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Thread: A question for Karl Friday about swordsmanship.

  1. #46
    Dan Harden Guest

    Default Karls research

    Hi Dan,

    Happy New year to you too.

    Then if spears were so much more important than swords why do they seem generally less sophisticated in design and execution? Maybe they were made more quickly, in greater quantity and therfore more haphazardly? And if true, where are they all? Ever tried to find a nice old yari blade?
    Not impossible by any means but really tough compared to finding great old swords.
    And you never really answered that last sentence. If the sword was used in battle as little as you seem to claim, why so much attention to it?

    *******************************
    Me
    Hey Tobs

    I never claimed any of it. I repeated what I had read. If you go back and read the original post on that "other" forum, and then the "respondants reply" back then, then mine, you will see what I mean. I think you know where to find it ..yes?

    It so happens that I have strong reservations about it as well. Maybe even stronger than your own. But you never asked me that.

    I frequently play devils advocate and argue the merits of both sides to see what people think. I have done this before as well without ever offering my personal views of the given topic.

    ****************************

    >snip of excellent conjecture<

    Dan, generally I agree with almost all you contentions to one degree or another.... it's just in the "degrees" where I find reason for comment and ocassional skepticism.

    *******************************
    me
    Of this particualr topic at hand, I have never given anyone an opinion of mine. You know why? I don't have one.I have offered conjecture, but thats it. What do I know?

    You have Karl and others of his calibur doing exhaustive
    research. My hats off to them. I am sure they are intent on being thorough, and the results will be interesting.There are men who do this for living and have spent years doing it. We may all be skeptical about it, I am sure they are to, its a tenant of their discipline to be skeptical, but I am willing to sit back and listen to their findings.

    The rest is just opinion. Some qualified, most not. Deductive reasoning based on what MEN (gees how UNdependable is that!) wrote or what they gave testimony to what happened can be a trap. Even if it is compared with other lists. We lie, we cover up, we remember incorrectly, we dream of glory and try to fit the actions to the dream, we artifically elevate events to magify our causes...not for me to sift through that ilk.

    Cut to the year 2250
    Lets have someone read the casualty and enemy Kill reports from Nam as reported by the U.S. and NVA. They both LIED!!

    Lets ask a Japanese PHD in American warfare to go over there 275 years later and reinvent battles and causes of injury.
    That would be interesting as well

    Karl and others have their work cut out for them. Must be fun and exhausting to be a detective of history. I hope some of these guys can get funding for this type of work

    ******************************


    Now if we can get back that discussion a while back about quenching ... was it Viking steel in Yak piss... or something like that. God the stuff I learn here on E-budo from you guys cracks me up! Joe Svinth, where are you!

    Keep the fun coming!

    Tobs

    *************************

    Oil and water and that was about it.

    Sort of like peoples opinions and outlooks here sometimes..they don't mix well

    Dan


    [Edited by Dan Harden on 01-14-2001 at 06:09 PM]

  2. #47
    ben johanson Guest

    Default

    Toby wrote,

    "...if spears were so much more important than swords why do they seem generally less sophisticated in design and execution?"

    Because spears are by nature less sophisticated weapons than the sword. What is a spear? Essentially its just a blade on a long stick. That basic design has not been significantly changed since the early days of man. Swords, on the other hand, by their nature are more complicated and more difficult to produce.

    "If the sword was used in battle as little as you seem to claim, why so much attention to it?"

    The "cult of the sword," and the sword being looked at as a symbol of the samurai class in Japan did not really start until the Tokugawa period, when battles were no longer fought. Other than that, I don't know what you mean by "so much attention," but I am positive much attention was paid to the study of the spear, as well as to the sword, during the Sengoku period. As Dr Friday stated in his first post on this topic, the famous swordsmen of the day were also famous as spearmen. All ryuha at that time taught several weapon arts; ryuha that specialized in only one discipline did not come about until the Tokugawa period.

    As far as your hypothetical battlefield scenario, I really don't think it was as complicated as all of that. Samurai charged into battle with their primary weapon, which was usually a spear, but could have also been a naginata, or no dachi, or one of the various types of club; if they lost that weapon somehow, they drew their swords. It was probably that simple.

    I would call that a "secondary" function, in that the sword was only used in very specific situations. The swords major importance was not in battle. Many of the famous swordsmen of the Sengoku period earned their reputations fighting in sword duels.

    But don't take my word for it. I'm basiclly just reiterating what Dr Friday said earlier.

  3. #48
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    Originally posted by Dan Harden

    Well..Its not that I am trying to be contrary But....

    Dan
    I'm fully aware that I was taking a very simplistic approach using the concept of "Western" swords and smiths. We agree on the principal concept and we can leave it at that. I can discuss a few more than two myself.

    My experience (not as a blademaker, but as a blade user and collector) is that smiths do not (at least should not, some modern wall hanger makers seem to disagree with me) seek maximum hardness in any blade. They seek a balance of toughness and hardness to make the blade meet the needs of the user. Your concept that Western "broadswords" were dull is out and out false. Of course the blades didn't hold an edge as well as a harder steel might, they could still be sharpened and they could cut very well. Perhaps it's a difference of opinion of what constitutes sharp in your vocabulary and mine.

    I think we're mostly in agreement here, (aside from the dull sword idea) but we don't seem to be using the words that each other likes. Maybe someday we'll have the chance to discuss it over a few beers.
    Dan Beaird

    The best time to be a hero is when all the other chaps are dead, God rest 'em, and you can take the credit.

    H. Flashman V.C., K.C.B., K.C.I.E.

  4. #49
    Dan Harden Guest

    Default

    Hey Dan
    My wrtiing is sometimes very dry. If I sound too flat, or dictitorial try not to take it that way ok? I also get passionate about smithing

    *******************
    you wrote
    My experience (not as a blademaker, but as a blade user and collector) is that smiths do not (at least should not, some modern wall hanger makers seem to disagree with me) seek maximum hardness in any blade.

    I respond
    I know of no smith that ignorant. I know of no grinder jockey that stupid either. And last, I know of no commercial maker for the past twenty or so years that stupid either. Even commercial stainless users are using subzero quenches (this gives an added 2 points of rockwell wthout sacrificing ductility) and holding to a 58-60 C on small blades. Maximum hardnes in many of these steels will get you into the 64-66C range this is to brittle to be of practical use to anyone and thats why no one on the earth produces it.
    I would love to know the name of any maker this ignorant. He must be working in a vaccum.


    ************************************
    you wrote
    They seek a balance of toughness and hardness to make the blade meet the needs of the user. Your concept that Western "broadswords" were dull is out and out false. Of course the blades didn't hold an edge as well as a harder steel might, they could still be sharpened and they could cut very well. Perhaps it's a difference of opinion of what constitutes sharp in your vocabulary and mine.

    *******************************
    me again
    No, they are incapable of holding an edge to any reasonable standard as set by people in the business of bladeware the world over. Opinion does not matter here, and its another example of what I meant when I said rockwell testing is telling.
    Of the swords tested that I know of, and of reports that I have paperwork on here, the rockwell ratings were in the high 40c-low 50c range. Again, that will not hold an edge by any acceptable standard of any smith, benchmaker, or commercial maker that I know of. In fact it would be rejected. You would be luckey to get anything past 10 cuts on a rope with that. What it will do however, is support a canard edge with a thick geometry. This will not cut and slice per se, but it will produce nasty impact wounds, and cut open flesh, while supporting itself on impacts with harder objects

    While neither of us can speak for swords worldwide I will try to present a logical case for you. The only cultures that produced differentially hardened blades, were the Japanese , the vikings, the Indian Wootz, and the Kukri. Each was heat teated in a markedly different fashion to arrive at similar result. of those the Wootz were hardest the Japanese next then viking blades, then Kukri. The wootz is in a class by itself as it does not exhibit martensite, yet it is in the low 60'sC rockwell. Interesting huh?

    Other cultures could not, or did not care to resolve the problem of edge holding VS a shock absorbant body. What they did was to heat treat the entirety of the blade and draw the whole thing back to a spring temper. This produced a shock absobant body with an edge hard enough to strike with. It is one of th reasons you typically see a canard edge(appleseed) on these tpyes of blades. They will not support a fine edge which is why they were not made with fine edges but they will absorb shock and not break.You will find this method in swords of all types and era's wordwide..STEEL IS STEEL and these men were not stupid.
    You would do well to examine edge geometry in conjuntion with rockwell ratings, in conjuntion with use to get a clearer picture of what swords were meant to do.

    As far as what constitutes edge holding sharpness.....You can call it a matter of your opinion or mine if you want to. But barring a point or two rockwell C, it is an issue with no dispute among makers both custom and commercial to my knowledge. Further , the standards are exhibited in bladeware around the known world. STEEL IS STEEL
    In fact, the standards are so "set" and agreed upon that they are simply a non issue and constitute a simple course of study for anyone interested.
    Hope this helps

    Dan



    [Edited by Dan Harden on 01-14-2001 at 09:46 PM]

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    Toby --

    Perhaps you have been channeling Neil in the Scotch threads, but your memory has combined different stories. For example, the reindeer urine story that you recall had to do traditional methods of rendering certain psychotropic mushrooms non-fatal to humans. This has to do with Siberian vision quests and perhaps Norse berserkers, but so far as I know, it had nothing to do with cutlery manufacture.

    Meanwhile, into the 17th century physicians sometimes attempted sympathetic cures by putting herbal "cures" on the sword that caused the injury. Read the ingredient lists and I assure you it was a good thing that the cures went on the sword, as they would have done little but infect the wound.


  6. #51
    MarkF Guest

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    I think you are being kind to only include physicians of that era. Until the early 1990s, neo-natal surgeons operated on patients without any anesthesia, but I guess that is why Hippocrates wanted to keep surgeons and physicans separate, and why modern lawyers found a legal way of combining them, but then you know what Shakespeare said we must do with lawyers (notwithstanding those who contribute here, of course. )


  7. #52
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    "Then if spears were so much more important than swords why do they seem generally less sophisticated in design and execution? Maybe they were made more quickly, in greater quantity and therfore more haphazardly? And if true, where are they all? Ever tried to find a nice old yari blade? Not impossible by any means but really tough compared to finding great old swords. "

    I have to agree with mr Johnson on this one. Yes you are right that Swords were much more sophisticated than Spears were. However, most of this was simply becasue a Spear is a less complicated weapon. Compairing the two is simmiler, in my Opinion, to compairing a Hand gun to a guided missle. Spears are weapons that do not need as much complexity as do the sword. The Spear techniques I know, though yes do involve some cutting (actualy I have only seen one cut in all of the Kata I have seen) are mostly stabbing or bashing with the shaft of the spear. A stabbing does not need the edge holding that a sword does and therefore, the level of smithing needed is far less (Mr Harden, feel free to disagree with me here).

    Also, the fact that very few spears remain is more proof that they were the primary weapon and had much more importance over the sword. If they are going out to battle and getting broke everyday then why bother making a great piece of work. If there were hundres of spears that were in perfect condition that dated back to the Sengoku era, then I think your argument would have a better ground. If it's used, it breaks. I think that one of the few constant things in the universe.

    Moving on, I think that the general skill level that is needed to use a sword pretty much ruls out it's use as a primary battlefield weapon. Using a sword effectivly requires a lot of skill in compairison to the spear. I doubt that they really had time to speand teaching everyone the sword effectively (I've heard some teachers state that it requiers 10 years to learn to use a sword effectively). The Spear on the other hand could be taught in a few days.

    A similar situation can bee seen with the introcution of Firearms into Japan. As I understand, the Firearm was very Popular however, a skilled group of archers would have better chances against the same number of gunmen because the Bow had a much higher rate of fire and could therfore take out more of the gunmen before they could reload after their first shot. However, the Firearm was still very popular. Why? Because it took much less time to train a group of solders to use a rifle than to use a Bow. Having learned to use both a bow and a gun myslf, I can tell you from personal, a gun is a much easier weapon to use, compairativly speaking.

    In the end, I don't think we can ever say for cirtain the exact role the sword played in Japanese warfair. We can leave that to the Profs. I do think that we can agree though that the spearman was the primary defence and offence of the milirary. Given its supirior reach over the sword, and how much less training that the weapon needed it is simply the logical choice for the military of the time.

    Well that's my thoughts. I do need to say that this is one great thread so far. Can't wait to see what happens next.
    Chris Baker.
    From Germany where it has this nasty habit of snowing in April.

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    Just an uneducated guess based largely on that great game, Shogun Total war.

    If the majority of spear wielders were generally ashigaru then there is no need to bother much about the spear. All you need is a lot of peasants who now how to poke with a spear.

    The samurai would likely be in a more protected position and would need to resort to their swords if their peasants were overrun during the battle. In this chaotic melee a sword would be the best weapon.

    Since bujutsu are samurai arts rather than peasant arts then the sword is going to be emphasised (both for the battlefield and for drunken brawling/dueling).

    I have no evidence for any of this so please pardon my ignorance. Correction will also be welcome.

    Cheers,

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    Originally posted by Dan Harden

    I respond
    I know of no smith that ignorant. I know of no grinder jockey that stupid either.

    Dan

    [Edited by Dan Harden on 01-14-2001 at 09:46 PM]
    Well Dan, it seems we differ in opinion. One of the interesting things about swords nowadays vs swords back then, is that back then the experts were the people who used the swords and nowadays it's the people who make them. Sort of the difference between buying a yugo because you want a yugo and buying a yugo because it's the only thing they make because it's the only thing you'll ever need.

    I have one other question for you though. Despite all the logical evidence brought about by your knowledge of metal and smithing, do you have any historcal reference that sword blades were used dull? I know I don't have the technical ability to argue martensite/austinite/pearlite and whatever other ites, but I've held the swords, the old ones. I've seen evidence of sharpening and no amount of argument is going to make me doubt what I've seen. I would think a trip to the Tower of London might help convince you.

    Oh, and re blades in the low 40's on the scale, where did you see or hear of these? I can only assume we're talking dark age blades or some smiths mistake. The typical medieval sword was somewhere in the low to mid 50's I believe (which isn't saying that they all were).

    Maybe I'll chuck a couple of these comments out on SFI and get some more opinions. I'm feeling mighty confused here, it's like everything I've learned about swords is wrong all of a sudden.
    Dan Beaird

    The best time to be a hero is when all the other chaps are dead, God rest 'em, and you can take the credit.

    H. Flashman V.C., K.C.B., K.C.I.E.

  10. #55
    Dan Harden Guest

    Default Toby's question

    Maybe there is some clarification that needs to be made here regarding the continually repeated premis

    "spears were not made as well"
    "spear were not as sophisticated as swords"
    "spears didn't need to be the same hardness to cut or stab"

    Again you need to realize we are talking about steel.
    How do you make steel?
    Where do you get steel?

    Where did they get steel?


    Once you answer those questions you will realize that the smith, HAD to use the same steel to make a Ken, tanto, naginata or Yari. The Fact that there are Hamon on these weapons is evidance of a carbon content suitable for the weapon. Carbon content that could only be obtained through the forge folding process. And a hamon is evidance of a carbon range between .45%-.95%
    **************************************************
    Somebody spent a hell of a lot of work and time getting themselves there.
    ******************************

    I have seen many weapons koto-shin shinto. The Spears and Naginata were all differentially hardened, some having "more" complicated Hamon then Ken and exhibited grain. Double edge spears are difficult to make and polish and the placing of the clay for the hamon is more difficult as well. IF you argue that they may have not exhibited the same folding processes, I will agru back that they exhibit surface grain like the ken. IF they do not have san mai or kobuse cores of lower carbn steel I will argue thay are BETTER weapons for that, not less.


    Therefore, I believe that the answer to Toby's question of "Why more swords?" lies elsewhere from a manufacturing standpoint.


    Perhaps Karl can tell us what the percentages weapons used in an army were.
    100,000 troops
    200,000 swords (ken and wak)
    100,000 knives
    60,000 bowman
    20,000 spearman

    Including Ken and wakazashi that would be 10-1

    Add to these percentages
    1. perhaps the swords broke easier (were used more?hmmm.)
    so more were made 11-1?
    2. the swords were more important symbals of power so
    they wanted more 12-1?
    3. that everyone simply wanted a spare or two. but didn't
    need/ want a spare spear? 20-1?
    4. that the civilians also had swords. Maybe a couple of
    them but didn't feel a need to own a spear or halberd
    30-1?
    5. perhaps the spears were more of a Garrison (Daimyo)
    supplied item
    6. Swords continued to be made far beyond the practical
    use of spears in the Sengoku Jidai.
    For centuries no less.
    7. There is supportable evidence of Naginata being
    shortened into swords. I have seen three

    all of this this might explain Toby's question.

    I don't know these answers But Karl might. I find it hard to believe that there would be 100,000 spears (of course). How could you wield that many on a field due to depth, rotation of troops, etc.

    So, could these reasonings here be a potential explanation for swords in a ratio of what? 30-1
    I don't know. I would bet that our reasoning is flawed and based on false premises. We need a factual (read historical) premis to base it on.

    Since I am admitedly out of my element here, as well as everyone else. Karl's answers, or our own reading, may produce an arguement worth hearing.

    Dan

    [Edited by Dan Harden on 01-15-2001 at 11:23 AM]

  11. #56
    Dan Harden Guest

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    Dan

    For staters you are simply not HEARING me
    its the flaw of written communication. well....my flaw anyway

    I have said twice, that they WERE sharpened to a dull edge, an edge with a thicker geometry then a flat grind. How they may have been re-sharpened over the remainder of their lives I do not know. And Again a rockwell in the low 50's is horrible for holding a sharp edge. It will not support itself. It doesn't have the strength. It will simply ROLL right over on impact with a hard object. Hense the dull edge. At least it won't chip though.
    Again it is telling that you would think a rockwell in the low 50's would support a sharpened edge. That view is somewhat unique in my experience. The Broadswords of the 16th and 17th centuries, albeit Scotish, Italian what have you, were drawn back in temper for the simple reason that they were impact weapons and the smiths could not resolve how to differential harden them. Whether it be through manipulation of materials or through quenching they just didn't. The processes they used protected the body of the blade, while supporting a usable edge.

    It is worth noting that they were impact weapons Dan.
    when you compare these to mideastern weaponry, Japanese weaponry, and the pacific island weaponry, you find sharp edges designed for cutting not so much for impact and a rockwell to support that edge.
    When you compare them to a kukri you find different characterisitics. The Kukri is tempered to the mid50s'C it too doesn't hold an edge well, but it used for cutting hacking, digging etc. and can be sharped easily. It is important to note an rockwel increase of just 2 or 3 points is huge in edge retention. But you see, the Kukri smiths copuld have made the blade harder, they knew how. They just didn't because of the intended use.

    All of these culures knew what they were doing

    Anyway..This is well excepted information, your arguments are rather unsusual.

    My arguements have been based upon:
    1. 25 years of smithing
    2. a metalurgist for a father in law (who lives with me)
    3. Practical hands on experience with the physical characteristics of many different types of steel from simple carbon to the most advanced powder metalurgy steel in the world (none of which makes me exceptional. There a hundreds of smiths with similar backgrounds)
    4. Historical Information from museum curators and restorors of:
    a. "one" of the largest collections of medievil armors and weapons in the known world, "Higgens Armory" which is about 10 miles from my house. They also have thousand of NON exhibited material as well.I have been in their vault room and it is filled with Javanese Kris, Kukris, Japanese weaponry, and what not. They simply do not have room to display it all.
    b. Access to the Boston Museum of Fine arts. Ackowledged home, of the the largest collection of Japanese armors and weapons outside of Japan. with an excellent Asian curator I might add. That is about 45 miles from my house.

    5. Many, books on the subject which my wife will kill me if a take out of storage (I am rebuilding my house to a prarrie/arts and crafts style and the place is a mess)

    My information is accurate to my knowledge. And I do not consider myself an expert on steel by any means. But arguements on steel and its use in weapons of war can be based on certain factual premisses. The characteristics of simple carbon steel were a relative constant for centuries. The practical designs, and geometry of extent weaponry is evidence of the makers understanding of the limits of the material and expresses each cultures attempts at resolving the riddle of steel.


    You know Dan
    Its great to disagree and still act like gentlemen though
    huh? You STAY on point. So, Its a pleasure to talk with you.

    Dan

    [Edited by Dan Harden on 01-15-2001 at 10:28 AM]

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    Originally posted by Toby Threadgill


    Then if spears were so much more important than swords why do they seem generally less sophisticated in design and execution?
    Well, first of all, sophistication or complexity of design and use DOESN'T equal military importance or efficacy; so the argument here isn't valid. But more importantly, it's also very hard to defend the premise that spears and spear technique are/were less sophisticated than sword design.

    Spear points were/are forged in exactly the same manner as swords; they even have a tang mounted into a hilt and held there by a peg, just like a sword. There are also a dozen or more kinds of spear blades, and several variations on haft design as well.

    And if spear techniques seem simple, it's probably because a spear is a more straight-forward weapon--literally. Spears are used almost exclusively for thrusting attacks, while swords are used for both cutting and thrusts.

    A second factor here is one that's come up a couple of times already in this thread: the effect of the Tokugawa peace on martial art. During the Tokugawa period samurai martial art came to focus more and more heavily on the sword. At the same time, bugei training became more organized and more commercialized, and sword techniques and kata often became more elaborate and flowery. Spears, on the other hand, are pretty much exclusively battlefield weapons. Which means that they received less attention during the Tokugwa period, so that sojutsu techniques escaped much of the elaboration and adaptation to dueling (and other un-armored combat) that characterized Tokugawa and later sword techniques.

    But while most sojutsu techniques may be less complex than some sword techniques, they are not crude or simplistic. I'd rank Kashima-Shinryu spear tactics, for example, as the most subtle and the interesting techniques in the system.
    Karl Friday
    Dept. of History
    University of Georgia
    Athens, GA 30602

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    Just another thought to toss in here:

    Reasoning about the importance of a given weapon in warfare during any particular era on the basis of comparative ratios of various weapons around today is a very slippery tool that only rarely yields worthwhile conclusions. The numbers of any tool that survive into the present are a function of too many things--including the perishability of the tool or its parts, its long-term symbolic value, the point at which it stopped being considered useful, and the like--to permit straight-forward, one-to-one analysis of this sort.

    Consider, for example, the number of medieval European long-bows, lances, crossbows, or even early firearms that survive today, relative to the number of swords and daggers. Consider also the number of sets of oyoroi and other armor for high-ranking samurai that are still around today, compared to the number of sets of ashigaru armor (surely no one would argue that there were more high-ranking samurai than foot soldier/grunts running around on medieval battlefields?).

    If there are more swords around today than spears (and I'm not sure this is actually true), it's largely the result of what 20th century collectors and others have chosen to keep around. Swords were symbolic weapons for the samurai, and were treated as family heirlooms. They were also symbolic (and to some extent, practical) weapons for the Imperial Army and Navy. Spears became obsolete as weapons with the adoption of modern firearms (and bayonets) during the Meiji era. Spear blades were far more likely than sword blades to have been lost, destroyed, thrown away, or recycled into other tools.
    Karl Friday
    Dept. of History
    University of Georgia
    Athens, GA 30602

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    Originally posted by Dan Harden
    ...

    You know Dan
    Its great to disagree and still act like gentlemen though
    huh? You STAY on point. So, Its a pleasure to talk with you.

    Dan
    That is something around here it seems isn't it?

    Like I said earlier, it's a matter of personal definition of sharp I think. Other than that, obviously our experiences differ radically and it's easier to change religions than it is to change an opinion. I have quite a lot of experience in this area myself, and the things I've seen and read from you remind me of the hollwood swordfighting method where sword fighting consists of banging the edge of your sword into the edge of the other guys sword, evidently until one of you gets tired.

    Double edged swords of the typical medieval type(Oh, I might add that the term "broadsword" is a relatively recent term and isn't used much by the people who study medieval swordplay. I challenge you to a find a reference to a broadsword as a specific sword type in a period text.) were double edged and symmetrical precisely because the edge was easily lost. Turn the sword over and it's like you've got a new one.

    Reading period texts you will find these weapons could be used for draw cuts (the ol' coup de Jarnac springs to mind of course) as well as capable of slicing cuts, but they were best at hacking and chopping where, I agree, sharpness of edge is not as important as with a true cut. Now there's so many types of European sword out there that this is a gross oversimplification.

    Recently the Talhoffer Fechtbuch was published with English translation and commentary. Most of the sword work covered the long sword, and a study will show that the sword was used for a variety of cuts. The beautiful illustrations also show some limbs being lopped off, not something that is really possible (well maybe possible but not bloody likely) with a sword that won't cut. I think it's published under the name Medieval Combat or something similar.

    I think at this point that we should agree to disagree, or go find ourselves another expert to arbitrate. It is a pleasure discussing this with you, although I feel like I'm violating some e-budo rule by not dismissing your theories out of hand. Maybe we should call each other a few names just to keep our reputations intact.
    Dan Beaird

    The best time to be a hero is when all the other chaps are dead, God rest 'em, and you can take the credit.

    H. Flashman V.C., K.C.B., K.C.I.E.

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    Dan(s):

    Interesting to see this topic come up again. Also glad to see that there are others that refrain from name-calling.

    Anyway, something occurred to me: it seems to me that the definition of sharp should be considered in a relative context. Let us assume, as is likely, that European weapons were never as sharp, in an absolute sense, as Japanese ones. However, there are many European period illustrations showing people using swords to cleave helms and skulls and lop off limbs. Even allowing for poetic license, I think that it is safe to assume that there is some truth to these illustrations and that swords had edges that could cut things.

    For example, in the late 14th century, a battle took place at Visby on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. (I think its Gotland, anyway. Can't remember if it's Danish or Swedish, though). The dead were hastily buried in mass graves, some still in their armor. The excavation of these graves gave researchers much insight into the armor and weapons of the period.

    One thing they found was a preponderance of bladed-weapon wounds in the lower legs and at the junction of the neck and shoulder, indicating that these were favorite targets. Some bodies had one or both of their legs entirely lopped off, perhaps by two-handed swords (could have been glaives, who knows).

    Anyway, a blade is as sharp/strong as what it is up against. A European weapon may not be able to keep its edge against a harder blade (Japanese, Viking, Wootz, or other) but would probably have been servicable against a weapon with similar limitations; that is, within its context, and against the weapons and armor it was designed to face, it would have been "sharp".

    Earl Hartman

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