Monday, 15 June 2009

The Nylon Crusade....

I've been following the debate on Schola Gladiatoria recently about the use of various materials for wasters or sword simulators. There seems to be a fairly big push on for the introduction of nylon swords as sparring weapons, which are, depending on viewpoint, to be safer to use at full speed, allowing fast and hard contact strikes and thrusts. This is combined with a prevalent attitude that steel blunts are more dangerous and because of the safety factor, lead to pulled blows, thereby affecting overall technique. According to some forumites this side-effect "appears" to be borne out by performances in tournaments, where "steelies" do less well than those who use nylon, shinai, ubershinai, etc. Some call for many types of waster to be used to increase the experience of the wielder, and claim that if the basic techniques and training methods are up to scratch, then the material used for the actual sword simulator is "immaterial" (sorry). I generally support this last statement. If you are any good, it shouldn't really matter if you have a shinai, a nylon waster or a blunt steel.

Although we use primarily steel in our group, I used a wooden waster for over a year before getting my first steel blunt. For beginners, we use wooden wasters, because they are sword-shaped, cheap, and that's just what we have in our gear bags. I wouldn't be averse to having some nylon swords as training tools, particularly if as claimed, they are stiff enough for sparring but flexible to give in a thrust, and balanced like a steel sword. However, I don't think we'll be using nylons to augment our waster repertoire for the more advanced students in our group any time soon. I'd get one for myself, just to have one though and to be able to take part in the logsword tournaments at Swordfish for example, without having to run around asking to borrowone before each of my bouts.

The only thing I have against the claim of superior safety supposedly afforded by nylon wasters is that despite their positive attributes, some people seem to think that full speed sparring equates with full force sparring. If that is the case, then people are going to fight more like SCA and try to bash the living shit out of each other. "Hit as fast and as hard as you can", something that the nylon swords magically allow you to do, and with a minimum amount of safety gear on, to boot. How is being hit at ful force and full speed going to hurt less in this case if struck with a nylon sword, as opposed to a shinai, wooden waster, or deadly of deadlies, a blunt steel sword? My gut feeling is, it's STILL going to hurt like buggery. Moreover, where is the extra safety afforded when sparring hard and fast BUT with less safety equipment on? This isn't logical. If we spar we use quite a lot of safety equipment, fencing jacket/gambeson, leather plastron.elbow/knee/groin protection, fencing mask, gorget with a rolled lip, etc, when fencing with steel.

I fence with steel, ok. But I try to remember to use the weapon as if it were sharp. I do need to be fast with good technique and control. I don't need to hit as hard as I possibly can though. I'm supposed to be using a sword, NOT a poleaxe. That's the whole point of a sword, you're not after blunt force trauma, unless you want to make a pommel strike. Instead you want to cut or slice with the blade and thrust with the tip. Do I need to decapitate someone to kill them? Or thrust my sword up to the hilt into their chest, just to make sure they are more dead? No, of course not, that would be ridiculous. Even a hit to the arms or hands. We know how little force is required when cutting tatami to get a clean cut. Whipping off a few fingers or near severing a wrist or forearm with a sharp sword (horrible thought though it is) would be pretty easy, would I have to hit the handwith enough force to try to break bone? With a club, mace or such, yes, but with a sword, no, no, NO!

Again, regardless of material used, it comes down to technique and control. If I make a thrust or a cut at an opponent's face with a blunt steel sword, does it have to be so hard and fast as to rock his head (in his fencing mask, naturally) back and knock him off his feet? Or otherwise, I might be accused of pulling my blows and therefore my intent is less than I if I was to thrust full force knowing that my flexible nylon waster will absorb much of the impact? This is nonsense, to my mind.
Control comes from the fact that even if I was to throw a full speed cut (note NOT full force) at my opponent's head, I have the requisite control to be able to stop my sword before it makes contact, if I choose. If I do not have this skill level, then I would consider that I should not
be sparring at full speed, full stop (regardless of simulator type).

It will be interesting to see how nylon swords will do on the HEMA market. I guess the biggest upside is that there IS a market as more people become involved in historical european martial arts.


  1. First of all, full force is much more fun than pulling blows. The fight becomes more like a fight and much more competitive than if you have to consern yourself with the safety of your opponent.

    Secondly, I disagree when you say that you do not need blunt force trauma to kill someone with a sword.

    I prefer realism and historical accuracy, and the reality was that swordfights between elite troops in the middle ages became all about crushing the bones beneath the armor. Ever tried to cut through riveted mail with a gambeson underneath? The mail is impossible to cut through with a sword and the gambeson gives good shock absorption. You therefore need a massive blow to crush the bones underneath.

    It is possible to thrust through mail. Though, unlike butted mail with no gambeson underneath, the riveted mail and gambeson combination is harder. You need full force. The other alternative is going for unprotected spots, like stabbing into the unprotected part of the face (before fullhelms).

    To make steel weapon fighting intense and still on the safe side, you need to dress up in full plate and pull down the visir of your helmet.
    Full plate looks too late medieval for my taste. And while modern exosceletons might be an alternative, I prefer not looking like a stormtrooper while fighting with swords.

    Pardon my grammar if there are any faults. This is not my native language.

  2. > How is being hit at ful force and full speed going to hurt less in this case if struck with a nylon sword, as opposed to a shinai, wooden waster, or deadly of deadlies, a blunt steel sword? My gut feeling is, it's STILL going to hurt like buggery.

    It's called physics. A blunt steel sword has what, a 2mm edge? A nylon waster has a 10mm rounded edge. That's 5 times the impact area, and with slightly less weight. Impact forces dramatically decrease as surface area increases

    How dramatically? It's an inverse square law. As such, if we have two competing items that are going to hit you in your mouth, both items are effectively the same except item 1 is half the surface area of item 2, then item 1 will deliver twice as much force to the impact zone.

    Point in case, my mask can handle 16kN of force being applied by something basically the same size as my waster, but only about 300N of pressure from an ice pick. That's two orders of magnitude of difference (and then some).