Category: Arms & Armour

Concerning the Reliability of the Waggle Test

Dynamic parameters define a rigid body’s reaction to external forces. While their importance for a sword’s behaviour is known since the 19th century, many data sets of original swords, replicas and training weapons include mass and the centre of mass, but lack a third parameter such as moment of inertia, radius of gyration, or corresponding centres of oscillation/percussion. A third parameter, however, is required to calculate a rigid object’s response.

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The use of the saber in the army of Napoleon: Part IV – Wounds caused by the saber

  Continuing with his four part series on The use of the saber in the army of Napoleon, Dr. Bert Gevaert now presents the fourth part: Wounds caused by the saber Introduction Soldiers and officers in the army of Napoleon led a life full of risks and sometimes the list of injuries a soldier could receive in his career was absolutely impressive. Marshall Nicolas-Charles Oudinot (1767-1847) was injured about 25 times in his military career (Haythornthwaite, 2002a, p.47): 1793: ball in the head (Haguenau) 1794: leg broken by ball (Trèves) 1795: five saber cuts, one ball (Neckarau) 1796: four saber cuts,...

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The use of the saber in the army of Napoleon: Part III

  Continuing with his four part series on The use of the saber in the army of Napoleon, Dr. Bert Gevaert now presents the third part: Individual martial prowess on the battlefield Stories about individual swordsmen are the most fascinating ones and in this chapter I will briefly present some spectacular stories of individual sword or saber wielding bravery on the battlefield. The power of cavalry lied in a mass force of thousands of armed men, augmented by the speed and weight of their horses, which made them into a huge and heavy hammer to smash the enemy, as...

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The use of the saber in the army of Napoleon: Part II

Continuing with his series on The use of the saber in the army of Napoleon, Dr. Bert Gevaert now presents the second part: Antoine Fortuné de Brack: Avant-postes de cavalerie légère (1831) De Brack was a French officer who participated in several military campaigns of Napoleon and who obtained the Legion of Honor for his conduct in the battle of Wagram (5-6 July 1809). From 1807 till 1812 he was member of the 7th Hussars and from 1812 till 1815 he served in the 2nd Lancers of the Guard (the famous Red Lancers). After the defeat of Napoleon he went...

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The use of the saber in the army of Napoleon: Part I

“The sword is the weapon in which you should have most confidence, because it rarely fails you by breaking in your hands. Its blows are the more certain, accordingly as you direct them coolly; and hold it properly.” – Antoine Fortuné de Brack ([1831], 1876, p. 51) Though Napoleon (1769-1821) started his own military career as an artillery officer and achieved several victories by clever use of cannons, edged weapons still played an important role on the Napoleonic battlefield. Swords and sabers could dominate battles and this was certainly the case in the hands of experienced cavalrymen. The general...

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Concerning the Dynamics of Swords

There are two major models that specify the point at which a sword should ideally hit its target. One model focusses on the sword’s vibration, particularly the nodes of the fundamental flexural vibration; the node which is closer to the sword’s point is often called centre of percussion. [1, 2] The other model, which is the subject of this work, considers translation and rotation as the components of a rigid body’s motion [3] upon impact. Several comprehensive articles on the rigid-body dynamics of swords exist, such as by Turner [4], Denny [5] and Le Chevalier [6]; those articles are highly recommended for a further reading on the consequences and possible applications of a sword’s analysis on the basis of rigid-body dynamics. The physical principles have been known since the 17th century. [7] Rigid-body dynamics were already applied in some historical sources on fencing [8, 9] to describe the point where a cutting weapon should ideally hit its target. This article is meant as a brief introduction of the subject for those who are not yet aware of the physics of fencing. Additionally, this article emphasises the importance of the moment of inertia for the behaviour of a sword, and encourages sword researchers and makers to determine and include this fundamental measure from which other parameters can be calculated. Motion of a Sword At any given time, a sword’s motion can be described as rotation about an axis, translation...

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Fabrice Cognot – Bladesmith & Scholar

Today we are introducing Dr. Fabrice Cognot, Burgundian swordsman, polearms specialist and bladesmith. Many of you already know him well, but perhaps not his excellent work on knives as much. The article is split into part interview and part commentary on the actual knives that I have kindly been given access to. All three knives are up for sale. So Dr. Cognot, can you tell me… …a bit about yourself, and your own relationship to swords and knives? I am Dr. Fabrice Cognot and I’ve been living in Dijon, France for over 20 years, originally from southern Burgundy and moved here for my studies. I...

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Brief description on training weapons in history

A very brief description on training weapons in history, mostly based on a short email to a sports fencer who is researching the topic, although focusing on the “foil”. Figured it might interest others too and maybe even inspire someone to write a proper article on the topic. The currently earliest known European sword made specifically for training is the two-handed fechtschwert1 , although regular swords were likely blunted and used even earlier, not to mention sticks. The fechtschwert profile for swords was in use already around mid 1400s, probably earlier too, but provably so in one of the Gladiatoria Fechtbuch”...

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The KA-BAR and the Fairbairn-Sykes: two fighting children of different philosophies

  The knife is a silent and deadly weapon that is easily concealed and against which, in the hands of an expert, there is no sure defence, except firearms or running like hell. -From the declassified Special Operations Executive Syllabus When it comes to modern combat knives, the two most iconic knives of the Western world are undoubtedly the American “KA-BAR” and the British Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife. These two knives represent completely different philosophies with the KA-BAR being a very strong and sturdy fighting knife of utilitarian design, and the Fairbairn-Sykes representing a more elegant design for more delicate use in clandestine operations. To really understand these knives, however,...

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Sword staff: The sword of the poor!

Original article by Eytichios Tzirtilakis. Translation into English by George E. Georgas Once upon a time in the Byzantine Empire, the wooden swords were commonly used as weapons. From the time of the legendary Byzantine hero Basilios Digenis Acritas up until present day, this tradition was kept alive. I here present the weapon of the poor people of Crete; a medieval tradition that is quickly fading away at the dawn of the 21st century. The sword staff or sword stick is a staff with the shape of a curved sword; i.e a wooden sword. This wooden sword is not a training sword such as bokken, instead it is a strong wooden construction made from a thick and hard type of wood.  This brilliant symbol of a world fading away, the sword staff, hides all the power of Crete and all the ignorance of our age. In a few short decades the most popular weapon of the rebels of Crete has been forgotten even as memory. And the sadest part of all of this is that this weapon has its roots all the way back in the medieval empire of Greeks. The Eastern Roman Empire! The sword staff is exactly what its name says. It is a staff, in the shape of sword. It is a wooden sword. But it is not a replica of sword or a training weapon or even a game...

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Concerning the Sharpness of Blades

A high level of sharpness of cutting tools is preferable, just as it is for edged weapons. While tools are generally used in well defined situations for which they are optimised, edged weapons, particularly those with longer blades, have to meet conflicting requirements. Within the scope of this work, influences on the sharpness of blades and their further effects as well as the necessary design trade-offs are evaluated. Factors of Sharpness While sharpness is an everyday concept, there is no uniform definition. It would, however, stand to reason to regard a blade as sharper, the less force it requires to cut a certain material or the deeper the cut becomes with a given force. Concurrently, the blade should not only be sharp, but should also retain its edge, i. e. the edge should withstand many cutting processes without a significant decrease in sharpness. Moreover, it is preferable to use a blade that withstands stress not only from ideal cutting processes – particularly when fencing. Depending on the respective application, an optimum compromise of sharpness and robustness has to be found. [1, 2] Several factors determine the sharpness of a blade, among them the properties of the steel, the relative motion of blade and target, the curvature of the blade, the edge angle, grinding and finish. Edge Radius and Finish McCarthy et al. [3] determined the dependence of the force \(F\) required for cut formation...

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Vibration of the blade and how to use it

Everyone is aware of the fact that a sword blade vibrates, at least anyone with a basic level of knowledge of swords. This is especially true for medieval European swords. Pages upon pages have been written about the properties of swords and how to interpret the vibration nodes of the sword. While this is all very interesting and certainly leads to a deeper understanding of the sword, it is only half of the story. As a swordsman I am interested in the practical side, the applicability of these vibration and its nodes and amplitudes if I may use this term...

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Rare illustrations of Byzantine warriors in the Renaissance book Erotokritos

The Renaissance book Erotokritos is a unique preserved manuscript with colour illustrations belonging to the library of the Romanian Academy. The book is translated from Greek to Romanian. The photos below and the text are taken from the ΑΔΑΜ publication in Greek. The book was originally written by Vitsentzo Kornaro in the city of Citia in Crete in the year of 1645 but created by unknown calligrapher and illustrator. The illustrations however, were made by Petraki in 1787 (code Β.R.A. 3514), and the calligraphy was done by Ionitza. Both of them used the older book of Erotokritos for their work. In the illustrations...

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Longswords and their data

For the past year or so, I have been gathering data on longswords. These come from a wide range of different source, from the dark nooks of the foreboding internet to dusty tomes found in libraries. The quest has yielded around 60 longswords dated from the 13th to the 16th century. Of course, these swords were chosen according to certain criteria. These criteria are as follows: a)    they have at least the weight, length and total length listed b)    they are not so corroded as to change their handling properties majorly c)    they do not seem to have been...

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Smallsword… for we are many.

“Draw not your Sword but to serve the King, preserve your Honour, or defend your Life.” “Art of Fencing”, Monsieur L’Abbat, 1696 (Andrew Mahon, 1735) To begin examining this weapon we can start off with the famous quote from the Biblical parable: “And He (Jesus) asked him (the man), “What is thy name?” And he answered, saying, “My name is Legion: for we are many.” Alfred Hutton in 1901 in his work The Sword Through the Centuries wrote: “The large handsome rapier of the Mignons and the Musketeers dissappeared, and its place was taken by a decidedly short weapon, the early from...

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The Saber’s Many Travels (The Origins of the Cross-Cutting Art)

Before you engage in combat, mind this: the blade of your saber is nothing else – and cannot be anything else – but an extension of your own arm, and equally: your entire arm, from the armpit right to the hand which is grasping the hilt, is nothing else but an extended grip of the saber. (Michał Starzewski, of the Ostoja coat of arms) The curved saber first emerged on the steppes of Central Asia amongst the nomadic peoples. It reached the Middle East in 7th century AD via Arab traders, who had good trade relations with the nomads....

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Napoleonic Flame-War ‘Cut vs Thrust’

  During the late 18th and early 19th century the definition of a proper sword varied from nation to nation. Initially, nations sought to choose the ‘best’ sword for their light and heavy cavalry units so that on the battlefield they would be more effective. Tests and studies were done, data collected and proposals put forth. Somewhere along the line, however, the matter of the cutting sword or thrusting sword became more than one of facts and figures- it became one of national pride. HUZZAH! The gallant war-cry “huzzah” of the light cavalry and their colorful uniforms inspired the very definition...

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The WhatChaMaCallit-Schwert

In Sweden we have a saying; “A loved child has many names” and looking at what is today called a federschwert this seems to be true for this type of sword as well, at least if we think of it in general terms as a sword for training. Historically, the simplest choice of word was of course schwert, and it was certainly the most commonly used alongside of the less used langen schwert, but terms like paratschwert and fechtschwert have also been used historically, at least in non-fechtbucher sources, although it is hard to tell what the words actually mean. This...

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The Dussack – a weapon of war

In my opinion the dussack doesn’t quite get the recognition it deserves in the historical fencing community, despite the fact that it was a highly important weapon in the old fencing guilds. It is not really studied properly, probably due to many commonly believing that the wooden/leather waster is all that the dussack is, not realizing that it in reality was a complex-hilt steel sabre that became more common in the first quarter of the 1500s and was used well into the mid 1600s, after which it more and more transformed into the proper sabre. Interestingly though, in its wooden training...

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Chronicon Helvetiae

Just some brief reflections on  images from Chronicon Helvetiae by Christoph Silberysen, dated to 1576, currently kept in the Aargauer Kantonsbibliothek in Aarau, Switzerland. Christoph Silbereysen (* 1541 in Baden AG; † 1608 in Wettingen)  was  abbot of the Cistercian Monastery of Wettingen. The chronicle was illustrated by Jacob Hoffmann and it is part of the Swiss Chronicles. It is currently kept in  the Aargau Cantonal library. The two parts from which these images are taken describe the early history of Switzerland, the founding of the cantons and amongst many other interesting battles, the Battle of Morgarten against the German King Rudolf I in 1315 and...

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Fechtschwert or a blunt longsword?

What kind of steel longsword should one choose for sparring? There are of course many aspects to consider. However, many instinctively discount the so called fechtschwert, since they look too weak and commonly are associated with sports fencing in late 16th century fechtschulen, rather than proper training for combat and duelling. They are simply not seen as “real” swords. Is this really a fair assumption? With this in mind, we can look to the fencing manuals and see what was used by our predecessors. After all, they ought to have had a good grasp on what tools one should...

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How long should a longsword be?

A simple reply would be long enough to reach your opponent. Stupid answer, I know… But the question is also stupid… sort of. Let me explain. Real longswords from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance can range from about 110cm – 150cm with a medium probably about a 120-125cm, which is the “standard” length of most sparring swords today as well, give or take a couple of centimetres. However, when we look at illustrations in the fechtbuchen, we soon discover that the swords shown usually reaches from well into the armpit all the way up to the forehead. We...

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