Manning Imperial Type XXa Longsword
A hands-on review by Jason Elrod
Like many others, my interest in swords started at an early age with movies such as Highlander and Conan the Barbarian. In these movies the swords end up personifying the character, helping to define them almost as much as their actions define them. The swords become icons unto themselves: romanticized weapons. As my interested in swords grew and my knowledge of historical weapons increased, I have moved away from the fantasy incarnations of my youth. And while I normally don't subscribe to a romantic view of combat, some swords still continue to excite my imagination with their form alone. The Type XXa sword recorded as XXa.1 in Ewart Oakeshott's Records of the Medieval Sword is one such sword.
While this sword is available on the production market, most of the versions lack many of the complexities and refinement of the original sword. Knowing this, I decided to have a custom sword made. Having always admired Craig's work at Manning Imperial, I decided to contact him to see if he was interested in producing a sword based upon Type XXa.1. It couldn't be an exact reproduction because we did not have any measurements of the original and only pictures to use as a reference.
I purposefully omitted the inlaid marks of the original, due to the price cap that I put on the project. Craig was fully willing to add those marks from the original if I had requested him to do so.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Manning Imperial of Redan, Australia.
Essentially a thrusting sword, the point control on this sword is excellent. It is very easy to place the tip of the blade right where it is wanted. Gripping the ricasso helps the user's control and makes the blade more agile than it already is. Where this sword really shines, though, is during half-sword techniques.
The blade is sharp enough to cut but is not razor-sharp and is easy to grasp with bare hands. The reinforced diamond-sectioned tip almost ensures successful penetration of the target without damaging the blade. By wrapping one's finger around the ricasso and gripping halfway down the blade, the sword handles like a weapon half its size.
Cutting with the sword is a little more difficult than thrusting. While it is easy to swing with one or two hands, the complex cross-section of the blade makes cuts unforgiving. If the target is struck too far forward on the blade, then the object gets cut with the reinforced diamond-section (almost square) tip. If striking the target too far back on the blade, the thick hexagonal cross-section is hit, which is far from ideal for cutting. This leaves striking at the center of percussion (CoP) below the diamond-shaped tip. While cutting at the CoP is always ideal, it is not always possible and requires a lot of practice; doubly so with this sword.
Test cutting on pumpkins by fellow collector and martial artist Bill Grandy revealed that the thick and narrow blade did not want to pass through the target as naturally as more dedicated cutting weapons would. One had to almost force the blade more than many other swords. However, the reinforced needle-like tip of the weapon really sails through on the thrust with little resistance. Half-sword techniques were easily done because the edges, while sharp, were obtuse enough to make grasping them comfortable. Strikes done with the pommel, including the infamous mortschlag ("murder stroke", an attack often used to catch an opponent by surprise where one holds the blade to strike with the guard or pommel) were devastating.
Fit and Finish
The hexagonally-shaped grip is made from wood, wrapped with cord, and then coved with leather. Four risers were added. These risers help to secure the hands in place when gripping the sword. Additionally the leather over the cord makes the grip slightly soft. With bare hands, the leather and cord can be felt compressing. It's a very comfortable and satisfying feeling.
Originally Craig had put an oval grip onto this sword; however, I felt that the overall aesthetic of the original sword was lost. Changing the grip to a hexagonal shape like the original helped to pull the lines of the hexagonal blade through the hilt of the sword while the risers added contrasting lines that help compliment the rounded guard.
I can not say enough about how well the blade is executed on this sword. The ricasso thickness is even and easy to grip while the triple fullers are well defined, evenly spaced, and shallow out very effectively toward the point of the blade. Starting with a square ricasso, the blade transitions to a hexagonal cross-section and ends with a reinforced diamond-shaped point. Though hard to see in the photos, the diamond cross-section of the tip is slightly thicker than the rest of the blade. I couldn't be more pleased with the execution of this very complex blade.
I am very pleased with the work Craig did on this sword. I feel the same awe with it in hand as I do when looking at photos of the original. For me, it's the perfect marriage of form and function. While there are differences from the original, such as a smaller pommel, Craig was able to stay true to the Type XXa.1 style without producing an exact reproduction. He has a fine eye for detail considering that he only had a few pictures to use as references. I definitely plan on commissioning another piece from Manning Imperial.
About the Author
Jason Elrod is a retail manager with Borders Books in Dulles, VA. His sword obsession is tempered only by the knowledge that no matter how large his collection becomes, he still will not be able to use it to send his son to college.
Photographer: Bill Grandy