. Following this technique and keeping the knife close to your torso allows short, fast cuts and thrusts.
The Defensive Body
People find it easy to understand the box technique, it is straight-forward: you put a weapon between you (your most vulnerable parts) and the attacker.
Since this is self-defense, blocking is essential. It involves using the kukri, by leveraging your body in a certain way. There are two basic block moves we shall expand on.
Most attackers, being right-handed, will most often attack your left side. (We are going to assume you are right-handed as well) With this backhand move, you can block these attacks by bringing your knife in front of your left side and slightly bending your right elbow. You are using your backhand to maximize the potential of this technique.
By keeping your elbow close to the body, you have considerably more stability and strength to fend off an incoming strike. Your resting hand can stay in place, or come to the aid of your wielding-hand, to add more control.
In most scenarios, you will be directing your knife-block in the upper-left corner since that’s how most people would attack, with a forward-swing. However, you may adjust the height of your knife as required, just keep the elbow close to your body.
A less frequent form of attacking is the diagonal strike or swipe. So, I am going diagonally; If I am right-handed, then I am aiming for your right side (neck, head, etc). If that’s the case, a straight-hand block is the optimum defensive and interceptive maneuver.
In the straight-hand blocking motion, if I am going diagonally for your right side, then you keep your right arm bent, pointing upwards, with the elbow close to your body. The elbow is close enough to your torso so that your block can absorb the momentum of the attack. You can use your left hand to support and push back against the right elbow to make the straight-hand block more stable.
This technique is centered around kukri self-defense. Moreover, attacking someone with a lethal weapon can land you in a tough spot legally, so you should never do it, not even when provoked. Always be up-to-date with the current local law regarding self-defense, and know when lethal force is permissible by law (when your life is in danger, etc). I prefer to run or walk away whenever I can.
When training, use non-dangerous replicas, without a sharp edge or a piercing tip. When an assailant is actively trying to kill you, and you have nowhere to run or hide, then it may be the case that offense is the best defense. The kukri is a good weapon for self-defense, and there are two basic moves to get you going.
Block Into Attack Move
Earlier, we talked a bit about the back-hand and straight-hand blocks. Martial arts know that a block can easily be followed by a counter-attack. You can chain them together nicely.
Both of the previous block-moves can translate into a counter-attack with a bit of foot-work. After blocking the assailant’s strike, you just step forward and thrust the blade towards him. The smoother you transition from block to counter, the better – skilled kukri and knife fighter can move like water, they are very fluid in their movement.
You can counter more easily from a straight-hand block, and transition into a slashing strike against the attacker.
Kukri knife effectiveness increases manifolds when you slash with your kukri. It is, after all, less of a piercing / stabbing weapon, and more of a chopper / cutter.
The standard cut and slash is the most straightforward attack with a kukri knife. Being a forwardly balanced blade, you don’t need a lot of force to deliver a crippling blow. That thick front-heavy blade adds momentum.
When fighting with a kukri, you should normally be in the guard stance, focused and prepared for an incoming blow. Every self-initiated attack begins from the guard stance: just step forward and deliver the chop. Raise the blade (not too much, just to the level of your eyes), then step towards the assailant and chop!
The slashing chop can be delivered when moving both forward and backward. You can step back and perform the attack, as you retreat. Or you can combine the foot-work: Do a fast swipe towards your opponent and step back immediately afterward.
Conventional Gurkha Warfare
Among the kukri knife fighting techniques, the Box Body method is mainly suited for self-defense. It meets the basic security needs of the every-day individual. However, some of us are looking for actual combat training. If you are that kind of determined person, then conventional Gurkha warfare is for you.
The first and foremost thing that you need to learn is how to quickly draw the kukri under stressful conditions. A soldier on the field of combat is under constant threat, so he needs to learn to cope and at the same time, defend himself against lightning-fast attacks.
How To Draw the Kukri?
Given how sharp the blade can be, make caution your priority when you unsheathe it. You should practice mastering the draw before mixing in combat techniques.
You can tape up the edge to avoid incidents, but make sure you clean away the resin after training. The basic steps for drawings out the kukri:
- Grab the blade with your right hand using the basic hammer grip. Grab the sheath with your left hand.
- Rotate the scabbard to a horizontal position. Hold it firmly!
- Smoothly pull out the kukri knife, in a curvy motion depending on how curved its blade is.
I described that technique for a right-handed person, but if you are in the minority (left-handed) then just change it accordingly to match your style.
Re-sheathing follows the exact reverse order. You should rehearse those steps before practicing combat. You need to be able to draw out your kukri knife while looking your opponent in the eye, and you need to do it swiftly!
Combat Techniques ?
Nepalese Gurkhas were mainly simple villages who became warriors, therefore, their techniques are relatively simpler. Despite the simplicity, the techniques have withered the onslaught of the time due to their effectiveness.
Gurkhas used their kukris while being extremely agile and quick. Their techniques involved cutting and slashing mostly with little thrusting.
In order to explain their moves, I will be using the US Marines 9 angles of attack chart given below. It is a prevalent illustration among self-defense and offensive combat circles.
Surprise Backhand Stroke
In the heat of battle, a surprise attack comes handily. It decides the fate of your life in your favor. To do this move, you would draw your kukri and make a number 8 angle attack on your opponent. Given your quickness and sharpness of the kukri, it would mean a cut into the leg or abdominal organs which would severely hurt the chance of opponent to fight further.
A thrust following the low angle 5 does significant damage to a person. To do it, you would unsheathe your kukri and bring its edge parallel to the ground. Your knuckles should be at the waist height and elbows inside. After attaining that position, propel the blade forward and take a step alongside to provide the additional force.
You can do this thrust in both straight or backhand strokes depending upon the distance of the target when you unsheathe your kukri. As a rule, you opt for backhand if the opponent is close and vice versa.
Both of these surprise action techniques are used when there is some immediate form of danger. However, if you are ready and have the blade already out for fighting, the fight patterns would be different.
Slashes And Cuts From Guard
Compared to a sword or an ax, a kukri knife isn’t an impact weapon. Thus, thrusting and pushing aren’t common combat moves. On the contrary, you would mostly be doing slashing and cutting. In order to be better at that, you should be practicing the swing of kukri in arcs.
The pattern of your fights is mostly angles of 1, 2 and 6. You would need to be quick and agile. You would need to be keeping an eye for an opening and opt for the strikes on these angles whenever possible. Moreover, the angles of 3 and 4 aren’t out of question either. They offer less reward but they may also work if the previous angles are harder to hit.
We have studied the best kukri knife fighting techniques so far. Despite all these techniques, it would be hard to subdue an opponent if not for a properly maintained kukri. Even the best kukri may not last long if not properly maintained.
The maintenance of a kukri isn’t hard either. You just need to keep it clean from dust and blood by frequent cleaning. Aside from that, apply machine oil once a month or after use. If storing for a long time, oil it and then put somewhere safe which should be at normal room temperature.
For keeping the blade keener, however, you need to learn how to sharpen a kukri with a chamak.
How To Sharpen A Kukri With A Chamak
Chamak is one of the two blades that come with kukri knife. Chamak is used for sharpening a kukri knife. In order to sharpen the blade with a chamak, place the kukri vertically on a surface. Now put the edge of chamak just beneath the notch (Cho), push it against the blade and push it downwards towards the tip. Do this on both sides until you feel the edge is significantly sharpened.
A kukri knife effectiveness would be greatly increased by regular maintenance. In fact, the best kukri is the one which is best-taken care of.
This was all about the kukri knife fighting techniques. I hope you learned something by it and are better at handling your kukri by now. If you want some specific help, you can always contact us. Do you want to know where to buy kukri in Kathmandu or anywhere else? We will help you out in that one too. Do check out our other articles for more information related to swords and knives too.