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

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Pab

Dec 2016
78
Canada
Wrangler, can I ask where you got that sword? You said it is one of those cheap Chinatana so that's part of your answer as to why it feels so heavy.

Even if a sword weighs less than 3lbs if it is badly made its weight distribution will waste balance and handling and you end up with a crowbar SLO (sword like object). Unless they were made of bad quality (it happened sometimes) real European and Japanese swords were not as heavy as reported in tv, movies and etc.

That said you can always get a more 'accurate' sword if you want to debunk the myth by yourself. Just stay away from cheap display swords or you might end up with this happening to you:



Some Chinese swordsmiths are offering decent made katanas at affordable prices (you can easily find info about them on sword forums), perhaps you could get one from them and compare.
For European swords we have the chance to live in a time where accurate weapons are being made that fits the real deal (Albion, VA armoury, Pavel Moc, Del Tin, Lutel etc.), if you get your hands on one of their swords you'll instantly feel the difference.

BTW don't get Indian made repros (especially the post-Renaissance military models), some of them are just as bad in terms of handling and further encourage the fake impression that European swords are clumsy and overly nose-heavy.


And to answer your bonus question I'd say that ignorance and the media somehow perpetuated that myth of the heavy medieval sword (medieval = brutish, zero finesse). Another one that got misinterpreted that way is the rapier that you would think handles like a super light fencing foil...nope...a lot more complicated to use and heavier than expected.

European swordsmanship quality is a hell lot more sophisticated than one might think and has nothing much to envy to iaido or kendo.

Here's one example of armored combat and use of techniques to disable an opponent:


another?
 
Sep 2016
211
Australia
Of course you can say straight swords are more forgiving for cutting if they have a straight spine, adequate width, stiffness and edge geometry, but only if they are a sword specifically designed for cutting. A stiff sword that is designed for thrusting will often sacrifice its cutting ability for thrusting (thus requiring the stiffness), meaning that while cutting with those types of swords are possible, they're giving superficial wounds when cutting with good form. You're not cleaving someone's arm off with an Oakeshott Type XV for example, even with really good cutting form, any cutting wounds you give to them will not be substantial. A type XI or XIa? Those are powerful cutters, but with poor form, they're quite flexible and won't be nearly as effective as a cut from a katana done with poor form.

I'm amazed you're asking for evidence of a common thing though. That straight swords designed for cutting have considerably more degree of flex/springiness in them than katana. The benefit of that flex means that they can bend and return to their original shape easier, resulting in a sword that is less likely take a set when it does bend. The downside of that flex means that the blade is less forgiving of poor form.

Heck, you can even watch videos from Matt Easton on Scholagladiatoria on YouTube where he talks about katana being more forgiving in a cut than a typical straight European sword designed for cutting.
Would a Lange Messer cut as well as a Katana? It's a straight sword with a single edge for cutting. I also checked Matt's video and he literally says on 5:10 "if you think a katana is the best cutting sword, prove it" (in comparison to Falchions, tulwars and such.)
 
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Thegn Ansgar

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
5,638
Canada
Would a Lange Messer cut as well as a Katana? It's a straight sword with a single edge for cutting. I also checked Matt's video and he literally says on 5:10 "if you think a katana is the best cutting sword, prove it" (in comparison to Falchions, tulwars and such.)
He's talking about "best cutting sword", he's not talking about forgiveness in poor form in that video.

A lange messer (or a falchion, tulwar, cutlass, etc) would cut just as well as a katana would in terms of cutting capacity. But we're not talking about cutting capacity, we're talking about forgiveness to poor form. Stiffer swords are more forgiving of poor form than flexible swords. Katanas, compared to most other cutting swords around the world, are considerably stiffer than those other swords. Hence why they are more forgiving of poor form.

European cutting swords don't tend to be all that stiff. They trade their stiffness for flexibility, which allows for a blade to be less likely to take a set when it does bend. But that flexibility has another trade-off in that they are not as forgiving of poor form. It means you have to be a more consistent swordsman to use them effectively.
 
May 2016
811
Vatican occupied America
It depends a lot on whether you're holding the katana right to start with on how fast one tires using it. The baseball grip with the right hand over the left is the wrong way to hold a katana. One gets tired recovering the blade after a swing. The proper grip is with the left hand over the right -this always the right hand and arm which is normally the stronger to recover the blade and does it quicker allowing more attacks.

Keep in mind that the katana is designed to do draw cuts rather than the western shear cuts. It's suppose to slice rather than hack what it hits. It's also used to thrust with by raising the edge towards the sky and push it's butt with ones right hand. I was taught techniques to block/parry blows with that my sifu told me would break my wrist if I used them in real life. Katana's can also be held with the left hand gripping the blade to shorten them for faster short range attacks. I know odd that my sifu chose the katana for me to learn ;) I disliked using the weapon of evil Sea Dwarves slightly, but then I remembered they were pirates like many of my ancestors ;)
 
Sep 2016
211
Australia
He's talking about "best cutting sword", he's not talking about forgiveness in poor form in that video.

A lange messer (or a falchion, tulwar, cutlass, etc) would cut just as well as a katana would in terms of cutting capacity. But we're not talking about cutting capacity, we're talking about forgiveness to poor form. Stiffer swords are more forgiving of poor form than flexible swords. Katanas, compared to most other cutting swords around the world, are considerably stiffer than those other swords. Hence why they are more forgiving of poor form.

European cutting swords don't tend to be all that stiff. They trade their stiffness for flexibility, which allows for a blade to be less likely to take a set when it does bend. But that flexibility has another trade-off in that they are not as forgiving of poor form. It means you have to be a more consistent swordsman to use them effectively.
So when you say straight blades were less forgiving for misalignment, you only meant European blades right? Because I was referring to straight swords in general not just the European ones. And would a Tang Dao or Tulwar be any less stiffer than a Katana? As far as I know only the ingot that makes the edge have a high carbon content and the sides or the spine would be made from a softer steel. Would it's thickness really make that much of a difference?
 
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Thegn Ansgar

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
5,638
Canada
So when you say straight blades were less forgiving for misalignment, you only meant European blades right? Because I was referring to straight swords in general not just the European ones. And would a Tang Dao or Tulwar be any less stiffer than a Katana? As far as I know only the ingot that makes the edge have a high carbon content and the sides or the spine would be made from a softer steel. Would it's thickness really make that much of a difference?
Well, I mean all blades that are designed for cutting that aren't stiff. Not necessarily European ones only. European blades designed for cutting tend to be made with spring steel, and that's what contributes to their flexibility.

Tang daos and tulwars had similar flexibility to the blade as European swords did as far as I'm aware. I don't have too much experience with them, but if any individual sword was as stiff as a katana, it would be as equally forgiving of a misaligned cut.

The thickness of a katana really does make a difference in the stiffness. The differential quenching is a different. The high carbon steel on the edge is quenched faster than the medium/low carbon steel (there's a lot of different ways that katana were laminated, that there's a lot of generalization here) on the spine and flats. If the differential quenching and application of the clay layers was done perfectly, there's no additional need to temper the katana, but often times tempering was done in order to reduce the hardness in the martensite in the edge, making it more robust and less brittle. This was then aided by the additional polishing of koto era katana gave them almost appleseed style edges, increasing their robustness while not sacrificing cutting ability too much. Shinto and gendai era katana had flat ground edges which were incredibly sharp but very fragile. Hence why it's really bad form to argue that katana had fragile edges when only basing it on katana that at that point were status symbols and weapons of unarmoured duels as opposed to weapons that could be relied upon as a sidearm on the battlefield.
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
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?
The root cause is a single word - balance.

Balance of the sword is reflective of where the center of gravity of the sword is located, and the further away it is from the hand holding the sword, the harder it will be. This is due to "torqure", which is force x distance from the center of gravity. To prevent the a sword from rotating, the sword holder muscles will have to provide a force to counter the torque produced. The further the center of gravity is from the holders hand, the higher the torque, and the effort is needed to counter the torque. Take an ax - hold the ax straight out by the end of the handle, and you will find it very tiring. Then hold the ax just behind the ax head, and hold it straight out, you will find it much easier - same weight, but because most of the weight in an ax is in its head, the cg (center of gravity) is closer to the hand in the second example, and less torque is produced.

CG is where the half the weight of the sword is forward of the point, and half the weight is rearward. Hand has to counteract gravity, the weight of the sword, but it also has to counteract torque. That is 2 swords of the same weight can feel differently, one is less tiring to hold.
 
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