Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Sword is the Best Weapon

This is part of a series I did for an online writing/roleplaying site. It may be of interest to those of you who write in historical and/or fantasy settings. I'm reproducing it here because, well... mainly because I'd like to update the blog, but I don't have time to produce something new. Most likely I will throw out some articles on other weapons in the near future.

A note on terminology: “Singlesword” in this context refers to a one-handed sword with a straight, double-edged blade. Sword classifications are a bit difficult under the best of circumstances; the modern terms aren’t very precise, and the historical usages are even more varied. For information on sword classifications and terminology, I’d suggest Ewart Oakeshott’s Records of the Medieval Sword. Christopher Amberger’s The Secret History of the Sword is also highly recommended. For our purposes here, I’m simply going to define my terms as I go.

The singlesword is absolutely the best weapon you can use. It is the sidearm of the medieval world: a versatile, dependable weapon that you can hang on your belt when you aren’t using it. You can use it anywhere: indoors, outdoors, in a battlefield formation, or in single combat. Its portability makes it an ideal backup weapon for archers and crossbowmen. The one-handed grip makes it an obvious candidate for dual wielding, with either a dagger or another sword. Using a shield or buckler in the off hand was more popular historically, and for good reason: it improved your chances of survival dramatically. (I’ll discuss the relative merits of dual wielding and shield use some other time.)

There is a common misconception that these swords were heavy, clumsy choppers. This is simply untrue. Singleswords are elegant weapons with sophisticated fighting systems attached to them. In China, the straight sword is considered more noble than the saber; it’s more subtle and sophisticated. The knightly sword of medieval Europe held a similar status. (The Japanese, by contrast, consider the katana – a curved, single-edged sword – to be the pinnacle of swordsmanship; this seems to be the exception rather than the rule.)

While different designs will favor slightly different balances of technique, all singleswords can be used for cutting, thrusting, slicing, and chopping as needed. That gives you a lot of options in a fight.

Study the sword. Learn the sword. Love the sword. Teach your enemies to fear your sword.

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