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Byron H.





Joined: 04 May 2009

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PostPosted: Mon 04 May, 2009 9:57 am    Post subject: Longsword and katana         Reply with quote

After a discussion with a friend of mine, we've seem to come to a deadlock. We have two opposing views, and we can't seem to get past them.

On my side, I argue that the katana is simply a better, more advanced sword than the longsword, at least when it comes to unarmoured combat. This is because the katana is more optimized to the more difficult task of cutting, while being able to be used for thrusting, which is a far easier task by far. After all, you can stab someone to death with an unsharpened, flat tipped pencil, but you can't do the same with a ruler. So, even though it is designed to cut, this optimization will not decrease its ability to thrust in a proportional manner. This is due to cutting being harder to achieve than stabbing, which require fewer elements to be done. In essence, a straight sword will never cut as well as a curved one, but the reverse is not true. A curved sword can be used to thrust just as well as a straight one.

Contributing to why the longsword would not be a good match up against a katana, is that it is slower and more sluggish than a katana. For instance, after every stroke a longsword user is left wide open, which means a katana user can kill him quickly. This is because the length of the Longsword makes it more unwieldly, while the size of the katana is perfect for sword fighting. This makes the Longsword inherently telegraphic, while the katana is not, another point against Longswords. As well, I'm comparing the 'average' longsword, versus the 'average' katana. He disagrees with this, referencing something called the "Oakeshott Typology" and differences between different katana over the centuries, stating that there isn't really an 'average' design for either type. I'm sure there's difference in more specialized designs.

On his side, he argues that when it comes to swords, you can't really say any are "superior" to other swords, as when it comes to swords we're simply dealing with trade offs. Increase cutting ability on one side, and you decrease thrusting, as well as vice versa. He's not taking into consideration the huge edge flaws which are present in European swords, which hinder their ability to cut though. As well, general comparisons are relatively useless due to sheer diversity of sword types and styles in both Europe and Japan. However, statistically, can't we figure out a general 'type' of European longsword versus a 'type' of katana?

He also makes mention of weapons in Europe, I forget their names, that are similar to the katana in the sense that they are curved, two handed swords. He argues that if katana were are superior, it is only logical that these types of swords would have been considered superior as well. However, the problem that he doesn't consider is that these swords are not katana, and are larger than katana hence making them telegraphic like the Longsword. This is likely why there is no consideration of superiority for these two handed sabers.

Summary of major points I wish to be addressed;

1. Thrusting is mechanically easier than cutting, so fewer attributes are needed in a weapon to make it an effective thruster. As such, a sword can be designed for cutting without hindering its ability to thrust to the same degree. For instance, a katana has just enough of a curve to make it a fearsome cutter, but its curve is not steep enough to hinder its ability to thrust. In fact, the curve may even help its thrusting ability more than a longsword by being able to move 'around' weapons or shields. I know of certain swords which were designed to thrust around shields, for instance.

2. Cutting is mechanically more difficult, and as such requires more complicated techniques. The Japanese employed these, but the Europeans did not, instead favoring their longswords which can only match the katana in thrusting ability, not cutting.

3. Because of the Longsword's size, it is more telegraphic than a katana, and it is also a more unwieldy weapon. Even if a Longsword that was longer than a katana was the same weight, its size would prove to be detrimental to a user in unarmoured combat, and against a person with a katana likely get him killed.

4. If a katana is a considerably better cutter, but also an equivalent (Or better) thruster, how can we possibly consider the Longsword to be 'equal' to it for the task of unarmoured combat (Arguably even armoured)?

So, what do you all have to say? I am willing to look at sources from experts and scientists, because every expert and scientist I've ever heard of (Ian Bottomley, for instance) has definitively stated that the katana is an all around superior, more advanced weapon, at least for unarmoured combat.
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Luka Borscak




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PostPosted: Mon 04 May, 2009 10:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

http://www.thearma.org/essays/longsword-and-katana.html
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Sam Barris




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PostPosted: Mon 04 May, 2009 10:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Context. Sine qua non.

I would suggest you put all of your carefully considered assumptions aside and spend about a year doing nothing but reading about swords (well, ok, eating and sleeping are fine). In the case of the European sword, if you're not familiar with something as basic as the Oakeshott typology, by what store of knowledge do you presume to speak of them? Movies?

And the Japanese sword is no less elusive a beast. There is greater variety there than you can even begin to know right now. I would contend that there was no such thing as a typical European or Japanese sword, nor is there a perfect Japanese or European sword; or rather, they were all perfect within the context of their design and intended use. The most you can hope for in your experiment is a sword designed to be well-rounded, but even that is usually the product of the technology and armor of the times. It isn't any concern of our ancestors that we've come to associate specific designs with vast spans of history.

This site has a few articles entitled The Paper Armoury. I recommend you begin your search there. While you're doing all of this reading, you may also wish to study a bit of kenjutsu and find a study group in the Liechtenauer or Fiore tradition. I'm not sure where you're getting your information on technique, but every cut is designed to terminate in a guard position specifically to avoid leaving yourself open. That's just one thing I noticed in your post that seems a bit off.

In any event, I see that this is your first post. Welcome to this forum, as well as to what may become a lifelong passion. I don't mean to be too harsh, and I apologize if I came off that way, but one of the first things you learn when you really dig in to a subject as broad and rich as arms and armor is that there are really very few simple or universal answers. And that's good! Otherwise, we would have run out of things to talk about a long time ago. Big Grin

Pax,
Sam Barris

"Any nation that draws too great a distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards, and its fighting done by fools." —Thucydides


Last edited by Sam Barris on Mon 04 May, 2009 11:02 am; edited 1 time in total
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Vincent Le Chevalier




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PostPosted: Mon 04 May, 2009 10:46 am    Post subject: Re: Longsword and katana         Reply with quote

First, welcome to myArmoury!

Well sure enough what you're stating seems representative of a very katana-centric point of view with litle knowledge of other sword forms... The topic pops up with some regularity on the internet. Here are some links you might want to consider:
http://forums.swordforum.com/showthread.php?t=94993
http://www.thearma.org/essays/longsword-and-katana.html

To answer your main points to the best of my knowledge:

Byron H. wrote:
1. Thrusting is mechanically easier than cutting, so fewer attributes are needed in a weapon to make it an effective thruster. As such, a sword can be designed for cutting without hindering its ability to thrust to the same degree. For instance, a katana has just enough of a curve to make it a fearsome cutter, but its curve is not steep enough to hinder its ability to thrust. In fact, the curve may even help its thrusting ability more than a longsword by being able to move 'around' weapons or shields. I know of certain swords which were designed to thrust around shields, for instance.

It's true that the katana is an apt thruster, but the curve is not necessarily an aid. It is a bit less intuitive to aim, and also it provides an angle which can be used to thrust straight through.
Your friend has it right that it depends a lot on longsword type, but some of them that are dedicated thrusters are mechanically superior to katanas in this regard.

Quote:
2. Cutting is mechanically more difficult, and as such requires more complicated techniques. The Japanese employed these, but the Europeans did not, instead favoring their longswords which can only match the katana in thrusting ability, not cutting.

On the other hand, if you're talking unarmoured combat, it hardly matters if you cut through the whole torso or just half of it. As far as I know, most longswords are plenty capable to end a fight with a cut just as well as a katana. There might be an advantage to the katana here, but is it useful? Most fencing schools, east and west, favour thrusting and quick, deceptive but less powerful cuts over big dramatic slashes that leave you exposed before and after.

Quote:
3. Because of the Longsword's size, it is more telegraphic than a katana, and it is also a more unwieldy weapon. Even if a Longsword that was longer than a katana was the same weight, its size would prove to be detrimental to a user in unarmoured combat, and against a person with a katana likely get him killed.
That's just wrong. Have you ever handled a longsword, or at least an accurate reproduction? The mass distribution in these is engineered so well that they actually feel more handy than some katanas despite their length. Also, you seem to discard entirely the advantage of range. It's all well and good for the shorter weapon to be more wieldy, if the fighter cannot get in range alive it's of little use.

Quote:
4. If a katana is a considerably better cutter, but also an equivalent (Or better) thruster, how can we possibly consider the Longsword to be 'equal' to it for the task of unarmoured combat (Arguably even armoured)?

I'd argue that we know what gradual evolution gave when armour and battlefield were no longer considered, and this is neither the longsword nor the katana but the rapier Wink A weapon which I'm sure you'll deem very inferior to both because it does not cut as well and is long and unwieldy Big Grin

Quote:
every expert and scientist I've ever heard of (Ian Bottomley, for instance) has definitively stated that the katana is an all around superior, more advanced weapon, at least for unarmoured combat.

Every expert in Japanese civilisation is seemingly convinced that the katana is best (if they venture to say that a best sword exists, which is not a hallmark of real experts about weapons, but anyway). I'd recommend you take the opinion of other experts into consideration... and yes starting by the Oakeshott's typology is probably a good start.

Regards,

--
Vincent
Ensis Sub Caelo
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Werner Stiegler





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PostPosted: Mon 04 May, 2009 11:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

19th century saber vs 19th century Katana? The saber has the advantage in reach and a whole martial, miliary and very bellicose culture of huge studs behind it while the katana's only supported by some ten percent of the tiny japanese people.

19th century katana vs 19th century Saber? The katana has an unbroken martial culture of fierce and proud barbarians behind it while the europeans can't make up their minds whether to stab or slash somebody with a sword.

Laughing Out Loud

The more I know, the more I'm able to twists and bend these arguments to the advantage of whomever I whish to favour.
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Steven Reich




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PostPosted: Mon 04 May, 2009 12:12 pm    Post subject: Re: Longsword and katana         Reply with quote

I'm not going to really argue Katana vs. Longsword. However, there are a few misconceptions:

Byron H. wrote:
1. Thrusting is mechanically easier than cutting, so fewer attributes are needed in a weapon to make it an effective thruster. As such, a sword can be designed for cutting without hindering its ability to thrust to the same degree. For instance, a katana has just enough of a curve to make it a fearsome cutter, but its curve is not steep enough to hinder its ability to thrust. In fact, the curve may even help its thrusting ability more than a longsword by being able to move 'around' weapons or shields. I know of certain swords which were designed to thrust around shields, for instance.

A curve won't help thrusting any appreciable amount, and actually, the mechanic of the thrust can be performed such that even with a straight sword, you create the same geometric effect (but on an even greater scale) with your arm(s) and hand(s). However, for a thrust against an unarmored opponent, pretty much any sword with a tip will do. Against armor, either you need to find a joint...

Byron H. wrote:
2. Cutting is mechanically more difficult, and as such requires more complicated techniques. The Japanese employed these, but the Europeans did not, instead favoring their longswords which can only match the katana in thrusting ability, not cutting.

What "complicated techniques" are you talking about? Cutting is cutting: delivering the edge to the target such that it is properly aligned and with as much force as necessary. Japanese, European and pretty much everyone in between had techniques to do this. A good survey of the various German longsword cuts can give you an idea of how varied were the cuts used; however, in the end it is simple techniques delivered at the right time that do the work, not complicated techniques. Either that, or complicated techniques are the result of an aggregation of simple techniques--which are present in every sword art I've ever seen.

Byron H. wrote:
3. Because of the Longsword's size, it is more telegraphic than a katana, and it is also a more unwieldy weapon. Even if a Longsword that was longer than a katana was the same weight, its size would prove to be detrimental to a user in unarmoured combat, and against a person with a katana likely get him killed.

This is just plain wrong. First, there was a wide variation in the weight and length of both the longsword and the katana. However, when well balanced, both are just scary weapons.

Byron H. wrote:
4. If a katana is a considerably better cutter, but also an equivalent (Or better) thruster, how can we possibly consider the Longsword to be 'equal' to it for the task of unarmoured combat (Arguably even armoured)?

If we consider that the typical longsword is longer than the typical Katana (although these types of generalities often blur the truth), then I'd have to say that the longsword is a better thruster. Why? Because it will have the chance of reaching it's target first. However, either one will run straight through an unarmored man, provided its wielder is proficient to get the opportunity against his opponent.

Byron H. wrote:
So, what do you all have to say? I am willing to look at sources from experts and scientists, because every expert and scientist I've ever heard of (Ian Bottomley, for instance) has definitively stated that the katana is an all around superior, more advanced weapon, at least for unarmoured combat.

I'm not familiar with Ian Bottomley, but I'd have to ask two things about him:
1. How many accurate reproductions of longswords has he handled (or better, originals)?
2. How many years of practice does he have with western and eastern sword arts (with formal training).

Hopefully without sounding too polemical, I have to say that these types of discussions generally solve very little, especially since they tend to be formed on a rather inaccurate set of assumptions based on a few quotes which seem to support the preconceptions rather than based on conclusions borne out from hundreds or thousands of hours of experience (i.e. practicing swordsmanship).

Steve

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Werner Stiegler





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PostPosted: Mon 04 May, 2009 12:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ian Bottomley is the former Curator of Oriental Arms and Armour at the Royal Armoury in Leeds, it seems.
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Joe Fults




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PostPosted: Mon 04 May, 2009 12:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Which of course makes him a completely unbiased source of information for a comparison such as this. Worried
"Our life is what our thoughts make it"
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"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."
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Joe Fults




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PostPosted: Mon 04 May, 2009 12:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Some of the replies you already have, especially Steven's, are very on target. For my part, I would encourage you to study more and worry less about the best sword (or culture) some other day.

The most any of us can hope to come to, is a preference. All too often even that changes as we learn and gain experience with different swords that challenge our assumptions about weapons from a given culture, let alone those from other cultures. There are so many variations on basic sword design themes within and across cultures. There are points of convergence and divergence that occure unexpectedly in time and place. There are so many subtlies that are not immediately apparent on visual inspection of swords alone.

Why limit yourself with the idea of finding a single best when the most interesting part of the journey is in appreciating the the differences and why they are there! Cool

"Our life is what our thoughts make it"
-Marcus Aurelius

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."
-John F. Kennedy


Last edited by Joe Fults on Mon 04 May, 2009 2:09 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Colt Reeves





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PostPosted: Mon 04 May, 2009 1:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This is a weird coincidence...
I saw a YouTube video where a couple of guys were sparring, one with longsword and the other with katana. Katana won easily and I was considering an argument against someone who wanted to use it as evidence for the katana. I saw this topic and thought "How are they reading my mind?!?!?!?" Anywho, it's not particularly related, just something I thought of when I saw this. (The argument I was considering went something like this: "The guy with the longsword clearly isn't very experienced or skilled, and is... not in the best of shape shall we say.")

Seriously though, there's really no way to find out which is the "better" sword. The closest you could get to finding out would be to get several schools of both arts, give them real gear, and have them spar all over the place and compare overall wins versus losses in all manner of situations (mass fights, one-on-one, etc). There's no way to find out without it being a real fight to the death or at least serious maiming, and it would still be inconclusive because the other gear and training brought to the table would also be major factors.
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Artis Aboltins




PostPosted: Mon 04 May, 2009 1:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Simply put, there is no such thing as "best sword" - each weapon is designed for specific circumstances of use.
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Todd M. Sullivan




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PostPosted: Mon 04 May, 2009 1:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bryon,

I would suggest studying the Katana for 10 years and then studying the Longsword for 10 years before even comparing the two. The long sword is NOT a sluggish weapon and is extremely fast. Why must people compare the two? Or compare the samurai to the medieval warrior? Or the spartan to the viking? etc... No one has lived in those time periods, everyman is different in skills, different cultures, different religions, different up bringings, to compare these men and thier weapons is just foolish.

I can fight the same man 10 times. If we fight 3 sets of 10 the outcome will always be different.

I have 12 men in my squad, they are all different in physical standards and combat operation skills...in 500 years is some yoyo going to compare the American Soldier to the Russian Soldier? It's just stupid and serves no purpose. The same as someone having such a huge ego that they would put an essay on the internet comparing the Samurai to the Medieval Knight.

Stop comparing these people and thier weapons...no one is an expert enough to do so and never will be.
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Grayson C.




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PostPosted: Mon 04 May, 2009 5:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Todd M. Sullivan wrote:
Bryon,

I would suggest studying the Katana for 10 years and then studying the Longsword for 10 years before even comparing the two. The long sword is NOT a sluggish weapon and is extremely fast. Why must people compare the two? Or compare the samurai to the medieval warrior? Or the spartan to the viking? etc... No one has lived in those time periods, everyman is different in skills, different cultures, different religions, different up bringings, to compare these men and thier weapons is just foolish.

I can fight the same man 10 times. If we fight 3 sets of 10 the outcome will always be different.

I have 12 men in my squad, they are all different in physical standards and combat operation skills...in 500 years is some yoyo going to compare the American Soldier to the Russian Soldier? It's just stupid and serves no purpose. The same as someone having such a huge ego that they would put an essay on the internet comparing the Samurai to the Medieval Knight.

Stop comparing these people and thier weapons...no one is an expert enough to do so and never will be.


If you're referring to Mr. Clements on the last part, I suggest you stop. That article seems, to me at least, to try to explain how utterly pointless the comparison is. If you read the end, you'll notice that the conclusions drawn are all ones that you're very likely to agree with.
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Gary Teuscher





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PostPosted: Mon 04 May, 2009 5:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thnigs like this remind me of the stereotypical Samurai vs Viking comparison used on that greatest warrior show. The Viking is a strong untrained brute, the Samurai is physically weaker but much quicker and better trained. Of course this compares the military elite of the Japanese, the Samurai, against the general viking type. Now if we go Huscarl vs Samurai, you will have two well trained skilled warriors.

Going along this line of thinking there is probably no need for the samurai to carry a sword - through meditation he can burst the heart of the knight before they close for combat Big Grin

I think all we can say is the Katana is in general a bit shorter and heavier for it's weight than a two handed european sword - but both opponents should be well trained, and the western knight is not going to telegraph those "massive" blows.
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Joe Fults




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PostPosted: Mon 04 May, 2009 6:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

People are passionate about their opinions and do hold them dear. Cool
"Our life is what our thoughts make it"
-Marcus Aurelius

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."
-John F. Kennedy
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Justin King
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PostPosted: Mon 04 May, 2009 8:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jeez, not again Worried ...I have a knee-jerk reaction to respond to these kinds of threads with a righteously heated reply, but as I cultivate a few grey hairs here and there, I am learning to just sit back and smile. Ignorance has spawned more experts than knowledge ever will...this is not aimed at any here but to the "experts" we have to thank for offering biased opinions as facts to those who don't know better.
Byron, this is an excellent place to begin learning about European swords, if you are of a mind. Unfortunately, your first topic is a controversial one which always gets some people worked up and feelin' righteous...nontheless I offer you a sincere welcome. For my money there isn't a better place to learn about historic arms and armour of the European variety.
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Douglas G.





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PostPosted: Mon 04 May, 2009 9:03 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Consider this comparison, canned versus bottled beer. Some will contend that bottled beer tastes better therefore it
is superior. Others will counter the can is lighter and more durable, allowing the canned beer to be more safely taken
and add to the enjoyment of remote and scenic places. These are both good aguements, but I think more research
needs to be done. I'm heading to the 'fridge!
Katana versus Long Sword brings passionate disagreement, and any conclusion is rather BCS championship like
in it's not a proven champion. I think the beer challenge is better.


CHEERS!

Doug G.
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George Hill




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PostPosted: Mon 04 May, 2009 10:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Douglas G. wrote:
Consider this comparison, canned versus bottled beer. Some will contend that bottled beer tastes better therefore it
is superior. Others will counter the can is lighter and more durable, allowing the canned beer to be more safely taken
and add to the enjoyment of remote and scenic places. These are both good aguements, but I think more research
needs to be done. I'm heading to the 'fridge!
.


Bah. There's no contest there. Bottled beer is much better. IT TASTES better, drinks better, is healthier for you because of the lack of bits of aluminum in your drink..... (Which is also why it tastes better.)

Bottled beer wins EVERY time. EVERYONE knows that.

Now a better contest is which brand.....

To abandon your shield is the basest of crimes. - --Tacitus on Germania
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Mon 04 May, 2009 10:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

David,
People aren't really that worked up yet, nor is it out of hand, as you say. It can be much worse. Happy

This quote of yours bothers me:

David Cellini wrote:
The reason I waited until now to join is because of just this, everyone is an expert, everyone has something to prove it seems. I took this as a hypothetic situation and something too discus just for fun. Lets just call it a draw and move on!


I don't see your first sentence as true. People get "worked up" because questions of this nature almost always involve stereotypes and just plain bad info about weapons: myths people have been trying to debunk for years. Many people still believe katana can cut anything and that European swords were slow, heavy, sharpened crowbars wielded by brutish, slow-witted men with no culture. Simply not true.

I think there are people who are responding to this thread can indeed be considered experts, or at least extremely knowledgable and are worth listening to...

Subjects like this pop up once or twice a year on forums such as this, and some people get frustrated having to answer the same question over and over, especially a question they may feel is not fully informed. But there is a chance for education, even in threads like these.

Happy

ChadA

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Tony Brass





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PostPosted: Mon 04 May, 2009 10:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Warriors are capable and scary individuals. They fight skillfully and with great passion. Give one the greatest Katana ever made, and the other a length of steel pipe, and I would not bet on the outcome. Even if you gave one an m-16, and the other a steak knife, and turned them loose in a dark forest, I would not bet on the outcome.
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