Hanwei / CAS Iberia Practical Side Sword
A hands-on review by Bill Grandy
There is a growing trend in the production sword world to create swords specifically with the intent of training in western martial arts (WMA). This is quite a welcome trend for those of us who require such tools, but for quite some time the greater WMA community has had a need to fulfill the niche of cheaper alternatives. It was not too long ago that the only way to acquire a decent training weapon that actually handled like a real sword was to commission a custom one, which is rarely a cheap option. Naturally, not everyone can afford a fully custom training weapon and cheaper alternatives have generally been made with little thought to handling, feeling more like crowbars than swords. The healthy growth of WMA has also brought about another issue. As with any hobby, many people starting out in WMA are not completely sure they want to throw down a huge amount of money until they know for certain that it is something to which they want to commit. If the community is expected to continue growing, that is a serious niche to address. The need for inexpensive training tools has grown and thankfully sword makers are beginning to meet the demand.
The Practical Side Sword is a relatively new offering from CAS Iberia / Hanwei. Hanwei, run by sword maker Paul Chen, has made a name with its "Practical" line of swords, which are inexpensive, functional weapons made for the budget-conscious buyer. There are both western and eastern styles represented in this line and the western versions are all made to be blunt for WMA training or stage combat.
This particular sword is meant to fill the niche for a training spada da lato, or "side sword", a non-period name for Renaissance weapons that fall somewhere in function between the classic single-handed cutting sword and the later thrust-oriented rapier. Early Renaissance masters, from the Italian Achille Marozzo to the German Joachim Meyer, depicted swords that appear to fall in this category, though they generally either called the weapon some variation of the word "sword" or "rapier". This shows just how blurry such a definition is, yet it is a useful term for the modern student in order to not be confused with later rapiers, provided one understands that the terminology is limited.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by CAS Iberia / Hanwei of China.
This is a surprisingly decent-handling sword given its price range. The blade has a fair amount of presence, but not so much that it hinders technique. Rather, it has a blade that falls into place easily on a thrust and could be used with later period rapier techniques with ease.
The blade is oddly shaped with a very wide base for half of the blade (the forte), while the other half (the debole) is narrow. This design allows for a thicker edge for safety while not compromising the integrity of the blade near the tang. It's similar (though somewhat exaggerated) to the design of some period training swords such as those illustrated in the fencing work of Joachim Meyer. It looks odd but doesn't seem to affect function at all.
The blade appears to be adequately hardened. When struck against higher quality training weapons, the Hanwei blade will be the one to lightly dent. That said, it isn't too bad, and is really more than one would expect from such an inexpensive weapon. It has a fairly stiff blade. I would personally prefer the blade to have slightly more flex on the thrust. This is a difficult thing to balance, though, as having a blade that is too flexible results in it "wobbling" when two blades hit. I would say that the amount of flexibility is acceptable, even if not perfect. Nonetheless, practitioners using such a sword will need to be careful when thrusting at a partner. The addition of a rubber blunt to the tip will be necessary for safety.
Fit and Finish
I was very impressed with the aesthetics of this sword for its price range. The guard and pommel are shaped and defined well, capturing some very subtle curves and swells that are not often seen in swords so inexpensive. The guard is well proportioned, which is a nice change from the usual oversized guards seen in this price range. The metal used appears to be stainless steel with some sort of coating to make it look slightly aged. This coating makes the sword look good from a distance, but up close causes it to look very fake. If one is more concerned with the practicality of this modern practice weapon, the stainless guard is a bonus. Anyone looking for historical accuracy will definitely need to look elsewhere.
The grip is some sort of plastic wrapped in cheap leather. For its purpose, it looks and functions adequately. The spiral-wrapped cord underneath the leather provides a good grip.
One disappointment was that the guard started to rattle after hardly any use. The opening through which the tang passes is not perfectly fitted to the tang. The blade is held in position only by the tension of the assembled hilt. This is really not a surprise given the price of the sword, but I was still dismayed at how quickly this flaw surfaced. I handled the sword for less than a half an hour, with no contact against other weapons, when it appeared. It has not gotten any worse after several hours of fencing, though. The pommel also wants to unscrew itself too easily. This is a slight nuisance when in the middle of fencing, but at least it is an easily correctable nuisance.
The sword comes with a basic wooden scabbard that is painted black and has steel fittings. The scabbard is decent enough, as it is not bulky and even looks reasonable. The mouth tightly fits the blade, but the rest of the scabbard rattles a lot when the sword is inside of it. For the price, it's a nice bonus that isn't even necessary. It might be good for actors needing it for costume, as it doesn't look bad from a distance at all. I don't know what I will do with mine, though, as I have a rubber blunt over the tip of my sword, so it no longer fits in the scabbard.
Here is a sword by CAS Iberia / Hanwei that really is quite a bargain. It is a far cry from a high-quality training weapon, but it really does allow a novice to get started without having to invest too much on a first weapon. It will definitely need to be replaced in the long run. This is certainly something to factor into the price if you know that you will definitely be continuing to practice for many years. Nonetheless, it would be ideal for students who are interested in getting involved in spada da lato play, or even stage combat, but aren't absolutely certain that they will stick with it in the long run. If the student decides that swordplay isn't what he or she is willing to pursue, at least the sword looks a lot nicer on the wall than many decorative swords that are often more expensive. The sword is also a nice option for schools and clubs that need cheap loaner gear for prospective students.
About the Author
Bill Grandy is an instructor of Historical European Swordsmanship and sport fencing at the Virginia Academy of Fencing. He has held a strong passion (obsession?) for swords and swordsmanship for as long as he can remember. He admits that this passion comes from a youth spent playing Dungeons and Dragons, but he'll only admit that if there are no girls around.
Photographer: Bill Grandy