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Is in your opinion, a sword
mostly a practical tool
52%
 52%  [ 10 ]
mostly a mythical ideal
47%
 47%  [ 9 ]
Total Votes : 19

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Paul Hansen




Location: The Netherlands
Joined: 17 Mar 2005
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PostPosted: Sun 02 Aug, 2020 2:28 pm    Post subject: The Sword: practical tool or mythical ideal?         Reply with quote

This thread is inspired by the thread "Favorite item from your collection" http://myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=38537 which I have difficulty posting on because my favourite swords are very much apart from each other.

Hence the question: is, in your opinion:

- a sword mostly a tool, a weapon to be used in war, defence or duelling, and therefore your favourite is the one that fits best to your personal needs and fencing style?

or is

- a sword mostly an ideal construct, a symbol of power, a way to connect with history or an esthetic ideal? And is therefore your favourite sword the one that is a perfect representation of e.g. your favourite historical period, or fantasy genre? I would also include originals / antiques in this category, unless they are relatively recent or common and you still use them for e.g. test cutting.

I suppose that the holy grail would be a union of the two aboves, but unfortunately I have not yet found this holy grail myself. And I fear that I will never reach this either. For me personally, I prefer single edged swords for practical reasons while my favourite periods favoured double edged swords, which I also prefer for esthetic reasons.

Historically I think that in several periods (e.g. the knighly sword, but also the European bronze sword) sword smiths tried to reach the holy grail by combining religiously inpired proportions and designs into a practical tool. But as modern swordsmen we are quite far removed from these traditions, both on a practical and on a spiritual level. But that's perhaps a topic for another thread, as I intended this thread to ask about your perspective as a modern swordsman / swordswoman.

To keep the poll interesting, I did not include this holy grail.
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Stephen Curtin




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PostPosted: Fri 07 Aug, 2020 7:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Very interesting question Paul, I'm a little surprised no one has responded yet. I thought about this for some time and I came to the conclusion that a "holy grail" sword does exist for me and it's a claidheamh da laimh. Though I will admit that of all the qualities you mentioned, what matters most to me is the connection to the historical period which most interests me. Lucky for me the claidheamh da laimh is also very appealing aesthetically and fits a fighting style I like. Now all I need to do is get my hands on a good reproduction.
Éirinn go Brách
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Peter Lyon
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Location: New Zealand
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PostPosted: Fri 07 Aug, 2020 11:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I haven't replied to the poll because I can't choose one or the other properly. My answer is "yes".

For most people the sword was a practical tool of warfare, but at higher levels it had overtones of justice etc. Combining the two gets you something like Excalibur - the mythical ideal sword.

Still hammering away
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Dan D'Silva





Joined: 28 Apr 2007

Posts: 244

PostPosted: Fri 07 Aug, 2020 4:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The main reason I collect and assemble weapons (aside from those used in historical reenactment) is because they're extensions of stories, some I thought up and others that I read and liked. That Sheffield Bowie is my version of Lieutenant Mudd's hunting knife from Catch-22. Some day I'd like an Excalibur. Then there's the ones made by Jimmy Bagdasarian and Armlann Gàidhealach, those that were owned by Algernon de Pangim and Caitlin O'Shaunessy... the list is so long that sooner or later I'll have to start selling some off, but the story behind each one is the main reason I'll have acquired it in the first place.
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Paul Hansen




Location: The Netherlands
Joined: 17 Mar 2005
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PostPosted: Sat 08 Aug, 2020 1:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Stephen Curtin wrote:
I came to the conclusion that a "holy grail" sword does exist for me and it's a claidheamh da laimh.


Congratulations! I have to say envy you that you found the grail.

For me, I have a background in Pencak Silat and in Olympic Sabre Fencing. Although these two styles are quite different, the both favour single edged blades and fast actions.

My (nearly) "perfect sword" from a user's perspective is the Dutch Klewang, especially the one manufactured by Hembrug in The Netherlands, mostly in the first half of the 20th C. It would be the sword that I would take with me if I went on an adventure in an undefined historical period. I even find the origins and the design of that sword fascinating.

But, it's a mass-produced military sword. The design is very utilitarian and although it does posess some gritty handsomeness, it's not graceful. Nor is it religiously or symbolically relevant.



My ideal sword from an aesthetic viewpoint is a Type X. I love it's austere beauty as well as it's religious (First Crusade) and symbolic relevance. It's a sharp, steel variant of a Romanesque church.

But from a user's perspective I find the one I own not perfectly suited to my style. The second edge is not very useful for me, it's not as fast and nimble as I'd like (despite being on the light and short side for the type) and it's too flexible and unforgiving of imperfect cuts (this does improve with practice).

I've now commissioned a single edged Viking sword, that could be close to my ideal... We'll see.

Peter Lyon wrote:
I haven't replied to the poll because I can't choose one or the other properly. My answer is "yes".

For most people the sword was a practical tool of warfare, but at higher levels it had overtones of justice etc. Combining the two gets you something like Excalibur - the mythical ideal sword.


Peter, good to see you in this thread! You are exactly the kind of swordsmith who can strike a balance between the two.

But I think your distinction between practical but cheap and inspiring but expensive is a modern interpretation. In "The Sword, Form and Thought" Peter Johnsson et. al. demonstrate the geometric design principles of medieval swords. These design principles are there in both swords that seem expensive and those that appear cheap and definately have an aesthetic, but also a symbolic meaning.

In Indonesia, every man can own his personal keris, whether he's wealthy or dirt poor. A keris suitable for a poor peasant would not be suitable for a wealthy businessman and vice versa. But whether a keris is suitable for either person is steeped in traditions and regulations. So a keris for a poor man has the same symbolic depth as one for a wealthy man.

Anyway, one conclusion that I had drawn a couple of years ago, was that my holy grail sword had to be a contemporary "fantasy" sword, because I am a contemporary person. I'm not a knight or a viking, although I can dream that I could have been one in a different time. But at the moment I am not that convinced about that position anymore, because of two reasons:
1) Any sword that is not an exact replica of a specific original is a modern, contemporary sword because the designer always chooses things to his (modern) liking. This is e.g. the reason why the vast majority of Viking-style swords have too long grips, while at the same time almost nobody makes grips that are on the short end of the spectrum for Viking age swords.
2) A true contempory / fantasy sword does lack a connection with history.

Dan D'Silva wrote:
The main reason I collect and assemble weapons is because they're extensions of stories, some I thought up and others that I read and liked.


That's also an interesting perspective! But what happens if you end up not liking a certain sword regardless of it's history?

In my opinion there is a difference between collecting swords and (e.g.) movie props, because a sword is much more than a prop: it has a place
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Dan D'Silva





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PostPosted: Sun 09 Aug, 2020 1:31 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Paul Hansen wrote:
That's also an interesting perspective! But what happens if you end up not liking a certain sword regardless of it's history?

Good question. The only reason I could think of to dislike a sword that I put a lot of thought into and that looks good is that it's objectively bad; handles badly, for instance. So far that hasn't happened, but I've got some on the drawing board that could very well turn out that way. I'll have an answer for you if they do.
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Tim Harris
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Location: Melbourne, Australia
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PostPosted: Tue 11 Aug, 2020 11:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Peter Lyon wrote:
I haven't replied to the poll because I can't choose one or the other properly. My answer is "yes".


I tend to agree with you Peter, but, I've leaned towards grubby pragmatism.
What would propel me into the realm of myth would be a Scottish beak-nose ribbon hilt.

https://www.facebook.com/TimHarrisSwords
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Edward Lee




Location: New York
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PostPosted: Thu 13 Aug, 2020 1:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think it would depend on the culture. Every culture has some sort of stories regarding swords as a mythical object, some culture does more so than others. I personally would like to think the sword as an object that wards off evil, in a sense of fiction that is. In reality the sword is a tool made to kill, and the martial art to wield a sword is the technique to kill.
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Paul Hansen




Location: The Netherlands
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PostPosted: Sat 15 Aug, 2020 2:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Edward Lee wrote:
I think it would depend on the culture. Every culture has some sort of stories regarding swords as a mythical object, some culture does more so than others. I personally would like to think the sword as an object that wards off evil, in a sense of fiction that is. In reality the sword is a tool made to kill, and the martial art to wield a sword is the technique to kill.


The knightly ideal was to use force in order to protect the weak.
Killing is sometimes necessary to bring peace.
It is something of a paradox.

I guess that applies all weapons, but a sword, contrary to e.g. a firearm, also has an aesthetic and symbolic quality that somehow transcends it's pure functionality.

For example, although the people in The Netherlands are quite adverse to weapons in general, the sword that is displayed in my living room (I do try not to overdo it Wink) gets overwhelmingly positive comments and very rarely negative ones. By contrast pocket knives other than Swiss army knives, generally get negative comments.

So, in the end, I guess that's my answer.
Several weapons are good tools, but the sword's symbolic value is pretty unique.
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Sat 15 Aug, 2020 12:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't believe the knightly ideal was to protect the weak. Nor were swords limited by any means to knights (in a medieval context).

I think the sword has an appeal because it is a fusion of practical design elements with a higher aesthetic and a concept of the art of defense.

For a sword to be effective and functional (in a purely practical way) the design elements required it to have a great deal of elegance. Aside from any decoration or embellishment. Just the pure design of it has a sublime grace.

This is what makes a sword on a practical level, superior and more highly respected than most other weapons in so many cultures, even though the sword was not necessarily the best weapon for all circumstances, in fact throughout the length of history the sword was almost always a sidearm and not the primary weapon. The primary weapon was typically a spear, or a lance or a javelin, or a bow or crossbow or gun. The sword was backup.

The main advantage of the sword in fact was it's versatility and efficacy in defense. You can kill with a spear, with a cudgel, with a rock. The sword gives you that extra chance to defend yourself. As do other weapons of course, as does a shield which was also fetishized in many cultures.


The other element that is worth keeping in mind is that the practical elements of the metallurgy, the fabrication, and the design of a sword were based not on modern Cartesian, purely materialist concepts of science, but on the pre-industrial proto science which is inevitably mixed together with spiritual, mystical and superstitious notions. The 'sacred geometry' of the medieval sword (as pointed out by Peter Johnsson and others) is just one example, but one representative of the fusion of many long and complex cultural traditions related to arithmetic, geometry, alchemy, and (at the time, mainly Aristotlean) physics.

So inevitably the spiritual, religious and mystical elements of sword design, including as political or even ethical symbols, were intertwined with the practical. I don't think there is any unraveling it, and I think that is why the traditionally created swords are in fact better than anything we can invent in modern life, just as traditional steel more or less the same as it was smelted 2000 years ago is superior (for making swords) than any modern material yet invented. Titanium doesn't make good swords, nor do other superlative metals like vanadium or tantalum etc. The balance of characteristics you need for a sword are very hard to create. It took generations of cultural development to perfect them.

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