What are Those Boomerang-Shaped Knives Called?

what is a ghurka knife

TLDR: They’re not machetes. They’re kukris.

When your character absolutely, positively must hack an appendage free from another bag of human meat and bones, consider the kukri. Although the oversized blade design recalls machetes, kukris are their own distinct category of carnage, and for good reason. Here’s the scoop on these devastating knives.

Distinct Features of Kukris

The kukri’s distinct boomerang-shaped blade makes it easy to pick one out of a crowd. Here, let’s see if you can spot one from this mix:

kukri kuhrki defintion

The easiest test you’ll take today.

If you guessed the one that looks like a boomerang, congratulations. You read the previous three sentences.

That illustration isn’t to scale, but kukris are on the larger side of knives. They’re also fixed blade knives, meaning the blade doesn’t fold into the handle. That makes it simple to spot the other defining feature of a kukri, that being a notch in the blade near the handle. It looks like this:

What is the notch on the kukri knife called?

If you want to get fancy, call this notch a “cho.” 
Image by Anon5551212 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

No one is certain of these notches’ purpose. There are the usual claims about directing blood away from the blade, although that brings to mind the malarkey about blood grooves. Others say it can block an attack from another kukri, but that smells like hyperbole.

You ask me, the notch makes for a natural starting/stopping point for an abrasive when sharpening the edge. It also separates the sharpened edge from the operator’s hand. Wouldn’t want to slip a finger forward too far onto that edge.

About that Spelling

You’ll see “kukri” spelled a few different ways, and none of them are necessarily incorrect. “Kuhkri” is just as valid as “kukri” and “khukri.” I like “kukri” because it’s easier to remember. When writing, pick a spelling and stick with it. If you’re mouthing the word right now while reading this paragraph, pronounce it like “kuh-kree,” although the Midwesterner in me always wants to say “koo-kree.”

Outside of that, kukris are sometimes called “Gurkha knives,” “gurkha knives,” “gorkha knives” or “Gorkhas knives.” It’s fine to use those, too. They all refer to the same thing.

The Gurkhas, in this case, are soldiers from Nepal (although that name applies to a place as well as to a people, depending on the instance). Their signature knife, the kukri, is what made the Gurkhas one of the most formidable fighting forces in the world. The British military, armed with modern-for-that-time-period weapons, had a hell of a time fighting the kukri-armed Gurkhas in the early 1800s. That led to parts of Nepal coming under British rule, which meant brigades of Gurkhas (and their kukris) joined the ranks of the European monarchy’s military.

World War I nepalese soldiers with kukri

Gurkha soldiers hold their kukris during an inspection in France during World War 1. Despite the artillery, poison gas and sniper rifles, the knives still had a place on the battlefield. When writing these knives in fiction, think of them like smaller, more portable sickles.
(H. D. Girdwood photo – https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26185122)

The Gurkhas kept their kukris in use all the way through today. That’s how essential and effective this knife is, which makes one wonder why it’s not mentioned in fiction more often.

What Makes the Kukri So Effective?

The key is that blade design. Most of the weight is toward the end of the blade, which maximizes the force of the cut. The curve nestles the target into the edge, giving the knife more inches per cut compared to a straight blade, such as a machete.

That doesn’t mean a machete is worse than a kukri. It means that a kukri is better for chopping, whereas a machete is more suited to hacking. If that doesn’t make sense, think of a kukri as a cross between a machete and a “regular” fixed blade knife, or like a more portable sickle.

Now apply all that to a combat situation. You don’t need much of an imagination to realize how gruesome things could become. In skilled hands, the kukri could take an adversary’s limb or head (or both!) clean off with ease.

That said, what makes the kukri an effective weapon also makes it a versatile tool. There’s a good reason the kukri’s heritage in Nepal goes back centuries. Civilization in that part of the world rested on its edge. That’s one of the reasons I find knives so interesting. Their history is forever linked to our collective survival.

Using the Kukri in Fiction

Kukris can be found in hands around the world in some capacity, which gives you plenty of options to use them a weapon or tool in fiction. Keep in mind these knives’ biggest drawbacks, though. They’re big and bulky, which means they’re difficult to conceal. They also require a higher degree of ability or training. It’ll take some time to learn how to control that blade. Don’t forget the sheath, too.

Outside of that, I think you’ll stand out as a writer by calling these knives by their names in your stories. They’re not machetes. They’re kukris. They earned it.


Get the Book

The Writers Guide to WeaponsThe Writer’s Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction (Writer’s Digest Books) distills complex weapons topics into easy-to-understand concepts for fiction writers. Pick up a print or digital copy from these fine retailers:

3 thoughts on “What are Those Boomerang-Shaped Knives Called?

  1. Cold Steel has several variants of this that are built like and sold as “Kukri” machetes for CHEAP, so they can show up all over the place with people like gardeners. I own several of the variant that looks like a cross between a Kukri and a standard machete, and it is like carrying a small handaxe that can also slice when needed.

    https://www.amazon.com/Cold-Steel-Kukri-Machete-Sheath/dp/B00HZIF7N0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1470366019&sr=8-1&keywords=kukri+machete

    Functionally, the chop will hack through 1 inch of woody stuff in one or two blows in my untrained hands (if I really go for it) or will fell a small tree used like an axe to chip away wood gradually.
    The tip can be used for piercing, but only really for utility. The inner edge offers an extra sharp, straight, slicing option that can saw through grass or rope in a hurry, or also shave bark off of wood or do other slicing tasks requiring fine control.
    With good steel, the thick heavy blade style is absurdly durable.

    In the traditional Kukris, the sheath also includes a pocket for a sharpening stones and some small, additional knives the purpose of which I can’t remember.

    Like

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