Sunday, November 21, 2010

Swords for Self Defense

If you look at it in historic terms, swords and blades in general have killed far more people than guns, so its understandable that people may contemplate them as alternatives to firearms when these are not available. Before we go any further into this, I’d like to remind everyone just in case that while blades have a place, something like a sword shouldn’t even be considered in countries where you can legally own firearms. Even a double barrel shotgun would be a MUCH better alternative. If you live in USA, the alternatives you have  in firearms makes even thinking about swords for self defense a ridiculous idea. Get a Glock my friend. If you’re worried about stopping power get one in 357 SIG or 10mm. A sword shouldn’t even be in the picture. 

Having said that, lets just suppose you can’t own firearms. Blades are your second best option. I’ve mentioned often enough that even if you carry a firearm, you should definitely have a folding fighting knife as well. The reason for this is that at contact range or when struggling with your attacker, the knife is more useful than any firearm. The "don’t bring a knife to a gunfight" line is only true when you have a certain range. At sidewalk range you will get cut, and if the knife wielder has the slightest idea of how to us it and you have no h2h training you will get killed, gun or no gun. Also, if your gun isn’t working anymore for whatever reason) the knife can still be used as a weapon. 

But what about swords? The first problem we see with them is that you of course can’t carry it with you at all times. Getting a big folder means you have a tool for self defense with you at all times, but the sword will stay home or maybe get carried in the car.
Second, and this is of particular concern for people that live in countries where firearms are available, lets just suppose you do use it to kill or even worse in legal terms, injure a home invader. The first question everyone (including the judge and jury) is going to ask is, Why the heck do you have a sword for defense when you can buy a gun? Playing the devils advocate, the strategy I would use would be that you wheren’t concerned that much about self defense as you where about playing your Nippon manga fantasy, you wanted to be Akira, you’re sick in the head and believe you are Higlander the Inmortal.

Having said all this, lets say guns aren’t available and you go for a large blade, a sword of some kind. The world of blades is huge and tomes have been written about it, I don’t intend to summarize all of that in this simple article, yet I’d make a couple distinctions. First, there are blades for war and blades for defensive use. Cavalry uses a saber that cuts heads like water melons, mostly while on horse, but what about turning it against a would be killer in a narrow corridor, using only one hand, while keeping his own knife or gun away from your body with the other? Long narrow blades like rapiers and dueling blades are out of the equation as well. The second distinction worth mentioning is, the kind swords that proved most effective in combat. While many have interesting characteristics,  for the purpose of self defense I believe the short roman sword, the gladius, holds the key of what to look for. The gladius along with outstanding military tactics and discipline was a main factor of the roman’s effectivenss in combat. The galdius is short, so it didn’t tangle with people or equipment around during the fight, it has a narrow tip, perfect for stabbing, and that’s how it was most often used, and finally it is broad enough to chop with the strength of a machete. A short, broad sword with a penetrating tip fits the bill in my opinion. Machetes have these same characteristics, except for the penetrating tip in the tipical latin machete, but a clip point is easy to make. The clip point can be found in  Cold Steel Cutlass mentioned earlier. 
1917 Cutlass, Leather Scabbard 

For self defense I’d prefer something even shorter though, around 12-14 inches is more than enough, and is more handy at close quarters. Even A big butcher’s knife or chef knife should suffice. 
Victorinox 10-Inch Straight Butcher Knife, Rosewood Handle 
Wenger Swibo 14-1/10-Inch Butcher Knife, Large Blade 
Wenger Swibo 14-1/10-Inch Butcher Knife, Large Blade  (otherwise known as the "please shoot me instead knife")
As an added bonus, its cheap, readily available and isn’t out of place in a houses kitchen. “I just grabbed the first thing I found…”
When it comes to machetes, I’ve often recommended the Cold Steel machetes for these same reasons. These days there are more machetes out there and many have more narrow tips than the typical latin machete.
Just some more food for thought, take care and enjoy your weekend.



Unknown said...

Completely agree about blades for home defense only being valid where guns are banned.

I like the Gladius and the only problem I see with it is that a roman style (or any weapon from before the steel age) has virtually zero hand protection.

I don't know all that much about the blade skills that criminals have, but in the blade vs. blade recreation (I know, different from defense) the lack of hand protection is a pretty serious down side. The back of my right hand still shows where I got whacked with a piece of ritan when I was using a Gladius imitation practice sword.

By The Sword said...

That 1917 cutlass reissue by Cold Steel is a fine and sturdy weapon. I have handled one and it is on my "to get" list.

When I first looked at the title of this article I got a little worried, thinking that you might advise people to carry swords around in long coats, "Highlander" style I am glad that you don't recommend them for use outside ones own home.

I like your advice in general. Very practical.

Fer Fal, I was wondering how you felt about collapsable batons? Those concealable metal sticks can do some damage, especially to kneecaps and other delicate parts of the anatomy, and yet you are less likely to get blood on your clothes as you would with a knife.

Anonymous said...

The 'Gladius' would be my choice as well. Thrift stores often have a variety of fine large knives of quality for cheap that fit Ferfals specifications. The local store here sells any large broad kitchen knife for $1. I got more than one. The high quality of some of these knives also make them suitable for bushcraft. A cardboard or make shift leather shealth from an old boot, cut and folded and stitched with tie wraps works.

Another but not so cheeep option might be bayonet for less than $10. a

Matt said...

If you don't care for a sword or a butcher knife, I'd like to suggest a Bowie Knife. Not just bowie-style, but a full blown 10-12 inch bladed Bowie Knife. Tough blade, hand guard, single edged.

Don Williams said...


3) Which raises the point of how the gladius was used. Christoph Amberger also discusses that in his book (p.162) with an extract from the work "De Re militarii" by Roman Flavius Vegetius Renatus. Basically, the gladius was used to thrust from behind the cover of a very large shield.
Your flanks and rear were covered by other legionaires. Other works noted that the Romans kept three lines of troops so that the guys at the front could withdraw to the rear to take a breather after a few minutes while the line behind them marched up for a go.

Plus Vegetius noted that Roman
soldiers trained with wooden gladius and shield that were twice the weight of the real ones. That is a different situation from a lone untrained civilian
defending himself from bandits.

4) On the other hand, Ferfal has good points about the concealability of the gladius compared to the cutlass.

Plus, unlike the smallsword, the wide gladius makes a big wound
channel on the thrust -- similar to two 45 ACP rounds fired side by side.

Plus use of the sword today in self-defense against people with clubs or knives is different from bygone eras in which you would probably end up fighting another swordsman.

5) I do wonder whether the gladius thrust could penetrate the breastbone to the heart or the skull to the brain.

I have not used the gladius but it seems to me that the grip does not easily let one index where the edge of the blade is -- i.e, one may hit with the edge turned at angle/flat of the blade worst case.

Anonymous said...

Not exactly a sword, but machetes do a pretty good facsimilie of one, the people in Africa have used them with good effect. A Cold Steel Bowie or Magnum Kukri is a very formidable weapon - a person who has practiced using one for defense would do pretty well if his opponent was not armed with a firearm or bow.

Uncle George said...

In the USA, most people who want to carry weapons prefer firearms. A few years ago I read about a man carrying groceries out to his car. He was accosted by some dirtbags. When he opened his trunk to deposit the grocery bags, he pulled out a sword. The dirtbags shot him.

In close a gladius would deliver a most lethal injury. I own one and they are deadly. The problem is that using a gladius takes practice and you have to be within reach of your opponent. If he has a firearm, you will be killed before you can use it.

A tomahawk is a very good in close weapon, and a bit easier to carry under a coat if you cannot have a firearm. A gladius would be a good choice for home defense if firearms are prohibited where you live. Otherwise, a shotgun is your best bet.

Anonymous said...

Instead of a sword for self defense, how about a tomahawk? Not only can it be used for self defense, it can also be used for many different things, such as chopping wood. The metal point at the rear would make a horrific puncture wound and I'm sure it would give many bad guys pause. Some are inexpensive and the VTAC made by American Tomahawk is part of the standard kit in Stryker vehicles. There are many cases of close-quarters combat in Iraq and Afghanistan where tomahawks have been used. Of course, it was also a very popular combat-proven weapon in the colonial days.

For me, I'm going to be purchasing the SOG Tactical Tomahawk for when I leave for the Middle East in January. It's a little shorter (at 15") than most other tomahawks with a polymer handle and a head with screws that hold it to the shaft. As an aircrew member, my purpose isn't combat (only as a last resort), but to hack my way out of an aircraft's fuselage after a crash, should I not be able to reach a crash axe. Here it is at Amazon:


Thanks for the great blog FerFAL! I've been reading it for a few years and also bought your book. It has been informative and has given me some added perspectives I haven't thought about before.

Take care,

Anonymous said...

Condor Knife & Tool make a very nice Gladius pattern called the Combat Machete.

Anonymous said...

use a machete its cheap and scary if an intruder sees it.

Vincent Cate said...

Where I live many people have machetes, so an invader could well have one (I know of cases where invaders had them). I would like to have as much advantage over an invader as I can. I think crossbow with deer hunting bolts, body armor, and cutlass would be an advantage over a machete.

I grew up watching A-Team. I have been checking the prices on sheets of steel and have been thinking of making a bullet resistant spot in our house. Anyone ever done something like that?

With laser sights on the crossbow and deer hunting tips, at inside the house type distances I think it is very deadly. A goat with 4 legs only made it less than 20 feet in my test. If I was also behind some steel and with body armor, even an invader with a gun would not have a sure thing.

Don Williams said...

1) On the earlier "guns not allowed" thread (Tues, Nov 16), I noted that both the US Navy and US Army adopted the gladius circa 1840 but discarded it within 8 to 14 years for the saber/cutlass.

2) My guess is that This, however, was probably because of the length advantage the cutlass has over the gladius in swordsman vs swordsman fight: the few inches longer reach lets the cutlass stab or slash the wrist holding the gladius in a thrust. This would not have worked , of course, against a Roman legionaire holding his big rectangular shield.

russell1200 said...

Swords are often as illegal in some areas as guns. However, tools are generally O.K.


I think you are mixing up two eras of Roman combat.

The triple line period was early republic. Many of the Romans were still using spears. The all gladius time period came latter. Also note that the Romans used heavy javelins to disrupt their enemies use of their shields: so it was a throw-charge-stab combination at the start of the battle.

What the Romans did differently is that they appear to have actually trained in how to use their weapons. Probably not a lot, but if you read various Greek accounts it is obvious that the Greeks and their contemporaries trained very little at all. I am not sure about the Macedonians.

One reason that the Spartacus Gladiator revolt was likely so dangerous, was that it had a core unit that actually HAD trained with its weapons. As a number of ancient battles indicate unit capability was often more important than outright numbers.

But if you train with an edged weapon, you better train to deal with people wildly swinging at you: not just lunge-parry-repost with skilled opponents.

Don Williams said...

One thing to practice is the Army's old technique for a swordman to deal with a bayonet on a rifle -- since you might run into someone using an improvised spear.

Technique was to parry --i.e, deflect the spear thrust to the left or right by holding the sword upright (tip pointing to sky). You then grab the spear behind the head with the left hand so enemy can't pull it back to rethrust, and then stride forward and stab the now unarmed enemy.

Joseph said...

If we're talking about being EDC practical and keeping a low profile what about learning stick fighting and using some quality walking sticks or maybe a sword cane?