Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Throughout the history of man-to-man combat, fighters have sought to extend their lethal reach. The rock, the stick, the sword and spear are all age old examples of this. Archery and firearms are certainly extensions of this endeavor. However, the warrior has always had a need for specialized weapons. Tools for a specific job. A gun does not have the same qualities as a bow and arrow and a knife does different things than a sword.

The sword is basically a long knife. Blade length, shape and configuration vary, but it's basically a mid length cutting and/or stabbing tool.

Machetes, wakizashi, bolos, bush knives, kukris, pangas and gladius all fall into this line of cutlery on the short end of the spectrum.

Cutlass, sabers, yatagans, katanas and rapiers are some examples on the longer side.

The popular summation on swords, is that they are antiquated and out of place on the modern battlefield or stratum of modern human conflict. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Not only are the metallurgical methods, sheathing materials and handle construction extremely advanced, swords and sword-like weapons are ubiquitous on the modern battlefield; despite what you might have heard.

A bit of trivia... The search term "machete attack" brings up 205,000 results on a Google search.

YouTube has 197 videos with those related terms. Most of them attached to very violent video footage of criminal attacks utilizing machetes.

Google Images has 30,100 results in its database for the term “machete attack”.

The images are incredibly gruesome and cover the gambit from African civil war injuries, to people attacked in American and British suburbia.,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.&biw=1366&bih=568&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=iJgYULHIG4i49QT1rYGwBw

The product of a "machete attack" is always the same. Large wound channels and missing appendages, broken bones and destruction of the human structure.

Long blades are carried by an enormous amount of people on the modern battlefield. Some soldiers carry very large blades as an auxiliary weapon, utility tool and out of ammo melee weapon. One sees them hanging on pistol belts, attached to body armor and load bearing equipment, mounted on rucksacks, strapped inside vehicles, stuffed under seats, slid into desk drawers and mounted on walls.

Some notable modern organizations that claim to use sword like weapons are:

The Gurkhas (British, Nepalese, Indian, Singaporean)- Kukri

The Filipino Marines- The Ginunting Sword

Macheteros/Boricua Popular People's Army (Puerto Rico/ US & Latin America)- Machete

African Rebel Groups- Panga Machete/ Bush Knife

These weapons are still used on occasion and they instill esprit de corps, aggression and confidence in those that wield them. They instill fear and apprehension in those that face them.

The Sword (cutlass) was standard issue with the US Navy until 1949. The latest models being the 1917 Cutlass and the slightly modified 1941 Cutlass.

The sword was used extensively by international soldiers prior to and even during WW2.

"In the late afternoon, the commander of the 18th Lancer regiment, Col. K. Mastelarz, led two understrength squadrons in a raid behind the lines. Galloping out of the forest, they caught a German infantry battalion in the open and mounted a successful saber charge that decimated the startled German formation. Towards the end of the skirmish, several German armoured cars arrived and began firing at the mounted troops. About 20 troopers were killed including the commander before the cavalry could withdraw. The following day, Italian war correspondents were brought to the scene and were told that the troopers had been killed while charging tanks. The story became more embellished with every retelling, becoming a staple of German propaganda and the most enduring myth of the Polish campaign."
OSPREY'S Battles of World War II: Poland 1939 Germany's lightning strike, pages 42-43

Lt. Col. Jack Churchill, was known for carrying and using a Scottish Basket Hilt Sword during WW2, with his time in the British Commandos while fighting the Germans.

Allied special operations forces, such as the British SAS, the American OSS, The British SOE and Merrill's Marauders utilized all manner of sword like blades. Most notably, the Smatchet, designed by Col. William H. Fairbairn.

He was quoted on the Smatchet, remarking that,
"The psychological reaction of any man, when he first takes the smatchet in his hand is full justification for its recommendation as a fighting weapon. He will immediately register all the essential qualities of good soldier - confidence, determination, and aggressiveness. Its balance, weight and killing power, with the point, edge or pommel, combined with the extremely simple training necessary to become efficient in its use, make it the ideal personal weapon for all those not armed with a rifle and bayonet."
Col. William H. Fairbairn.

Colonel Fairbairn is remembered for designing a fair amount of long bladed combat cutlery. He designed a smaller version of the Smatchet dubbed the “Fairsword”. The “Fairbairn Cobra” is another radically shaped long bladed weapon designed by the Colonel for the Cypriot Police force in the 1950s.

A US Marine was reported to have killed an enemy with a Model 1941 cutlass at the battle of Incheon, Korea in 1950.

The British, it would seem, have utilized bayonets on many occasions, in modern conflict. The Falklands War, The 2nd Gulf War and the War in Afghanistan have all consisted of British soldiers yelling "fix bayonets!!!" and charging into enemy positions.

In May of 2004, twenty British Troops were ambushed in Al Amara, Iraq. They were forced to exit their vehicles and engage in a firefight with over 100 Shiite militiamen. After running low on ammunition, the British soldiers fixed bayonets and charged the militiamen. Twenty militiamen were listed as dead, with zero British casualties. The British also captured multiple prisoners. This is known as the Battle of Danny Boy, due to it taking place around a checkpoint of the same name.

This type of action shows that individuals armed with bladed weapons can defeat adversaries armed with modern firearms if the initiative and opportunity is present.

Bayonet engagements have been conducted by British troops in Afghanistan on more than one occasion. The Argyll and Southern Highlanders engaged insurgents in March of 2011, in a bayonet charge. The battle resulted in the death of four insurgents and the capture of two high value targets.

No, the bayonet is not a sword. It is actually more of a spear-like weapon, but the fighting dynamics and techniques are very similar. Western militaries still conduct basic training in bayonet fighting. Soldiers are taught basic stabbing, slashing and buttstroke attacks. The pugil stick is used as a training weapon for full contact sparring practice and live bayonets are used on a bayonet assault course, allowing the soldier to run and stab or slash and smash at training dummies.

Fighting men will always carry their blades…

In July of 2010, a Gurkha soldier beheaded a dead Taliban in order to retrieve identification of the High Value Target (HVT) when he came under heavy fire and was attempting to evacuate the corpse. The Gurkha was investigated and cleared of any wrong doing.
Daily Mail UK

United States special operations forces were mentioned in military press's reports carrying swords and riding on horseback alongside the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, during the first engagements with the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

``In Afghanistan, a country we think of in somewhat medieval terms, our special forces have taken a page from the past, from the history of the horse cavalry with our soldiers armed with swords and rifles, maneuvering on horseback.''
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz

The famed Gurkha, Bishnu Shrestha was awarded the Sena Medal for bravery in India, after foiling a train robbery in September 2010, being committed by 40 armed bandits. He killed three men and injured eight after intervening with his Kukri.

The Filipino Marines train extensively in the use of the Ginunting sword and carry them on operations against Muslim Insurgent groups in both jungle and maritime environments. The Filipino Marines specifically train in the art of Pekiti Tirsia Kali. Pekiti Tirsia is a blade based fighting style that focuses on footwork, attack angles and targeted attacks. The Filipino Marines take this training very seriously and commit a large amount of training time to it.

Swords are used often in criminal attacks. Psychotics on sword rampages, criminal gangs beheading the competition, domestic quarrels resulting in assaults with "decorative" swords are all very common in all countries.

On May 21, 1938 a 21 year old man massacred 30 people with a Japanese sword, an axe and a shotgun. It was listed as the worlds 2nd worst massacre by an individual until 1982. This man's civilian gun license had been revoked, so he gathered swords and guns in secret. He killed himself with the shotgun. This is a shining example of the failure of weapon registrations and weapon bans, as swords had been illegal in Japan since the abolishment of the carrying of swords in 1876, during the Meiji Restoration.

CNN reported that in April of 2012, a man killed four people and wounded three with a "sword" in the small town of Kulcs, Hungary. It occurred during a family argument. The attack was described as "brutal".

According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, In June of 2012, a man in St. Louis cut another man's arm "to the bone" leaving a five inch "chunk" missing from the victim's upper arm.

Swords are frequently utilized in modern acts of self defense.

The Baltimore Sun reported in September of 2009, a Johns Hopkins student named John Pontolillo, using a "samurai sword" to defend himself during a home robbery. He killed 49-year old Donald Rice in his garage after being lunged at by the intruder. He severed the man's hand and the assailant bled to death at the scene. Mr. Pontolillo was not charged with any wrong doing.

Although it is fiction, one is hard pressed not to mention Bruce Willis (Butch) using the katana to slay Maynard and rescue Marsellus from Zed and the Gimp in the Pulp Fiction Pawn Shop scene. The idea is valid. You have to use what you have at hand to survive. If that means picking up a sword to save your ass. Do it!

Incidents of people picking up swords and sword- like tools to defend themselves happens more often than one would think. The Internet is filled with news articles and videos of people defending themselves with swords against criminal attack and even wild animals. Store owners, housewives and grandmothers picking up swords and fighting back against criminal attackers.

The sword is fearsome, and using it is an extremely violent prospect. The injuries are gruesome and the techniques are brutal. Using a sword takes effort and fortitude.

The use of the Panga as a tool of war in Africa is prolific and horrific. The "Mau Mau" conflict in Kenya is noted for being a famous example of this. The panga is used by all rebel groups and tribal groups to fight, riot, murder, interrogate, torture and execute. The image of the amputated arm, leg, hand and foot is used as a tool of terror. The machete was a symbol of the Rwandan genocide that occurred in 1994. The threat of mutilation and death by sword is very real in areas of civil war and tribal conflict in Africa.

African soldiers, anti-poachers and bushmen all use long bladed tools to cut through the vegetation on jungle patrol operations.

American soldiers carry all sorts of long knives, Bowie's, kukris and machetes, depending on their unit’s policy and commander's orders.

The author has personally carried a Regimental Kukri, an Ontario Raider Bowie and a K-Bar, while serving as a soldier and later as a contractor. There have been plenty of times when my only option for arming myself in a non-permissive-environment was with a big knife.

Depending on weapon issue logistics, travel requirements and contract stipulations, a big knife may be my only choice in force multiplication as a military contractor. I have slept in tents with Iraqis of unknown origin, while carrying no guns. But you bet I slept with that big Bowie in my hands.

I have used a machete to chop through brush and clear hide sites on rural surveillance assignments both in law enforcement and the private sector.

Not to suggest that swords should be standard issue to soldiers or that sword combat is the way of the future, but the fact is, swords and sword-like weapons are on the battlefield. They are on the street. You may end up facing one. You could end up using one if it is your only option. Combat comes in many forms. It's not all mortar rounds and machine-guns. Sometimes it's snoozing next to bad guys when you can't get a gun.

Sword skills transfer to all hand held weapons. The techniques used to manipulate a sword utilize efficient footwork, strategic body positioning and aggressive targeting dynamics. Knowing the sword is a good skill for the modern warrior.

Sword training instills the basics. The fighting stance, angles, footwork, threat avoidance and threat awareness are easily integrated and conceptually translated directly to the pistol, rifle, knife, club and empty hand methods of the modern fighter.

Just like a soldier learns to march and move in formation the same as the ancient Roman legions did, the modern warrior will benefit from learning the way of the sword.

Why should the modern warrior train and carry a sword? The short answer is: The modern warrior will no doubt encounter long bladed weapons in modern combat, regardless of his job. He may use them as tools, see them carried by foreign soldiers and even face them in the hands of his adversaries. The modern soldier or policeman may face a riotous mob wielding machetes and farm implements. The infantry soldier may face insurgents that threaten to behead him with their culture's symbol of war. The sword. A city policeman may encounter a relic wielding murderer or a crazed wakazashi wielding wife.

Furthermore, fighting organizations rally around symbols of their strength. The sword is a perfect rallying symbol for the modern commander to use to motivate his troops and instill pride, confidence and a warrior spirit.

Swords are efficient weapons. They kill by stabbing, chopping, slicing and smashing. Certain modern designs are nearly indestructible. They are silently deployed and cause no telltale signature of use. They can be concealed on the body just as well or better than a sub machine-gun and fit in a suitcase, duffle bag, briefcase or backpack. The short sword in a kydex sheath is very thin and fits easily strapped to a  rucksack or other pack. They can be zip-tied to the inside of vehicle doors, attached to seats and secreted in hidden spots for clandestine emergency use.

Swords can easily be hidden on the body or in everyday items, such as canes and umbrellas. An assassin could use an improvised sword-like device, disguised as part of a leg brace, rail of a food cart or even as a piece of stage equipment, to smuggle a lethal weapon close to a high risk protectee; and then utilize it against his target with security none the wiser until it is too late. Disguised and improvised long blades, could be a very deadly thing to deal with for a security detail. Especially if that detail has been forbidden to carry weapons in the environment they are operating in and most especially if the attacker is a trained swordsman with a planned escape.

On December 7th, 1972 Imelda Marcos, the First Lady of the Philippines, was attacked by an assassin wielding a bolo knife with a blade measuring nearly 15 inches long in length. The attacker, Carlito Dimahilig hid the blade in his sleeve as he approached the First Lady, presumably to receive an award. The First Lady intercepted the blade and received lacerations on her hands and arms requiring 75 stitches. The attack was foiled by a large group of onlookers and the assassin was executed by security police.

A modern combat sword would need to be both a weapon and a tool.

The modern sword should have a blade point capable of penetrating body armor to reach vital organs and robust enough to avoid being blunted or broken with hard use.

The blade length should be short enough to be used efficiently in close quarters or inside structures. The modern combat sword would no doubt be classified as a short sword. A weapon of around 27 inches overall length would be ideal for most sword situations a modern warrior may find himself in.

A full tang, one piece design is certainly essential for ease of construction, strength and modular use as an improvised survival spear by attaching a field expedient shaft.

The handle or grip should be nondescript and look like a tool, in order to go unnoticed on a modern combat load.
The ideal modern combat sword would consist of a weapon thick and strong enough to use as a light pry bar and extraction device, versatile enough to be used as a tool and rugged enough to be used to dig with or clear brush. It should have a glass breaking device, saw-like serrations around the mid length point and a pry bar tip built in. A seat belt and cord cutter would be useful as well. A readily available hammering surface can come in handy when performing field expedient chores and equipment maintenance.

A modern sword should have a guard that will be large enough to keep the hand from sliding down the blade, yet small enough not to interfere with other equipment or get tangled in gear. Every inch and every ounce counts.

The sheath should be constructed of kydex and it should be nondescript with no blade outline or imprint to give away its contents. The sheath should have grommet holes for attachment points, a water drain hole at the bottom and it should be as slim as possible. The modern sword sheath should be able to easily attach to modern military equipment like MOLLE and PALS. The sword sheath should have the ability to be carried discreetly on a rucksack and be able to quickly detach and reattach to the soldier's personal load bearing equipment (LBE). Carrying the sword in this way would allow the soldier to keep the sword out of the way and out of sight, until needed. Then he could carry it in his hand sheathed or attach it to his belt or LBE for active use.

Long blades or swords are vicious and deadly implements under the right circumstances and in the hands of someone trained in their use. Swords and sword-like tools are common in the modern world, whether it's on the battlefield or in the modern urban home setting. Being familiar with managing a sword attack and utilizing a sword could save your life and it will help you to deal with other weapons.                                                   
Sword training imparts skills that translate to other weapons such as firearms, knives, sticks and empty hands. The sword is the legacy of the human warrior. It should be respected, understood and remembered as a weapon of lethal capabilities. The way of the sword, is the way of the warrior.

Bryan M. Seaver

Bryan Seaver, Nashville, TN.


  1. UPDATE:


  3. Two South African Police hacked to pieces by machete wielding mob.

  4. I wrote this article and posted it on August 1st and by the 16th of August there was an extreme example of one of the very scenarios that I put forth on the subject.

    "The modern soldier or policeman may face a riotous mob wielding machetes and farm implements."

  5. One thing people SERIOUSLY MISTAKE is how a effective a sword, long or short, can be in the hands of a trained swordsman. A trained swordsman has full respect and control of the weapon. Loss of limb only happens in the cases of untrained people because a trained swordsman or master swordsman has no need to cause loss of limb. Also a sword can only be effective in close combat against a pistol because of the speed of the bullets, that is, without the protection of some kind of deployable mechanical shield to absorb the impact of the bullets.