Why are light swords (less than 3 pounds) feel so heavy to wield?

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Jan 2017
84
North Carolina
This question was inspired because I finally got the chance to purchase a katana and also because I keep seeing sword enthusiast (including academicians and historians) argue that European medieval swords weren't heavy at all through forums posts and articles such as this one.

Medieval Swords Weren't Heavy At All - KnowledgeNuts

Some background, I can benchpress 300 pounds with effort and casually do 100 curls with 20 pound dumbells. I am now physically conditioned enough that a coach told me within a year or two if I keep increasing my weights and stick with a dedicated routine I can start getting into low level amateur powerlifting competitions. So I am in no way a nerdy waste weaboo or an obese geeks who reads hundreds of history books wearing glasses every week.

So when I got my katana by mail, it felt much heavy for its size. I could barely swing the thing and even just holding it with two hands felt awkward, one hand felt too heavy. When I checked the weighing scale I was so ******* shocked it was only 2 pounds! I could not believe just holding it felt like 50 pounds.

Now I'll grant my katana is one of those cheap made-in-china models. But still considering all the articles about European longswords weighing two pounds and not being heavy as Conan the Barbarian and other movies portray them, I was so surprised at how heavy the katana. I mean the walking for a mile with 15 pound kettlebells did not exhaust me the way swinging the katana for about five minutes did.

In fact it was after wielding the katana that it now made me curious if people who wielded traditional European knight swords in the museum and archaeology (who often were out of shape historians and archaeologists, some of them even being old men) felt the swords they found were heavy two when they were wielding them to test them.Because it was a shock to see something two pounds feel like 50 pounds!

Also bonus question, is what I experienced partially where the perception that European swords being clumsy and unwieldy due to being heavy come from? Possibly influencing Hollywood directors? Because I can't help but wonder if some people in the film industry one day decided to toy with real knightly swords and upon wielding it felt them so heavy it influenced how they perceived medieval fought and thus made actors fight like they were wielding 100 pound warhammers?
 

janusdviveidis

Ad Honorem
Mar 2014
2,009
Lithuania
Katana is actually very thick and heavy sword for it's length. It has long handle and most often is used with two hands, witch makes it easier. Properly made European sword would have counterweight on the pommel, witch would make it light in the hand.
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
5,027
Australia
A light sword is closer to one pound, not three pounds. A katana is a fairly awkward and not a particularly well-made sabre. Katana practitioners had to concentrate so much on proper technique because their swords were so easy to damage. A decent sword blade is a lot more forgiving of poor technique.
 
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Feb 2017
425
Minneapolis
Cheap reproductions tend to be heavy compared to the real thing. But Katana's were pretty heavy swords by and large with thick spines and typically wielded with two hands. Traditionally, they were secondary weapons for samurai (spears were the primary) and meant for fighting armored opponents. They got lighter and longer in the later era when dueling was popular. Movie katanas are made of chrome-plated aluminum which makes them seem very light.

Skill and practice will make them seem lighter, too. Kind of like with golf. In the hands of a beginner, even if he's a big guy, a driver will look heavy and clumsy (and he'll tire out quickly). The same driver in Annika Sorenstam's hands will look light as a feather.
 

Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,730
It depends on how you are swinging it because if you are initiating and stopping the swing your muscles are working at both points of the swing and its not only weight of the sword but your own body that adds fatigue. If you just stand still and swing a thin stick wildly around you will get tired too. On the other hands if you know what you are doing you can practice for hours before being overly fatigued.
 
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AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,398
Italy, Lago Maggiore
Swords are not heavy. It's the "user" not to be ready to use them ...

The problem is about physical laws: longer is the blade more it will increase the felt weight [it's the matter of the force arms, you know].

I've got more than a katana and I'm able to use a medieval sword. It's about technique.

Then ... you can lift 200 pounds laying on your back, but you could find difficult to handle a katana in a quick and efficient way. Why? Because you use different muscles in a different way. It's not about being weak.

I lift heavy weights myself, but the gestures involved in handling a sword are different.
 
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Thegn Ansgar

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
5,638
Canada
A light sword is closer to one pound, not three pounds. A katana is a fairly awkward and not a particularly well-made sabre. Katana practitioners had to concentrate so much on proper technique because their swords were so easy to damage. A decent sword blade is a lot more forgiving of poor technique.
Actually that's not true. Katanas are extremely forgiving of poor technique. The reason has to do with it being single edged, curved, thick spine, and a relatively stiff blade. They were given different polishes than what you see on traditional katana that are displayed today. They were given a more robust edge that could deal with the punishment that combat has on all weapons.

Even with extremely poor technique and using it like a baseball bat, you can generally cut decent enough with a katana. With a straight blade, if you cut with poor technique, you're more than likely to fail in even giving a scratch.


To the OP: as for why you're finding swords heavy, three possible reasons.
- The sword was not made properly and the weight is not distributed correctly.
- Your wrists are weaker than you think they are.
- The sword is made to be tip heavy, and therefore feels heavier in the hand than it actually is (which is why swords tended to be in the 1-1.5 pound range).

Good example of this, pick up a 10 pound dumbbell, and a 10 pound sledgehammer. Hold the sledgehammer by the end of the handle. Feels much heavier than 10 pounds doesn't it?
 
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Jan 2015
1,309
meo
Because physic, you hold the sword at one end instead of middle of the sword, that makes the sword feels heavier than it should be.
 
Sep 2016
211
Australia
Actually that's not true. Katanas are extremely forgiving of poor technique. The reason has to do with it being single edged, curved, thick spine, and a relatively stiff blade. They were given different polishes than what you see on traditional katana that are displayed today. They were given a more robust edge that could deal with the punishment that combat has on all weapons.

Even with extremely poor technique and using it like a baseball bat, you can generally cut decent enough with a katana. With a straight blade, if you cut with poor technique, you're more than likely to fail in even giving a scratch.
I don't really agree with this. Yes the Katana might seem more durable because it has a thicker spine, but the actual problem is the edge. Since the edge is made out of a poor, high carbon content steel, it can give away easily to contact with other blades. Since the edge is so hard, it is very prone to chipping and can sometimes ruin the bevels forever.

Plenty of depictions of Samurai in battles show a ruined edge on the Katana.

This site somewhat tells me broken Japanese blades were that not rare. https://www.japaneseswordindex.com/kizu.htm

Baseball grips are basically like hammer grips. If your edge is true, then it'll cut. It just that you lose much of the flexibility and reach you can get from a "shifted" grip. Not to mention the risk of a broken wrist.

It doesn't matter IF THE SWORD IS STRAIGHT OR CURVED, a bad alignment will ruin your cut regardless. Japanese swords aren't so much curved that they would give advantage to a Early Korean Hwando or European Oakshott types.
 

sculptingman

Ad Honorem
Oct 2009
3,673
San Diego
Oy-
Curved swords are curved because they draw easier- your arm moves in an ARC.
If the scabbard is rigid- ( as in japanese swords ) the sword ends up curved because you can draw it faster.

Straight swords as used in the west were often in leather scabbards that could flop and flex as you drew... but even then were more awkward and slower to draw. ( a curved blade only held at one end is NOT any stronger than a straight blade.)

A western broadsword is NOT a 'cutting' sword. Its a HACKING sword. It works the same way battle axe works, except it can also be used for Stabbing.

Western swords CAN be quite heavy. A claymore is a rather heavy sword- because it is a hacking sword, its heavy on purpose because once you get it swinging, its very difficult to STOP. That's the whole idea. Even if you are wearing chainmail, a claymore will still break your arm. Its center of gravity is NOT in the handle.

As time went on, swords became lighter as TECHNIQUE began to play a larger role. Fencing swords, like rapiers and basket hilted broadswords, were much lighter, and with their center of gravity closer to the hand.

Katana's are two handed swords designed as CUTTING swords. Their EDGE is everything.
You PUSH with the far hand as you PULL with the near hand. You practice kendo with a bamboo sword that has a chalkline string along one side that represents the EDGE... because you have to learn how to use the edge, effectively. The mark you leave on an opponents Gi indicates if you hit him in a clean, sharp line that would have CUT, or a blurred smeared line that shows you did not make contact in plane with the edge.

Because you hold a katana, or a claymore, with a cantilevered grip, their center of gravity does not have to be as near the handle as a one handed sword in order to achieve extremely fast maneuvering.

There is no sword, anywhere, that can be drawn and brought into contact faster than a katana. Counter to popular movie imagery... the average sword fight with a katana lasts less than two strokes. That is, you either strike your opponent a disabling blow, or, if in parrying your strike, he instantly strikes you a disabling blow. Because of the edge.... even a very light contact can cleave muscle from the bone inches deep.

As to the op. Swordsmen do not need big muscles... In learning tai chi, you spend about half an hour at a time, simply bending your knees and then straightening them out- VERY slowly.
Not lifting anything more than your own weight. But if you try it, you will find that after only just a few minutes of this your legs will start to shudder, burn and jerk. Its not the strength that is an issue, its that your muscles are not accustomed to having to support your weight AS THEY STRETCH OR CONTRACT very gradually.

Keep practicing, and you will eventually be able to do these knee bending movements super slowly, and for hours at a time without any cramping or fatigue.

A sword is not a dumbbell. A Katana has a CofG outside of your grip. You are Leveraging its weight and momentum well away from your grip. Every motion you impart to the blade results in a lever arm moment that you have to counter to keep control of the blade or bring it to a stop.

If you want to learn how to handle a katana- take a Kendo class.
 
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