We had a brilliant time earlier this year hosting our instructors from South Africa, Si Gung Marco Kavaliaratos and Si Fu Christan Hanche. It was a great experience and I have written a few articles and updates about the type of training that we did. One of the training experiences that I enjoyed with Si Gung Marco was practicing the Kukri fighting techniques that he was taught a few decades ago. His instructor had inherited their techniques from a relative in one of the old Gurkha regiments.
When Si Gung Marco was taught these techniques, information was not as freely available as it is today so it was not immediately apparent how unique they were by comparison with conventional Kukri techniques. The internet has certainly put so much information within the grasp of the person in the street.
The techniques that Si Gung Marco was taught involve the use of the Kukri in an ice-pick grip with the blade facing away from the body. When reviewing Kukri fighting techniques today using the information that is now so freely available, it becomes evident that this grip is very rare indeed when using the Kukri. It is possible that it could have been influenced by Indonesian weapon holds at some point.
Traditional Kukri designs have a pronounced banana curve that continues into the handle. This feature, which is noticeably disappearing from more modern Kukri designs, allows a comfortable grip and force-transference while stabbing forward because the palm of the hand rests behind the base of the banana curve. The Kukri, while it can easily and comfortably be used to stab with due to the traditional design, is still designed primarily as a cutting weapon that cuts more effectively than you would expect from its weight and length. This efficiency is partly due to structurally-optimized force transference which will be briefly discussed in a future article. Because it is used most often as cutting and slashing tool, it is most often deployed in a variation of the hammer or sabre grip for maximum range on the cut.
As an experiment, I tested the maximum range using the Kukri in an ice pick and hammer grip and found that the effective reach of the weapon decreased by approximately 6 cm when used in an ice-pick grip. Given the significant range decrease, why would someone want to deploy the Kukri in an ice-pick grip?
I intend to research the origin of SiGung Marco’s techniques when I have more free time but I do have my own personal theories. I believe that these techniques were developed specifically for fighting in close confines or perhaps when mobbed by a crowd. Although I cannot yet prove anything, I would not be at all surprised if some of these techniques were employed by Gurkha soldiers in melee range while clearing trenches or bunkers during the First and Second World Wars.
Working with these techniques has been a lot of fun and I was struck by their similarity to the hunting methods of a Praying Mantis. Hook, capture and kill. The Kukri even looks like the fore-leg of a Mantis when deployed in this way.
As I have mentioned in many previous articles, our system of Chang Hong concentrates on improving a student’s structure, both internally and externally, to allow a more unified and more powerful response. Apart from the concepts of Chi and internal power generation, we also spend a lot of time creating effective ‘bridging’ with our opponents. This bridging is effectively a more refined and substantial application of what is known as a Kinetic Chain.
For those who aren’t familiar with the concept of the Kinetic Chain, see the following article: https://www.physio-pedia.com/Kinetic_Chain
Most combat specialists and combat sports-people make use of the Kinetic Chain to maximise force generation and energy delivery. High-level boxers are a good example. Effective use of the Kinetic Chain can allow a person to punch with more force than they would be able to without its use due to engagement of more of the body strength and mass behind the blow. In traditional Chinese martial arts, this Kinetic Chain concept is developed to a very high degree within the concept of bridging and is even employed when weapons are used.
Traditional Western approaches to weapon use rely more heavily on the use of the weapon and its weight to cause effect whereas high-level traditional Chinese weapon use places more emphasis on the use of bridging and connection through the weapon to create effect using the wielder’s centre and body. This is perhaps why we see more light weapons such as the fan and the flute employed in traditional Chinese martial forms.
I have a few combat steel weapons that I train with, including a Chinese Dao and Jian. Although they are good quality weapons, I have always been frustrated by the weight. Especially the weight of the Jian, which is meant to be a very nimble weapon. Although I am strong enough to wield them quickly, there is always a reduction in speed based on the weight of the weapon because of the laws of mechanics. Unfortunately, no matter which way you look at it, acceleration will always equal force divided by mass. The lighter the object, the more a given force will accelerate it.
So I would like much lighter weapons, please.
A light weapon, combined with the concept of bridging in our system, may allow a practitioner to strike with as much force as they could generate with a heavier weapon through connection to their own body weight while moving the weapon much faster than a heavier weapon.
These are very desirable ideas, so I decided that I would make a series of light weapons. Some form of plastic composite would be ideal, but toughness and edge retention makes this impossible with current technology. If any of my readers have any suggestions for future projects using technologically-advanced materials or approaches to traditional melee weapons, leave a comment below. Eventually I decided on Titanium. I would build the weapons and then test them to prove my point. Titanium is a little more than half as dense as steel so weapons made out of Titanium will be nearly half the weight of steel ones.
I finally decided to bite the bullet and make a Titanium Kukri after SiGung Marco’s visit. Since I have a beautiful hand-made, traditional, steel Kukri made after the 1970s pattern courtesy of Tora Blades, I thought that I would copy this design in Grade 5 Titanium and then test its performance against the original. I will film a series of comparative tests of my steel Kukri versus my Titanium Kukri to see if there are any noticeable differences in cutting capacity, handling and speed. I am really looking forward to doing these tests! I hope to prove that with a proper understanding of bridging, weapon weight should not make a difference to cutting capacity or force generation. I also hope to prove that with a lighter weapon, handling and speed can be considerably improved.
There are a few technical challenges that face me in this build, though.
I have begun on the construction process (please see the photos below) and will release a few regular articles to track the progress of the build and ultimately the testing process. So far, I have cut out the shape of the blade and done some initial grinding and tapering. I used a 7mm thick sheet of Grade 5 Titanium. Grade 5 Titanium is the most commonly-used Titanium alloy. It is employed in the aerospace industry and in medical applications.
I have deviated from the traditional Kukri design in the addition of a small guard prong on the inside of the handle curve. I like this idea and it does not interfere with the use of the weapon in any way.
The Kukri blade has a number of grinding angles that must be followed which makes the build complex. It has a pronounced distal taper from about halfway down the blade length as well as a hollow grind and profile taper to the wider part of the blade. With my limited tools, the hollow grind and distal taper will prove to be big technical challenges.
I have decided to use Ironbark scales and aluminium bolsters for the handle. Aluminium to keep weight down and Ironbark because Ironbark rocks and this is Australia, mate.
My intention is to create an ‘heirloom’ blade that can be handed down for the next few generations in my family without any degradation. Titanium is perfect for this, being able to survive relatively unscathed in sea-water or embedded within the human body.
I have decided to call the blade “Prayer” as a subtle homage to the Praying Mantis-like techniques that SiGung Marco was taught.
Here are some photos of the progress so far:
Written by SiFu Lester Walters, head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia
Cover photo by Alchemist-hp (pse-mendelejew.de) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7329436
© Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia 2017. ABN 12 792 347 015