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Does anybody know the practical purpose of the kampilan's unusual handle?
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kampilan

I understand the symbolic crocodile maw aspect of it, but surely there's a pragmatic reason for the shape too.

Could anybody here explain it to me?
Thanks

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hi john, God bless us all

yes, the kampilan handle is designed to act as a brake to allow better control of the top heavy blade. A kampilan should be orientated with the "bottom" jaw piontrd toward the weilder . the angle of the jaw changes the orientation from a straight line to one at an angle to stop the momentum of the blade and not allow ot to carry throught to the floor like a standard sword. it's pretty ingenoius really. -Josh

 

In terms of the blade characteristics, the one antique kampilan that I had an opportunity to briefly wield, didn't feel very top heavey at all.  

In spite of its trapizodial shape, the thickness so the spine of the sword seemed to tapper enough to lighten the top half and bring it's center of balance much closer to the handle.

 

My immediate thought when I first held the sword was, "This seems like it should be heavier"

 

I loved this quality of the blade.  The sword could be maneuvered so quickly, that it seemed like it was alive.

 

But perhaps this was unusual example among kampilans.  Have most of the ones that you've handled felt very top-heavy?

 I read it from an article way back then, that the  handle is either "Buka ng Buwaya" crocodile's mouth or a "Sari-manok's" head, bird of paradise. 
The shape of the blades handle is not just symbolic but also very practical. My old teacher explained it like this; If your hands are sweaty, oily or bloody then the typical handle shape used would slip and the blade would be lost. Then you would be killed in the fight. Thats why all of the fighting blades have a shape that allows them to be retained in battle. The jaws of the crocodile act as hooks to stop you hand from sliding off.

I have a very brief explanation of it here - http://www.traditionalfilipinoweapons.com/Kampilan.html

I can tell you that the handle is an old design. This particular blade design is newer than the handle design...maybe being 400 years old give or take. So in saying this is the sword that defeated Magellan is far from the truth. No one really knows what happened exactly in that battle anyway. Though like I said, It cannot be this design because it is a newer one. The older Kampilan had almost a Talibong look to it.

 

People use this on their FMA school shirt design representing Kali, Arnis, Eskrima. This is not a weapon of those styles. It is more of a weapon for the PI Silat or Kuntao players there. At this point in time and more outside the Philippines, many are blending their FMA styles anyway so...

 

This particular design in the picture and on my web site is a status symbol for the chief of a tribe. The longer the sword, the higher the rank.

This design, depending on the tribe in those times, was this one for "civilian" carry - http://www.traditionalfilipinoweapons.com/KampilanBolo.html

 

Many Philippine swords and knives have animal like handles or blade designs. The Barong is the shape of a cockatoo. The cockatoo is not a dangerous animal but it is used. The alligator for the Kampilan can be a symbol of power due to the fact it is the chief's sword. Many native cultures express art in what they see around them every day, so the designs will represent exactly that. Though, depending on who you talk to, you will get a very spiritual answer.

 

Its very difficult finding the truth in Philippine history but I am trying hard here. Even the museums there in the PI and here in the US, in what I have seen so far, is very vague in their explanations of the weapons.

I hope what I wrote here does help.

 

Ron Kosakowski

Mr. Joshua Morale has pretty much nailed it.  The "brake" function also exists with certain large versions of the Pira originating from the island of Basilan in the southern Philippines.

The handle on the kampilan pic posted by Ron  would actually be a reversed orientation than the standard. the long edge of the blade is the cutting edge and the shorter edge with the spikelet would be used for defense with the spikelet used for "reaping" back cuts similar to the clip point on a bowie knife or the pinute. Sometimes the handle also features a saddle on the bottom jaw to seat the webbing of the hand into which further assists the braking action.-Josh

 

I think that I have a idea of what you mean by "used as a break"
I'm imagining perhaps that the curved part of handle would allow you to make a fuller stroke without having to prematurely arrest the motion before the blade moves too far off the centerline.

I've seen some very old looking tatchis that have a handle that curves like that (I think I remember them in the film Ran or some other historical samurai film)

Is this the idea?

If so, why have the handle bifurcated rather than just curved at the last half?

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