A Swashbucklers Guide To Sword Buying.

Hello Michael,

    As I considered your questions regarding the modern sword market place I realized that a larger population could be served by sharing and relating my experiences in a public forum. To relate my earliest experiences, I attempted to create swords begining in my youth, to varying degrees of success. I bought my first cheap sword at the age of 18 at Chewie's in the Paul Bunyan Mall. It was a leather wrapped katana currently possessed by my brother, referred fondly to as the Blade of Liend. It is rusty, and it is old, but it could still ruin someone's day if you hit them in the face with it. Really that's the benchmark you should consider, when purchasing a sword. If I hit someone in the face with this, will it hurt and/or kill them? The answer with most swords is yes. So. Moving forward let me offer some parameters and theory around my endorsements.

    If you are training with a sword there are two basic means of training, individually or with a partner. If you are training individually then there are still safety recommendations to consider, but not nearly as many as if you are attempting to strike another person with a weapon of any kind. If you are training for either defense, or stage combat, I highly recommend the company Cold Steel, and their training line of products.  Their training weapons are obviously less rigid than steel, but they do not present a blade danger, and protecting against impact is somewhat easier than cutting. They are also useful for individual training by creating a proxy weapon that can't permanently damage/kill things/beings around you.


    In terms of partnered steel training, fencing is the best place to get started in terms of theory and protection. The sports or French handled fencing foil, epee, and saber are designed to mimic their fully bladed counterparts in design and performance. In that selection I happen to be a saber fighter. The rules for saber competition are less constrained than epee and foil, and the weapon itself offers the most sturdy blade of the selection. As an anecdote, while working as a lawyer Abraham Lincoln was challenged to a duel by a political opponent and was more or less forced to accept. But, as a result of back and forth negotiations, Lincoln was able to choose sabers as their weapons. Eventually it got all crazy, fighting on a log over a pit on a sandbar so they couldn't get hanged for murder and/or fined for dueling. But the challenger saw Lincoln warming up with his saber, trimming these impossibly high branches of a nearby tree and realized he was going to lose fingers to this lanky dude, so he surrendered. No way, Lincoln. Not today. The power of the saber. Fencing gear is also more readily available and affordable than steel alternatives.


    In terms of experienced stage, individual, and partnered armored training there is one company I would recommend, and they are as mysterious as they are deadly as they are reliable. I have been using Stage Steel battle ready products since my 2003 production of Romeo and Juliet, and although imperfect in so many ways, Stage Steel has romanced me with their products. To be clear, their katana is in no way a katana. It is a broadsword curved to look like a katana. With that said, I have held a 15th century folded steel katana, and it was singular and majestic, and I would rather take the Stage Steel katana into combat any day of the week and twice on Sundays. If we are doing Sunday doubles, or whatever. I sleep with a Stage Steel gladius under my bed, and that is where I would go, if anyone were to threaten me, or my family, and I am 99% confident I could take out a human, bear, or moose. An adult puma. You have to understand, that is what the gladius was designed to do. You would throw some slave into the arena with a bear, and they would have at it. It is not a cutting weapon, it is a thrusting tool, and I love it. I highly recommend this company with the disclosure that you should not partner train with these weapons without either a medieval level of armor or an expert level of stage combat skill. Agent Swordfish has a permanent bone bruise from a missed parry and lack of gloves. Serious and experienced combatants only.


    If you want a real katana the market is all over the damned place. The person who let me hold his 15th century katana also kept an expensive but modern folded steel to "cut watermelons" and such. You have to understand that any blade, from a $70,000 Tokogawa era blade to a $50 gas station sword are all in the process of falling apart. Such is the universe. It will deteriorate, rust, dull, and eventually break. The limiting factor is what you are using it for and for how long. I have owned a handful of katanas in my life, none of them more than $100 and/or gifts. The presence of a reliable sheath has allowed me to practice iaido, or attacking from draw. To accomplish the more complex and violent maneuvers in kendo, you will more than likely need a number of swords, over your lifetime. As a minimum of quality, I would recommend the brand Musashi, which offers a variety of quality blades starting in the $150 range. Go cheaper at your own peril. No one wants to be fighting a zombie with a gas station katana only to have it break and allow your face to be eaten.


     If you want to spend a ridiculous amount of money on a sword that could cut Gods then buy yourself a Paul Chen Hanwei sword. A premium price for a premium weapon. But, if you're going to drop $1,500 or so on a sword, rather than feeding the homeless or buying food, then first off you better have gotten your ass kicked with a $15 shinai a few times. Secondly, you better keep it above your fireplace as the go-to home defense weapon. Someplace that it is both accessible and out of reach of young/gross fingers. Because people will want to hold your $1,500 sword, and put their gross fingers all over it, and tarnish the blade forever because they have no respect for things. 


    This is not a comprehensive list of retailers and I can't recommend safety equipment beyond Olympic standard fencing gear. It really does come down to what you are training for, and for what purpose you are retaining your equipment. I will PS two links to literature I have read both on practical modern training and an excellent collection of stage combat technique and theory. Thanks for your question and I hope that you, or anyone, finds any of this information helpful. Remember, treat every sword like a deadly weapon.



  THE MODERN SWORDSMAN - Realistic Training for Serious Self-Defense

Swashbuckling: A Step-by-Step Guide to the Art of Stage Combat & Theatrical Swordplay


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