The Gurkha Kukri knife is a Nepalese blade that serves as the trademark utility weapon of the Nepalese people. It’s iconic inward blade design traces its origins back to the 17th century in Nepal, where the oldest kukri was found.
However, some researchers believe the kukri goes as far back as to the 5th century in Greece, based off the Greek kopis. Others say the kukri originates in ancient Egypt, sharing its DNA with the ancient Egyptian khopesh sword.
The kukri not only serves the people of Nepal but their soldiers as well. The kukri has become so synonymous with the Gurkha soldiers, that it's often called the Gurkha knife.
Background of the Gurkha
The Gurkha are soldiers from Nepal that have served the British Crown for over 200 years.They are most known for their valor and toughness in battle. A famous saying goes “If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or is a Gurkha.”
Their name originates from a large grassy district in Nepal called “Gorkha”, where many soldiers are recruited. Thousands compete every year to earn a spot in the Gurkha army. Only around 230 spots are available. If a soldier is able to make it into the Gurkha, they are issued a kukri, a world famous cutting tool native to their country Nepal.
In the past, it’s said that whenever a Gurkha unsheathes his kukri, it must draw blood. If the kukri doesn’t draw the blood of an adversary, the wielder would draw his own blood. The Gurkha are, without a doubt, deadly warriors with the perfect weapon to compliment their skill sets.
Physical Description of the Kukri
The kukri, or, khukuri, is around 18 inches in length and made to withstand tough conditions that it may come across. They typically weigh between 1-2 pounds. The Gurkha knife can be divided into 3 main parts: the blade, the handle, and the cap.
The kukri’s blade is single-edged, curves inward, and gets wider towards the end, before coming to a sharp sweeping tip. Towards the handle region, the blade is straight and narrow. Kukri knives can come in many different materials but many modern kukri knives are made from carbon steel. A high-quality pattern-welded Damascus steel makes for a perfect composition that allows for the kukri knife to be strong, durable, and flexible to a degree.
The short stiff grip found on kukri knives are made to hold up against whatever obstacles may be thrown at them. They are often made from wood, horn, or some thermoplastic composite material like micarta (found in kitchen knives). The handle is made to allow for quickness and ease of use. The kukri is designed to be used one-handed.
On the opposite end of the blade on a kukri knife is a pommel/cap. Pommels were originally designed to prevent swords/knives from slipping from the user’s hands, but the Nepalese took this a step further. The pommel on a kukri adds balance, to prevent it from being too front-heavy. This is accomplished by putting more mass in the pommel region, in turn shifting the kukri’s center of mass more towards the center.
The kukri pommel also acts as a strong hitting tool for light pounding tasks and combat scenarios. A Gurkha could use the kukri pommel to hammer nails, anchor tents, and smash faces, among other things. A strong blow from the pommel could also cause serious blunt force damage to those on the receiving end of the attack.
Civilian Use of the Kukri
In civilian settings, the kukri is primarily used for cooking. The kukri can perform many tasks around a farm and kitchen like butchering, skinning meat, and chopping vegetables. In a country like Nepal, where subsistence agriculture is the main form of food production, the kukri is extremely useful.
In the past, it’s said that mere villagers became decent warriors when armed with a kukri, a testament to the weapon’s effectiveness. Many people turn to the kukri as a means of self-defense.
Despite its unique design, the kukri knife is not a difficult weapon to use like say ,a two-handed longsword or a katana. The kukri’s long, front-heavy design makes using the weapon pretty straight forward. By standing with the Gurkha knife in one’s dominant hand and throwing a long slashing strike, the defendant can stay at a safe striking range while delivering the blow with the chopping force of an axe.
The Gurkha still carry kukri knives to this day, strapped to the sides of their hips ready to be drawn at a moment’s notice. The kukri is affiliated with the Nepali army, various regiments in the Indian army, Royal Gurkha Rifles of the British Army, Assam Rifles, and other armed forces.
A Survivalist’s Tool
The kukri performs many of the same functions as a survival machete. This includes clearing brush, splitting wood, chopping food, fending off wild animals, and slaughtering wild game. Its wide range of applications makes the kukri an ideal outdoor utility tool.
What differentiates the kukri from a typical machete is its ability to generate a powerful swinging blow. Combined with their thicker steel and generally larger design, kukris perform better with tougher tasks like chopping through tree bark. This comes at the cost of being more difficult to handle compared to a machete. Many newcomers will need a bit of getting-used-to before becoming efficient with the kukri.
After the Gurkha War between Nepali natives and British colonizers from 1814-1816, the kukri was introduced to the Western world, exploding in popularity. Today, the Gurkha knife is a popular choice among those passionate about the outdoors.