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Michael Pikula
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PostPosted: Wed 21 Mar, 2012 7:57 pm    Post subject: What makes a sword a sword         Reply with quote

Quote:
the study of what makes a sword in fact a 'sword'.


I have been following another thread and there was a quote, the one posted above, that I feel could spark some interesting thoughts and discussions. So what exactly is a sword? I have been pondering this question and I don't know if I have an answer that can be universally accepted. Every definition that I have tried on for size has exceptions and variations. When reduced to its original intent, a sword is a tool. A tool that acts as an extension of ones body that is used in a martial form to inflict a wound, or fear, in an opponent.

When we look at an object in 2012 and we ask ourselves "is this a sword" one might be hard pressed to use this definition. How many "sword" owner have used their "swords" in a fashion stated above? Outside of training accidents, and a few criminal acts we simply do not use these tools in a way that reflect their original intention. Sure, martial artist train, spar, test cut, which really is as close as we can come to understanding what a sword actually is. To me these are fascinating, and important, since they can reflect and highlight technical properties of the sword, and also can separate "sword like objects" from swords. However I also feel that these can be a bit like driving a formula 1 race car in second gear and going around a track at a speed that is significantly slower then an actual race and the potential of the car is almost untapped.

So how can we look at these sharp and pointy pieces of steel and know what constitutes a sword, verses an object that simply looks like a sword? The study of original surviving samples, and as many as possible. Why? Because there is an immense amount of variation in these tools that we call swords. Some have sloppy fittings, some handle like a crowbar, some can only offer a glimpse as to what they once could have been.

Not every one can or will have the opportunity to hold and study the surviving objects which we today recreate and purchase. As another point I believe that a very large percentage of individuals who purchase "swords" do not get to see and handle them prior to spending money. This can lead to very frustrating situations since we are all students on the same path, but different locations, and limited by a number of factors that can make purchasing a sword a lot like jumping through hoops. If one hasn't been able to hold a number of originals and refers to some pictures and text describing an item, how can they know that their investment is a sound and practical one? If you put blind trust in the manufacturer, then it is very easy to get side tracked and start out with misconceptions about what these objects really are all about.

To truly understand and know what a sword is, a student must get involved in every aspect. Study the history, see them in a museum, take your vacation time to visit somewhere that you can place an original in your hand and feel what someone felt when that sword was used as per its original intention. Following intention, it is also important to study the sword in its martial form. Not everyone has a good group to study with so research in texts, plates, workshops, and the internet can be used as tools to help work out what that thing in you hand is suppose to do and how it should move. This holistic understanding can get us as close to really defining what a sword actually is, and the more one learns, the more we can learn to decipher the difference between a sword and sword like object.

Since these tools are no longer used for their original intention there are a vast number of collectors that are okay with spending money on objects that resemble what a sword once was. The use in some cases is so far removed from its original intent that it makes serious students cringe and shake their heads. This is a simple reality that every student will come across at one point in time or another, and that is okay. Part of our journey is to help others and share the path that we travel on. Everyone needs to start somewhere, my first sword was a Highlander katana, followed by several from Starfire, and as I learned I eventually purchased several pieces from A&A.

Another thing to consider is that not everyone is looking to collect and study sword in the terms of history and martial use. Some collectors are content with the symbolism, myth, feelings, and visual pleasure of the sword, which is wonderful as well! There are many other aspects to swords other then "a tool that acts as an extension of ones body that is used in a martial form to inflict a wound, or fear, in an opponent" and since we no longer use swords for this purpose why not embrace the "sword" in any and every aspect? The "sword" is something that I feel has plenty of room for individual interpretation and expression. Looking at the sword through a historical and martial application is not the only one way, and there isn't a right or wrong way, it is a constantly evolving object that changes as we change.

As I leave my soapbox I hope that others will chime in as to what makes a sword a sword for them. Comments on my views are surely welcome, but I feel that getting several different ideas and opinions prior to discussing would provide a wonderful base that will hopefully generate many different thoughts and ideas.
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T.F. McCraken




Location: Ingleside, Illinois
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PostPosted: Thu 22 Mar, 2012 6:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Good opening post, Mike.
I say that because I own LOTS of swords. I own everything from my Albion Templar to a couple KoA SLOs. I, myself, have never used a sword for what it was intended. Let's face it- swords are made for two things....killing men and pagentry. I am one for pagentry. I like owning them. I like the work that goes into them. I like scabbarding and re-gripping. I like mixing and matching hilts with blades with pommels. I REALLY like taking a Kult of Athena bargain-bin sword and making it look like a more expensive sidearm. (I'm doing one now for a friend.) I am a collector first, though. I don't re-enact. I don't do cut tests. I DO work at Bristol Renaissance Faire, but, my job there is a shopkeeper, so, wearing my sword at work is unrealistic.
I do have my preferences. I collect Irish. I have DelTin, Windlass and Windlass-hybrid ring pommelled examples. All the other swords I have are continually for sale so I can buy more Irish-hilted swords.
So, I'd have to say that...A sword, to me, is a representation of my ancestry. Green hills, red-headed lasses, and ring-pommelled swords.

Slainte!

Murphy Cool

aka "Murphy"
See ya at Bristol Renaissance Faire!

The decisions we make, dictate the life we lead.

"I drank what?" -Socrates
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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Sun 25 Mar, 2012 2:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I essence a sword is a three dimensional object. Or in other words, a long bladed weapon (although some tools, like a machete).

Your definition of a sword as:
Quote:
When reduced to its original intent, a sword is a tool. A tool that acts as an extension of ones body that is used in a martial form to inflict a wound, or fear, in an opponent.
misses an important aspect, in my opinion.

A great many swords were originally intended as bearing swords, ceremonial swords, dress swords, symbolic swords or even religious swords. Some of these may have been dual purpose: a former battle sword turned ceremonial, or a dress sword that was occasionally used in combat (usually dueling or self-defense, I guess). Others were clearly made never to be used in combat.

So a modern day collector who does not study martial arts is, in fact, part of a long lineage of people who had swords, but never used them. Big Grin

On the other hand, if you do consider a sword a weapon / sharp martial art tool, then you can look at it from the perspective of a certain historical style, or you can approach it from the perspective of the user.

For instance, I would say that although one could historically practice I.33 with a type XII, this may not be the ideal type for it, and one may be better off with a type XIV. One could also say that for fencing a lighter sword may be preferable to a heavier sword. Thus, it may be possible to design an "ideal" sword for I.33, in the same way that the modern epee is more or less ideal for modern Olympic epee fencing.

But if one approaches it from the perspective of the user, it becomes much more complicated. Personally, my background is mainly Pencak Silat and modern fencing.... Good luck in trying to find a sword suitable for both at the same time... Big Grin

One challenge for me is to find a western-style sword that I can use for Pencak Silat. Perhaps not surprisingly, a Dutch Klewang works pretty well, but aesthetically I prefer a double edged sword. I have an Atrim AT2104 which is quite good, but not perfect. A bronze Ewart Park type sword from Neil Burridge also works surprisingly well. But by then you have clearly left all historical basis, linking a historical sword to a historical martial art. The AT2104 is a fantasy design. The Ewart Park was clearly never used in Indonesia and is from a completely different era.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sun 25 Mar, 2012 2:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

One of the reasons why the NSW government did not legislate against owning a sword is because they found "sword" was extremely difficult to legally define without including a lot of other objects including wall hangers, theatre props, and sporting implements. The other problem is length. They would have had to pick an abritrary length to differentiate between a sword and a knife. If you use intent as part of the definition then the existing legislation works fine. Currently any object is defined as a "weapon" if it is used with the intent of harming another person.

Last edited by Dan Howard on Sun 25 Mar, 2012 2:29 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Bruno Giordan





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PostPosted: Sun 25 Mar, 2012 2:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Authenticity.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sun 25 Mar, 2012 2:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If you restrict the term to only refer to blades intended to harm another person then nothing made today would be classed as a sword since they are not made with that purpose in mind. Today swords are made for practice, decoration, research, sport, etc. I can't think of any that are specifically made with the primary goal of killing someone. I'll be willing to bet that more wall hangers are used in assaults today than what people here would call a "sword". As for authenticity, at least the above wall hangers have been used in "combat". Are they more "authentic" than a museum replica that has never been drawn from its sheath? The above question will never elicit an acceptable answer.
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Daniel Wallace




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PostPosted: Sun 25 Mar, 2012 3:03 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Very interesting topic Michael.

what makes a sword a sword - well, construction first off. (at least in my view) a stainless steel wall hanger maybe be able to hold an edge, but they are rarely constructed to be bashed around. a sword is by definition a weapon - those of us know that - understand that as pointed out - some were just for show as bearing swords, not all were intended to harm.

oddly, in my experience someone ignorant of a sword believes them to be more dangerous than a rife. never mention you make knives or have a bunch on them on a first date - or second - or third - best get to know the girl at first lol. Big Grin

i also tend to think of a sword as a tool, all be it of war, or ceremony. but today i think it has a deeper meaning as a tool that symbolizes your link with the past. weather you study history professionally, or you just dabble at it here and there, if you walk into a room and see a A&A, albion, something that you know is not 'wall hanger' you know this is a student of history in one way or another.

i started to collect knives when i was 14, and it's grown into something beyond what collecting should be. i now find myself more than just someone who wants to grab up a new blade every year, i want to know how their made, how they were used and why.

this has been blooming into a hoppy that i can hopefully build upon one day. what was once an interest has now become a practice. i'm no longer just reading about how blades were made, i'm attempting it myself. as this grows i'm hopeful to get a little of my own work out there once i'm confident in it.

i look at a sword and other than appreciating it's construction i want to understand its use, i so read fiore, and talhoffer. and to use the sword gives it another dimension. like stepping into a Rembrant, Picasso of whatever work of art you put on your wall. the idea of the sword being a part of you is realized in its use.

the sword has consumed me, it had sparked my historical intrest, littature, and has driven me as a craftsman and artist since i was a kid. and in my own way i still want to be the knight in shining armor. like a Gawain!
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Sun 25 Mar, 2012 5:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
If you restrict the term to only refer to blades intended to harm another person then nothing made today would be classed as a sword since they are not made with that purpose in mind..


In the sense that a sword designed for a Medieval battlefield ( Or any other historical period when they where in use ) is an anachronism you are correct that no sword today is really designed for actual fighting, except maybe for " so-called " tactical swords that are mostly used in one's imagination than by actual combatants except in extremely rare or limited cases.

Being an anachronism doesn't mean that one can't design and make a sword that if one could go back in time would be an excellent weapon of choice if one's life depended on it.

Intention being limited to actual likelihood of being used as opposed to being designed that they could be used: The first is historical present day context while the other is physical qualities independent of having a need to use it. ( Where talking about use here not rare but possible criminal abuse, and even then any sharpened crowbar would do as no real skill would be needed or any special qualities that where needed in period for a weapon to be considered a good weapon )

So one can still design something to be optimum for an activity that no longer occurs and prioritize handling and define what makes a sword or more importantly a good sword !

A bad sword could be defined as making fighting with it less likely to be successful against an equal opponent using a good sword and tilting the odds against one.

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sun 25 Mar, 2012 6:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

My point is that it is impossible to define "sword". No matter how you go about it you either exclude some items that should be classed as swords or you include items that aren't really swords. I have my own definition and it is basically "I know one when I see one" but I can't describe it except in terms that always turn out to be unsatisfactory.
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Anders Backlund




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PostPosted: Sun 25 Mar, 2012 6:18 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would define a sword as: "A weapon intended to be used for swordsmanship, or any close intentional representation of such a weapon."
The sword is an ode to the strife of mankind.

"This doesn't look easy... but I bet it is!"
-Homer Simpson.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sun 25 Mar, 2012 6:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That's a cop out. First you have to define "weapon" and "swordsmanship".
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Anders Backlund




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PostPosted: Sun 25 Mar, 2012 6:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ah, but if so, first you must define "cop out" and "define."
The sword is an ode to the strife of mankind.

"This doesn't look easy... but I bet it is!"
-Homer Simpson.
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William P




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PostPosted: Mon 26 Mar, 2012 1:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

also at what point does a dagger become a sword?

and some swords dont have edges, like the estoc, which is essentially a gigantic steel needle on a sword handle.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Mon 26 Mar, 2012 3:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Anders Backlund wrote:
Ah, but if so, first you must define "cop out" and "define."

Are theatre props swords? Do Highland dancers use swords? What about masonic ceremonial devices? None of these involve swordsmanship nor are they weapons.
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Johan Gemvik




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PostPosted: Mon 26 Mar, 2012 5:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A real sword is designed and manufactured to be a functional and deadly weapon in the form of a cutting and/or thrusting inclined blade.

IMO though one doesn't belittle real swords or falsely name the object if one calls a fake used for ceremonial purposes a ceremonial masonic sword or similar things. We have to call it something and everyday people would see it as a sword since it looks like, or aguably is the same iconic type of object, just lacking part of all of the deadly effect to it.

To separate real from fake I usually call the real swords "sharps" or the full "real sharp swords".

"The Dwarf sees farther than the Giant when he has the giant's shoulder to mount on" -Coleridge
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Artis Aboltins




PostPosted: Mon 26 Mar, 2012 5:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, with regards to ceremonial swords - at least some of those are just as real a weapon if used as such, as non-ceremonial ones. I have seen at least one, made by Peter Johnsson up close, and well it is as real a sword as any other... so it is not a good idea, IMO, to lump all ceremonial swords into one huge heap marked by sign "useless trash vaguely sword-like objects."
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Sam Barris




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PostPosted: Mon 26 Mar, 2012 6:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It has been many a year since I lifted my first sword from its box in awe. It was from Museum Replicas, which at the time offered the best replicas of which I was aware. Still, even at the time something about it felt off. It did not feel like it wanted to move. My understanding of the techniques of the longsword were limited to John Clements' Medieval Swordsmanship, as well of a bit of fencing and kendo I'd picked up here and there. Not much to work with, but enough to know that something vital was missing from the weapon I'd purchased, and that bothered me, even though I was certain that the "weapon" would never see actual violence.

Years later, I drew my first Albion from its box and it was as if I'd reached the end of a Zen parable; "And in that moment, he was Enlightened." Yeah, that's the stuff. I've gone on to have similar experiences with other Albion, A&A and Bugei swords, as well as a fantastic custom falchion from you, Michael. I am very fortunate in that respect. Still, these weapons will also never see actual violence, though I'm certain any faults they might exhibit in said act would be entirely due to the shortcomings of the wielder.

I have carried two blades in the course of my military duties: a Bugei Hissatsu and my Navy dress saber. The Hissatsu was never drawn in anger (a good thing, that!), and the dress saber was obviously only worn on a few occasions as an accessory to my uniform. So in answering your question, I confess that I don't exactly know what makes a sword a sword. My dress saber is a gaudy wall-hanger by any standard. Superfluous male jewelry much like my ribbons and medals. Yet it is the only sword I own that still maintains a militarily legitimate role in the world, and I refuse to give it less than its due in that context. Heck, in that context it may well be the only real sword I own, and perhaps my Svante is merely an expensive toy for a boy who once found himself with more money than he knew what to do with. I don't like thinking this, because my Svante is utterly and completely magnificent, and my appreciation for it has only deepened in the years since it entered my collection. The same goes for every blade through which I have gained a tiny flash of insight into the mystery of swordness. Even my old Museum Replicas beater (not that I ever used it thus) is now viewed through a lens of fond nostalgia of a time when WMA was still in the process of being born, when Hank's breathless enthusiasm about distil taper seemed like high alchemy to a certain young man who was once me.

Maybe they're all swords, in their own way. Even the crappy ones. Happy

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
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Michael Pikula
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PostPosted: Mon 26 Mar, 2012 8:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Paul Hansen wrote:

Your definition of a sword as:
Quote:
When reduced to its original intent, a sword is a tool. A tool that acts as an extension of ones body that is used in a martial form to inflict a wound, or fear, in an opponent.
misses an important aspect, in my opinion.

A great many swords were originally intended as bearing swords, ceremonial swords, dress swords, symbolic swords or even religious swords. Some of these may have been dual purpose: a former battle sword turned ceremonial, or a dress sword that was occasionally used in combat (usually dueling or self-defense, I guess). Others were clearly made never to be used in combat.


I completely agree Paul, In my eyes the original intent was referring to when someone decided that making a sharp thing of metal to fight with, and that swords directly draw their design from that element. If the sword is made as a ceremonial sword then on some level the sword is a symbol or a representation of some aspect of its use as a martial weapon.

I also agree with Dan, I don't think there is one set answer. It is nice to hear what these objects are to us in a more philosophical way.
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Mon 26 Mar, 2012 8:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Coming to agreement on this will be as easy as agreeing on the definitions of "historical accuracy," "good value/price," or "best sword." Happy We all have different needs and purposes in collecting these things, ideas that have been discussed in other threads.

For me, the item must look and function as a period item would, despite the fact that I'll never face off with some uppity Saxon hordes. Happy I have tools in my toolbox that I bought in case I need them. They're still tools even if I haven't used them yet. A screwdriver is a screwdriver to me even if it has never driven a screw in. Defining something by its intended use invalidates it until it is used in its intended fashion. It's like saying a screwdriver is not a screwdriver once it's made, packaged, shipped, displayed at a store, and bought but only after someone has used it. Using that definition, does something ever stop being a tool? If I use a screwdriver once and never again, was it only a tool while it turned righty-tighty, lefty-loosey and not before or after? I think not. Happy

For me, tools (including swords) are defined by how well they are capable of performing their intended function when, if ever, called upon to do so. How well they capture the spirit of their forebears in form and functionality. I'm less concerned with modern materials and methods as it's difficult to find smiths that use period materials and techniques exclusively (no electricity allowed! Happy ).

Happy

ChadA

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Anders Backlund




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PostPosted: Mon 26 Mar, 2012 3:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

William P wrote:
also at what point does a dagger become a sword?


When it's intended to be used as one.

Dan Howard wrote:
Are theatre props swords?


Well, not all of them. Some of them are chairs or stuff. But yeah, some are swords.

Quote:
Do Highland dancers use swords?


It happens.

Quote:
What about masonic ceremonial devices?


...If you wanted to find a Masonic sword, would you actually google: "masonic ceremonial devices"?

Quote:
None of these involve swordsmanship nor are they weapons.


Hence: "or any close intentional representation of such a weapon."

The sword is an ode to the strife of mankind.

"This doesn't look easy... but I bet it is!"
-Homer Simpson.
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