Episode 43

What is a Sword?

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Show Notes:

What is a sword? When does a dagger become a sword? When does a sword become a spear? Can a boomerang even be a sword?

In a follow-up to my conversation with Australian martial artist and philosopher, Damon Young, this special episode picks up where episode 31 finishes, with a discussion where we try to come to an agreement on what a definition of a sword might be. If you have ever wondered about this very question, or already have your own definition in mind, have a listen and see if you agree with us!

Damon is the author of books like Philosophy in the Garden, and On Getting Off: Sex and Philosophy. He has also edited a couple of books on philosophy and martial arts: Engagement, Philosophy and the Martial Arts, and Martial Arts and Philosophy: Beating and Nothingness.

If you missed the first part of my conversation with Damon, you can find it here. It’s about the importance of the study of philosophy when practising martial arts. How we know the difference between bravery and foolhardiness? How can someone engage in violence and still be a good person? And perhaps, most importantly, however we define them, why are swords so damn cool?

GW: Well, I think that’s a wrap.

 

DY: Oh, Jesus. Well, I just do rabbit on.

 

GW: You rabbit on in an interesting way. So that actually is podcast perfection.

 

DY: Well, I’m very glad you say that, you’re very kind.

 

GW: Oh, and I going to say, you know that Aboriginal shield thing?

 

DY: Yes.

 

GW: OK, I chopped a tree down in my garden because it had just the right size for it. The tree had to go anyway. And I cut out the right length of trunk and I couldn’t quite get it on my band saw. I planed off one bit flat so I could run it on the bandsaw. So I could cut the shape of the shield. And the bit that was left was too big to go on my little bandsaw. So I just put it down and left it a few days. I was going to take it to a Maker Space in town that has a bigger band saw. And in those two days, it split halfway down itself in the wrong direction. Ah! So close. I might salvage it. But looking at it is really obvious how it’s made. If you look at the outside of the tree trunk it’s a cylinder. And it’s basically a smallish tree trunk or a branch that’s been cut and then it’s just been carved away from one side. So you have the outside of the tree trunk is the outside face of the shield. And then the handle has been kind of carved out of the centre of the trunk. So it’s not a complicated design. It’s a lot of work if you do it in the traditional manner with stone tools or what have you, but with like a modern bandsaw, it’s not even a difficult job. It’s just I want to do it properly. So it has the same sort of grain structure as the originals would have had. And the one tree in the garden that was the right size did that to me. So I just wanted to say, I haven’t forgotten it.

 

DY: I mean, it does go to show how bloody difficult it is, even with modern tools, to make sure that everything works right. To make sure it doesn’t split and it’s the right size and it’s the right density. I mean, because all that’s got to do is save your life, you know?

 

GW: Yeah. It is really just a buckler. And it is very narrow. When I looked at the specs, they are about four or five inches wide.

 

DY: That’s extremely narrow.

 

GW: But think of like parrying with a stick. It is basically a parrying stick that has a completely protected hand.

 

DY: OK, so it’s really not doing the same kind of job as a Roman shield or a Viking shield.

 

GW: No no no.

 

DY: It’s not going to be of any use against projectiles. It is purely for parrying probably a spear, maybe a boomerang.

 

GW: Yeah. Or like those hand-held wooden sword club things they used.

 

DY: Yes. Most boomerangs weren’t returning or throwing ones. In fact what I’m arguing in my sword book is the a combat boomerang is a sword. It’s a wooden sword.

 

GW: Of course it is.

 

DY: But some people go, “No it isn’t it’s not metal.”

 

GW: What?!

 

DY: But in fact, when the English arrived in Australia, the naturalists who observed the indigenous people with their boomerangs described them as scimitars and swords. It didn’t bother them for a moment that they were wood because they were sharpened wood that they did sword things with. Which reminds me, when I finish that chapter, which is, What is a Sword and What is not a Sword, would you consider having a look at it?

 

GW: Of course, I’d be delighted to.

 

DY: It’s the first chapter of this book that I’m really doing in my spare time. And just the first idea is what are we actually talking about? What’s the difference between a sword and things that are like swords but not swords? And that’s a nice, meaty, philosophical question.

 

GW: I can give you my working definition if it’s helpful.

 

DY: Go on.

 

GW: OK, so you have knives, and you have swords, and then you have things which are sort of too long to be swords, like spears. To my mind it becomes a sword when is useful to split up the blade into offensive and defensive characteristics. So if you have, if you have a short knife, you can parry with the blade, you can cut with the blade, you can do stuff with the blade, but you don’t really distinguish between which bits of the blade you’re using, because it’s all close enough to the hand that the leverage against you isn’t that great. When it gets a bit bigger, you need to use one bit of the weapon for defence and one bit for offence. And at that point, in my head, it becomes a sword. Which means that the gladius, for example, by that definition is a dagger, not a sword.

 

DY: Right. Oh, that’s very interesting. OK, so what about spears?

 

GW: Well, I’m talking about the distinction of the blade. And the spear is just a hitty bit. So the blade is entirely offensive and therefore is not a sword.

 

DY: Right. OK, that’s really interesting and something I hadn’t considered at all.

 

GW: Yeah. It just it comes entirely from the fact that I’m a practising sword person and a blade nut and in my mind it all boils down to practicalities of use. But I don’t have a strong moral attachment to the definitions. It’s not pejorative to me to call a sword a knife or to call a sword a spear.

 

DY: No, I don’t think so. For me it’s purely curiosity and helpful. Because you can say, well, these are the things I’m excluding. I’m not I’m not talking about spears, except incidentally, I’m not talking about daggers. I’m talking about swords and swords are X.

 

GW: Is a Cinquedea a sword or a dagger?

 

DY: You’d have to think about how you use it.

 

GW: And to me, to my mind, because of its structure, it’s triangular. The length that they tend to go to and the way that they are held, to my mind, they are daggers. That is by my definition, because you wouldn’t usefully separate the blade into the simplest separation, as Cappoferro would have it, between the forte and the debole, the strong and the weak. And Thibault goes all the way up to 12 gradations on the blade. Fiore has three. And only in one of the manuscripts.

 

DY: So the Cinquedea, how long is the blade, about 50 centimetres, 40 centimetres?

 

GW: Yeah, anything between 30cm and 60cm and obviously a really Chinquedea, like a 60cm will probably be a sword by my definition. One that’s at 50cm is probably still a dagger and one of the 40cm is definitely still a dagger.

 

DY: OK, so I’m doing this philosophical thing of trying to think of counterexamples, because that’s how this typically works, because your definition needs to be able to include everything, because your definition here is most helpful to distinguishing between a knife and a sword.

 

GW: Yeah, or between a sword and pole weapon.

 

DY: So a pole weapon may not even have a blade, strictly speaking, it may just have a point.

 

GW: Yeah, but then if you have for example, a Spadone or a Zweihander, they are definitely swords.

 

DY: Yes. But they are spear-length.

 

GW: But they’re definitely swords because the blade is divisible, necessarily divided into offensive and defensive parts.

 

DY: I agree.

 

GW: Although they’re no longer sidearms.

 

DY: No they’re not. Because you can’t wear them. This is stuff I do talk about, in terms of length for example. So there are absolutely some swords that are longer than spears. So it’s not enough to say, well, swords are shorter because historically they are not.

 

GW: And the side arm the thing, I mean, you can’t reasonably say that a Zweihander is not a sword.

 

DY: Exactly. But you couldn’t wear the bloody thing unless you are a giant.

 

GW: Here’s the question. Why can’t you reasonably say a Zweihander is not a sword?

 

DY: Well, for me, it’s because of a slightly different definition of a sword, although I think yours is very elegant. My definition, you can see this if I send you the document, is that it’s a melee weapon that strikes beyond grappling range with a balance closer to the hand than to the tip. And the balance tends to rule out most pole weapons.

 

GW: No, spears will balance closer to the hand than to the tip.

 

DY: Aren’t they central? So, for example, if it is a pure wooden spear, it’s equidistant, it’s right in the middle, and then you have a spear where isn’t it going to be slightly towards the further towards the tip than to the handle?

 

GW: Well, OK, it depends how you hold it. If you hold it by the butt-end, obviously the centre of gravity is much closer to the tip than hand, but in the way you would normally hold the spear for single combat, it balances very much like a sword. And yes, Fiore specifically says that there is as good an iron at the pedale, the foot of the spear, as there is at the head. So it’s actually a double ended weapon.

 

DY: Sure. OK, I suppose my point there is the reason that the spear is balanced in that way is because you’re not holding it as you would a sword.

 

GW: Why not?

 

DY: Because looking at the object itself, there’s always going to be more weight distributed towards the butt of a sword than there is similarly in a spear.

 

GW:  If you have a particularly heavy pedale.

 

DY: I was just thinking because in order to have the kind of point control you need in a sword, which is kind of what typically makes a sword a sword, it’s the relationship of balance to the way you hold it. You need to have more towards the butt than towards the tip. Whereas because of the way you hold a spear, you achieve that outcome, that point control, but not because of the same distribution of weight in the object. Does that make sense?

 

GW: It doesn’t track my experience at all.

 

DY: OK, do tell me this, this is super important.

 

GW: There are many different ways to hold a spear far more than there are ways to hold a sword. It seems like you’re treating the grip as a static thing. It’s point of balance relative to where you hold it. But the thing is, because your grip is always changing, that isn’t a fixed point.

 

DY: Oh no, I recognise that completely. And that’s a very good point. I mean purely if you look at the object, where is the weight distributed in that object?

 

GW: OK, so generally with a spear, the weight is going to be distributed fairly close to the middle. Even with polearms, I remember Tom Leoni taught a seminar at WMAW some years ago and he had an antique rapier or two and a couple of antique polearms from 16th century Italy. And on these antiques, the point of balance on the polearm was, in both cases, he brought two of them, the same as the length of the sword that he brought. So when you’re holding the polearm it’s like you have a sword sticking out of your hand and a whole bunch of extra weapon sticking out behind that.

 

DY: That makes perfect sense. And I think that’s a really important conceptual distinction, because what I’m talking about is not the point of balance in your hand, but the weight distribution in the object itself.

 

GW: But then you do find swords that have a centre of mass which is very close to the middle of the blade itself.

 

DY: Yes, absolutely. It’s closer. But I would say they always tend to be in the first half of the object, although the last half, depending on what side you’re talking about. So they tend to be in the half that you’re holding rather than the half that you’re cutting with or stabbing with, which I don’t think is true of polearms.

 

GW: It’s not true of halberds, it’s not true of bills and it’s not true of pikes for sure. But I think it is usually true of spears.

 

DY: Right. Whereas my sense with spears, wooden or steel, is that they’re still going to be centre, not in that first half. But it does it does complicate things for me because spears aren’t so neatly balanced towards the cutting end.

 

GW: Right. I mean, think of Fiore’s spear, for example. It has similar heads at either end, which means its centre of gravity is going to be approximately halfway down the shaft. Yeah, most of the time Fiore shows holding that spear with that centre of gravity between your hands.

 

DY: OK, so it’s like having a sword at both ends, for example. What you have achieved is sword-like point control, but in a longer object.

 

GW: Yes, although I practise my spear point control by holding it with one hand by the butt. You can put your spear point wherever you want it while holding it with one hand by the butt, then it doesn’t matter where else you hold it. That point will go exactly where you want it to go.

 

DY: Yes, that’s good. OK, so because I sent Matt Easton an e-mail about this because I have so little experience with polearms.  Most of my experience is with swords and some daggers. And he actually he ended up doing a video on it, which was super helpful, and the sense I got from that very much that spears are either balanced bang on in the middle or in the second half. And swords are always closer to the hilt, but certainly in that first half and as you pointed out, that’s dynamic because it depends on where you hold them. But talking purely about where the weight distribution is in these objects, swords are designed to give you more deft point control. But the kind of point control you should enjoy with a dagger, but you have three times the length of a dagger or twice the length of a dagger.

 

GW: So what about executioners’ swords that have no point but are used purely for cutting? And fairly often their centre of mass is actually pretty close to the middle, but still on the hilt side of the middle. OK, the thing about the historical record is you can find an example of anything you look for that you and I bet you anything you like, somewhere in the world there is something which is indisputably a sword-shaped object and it has a centre of mass closer to the point than to the pommel. That’s pretty much a given.

 

DY: That hurts me, Guy. That hurts me.

 

GW: Why?

 

DY: Because Wittgenstein’s theory says you should be to talk of family resemblances. And ultimately, that’s the kind of thing I should be doing, if I weren’t being so anal about it. I’d say “in general,” or this is a family of objects called swords, and they tend to have these features. And I may need to do that, but I really wanted to see if I could do the most watertight definition possible, which included a rich range of swords, but excluded daggers and polearms.

 

GW: OK, I think that’s a hard row to hoe. Because if you expand across cultures like the war boomerangs you’re talking about, some people would say they weren’t swords because they’re made of wood. Richard Burton in his Book of the Sword, I think he describes a basically a stick with sharp stones attached to it as a sword. So, yeah, I think you’re going to have a really hard time finding a definition that has no exceptions.

 

DY: Yes. Which is incredibly frustrating, but also really to be expected.

 

GW: The world doesn’t divide neatly into perfect categories.

 

DY: No. And especially when your question is when you’re on the battlefield or on the field at dawn, facing your opponent is “What is this in my hand?

 

GW: “Is this truly a sword or is it is it really more of a dagger? Or perhaps it’s a spear.” And a long sword partakes of the sword, and it partakes of the dagger, and it partakes of the spear, and it partakes of the axe.

 

DY: Yes. And depend on your size. An extremely small person, a hobbit, shall we say, would use a dagger as a sword.

 

GW: Right. If you think about how all different ways the longsword is held, if I’m coming in with a pommel strike to your face, you will find most of the defences against pommel strikes are in the dagger section, because you just treat it like a dagger and all that dagger stuff just works. But if I’m coming in with half sword and again, I have a dagger sticking out of my left hand, that’s again, it’s a dagger. You treat it like a dagger. If I’m holding it by the blade and smacking you over the head with the hilt, it’s an axe.

 

DY: Yep. Sure. Or a warhammer or some such thing.

 

GW: Right. And if you look at your centre of gravity thing with swords, Fiore has an illustration of a sword to be used for fighting in armour that has a sliding rondel. So it’s got a spear point, a blunt blade section, a hilt and a sliding rondel. Your hand is protected so you can slide it up and down the blunted section of the blade. So the centre of gravity of the mass changes because when the rondel is up at the tip it is going to balance closer to the tip. If the rondel is back at the hilt, it’s going to balance closer to the hand. I’m sorry!

 

DY: No, no, no. This is in the in the chapter. I actually argue that as a sword is best understood as an arrangement rather than as a specific object. So there are some objects that can be moved into a sword configuration that would not be a sword in a different configuration.

 

GW: Do you address the German Grossmesser?

 

DY: I don’t mention it by name, but it certainly was haunting me. The big knife.

 

GW: By legal definition in Germany it’s a knife. Because the handle is constructed with scales riveted to the tang. As opposed to it being a sword because it’s of a certain length.

 

DY: Yes. To me it would really depend on, one – the way the weight is distributed in the weapon; and two – on whether or not you could use it effectively beyond grappling range.

 

GW: Oh OK, so your minimum length for a sword is determined by grappling range. How do you define grappling range?

 

DY: Well, I think of it really in terms of practise. Can you cut that person without fear of being grappled? Does its length offer that opportunity?

 

GW: Can you hit them when they are too far away to grab you?

 

DY: Yes, because I think that’s really what a sword offers beyond the dagger. By definition, a dagger is a really wonderfully sneaky fast weapon. But if I can dagger someone, they can dagger you.

 

GW: Daggers can be thrown.

 

DY: That’s true. Yes. I think that would cease to be a hand-held melee weapon. Then they become a projectile weapon.

 

GW: But still the object hasn’t changed.

 

DY: Yes, I know. And one of my arguments is that it depends on use. And I think you can throw a sword. You absolutely can throw a sword.

 

GW: Fiore shows defences against that.

 

DY: Yes. Does he include running?

 

GW: No. Because that would be cowardly.

 

DY: I’m sure I’ve seen a video on defence against thrown sword. Is that one of yours?

 

GW: I’ve certainly done it. I don’t know whether I videoed it or not. I don’t think I videoed it. But yes, I think it’s difficult to train safely.

 

DY: Yeah that’s true. I don’t have any problem with the idea of the daggers and swords can be thrown, but I also don’t think that’s what they’re primarily for. So you can use a sword like a spear, you can use a spear like sword.

 

GW: OK, ok. All right. I’m just having fun poking holes in your argument.

 

DY: Please do. It’s literally my job.

 

GW: Yes exactly. It’s primary function is part of the definition.

 

DY: I wouldn’t say primary function. I would say it affords certain practises and not others well. You can use a sword for picking your teeth. Typically it’s just not going to be as good at that as it is at killing people from beyond grappling range.

 

GW: OK, so throwing a dagger doesn’t stop it being a dagger and throwing the sword. OK, but what about a sword whose primary function is status display, like a bearing sword. It’s enormous, incredibly beautiful, but completely useless for fighting. How do they fit in your taxonomy?

 

DY: Um, I think I haven’t thought about that particular example, but I did think of things like that because I’m aware that a lot of the value of swords is symbolic, not just martial. But I did use a similar case, which is a toy sword. To my mind, a toy sword is not a sword because it doesn’t do the basic things that sword do, or rather more specifically, I had to be very specific about this, it is not amenable to being used in the way that swords are because it lacks many of those features. So, for example, a toy sword by definition is not supposed to cut. It is not supposed to puncture, because if it did, wouldn’t be a toy anymore.

 

GW: OK, then. But neither is the sort of long swords you’ll be using in class. Is a fencing foil a sword or not?

 

DY: I would say they are swords because they would be amenable to transformation into swords. They would not be very good. Because I mean, if you think about it, think about a regulation 19th century infantry officer sword. They would be issued to the officer blunt and then the officer would have to sharpen them. To my mind, that blunt sword is a sword because it is amenable to being sharpened, it’s amenable to being used like a sword. So a toy sword is not amenable to that. I think a fencing foil is amenable to that. I think it might not be very good, but it is amenable to being sharpened.

 

GW: Yes, you can sharpen the point, but it’s built to flex, not to shove through things.

 

DY: That’s true. I mean, there are various kinds. So if I look at my longsword, it is a Viktor Berbekucz longsword, if I put an edge on that and a point on that, it’s a sword, it’s extremely amenable to swordness.

 

GW: But you just said if you put an edge on that and a point on that, is it not quite a sword yet?

 

DY:I think I can remember the way I phrased it, but it is amendable to being a sword or rather it is amenable to doing the things that swords do. Just like a blunt sword is.

 

GW: I have a different definition. To my mind, a foil, which I would include, for example, my Fechterspiel, which is a blunt training long sword, is not a sword, it is a training aid for the practise of swordsmanship. Swordsmanship is done with an actual sword and swords are by definition is sharp, at least in the point or the edge, and often both.

 

DY: But then that infantry officer who’s given a blunt sword, that’s not a sword?

 

GW: Now, I say that probably is a sword because it’s already able to behave in a swordlike way.

 

DY: There you go.

 

GW: Also because sharpness is not an absolute. I can geek out with you on the specifics of sharpening until the cows come home. I’m a trained cabinetmaker and one of the reasons I went into woodworking is because I like sharp steel. But OK, the blunt sword that is issued to the officer, its edge geometry is present. It does not have parallel flats that meet at a square edge the way, for example, my Fechterspiel does. It has flats that taper to an edge, but that edge has not had the final honing. That will make it truly sharp, but it’s still a sharp sword. You couldn’t fence with it as a blunt. It is rigid, it’s pointed and sharp enough to crack your head open.

 

DY: Yeah. I suppose the point here is first of all, you could conceive of a sword that is sufficiently blunted that it’s still sort of has an edge, but it really it doesn’t do that much damage anymore. If you hit someone at force with it, of course, it’s going to hurt them because it’s a big lump of steel, but it really doesn’t have much of an edge left. Now, that would remain a sword, but it would have a very low degree of sharpness. I suppose my point is, my longsword here is amenable to that degree of sharpness and has most of the other features of balance and length and so on that make it a sword. And I think this is really important because many of the arguments about what a “something” is aren’t actually arguments about what a something is there, arguments about the quality of that something. And you find similar arguments in art. So people that say Duchamp’s fountain isn’t a work of art, it’s ugly, it’s literally a urinal, whatever. But it is. It’s accepted as an artwork by people in the art world. It has many of the features of it. It’s just not very aesthetically rich. It’s boring. It’s conceptually interesting, but you wouldn’t hang it on your wall. Similarly, I think we could conceive of swords that are amenable to sword practises that have certainly above average sword potential, but they’re not very good. They’re never going to be good swords, but you would recognise them as swords. My argument is a great many training swords would be recognised as low quality swords, high quality training swords, whereas a toy sword is never going to be a sword. It’s not a bad sword. It’s not sword at all.

 

GW: Like my length definition, where if the blade is divided into offensive and defensive parts, then it’s a sword. I am entirely comfortable with the notion that there’s a massive grey area between something which no one would dispute is sword length and something which no one would dispute is dagger length. There is a grey area where for some people it would definitely be a sword, and for other people it would definitely be a dagger. Because I am primarily focussed on training individual students for whom I make those sorts of customisations all the time. That is something I’m completely comfortable with. For example, my Fechterspiel is not and never will be a sword, not least because to make it a better training weapon, it has parallel flats that meet at a square edge. And yes, it could be sharpened, but it would just be a daft thing to do because the blade hasn’t been shaped to be sharpened.

 

DY: I agree to me, it would be a poor sword. It would be a sword.

 

GW: But if I took that down the pub and started swinging it around, someone would call the police and say there’s a nutter with a sword and the police would say there’s a nutter with a sword and I would be treated like a nutter with a sword, but by my definition, it’s definitely not a sword. Whereas if I took either one of my sharp longswords down, there’d be no question in my head that I’m being a nutter with a sword. The law would almost certainly make a distinction, because if I took a training weapon, which is blunt, has a rubber point on the end and blunt edges and was swinging around like a nutter, that indicates a level of intent when I could have taken the sharp sword that is right next to it on the rack and whatever foolishness I just did with that instead. So the law would certainly make a distinction.

 

DY: Yes, I would say it’s a distinction in something like martial value or dangerousness or something like that. It’s not a distinction of kind. It’s a distinction of degree. Another interesting example, which may which may back up my position or yours, I don’t know, is that I had an arming sword made by a local Tasmanian smith for doing Viking Sword and Shield, but he made it sharp. And so it was completely useless for HEMA.

 

GW: I completely disagree. I use sharp swords in training all the time.

 

DY: I mean, I couldn’t use it for bouting is my point. I couldn’t use it in drills, which is what I needed it for. Not without killing my opponents or myself, which is frowned upon here in Hobart. So I went to a knife shop and said, “Could you blunt this for me?”

 

GW: Oh!

 

DY: I came back a few days later and put my finger on it and almost cut my finger. And I said, “What have you done to this?” And he said, I’ve sharpened it for you. And I said, no, I wanted it blunted. And he made exactly the noise you just did. In the end, they did it for me and they did a good job. And it’s now quite useful for doing sword and shield. But I suppose my question for you would be, did I turn that from a sword into not a sword by having it blunted? Because it no longer has an edge. Doesn’t have a point now.

 

GW: You violated it. But you didn’t make it not a sword anymore because the smith made it to be sharp. Have you ever forged a blade yourself?

 

DY: No. I haven’t. I’d love to do that.

 

GW: I only did that recently. And it was just a glorious, glorious experience. And the thing is, if you’re making a blade to be sharp and you’re forging it, you’re literally hammering the bevels that will eventually be ground into the flats of the weapon. Where they meet , that’s the edge. You’re hammering that and you’re pushing the metal into place and you’re deliberately creating a particular structure in the steel so when it takes an edge that edge will be as good as it can be. But if you’re making a foil, you would forge it completely differently because your objective is not to make an edge, your objective is to make a flexible training tool. So the forging process of my Fechterspiel is fundamentally different to the forging process of my sharp longsword because in one, the smith will have hammered out the metal to make it flexible and to not have an edge built into it. Whereas with the sharp swords, that edge has been hammered into this fundamental crystalline structure of the steel itself. Of course, a lot of modern swords are not produced that way. They are produced by stock removal, where you take your block of metal and you can cut a longsword out of it, or you can make a foil out of it. And because of the way the steel is produced these days, it’ll work just fine. There’s nothing wrong with it. But, yeah, taking a handmade…smith made… sharp sword and just blunting it…

 

DY: The only thing I will say, and then I should go, because it’s ten past nine. The making of the sword is very important to what kind of object it is. But I don’t think it necessarily defines it as a sword or not a sword. So yes, I grant completely that you change the flexibility, you change the edge geometry and so on in order to make a sword rather than a feder or whatever it is you’re making, or foil. But you also don’t do any of those things to make a boomerang. But you’re still making a sword.

 

GW: As a woodworker I can speak to that.

 

DY: Yes. I mean, you would have similar geometry because you need the right planes and bevels and so on. But I suppose my very clumsy point there is it can’t be entirely dependent on the processes you go through to get to something.

 

GW: Of course. But then the woodworker will have selected the piece of wood because it already has the necessary grain structure to get the kind of edge that they want. But a smith can actually create that grain structure by heating the metal up and hitting it.

 

DY: Yep, yep, yep. OK, it was just important to be able to say the path we get there is not always what defines sword or not sword.

 

GW: And isn’t it instructive that we actually stopped the podcast nearly an hour ago and we are still discussing what is a sword. Actually, Damon, would it be all right if I shared this as a separate thing? Because I know that there are loads of people who would just love to have listened in on this. And I forgot to stop recording. It’s still recording.

 

DY: Sure, I worry that I’m so muddled about it that I’d kind of be exposing myself to ridicule that I haven’t thought through it yet. Let me think about it.

 

GW: As I think I’ve always said in an email, I won’t share any of this stuff until you’ve had a chance to listen to it anyway. As I say to all of my guests, we do the recording, I edit the recording, I send it to the guest and the guest can say, “Actually at 40 minutes in, I say this thing and I’d rather you cut that out.” And that’s fine. You even have the option to just say, actually, I’d rather we just get that between us so I won’t share it. And that’s all. No guest has yet said that. But I need my guests to feel entirely comfortable to say whatever they want. And one way to help with that is that they know that it’s not live and it won’t be shared unless they get an opportunity to look back at it and go, actually, yes or actually no.

 

DY: Thank you, I really appreciate that.

 

GW: It’s like we’ve got two podcast episodes for the price of one.

 

DY: Yeah. I mean and look, if it, if it does go up it would make a really nice two parter, you know, the general discussion. And then what’s a bloody sword?

 

GW: What is it? I don’t know! It’s a pokey thing!

 

DY: Just give it to me!

 

GW: Well OK. I have a philosophical definition of a sword for you. This is what I actually use swords for and why I care. The sword: it pierces the veil of illusion and it separates truth from falsehood. That is my actual definition of a sword.

 

DY: Mm.

 

GW: That is not something I would normally like tell anyone because it’s not actually a useful definition because you can pierce the veil of illusion with anything and also separate truth from falsehood with anything. But the essence of a sword to me is it cuts, separating truth from falsehood, and it thrusts, piercing the veil of illusion.

 

DY: And we could always say, well under these circumstances with the right people and in the right time and place. But I do like that. I like its elegance. It’s funny, you know the word “cleaving” is one of those words that means two completely opposite things. I think it’s the case with swords. There’s a wonderful cleaving aspect to swords in that they do exactly what you’re talking about. They cut through the bullshit.

There’s an immediacy to them that means you can’t delude yourself. But at the same time, there are a form of intimacy. They bring you together with others. They create very small communities within which that other kind of cleaving occurs.

 

GW: That’s beautiful.

 

DY: Yeah, I like that.

 

GW: Wow. Yeah. Oh, my God, I’ve got to let some people listen to this, because that was lovely.

 

DY: I’m going to go have a cuppa. OK, so much for having me on, Guy.

 

GW: It’s been a delight talking to you, Damon. Let’s do this again sometime. Let’s do it again.