The Pandora's Box of High Tech in the Sword Arts today:
Does technology damage historical swordsmanship?
What happens when ultra modern high technology is introduced
traditional sword arts? At first glance, it might not seem like a real
problem. The truth of it however is that this is the beginning of a huge
problem. If you're a nancing, prancing necromancer, stop reading now,
either not understand it, or just get pissed off, and you don't want to
mess up your digestion while you are making up an art.
Practical: Oh, man, I told you to hide the fucking Creatine...
Tinker: It's not my fault! Troll was scarfing down
tracked crumbs everywhere..
Scholastic: Making up an art? Actually he's pretty calm. After all,
what you are really doing is playing fantasy games and Traditional normally
calls that mental masturbation. At least in mixed company...
Practical: Calm for you, maybe. You're up there in that Ivory Soap bar
with only one entrance. Those of us who actually have to interact with the
necromancers are gonna be in for a crapstorm.
Troll: Crapstorm tasty?
Roaches that grew up in a fencing salle, a real fencing salle, learned the
three fencing weapons, but with a slightly different slant than most
people in Sport Fencing today. Old school salles maintained a connection to the
past; a tradition if you will, through several very influential fencing
masters who got handed their heads on a plate if they weren't
picture-perfect, all the time. Being raised under that kind of lineage,
what quickly became apparent was that the competitive fencing world is really a
pantry full of poison and glue paper, not yummy crumbs, and smart roaches
look for the other places to dine. Everywhere you look, you find that the
problem is the intrusion of inappropriate technology, and that fencing had
been mostly destroyed, in most of the world, as a result. It used to be a
sword art, and high-technology has turned it into wire tag.
New Age: Tag is fun. it's a nice game...
Practical: Yes, fruitcake,no one said there was anything wrong with games,
but this is supposed to be training for fighting. Its like the changes that
happen in shooting sports when you replace military grade weapons with
air guns. You totally change everything and you train gamesters not riflemen.
Why was this technology introduced? It was brought in, mostly in the form
of a scoring system, but also in the form of orthopedic weapon grips for foil
and epee. The scoring part was brought in to determine materiality of the
touch, target area was standardized, etc. The reason that people were
having trouble determining materiality of the touch, was that there had arisen a
disconnect between the dueling mentality, and in the fencing for
competitions sake mentality. The idea was to bridge the gap, and settle
disputes in a manner that there wasn't much debate about. Did the
apparatus register a touch, yes or no? If yes, touch is awarded. If no, fencing
isn't stopped for doubtful touches. This is good. It begins to become bad, when
people who no longer have to worry about defending their lives in a duel,
and begin to test the boundaries of the apparatus in order to pervert the
thing into registering touches that really wouldn't have done much damage,
or in using the 1/25th of a second reaction time assumed in epee, to allow
you to score first and get the only touch, without taking into account
that even 1/25th of a second late, both thrusts are going to land.
Practical: And in real duels, then you both get to die. What matters is whogets home.
Scholastic: Now, they did have duels to first blood...
Practical: yes, but you either stopped then or continued on until you killed
each other... Multiple hits in training is just that: training. Normally the
first guy to land a solid shot is going to win because of body reaction.
Further, the weight of the electrical point on the blade, and the fact that
depressing a button, makes it an issue of turning on a light, instead of
making a wounding hit. Thus, the weight of the point can now be used to
help throw the point into the target, and the disconnect with the dueling
mentality is completed by the rise of tournaments that are multiple touch
instead of one touch, or in which double touches are now scored positively
for the combatants, instead of eliminating them from the game.
All of these changes happened over a 30 or 40 year period, if not longer,
and seemed reasonable at the time. It was a slippery slope, and enough
time between each change passed, or before it became widespread ( epee was
electrified in 1936, but not fully instituted until the early 60's, and
even then it wasn't the only way to do it for a few more years. Foil was
electrified in '56, and took hold more quickly, since there was a base of
knowledge for it in epee. Sabre went in '88, and that was an overnight
revolution) but because it took years at a time, people teaching fencing
didn't really recognize the change.
Practical: Well, you could argue it isn't really useful
and it doesn't
matter. Who was it that said the fencing of the modern west is called handgun shooting?
Then, some Japanese beetles moved in the
room next door. They're weird beetles, and move kind of inefficiently, but
on the whole they're decent, and pretty darn traditional too. I like these guys.
Troll: Beetles pretty..
New Age: Yeah, and they get all the wingies, too..
.Troll: Dated beetle once. ....liked beetle...cute...friendly...
I've noticed some other creatures hanging out on a big forum about swords,
and really think most of them aren't the sort of things you'd want to hang
out with, let alone allow to have swords..
Practical: Oh, here we go...
Tinker: Yup, he and Neo-Traditional are gonna have another smackdown.
New Age; I'll go for tortilla crumbs..
Scholastic: You would think he'd be nicer to his hatchling. Neo-Trad's a good roachling...
New Age: Traditional doesn't do nice....
Troll: You say bad thing about friend, Rennie roach? <SMACK>
Online RAID bombs would be a nice fix, but also cost prohibitive. Nuclear
holocaust is another option, although I'd feel sorry about the beetles.
Tinker: WHAT? Is someone feeding Traditional Prozac?
One of the common themes noticed was that some of these have fallen in love
with technology, in spite of the fact that they are taking part in traditional
sword arts, or are trying to play amateur necromancer, and might end up
making Frankenstein. The problem with this, is that they may make
Frankenstein stronger AND more stupid than he's supposed to be, and while
he's a strong Perversion, he's still just a Perversion - not true life.
Everyone wants a stronger, better blade, but they don't question whether
or not it's a good thing. They are however, very concerned with impressing
each other with their new fancy expensive blade, often to the exclusion of
being concerned with whether the blade they're getting is right for what
Tinker: I thought we'd handled this with the jelly beans already..
Scholastic: yes, you'd think a species that developed opposable thumbs and
peanut butter would be brighter.
On the opposite side, where everyone wants softer,
flexier blades that can be used as metal catapults for the scoring tip, we
see that is a bad thing, and Sport Fencing could use an injection of steel into the
existing blade designs. But the trend towards superblades in other
arts/pastimes needs examined as well.
Lets take a look at one example of technology, L6-Bainite blades. I admit
they're cool, but that's not being questioned here. They're also god-awful
expensive, and thus aren't terribly widespread - but that will doubtless
change. There's more than one way to use L6, and apparently a couple ways
to get Bainite, or to Austemper L6 to have a burrstone blade. They're durable
beyond anything else on the market, and can allow all kinds of interesting
things to be done in the shaping of the blade, without compromising the
strength of the blade.
Tinker: Oh, yeah... sweet blades.
Are these swords far and away stronger, more durable, less prone to
breakage, and able to survive horrible abuse? According to knowledgeable
beetles in the traditional Japanese Sword Arts community, the answer is
resoundingly Yes. Would a real swordsman from time past have sold his soul
to the Great Yielder of the Kitchen Light for one? You bet. Should a
modern sword student get one. Well, maybe... You see the question is not 'are
these better swords?' but 'Are these better swords for learning and practicing
historical swordsmanship?' If you're making up your own art as you go
along, its not traditional, so go right on ahead, and don't worry about it. This
doesn't concern you. Have fun.
Tinker: hunh? So, we shouldn't drool
over clearly superior technology.
Right... let's not drool over a pair of nice wings either...
Practical: ::rolls eyes:: Traditional still sleeps in a rotting log.
Technology is often a good thing. For example, business is so much better
with the internet and cell phones than when you had to use runners. This
technology would allow you to finally obtain the perfect blade shape and the
strenght of material to allow it to cut...and put a Scarysharp(tm) edge on
it and hold that edge...
Let's try Scholastic's approach and pose the question: What do these
uberswords do for me as a practitioner or instructor of a historical or
traditional historical sword art?
Scholastic: Actually, my approach would be to ask in what contexts these
better blades are a reasonable fit.
They are stronger, they will last longer, they can be abused more, and
they can be made to cut well, even with poor technique.
Chorus: Yes! Yes! Yes!
Neo-traditional: Did you guys just cheer for poor technique? I'm out of
here. Dad is going to blow his exo-skeleton.
Practical: You missed the first part. Good thing, too. No, we were
cheering for blades that cut off bikers an inch above the headlight.
Tinker: Hey, if you're going to have a Mad Max fantasy, dream big...
I might not go through as many sparring weapons either, depending on what
my opponent/partner has. I can bash it against a helm, and probably be ok. So
isn't this this good? Well, yeah, it might be good for my wallet over
time, and maybe even my ego, but this isn't the point of historical
swordsmanship is it? Isn't the point of it to do the techniques in a historical manner?
Not simply because you now have a tool that will let you do something
a-historical, not damage your weapon, and continue to do it all day? There
are reasons we don't just stick a helm on a pole, and whack it with a
sword- other than its going to break something eventually!
Practical: Well, it's because we're not morons...you don't attack hard spots.
New Age: Yeah. Chi flows better around helmets.
Just because we can do it, do we really need to? Major
has the ability to adopt aluminum bats to replace the uncorked
(hopefully) wooden ones they use, any time they want. They have decided
however, that they do not wish to play the game with aluminum bats, and
would rather stay with tradition. A wise choice, but very uncommon today.
Tinker: I don't get it. Baseball's a sport. A
sport has conventions.
Traditional hates conventions, just look at him and NeoTrad going at it over the SCA...
Neo-traditional: I still think hitting me with an iron fan was excessive...
Scholastic: but it was traditional
So here's the deal, most of us don't whack at a helmet on pole now... but
what happens in 20 years, when a whole new generation of people have been
trained that its ok to intentionally whack a helmet on a pole, and have
seen that you're not going to hurt the sword? well.. then might it not be ok to
just start cleaving armor all the time instead of cutting the gaps? So....
Practical: You end up with modern kendo where all the
strikes are focused at
with that in mind, is it not likely also to see some things change over
time, and now we're using our uberswords to cut armor routinely? If we can
cut armor more easily, it's not any great leap of logic to think that
people will alter their training to take this into account.
Troll: huh? Kevlar already cuts easy.
Practical: True. How many people train with armor and sharp weapons for real?
Tinker: How many of them really train?
Maybe people will buy better armor as well, but don't put money on it...
Anyone remember a post online, saying something to the effect of "I used
my high dollar production sword to cut some Depeeka maille armor, therefore
any sword must be able to cut armor" Ok... right, whatever - how about trying
that out on some well made maille there, bub, something not stamped with
the "Made in India" seal of third world quality? People are CHEAP. Swords are
sexy, they'll pay more.. Armour is armour - yawn.. Most don't seem to want
to pay for it, or if they do buy high quality armor, they're almost
certainly not going to attempt to destroy it now, let alone when they can
buy super armor, that even if the costs come down, will still be more
expensive than the more historical stuff.
Practical: If their asses depended on it? You bet
they'd buy it. Why
else do you think pros buy Kevlar with ceramic impact plates?
Scholastic: It seems to me that much of this depends on how many people
understand that the austempering process is essentially present-day
science and that makes it science-fiction or magick as far as swords are concerned.
Tinker: Yeah. Plenty of guys make SCA armor out of aircraft aluminum,
but I don't see them calling it medieval armor.
We must remember that no tradition is static, as much as we might like to
believe otherwise. If you have 20 or 30 years, you have time for the
tradition to change, or new traditions to begin. Sport Fencing and the SCA
are two prime examples.. neither are exactly combat, but both will at
make claims to it.
Practical: As hard as SCA guys hit? Definitely in line
Maybe not combat, but real rough.
Scholastic: yes, but you must admit, Pini would vomit through his nose if
he saw what modern fencers calling their sport anything but butterfly-tag.
The differences between classical sabre, and sport sabre are immense, just
as an example - and it is mostly due to technology and the fact that we're
going for points instead training not to be killed.
Practical: I'd say it's cuz getting hit with a dueling sabre hurts like hell...
Neither the SCA or Sport Fencing are old traditions either, both are less
than 100 years old, but still are often confused with sword fighting.
There are still some fencers around who know the differences in what they do in
competition, and in more earnest training, most however, don't bother to
spend the time or even recognize the differences. The SCAdian's believe
they are doing the Middle Ages as it ought to have been, and in general seem
more concerned with thee'ing and m'ladying each other, and sleeping with
rennies, than really working with combat theory. Sorry, but when you take
swordsmanship out of the context it was used in, and change stuff,
especially technology, you're going to be changing the fundamentals in
some way, eventually.
These issues are *BAD* for those of us who are trying to continue a
tradition, and *WORSE* for those who are trying to play necromancer down
at the morgue. We can't stop them from trying, But we can at least serve
notice to them that they need to try to put the kidneys in the right place. In
the example of the Japanese beetles, test cutting is a part of the training -
as is bending swords, straightening swords, and potentially breaking them.
Little Japanese beetles learn to cut with clean technique, so that they
minimize the risk of damaging their toys. Their fighting techniques
also include that. Even now, in the grand scheme of Japanese beetledom, there
are people in traditional arts, who are pushing for the L6 blades because they
can be made sharper, thinner, and stiffer, and less likely to dull or
bend. This is a good thing for the sword, but they are using them in their own
competitions because it makes it easier to pull off bad technique and
still perform the cuts and do well in competitions. Some old beetles take these
blades away from the young beetles and make them train with lower quality,
dull blades, in order to learn how to do it right, and not have the weapon
compensate for the fact that they suck.
Tinker: Hey, we sure then that Traditional isn't just an old beetle?
Scholastic: That would involve acknowledging the existence of fossil
New Age: But fossil fuels are bad!!!!
These old school beetles are
starting to keel over at a pretty amazing rate however, and the younger
ones aren't appreciating the necessity of it as much as they could. Someday
soon, some of those more popular, more competitive arts, will have their feet
firmly planted on the road to becoming a sport; and those involved
probably won't even know the difference. None of these changes are overnight, and
start small, by the time anyone realizes what is occurring, its probably
already too late to stop the process in that particular art, unless
everyone wakes up having had a dream speaking of divine retribution.
Scholastic Roach: I am guessing that the ryuha
organizations will slap
that down. And my understanding is that a helmet can be cloven already, if the
cut is absolutely perfect... he's got a good point, but there's also a
little bit of apples-vs-oranges here.
Practical: Simple enough to ban them in competition, and then you can see
right quick whose home practice is valid. Not responsible for morons.
See? Says so right up there on the label.
Anybody seriously looking at historical swordplay should
shy away from
modern technology in swords, in any aspect where its used as other than a
replacement in manufacturing methodology... that is, build it however you
like, but build it to perform like a period weapon - if it doesn't perform
that way, the bar of functionality has been changed and the rules are likely to change with it.
Practical: Well, okay, that's fine
if you're worried about beetles, but
what if armor's not a factor? What difference does it make if said
dueling sabre is a freaking lightsabre? Sounds pretty cool to ME..
Traditional: Ah, my friend, then we are back to are you
preserving an old
tradition or living an existing one. And that leads us to the question of
what is a living tradition anyway? If you actually have to fight with said
light-saber, a living tradition adapts to it but it keeps the stuff you need
for when your batteries die and all you got is a sharp stick.
Scholastic: And the question of what is a living tradition is another
places we need to go....but not today.