The History of Brass Knuckles

 vajra musti knuckleduster

Brass Knuckles type weapons were first documented being used in India in the 12th century. They were used in blood sports and referred to as Vajra-Musti, a Sanskrit word which translates to thunder-fist or diamond-fist. They were fist loaded Knuckleduster type weapons which typically had spikes.

caestus plasti brass knuckles

Similar devices were also observed in the Roman Empire and with the Greek at gladiatorial matches. Referred to as the Caestus which offered some of the same functionality as brass knuckles but differed as it was more of a glove with metal attachments then a standalone tool like knuckledusters.

 tekko plastic knuckles

The Asian and Japanese also had their own version of brass knuckles referred to as tekko. These ancient knuckledusters baring many similarities to the Indian’s Vajra-Musti (which isn’t surprising as they are neighboring countries). These knuckles were primarily crafted from wood, random metals or animal bones. They were often used by Shinobi Ninjas in close quarter combat.

 sher panja knuckle duster weapon

The Nihang Sikhs of Punjab (a state in India) also used a similar tool in combat in the 18th century. It was referred to as a Sher Panja which translates to “Lions Paw.” It was a spiked tool worn on the palm side of the hand as opposed to the knuckle side like traditional brass knuckles.

 abraham lincolns brass knuckles

Modern day brass knuckle designs gained notoriety in the mid 1800’s during the American Civil War. Abraham Lincoln’s and his bodyguards were know to carry brass knuckles, they are even on display at the Ford’s theatre national historic site(pictured above). Soldiers were easily able to purchase them during WW1 or cast them from lead bullets using moulds that they dug up in the dirt.

 brass knuckles revolver

By the 1900’s brass knuckles were very popular and combination weapons were being released for use in WW2. Such examples include trench knives and Apache revolvers which were knife/knuckle and gun/knuckle combos respectively.

trench knuckle knife


  • Gates

    Haha! It says “the Asians and Japanese”!!! That’s like saying “the Indians and Sikhs” or “the Americans and the southerners” HAHA! Good times!!!

  • jack2023

    Well, you forget that the Brass Knuckles type weapons were documented in Sardinia (Italy) since the Bronze Age, as you can see on the hands of the ancient statuettes of the time still kept inthe local museums. Also, the Romans had more models, and while some weapons were used in the arena (eg. caestus), other ones were made of metal and used by legionaries on the battle field.

  • Jay

    Cool information and describing the difference between the Roman designed and the Indian design. Also would like to point out a typo that the Japanese are also Asian :)

  • Anita E Kay

    Cool, good information on history of brass knuckles. Very interesting

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