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Ask me about swords.

Discussion in 'Research' started by Anders Ämting, Jan 20, 2012.

  1. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    At a guess, the words you're transcribing are a poor print of "[F]ABRICA [?]ARRIDO [TO]LEDO"–"Made [something] Toledo." Not sure what the second word would be, since none of the ones I know would fit; see if maybe you don't have a letter wrong somewhere? In any event, if it's also stamped in English, it's most definitely a souvenir sword.
     
  2. Kevlar

    Kevlar Troubadour

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    A great article, I've actually learned a few things. If I can add some of the knowledge I've garnered:

    While some will say that pattern welding was unique to the Middle East and differential hardening was unique to Japan, this is completely false. Many of the swords found in Viking excavations were beautifully pattern welded, and many swords from Europe have a very pronounced hamon.

    There is some scientific basis to some of the stereotypes about sword typology, though do realize that these don't always transfer perfectly into actual use. The advantage of a straight blade in thrusting is obvious: all the power is focused on the tiny surface area of the tip, and the motion can move only in a linear direction, whereas a curved weapon's shape actually works against itself in a stab. Again, this does not always translate perfectly into real life. A curved weapon, on the other hand, will not necessarily be better at cutting, but it will likely better perform a drawing slice. Think of it as a chef's knife versus a butcher's cleaver. With the cleaver you want a square chop, you want to do deep damage and cut your target in half with a single flick of your wrist. The chef's knife you draw along that same chunk of meat. You won't carve through bone, but by running the blade along the target you will create a clean, possibly quite deep wound. A fiiner cut can actually cause more bleeding and be harder to heal than a rougher one, as most people have experienced with paper cuts.

    Next is the "katana's" percieved superiority. We all have to realize that the best weapon is dictated by preference and style. And yet it pervades our culture that the katana is the highest of all blades, that were a period Japanese sword to clash with a period longsword the katana would shear right through the European blade. Sorry. It's actually closer to the opposite.

    You see, people think that the folding of steel makes it stronger, and that the Japanese did this hundreds of time for that purpose. The reality is, folding the steel only evens the distribution of flaws and imperfections, and the Japanese did this as many times as they did because the iron and steel that they could mine and produce was actually quite substandard. Europe had beautiful deposits of very clean iron, while Japan didn't, and nor did they have the purifying techniques of the modern world. For this reason, the steel produced in Europe at the time was stronger and harder.

    As far as the actual design of the weapon itself, there can be no victor. The katana category of weapons was designed to cut unarmoured or lightly armoured opponents. It performed a devious drawing slice. The swords of Europe were designed to pierce strong steel armour or cut through unarmoured foes, often both. They both performed very well in their respective tasks, but neither was ultimately better (in design). The European double-edged sword was more versatile and capable of greater defense. The katana was typically a purely offensive weapon, and was specialized.
     
  3. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    What he said. In fact, a diamond sword would almost certainly break the first time you hit anything with it. Like most crystals, it has a cleavage plane: prior to the production of diamond saws, the first step in shaping a raw diamond was always whacking it with hammer and chisel. (Still is, for larger specimens: no point wearing out the saw until you're down to a usable crystal.) And lest anybody ask, this doesn't have a thing to do with flaws, apart from the fairly obvious observation that if there is a flaw, the sword will probably preferentially break along that first. But it will still break, flaws or no.

    (I'm pretty sure all crystals have cleavage planes… think it's an inevitable consequence of the definition. Hate to risk overgeneralizing, though.)

    Think about it: hardness is essentially the opposite of elasticity. (Well, scratch hardness isn't quite the same thing, but since diamond tops the scale either way, it doesn't matter for present purposes.) The reason diamond is "hard" is because it doesn't bend. It can't.

    So, one more time: hardness has no direct relation to a material's desirability for weapon-making. All else being equal, a harder material might be more desirable–but all else is almost never equal.

    Not to mention that you'd need to find a diamond of the right size. While it is not hypothetically impossible for such a diamond to exist, to say that it would be historically unprecedented would be to commit a gross understatement. The largest diamond ever found weighed just over a pound and a third before cutting… not exactly sword material. (And at that, it was three times the size of the second-place contender, as far as I can find.) Of course, you're writing fantasy: you can fantasize a diamond closer to three feet long than three inches if you like.
     
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  4. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I've seen a number of televised tests which attempted to verify weapon strengths, and the katana out performs the typical European blade almost every time. While I like your statement, I don't think it can be considered complete with mentioning the shield. The katana was not designed to be wielded with a shield nor to fight against a soldier with a shield. The typical European longsword was designed to "pop out" from behind a shield, so to speak, and to strike a target wherever the shield was not protecting. Even two handed weapons like the Claymore were larger and bulkier in order to deliver debilitating force upon an opponent's shield.

    Once a reasonable shield comes into the play, the katana becomes nearly worthless. Without the shield, however, it seems to demonstrate superior versatility even against armor (no, neither a longsword nor a katana can pierce chainmail, but a katana is more effective at striking the legs or head which are likely to be uncovered). How much of that is the design of the blade or techniques in metallurgy, I wouldn't know.
     
  5. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    It's a combination of several things, I suspect–not the least of them being that the katanas being tested were probably more recently made than those produced at the time Euros were still chopping at one another, and thus of more comparable steel. And a folded blade will always have at least the potential of being sharper than a non-folded one, due to the fact that you're ultimately beveling each individual layer, including whichever one ends up making contact with the target… which will tend to vary from one millimeter of blade to the next (which also results in a very subtle serration in the process, another possible factor). (Though in the end, the skill of the person doing the sharpening will, I suspect, be the more decisive consideration.) Also, the techniques used to wield the weapons matters: the katanas were wielded with the intent of cutting, while European swordsmen generally didn't even bother trying, at least not until armor began to fade from the field. They didn't always even bother putting points on their swords, for that matter, which might give some sense of the value they ascribed to the thing's utility as a sharp implement… or at any rate the only reason I can imagine for not doing so would be if I felt it didn't matter: as mentioned before, I'd prefer at least the option to be available.…

    I don't think you'd be able to get a legitimate comparison, however, unless you threw a European pattern-welded blade into the mix. (At least. Possibly several other kinds of blade as well.) If both layered blades performed better than an unlayered one, there's a good probability the layering has something going for it. If the katana outperforms both European ones, it's probably something else.

    And if the person performing the test isn't unbiased, and wields the blades differently in an attempt to "prove" his favored candidate is "best," you can throw the whole thing out.… :rolleyes:
     
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  6. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I didn't see any of that, although Deadliest Warrior does let each group test their own blade which isn't very scientific. But they also tested far more blades, and the only thing that showed comparable strength to the Katana is the Kilij (sp?). Although not every sword, in my opinion, gets a fair shake since they run such different tests. But I know there were several of these tests which they didn't run on riveted chainmail, so it wouldn't surprise me if the Katana was often "too new." The Samurai guy in Deadliest Warrior provided a piece of Japanese armor that was 200 years old and had seen real combat - it survived with the tiniest of scratches, but of course, 200 years is still very new.

    (I trust Deadliest Warrior more than the other shows because they run more tests across more episodes, and you start to get a feel for what they're doing right and wrong to judge them more accurately. There's even a wiki for when you have questions. I guess I should rather say that I trust my opinion of the Deadliest Warrior tests over the other demonstrations.)

    The failure to utilize authentic weapons and armor is a real problem. According to one article I read, for instance, there's never been a test of an authentic British Longbow against an authentic piece of chainmail to test the actual penetrating power of the bodkin arrow.
     
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2012
  7. Kevlar

    Kevlar Troubadour

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    What you have to watch out with in such demonstrations is that often times they will be pitting a hand-forged katana made of spring steel against what many people, particularily in the bladesmithing community, call a Sword Like Object, or SLO. Often this SLO will be a machine-cut piece without the molecular benefits of forging, hardening, or tempering, and will be evenly thick up to the point. Also, the matchup will often be say a 12th century arming sword against a 19th century katana. By the 19th century Japan's technology ball was actually rolling again. And also, I chose the longsword as the representative of the west to avoid the shield, as it is a two-hander, like the katana.

    While, Devor, I respect that you prefer the katana, I'm hoping it's not for the cultural reverance we place on the blade. That reverance comes from the multitude of ninja movies in which the ninja acts like a samurai and dresses in completely obvious garb. And Highlander.

    In fact, look at the games (and probably manga and anime and stuff too, but I wouldn't know) coming out of Japan and tell me what type of sword the hero is using. Not a ninja, or the hero's sidekick, or the anti-hero, but the actual hero. He will almost without exception wield a European-style sword. And be a he, for that matter.

    Take Shadow of the Colossus, Legend of Zelda, and the old Final Fantasies, to name some I've actually played. Sure, many Japanese games feature katanas prominently, and it may be that many that do don't make it over here, but the majority seem to favour the double-edged, straight blade, cruciform design. Though I can't confirm it, it almost seems that the western swords are as revered in the east as eastern swords are in the west.

    Much of what's in this post is based on my own observations, and therefore there may be discrepencies.

    I also read about the lack of bodkin testing, though I don't doubt its utility. In order to penetrate maille you need a thin point capable of slipping inside a ring and prying it open. Most people don't realize that the rings of most maille were neither welded nor riveted.
     
  8. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

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    These posts have been most interesting.
    Chain maille was good at preventing being cut, unfortunately it only turns a blade into a club. A sword hitting a chain maille protected body might break the bone under the maille, and imho a Chain Coif was the worst thing to protect the head. The head might not have a single scratch on the dead body, as blunt force trauma would kill the wearer.
    (This from a person that has made chain maille armor.)
    If involved in a knife fight, chain would be excellent. no big metal club hidden behind a blade to worry about.

    Modern body armor way of thinking follows the history of armor. padding=flak jacket of vietnam. chain= kevlar in Iraq they added ceramic tiles=plate armor(more similar to a coat of plates) How will they make a modern full suit of armor?
     
  9. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    First off, the longsword - though it depends on which longsword you're referring to - may be two handed, but as I mentioned, it was still designed to fight against someone with a shield. It's a straight blade because you need the precision of a thrust to get past the wall between you and your opponent. A slashing blade like the katana would be deflected.

    However, a well-designed slashing weapon like the katana will deal more force to an opponent through armor, and it will inflict more damage (though still not significant damage) to the armor itself. A slice is also more effective at striking small moving targets like the legs or the head which the armor may not cover and would certainly not cover as effectively. Consequently, as I mentioned in my last post, despite the inefficiencies of the testing, the katana should be expected to outperform the typical western European straight double-edged blade in all categories of combat which do not involve a shield. Insert a shield into the fray for either combatant, and the katana blade becomes useless.

    In addition, it is already a false comparison to contrast the katana with such European blades anyways because the katana is a later weapon developed from the 15th century onwards. A more contemporary Japanese weapon to the European longsword would be the tachi, a weapon similar to the katana with distinctly inferior qualities. A European weapon that is closer contemporary to the katana would be the cutlass. I'm not sure that the cutlass holds up to the katana, but I also mentioned before, some later scimitars were made with a weighted tip to increase their slashing power (something, by the way, which the Deadliest Warrior tests clearly demonstrated). But they lack all thrusting power while the katana retains some thrusting capabilities.

    As I began my posting by asking about the effectiveness and distinction of late European backswords, I'm not sure why you mistake my popular misconceptions about the katana with some sort of preference for them. Misconceptions aside, as you yourself stated, they are very effectively designed for the purpose they were intended, which is shieldless warfare, a reason for which they remain popular.

    By the way, I frequently mention Deadliest Warrior episodes as a source. That show pits two distantly-separated warriors from history against each other to see "who is deadliest." Despite the superior testing of the katana (which as you mention, may be flawed), the Samurai in Deadliest Warrior was bested by a Bronze-Age Spartan whose shield had the most kills of any weapon featured in the episode.
     
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2012
  10. I'd rather say the best weapon is dictated by context. Each sword is the best at what it was specifically designed to do.

    Eh. No sword is going to cut through another sword unless the later is made out of, like, styrofoam or something.

    Katana and western swords can both break, they just happen to break is somewhat different ways.

    Weeeell, for starters, folding does make for a better sword because it removes impurities from the steel and creates a more even distribution of carbon. As you say, pattern welding was prominent in the viking age as well. It's just that if you already have pretty high quality carbon steel, this process isn't really necessary because you can get a decent or even good sword with less work.

    As for Japanese steel, people tend to misunderstand this issue. It's true Japan has terrible iron ore deposits, tamahagane being produced from iron rich sand. This is absolutely not the same thing as saying Japanese swords were made from inferior steel, though.

    Tamahage is specifically the raw steel from a tatara smelter, and it's really not that different from western bloomery iron. The quality will depend on the skill of the person who produced it -bad craftsmanship will of course give you bad steel- but if you do it the right way it will be about as pure as you can get it, almost completely free of defects, and with a very even carbon distribution.

    People still use tamahagane to make swords today, even though modern materials are available. Modern steels are not actually that much better, it's just that making tamahagane is far more labour intensive. The reason it's still used is not so much that modern katana makers are too traditionalist to try anything new, but mostly because tamahagane has a rather particular look that is desirable when making an authentic nihontou.
     
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2012
  11. "Versatality against armor"?

    What does that even mean? Swords that can handle armor well are built for specialization, not versatality.

    Wait, wait. The head is likely to be uncovered? Why would anyone wear a heavy chainmail but not bother to put on a helmet? :confused: This is an oddly specific scenario you're suggesting.

    Also, you are claiming that a 28" katana will have an advantage in leg attacks over a 36" longsword?

    I mean, in a swordfight, attacking the legs is almost always a bad idea but if you'd try it, it would be because you have a longer sword then your opponent.

    An SLO, or "sword-like object", is a term we use for swords that are not designed to handle or perform as actual weapons. It has absolutely nothing to do with wether the sword is machined or hand forged. Some of the best swords available today are machine milled, and I bet you anything they stand up to historical swords just fine.

    What inferior qualities?

    I have never heard anything suggesting the tachi was inferior to the katana other then that the early kisaki points were difficult to repair if damaged, and they fixed that flaw after the mongol invasion.

    Look, guys -and by guys I mostly mean Devor and Kevlar - no offense to you, but I would greatly appreciate it if you cease hijacking my Q&A thread with your opinionated forum babble. That really isn't why I created this thread.

    I don't want to have to sift through your walls of text just to point out your glaring inaccuracies, partly because I'm lazy that way but mostly because I frankly don't give a damn what you think you know about swords. But on the other hand, this is a thread for sword research and if I let a bunch of bad information float around, it reflects poorly on me.

    Now, if you have an issue with any of my claims, just point that out and cite your sources, and I will be happy to look into it and revise my standpoint accordingly.

    Otherwise, can you please take your arguments to a more appropriate venue? There are entire separate communities dedicated to what you are doing right now.
     
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2012
  12. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I did try to explain what I meant, which is just that a slashing weapon deals more blunt force through armor than a thrusting weapon. And although both weapons will slash and thrust, the katana, especially a curved katana, has the edge as a slashing weapon.


    I'm sorry, you're right of course. I didn't account for the length of the weapons, I was thinking just about the shape and style of the blade. Several versions of the longsword were shorter and even one-handed weapons, and some katanas were quite a bit longer. There's so much variation and overlap and a looseness of terms that it would be hard to give a concrete length to a blade, so I mostly don't think about it.

    I don't know why I said the head would be "uncovered," I was even thinking about helmets while I was typing. I was thinking about "uncovered parts of the body," and somehow it just didn't come out right. But with the head that's mostly just the neck, and at equal sword lengths, the katana would be more effective because it's designed to be a faster slashing weapon.


    Okay, I don't mind bowing out. I've tried to contribute, and I don't think my statements have been that bad. But I didn't mean to hijack your thread. I certainly didn't mean to get into an argument. So I won't post again unless it's to ask you a question. Keep up the good work.
     
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2012
  13. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

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    Anders, what can you tell us about the practice of the unarmored Longsword Duels, called Bloßfechten??
     
  14. Just a quick question: Have you ever personally taken a hit from sword while wearing any kind of decent armor?
     
  15. I actually had to look that up, so good job finding something I'm unfamiliar with. ^^;

    I do recognise it, though: I learned about this just two weeks ago during longsword practice. Basically, the longsword uses different fighting styles depending on wether or not you are fighting someone using armor. Bloßfechten assumes no armor, so the emphasis is simply on freely attacking your opponent's body. I'm pretty sure it's the type of longsword fencing you usually see people train these days.

    The other style, which Wikipedia tells me is called harnischfechten, assumes armor and emphasises half-swording techniques (that is, grabbing the blade of the sword and using it as a spear), stabbing attacks, hooking or hammering with the hilt and so on.
     
  16. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I had thought so, but man, Illidan hits hard.

    I really did want to bow out the way you asked me to, so I don't understand why you're asking me this. I don't really think it's relevant - experiencing one event is more likely to bias you towards those results than to give you a familiarity with all possible outcomes.

    But force is something that can be measured, even predicted, and it has been. I've several times mentioned Deadliest Warrior as a source. They do scientific tests, though sometimes flawed, which measure psi. Watching their results, there's a clear pattern of slashing weapons yielding more psi than thrusting weapons. I don't think that should be surprising. Several people have mentioned in this thread already that swords become blunt force weapons when the target wears armor. You've mentioned yourself that the Katana is a heavier blade, per square inch, designed for cutting. And I'll add that the human arm can gain more momentum and follow through on a swing than on a thrust.

    I'm not sure I can see any reason for a katana not to outperform the longsword when striking armor, but if I am mistaken you are more than welcome to correct me - in fact, you could have done so without risking any back and forth. I was bowing out.
     
  17. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    I'm inclined to agree–as long as the qualifier "more than other shows" is kept in mind. There's nothing about televised demonstrations that make them inherently flawed… that's just a good starting assumption until proven otherwise. :rolleyes:

    Of course, finding an authentic longbow in working quality is somewhat problematic. But there's absolutely no reason an exact replica couldn't be made: unlike steel, yew trees haven't changed all that much in the past few centuries. I suspect part of the reason is that people are still recovering from the shock of the Mary Rose finds… and that few modern bowmen have trained themselves up to the proper pull weight. (Wikipedia does reference a test in which a bodkin arrow was fired through an authentic suit of chain–but when you check the reference, you learn that the test was also conducted at seven yards, so take that for what it's worth.) And unless the chain were made of very tight links–as of course much of it was–a bodkin would likely cause at least a small wound, even with plunging fire, to the extent of the point being smaller than the interior diameter of the links. A half-inch-deep penetration wound could become debilitating fairly rapidly, even if the victim doesn't do the "I'm hit! Time to go to the rear!" bit. It also depends on the mail: the bodkin would easily spread the link if the mail is butted; welded would be less likely, but welds are still more likely to break than riveted or solid links. (Note that butted mail was only commonly used by the Japanese, and it works fine against blades; I'm not sure what kinds of arrow heads they used, as the only images I've found thus far are for target points.)

    On the other hand, there's also a link to the Royal Armouries site: the test referenced isn't one where they shot something; rather, they tested the metallurgy of various heads (which leads back around nicely to talking about swords… ;) ). Their hypothesis/conclusion (it doesn't really deserve to be called the latter) was that one head stood out as

    Now, see, this is where "hardness" is an appropriate consideration–though note that they're talking about the same kind of "hardening" that goes into any tempered steel weapon, e.g. swords.

    I'm going to have to poke around on their site some more; looks like it could be a fun one.

    Armour-piercing arrowheads | Royal Armouries
     
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  18. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    Whether or not he has, I have. And if I'm wearing metal armor, I'd much rather take a hit from a katana than from a broadsword. If I'm wearing leather, I'd probably vote the other way.

    Of course, if I'm facing someone who's a kenjutsu master, I'm going to worry about him being able to hit gaps in the armor on his first shot… usually not as great a concern when dealing with a Western swordsman.

    As for thrusting… meh. Pretty much, a point is a point when you put it on a sword. Force generated? Relativize it to striking area before you discount it too much: a cutting blow brings a whole lot more surface to bear on the target than a thrust does. (In the SCA, we whack each other full force with 1.5'' diameter rattan clubs, no problem… but thrusting weapons are required to have 2'' of padding on the tip.) Curved blade? The curve would have to be severe to make thrusting substantially more difficult… even then, you just learn a different technique, using a "scooping" action rather than a straight lunge–and even that only matters when you're talking about trying to ram the whole blade through your target: if I can "only" get three inches into him, I'm good with that. If I had to guess, I'd say a chisel-pointed blade (katana) would have a better chance of penetrating heavy armor than a leaf-pointed one; on the other hand, the odds of either penetrating heavy armor are marginal. As mentioned, some Euro blades didn't bother with points at all… good evidence that they considered thrusting to be, for their purposes, uhm, "pointless." :p

    Anyone who is wearing only a coif deserves what he gets. Their purpose was to provide flexible protection for the neck, and to cover the area where neck and shoulder meet (difficult with rigid armor), not to guard the head; the only real advantage of using a coif over a helmet with a camail is that the coif will stay in place if the helmet gets turned or lost. (On the other hand, the weight of a camail will aid in preventing that… though it also makes turning the head more difficult.) Considering the much greater vulnerability of the neck to slashing (versus crushing) wounds, and the difficulty of achieving complete coverage with rigid pieces, mail cover is a good idea, unless you have full articulated plate available.

    One often-ignored (probably because historically seldom-used) advantage to mail for head defense is to put it over a grillwork face: you lose none of the airflow, but gain substantial protection–almost as good as wearing plate, since the grillwork will prevent the mail from being pushed in, especially if you secure the mail to each bar. Not sure why this wasn't more popular than it was. Probably because by the time they got around to protecting the whole face, they were thinking less of using mail in general, and just went straight to solid visors. Having worn (and fought in) several varieties of helmet, though, I much prefer the more open variety. The closed ones aren't quite as hard to breathe in as many people think (if they were, they'd never have seen use), but the difference is still substantial.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
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  19. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    A quick GENERAL comment to all concerned:

    This thread will serve its function best, and provide the best value in terms of reserach, if the discussion is restricted to the technical, and pure opinion presented elsewhere. (Example: "Why is the katana considered a superior weapon?" is a technical question; "How does the katana compare to the longsword in cutting power?" is technical to the extent of actual demonstration; "Is the katana the best sword ever made?" is opinion).

    The same is true of other threads in this subforum; however, there is little point in having this (or any other) thread stickied for its content value unless it cleaves to its purpose. Please help out in this. Thank you.
     
  20. Curiosity, mostly.

    I'm going to put this a delicately as I possibly can: Deadliest Warrior does not command a lot of respect among martial history scholars.

    In fact, I do not recommend you consider any TV show intended for entertainment as a source of accurate data, no matter how serious they claim to be about the science.
     
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