While there are no preferred weapons in Kali, one that does figure prominently is the simple but effective karambit.
The karambit’s roots are traceable to early Southeast Asian civilizations. Michael Bugnosen, a kali practicioner, is quick to point out that the karambit, first and foremost, is a tool before it is a weapon. It was originally a farmer’s implement, crescent in shape, made of hard material such as bone or tusk, and used much like a sickle. It gradually developed into a concealed blade used in self-defense, particularly in colonial countries where weapons were banned by occupying authorities, with each country practicing its own karambit tradition.
Culturally, therefore, no taboos are attached to the karambit. Legally, however, anything double-bladed is prohibited in the Philippines. The fixed blade versions are thus limited to military and police personnel. For civilians, the shorter, single-bladed versions are legal, as long as they are kept folded, and partly-visible when pocketed.
The modern karambit is more compact. Like other exotic weapons, it has captured the imagination of many across popular culture. The blade appears in movies such as Taken and shows like Fargo. Even the late musician Karl Roy was known to have taken an interest in them.
It is easy to see the appeal. Concealed, the weapon is unassuming, meek even, with the handle making up the most of the profile. But once deployed, the wide, hooked blade takes immediate prominence.
“It’s too effective,” Bugnosen says of the weapon, and admits to a hesitation in using it. He shows us a basic drill, and we are impressed by the efficiency in neutralizing the threat, in all of three swift movements. Evident too is how the karambit complements Kali, with its ebb and flow, the change in movements not so much sections as successions, and, if you’ve been around the Region a lot, immediately recognizable as Southeast Asian.
Production abroad is widespread; locally, it is minimal, and more personalized. Which is a good thing, at least to Bugnosen. “Local production remains a craft. Eksakto sa kamay mo,” Bugnosen says of the bespoke orders. That likewise harks back to the greater precolonial blade demographic, where no two blades were the same, and each had its own story, character, and even legend.