Swordsmen and Swordsmiths - Restoring an Ancient Relationship
Bladesmith Paul Brach
from THC's Forged in Fire
I have a tremendous respect for swordsmiths and bladesmiths. Without their efforts I would still just be using crude inaccurate replicas, inferior training blunts, wooden substitutes, and be completely unable to have a decent sharp blade to use in target practice. Their work is what has allowed us to more deeply and authentically explore the recovery of lost fencing methods. Not only that, but their capacity by their own hands to turn primal ore into a magnificent weapon that is also a work of art is, to me, mind-boggling. It borders on the magical and I can readily understand how at one time historical swordsmen could have viewed it as such. Not being a craftsman or smith myself, it is fascinating.
As I often like to say, I am the "fighter pilot, not the aerospace engineer;" the "racing driver, not the auto mechanic." I look at swords as fighting implements; objects for dealing and preventing violence using the trusted principles of close combat. They are unique instruments for developing personal skill and expressing individual prowess. I approach my understanding for their dimensions and the physical geometry of their component parts from the point of view of why they were conceived, how they were employed, and why they changed over time. But this doesn't keep me from appreciating their aesthetics, their artistry, and their workmanship --even if I don't fully understand the science and talent that goes into making them.
being said, it also makes me the most severe and uncompromising
of critics. And I have learned that can be very intimidating to
and smiths. Most are just not used to an expert who can pick up
product and instantly determine some aspect of its proportions
or center of gravity is so off as to render it useless for its
purpose. They rarely (if ever) encounter in person someone of
adeptly expert at handling their creations in a manner that they have
never witnessed or were aware could even be performed (but that for me,
is an almost everyday routine).
I understand a critical evaluation of functionality can be
disconcerting, unsettling, discouraging,
and even insulting. It's like a food critic dissatisfied with a
dish. After all, their perspective is one of trying to redevelop
technologies and artistry while honing their own skill and
In that regard though, we are kindred spirits. For I do the same
craft of wielding those very tools. But the ancient synergy of
the relationship between makers and users
has long been severed. Neither is actually doing something that
will ever be put to earnest use in the original intended manner and
neither has survival in combat as the primary necessity for what they
To reestablish that ancient relationship then means that each of us in our respective fields must become as knowledgeable and skillful as possible. And that is not really possible for one without the other. Without expert swordsmen demanding excellent weapons and providing feedback on their performance, swordsmiths miss a core aspect of their craft. (This is why you see so many "art pieces" that would be virtually useless as practical weapons.) To use an analogy, a craftsman might make a guitar that may sound right, but it takes a talented player to really determine if good music is capable of being made with it.
Over my years of having handled hundreds of original specimens, trained vigorously in the authentic techniques and methods using accurate reproductions, and exercised at target practice with all manner of sharps, I have gained perspective in how each of these activities informs the others. In consulting and interacting with makers, both professional and amateur, certain key areas of where our mutual love of swords intersect have emerged to reveal reoccurring gaps in knowledge. I've come to learn that harmonizing the difference in our perspectives really comes down to addressing just a handful of areas:
issues of functionality, while paramount to swordsmen of any
era, are of much less, if any, concern to the modern craftsman. This
must change. Good sword design and good sword making is ultimately a
matter of creating a tool that optimizes the techniques
for offense and defense that a combatant employs to deliver as
well as prevent
wounds. From the point of view of historical function, it's that
simple. Keeping focus on this in no way diminishes the artistry or
technical ability of a sword maker. Rather, it showcases their skill in
the highest possible manner. It was the very essence of the ancient
relationship between swordsman and swordsmith.
*Appreciation to my friend, blades-smith Paul Brach, for sharing his images