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ARMA Director John Clements answers Youth email on swords and swordsmanship:
How can I find trustworthy information or reviews on historical reproduction swords?

Reliable and sound advice about modern replica swords is problematic. The thing with sword reviewers is they are like new car reviewers. You have to first ask some important questions: who is doing the driving? What exactly are they testing the vehicle to do? How qualified are they to drive it? Plus you must also determine if the are in any way connected to the manufacturer or dealership of the car.

A lot of "car collectors" and auto enthusiasts have no intention of ever operating the machines they review as a city work vehicle or ever using it to commute on the highway for several years. Rather, they polish their cars in the garage and talk about their qualities while admiring them at car shows. It's the same with swords. No one today employs them for their historical function any longer (and very, very few people realistically train with them).

Keep in mind that few sword reviewers have much of a clue about what authentic specimens handle like, let alone how to wield them in a sound manner to begin with. Besides, reviews based on little more than waving a weapon around in the living room then cutting at milk jugs and plastic soda bottles is hardly a way to test a sword for proper accuracy and historical fighting quality. So, comparisons to such examples are either nonexistent or so insubstantial as to be almost useless.

The sense of balance in a weapon is also a subjective aspect, not a technical issue that can be measured or quantified based on factors or mass distribution. It's instead an aspect of physically understanding what the weapon is capable of doing and how it was designed to perform it. Additionally, certain sword designs might have been specifically intended to be wielded while mounted or used while wearing a gauntlet or even full armor. This would have significantly affected their feel and center of gravity when used under other conditions. A review of an accurate replica would need to take this into account or else fail to appreciate the reasons behind the attributes of a particular style or type.

Lastly, purpose is everything. One person's art artifact is another's practical object. Real swords were functional tools. A reproduction sword that you need for serious martial arts training or for test-cutting against resistant materials will not often be the very same one that another person wants just to hang on a wall, wear once a year to a festival, or occasionally play slow-motion dance with in their backyard.

On top of all this, if one month you buy a model of sword you have no idea if the same manufacture will make that same piece the exact same way six months or a year later when someone else purchases the next one. It may be better; it may be worse. The maker might have improved production or cut corners. You have to also question what customer base the vendor or the maker was originally marketing the piece toward (reenactors combat sport? stunt fencing prop? martial artists?). They are not all equal.

So, all you can really do is continually educate yourself and remain skeptical. Reviewers seldom accurately reveal their perspective. Be clear as to what your needs are and purchase buy what feels good to you, and put it to use in reasonable practice.


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