|Kirk vetted the blade portions
of my book for accuracy.
Do to the public outcry that begged the question, can your character carry a sword on their back, I did a podcast with edged weapons expert, Kirk McCune. Kirk is a Bahala Na Master but his expertise extends to swords of the Western world as well. In fact, I once asked him what sword he would have as an everyday carry and he said a rapier.
I love interviewing Kirk not only because of his vast knowledge, but the man is a writer at heart. He sees things in a writerly way. You will see that in this interview when he talks about why the big screen and graphic works place the swords on backs of characters.
This is a summary of my podcast with Kirk. You should give it a listen. It’s purdy good, as we say in Tejas.
In the podcast, Kirk talks a good bit about Master Leo Giron. Master Giron was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal for heroism in WWII. He and his commando regiment were under the direct command of General Douglas McArthur. Giron and the 978th Signal Group fought the Japanese hand-to-hand, blade-to-blade in the jungles of the Philippines. Master Giron is the father of the Giron Arnis Escrima/Bahala Na Martial Arts system composed of twenty styles including sword, stick, knife and empty hand techniques. In this summary, Master Kirk’s words are in italic.
Why do we often see swords carried on the back in TV and movies?
I understand the question. The tradition in pop culture and films is heavily weighted with characters carrying a sword on their back. I just watched Conan the Barbarian again and he had a nice little mechanism where he took the blade from his back to his hip. The movies Blade and Beastmaster have it on the back too. Legolas in Lord of the Rings carries his on his back. But, his first weapon is a bow so he needs his hands free. He needs the secondary weapon on his back.
I think there is a reason why the weapon is on the back in films and comics: It’s more dynamic. It’s the same idea as how in movies the detective sneaks into a room and he’s got his gun up by his face. That’s not the place that you want your gun. But in the movies that’s awesome because you get the actor’s face and the gun and you get the music going… It’s a similar idea that you can show the actor’s face with his sword hilt right by his head. And in scenarios where it’s more practical to have the sword on the hip, it’s not in the scene because it’s not in the face shot.
Yes, and in the case of Conan the Barbarian, Arnold Schwarzenegger was Mr. Olympia! Of course they will want him to put his arms back behind his head.
|You don’t see … all this…with a hip draw.
Just sayin’. This pic
is from Fine Art Americahim to put his
arms back behind his head!
Exactly, that’s going to show his biceps and that’s not wrong if you’re wanting to show that feeling of power and that’s what’s important in your writing there. But, yeah if you need to fight somebody in that moment and you are drawing from your back and he is drawing from his waist, like an ambush, well, you’re dead meat. Grand Master Giron said it best, whoever gets there first is the winner and that means whoever delivers the real cut first will win.
How long are real sword fights?
Here’s something interesting, Grand Master Giron fought the Japanese with a sword, he won two bronze stars for his bravery in combat. He fought those men in arm’s length with a sword. And he said the longest engagement that he saw was two strikes. He either swung and hit him or the guy swung and was countered.
Duels can last a little longer but duels come down to one or two decisive actions.They started making duelists fight without their shirts because they started wearing chain mail to protect themselves.
What’s better? Draw from hip or the back?
All things being equal, you and I face off and we have the same wielding speed, when you have it on your hip and I have it on my back, what is your advantage?
A draw from the hip allows for the classic upward rising strike which we call an upward figure 8 and it is a wicked strike to try and deflect or evade. It comes from below your eye sight and my body as a target moves away from you as my blade moves into you. Whereas the downward strike inherently brings the arm and torso into the fight as a target.
|Talonasan blade as used by Master Giron
in WWII. Moreinfo at the bottom.
There’s always exceptions though. There are whole arts dedicated from drawing the sword from behind and the swords are specifically made to be efficient for the draw from behind the back. Many of the ninja arts have this. But they needed it behind the back because maybe it was a secondary weapon and they needed their hands. I think that access point at the hip is superior.
Many times the old treatises show the soldiers of fortune carry their swords on their back but they were carrying them as gear. That’s not how they were worn into battle. Sometimes the soldiers just carried them in their hand.
You can carry your weapon many ways. But as you get close to the combative action, you need to have your weapon out.
Reality in Writing
That’s important for writers of fantasy, (if the sword is on the back) what’s the practicality of what your character is doing? And that might change depending on range and what your character is doing. You also need to consider the length of the weapon when you draw it off the back.
If you are going for reality in your writing, these men have been training their entire life, they want to kill and stop their opponent as quickly as possible because it is so dangerous. So, again, (in carrying it on the back) I think you can do it, but should you do it, how can you do it, why are you doing it – all those things need to be brought out to have realism.
There you have it FightWriters. It’s not a matter of can you carry a sword on your back. It’s more of a question of should you and why are you? It may be that your character might need to carry a sword on their back. If that is the case, it is because it is a secondary weapon or they need their hands free.
Or, you know what, the purpose of it being on the back may just be for the sake of coolness. And that is fine! There is something to be said for putting some razzle dazzle in your work. But, the back carry is not as efficient a carry. And, guess what, capes are not practical for super heroes but that doesn’t stop people from putting a cape on them! We love the capes. Capes are cool! (I’m wearing one now!) So, if you want to put a sword on the back of your ronin, you go right the heck ahead! But, when it comes time for battle, your character better get that blade to the hip!
And that’s it for this round on FightWrite®.net. Until the next round, get blood on your pages!
To see Master Giron’s system in practice, skip over to 1:50.