9 Big Impacts of the Sword in History

Medieval Swordfighting by Undermound: Sword fighting and the sword are intertwined with human struggle and the warrior ethos.  We commemorate this weapon.  We show awe in its power.  Hell, we’re even mystified by its forging.  The sword has impacted human history to this very day.  Without its place, people, organizations, and ideas would not have come of age, in the way that they did.

In fact, there’s a lesson in its impact throughout human history for the athlete and coach:  Use tools to meet an end, not as an end in itself.  Many times we treat certain exercises or training protocols as godsends that everything else must be shaped around.  When in reality, these things are suppose to help reach a desired end.

LINK:  Stop Looking at the Trees, You Tree Hugger!

With that, come join on a trek through time, of 9 prolific moments in history where the sword made an impact.

  1. Inspired Miyamoto Musashi

Musashi is a man you cannot help but mention when you talk about great swordsmen.  He wasn’t just a master swordsman.  He was THE master.  In one of his most famous duels, Musashi was challenged by a fellow legendary samurai, Sasaki Kojiro.  They were to fight in a battle to the death in 1612 on a small sandbar between two of Japan’s southern islands.

Now you might imagine Musashi to be the typical, strictly-disciplined, community-oriented, samurai warrior.  That was not the case.  For a samurai who would travel alone, trying to improve his combat skills, he was the longest surviving.  Not only that, unlike the typical samurai, Musashi would eat a lot, was very unkempt in his appearance, and would use a wooden sword or bokken to do most of his combat.

The Book of Five Rings (五輪書, Go Rin No Sho) is a text on kenjutsu and the martial arts in general, written by the swordsman Miyamoto Musashi (宮本 武蔵) circa 1645. http://papasteves.com:

Compare that to his opponent, Kojiro, who was considered a sword fighting prodigy and merciless in combat.  These are the words that people used to describe Kojiro:

“His eyes shot fire”

“A blood thirsty flame burned in his pupils, like rainbows of fierce intensity, seeking to terrify and debilitate…”

The best fighter for his warlord, Hoskoawa Tadatoshi, Kojiro’s abilities were almost superhuman especially with his mastery of the deadly sword counter, tsubame-gaeshi or “swallow counter”. The move’s up-and-down slashing movement was so quick that it reminded onlookers of the whirling flight of a swallow bird.

With that, it was a battle to the death between the pilgrim-warrior, Musashi, and the bloodthirsty sword-prodigy, Kojiro.  Interesting, on the day of their duel, Kojiro waited hours for Musashi to arrive.  Musashi had overslept and had to quickly run to the boat that would take him to the duelling location.  He napped on the way, only in mid-trip realizing he didn’t’ have a sword.  Realizing this, he began whittling a spare oar on the boat and then went back to sleep.

When he arrived, he faced off against Kojiro.  The two commenced fighting, with Musashi using his wooden sword against his opponents steel blade.  In one crucial encounter, Kojiro tried to use his deadly swallow counter, but as soon as Kojiro began his deadly blow, Musashi jumped in a war-cry and forced his sword with all his force onto Kojiro’s head.  Kojiro’s skull cracked and the ribbon tying Musashi’s hair back flew away, severed.

Kojiro sank to the ground while Musashi quickly bowed to the others watching, and got back on his boat.

When it comes to being prepared - "The approach to combat and everyday life should be the same.":

Soon after, Musashi gave up duelling, ending a career of over sixty victories.  He retired into isolation where he began writing his famous book on strategy called Go Rin No Sho or The Book of Five Rings.  This book, is used to this day, as an inspiration for business strategy in the corporate world.

  1. Made the Cultural epic, Star Wars Amazing

Many see Star Wars as a cultural icon on a global scale.  What would star wars be without the great duels of laser swords?

Star wars is based closely using the words of Dr. Campbell in his Hero with a Thousand Faces, which compiles themes and motifs across cultures for thousands of years.  Knowing that George Lucas took heavily from Campbell’s research, can show us how culturally important the sword is to a duel of good versus evil, of justice against oppression, and of hope against darkness.

66 photos prises dans les coulisses de Star Wars V – L’empire contre-attaque:

In fact, the movies even show a disdain that came about in societies for guns which were tools that represented “cheating” and “poor-sportsmanship” compared to the “pure” sword.  Obi-Wan Kenobi, one of the main characters of Star Wars, even describes his one-time use of a blaster as being “so uncivilized. “

Bringing sword fighting to a cultural epic really displays how important this tool is to our human identity.  In fact, the producers of the Star Wars franchise would go on to employ Bob Anderson, the real Darth Vader-master duelist, in the series’ creation.  Anderson started fencing while with the Royal marines and would become national champion three times.  He would also reach the quarter finals at the Helsinki Olympics and had begun coaching, where he really shined.

He’d go on to establish a successful career as a fencing coach, making successive Olympic appearances with his athletes.  However, it’s when he was introduced to Hollywood sword fighting that he further expanded his legacy as a fencing instructor.  Going through several movies such as: Ballantrae, Moonraker, The Dark Avenger, and Crossed Swords, Anderson would become a legendary figure in movie-sword-fighting.

Image result for bob anderson

He even had the chance to don the Darth Vader suit and duel Mark Hamill in the powerful battle between Luke and his soon-to-be-revealed father, in Empire Strikes Back.  Anderson was reported to have been selected due to the extreme challenge for the proposed duellist in the scene.   Having to wear a suit with poor visibility and steam-heavy movie set, Anderson’s legendary expertise was called to the task.  It was a tasteful display of a master swordsman taking on the role of the galaxy’s fiercest swordfighter!

  1. Helped Napolean find his wife and a new general

On a personal note, Napoleon hated duelling.  He was upset at the number of high caliber officers that he would lose due to the foolish display of bravado and sensitive egos in such events.  Yet, the sword proved crucial to his fate.

Now Napoleon was known for being an impeccable strategist as well as a hard worker who rose above army xenophobia.  However he was also a great opportunist and those who have opportunist perspectives often have luck fall upon them.

Napoleon is often represented in his green colonel uniform of the Chasseur à Cheval of the Imperial Guard, the regiment that often served as his personal escort, with a large bicorne and a hand-in-waistcoat gesture —a reference to the painting produced in 1812 by Jacques-Louis David. During the Napoleonic Wars he was taken seriously by the British press as a dangerous tyrant, poised to invade. He was often referred to by the British as Boney.:

Napoleon was at one point a junior officer, presiding over a militia force.  A boy had approached him in regards to the unjust execution of the boys’ father, asking Napoleon to hear his case and return a family heirloom to him.  Napoleon complied and handed the boy back his father’s sword.  As fate would have it, the boy’s mother would meet with Napoleon.  This was the first time Napoleon would meet his future wife, Josephine.

Now aside from a love story, Napoleon’s relationship with Josephine would bring a second, turn of good fortune.  Jean-Louise, a mulatto from Haiti was taken in b y the regiment’s fencing master, M. D’Erape and would grow to be a fearsome duellist.  Winning countless bouts and serving as a loyal officer to Napoleon throughout the general’s exploits, Jean-Louis made a name for himself as a fencer.  In such a way, Napolean’s sword led him to find love and also the hero of his newly formed army.

  1. The Sword Revealed Georges Clemenceau’s Aggressive Personality

Mr. Clemenceau was known as a rabble-rouser and a real gung-ho type of man.  In effect his personality may have detrimentally caused harsher terms during the Paris Peace Conference after World War 1, leading to tougher conditions on Germany, and creating the circumstances for the rise of the Nazi party.

Clemenceau actively displayed his bravado though his addiction to dueling with sabre and pistols.  He was also a public figure that known for his fiery and radical rhetoric.  Of note, the Chambers of Deputies of the French government said of three things to fear of Clemenceau:  His sword, his pistols, and his tongue.  No wonder he was called “The Tiger.”

The badasses of the treaty of Versailles-- The "big three" - Prime Minister David Lloyd George of the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau of France, and President Woodrow Wilson of the United States.:
Clemenceau in the middle

“I cannot speak like Clemenceau and Deroulede, for their words are like echoes of their pistols..”

American journalist Wyte Williams described Clemenceau’s fencing as “The adversaries who dared face the point of his sword had no chance,” writes Williams with evident admiration.  “He delighted in first disarming them with a flashing but terrific coup en seconde, the most powerful blow in swordplay, almost paralyzing the arm.  The Tiger would laugh, mockingly, and bow while waiting for the weapon to be retrieved.

Then he would flick his opponent in a part of the anatomy of his own choosing.  He would perform the operation delicately, with just enough damage for the satisfaction of honor, and the termination of the affair.”

It’s easy to imagine the impact that such a personality would have to strip Germany (for a war that France was just as responsible for) at the Paris Peace Conference.  It was this old-school perspective of preserving honor that that Clemenceau took unapologetically into World War 1, sending millions of men to fight in the name of “honor”.

 

  1. Helped George S. Patton fight WW2

"Document everything, leave nothing to chance... because one day, some cockroach will crawl up out of the latrine and deny all this ever happened, God Damn Them." - Gen. George Patton, spoken during visit to Buchenwald.: We know George Patton as the great American general of the Second World War.  A bit of an ego, yes, but he was a very talented field commander, conquering Sicily in 38 days.  He would also attend West Point in 1909, and although fencing was part of the curriculum, he would develop a fascination for the broadsword, even starting a club. In his opinion, sword fighting was a skill that was essential for any military officer.

In fact, he wasn’t just passionate about the sword.  Patton was an excellent duellist, becoming the top of his class.  That combined with the skills in rifling, swimming, and a year of football, would make him a proposed candidate to compete in the Olympic pentathlon in 1912.

Image result for george patton duelling

Patton would prepare vigorously for his Olympic debut in Stockholm, Sweden.  In fact, he was reported to consume a diet of raw steaks and salads.  Unfortunately his rigorous training proved fruitless in performance, as he scored miserably, coming in 21st place.

However, Patton looked at the experience on a positive note, as he was able to meet and befriend several high-caliber fencers.  In fact, he drew so much inspiration from his time at Stockholm that he would go on to re-design the US Cavalry Sword, with its own army manual for its use.

 

  1. Remained a Societal Icon even in the Industrial Age

Now a tale that began to arise in 19th century Europe, was the story of The Three Brothers, published by the Brothers Grimm.  This story underlies the importance of the sword in society at the time.  Published in 1812, a time of rising popularity of fencing and swordsmanship in Europe, The Three Brothers, was a story of a man who couldn’t chose which of his three sons should inherit the family home. To find out, he comes up with a plan:

At last a plan came into his head, and he said to his sons, “Go into the world, and try each of you to learn a trade, and, when you all come back, he who makes the best masterpiece shall have the house.” The sons were satisfied with this; and the eldest determined to be a blacksmith, the second a barber, and the third a fencing-master. They fixed a time when they should all come home again, and then each went his way.

The three sons came back to their father after some time and after gaining mastery of their skills.  The first becomes a blacksmith while the second, a barber.  The third goes off to become a sword-master.  When they return to their father, he is equally impressed by the barber and blacksmith.

Image result for brothers grimm three brothers

However, what the father finds truly remarkable is when the third son, uses his expert swordsmanship to deflect the rain that starts to fall.  He lets not one drop fall on him.   With that, the father decides to give the house to his youngest son.  The story is a reflection of how swordfighting and mastery of a sword was an incredibly prized quality to possess.

  1. Made James Naismith more famous

If you know the name, James Naismith, automatically, basketball pops up into your mind.  Naismith was the father of modern basketball.  Having been put to the task of coming up with indoor recreation for the boys’ school that he ran, Naismith came up with what would become the modern sport of basketball.

James Naismith, the inventor of basketball - 1891:

However, did you also know that he helped popularize collegiate fencing in America?  Yup.  While at the university of Kansas, Naismith would help fan the growing flame of fencing in America.  He’d spend the rest of his teaching career as a fencing instructor (among other sports).  In fact, Naismith himself was a great duellist as well.  At the age of 75, Naismith would duel a student of his and win.  Not only that, the student he faced used a broadsword while Naismith would best his student with only a yardstick;  A modern day Miyamoto Musashi.

  1. Empowered Benito Mussolini to Make Italy a Powerhouse

Mussolini is remembered as the brutal fascist leader of Italy.  He was especially fond of fencing although he was described as having no grace in the sport.  To keep up with the macho image that came with someone determined to lead a totalitarian leadership, Mussolini would duel everyone and anyone.  Whether it be under a bridge, or in a cleared out apartment, Mussolini could not tolerate others seeing him as weak.

It was with that notion that Mussolini really pushed Italy into fencing on the international stage.  In the 16 years leading up to 1935, Mussolini’s emphasis on the sport, encouraged Italy to win twenty-four gold, 27 silver, and fourteen bronze medals on the European, world, and Olympic stages.

  1. Exposed Karl Marx to Revolutionary Thought

Marx, the co-author of The Communist Manifesto and considered the father of modern communism, started to fence at the University of Bonn.  It was under the tutelage of the French revolutionary, Emmanuel Bartheleny that Marx would develop his fierce fighting style and see a flourishing of his radical thoughts.  Bartheleny exposed Marx to first-hand accounts of revolution which would eventually help Marx publish his book, The Class Struggles in France.

Karl Marx Rolling stones:

Wilhelm Liebkrecht, a colleague of Marx, described Marx’s politics just like his fencing, “What he [Marx] lacked in science he tried to make up in aggressiveness.”  Liebkrecht would describe Marx further as someone who rarely heard the opinions of others and who regularly called upon his anger to end opposing arguments.

Later on, Marx and his teacher had a falling out over a duel situation.  One of Marx’s close friends was shot and Bartheleny was in support of the opposition.  In fact, after this incident, Marx would inevitably end his duelling career.  In a way he would go back to his original thesis that he made, 10 years prior to meeting his fencing instructor:

The principal thesis {of political economy] is the renunciation of life and of human needs.  The less you eat, think, buy books, go to the theatre or to balls, or to the public house, and the less you think, love, theorise, sing, paint, fence etc, the more you will be able to save [and] the greater will become your treasure which neither moth nor rust will corrupt —your capital.

old school:

Conclusions

From these examples, we see the different uses of the sword by the person, either intentional or unintentional.  The tool was used to accomplish a task.  Now we’re not necessarily saying that your squatting is going to cure cancer, but we’re not saying that it won’t, either.  Inspiration is definitely something that can be a goal that a physical tool can help create.  The point is that, a tool can be used for many desired and accidental outcomes.  Don’t let the tool define you.  Use the tool to define your vision.

 

 

For more:

The Brother’s Grimm The Three Brothers

http://brilliantmaps.com/ww1-casualties/

By the Sword:  A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions by Richard Cohen

Paris 1919:  Six Months that Changed the World 

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