ARMA Interview with Hank Reinhardt
August, 2001

Note: The following content does not reflect official views
or opinions of either ARMA or its members.

Julius Hank Reinhardt, original founder and now Senior Advisor of ARMA, is one of the world’s foremost authorities on sword history and use with more than 50 years experience in Medieval reenactment, weaponry, practical research, and arms collecting.  He was founder and former director of Museum Replicas Ltd., and is now a consultant to the reproduction sword industry.

ARMA: Hello again. Recently, you were up in Calgary to give a lecture at the Glenbow museum, and you attended the Atlanta Blade show as well as some large Sci-Fi/Fantasy conventions, can you tell us anything interesting about how they went?

Hank: “The trip to Calgary was particularly interesting. The Glenbow Museum has a very nice collection, really interesting swords. I hope Museum Replicas Limited can do reproductions of some of them in the near future. As for the Blade Show and conventions, what becomes more and more obvious is the increased interest in this whole field. The field is widening considerably. Not only those interested in history, but fantasy, and now there is even a gaming element coming into the sword field. I think it’s going to grow larger and larger. There are times when I regret my age, thinking of the fun I could have if I were only 40 again. Oh well, Ewart Oakeshott and I have talked about this in the past, so I have to be content with at least having been in at the beginning. I was at WorldCon too recently but due to a sudden illness was unable to do much.”

ARMA: And certainly being an inspiration and guide to a whole other generation as well. 

Hank: “My love of swords has led me into many strange paths. By trade I was a safety engineer, and that’s what I did for most of my working life.  But the more I studied the sword, the more curious I became on why certain things were so, and why it worked they way it did. The end result was that I became interested in metallurgy, leather working, woodworking, and even geometry. I had always had an interest in physics and history. Years ago I was also fortunate in meeting, and becoming close friends, with one of the best blacksmiths and knife makers in the country, Jimmy Fikes. Jim made some katana blades whose cutting power is truly awesome. Jimmy himself can also cut better than anyone I’ve ever seen. Part of the reason is that he is very quick, and also strong as a gorilla. The combination leads to some impressive cutting.”

ARMA: So, tell us something of what went into making your new video, The Myth of the Sword?

Hank:The Myth of the Sword came about as just a way to answer some of the more frequently asked questions. As we got further into it we felt that it was necessary to show some of the power of the sword, and some of its effects. It was lots of fun to do, and I hope it answers some questions.”

ARMA: You have plans for several other videos on swords and swordplay. What can you tell us?

Hank:  “The next video is on the early Medieval sword, for all practical purposes Viking, Saxon, French, look pretty much alike, and be handled the same way. The difference is more in decoration that in shape. In the video we show some fights, with shields, without shields, with and without armor.”

ARMA: You’ve been very, very busy since the last time we interviewed you a few years back. The first thing that should be asked is, although there’s now a great deal of discussion going on in the sword and historical combat communities, you seem to never take part in it. You’re not on the Internet much at all. Why is that?

Hank:  “Two reasons. One is time. My forthcoming book on swords and swordfighting is taking longer than I had thought it would, and I have a lot of other commitments. The other is that I don’t find the Internet particularly interesting or entertaining. More, time consuming.”

ARMA:  You’ve been at work on the book for over five years now.  So, you feel the Net is not interesting, why is that?

Hank:  “Frankly, you have to wade through way too much junk to find anything that’s worthwhile. I do check it out every now and then, but I don’t feel the need to get involved.  Let me explain.  The people I have met over the years in the field of arms and armor consider themselves serious students. Ewart Oakeshott, who, in my opinion, is still the most knowledgeable person alive in the study of the European sword, also considers himself a serious student. No one considers themselves absolute “experts”. To be real expert on all this you have to know everything that there is to know about the subject, and that is simply not possible with this. But since the Internet has arrived, there are tons of people who are passing themselves off as experts. Experts in the history of the sword, the manufacture of the sword, and of actually fighting with swords. In addition, with few exceptions I see very little reasoned discourse or exchange of information. What I do see is innuendo, attacks, rumors, and outright lies.  If you have a difference of opinion with someone, then you explain where and why you think he is in error. Then it is his turn to reply. This allows for intelligent and reasoned discourse. When that happens opinions are changed or reinforced. But from what I have seen on the Internet, this doesn’t happen. When two people disagree, they immediately attack one another, and start spreading rumors or putting out outright lies about each other. I am just too old and ornery to put up with that nonsense, so I just don’t play.”

ARMA: The present climate is rather ugly with some of the slander and snubbing going on. Differences of philosophy too easily slide into rivalries of ego, resentment and envy.  Miscommunication seems to also be the norm on the Net. It’s a shame. Some people can’t provide justifications or reputable sources for their beliefs and opinions, so they get ugly instead.

Hank: “I think that every person or group has a right to state whatever they wish, no matter what others may think. In some areas I agree with every group out there, and I also disagree in major areas with these same groups. I would be happy to state my opinions, and would be willing to discuss it. But that doesn’t seem possible with the things I read when I chance to look at some of the things on say, the Sword Forum or a few of the other Internet sites. Everyone seems to forget the main reason we are all interested in swords, weapons, and weapon play. For the sheer fun of it. We aren’t going into battle with swords!  But the main reason that I don’t show a presence [on the net] is that I simply don’t like a lot of what goes on there.  I’ll tell you, I consider myself a serious student of arms and armor, with the greater portion being aimed at swords, and weapons in general. I have been around this business for a long time, and have heard so much hype and nonsense, and frankly, as I read further, I’m put off by all of it.”

ARMA: Your reasons for not bothering to respond publicly makes sense.”

hrtalk1.jpg (37041 bytes)Hank: “Since the Internet began to play a role in this subject, there have been hundreds of “sword experts” that have crawled out of the woodwork. There are a few who seem to be dedicated scholars in the field, and anxious to learn and share their knowledge. But the majority, by far, seems to consist of people who wish to achieve some prominence by attacking other people. These attacks frequently masquerade as mere “difference of opinion”, but when examined, turn out to be nothing but slights on various individuals and groups. There’s too many folk hiding behind their computer and their opinions have no affect on me or my knowledge or my business.  I regard a few as “yipping Chihuahuas”.  Did you ever notice how these small, useless dogs are always yipping, trying to attract attention? Well, some people on Internet forums have nothing to say, they’re barking to attract attention.”

ARMA:  “Would you care to elaborate on that any?

Hank: Recently some comments were made that spurred me to want address issues that had been in the back of my mind for some time. There were a few specific ones made by certain folk, not worth mentioning, but they did contain a lot of misinformation, and some it was simply absurd.

ARMA: There are some sword fabricator’s now making claims about their machine-ground blades having special “harmonic” qualities that differ them from other replicas.  Any comments on such hype?

mrlsword.jpg (35582 bytes)Hank:  “This is just the idea of the ‘sweet spot’ [or node] on a sword; it has gotten more attention than it really deserves. The sweet spot on a sword is the small section where you get the greatest amount of force [i.e., the preferred or optimal striking area], with none of the force being wasted in vibration. However, the difference in cutting effectiveness between the sweet spot and, say the last 2-3 inches of the sword, is very small. I have done a great deal of cutting with all manner of swords, and I can cut mail, flesh and bone just as well by using the end of the sword as by hitting with the sweet spot [as seen at the Atlanta ARMA Expo, ed.]. You start losing some of the effectiveness of the cut when you move closer to the hilt. You then get vibration, and the speed of the sword is less.”

            “There is a secondary “node” closer to the hilt on most cutting swords. This is the area where the most damage to the sword can be done if you make the mistake of parrying and your opponents swords hits this area, particularly if his swords hits on its sweet spot. Remember that this is the area of greatest force delivered. When a cutting blade is being parried, the parrying sword is not moving to any degree, while the attacking sword is moving at great speed. Should it hit the secondary sweet spot on the parrying sword, then there is no force wasted in vibration. Given swords with equal temper, weight, size, etc., then the attacking sword will do the most damage. This is why you will hear of swords cutting another in half [i.e., snapping them].”

            “This is one of the reasons why you should not parry with the edge if at all possible. Aside from damaging your sword, can you imagine the surprise you would have, for a brief moment, when his sword cuts yours in half before proceeding to do the same thing to your head! Rather disturbing, I should think.”

ARMA:  So then this is something common to any decently made cutting sword with a good temper, alright.  In ARMA we often try to point out that evaluating a cutting sword requires test-cutting with it plus also having it struck forcibly, by and against, other swords.

ARMA: Can you tell us a little something about some of the newer swords coming out from Museum Replica’s Limited (MRL)?

Hank:  “The Windlass Factory [in India] keeps getting bigger and better. Now everything can be done in-house, so we are improving the tangs, making them thicker and much stronger. This is important on cutting swords. A cut generates a lot of pressure on the tang, and almost no pressure is generated on a thrust.”

            “I can’t really talk about it now but, MRL has some big changes coming, probably by time this is published, to their new line of swords with full tangs and better hilts plus new wholesale offerings. The effect will be that the consumer will end up benefiting with more and better swords at cheaper prices.”

ARMA: That’s all good news, we sure all need well-priced replicas with more accurate tangs.

ARMA: You also did some consulting for CAS Iberia recently?

Hank:  “I worked with CASI for a short while. But it wasn’t going to work out. They want to go into a different direction than I do. No hard feelings, and I think Paul Chen makes an excellent sword, but it was better all around for me to go back and do some consulting with Windlass.”

ARMA: A lot of people probably don’t know about your history with the original Del Tin’s designs. Can you tell us something about that?

Untitled-x3.JPG (57912 bytes)Hank: “One item I want to make clear on is this old rumor that I did nothing to get Del Tin swords placed in the old Museum Replica’s Limited catalogs, that it was all Fulvio. Hmmm, wonder why I did all that traveling to England, Germany, Sweden, etc. and looked at all the museums, and why Museum Replicas paid me to do it? I guess they liked my pretty face.”

“When we started with Del Tin there were three brothers, and they were making a few swords. All of the swords were copied from swords in the Stibbert Museum in Florence. When I first saw them they were being sold by a German firm, but because all of the swords were from that museum, I figured out that the outfit that made them was probably Italian.  Flavio was the eldest brother, and he was the one who knew, and liked swords. Fulvio was the business head, and Maurizzo was the youngest. We put some of their swords in the MRL catalog, and they made a lot of swords that I personally drafted up and sent them. After about five years, there was a blowup, and Flavio and Maurizzo left. Then a couple of years later, Fulvio made some swords on his own. We put some of them in the MRL catalog, but usually they didn’t do very well. Fulvio didn’t understand the American market, plus I think he kept getting his guards and pommels too large. Flavio knew swords pretty well, and had kept them to the proper size.”

“After we sold the company to Windlass Steel Crafts of India, I knew it was just a matter of time before Del Tin cut us off. I was in Nuremberg when Fulvio asked Sudhir [of Wondlass Steelcrafts] to make blades for him, and Sudhir refused. There was a bad move though when a MRL wholesale catalog was produced using older photos of actual Del Tin swords, when they should have actually been of  the new Windlass Blades. Our art department screwed up badly on that, but since the wholesale operation was never launched, it really didn’t make any difference.  But then Fulvio started to tell us how to run out catalog, and that was more than any of us would stand.”

ARMA: So you originially selected then drafted the dimensions and measurements for perhaps 80% of those sword models? Interesting.

HANK: “These are historical blades sitting in museums, and like helms or armor or any weapon for that matter, anyone is free to make their own reproduction versions of them.”

ARMA: Ok, well, anything else you would like to talk about?

Untitled-8.JPG (37338 bytes)Hank: “Yes. On the Internet I have run across comments about John Clements being a 'student' of mine. That simply isn’t true and neither of us has ever claimed it. I’ve been in contact with John for a number of years, and have furnished him with a lot of information, and we have shared a lot information, but I have not really personally taught him anything regarding swordplay. He considers me a mentor, but his work on the use of the sword and the manuscripts and fighting manuals he did on his own. He does his own thing. We disagree on several things, but we have never gotten into an argument. On many subjects our opinions have shifted, and we get closer and closer to the same conclusions. This is the advantage of what I consider ‘reasoned discourse’. That’s what friends do.”

“Let me give you an example. One guy on the Internet tested a katana and claimed it was quite good because he could break a concrete block with it. This was one of the dumbest reviews I ever read. I can break a concrete block with a machete, a hammer, a baseball bat, and doing so will damage none of them. It simply has nothing to do with being a good sword. It was obvious that the reviewer had no idea of what constituted a good sword. But this guy considers himself quite expert in the sword. I frankly hate hyperbole, and that is exactly the kind of thing I see a great deal.  A sword should be tested to do what the sword is supposed to do. Since its illegal to go around cutting people, then we have to develop different standards. But merely smashing a concrete block isn’t one of them. A rapier for instance should be judged on how well it’s made, the toughness of the steel in delivering a thrust or parry. Balance is entirely subjective, but the balance point can be shown. Basically the same is true for cutting swords, etc. But you need to know a little more about swords and what they are supposed to do than I have seen by many of those reviewing swords on the Internet.”

ARMA: What do you think of some the new historical sword groups and combat organizations that have gotten started on the Net?

Hank:   “Recently a friend of mine, Mike Stamm, looked over the Internet at the various groups. Mike is a retired Michigan State patrolman. In the terminology that I am familiar with, he has “seen the elephant” and has “been the route”. His comment (of which I am very jealous, it’s that good) sums it up perfectly.  He said, “Seems to me everyone [out there] is saying, ‘my pretend fighting is better than your pretend fight’.  He’s right. In short, people do not fight with swords anymore. At least not when they can get their hands on a firearm. If I had to go into combat today, I would grab a rifle, a kukri, which is a very useful tool, and maybe a handgun. But above all I would take a rifle, and not a sword.

“Let me expand on this whole theme of historical combat for a moment. And I would like to start with unarmed hand to hand combat.  Many people are amazed to find that the Western World had many of the moves that they see in the Oriental Arts. This proves that they are not thinking clearly. The Human Body is quite old, and at least since Cro-Magnon man we have been fighting each other. I have no doubt that an effective form of wrestling was fully developed before man started to polish his stone tools. Certainly the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Chinese, the Indians, etc., all had fighting arts that were very similar to each other. So why is anyone surprised when they encounter a wrestling manual from the 16th century?  As for swords, I feel that every individual that wrote a manual had at least a few students that practiced his techniques. Therefore, it follows that every one of these manuals is an ‘accurate historical method’ of swordplay. Please note that I did not say that they were effective, only that they are historically correct.”

ARMA:  So, how effective do you think the historical styles were then?

Hank:  “This is something that is quite difficult to assess. First, I have not read all of them. I have seen some that had interesting and effective moves, and many that I feel would get you killed. Second, we are looking at these manuals from a great distance, and we are completely divorced from the historical and cultural context in which they were written. Not only are we translating from one language to another, but from one time to another and from one culture to another. Since we can’t go back in time, we cannot say for sure what was the full intent for any of the manuals or the moves they contain. At best, we can only extrapolate. Consider two things. The manuals do not deal with combat in the course of a larger battle. They can’t, as there are entirely too many variables. Also consider today’s world. You can get a karate manual, then you go to the dojo, and its different. Then you enter a full-contact match, and its even more different, and then you get into a street fight, and its completely different than what you have been taught. The same is true with the manuals then, and the manuals now.”

ARMA: “Do you study much of the Medieval and Renaissance fencing manuals yourself?

Hank: Only a little. I am more interested in the best possible use of the weapon, and not just in how a certain individual used it. I have no doubt that some of the individuals writing were probably competent and had “seen the elephant”. I am just as sure that some of them had never been in a serious fight.”

ARMA: Interesting.   You alluded to the perceived conflicts among some of the various groups and individuals pursuing this subject, do you have any comment on that, or what to do about it?

Hank: “Well, yes. What I would like to see is most of this nonsense and bickering put aside. Stage combat, sport fencing, the various Medieval groups, they can believe what they want. The important thing is to form an association that will help maintain an interest in weapons and weapon play. Most people don’t know that back in 1984 for instance, Senator Kennedy tried to pass a law that would have banned all martial arts weapons, including swords, tomahawks, bowie knives, etc. People don’t know that if my friend Bill Adams, (of Atlanta Cutlery) hadn’t jumped in to organize a grass roots lobby campaign against it, probably no one in this country would be allowed to own a decent replica sword today.  Bill was able to get the legislation stopped early. But such a thing will come up again, and the sword fraternity needs to be ready for it.  The Asian martial arts community has finally adopted some mixed martial arts tournaments. Organizations interested in historical could should do the same thing. At one time I thought they would. I think it certainly would put to rest all of the questions about who and what is the best.”

ARMA:  Assuming the rules were broad and all-encompassing enough, sure.

ARMA: Have you ever thought about trying to do some of this yourself?

Hank:  “I thought about it. Then quite quickly put it out of my mind. I’m too old, too lazy and with too many others things to do to go try and start a new effort like that. It would be a lot of hard work, and rather a thankless task at best. What I might be interested in doing is starting a new forum for those who are seriously interested in swords and history. I don’t think you can divorce swordplay from history, and a lot of people ignore the historical context of the various forms of swordplay.”

ARMA: Yes, they sure do. ARMA is trying to work on that problem now, as well as raising the credibility and legitimacy of this subject. 

ARMA:  So then, what are your plans for the future, you have some special projects we understand?

Hank:  “I’m hoping to finish my book. I have plans for a third video on the cutting power of various swords and weapons, and also how to cut effectively. I’m also considering teaching some sword and shield techniques in the near future. I’m also trying to come up with more effective sparring weapon designs. But being old and lazy, I’m not making any definite plans right now.”

ARMA: Yes, it will take a lot more effort at education to teach these things.  In the mean time, since the Internet tends to serve the lowest common denominator we are likely to see a continuation of pettiness.  We will have to work against that by setting a better example. Okay, as always, thanks for the comments!

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