If you go shopping for swords on the internet you will quickly find a few terms that are used across much of the industry to indicate that a sword is of higher quality than average. The chief among these is "battle ready". When interacting with the public we are often asked if our swords fit into these categories, and it's always a bit of a difficult conversation. Of course our swords are constructed to emulate a historical character, and we guarantee them to be as functional and durable as the original pieces that they replicate. But what do people really mean when they say "battle ready"? What are the publics' expectations for the capabilities and functions of a high quality sword? As I explain below, battle readiness is a slippery concept that can be more confusing than illuminating.
The idea of battle readiness emerged in the 1980's from catalogues and on the Home Shopping Network to suggest that certain swords would stand up to use or even abuse. But the common understanding of how you use a sword has changed a great deal in the last few decades and most knowledgable sword buyers now understand that trying to use a sword for jobs best left to car crushers, sledge hammers and wrecking balls is asking for trouble.
The concept of battle ready swords has continued to evolve in popular culture with various Internet personalities and TV hosts cleaving cement blocks in twain, chopping down trees, and hewing at giant blocks of ice to 'test' the quality of swords they've gotten their hands on. Now, this may be entertaining to watch, but we would argue that a piece of sharpened steel's ability to carry out these tasks in no way demonstrates that it is, in fact, a high quality, historically accurate, or even a reasonably 'good' sword.
So, if being able to utterly destroy large kitchen appliances without getting dull is not, in fact, a good test of a sword, what is?
The characteristics of historically accurate swords
A good sword is one that effectively accomplishes the tasks for which it is designed. At Arms and Armor we think that modern swords should be built for the same tasks that historical swords were built for. These tasks included preventing yourself from being killed, harming your opponent, training to do both of these things, and giving aesthetic enjoyment through beauty of form and elegance of handling.
Check out this video of historical fencing techniques from the Italian fencing tradition of Maestro Fiore de Liberi.
Historical swords are lighter than most people think. This relates to the need for a sword not just to kill other people, but to help protect its wielder from being killed. One of the primary merits of swords over many other weapons is that they are great for both offensive and defensive action. Overly heavy swords might be really good at chopping things, but they are unwieldy and make it difficult for even a skilled fighter to protect themselves from an opponents counter attacks. Additionally, light swords cut people very well. You do not need a ten pound sword to cut someone in half. For example, even the largest sword in our catalogue, the 15th Century Two Hander, which is almost 60" long weighs only six pounds and is fast and agile in the hand.
In fact, most longswords weigh between 2.5 and 3.5 pounds. Our English Longsword, weighs 2.6 pounds and is a fantastic cutter that moves like an extension of your arms, making it possible to both attack and defend with great speed and efficiency.
Historical swords were not made to accomplish the tasks that many YouTube audiences seem to desire. In order for a sword to cut down a tree it must have a relatively thick cross section to prevent it being destroyed by the abuse. While some types of steel and some degrees of tempering might be more or less resistant to this use, any sword that will stand up to repeatedly hacking trees, cinder blocks, or any other hard object will necessarily be either too heavy to function as a good fighting weapon, or it will have too little distal taper to move well in the hand as is necessary for historical forms of combat.
To put this argument into more accessible terms, you wouldn't say that the criteria for a rifle to be a good gun was that you could hammer nails into the wall with it. Nor would you test the quality of a Ferrari by trying to knock down a large tree with it. Tools need to be judged on how they accomplish the tasks for which they are designed.
What we have consistently striven to do over the past three decades is to craft swords and other weapons that excel at the historical uses for which they were intended. When people ask us if our swords are 'battle-ready' this is what we explain. We always try to make elegant, historically accurate, authentically 'battle-ready' pieces of excellent craftsmanship.