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Best of Amtgard Combat:
A Brief History of AmtSwords

[12/17/2004] []

This article originally appeared in and was written by Sir Naes, a Burning Lands warlord and weaponmaster.

In my fourteen years of playing Amtgard, I have seen and used all forms of weapons that Amtgardians have come up with, and even invented some of my own. I remember using PVC swords, with foam padding measuring about 4 inches in diameter. At that time (1987-1989), that was what was considered safe.

Then one day Sir Ahira comes out with a new lightweight sword that he made for a slighly lady (5'3", 110 lbs.). It was a bamboo core with light thin white foam rolled around it to a diameter of about two and a half inches. Everyone freaked when Sir Ahira started to use the sword. It was all right if the small light lady used the 'light/unsafe' sword, but with Sir Ahira, who is about 5'10" and over 200 pounds, it just wasn't going to work. Yet he bucked the rules and everyone else, and kept using what he would eventually refer to as a 'tourney sword'. Do you know what ended up happening? Within about three months, just about every sword you saw on the battlefield was just like the one Sir Ahira had built. It had, under use, been deemed 'safe'.

A new standard in technology had been established. Around 1991, Sir Ivar had listened to my long spiel on how a flat-bladeds sword could be made. I had for about two years used a psuedo-flat bladed sword that Sir Ahira had experimented in building not long after making his 'whip-stick' that had become the Amtgard norm. His idea was to create a flat shaped (oval) legal round sword. I loved that sword. It was a shame when it just completely feel apart from use. After about two years of use, it had so much duct and strapping tape on the six inches of the tip that it had become much too unsafe, even painful, to still bring on the battlefield. Yet I had fallen in love with the way my fighting style had been shapped because of the flat bladed sword. I had to have another.

(Side history note: There were two other flat-bladed sword that I know of that were also around at that time. A short, broad-bladed gladius type of sword that Sir Ahira made as Mark II version of the first flat blade he built, and a wicked curved scimitar that M'deth had constructed. That was a fun weapons to use. I used it quite a bit.)

After discussing the flat blade design with Sir Ivar at Clan, he agreed to help with the R&D (ie: $$$$) on it in exchange for being one of the first to own one. We initially made four blades ranging from two feet to three and a half feet long. They had crude basket hilts, and only one striking edge, like a saber or scimitar. They were not curved at this time.

The first big test of these new weapons was a particullarly interesting day of Burning Lands weekly battlegame. A thunderstorm had appeared out of nowhere, and proceeded to dump Noah's Ark amounts of water. Yet most people agreed that we are already soaked and might as well stay and fight some more. The ensuing ditch-battles were fought in pouring rain, and if anyone who is familiar with the Burning Lands park, the 'ditch' between the two stone bridges was filling up with rain water. At one point, if you were fighting on your knees, the water would be over your hips (if you were sitting on your heels). I watched as many of the typical swords became water-logged, heavy, and even somewhat painful. Our flat-blades, with spandex covers and closed cell bedroll foam, soaked up little to no water. I could even dunk it in the ditch water and it still would only be slightly wet. They didn't hurt because they were not water-logged, and they were much quicker to use. They were deemed a success. I've been making and using this type of Amtgard weapon ever since. I have improved on the original design to the point of having what I call a Mark 5 or 5th Generation of the original design.

Well, I guess I took a trip down memory lane and became long winded/typed. I was trying to make a point. As new materials and technology are found, Amtgard weapons will evolve and change as well. Yet for the most part, the game is still the same. I think that if you want to use a two ounce sword, then go right ahead for whatever your reason, be it because of personal size, strength, handicap, ailmen, or if you just feel you need it to be able to compete on an even keel with everyone else.

Just remeber real weapons have weight, and the best made ones were balanced. A truly magnificent weapon, with its balance, would feel lighter than its contempary counterpart. If I remember correctly, up until the third or fourth edition of the rulebook, there were not just weight minimums for red weapons. Blue weapons had weight minimums as well. I believe that it was one ounce for every inch in length. So a three foot sword (36 inches) would have to weigh at least 36 ounces (16 ounces to a pound, 36/16=2.25), which comes out to two and a quarter pounds. A red weapon had to weigh at least 2 ounces for every inch in length, in addition to being also four feet long.

I personally don't like big honking heavy weapons. I'm a small statured fighter (5'7" and 150 lbs) who has studied fencing for many years. To use a heavy sword would just not work for me. My skill would be somewhat diminished if I used the type of swords that M'deth and Nevron are fond of using. Yet I feel that using a two ounce fiberglass and foam signalling flag doesn't work for me as well. It can be blown around in strong winds. It has no mass to block other swords. That is important because I block about 50% of shots with my sword, even when using a shield.

The idea is to build a weapon that is just an extension of the hand, arm and body. Too light, and it isn't an extention of the arm. It isn't even there. So I'm in the middle ground. Not heavy, not ultra-light, but the best of both, with the sword being balanced to allow the hand, arm and body to flow with the sword and technique. If I didn't put weights (steel hex bolts) in the hilt as a counter-balance, my flat blades would be as light, if not lighter than most ultra-lights.

I usually used half inch, 315psi PVC, or half inch (.505) kite spar for my cores. Usually depends on what kind of weapon I'm building and the length. For Bastard/Great Swords (four feet plus), I use the five eighths diamter kite spar for core. PVC would be to heavy, at that lenght, and not have any flex. Anyone who has had the privilage to pick-up or even fight with one of my Great Swords will agree that they are well balanced and very light. They are difficult to add enough weight to them without making them unbalanced and dangerous to use. Mine do not make the require 'minimum' weight to be red weapons. Fortunately, most klingdoms are not sticklers for the weight minimum as long as it is over four feet and has some sort of mass to it.

It all comes down to your own personal preference, the decision being based on skill, knowledge, health, size, strength, and style. This variety is what make the human chess game of Amtgard combat so interesting to watch and participate in.

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