Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Fantasy Blades


Not very efficient weapon, the bat'leth.

Little girl, big aluminum sword.
At least this one is possible.
(Drawing by Colin)

I enjoy a good fantasy as much as the next guy. More, actually, since my living comes from making such things up. But, unless I am flat-out doing trampoline-fu -- a term that needs no explanation for anybody who has ever seen a Run Run Shaw kung-fu movie -- then I try to get the fight stuff in most of my work to be something that is remotely possible. I might not be able to do it, but somebody more adept than I could, and Lord knows there are plenty of those folks running around.

Which brings us to fantasy weapons.

Leave off the rayguns, needlers, and spetsdöds for this round; let's start this with the edged ones.

Fantasy knives and swords abound, and like fantasy fights, they exist because they look cool, not because they would actually work. Remember that great sword in the Conan movies? You know there were real ones, i.e., steel blades, that Ahnahl used for close-ups, but that that when it came to that waving around and hacking and hewing and all, he used one made of aluminum. Why? Because it was hard to wield the steel one -- it was too heavy. Trying to stop the thing for the fancy cuts and slinging it hither and yon for more than a few seconds was courting bursitis.

And we are talking about a two-hundred-and-thirty-pound bodybuilder (slimmed down from his biggest competition weight) and seven-time Mr. Olympia, who tossed around Volvos and freight cars every day to get in shape. If the thing was too heavy for Schwarzenegger to control without burning up his shoulders, how well you figure the rest of us mortals could manage it?

But it looked cool, that sword.

Heavy has its uses, especially against armor. Battle axes are great weapons, if you connect on the first swing. Miss? You are apt to be twirling like a dreidel on Hanukkah, and getting poked by a sword or spear every revolution ...

Note the woman in the middle picture. That's Keira Knightley, who's as cute as a ladybug, but if anybody here believes she could hold a steel sword that size that way, much less wave it around to any good effect, raise your hand.

Yeah, that's what I thought.

Now, the bat'leth. It's a Star Trek critter, the Klingon weapon of choice, and like the aliens on Trek -- put a funny nose and forehead on somebody, presto, alien! -- designed for looks and not reality. You can buy the things, go here, and there are websites and videos in how to use them, usually put up by guys in Klingon make-up.

Tlhap vetlh, elbow-sucker!

Certainly you can hurt somebody with one. Some yahoo in Colorado Springs robbed a couple of 7-Elevens using what looks like a scaled-down model of one. Both the clerks recognized it immediately, being Trek fans, of course. Assuming they were dealing with a dishonorable Klingon, they gave up the money fast.

But as a hand-to-hand weapon, a bat'leth is not much. It's bulky, heavy, and the width is going to cause it to torque in your hands if you hit something hard with the concave edge. If you are strong enough to keep your grip on the beast as it tries to twist free, especially during the one-handed blocks or cuts, you don't need it -- you can crush their skulls with your bare hands.

Looks cool, though.

I put up the third picture, the line-drawing, because it is connected to reality. A katana is a weapon designed to be used in combat, and the arts that grew up surrounding such blades came from the battlefield. Kendo became a game, and iaido a Way, but the iaijutsu of a couple hundred years back was real, using a weapon that anybody could learn to use.

I once had a guy who edited something I wrote. He wasn't an editor. He had the literary depth of a postage stamp. He put barbs on a spear I had a character use. I explained why this was a bad idea, but he shrugged it off. It looked cool, and why did it bother me? He was an idiot for a number of reasons, this least among them. It's telling that last time I heard about him, he had jumped bail, on the run from the law, and reportedly was hiding out in Mexico ...

37 comments:

taintmonger said...

Looking at the three-section staff, one could almost convince themselves that it was a fantasy weapon. Hell, I have one, and after dabbling with it, I could be convinced of that as well. If anyone thinks nunchuks are convoluted and difficult (not a viewpoint I share), then they haven't seen anything yet. Even watching pros use one (thanks, YouTube!), I struggle to see its realistic fighting applications.

I apologize if you'll be addressing more blunt fantasy weapons in a later installment, and I've talked out of turn.

Steve Perry said...

Well, here's the thing -- an expert can turn anything at hand into a weapon. Even somebody who doesn't know that much can fiddle with something and become fairly adept at twirling it about. I spent a couple of weeks one summer working on a Crescent wrench form. Because of the weight, a single flip in the air would also give you a half-twist, which I thought was intriguing. Solid, heavy, about eighteen inches long. Not something you'd want to get clouted upside the head with.

I had a character in a book upon which I was working, a master toolsmith, and with a big Crescent in one hand and a non-adjustable spanner in the other, he was a bad-ass. Since he usually had his tools right on his belt, it made sense for him to use them.

(I always liked William H. Macy's character from Mystery Men, The Shoveller ...)

The book, Crescent & Spanner, never made it past a hundred or so pages -- I didn't really have a story, just the character. Never got back to him.

But I have a pair of nunchaku in a drawer somewhere, and a three-sectioned staff in the closet next to the staves, and I could whirl 'em around without bashing my head in, once upon a time.

(When I was working at the medical clinic, and numchuks were briefly the hot thing, we saw a few patients who managed to clobber themselves pretty good. My favorite was a guy who want to see how tough the ones he had were -- made from ash, or oak, as I recall. So he smacked them hard against some old ornamental wrought iron railings. He learned that they were pretty springy, as they bounced right off that iron, caught him right between the eyes, and knocked him unconscious ...

So an expert can take a crappy knife or sword or sectional stick and do damage with it, sure. But that doesn't make them good weapons.

You tend to swap power for speed with contact weapons -- bigger and heavier hit harder but move slower. That two-handed broadsword or battle axe might clear the decks, but against a nimble fellow with a lighter weapon, that contest could go the other way.

taintmonger said...

I could see Jason Statham starring in a film adaptation of Crescent & Spanner.

When I was a kid, between using my baseball bat for air-guitaring to KISS 8-tracks, I would twirl it around a little as if I was working on bat-fu. Never did play much actual baseball, ironically.

It was also around that time I made my first pair of nunchuks out of two Lincoln Logs held together by screws and a (too-long) length of bike-lock chain. Now, my wife will tell you we have a pair in every room, under most pieces of furniture. (Though I hear they're illegal in Cali -- shhh!) Still have yet to smack myself anywhere I hold precious.

Here's something to chew on: If you were headed to a battle to the death against an unknown opponent, and could pick any non-firing weapon, what would it be?

It'd be hard for me to not choose a katana (one-hit, one-kill), but I might go with a solid machete -- for its blend of versatility, heft, and sharpness. Short enough that it likely wouldn't get away from you, but more range than your typical knife. Kali stick techniques translate really well to it, too.

Steve Perry said...

One of those hypotheticals that is difficult to answer -- if I don't know my opponent, nor what he's apt to be carrying?

If he's an iaijutsu master or the international naginata champion,, me selecting a katana would be the wrong way to go. Ditto the machete.

A glass full of really strong acid or caustic would give me better range than a spear or sword. Pint or so in the face at fifteen feet, then I'd might could out-dance the blind and smoking swordmaster.

Three or four javelins? A sling?

Got to be more specific in the set-up, I think.

Irene said...

I think I disagree with "Kali stick techniques translate really well to [katana/machete], too." From what I've seen of Kali - and I admit that's not much - stick techniques don't translate well to metal things with sharp edges. Grab the other end of your stick to put him in a lock? Um, I don't care to grab the sharp end of my blade, thanks. Block his stick with your forearm? Again, no thanks, I'm fond of my arm and don't care to have it sliced off. Trap the blade under your own armpit? I don't think so. Many stick techniques don't differentiate between the edge and the back of the blade.

taintmonger said...

Steve, the lack of specifics was intentional. You're going in blind. That's why you must choose wisely: You don't know what the match-up will be.

Irene, Kali's core philosophy is that you can use the same principles whether you have a stick, knife, or empty hand (I wasn't implying katana was interchangeable). It's unique in that you start training with weapons and then progress to bare-handed.

No, I wouldn't snake my arm around someone's blade, but that's an exception rather than the rule. There are enough disarms that you can cancel some out and still have plenty to do.

In class we constantly shift between weapons, but the techniques remain virtually the same. It's amazing how similar a stick and a machete can be for weapon-on-weapon drills and contact. And even when you go to open-hand, the same techniques apply. It's pretty neat like that.

AF1 said...

Jeff Speakman has a nice fight sequence with some lug wrenches in "Street Knight."

Steve Perry said...

"Steve, the lack of specifics was intentional. You're going in blind. That's why you must choose wisely: You don't know what the match-up will be. "

Going in blind, you *can't* choose wisely. Anything you pick is pure guesswork, and you are best served selecting something that you feel comfortable using -- except that if the other guy is way better with that toy, that would be unwise. Since you don't know, the choice is uninformed and "wise" doesn't enter into it.

You set it up so that I can only select a non-projectile weapon. What about nerve gas? a fire hose? Mack truck?

Nah, you want a kung-fu movie match-up, and that's okay, but it's as much fantasy as the Klingon weapon.

If I know in advance I'm going to be in a death match if I step through the door, a couple things are gonna happen:

1) I ain't going through the door. I'm calling the city, county, and state police, and the National Guard, then I am hauling ass out the back door PDQ.

2) If I can't do any of those, and have to go forth, I will be sneaking around behind somebody and carrying a rifle or a shotgun to pot him at a distance, and I'll do it the day before we are supposed to meet. No way in hell I am going to grab my handy katana and open the front door hoping I guessed right. Might be a tiger out there, and it would be passing stupid to accept any such challenge.

I am not going into the air ducts on the Nostromo after the monster, no way, no how. Fuck that. Not gonna happen.

If you want to postulate that I'm knocked out, trussed up and left in a martial arts dojo somewhere with a bunch of classical toys from which to choose, and a bad guy pounding on the door, you can offer that one, but I'm not going to limit myself to one, I'm collecting several and will bethrowing them and the kitchen sink at the guy.

Trying to decide in advance which will be the best choice? Can't do it.

This is one of those Ali versus Tyson, Enterprise versus Star Destroyer scenarios, and not much of an intellectual exercise, because there isn't any real choice to be made.

If you had said, "What's your favorite hand-to-hand martial arts weapon?" which is what I hear you asking, you get the same response: It depends ...

Travis said...

As for the going into battle with a non-firing weapon question. I'm only a dabbler in historical weapons/combatives but it seems that the weight of history is on the mid-length sword (long sword, broad sword, katana, etc)as the single weapon of choice. Most other things are adapted to be superior in particular circumstances but aren't as generally applicable. I do like Steve's acid idea; I personally tend to throw poorly unfortunatly. Living in the modern world I would definitly go with...a large automobile. That's right, I would run the sob down if forced to choose a non-firing weapon.

Mendur said...

As Billy-Crystal-as-Fernando used to say: "It is better to look good than to slice good" ... or something like that.

Speaking of Crescent and Spanner, did you ever read the "Badger" comic books back in the late 80's? There was a graphic novel called "Hexbreaker" in which airline security confiscated his weapons on the way to a "Bloodsport" kind of tourney but let him take his tool box, so he fought with the wrenches, etc. Like you've said, someone, somewhere has already done everything ... but I'd still be interested in reading how you chose to do it.

Dan Gambiera said...

Irene, there are systems of FMA which specialise in swords and big knives. They don't do things like the Snake. What I've seen has a lot of staying the hell away from the other guy and maneuvering for position so you can do unto him before he does unto you.

Steve, just being pedantic here...

I've got a couple absolutely authentic barbed throwing spears. Wouldn't use one that I was planning on holding onto. But if you're tossing it at someone barbs are a good idea.

Dan Gambiera said...

Tiel's response:

"The one that's in my hand. If it happens to be a cat sucks to be you."

Dan Gambiera said...

The best screwdriver in the world is a lousy air conditioner and vice versa.

My "favorite" weapon depends on what's available and what I'm planning on using it for.

What can I get to fast enough to make a difference? (A .22 in your hand beats a .45 in the safe)
What are the conditions?
How many people are there on each side?
What sort of armor are people wearing?
Is concealability important?
What outcome do I want from the encounter?
What legal concerns are there?
How much money can I afford to spend on the toy?
What sort of training do the unfriendly people have?
What are they bringing to the party?
Will my choice affect their willingness to call off the fight?

Answer all of these and a few others so we know what problem we're trying to solve. Then I can give you a good answer.

Steve Perry said...

Wasn't a fishing spear, or one I was gonna have my user leave in the dead guy, but one he had to use to make do the rest of the battle.

One doesn't want that one to get stuck in the first guy one sticks, do one?

Dan Gambiera said...

Then it would just plain suck.

taintmonger said...

Wow, tough crowd: Ask a hypothetical, get 5 questions back. I respect the fact-finding mission, but methinks whatever angry overlord kidnapped you to fight for his amusement just killed you outright for stalling. :)

Maybe he'd offer you a last meal before you're disemboweled. Then you can ask:
Who's preparing it?
Do you do kosher?
Is the meat free-range?
Does this last meal include dessert? Why or why not?
What are my silverware options? How about a spork?

Anonymous said...

I once saw a special on pbs about knights. They had a guy on who had studied how they actually fought with those great swords. He used gauntlets to actually grasp the blade. There were no fancy exotic whirls. mostly chopping strokes and the pommel was used as a striking surface also. The blade wasn't meant to cut so much as focus energy to smash through someones shield, armor, break bones ect. Most moves used one hand on pommel one hand on blade.

Langdon

Steve Perry said...

Ah, but the thing is, JL, knowing the evil overlord, how his minions work, where he pens the alligators and sharks and all might keep him from capturing us in the first place.

Your hypothetical doesn't offer a smart choice. Yeah, I could say "katana," or "spear," or any other weapon, but consider it in this variation of your question:

You have to make a repair on your house, you don't know what it is. Which tool would you choose?

Travis said...

Ah Steve, that one (unknown home repair) is too easy.

Arson.

jks9199 said...

Thermonuclear bomb.

It's not a projectile. It works against anything, and trumps the issue of "is it a sword wizard or a tiger."

And it solves the home repair issues permanently, too.

Steve Perry said...

Ah, but the A-bomb might be said to fire, which was the limiting factor.

The other question is, of course, are the limits that your opponent has. Can he bring a gun to a knife fight? Ir is he given the same bounds?

It does mater ...

Travis said...

thermonuclear bomb- blowing yourself up doesn't count as winning the way i keep score

Anonymous said...

Perhaps there are more interesting variations on the question to be formed by refining the parameters just a little:

What do you keep beside your bed? To what extent does the one of those objects you're going to pick up depend on whether the intruder is quiet or loud?

What do you carry on your person from day to day (and are willing to admit to in a public forum)? To what extent do those items cover a variety of the possible situations you might find yourself in?

(Steve has already told us the answers to some of these).

It seems to me that the experienced martialists here are essentially making these points:

1) You don't enter into a real fight when there's any other acceptable option;

2) if you're in a situation where you're going to *have* to fight, you use the best weapon you can come up with in the here-and-now, whatever that is given what you know of the situation;

3) flexibility and intent are more useful weapons than any previously-chosen physical tool.

As I don't count myself among the serious martialists, I'd be happy to be corrected by those that are.

taintmonger said...

Langdon: That's a broadsword for you. Needed to be used two-handed, it wasn't very sharp -- more for bludgeoning. It would dent the armor, and thus handicap the opponent that way. It's a very fun weapon to use, especially when you grab the blade for parries and strikes.

Steve: I definitely see your point. My saying I'd use the Internet to look up a good handyman is similar to someone selecting a car to run over said opponent. Maybe duct tape would be a reasonable answer to both questions. Ah, faithful, useful duct tape!

I guess when I originally pitched the question, I was thinking about the movie Shootfighter, with Bolo Yeung and the blonde bad-guy kid from Karate Kid. Fighters entered a cage, and had a bunch of Okinawa-era weapons at their disposal. Of course, the protagonists were there against their will.

Anonymous: I keep nunchuks at my bedside. There's also a pair of sai, but only because they coincidentally live there.

I carry nothing on my person. Once, I borrowed some brass knux in middle school, for fear of retaliation from the "tough kids" the day after I (as the new kid) KO'd one of their ranks. That's the only time I felt the need to arm myself.

Steve Perry said...

With two fighters entering a cage and having to select from whatever is provided, you have much more of an informed choice, if you think about it.

You know what the other guy looks like, how big, muscular, scarred he might be. You can maybe get a feel for how he moves, even if you don't know what he knows.

If he picks up a weapon first, you have another bit of knowledge -- what he feels comfortable using.

You know way more than the original hypothetical set-up, and while it might not be enough to make a wise choice, it does offer information that can make it better than just pick-and-pray.

Knowledge is power. Wise people gather as much as they can when it comes to their asses being on the line.

Most of the serious martial artists I know feel that bare hands aren't enough in today's world, and they augment those. Sometimes legally, sometimes not.

I agree, and it's a no-brainer. If knives and guns weren't better than our own biological tools, we'd be fighting our wars empty-handed.

At twenty feet, a couch potato with a handgun beats a world-class fighter every time -- or close enough to every time to be statistically insignificant. If you are a serious martial artist, you know this.

I personally keep it legal because I can do so and not feel insufficiently prepared in my daily routine. If you live in a place where guns or knives are illegal, you have to get more creative in your weaponry, but it can be done. Some times only become weapons after you use them as such, and if the old saw is hackneyed, it is still true: Better twelve trying you than six carrying you.

I'm not working in an active war zone, nor am I strolling known mean streets with armed predators waiting for a chance to nail me. I don't need an AK-47, nor could I haul one around in my neighborhood anyhow.

One cannot be prepared for everything all the time.
I like to point out that if the Chinese army comes over the hill, it won't matter what hardware I have on me, nor how skill I am in using it -- the only real option is Monty Python and the killer rabbit -- "Run away!" Which is going to be an option a lot of the time, though not all the time.

If I hear somebody kicking in the front door on a warm summer's evening, what will come first to hand is going to be something that works way past grappling range and is apt to wake the neighbors and set the dogs barking do I have to use it.

Dan Moran said...

Baseball bat. Because I know how to use it and the cops won't stop me carrying it down the street.

Travis said...

Cops won't stop you for a baseball bat?
That might depend on a)where you're at and b)whether you're also carrying a ball and glove

Dan Gambiera said...

To add to what Steve said about stepping into the ring...

There's a lot of other things you know. If you're a smart fighter or have a smart trainer you'll have watched videos of his fights and vice versa or at least talked to people who saw them. You know his win-loss record and what gym he trained at.

You know in broad terms what he'll do and what he'll have. Boxing gloves and punches for the Sweet Science. Other natural weapons for other competitions.

By stepping in there you've agreed that you will both be there until the bout is over, the referee or your corner calls a halt, you give up or someone can't continue. The motivations are all laid out. And they're pretty symmetric. In other encounters what you want and what he wants, what you and he are willing to do and the unpleasantness each of you is willing to go through to get there have a lot more variation.

For example, a working mugger or opportunistic rapist might be bigger, stronger and more experienced than his intended victim. But he's generally looking for the easiest way of getting what he wants, not a fight. When the risks outweigh the benefits there's an excellent chance he'll exercise his rational self interest and look for easier pickings somewhere else. A motivated defender might well lose in a stand-up fight, but he or she is already in grave danger. Something to gain, not much to lose against an attacker whose costs are going up and potential profit is slipping away. The lines on that graph do eventually run together. That's why criminals do not like defenders who mess up the script. Every second off-schedule means things are further off plan.

Change the cost of continuing, the overall goal, what you hope to gain and what you might lose and everything is different. That's why fights in the broader sense are different than sports events.

Dan Gambiera said...

Personal incident...

Some years back when we taught our first women's self defense class I stepped on my dick and shot myself in the foot. To tell the truth I did it just about every class, but this time was a classic.

One of the students just wouldn't hit the pads with any kind of power. She said she couldn't imagine hitting someone. I opened my mouth without thinking and said "What if someone were trying to rape your two year old with a broken Coke bottle."

I couldn't swear she actually grew a foot and a half, but I'm fairly sure about the fur, claws and six inch fangs. And she knocked me back a couple feet with each hit and kick. Seems her toddler was staying with Grandma and Grandpa while she went back to school. She'd left Daddy when he started hitting her and threatening the baby.

Could I have beat her in a fist fight? Of course. Is there anything in her purse or pussy that would have been worth having the doctors cut her teeth out of my throat? Probably not.

Dan Gambiera said...

jks, do you have a thermonuclear weapon? How about a delivery system? Is blowing yourself up an acceptable cost? How about watching the Russians, Americans, Chinese and anyone else you tick off turning your home and everyone you know into a glowing lake? Costs, benefits, goals, consequences...

A Barrett .50 is the consummate tool for long-range sniping. Not so good for fighting off an aggressive date in the front seat of a Hyundai. A knife is better than an umbrella for many encounters, but if you're in the UK you have to factor in the chance of going to jail for simply carrying it in public.

jks9199 said...

If I had a thermonuclear bomb... I wouldn't admit it here. I will note that the basics of building one are easily available.

(And if I set one off to deal with an intruder... I'm probably not going to care about what any nation has to say about it!)

I guess maybe the smartass didn't come through.

Lots of people answered the question well. There is no answer. It's like all the people who want to answer "my mind" as the most dangerous or best weapon.

If you don't define the terms, you can't do a comparison. What's the best place for the guys at the office to go to lunch? It might be kind of important to know who can spend how much, how we're getting there, that someone's got a serious peanut allergy, and so on if you want to answer that question.

What's my "go to" weapon for an unknown situation, if we exclude firearms? (I think that's what the hypothetical was really asking...) A stick. I can use it in a variety of ways, both as a defensive tool and as a practical tool, like to break out window. Ideally, probably about shoulder height, though that can vary depedending on space at hand.

If I've got to choose a blade... Machetes are cheap, very effective, and easily available. And have an arguable justification to be carrying.

Steve Perry said...

jks -

Yeah, the sarcasm came through. DG is just pulling your chain a little.

Travis said...

possession of the weapon (thermonuclear bomb) is irrelevant to the hypothetical discussion. We were never limited to things we already own.

Irene said...

My personal preference for both home and personal defense was always my two 90+ lb dogs. Never go off by accident, can't be taken away and used against you, an effective deterrent without being aggressive or flagrant, perfectly legal in most public places (outdoors, at least), and as DG said, they made the risk and level of effort simply too high.
Plus you can use them to keep the kitchen floor clean.

Travis said...

When dogs are outlawed only outlaws will have dogs.

Stan said...

Greetings, All!

Mr. Perry, it's nice to "find you" again. I've missed "the Matadors" and truly loved "Musashi Flex."

To this line of discussion: I think someone alluded to a fact I believe and teach; there is only one weapon, your mind. Everything else is a tool. So, when you are selecting your "tool of choice" I would expect that the first two criteria would be: how effective is it at stopping an opponent; and, how effective am I with it?

While I do have the typical "wall of tools/weapons" in my home; by the side of my bed are two flashlights. When I'm on the street I usually have my cane and I frequently have my dog on a leather lead (both the dog and the lead are effective in their own right and range).

Anonymous said...

You ever hit anyone with your mind?