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Nathan Robinson
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PostPosted: Fri 08 Aug, 2008 2:49 pm    Post subject: Using numbers to describe swords         Reply with quote

Hey everybody-

Over the years, many people have tried to put together systems to help better describe a sword's dynamic properties to those reading about them over the internet, in catalogs, etc. These systems generally try to take in account the stats (measurements) of the sword, apply some calculations, and make some conclusions based on the numbers. Most of these systems only try to tell a very small part of the story, by design, and so are only attempting to add to the whole story, not tell it.

One recent topic is this one, entitled Sword Mass Index. The author describes the topic and the intent very well and isn't trying to be a one stop solution to any specific problem, but once again, only add to the big picture. It's a good attempt and his account of what he's doing and what limits it has is very well described. The topic is worth a look.

I, like many people, would like to see such a system that can be used to augment the understanding of people viewing swords over the Internet. The unfortunate thing, to me at least, is that over the years I've come to the conclusion that any such system often leads to far more more questions than answers. Even worse, it often muddies the waters rather than adding clarity. For me and my intrinsic desire to have a "tidy universe", this is a disappointment.

But here I am. I run a site, myArmoury.com, and one of the things it does is try to give potential consumers some answers about these products they're considering purchasing. Even more than that, it tries to offer a big picture of swords, sword types, their use, their dynamic properties, etc, to all readers interested in the subject of historical arms. This is a difficult thing to do over the Internet. To that end, having a numerical "system" is an interesting, albeit in my opinion futile, dream.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I'd be curious to run some "real world" tests on some systems. In other words, let's imagine some customers looking at swords online. These customers have specific needs or desires for their product and are doing their best to window shop before they buy their sword. They're stuck, like most of us, at looking at these things online and only having the benefit of the reviews and product pages to guide them. These provide some written context and some numbers and from that they make their choice.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Multiple customers come to the site. They all have narrowed their choices to the same group of swords. Wow, what a coincidence.. hehe, but they each have a somewhat different desire for their end product.

Here are the swords they are considering:

Sword #1
Weight: 2.9 pounds
Overall length: 47.25"
Blade length: 36"
Blade width: 1.75"
Point of Balance: 4.25"
Center of Percussion: ~22"

Sword #2
Weight: 3.1 pounds
Overall length: 42.5"
Blade length: 35.5"
Blade width: 1.125"
Point of Balance: 2.5"
Center of Percussion: ~25"

Sword #3
Weight: 3.2 pounds
Overall length: 44.25"
Blade length: 35.25"
Blade width: 1.375"
Point of Balance: 4"
Center of Percussion: ~21.5"

Sword #4
Weight: 3.2 pounds
Overall length: 46.5"
Blade length: 36.75"
Blade width: 1.75"
Point of Balance: 5.25"
Center of Percussion: ~24"

Sword #5
Weight: 3.375 pounds
Overall length: 46.375"
Blade length: 36.25"
Blade width: 1.875"
Point of Balance: 3.25"
Center of Percussion: ~21.25"

Sword #6
Weight: 3.625 pounds
Overall length: 47.325"
Blade length: 37.125"
Blade width: 2"
Point of Balance: 4.25"
Center of Percussion: ~23.5"

Sword #7
Weight: 3.7 pounds
Overall length: 45"
Blade length: 37"
Blade width: 1.75"
Point of Balance: 4"
Center of Percussion: ~21"

Sword #8
Weight: 4.6 pounds
Overall length: 48.625"
Blade length: 37.5"
Blade width: 2"
Point of Balance: 3.75"
Center of Percussion: ~22.5"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Customer #1:
"I want a sword that has a lot of mass and a ton of ooomph with its strike. I want it to be super responsive, especially able to have great point control and powerful thrusts. In other words, I want it to have a bunch of power but allow me to bring it back to where it started so I can do it again! Responsive and powerful! I can't stand swords that feel cumbersome and heavy and unwieldy. I hate that! I might want to use it one-handed sometimes if possible."

Customer #2:
"I want a powerful sword that I can use to cut stuff with. I like cutting heavy targets. I'm a very experienced cutter so I don't care if it's that forgiving. My main goal is to have powerful cuts! Recovery is not as important as an effective cut on different types of targets."

Customer #3:
"I want a very handy sword. I like to cut, but my main goal is to be able to control the sword's tip and put it where I want it. This sword needs to be agile and fast. Help?"

Customer #4:
"I want a sword that has a lot of blade presence and delivers good power to its target. I also like cutting in my backyard. I'd like to try cutting pool noodles and lighter targets like plastic bottles, but my main goal is to cut double or even triple tatami mats. What of these swords would be good for that?"

Customer #5:
"I got to have a sword that's powerful but easy to use. I'm totally new at this stuff. I don't want no wimpy swords. Maybe I'll try some cutting but mostly just dry-handling exercising. Which one is best?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Can we help these guys? At all? What's next?

I know, there are tons of faults with this system, and that's an important part of this because that's the real world. How do we help them? How do we do it without asking more and more questions? How do we provide them info in reviews or product pages that will attempt to give them enough to make informed choices? Most customers won't have enough knowledge to know to ask for more. Most want something digestible and easy to understand: a quick answer.

Can you put a system together to fill their needs?

What swords of the above would you suggest to them as good candidates?

(I get these questions all the time. Those are actual questions, paraphrased, from actual people...)

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Thom R.




Location: Tucson
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PostPosted: Fri 08 Aug, 2008 3:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

can i play first or would that be spoiling the fun. i'll pm you and we can both have a good laugh. tr
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Nathan Robinson
myArmoury Admin


myArmoury Admin

PostPosted: Fri 08 Aug, 2008 3:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thom R. wrote:
can i play first or would that be spoiling the fun. i'll pm you and we can both have a good laugh. tr


Please do! No reason to PM them.

I'm actually really interested in this subject even if it seems like I'm left with more questions or critiques of the results. For me, it's all a totally worthwhile exploration, regardless.

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Jason Elrod




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PostPosted: Sat 09 Aug, 2008 3:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I can't help these guys without more information. Well I guess that I could but I wouldn't really want to without more information on each sword and more information about the person. At the very minimum I would need a picture or two of the swords before I started feeling comfortable suggesting one for these customers.

Take sword #2 for example:

Sword #2
Weight: 3.1 pounds
Overall length: 42.5"
Blade length: 35.5"
Blade width: 1.125"
Point of Balance: 2.5"
Center of Percussion: ~25"

Simply by the stats I suspect that sword #2 is a type of Early Rapier but I'm not sure. We have a relatively skinny blade and while the POB is very close to the hilt, the COB is pretty far out on the blade in relation to it's length. Did anyone else think this was a rapier?

I think this would be a good thrusting blade and might work for Customer #3, however I'm not sure that the sword would be agile or fast enought for him especially if his "perception" of sword play is Errol Flynn type swashbuckling. However the sword might also be good for Customer #5 that is "powerful and easy to use" especially if the blade on this sword has no taper to it. I just don't know.

The problem with this exercise is that we have way to many variables. While we have concrete sword stats, we only have a small cross section of the statistics and general perceptions and feelings from the customers.

If I were a manufacturer I would be limited by what swords that my company produces. I could possibly look at the stats of the swords that I make and try to match one up to what the customer wants but what happens if I don't make a sword that exactly matches what I feel the customer wants? Do I tell him to go somewhere else?

See stats are only part of the equation in determining what sword that I'm going to suggest to the customer.

Let's say that I'm trying to be unbiased. That all of these swords are from different companies and I really want to help the customer out, I would still want more information.

Take customer #5:

"I got to have a sword that's powerful but easy to use. I'm totally new at this stuff. I don't want no wimpy swords. Maybe I'll try some cutting but mostly just dry-handling exercising. Which one is best.

This customer who is "totally new" to the hobby doesn't want a "wimpy sword". What does that mean? No rapiers? No complex hilts? No thin cross sections, whippy blades or blades that sag under there own weight? No writhern patterns? I need more info. Is he interested in a certain time period? Does he want a single handed or two handed sword? What about single or double edged? Straight or curved? Is historical accuracy important to the customer? How much does he want to spend?

Ok now that I have the above information, let's get even more personal. How tall is he? How strong is he? Any injuries that I should be aware of? I know this sounds kind of silly but a 5'7" 140 lbs. person is probably going to have a different perception of a "wimpy" sword than a 6' 200 lbs. individual.

While a sword might have certain concrete statistics for me it's all about the customer and his or her needs. The dynamics of the sword really come from the interaction of the customer with the sword.

If two swords from different companies had the exact same statistics but one costs twice as much as the other due to a higher level of polish, which sword would I suggest to a customer? If it's going to hang on the customers wall then I'd probably choose the more expensive one. If the customer is going to try to cut through tree branches for some reason then I'd choose the less expensive one.

So where does this leave myArmoury and the reviews? Are they worthless? Not at all. They are one person's opinion on a product. They should be viewed as free information from people who love swords. Reviewers are just trying to communicate what they feel. Sure each reviewer has their own biases, some reviewers care mostly about a sword's aesthetics. For others the sword's usage within a historical martial arts system is the most important aspect. Just get as much information out to the community. That is the only agenda here. The reviewers aren't trying to sell you a product and it is refreshing.

Whether you agree with a review or not, simply having a place to go to look at this type of information is important. Building a community of free discussion is important.

In the end I can not put together a system that would fill all a customers needs. The reviews here never fill all of my own needs and no review whether here or on another site will ever be able to do that. 1st hand handling experience is unfortunately the only way to know if you will really like a sword. Even after reading reviews and looking at statistics, I am consistantly suprised about which swords that I end up liking in terms of handling. There is always a sword out there that I thought that I wouldn't like based upon the stats or the review, that i end up loving.

The more swords that you handle the better off you will be. The more swords that you handle, the better knowledge you will have as to what you like and what you expect. As with anything the more "working" knowledge that you have of a subject the better off you will be. Reading about something will only take you so far which is one of the main reasons why I've bought and sold so many swords throughout the years.

Did I answer Nathan's question? What was the question anyway? Eek!
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Nathan Robinson
myArmoury Admin


myArmoury Admin

PostPosted: Sat 09 Aug, 2008 3:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jason, I think you nailed it Happy
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Sat 09 Aug, 2008 4:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jason Elrod wrote:
I can't help these guys without more information. Well I guess that I could but I wouldn't really want to without more information on each sword and more information about the person. At the very minimum I would need a picture or two of the swords before I started feeling comfortable suggesting one for these customers.



The more swords that you handle the better off you will be. The more swords that you handle, the better knowledge you will have as to what you like and what you expect. As with anything the more "working" knowledge that you have of a subject the better off you will be. Reading about something will only take you so far which is one of the main reasons why I've bought and sold so many swords throughout the years.

Did I answer Nathan's question? What was the question anyway? Eek!


Yes I think that with just the numbers I would have difficulty making up my mind which one I wanted for each one of the customer preferences mentioned: If for myself as least a lot of the personal preferences questions wouldn't be a problem.

But with the " stats " + good pics of the sword I could to a degree " eyeball " the masses of blade, pommel, guard and with experience with my swords already in hand I could make a guess at what the handling would be like and be fairly close I think: So pics are worth a " thousand words " or rather dozens of stats, with the stats given I would be able to come close, but I think some idea of the distal taper would help a lot: Strait, variable, convex etc .... plus thickness at guard and near the tip.

In conclusion: Numbers can be useful as long as one avoids thinking that just a few numbers can tell the whole story and that once in hand one might confirm the impressions the numbers gave or be surprised that they don't. Wink Big Grin

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Justin King
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PostPosted: Sat 09 Aug, 2008 6:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think without a way to describe the distal taper accurately the complexities and subtleties of mass distibution and handling are never going to be that easy to define. Even if we were able to clearly describe the distal taper it would mean little unless one had some comparative experience. I have given some thought to how to put a sword's mass distribution on paper so they can be compared side-by side and I have some ideas but they require calculations that would just give me a mother headache if I were even able to do them so I have not followed through with it. Someone with a better mathematical background could probably put it together but then sometimes I wonder if we might not be happier leaving some mystery and surprise in all of this. Who wants to pull their expensive new toy from the box already knowing exactly how it will feel? Sounds a bit anti-climactic to me.
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Sat 09 Aug, 2008 7:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would have to understand the customer's ideas better too.

Using only our existing system, I could make guesses. Customer #2 and #4 seem to be requesting similar things. Only customer #1 has expressed preference for a specific grip style. I suspect Customer #1 could be paired with Sword #1. I would have guessed customer #3 would have liked the rapier like stats of Sword model #2, but again am not sure without knowing something more of the blade style and fashion preferences of the customer.

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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