Zombies vs. Sabers;

Part II: Choosing & Using Sabers


“Sabre (Saber) Bob”

Disclaimer: The following material is strictly for entertainment and educational purposes. Readers should be knowledgeable and compliant with all laws and regulations in their jurisdictions regarding the possession and use of deadly weapons, yada, yada, yada. The author and any publisher of this material are not responsible for any misuse, harm, or damage resulting from the following material—in other words; it’s your own damn responsibility.


The first step is to define what is a “Saber” (“Sabre”, British spelling). A saber is a one handed sword, originally designed to be used on horseback, but quite capable of being used dismounted. A true saber is either moderately or greatly curved and is also primarily single-edged—this distinguishes the saber from other contemporary cavalry swords such as backswords and “broadswords”[i]. Almost all sabers posses a protective hand guard of some sort and size, with the notable exception of the essentially guardless Cossack Shasqua. Historically, all combative sabers were capable of being used for either cutting or thrusting attacks, the efficacy of either attack has depended on the particular weapon design as well as user training.

While several saber designs have appeared and been used through the last 4 centuries only a few are both commonly available and are effective anti-zombie weapons. Starting with French sabers of the late 1700s, many saber patterns sacrificed cutting and slashing ability to become better thrusting weapons—these weapons as well as other sabers influenced by them (especially the US 1861 Light Cavalry Saber) should not be considered at all as a melee sidearm for a potential zombie apocalypse.

A “Cutlass” (aka “Cuttoe”) is a short saber designed for fighting in close quarters, especially during a maritime boarding action. A “Hanger” is identical to a Cutlass; the alternative name is derived from the vertical method of “hanging” from a belt or baldric. A cutlass or hanger is used, except for the closer range, in an identical matter to a full sized saber.

Affordable saber reproductions are available through a variety of mail-order retailers. Additionally, antique and militaria stores will often have actual historical weapons, which (if in good condition) could be restored to battle worthiness by a careful re-sharpening and re-polishing. In an apocalypse scenario when the mail system ceases, such stores as well as museums and historical societies could prove a viable source for melee weapon procurement—they are also likely to have been overlooked in any initial waves of looting. In European countries, manor and estate houses can also be fairly dependable sources of genuine historical melee weapons, tacked up on the walls and gathering dust for several generations. A survivor should develop a good eye for what is a worthwhile anti-zombie weapon and which should be left behind.

A suitable saber should not be a heavy weapon, though to be an effective cutting and slashing sword, it will feel “blade heavy” in comparison to Olympic Fencing “weapons”[ii]. Per unit length, cavalry sabers are actually lighter than Japanese katanas and have a significantly longer range.[iii] The weight of a cutting saber should range from just over 2 pounds (.9 kilogram) to just under 3 pounds (1.4 kilograms). The balance or pivot point should range about 6” to 8” (15 to 20 cm) outward from the hilt, though a custom or semi-custom saber (such as Albion Arms’ Lady Vivamus, $3000) can be an effective cutter with a balance point no more than 4” from the guard.

The criteria for deciding which saber models are appropriate for a zombie infestation can be derived from both the historical record and contemporary test-cutting. If a particular saber had a proven combat reputation in the past, the odds are it will continue to perform well in the present. Also, current sword aficionados[iv] will quite often put their blades “to the test”, to determine the cutting power and efficiency of their weapons. When properly sharpened, a cutting saber will compare quite favorably in performance to Japanese katanas—cutting cleanly in one stroke through bound rolls of “tatami” mats, thick cardboard shipping tubes, stalks of green bamboo, sides of beef and pork (shearing through bone) and splitting (already dead, board-mounted) pig skulls.

Here is a listing of appropriate sabers and cutlasses for a zombie outbreak which are affordable and usually available through mail order:

· Eastern European Sabers: including the Polish Szalba and Karabela and the Cossack (Russian) Shasqua. These are a bit difficult to find but they are the weapons that introduced the saber concept to Western Europe in the 17th Century. Some years ago Museum Replicas Ltd. offered a Windlass Steelcrafts Karabela that was a quite good offering, and the sister company of Atlanta Cutlery almost always offers a reproduction (Soviet era) Shasqua for about $130. Soviet era shasqua

Currently, Cold Steel Knives offers a premium ($560 retail) Shasqua (minus the hammer & sickle motif).

Hussar Saber: Inspired by the crack light cavalry outfits of Eastern Europe, every European country established Hussar units of their own and the simple, cut-emphasis saber was part of the dashing Hussar image. A solid and highly affordable example is the American Revolution Hussar Saber, manufactured by Windlass, and offered by both Atlanta Cutlery and Therion Arms for about $140.

Revolution Hussar Saber

· British 1796 Light Cavalry Sabre: This was probably the best-ever, mass issue cutting saber ever designed, and it’s just as effective on foot as it was mounted. The Germans kept it in their inventory (“Blücher Saber”) all the way to WWI and the USA copied it for their Model 1820 Artillery Officer’s Saber.

1796 LCS Sabre

Cold Steel Knives offers the 1796, already sharpened, with a period all-steel scabbard or a leather-covered wood scabbard, each for $320 retail, though on EBay and Amazon, you can find it for considerably less.

If you can, choose the wood & leather scabbard to keep the edge sharp and to reduce noise. Therion Arms and Discriminating General both offer this same (Windlass) reproduction weapon for somewhat less than Cold Steel.

The modern reproduction 1796’s stirrup hilt knuckle guard is fastened to the grip pommel by a nut screwed onto the pommel.  While this is not a historically accurate method (the tang stub was forge heated and “peened” into a pommel-recess) it does allow fairly easy replacement of the narrow knuckle guard with a more protective version

· US 1840 Heavy Cavalry Saber (aka “Old Wristbreaker”): Copied from a French pattern, this was quite an effective cutting sword if sharpened properly. For some marketing reason, Cold Steel offers it under the non-historical label “1860 Heavy Cavalry Saber”, combat-sharpened for $320. You can get the same Windlass product from Atlanta Cutlery for less than $200 with the additional sharpening service fee.

1840 Saber

· USN Model 1861 Cutlass: With a highly protective brass semi-basket hilt you get a compact sidearm that served in the US Navy until 1917, available from Atlanta Cutlery and Therion Arms for about $130

1861 Cutlass

Cold Steel 1917 Cutlass: A more robust interpretation of the last cutlass adopted by the US Navy (copied from a Danish pattern), which saw use in boarding actions against German U-boats and carried by some US Marines on Guadalcanal; $224 retail.

1917 Cutlass

· Cold Steel 1917 Saber: Inspired by the company’s own 1917 Cutlass, this 30” long bladed saber is a very rugged sword for both zombie and bandit slaying; $272 retail.

1917 Saber

Made in India swords have gotten much better in the last 20 years than they used to be, Windlass Steelcrafts being the best known contractor (their main US outlets being Atlanta Cutlery and Museum Replicas Ltd., though Cold Steel apparently uses them as well). Be wary of any replica older than 20 years (pre 1992)—bad tempering jobs in the tang area (beneath the guard and grip) were quite common and tangs would snap suddenly when swung, turning the sword blade into a flung missile[v].

There is nothing mysterious, let alone mystic, about sword metallurgy. Factory manufactured swords of medium to high carbon steel, hardened to a spring temper, and properly beveled and sharpened will cut flesh and bone with no practically discernable difference from a blade produced by a traditional smith forging and crafting a sword with only hand tools. As long as a buyer purchases his saber or other sword from reputable firms, there is no need to spend thousands of dollars on what is arguably more a piece of art than a practical weapon.

Using (vs. zombies):

Kill the brain, kill the ghoul”.

The above Pennsylvania sheriff’s advice from 1967 notwithstanding, sometimes one has to approach zombie elimination in a multi-step process. Sometimes what is first warranted is a quick sidestep combined with a downwards slash to the zombie’s knee-juncture allowing enough time to make a follow up neck or brain shot perfect. One has to remember when fighting the walking dead that there are no such things as “set-up shots”—you either kill outright or you REALLY disable the zombie following immediately with the kill shot. Formalized training in swordsmanship can play one fatally false when facing something that feels no pain, no shock, no fear, and no intimidation. Zombies are “fleshy-Terminators” who will only cease their attempt to eat living flesh when their “CPU” is destroyed.

One of the saber’s signature techniques is the forward snapping skull strike. Now, in some texts and ad-copy, it is often claimed saber can “crush bones” with this snapping cut. Sorry, once again that’s the “dull metal club” myth. A properly edged saber will split the front of a human skull cleanly in two and the curve of the blade will assist in not getting stuck in the bone.

Below and to the right is the forward skull strike (aka “Hack” or “Carving Cut”) from the “Saber On-Guard” position:

This is a direct shot with no telegraphing from the guard. You have to hold your weapon (be it a Saber, Bowie, or Kukri) in a proper fighting grip (“saber grip” or “universal grip”) and not in a convulsive “hammer grip”. With or without forward foot action (an advance step, lunge, or fleche´) the sword arm snaps out at the target and just before impact the sword wrist snaps the weapon into the target. Ideally, you target the skull right between and right above the eyes.

This is historically the classic killing strike of the saber. Against a breather the strike often “comes out of nowhere” because the approach vector is one of the universal blind spots of human vision. However, it takes considerable practice to master and one must have a strong arm and wrist to execute it properly. If one is “off” in its execution, a superficial scalp-splitting result is the likely result which is not good if one’s opponent is a zombie.

However, zombies are notoriously open to strikes that would be almost never used against a living opponent. To ensure splitting the skull open enough to reach the durra matter of the zombie brain, one can do considerable “wind up” to generate enough inertia for a near-guaranteed killing strike

Next is a vertical moulinet (or moullino):

P42 moulanie

Or if you prefer it with clothes, here are Burton’s vertical and horizontal versions:


Horizontal moulinets are especially good for the spine-shot—even if you don’t behead the zombie in a single strike you’ll almost certainly end the threat then and there.

Now the above versions are done from the wrist (assisted by shoulder action as needed) as one would do when facing a melee armed human, to keep one’s wrist and arm “covered” as much as possible by one’s saber guard[vi]. When taking out a zombie, one can use considerable “forearm English” to generate as much striking power as possible. Don’t worry about “telegraphing” your cut against something less intelligent than an earthworm.

Against a zombie, the following will work quite nicely. You start “on-guard”, cock your saber back to the high chambered position, and then swing downward:


This is a full arm saber slash and a guaranteed “take out” if you hit the primary target. If you miss the top frontal skull and contact the torso starting at the collar bone you’ll still shear through all the interconnected bone, muscle, and tendons that make effective human grabbing movement possible.[vii] Even if you don’t sever the spine, the zombie is not going to continue to be much of a threat, especially as you “follow through” as you loop your sword around for the finishing strike. On the down stroke, keep your non-weapon hand and arm out of the way as well as either of your legs.

Let the forward balance of the weapon work for you in making a cut and recovering right into another cut or parry. The two-handed draw cutting technique of the slightly-curved katana results, most of the time, in an automatic “brake” which stops the sword at the termination of the cutting stroke. This is difficult and actually not desirable for a Western two-handed sword let alone a single hand sword (with the exception of forward snapping “carving” or “hack cuts”). Instead, after the stroke cleaves through the target the blade motion should be continued into another circular motion and attack, at either the same or a different attack angle.[viii] Horizontal “figure-eight” (or “infinity” ) cutting patterns to the neck & spine will be especially effective against zombies. Keeping your saber and yourself in motion is vital if you find yourself in a multiple zombie situation.

Using (vs. “Breathers”)

“A properly balanced sword is the most versatile weapon for close quarters ever devised. Pistols and guns are all offense, no defense; close on him fast and a man with a gun can’t shoot, he has to stop you before you reach him. Close on a man carrying a blade and you’ll be spitted like a roast pigeon—unless you have a blade and can use it better than he can. A sword never jams, never has to be reloaded, is always ready.” --Robert A. Heinlein, Glory Road (1963)

Even before the Internet was created, there’s been some discussion among self-defense teachers and students about the viability of swords as home defense weapons. Hank Reinhardt mentioned the topic it in his seminal essay There is No “Best Sword” (1986) and Marc “Animal” MacYoung explicitly advocated sabers for women’s home defense in his first book Cheap Shots, Ambushes, and Other Lessons: A Down and Dirty Book on Streetfighting & Survival (1989).

Swords are never going to replace firearms—unless the world undergoes a technology destroying event, such as in the “Change” novels of SM (Steven Michael) Stirling. However, many would-be survivors happen to reside in jurisdictions where civilian firearm ownership is difficult to impossible[ix]. A survivor should equip himself with the best possible melee weapons that will allow him (or her) to survive long enough to obtain a discarded firearm—which will often be those from soldiers or law enforcement officers either eaten or turned by zombies. Most authorities are not that really concerned with stable, law abiding citizens practicing martial arts, even melee weapon arts[x]. Such activities can be justified under “historical recreation hobbies” and as long as you don’t brandish your sword in public or get caught bearing or transporting it in inappropriate ways, law enforcement could care less about the saber you have “decorating” your wall.[xi] Of course if you live in Japan where kitchen knives over 6” need to be registered and the police are sanctioned to do yearly residence checks for illegal weapons, one had best establish one’s credentials as a martial artist or collector—or move to a place that has a wee bit more respect for human rights.

If one is considering a Cavalry Saber (or any other weapon) for a potential Zombie outbreak, one had better learn the basics of using it not just against the Walking Dead but also to defend one’s self and dependents against still-human assailants. As the late Jeff Cooper pointed out 30 years ago, even during normal times, “…about one person out of a hundred is quite capable of cheerfully kicking your head in”. That estimate gets far worse when total social disintegration occurs. When civil society and law enforcement collapses, lex talonis or the “law of the jungle” will hold forth until enough men and women can band together and re-establish a degree of order and civility. Again, if you happen to live in an area where almost all the living will be reduced to melee weapons because that’s all they were legally allowed before the apocalypse occurred, it is up to you to choose the best combination of melee weapon and method. It’s pretty hard to beat a properly wielded Saber with anything less than a gun, a spear or polearm, or another sword.

It would be impossible to teach swordsmanship against the still-living in the pages of this essay. However, you don’t have to spend years in a Salle de Arms to learn hard-core basic saber techniques. Much of the learning you can do on your own, and with a few training partners to help polish off your effective skills; you’ll be better in melee combat that 99+% of the people you are likely to face.

The following YouTube links were part of a free advertisement DVD from Cold Steel Knives—a “taste” of what is presented in that company’s Fighting with the Saber & Cutlass DVD set (current retail price $79.99): (part 1) (part 2) (part 3)

These videos will get you started and the suggested bibliography at the end of this essay will give you more material to study.

Following are some “universal” big-blade techniques from W.E. Fairbairn, from his classic book, Get Tough! (1942)


Close-In Blows

1. ''Drive well into the stomach (Fig. 116). 2. "Sabre Cut" to right-low of neck (Fig. 117). 3. Cut to left-low of neck (Fig. 118). 4. Smash up with pommel, under chin (Fig. 119). 5. Smash down with pommel into the face (Fig. 120).

Attacking Blows

1. "Sabre Cut" to left or right wrist (Fig. 121). 2. "Sabre Cut" to left or right arm (Fig. 122).

Sabers have a big advantage over Japanese katanas with their substantial metal guards and pommels which can be used as close-in weapons in their own right. Additionally to the pommel strikes shown above, saber knuckle or bell guards can be used to power-punch with.

The guard on a saber has the primary purpose to protect the hand from incoming strikes. A lot of other melee weapons, especially improvised ones, don’t have this advantage. Use that shortcoming; in a melee weapon encounter your opponent’s hands will most often be the closest target—they become your initial primary target. That is what saber users do against kendoka in cross-discipline sparring sessions—the saber users’ drive into close-engagement using their weapon’s guard to “cover” their advance into range and snap or draw cut the kendoka’s hands or forearms.

There is considerable similarity between Bowie knife techniques and the Saber—not surprising, since the Bowie can be considered a short cutlass. In Ante Bellum New Orleans, several Salle de Arms taught “saber fencing” for the Bowie as preparation for the innumerable duels and less-formal knife fights that marked that era. A serious student of either weapon should consider cross-training and even using both weapons at the same time (Bowie in the “off-hand” and Saber in the “dominant-hand”) to cover the major ranges of close combat.

You may also want to consider the use of the small shield called a “buckler”. From 12” to 16” in diameter and made of mild steel, the buckler is one of the forgotten weapons of the Western martial traditions. In addition to being a very mobile defense, one can also use a buckler as an offensive weapon, punching out with its thin edge to crush bones and set up one’s sword attack. While still used in the practice of some South Asian arts (e.g. South Indian Kalaripayatu and Sikh Gatka) most Japanese, Chinese, and other Asian martial artists are totally inexperienced in facing any shield-using opponent—in a post-apocalypse scenario where some bandits are wielding katanas, having the advantage of unfamiliar weapon skills could be critical for survival.

Also consider using a substantial flashlight in your off-hand—like a 4 D-cell Maglite. Held up by your cocked arm at your shoulder, you’re ready to brain anyone, living or not, who happens to get past your point and edge. You can also use the high-lumen beam to shine in the eyes of a breather assailant, which may be the critical advantage you must use if your opponent has a firearm.

Regarding facing firearm armed opponents with a saber—yes, a swordsman (or woman) can come out on top. You have to have guts and no hold-back--no indecision whatsoever. Keep in mind, a single firearm armed opponent who has not yet placed his target under his muzzle, is at a tactical disadvantage against a blade wielding opponent who is within 15 feet of him. The advantage of the blade (especially sword) user grows almost exponentially greater as the distance decreases—and most people underestimate the effective reach of a sword.

It’s rather hard for someone to pull the trigger of a gun when their gun is lying on the floor—along with their now-severed hand”—Marc “Animal” MacYoung

Practice and Training

You MUST learn how to impact your sword on a resistant target so you not only hit it full force but do so at the proper angle and to the least shock back into your hand and wrist. Your primary equipment to safely develop these attributes is a waster and a pell. “Wasters” are wood, aluminum, nylon, or heavy duty plastic copies of steel weapons with which one can practice combat techniques with much less risk to self or others. A “pell” is a striking target you can safely hit with a waster

A pell can be dirt-cheap; just scrounge three discarded automobile tires, fasten them together (with either bolts or rope) in a row and then hang it vertically from a tree limb or sturdy rafter. Start hitting your pell with your waster and hit it a LOT. Study the free PROOF videos from Cold Steel, especially how the demonstrators do a series of successive cuts against targets, one right after the other. [xii] Also, practice your target accuracy as well as force. And very importantly, you cannot always stand still; practice hitting while evasively moving: side steps, diagonal steps, forward and back. Master the lunge (saber version not foil) and fleche'´ maneuvers of closing distance very quickly.

Saber wasters are a bit trickier—there are some aluminum bladed cavalry saber wasters out there for sparring, but they are not meant for the rigors of pell practice and they are also fairly expensive. One of the polypropylene bokkens (the Japanese equivalent of a waster) from Cold Steel Knives could be adapted to function as a saber or cutlass waster by affixing 1/8” thick x 1” diameter lead-washers (to the pommel, using a 3” wood screw and epoxy) to alter the balance to match that of an actual saber or cutlass. A thick leather or kydex-plastic knuckle guard can also be attached and is highly advisable.


· Assuming the main blade bevels were properly ground, the correct angle for sharpening Western sword edge (flat) bevels is 28 degrees<u>[xiii</u>]. This angle is shallow enough to cut a human body easily yet not so shallow (considering the thinness of a sword blade compared to a knife blade) that it’ll chip easily when shearing through human bone.

· Do NOT attempt to sharpen a saber or any sword with a high speed electric grinder—there is too much risk of overheating the steel and ruining the temper. If you can find a slow speed (180 rpm) water-cooled grinder you can use that if you proceed carefully.

· Wear leather gloves and long shirt sleeves for protection while sharpening any sword or big blade—and stick the point in a block of Styrofoam to prevent self-impalement!

· On some swords you buy them utterly dull and first have to start with a file (mill bastard) to get an initial rough edge. Clamp the sword firmly in a vise (or use c-clamps on a bench, counter, or table) and use a plastic protractor frequently to make sure your draw filing is accurate.

· Do 4” segments at a time, working both sides carefully, before proceeding down the blade length.

· When you have your rough edge, switch to a coarse grade diamond hone stone and do the process over again. Then you go to a finer grit hone stone. (From Harbor Freight Tools you can get a 4-grade diamond-hone block that is perfect for this job—use all 4 grades). Use circular strokes with light pressure. Using water on the stone is not necessary with a diamond hone but it does help in keeping the fine steel particles you abrade away from clogging up the pores on the stone. Make sure your blade is utterly dry after you finish sharpening.

· The smoother the edge, the less the drag and the deeper you can cut with less effort. Don’t press too hard with any diamond hone or you’ll rub the abrasive surface off!

· With enough sharpening practice you will soon learn how to dispense with the vise and protractor and do touch up sharpening by hand.

· Finish off the edge by buffing it with a smooth leather belt, like you would an old fashioned straight razor. Lightly coat the blade with a rust-preventative oil or “Renaissance Wax”.

How much of the blade to sharpen is a matter of discussion and has been for a long time. Lord John Gaspard Le Marchant recommended that the first half of the saber blade (starting from the guard) be left dull for parrying and blocking purposes and only the later half be sharpened—the last 6 inches in particular “like a razor”. Cold Steel Knives follows this advice on their sharpened 1796 Sabre and also sharpens 6” of the back edge from the point as well—which aids in thrusting as well as facilitating “back-cutting”.

One should consider the rationale for sharpening the front edge all the way to the hilt. If one follows the earlier (circa 800-1650) European practice of parrying with the blade flats to keep from nicking the cutting edge[xiv] then one can enact close-in drawing cuts with the sharpened first half of the blade. Having all of the front edge of your saber being sharp also helps in case someone (zombie or breather) grabs your saber blade in their hand. By quickly twisting and pulling your saber in response, you can, as Marc “Animal” MacYoung says “…bust him down to raccoon status—all that mischief and no opposable thumbs to do it with”.


Learn how to maintain your sword, just like you would your firearm. After use, inspect the edge, do touch up sharpening and scour off any spots of rust. With carbon-steel swords, even oils from skin contact will attract moisture and start the blade rusting. Clean the blade of blood and gore as soon as you possibly can and never, EVER re-sheath it when still coated with blood. Most western swords have their guards sealed against blood flowing down the blade and into the tang beneath the grip—but a little bit of silver solder (or even silicon sealant) will close off any gaps.

Choose a proven (historical) carry method. “Back carry” is RIGHT OUT[xv]. Be it a sword baldric, a sword belt, or a “hanger frog”, choose what works for you and doesn’t compromise your tactical needs (since you’ve chosen a sword, taking it off and putting it back on WILL be a hassle when getting in and out of vehicles). Try to choose a carry where the saber either hangs down vertical or only at a slight diagonal angle from vertical. Sticking out near-horizontal WILL cause the scabbard to bump into things (and teammates) and will cause noise which, among other things, will attract zombies.

Once you graduate to a real sharp sword, treat it with as much respect as you would a loaded firearm (“Treat every firearm as if it was loaded”). Inspect your weapon carefully before, during, and after you practice with it—make sure all fittings are tight and nothing “rattles” when you shake it. Make sure your practice area is CLEAR before you take the sword or waster in hand. Please don’t strike inappropriate targets with an actual sword (like the steel belted radials of your pell, let alone a wood post or even a concrete pillar).

Until the zombie apocalypse occurs, stay safe with your saber and have fun.

Suggested Bibliography:

Brooks, Max; (The) Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead; 2003

--The basic starter text for surviving any zombie outbreak. Brooks is best on the big picture of urban apocalypse survival.

Ma, Roger; (The) Zombie Combat Manual: A Guide for Fighting the Living Dead: 2010

--For melee weapon use against zombies, the explicit “how-to” line-drawings alone are worth the cost of the book.

MaBerry, Jonathan; Zombie CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead; 2008

--Maberry is definitely a katana snob and ignorant on what Western swords actually are and how they are actually used—his single cited source on reconstructed Western sword arts is a theater fight choreographer (not William Hobbes).

MacYoung, Marc “Animal; Pool Cues, Beer Bottles, and Baseball Bats: Animal’s Guide to Improvised Weapons for Self Defense and Survival; Paladin Press; 1990

--“Animal” tells you how to pick up almost anything and use it as a melee weapon. Pay particular attention to his explanation of fencing (saber) parries

Cooper, Jeff (John Dean); Principles of Personal Defense; Paladin Press, 1989, 2006

--- Cooper’s book (more of a pamphlet), is a VERY focused look on the “combat mindset” which is essential for survival.

Thompson, Lynn, with Anthony De Longis; Fighting with the Saber & Cutlass (2 DVD Set); Cold Steel Cutlery

--An essential introduction to the modern use of the saber or cutlass as a combat weapon. De Longis, a teacher of the katana as well as the saber, explains the principles and techniques clearly.

Burton, Richard Francis ;( A) New System of Sword Exercise for Infantry; 1876; for Infantry

--Burton, the famous explorer, linguist, and libertine, was also one of the most dangerous swordsmen of the 19th century. This manual is a bit hard to read, with Burton using not just French fencing terms but entire French phrases with no warning or translation. Still, one can glean a lot of useful instruction, especially training in repeated moulinet cuts and guarded back-cuts.

Wojciech Zablocki's; Polish Saber Fencing from the XVI to the XVIII Centuries;

--A unique introduction to the application of the Eastern saber for foot combat.

Le Marchant, (Lord) John Gaspard:

--A drill manual more than a fencing text; it’s simple and to the point

1796 Light Cavalry Sabre Drill http://www.

--The preceding manual comes to life in this re-creators’ short video.

YouTube: Best Saber Duel

--Bear in mind the actors are using fiberglass prop weapons which can be swung with much more speed than the real thing. Even with that granted, you still get a sense of how dynamic and deadly a fight on foot with sabers could be.

YouTube: Polish Saber Fencing

--Keeping a national martial tradition alive. Aluminum blades are being used in this demonstration, but you have a feeling these guys wouldn’t flinch from facing a katana user with real sabers in their hands.

YouTube: The Duelists; “The Insult”

--Director Ridley Scott chose William Hobbes as the fight choreographer in this 1977 movie. Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel are almost certainly using steel (but dull) sabers so the pacing of the fights is much more realistic. On this particular clip, scroll forward about half-way to get to the actual fight.

YouTube: Rob Roy; “Final Duel”

--Not sabers, but claymore vs. transitional rapier. You really have to watch the movie to get the full impact and why many people consider this scene to be not just William Hobbes’ best work but the best sword fight in cinema history, period.

Wagner, Paul; Stephen Hand; Medieval Art of Sword & Shield: (The) Combat System of Royal Armories MS I.33; 2004

--A detailed interpretation of the oldest illustrated fectbucht (fight book) of Western Civilization. Medieval monasteries had a lot of retired soldiers so they became repositories of combat skills, hence the two tonsured monks demonstrating the techniques. While I.33 depicts the strait swords of the 14th Century, the sword and buckler techniques could be adapted to use with sabers.

Reinhardt, Hank; There is No “Best Sword”;

_____________; Hype… as Ancient an Art as Sword Making;

--The late, great Hank Reinhardt delighted in exploding myths and hyperbole about swords. The above are both useful sorbets to clean the pallet of katana snobbery.

McLemore, Dwight; (The) Fighting Sword: Illustrated Techniques and Concepts; Paladin Press; 2008

_______________; Bowie and Big Knife Fighting Method; Paladin Press; 2003

_______________; Advanced Bowie Techniques: The Finer Points of Fighting with a Large Knife; Paladin Press; 2006

--A student of both Western and Eastern martial arts, McLemore has a real gift of demonstrating “universal” principles with his line drawings as well as his text. One can also use the Bowie books to “reverse engineer” techniques for the saber.

Saber Sources:

Atlanta Cutlery: A subsidiary of Windlass Steelcrafts (India), the emphasis is on 18th through 20th Century bladed weapon reproductions and original weapons.

Museum Replicas Ltd.: A sister company of Atlanta Cutlery, here the emphasis is on weapon reproductions from antiquity through the European Renaissance. They are also a good source for steel bucklers, sword belts, and sword baldrics. Also check out their rust-preventative treatments

Therion Arms: Look under “sharps” for many manufacturers offerings and reasonable prices

Cold Steel: Whether you love or hate their advertising hype, Cold Steel stands by their products. Most of their sword offerings are a bit heavier (thicker) than their historical patterns and do lack “distal taper” which affects their speed and recovery.

Discriminating General: These guys have a late 18th and early 19th Century emphasis, especially the Napoleonic period. If you like ugly and brutal, look at the 1796 British Heavy Cavalry Sword (the “big brother” to the 1796 Light Cavalry Sabre), which was the featured sidearm of a fictional British Rifles Officer created by author Bernard Cornwell and played by actor Sean Bean (“O’er the hills and o’er the main….”)

[i] Until quite recently, the classification or nomenclature of bladed weapons was a haphazard discipline—subject to either imprecise popular usage or the whims of individual curators and scholars. Well into the 19th Century, Sabers were often called “Hungarian Broadswords”, and strait or slightly curved backswords, such as the US 1820 Dragoon sword, were titled “sabers”. The British 1908 and US 1910 (“Patton”) cavalry swords are re-inventions of the Eastern European Pallash but both are officially called “sabers”. Of course, the current Olympic sporting weapon lacks any blade curvature but is still called a “saber”

[ii] “Toy swords create toy swordsmen.” Olympic sabers .5 kilogram (1 pound) maximum weight means they are largely manipulated by the use of the fencer’s fingers for very quick but very light contact. ARMA director John Clement was once told by a famous fencing instructor that a certain foam toy sword handled almost exactly like the competition “weapon”. The techniques and emphasis of sport (fencing, kendo) or fantasy (LARRP) “combat” groups often lead to a distorted understanding of just what are effective techniques with real weapons.

[iii]Jonathan Maberry, in his book Zombie CSU, happens to be flat out wrong in stating katanas are thinner and lighter than period or accurate reproduction European swords.

[iv] The highly technical name for these people is “sword geeks”.

[v] Confirmed by personal experience.

[vi] This is why British Cavalry was able to cut French Cavalry to ribbons during the Peninsular Campaign and at the Battle of Waterloo. Also, there have been some contemporary cross-discipline sparring experiments where saber exponents have dominated in matches with bokken wielding kenjutsu exponents not only because the saber users fight “in line” but because their saber guard acts as a shield to fight behind. The bokken-users also tend to be confounded by close-in saber techniques that use the saber guard to safely shove an opposing blade aside setting up an immediate in-fighting cut.

[vii] Watch the duel between Cunningham (Tim Roth) and Roy (Liam Neeson) in the movie Rob Roy (1995) for an accurate depiction of a sword edge strike against a human torso. The duel scene happens to be one of the finest (if not the finest) choreographed sword fights in movie history, largely due to the fight-direction of the great William Hobbes.

[viii] If you are familiar with Filipino martial arts, these could be called either a “'Florette or a “Redondo”

[ix] Comedian Craig Ferguson described in his memoir American by Choice how Glasgow toughs in the late 1970s would occasionally pack basket-hilt broadswords (claymores) underneath their greatcoats for intimidation or actual assault. This practice has apparently escalated in the firearm-disarmed UK to where gang fights will regularly take place under the gaze of security cameras, participants’ faces disguised by ski masks and all wielding swords and machetes of various sorts.

[x] Certain melee weapons (like firearms of all sorts) have occasionally induced a public hysteria and restrictive legislation way out of proportion to any actual threat: Bowie knives in the 1830s, switchblades in the 1950s, and nunchakus (“nun-chucks”) in the 1970s have all had their turn as “weapon threatening to end civilization as we know it”.

[xi] If someone does get antsy with a sword, the authorities are well prepared to win at the street game of “Escalato” See “From the Fringes” at

[xii] You can see them at as well as at YouTube

[xiii] This is the biggest reason the US 1861 Light Cavalry saber was (and current reproductions are) a miserable excuse for a sword—the Ames factory issued it with blade bevels that were too shallow and too narrow for the already narrow width of the blade; meaning the edge bevels ended up too thick to be properly sharpened. Even if you tediously re-grind the blade bevels, this saber still lacks the effective mass to make a zombie-stopping cut.

[xiv] The debate in the Western Martial Arts community between “blade-flat parries” and “blade-edge blocks” is one unlikely to ever be settled and as Dwight McLemore has commented, the really important thing remains in just getting your steel in between yourself and your adversary’s incoming weapon.

[xv] See section III, 7, of “Katana Primer for the Zombie Apocalypse

Copyright 2012 by Robert “Saber Bob” Lehnert. Permission to quote, copy, and republish all or parts of this publication granted as long as proper credit is given.

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