The Kukri (or Khukri, pronounced "khu-kuri") is a curved knife indigenious to Nepal and India where it is used as both a tool and a weapon. The Kukri has gained recognition in the outside world for it's use by Ghurka mercenaries in World War 1 and 2 and, more recently, for it's use by Bishnu Shrestha, a Ghurka soldier who defended himself and other train passengers from 40 armed bandits whilst only armed with a Kukri himself. The history of the Ghurka Kukri is about as tough as Bishnu.
The design of the Kukri is what makes it so effective as a weapon and so useful as a tool. Although there are many variations of Kukri design all feature a distinctive curved blade and a weighted head that makes it excellent for chopping. General purpose Kukris are often between 16 and 18 inches (40-45cm) in overall length and weigh from 1 to 2 pounds (450-900g), quite a heavy knife. They also feature a notch at the base of the blade which serves a pratical purpose of letting blood or sap drop off the blade without touching the handle. The notch is also said to be symbolic of the cows foot, an animal which is revered as holy by the Nepalese people.
Pictured above right: British-Ghurka style Kukri knife similar to those seen in World War 1 and 2. It comes with a pouch and two smaller knives, one for skinning and the other for sharpening the Kukri blade.
Never Broken in Battle
The Kukri is fabled to have never been broken in battle - and this may even be true given it's manufacture. The blade is made from steel that is high in carbon, modern ones are made from the salvaged leaf spring suspension of trucks. This means that the blade is often 1/4 inch thick and has an extremely sharp edge whilst still maintaining flexibility from the high carbon content of the leaf spring's steel. The Kukri blade can undergo enormous stress without breaking. Just think, the blade once held a trucks weight.
Modern Kukri Manufacture
Pictured right: The worksmanship marks of differnt Kami showing who forged the blade.
The Kami source the raw materials for the Kukri which include steel for the blade, water buffalo horns or wood for the handles, resin for glueing the handle together and copper for binding. The steel is pressed into shape and the edge is tempered so that it can be sharpened and maintain it's edge. The handle, made of carved wood or horn, is affixed to the tang of the blade (the unsharpened section of the blade) using heated sap and a heated copper band which shrinks when it cools to hold the handle firm. Not all Kukri have the copper band, others instead have the very end of the tang flattened out over the handle. Kukri typically have a full tang, meaning the tang of the blade runs the full length of the handle. This makes the knife more balanced and stronger.
Modern Kukri are mostly mass-produced in factories like in the above video but families of Kami still exist, working hard producing the highest quality Kukri available.
A Ghurka Treaty
The oldest Kukris are from around 1559 and are now held in the Kathmandu national museum in Nepal. The first mention of Kukri from western accounts are when the East India Trading Company met with the Ghurka Empire in conflict in 1814. The British had been extending northward through India until they reached modern day Nepal where they were met with fierce resistance from the Ghurka tribes. The ferocity of the Ghurkas, armed only with Kukri terrified the British forces. Written accounts describe the Ghurkas coming out from the jungle for only long enough to cleanly chop off a head or limb. One account said:
"When they come near, they suddenly crouch to the ground, drive under the bayonets and strike upward at the men with their knives, ripping them open in a single blow."
It's easy to understand the reason why the British decided to withdraw from Ghurka territory. Uncharacteristically, the British sent out emissaries to negotiate a peace treaty with the Ghurka tribes. The treaties these emissaries forged had long-lasting implications that have seen Ghurka soldiers fighting alongside British forces in many military conflicts and they still serve in the British army today.
Pictured above: A Ghurka commander brandishing a British sword and a Kukri in triumph during the Anglo-Nepal war.
World War 1 & 2
A huge reason for the modern popularity of the Kukri knife is it's use by Ghurka regiments throughout World War 1 and 2. In 1857 Ghurka regiments were formed within the British military and Ghurka soldiers saw conflict in every major engagement in Burma, Afghanistan, North-East and North-West India, Malta, China and Tibet.
During World War 1 around 200,000 Ghurka soldiers fought in the British army where they suffered 20,000 casualties and were awarded almost 2,000 gallantry awards. In World War 2 Ghurka war tactics became widely known amongst Axis troops almost as ghost stories. Stories said that the Ghurka would make their way silently through barracks of sleeping soldiers where they would slit the throat of the first man then cut the boot laces of the next and vice-versa. When the soldiers awoke to find the men on either side of them dead they would rush to put on their boots and find the laces cut - knowing that they could have easily been killed too.
The rising fame of the Ghurka soldiers saw that the Kukri became an icon of the fearless warrior. In World War 2 the Kukri was purchased and used by British, U.S. and Commonwealth troops training in India. The fear the weapon inspired in enemies was not lost on them. The Kukri even became standard issue for Canadian snipers during this time.
The Kukri is still used by the Ghurka military and by the Ghurka Police Force in Singapore. It has also become widely popular as a camping tool and machete for it's utility and strength. The style of the weapon has also become quite an icon in pop culture for badass heroes and heroines. The Kukri is prominently featured in the book series the Dresden Files, the video game Halo: Reach and the movie Resident Evil: Extinction where the knife is used to fend off hordes of zombies.
Pictured above right: Mila Jovovich with the Kukri in the popular film Resident Evil: Extinction.
The Ghurka Kukri has also been redesigned by many manufacturers as a camping tool and machete due to how excellently the Kukri can serve all of these purposes. Cold Steel make one of the more popular modern Ghurka Kukri on the market (despite thier whopping $300 price tag). The video below shows a demonstration of the cutting power of a modern Kukri.