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Dr. Giles's Blog

Reflections from Dr. C. Scot Giles, the Consulting Hypnotist and practice owner at Rev. C. Scot Giles, D.Min., LLC

Considering Swords

Charles Giles

I’m considering getting a new sword. That statement probably seems strange to those who do not know me personally, but friends and colleagues will understand.

I have been a martial artist most of my adult life. I hold multiple black belts in the Korean style of karate called taekwondo. When I was in active practice and teaching I was also the instructor for my school in the traditional weapons of ancient Japan and Korea. These are the Sai, the Sword, the Bo, the Nunchaku, the Manriki Chain, the Tonfa, Kobuton and Kama. If you are curious about these, look them up on Google or YouTube and you will get an eyeful.

My time as an active martial artist was very good for me. It was excellent exercise and I enjoyed teaching and making friends in the community. I take a lot of pride in developing personal precision and the ancient weapons were a great way to do that.

But time takes it’s toll. After one enters one’s 50s, sticking with karate can be a problem, especially a hard kicking style like taekwondo. The older skeleton doesn’t hold up as well as the younger one does, and most senior black belts move over to one of the grappling styles like Judo or into the traditional weapons as I did to prevent long-term injury.

When I retired from competition and teaching ten years ago I continued to practice with my favorite weapon, the classical Asian sword. I’ve studied many systems of traditional blade fighting and keep up with regular practice.

But it’s time for a new sword. Most of the training a swordsman does is with a perfectly balanced wooden sword called a “bokken.” I have a lovely set handmade by Kingfisher Bokken in Vermont (http://kingfisherwoodworks.com/) that I adore. I also have a real sword (called a "live blade”) made for me by Master Daniel Watson of Angel Sword when I first became a black belt many years ago (http://www.angelsword.com/). That sword has been my companion for almost thirty years now.

But there are issues. A sword made in traditional dimensions is fitted for a person who stands about five feet, three inches tall. That was the height of the typical samurai warrior as best we can determine from existing suits of armor. Most modern people are taller than that. 

A swordsmith can make a blade longer to accommodate the additional height of modern people, but doing that destroys the geometry of the weapon. Also, longer blades are more prone to shatter dangerously when used. 

If the smith reinforces a sword blade to make it shatter resistant, the resulting sword is so blade-heavy it can’t be precisely controlled. If the smith cuts holes in the blade to lighten it, you end up with a sword that doesn’t look like a classical sword and is very hard to clean. If you use a lighter steel alloy to make the blade, the result is a sword that doesn’t hold the razor edge one expects in an Asian sword. The list of problems goes on. 

After almost three decades of hard use my live blade is ready to be retired or completely rebuilt. It was made blade-heavy to accommodate my height, and the vibration from hitting blade-on-blade as weakened the fittings. Simply, it’s falling apart. Soon I will need a new sword for the next chapter of my martial arts career. 

Currently, I am talking to sword makers and thinking about what I want. There are lots of choices regarding design, style and steel. This will likely be the last sword I will own in my lifetime and I want to get it right.

My long-suffering wife is very tolerant when I talk to her about all this. I suspect she figures that sword fighting is a better hobby for me than golf, and my exploits are more interesting to listen to than semi-fictional accounts of hole-in-one golf shots. I hope so.