Jay Fisher - World Class Knifemaker
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There are few knives that are distinctly defined by their unique blade shape. The Khukri is one of the best known. The kukri is the traditional knife of the Nepalese. There are several spellings for the word (Khukri, kukri, khukuri, and kukkri) and they're all pronounced the same: (kook-er-ee). It is used as a preferred weapon, tool, and implement in Nepal, since at least before the 17th century. It is similar in shape to the Egyptian kopesh, with a bent forward, sweeping curved blade. Related blade styles are the Greek kopis, the Roman falcatta, and the Macedonian machiara. An even more ancient but slender similar form is the yatagan from Luristan.
People can be very sensitive about blade shapes. I know this since I've made knives for nearly 40 years at the time of this writing. Historians, weapons buffs, and enthusiasts can become downright passionate about their beliefs, perceptions, and knowledge about knives, weapons, and swords. This is a good thing; I would hate for our history, the history of mankind, to be boring, flat, and thus, ignored. Sometimes, local and recent history can be the subject of confusing perceptions, and for some reason, the khukri seems to drive people to write me. Take a moment and read the rather humorous email sent several years ago and my thoughts and comments on the matter at this link on one of my "Funny Emails" pages. I'll wait here while you study this fascinating argument...
While the email linked above was humorous, I occasionally receive emails that are more serious in nature and content. I thought it would be great to share one. This is an unsolicited email from a gentleman who has an argument with my mention of the "Roman falcatta" in the very first paragraph of this section. Please read the paragraph mentioned above again; I have not changed it, modified it, or altered it in any way.
And now, his email:
Greetings Mister Fisher.
I´m writing to you, first as a profound admirer of your artistic work and, second as an avid reader of your web site (there´s more to learn from you, than in thousands of pages in hundreds of books). For this, I wish to thank you because, as a knife enthusiast, it´s a real pleasure to look and admire your beautiful and breath taking works.
How very nice; this starts great; I'm honored that the writer considers me the way he does. I can't help but think that there is a "but" or "however" coming...
But the core of this mail is about a statement you make about the falcata in the Khukris bookmark.
Ahhh. I suspected as much. How appropriate then, that I've posted the email here, so that others may understand and learn from this commentary. By the way, since emails are unsolicited (I don't ask for them), I am legally free to use them for educational purposes. Some people don't like this, but it is best if as many people as possible learn since I'm dedicated to my trade, art, craft, and science, and most people who read here are also likewise dedicated.
As can be read, you write that the falcata is of roman origin (Roman Falcata).Well sir, that is not accurate.
Let's just stop this right now! Where, exactly do I declare that the falcatta (or falcata, as either spelling is acceptable) is of Roman origin? Where? Please take a moment and read the very first paragraph in this section just above! Read it! It says, clearly and succinctly: "Related blade styles are the Greek kopis, the Roman falcatta, and the Macedonian machiara." I simply say the styles are related! How in the world do you get from "related blade styles" to "Roman origin?" How? You are flatly wrong for suggesting that I am writing anything inaccurate, in fact, your comment is inaccurate, since i did not claim origin status with the Romans. He continues:
The falcata is of Iberian origin for sure. As a Portuguese national, and avid student of my country´s history, it´s a fact that there´s no universal agreement about the origin of the sword.
Wait, wait, wait. You just said, "there´s no universal agreement about the origin of the sword." Your words, not mine. Hmm.
Some believe that the falcata originated in the Iberian Peninsula in the early iron age (thus, in the Celtiberian period, since the Celts were the ones who introduced iron implements in Iberia) while others believe the concept entered the Iberian peninsula via Phoenician/Greek merchants. The term “concept” may be well applied here, since the greek kopis had a similar shape.
I understand your dedication to your national heritage. It might surprise you to know that 5% of my actual genetic heritage is from the Iberian Peninsula. Yes, part of my heritage I share with you, my brother, I am Iberian (a little)! This doesn't change the fact that I don't refer to origins of the Roman falcata at all!
Either way, the falcata precedes the roman period in Iberia. There´s even evidence that the romans first faced the falcata AND the gladius (yes, it´s Iberian too), in the hands of Hanibal´s mercenaries in the second punic war (punii was the Latin “roman” term to Carthaginian) which later triggered the roman conquest of Hispania, in the roman policy to erase ALL the Carthaginian culture and people (the delenda cartago policy).
Thank you for the history summation; it was contrite but lacking in many aspects. Iberia was a source of revenue and manpower for the
Carthaginians, and then became a source of revenue and manpower for the Romans.
It is logical that many weapons styles were shared, evolved from one
type to another, varied, and were transported all across the continents.
Now let's discuss origins since that seems to be something you insist on, for the purpose of clarity: In the rather lengthy text "Swords and Hilt Weapons" published in 1996, many scholars explain that the actual ORIGIN of the falcata was an evolution of the kopesh (kopis).
To quote: "The early kopis was a hacking weapon about 24" long (61cm) long; its successor was saber like, as in a Greek example from Corsica (a longer, more slender blade). In Spain, the kopis developed into the shorter falcata."
So, since the falcata is evolved from the kopis, how curious it is that the kopis was carried in Rome, may have originated in Italy, and superseded all other types of sword. This is not something I made up, it comes directly from the scholars writing the text, so if you disagree, your issue is with them. Who are they?
Michael D. Coe, Professor of Anthropology, Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University
Peter Connolly, Honorary Research Fellow of the Institute of Archaeology, University of London
Anthony Harding, Senior lecturer in Archaeology, University of Durham
Victor Harris, Curator, Department of Japanese Antiquities, British Museum
Donald J. LaRocca, Assistant Curator, Arms and Armor Department, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Thom Richardson, Senior Curator of Armour, the Royal Armouries, H. M. Tower of London (I have a piece in the Tower of London! Yippee!)
Anthony North, Senior Research Assistant, Department of Metalwork, Victoria & Albert Museum
Christopher Spring, Research Assistant, Museum of mankind, Ethnography Department of the British Museum
Frederick Wilkinson, President of the Arms and Armour Society
From this, you can see that the actual ORIGIN of the falcata, and all other swords was not distinctively relegated to one ethnic group, locale, or province. The name, the very word "falcata" may be, since languages are distinctive, but the shape is not owned by one culture. In the history of man, variations of shapes are plentiful; these recurve, heavy-tipped weapons are all evolved from earlier times, from the bronze age, in ancient Egypt, and even before that, the shape seems to be first seen in ancient Luristan, in bronze-age Iran! The name "falcata" may well have been distinctively Iberian, but after all, this shape has appeared throughout history, and it is a historical fact that the Iberians were known for being mercenary. In any case, I did not even suggest that the "falcata" originated in Rome, but perhaps I should have... from ancient Luristan, to ancient Egypt, to Ancient Italy, to ancient Iberia, to ancient Rome (again), and sometime, making its way to Nepal...
Man travelled a lot more than people realize. Weapons styles were made and lost, created and destroyed, and even the best scholars will tell you that they would rather have a worthwhile scabbard to examine since that is what does not typically survive time's corrosion. Please don't get hung up on who invented what at what period, just know that it's a popular style for a reason, described below. I'm sure the Nepalese are racially incensed that I even referred to the Romans and Iberians when mentioning Khukris.
And that´s it…
To each is own… The falcata must be referred as an Iberian weapon, not a roman one, even the commonly referred “roman gladius” is not roman, after all! Enough of history Sir, thanks for posting your wisdom in your wonderful web site and GORGEOUS work. Best regards. From Portugal.
"To each his own?" Then why did you write this email? And demanding that a particular shape of weapon be assigned to one ethnic group is a fairly limited view. I've made my Iberian ancestors proud, understanding that these points of history are vague and broad ranging. By the way, the Iberian peninsula in ancient times was populated by Tartessian, Turdetanian, Indo-European (pre-Celtic), Celtic, Aquitanian, Basque, and others. I know this because I feel it in my roots; my genetic material that binds me to my ancestral origins. I hope you, do too, because way, way back, we are all sprouts from one seed.
And special thanks to A. S., by brother from an ancient mother, for his great patience and sense of humor in this submission and response (at least I hope he has a sense of humor!).
Modern kukris can be large or small, but most of my traditional styles have at least a 10" (25 cm.) blade. The khukris I make are tactical, somewhat traditionally styled; all are art. The blade shape and handle arrangement lends itself to fine geometry of grind, and a very good kukri is hard to make. You might see a lot of this knife design, but very few are executed well. I hollow grind my kukris, and that is rare, indeed. That's probably because of the blade shape, with the deep recurve, sweeping belly, and long overall grind, it is very difficult to make a hollow ground kukri well.Back to Topics
Only the very finest kukris in history were hollow ground. I've added emphasis here because there is a lot of misinformation on the web about the grind of this knife, and the cheap imitations are more easily manufactured with convex or taper grinding the blade like a cheap machete. This knife is not traditionally a machete, but a multi-faceted tool and weapon. See related topic below. To grind one like a machete degrades the performance of the khukri, and places it in the same capabilities of a common bolo machete from Central and South America, doing it a great injustice. The manufactured khukris are also poorly served by making them from thin, springy stock, like a bolo, degrading their value and performance overall. The reason is one of economy in manufacture, not one of value or tradition.
The distinct forward bend in the blade geometry has several advantages. It allows a more relaxed wrist position when holding the knife, with the wrist at a straighter angle when a blow is delivered, rather than bent forward, putting strain on the radius-wrist joint. Because of the wider area toward the point of the blade, more impact can be delivered, more weight pushes the center of percussion toward the point, and the sweeping belly makes for extremely effective slashing cuts. That is probably the reason for the reputation of this warrior's weapon. Slashing cuts, though often proven in history to be less lethal, have a more violent and horrifying effect. To this day, the Nepalese warriors and their khukris are legendary for their fearless bravery and effectiveness in combat. Probably less recognized is the recurve area, toward the tang where the edge sweeps inward. This area is less apt to take an impact, and when hollow ground makes a devastatingly keen cutting edge, and being protected by the large belly, is more likely to stay sharp. That is handy for fine cutting chores.Back to Topics
An individual posted some of my khukri pictures on a knife forum (bulletin board). Another member claimed he winced every time he saw a hollow ground khukri, and even posted pictures of a cheap looking khukri with a bent, broken and chipped blade as evidence that the hollow grind in a khukri did not work. Here's the email that I responded with:
It’s always interesting to read what guys think of knives, uses, grinds, geometry, and tradition. Please do not believe everything you read. Traditionally only the finest khukris are hollow ground and there are many historical references that cite this. The khukri of historical fame is a fierce weapon, used to slash and disable the enemy, and I talk about it at length on my Khukri page (here). The khukri is NOT an axe, designed for chopping down a tree, though I suppose that traditionally, utilitarian khukris are used as all-around tools. Most of those used for working knives are cheap, thick, and made of relatively inexpensive and soft steel, like an axe or machete.
The grind is important, and if you are creating an axe, a convex grind is appropriate. My khukris (and all my combat and tactical models) are first weapons, and secondly tools, so my clients request razor-keen and thin edges, serviceable throughout the life of the knife (as it is repeatedly sharpened). I talk about grind geometry and longevity extensively on my “Blades Page” at this bookmark.
How resistant a knife edge is to breakage, bending, wear, and chipping does not solely depend on the grind geometry! True, I do grind knives intended for light occasional chopping thicker, such as my CSAR knives. But the blade serviceability depends on the type of steel used, the hardness and temper, the weight and impact pressure of the blow, the angularity of the blow, and the material being cut or chopped. Give me a tree of Honduras Rosewood or Lignum Vitae, and I’ll frustrate even the axe! And I don’t care how a knife is ground or made, ANY knife blade can be broken or ruined.
The point is, M., that a knife is for cutting, and an axe is for chopping, and a saw is for sawing, and if there was truly a tool that could be all things to all users, we would only have ONE design, and it would dominate and push all the others out of existence. Right now, I have over 340 designs on my site, and it’s showing no signs of stopping, so that evidently is not the case in my own work.
I guess the most important thing I can say is that I’ve had fantastic feedback from all my military, combat, police, SWAT, CSAR, and SERE clients about the performance of my khukris and other styles of blades. And they are the guys that are using the knives in combat and in the professional field. That hard-earned reputation is why I’m about two years in backorders, and the list is growing daily…that’s the most important thing
Thanks M., for your interest and support,
Guys who "specialize" in khukri collection often share their passionate beliefs about this knife. Mostly, this discussion revolves around the grind of the khukri, specifically, hollow grind vs. convex or flat grind and the use of the khukri.
I don't make khukri machetes, used for digging, prying, chopping, or abusing the way one would abuse a common tool. I do know that modern khukri use in Nepal, where the khukri originated, is dominated by machete-khukris, limited to the materials available at hand by the indigenous population like leaf springs and saw blade steels, or whatever they have to make this necessary and useful tool. But this is not the kind of khukri I make. I make tactical combat khukris, weapons and knives, as well as high art collector's pieces in the traditional style of the knife but used by modern professionals. As a professional knife maker, I try to make only the best within my client's price range.
I let my military clients use the knives in the field of combat for evaluation. I even have some in the counterterrorism field. I let men with dangerous jobs take the knives into a foreign land, and carry them for one, two, three, or four tours of duty in full combat. They give me a realistic evaluation based on how it uses and carries, how accessible and durable it is, how fast and (dare I admit) lethal the knife and cutting edge is since these are combat weapons.
I also make plenty of khukris and other knives carried and used by SERE professionals. SERE is the acronym for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape, the survival specialists of our military. These guys are the real thing, and have thankfully offered intense input on how the knives they will use in combat, escape, and survival situations are built, ground, outfitted, finished, and sheathed. I defer to the logic, input, and evaluation of my professional clients and make them the knives they want.
Because of the overwhelming proclivity for khukris to be used as machetes, the differences between a machete tool and a combat weapon are substantial. In Weapons - A visual history of Arms and Armor, a defining professional text published by Dorling Kindersley Limited in 2006, with input from a string of professional consultants of armor and weapons, the khukri is defined as a "short, curved sword from Nepal." Another reference is from the great Richard Burton who wrote the definitive text "The Book of the Sword," and who refers to the khukri as "the dreaded Kukkri or Gurkha Sword-knife now used, however, only for hand-to hand fighting," (vs. being thrown like a boomerang or war quoit). These and numerous other historic references note that the sword was as sharp as a razor, with a point like a needle. When these sources are talking about khukri weapons, they are obviously not referring to common chore and field tools used for chopping and digging, so there is a clear and obvious delineation here.
How do I professionally represent razor sharpness? In a hollow grind, that's how. I talk about it in great detail on my Blades page, but the gist is this: a convex grind is great for an axe, and it can be made very sharp. But it is limited in its service and application, as a great deal of material must be removed every time it is sharpened to yield a thin enough relief to hone a keen cutting edge. The hollow grind has the reputation of being the thinnest, sharpest grind and the most easily serviceable to bring up a keen cutting edge. For the maker, the hollow grind is the most difficult to master, so it is less frequently seen in less expensive, more utilitarian tools with lower value.
The khukri, though often made and represented as a machete-like tool, is at its most notable application a weapon. Between field tool and combat weapon, one could draw the same comparison as between a hunting rifle and an M-16. You might need both; they are very different.
There are plenty of reference sources in published texts and here on the internet that discuss the grinds of the khukri. Only the best, finest, and most highly valued khukris were historically hollow ground. Most of the others are flat ground or convex ground, just like a machete. The utilitarian flat or convex grind is fine if the khukri will be used to chop trees and dig trenches, but that is not the kind of khukri I make. Also departing from tradition, I don't use truck leaf springs, Sattisaal Walnut for the handles, or cover the sheaths in water buffalo hide, so my khukris are not contemporary-traditional. Why do I refer to the traditional as contemporary? Because the khukri has changed dramatically over the centuries, and has intensely changed over just the last few decades. Khukris have been manufactured, handmade, adapted, evolved, and varied in many forms, sizes, materials, shapes and arrangements. Even today in Nepal, there are hundreds of deviations of the style, form, materials, geometry, and accoutrements for the khukri. There is no requirement that a khukri be made in a traditional style, and even if there was, how could it possibly be defined?
I make tactical and combat khukris the way I think is best. I accept continuous feedback from my professional clients, and make them in my own style, as a professional modern American custom knife maker. If you would like your khukri made in a very special way, drop me an email, and we'll talk, after all, this is a custom affair!Back to Topics
At the ricasso of the khukri is a "cho" (one wonders about the more modern word "choil"). It has a lot of tradition, but in modern works serves as a terminal point for the cutting edge, and a decorative point of focus. Currently, my kukris have full tangs, not the more common (and weaker) hidden tang handle arrangements. This makes them physically stronger. It does create some problems in handle construction, particularly with the traditional palm ring seen in a lot of historic kukris, as the ring has to be segmented, and mounted in a central reinforced bolster with hidden pins. The palm ring is an interesting feature of some of these knives. While a small-handed person may think it is for separating two hands on the knife handle, for most people it is a useful adjunct to gripping the handle and securing it to the palm. This is necessary because the blade of the khukri is heavy, with a center of percussion at the belly, and the center of balance somewhere along the blade in front of the front bolster.
Most of my kukris have full filework, from blade tip to cho. This may mean hundreds and hundreds of file cuts.Back to Topics
The sheaths I make for kukris are heavy 9-12 oz. leather shoulder or kydex on a 5052H32 corrosion-resistant, high strength aluminum frame secured with .250" Chicago screws. Despite the overall size of the weapon, the sheaths are not inordinately large, as they usually cover only the blade. Another advantage of the heavy blade point is the ability for the knife to stay in the sheath with only the weight of the blade. I do not make a locking sheath for these larger knives, as the knife would be unwieldy in any other position than blade down. Some of these knives weigh several pounds!Back to Topics
Since the blade style is appealing, you might recognize it on other knives that are in my pattern inventory. Some of these are tactical combat knives, some are skinning, hunting and field dressing knives, and even a castrating knife has a similar blade shape. The deep, rounded belly of the knife creates a sweeping thin edge that is useful for a wide variety of cutting and skinning operations. When supplemented with a top swage and an aggressive point, the knife makes a great and useful tactical combat weapon. In the thumbnail pictures below, I'll link the text to a featured page of the individual knife if I have one.Back to Topics
Full-sized khukris are a hefty package. The first consideration is usually weight, as these are large and heavy knives and may be difficult to pack around. These are knives, not axes, and not machetes, so should not be considered as a replacement for a camp saw, an axe, or a chopping tool. Though they may work for skinning game in a pinch, they are usually too large for delicate work. Most of the khukris I make are for combat and tactical operations. In this realm, if you have the guns to sport this heavy blade, it is a truly formidable weapon and tool.Back to Topics
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