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Thread: Historically accurate functioning of swords

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    Historically accurate functioning of swords

    Hello!

    In the recent thread about historical accuracy on this forum, an interesting sub-topic has emerged that deserves its own thread.

    For some people, myself included, the fact that a sword functions like its historical model is as important, if not more, as the fact that it looks similar visually, including accepted typology of shapes that do not necessarily impact the function.

    Of course this attitude has pros and cons. On the one hand, this gives some freedom to the makers, since they are able to swap parts that are functionally equivalent, for example. On the other hand, it raises a difficult question: how can we know that the handling is right?

    Obviously, the only thing that makes handling right is the comparison with an original antique, or more likely, several originals from the same "handling category". That splits the problem in (at least ) two parts:

    1) How can we compare the handling or functioning of two swords (antique or not, as a matter of fact) in an objective fashion?

    This is, in my opinion, the primary problem. There is, as soon as handling is concerned, a tendency to rely on what a particular person felt when handling successively (but possibly months appart), two swords. This can be in reviews, it can be a sword maker who only briefly visits a museum to handle originals, and then sets to reproduce how they feel...

    The problem I see with this approach is that our feel is variable and subjective, whereas the objects themselves do not change. For example, as a JSA practitioner, I handle frequently my boken. Depending on the time of the day, my own mental condition and physical shape, it does not always feel the same. Sometimes light, sometimes heavy... Same goes for my European swords. I also noticed that in an exceptional situation (handling briefly swords that are not mine, for example), my feel is heavily biased due to an increased awareness.

    Comparing the handling through measured numbers has been a bit frowned upon recently, because of the more or less spectacular failure of the usual stats to account for it. However, I'm personally convinced there is no other way out. Nothing protects from marketing better than easily measurable numbers With interpretation...

    2) How can we define "handling categories"?

    This is secondary to the first problem. Once you know which swords are close to which others in handling, it should be fairly easy to group them up... It would solve, in my opinion, many problems of classification, by either answering "there is a true continuum, and no clear categories", or "there are clearly n groups, which are defined by such and such properties". Sticking to the existing classifications, for example Oakeshott's, is not necessarily a good idea when considering how swords function. I recall Peter Johnsson writing on another forum that making the difference between swords from different Oakeshott groups is very difficult if you don't visually inspect them, but just trust your feel...

    **********************

    I've been chewing on these questions for a long time now, so I have my own ideas about how to solve them... But I'd be interested to hear the opinions and experience of the members here. How do makers make sure they are reproducing how antiques function (if it's one of their goals, of course)? How do users make sure their swords match their antique counterparts? How do you choose your next training sword?

    Kindest regards,

    Vincent

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    I wonder if a blacksmith, who is accustomed to handling heavy hammers all day, would be tempted to build swords on the heavy side to suit his own taste...
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    There's already been one attempt to hijack Vincent's thread into something else. Vincent has brought up a good subject, and lets discuss this, or allow the discussion if you can't discuss it, without dragging in some offtopic relationship......
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    It seems to me, that if makers stick very close to the forms and designs of the originals and typologies fairly strictly, that proper handling will be the result. Of course, this requires a fairly strict adherence to all details for this to work. We all know what happens if one of these parameters is changed; you get a very different feel and handling. All it takes is the change of a single characteristic, like the edge geometry or distal taper.
    As for the idea of objective measurments of handling... Is there such a thing? I'm not sure I believe such a subjective thing as the feel of a sword can ever be reduced to stats and numbers. And even if it could, I believe you would be setting a situation were the likely result is going to be missing the forest for the trees.
    Numbers may not lie, but the certainly do not tell the truth either...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Robin Smith View Post
    As for the idea of objective measurments of handling... Is there such a thing? I'm not sure I believe such a subjective thing as the feel of a sword can ever be reduced to stats and numbers. And even if it could, I believe you would be setting a situation were the likely result is going to be missing the forest for the trees.
    Numbers may not lie, but the certainly do not tell the truth either...
    Oh, yes, I think they do, if they are interpreted correctly and completely, they never lie.

    I find there are many people here on SFI with a somehow mystical view about what makes the way a sword handles. I mean, we have good smiths and metallurgists that have demistified HT, folding, laminating and so on for us. There's nothing mystical, it just takes a good amount of scientifical study. Same goes for blade geometry for cutting, or fullers. Why should sword dynamics be any different?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bogdan M. View Post
    Oh, yes, I think they do, if they are interpreted correctly and completely, they never lie.

    I find there are many people here on SFI with a somehow mystical view about what makes the way a sword handles. I mean, we have good smiths and metallurgists that have demistified HT, folding, laminating and so on for us. There's nothing mystical, it just takes a good amount of scientifical study. Same goes for blade geometry for cutting, or fullers. Why should sword dynamics be any different?
    Because sword dynamics are so subjective. Things will feel different from person to person, and as Vincent said different to the same person depending on incident.
    You can reduce it to a list of stats, but that most certainly won't tell you the story. There is nothing mystical about it. I simply don't believe you can reduce what makes a good sword to a list of stats any more than you can reduce a beautiful painting to a series of ratios. As with the painting, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and complexity takes over, making a simple relation between variables impossible...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Robin Smith View Post
    Because sword dynamics are so subjective. Things will feel different from person to person, and as Vincent said different to the same person depending on incident.
    You can reduce it to a list of stats, but that most certainly won't tell you the story. There is nothing mystical about it. I simply don't believe you can reduce what makes a good sword to a list of stats any more than you can reduce a beautiful painting to a series of ratios. As with the painting, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and complexity takes over, making a simple relation between variables impossible...
    I honestly think that in terms of the ACTUAL sword itself, you can really only classify it authenticity by it's stats. But in terms of actual handling, I have to agree with Robin here in saying that it is not about the sword being held, but who is holding it.

    While I think Bogden brings up a great idea in scientific study, the problem there is that too many variables are present, and it would be near impossible to eliminate many of them.
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    You can definitely bring something, just about anything, down to numbers... it's all a matter of how they're interpreted, as Bogdan said. You might have a harder time finding numbers to express how a given person will react to a given sword, but that's not at all the same thing as finding ways to parameterize the sword itself. And even the relationship between person and sword isn't impossible to quantify.. it just has more variables. Complexity is *not* beyond numbers... in fact, numbers are the *only* way to objectively comprehend and appreciate complexity.

    Take Angus Trim's stuff, for example... or Albion's. They seem to have gained generally positive reviews. Peter Johnsson himself has enlisted the aid of the Golden Mean to do what he does so well.

    Angus has called himself a "sword fabricator" at times (I believe)... well, a fabricator is a very skilled worker whose talents lie, essentially, in creating things from numbers. His "art," if you want to call it that, can be said to arise from as close an adherence as possible to a design schematic (numbers again), using machinery and his own experience and skills. So unless his swords aren't, in fact, good, I'd say he's gone ahead and reduced good swords to numbers.

    Just my 2 cents.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Lee View Post
    You can definitely bring something, just about anything, down to numbers... it's all a matter of how they're interpreted, as Bogdan said. You might have a harder time finding numbers to express how a given person will react to a given sword, but that's not at all the same thing as finding ways to parameterize the sword itself. And even the relationship between person and sword isn't impossible to quantify.. it just has more variables. Complexity is *not* beyond numbers... in fact, numbers are the *only* way to objectively comprehend and appreciate complexity.
    Perhaps I should have said that numbers never tell the WHOLE truth. Though you may be able to reduce how a given person reacts to probabilities and numbers, that means very little. Music can also be reduced to numbers. But understanding the equation underlying the harmony is NOT the same as listening to the song.
    Again, I am not saying it can't be reduced. But if you do, you will inevitably miss the forest for the trees...
    Last edited by Robin Smith; 10-25-2007 at 05:30 PM. Reason: changed wording for clarity

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    Quote Originally Posted by Robin Smith View Post
    Because sword dynamics are so subjective.
    Solid dynamics is a discipline of physics, there's nothing subjective about it. It's science. It works for cars, submarines, rockets, and many other things that you can surely think of too. While I like swords a lot, I have a really hard time believing they are any more complex than rockets or missiles.

    In fact, they are quite a lot simpler, the only variable that matters is mass distribution. Of course, not a simple variable in itself, but not that complex either.


    Quote Originally Posted by Robin Smith View Post
    Things will feel different from person to person, and as Vincent said different to the same person depending on incident.
    Yes, but that's exactly what Vincent was trying to point out. Forget the "feel", the subjective part. Let's try to see what makes a "good" sword in itself, without concern of who's holding it. Again, we're not discussing aesthetics, just plain, physically measurable qualities.
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    I think that a holistic view is enhanced, not negated, by an embrace of numbers. CNC machines and such force a designer to view things in terms of how they relate to one another. Far from isolating one aspect of a sword from another, taking stock of the numerical relationships allows for a *better* big-picture view of how everything comes together. I'd think that having a CNC maker like Angus posting the numerical insights he's had over the years would make that clear.

    Listening to an orchestral piece is pleasant - but if you have all the numbers that define it, and you know what they signify, your experience will be all the richer, and, unlike the average listener, you'll be able to understand *how* the music attains the aesthetic value that it has, and that may lead you to *why.* And even if you never hear that piece again, everything you need to know to reproduce it will be right at your fingertips. Reliance on the senses, if anything, reduces one's ability to see the forest for the trees, I should think. The immediacy of touch, or smell, or sight drown out analytical thinking, which is always detrimental to a proper understanding of any given phenomenon.

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    Authentic handling takes in a lot of territory and would need a lot of numbers to quantify, but it is possible- just terribly difficult. Two swords of the same length, mass and COG can feel very different from each other and very different to two different people. It's already been pointed out that the same sword can feel different to the same person at different times.

    Look at enough swords, handle enough swords, eventually you get a feel for the range of handling that falls within the 'period' range for a given type of sword, but this advice is remarkably un-useful to many sword fanciers.

    So- should we take the word of sword-makers? Just accept that their opinion is correct? That's problematic as well. The best that I can suggest is this- the amount of research that you should do is in direct proportion to how much you care; but this has to be tempered by how practical it is to do that research. Where you located and how much time and money you have will all be factors in how practical it is to do extensive research. You can get a lot of good information off of the internet- but just as much bad.

    I personally would rather have a sword that performs well than one that just looks right. Better still I'd want one that performs well and looks right, but we take what we can get and there is always a degree of compromise.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bogdan M. View Post
    Solid dynamics is a discipline of physics, there's nothing subjective about it. It's science. It works for cars, submarines, rockets, and many other things that you can surely think of too. While I like swords a lot, I have a really hard time believing they are any more complex than rockets or missiles.

    In fact, they are quite a lot simpler, the only variable that matters is mass distribution. Of course, not a simple variable in itself, but not that complex either.




    Yes, but that's exactly what Vincent was trying to point out. Forget the "feel", the subjective part. Let's try to see what makes a "good" sword in itself, without concern of who's holding it. Again, we're not discussing aesthetics, just plain, physically measurable qualities.
    Dynamics, perhaps, but we are not talking only dynamics. Handling was also an important part of the discussion. And since we are also talking handling, and handling cannot be considered without taking the operator into account, then such simple reductions, while perhaps minimally possible, will totally miss the mark.
    One of the hallmarks of numbers is predictibility. Using the music metaphor again, say you had reduced Jazz to a set of ratios and equations. You should then be able to, in theory, predict whether a song was going to be a hit simply by its conformation to the numbers without ever listening to the song. However, as much as music can be reduced to ratios and harmonies, such prediction is still impossible. And even if possible, it totally misses the point of listening to music in the first place. And its the same problem with swords.
    Such mathmatical relations are only meaningful in an abstract and theoretical way, and personally say more about the person who is constructing the mathmatical understanding and his methods than they do about the object being quantified...

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    Sorry, Robin, but you keep making music analogies which is quite a fallacious argument here.

    We're starting from the hypothesis that there are "good swords" in the absolute. I make that hypothesis, and I think most people do the same, even if it's at an unconscious level.

    "Good music" doesn't exist in the absolute, it is completely subjective. I don't like jazz in fact. What you like I might not like, and viceversa.

    Good swords exist. That's why good smith exist. It's those people who made a large number of good swords. And the handling of a sword is a quite objective action. The sword tracks well in the cut or not. It is difficult to put in motion, or to stop, or not. That's the handling Vincent was talking about, I think. His question was what swords handle well, not what swords handle as you like.

    Edit: I'll try to make a better analogy then the one with the music.

    What is good food? It's definitely nigh impossible to define what is a food that "tastes" good. Kids will love sweet things, so on and so forth. It's subjective, depending on age, culture, social status, etc. But what is a "healthy food"? Well, science hasn't completely explored this question, but it's a much more objective one, and therefore it's possible to answer it accurately most of the time...
    Last edited by Bogdan M.; 10-25-2007 at 06:12 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Lee View Post
    Listening to an orchestral piece is pleasant - but if you have all the numbers that define it, and you know what they signify, your experience will be all the richer, and, unlike the average listener, you'll be able to understand *how* the music attains the aesthetic value that it has, and that may lead you to *why.* And even if you never hear that piece again, everything you need to know to reproduce it will be right at your fingertips. Reliance on the senses, if anything, reduces one's ability to see the forest for the trees, I should think. The immediacy of touch, or smell, or sight drown out analytical thinking, which is always detrimental to a proper understanding of any given phenomenon.
    Oh, I entirely disagree. In fact, I could not disagree with a statement more... Such thinking, as I stated, shows that your reliance on the numbers is more indicitive of your own personality than they are about the thing you are examining through them. I deal with numbers all day everyday. I am a draftsman and autocad designer, well in training atleast. So I am not adverse to the use of numbers, but I know it still takes the human touch to accomplish my designs...
    If in fact the numbers gave you "everthing you need to know to reproduce it", then it should be possible to create a music generator that consistently made good music, without human guidance. We simply can't. In fact, we'd get better results with an infinite number of monkeys with with instruments (or grinding wheels...)
    Reliance on the senses IS THE WHOLE POINT. Nothing, even at the most basic level, can be understood (as per the Copenhagen Interpretation) without taking the observer into account. And more meaningfully, it is without purpose to see the world entirely through analytical thinking without reference to the senses... It interfers with ones ability to experience the sword. A dry academic understanding of the sword is about as useful as the academics who have never worn armor, yet still propagate the myths of the knight needing a hoist to mount his horse. Without reference to direct experience, without taking the operator and his experience of the sword into account, all you have is a list of numbers...
    ...And that is what it comes down to for me. IMHO a reliance on numbers and stats says more about the person using those numbers than it does about the object quantified.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Robin Smith View Post
    ...And that is what it comes down to for me. IMHO a reliance on numbers and stats says more about the person using those numbers than it does about the object quantified.
    It may, but it depends on the sterotypes/biases of the other person who's making the judgment...
    Even a conversation like this has to become personal, too bad. Oh well, good night gentlemen, I'll get back to work.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robin Smith View Post
    Reliance on the senses IS THE WHOLE POINT. Nothing, even at the most basic level, can be understood (as per the Copenhagen Interpretation) without taking the observer into account. And more meaningfully, it is without purpose to see the world entirely through analytical thinking without reference to the senses... It interfers with ones ability to experience the sword. A dry academic understanding of the sword is about as useful as the academics who have never worn armor, yet still propagate the myths of the knight needing a hoist to mount his horse. Without reference to direct experience, without taking the operator and his experience of the sword into account, all you have is a list of numbers...
    ...And that is what it comes down to for me. IMHO a reliance on numbers and stats says more about the person using those numbers than it does about the object quantified.
    This was the post I was not articulate enough to type! I couldnt agree with you more, sir! IMHO some swords have to be used to be appreciated....thats all I will say as I'm in the deep end of the pond..I just drill and cut with the damn things....Carry on, Gentlemen!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bogdan M. View Post
    Sorry, Robin, but you keep making music analogies which is quite a fallacious argument here.

    We're starting from the hypothesis that there are "good swords" in the absolute. I make that hypothesis, and I think most people do the same, even if it's at an unconscious level.

    "Good music" doesn't exist in the absolute, it is completely subjective. I don't like jazz in fact. What you like I might not like, and viceversa.

    Good swords exist. That's why good smith exist. It's those people who made a large number of good swords. And the handling of a sword is a quite objective action. The sword tracks well in the cut or not. It is difficult to put in motion, or to stop, or not. That's the handling Vincent was talking about, I think. His question was what swords handle well, not what swords handle as you like.

    Edit: I'll try to make a better analogy then the one with the music.

    What is good food? It's definitely nigh impossible to define what is a food that "tastes" good. Kids will love sweet things, so on and so forth. It's subjective, depending on age, culture, social status, etc. But what is a "healthy food"? Well, science hasn't completely explored this question, but it's a much more objective one, and therefore it's possible to answer it accurately most of the time...
    I'm sorry, but I disagree. Handling can never be understood without an operator taken into account.
    Does the sword track well? Depends on the users skill and technique. Does it stop easily? Again, comes down to technique and strength as much as the sword, sure there is inertia, but without the without understanding the system as a whole, that says only a very small amount about it. There is no saying whether a sword "handles well" in an absolute sense.
    As for the food analogy. Well, "healthy" is as relative as "delicious". Sure, hamburgers kill alot of people, but there are alot of 90 year olds who still cook in lard and bacon fat.
    Your saying you don't like Jazz is exactly my point. Even though you COULD choose to understand music through numbers, it says nothing about whether you think it sounds good. Even though you may be able to reduce a sword down to numbers, it says nothing about whether you will think it handles well...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bogdan M. View Post
    It may, but it depends on the sterotypes/biases of the other person who's making the judgment...
    Even a conversation like this has to become personal, too bad. Oh well, good night gentlemen, I'll get back to work.
    Well, for my part, I most certainly DID NOT intend that as an attack. I apologize if you took it that way...

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    I know everyone in this conversation well enough to know, that as emotional as this topic can be, no one would mean an attack.

    Please, before anyone takes things personally, lets look at what was said objectively.....

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    Bogdan: I feel bad, I certainly did not mean to offend. You probably don't know this, but Vincent and I have had this out over on MyArmoury before.
    http://www.myarmoury.com/talk/viewto...r=asc&start=22
    I get into it on the second page. Read there, and you will see what I mean when I say it allows you to understand the person. I most certainly wasn't meaning it in a bad way...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Lee View Post
    I'd think that having a CNC maker like Angus posting the numerical insights he's had over the years would make that clear.
    I can't participate in something like this and moderate at the same time.....and I'm moderating....
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    Sorry, my bad then, must be oversensitive due to work overload.

    Still, I will have to get back to work though

    Two quick points before I go:

    The food argument: it's statistical. Statistical laws are still laws, only they don't apply to one individual at a time.

    So, if there are people "surviving " hamburgers, but people eating hamburgers are way more ill than people eating tomatoes, it's safe to say that tomatoes are healthier than hamburgers.

    The same statistical reasoning applies to sword testing. A good sword might not be good to every individual. However, i'm fairly confident that statistically a decent sized group of (say 20) skilled swordsmen would quite easily show the difference between a good and a poor sword.

    One last note: it's true that the problem is more complex for European swords, because of the great variety. It would need a great deal of statistical studies to determine what was the norm, or what was historically considered as "good".I am fortunate enough to like Japanese style swords, which makes these types of evaluations much easier .

    Edit: I took a look at that thread there. I actually agree with you, but you kinda make my point there. You say that the smiths of old had an intuitive understanding of what was good balance. I agree, and I also agree that it's unlikely that they were skilled in Maths or the like. But I think that if we look at enough examples of what they considered "good", it's possible to infer statistically what were the formal laws underneath their intuition, even if they had no idea these laws existed. Of course, a statistical study might prove that good swords are random variables, and there's no law. But this, I higly doubt.
    Last edited by Bogdan M.; 10-25-2007 at 06:59 PM.
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    Ok, well I am gonna be quiet for awhile. I'm takin' up all the bandwidth. I suppose I've made my opinion crystal clear.
    Anyway, I want to give Vincent a chance to weigh back in before I say anymore...

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    A good sword has measurable, definable qualities. But 'good' in this context isn't a discrete point- it's a spectrum. Different people's preferences will fall within the spectrum but have plenty of room to be different and remain within the spectrum.

    Angus likes single-hand swords to be light and balance farther from the cross. I like them a little heavier and balanced closer to the cross. Both of our preferences fall well within Historically Accurate norms. Both can be good swords. The difference in preferrence is based on individual taste.

    The right numbers can tell you if a sword is good; they can't tell you if you'll like it.
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