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A kunai (??, kunai?) is an ancient Japanese kind of gardening tool or trowel. Two variations are the short kunai (???, sho-kunai?) and the big kunai (???, dai-kunai?) It is a good example of a very basic tool which, in the hands of a martial arts expert, could be used as a multi-functional weapon.
The kunai was conventionally wrought of iron, not steel, cheaply forged and unpolished. The size of most kunai ranged from 20 cm to 60 cm, with the average at 40 cm. The kunai was used by common folk as multi-purpose gardening tools and by workers of stone and masonry. The kunai is not a knife, but something more akin to a crowbar. The blade was soft iron and unsharpened because the edges were used to smash plaster and wood, to dig holes and to pry. Normally only the tip would have been sharpened. The uses to which a kunai was put would have destroyed any heat-treated and sharpened tool like a knife.
Kunai normally had a leaf-shaped blade and a handle with a ring on the pommel for attaching a rope. This would allow the kunai’s handle to be wrapped to act as a grip, or when used as a weapon; to be strapped to a stick as an expedient spear, to be tied to the body for concealment, or to use as an anchor or piton.
Contrary to popular belief, they were not designed to be used primarily as throwing weapons, though they can be thrown and cause damage. Instead, they are a thrusting and stabbing implement.
Many ninja developed weapons that were merely adapted farming tools, not unlike those used by Shaolin monks in China. Since kunai were cheaply produced farming tools of a decent size and weight, and could be easily sharpened, they were readily available to be converted into simple weapons.
As with the shuriken and ninjutsu, the exaggeration persistent in ninja myths played a large role in creating the current pop culture image of kunai. In the mythology of ninja, the kunai is commonly portrayed to be a Japanese knife that is used for throwing as well as stabbing.
As a weapon it is larger and heavier than a shuriken, and with the grip could also be used in hand to hand combat more readily than a shuriken.
In addition, it could be used for climbing, as either a kind of grappling hook, or a piton.
There are several varieties of kunai, including of short kunai, long kunai, narrow bladed types, saw-toothed types, and wide bladed types. In some cases, the kunai and the shikoro, a wide bladed saw with a dagger-type handle, are hard if not impossible to distinguish.
The Kunai is portrayed in anime (and resulting video games based on them) such as Naruto as a common weapon that is often used – sometimes thrown with a tag “?” or “??”, symbolizing fire or explosion. The kunai explodes some time after impact with the tag attached.
In the Mortal Kombat series, Scorpion uses one attached to a rope known as the “bloody spear” to draw his opponents to him to gain a free hit against them.
In Tekken 5, Raven can be customized to carry kunais (five on each of his thighs & ten on his back), although he cannot wield or use them.
In the Ninja Gaiden series, Ryu carries three Kunai on his left leg, but never uses them. However in Ninja Gaiden II he is able to use explosive kunai.
In both Mega Man Zero and MegaMan ZX Phantom and Model P/Px use Kunai as a basic weapon. In the latter, they are the weakest of the normal “buster shots”, however they do fire faster and are thrown three at a time.