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Over the years, I've had many swords I've trained on, light and heavy, good quality and poor, well balanced and poorly balanced, steel of different tempers, and wood. I never felt a decently weighted Chinese sword for the first several years, using only wood practice swords, steel pipes, and a medieval European replica, serviceable, but not ideal, for Chinese styles. (Swordsmiths have to forge for specific purpose.¹) For a couple of years I was even using a rod I cut from a sapling to try a little Japanese two handed cutting. Even now, when you can get great steel from China, heavy and light, I wouldn't say any of my blades is exactly perfect, balance wise, just better then most, and well good enough.

Now that I have better swords of all weights, I rarely practice with rods or poorly weighted weapons. I don't typically use my decent wooden jian trainer, as an example, even though the action that used to feel non-existent when the wood felt heavy, now feels better than some steel I've worked with, and better than a rod, if less significantly durable.

  • Is it important to practice with poorly weighted blades and sword analogs?

Answers from any perspective and dimension of the question are welcome.


[1] Sprague, M., Longsword and Saber, 2013. "A skilled swordsmith was therefore familiar with the particular fighting techniques the swordsman could expect to encounter."

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I can see a number of reasons why you might choose to train with a poorly weighted/balanced/constructed swords.

  1. Cost - If all you can afford is a poor quality cheap sword, this is still a superior option to not training at all.

  2. Novelty - There is some value in training slightly differently to how you normally would, as it will give you some insight into options that you may not have thought of training the same way all the time. Ramsey Dewey has a good video on this about why he has his MMA fighters train BJJ in a gi still - it's similar enough to be relevant, and different enough to force fighters to think about an additional dimension. It's important here to not have too much of the training time dedicated to this though, maybe 5-10%?

  3. Spontaneous/Environmental Weapon use - If you only train with perfectly weighted, perfectly balanced swords then it will be more difficult for you to pick up something to defend yourself with and use it effectively. This is often touted as a benefit of kobudo - the range of weapons gives the practitioner a more adaptable skillset. If your training focus is solely historical interest or competition combat though this is not necessarily a relevant element to you.

  4. Historical Interest (Contrast/Specific periods) - During WW2, the Japanese flooded their officer class with poor quality machine stamped swords to reinvigorate an image of the samurai in the Japanese Army. It may be of interest to the Kenjutsu/Iaido practitioner to compare the traditional methods of the genuine Samurai using high quality weapons to whatever the Imperial Army's equivalent of combatives was with an appropriate quality sword.

  5. Because you care less about them - If you're doing some heavy sparring where your weapon is likely to be damaged it may be preferable to use a worse quality weapon with a lower cost. This is obviously the purpose of wooden wasters in most cases, but you may be in a situation where there is a reason to use a metal weapon instead.

There is one reason why you shouldn't use poorly balanced/weighted and particularly over weighted swords, and that is for "Strength and Conditioning" reasons. While this is historically apparent (notable by Roman Legionnaires and certain European Knights) the evidence from sport science is apparent that it decreases coordination, force production, etc.

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  • I'm not quite sure how you reach the conclusion that "sports science" would say it decreases coordination etc.? It is a basic principle of coordination training to change circumstances while keeping the form or changing the form (similar but different) while keeping the circumstances. Thus, I don't see how this could be reconciled. Sep 10 at 10:59
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    Hi Philip, so this hasn't been tested with weapons that I'm aware of, but it's been tested with a number of sports with implements (baseball, golf, and tennis at least, as well as boxing with significantly overweight gloves). It's consistently been found that training with a heavier implement decreases performance if used as a regular element of training. We can infer from these results that a similar decrement in performance would be seen with a swordsman training consistently with overweight weapons. 1/2 Sep 10 at 11:12
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    This is unlikely to be present when using slightly off weight weapons - the comment was more aimed towards where people use weapons or facsimiles which are several kgs overwight, I should have clarified that in the answer. 2/2 Sep 10 at 11:12
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Here's an anecdote from my Chen taiji study: I was looking for a good place near my job to practice on my lunch hour. I found a little beach and was interested in the fact that the ground was uneven and tricky with the thick sand shifting under my feet. I thought, I ought to practice here often, to help me to learn stable footing on difficult surfaces. I brought it up to my teacher the next class, thinking he might agree, but to my surprise and chagrin, he was unimpressed. His take was, "it might be interesting for a short bit until you figure out how to move on the sand, but overall it doesn't add anything useful to your training." Based on that I would say not to spend time with poorly weighted weapons if you have better ones.

My personal take, as someone with NO noteable rank nor skill, is that you wouldn't have the luxury to find a well-balanced weapon in a dangerous self-defense situation. Perhaps the idea is that if you are well-trained it might take a moment for you to figure out the weight of a random weapon but then you'll be fine. I think it's similar to asking if you should practice a form mirrored (i.e. switch hands and feet), and most teachers I've run into would say don't bother.

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