View Full Version : European vs. Japanese swords, part 2.

August 2, 2000, 02:20 AM
Actually, European military swords prior to the introduction of the firearm were straight bladed weapons with relatively simple guards. Quite similar to the equivalent swords in early Japan.

Like the Japanese katanas, the European swords were designed to smash past armour, and to deal damage by percussion, as well as cutting.

The rapiers and smallswords weren't introduced until the Age of Armour was either gone, or on it's way out. An interesting article on rapiers can be found here: http://harpo.acc.iit.edu/~goldpul/rapier.html

Somewhere back in the musty remnants of my memory, I seem to recall that the distinctive curve of the katana was due in great part to the effects of the two different metals of the blade contracting differently as they cooled after forging, however, you may want to check that.

As far as the defeat of the Japanese swordsmen by the European rapier men, as a SHAG*, it can probably be laid at the feet of a variety of factors.

Near as I can tell, the average length of a katana is 24 inches, compared to 36-40 inches for a rapier. This gives a bit of a length advantage to the European fencer. I don't know the average weight of the katana, but the rapier varied from 1 pound 12 ozs to just over three pounds. This gives the European a light, quick, flexible weapon, which would allow him to keep the samurai at bay while simultaneously dealing multiple puncture wounds.

I would think that the differences in stance, might also have an impact, but I don't know enough about kenjutsu stances to make an educated guess.

*Scientific Hairy-A**ed Guess

Danger Dave
August 2, 2000, 06:52 AM
I still think it's a combination of techniques & differences in the "codes of combat".

From the sheath - Draw, point/stick vs. draw/slash - 1 combined motion is faster than 2 motions, and the katana scabbard was specifically designed for fast draws (hard sheath made of bamboo vs. a soft leather rapier sheath). Edge: Katana

From the ready position (sword already drawn) - sticking vs. slashing, one hand vs. two - the sticking motion is quicker and shorter and delivered from more of a distance. The rapiers length combined with the "fencer's lunge" vs. the two handed grip & curved blade on the katana give the rapier the edge in range.

Then there's the fighting codes - Europeans demanded a fairly formal challenge, acceptance, etc. for a duel, while the Samurai demanded no such thing - if someone offended you, you could attack without warning, like most of the "gunfights" in the old west. "I'm mad at that guy! Shick! Whack! Oh, he never got his sword out? Too bad, too sad. Shoulda been ready."

August 2, 2000, 09:03 AM
DangerDave brings up part of the advantage of the rapier in a dueling situation. To expound on this a bit more, consider two duelists, one with a rapier and one with katana, starting in the en-garde position, with their swords pointed at their opponent.

The katana wielder must first raise his point before he can slash. When he does that, the rapier wielder will lunge, a very quick movement when the distance is right.

That's not to say that the katana doesn't have advantages -- it does. The rapier is a very light blade that could be easily destroyed trying to parry a katana blow.

As for disarming a samurai, personally I'd prefer to do that from a couple hundred yards away, using a suitable lead-injection device. I'm partial to an M1A but an AR15 would be just fine too ;)


August 2, 2000, 10:08 AM
The katana's curve is due to differential tempering. One metal, but clay is smeared on part of the blade to change the tempering of that part (can't recall if it's edge or spine). Result is that the edge is extremely hard, while the rest of the blade is softer. This allows a super-sharp edge on a blade that is less prone to cracking. During cooling, the blade actually curves the other direction, then bends back into the final shape.

August 2, 2000, 10:14 AM
Don't forget that the katana can stab very effectively; one need not only slash.

The rapier is cetainly lighter and thus can likely reach the target sooner. Its one-handed use may also provide extra speed while keeping one's torso farther away.

Note the difference in effects:
Rapier pokes a hole. While poking holes can be quite effective and fast (this IS TFL, which is mostly about poking holes), don't forget that the katana can easily lop off large percentages of the target - a notably less survivable strike.

Hard Ball
August 2, 2000, 01:33 PM
The weapons and style of fighting with rapiers that impressed the samurai were cut and hrust rapiers used with a dagger in the left hand. This required a lot of training but was extremely effectiv e when used by a skilled man.
The Japanese were not impressed by Chinese or other swprd fighting styles.
Contemplating what he had seen when rapiers and daggers were used caused Miamoto Mushashi to invent the "Two Hands Victory" style in which a katana was used in each hand.

August 2, 2000, 01:34 PM
It seems to me that light blades like rapiers are more suited for duels, whereas heavier blades are more suitable for general melee. Here's my reasoning; in a duel, you have one opponent, and have the time to "poke a lotta holes" in your opponent until satisfaction is obtained or he is killed. However, in the military arena, I believe you need to parry, strike, and move on to the next enemy soldier. If you have to stand there poking away, sooner or later some sneaky enemy soldier is going to gig you from behind. So, horses for courses.

I'll go Jared one better; being the lazy misanthrope that I am, I'd resolve the samurai problem with a Cobra "guns run." I guess I just lack the people skills and work ethic for the nose-to-nose approach.

August 2, 2000, 01:58 PM
Ivanhoe and M1911, y'all just aren't thinking like grunts: call your Support Field Artillery, yell "Target is maniac in the open, will adjust!" and dive for a foxhole. :D

My personal opinion is that if you're facing a large group of people bent on rearranging your giblets, like a battlefield or a riot, the heavier slashing swords (katana, broadsword, sabre) are best.

In formal one-on-one dueling, or if you're facing not more than two or three critters with knives, the lighter thrusting swords are probably a little more efficient than the heavier blades.


[This message has been edited by LawDog (edited August 02, 2000).]

Danger Dave
August 2, 2000, 02:13 PM
I also think there are other things to consider, too...

The katana was a battle sword, which had to be durable, and capable of disabling an opponent quickly, even if he's wearing armor.

The rapier was a light dueling sword, designed to penetrate clothing and flesh. I don't see it being too effective against an armored opponent; in fact, the European armies of the time issued sabres or broadswords, not rapiers. A rapier is dueling/self-defense weapon, not a battle weapon. Which would you rather have in your hand vs. an unarmed opponent - a rapier, or a Scottish broadsword? Now, how about against an opponent clad in even light armor? You want the weapon best suited to defeating your opponents defense.

It makes sense that a dueling weapon would be better in a duel than a battle weapon, all other things being equal. And the converse applies, as well. The fighting arts of the Samurai were geared primarily for battle - the stances are fairly shallow, and the strikes are delivered with devastating force (finesse is a bonus) allowing the soldier to quickly engage and destroy multiple targets. On the field of honor, he who strikes first usually wins, on the battlefield, he who strikes last usually makes it home.

And I know a katana has a point, too, but the fencer's lunge gets more extension and has more reach. I wouldn't recommend getting caught in a full lunge by one of your opponent's fellow soldiers, though... Battlefield conditions are different from dueling; different rules apply.

William R. Wilburn
August 2, 2000, 02:30 PM
<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by LawDog:
...the average length of a katana is 24 inches, [/quote]

Yo Dog!

Did you transpose the 2 and 4? Most katanas I have seen run about 42 inches. Plus or minus. My boken is exactly 42 as is my shinai. That is length-over-all, of course.


[This message has been edited by William R. Wilburn (edited August 02, 2000).]

[This message has been edited by William R. Wilburn (edited August 02, 2000).]

George Hill
August 2, 2000, 03:33 PM
Having a good sword is important - considering going up against an actual Samuri...
There are two approaches that I would consider.
1. Is Bill Murray's Ghost Busters solution. Take him to a bar get some booze into him and find him a girl... He'll be happy.
Failing that:
2. Harrison Ford's Raiders of the lost ark solution and just shoot him.
Remember - this is what Guns are for.

August 2, 2000, 04:07 PM
William, this could be. I don't have a lot of experience with katanas, so I'm referencing Secrets of the Samurai: The Martial Arts of Feudal Japan by Oscar Ratti and Adele Westbrook.

On page 260, <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>...The long sword, ranging from very long (nodachi or dai-katana) to standard length (katana), measured twenty-four inches or more in length...[/quote]

So, I've got to plead ignorance in this case. :)


August 3, 2000, 12:23 AM

this is my first post as an "official" TFL member. i'd like to extend hello's to Messers George Hill and Otto Skorzeny here before i continue. thank you both for convincing me of the worth of being a member of TFL :)

as for the katana question ... i'm going to add my $.02; since i am japanese-born and raised, i hope i can add a few extra dimensions to this thread.

the katana first developed as a dual-edge cavalry weapon. refinements in metallurgy formed the katana into a single-edged crescent. it is known as a "slashing" weapon. and indeed, once drawn, it is most commonly used in this role, as slashing is more effective in engaging multiple targets.

iaijutsu (lit. "the art of closing space") is performed with the non-dominant hand on the scabbard, with the draw and subsequent strike being engaged by the dominant hand. again, this is a slashing motion; developed as such for economy of motion.

however, the thread seems to be leaning towards a discussion of dueling. in this role, the katana is employed much differently. kendo matches begin at a distance of several strides apart - a distance closed rapidly by a single bound, with weapons drawn. dueling encourages the katana to be employed in a thrusting motion as to ensure first strike; this has the benefit of adding the kinetic enegry of the jump into the thrust. the actions of closing with the enemy, parrying, and striking are combined into one. this is much the same with fencing. the advantages of fencing vs kendo are in this case moot; both depend on the same coiled tension, the same rapid closure of distance, the same thrusting strike. in such a case the length of the weapon and its ability to parry due to superior handling characteristics are what matter, nothing more or else.

in contests where swords are sheathed, iaijutsu provides for that eventuality. swords are not drawn from a stationary position; they are drawn with the same leaping bound described above. the point of all this is that footwork, not bladework, is the pivot of both systems.

the toothed edge of the katana provides greater lethality than a rapier. once drawn, the katana's dual-handed grip and balancing provide for engaging multiple targets with greater speed. it is, rightly, an all-round weapon - and in consideration of the moment it may fail after engaging the inital target, samurai carried the wakizashi.

to be blunt, i won't comment on miyamoto musashi's "nitenryu" (lit. "way of two heavens") as no one living practices it. therefore, i won't even comment on the use of a dagger or a wakizashi as secondaries because that is exactly what they are: secondaries. the thread is about a katana vs western swords; my view is not that a katana is inherently superior to a rapier or a saber. a katana fulfills the needs of both in japan simply because TECHNIQUES HAVE BEEN DEVELOPED for it to be able to do so. which is probably where eastern and western swordfighting techniques differed; expanding the use of a weapon with additional techniques vs creating a weapon to take maximum advantage of a technique.

i hope this brings out some more comments on this thread :) everyone, please have a good day :)

Danger Dave
August 3, 2000, 06:40 AM
Dragontooth, Welcome to the Club! I've enjoyed reading your posts!

The point I was really trying to make, you made much better - the purpose of the weapons, the main techniques used with the weapons, and the purpose of the weapons are different. A katana is a battlefield weapon that was adapted for dueling, while a rapier is first and foremost a dueling weapon (I don't know of any instances of it being used on a battlefield). When forced into roles they were not designed for, the performance of the weapon suffered.

The cost & time involved in forging a proper pre-Sekigahara katana dictated that most Samurai couldn't afford more than one sword, even if they wanted to. This dictated that their battlefield weapon and their dueling weapon had to be one and the same. Additionally, a Samurai's first duty was to serve his lord, not to defend his own honor. The battlefield techniques of batto-jitsu (sword combat - I don't speak Japanese, so forgivive the translation) were the primary focus of the Samurai's sword training, not iaijitsu (the fast draw & strike). Samurai were expected to be prepared for battle at a moments notice, dueling was a secondary concern.

On the other side of the world, swords were carried by European nobility to be as much a mark of their station as a weapon. Dueling was almost a requirement of their station, but they weren't subject to the same requirements of being ready for battle at a moments notice as the Samurai were. Thus, the rapier was a good choice.

Different primary purposes, different weapons, different techniques - each suited to it's own time & place. Had the Japanese developed complex steel armor, their primary weapon might have taken a different form, and had the nobility of Europe been required to be prepared to go to war at the word or their lord, the rapier might not have been developed.

August 3, 2000, 09:36 AM

Welcome to the board! Your knowledge on this issues is at once fascinating and informative.

Regarding Musashi's "two-sword" technique, it should be noted that Musashi himself used only ONE sword when he estimated his adversary to be skilled. So, I think that even he understood the limitation of his "two swords."

Danger Dave:

There is a reason why the medieval Japanese did not develop complex steel armor, aside from technological factors. Too expensive and too cost-inefficient given the severe reduction in mobility.

In fact, most Asian armies did not favor heavily armored horsemen as the ne plus ultra of their military force, because of the cost and a serious reduction in mobility.

13th Century Mongols, for example, relied on one-hundred percent mounted warriors. Yet, they relied on superior speed and firepower as well as better organization and operational art to annihilate their opposing European armies of much greater size, which featured armored knights (at Liegnitz, a Central European force of 40,000-70,000, with the "finest flower" of European chivalry, was ruthlessly annihilated by a Mongol force of less than 20,000 men, none of who wore heavy metal armor).

In development of arms and armor, "the battlefield" was not the only consideration. The suitability of the arms and armor in operational and strategic context also played strong roles.


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

August 3, 2000, 11:39 AM
On that thought, you might want to watch the latest & modernized version of "Hamlet".

Danger Dave
August 3, 2000, 01:29 PM
Skorzeny, I was using the battlefield vs. dueling grounds as an example of why the sword evolved differently in different parts of the world. As you said, there are many other factors. The Mongolian horsemen came from open plains where speed and mobility were essential in attack and defense (it's hard to fortify an empty plain in a hurry). Their speed, and skill as horsemen, as well as their expertise in the use of the short bow fired from horseback gave them quite an advantage over the relatively immobile European army. But, had the knights had the foresight to bring along a couple of thousand Welsh archers, the odds might have changed considerably. :)

Other factors affected what armor was worn, as well. The climate in Medieval Europe was milder than today, but wars were generally in the warm months. There were lots of reasons for this - like, it's easier to support a travelling army during the growing season. Then there's the cold - I would hate to think of working up a sweat in a set of plate mail in 20 degree weather! Undergarments or not, that thing'd freeze to you when you stopped (don't believe me, just wear steel toed boots out in the snow some time). Then there's the other end of the climate - I wonder how many knights during the crusades died of heat stroke in the sun...

I'm not sure, but I am under the impression that mass iron working just didn't occur in Japan until relatively recent times. There just weren't a lot of sources for iron ore, and there weren't enough skilled workers to produce metal armor in any significant quantity, even if they wanted to. Is my impression wrong?

August 3, 2000, 02:46 PM
Danger Dave:

Point taken. However, let me point out that the Mongol bow was not a "short bow" in the European sense. It was s recurved composite bow made from animal horns (or bones), which outranged and outpowered the Welsh long-bow by a considerable margin. Also, the Welsh archers were not horsemen and their mobility was still severely limited. Thus, I do not believe that the odds at Liegnitz would have changed much.

It is also true that Japan lacked in ore deposits and large metal working industry in general. However, one should recall that these constraints did not preclude the Japanese from producing large numbers of (improved) muskets later when they saw the need during the late Warring States period. Certainly if they had seen any great need for heavy armor, they would have concentrated their limited resources for such a purpose.


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

Matt VDW
August 3, 2000, 03:49 PM
Did the samurai of the 12th-16th centuries make much use of shields?

Upon reflection on the evolution of European swordcraft, it seems to me that shields were commonly used on the battlefield, from the time of the Greek hoplites through the Roman legions up to the knights of medieval Europe. The heavy shield of the mounted knight became the Renaissance-era buckler before being replaced by the dagger.

Yet I can't think of any images of a samurai with a shield. Is there a reason for this, other than a preference for using both hands with the sword?

Matt VDW
August 3, 2000, 03:53 PM
By the way, does anyone have any thoughts to share on the effectiveness of the Zulu assegai (short thrusting spear) and why that weapon, rather than the sword or the pike, became the dominant military weapon in southern Africa?

Danger Dave
August 3, 2000, 09:06 PM
Skorzeny, I thought the Mongolian short bow, although much more powerful than other short bows of the time, lacked the range and penetrating power of the longbow. Unfortunately, I can't back this up right now, as all my reference materials are at my parents (new house, no bookshelves yet!). The Welsh longbow was definitely a weapon fired from a stationary position, though - I don't think I've ever heard of a longbow being fired from horseback.

Matt, to the best of my knowledge, the samurai made little if any use of shields. Their primary weapons were two-handed (halbard, bow, katana) and that precluded the use of a shield. Their armor was designed with extra pieces to help deflect blows, however. It's kinda hard to describe - they looked like little venetian blinds attached to the arm pieces of the armor.

I think there was a bit of a difference in philosophy between the equipment of the knight and the samurai - a knight's accroutements were geared towards defense first, then offense, while the samurai seemed to take the opposite approach.

This has been/is a great topic, with a lot of insight and good questions!

August 3, 2000, 10:31 PM
It's a good thing I have my references then!

According to James Chambers (an English writer) in "The Devil's Horsemen - The Mongol Invasion of Europe":

The bow was easily the Mongols' most important weapon. The mediaeval English longbow had a pull of seventy-five pounds and a range of up to two hundred and fifty yards, but the smaller, reflex composite bows used by the Mongols had a pull between a hundred and a hundred and sixty pounds and a range of over three hundred and fifty yards.
The Mongol bow was made from layers of horn and sinew on a wooden frame and covered with waterproof lacquer. Unstrung it was shaped like three quarters of a circle, but when strung the outer curve of the circle bent towards its centre to form the front of the bow, making a double curve with the 'ears' at either end bending away from the archer. The layer nearest the archer was horn and the layer furthest from him was sinew. The string was more taut than on a longbow and when it was released the horn would snap back to its original shape and the stretched sinew would contract, shooting the arrow faster and with more power than a bow made of wood.

The velocity was further increased by the difficult technique known as the Mongolian thumb lock: the string was drawn back by a stone ring worn on the right thumb which released it more suddenly than fingers.

In his quivers a soldier carried arrows for every purpose: long range arrows and short range arrows, three-foot armour-piercing arraows with tips that had been hardened by being plunged in salt water when they were red-hot, whistling arrows for signalling and identifying targets, incendiary arrows and arrows tipped with tiny grenades [sic - he probably means rockets, the use of which was learned from the Chinese].

He could bend and and string his bow in the saddle by placing one end between his foot and the stirrup and he could shoot in any direction at full gallop, carefully timing his release to come between the paces of his horse, so that his aim would not be deflected as the hooves pounded the ground.

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

August 4, 2000, 12:12 AM
hehehehehe ... fun fun fun :)

i'm taking a break from mulling over the merits of which 9mm i should get for home defense (primary consideration being my gf's small hands) ... well i thought this was a forum for discussing firearms but hey i love blades too :)

DangerDave, your japanese isn't screwed up ... battoh-jutsu translates roughly into "the skill of wielding a sword" ... hence sword combat :)

Matt VDW, i think that the use of shields in the west extended from its use not only as a protection device, but as a means of identification. japanese samurai used lacquer-dyed armor, and banners to identify each other on the battlefield ... hence, no need for shield crests.

as for the assegai ... i like it :) i think the zulu impi share much in common with the roman legionnaries; dislike of missile weapons, favor of closing to melee distance, using a shield to brace for the impact of the charge and thrusting with the weapon. after all in packed close quarters, where the enemy is forward, thrusting is more productive than slashing.

Skorzeny ... nice sources :) unfortunately i have to disagree with you on the "100% cavalry" composition of the mongol touman ... it was 60% light cavalry, 40% heavy cavalry, true; but as the mongols conquered nations, they took in large numbers of infantry. ... turkish/chinese/you name a tribe they were probably there ... which is how the mongols cracked cities.

finally ... i learned how to edit ... everyone have a good night :)

[This message has been edited by dragontooth73 (edited August 04, 2000).]

August 4, 2000, 01:00 AM
Zulu warfare was basically one set of warriors here, and one set of wariors there. The two groups would work up their nerves by singing, shouting and imaginatively insulting their opponents, then both sets of warriors would fling spears at each other and the war would be done. Only occasionally, would the groups come to close combat, and then the hardwood club (knobkerrie, I think) and a cowhide shield were the weapons of choice. Usually wielded by champions during formalized one-on-one bouts between the enemy battle-lines.

This seemed to work okay, until a young sociopath named Shaka decided to unite the Zulu tribes under his (not-so-benevolent) rule.

Anyone opposing him at first, would form up in the usual groupings and get ready for the ritualized stuff. Shaka's troops would crash full speed into the enemy groupings, use their shields to force the enemy shields out of defensive position, and start stabbing away.

In this sort of close-in fighting, a long-hafted spear only gets in the way. Shaka hacked off the haft of his spear until it was handier in close-quarters--and the assegai was born.


[This message has been edited by LawDog (edited August 04, 2000).]

August 4, 2000, 02:19 AM
LawDog i saw the movie on Shaka when i was a kid ... still remember how he got killed at the end. gruesome. :eek: i wonder if you saw it as well?

i think the thread now has gone to exploring bladed weapons in several situations ...

(1) general melee combat
(2) dueling
(3) use during a massed charge

i'm happy to see that all kinds of weapons are being brought out here :D i have a few questions for everybody ...

(1) do you see edged weapons of more than, say, a foot long as being of real use in self-defence?
(2) if so, what weapon would you pick for yourself and what situations do you envision yourself using it in?
(3) do you see distinct advantages in the weapon of your choice? would you consider dedicated training necessary for its use?

[This message has been edited by dragontooth73 (edited August 04, 2000).]

August 4, 2000, 03:13 AM
oh shoot ... i forgot to mention this

Matt VDW, samurai did make use of shields. shields are called "tateh" ... they used them during castle sieges (kind of like how swat teams use them today) ... they were also used by musketeers in open battle (non-samurai) and occasionally around command posts (camping furniture? :D)

Danger Dave
August 4, 2000, 06:42 AM
Like I said, great topic!

Thanks Skorzeny, I learned quite a bit on that one. I knew that the mounted archery skills of the Mongols gave them a big advantage, but I didn't know about the power of their bows! That's impressive! I wonder how it would compare in penetrating power vs. the longbow - a clothyard shaft would probably be heavier and pack more momentum and be better for punching through plate armor & shields, but I don't know for sure. But since most armored soldiers of the time were equipped with chain mail, the extra penetrating power may have been meaningless. If only I had a longbow, a Mongolian composite bow, and some sheet metal I'd find out for myself :)

Opinion of the assegai - it seems to me to be sort of a "gladius on a stick" and well suited to it's purpose of close quarters massed combat. Short weapons are infinitely more useful than pole arms (spears, lances, etc.) once the enemy is engaged at close range. While the assegai lacked the armour-cleaving power of a bastard sword or katana, I think it would be a very effective weapon against an unarmored foe, like say, another African tribal warrior. Another case of the weapon being built for its' environment.

I forgot about the shields the Japanese used! I was thinking about shields being used in mass close quarters warfare or single combat. The Japanese used shields much like the longbowmen/crossbowmen/musketeers of Europe did - stand up rectangular shields for cover while reloading/firing. I don't know of any shields that were used for Greek-style assaults or close quarters combat, though. Good point about European shields being used for identification! Fully armored knights often wore a cloth that looks like a poncho over their armor to identify which forces they were with (I can't think of the name of it - need more coffee!), but the shield identified the individual knight. I think the heraldry was built more around the shield, than the shield around the heraldry, though. Decoration was important, as long as it didn't interfere with function.

Oh yeah, Skorzeny mentioned one other thing in his post - a secret weapon that allowed the nomadic tribes of the Russian steppes & Mongolia to wreak havoc in the civilized world before other cultures understood it's power and adopted it - the stirrup.


[This message has been edited by Danger Dave (edited August 04, 2000).]

Danger Dave
August 4, 2000, 07:14 AM
Man, I forgot, I wanted to touch on Dragontooth's comments/questions...

(1) No, I don't think edged weapons or more than a foot long are of much real use in self-defense, at least in a society where you're not allowed to carry weapons openly. I have to qualify that, because if you worked with cane knives or machetes all day, they would be very useful self-defense weapons. If you're carrying a gladius on your hip in America, however, I don't think a "self-defense" situation would apply - they're either going to pick another target, or just shoot you. BTW, I noticed you used the English spelling "defence" - Were you taught the King's English in Japan?

(2) If we're talking non-firearms here, I would choose a cane. It would conceal a short rapier style sword if in a society that allowed edged weapons for self-defense. The cane/scabbard can be used for deflecting blows as well as delivering them, and if caught by surprise, your weapon is already at hand, whether you have time to draw the sword or not.

(3) Advantages - surprise. It doesn't draw a lot of attention to itself, nor does it require preparation to be used. And yes, I would consider dedicated training a must. For CQB, you must be better than your adversary in order to have a reasonable chance of victory. With firearms, things like strength and endurance don't matter much, at hand to hand range, they become very important (and I'm not that big of a guy).

August 4, 2000, 12:28 PM
Interesting discussion. I wonder if the Zulu prefered spears because metalurgy wasn't as available to them as in other countries? African bladed weapons I've seen look more like machetes at best and not "swords" as seen in Euro or Japan, so I'm wondering if they chose a spear for lack of forging technology and resources.

As stated before, I think a rapier is good for dueling but wouldn't be too battle hardy especially against armor. Each weapon has it's pluses and minuses and one must take into account the techniques that go specifically with each weapon as well as the individual fighter.

Also, the katana blade was heat treated with clay on the entire blade, more on the spine to keep it softer than the edge which would cool faster when plunged; thus, allowing for the hamon, or the wavy tempered edge that's so pretty on real swords and so poorly imitated on cheap knock-off swords. I don't think the blade was allowed to warp as that's something you don't want and it's hard to control the direction.

For Dragontooth73's questions, I agree with DangerDave. While in many places in the USA it's legal to carry a blade over a foot long, it would be clumsy and you'd attract much unneeded attention.

For a non-firearm weapon to carry, I too would carry a rattan cane, the shortest I could legally carry and a folding knife. This is taking into consideration the laws around here.

I could use both for espada y daga and they're not going to attract too much attention. I usually carry a cane when walking the dogs to keep other dogs away. Otherwise, I'd carry a barong, basically a large machete/bowie knife if you will.

I think training is necessary if you want to become more proficient at whatever weapon it is. True, one could get lucky and just whack and hack away but your odds are hopefully better if you train. I don't see how training can hurt as long as it's realistic and you keep things in perspective.

[This message has been edited by KOG (edited August 04, 2000).]

George Hill
August 4, 2000, 12:39 PM
Dragontooth - Welcome! I was wondering how long it would take for you to register.

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by ctdonath:
On that thought, you might want to watch the latest & modernized version of "Hamlet". [/quote]

I think you may want to observe the fighting from the modern version of Richard the Third.

The African spin seems to be more polearms and spears do to the hunting of clawed animals... I would not want to try hunting a lion with a sword - not even a Claymore. These hunting weapons naturally fell into military service. Initial military operations in Africa where mostly posturing until Shaka Zulu took over and things got bloody. Now days I understand they are very skilled with the FAL instead of the Spear.

[This message has been edited by George Hill (edited August 04, 2000).]

August 4, 2000, 10:56 PM
thank you Messers George Hill, DangerDave, Skorzeny, LawDog and KOG :) it's nice to see "long beards" on this forum ... lol

DangerDave, that poncho the knights wore over their chainmail is a "surcoat". you can get a nice composite horn bow from korea. i'm not certain on details but i know the craft is still alive. i'd be willing to look it up if you required it. oya btw i went to international school so most of my teachers ended up being europeans. hence, my spelling quirks :D

i see that both DangerDave and KOG state that a cane, perhaps with a blade, is the best option ... that or something like a barong ... i'd said much the same in part 1 of this thread. i'd get something along these lines for myself :D http://www.by-the-sword.com/w1014gt.jpg

by whether training would be necessary, i should have been more clear on it ... i meant advanced techniques such as iaijutsu or two-weapon use. would it be better not to carry a weapon until such mastery to that point? or would basic "garoh" training (lit. "hungry wolf", it means self-taight) done on trees and tires suffice?

i'm thinking there's a general agreement in this thread that a multi-purpose sword with expanded training is better than a niche weapon ... also that closing with the enemy is much more important than attaining superior weapon length or mass ... but for all the virtues of a katana or a rapier, i believe the pinnacle of dueling is in the gunslinger. it's always been about having the latest weapon and being the fastest hands to use it, hasn't it?

speaking of which has anyone commented that lightsabers are used as katana are? :) and as for ray park, aka darth maul, his training was in the chinese broadsword and staff? i wonder ... now that east and west have met, can there be such a thing as a perfect sword, a perfect body of techniques from the synthesis? thoughts please.

everyone have a good night :)

[This message has been edited by dragontooth73 (edited August 05, 2000).]

August 4, 2000, 11:31 PM

You are absolutely right! The Koreans did use composite bows made of horn! In fact, the Koreans used to make some number of those to supply the Chinese emperors and their military forces as a tribute. The Chinese thought very highly of Korean bows (and their horses from, let's see, Che-Ju Island, I think).

I believe the craft is still alive in Korea, though it must certainly be very expensive to purchase such an item.

BTW, Koreans are ethnically and linguistically more related to the Mongols than the Chinese.

It's also interesting that the early Samurai weapon of choice was the bow, used mounted, not the sword. Similar, possibly same, ethnic and tribal nomadic migration pattern from Mongolia to Manchuria to Korea to Japan. The nomadic warriors must've carried similar gear across the path, then developed differently as local environment dictated.


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

August 4, 2000, 11:31 PM
shootz ... forgot ... Skorzeny, DangerDave, since you're on that tangent on bows and arrows, i'd like to remind you that the mongols wore thick silk shirts in lieu of heavy armor ... they weren't worn as protection; arrowheads would push the silk into the wound rather than puncture it, so that bleeding was staunched; and just tugging on the shirt would release the arrowhead from the body. assuming the recepient of the arrow was alive to make the proceedure worthwhile, that is :)

Danger Dave
August 5, 2000, 10:46 AM
I had no idea anybody still made a classical composite bow. I don't think I'd have the money to buy one, or a proper longbow for that matter, but donations would be graciously accepted. :) I do have an old recurve bow (wood & fiberglass - 75 lb. draw) - hardly the same, but it might be good enough for comparison. I remember years ago I tripped across a publication where the author tested various bows and arrows for their penetrating power using, I believe, a cow liver as the target. The results amazed me - while armor & flesh are two different things, the bow/arrow combo that worked the best was a native american design using obsidian-tipped arrows! I guess if you can bring down buffalo with those things, I shouldn't have been so shocked...

Dragontooth, that sword was pretty neat! What's the overall length?

As far as self-taught vs. specialized training, I would absolutely go with specialized training. There's something to be said for having an experienced instructor to learn from, and fellow students to learn with. Besides, you train harder (most people, anyway) when you have a group to "compete" with - it's motivating. Now, waiting to achieve mastery, no, I wouldn't wait that long. 3-6 months of hard training should be adequate - I'd use that as sort of the mark when your skills should be more dangerous for your opponent than for you.

If I recall, the original martial arts of the Samurai were referred to as the "art of the horse and bow" in at least one text. How they fired those monstrous bows from horseback is beyond me! But they didn't have yew trees or develop the skills of making Mongolian-style composite bows, so they did the best they could with what they had. Of course, the size of the bow and corresponding size of the arrows meant that the arrows had tremendous potential for penetrating armour (I know that's the British spelling - I just like it better :) ).

I had heard about the silk shirts before - I guess it's the best they could do, since their horses couldn't have carried heavy armour even if they wanted to, or could make in any significant quantities. Since their bows, if anywhere near as powerful as described, could easily punch through mail or leather armor, it may have just been their best option. Me, I'm kinda taken with the idea of stopping it before it sticks into me!

[This message has been edited by Danger Dave (edited August 05, 2000).]

August 5, 2000, 05:50 PM
In reference to carrying a cane, for me, that's a cane with or without a blade on the inside. The barong would make a good weapon as well as knife to use in the field.

George Hill makes a good point about the use of spears and wild animals, I too, would prefer a spear to a long sword if faced with an animal. Much easier to point and thrust and can be hurled if need be.

I feel training is important but there are plenty of people out there who can be deadly without any training whatsoever. Call it natural, beginners luck, Murphy's Law, whatever. However, training hopefully gives a person an edge and gives some practice as close as possible to real-life situations.

I don't think you ever master a weapon or art. No matter how good someone is, there's always someone else that can come along and beat them. With Filipino martial arts training, it's basically simple and the techniques can be taught to someone very quickly. They may or may not be real good at it, but the knowledge aspect can be quickly learned.

I wouldn't wait to "master" a weapon before carrying. I believe you are always better with a weapon than without and using such weapon is more natural. As a demonstration, I've told new students to hit me and they have no idea how. I then put a stick in their hand and tell them to hit me and they all of a sudden have at least some semblance of how to hit.

Self-training is good to a point. Let's face it, everyone with practically everything is self-taught. The teacher is mainly there to guide you but he/she can't be with you 24/7. It's up to you to practice what was taught in the last lesson.

You do need interaction with others to get used to sparring and working with people of different heights, builds, etc and a teacher is good for pointing out things you are doing wrong that maybe you don't see.

I think it's really hard to come up with a multi-purpose weapon. I think it's more important to understand what each weapon is capable of and you use it in it's most effective capacity and try to get the fight to follow your rules rather than being dictated by the opponent.

In reference to lightsabers, it did appear to be similar to katana techniques. However, with a lightsaber, cutting ability doesn't seem to be dependent on technique as the tool itself is a good cutter. Whether you swing it slow or fast, I think it will cut a metal pipe in two. It's probably light and would allow for single and two-handed movements as well as fencing-type thrusts and even jabs, abaniko movements, etc.

August 5, 2000, 09:55 PM
DangerDave here's the original url: http://www.by-the-sword.com/orient3.html

as it says, 29" blade, 41.5" length ... definitely factory-made but for 90 bucks what can you expect ... still neat though :) ... as for how the samurai fired their bows, remember that the grip is centered roughly two-thirds of the way down the length, so the lower part doesn't bang against the legs. you can find examples here: http://www.negia.net/~pdarden/kyudo/yumi.html

KOG, i'm glad you gave me a serious reply. my future brother-in-law is filipino and has done escrima for years ... i've done aikido and rudimentary knife-training. i haven't had the time to get his opinions lately; i was thinking of the differences in training needs between having a katana and, say, a machete. tradition pulls me towards getting the "right" instructor and the "right" school of techniques. with a machete i'd just feel more comfortable working on instinct.

i'm glad i got an honest answer on the validity of a "multi-purpose" weapon. i was thinking of some chinese weapons (and the chinese have some truly complicated weapons) that tried to bridge all the gaps and the techniques for use became very, very complicated to the point where an amateur was more at risk of self-injury than anything else. self-training with weapons like those is reckless, and outright stupid. even simpler weapons like the gurkha knife become excellent thigh-choppers in unpracticed hands.

i am guessing it is more about finding a well-crafted weapon and recognizing what it CAN'T do as much as what it can ... swords work terribly on wild animals, true ... flint spears, anyone? better yet, a 7.62x51mm rifle? :D

[This message has been edited by dragontooth73 (edited August 05, 2000).]

Danger Dave
August 6, 2000, 09:31 AM
I've always heard that the katana is one of the most dangerous weapons to learn. I have heard of several instances of experienced swordsmen with years of intense training and quality instruction injuring themselves severely. One of the more common is cutting through the meat between the thumb and forefinger when drawing or sheathing the sword. A friend of mine saw Dale Kirby (a one time nationally ranked forms competitor who used the katana) stick a katana through his thigh during a forms competition - my friend said Kirby pulled it out of his thigh and finished the form. And I've read of a baby in the audience being killed when the pin holding the blade to the handle broke, sending the blade flying (demo in Japan). I would think about incidents like this if trying to tackle learning a bladed weapon on your own.

I agree with Dragontooth about the Chinese weapons - while I don't question the effectiveness of the Chinese martial arts, but sometimes I think some of their weapons were thought up on rainy days by somebody who just said "What the hell, I'll see if I can figure out to beat somebody up with that thing over there" or some sort of "come up with a weird weapon" contest between masters.

There were swords used for hunting - boars, mostly IIRC. But they were more like metal spears than dueling/fighting swords. Not to mention that the wielder, a wealthy nobleman, was backed up by a bunch of guys with spears, crossbows, etc. while he delivered the fatal blow.

As far as the "right" weapon and "right" technique goes, that's dictated by circumstances. I think the first thing would be to determine what kind of foe are you expecting to face, then what kind of weapon you can use to counter. We, in the 20th century, have the ability to do something our predecessors could not - the ability to choose from several schools from several cultures around the world...Choose Wisely!

August 6, 2000, 03:59 PM
DangerDave ... amen ... yagyu-shinkageryu (sort of like "the new shadow school of the clan of branches bending in the wind") teaches iaijutsu in tokyo. LOTS of left hand injuries, fingers chopped up etc.

the weird thing about martial arts in japan is that they have an "omote" (surface) and "ura" (hidden) body of techniques ... the difference is also called "yoh" (sun) and "kage" (shadow). basically the omote/ura techniques were taught as the "standard curriculum, and used for public demonstration and dueling tournaments. the kage/ura was taught to a very limited number of students, who were not allowed to engage un public duels, and who were essentially expected to do assassination work.

in case an omote/ura practitioner was defeated in some public event, the clan in question would send an ura/kage duelist who'd use a variety of "alternate" (very direct, lethal, and downright nasty) techniques to ensure that the other side didn't enjoy victory for long. shinkageryu is a rare instance of a ura/kage school being sanctioned by the daimyos (lit. "big names", aka "lords") of the day and aired to the public eye.

i guess the discussion over european vs asian and other weapons is an extension of which unarmed combat style is the best ... that endless argument LOL ... seriously seen as an extension of the context, what KOG and DangerDave said makes perfect sense. i think it boils down to

(1) there is no "super" weapon or martial art
(2) no weapon fills all niches, best to choose for the situation
(3) training/aptitude of the user makes all the difference

there ... i'm not much of a thinker but does 2 threads worth of discussion and multiple tangents come down to this? :)

everyone have a good day :D