Gurkha Kukri

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Photos by Gregory Brophy (hand wraps), Gerville Hall (TaeKwonDo girl), Lucian (Karate fight).
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Gurkha, also spelled as Gorkha or Ghurka (Nepali: गोर्खा),  is the collective term for elite units in the British and Indian Armies that are composed of Nepalese soldiers. They are famous for their ever-present, large-bladed kukri knife (which is also featured in an X shaped configuration on their emblem) and their use of martial arts.

The Gurkhas were designated by British officials as a "Martial Race", a designation to describe peoples that were thought to be naturally warlike and aggressive in battle, and to possess qualities of courage, fighting tenacity, military strategy,  loyalty, self sufficiency, physical strength and resilience. The British recruited heavily from these Martial Races for service in the British Indian Army.

Principles and Techniques

The technique used by the Gurkhas is similar to that used by the Dyak headhunters of Borneo. In combat they practice the decapitation with a machete-like jungle knife. While the technique is not a complete fighting system (with footwork, guards, blocks, etc.) - and not as sophisticated a style as Indonesian Pentjak Silat - it is good enough for a jungle ambush.

The close combat kukri knife, a very effective cross between a knife and an axe, was designed to be able to behead with one stroke but also to block an enemy's blade (which is not possible with shorter bladed knives). Due to its special design it can be used for a full range of martial arts techniques: stabbing with the point, slashing or chopping with the edge, and (rarely) throwing. Because it has an angular blade bending towards the opponent, the user need not create an angle in the wrist, which makes a kukri more comfortable as a stabbing weapon. The blade's distinctive forward drop is intended to translate and amplify lateral swipes into perpendicular motion. Its heavy blade enables the user to inflict deep wounds and to cut through muscle and bone. A kukri may be used in stealth operations - to slash an enemy's throat, killing him instantly and also silently.


It is a misconception that the Gurkhas took their name from the Gorkha region of Nepal. The region was given its name after the Gurkhas had established their control of these areas. Actually, the word Gorkha is derived from the Prakrit words "go rakkha" (Sanskrit gau-rakṣa, literally "cow-protector"). This was used by Guru Gorakhnath, the spiritual leader of the Gorkhas, the name given to his disciples.

Ethnically, Gurkhas who are presently serving in the British armed forces are Indo-Tibeto-Mongolians. Gurkhas serving in the Indian Armed Forces are of both groups, Indo-Tibeto-Mongolian and ethnic Rajput. Gurkhas of Tibeto-Mongolian origin mostly belong to the Limbu, Gurung, Magar, Tamang, and Kiranti origin, many of whom are adherents of Tibetan Buddhism  and Shamanism, albeit some groups have come under some Hindu influence.

All Gurkhas, regardless of ethnic origin, speak Nepali, also known as Khas Kura or Khas Bhasa, an Indo-Aryan language.

The "original" Gurkhas who were descended from the Rajputs (Thakuri and Chetri) refused to enter as soldiers and were instead given positions as officers in the British-Indian armed forces. The non-Kashaktriya Gurkhas entered as soldiers (i.e., Magar, Gurung). The Thakur/Rajput Gurkhas were entered as officers, one of whom, (retired) General Narendra Bahadur Singh, Gurkha Rifles, great grandson of Jung Bahadur, while a young captain, rose to become aide-de-camp (A.D.C.) to Lord Mountbatten of Burma, the last Viceroy of India.

After the British left India, Gorkhalis continued seeking employment in British and Indian forces, as officers and soldiers. Under international law, present-day British Gurkhas are not treated as mercenaries but are fully integrated soldiers of the British Army, operate in formed units of the Brigade of Gurkhas, and abide by the rules and regulations under which all British soldiers serve.


A considerable number of ex-Gurkhas and their families live in Hong Kong, where they are particularly well represented in the private security profession (G4S Gurkha Services, Pacific Crown Security Service, Sunkoshi Gurkha Security) and among labourers.

The United States Navy employs Gurkha guards as sentries at its base in Naval Support Activity Bahrain </wiki/Naval_Support_Activity_Bahrain> and on the US Navy side of the pier at Mina Salaman.

Steele, by David E., Long Knife Styles - The Silent Killers, in Black Belt, oct 1984, Vol. 22, No. 10.

Denzil Ibbetson, Edward Maclagan, H A Rose (1990). Glossary Of The Tribes And Castes Of The Punjab And The North West Frontier Province. Asian Educational Service.

Tod, James & Crooke, William. (eds.) (1920). Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan. 3 Volumes. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd., Delhi. Reprinted 1994.