Persian shamshir

The Physics of the Cut

It is a truth universally acknowledged, by swordfighters at least, that a curved sword is superior at cutting. But why? Why should the curvature of a blade have such an effect on the effectiveness of its cut? Today I’d like to delve into the physics of swordplay, and examine why cutting swords have the form that they do.

Longswords and James Bond

Let’s have another movie swordfight breakdown! One of my faves is from, I kid you not, the Bond movie Die Another Day. Really! Swordfights show up in odd places sometimes. Now, all things considered, Die Another Day was a pretty terrible movie in most other respects – all flashy action shenanigans – but hey, it was a good waste of a few hours and the set pieces were fun to watch. Plus, no one ever said that a Bond movie had to be high thinking entertainment!

I’ll always think fondly of it because of the duel between Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, and Toby Stephens as Gustav Graves.

English Longbow

Strength Versus Dexterity in Roleplaying Games

So, roleplaying games. The typical RPG has statistics for each player character – in the case of D&D, my system of choice, those stats are Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. Stats are used to determine a base level for a character, and they usually affect various skills and abilities a character acquires over the course of the game, particularly in how that character handles weaponry in the case of fantasy RPGs. One thing that comes up very often, that just happens to be wrong, is in the use of Strength for melee weapons, and Dexterity for ranged weapons.

Think about Lord of the Rings, for example, as being the progenitor of this idea. Aragorn uses strength to wield a longsword, and Legolas (being an elf) is dexterous and uses a bow. In D&D, Strength is not applied to ranged weapons, and Dexterity is not applied to melee weapons. Elves are very good with bows, humans are good with swords, etc. Surprise surprise, this doesn’t really hold true for actual real life.

Rift swords

Take Sword, Add Protrusions

There must be some kind of law about fantasy swords in video games. There’s a recipe to them, if you know what I mean. It’s not enough for a sword to be a long piece of sharp metal. It’s got to have… extra stuff, extra colors, extra everything! Presumably this is because normal swords are boring, or something.

I can’t quite fathom why various different blades designed purely to kill people real good might be considered boring, but there you have it.

Yes, this is my longsword.

Being a Swordfighter

Today, I will have been a swordfighter for exactly one year.

Sometimes it feels like I’ve been one forever, and sometimes it feels like only a moment. I can remember feeling very out of place, initially, when I first stepped into the Warrior Fundamentals class in Academie Duello. That lasted until I actually picked up a longsword, and truly began to learn.

I’ve been in Vancouver for four years. Time, opportunity, and, cheesy as it sounds, a New Year’s resolution finally got me in the salle; I needed the exercise, above all else, but I also needed knowledge. I write fantasy adventure, the kind of stuff that wouldn’t look out of place next to Lord of the Rings, and there’s only so far you can go with fight scenes before you really need some actual experience of fighting.

I’m not sure what I expected. What I found, though, is that there is a difference between learning how to swing a long piece of steel, and actually being a swordfighter.

Lightsaber duel

Let’s Talk about the Bind

Two fighters size each other up. They strike and parry, back and forth, then their swords lock together dramatically as they hurl snappy one-liners at each other. They shove and circle around, and split apart again, and the fight continues!

Except… nah. This is the Hollywood parry, something you’ll see in all the Star Wars movies at least. Like many things in Hollywood, it’s not a bad thing because it’s unrealistic (though it is that) but because it’s boring and stupidly overused.

Buster sword

Why Swords of Power(TM) Don’t Work

Here’s a thought – what do you think of as the ultimate sword?

This is another trope that shows up quite often in all kinds of media: the concept of the ultimate blade, the Sword of Power, the mystical weapon before which all others go crying to their mommies. Frequently it’s got some kind of marking or decoration to distinguish it from others as well, and it’s either in the hands of the bad guy, or it’s stuck in a dungeon somewhere (the Legend of Zelda option), or it’s being hidden or carried around by someone ‘worthy’.

samurai-jack-vs-aku

The Swordmaster Trope

So here’s the common trope: there is a master swordsman. This swordsman has a single Sword of Power(TM) and has never been defeated in battle. There can be only one, etc etc. The swordsman will face many opponents with many different kinds of weapons, and emerge victorious every time.

Duncan McCloud from Highlander. Too many examples from anime and manga to count. Jaime Lannister from A Game of Thrones, apparently. Drizzt Do’Urden. Zorro. They just pop up everywhere, when you think about it. The idea of the swordmaster is a very powerful, romantic one.

The problem is that one swordmaster does not an army make, and although it serves for good storytelling SOMETIMES, it doesn’t make for good tactics.

Buster sword

Video Games Swordfighting Fun

You know, I spend a lot of time talking about movie swordplay, but do you know what’s really awesome? Video game swordfighting. For pure silliness, you just can’t beat the balls-out crazy that usually goes into game combat. Movies can get away with their silliness because of the requirements of story and characterization and all that, but games? Oh man, they’re on another level. There is almost nothing about video game swordplay that makes sense from the perspective of true swordplay.

Yes, this is my longsword.

Let’s talk about sword weight!

This is my longsword.

It’s 51 inches long, 38-inch blade. Leather wrapped hilt, scent-stopper pommel, unusual triple fuller. It’s loosely based on the 15th century Oakeshott Type XVIIIb longsword, so it’s basically a regular hand-and-a-half sword with an extra long hilt. Made by Szymon Chlebowski, a very talented Polish swordsmith. (It does not have a name, and I refuse to give it one, so don’t ask!)

It’s about 3.5lbs, and that puts it on the HEAVY side for a longsword.

First of all – yes, it is possible to hold it out straight in one hand. I do it all the time! But you can’ t do it for longer than a minute before your arm starts burning like it’s been dunked in lava. 3.5lbs doesn’t seem like a lot, but holding it out like that is hard! It puts a huge strain on your bicep and forearm.

Star-Wars-Attack-of-the-Clones

Lightsaber Ballet

Yes, lightsaber ballet, people. I have a particular dislike for the Star Wars prequels. Honestly, I remember sitting in the cinema, my head full of stories that my dad had told me of what it was like to see the original Star Wars – how much he had loved it, how it had completely blown him away because it was so incredible and new and just… revolutionary. And then I remember being so horribly disappointed that I wanted to find George Lucas and slap him with a copy of Screenwriting for Dummies.

Watch this video first.