Monday, April 30, 2007

The Greek Swords

The Greeks known for big achievements in politics, mathematics, sculpture, literature and philosophy, were fearsome warriors as well. There have been few military units as devastating in their time as the Greek phalanx. Heavily armored and insanely well trained, these soldiers were capable of standing against any and all challengers. Fighting for one's country was an unswerving responsibility among the Greek city-states. Even the poets of the time were tough bastards; most of them wrote only of warfare, courage, resolve and beating the snot out of your enemies.
Greek warriors fought in a phalanx; a unit of heavily armored men that fought in rows, with large shields (hoplons), long spears and short swords.
Greek Phalanx
The Greek swords were dual-purpose weapons with leaf-shaped blades. These blades were designed for both cutting and thrusting. Above all else, the Greek hoplite was a spearman protected by his bronze-covered shield, fighting in a phalanx of spearmen formed up in a line so many ranks deep.
Greek swords usually feature fancy hilts and a scabbard decorated with ancient Greek scenes. They were often gold finished honoring one of the ancient world`s greatest warrior kings - Alexander. This sword commonly called a hoplite sword was named after the heavily armed Greek foot-soldier of the classical period. The hoplite sword was essentially a slashing weapon and was generally worn slung from a baldric over the right shoulder so that it hung almost horizontally on the left. The Greeks used Machaira and Xiphos for describing sword. They were made to a high quality from high carbon steel and twice tempered to achieve a high Rockwell hardness, before being polished.
The Greek Falcata Sword
The Machiara and the Falcata (different names for similar swords) were effective and devastating weapons and quite capable of shearing a bronze helmet. The Greeks were feared warriors, with spear and shield being the primary weapon and armor.
The Greek Machiara Sword
However, once the battle had joined and became hand-to-hand, the Machaira and the sword were available to strike terror into the toughest foe. Witness the destruction of the Persians in their abortive attempts to conquer the Greek city states.
Thus, paradoxically, although sword fighting was not taught during basic training, it required much more skill and training than spear fighting. Hence a demand arose for extra private tuition in skill-at-arms, in which sword fighting played an important part. Parents with sufficient funds were more than willing to pay for this extra instruction. Instructors, known as hoplomachoi, 'fighters in arms', are first mentioned in literary sources located in the last quarter of the fifth century BC. We know of five hoplomachoi from this period by name: Stesileos, the brothers Euthydemos and Dionysodoros of Chios, Phalinos of Stymphalos (who later served as military adviser to the Persian General Tissaphernes at the battle of Cunaxa in 401 BC) and Diomilos of Andros.
The first type is best described as a recurved sabre. Shaped like a Gurkha kukri or a yataghan, the back of the blade curves forward, and the main weight of the weapon lies near the tip. The cutting edge is on the concave side. The hilt sometimes ends in the shape of a bird or animal head, or curves back to guard the knuckles in the shape of a 'knuckle-duster'. The weapon is often shown being used in a backhand cut. A good example of this is a vase in Bologna that shows an Amazon hoplite swinging a recurved sabre back over her left shoulder. She is about to deliver a diagonal slashing stroke to her front and right with it. Recurved sabres are very common in Iberia, but all these examples seem to be later in date, and it is possible they represent a later spread in the use of the weapon out of the Greek world to the west.
Finally the Greeks also used a third type of sword, not previously distinguished from the recurved sabre by Greek archaeologists, which, in comparison with the standard terminology used for medieval weaponry, we might best term a 'falchion'.
The  Falchion Sword
Other suitable terms might be 'backsword' or 'pallasch'. It also had a heavy single-edged blade, whose back was either straight or slightly concave, but not recurved like the sabre described above, while the edge has a pronounced convex curve and broadens considerably towards the point. Like the recurved sabre the falchion also came into use in the later 6th century. The falchion is only shown on a limited number of vase paintings, and its popularity does not seem to have survived long into the 5th century.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

About Japanese Katana Swords

Katana Sword
The katana emerged in the sixteenth century as a curved, single-edged weapon of the Samurai warrior class in Japan. When paired with a shoto (short sword) such as a wakizashi or the dagger-like tanto, the result is a daisho, a pair of swords worn representing the honor, social power and the very soul of the Samurai warrior. The longer katana was used in open combat primarily for cutting, slashing, and parrying maneuvers, while the shorter blades were used for close-quarters stabbing as well as seppuku, or ritual suicide. Katana swords were traditionally worn the edge facing up, and the art of drawing and attacking an enemy, known as iaido took years to master its many intricacies.

Although the traditional intention of the katana is no longer historically appropriate, there are several reasons to pursue a quality Japanese katana in today's world. For one, the art of sword making is highly regarded throughout the world, and particularly in Japan, making authentically made weapons highly collectible. The variations of folded steel can create a hada (grain) pattern of rare beauty, and the crafting of various fittings along with the tempering process of the steel combine to produce a true work of art in the purest sense.

Practical Katana Sword

The Practical Katana gives the martial artist the opportunity to own and use a Hanwei sword at the cost of an economy sword. The blade is forged and differentially tempered; using similar process as the more expensive blades. The temper line may be faked, but it is prominent. Cost savings are affected by using fittings that, while making no claims to authenticity, are very strongly built to withstand the rigors of cutting exercises in the dojo. The Practical Katana is an inexpensive functional sword and is a perfect buy for a student that is just starting out and doesn't want to risk damaging a more expensive sword.

Bushido Katana Sword

The Bushido Katana has a hand-forged & folded powder steel blade, differentially tempered using a traditional claying method. The temper line (hamon) is evident and prominent and the grain pattern (hada) shows distinct layers. The saya are deeply lacquered in gold with inlaid brass cherry blossom (sakura) flowers. High quality ray skin (same) is used on the tsuka of the katana and wakizashi, while the tsuka of the tanto is a gold-plated brass with a battle-scene decoration in relief. The tsuba of the katana and wakizashi is of blackened and bronzed iron, with detailing in gold and silver and a battle scene decoration. The tsuka-ito on the katana and wakizashi and the sageo on all three pieces are woven from premium Japanese cotton. The fuchi and kashira are of blackened bronze with brass detailing, and the kojiri, koiguchi and kurikata are of polished buffalo horn. The blade collar (habaki) is a one-piece brass construction. The katana and wakizashi blades are un-grooved, while the tanto blade is grooved (bo-hi) on both sides. The katana and wakizashi have medium-length (chu) kissaki. Matching wakizashi and tanto are available. The Bushido Katana maybe expensive, but is well worth it. The blade is forged and folded from blue powder steel, which is one of the most durable and purest types of steel you can use to forge a sword. Even though the quality of the steel doesn't require it to be folded, it certainly doesn't hurt.

When buying a Samurai sword, you will find that a set of two swords is the norm, with a Wakizashi accompanying the Katana. The Katana is the longer of the two swords, normally measuring more than 24 inches. They are usually displayed on a black lacquered, wooden rack to match the customary sheaths. Some of the highest quality swords ever made used over 1,000 folds of folded carbon and raw iron. The blade was coated with specialized clay to allow for differentially tempering the cutting edge. The Katana can be used with one or two hands. Its size and thick, curved blade make it better suited for draw cuts rather than the fencing thrusts of a rapier.

Sword Care: Sharpening tips

  • Never sharpen antique or expensive swords by yourself. With stainless steel decorator swords, it is okay.

  • Avoid mechanical sharpeners as they override the sectional geometry of your sword and impose a bevel to the edge which is suited mostly for kitchen knives.

  • With antiques - especially antique Japanese swords - the process of sharpening and polishing is one single process.

  • Consult a trained Japanese sword polisher for Japanese swords.

  • With swords of other cultures, it may be advisable to consult with an expert; in most cases, leave the patination intact, as this protects the blade steel already.

  • Do not needlessly sharpen antiques lest you destory the intrinsic value of the sword.

  • Caring for your sword will help make it last for generations. Most of the supplies mentioned below can be found at martial arts supply stores or better hardware stores.

  • Oil - Always keep your blade lightly oiled to prevent rust. We recommend Japanese sword oil or refined clove oil.

  • Hilts - Care for wooden hilts as you would any fine wood. Wood dries out with time and use and must be oiled. Use a fine furniture oil, not a furniture wax or an oil containing wax. Polish wire-wrapped hilts as you would your blade but be sure to remove all the polish (a toothbrush works well for this).

  • Storage - If the blade is store for more than a few weeks, do not store it in the scabbard. Wipe the blade down heavily with oil, wipe the wood down with furniture oil, and store in a cool, dry place.