“Better to die than to be a coward.”

“Better to die than to be a coward.” Such is the official motto of the Royal Gurkha Rifles. Renowned for their bravery for well over 200 years, Gurkha soldiers are recruited by nations across the globe. While famous for their fighting prowess, they are also iconic because of the unique knife that they carry called a “kukri.” Understanding the history of the men who have made the blade globally known, coupled with a look at its effective design, are keys to understanding why the kukri has become legendary worldwide to knife and sword enthusiasts.

GurkhaSoldiersKukri

The history of Nepal, and the use of the kukri, gives a picture into why it has become as popular as it has. The first major conflict between Western Civilization and Nepal took place in 1814 between the British and native Gurkhas. During this two year conflict the Gurkhas developed a well earned reputation as being fearless fighters—a reputation that they have maintained all the way until the present day. To this fact can be attributed the renown that the kukri—which they carried into battle against the British—has attained to. Although the British did not manage to gain control of Nepal through this conflict, they were so impressed by the Gurkha’s fighting ability that they recruited them into the East India Company. Gurkhas played roles in many wars that took place during the 19th century in that part of the world. Since then they have continued to serve in the British armed forces, even being deployed to Afghanistan—all the while continuing to carry their iconic kukri.

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While the exploits of warriors have made the kukri famous, it is the effective design that keeps people coming back to use it as a weapon, camping tool, etc. To most people, the forward “bent” blade is what stands out most about the knife. This is actually part of the design that makes the kukri an incredibly powerful cutting tool. Hank Reinhardt comments, “The forward angled blade gave it [the kukri] great cutting power”(188). This forward angled design is not unique to the kukri, but can also be found in other weapons such as the Greek Kopis and Iberian Celtic Falcata, although both of these are much bigger than a kukri since they are swords. The unique aspect of the kukri’s design is that essentially the entire blade is the knife’s “sweet spot.” On any edged tool there are portions of the blade that provide the greatest amount of force with minimal vibration (192). For the kukri, this optimal striking point (sweet spot) exists for virtually the entire length of the blade, making it an incredibly efficient cutting instrument. Because of the knife’s single edged design, it is also possible for the user to choke up on the blade by holding it on the spine, permitting for quite detailed work to be done and making the knife incredibly capable in a general utility/camp role. Another aspect of the design, although not related to the practical function of the knife, is the notch at the base of the blade: “[…]the Gurkhas don’t know for sure its exact meaning. The notch is of two cut out semicircles side by side, leaving a small projection. It has been described as intended to catch the opponent’s blade (a sure way to lose a hand should it be attempted), […] and a representation of a cow’s udder (Gorkha—old spelling—means “Protector of Cows”), or the Trident of Shiva”(192). While not always contributing to the practical use of the knife, the nuances of design placed in an object by a culture are always interesting to study and try and understand.

The kukri is a design made famous by the proud and warlike culture that has carried it into battle. By understanding the people and the history surrounding the knife, along with the very real design and engineering excellence present in the execution of the blade, one can appreciate the kukri as a functional and well-storied design. The kukri will keep outdoorsmen, soldiers, and knife lovers generally enthralled and dependent on it for years to come.

Works Cited:

Reinhardt, Hank. The Book of Swords. Riverdale, NY: Baen Pub. Enterprises, 2009. Print.

Peona the Peaceful

Peona, hovering about an inch in the air at the edge of the room, looked out over her audience and fervently wished she had stuck to her guns. She was more certain than she had ever been that she was not the fairy who should be leading this gathering.

Here she was, short, with a rotund figure that gave witness to her fondness for pints of ice cream, a knob of thin mousey hair on top of her head, and not even a gaudy pair of shimmering wings to compensate for anything. Peona was well aware that she was far from the most stunning example of magical power, and that commanding the attention of this group of thirty or so fairies was going to be a challenge.

To be sure, the fairies there came in all shapes and sizes, from small pixies to one or two whose horns reached seven feet or more.  They had two things in common: they were all munching on ornate cupcakes, and all of them, or at least, almost all of them, wore a decidedly peeved expression.

Well, at this point, there was no help for it.  This meeting had been her brainchild, and now she must see it through.  Fauna, fluttering on the other side of the room, gave her a thumbs up. Peona took a breath, muttered some magic words to help her voice project, and stepped onto the dais Pansy had constructed two minutes before, which still gleamed a bit—magic or not, Pansy was a terrible procrastinator.

“Ahem,” Peona began, almost silently.  A few other Unter-Faires like herself looked up respectfully, but most everyone else kept on munching and muttering to each other.  Well, she might as well just go for it.  “HEAR YE! HEAR YE!” she called out, much too loudly, considering her vocal projection charm.  Everyone in the room started, and one or two pixies nearly dropped out of the air.  Peona gamely continued: “Thank you very, very much for attending this meeting.  Um….”

Peona had, of course, spent most of yesterday constructing a speech for this occasion.  She couldn’t remember a word of it now, except that it had some very fine points about unity and common ground.  She could start there. “As you know, we have asked you to be here today because of a commonly concerned, um, because of a concern that concerns us commonly, a common concern we have, um, an issue that stretches between all of us and on which we have common ground, ground that is shared by all of us, and on which we have several mutual concerns, concerns that are common to all of us…um…”

She looked at the slowly glazing eyes of her audience, and then concluded that honesty was the best policy.  “Look, we’re here because we have a problem.”

Unfortunately, that was the wrong move.  A tall, beautiful lady in the front row raised her hand. She looked like the sort who would prefer to be called a “faerie.” She was also sipping a glass of wine, much to Peony’s annoyance, who had expressly not served alcohol, thinking this was the sort of discussion that would not benefit from addled wits.

“Yes?” Peony asked.  “I mean, the chair recognizes…um…” She could not for the life her remember the lady’s name, and she used a little magic to discover it. “…Maeve of the Autumn Locks.”

The lady obviously sensed the effort Peona had gone to, and the lady smirked as she spoke: “I’m not sure what you mean by ‘we have a problem.’ I, for one, was invited here by the good fairy Fauna, who told me that my calmness and well-known magnanimousness would be a great asset to this cause.”

Peona would have shot Fauna a dirty look, but she remember both that she had told Fauna to use whatever means possible to get as many fairies, and that everyone in the audience would see said dirty look. She was considering how to reply, when another being, a fairly ordinary looking Unter-Fairy like Peona herself, interjected, the Unter-Fairy’s mildly bored expression intensifying to quite miffed.

“Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, so the high-and-mighty Miss Fallen Locks gets an oh-so-special invitation, while us Unter-Fairies are just expected to show up because one of our own is leading the charge?”

“No…” began Peona, but then a wrinkled, leafy fairy interrupted.

“Yes, it’s not like these Under-Fairies have enough magic to even merit the need for this…intervention.”

“Oh, go sit on a road and wait for some hapless youth to wander up, and turn them into a frog!” screeched another Unter-Fairy.

“So unimaginative,” scoffed one of the horned fairies. “I’d keep them human, but curse them with an insatiable thirst, or something like that.”

“I’ll give you an insatiable thirst,” growled one of the pixies, “And a cloud of stinging flies to nest in your antlers.”

“How about I just skip the thirst and drown you in a puddle right now,” suggested the horned fairy. She summoned an apparition of a large vase. “This ought to be just your size.”

The pixie was about to charge, when her pathway was blocked by an old woman brandishing a sparkling wand. “Now, now, you know it’s just a vision, the vase isn’t actually there; she doesn’t have that kind of magic.” The old woman turned to the horned fairy, “Don’t make me turn you into a deer again.”

“Which caused several questing princes to chase after her, if I recall,” mentioned Maeve.

“You stay out of this,” the horned fairy hissed, banging her staff on the ground.

“If I stayed out of things, the world would be a much worse place,” replied Maeve.

This time, Peona made her voice far too loud on purpose: “FAIRIES!” she bellowed. Everyone covered their ears.

Peona sighed. “This is exactly why Fauna, Pansy and I called this meeting. We fairies, as a whole species and as each subspecies, must get a hold of our tempers!”

The audience was still eyeing each other with enmity. Peona continued: “We are far too easy to offend. For goodness sake, if an eleven-year-old child doesn’t offer a stranger shelter for the night, don’t turn him into a beast. He’s just doing what his parents told him and being wary of strangers! If a maiden won’t give you water, maybe assume she’s having a bad day get over it; don’t immediately think of the craziest curse you can think of and cast it!”

Another fairy, with grass-green eyes, pointed at Maeve. “Her sister put a curse on an infant princess!”

Maeve protested: “And I fixed it!”

“Shush,” snapped Peona, in no mood to deal with this. “Who among us, Unter-Fairies too, has not crafted a hasty, angry spell, and then cooled down and regretted it later?”

Gradually, everyone in the room, Peona included, raised their hands. “Exactly. We are quick-tempered beings, and we have got to do something about that. That is why we have asked you to be here today. We, the thirty or so of us who are here, must be instruments of change amongst our sisters!”

Many of the other fairies nodded, even Maeve. But then another fairy, in glittering raiment: “There is no denying our good sister Peona makes an excellent point, but I, for one, have a few concerns. Where do you draw the line between quick temper and meeting just punishment? For example, suppose I am sitting in a wood, minding my own business, when a prince comes up to me seeking the legendary White Bear of the Dark Forest. Now, I can tell that this prince is a right arrogant fellow, so I…”

Peona sighed, but made sure it was not loud enough for the others to hear. It was going to be a long meeting, and hopefully by the end of it, she wouldn’t have turned every one of them into hop-toads.

Frank’s Dream

This was a concept I wrote two years ago, probably after watching Inception, and inspired by an analogy I read, I think by C.S. Lewis.

Frank closed his eyes. He didn’t want to—his wife always complained when he did this. It wasn’t the closing of the eyes she minded so much as when he closed them—while he was at the dinner table, in mid-sentence, while riding the lawn mower once. That had ended badly. The tractor, as Frank learned later, had continued straight ahead, through a fence, across a field, and then, eventually, into a tree. When he came to himself his wife was kneeling beside him, screaming hysterically. Sirens wailed in the distance. Tears glistening in her eyes as she hugged Frank closely, saying angrily, “Don’t you ever scare me like that again!”

The ambulance had come and gone, but the episodes hadn’t. Frank noticed that they were occurring more frequently now. “I think you need to see a doctor about this,” said his wife one day, pursing her lips and leaning forward in bed, resting one arm thoughtfully under her chin.

“It’s, it’s all right,” said Frank. “The spells don’t last long, and I really don’t mind.”

“Well, all I know is that you’ve begun to behave very strangely,” said Margaret. “It’s as if you don’t care about anything. You forget the groceries and leave them in the buggy in the parking lot at Walmart—I love you, dear, but I really don’t understand what’s happening to you. What do you feel when you have one of those spells—episodes?”

“I really don’t remember,” said Frank. “In fact, I can’t remember even having these spells. You know I’m unconscious, and I can never account for what happens to me while I’m out.”

Just then, Frank woke up. He was in a white-walled room with black and white checkered tiles on the floor. Frank was wearing a well-tailored gray suit and a bright red tie. His hair was long and matted, shading his brow from the pulsing fluorescent light above his head.

Frank passed a hand over his eyes. “Computer,” he said at last, “It is 9 o’clock right now, November 28th, 1983, and I have been here for over 30 years. I don’t know what’s going on. My life doesn’t make sense, but my dreams do. I don’t understand why I’m in this prison—if it’s a prison—and I don’t know who I am here, but I do know who and where I am in the world of my dream. The dream is continuous—it makes sense, but my life here does not—it is static. In fact, I don’t recall ever receiving food since I arrived here…”

Frank’s stomach growled, but he wasn’t paying attention. In the polished white of the wall he could see his face reflected. “I don’t even remember how I got here,” he said.

Frank’s world didn’t make sense, but he had been becoming more certain for a while it must be the real one. In his dream he was never aware of the other world, but in this world—reality—he could remember and make sense of both worlds. So it was the only answer that seemed to fit. At least, he was becoming convinced.

The computer spoke in a loud voice, “Frank Davis, you must wake up now.”

It’s all a lie, Frank told himself.

“Wake up now…”

All a lie…

“Wake up…”

Don’t forget…

“Wake up…dear.”

Frank woke up. Margaret lay beside him, one hand on his chest. Seeing his eyes flutter open, she groaned and turned away. “You are so going to a doctor.”

The Red Priest

From Gloria to The Four Seasons, Vivaldi’s music is vivacious and beautiful, full of astonishing brilliance and color.  In the following article, our guest author Caroline Bennett tells of Vivaldi’s life and work.

Italian vineyards in Tuscany“…In the torrid heat of the blazing sun, man and beast alike languish, and even the pine trees scorch: the cuckoo raises his voice, and soon after the turtle dove and finch join in song…”attributed to Antonio Vivaldi, from a sonnet accompanying the second movement of The Four Seasons

An air of mystery surrounds Antonio Vivaldi, the famous Baroque composer from Italy. Not only do historians not know the exact year in which he was born, but they also debate the reason why he chose to leave his duties as a Roman Catholic priest to teach at a girls’ school. Moreover, despite his popularity during his lifetime, Vivaldi was inexplicably forgotten after his death, and the general public only began taking notice of his works in the mid-1900s, more than 200 years after he died. This is an enigma, because while many forgotten composers are neglected for good reason, Vivaldi and his music have never deserved slighting, and one must only listen to a few of his joyful pieces to realize how gifted Vivaldi was.

Antonio Vivaldi was born in Venice, Italy, in either 1677 or 1678. His father was a prominent violinist at St. Mark’s Chapel, and thus Vivaldi was able to receive an excellent musical education from an early age. Unlike many composers, however, Vivaldi did not initially intend to become a professional musician; he studied to become a priest and even took orders in 1703. He was excused from active service the following year at the age of 26, probably due to his poor health. Nevertheless, he was a priest for the rest of his life, and because of his fiery red hair he was nicknamed “il prete rosso,” or “the red priest.”

Conservatory of the Ospedale della Pietá
The Ospedale della Pietá

Vivaldi turned to music for his livelihood. For almost his entire life Vivaldi served as the violin teacher, composer, and conductor at the Conservatory of the Ospedale della Pietá, a school for orphaned and illegitimate girls. Music became the heart and soul of the girls’ lives at the Pietá, and they performed Vivaldi’s compositions every Sunday and on holidays. Vivaldi wrote more than four hundred demanding concertos for these young girls to perform.

Whenever Vivaldi was not at the Pietá, he was on tour in Europe, conducting and performing on his violin. He became famous for his set of twelve concerti grossi, compositions that involve a few soloists on different instruments accompanied by a full orchestra. Indeed, Vivaldi became quite renowned for all of his different kinds of concertos, and through his influence the concerto developed into the standard cycle of three movements.

One of Vivaldi’s most famous and influential works is his set of four violin concertos: The Four Seasons. The collection consists of twelve movements, three for each season, and Vivaldi accompanied his music with sonnets written for each season, though it is debated whether he wrote the poems himself. Vivaldi’s pieces are always full of life, and even the slow, peaceful “Largo” from Spring has the violas imitating the barking of dogs in the background. Monte BiancoThe violin is prominent throughout The Four Seasons—it is, after all, a violin concerto—and is accompanied by a string orchestra and harpsichord. The four concertos never become boring or repetitious, however, because Vivaldi didn’t just use the sound of bowed strings, but incorporated plucked strings as well. This element sometimes makes the music sound very modern, especially in the famous “Largo” from Winter. But Vivaldi was definitely a Baroque composer; he layered and repeated different melodies (like in “Allegro” from Spring), contrasted the movements of each concerto, and made the work very structured—all Baroque characteristics.

Antonio Vivaldi died in 1741. Almost instantly, he was forgotten by the world. Fortunately, Johann Sebastian Bach had transcribed a few of his pieces, and when Felix Mendelssohn revived interest in Bach in the 1800s, a few of Vivaldi’s works were rediscovered and appreciated as well. A century later, his complete collection of manuscripts was discovered, sparking audience’s interest and creating a Vivaldi revival.  Today, he is one of the most renowned classical composers of all time. His works have a distinctive sound, not just due to the way he reused musical ideas, but because his pieces are full of an energy and fervor often lacking in other Baroque compositions. The Red Priest did not simply leave behind a legacy of joyful music: he was a prolific composer, and his hundreds of works display how much he appreciated the life God had given him, the beauty around him, and the joy these blessings impart.

 

RECOMMENDED LISTENING:

♪ Kennedy, Nigel. Antonio Vivaldi: The Four Seasons. EMI Records, 1989.

♪ Note by Arrietty: If you would like to see a lovely performance of Vivaldi’s Gloria, watch this video, which was done in an attempt to recreate how Vivaldi’s work would have originally been played on baroque instruments in the Pietá by an all-female orchestra and chorus.