Adventures in Edge Bashing

Basement Experiments I

So many uninformed fans of historical swords imagine that real swords have edges made of some indestructible magical metal that can remain perfectly pristine despite endless abuse. Or they imagine that such damage was entirely unavoidable and accepted by fighting men as perfectly harmless to the functioning of the weapon.

It's so common to hear ridiculously foolish claims about edge parrying that completely ignore the physical evidence of what actually happens to sharp edges that clash together with force.

Because of this we've gathered together on video a few ad hoc experiments (a 34mb file & link below). The purpose of this is self-evident.

You might have seen blunt swords used in reenactment or fight shows or theatrical combat and noticed their edges are nearly always heavily gouged and nicked up. You might even have seen a video before showing the effects of two sharp blades hitting against one another over and over to see how quickly and easily they're are ruined. But in these informal experiments here we show sharp blades being struck with strong (but not even full force) blows. The results ain't pretty.

We used a variety of modern replica swords of decent quality and various cross-sections (no stainless steels or wall-hanger props). We positioned the pieces in a vice so that they were held firmly in place yet not completely stationary, and thereby would move more the way a human arm would when a gripped blade is impacted while. Swords in combat are supple, not held in place immobile and unyielding. We utilized both full and partial portions of blade and struck edge on edge against various portions along their length. (This includes the first-ever test of a sword blade being used to actually hit itself - one piece striking another.)  Anywhere edges were thin and sharp they both were visibly damaged with either gouges, deep knicks, or scalloped out, deformed, and folded-over sections.

After some strikes we placed blue tape on the spots of the impact so at certain times we could note the damage to each edge. We further made several forceful edge strikes to the flats of the blades to show that they suffer no trauma and hold up perfectly fine from this kind of action. We also strung a portion of a sword from a rope to show that even if it were freely hanging loose an edge-to-edge impact would cause significant damage.

The resulting damage inflicted on these replicas is not any indication of the quality of the blades themselves. Such results inexorably occur whenever sharp edges are struck on any sword. Just imagine this kind of damage all up and down the edges of your fine reproduction sword today. Think it's going to then perform well in cutting or slashing? We know from test-cutting afterwards that they don't.

Historically, in the Medieval and Renaissance eras swords with large cutting blades were not cheap, they were not easy to make, they were prized and valued, their edges were not easy to repair. They were not intentionally trashed nor designed for one time use. They wore out and they suffered damage - all the more so from unintentional edge trauma. An edge on a cutting blade needed to be kept keen. When it was ruined the sword was much less effective at causing effective edge blows and much more prone to breaking.

No sharp sword edge in the world can be repeatedly struck edge to edge without suffering serious damage. While even cutting blows from blunt sword edges can do damage if struck strongly enough, ruined edges are just not very effective when they look like they've been chewed on by mutant beavers.

Lastly, keep in mind that in none of the cases here was the target sword itself even in motion! Had it also been making a striking motion the edge damage would unquestionably have been even more severe.

Click to view or left-click to download and watch the sparks fly.

Don't imagine that protecting a sword's edge was more important to a swordsman than either avoiding being hit or effectively hitting an opponent.

It wasn't.

But neither was a fine sword used in an inferior manner that purposely caused it ruinous damage.

See also these related articles:

On Damaged Edge - Historical Evidence, Practical Experience
The Myth of Edge-On-Edge Parrying in Medieval Swordplay
Edges of Knowledge: Parrying with a Cutting Sword
The Physical Reality of Forceful Edge-to-Edge Impacts



Note: The word "ARMA" and its associated arms emblem is a federally registered trademark under U.S. Reg. No. 3831037. In addition, the content on this website is federally registered with the United States Copyright Office, © 2001-2022. All rights are reserved. No use of the ARMA name and emblem, or website content, is permitted without authorization. Reproduction of material from this site without written permission of The Association for Renaissance Martial Arts and its respective authors is strictly prohibited. Additional material may also appear from "HACA" The Historical Armed Combat Association copyright © 1999-2001 by John Clements. All rights are reserved to that material as well.