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Old August 2, 2000, 02:20 AM   #1
LawDog
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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.

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Old August 2, 2000, 06:52 AM   #2
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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."
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Old August 2, 2000, 09:03 AM   #3
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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

Jared
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Old August 2, 2000, 10:08 AM   #4
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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.
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Old August 2, 2000, 10:14 AM   #5
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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.
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Old August 2, 2000, 01:33 PM   #6
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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.
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Old August 2, 2000, 01:34 PM   #7
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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.
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Old August 2, 2000, 01:58 PM   #8
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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.

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.

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Old August 2, 2000, 02:13 PM   #9
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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.
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Old August 2, 2000, 02:30 PM   #10
William R. Wilburn
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<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.

William

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Old August 2, 2000, 03:33 PM   #11
George Hill
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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.
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Old August 2, 2000, 04:07 PM   #12
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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.

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Old August 3, 2000, 12:23 AM   #13
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aloha

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


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Old August 3, 2000, 06:40 AM   #14
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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.
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Old August 3, 2000, 09:36 AM   #15
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dragontooth73:

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.

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 August 3, 2000, 11:39 AM   #16
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George-
On that thought, you might want to watch the latest & modernized version of "Hamlet".
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Old August 3, 2000, 01:29 PM   #17
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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?
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Old August 3, 2000, 02:46 PM   #18
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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.

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 August 3, 2000, 03:49 PM   #19
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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?
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Old August 3, 2000, 03:53 PM   #20
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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?
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Old August 3, 2000, 09:06 PM   #21
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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!
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Old August 3, 2000, 10:31 PM   #22
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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.

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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 August 4, 2000, 12:12 AM   #23
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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).]
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Old August 4, 2000, 01:00 AM   #24
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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.

LawDog

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Old August 4, 2000, 02:19 AM   #25
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LawDog i saw the movie on Shaka when i was a kid ... still remember how he got killed at the end. gruesome. 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 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).]
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