Note: I originally wrote this for Tor.com back in 2014.
It’s a dangerous world out there, and if you’re not careful you could soon find yourself on the wrong end of an opponent’s knife, a zombie’s tooth, or a werewolf’s claws. If you’re reading this, then I’m assuming three things: first, you’re in terrible danger. Second, you have, for some reason, kept a copy of this article in your pocket. Third, you’re standing outside the only 24-hour sword shop in town. Oh sure, you might think that these are ridiculous and statistically unlikely assumptions to make, but then why are you still reading this article? Really. Go away. That’s right – run off back home to your microwave dinner and Desperate Housewives marathon. The rest of us have blood to shed.
Still here? Right, then, well done you. Now you need to get inside that 24-hour sword shop and quickly pick out the right weapon for the battle ahead. To maximize your chances of drinking to your enemy’s demise (and minimizing the odds of your skull being used as a tankard when they drink to yours), follow the handy guide below to match your current duelling dilemma with the right weapon for the job.
Scenario 1 – It’s the Zombie Apocalypse
I put this one first as, based on popular media, it’s apparently the most likely danger you’ll face this year. Cheer up, though, last year’s edition would have required you to prepare to face off with hundred year-old emo vampires whose only weaknesses are sparkling prettily in sunlight and occasionally brooding to death.
Right, back to the zombies. What we need here is a good cleaving weapon. You might think a nice double-bladed battle-axe is the way to go, but the truth is, they’re actually pretty hard to wield accurately. Also, if you miss, it’s hard to bring it back around in time for a second try before your ex-neighbour chomps into your face and infects you with the deadly zombie virus (not to mention some pretty serious halitosis.) This will severely curtail any hopes of attracting a member of the opposite sex.
Now, some of you are probably hoping I’ll tell you that The Walking Dead has it all wrong (well, they do about the crossbow thing but that’s another story) but when it comes to zombie fighting, Michonne has this thing figured out: get yourself a good katana.
The katana is a traditionally made Japanese sword and one of the finest bladed weapons ever devised. It’s designed for slicing and delivers devastatingly sharp cuts against flesh, sinew, and bone. Can it really decapitate a zombie in one blow? Absolutely. The Japanese used to test katanas by cutting through dead bodies (evidently practicing for the inevitable zombie apocalypse to come.) Regrettably, it’s useless against Godzilla, which makes me wonder if the Japanese were really all that prescient, after all.
Bonus Tip: While you’re at the store, grab yourself a bokken. This wooden practice weapon is roughly the same size and shape as a katana, but if you sharpen the end just a bit you’ll be ready in case Edward Cullen ever loses his cool and comes for you with his fangs bared. In fact, if you see Edward or any other Twilight vampires you should probably stab them through the heart even if they don’t seem threatening. Just in case, you know?
Scenario 2 – Road Warrior Dystopia
Zombies? What a preposterous idea. We all know the future belongs to roving bands of ex-punk rock bassists ravaging the countryside in search of…well, it’s not entirely clear what they’re in search of, but they’re planning to kick your ass. So grab a blade and start cleaving black leather biker gangs.
Your weapon of choice? The European bastard sword. This classic Medieval and early Renaissance monster is the jack-of-all trades you need to deliver judicious quantities of mayhem to all kinds of maniacally grinning mohawk monsters. Some hyena-faced lackey smirking at you while flipping his switch-blade in the air? Good – you’ve got more than enough reach to take him out. Armoured skateboarder is coming at you with a baseball bat? The bastard sword has the strength to parry that blow before you smite the post-apocalyptic Tony Hawk wannabe into the ground.
Oh, and in case you’re thinking that broadswords were too heavy, they historically weighed between 2.5-3 pounds which was very close to sixteenth century rapiers. Bastard swords could also be wielded with two hands, making them easier to handle. Also, you get to say bastard a lot. Bastard.
Scenario 3 – Real Life Duel
I know what you’re thinking: what if undead creatures with no biologically explainable capacity for movement and brain-eating don’t spontaneously rise up in oddly convenient urban centres around the country? What if completely forseeable oil depletion fails to result in a world where everyone paradoxically drives around in gas-guzzling trucks? Alright, then, let’s prepare for something believable: a duel to the death with a fellow human over a question of honour.
Yes, the classic duel at dawn. The cause? Likely some unintentional slight caused by a poor choice of words that triggers a light slap with a soft white glove. Your options? A simple apology or a deadly and prolonged fight resulting in death for one of you, murder charges for the other, and misery for both your families.
Right, duel it is then.
You might be thinking rapier here, and if you were living in the 15th or 16th century I would agree with you. But the rapier is still a fairly heavy weapon to handle and that affects its speed. What you want here is a small sword. Yes, I realize the name ’small sword’ doesn’t inspire you with testosterone-filled confidence, but the small sword was fast – crazy fast – and the point was sharper than any blade that came before it. The only one thing that matters in a real swordfight is putting the pointy end into the other guy first. That’s why, by the late 17th century, the small sword had all but eliminated the rapier as the duelling weapon of choice. It’s also light enough to carry with you at all times and is surprisingly convenient for cooking hotdogs around the campfire.
Scenario 4 – Crime of Passion
Troubles at home? Starting to suspect your spouse may be stepping out on you with someone from the accounting department? Where others might pause and consider thoughtful dialogue with their significant other, you refuse to waste time with ego-crushing self-reflection and expensive couples counselling. Instead, you’ve decided to commit the sort of love crime usually reserved for melodramatic classics of the French cinema.
If murderous revenge is on your mind, then there’s only one weapon that will do the job the way it needs to be done: the N-Force Vendetta Double Sword. Yes, the N-Force has it all: big and bold enough to compensate for any masculine insecurities you may be experiencing, and with two separate blades you can offer one to your nemesis as a chance to defend themselves, or, heck, why not use one blade for your enemy and one for your spouse? Best of all, if you do a little research online you’ll quickly learn why the N-Force Vendetta Double Sword is the perfect blade if it turns out you haven’t stumbled upon the love of your life cheating on you with your best friend but instead have discovered them planning a particularly thoughtful birthday party for you.
Hopefully these handy tips will get you through your next night of bloody battle, but if your sword fighting needs go beyond these every-day scenarios – if, for example, your king has been murdered and it turns out that every noble is a tyrant and every knight a thug – can I respectfully suggest you get yourself a copy of Traitor’s Blade and let Falcio, Kest, and Brasti be your guides on negotiating life’s little challenges?