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Bob Burns




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PostPosted: Sat 05 Nov, 2005 8:39 pm    Post subject: Asian Swords vs European Swords and Swordsmanship         Reply with quote

What I have here are questions and not the answers, so I would like to toss this up for discussion and feedback. I am new in this obsession but already have well over a dozen pieces and some 20 books and growing.
It seems to me that European swords and swordsmanship both would be superior to the that of the Asian world. For two reasons this stands out to me and gives me this uneducated opinion. European swords have quillons or crossguards, Asian swords have not much of a guard if any. European swords for the most part are double edged, Asian swords for the most part are single edged.
The Asian world admirably has kept alive it's martial arts with the sword, while the European world did not seem to do so except for dueling with epees, foils, etc. People are much more informed from movies etc of how Asian warrior mastered his sword, but not so with the European sword. So it seems to me that the appreciation for how awesomely expertise a medieval European swordsman has been overlooked and disregarded in comparison to the Asian sword masters.
To my uneducated mind in this area, it would seem to me that a medieval European sword expert put into battle with an Asian sword expert, that the Asian would have little chance against the European. Especially given the double edge of his sword and the protection of his crossguard, along with a straight blade design vs a curved blade.

These are my thoughts, I am very curious to hear the insight of others!

Happy Collecting,

Bob
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Taylor Ellis




PostPosted: Sat 05 Nov, 2005 9:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would venture that the western martial arts as they are being taught today are probably closer to their historical counterparts than the vast majority of Chinese modern martial arts are to their own ancestors. I personally think there would be a massive amount of common ground with Chinese and European historical arts (and I mean military arts, not monk dancing et al), just like many people have commented on with some forms of German and Japanese fencing styles.
I'm a little undecided on your question. I think people will do what they need to survive, and all true combat forms are built out of experience and so have merit, but all things are not equal today even in countries that apparently have preserved their fighting styles. Look at modern MMA and the total dominance of Brazillian jui-jitsu, muay thai, boxing and wrestling derivitives. Every one of these arts is, if not developed in the west, heavily influenced by it. No karate, no kung-fu, pretty much no traditional asian martial arts.

So, I think it may be a mistake to judge asian martial arts on what you see today. I don't think they are as good at preserving them as is commonly accepted.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Sat 05 Nov, 2005 9:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bob;

You might try a search on this site or the Sword Forum International site for topics threads like " Knight versus Samurai "
http://forums.swordforum.com/

Or this one on the ARMA site: http://www.thearma.org/essays/knightvs.htm

Basically you are asking the same question using different words and you may be surprised about how heated or frustrating these kind of discussions can become.

I personally find the subject worthy of discussion but it often get " personal " when people get their shorts tied in a knot defending an opinion as if their life depended on it rather than enjoying playing with the idea.

The fact that WMA were not practised in an uninterrupted way puts it at a disadvantage when comparing it to EMA because we know less of it with certainty. In the last few year a lot of good work has been done researching what documents have survived and practitioners have tried filling in the blank by logically trying out what techniques seem to work or not.

Impossible to tell if a modern recreation of WMA is 100% accurate to period styles or techniques but I tend to believe that what works now would have worked then, so there is a decent chance that old techniques could be independently reinvented. Now I am far from an expert here so I may be wrong in part or in whole: I defer to those with real experience to add or contradict the above. Hope this helps.

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Taylor Ellis




PostPosted: Sat 05 Nov, 2005 9:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Just wanted to add...

In a fencing context, I believe Silver has it right. There are a few principles (primarily knowing when you can and cannot be hit), and simplicity is paramount, as the adrenalin dump you would get whilst trying to stay alive is going to play havoc with fine motor control. The rest is luck.
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Nathan Robinson
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PostPosted: Sat 05 Nov, 2005 9:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This has been discussed so many times without a significant conclusion to the matter. This is primarily due to the fact that it's difficult to compare two things that are so fundamentally different. It's a bit of an apples to oranges comparison. It still may result in a fruitful conversation (pun intended), but I'm guessing that many aren't too terribly interested in getting too involved. There's just so much information out there on the matter. I'll move this to off-topic, as it's so hypothetical.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Sun 06 Nov, 2005 1:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

One thing that I think is advantageous about European swords is the variety of sword types that existed. Europeans seemed to be constantly experimenting, modifying, and adjusting their blades for different contexts. It seems to me that European swords were always designed as specialized weapons with varying capacities for cutting, thrusting, and slicing, depending upon what the weapon was designed to do. In contrast, there is relatively little sword variety in Japan, with the katana as the main type of sword, which means that features that Bob mentioned like larger guards and false edges, not to mention swords with points specialized for thrusting, seem to be absent in Japan
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Risto Rautiainen




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Nov, 2005 2:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Taylor Ellis wrote:
I would venture that the western martial arts as they are being taught today are probably closer to their historical counterparts than the vast majority of Chinese modern martial arts are to their own ancestors.


This may be true for the majority, but I've heard that some Japanese arts too refer to some of the texts that have survived from the times the arts were still used on the battlefield.
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Bob Burns




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Nov, 2005 2:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I had a feeling this may have been discussed in the past. I was focusing not on martial arts styles, I was focusing on the sword style. Double edged straight vs single edged curved and crossguard vs little or no crossguard, were the main focus points. I was not and will not touch the martial arts topic again, that was not the issue. Although I am very familiar with the UFC, I will end there.

I just feel that a double edged straight sword with a crossguard would be far superior to a single edged curved sword with no crossguard. That was the focus.

Thanks,

Bob
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Lancelot Chan
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PostPosted: Sun 06 Nov, 2005 3:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here's my biased opinion. :P

We cross spar a lot here in Hong Kong where we have both WMA style and Asian styles. What's interesting is that while the WMA players can often anticipates the moves of the Asian styles, the Asian styles are not always ready for what WMA can offers. For example, when they first see my sword with the 11 inches hand guard, they would not see the value in it until I trapped their swords with my guard and counter attacked with the false edge in a fraction of a second. Another example is Tom Biliter the rapier guy who kept turning others into bee hives. In WMA, we're taught to face different weaponry like sword, sword and shield, long sword, rapier and alike. But these varieties are often new and strange to the Asian styles. The WMA variety kinda prepared the person for higher adaptability. And a final example, I've been successfully converting more and more newcomers who wanted to wield the sturdier and heavier-balanced katana into using longer and lighter European swords. Wink

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Nathan Robinson
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PostPosted: Sun 06 Nov, 2005 3:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bob Burns wrote:
I just feel that a double edged straight sword with a crossguard would be far superior to a single edged curved sword with no crossguard. That was the focus.

But for what purpose? Against what targets? In what conditions? Are we talking about individuals on the battlefield? Groups of people? Careful formations? Dueling opponents? Are they on horses? Are they fighting armoured opponents? Etc. Etc.

You get the idea. It's difficult to make such broad statements as "this is better than that" without placing it in a very careful context. Everything has a purpose, because, well, they each were purpose-designed. It's all about the right tool for the right job and at the right time.

One can't simply ask the question, "Which is better: A warhammer, a rapier, a halberd, or a longsword?" The only answer to such a broad and undefined question is, "Better at what?"

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Lancelot Chan
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PostPosted: Sun 06 Nov, 2005 3:05 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Agree with Nathan... and consider the development of weaponry as well as the method of using the weaponry are related to resources available to different geographical locations, so it's really hard to say what's better... since they all come up with solution that works for them at that period.
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Wolfgang Armbruster





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PostPosted: Sun 06 Nov, 2005 3:22 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think in the end it all comes to down to the skill of the fencer. Everybody can kill everyone Eek!

However, it's true that asian swords (asian? that's quite a big continent Wink) did not go through such a rapid development as the European ones did. Does that make them inferior? I don't know.
Take a look at the Japanese Katana. The Tsuba is rather small, but a bigger one might hinder you in Iaido. Different sword-styles require different swords (though the basic techniques in Katana- and Longsword fencing are actually the same).

I have to agree with Nathan Robinson concerning this discussion.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Nov, 2005 3:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bob;

Well a double edge does give possible moves that wouldn't exist with a single edge.

Not sure about this but with a Katana the defensive use of the blade was probably a less important aspect of sword fighting. maybe more emphasis on timing and distance than parrying ?

Although with medieval swords the amount of sword to sword contact would be less than the Clang Clang Bash Bash that Hollywood films have sort of programmed us to visualize. Think of any two little kids play fighting with swords or stage fighting, clashing swords together seems to be the only goal while in real fighting the objective is to cut or stab the opponent, any sword to sword contact is there incidentally to avoid being cut or to set up the opportunity to cut.

With the long sword there seems to be a lot of controlled sword to sword contact but no deliberate mutual violent edge to edge contact. With a one handed sword and shield sword on sword should be even more limited.

Again just using my limited knowledge and my imagination and my understanding at this moment that may change if and when I learn more.

Oh, by the way I have the Cold Steel Double edge Tachi that has a curved blade but with a double edge point with 3/4 of the top, false edge sharpened ( Kissari-moroha-zukuri or " Two-edges-at-the-point-style " ). This sword is based on actual historical Japanese swords that were in use during the Nara period to the early part of the Heian period mid-seventh to ninth century.

The Cold Steel sword http://www.coldsteel.com/japaneseswords.html is based on the " Kogarasu-maru " Tachi ( "Little-Crow " ) an heirloom of the Taira clan that is now in the Imperial Household Collection.

Note the Cold Steel site gives a blade length of 28", mine is 25" ! So there may be an error on their site or they changed the length ?

Source: The Japanese Sword a complete guide by Kanzan Sato translated by Joe Earle, 1983 ISBN 0-87011-562-6
www.thejapanpage.com

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Angus Trim




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Nov, 2005 10:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bob Burns wrote:

I just feel that a double edged straight sword with a crossguard would be far superior to a single edged curved sword with no crossguard. That was the focus.

Thanks,

Bob


Hi Bob

The Chinese gian is a straight double edged sword, and though these did not vary as much as the euro swords did, there were two handed variants comparable to the euro longsword...... The guard is not as wide as the cross of the euro medieval sword, but it is there..........

swords are fun
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Angus Trim




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Nov, 2005 10:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lancelot Chan wrote:
Here's my biased opinion. :P

We cross spar a lot here in Hong Kong where we have both WMA style and Asian styles. What's interesting is that while the WMA players can often anticipates the moves of the Asian styles, the Asian styles are not always ready for what WMA can offers. For example, when they first see my sword with the 11 inches hand guard, they would not see the value in it until I trapped their swords with my guard and counter attacked with the false edge in a fraction of a second. Another example is Tom Biliter the rapier guy who kept turning others into bee hives. In WMA, we're taught to face different weaponry like sword, sword and shield, long sword, rapier and alike. But these varieties are often new and strange to the Asian styles. The WMA variety kinda prepared the person for higher adaptability. And a final example, I've been successfully converting more and more newcomers who wanted to wield the sturdier and heavier-balanced katana into using longer and lighter European swords. Wink


Hi Lance

I suspect a lot of this is a 21st century phenomon. The Chinese and Japanese sword arts have continued to live thru form work and martial arts training, but have not really been used for combat for a long time. The training and sparring is ussually vs someone with a similar weapon and similar training.......

The WMA is being recreated from old documents, and "frog DNA" {meaning in some cases, similar looking stances and moves from the East}. Many WMA folk have participated in the past in Chinese and/ or Japanese MA's, and thus have some experience with them that isn't reciprocated as much..... Without a structured past, more folks in WMA are experimenting with different weapon/ uneven weapon sparring..........

The rapier is a kool weapon, mostly misunderstood by those that haven't experienced it. It has many advantages in cross/sparring with other weapons, but if one knows its weakness' {and it has a few}, then it also has a few disadvantages. If you have the rapier, understand your advantages, your opponent doesn't, nor is he aware of your disadvantages, then the overall advantage goes to you, the rapier wielder.........But, once your opponent learns of your weapon's weakness and strengths, some of that advantage disapears...........

swords are fun
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Hisham Gaballa





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PostPosted: Sun 06 Nov, 2005 10:31 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Things get even more complicated when you include other swords like the Turkish Kilij, the Iranian Shamshir and the Indian Tulwar. I know in India they have their own system of martial Arts called Gatka (spelling?). What would happen if someone trained in Gatka sword fighting encountered someone trained in a Western school of fencing?

It's an apples and oranges question.
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Tyler Weaver




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Nov, 2005 11:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
I just feel that a double edged straight sword with a crossguard would be far superior to a single edged curved sword with no crossguard. That was the focus.


I totally fail to see your point. A crossguard may be useful for some "bind and wind" techniques (aren't those mostly blade-work anyways?), but it would seem to be to be a hinderance when trying to deflect an enemy's weapon and a simple cruciform guard provides next to no real hand protection in an unarmored fight. Later complex guards provide more hand protection, but they also bind up your hand and force you to grip in a certain narrow range of gripping styles - and in any event the best basket-guard in the world is useless against forearm cuts.

As for false-edge cuts, the attack angles and powering involved are nothing new to in an Eastern context (let's not forget the existence of numerous double-edged Eastern sword designs that were systematically rejected over time), and any Eastern stylist should be familiar with analogous deflections with his sword's blunt back. If anyone's getting surprised here, I would say that many curved, Eastern sword designs allow circular thrusting, which is much more difficult with straight swords.

Moreover, a good swordsman, especially in the modern day, should be ready and able to use his weapon and the techniques of his style against literally any conceivable opposing weapon. That's part and parcel of being competent. I know exactly what I would do to defeat a rapier or sword'n'shield fighter.

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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Sun 06 Nov, 2005 12:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I prefer to think of the comparison as apples-to-bacon. Happy Both are food items, but that's about where the comparison ends.

Both European and Asian weapons and the martial arts systems that accompanied them developed according to the needs of the warriors in that region and the situations they faced. As traditions, sword technology (and raw materials), armours, tactics, developed independently, comparisons are largely moot.

Happy

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Bob Burns




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PostPosted: Sun 06 Nov, 2005 12:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Tyle stated: I totally fail to see your point. My point was simple and was qualified that it was a common sense question from someone who is just learning the art of swords. If I were an expert in asian and european swordsmanship, I would not be asking the questions I asked.
However, I do appreciate the feedback and gives me a lot more insight.

Lotta great feedback!

Bob
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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Sun 06 Nov, 2005 4:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think the major points of understanding context have already been addressed, and Gus also pointed out the Chinese jian. Bob, you should also be aware that the Japanese ken was a straight, double edged sword, that eventually became more ceremonial as it was replaced by the later curved single edged sword.

Also, don't forget that in Europe the cruciform hilted double edged sword was essentially replaced in the long run by the single edged saber without a cross. There are those would would argue the saber was the ultimate battlefield sword, and was the development of hundreds of years of sword evolution. Now, most would rightly disagree with that statement: it was a sword designed for a specific context, and therefore developed is a specific way... but in the same vein, one can't say the any sword is the ultimate sword, as they are all designed for certain contexts. But that's already been stated here, so I don't want to beat a dead horse. Happy
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