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The Deadliest Weapons
[10/24/2002] [Randall]

Don’t you hate it when you realize that you’re wrong? It’s an unpleasant feeling that only an honest person can come to grips with. After all, if you’re wrong, and you know it, your only real option is to abandon whatever views you were defending. Anything less would make you a fanatic and would jeopardize the legitimacy of every other belief you hold dear. It gets even harder when you come to the conclusion that, not only are you wrong, but the opposing argument is right. You get a weird feeling that’s a mix of embarrassment and anger and it seems like everyone is looking at you and knows how wrong you are. That’s exactly the feeling I had when I went hunting for proof that Zulu Spears were wrong.

The argument against the Zulu Spear is pretty well-known. It’s a pussy weapon, it’s a cheater weapon, it’s too light, it’s unsafe, it’s not historically accurate, and so on. I agreed with all of these arguments. Zulu Spears seemed to turn mediocre fighters into good fighters and the sound of “cra-ka!” became the familiar prelude to injury. Defenders of the new weapons always said that anything is unsafe when used poorly and, if we didn’t like the spears, that was just tough -- we’d better get used to ‘em I’ve always been a proponent of the idea that we must either accept new technology or be left behind in the dust, so these arguments carried a lot of weight with me… but they were still just opinions, and I could disagree. I resorted to mocking the funny-looking weapons as “boomers” and accused their users of trying to become Wetlands sword knights, but mockery alone wasn’t enough to take Zulu Spears off the field.

I was even drawn in by the Dark Side of the Sword when Lord Alucard, now my king, made me a Zulu Spear to use in battle. It was short and deadly and I enjoyed the speed advantage it gave me over my enemies. Someone thankfully saved my immortal paladin soul by stealing the sword at Clan, but I keenly remembered the temptation of power these simple weapons offered. Zulu Spears were bad, I knew, and I would prove that they never existed. That was important because Amtgard says that only weapons that might have existed before 1650 AD are legal. If they existed at all, they might have existed before then, but I was certain I could prove that they were nothing more than the figment of some ditch-monkey’s imagination.

I was wrong. Zulu Spears were real and were used exactly as Amtgard warriors use them.

Now, an unethical person would bury the evidence and find some other angle of attack. There’s certainly information out that there I could use to “prove” that Zulu Spears are being used improperly… and there’s more than enough going on in Amtgard that I could rant about something else, and avoid the subject entirely. But that’s not the e-Samurai way. I’ve learned the truth and it changed my world. I am bound by the code of the e-Samurai to pass that truth on to you.

The Zulu Spear was invented by none other than Shaka Zulu himself. It was a smaller version of the normal throwing spear and was meant for close combat; the idea, which is ironic when you consider the spear’s application in Amtgard, was to encourage fighters to engage the enemy rather than fight from a distance. Shaka also started punishing warriors who lost their spears. Since a thrown spear was seldom recovered, his army made the swift change to the melee version of the weapon.

People often think the Amtgard Zulu Spear is a cheesy weapon that’s only used by people who are too lame to use a real sword. Considering the reputation for ferocity the real-life users of these weapons had, such a charge doesn’t carry much weight. In fact, the Zulus weren’t even allowed to marry (and, by extension, have sex) until they killed someone in battle, and Shaka Zulu made sure that anyone killed was slain with the spears he invented.

These short spears were called ‘assegai’ (which is Arabic for ‘the spear’) or ‘iklwa’, which was the sound human flesh made when the spear was pulled out. Nasty people, these Zulus. It was between 40 and 45 inches long and had a blade that was somewhere between a foot and two feet in length. With a shorter haft and larger blade than a normal spear, the innovation proved a success; the throwing spear was dropped as the preferred weapon of the Zulus in favor of stabbing spear.

Let me pause for a moment to discuss that term. At first, I seized on the phrase ‘stabbing spear’ to prove that the Zulus never used their weapons the way Amtgard fighters do, but further investigation proved the opposite to be true. The Zulus’ use of these so-called stabbing spears as a slashing weapon is fact, which I will now prove.

Following my philosophy that everything important in life can be learned from a game, I read up on the rules the famously-anal wargame miniatures crowd uses for the Zulus. You see, the battles between the Zulus and the British Empire are the stuff of legend and are popular scenarios in the wargaming community. On the one side, you have hordes of primitive Zulus armed with spears and shields; on the other, you have the best the British Empire has to offer, armed with rifles and bayonets. It’s quite a challenge and a thrill, I’m sure. Anyway, these games often organize weapons by class, and without fail, the weapons of the Zulu Impis (a type of warrior) were marked as spears with slashing capability. More than one source said the Zulus used these weapons more like swords than spears… just like we do in Amtgard.

Moving from games to real life, the assegai proved to be a devastating weapon against the British and the Boers, both of whom learned to fear the sharp blades of the Zulus. Even though the Europeans possessed guns, the Zulus were cunning enemies with a particularly brilliant leader. They made sure to fight the Europeans on their own terms, and this often meant close fighting where assegai met bayonet. The Zulus also used a type of full-sized shield that was surprisingly strong… since they could wield their deadly spears one-handed, and their enemies had to hold the rifle with two hands to get a good stab, the Zulus invariably won these encounters. Some soldiers who survived fights against assegai still saw the Zulus in their dreams, stabbing and slashing with surprising ability. Indeed, the assegai has been called one of the deadliest edged weapons ever forged.

Although they were invented less than two-hundred years ago, Zulu Spears existed and were used just like Amtgard fighters use them. Nothing in their construction prevents the possibility that they could’ve been made in the time frame Amtgard allows; in fact, considering how effective they were, it’s highly likely that someone invented them earlier but didn’t find the right combination of generalship, cultural change, and war that Shaka Zulu’s generation experienced. As it is, there’s not a doubt in my mind that the Amtgard version of the Zulu Spear is a worthy successor to the famous assegai. They’re just as groundbreaking and deadly as they were when Shaka Zulu first dreamt them up as the weapons that would bring a modern European empire to its knees.

So, like I said, I was wrong. Hell, even my little jab about the ironic use of the Zulu Spear in Amtgard is wrong, because it’s based on a flawed perspective. Sure, we might see the Zulu Spear as a cheesy warrior’s alternative to a sword, but Shaka Zulu saw it differently. For him, it was the replacement for the throwing spear… the assegai turned the cheesy spear-flingers of the Zulu empire into something far more fearsome. If our fighters were realistic, we’d see it that way, too. In the end, it’s not the Zulu Spear that’s wrong. It’s us.

I’m not a good enough fighter to really argue the merits of the Zulu Spear in Amtgard, nor can I say for sure whether safety is determined by the weapon or the user; certainly, someone can make the case that a regular spear is much more dangerous, especially in the hands of an unskilled user. Something I can do well, though, is history – and I think the Zulu Spear deserves to stay. It has mimicked its real-world impact in ways few Amtgard weapons ever have, and it’s used in Amtgard for all the same reasons the Zulus used it a century and a half ago. So pick up your assegai and shoulder your shield. It’s time for the Zulu Spear to reclaim its place as one of the most terrifying melee weapons in the world.

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