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Thread: "Battle Ready"

  1. #1

    "Battle Ready"

    Here's a question, and it has nothing to do with the use of the terms "Battle Ready" or "Combat Ready" by sellers of swords -

    How well did swords hold up in actual combat?

    I was just reading a thread on the beginner's forum that recommended removing the thick plastic bottle caps from water bottles when cutting for fear of chipping the blade.

    plastic. bottle. caps.

    that got me thinking - How did these weapons hold together long enough in actual battlefield conditions, against armored opponents, to inflict real damage?

    Contrast to swords chipping on bottle caps, I had read a story from WWII (which may have been propaganda) about two Japanese officers competing in a beheading contest in China, supposedly severing over 100 heads each with their family swords. I'm assuming that this is unrealistic; if a bottle cap can chip a sword, wouldn't a vertebrae do that much more damage? Or were these "battle tested" swords somehow more durable or resistant to abuse?

    Basically, to boil down the question: If katana are so fragile, how did they get their reputation as the uber-weapon? Not having done any actual cutting (yet) I can't help but be curious about this.

    peace.

  2. #2
    First, katana were not meant for edge on edge contact. If blocking were to be done it would be on the side of the blade and more of a deflection. Ideally, the rule goal was "one cut, one kill" and avoiding all sword to sword contact.

    Another thing to consider is edge geometry. The apple seed shape profile of a katana gives ample edge support to avoid chipping. Thinner sharper flatter profile blades have become common in the modern production katana, especially in the less expensive lines. Many modern katana have a "competition" profile designed to cut primarily mats. The blade is wide and thin with a narrow edge angle and little, if any, niku. Thin hardened blades do chip more often then blades with full niku which can withstand harder targets.

    Considering the fact that traditional blades were up against real armor and survived, it stands to reason that their geometry was probably quite different then the ones you hear about cutting water bottles today.

  3. #3
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    What Mark said. The swords on battle field were very different from the ones seen today.

    Besides, the bottle cap warning is posted to keep beginners' blades safe. I've cut dozens of bottle caps and have yet to chip any of my blades (including Hanwei Practicals which have zero niku).
    Certified nerd; if you need an Excel sheet or an AutoCAD drawing done, just drop me a PM!

  4. #4
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    Edge Chipping Out ?

    If a blade chipped out on bottle caps i would not want it..for it was not properly heat treated.

    Was not the armour of the day back then leather on leather or clay ? rather than metal that europe used?

    The bit on the 100 plus beheadings id say was not uncommon.

    Chele

    Damascus Bladesmith
    ABS 1988-2009
    USMC+USA vet

  5. #5
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    PR, Advertiseing and gullible people

    Quote Originally Posted by Chuck S. View Post
    Basically, to boil down the question: If katana are so fragile, how did they get their reputation as the uber-weapon? Not having done any actual cutting (yet) I can't help but be curious about this.

    peace.
    HYPE. Pure and simple HYPE. The Japanes steel wasnt then nor has it ever been better then European steel. Nor were the smiths any better. Their refinement technique had to be good in order to turn the poor quality iron into a good enuf product to make a decent blade. But the idea that they were so much better then Euro blades is fallacious at best.
    "Do not suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberty by any pretences of politeness, delicacy or decency.
    These, as they are often used, are but three names for hypocrisy, chicanery, and cowardice.” John Adams, 1789

    "Everything the enemy least expects will succeed the best."

    Frederick the Great 1747

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Arik Estus View Post
    HYPE. Pure and simple HYPE. The Japanes steel wasnt then nor has it ever been better then European steel. Nor were the smiths any better. Their refinement technique had to be good in order to turn the poor quality iron into a good enuf product to make a decent blade. But the idea that they were so much better then Euro blades is fallacious at best.
    And, of course, vice-versa.

    This topic seems to be one of those persistent zombie dead horses that resurrect for another beating once in a while.

    The image of the katana being unbreakable or fragile as porcelain are both useless exaggerations/uneducated misunderstandings. The truth is, as always, somewhere in the middle; with a grain of salt that a significant range of quality, style, and durability still existed depending on the era and skill of the smith, etc.

    And, actually, Japanese armor made substantial use of iron and iron plates and even chain mail, as well as bamboo and leather and silk, etc. Here, too, we should avoid thinking of any armor as indestructible or fragile as cardboard. In any case, surely the scarcity of quality metals and physical stamina influenced the design and choice of materials (typical traditional yoroi that I've seen on average weighed 75+ lbs alone without any other gear). But the more important factor was the styles of swordsmanship and spearsmanship that required a great deal of freedom in the range of motion (both in wide arcs and also more subtle ones)--to allow speed, agility, and accuracy--in order to be maximally effective.

    In any case, the durability or usefulness of any sword anywhere is as much a function of HOW you cut as WHAT you cut. That is, there is a good reason why that advice about bottle caps was found in the beginner's forum. Big difference between chopping/hacking and cutting. The same violin that can produce beautiful music will, in a beginner's hands, sound like cats being declawed without anesthetic.
    "It is my feeling that to make a good sword, one must make a weapon first, and art second. But if it is really "right", it is both things at once, and in equal measure." -- Howard Clark

    "I cannot compensate for improper use of a sword. Nothing is bullet proof and idiots prove on a regular basis that nothing is idiot-proof -- they're just too creative." -- Keith Larman

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Michele Marie von Bergen View Post
    If a blade chipped out on bottle caps i would not want it..for it was not properly heat treated.

    Was not the armour of the day back then leather on leather or clay ? rather than metal that europe used?

    The bit on the 100 plus beheadings id say was not uncommon.

    Chele

    Damascus Bladesmith
    ABS 1988-2009
    USMC+USA vet
    Ms Von Bergen, not certain what your source of information is on Japanese yoroi, or armour, but as a long time resident of Japan and an avid museum patron/History buff I cannot think of a single suit of armour made of leather and clay, at least not in the hundereds of suits I have seen. Most yoroi was steel or iron plate with silk and leather to keep it together light armour was bamboo. My main interest was in Heian period through Tokugawa and I am certain that earlier periods may have used far simpler forms of armour but then, they didn't have what we would today call katana ie steel swords back then either.

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