The Flashing Blade

The Flashing Blade was a cheesy Euro-drama – made in France, and later dubbed into English – that I absolutely adored during… I guess it would have been the late 70s? Rapiers, damsels in distress, noble heroes and wicked baddies, as many swashes being buckled as you like… Ahhhhh, it was all so simple then…

Anyway, two slightly different points of view:

Maija at Sword and Circle says:

So much of why you do what you do, especially the way you hold the weapon and the way it moves in space comes down to blade and handle design and how that ‘interacts’ with human anatomy.

Over at Internal Kung Fu, Nicholas Waller* writes:

When Yang Lu-chan popularised tai chi by teaching it to the Manchu Emperor’s palace guards, he probably taught sword forms.
Because in 1850 it may have been a well-used weapon in China.
Yang Lu-chan’s purpose in teaching sword would have been for self defence, for viable, practical martial purposes.

150 years later…
In the UK nobody carries a sword.
You are unlikely to be attacked by a sword and you are unlikely to be carrying a sword yourself.
The police are not happy with members of the public owning or using swords.


We do not teach the broadsword as a self defence tool. Sifu Waller has no interest in training or teaching sword forms and drills.


Clearly, these two points of view agree on the basics; the sword forms of taiji, bagua, and xingyi were developed by people who lived in dangerous times and needed to perfect weapon forms for their own survival. The question is: do these forms have any meaningful purpose today, or are they just an historical legacy that’s beautiful in its own right but – due to social and technological changes – now obsolete.


I wrote a year or two ago about the Sikh martial art of gatka. That came to mind as I heard about one of the stories from the recent riots in England, where the Sikhs of Enfield came out to defend their gurdwara.

Personally, I’ve got a lot of time for Sikhs, having known them in Singapore. Watch various videos on YouTube about these guys in Enfield, and you’ll see a few swords in evidence. As one the men in the clip says: “Why aren’t the police here? Can you see any police?“.

Even before the riots, there was a change in the air, evident when a man who fatally stabbed a burglar was not charged.

I’m sorry if this is becoming too much of a regular refrain, but I think that hard times are coming. This isn’t the US; we don’t have a gun culture here, and thank goodness for that. Nevertheless, flash mob crimes are increasingly happening both here and there, organised, I’m guessing, by people who have experience of commanding raiding parties in MMPORPGs (though the media don’t seem to have picked up on this; and I have to say I have no evidence beyond a gut feeling). Here’s an example:

Don’t know. Really, I don’t know. Maybe it was all a one-off, and things will go back to what we used to call normal. But, I read economic data and news ever day, and I see no sign of that – quite the contrary. Here’s a great article from The Oil Drum; it lays out clearly how Peak Oil means that economic growth is a thing of the past. How will that work out? No-one can be sure yet, but the signs we see so far are of mass civil unrest.

So… Is training in the sword, and other weapons forms obsolete? I’m not at all convinced of that. I think they may still have a future. Maybe not as an everyday individual piece of equipment – but it may be that those of us who study martial arts will need to step up and use that knowledge as part of our communities.

(NB not so long ago, McDonald’s in the US held a national hiring day, and were overwhelmed with applications – to the extent that violence broke out between applicants in some places. I saw something about that on YouTube, and noticed that many of the people in the clip were carrying golf clubs. At first that struck me as strange, since the US after all is a gun culture. After a while, I concluded that although many of these people probably did have guns, they carried golf clubs so that they could engage in self-defence at an intermediate level, when drawing a firearm was just too risky. I’d be interested to hear what readers from the US think about that).

* Not to be disrespectful in any way, but I don’t call anyone sifu unless I’ve accepted them as my personal martial arts mentor and teacher.


  1. The only thing about sword is that carrying one gets people alarmed. In “civilised” societies, at least. A stick, on the other hand, is more readily accepted. (Also it can be used for self-massage, which I have found to be a godsend.) But then again, maybe society in the UK is about to get a whole lot less civilised.


    1. I’d certainly agree with that. It’s especially easy for me as a countryside-dweller, since my traditional hedge-cut hazel walking stick is 13 fists long – exactly the right length for shanxi whipstaff. OTOH, I need it too, like the other day when someone left their gate open and their three dogs took offence at someone daring to walk past their property…

      Right, I’m off to buy sugar and vinegar so that I can get on with making green tomato chutney. I might go round collecting elder berries from the hedgerows, too….


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