Ethical Swordmanship and the Chinese straight sword “Jian”

Just a reply to this post by Dan. It is a post mostly about martial arts and sword users/collectors. I write it here because it broke the 4k character count of the comment system. Read the post in question if you are interested in martial arts or wish to read a story about one person’s mental reservations concerning the war like killing uses to which some things in martial arts were developed for.

Stabs with a katana are just as damaging as a slash, it just takes a little longer and is very hard to aim due to the weight of a 42-45 inch katana, given how the katana’s curve isn’t really balanced for thrusting. It’s not a rapier designed type. However, the technique for making stabs cause as much internal damage as a slash, is to stab to acquire penetration, then jerk in a circle or sideways motion, as you pull the sword out. This will potentially reach the internal organs and arteries, causing death by exsanguination and CNS shutdown. Usually the other guy can still cut you down if you let him, which is why it’s a good idea to engage closely, grapple with them, and wait until they have no strength left, then retrieve the weapon, and cut off their head with a finish blow. The preferred method on a battlefield is probably to thrust in and when use the momentum of the thrust, run completely past the enemy, and then use the body’s own weight and momentum to jerk/tear the sword out, causing a fatal wound whereas a simple sword stab is not always necessarily fatal, even if it goes through the entire body. At least not immediately fatal. Probably the most risky part of a thrust is the length of time it takes to retract the weapon and use it against fresh enemies. But the same can be said for a slash which catches on bone and armor joints. The other problem is accuracy. An inaccurate stab on armor plating will slide off, whereas a slash, no matter how badly targeted, if it hits it’ll still cause crippling damage. Throat, knee, thigh stabs require accuracy and stability. The more difficult it is, the less people tended to use it in battle.

Attacking is not as simple as many people believe. There are entire levels within levels here, some of which you described in the post about slashing and cutting planes. Also, your mental reservation concerning knives, stabbings, and cutting cannot be said to have allowed you to generate a real attack with such things. Your body may know the techniques and movement, but if your mind is not prepared and focused, it’s not a real attack. It may also have contributed to avoiding situations where knife attacks have hit the target or your flesh and muscles have already been cut through and off: the priority at least. People usually don’t think about things they don’t want to think about. But that also means their ability to judge and assess potential decisions to be made in such situations will suffer. A person that thinks “I don’t want to get hurt” after he’s been wounded, and tries to “defend” himself, is basically trying to commit suicide. A guy losing blood by the bucketful is not going to defend himself by fighting a defensive game or waiting for some 2nd chain attack so he can counter it. A guy with the nerves and tendons of his primary arm destroyed, is not really going to be able to “defend” himself real well against multiple opponents and fresh fighters to boot. The only chance he has of buying more time to get himself to the hospital with only 1-2 stabs and not 9-90 stabs, is to generate an effective attack backed by his full determination to whittle down the morale and offensive power of his enemies, and that means he cannot be thinking whatsoever about “defense”. Half the reason movements are done in Chinese martial arts is to generate simultaneous offense and defense applications, allowing a person to not even think about defense. Doing defense, and thinking defense, those are not necessarily compatible. Whereas doing attack, and thinking attack, is a requirement. If a person’s goal is not getting hurt, eventually he will find a situation where he will get hurt, and to save his life, he must then discard the concept of defense and rely upon simultaneous offense/defense movements. Attacking is not as simple as people believe. Most humans have a lot of mental reservations, irregardless of their skill levels or how many years they have trained, which do not allow them to generate true attacks. Part of what makes swords dangerous and beautiful is that it will cut through a person, irregardless of whether you want him dead or alive. Just apply sufficient force to close a door, and the sword will cut through him and make him dead. Unless you hit with the flat part of the blade, the guy’s going to get cut and bleed out. But the point is, why is this any different than a person that is able to generate that kind of intent open handed? There is no difference then between having a sword or not having a sword, other than labor efficiency. Fighting takes work, best to keep it as short as possible to save on energy. But for a person that cannot generate that kind of intent with just his hands, the idea of a sword/gun can be disquieting. A lack of control, and a look at one’s limitations in the mental realm.

A sword, like a gun, is a labor saving tool. It allows someone to kill or hurt humans, without having full intent. Just enough to let gravity and the blade/bullet do most of the work. In H2H, killing someone else or crippling them, truly requires dedicated mental concentration. But what people get easily confused about is that most of the attacks in H2H are NOT fatal and not done with full intent. Yet many people believe that just because they have hit each other, hard, and caused damage, that they are striking with full intent or know how to strike with full intent. Attacking is more complex a field than it may seem on the surface, and there are many things in it that people are not aware of. I’ll leave it at that.

Most of the other things Dan wrote about is consistent with my own beliefs and conclusions. Slashing is best done with a curved blade, thus if your sword attacks favor slashing and slashing goes through most people’s armor (not European full plate though), then it pays to have it. Of course some of this was limited by metallurgy as the Japanese had to figure out how to make something curved and long, without it snapping. But swords for cavalry (and the Japanese were big on cavalry for one reason or another), were best curved and best long too, to use the leverage of a horse’s momentum.

Everybody is going to eventually have to confront their own mental reservations about the use of violence, one way or another. They have to challenge themselves ethically and find reasons or just rationalizations why this is this, or that is that.

My two favorite sword manufacturers are probably Cheness and Musashi. The mistakes I made learning to maintain and use a high carbon steel sword, were a lot easier to do when the money to replace a blade wasn’t equal to your monthly bill. If I ever do buy a more expensive blade, I’ll know that all the newbie mistakes I already made, with swords I could easily replace.

Explore posts in the same categories: Swords, violence

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