Sharper Edge, or Beating a Dead Horse (Sort of, pt. 1)

Every blog, book, or what have you on writing, worldbuilding, and gaming in the fantasy genre has an obligatory post on swords. I guess this one won’t be an exception.

The difference here is that I freely admit that I’m no expert. That said, I’ve studied European sword-shield fighting (informally), modern foil fencing (formally), and aikido’s version of the katana (formally). I have also done a bit of amateur study of the subject and have a small collection of blades from different eras and cultures to study.

Right off the bat, I’ll repeat information that’s been stated repeatedly: swords are not particularly heavy! Think of it this way: in an era when all weaponry was muscle driven and battles could last for hours, even half a day, would swinging around a 10+ pound steel stick one handed be practical? No. The last, scholarly, discussion I came across pointed out that one handed weapons (swords, maces, etc.) typically weighed between two and four pounds. Why? They had to be heavy enough to penetrate armor, but light enough to be used for hours at a time. (Two handed weapons get a bit heavier, but still seem to top out around eight pounds or so, give or take.)

For a better discussion, I highly recommend any book by Ewart Oakeshott (easily the top name in the study of swords throughout history). For a good idea of variety and weights, I recommend purchasing (or getting a free copy or going online) a catalog from Museum Replicas Limited. They make excellent blades (via Windlass Steelcrafts, in India) and Oakeshott was their historical accuracy consultant until his death.

Another major issue is the overuse of certain types of blades. Case in point, urban fantasy’s fixation on the katana and kukri. Both are nice weapons. I had my time, in high school, as a katana fanboy. Then I became disillusioned. Only recently, while studying aikido (and a small stint with the basics of SMR jodo) and practicing with a bokken, have I started to gain respect for the katana again. I understand why they are used so much as well. On one hand, they are distinctive. On another, they are exotic, yet familiar. On a third, most urban fantasy involves vampires or other species that can only be dispatched through arcane means or beheading. The katana (at least a war era katana, not a dueling era one; the former with a longer hilt) is an excellent choice for this, and in fact was historically used for beheading on the battlefield. It is also relatively easy to conceal. The kukri is even better, being short (less than two feet long), very easy to conceal, and equally capable of beheading strikes. Both are much better options than an axe or greatsword, from a number of perspectives, for urban fantasy. However, they’re overused and cliche now.

Besides, there are other options. For instance, the Korean gum is a first cousin to the katana. The kukri, believe it or not, is a descendant of the Greek kopis and Celtic falcata. The story goes that Alexander the Great brought the kopis to India, where locals loved the design and copied it. In fact, the kukri is the last surviving member of an entire class of swords adopted by cultures throughout the Mediterranean, Middle East, India, and Nepal.

(More, with pictures hopefully, next week; in the meantime, questions and comments are welcome. I’m happy to do some research in the next week or so to answer questions.)


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