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Thread: Sword science/myths

  1. #1
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    Sword science/myths

    Hi guys,

    I'm wondering if the smart people here can assist me? I know that sword myths have been discussed before, but I've been through past threads and haven't found what I'm after.

    I am looking for science and/or myths relating to swords or armour that I could use with high school students. I have a few ideas but I'm looking for any smart ideas that people here might have. Something with a bit of a mythbusters feel to it would be good, but equally, a straight forward, "what's the physics behind this?" phenomenon might be cool too.

    Any help will be appreciated.

    Cheers
    Stephen

  2. You know the chestnuts, of course, but for other interested parties:

    Edward II had a sword so heavy it two men to lift it...

    ALWAYS parry with your shield and NEVER parry with your sword - you will break it...

    Okay, so when shields went out they ONLY PARRIED WITH THE FLAT, because an unnotched edge was apparently more valuable than your life...

    Craig Johnson has done a survey of the research into the metalurgy of period weapons and come up with some interesting observations. He and I have had several conversations about it all, but for fear of my getting it wrong and creating new myths, I suggest you contact him directly. (I just use the things...)

    Sean
    Sean Hayes, Maestro d'armi
    Northwest Fencing Academy

    Chivalric Fighting Arts Association
    San Jose Fencing Masters Program Examination Board

    One should never confuse the rules of a competition with the rules of an art.

    People talk a lot about speed, but not very much about control, safety, tactics, and trying to get close to the reality of sharps. When simulating sharp fights, how fast one charges in depends on how quickly one would like to die.


  3. #3
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    Here's a few I've picked up over the years:

    The channel down the middle of a sword was to let the blood drain away after you had impaled someone on it, which made it easier to remove from the body.

    Medieval swords didn't have sharp edges, and were actually bludgeoning tools used to break armour.

    Knights had to be winched onto their horses, because armour was so heavy they couldn't mount by themselves.

    Medieval combat relied solely on strength, where the biggest warriors normally won.

    Medieval swords didn't have points and were useless for thrusting.

    Only the richest knights could afford swords.


    Hope that helps for now - I'll probably think of more!

    Cheers,

    Bob
    Bob Brooks
    Marshal of the School,
    Hotspur School of Defence

    "There are four D's which I never refuse: A Dinner, a Duel, a Drink and a fair Dame!"
    - Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890)

    "I worship the Prince of Peace ... not the Prince of Pre-emptive War.
    - Former US President Jimmy Carter

    "May I ask one more question?" said one of my friends. "I have often heard it said that if you don't know much about fencing the best thing to do is, as soon as you come on guard, to make a sudden rush at the other man before he has time to collect himself."
    "Well," I replied, "if you wish to make sure of being incurably spitted, that is the most infallible way to set about it."

    - Baron Cesar de Bazancourt, Secrets of the Sword, The Tenth Evening XII.

  4. #4
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    Oh, yes ....

    "Two-handed swords were used in a style like swinging a baseball bat ..." - that actually came from an academic historian!

    Bob
    Bob Brooks
    Marshal of the School,
    Hotspur School of Defence

    "There are four D's which I never refuse: A Dinner, a Duel, a Drink and a fair Dame!"
    - Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890)

    "I worship the Prince of Peace ... not the Prince of Pre-emptive War.
    - Former US President Jimmy Carter

    "May I ask one more question?" said one of my friends. "I have often heard it said that if you don't know much about fencing the best thing to do is, as soon as you come on guard, to make a sudden rush at the other man before he has time to collect himself."
    "Well," I replied, "if you wish to make sure of being incurably spitted, that is the most infallible way to set about it."

    - Baron Cesar de Bazancourt, Secrets of the Sword, The Tenth Evening XII.

  5. #5
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    Hmm, quenching in blood.
    Unsophisticated metallurgy and smithing techniques (no "folding").
    Movie (Flynn/Anderson) rapier vs actual rapier in terms of speed and suchlike.
    Most of the others I can think of have been covered.
    It takes more than combat gear to make a man.
    Takes more than a license for a gun.
    Sting - Englishman in New York

    DUEL, n.
    A formal ceremony preliminary to the reconciliation of two enemies. Great skill is necessary to its satisfactory observance; if awkwardly performed the most unexpected and deplorable consequences sometimes ensue. A long time ago a man lost his life in a duel.
    Ambrose Bierce - The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Brooks View Post
    Here's a few I've picked up over the years:

    The channel down the middle of a sword was to let the blood drain away after you had impaled someone on it, which made it easier to remove from the body.
    Or that it was designed to produce a vacume inside the body, and increase blood flow out of the wound when withdrawn.

    Also, I have encountered a large number of people who confuse the smallsword simulation of sport fencing with the Rapier, because they are both thrusting swords.

    Another myth seems to be the pure expence of swords. It has been shown to me many times by the good people on this forum that swords were not quite so hard to come by as many seem to beleive.
    1

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Brooks View Post
    Knights had to be winched onto their horses, because armour was so heavy they couldn't mount by themselves.
    This os a good one. I think 'The Once and Future King' is more than a little to blame for this. Read that book and you'll find pretty much all the myths you could not wish for.
    The increased attention necessarily paid by the men to the use of the sword, was soon found to inspire them with proportional confidence in their personal dexterity, whilst it led at the same time to the most successful course of instruction in horsemanship that has yet been adopted, as without skill in management of the horse, no proficiency could be attained in the use of the sword. - Maj Gen LeMarchant

    Pan-Historical European Martial Arts Society, Singapore
    http://www.phemas.com

  8. #8
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    On a forum I read about a 15 lbs french sabre
    Applying geometry and the density of steel will result in a very interesting blade

    And: of course you can't thrust with a sword or knife which doesn't have quillons or something simiilar which prevents you from slipping onto the blade and cutting your fingers if you hit something rigid (eg. bone).

    Cheers

    Stefan
    Dar auf dich fasse / alle kunst haben leng / und masse

    Alte Kampfkunst
    Western Martial Arts Academy

  9. #9
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    Ooo good topic.
    A few people have caught some that were familiar to me however another that would be good to address is the general dating of the cruciform sword - a large number of people seem to think that the 'classic' medieval sword with full cross just 'existed' - they have no idea how long it took to evolve into that form, nor what other forms were around.

    Perhaps a bit of a wide topic, but if you can address it succinctly, I think it would be of tremendous value.
    -John

  10. #10
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    Sword Questions

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephen Hand View Post
    Hi guys,

    I'm wondering if the smart people here can assist me? I know that sword myths have been discussed before, but I've been through past threads and haven't found what I'm after.

    I am looking for science and/or myths relating to swords or armour that I could use with high school students. I have a few ideas but I'm looking for any smart ideas that people here might have. Something with a bit of a mythbusters feel to it would be good, but equally, a straight forward, "what's the physics behind this?" phenomenon might be cool too.

    Any help will be appreciated.

    Cheers
    Stephen
    Only knights had swords.

    Allen
    Gallowglass Academy
    www.GallowglassAcademy.org

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Lethbridge View Post
    Ooo good topic.
    A few people have caught some that were familiar to me however another that would be good to address is the general dating of the cruciform sword - a large number of people seem to think that the 'classic' medieval sword with full cross just 'existed' - they have no idea how long it took to evolve into that form, nor what other forms were around.

    Perhaps a bit of a wide topic, but if you can address it succinctly, I think it would be of tremendous value.
    I doubt most high school kids can even spell cruciform, much less know what it is and what other designs might be possible. I'd stick to the sort of stuff contained in movies like heaviness of longswords and the spinning, flipping, leaping about, and slashing with thrusting swords. Armor related stuff is always fun too.

    I would open up a can of worms on the whole edge parrying/blocking thing, but like discussions on abortion, it would just be a useless shouting match from entrenched positions.

    Oh, and the real size of shields would be another good topic. You can show how difficult fighting from behind an enormous shield one on one really is.
    If you're not wearing a dirk, you're wearing a skirt!

  12. #12
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    Heavy armor

    Going along with the knight having to be winched onto his horse, I have heard folks talk about armor weighing upward of two hundred or more pounds. Figure in a one hundred-eighty pound man coupled with two hundred pounds of armor, and don't leave out that twenty pound sword; that better be one strong horse! Better hope there wasn't any recent rain to soggy up the field.

  13. #13
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    Oh, that reminds me. Even having heavier armor, since the weight is distributed over the body and fitting rather closely to it, the wearer can still move quite well and even get up from his back. Add to the fact that these guys trained diligently for just this sort of thing, and were thus very much used to it.
    If you're not wearing a dirk, you're wearing a skirt!

  14. #14
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    Sorry chaps, forgot to mention:

    Medieval swords have quillions to stop your hand from being injured when you attack your opponent's shield

    Also, that the langets/flukes below the ricasso on a zweihander were in fact 'blade breakers' - an all-time classic.

    Of course, that katanas can cut through machine-gun barrels Just like Perseus's sword could cleave marble

    That titanium would be a great metal for swords viz stainless steel.

    And finally, in direct contradiction that medieval swords were not sharp, you would, of course, slice your hand if you actually did use half-sword techniques. (pointed out to me by a JSA practitioner at a recent event!)

    Oh, the horror!

    Bob
    Bob Brooks
    Marshal of the School,
    Hotspur School of Defence

    "There are four D's which I never refuse: A Dinner, a Duel, a Drink and a fair Dame!"
    - Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890)

    "I worship the Prince of Peace ... not the Prince of Pre-emptive War.
    - Former US President Jimmy Carter

    "May I ask one more question?" said one of my friends. "I have often heard it said that if you don't know much about fencing the best thing to do is, as soon as you come on guard, to make a sudden rush at the other man before he has time to collect himself."
    "Well," I replied, "if you wish to make sure of being incurably spitted, that is the most infallible way to set about it."

    - Baron Cesar de Bazancourt, Secrets of the Sword, The Tenth Evening XII.

  15. #15
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    Spinning around in a circle is a wonderful swordfighting tactic, since the momentum you build from the pirouette is enough for your blade to knock away the weapon in your enemy's hand.

    Best of all, you opponent is always kind enough to refrain from sticking you in the back as you do the manuever.

  16. #16
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    I have written a couple of essays on the subject, and would be happy to share them as long as credit is given.

    Medieval Sword Myths

    Samurai Myths

    My focus in on showing the evidence used to disprove the myths.

    -Steven Hirsch aka Mercutio Wilder

    P.S. Please contact me if you do use the material. Thanks.

  17. #17
    Surprisingly, I haven't seen the perpetuated myth from the movie Excaliber. Including that one, I've thrown in a few more.

    - Armour is completely useless and swords can stab through them.

    - Or if that one is too unbelievable, everyone knows that japanese swords could easily cleave a european knight in half through his 100+ pounds of useless "iron."

    - Also, swords are the weapon of choice for a mounted knight and not lances.

    - You can defeat every knight by cutting the straps on his armour. This is a popular SCA myth that I've seen and I even had a member claim it had happened in one of his "live steel" matches. If only they had read some Talhoffer...
    "...so setz den linken fuß für und halt dein swert mit der flech an dein rechten achsel..." Cod. I.6.40.3

  18. #18

    Dull bit

    Getting a bit dull you could use the example of the fullers to explain how curves or arch's are naturally strong. Then bring in the maths and physics to explain how this works with swords, and so how light swords can still be very strong but still flexible. Sorry if I'm stating the obvious.

  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by Christopher Blakey View Post
    This os a good one. I think 'The Once and Future King' is more than a little to blame for this. Read that book and you'll find pretty much all the myths you could not wish for.
    I'm pretty sure it was Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

    On the subject of the 20 pound sword, this fellow has done wonderful work debunking that.


    http://www.truefork.org/DragonPreser...Swordheavy.php
    1

  20. #20
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    To build on what Duncan said, mention the "I-Beam principle". I beams used in contstruction are very strong, but take up much less material that a square beam of similar perimeter dimensions.

    Also, the idea that japanese tsuba were purely ornamental was debunked for me a few months ago on the Armour Archive by pictures of some.

    Likewise, the idea that one can only make stupid hard blocks (an elaboration of the "european fighting is unintelligent and based solely on strength" idea).

    How about the idea that Medieval Europe was a samurai B movie where everyone carried a sword, and whipped it out for violence when someone blew their nose wrong..

  21. #21
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    One JSA myth is that the swords were made of layers folded many, many times (i.e. "1000" or so), which resulted in near magical properties. This myth is amenable to simple physics analysis - given the size of an iron atom, the thickness of a sword, and the number of layers resulting from 1000 foldings, the metal would be entirely homogeneous. There would be no layers of differing metal.
    NEM. PERV.T QUI N.N LEG.CERT.RIT

  22. #22
    Quote Originally Posted by Felix Wang View Post
    One JSA myth is that the swords were made of layers folded many, many times (i.e. "1000" or so), which resulted in near magical properties. This myth is amenable to simple physics analysis - given the size of an iron atom, the thickness of a sword,
    This brings up a question that I've been meaning to ask. Does the hammering process compress the metal, thereby increasing the base density of the metal? If you force a certain amount of matter into a smaller volume, this will happen, but I am uncertain as to if this actually happens in swordmaking.
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  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Felix Wang View Post
    One JSA myth is that the swords were made of layers folded many, many times (i.e. "1000" or so), which resulted in near magical properties. This myth is amenable to simple physics analysis - given the size of an iron atom, the thickness of a sword, and the number of layers resulting from 1000 foldings, the metal would be entirely homogeneous. There would be no layers of differing metal.
    It's a fascinating myth, and what follows may perhaps provide something scientific that my goodly pal Mr Hand can ply his students with.

    While 'folding' of a blade is considered quite the artifice in Japanese sword making, a Dark Age specimen found on my doorstep last year puts this concept somewhat into context.

    The 7th century Anglian specimen found at Bamburgh - Dark Age capital of Northumbria - is to date the only one known to be in existence.

    Although Western pattern-welded swords have been found before, which have been made of up to four strands, none had ever been found with six.

    One leading archaeologist involved said the importance of this find was "akin to the discovery of the weapons from Sutton Hoo."

    Dr David Starley, science officer at the Royal Armouries in Leeds, confirmed that nothing like this has ever been seen before, commenting that it was "an exceptional sword blade which is obviously of very high status and of European significance."

    So much for the superior sword-making of the East.

    Honourably,

    Bob
    Bob Brooks
    Marshal of the School,
    Hotspur School of Defence

    "There are four D's which I never refuse: A Dinner, a Duel, a Drink and a fair Dame!"
    - Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890)

    "I worship the Prince of Peace ... not the Prince of Pre-emptive War.
    - Former US President Jimmy Carter

    "May I ask one more question?" said one of my friends. "I have often heard it said that if you don't know much about fencing the best thing to do is, as soon as you come on guard, to make a sudden rush at the other man before he has time to collect himself."
    "Well," I replied, "if you wish to make sure of being incurably spitted, that is the most infallible way to set about it."

    - Baron Cesar de Bazancourt, Secrets of the Sword, The Tenth Evening XII.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steven H View Post
    Um, a couple things.

    First, it's "koryū," not "kyo-ru". I have no idea what the latter would mean.

    Second, koryu aren't necessarily intended for battlefield use, or from times when fighting in a war was common. There's 250 years of the Edo period, where swordsmanship increasing becomes focused on unarmored duelling.

    Third, related to the second point above, the similarity or lack there of between kendo and koryu kenjutsu depends on what koryu. There's a huge variety of koryu, and their character depend on time and place of origin, among other things. Sure, really old, battlefield oriented styles are pretty different from kendo, but something like Hokushin Itto Ryu, founded around 1830, focused on one-on-one unarmored duelling, and one of the direct technical antecedents of kendo, isn't that different.

    It also depends what kendo you're looking at. Are you looking at high-schoolers or kodansha? Shiai or kata?

  25. #25
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    About the heavy armours and the use of some elevating device to get the knight on its horse…

    In later times (say 1650-1700) when the joust became more and more a sport, the armours did get heavier, with the bigger helmets for better protection. (I always use the comparison between playing Rugby in the early Middle Ages and American Football in the later) As there was no longer the threat having to fight after one was un-horsed in the joust, the armours became heavier and more specialized for the soul-purpose of jousting (if you fell down, two squires came running in to pick you up again) I am talking about the joust as a single event, so no ground-fights afterwards!

    With kind regards,

    Cor Kronenburg

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