Posted By Thomas L. Buck

Last month I was interviewed by a production company working for the History Channel.  They are doing a comparative study on 13th & 14th Century Japanese and European arms and armor. After my interview, they used a blade to do a cutting test on a mock-up of european armor. 

Here are a few 'action' photos of that cutting test (notice the film crew in the background).  The Japanese sword easily went through a 1/16th inch thick sheet of steel, a quarter inch thick layer of leather, both backed by a square of heavy chain mail.... 

cutting test


cutting test

cutting test

cutting test


This is a photo of the sword. About two thirds of the blade was in good polish, but the third toward the tip had a lot of scratches and some pitting.  They chose this sword because the blade had several aspects that helped it match what the producers were looking for, these included the Handachi mounts and the fumbari. 

cutting test


Before the test, I rewrapped and lacquered the mounts, and after it was sent away for a polish. It should be back sometime in July or August 2009. 

Although a few of us were a little more than nervous about using a real Japanese sword, this was a very controlled situation, and, not surprisingly, after the test there was no apparent damage done to the blade.  

They did a simular mock-up of Japanese armor against a period sword from England with less than spectacular results; the european blade only put a crease and a few dimples in the 'Japanese' 1/16th inch steel plate. 

1 Comment(s):
Al said...
What sort of "European Sword"? European swords underwent massive changes in form and capability throughout the middle ages, far more so than did Japanese swords as far as I can tell from my limited understanding of them. Matching a European sword in a 12th century style, designed to defeat mail and padding, against a simulacrum of 15th or 16th century plate armour is always going to result in useless results. It's about as meaningful as trying to compare the HMS Victory to the Yamato and deciding whether British or Japanese ships were better based on that comparison. The major deficiency of this test though is the classic problem with every "armour" test I've ever seen. What they're trying to defeat *isn't armour*. It's a static, braced, flat sheet of mild steel. It has no work hardening, it has no deflective properties, and it isn't being worn by someone who is mobile and trying to defend themselves. In that respect it's like trying to compare the HMS Victory and the Yamato in a race across the sahara desert. It's just not how they were designed to be used. They're different swords, they evolved for totally different styles of combat and armour and as a result they handle and act very very differently. They both worked though, as evidenced by the fact that people actually used them as effective weapons of war for centuries. If they hadn't worked in their own contexts, people wouldn't have used them, they'd have made something different. High-quality japanese swords are amazing expressions of the metalsmiths and cutler's art, but the more you talk to people who really deeply understand European swords like the late Paul Champagne and Peter Johnsson, the more you realise that European swords were too.
July 15, 2009 10:14:15 PM
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Thomas L. Bu...
Duluth, MN

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