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Old June 12, 2000, 09:01 AM   #1
Matt VDW
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I'm curious about the divergent evolution of the sword in Europe and Japan. In the West, the sword evolved into a one-handed, straight-bladed, double edged weapon with a fairly elaborate handguard. In the East, the sword evolved into a two-handed, curved-bladed, single edged weapon with a very simple handguard.

Why did the sword take one form in Europe and another in Japan?

And if you had to carry a sword as your primary weapon for everyday personal defense, which style would you choose? Assume that the threat is generic thugs and bandits, not marauding samurai or barbarian hordes. Also assume that lightsaber technology is not available.
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Old June 12, 2000, 10:36 AM   #2
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A samurai sword because, as the old Japanese proverb goes "He who is struck once with a good sword seldom needs striking again."
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Old June 12, 2000, 01:14 PM   #3
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I would go with the sword my ancestors uses a good ole' fashioned Scottish Claymore. It would cleave a horse's head off in one good blow.
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Old June 12, 2000, 03:20 PM   #4
Matt VDW
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At over four feet long, the claymore would be a bit impractical for everyday carry. It might also be hard to swing inside a building.
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Old June 12, 2000, 05:10 PM   #5
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For everyday carry you would have to go with the Japanese swords. The Katana for main use and the Wakizashi for indoor use. The Wakizashi was made for use indoors where the Katana would be hampered by narrower corridors.

Just for style points I'd rather carry a Rapier (Three Musketeers era). They were some of the most elegant, beautiful swords ever made. The stabbing style would work well indoors and the advantage of free movement and speed would help a lot against someone with a big heavy sword. However against numerous opponents having to pull it free of a successful thrust could prove fatal.
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Old June 12, 2000, 06:58 PM   #6
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There were two-handed and hand-and-a-half swords used in Europe. And while the swords of the Dark and Middle Ages tended to be double-edged and straight, during the time of gunpowder, the main blade evolved from the straight rapier to curved sabers and cutlasses.

If the expected opponents are not armored, then something along the lines of a saber might work OK. I think I'd avoid a two-handed blade because if I were outdoors I'd want either a bow or crossbow in hand.

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Old June 12, 2000, 08:34 PM   #7
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I would go with a Wakazashi if CQB scenarios were the order of the day. For open woods and field use, make it a Katana.

The Italian in me is saying "you traitor, go get your Schiavona!"

[This message has been edited by Zensho (edited June 12, 2000).]
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Old June 12, 2000, 08:52 PM   #8
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this is an extremly popular topic in the ren fair/sca boards. historicly: the portugese brought the rapier with them to japan.
IF(and only IF)the rapier user could get his weapon out before combat the rapier won in 38 out of 42 recorded duels. in iajitsu deuls starting from scabbard the rapier man died.

each style and type of sword has an intimate relationship with the period/culture it was popular.
cultural bias, expected opponnent armour , group/skirmish combat, one on one deuling, mounted or on foot. all of these things effect(affect?) the weapon used.

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Old June 12, 2000, 09:00 PM   #9
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You guys are forgetting the the blade masters of Indonesia, and the Filipines. I would venture to say, that they are the best blade fighters in the world, to this day. Consider the swords of the region too.

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Old June 12, 2000, 09:05 PM   #10
Jim March
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I just finished reading a good "popularization" of the Spartan's stand at Thermopolae called "The Fire Gate" that, I *think*, holds a clue.

The Greek heavy infantry (Hoplites) fought as well-disciplined teams, using heavy shields and inter-locked armor in fixed formations. (Or rather, their main front-line formations worked this way - to the rear were various archers, sling-throwers, guys with javelins, what have you.) The front-line guys used heavyish one-handed spears as their prime weapon, wielded overhand in a "repeated downward stabbing" motion. At a walk, they'd advance and just chew through damn near anything, shrugging off missile attacks with the armor and shields. Their backup weapon was a short "heavy chopping" type sword closely related to a modern Nepalese Khukuri...Bill Martino of Himalayan Imports can sell you a 21" (overall) Sirupati that'll handle very similarly to a Greek Kopis. Like the spear, it was a "heavy smash" weapon that didn't need a lot of finess, or FOOTWORK.

Key point: if a guy got so tired he shrugged off his armor or helmet, that was considered unwise but not dishonorable or what we'd call a "court-martial offense". But to drop your SHIELD meant losing your citizenship! Why? Because your shield wasn't there to protect you, it was there to protect the guy to your left. What does this imply?

NO FOOTWORK!

The Romans adopted the Greek tactics, with a few twists. Shields got bigger yet, and the "interlocked shields" concept even more clearly defined, to where they could stand against cavalry. Primary weapon switched to a short "heavy stabbing" sword - straight thrusts could be performed through the shield wall without breaking it.

These concepts of closely-spaced individual soldiers forming a "solid wall" and attacking as a unit continued in European thinking, with some exceptions of course (Scots!). But in general, the Japanese sword systems absolutely, positively *required* "side-stepping" and other fancy footwork that went against the grain of European tactics.

The Japanese tended to fight as mobs of highly skilled individuals. Assuming they could avoid being outflanked, I'd be willing to bet a Roman Legion or a Hoplite Phalanx could have walked right up to double their number of Bushido and handed 'em their tail ends on a platter.

But one on one, in a duel? Whole 'nuther story - Mr. Gladiator or whatever just found hisself in biiiig trouble.

Now, later European "dueling schools" in the Italian and Spanish traditions are a whole different critter again than a Legionaire. I'll leave the "rapier versus katana" debate to others.

What I'm saying is that the Japanese "cut and dodge" system of *battlefield* skills developed as an entirely different path than the European systems at their Greek and Roman roots. The Rapier-type and similar European systems were NOT battlefield-bred, they were "personal defense for noblemen in peacetime". The Japanese also went down that path, esp. by the Edo period, but the "battlefield roots" of the dueling schools were much closer to the surface.

Jim
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Old June 13, 2000, 06:09 AM   #11
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good post jim,

several history boards have concluded, DRILL IE: mass formation functioning is THE western martial art. something along the lines of " no diciplined formation is out numbered by an undisciplined formation."

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Old June 13, 2000, 07:54 AM   #12
Matt VDW
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<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>this is an extremly popular topic in the ren fair/sca boards. historicly: the portugese brought the rapier with them to japan.
IF(and only IF)the rapier user could get his weapon out before combat the rapier won in 38 out of 42 recorded duels. in iajitsu deuls starting from scabbard the rapier man died.[/quote]

Interesting! I'm not surprised that the Japanese swordsmen won all the quick draw contests, but the rapier's domination in drawn sword fights is a shock. Hmmm...

Do you have any information on how well the Japanese swordsmen did against Okinawan karatekas armed with "martial arts weapons" (nunchaku, tonfu, sai, kama, et cetera)?
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Old June 13, 2000, 10:34 AM   #13
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Jim March:

The Roman battle formations of the earlier period was NOT a mere refinement of the Greek system.

The Greek phalanx was indeed a tight formation of armored and shielded heavy infantrymen who mainly utilized their stabbing spears. This required a flat terrain and, thus, the battlefield was often pre-selected in almost a ritualistic fashion. The number of combatants were often quite small, because of the size of the Greek city states and because command and control was extremely difficult with this kind of a primitive formation.

Romans did not fight in a tight mass. Their spear was largely a THROWING weapon. Romans often fought on rough, mountainous terrain in a non-ritualistic fashion and tended to fight in looser manipular formations for greater tactical flexibility. Romans threw their spears and then, taking advantage of the confusion created, charged and fought using their short swords (later adopting the Gladius of Spanish origin).

During the Punic Wars, Scipio Africanus adopted many of Hannibal's techniques and developed an elaborate combined arms army, with a substantial cavalry force, largely made up of North Africans (Numidians).

The Japanese military forces of the Warring States (pre-Toyotomi/Tokugawa era) were even more complex. Because of the tremendous amount experience they had in fighting on various terrain (urban, flat, mountainous, etc.) and conditions, they developed a very well-combined force of light and heavy cavalry, archers, mounted archers, spearmen, heavy infantry and light infantry and later even musketeers. The Japanese formation also became quite large and rather well-developed organizationally.

If a Greek force of the earlier age were to clash with a medieval Japanese force, the outcome would be very sad butchery of the Greeks by the Japanese. The primitive armor and shield worn by the Greeks may have protected them against more primitive missile weapons of their time, but not the armor piercing weapons of the Japanese (like their arrows). Operationally, the contest would end with the Japanese cavalry flanking and surrounding the Phalanx, the archers withering it with massive volleys of arrows and then the spearmen moving in and finally, the swordsmen cutting the survivors down.

The Romans of later period would fare better than the Greeks, of course.

Skorzeny

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For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the supreme excellence. Sun Tzu
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Old June 13, 2000, 02:47 PM   #14
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To answer the last question first, I would probably choose a short rapier concealed in a sword or umbrella (sword cane). You'll have it in hand, and can be used sheathed as well as unsheathed. Once unsheathed, the scabbard can be used to deflect blows or to move an opponents sword out of the way. To project the "don't mess with me" image, it would be accompanied by a main gauche, or similar dagger.

Matt, to answer your question, curved swords are designed mainly for slashing blows, straight, thin ones for piercing, and straight heavy ones for cleaving (like an axe). The European heavy straight swords (like the Claymore, bastard sword, etc.) were designed for cleaving through metallic armour, or defending against mounted cavalry (mostly 2-handed swords - usually used against the horse first). Europeans began using curved Cavalry swords after the gun made metal armor obsolete because it's easier to slash from horseback, and it's harder to get your sword stuck slashing. Around the same time, the infantry moved to the straight broadsword, basically a heavier form of the rapier, because thrusting is easier & faster than slashing while on foot (although, at this time, the sword was on it's way to obselescence).
The Samurai were originally mounted archers, so a curved sword was preferred, and it was worn blade down, hung from the belt on hangers (tachi). Armor in Japan was mostly hardened leather and bamboo - fairly easy to slash through, compared to European chain mail. When they made the transition to being foot soldiers, the sword was moved off of the hangers directly to the belt and the blade was turned upwards to facilitate a faster draw. The Bushido code did not require an opponent to warn before he attacked, so a Samurai had to be quick to access his weapon (Westerners would think of this as unfair, but a Samurai would say "well, he should have been ready - he was a warrior, after all"). Drawing & slashing in one motion is faster than drawing, pointing, & sticking, and can be done in closer quarters.

As far as martial arts weapons vs. swords, I can only think of one that proved effective against a sword with any reasonable frequency - the staff. According to one Japanese expert, 'a man skilled with a staff could easily defeat a swordsman', although it should be noted that techniques were developed specifically for that purpose. On the other side of the world, there is a documented case of an Englishman challenging and defeating three French (I believe) swordsmen with a quarterstaff - simultaneously.
Honestly, the staff would be my first choice in a fight, it's just darn awkward to carry around the city.


------------------
Beginner barbarians probably had the idea that every house they broke into would be full of untouched loot and frightened, unarmed victims. It just doesn't work that way, my friend.

I hope these evil men come to understand our peaceful ways soon - My trigger finger is blistering!
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Old June 13, 2000, 05:03 PM   #15
Jim March
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The discussion was about sword styles, not archery. So I wasn't clear enough: in a head-on confrontation between Hoplite heavy infantry and Bushido *swordsmen* on foot, I'd bet on the Greeks.

As to the Roman infantry, those shields were rectangular for a reason. I'm sure they were quite capable of fighting in loose formation but their preference was to tighten up, against incoming missiles or cavalry in particular.

And yes, they all had other types of soldiers running around, the Japanese and the later Romans especially. I should have explained that I was following the concept of "foot soldiers".

Jim
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Old June 13, 2000, 06:19 PM   #16
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I think my preference would lie with the "newer" claymore: the basket-hilted broadsword. The Scots (my heritage as well)
used the word "claymore" to encompass both weapons. To back it up, I think I would use a buckler.

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Old June 14, 2000, 01:44 AM   #17
William R. Wilburn
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<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by Danger Dave:
As far as martial arts weapons vs. swords, I can only think of one that proved effective against a sword with any reasonable frequency - the staff. According to one Japanese expert, 'a man skilled with a staff could easily defeat a swordsman',[/quote]

Musashi, the great 16th Century Japanese swordman fought over sixty duels and was defeated only once: by the innovator of the short staff.

William

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Old June 14, 2000, 07:21 AM   #18
Danger Dave
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William, I thought that duel was just a legend. Is it documented? There are similar legends about a match between Ueshiba (founder of Aikido) and Mas Oyama (founder of Kyokushin-kai Karate). I don't know if they're true, either.

I would also like to clarify something - staves proved effective against unarmored swordsmen. Good armor, whether Occidental or Oriental, is hard to bash through with a stick.
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Old June 14, 2000, 08:14 AM   #19
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Do you have any information on how well the Japanese swordsmen did against Okinawan karatekas armed with "martial arts weapons" (nunchaku, tonfu, sai, kama, et cetera)?[/B][/QUOTE]

with the meji restoration, the police were tasked with disarming the samurai, the most sucsessful weapon was the manriki-gusari(sp?)
an @3' chain with iron handles.

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Old June 14, 2000, 09:25 AM   #20
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Jim March:

If you are discussing sword techniques only, why was it that you compared fully armed Hoplites (armor, spear and shield) with a "mob of highly skilled individual" Samurais? No, you were comparing a hypothetical group action.

In that scenario, it would be only fair to match the Hoplites with fully armed Samurais (horse, lance, bow and sword). Otherwise, it would be akin to matching a group of modern soldiers with only handguns against a group of fully armed 13th Century Mongol archers (who could easily kill from well outside the range of the handguns).

I can tell you that if you were to match a hypothetical INDIVIDUAL Hoplite armed with his primitive SWORD with a Japanese Samurai armed with his own SWORD, the contest, well, it wouldn't even be a contest...

Lastly, regarding Roman battle tactics, you seem to be confusing how the Roman shield was used during the "bombardment" phase and during actual physical clashes. Indeed, the "turtle" was used to protect the legions from missle volleys, but during close quarters combat, the Romans used a manipular, rather than a Phalanx system. The difference really became noticeable during the Macedonian-Roman clashes.

I suggest that you get a hold of Hans Delbrueck and read about the evolution of Western military techniques from Greece to Rome (and then through the medieval times to the era of the Thirty Years War) if you are interested in the topic.

Skorzeny

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For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the supreme excellence. Sun Tzu
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Old June 14, 2000, 09:49 AM   #21
William R. Wilburn
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<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by Danger Dave:
William, I thought that duel was just a legend. Is it documented? There are similar legends about a match between Ueshiba (founder of Aikido) and Mas Oyama (founder of Kyokushin-kai Karate). I don't know if they're true, either.[/quote]

The only documentation I have seen is in the biography by Eiji Yoshikawa, "Musashi." I do not remember the name of the staff weilder, but he struck Mushashi in the chest area and while the blow did not incapacitate Musashi he elected not to kill the staff man and commented that the blow nearly killed him.

Unfortunately, in a fit of generousity, I gave a friend my rare, hard-cover collection of the Musashi biography. It was published in serial form back in the 1930s, if I remember correctly.

I do not recall the incident being mentioned in Musashi's, "The Book of Five Rings."

I have not heard of the duel between O Sensei Ueshiba and Mas Oyama. Since Aikido's roots are so deep in sword work and because of his up close and personal experiences with personal combat I would think O Sensei would have no small advantage.

William

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Old June 14, 2000, 11:15 AM   #22
Danger Dave
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William, I, too have found that the best way to part with a good book is to loan it to a friend.

The Oyama/Ueshiba match allegedly (I doubt it took place, to be honest) amounted to Ueshiba "turning" Oyama until he got frustrated. That's about it - no blows landed, no one hurt. I have serious doubts about this ever happening.
BTW, Oyama was no stranger to fighting either - he was a bit of a thug in his younger days. He was known to enter bars filled with American servicemen in order to start fights, and Funikoshi quit teaching him when he killed a Yakuza (?) who pulled a knife on him. Then there's the bullfights...
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Old June 14, 2000, 11:36 AM   #23
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Danger Dave's post is close to my understanding- though I believe the overall length of the Japanese sword was reduced from nodachi to the current katana's size at the same time the mounting of the sword changed.

As is often the case, I do not agree with Skorzeny, though I do not know that I can say he is wrong.

If I carried a manual weapon, I would be happy with a bastard sword for daily "reactive" carry. On the battlefield, my first preference for hand-to-hand would be a spear. If forced to use a sword, on foot, I would be happy with an old-style Claymore, or any good Japanese sword.

In the art I study, everytime we review staff, we are reminded that the staff is a weak weapon (at least, compared to the sword). As such, the staff user must always be ready to open the distance, as the user of a sharp has but to touch him to wound. None of the personal students of Unsui Sensei has yet been able to defeat him using staff versus sword.
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Old June 14, 2000, 12:26 PM   #24
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In the art I study, everytime we review staff, we are reminded that the staff is a weak weapon (at least, compared to the sword). As such, the staff user must always be ready to open the distance, as the user of a sharp has but to touch him to wound.

Good point. The advantage the staff has over the sword is the multiple striking surfaces that allow for quicker follow-ups and better defensive capabilities, but it still takes power to do damage. I guess whoever maximizes their advantages and minimizes their liabilities is most likely to win the fight.

My terminology on Japanese swords is a bit weak these days, but IIRC, the Katana and the Tachi were the same weapon, only the furniture (scabbard, mainly) was different. The handguards, scabbards, and hilts were changed to suit the needs of the day, whether a day of war on horseback, ceremonial gathering, or a duel. The nodachi was a rather specialized sword. It looked a lot like a katana/tachi, but about twice as large. It was used much like the 2-handed European swords were used - mainly to defeat opposing cavalrymen. BTW, originally Japanese swords, or ken, were straight bladed like Chinese swords.

As for Skorzeny, he does have a way of stating his position that just makes you want to disagree with him, even if you don't know why.
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Old June 14, 2000, 12:38 PM   #25
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<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by Danger Dave:
Oyama was no stranger to fighting either - he was a bit of a thug in his younger days. He was known to enter bars filled with American servicemen in order to start fights, ...[/quote]

I know we are starting to suffer from the dreaded topic creep, as defined by Sensop, but this reminded me of my friend Randy Jackson. He and my brother entered the Marines together. While in Japan in the early 70s Randy decided to study karate. At the end of the training session one of the instuctors (this was a large school) would call upon one of the students to attack. No holds barred. No rules. Many American servicemen were attending classes and none had ever touched an instructor in randori.

One day Randy was called up. As they assumed the traditional en gard positions Randy spit in the instructor's eyes. Now, Randy is a good ole boy and when we were growing up we thought the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms was a chest of drawers where the party supplies were kept. Randy had his lip packed with Copenhagen snuff. The juice this produces burns like fire in the eyes (been there, done that). The instructor's hands went up to his face and at that moment Randy smacked him with a right hook that put the instructor on the mat. Behind Randy the servicemen began cheering. At this point Randy made a tactical error: he turned and raised his hands and did a "Rocky" dance for the crowd. Big mistake. He allowed the instructor to get up. Instructor loses it. Randy gets thumped. After showers the instructor apologized to Randy and thanked him for the lesson. Very nice gesture.

During his stint in the Marines Randy cold-cocked a Major and walked away from the courts martial with a clean record. One day in the line at the mess hall he stuck a fork in a gentleman's eye who thought he could cut into line and make Randy like it. It don't pay to mess with hill people.

William


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