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Sword Buyers Digest - April 2012
April 01, 2012

Paul Southren It’s been a pretty busy month in March, and right now we are smack bang in the middle of accepting orders for our extremely popular SBG custom Katana so it’s all hands on deck here at the moment!

But fear not digest readers, the digest goes out no matter what – and I hope you will enjoy our video of the month selection, the return of Moniteur Drew Tharps column with an article on sparring swords and the usual mix of sharp and pointy mayhem!


1. From the Desk of Paul Southren
2. Featured Article: So You Want a Sparring Sword?
3. Best Forum Posts
4. Video of the Month: Katana vs Longsword


It's definitely been a busy month, and in April - or at least for the next few days - it's custom katana time again!

SBG Customs

SBG Customs

With batch 18 (some of them pictured above - and somewhat delayed due to the Chinese new year) having finally been completed and leaving the forge, it's time for us to collect and batch another round of designs, and late last month we added some additional optional extras by popular request..

The first of these options is one we had been doing on occasion unofficially - and that is a tsuka extension or blade extension (but not both, as the sword sticks out too much to the batched properly if we do both!).

SBG Customs

SBG Customs

The second is a selection of some additional 80 tsuba that we can source if so desired. They aren't anything all that fancy (just basic alloy due to the limitations of our price point) but the variety is staggering. Below are some really unusual and cool designs from the selection.

SBG Customs

Both of these options are explained in detail in the newly revitalized SBG custom katana blog which has been where most of the activity this month has been directed.

Anyway, as we already rapidly taking orders I do not think will be able to hold this batch open for very much longer, so if you have missed out before want to get in on this batch, you need to do it quickly (these darn swords are too popular for their own good, but I must admit actually get rather excited when I see some of the designs coming in).

I'd also like to take a moment to introduce a new member of the SBG store team, Karyn Thomas, who will be helping process the orders and minimize the time it takes for me to actually batch them and get them to the forge. So far, things are running pretty smoothly – check the SBG custom katana blog for updates! (you can subscribe to it to get emailed everytime an update is made).

A quick update on the pending upgrade of the Manufacturers and Vendors section: this has been delayed slightly due to some difficulties with coding the forum to do exactly what we need it to do. However it has also taken a slightly different direction – the news page mentioned in last month’s issue will actually be on our sister site, which will be getting a major facelift and upgrade across the board.

The changes to the forum will happen first though and they are quite exciting. There will be new easy to follow classifications of manufacturers and vendors, a new ‘customizers corner’ and many new manufacturers and vendors joining. But it will all ‘gel’ together with the integrated SMG site..

I’ve often read that many people consider SBG to be a ‘bit dated’ – but by making SMG much more ‘now’ and keeping SBG as the ‘parent’ site, I think the end result will be quite dynamic (at least, that’s the plan!).

LOTS more coming over the next few months and into the year, so stay tuned!!

FEATURE ARTICLE: So You Want a Sparring Sword?
Moniteur Andrew (Drew) Tharp

No matter who is reading this – WMA enthusiasts, fencers, Iaidoka, Kendoka, or just plain ol’ backyard cutters, we have probably all wondered about how to equip ourselves for sparring. This is a difficult question, because inevitably you will have to sacrifice some kind of realism for the experience. Modern Fencing and Kendo seem to have figured out pretty good systems, but historical fencers are still trying to find a system that gives them a good approximation of realism, but still allows opponents to walk home at the end of the day.

I want to advocate for a new standard, as well as review a new concept on the market.

This last semester I was a in a unique position. I will soon be leaving my post as Senior Fencing Instructor at Indiana University, and I decided that I wanted to try something completely different for my final semester. I approached the Martial Arts Program Director, who had been telling me for the last few years that he would really like to expand the WMA section of the program, and mentioned that I might like to test out the curriculum I had been developing. This curriculum was based on the works of Johannes Liechtenauer and Joachim Meyer’s book “The Art of Combat.” Specifically, I wanted to trade out the intermediate fencing class for a class focused on historical German Longsword.

We contemplated it a bit and decided that it would be worthwhile to continue. There was some question as to whether the insurance would cover our risky endeavor, but hey, fencing is fencing… right?

Sparring Swords

After getting approval, I began to plan what, to my knowledge, would be the first collegiate German Longsword class in the country. The absolute first question on any instructor’s mind should be safety. How can I make my class both safe and accomplish whatever other goals I have set (realism, fun, intense bouting, conditioning, etc.)? In addition, I had an additional complication of cost. I had to sell this class, and it would be difficult if I told the students that after registering, they would be looking at $750 for armor, and even more weapons.

The fact of the matter is, if you want to have as many students as possible, you can’t ask them all to equip themselves with full plate and Albion blunts. I did have some advantage though, as all of the students had a full set of dry (non-electric) fencing equipment that they had to purchase the semester before hand, so they each had a mask – the most essential piece of safety equipment.

I asked CAS Hanwei if they had any suggestions. Our first thought was to go with their Federschwert. It would allow for full speed sparring, but I was a little worried about burring, shrapnel, and breakage. Then Mr. Pogue suggested that I should take a look at their new line of Synthetic Sparring Swords.

I was a little skeptical of how “plastic” would be anywhere near realistic and how they would work in sparring. I wanted this to be a very serious study of several old manuscripts, so I wondered about the “plastic” swords. I had thought of some other ideas. I didn’t like wasters because they were too stiff – a well places thrust from a waster can put quite a damper on your day. In addition, I didn’t like steel because of the aforementioned problems with nicking and breaking, as well as the fact that we would be very lightly armored. I wanted to avoid SCA style rattan because I feel like it is too far removed from the style of a real sword, and does not have a realistic point of balance.

CAS Hanwei was kind enough to send me a couple of their new synthetics for a trial run. I was impressed. They felt realistic, and they had the general shape of a steel sword. In addition, they had a nice point of balance and even a realistic point of percussion. They are very flexible in the upper third, which allows you to thrust without fear of injuring your opponent.

I have found that students, especially beginners, have a tendency to pull their blows if they are frightened to hurt their opponents. These sparring swords almost completely eliminated that problem.

There were still safety issues to contend with, masks don’t have back neck guards, and the jackets were not quite thick enough. I allowed to students to wear whatever they wanted, but they had to have significant hand protection. Some had true metal gauntlets from armored sparring; others had kendo kote, and everyone else used some form of lacrosse, hockey, or motorcycle gloves.

Sparring Swords

I am not saying these sparring swords are feather-light and good for no armor; they MUST be used with at least a mask and gloves. In fact, most of my students opted for some other armor in addition (especially motorcycle jackets with plastic padding), but fencing equipment can be easily and cheaply used. In addition, the swords themselves were cheap. Federschwerts were going to be rather expensive, but these synthetics were easily affordable for most people who wanted to take the class.

In the end, I was very impressed by the swords. They are no replacement for steel (they exhibited the infamous “waster bounce”), but they are a great alternative for a large group of students who do not have a lot to invest in initial equipment. They are a delight to spar with and work well for partnered drills such as winding and masterstroke practice. You will likely get bruised up, but they (in my opinion) are better than wasters and cheaper than steel. I feel that they are the ideal weapon for sparring on a large scale.

I would advocate that they replace wasters as a beginner’s tool and sparring weapon. Every fencing instructor or beginner ought to pick up a few of these, a little armor, and give it a try. This is the first time I have seen a product which would feasibly allow an individual to train realistically for cheaply. I would guess that a complete kit with sword, plastic styled armor, a mask, and gloves could be attained for less than $200. Pretty good when you think about it!

While CAS Hanwei has the cheapest available, and in addition, I would guess that they would do well with Lancelot Chan’s Realistic Sparring Weapons. I was very satisfied with their durability, and imagine that mine will last at least another year or two. So if you want something a little bit fancier after a year or two, I think you can upgrade without leaving your old weapons behind (I’ll be looking into a RSW Grossemesser here soon)!

Good Luck!

By Moniteur Andrew (Drew) Tharp – Drew is the Senior Fencing Instructor at Indiana University, has a Certification in Martial Arts from IU, and has been collecting swords since the late 90’s. He currently practices Longsword, Iaido, and Tai Chi Chuan in addition to Fencing.

Finn and Fuller


It might not be the most elegant or ‘highbrow’ video on youtube about the Japanese Katana vs the Euroepan Longsword – but with R. Lee Emery (Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket) as the narrator and primary sword tester, even if it is a bit in the ‘Katana rah rah rah’ corner, it is an amusing watch.

Youtube vid of the Month

YouTube Video of the Month

In my opinion, it’s worth watching even if only to see the slow mo footage of a Katana cutting a solid block of ice – just to see how much stress the blade goes through is eye-opening!

Well, that’s it for this issue – it is slightly shorter than usual as coordinating batch 18 and processing new orders for batch 19 of the custom Katana meant that we had to wrap it up just a bit earlier than usual, but I hope you still enjoyed it.

Talk to you all again in May, in the meantime happy swordening!

Paul Southren

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