The word sword comes from the Old English sweord, meaning to cut or to hurt. But swords have symbolized more than violence and combat; they stand for bravery, strength, honor, and knowledge. The sword’s popularity and versatility has made it one of martial arts most common and desired weapons.
The sword consists of a blade and a hilt (a handle that is made up of a grip, pommel, and guard). The blade edges are used for striking and cutting and the point for thrusting. Blades are single-edged or double-edged and may have fullers (grooves) to decrease weight while keeping strength and rigidity.
Hardness, strength, and balance measure a sword’s worth. To achieve strength, blade-smiths forged and wrought swords, never cast them. And to achieve hardness, blades were heat treated. Balancing and sharpening were the last stages in the production of the sword.
Sword making was considered a sacred art, involving a specialized craftsman for each process and each part of the sword. Construction and styles varied greatly among Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cultures, being determined by fighting techniques, enemy armor, and fighting conditions. For each, this resulted in a unique sword design.
Japanese Martial Art Sword
A typical, Japanese, martial art sword is the single-edged katana of which there are two main versions:
- the 70 — 90 cm long curved blade version used by samurai warriors
- and the slightly shorter 50 cm style used by the ninja, allowing these mercenary agents easier transportation and maneuverability in confined places
Chinese Martial Art Sword
A common Chinese martial art sword is the single-edged butterfly sword known in Kung Fu and Wing Chun as Baat Jaam Do. Normally wielded in pairs, this sword measures only 36 cm and is, therefore, referred to as a butterfly knife due to the short knife-size blade. Its small size allows for easy concealment and close distance combat. This sword is regarded by many Chinese martial artists to be the most versatile defensive and offensive weapon, being an extension of empty-handed combat.
Korean Martial Art Sword
Unlike Chinese and Japanese swords, few Korean swords exist. The most common are the kum, a light, double-edged sword used mainly for thrusting, and the do, a much heavier and razor-sharp single-edged sword that accommodates two hands and is intended for slashing.
Mastering sword fighting is like mastering martial arts. And just like the greatness of the martial art depends on the individual executing the art; so is the sword deemed only as mighty as its wielder.