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Thread: Sword Fighters of British India

  1. #26
    Matt,
    Would you mind pasting your review to this thread?

    Thank you,
    Jonathan

  2. #27
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  3. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by L. Braden View Post
    I can comment on his observation that "some of the weapons shown in the images are neither British nor Indian". True; but not every Briton or Indian was armed with a British or Indian sword, regulation or otherwise.
    My complaint is more that the author has taken images from Marey's treatise, out of context and without citation or accompanying text. A page showing the French heavy cavalry, light cavalry and mounted artillery swords is not really useful for the reader, nor appropriate to the swords discussed in the book. The less informed reader would not even know that these swords were French, or that they were for those branches of the French Army respecitively. That page could have been better dedicated to a picture of British or Indian swords.

    since these books were probably intended mostly for those interested in or knowledgeable about swordsmanship, he probably assumed that such terminology would be understandable.
    That is a fair comment. Though I think that in several cases the author himself did not understand what the sources he was quoting were saying. But that's fine - I'm glad he included them!

    Matt

  4. #29

    Swordsmen of the Raj

    I've read Matt's excellent, fair, and balanced review, and have little to comment on other than that I don't think the author pretends to be a technical expert re swords and swordsmanship, but only a commentator based on the evidence, since his other books indicate that he's essentially an historian--and one, as Matt noted, who was clever enough to write two unique first-of-their-kind books. Despite the overwhelming evidence, fencers may think that he unfairly sides with the anti-pointers; but his books are not about fencing per se; and I can't emphasize too much that fencing and military sword fighting were not always one and the same, as swordmaster Matthew J. O'Rourke was careful to emphasize, if for no other reason than that fencers generally used the same weapons and techniques; whereas in military combat, especially in Asia and Africa, any number of weapons and techniques were encountered.

    I'm informed that the changes in title and formatting were due to changes in Lulu's distribution and ISBN services, that the text is the same in each edition, but that there are more illustrations in the second and third editions, and that there will be no changes to SWORD FIGHTERS OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE.

  5. #30

    Kinsley's Books

    My attention was called to this review of Sword Fighters of British India in the Books section of Amazon.com:
    "Great history of historical sword use in India, October 1, 2009, by Charlie Lurp [who, by his other reviews, appears to be a weapons aficionado]. The best documented reference on edged weapon combat during the Indian rebellion I have run across. It also contains an excellent collection of period illustrations from various sources." Gives it 5 stars.
    Evidently, in an age obsessed with high definition, there are some left who are not concerned about image resolution. However, in the case of K's books, the problem is more with the paper than with the original images, which do not always transfer well on certain paper surfaces unless they are line drawings, which a number of the images are. But even some of the paintings reproduced reasonably well, so I'm not one to fuss.
    As far as I can determine, all of the quotes are accurate. But as K. noted in the intro to the first book, they have in many cases been edited down without the distraction of ellipses, without changing their meaning, and without any interpolations except in brackets--which is more than you can say for the originals, many of which were subjected to the editorial license of 19th-century publishers, as I have discovered over the years. Just compare manuscript to printed copies, or even various printed copies!
    Finally, numerous British swords are depicted in Sword Fighters of the British Empire. Are we to believe that Brits never used French swords, when they used those of Germany and other countries? The evidence says "No". But maybe K. should have avoided depicting them in that first book.
    Last edited by L. Braden; 11-12-2009 at 10:35 AM.

  6. #31
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    I'd be interested to see an example of a British Officer using a standard issue French or German sword (as opposed to a British design sword with a German made blade). It seems that many Officers of the time considered French and German blades to be inferior to the best English blades. Spanish and Italian blades seem to have been regarded as better.

    I find it interesting that the majority of reviewers did not seem to realise that most of these images come from Colonel Marey's treatise (he was a Frenchman). You can obtain a copy of that treatise through Ken Trotman books.

    Matt

  7. #32
    You don't have to buy the Colonel's book; you can access it for free via Google Book Search.

    As part of the problem, I'm sorry that so much nit-picking attention is being paid to books that are of very limited interest, even to those who frequent this forum, and which don't even claim to be sword-specialist publications, but are merely collections of combat narratives and commentaries. How appropriate the illustrations and the author's opinions are is a matter of individual opinion based on whatever evidence or logic that individual may have; and I, for one, hope we can all agree not to agree (if that's the case)and just move on to some other (futile?) debate.

  8. #33
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    I don't understand why you are being so defensive of someone else's book.

    Would you prefer if we didn't offer any criticism at all?

    Facts:
    - Half the book is made of illustrations, and they are of poor resolution, uncited and sometimes irrelevant.
    - The author does make a few incorrect statements.
    - Despite these flaws, the book contains loads of really useful information.

    These are facts, not points of debate.

    Now stop getting your knickers in a twist.

    Matt
    p.s. If you are in fact Mr.Kinsley, posting here under a pseudonim, then congratulations on the books!
    Last edited by Matt Easton; 11-12-2009 at 01:32 PM.

  9. #34
    Matt:
    For the information of those who are interested,
    what do you perceive to be "a few incorrect statements"?
    Thanks and Best Regards!

  10. #35
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    Examples pulled out at random:

    "The best steel blades were made in India, because no finer steel was ever produced than that for Indian sword blades."
    Completely subjective statement, and misleading at best.

    "In fact the Indian tulwar was the prototype for the European sabre."
    Questionable at very best, completely wrong at worst. Most types of European sabre trace their ancestry back to Eastern European and Middle Eastern types. The tulwar is distinct by a disc pommel which dictates the way it is used, which no European sabre has.

    "Swordsmanship was an ancient sport in India, and many of the techniques of European sword play originated there."
    Categorically incorrect. There is no European sword technique which can be traced to Indian swordsmanship. European swordsmanship is documented back to the 13thC with technical illustrated sources - Indian swordsmanhip is only documented in lose text in the Shasta Videra and other general treatises and bears no known relation to European swordsmanship. The methods of 19thC European military swordsmanship have no known relation to Indian gatka or other Indian sword arts.

    It is in these moments of personal opinionating and subjective reasoning that the author falls down a bit, presumably due to a slight lack of background knowledge. Of course the majority of the book is made of quotes from subjective primary sources, by people who were 'there' - and these are where the real value of the work lies.

    Once again I'll repeat for you, despite the cautions I give above, and in my review, I still highly recommend this book and commend the author for compiling the material.

    Matt

  11. #36
    Matt:
    Thanks indeed for your reply!
    Re the original Indian steel, I recall reading accounts of its reputed superiority in the notes to Col. Yule's "Marco Polo" and in other sources on the history of steel (by Googling "indian steel"); but some sources thought that 19th-cent. Indian steel was inferior even to the much-maligned Birmingham and Sheffield steels of that period, which was what gave Wilkinson their "edge" in the market.
    Sir Frederick Pollock was among those who credited tulwars and scimitars with being the original sabres, but in blade shape only, not hilts, as you noted.
    I don't know if K. was referring only to Indian cutting techniques and what his source(s) are/were for that statement.
    In any case, thanks again for the info!

  12. #37
    I've located what may be the sources for two of the statements:
    "Late in the eighteenth century, an excessively curved light cavalry sabre (apparently copied with close fidelity from an Indian model) was introduced throughout the armies of Europe. It was the weapon of our light dragoons all through the Peninsular and Waterloo campaigns." Frederick Pollock, "The Forms and History of the Sword," Macmillian's Magazine, v. 48, 1883, pp. 206-7. Note that he doesn't attribute it to the Mameluke sabre or Turkish/Persian scimitar.
    "The sword-blades of India had a great fame over the East, and Indian steel, according to esteemed authorities, continued to be imported into Persia till days quite recent. Its fame goes back to very old times. ... Edrisi says on this subject: 'The Hindus excel in the manufacture of iron. ... They also have workshops wherein are forged the most famous sabres in the world. ... It is impossible to find anything to surpass the edge that you get from Indian Steel.' Allusions to the famous sword-blades of India would seem to be frequent in Arabic literature." Col. Sir Henry Yule, The Book of Ser Marco Polo, v. 1, pp. 93-6. There's much more in these notes! (To be cont'd.)

  13. #38
    "A very limited amount of steel, but of most excellent quality, is still made in India (called Indian or Wootz steel). ... From this steel, the celebrated Indian sword blades were made, than which no finer tool steel has ever been produced." "Manufacture of Steel," International Library of Technology, v. 18, 1902, p. 33
    "Out of this wootz, ... the finest Indian sword-blades are made, the wonderful temper of which, as those of Damascus, is the despair of European cutlers." John Percy, "Metallurgy," The Quarterly Review, v. 120, 1866, p. 88. However, according to another source, Wilkinson was able to duplicate this wootz.
    "From this steel, the celebrated Indian sword blades were fashioned. No finer tool steel has ever been made." James Drake Littlefield, Notes For Forge Shop Practice, 1910, p. 52.
    "History tells us ... that from this steel the celebrated Indian sword blades were fashioned and no finer tool steel has ever been made." The Blacksmiths Journal, v. 22, 1920, p. 71.
    Now, we have only to determine what influence, if any, that Indian swordplay had on Europeans.

  14. #39
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    I'm sorry, but no.

    Just because some authorities considered Indian steel to be 'the best ever made', does not make it hard scientific fact now.

    Secondly, you have provided a historical source stating that European sabres were based on tulwars, but clearly the author of that view was wrong. Repeating a wrong assertion does not make it correct.

    L.Braden, I don't really understand why you have made it your mission to try and defend the author at any cost? Why does it trouble you to accept that the author got a couple of things wrong? Many historical authors get a couple of things wrong... It's not a great failure.

  15. #40
    Believe what you will!

  16. #41
    You can certainly find any number of other references that will say the "finest" sword steel came from Japan. But then the 19th century Indians and Japanese never met on the battle field so I guess we will never know.

    I tend to take any one's claim to the finest steel, sharpest edge, strongest blade etc. with a grain of salt.

  17. #42
    I received this book as a gift in January, and it was purchased through Amazon with no problems. I am nearly finished reading it so I thought I would chime-in briefly. I agree with the criticisms of the book, but I feel its value far outweighs its flaws. No other publication (aside form others by the same author) offers such a comprehensive assemblage of primary source accounts of the use of the sword in battle (in the context of British India). I recommend this title to anyone with an interest in military swords and swordsmanship or with an interest in details of the fierce hand-to-hand fighting that took place. I look forward to reading the other titles in the "Sword Fighters..." series. I would love to see this (maybe paired with the author's other sword related offerings) re-published by a true publisher, offering higher quality images with captions, more accurate images of British swords of the period, and an editor to help catch typos and other small errors in the text. Maybe there is not a market for such a book, but one can dream.
    Last edited by J.G. Hopkins; 04-21-2010 at 12:48 PM.

  18. #43
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    Quote Originally Posted by L. Braden View Post
    Thomas Powers:
    The "blunt swords" accusation, even when it was GENERALLY without foundation but just an accuse for poor swordsmanship or whatever, has been documented in Kinsley's books. Perhaps I should have better worded it "According to certain 'authorities', Europeans had a long history of blunt swords"! I don't know any more about it than what's on record; but Kinsley DOES point out that the amount of "execution" done by European swords (e.g., at Waterloo and Balaklava) belied the accusation of such critics and observers as war correspondent W. H. Russell.

    Europeans never had "a long history of blunt swords"; on the contrary, since Ancient times, various European cultures were able to produce excellent swords with fine cutting edges. We read numerous accounts of the devastating cutting capacity of Iberian, Celtic, and Roman swords, among others. The Ancient Iberians in particular were known for their great skills in producing swords with varying degrees of carbon in the blade, that could take a very fine edge, and deliver brutal, limb-severing cuts.

    The same goes for later European swords for the Darks Ages onwards. Both the Frankish & Viking pattern-welded blades, as well as later homgenous steel swords, could take a really good edge. A.V.B. Norman--a man who was certainly extremely familiar with European swords--once wrote:

    One sometimes reads that the medieval sword was a clumsy weapon, blunt and unwieldy. No one who had ever held a genuine sword in his hand could say that, since they feel so perfectly designed for their purpose as soon as one's hand closes round the grip. The few still in their original condition are very sharp indeed. (emphasis added)

    Things apparently changed somewhat during the Industrial Revolution, and standard pattern military swords (cavalry sabers, naval cutlasses, et al) were, according to J. Christoph Amberger, not sharpened until a unit was actually mobilized for war. However, once mobilized, such a unit could execute great damage with those newly-sharpened swords--eg., look at the exploits of the King's German Legion, during the Napoleonic Wars.
    "Pray forget not to have your Broad-Sword, made according to my Pattern; for the Parliment has, and it will with your Postures in my wrestling-Book, cut the Small-Sword out of fashion" --Sir Thomas Parkyns, to Lord Thomas Manners, 1720


    "We begin with the Small-Sword, which we must allow to be the nearest Inlet to the relative Arts, and when we are upon the Back-Sword, their near Affinity will appear more clearly." --Captain John Godfrey, Treatise Upon the Useful Science of Defence, 1747

  19. #44
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steven Dick View Post

    About all these people being "clove from crown to teeth" and "clove from head to belt." Are these exaggerations? Several references have examples of skulls from medieval battle fields showing head wounds from what would probably have been much larger blades. Frankly, I always been surprised at how little damage was done to the bone. None come close to being clove from crown to teeth.

    There is plenty of archeological and literary evidence, that shows the great cutting capacity of swords and other edged weapons. In Ancient times, both the gladius and falcata were known for being able to sever limbs, something that especially disturbed the Macedonians. Archeological evidence from Ancient and Medieval battlefields (eg., Maiden Castle, Wisbey, Towton, et al) shows split skulls, severed legs, and other devastating injuries.

    And in 1599, English swordsman George Silver described swordcut injuries very matter-of-factly:

    But the blow (cut) being strongly made, takes sometimes clean away the hand from the arm, has many times been seen. Again, a full blow upon the head or face with a short sharp sword, is most commonly death. A full blow upon the neck, shoulder, arm, or leg, endangers life, cuts off the veins, muscles, and sinews, perishes the bones. These wounds made by the blow, in respect of perfect healing, are the loss of limbs, or maims incurable forever.
    "Pray forget not to have your Broad-Sword, made according to my Pattern; for the Parliment has, and it will with your Postures in my wrestling-Book, cut the Small-Sword out of fashion" --Sir Thomas Parkyns, to Lord Thomas Manners, 1720


    "We begin with the Small-Sword, which we must allow to be the nearest Inlet to the relative Arts, and when we are upon the Back-Sword, their near Affinity will appear more clearly." --Captain John Godfrey, Treatise Upon the Useful Science of Defence, 1747

  20. #45
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    Blunt and sharp

    Perhaps chiming in a bit late here, but I believe the whole blunt western sword legend derives from two sources. One, the difference between an old relic western sword, and a still in use eastern weapon. The other the later 19thC army sword, where it was a chargeable offence to sharpen it without permission.
    There are other things going on, the change to Bessemer steel instead of Double Shear steel, and a change in sharpening techniques as a result, stone instead of file sharpening.
    Of interest, at a meeting at RA Leeds an original oficers sword of the army in India was produced, with a custom blade very like the old 1790s light cavalry blade, though with official patt. hilt. More often that not though, officers went for the enlisted patt. hilt as being more robust than the officers patt.

  21. #46
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    Quote Originally Posted by J.G. Hopkins View Post
    I agree with the criticisms of the book, but I feel its value far outweighs its flaws.
    I completely agree Jonathan. I recently purchased the latest compilation and I am very happy to have it, it is an indispensible collection of sources. The parts where the author gets things a bit muddled do not bother me greatly, though I would be more than happy to help him clarify some points if I knew how to contact him (or her). I also would love to see these works compiled, organised and laid out better and published by a 'proper' publisher.
    Regardless, I recommend these books to just about everybody I talk to.

    Regards,
    Matt

  22. #47
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    Good point Matt, you could clarify points or the author could join this forum and iron out the details if he was willing to take the time. The only problem I have with inaccuracies is the repetition of them by less versed sword enthusiasts and using these books as a reference for fact. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to explain why something in writing is inaccurate. People tend to believe what they read, just like what was on the news last night. I strongly agree, the pictures can be greatly improved, though I think cost was a deciding factor, but with modern methods it still could have been better. Possibly a reprint combining volumes and improving previous points mentioned could be a profitable venture!

  23. #48

    Availability of Kinsley's books

    I see that all but one (the first) of the 7 books that were listed in amazon and ebay are now suddenly and inexplicably available only from their original source, lulu.com, which makes me suspect that this might be the beginning of the end of their availability anywhere else but in the used-book market.
    Last edited by L. Braden; 01-14-2011 at 10:35 AM.

  24. #49
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    They will remain available on Lulu for as long as the author wills it though, surely?

    I have ordered all my copies from Lulu and received excellent and quick service (quicker than Amazon!).

    Matt

  25. #50
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    What are the titles of the other books other than sword fighters of India and Britain? I did not realize there are seven by the author.

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