One thing that irks me about many fantasy and historical fiction stories is the way that some writers, through their characters, are so utterly fixated on swords. From Eragon’s infamous third-book catch-cry of “I Need A Sword!” to the titular Sword of Truth, it seems like Generic Fantasy almost isn’t complete without at least one swordfight. It is not so much the prevalence of swords that irks me, so much as they way they are present in a story without question. It seems that some writers do not even consider the logical consequences of weaponry of any kind, and there are more than a few stories I’ve read where swords are present more out of tradition than as a result of thoughtful, consistent worldbuilding. Swords, however, are just one option out of dozens, and are often not even the first or best option. Even among warriors who are renowned for their swordcraft, such as the Japanese samurai, and the English knights, the sword remained a secondary or even tertiary weapon to be used only after arrows, spears and lances, and other long-range weapons.

There are a few small points that I wish every fantasy writer would consider (or had considered) during their initial worldbuilding.

Everything Comes Down To Clubs

Although there is now a vast array of different specialised weapons not counting projectile or explosive weaponry, one fundamental point has remained consistent from the beginning: every mid-length rigid weapon is essentially a club. Axes, swords, daggers, staves, walking sticks, and, rather more obviously, maces and hammers, are all derived from the same basic principles, and adhere to the same basic rules. Flesh is weak and easy to wound, and human bones are quite fragile and comparatively much more brittle than, say, wood. No matter what weapon you use, if it is a rigid one-handed weapon, a person able to use one type of weapon (for instance, a mace) will find themself very quickly able to adapt to a different kind of rigid one-handed weapon (say, an axe or sword). The physical act of swinging a weapon uses the same muscle groups and the same biomechanical movement no matter what the hand is grasping.

The hard part, where the years of training are required, is using your weapon defensively against similarly armed opponents. Anybody can swing a sword and do some considerable damage without any training at all, but using a weapon defensively against other weapons is what takes practice and skill.

In this regard, swords are largely less successful than other short weapons. It takes far longer to learn to use a sword effectively than other weapons such as clubs, maces, axes and so on, and that can be a liability on the battlefield. In untrained hands, they are generally slower, less effective and more dangerous to the wielder. Compounded with the long years required to properly train a swordsman, I remain surprised how popular swords have been and are still.

Nostalgia and Romanticism

Speaking of subtle segues, the popularity of swords as a class of weapon is interesting to ponder. The way I see it, the cultural fascination with swords is tied inextricably to the cultural fascination with celebrity. Along with the universal fascination people have with persons of authority, comes a reflected admiration for their tools. A person enamoured with a particular musician, for example, will want to attempt to learn that musician’s primary instrument, or will at least show an admiration for that particular class of instrument, which goes beyond the original celebrity-awe. If an impression of, for example, a brave and bold medieval knight is made early enough, a child’s awe of the character in their bedtime stories can transfer to the symbol of that character’s power (i.e. the sword) and form a lifelong fascination.

But why swords? For almost all of the timespan in which swordplay was practised for warfare and for defence, swords were the possessions and weapons-of-choice of the noble elite, the knights and barons and the upper class. They were and eventually became status symbols, as evidenced by the (rather silly) fashion for jewel-encrusted handles, decorative etching, fanciful pommels, and so on. The association of swords with nobility and high birth has led inevitably to a metaphoric personification of swords as noble weapons, dignified weapons, a gentleman’s weapon. Swordplay is a gentleman’s discipline.

The rarity and noble characterisation of swords, compounded with people’s tendency to exaggerate and re-exaggerate stories of how, for example, a local lord put more than ten, (no, twenty!) thieves to flight with a whirl of his gleaming jewel-encrusted (fairy-forged!) sword and thus saving the village’s meagre harvest, can very easily lead to a romantic fascination with swords and sword-wielders.

Everything Is Triangles: Surface Area and Concentration of Force

Although it might arguably make little difference to a reader’s enjoyment of a work, I believe it is important for writers of fight scenes to be aware of the basic principles of physics involved with different types of weaponry. Especially the most important universal rule that underpins every type of weapon one could name: small surface area creates a concentration of force. This concept applies to almost every kind of weapon, including swords, axes, maces (especially the flanged variety), spears, arrows, bullets, shrapnel bombs, throwing-stars and darts, certain kinds of clubs (especially the brutal Fijian totokia club, which is designed to drive a sharp point through the top of a person’s skull), and almost any kind of weapon you can name.

One of the easiest and most effective ways of creating a small surface area is to sharpen an edge to a point, thus creating a triangular profile. Thus was fashioned the first stone knife, and the same principle was applied to swords, knives, axes, spears, arrows and even (inadvertently) modern bullets as a way of increasing the weapon’s potential for damage. The triangle shape, aside from being a product of edge sharpening, has the added advantage of gradually becoming wider toward the base. Much like a wood-splitter or wedge can force a split in brittle wood, a triangle-shaped blade can force a split in flesh or between bones. The deeper the blade cuts, the wider the split becomes. The sharper the edge and the smaller the blade’s surface area, the easier it is to force between skin cells to make a wound. The same principle applies to non-bladed weapons. A spike, barb or knob on a club concentrates the force of a strike into a very small area and thus multiplying the energy of the strike many times over.

You Don’t Need 20 STR

One of the more commonly-held misconceptions among the… shall we say ‘less-experienced’ fantasy writers whose work I have encountered is the myth that in order to be a truly effective warrior, each swing of one’s chosen weapon must be made with every ounce of strength, or that one must be vastly stronger than the average person. Certainly, a warrior needs incredible strength and stamina, but blows from any weapon do not have to be powerful to be effective. Quite the opposite, in fact: the more powerful a strike, the less controlled and easier to dodge or counter it becomes, and the longer it takes to recover from a miss. Leading on from the above concept of concentration of force, it’s a relatively simple step to understand that you don’t need much power at all to injure, cripple or even kill a person.

In order to illustrate this point, you could this simple exercise: Note – DO NOT try this simple exercise – Ed. take a flat wooden ruler, and gently tap your knuckles first with the flat side and then with the edge. Which has the greater effect? Imagine that on weak tissue and with more power. It is a common misconception that it takes 8 pounds per square inch (only 0.6 kg/cm2) to break bones. In reality, it can be much less depending on the type and position of break. Even still, it takes far less than that to bruise organs, rupture blood vessels or cut into skin. You don’t need to dismember an enemy to cripple them or prevent them from fighting.

The logical consequences are obvious: the less power required to injure an enemy, the more energy you have left for other purposes, be it fighting, marching or setting up camp. On the other hand, if you waste all your energy on powerful inefficient strikes that an enemy will be able to easily dodge, it won’t be very long before you are too fatigued to defend against a more economical enemy.

The Art of Fighting Is The Art of Mobility
Fatigue is a warrior’s worst enemy, even more so than their sworn enemies on the other side of the battlefield. Conservation of force and energy can be the difference between victory and defeat in a prolonged combat situation. Put quite simply, if you are too tired to move, your enemy will be able to hit you more easily and with greater effect.

An attacker cannot hit someone they cannot reach. That is one of the most important lessons from Sun Tzu’s famous treatise The Art of War: Be where your enemy is not. If you do so, your enemy cannot hit you, but you might be able to attack their under-defended weak areas. Master Liechtenauer wrote in the late 1300s that during combat “a man is always in motion and never at rest… motion is the heart of swordsmanship”. A warrior in motion can attack and defend more efficiently, and more importantly does not give their enemy a chance to assess the situation and consider the best approach. As with many of the points in this article, this seems like a simple point. And yet so many stories and films with fight scenes will describe enemies standing in perfect stillness, sizing each other up until one of them sees a chance to act in a sudden flurry of strikes or an almost-invisible whirl of metal. “It makes good drama”, writes John Clements, Director of the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts1, but “it’s total fiction without any tactical validity”. Even then, what was once a point of dramatic tension has gradually become trite and lacklustre. Be they Old West gunslingers or duelling Renaissance gentlemen, a warrior must always be moving, changing their guard and keeping their enemy guessing.

Specialist and Generalist Weapons

Typically, weapons can either specialise in a particular type of damage, or they can be more all-purpose. This largely depends on the design. A typical axe, for example, is highly specialised for use as a chopping weapon to be used against bare skin, bones and joints. Axes are generally not so good at slicing or slashing, and unless they are tipped with a spike, are largely useless as thrusting or piercing weapons. A sword, however, is much more adaptable. A typical short straight sword can pierce, slash, and cleave. Depending on local armour designs and cultural fighting style, specialist weapons can offer a great advantage in combat. For example, a light sword would not be very effective against a 16th century French knight, covered in plate armour. A mace, however, would be exceptionally effective at crushing their armour inwards and causing devastating blunt-force trauma. Specialisation has many advantages in dealing with known enemies and familiar environments, but adaptability is extremely important in dealing with unknown enemies.

A Final Point

This article is little more than common sense explained, involving principles and concepts that one might assume are intuitive. One might generously assume that the average person knows these things, but overlook them as simplistic or beneath them; but how often do writers of fight scenes (Christopher Paolini, for a now-infamous example) either wilfully ignore most of these concepts, or display a pitiful ignorance of basic combat theory and physics? It has long been my opinion that no matter how simple the idea, the pursuit of reputable mainstream fantasy should demand a thorough examination of the worldbuilding and writing process, especially if it is a story that includes a great many fight scenes. If there is only one thing you take away from this rather long-winded article, it is this: Before your noble hero draws his sword (almost certainly with an impressive ‘shing!’), ask yourself where he or she got it and who they are fighting.

1 Clements, J 2001, Why Are You Standing Still?, for theARMA; http://www.thearma.org/essays/StandingStill.html

Comment

  1. Requiem on 1 August 2011, 22:22 said:

    ahhh swords a trade mark hero weapon. I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to have them just so long as you make sure the audience knows how fantastical the setting is and that they are used properly and not too blown out of proportion.

  2. Exterminatus on 1 August 2011, 22:35 said:

    Pfft, swords. Give me a spear any day. The ability to stab at mounted knights with nothing more than a stick of wood tipped with a sharp rock is any peasant levy’s best friend.

  3. Sum Mortis on 1 August 2011, 23:21 said:

    My favorite weapon has always been a mace, followed by a trident.

    Maces just seem so underused in fantasy, since after swords, the only other melee weapons most authors seem to know about are spears, axes, and daggers.

    Tridents just look cool, and ever since I dressed up as Poseidon for a project in 6th grade and carried a trident, I have liked them.

  4. theArmourer on 1 August 2011, 23:58 said:

    I, the mounted knight, scoff at your rock tipped spear as it breaks on my mail, while my steel-tipped lance pierces your chest. Try again.

    @Sum Mortis There is a reason that no one used a trident much in battle, one point is much more effective.

  5. Clibanarius on 2 August 2011, 00:05 said:

    @ Exterminatus.

    Keep in mind that Peasant Levies didn’t happen all that often and when they did, they were usually used for things like carrying supplies and siege weapon ammo, while the men who were trained for combat did the fighting. : )

    As for spears, keep in mind that historically Spear and Pikemen were used to steamroll the other guy’s Infantry while the Cavalry deals the Enemy’s Cavalry and then comes back to hit the enemy infantry in the flank. Charging head-on against the front of an infantry formation is usually not a very good idea and most Cavalry preferred to use their superior mobility and hit the flanks and/or rear.

  6. Spanman on 2 August 2011, 00:14 said:

    Whenever I read fantasy literature, I get the feeling that I’m being fed a lot of misconceptions similar to the one you addressed. You made an informative and eye-opening article, and it was quite enjoyable.

    Another oft-used “fantasy” weapon is the bow and arrow, and I’ve always wondered if there’s a lot more to medieval archery than meets the eye, how practical archery really is/was, and what exactly is entailed in being a crack shot, to use a modern term. Maybe someone with more knowledge than I could think about it for an article? :D

  7. Clibanarius on 2 August 2011, 00:56 said:

    Basically one hell of a lot of practice, you’ve got to line up the arrow, make sure your stance is correct and your arms are held right and that your breathing’s even and you only hold the stave with three fingers.

    And then you have to make sure your elbow’s crooked properly so you can shoot straight but not turn your entire arm into one giant bruise and then you have to fire and accuracy is a process of trial and error, you have to aim below what you’re shooting at and that takes some work to judge the distances properly and then get the arrows anywhere near the target.

    And that’s with modern sights, arm guards and releases.

    As for how useful they were, it depends. A Warbow is much more powerful than a hunting weapon but it isn’t going to punch through a Man-at-arms Plate or Mail, it will however injure his horse (until plate came along for horses) and provide flanking fire to help disrupt the enemy formation and wear on their morale. Besides that even if it doesn’t punch through if it hits your armour it’ll still feel like being pushed.

    Keep in mind that 120 pounds was around the upper limit for most Longbowmen and a human being can only pull back so much weight for so long before they’re exhausted and their accuracy’s shot.

    That and Longbowmen are hard to train and take time to train.

  8. Zokoke on 2 August 2011, 01:19 said:

    An interesting article. I’ll admit that the main character in my story uses a sword and shield, however, I explain how his culture uses them. He was trained to use other weapons, but he chose to specialize in the sword. The world that he lives in is set in a pseudo-antiquity era, like the Ancient Greeks, but mainly the Celts. Also, the sword isn’t some uber-special weapon. It’s just a standard weapon used in tandem with a shield, or as a secondary weapon if someone loses their spear and shows where he is stationed within an army as a whole.

    While I see where you are coming from about swords being the weapon of choice of the elite, this really applies more to the medieval world. In the ancient world, swords were more common, but that is because of the differences in materials used in sword. In the ancient world, it was easier to equip bronze, and later iron, to make weapons. When steal came along, it was harder to outfit an entire army with steal and only nobility could really acquire steal.

    @Sum Mortis:

    Tridents were used mainly for fishing, and later utilized in gladiatorial games in tandem with a net. Even then, it was mainly as a part of the gladiator’s character. I highly doubt it would be very effective in combat.

    @Spanman:

    Archery was important during the ancient and medieval world. From what I understand from reading (historical books, not fiction) each side would have a division of men who were trained to use bows, slings or javelins who would participate in a volley exchange. Essentially, each side would shoot their arrows/rocks/javelins at their opponents before the infantry or cavalry engaged in fighting. Once the infantry engaged the enemy, they would cease firing. If their infantry was given an order to fall back, or retreat, the archers would resume firing to give cover. Archery was best utilized from a defensive position, such as a fort or castle, or in a large group away from the front lines, although, if there is too much distance, than the power of the bow is diminished and the arrows would not penetrate as well as they could. Later, thanks to advances in saddle and stirrup technology, archery could be utilized from horseback. Of course, each civilization had their own unique take on the bow. Just look at the various arrow heads. There are broad head used in hunting to cause as much damage as possible and thinner versions to penetrate armor. Later, the crossbow would add more power to the arrow (or bolt), but there was a tradeoff. What crossbows made up for in power, they took longer to reload. The average archer could shoot at least three arrows in the time it would take to shoot and reload one bolt. When I get time, I might actually write an article about archery. In the meantime, I would look up English Longbowmen, Persian and Mongol archers. They have some great history when it comes to archery.

  9. michael on 2 August 2011, 01:41 said:

    in the beggining of this monologue you basicly say you dont like swords. but then you go on to PROVE that swords(especialy straight ones) make exellent adaptable weapons. correct?. well maybe even if there is some understandable hype and exxaggeration, the sword is still the single most adaptable weapon(as you pointed out) in history, thus the reason that everyone writes about swords. so shut up and see the gapinghole in you argument! personally i like all weapons, but there is no denying that the class we collectivelly call “swords” are the king of all weapons. correct me if im wrong?

  10. Rozen Maiden on 2 August 2011, 04:03 said:

    “The pen may be mightier than the sword, but there is no arguing with the barrel of a gun.” XD

    It probably doesn’t help that there are a bunch of mythological and legendary heroes that went around waving famous magic swords about the place. Excalibur, Caladbolg, Kusunagi, Durandal etc. It crops up a lot in video games as well, especially fantasy ones where a team of heroes will wield every weapon under the sun (up to and including a megaphone, a parasol, nunchaku, stuffed animals, dolls and conductor batons) but the ‘main’ lead heroic character will of course use a sword.

    I usually manage to avoid this because I prefer to write urban/gothic fantasy, and there’s not a lot of call to be waving a sword about when people have guns. I did write a sword fight recently, but it was a duel to first blood to settle an argument, between two supporting characters, rather than the hero engaging in a dramatic clash against the villain. My ‘noble’ hero’s weapon of choice is his demon.

  11. TakuGifian on 2 August 2011, 04:05 said:

    While I see where you are coming from about swords being the weapon of choice of the elite, this really applies more to the medieval world. In the ancient world, swords were more common, but that is because of the differences in materials used in sword. In the ancient world, it was easier to equip bronze, and later iron, to make weapons. When steal came along, it was harder to outfit an entire army with steal and only nobility could really acquire steal.

    That’s a very good point. I was focused on the medieval and renaissance eras because, sadly, so few fantasy stories are set in the ancient world, let alone accurately so. But it is definitely a good point to keep in mind.

    in the beggining of this monologue you basicly say you dont like swords. but then you go on to PROVE that swords(especialy straight ones) make exellent adaptable weapons.

    Swords are highly adaptable, yes. That doesn’t mean they are the best of all weapons, or that writers should obsess themselves with swords to the point of neglecting or dismissing other kinds of weapons.

    the sword is still the single most adaptable weapon(as you pointed out) in history

    Swords are certainly not the most adaptable weapons in history (personally, I believe that flexible weapons are far more adaptable, especially in the sense that they can have non-military purposes as well), and even if they were it doesn’t make them the ‘king’ of weapons. In the Chinese martial philosophy, the two types of swords were regarded equally to staves and spears. Not better or superior.

    Every weapon has pros and cons, and it’s almost entirely situational. The adaptability of a sword will alloow it to be effective in a wide variety of situations, but a good strong club can be just as effective in a far broader range of situations, especially if it can also be used as a walking stick, yoke or fishing pole/club.

    so shut up and see the gapinghole in you argument!

    There is no hole, because I have not made any contradictory or paradoxical statements.

    there is no denying that the class we collectivelly call “swords” are the king of all weapons. correct me if im wrong?

    Just because a sword is adaptable, doesn’t make it the best weapon. Something can be flexible and useless just as much as something can be rigid and supremely effective.

    As we are on a site dedicated to literary criticism and the advancement of literature and the art (and craft) of writing, could you please take a little care with your spelling, punctuation, and syntax? I would appreciate it.

  12. Akroya on 2 August 2011, 06:29 said:

    Michael, the issue with swords being highly adaptable is that one must have the appropriate training to use them in this range of situations. This is also often lacking. Few fantasy heroes have actually had years of extensive training that is a pre-requisite for using the weapon in the situations that they do, but they do it anyway.

    Not only that, but they’re just not appropriate for every situation, and the issue being addressed is that they’re used as a go-to weapon for every situation, while other more strategic and appropriate weapons for that given situation should be considered.

    (Sorry for the run-on sentence)

    Not only that, but the fascination with swords is so immense that people tend to ignore their weaknesses (yes, they have those) just for the sake of being “cool”, which ultimately is what is objectionable.

    Telling people to “shut up” doesn’t seem appropriate for this sort of a site either, though drawing attention to that fact may not be appropriate either. First comment on here though, so I’ll need to feel my way around a bit.

    Sorry if this comment was incoherent, I’m quite exhausted at the moment.

  13. TakuGifian on 2 August 2011, 07:55 said:

    Thank you, Akroya, you summed up the issue very eloquently.

    Michael, the issue with swords being highly adaptable is that one must have the appropriate training to use them in this range of situations.

    This is exactly what I meant. I said “anyone can pick up a sword”, but anybody can pick up a mace or an axe and use it with considerably more effectiveness and skill with considerably less training. That’s what so many fantasy writers overlook, that there are other – better – weapons available, depending on the situation.

  14. No One on 2 August 2011, 08:26 said:

    Late to the archery discussion, but:

    you have to aim below what you’re shooting at

    Don’t you have to aim higher than your target rather than lower? The further the target is, the lower the arrow would drop because of gravity, right?

  15. theArmourer on 2 August 2011, 08:47 said:

    At anything over ~50-70 yards, you don’t aim at the target. It could be less range than that, but around then the arc is reaching the point where you have to aim as the English archers aimed, at a point on the ground. That’s the reason for the massed fire used by any archers in battle.
    Crossbows had a flatter trajectory and could get closer using their pavise, and therefore could “aim” at targets farther away. That’s why the English used them, especially in sieges.

  16. VikingBoyBilly on 2 August 2011, 09:14 said:

    Yay! Someone who hates the cliche-ness of swords as much as I do!

  17. Spanman on 2 August 2011, 09:24 said:

    you have to aim below what you’re shooting at

    reason for the massed fire used by any archers in battle.

    Another thing I’ve always wondered is the proper verb for using a bow, because I’ve been told both of these are wrong. XP

  18. Akroya on 2 August 2011, 10:15 said:

    Spanman, I think the most appropriate term for directing the use of a bow is “release”, as “shoot” and “fire” are more appropriate to the function of a gun.

    I’m probably incorrect about the exact command though, so you may want to wait for someone else to comment. Just throwing in my two cents for what it’s worth.

  19. Rozen Maiden on 2 August 2011, 10:21 said:

    I thought the term was ‘loose’ as in to loose an arrow. Not certain though.

  20. Akroya on 2 August 2011, 10:27 said:

    Yeah, that sounds far more accurate.

  21. Golcondio on 2 August 2011, 11:11 said:

    Two well-written cases of characters not bothering with learning swordfight and “simply” jumping into the fray with axes, with considerable success (i.e. staying alive and mostly intact until the end of the fight): – Fitzchivalry Farseer in Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy – Tyrion Lannister in SOIAF

  22. Fell Blade on 2 August 2011, 11:17 said:

    Interesting article. I agree with you on some points, mainly that fantasy authors write about swords and swordplay without very much knowledge or experience in those areas. If an author wants his or her hero to wield a sword, they should at least research sword training and technique before writing about it, in order to avoid some of the issues you mentioned.

    I would like to point out, though, that it was partly advanced sword technique that made Medieval knights such a deadly force on the battlefield. I’ve actually been researching this area for my own future fantasy work, and have found some really interesting information. For instance, most common soldiers during the Middle Ages only used the “hack” and “slash” way of fighting. Knights, however, developed the technique of thrusting with their blades. This gave them a huge advantage in combat. Also, aggressive attacks were emphasized more than passive defense in battle. If a knight had to defend against an attack, he learned to do so in a way that would enable him to counterattack almost instantly, or even in the same movement.

    I would also like to point out that a single knight engaging multiple opponents was very common. This was actually part of a knight’s training, and why aggressive attacks were so strongly emphasized. These opponents were, of course, the common soldiers with less training, which is why a knight was able to defeat them. Some orders of knights actually reached such a high skill level that they refused to fight single opponents (unless they were other knights).

    One thing that I have noticed in fantasy sword fights is that the fight only concentrates on the swords. In actual Medieval combat, however, knights combined both sword technique and wrestling to defeat their opponents.

  23. Clibanarius on 2 August 2011, 13:54 said:

    True, it’s kind of annoying when authors just have their characters fighting weapon to weapon instead of adding some vicious grappling and joint strikes to the fight scene.

    Keep in mind that against someone in plate and mail there’s not much point in using a sword, it’s like using an assault rifle on a modern tank. (Not the best analogy, I know, but you get the idea).

    For the medieval soldier at least, the sword was a weapon of last resort, kind of like how a pistol is a weapon of last resort for a modern soldier.

  24. Requiem on 2 August 2011, 14:51 said:

    People may diss sword fighting, but dual wielding them makes your character a badass or a mary sue if the character isn’t done correctly. Musashi from japan is one of the most famous samurai to dual wield swords and come out on top although i’m not sure how practical it is to use them in large battle settings compared to say one sword.

    Then of course some swords were very useful such as the zweihander used for taking out calvary and cutting through spears. Another useful sword would be the falcata that can deliver a blow as powerful as an axe. So I guess swords are quite flexible in use but harder to come by compared to say a spear,axe, or mace.
  25. Zokoke on 2 August 2011, 15:03 said:

    @Clibanarius

    That is not necessarily true. Knights were trained to use the pommel and guard as hammers when fighting plate armor. Knights were also trained to use swords with two hands and, when used with grappling, to strike at weak points such as the armpit or neck.

    I would like to direct you to this video series on Youtube. It covers various weapons that were used by the British in the late Medieval times. This first video talks about the sword and how it was used in combat, with and against armor. It shows how different swords stand up against armor and where knights would target weak points, although they go more in depth about this in part 8. They even show parts of a book that was written on swordsmanship with long swords.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qEMwcSGauY8

    This next series looks at the longbow and how it was used.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPskCGVAsCU

    I would use these as a starting point for further research.

  26. Fell Blade on 2 August 2011, 15:03 said:

    Clibanarius, I believe your last statement may be right about the common soldiers, but not in regards to knights. From what I’ve read a sword would be the knight’s primary weapon, although knights also carried weapons such as a mace, battle axe, or halberd. In addition, they would carry a lance and dagger.

    I believe the problem in fantasy writing is that authors sometimes equip a full army as if they were knights, instead of recognizing the knights as being special, elite troops. Thus the common soldier would not be carrying a knight’s sword, but instead a spear, axe, or pike.

    It’s also worth pointing out that armor consisted mostly of chain mail until well into the 14th century. The increasing use of plate armor also corresponds with the introduction of gun powder. Full plate armor was not used until the 15th century. So for much of the Middle Ages knights fought in chain mail only.

  27. Deborah on 2 August 2011, 15:06 said:

    It would also be interesting if fantasy authors actually explored different types of swords, instead of Generic Fantasy Broadsword #14322.

    I think ‘shoot’ is okay to use with a bow, but not ‘fire’

  28. Fell Blade on 2 August 2011, 15:53 said:

    @Zokoke
    Great videos. They were very helpful. It would seem from this that swords were standard issue by the time of the Norman invasion and stayed in use a long time.

  29. Ridureyu on 2 August 2011, 16:47 said:

    I have Miyamoto Musashi’s book. He’s got entire passages devoted to, “People call the spear a woman’s weapon, but it’s really great unless you’re in close quarters,” and “Guns are wonderful,. just watch out for reload times.”

    Musashi was awesome.

  30. WiseWillow on 2 August 2011, 16:48 said:

    I don’t really have any technical knowledge to add here, but the article was very well written. I’m also amazed by the amount you guys know :) I kinda nerd-squeed at this discussion, actually.

    I don’t have the skill level to learn much weapons use, but I’ve got a tiny bit of basic staff training, and someday I’d like to learn how to use a naginata.

  31. theArmourer on 2 August 2011, 17:17 said:

    About the Longbow video, weather or not a longbow could pierce plate at any range is still the subject of much debate, and has not been conclusively proven.

  32. Zokoke on 2 August 2011, 17:53 said:

    @ theArmourer

    Just out of curiosity, did you watch only the first video, or did you watch the entire episode?

    It is possible to penetrate armor, but it depends on the arrowhead used and the distance. The closer the better, especially if you have multiple archers. In one of the battles the series talks about. The English were on a hill and there were numerous, highly-trained archers. These archers were also defended by pike-men against the charge of French knights. It is highly likely that the English used a specialized arrowheads that were very thin. These arrowheads were used, and could, penetrate mail, which is what a majority of soldiers would have worn. Also, while the archers would aim at the knights, it is more likely that they aimed at the horses to take them out of the fight and to leave the knight without the advantage of his horse.

  33. Clibanarius on 2 August 2011, 19:31 said:

    “I would use these as a starting point for further research.”

    @ Zokoke.

    Um, I think you need to ease off a little, no offense but you’re starting to sound a little bit. . . condescending. Believe it or not I have watched those videos and I have done a lot research on the middle ages (specifically its Military History), and I’m still doing it, so you don’t need to tell to do further research ; )

    I would recommend looking up Dan Howard’s Mail Unchained Article he makes a very convincing case that bodkin arrows were in fact flight arrows (In fact authentic mail stopped arrows from a Mary Rose Warbow in a test by the Royal Armouries). Thomas Mallory IIRC mentions the english arrows skipping off the french plate and shields and so the english aimed the french horses unprotected flanks.

    And while Mike Loades stuff’s usually pretty good the armour tests (except for the lombarb breastplat one, which in fact would seem to disprove the idea that longbows could pierce plate) leave something to be desired.

    Keep in mind that a plate gorget and coif is hardly a weak point ; )

    “Clibanarius, I believe your last statement may be right about the common soldiers, but not in regards to knights. From what I’ve read a sword would be the knight’s primary weapon, although knights also carried weapons such as a mace, battle axe, or halberd. In addition, they would carry a lance and dagger.”

    FellBlade, actually a Man-at-arms primary weapons were his horse and lance. Which does more damage and charging horse and an eighteen foot lance? Or a sword? The Man-at-arms usually used some form of impact weapon after he discarded his broken lance. As those would have been more effective against another similarly armoured opponent.

    “It’s also worth pointing out that armor consisted mostly of chain mail until well into the 14th century. The increasing use of plate armor also corresponds with the introduction of gun powder. Full plate armor was not used until the 15th century. So for much of the Middle Ages knights fought in chain mail only.”

    Actually, Plate became widespread not because of a some kind of arms race (a theory that came about because of modern century perceptions) but because with technological advancements Plate became as cheap and easy to produce as Mail, and Mail still provided excellent protection, keep in mind that it cooexisted with crossbows, lances and maces for centuries. Dan Howard’s Mail Unchained article is an excellent read regarding the subject.

  34. theArmourer on 2 August 2011, 19:51 said:

    I’ve seen the entire episode, and I am something of a longbow fan; however, there are many misconceptions about the longbow that are learned as fact.

    To start Here and here

    Maille & cloth armor were worn together, by anyone who could afford to. If you couldn’t, you wore cloth armor, which was not that effective.

    In one of the battles the series talks about. The English were on a hill and there were numerous, highly-trained archers. These archers were also defended by pike-men against the charge of French knights.

    The English did not employ pikemen, in fact while everyone else was using pikemen, they were using billmen and archers until they replaced them with pike and shot in the late 1500’s. The archers would, if possible, plant stakes to impede any cavalry charge. I would find it more likely that the “pikemen” are just men-at-arms with lances. Unless you are talking about the 5000 “spearmen,” which would have been a peseant militia that I woulden’t trust to defend my barn(which I don’t have).

    It is highly likely that the English used a specialized arrowheads that were very thin.

    The Bodkin arrowhead. The most overrated piece of ordinance on the medieval battlefield. There is no evidence of these arrowheads being hardened, like most reproductions are. This may not actually make a large amount of difference against metal armor, where the amount of energy transferred may be more important. No one(to my knowledge) has tested this. In the show, the arrow- under ideal conditions -did not penetrate until an equivilant of 20 yards, and how long does it take a horse to cover 20 yards? And an unhardend arrowhead may not penetrate at all.

    Ha, Clibanarius got there first.

  35. Zokoke on 2 August 2011, 20:14 said:

    I see. Well, Clibanarius, I did not mean to come off as sounding condescending and I am sorry if I did. Medieval weaponry is not necessarily my strong point as the library on campus is severely lacking in any information, print and online. This a relatively new field in terms of story writing for me and thus, I have only a few books on how weapons were used. Most of my stories have been based in the real world and in psychology. I’m actually looking at working on a new story based on the ancient Celts. Thanks to you and theArmourer for the suggestions though.

  36. swenson on 2 August 2011, 20:31 said:

    The comments on this one are as interesting as the article! Glad you guys know so much about this sort of thing; I feel that if I ever write a passage regarding medieval-type warfare I’ll be a little bit more educated than I was before. :D

  37. Clibanarius on 2 August 2011, 20:41 said:

    “I see. Well, Clibanarius, I did not mean to come off as sounding condescending and I am sorry if I did. Medieval weaponry is not necessarily my strong point as the library on campus is severely lacking in any information, print and online. This a relatively new field in terms of story writing for me and thus, I have only a few books on how weapons were used. Most of my stories have been based in the real world and in psychology. I’m actually looking at working on a new story based on the ancient Celts. Thanks to you and theArmourer for the suggestions though.”

    Don’t be sorry man : ) There’s nothing to apologize for, and if anything I’m the one who should apologize for saying that, it was pretty arrogant of me.

    And I enjoyed discussing this with you and I’m sorry I didn’t defend my position and debate with you in a more polite fashion.

  38. Zokoke on 2 August 2011, 20:51 said:

    As did I. I never really get to discuss topics such as this, so it is really refreshing to even have these small debates. Most of my friends who are English or Writing majors do not really write these stories. They tend to focus on having a modern day setting. Plus, you do learn something from these boards, and in a respectful way.

  39. theArmourer on 2 August 2011, 21:03 said:

    I’ll leave a couple last comments.

    First, if I was harsh or rude I apologize.

    Second, I reccomend MyArmoury as an unparalleled resource for any ancient, medieval, or renaissance weapons or armor.

    Third, to see who dominates in warfare, follow the spear, as it is my observation that the dominators of the battlefield carry the spear.

    Fourth, I know that I said “a couple.” :p

  40. TheArmada on 2 August 2011, 23:57 said:

    I’ll take a katana for its surgical cutting prowess and lower strength requirements. (it helps that I know basic Kendo)

  41. Requiem on 3 August 2011, 01:14 said:

    Only problem with katana is that they can’t cut through plate armor ( except in fiction) but they do fit the rule of cool.

  42. TakuGifian on 3 August 2011, 03:27 said:

    I officially love all of you guys. Where else can I publish (yeah, yeah) an article, and then sit in rapt attention to the discussion that follows? Awesome stuff.

    I didn’t see if anyone had mentioned it, but when Clibanarius was talking about knights being highly trained (as a reference to the effectiveness of swords), that was more than half of my argument against swords. Yes, highly trained knights were extremely effective fighters, but I think if one trained every single day from the age of eight up until you were physically unable, one would be a pretty effective fighter with any weapon you could think of. I have only ever read one fantasy story where the sword-wielding characters put in that kind of dedication and actually understood the realities of armed combat, and that, sadly, has been out of print for years.

  43. Tolly on 3 August 2011, 05:26 said:

    Maces and Spears are two of my favourite weapons of choice. I won’t even use swords in D&D (apart from the time I played the Favoured Soul of Oghma, anyways).

  44. happycrab91 on 3 August 2011, 09:28 said:

    Funny that you write this article about swords being overused and such when the high fantasy story I am writing has almost no swordplay. It’s like I knew. It seems to me that most stories make magic a rarity, while in mine it used by everyone in certain cultures. That and another aspect of one of the races makes swords, spears, axes, arrows and just about everything else impractical.

    But I do have a small number of SPESHUL bladed weapons, some or most of which are swords. Hopefully with the action being mostly magic it ends up more interesting than Harry Potter’s fighting. But it had its good actiony moments.

    I haven’t figured out what’s going to happen in a lots of my series so swords might come into play more. I do want to write some large battle scenes with people who don’t use magic so thanks for making me think about this kind of stuff. I will probably have them primarily use spears and things other than swords.

  45. Fell Blade on 3 August 2011, 12:03 said:

    @Clibanarius
    I really meant that the sword was a primary in terms of hand-to-hand combat. During a charge, of course the lance would be the mounted knights best weapon. But Medieval art depicts many knights using swords, and the sword would have been the first weapon they received during the knighting ceremony. Yes, there were other weapons that were in use at the time, but it was the study of sword technique that set the knight above the other soldiers on the battlefield.

    Also, with the mention of plate armor I was trying to point out that full plate armor did not come into the picture with the advent of the knight. I didn’t intend that to mean that it was an arms race. But it took centuries for plate armor to develop, and by the time knights were wearing full plate armor gunpowder had arrived on the scene and swords were slowly being outdated.

    One thing that I believe is worth bringing into this discussion is that swords were not a medieval phenomenon. Romans, Greeks, and ancient cultures also used swords (though different kinds of course). Historically the sword has been the symbol of conflict and war, and I believe that is why it is so often portrayed in literature as a main weapon. In Medieval culture it was also a symbol of both nobility and ancestry. This too has been carried over into fantasy literature. In the same way a king’s crown is symbolic of his rule and is used as such, although historically there were other royal symbols (scepter, orb, clothes, etc.)

    I think a good fantasy author would be able to craft the symbolism and legacy of the sword while taking into account the realism of equipping an army with more diverse weapons. I thought the Lord of the Rings did this well (the books, not the movies). Tolkien included groups of archers, dwarven axe-men, Helm’s war hammer, the spear equipped cavalry of Rohan, etc, while at the same time giving special attention to the hereditary swords like Narsil/Anduril, or the barrow swords that the hobbits picked up.

  46. swenson on 3 August 2011, 15:55 said:

    Fell Blade kind of touched on this, but because I’m a semi-rabid fangirl, I’m wondering what the rest of you think about Lord of the Rings and weaponry. Plenty of other weapons were used, of course, like the elven archers and dwarven axe-men that Fell Blade mentioned, but swords do show up, such as the hobbits using them with little to no training. (then again, I’m not sure how effective they’re shown to be with them)

    Also, how does plate armor stand up against guns, anyway? I presume modern-day weaponry could punch right through it, or at least the thinner sections of it, but did it offer much protection against firearms of the time?

  47. Deborah on 3 August 2011, 16:49 said:

    Well, the swords that the hobbits were using were technically daggers, they just made swords for hobbits because they are so much smaller than humans.

    I’ve tried to avoid the ‘hero always has a sword’ thing in my current story, where the heroine is an archer with a pair of knives as backup. (Of course, then she loses two fingers in battle and has to switch to knives—or a single one—alone, because no one could draw a bow with two fingers on their right hand missing.)

    And of other Tolkien weapons—Gil-Galad had a spear and Tuor had an axe, as I recall.

  48. Akroya on 3 August 2011, 19:42 said:

    Just avoiding using swords due to their popularity shouldn’t be the appropriate means of going about it.

    You should effectively be able to have a hero use a sword but only where appropriate. That seems to be the point. Not “Don’t use swords”, but “Think about why”. Maybe your hero has been trained in combat since a young age, or maybe their training only needs to go as far as “stick them with the pointy end” (as long as it’s later reflected on that that’s all they’re doing, and don’t suddenly pull mad skillz out of nowhere).

    There’s nothing wrong with swords at all, it’s considering their implementation in modern literature and the fact that there needs to be a “why” for it. Sure, you can have them use a bow and knives, an axe, a mace, or anything really, but there must always be a “Why?” considered even if it isn’t mentioned on the pages. The latter have an easier “Why?” to consider than the former.

    Since we’re talking about our own heroes, one of mine uses a sword and shield while the other uses a mace. The sword-wielder is younger and less experienced than the other (she has eight years of experience in swordplay to his eleven) but can hold her own against him due to various factors. Obviously they have longer-ranged weapons as well, but for their primary hand-to-hand combat weapons they both differ greatly, which gives them advantages in different situations.

  49. Clibanarius on 3 August 2011, 20:28 said:

    @ Swenson:

    It depends, Bert S. Hall has a good book on the subject (Warfare in Renaissance Europe).

    Keep in mind that guns and plate armoured heavy horse cooexisted for quite some time (In fact after 1540 French Men-at-arms carried one for emergencies). In fact the pistol came into use as a replacement for the lance.

    In Hall’s book he mentions a test where they fired a musket against a cuirass and while the ball did penetrate the steel of the breastplate robbed it of its velocity so that the quilted linen underneath bounced the ball back out and the wearer would have felt light bruising at best.

    It also helped that the guns of the period were innacurate (and not always reliable) smoothbores with rounds that didn’t fight the diameter of the bore and so they bounced on the way out, Montluc (A French Cavalry Officer of the time) said that a few hundred Heavy Horse could easily scatter a thousand Arqubusiers in the open.

    Even after ‘Knights’ were abandoned armour persisted (and got thicker) and commanders frequently ordered their pistol armed cavalry to wait until the more heavily armoured Lancers were close enough that they could press the barrels of their weapons against the Lancer’s breastplates before firing. Which would indicate to me that they didn’t think the pistol balls would get through at a greater distance.

    RE: LOTR, Tolkien was in the Military and I think that overall he did a pretty good job, the terminology and tactics seem to be sensible (to me) and while the Hobbits did get blades they weren’t in very many situations were they went up against experienced soldiers IIRC.

  50. Rozen Maiden on 4 August 2011, 03:41 said:

    I do seem to remember a few instances where samurai armour stood up to gunfire – Tokugawa Ieyasu survived being shot once when a bullet failed to penetrate the breastplate of his armour, and the ninja made several attempts to assassinate Nobunaga Oda using firearms. Again, he survived because his armour protected him. Mind you given the status of both of them they probably had the very best quality armour available for the time.

    I was impressed as well by the accounts of a samurai named Tadakatsu Honda, who was said to have never been wounded in battle despite fighting in over a hundred of them. And even though he was a samurai he was famous for using a spear, not a sword – the dragonfly cutter, so named because of a story about a dragonfly that perched itself on the edge of the spear and was immediately cut in two. For any spear over sword fans out there, he’s a pretty cool role model.

  51. Requiem on 4 August 2011, 10:34 said:

    The golden age of samurai armor must have been pretty strong since they were trading with portugal and I think and incorporating more western styled armor ( I could be wrong).

    Tadakatsu Honda is a badass, and I believe his weapon was also called the tonbo giri in japanese. But that spear isn’t nearly as legendary as the masamune and murasame blades both of which are named after their respective blacksmiths.

  52. Requiem on 4 August 2011, 10:38 said:

    muramasa*

  53. The Cat on 5 August 2011, 08:17 said:

    Samurai were awesome, but I think that their biggest problem were numbers.

    It’s fun to look at quality vs. quantity in battles of any time period. Many times, an army made up of a huge number of fresh recruits will get pulverized by a smaller army of veterans. But in the hands of a great general, the reverse has happened. A lot of people think that soldiers do everything, and generals get all the credit, but I disagree- strategically, it’s Generals who direct how the army will fight the war, and tactically, it’s Generals who decide how the army will fight the battle. They can be responsible for an amazing victory and a crushing defeat.

    Commanding an army of samurai does help though. ;)

  54. Rozen Maiden on 5 August 2011, 09:30 said:

    Case in point – the battle of Okehazama. Imagawa had about thirty five thousand men. Nobunaga about two and half thousand. Result? Victory for Nobunaga, thanks to him taking advantage of the terrain, the weather and the element of surprise.

    … but not the Genma. That came later ;p

  55. Kyllorac on 6 August 2011, 17:19 said:

    I have long been tempted to write a story (or several) in a culture where swords were never developed due to various reasons, paramount being the lack of resources with which to make swords with.

    This article has only strengthened that desire.

  56. Snow White Queen on 6 August 2011, 18:25 said:

    Late, but the article (and comments) are amazingly informative and merit a closer rereading. I’m really glad you ended up writing this article, Taku, and hope that you do more in the future!

  57. Inkblot on 7 August 2011, 10:34 said:

    I’m the last to the party here, but I’d like to posit that the classic European broadsword (or any straight blade with a cross guard) also gained a certain religious significance during the Crusades, when the inverted sword symbolized the Cross of Christendom (with the scimitar as the Crescent of Islam). You can’t deny that there’s a certain semi-mystical ring to sword that mace just doesn’t quite have, an advantage that thousands of years of built-up cutural prejudice have established in the West.

    Great article! :D

  58. Costanza on 8 August 2011, 00:05 said:

    Wrong, wrong, wrong, ALL wrong!

    It’s common knowledge that swords beat every other type of weapon ever made. Why? Because legendary warriors only use swords. Would the Samurai be as cool if they were shown in fiction mostly using spears and bows? NO. Would Eragon be as cool using a lance instead of an AWESOME EVIL BLADE? NO.

    Also, swords deflect bullets and arrows. So every smart person will use a sword.

    Come on you guys, there’s a reason why every elite military force in the world uses swords. Do some research!

  59. Requiem on 8 August 2011, 01:32 said:

    Who says you can’t use swords, guns, and magic all at once?

  60. Rozen Maiden on 8 August 2011, 03:46 said:

    I am. It’s fun.

    Video games do it as well. Devil May Cry series? Swords, check. Magic, check. Guns, check. Onimusha series? Likewise. Final Fantasy? In one of them you play a magical elite gunblade wielding mercenary.

    Swords are cool, but swords AND guns? At the same time? Go for it.

  61. Snow White Queen on 9 August 2011, 18:23 said:

    Hey, Taku, are you going to do any more weapons articles? I’d like to request one on daggers and/or knives. They’re probably more realistic weapons than swords to use if you’re going sharp and pointy, but it seems that they’re not used all that much in fiction, unless you’re an assassin or something.

  62. Taku on 10 August 2011, 02:41 said:

    Hey, that’s a good idea, SWQ. I’m no trained knife-fighter, but daggers and knives, properly used, can defeat most any weapon except projectiles.

  63. Zokoke on 10 August 2011, 14:56 said:

    @Taku

    If memory serves me right, knives and daggers were used quite often in the medieval world, but if it was used exclusively by the nobles or if all classes used them I am not sure. Can anyone verify? I do know that knives/daggers were used during meals, along with bread, as a utensil until the fork and spoon became widely used.

    There is a specialized dagger commonly referred to as a parrying dagger, or sometimes an off-handed dagger. If memory serves me right, these were used during the Renaissance along with the rapier, or other one handed swords. The hand guards that covered the hands and were used, as the name suggests, to parry incoming attacks. Some of these had notches in the blades and were designed to catch the opponent’s sword. These were called sword breakers.

    I personally see daggers/knives in three ways. The first way is a utility weapon for cutting or for eating. The second, as described above, is that it is used in conjunction. The third way I could see it is as a weapon of last resort. If it comes down to a knife fight, then the fighters’ weapons are gone and they have resorted to wrestling.

    This has been done in movies where, usually near the end of a fight, the villain will pin the hero on the ground and will make an exaggerated attempt to stab them, but of course the hero grabs the villain’s arm and there will be a struggle to divert the blade until the villain is stabbed himself or is thrown off. However, the more efficient way, especially if the opponents are in plate armor, is to aim for weak points in the armor where plates move, such as the armpit or neck, at least that is what I understand to happen.

  64. Taku on 10 August 2011, 16:03 said:

    Zokoke, during the middle ages, knifes were one of the most common tools around. Everyone had their own personal knife, which was used for everything from hunting to eating to carving a pretty wooden necklace, and a myriad little jobs around the home and workplace. Including self-defence.

    Daggers however, as you say, were more specialised. They were purpose-designed for the thrust attack, and pretty much useless as everyday tools.

    As to the last point, I disagree. Knife fighting is an extremely well-developed art that is in practice even today. They aren’t a weapon of last resort if you know how to use them.

    As for plate armour, if they’re wearing the full outfit the best thing to do is aim for the eye-slit. That’s one of the reasons thrust-daggers were developed so commonly in Europe, they were the most effective way of getting past plate mail aside from blunt force trauma from a mace or something. Knock a knight off balance, and while they’re on the ground, stick a dagger through the eyeholes and the job’s finished.

  65. Zokoke on 10 August 2011, 16:11 said:

    Really? I’ve never seen knife fighting as specific form of combat, only as a last resort or in conjunction weapon. I might have to look into this. Do you have any examples of where I could look?

  66. Taku on 10 August 2011, 16:48 said:

    There are schools all around the place. It’s classed the same as martial arts (e.g. karate, kung fu), and there are quite a few tutorials on YouTube about it.

    The thing I love about knives is that against someone with a sword, you can defend yourself if you have a pole. But against a professionally-trained knife fighter, the only thing you can do in the absence of a gun is to flee or give up.

  67. Rozen Maiden on 10 August 2011, 17:40 said:

    I can think of a bunch of things you could use against a knife fighter besides just a gun. A taser. Pepper spray. A knife of your own. A pair of armoured gauntlets and some decent unarmed combat skills. An aerosol can and a lighter. A chainsaw. A metal rod hooked up to an electrical current that’d shock the knife fighter if their blade came into contact with it. A tin of paint and a lucky throw. A laser pointer and a good aim.

    I’m sure there are some very impressive knife fighting techniques out there, but think outside the box a little. You don’t have to shoot someone with a knife just to stop them. You always have the option to blind them, choke them, burn them, electrocute them or otherwise fend them off without resorting to bullets. I think there’s even a martial art or close combat training style that involves improv of everyday household items to defend yourself, the kind of thing Bourne does in the Jason Bourne films. Wasn’t there a fight in those that had him fend off a knife-wielding assassin using a pen? Not something I’d like to try myself but still.

  68. TakuGifian on 11 August 2011, 04:45 said:

    You don’t have to shoot someone with a knife

    Although that would be absolutely awesome.

    To be fair, most of those things would work against an attacker no matter what they were armed with.

    And, really, what situation would you be in where you would have access to a highly charged electrical rod if you’re walking down the street one night? Or, more realistically, if you live in a world without electricity but cannot afford a sword or other expensive purpose-made weapon, and you happen to have an eating/hunting knife at your belt pretty much everywhere you go.

    It’s easy to think of a dozen or more things that will work effectively against an armed attacker, but you have to be a little bit realistic and use a bit of common sense. Knife fighting isn’t something where they stand back and let you arm yourself and be all noble and dignified. That’s the point. It’s quick, brutal and extremely effective at attacking the points of greatest damage.

    It only takes one small flick across the wrist to effectively disable one of your arms, and that flick is surprisingly easy to land against someone with brass knuckles, a chainsaw, a sword or even a long spear. It’s all about manoeuvrability, and professional knife fighting training teaches you to take advantage of every possible opportunity and to finish the job as quickly as possible.

    I said earlier that I’m not a professionally-trained knife fighter, but I have had experience with knife fighting in a kung fu mindset, and even against someone with only a few months of kung fu training you would be in serious danger. An aerosol can and a lighter? Yes, that will work for all of a minute, maybe, but as soon as that flame falters they’ll be right onto you and before you know it you’ll have five or six stab wounds in the arms, shoulders and neck. And then you’ll be dead.

    “A tin of paint and a lucky throw.” is an even worse strategy, because if you miss you’re unarmed. Relying on “a lucky shot” for survival is the height of stupidity, no offence. The time and energy it takes to throw a full tin of paint is so slow and painstaking that dodging one is almost laughable easy. Especially for a trained knife fighter who knows how to use his feet and stance to manoeuvre around, duck, dodge and get in and out without being hit.

    “Wasn’t there a fight in those that had him fend off a knife-wielding assassin using a pen? Not something I’d like to try myself but still.”

    As I said before, be realistic. A pen (or better, a solid wooden pencil) can be an extremely effective weapon, but against a knife it has a serious disadvantage. In a real situation, Bourne would either have gone down or would have had to attack before the other guy was actually armed or aware of him (of course, that would legally be an unprovoked attack, rather than a defence). Movies and television are not a good indicator of ability or possibility (or even plausibility). They wanted the main character to look cool, not to be realistic.

    And I repeat, knowing what I know and seeing what I’ve seen of knife fighting and knife fighters, unless I had a gun and a good 3-4 metres distance between us, I would back off and give him my wallet.

  69. Rozen Maiden on 11 August 2011, 08:20 said:

    It’s a little unfair though – first you make a sweeping generalisation that against a knife wielding opponent, without a gun your ONLY options are to give up or run away. When I pointed out that that simply is not the case you handwaved my points by narrowing the conditions to ‘plausible everyday ordinary situation with no environmental factors involved and no chance to arm oneself’.

    Moving the goalposts much?

    Your initial claim that in lieu of a gun you must surrender or face defeat against a knife fighter – is wrong. As an absolute it simply isn’t the case, regardless of how unusual or unlikely the circumstances required to disprove the claim, the fact remains that it can be disproved. Just because it is unlikely that someone with a laser or a tin of paint could successfully blind a knife wielding opponent, the fact remains that they CAN, thereby disproving your initial claim.

    Perhaps you should have been a bit more specific, or at least not worded it in such a way as to suggest an absolute.

    It’s also blatantly unfair to claim that a knife fighter need only wound your arm to disable you, yet you do not concede the same concession for the opposing side – namely a makeshift flamethrower need only burn the knife fighters hand to make him unable to properly and skilfully wield a knife with any degree of effectiveness. A strong laser can burn out your retina and leave you blind, and last I checked lasers travel a little bit faster than humans do. Sure, a knife fighter can stab you a dozen times and leave you dead, but only if they can see you. What happens if you dazzle them with a strong camera flash then disarm them? All the knife skills in the world count for little if your vision is just a white blur, or if your eyes are streaming and burning from pepper spray. Or your muscles are twitching and refusing to operate because you got jabbed by several hundred thousand volts from a personal defence taser.

    Knife fighters are not invincible. Behind any knife is a human being, and human beings have all manner of common weaknesses. They can be burned, shocked, distracted. Sure, they might have the edge over someone who only has some pepper spray and a whistle, and if it came down to placing bets on who would win in a fight I’d likely bet on the knife fighter. But I wouldn’t ever claim something as outrageous as “Professional knife fighters can defeat anyone not armed with a gun” which, I repeat, was your initial claim.

    That’s all I’m arguing against here – not for a reliable and dependable way to fend off a skilled knife fighter. I’m not arguing that at all. I’m arguing against the absolute statement that against a skilled knife fighter your ONLY options are to give up, die or run away. They are not. A taser can incapacitate the most skilled knife fighter and requires less skill and training to use. Anyone can blind a skilled knife attacker with any number of plausible and readily accessible objects.

    They are not invincible against all but guns, is all I’m saying. YES they will have an edge and be extremely dangerous, but they are not an insurmountable threat that lay waste to all but people packing heat. That’s just not the case at all.

    Would I like to face down a knife attacker with only a pen, a laser pointer and some paint? Christ no. If it were me, personally, I probably would give up or run away. But if I were a trained police officer armed with non-lethal self defence items and wearing a stab vest, I wouldn’t be so quick to back down or turn tail. If I were a trained soldier on leave about to get mugged by a knife wielding assailant, and I had some tools to hand to defend myself, I might try and incapacitate or blind the attacker and disarm him.

    I could go on. Point is, sure if you are going to narrow the scenario to ‘John Smith the accountant jumped by a highly skilled knife wielding thug in a back alleyway’ then sure, he’s screwed. But there ARE situations, weapons and people besides a guy with a gun who can successfully overcome even a trained knife fighting opponent. Right? That’s all I’m saying.

  70. Fell Blade on 11 August 2011, 09:50 said:

    On the one hand I can agree that a knife fighter is an extremely dangerous opponent. My manager at work is an ex-soldier with martial arts training up to the level of black belt. His instructors told him that when going up against someone with a knife, it is better to give them your wallet, because it is so dangerous to take on someone with a knife. But if your life is on the line, there are things you can do to defend yourself, even unarmed. You may get lucky and win, you may get unlucky and lose; it’s dangerous and should only be attempted if it’s a choice between fighting and dying. But at the same time, winning is not impossible.

    Also, I’d have to disagree with the statement that anyone with a pole could fight a swordsman. Your assumption is that the swordsman will keep both hands on his sword. Medieval swordsmen would have found a way to grasp the opponent’s pole and move in close. The same way that a knife fighter would, I might add. Using quarterstaves were a common weapon in medieval times, and I’m sure that swordsmen would have had to learn how to defend themselves against such an opponent.

    Also worth pointing out is that not all knives are the same. A hunting knife is designed differently than, say, a poignard. The blades were made differently, and would have to be used slightly differently in combat. For instance a poignard was made to slip easily between joints in a soldier’s armor and stab, rather than slash.

  71. Taku on 11 August 2011, 16:41 said:

    It’s a little unfair though – first you make a sweeping generalisation that against a knife wielding opponent, without a gun your ONLY options are to give up or run away. When I pointed out that that simply is not the case you handwaved my points by narrowing the conditions to ‘plausible everyday ordinary situation with no environmental factors involved and no chance to arm oneself’.

    There’s a huge difference offering plausible defences to offering defences that are illogical, impractical or blatantly ridiculous, though. It isn’t called “handwaving” if the thing being dismissed logical and plausible. A baseball bat or cricket bat? If you knew how to use it and had one on you at the time, yes they could be used successfully against a trained knife wielder. A taser? Yes, if it weren’t for the fact that they are prohibited from sale or possession to the general public (the law might be different where you are, but around here the only people allowed to possess or use tasers and the like are the police). The same for very strong lasers. They only work as a plausible defence it it’s actually legal to carry one down the street. A paint tin? No. Sorry, but it’s simply not a practical defence. A full backpack can work as a shield, but if you’re relying on a tin of paint for your survival against a mugger, you’ve definitely watching the wrong types of action movies. To my mind, coming up with “A metal rod hooked up to an electrical current that’d shock the knife fighter if their blade came into contact with it.” as a plausible defence smacks of the same kind of ridiculousness as saying “aha! But what if I had some kind of armoured knife-proof robotic suit?” It’s simply not plausible, because who would actually have one? For one thing, you need to be able to hold it.

    As for pepper spray, laser pointers and such: the only problem there is that you have to blind them completely on the first shot. If you spray them and they are able to fight through it for even half a minute before the pain really sets in, that’s still half a minute in which they can jump you and attempt to stab/slash at least 10-12 times before the pepper gets the better of them. If you’re in range to spray them with a concentrated burst, they’re in range to charge in and stab you. Partial vision is enough to stab by, and if they only thing you have is a can of pepper spray, more often than not they’ll charge in an attack. Wounded animals, and all that.

    You have to realise, as Fell Blade pointed out, knives are serious business. There’s no joking around with a knife attacker. No hand-waving with “some kind of highly-charged rod, which zaps them every time their knife makes contact” (and yes, that one is technically hand-waving, seeing as it is both extremely impractical and logically absurd). You don’t mess around when it comes to knives, because it does only take one flick against the inside of the wrist to make a potentially fatal wounds. Knives are lethal weapons, and if you’re going to defend yourself against a knife fighter you have to be prepared to use equal (i.e. lethal) force to defend yourself.

    Yes, knife fighters are not immortal and inescapable. I never said they were. I never once said that there is no option that will work outside of a gun. I said that there’s no option I would trust my life to outside of a gun.

    But if I were a trained police officer armed with non-lethal self defence items and wearing a stab vest, I wouldn’t be so quick to back down or turn tail.

    Of course not, because it’s the duty of the Police to stand up to suck attackers. But do you know Police protocol? AS soon as a knife is drawn, so are the guns. The policeman steps back out of the threat range and draws their gun, giving a verbal warning to drop the knife, and aiming for non-lethal shots (e.g. to the arm or leg). You will see that in training videos, real-life encounters, even, yes, in movies. Because police know not to fuck around when someone’s waving a razor-sharp piece of metal at you and threatening to open your jugular.

    Also, I’d have to disagree with the statement that anyone with a pole could fight a swordsman. Your assumption is that the swordsman will keep both hands on his sword. Medieval swordsmen would have found a way to grasp the opponent’s pole and move in close. The same way that a knife fighter would, I might add. Using quarterstaves were a common weapon in medieval times, and I’m sure that swordsmen would have had to learn how to defend themselves against such an opponent.

    That is a very good point, but pole fighters would have trained for that eventuality as well, and for just as long as the average sword fighter (not including the elite knights). So it wouldn’t have been an automatic victory for the swordsman to grab the pole. The thing a lot of people seem to forget (not saying that you are, just that some people don’t consider it) is that a pole has two sides. A sword has one. You grab one end of my pole? I can spin it around and use the other side. I can use your grip against you to twist your arm up and hyperextend your wrist if you keep holding on. I have two hands in a stable hold, you have one hand at the end. I will generally be able to overpower your grip.

  72. Fell Blade on 11 August 2011, 19:40 said:

    That would depend on which part of the pole the person grabbed, how they were gripping it and what ammount of leverage they had. The sword would also still be able to block a counter swing in some instances (though not all). It would also depend on whether the opponent is fighting with a polearm or quarterstave, and what type of grip they have on the pole. A grip near the middle would allow both sides to be used, but a grip near the end would not be as effective in a counter swing.

    Also it’s not quite accurate that only one side of the sword was used. Medieval swordsmen would use both the hilt and blade offensively. Often the blade would not even be sharpened close to the hilt so that they could grasp it and turn the sword around. While this is not the same as the method of using a quarterstave, it is worth pointing out. The hilt and pommel are dangerous as well as the blade.

  73. Rozen Maiden on 12 August 2011, 12:27 said:

    I just love the way you completely ignored the entire point of my post. sigh Okay, let me go through the tedious activity of repeating myself.

    I am NOT arguing about whether my suggestions are logical, plausible, likely or greatly effective. I’m simply not. Your insistence in pretending that I am is baffling. I have repeatedly said that my main issue is with the initial sweeping claim you made that I responded to. Perhaps you missed me saying the following? Let me repeat here for your benefit in case you did in fact miss them. I said:

    “But I wouldn’t ever claim something as outrageous as “Professional knife fighters can defeat anyone not armed with a gun” which, I repeat, was your initial claim. That’s all I’m arguing against here – not for a reliable and dependable way to fend off a skilled knife fighter. I’m not arguing that at all. I’m arguing against the absolute statement that against a skilled knife fighter your ONLY options are to give up, die or run away. They are not.”

    And also, again, I said the following:

    “Point is, sure if you are going to narrow the scenario to ‘John Smith the accountant jumped by a highly skilled knife wielding thug in a back alleyway’ then sure, he’s screwed. But there ARE situations, weapons and people besides a guy with a gun who can successfully overcome even a trained knife fighting opponent. Right? That’s all I’m saying.”

    Rather than concede that your initial statement is, as I have insisted, wrong or at least lacking specificity (my argument), you instead continue to repeat your tirade that all of my points are implausible and unlikely and ineffective. Even though I already conceded as much, and repeatedly stated that was not something I was arguing about.

    Know what that is? Strawman. You are ignoring my main issue and instead constructing a strawman that you can attack in your responses. You’re arguing a point I already more or less agree with in order to draw attention away from the point I am attempting to make.

    “Yes, knife fighters are not immortal and inescapable. I never said they were.”

    No, that’s just the impression you gave with both your initial sweeping claim and your subsequent tendency to dismiss any suggested means of defence as inadequate on the grounds that if a knife fighter has even the slightest chance to attack you then you are as good as dead.

    “I never once said that there is no option that will work outside of a gun. I said that there’s no option I would trust my life to outside of a gun.”

    BEEP WRONG. Allow me to jog your memory. The following is a quote from yourself.

    “The thing I love about knives is that against someone with a sword, you can defend yourself if you have a pole. But against a professionally-trained knife fighter, the only thing you can do in the absence of a gun is to flee or give up.”

    Please note, the complete absence of the words “I would trust my life to” in that quote. Please also note that you claim in that quote ‘against a trained knife fighter your only option in the absence of a gun is to run away or give up’, YET you NOW claim that ‘I never once said there is no option that will work outside of a gun’.

    Really? Because, again, this:

    “The thing I love about knives is that against someone with a sword, you can defend yourself if you have a pole. But against a professionally-trained knife fighter, the only thing you can do in the absence of a gun is to flee or give up.”

    Seems to explicitly contradict this:

    “I never once said that there is no option that will work outside of a gun.”

    So either you are mistaken, or outright being dishonest.

    “You have to realise, as Fell Blade pointed out, knives are serious business. There’s no joking around with a knife attacker.”

    … you didn’t even read my post, did you? Not properly. No, really, you didn’t. If you had you wouldn’t have said that, because you would have read the following;

    YES they will have an edge and be extremely dangerous”

    and

    “Would I like to face down a knife attacker with only a pen, a laser pointer and some paint? Christ no. If it were me, personally, I probably would give up or run away.”

    Which I said in my post and, one would think, makes it clear that I already consider knives to be a serious threat and one that should not be taken lightly. Why the need to reinforce that fact? Oh, that’s right, I forgot – you’re ignoring much of what I have already said in favour of attacking points you feel you can deal with instead. Moving on.

    “Of course not, because it’s the duty of the Police to stand up to suck attackers. But do you know Police protocol? AS soon as a knife is drawn, so are the guns. The policeman steps back out of the threat range and draws their gun, giving a verbal warning to drop the knife, and aiming for non-lethal shots (e.g. to the arm or leg). You will see that in training videos, real-life encounters, even, yes, in movies. Because police know not to fuck around when someone’s waving a razor-sharp piece of metal at you and threatening to open your jugular.”

    … why do I feel like I’m talking to a wall here? sigh Once again, I must repeat myself. I am getting sick of repeating myself, incidentally.

    You said:

    “The thing I love about knives is that against someone with a sword, you can defend yourself if you have a pole. But against a professionally-trained knife fighter, the only thing you can do in the absence of a gun is to flee or give up.”

    My entire argument is with that statement. My example of a police officer was just one example meant to illustrate the error of your initial claim by showing one of any number of situations in which someone without a gun could overcome a knife attacker. That a police officer would use a gun against such an attacker is irrelevant to the point I was making. Namely, that there are situations, people and weapons (no matter the likelihood, plausibility or reliability of said things) that can overcome a skilled knife attacker without resorting to guns, thereby disproving your original assertion that such was not the case.

    That is all.

    No, really, that was all I was saying.

    So you see, you finding any number of faults with everything I have suggested is merely the result of either
    A: Failing to comprehend the point I have been trying to make, despite my efforts to spell out what that point was repeatedly
    or B: A deliberate and dishonest debating tactic where one constructs a strawman to attack because one wishes to avoid the point as they cannot argue against it, but can argue against the strawman quite easily.

    I’m inclined to believe B: to be the case here. I think I made my point quite clear, and I think you are intentionally ignoring it because you know it is correct, and are trying to attack aspects of my posts not related to the point I was trying to make in order to disguise that fact. When you did briefly address my main point it was to outright lie about what you had previously said, something I illustrated earlier.

    To sum up, and I am going to bold this for emphasis due to your tendency to ignore this simple fact:

    You originally claimed in your comment on Aug 10, 03:48 PM that when faced with a skilled knife wielding attacker, the only option open to someone is to either give up or run away if one does not have a gun with which to defend oneself with. I felt that this comment was blatantly untrue, and was either the result of you exaggerating the effectiveness of a knife wielding attacker or failing to be more specific in your comment by saying instead that in most probable and normal situations those are the only options. I have repeatedly demonstrated that your initial assertion is false by mentioning several examples to disprove it. Rather than admit that you were either mistaken, exaggerating or lacking in specificity to your original comment, you instead have constructed the notion that I, for some reason, believe these examples to be foolproof and reliable examples one could stake their life on, even though I not only said no such thing but in actuality said the complete opposite, and was in truth merely trying to demonstrate that any example, no matter the reliability of success, demonstrates that your initial assertion is flawed, or at the very least lacking in clarity of detail.

    In short, stop being dishonest, stop attacking me for things I am not event trying to suggest, and admit that your initial claim, the one I quoted on numerous occasions, is incorrect. Because that is the only point I am trying to make. Your continual efforts to ignore that point are extremely irritating. I am trying to say ONE thing here, and you will not address that one thing properly, except once to claim that you actually said something else.

    Bottom line: When faced with a skilled knife wielding attacker and lacking a gun with which to defend yourself, there ARE in fact ways to defeat such an attacker. They may not be reliable, safe, dependable, plausible or advisable, but the fact remains that they exist. Regardless of whether or not anyone would stake their life on employing them, such alternatives do exist and can potentially work, regardless of the probability of success. As such, the claim that your only option without a gun are to give up or run away, is incorrect. This is the sum total of my argument and all I am saying. Anyone who persists in the notion that I am under the impression of anything other than this fact, are mistaken or dishonest.

  74. Fell Blade on 12 August 2011, 13:36 said:

    The example that Taku gave about a sword vs a pole I think would also apply to a situation involving a knife vs a pole. A pole would still be very capable of parrying a thrust or blocking a slash if the user was fast enough. But a pole also has an additional advantage over an opponent using a knife. Namely distance. Any pole/quarterstaff user who is well trained enough to hold his own against an opponent with a sword would have an even better chance against someone with a dagger because of the length difference between the two weapons. An opponent would have to step inside one’s defenses to use his knife; the length of a pole, be it quarterstaff or pike, would be a distinct advantage.

  75. Taku on 13 August 2011, 18:24 said:

    I am NOT arguing about whether my suggestions are logical, plausible, likely or greatly effective. I’m simply not. Your insistence in pretending that I am is baffling. I have repeatedly said that my main issue is with the initial sweeping claim you made that I responded to. Perhaps you missed me saying the following? Let me repeat here for your benefit in case you did in fact miss them. I said:

    Okay, I see where our mutual misunderstanding arose. I thought it had been obvious that my initial comment was an exaggeration. I thought that would have been unmistakably so. In which case, I apologise for not pointing it out.

    “But I wouldn’t ever claim something as outrageous as “Professional knife fighters can defeat anyone not armed with a gun” which, I repeat, was your initial claim. That’s all I’m arguing against here – not for a reliable and dependable way to fend off a skilled knife fighter. I’m not arguing that at all. I’m arguing against the absolute statement that against a skilled knife fighter your ONLY options are to give up, die or run away. They are not.”

    If you notice what I posted, I did begin with what was clearly (to me, at least – again, I apologise if it wasn’t clear enough for you) an exaggerated generalisation, but later acknowledged the point:

    A baseball bat or cricket bat? If you knew how to use it and had one on you at the time, yes they could be used successfully against a trained knife wielder. A taser? Yes, if it weren’t for the fact that they are prohibited from sale or possession to the general public (the law might be different where you are, but around here the only people allowed to possess or use tasers and the like are the police). The same for very strong lasers. They only work as a plausible defence it it’s actually legal to carry one down the street. … A full backpack can work as a shield

    You might also notice from that that I am working from physically possible scenarios and likely real-world scenarios, not situations when people regularly have access to “highly charged metal rods which zap them every time their knife touches it”. I thought it would be obvious that I’m not talking about situations where someone can simply become immaterial when the knife -fighter stabs at them, like the twins in the second Matrix movie, and I’m not talking about situations where someone is walking down the street in an impenetrable bomb-proof Perspex sphere. I will grant you that out of your list of potential situations, pepper-spray is a feasible defence. But you still have to be careful, as it sometimes that a little while for pepper spray to take full effect, during which pause someone dedicated to killing you would have ample opportunity to move in.

    “Point is, sure if you are going to narrow the scenario to ‘John Smith the accountant jumped by a highly skilled knife wielding thug in a back alleyway’ then sure, he’s screwed. But there ARE situations, weapons and people besides a guy with a gun who can successfully overcome even a trained knife fighting opponent. Right? That’s all I’m saying.”

    Sure. I did concede that point. If you’re in a situation where you are armed and mentally prepared for combat and the knife fighter approaches you from the front and declares his intentions like an honourable duellist. But if you expand your scenario to those that are clearly implausible, impossible or ridiculous, then you may as well counter with “ahah, but what if I were some kind of immortal stab-proof Elder God?”

    Rather than concede that your initial statement is, as I have insisted, wrong or at least lacking specificity (my argument), you instead continue to repeat your tirade that all of my points are implausible and unlikely and ineffective. Even though I already conceded as much, and repeatedly stated that was not something I was arguing about.

    Then why did you bring them up? If you wanted to argue against a point, bringing up situations that are not only improbably but logically absurd is not the way to win debate points.

    Know what that is? Strawman. You are ignoring my main issue and instead constructing a strawman that you can attack in your responses. You’re arguing a point I already more or less agree with in order to draw attention away from the point I am attempting to make.

    See above, I did actually acknowledge the fact that, properly armed and trained, it is possible – unlikely, but possible – to defend yourself against a professional knife fighter. Not that I’m not talking about thugs on the street, I’m talking about someone with experience and training who knows how to use a knife effectively.

    No, that’s just the impression you gave with both your initial sweeping claim and your subsequent tendency to dismiss any suggested means of defence as inadequate on the grounds that if a knife fighter has even the slightest chance to attack you then you are as good as dead.

    Again an exaggeration, for which I apologise, but the way you have gone about dreaming up defences against knife attacks makes me think that you think they aren’t dangerous or sharp. A knife is a lethal weapon, and a single slash in the wrong place can be fatal. Again, let me reiterate that I am not talking about untrained hooligans with kitchen knives; I’m talking about professional knife fighters. Anyone with a moderate amount of self defence training can protect themselves against some random yobbo at the station.

    [snip]

    So either you are mistaken, or outright being dishonest.

    I admit that 12:30 in the morning isn’t the best time to mount a coherent rebuttal, but that’s the only time I have available. As I have explained, that comment was a light-hearted exaggeration, not a serious dissection of knife theory and defence. I was saving that for the article. The same kind of lightheartedness as a comment, for example, that “ninjas are awesome, they could stop a sword with their hands!” (which, by the way, is both mostly true and partly exaggerated, just like my comment about knife fighters).

    [snip]

    Which I said in my post and, one would think, makes it clear that I already consider knives to be a serious threat and one that should not be taken lightly. Why the need to reinforce that fact? Oh, that’s right, I forgot – you’re ignoring much of what I have already said in favour of attacking points you feel you can deal with instead. Moving on.

    Then why did you not bother taking the threat seriously when coming up with defensive tactics to use against them? What I’ve been arguing is that you can’t use an extremely implausible situation as a reasonable claim, and if you do you’re obviously not taking the situation seriously enough.

    My entire argument is with that statement. My example of a police officer was just one example meant to illustrate the error of your initial claim by showing one of any number of situations in which someone without a gun could overcome a knife attacker. That a police officer would use a gun against such an attacker is irrelevant to the point I was making. Namely, that there are situations, people and weapons (no matter the likelihood, plausibility or reliability of said things) that can overcome a skilled knife attacker without resorting to guns, thereby disproving your original assertion that such was not the case.

    A policeman, who is trained and instructed to draw their gun against a knife attacker, is somehow an argument that people can deal with knife fighters would a gun? I like your logic, I really do.

    MY entire argument is that finding ridiculous or implausible situations is no argument at all. If you had mentioned plausible or likely scenarios, like baseball bats and walking sticks (incidentally, situations I myself raised as examples of potentially effective defences), I would have acknowledged the point immediately. But thinking outside of the box too far leads you into absurdity, and that’s what I was arguing against.

    I’m inclined to believe B: to be the case here. I think I made my point quite clear, and I think you are intentionally ignoring it because you know it is correct, and are trying to attack aspects of my posts not related to the point I was trying to make in order to disguise that fact. When you did briefly address my main point it was to outright lie about what you had previously said, something I illustrated earlier.

    You will notice I have already acknowledged that there are some situations when one might be able to stand up to a knife fighter. I have conceded that my initial statement was an exaggeration. What I continue to argue against is the (arguably more disturbing) issue that you don’t seem to understand or acknowledge how dangerous knives are. Relying on a paint tin or a powerful laser against a sharp knife wielded by someone who knows how to kill you in a single stab inside of half a second after initial engagement is sheer lunacy, and anyone who works with knives in combat situations will tell you the same.

    You originally claimed in your comment on Aug 10, 03:48 PM that when faced with a skilled knife wielding attacker, the only option open to someone is to either give up or run away if one does not have a gun with which to defend oneself with. I felt that this comment was blatantly untrue, and was either the result of you exaggerating the effectiveness of a knife wielding attacker or failing to be more specific in your comment by saying instead that in most probable and normal situations those are the only options.

    I have admitted that my initial comment was a generalisation and an exaggeration. I had thought it was obvious, and I should have pointed it our earlier. I also should have mentioned that I generally do not consider implausible or ridiculous scenarios when dealing with weapons and self-defence.

    I have repeatedly demonstrated that your initial assertion is false by mentioning several examples to disprove it.

    Examples that were either difficult or impossible to actually use, which is entirely the wrong way to argue it. I actually thought you were being silly at the same level as myself (in the style of “infinity plus one!”) when you first made those claims. Then you continued to defend them as thought they were actually plausible situations.

    Rather than admit that you were either mistaken, exaggerating or lacking in specificity to your original comment, you instead have constructed the notion that I, for some reason, believe these examples to be foolproof and reliable examples one could stake their life on,

    I didn’t say I thought that you thought that your examples were foolproof. Merely that you thought them possible, which is what I was arguing against and what I still find a little disturbing. (Granted, as I said above, pepper spray can be a plausible defence. I’m arguing against the other situations you raised)

    in actuality said the complete opposite, and was in truth merely trying to demonstrate that any example, no matter the reliability of success, demonstrates that your initial assertion is flawed, or at the very least lacking in clarity of detail.

    Oh? If you had said the complete opposite, you would have been in agreement with me that these situations simply aren’t possible. Instead, you used them as examples of feasible defences that might actually work. The fact that you yourself would not rely on them is irrelevant to the fact that you gave the impression that you believe somebody somewhere would be able to effectively rely on them.

    Bottom line: When faced with a skilled knife wielding attacker and lacking a gun with which to defend yourself, there ARE in fact ways to defeat such an attacker. They may not be reliable, safe, dependable, plausible or advisable, but the fact remains that they exist. Regardless of whether or not anyone would stake their life on employing them, such alternatives do exist and can potentially work, regardless of the probability of success. As such, the claim that your only option without a gun are to give up or run away, is incorrect. This is the sum total of my argument and all I am saying. Anyone who persists in the notion that I am under the impression of anything other than this fact, are mistaken or dishonest.

    Again, I will say that I have been assuming actually possible situations, not hypothetical ones that would not exist in the real world. Yes, there are some situations that would work. The ones you brought up (with the exception of pepper spray) would not. That is the sum of my argument.

    regardless of the probability of success.

    If a defence has a very small probability of success, it is not an effective defence. I could throw a cat at a mugger, and sure they would be distracted, but they would still present a very real threat to my safety. Any defence that doesn’t actually neutralise the threat in any way (such as “a paint tin and a lucky throw”) is not technically a defence. It is a distraction at most.

  76. Curly on 13 August 2011, 21:47 said:

    Holy crap Taco, that is a long reply.

    PS Nice article.
    PPS The one above does rival it, though. The comment, that is.

  77. Zokoke on 14 August 2011, 01:00 said:

    Alright, this knife thing, I just really have to know taku, are you talking about late medieval/renaissance knife fighting, modern day knife fights or both? Knowing the context would really help lead this discussion.

    Also, as was mentioned above, don’t forget about the person behind the knife. But also remember the person on the other side of the knife. I think that oftentimes, authors don’t think of the psychology in a fight. A person’s mindset can have a large impact on how someone will react in a fight.

    One of the first things you learn in a psychology class, fight or flight. Now, if someone does have a knife pulled on them, the most sensible thing to do is to get away. Even if you have something like mace or a taser, or anything you can grab, you use it to distraction and get out of there. It may not neutralize someone, but if you knock over something that someone has to maneuver around, then it is a defense.

    However, if the assailant wants to kill, and someone is forced to fight, survival mode will kick in and people will fight to defend themselves. They will fight until either help arrives, or they can get away.

    There are many self-defense courses that teach people how to handle someone with a knife. Of course the first thing they teach participants is to just hand over your wallet/purse. But there things people can do to at least cause a distraction and get away, which usually involves using your environment, such as a chair, trash can lid, to distract the assailant. The final techniques they teach is to disarm the person. Still, the intent is to cause a distraction that can allow someone to get away.

    We must also remember that most people are not trained to fight with knives. And even if they are, they’ve been trained through sparring, which is completely different from an actual fight. Ultimately, it is a person’s unpredictability that will oftentimes decide the outcome.

  78. Snow White Queen on 14 August 2011, 01:04 said:

    I feel slightly self-important that I kick-started this whole knife discussion, despite the insanely long bicker comments towards the end that I didn’t bother to read (though I’m sure they were very time-consuming to write out, so props for your dedication.)

    You’re welcome.

    Out of curiosity, Taku, would effective knife-wielding require strength? I know it would probably require skill and speed. I’m asking because this entire knife question popped up because my female protag in my WIP is most definitely not strong and is most definitely not going to wield a broadsword anytime soon. But under the right circumstances and with the right training, I could envision her using a knife.

    Also, you’ve talked at length about knives, but what about daggers? From your description, I would think that knives are more useful overall. When would you want to use a dagger instead?

    This discussion is really great and informative. I just wanted to steer it back to something slightly less pissy, no offense to Taku or Rozen Maiden.

  79. Taku on 14 August 2011, 03:01 said:

    Alright, this knife thing, I just really have to know taku, are you talking about late medieval/renaissance knife fighting, modern day knife fights or both? Knowing the context would really help lead this discussion.

    Modern. Although many of the basic principles of knife fighting apply equally to other periods.

    I will repeat, for the sixth or seventh time, that I am not referring to ‘most people’. I am referring specifically and only to professionally trained knife fighters. Professionally trained.

    Psychology will play a very big part in it, and of course people will be unpredictable in a life-or-death situation. But experienced, trained knife fighters also train to repress that psychological aspect and to let go of their emotions. It can be done, I have personal experience of how the right psychological training can make a huge difference in a fight.

    There are many self defence courses against armed attackers, and most of them are very effective and controlled. But almost all of them assume someone on the streets who doesn’t understand knife combat. If you ask any of them what they will do against a trained, experienced knife fighter, they will tell you to pull a gun, or distract and run away. Unless they themselves are trained knife fighters and are similarly armed.

    Out of curiosity, Taku, would effective knife-wielding require strength? I know it would probably require skill and speed. I’m asking because this entire knife question popped up because my female protag in my WIP is most definitely not strong and is most definitely not going to wield a broadsword anytime soon. But under the right circumstances and with the right training, I could envision her using a knife.

    Yes, and stamina. Not as much brute strength as a sword, no, but it will still require some fairly dense arm muscles, especially triceps and shoulders. An experiences knife fighter trains to stab repeatedly with force (repeatedly as in several times a second), and that speed and force takes a fair bit out of you. About the same as whipping a dozen egg whites by hand to stiff peaks, actually. It takes fast-twitch muscles and anaerobic fitness, but also the stamina to keep dodging and moving in and out and using footwork to gain an advantageous positioning. I imagine with training and a grounding in combat theory and strategies, your female protagonist shouldn’t have much trouble.

    Also, you’ve talked at length about knives, but what about daggers? From your description, I would think that knives are more useful overall. When would you want to use a dagger instead?

    I think I’ve mentioned it, but knives are definitely more useful in general, especially if they have a straight spine (the unsharpened edge). Good for slashing, stabbing and cutting, as well as everyday household applications. A dagger is designed for the thrust/stab attack, and isn’t really much good for slashing.

  80. Snow White Queen on 14 August 2011, 03:08 said:

    I think I’ve mentioned it

    In brief, yeah, but I just wanted to see if you had anything more to say on the matter. :)

    I imagine with training and a grounding in combat theory and strategies

    Oh ho ho, yes. She isn’t going to be getting off with any of that ‘expert in six months’ crap. She also probably isn’t going to be an expert in any case.

  81. Taku on 14 August 2011, 03:52 said:

    In brief, yeah, but I just wanted to see if you had anything more to say on the matter. :)

    In that case, I’ll add that holding a dagger like a sword (that is, so the blade is pointing out between your thumb and forefinger) is structurally quite weak, and much less powerful than an icepick grip. The advantage is that it has a greater range to what is already quite a close-range weapon. I tend to feel that the advantage of strength and structure of the icepick grip outweighs the reduced range. You’re already close enough to fight with a dagger, a couple of inches less isn’t actually going to affect things all that much.

    Also, if fighting with one dagger takes training and skill, fighting with two requires exponentially more. It’s also nice to have a hand available for grappling and defence. Most styles will teach you to use one but there are some fantasy series and comic book characters whose writers couldn’t resist the allure of dual-wielding. Double daggers are great, and can be verey effectively, but they actually require more training than using a short sword (and you know how I feel about sword training). Double anything will always be more complex than single weapons, but daggers, because of their size and range, are even more complicated.

    Oh ho ho, yes. She isn’t going to be getting off with any of that ‘expert in six months’ crap. She also probably isn’t going to be an expert in any case.

    In that case, she’ll definitely want to work on misdirection and distraction. Even just playing up the ‘helpless female’ role, if that’s what her society expects of her, can be enough to gain the element of surprise. One of the tenets of The Art of War is “be where your enemy is not”, which is a very large part of knife and close-range combat. Get in close, and get them where and when they’re not expecting it or protecting against it. Especially for a physically-smaller character against a larger enemy, the idea is to not push back against the wall, but to go around the wall. Find the doors and gaps that lead to the other side, instead of trying to punch through it.

    In fact, there was a scene in one of the Otori Tales books (maybe the second? Grass For His Pillow?), where the female lead, ostensibly a Helpless Female Love Interest for the menfolk to use as a bargaining chip, uses her Helpless Female persona to get in close to the antagonist and stab him in the eye with a sewing needle. That was awesome, especially because she chose to slip back into her Helpless Female role, and so avoid suspicion once the body was discovered. If I remember correctly, although I haven’t read that series for a good few years now.

  82. Rozen Maiden on 14 August 2011, 09:54 said:

    Okay, sorry for the misunderstanding. I just want to say that there are two reasons for the examples I gave – one was that they were the first things that came to mind, and therefore probably not the best possible examples to give. If I had given it more thought and time I probably could have come up with better examples than the ones I did. At the time I didn’t think it would be necessary for the point I was trying to make.

    The second is that, as I maintained all along, I wasn’t really arguing for reliable or plausible defence strategies, even though you were, because I was disputing in a purely binary fashion. Namely that if any example disproved the point it would suffice, and reliability of success was therefore irrelevant to that goal. My mindset was that if I can show even a single example of someone falling out of an airplane without a parachute and surviving then that would be sufficient to rule out the notion that such a thing were flat out impossible. The fact that the circumstances surrounding that one example are extremely far-fetched is irrelevant to the point of disproving an outright binary assertion of the impossibility of such a thing.

    In other words I was arguing purely on a 1/0 on/off yes/no basis, whilst you were arguing on a percentage/probability/usefulness scale. I think that was the problem. That and the fact that, yes, I didn’t realise that you were actually exaggerating to begin with. I’ve argued with people before that insist the Borg are invincible to any foe because they can simply ‘adapt’ to any kind of weapon used against them no matter how powerful, and despite examples proving such not to be the case. On the internet it’s not always easy to tell if you’re talking to someone who really will push a no-limits capability to something or are just speaking generally.

    So uhh, yeah, sorry for hijacking the comments section with a big argument.

  83. Snow White Queen on 14 August 2011, 13:06 said:

    Mwahaha, a wealth of new information! Seriously, Taku, all you have to do is incorporate all the stuff that’s gone down here in the comments and bam, new article.

    (This is actually a good idea because articles are a lot more accessible than comments for new readers, even though readers might have already gone through the comments anyway.)

    One of the tenets of The Art of War is “be where your enemy is not”, which is a very large part of knife and close-range combat.

    I bought The Art of War a few months ago, have yet to read it. My list of to-reads is getting very long.

  84. Kyllorac on 14 August 2011, 14:51 said:

    @SWQ

    The Art of War is very short, so it shouldn’t take you long. A lot of it is merely common sense codified. :P

    @Taku (and Fell Blade)

    We need more garbage can lids. I mean, it’s like the ultimate in urban shielding: readily available, comes with handle(s) attached, it might even be made of metal, and you can use it in a variety of attacks like grabbing an edge and swinging or pushing your attacker off balance.

    I now want to read/see a scene where a person fends off a knife attacker with a metal garbage can lid.

  85. TakuGifian on 14 August 2011, 16:44 said:

    No worries, Rozen, I quite enjoyed it in a kind of masochistic way. I’m of the opinion that nothing is ever binary yes/no, anyway. I argued it with Michael earlier in the comments, that there is no ‘best’ weapon, because everything has both pros and cons, depending on the situation and the individual.

    Seriously, Taku, all you have to do is incorporate all the stuff that’s gone down here in the comments and bam, new article.

    That’s not a bad idea. I’ll start drafting something up tonight after work, hopefully.

    A lot of it is merely common sense codified.

    That’s what I keep telling people! That’s what this article is, as well. Just common sense and a few basic principles of physics and force.

    I now want to read/see a scene where a person fends off a knife attacker with a metal garbage can lid.

    I’m sure it’s been done. If not in literature, than at least in a movie somewhere.

  86. Fell Blade on 15 August 2011, 14:01 said:

    I think the idea that really needs to make its way into fantasy literature is that “there is always somebody bigger/better/stronger than you”. Why does the hero have to be the #1 primo fighter with every weapon? Even if the hero achieves top status in one discipline of fighting, there’s always going to be someone else who has mastered another discipline and would be able to beat him/her. Taku I think mentioned this in the article. It’s a real life fact that would add a lot of tension and danger to a story.

    A good example is Howard Pyle’s historical fiction “Men of Iron”. In the final battle the hero, Myles, duels his arch nemesis. The opponent chooses to use a hand-gisarm, a older weapon with a heavy blade on a three foot long pole. Myles has never used a gisarm, and so chooses to fight with the weapon he trained with (the sword). Because of the differences in weapons and the fact that Myles is unused to fighting against a hand-gisarm, the fight is not even and there is more tension in the battle.

  87. Jabrosky on 23 August 2011, 22:45 said:

    Most of the characters I’ve thought up used spears rather than swords. Weren’t spears historically among the most commonly used melee weapons on the battlefield anyway?

  88. Alyssa on 3 September 2011, 19:57 said:

    Swords are overused anyways. I had a character that used to use a sword but I gave him a hammer instead since he’s not an expert on swords anyway.

  89. BettyCross on 3 September 2011, 20:02 said:

    I have written a fantasy novel w/ a sequel to come. In it the horsemen are all armed with a sword and a flanged mace, with the mace doing most of the fighting. This happened in the Crusades, when both sides found out that flanged maces do better against armor.

  90. Alyssa on 5 September 2011, 08:30 said:

    I want a list of underused weapons.

    I like Qatars and chakrams though. My girl character can use twin chakrams.

    I also like hidden weapons like Sango’s from Inuyasha.

  91. Alex on 17 November 2011, 18:35 said:

    Man, I’m late to the comments section.

    As a HEMA practitioner, I have a question concerning knives against swords. At my fight school, we’re taught to reveal our strike at the last possible instant. To accomplish this, we tend to begin battles from a guard that sits on one side of the chest, blade pointing upwards. We extend our hands and then twist only our wrists at the point of ideal extension. This way, a strike coming from that basic opening guard can come from one of seven directions and you haven’t a clue what it’ll be until the last instant. How does a knife deal with this? A swordsman using this technique could easily make a strike that looks as if it’s going to approach from above, but ends up coming from below. Furthermore, depending on the side it’s done from and the angle of attack, it could cover the inside of their body, creating a lethal barrier against any assailant that wants to get close.

    In addition, I’d like to say a few words in defense of swords. Perhaps they’re “overdone” as a weapon, but the techniques that inform them aren’t. Swords are infinitely more interesting when one understands the techniques that inform them, because then they’re not just a cutting tool, but a genius design. The longsword is my personal favourite, because it’s actually more like a polearm disguised as a sword and has the functionality to prove it. There is no close combat weapon quite as versatile, and the Liechtenauer school of thought uses longsword techniques as the basis for other weapon techniques. For instance, your spear moves are essentially no different from longsword at the “half-sword” — holding one’s blade half way down its length with the off hand. If held by the blade entirely, the sword more resembles a warhammer, or mace. And if held by the blade, with both hands quite near, the sword is actually more like a staff with a blunt end and a sharp end!

    Different configurations were for different purposes. For instance, fighting in half-sword was used against armoured adversaries where getting the point into the less defended mailled joints of the armour was paramount. Using it in warhammer configuration was similarly used against armoured adversaries, but traded its extra range for lesser lethality; perfect, perhaps, if your adversary had a mace and you wanted to keep them at distance with a longer weapon.

    Against unarmoured adversaries, the long blade length of a sword combined with the short grip length (compared to most other weapons) gives it a unique wounding ability — the draw cut. This is when you make an attack with the edge that doesn’t have much or any kinetic energy behind it, relying on the movement of the blade to open a wound. Because a sword has a long blade length, some of the blade will drag through an already opened wound, causing further damage. And if you’re feeling extra nasty, you can wind (essentially twist) the sword as you do it. Imagine that with a double-edged sword. Brutal.

    The European longsword is probably the most versatile close combat weapon to ever exist, given how it hides the capacities of multiple weapons under the deceptive exterior of a sword. It certainly isn’t the best at any particular role, save perhaps for the draw cut. Axes cleave better, spears thrust better, maces and hammers deal blunt trauma better, but there’s no other weapon out there that does all these things and does them well.

    Keep in mind the context of the times, too, and the intended user of these longswords. Knights would be wearing them all day, and they’d be the knight’s first line of defense in any situation where they weren’t prepared for war, such as being waylaid while travelling or even just having a stroll. And at least in terms of the German material, they represent the core of the martial art, having the most material dedicated to their techniques and other weapon techniques being based off them. For its intended user, the longsword would be the most familiar and comfortable weapon at hand. The sword and its associated techniques were absolutely no slouches, and I daresay that while swords may be overused (especially by those who understand it), they deserve every ounce of respect possible.

    There’s nothing impractical about a sword in any context save for modern warfare. When swords faced certain challenges, designs and techniques changes to accommodate that, and then they were functional once more. These are by all means top-tier weapons, and can in every way stand beside polearms and staves.

    I guess the message here is that instead of cutting swords from one’s work, perhaps one should learn about their use in more detail and see if there isn’t a particular aspect they find interesting.

  92. Epke on 18 August 2012, 16:41 said:

    Really late to the discussion, but I’ll post anyway (because I am bored and have nothing to do): I always thought that the reason why male protagonists, or characters at all, in fantasy settings wielded swords are because they are phallic symbols (representing the male attributes of war, power and aggression) and that the authors, and to an extent the readers, associate a male protagonist with a sword because it enhances his masculinity and power. I am of the opinion that Paolini fell right into that one as despite the many changes Eragon’s gone through, he still retains typical male (or human male) attributes, such as the need to shave (beards being a manly thing) after his Elf-ication (which, amusingly, makes him more like Aragorn who has Elven ancestry so that Eragon and Arya mirror Aragorn and Arwen even more). The physical power of the male gender has since… well, Jericho or Ur, been the defining trait of this half of humanity (and a probable means to suppress women?) and wielding a symbol of the most male thing of all, namely a penis, would just further enhance the image of the power this gender holds, namely this idealised man’s man who saves the damsels in distress, burns cities, kills authoritative figures (asserting dominance over another lead male) and embodies strength and power.

  93. Tim on 19 August 2012, 03:35 said:

    Really late to the discussion, but I’ll post anyway (because I am bored and have nothing to do): I always thought that the reason why male protagonists, or characters at all, in fantasy settings wielded swords are because they are phallic symbols (representing the male attributes of war, power and aggression) and that the authors, and to an extent the readers, associate a male protagonist with a sword because it enhances his masculinity and power.

    Try and make a muscle-powered edged weapon (or a gunpowder-powered ballistic weapon) that looks like a vagina. It’s not symbolism, it’s straightfoward physics that makes a sword or a gun the shape it is.

  94. Tim on 19 August 2012, 03:54 said:

    A chainsaw.

    Chainsaws make shit weapons. They’re heavy, unwieldy, have poor reach compared to their weight, the chain can break or bite and kick the entire thing right back into your face, and they require a power supply and maintainance on the motor. There’s a reason nobody has ever seriously tried to design a combat chain-blade weapon.

    You don’t have to shoot someone with a knife

    Although that would be absolutely awesome.

    If you can imagine a gun, someone’s probably made it.

  95. swenson on 19 August 2012, 16:13 said:

    Chainsaw nunchuks.

    Your argument is invalid.

  96. Taku on 19 August 2012, 21:44 said:

    Chainsaws make shit weapons. They’re heavy, unwieldy, have poor reach compared to their weight, the chain can break or bite and kick the entire thing right back into your face, and they require a power supply and maintainance on the motor. There’s a reason nobody has ever seriously tried to design a combat chain-blade weapon.

    Also, suspensions of solids in liquid (e.g. sawdust in sap, or bits of muscle in blood) tend to gum them up and jam the motors.

  97. Epke on 24 September 2012, 13:37 said:

    Try and make a muscle-powered edged weapon (or a gunpowder-powered ballistic weapon) that looks like a vagina. It’s not symbolism, it’s straightfoward physics that makes a sword or a gun the shape it is.

    Except that’s not what I said. It wasn’t “hey, let’s use penis-shaped objects as weapons!”, it was that swords and the like have become symbols for masculine traits; the sword came before the penis-association, I’m sure.

  98. Tim on 24 September 2012, 18:33 said:

    Yeah, but still, it’s more that, right or (more usually) wrong, the sword is simply the default fantasy weapon; when you think of a old weapon a soldier would use it’s the first port of call. More exotic weapons are also harder to write varied combat scenes with; there’s a lot more clever things the hero can do with a sword than with, say, a Morningstar or longbow.

    I think more puzzling is the popularity of katanas; a katana is a fairly inflexible and maintenance-heavy weapon only really suited to cutting (it’s effectively a three-foot razor blade). The mythology surrounding it largely comes of the lack of quality steel in Japan, which led to ritualized perfection of a single method that worked rather than experimentation. Mostly it’s just straight-up weeaboo Japan-worship, I guess.

  99. swenson on 24 September 2012, 19:01 said:

    I think the reason katanas are so popular is that no one actually knows what they are (or, more precisely, hack fantasy writers don’t know what they are). So they sound suitably foreign, without having to research them because, hey, most people don’t know anything about them anyway, right? Right??

    Spears seem kind of unwieldy for characters wandering all over the countryside and bludgeoning weapons kind of squick me out (I just picture smashing skulls and gore everywhere and ugh ugh ugh), but more bows and axes would be cool. A bow seems so much more versatile—you can’t really use a sword for hunting—yet it’s always the delicate female sidekick who has the bow, never the hero.

    Which yet again goes to show how much most fantasy authors know. Longbows are not for delicate flowers. Your average English longbow of Ye Goode Olde Dayes had like a hundred pound draw, compared with modern hunting bows which are only about 60.

  100. taku on 24 September 2012, 22:20 said:

    Spears seem kind of unwieldy for characters wandering all over the countryside

    On the contrary, spears can be used as walking sticks, for hunting and fishing, to hold up a tent or add support to a shelter, as climbing aids, the tip can be used to mark your path on tree-bark, to suspend your food-bangs off the ground so animals can’t get to them as easily, and a host of other uses. Spears were for a long time to tool-of-choice for people who had to walk long distances on foot through wilderness; only being replaced by non-spiked staves by religious pilgrims who didn’t want to carry weapons that were also used in battle/war.

    Also, you don’t need to smash skulls to kill someone with a bludgeoning weapon. A good solid poke to the trachea can do more damage that an equivalent strike to the forehead. Even then, with bandits etc. you rarely need to kill them, just hit them hard enough to knock them out (and you can do that with just your fists, if you know where to hit).