Why Collect Swords?
By John Clements
You can hold heritage in your heart, but with a sword you have history in your hand
For those who know, collecting swords goes far beyond having a mere costume accessory, wall
decoration, or impractical curiosity. It really isn’t all that difficult to grasp (pardon the pun) how
a given combination of blade and handle can result in a distinct type of weapon. With variation
of length, width, shape and curvature, they will produce differences when slashing, cleaving,
stabbing, or warding. Even among swords of similar types they may have such functionally
different handles, pommels, and guards that produce significant dissimilarity in how they can be
employed. Just considering hilts alone reveals much about a sword’s particular manner of being
Looking at changes in styles of fencing from the 15th and 16th centuries to the 18th and 19th
speaks volumes about the alterations cut-and-thrust-sword designs underwent. Earlier methods of
swordsmanship used counterstrikes to ward off blows and employed considerable half-swording
techniques as well as substantial grappling. They went up against a tremendous array of arms and
armors under diverse fighting conditions. Later styles by contrast lost much of these things and
instead relied on retrograde static blocking with far less dynamic footwork —employed in a far
smaller realm of combat necessity.
Without certain experiences though, it's difficult to obtain a deeper appreciation of how similar
though different swords perform. I believe the simple explanation for why this occurs is due to
knowledge gaps in a few key areas. Most sword enthusiasts do not get to handle and work with a
wide variety of quality replica blades of different types to consider their attributes first hand.
They also don't get to examine authentic specimens of different types (let alone of the same type)
—and certainly not to vigorously exercise with them. Equally unfortunate is that few students of
the subject today get to practice with sharp versions of different swords and perform significant
cutting exercise on realistic target materials (or at least long enough for it to teach anything of
real value). And, despite all the practice and all the sparring, most enthusiasts don't get to
forcefully cross steel blades with experienced practice partners who can effectively employ the
differences among various sword types. If these hands-on lessons are not acquired one way or
another, what is remains is something no less important: history and heritage.
But admiration for the lore of the sword
is found not only in knowing origins and purpose. It's
found in its heft. You know it when you raise one to feel its weight, sense its balance, judge its
length, estimate its reach, and find its centers of rotation or percussion. It is here that every
enthusiast of the sword comes together regardless of whatever effort they make in studying
fencing or learning how swords were once used. Collecting a specimen, appreciating its unique
design, admiring its austere beauty and deadly craftsmanship is something we all share. This love
of the sword, this respect for its iconic symbolism, comes from discovering the virtues of
different designs from different ages, regions, and cultures. Yet only truly begins by acquiring
swords. Gaining one leads you to compare and contrast it with another and another and another,
achieving insight and appreciation with each new acquisition.
As one learns how they were gripped, how they could be held, what motions they encouraged
and what actions they facilitated, our mind is opened to them as something more than practical
fighting tools or obsolete objects. Own one and it's mostly a curiosity. Own another and just like
that you now have started a "collection." It can grow in whatever direction you find appealing;
perhaps even finding in time that one which most “speaks to you” —matching your personal
disposition and temperament more than any other. That’s the way it is with swords. They were
always personal weapons their owners identified with. The legacy and wonder of the sword is
found not in its cultural or historical importance as an implement or artifact, but in what it means
. It all begins by first having a blade to call your own. That’s why we collect swords.