Why a sword feels right
Many readers will have had the experience of shopping for modern, practical cutting swords, both replicas of ancient swords and modern designs. One of the most common tips given to new sword-shoppers is to pick up and try out many different swords “until you find one that feels right for you”. Rarely is any explanation given for precisely what this means.
Shoppers presume it has something to do with whether the hilt is the right size for their hand, or that it has something to do with the sword’s “balance”… whatever that is.
Some lucky few will have had the chance to handle high quality antique weapons. Those who have are often shocked that these blades — often of the same weight and length as the modern replica blade they use at home — have a completely different “feel”.
Often master blades seem lighter than than their actual weight, with a sense of “liveliness” (easy to rotate in the hand), and with the feeling to make almost effortless cuts or thrusts. This isn’t to criticize the sword makers of today — there are master swordsmiths around the world — but to demonstrate the skill and genius of the weapon makers of old.
The basic question then is why is there a difference between how these swords feel, and how can a sword practitioner use this knowledge to their advantage? There have been a number of papers, articles and discussion threads on this topic, often delving into physics formula to define and explain mathematically how and why a sword feels, moves and strikes as it does.
One of the main resources for this will be “Dynamics of Hand-Held Impact Weapons” by George Turner; a fairly technical exploration of the physics behind why swords handle as they do (and an indispensable resource for those interested in designing good swords). There are also several other articles, plus web forum discussion threads, which explore this area which we’ll draw on.
Never fear though; we’ll leave the calculations behind and focus on the practical applications. Those who wish to see the maths can check the links in the Sources section.
So, let’s start off with a few basics. We’ll presume that the swords you’re looking at are well designed, have properly sized hilt grips, etc., so we can ignore the ergonomic factors.
A sword has several physical characteristics which can affect both its feel in the hand and how it handles. Let’s take a look at these, along with examples of how you would check these while inspecting your blade…
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