There really isn’t one. The debate on the “best weapon” takes place all over the internet much in the same way people argue over the “best martial art” or the “best character in Star Wars”. Usually when someone tells you, “the best weapon is X”, they’re either working off of personal preference or referring to a video game where statistics mean that X really is the best weapon. Though, there will probably always be someone who makes a case for another one.
This is probably a good time to remind everyone that people who love martial combat and weaponry are just as nerdy/geeky/fannish about it as everyone else with their respective loves.
The best and clearest analogy I have for how weapons are used in the real world is that they’re like tools in a toolbox. You’ve got your different families of tools, your wrenches, your hammers, your screwdrivers, and they’re all designed to handle different problems you come across when building. You don’t take a hammer to a screw because it’s counterproductive, and screws come in varying sizes and types so you need different screwdrivers to deal with them.
Weapons are the same way. There are generalist weapons (weapons that are designed and have multiple uses in a variety of situations) and there are specialist weapons (weapons designed to be most effective in specific circumstances).
For example, you can take your sniper or hunting rifle into a duel happening at fifteen to twenty feet but it gives up most of its advantages. This is why we also carry a handgun, so if the enemy gets into a range where the rifle is no longer a workable choice then you have a weapon to fall back to.
We get a lot of questions like, “should I give my character a knife or a gun?”
The answer is always: you should give them both.
The handgun is a ranged weapon, it’s meant to be used at range. The knife or dagger is a close quarters supplement for hand to hand. It’s meant to be more effective than your fists when it comes to fighting.
Now, this might lead you to saying, “so the gun is the better weapon?”
The answer is actually no. Much as you might like, you won’t be fighting at range 100% of the time. Fights don’t always start with an enemy twenty feet away. Sometimes, they begin with an enemy right next to you. The time it takes to draw, aim, and shoot can be all the time it takes for the guy or girl with the knife to have driven the blade into your gut several times. (This isn’t theoretical, this is real world, people die this way in muggings.)
The “best weapon” is the one that’s most suited to the job in front of it and that’s situational. Warriors throughout history carried multiple weapons because they didn’t know. You go to battle and the situation changes, you don’t want to be short changed because it could cost you your life.
Archers also carry swords.
Soldiers carried polearms and swords.
Comprehensive martial training involves training in the use of more than one weapon, you will learn how to use multiple weapons. The reason for this is because not every weapon will work in every situation and it’s good to have a range of options on which to rely.
The sword is called a “sidearm” because it is a secondary weapon, support weapon to your primary weapon. That does not mean the primary weapon is the better weapon. It’s the one that’s usually most situationally useful first i.e. a polearm because it has the furthest reach and combat is most likely (but not always) to start at range.
Even then, there are usually several other weapons designed by different people for a similar or parallel purpose. Just look at the family of polearms. Some of those weapons might look silly to you, but they showcase technical ingenuity. Someone designed a new kind of armor or weapon to bring to the table and they designed a counter.
Like war, weaponry is fluid. You create X to counter B, then in a few months they’ll create Z to counter X. We have countless examples throughout history and it is happening right now in whatever country you live in.
War is just as much science as everything else. The difference being a failure can be anything from the cost of sovereignty to people’s lives. If there are two sides to a conflict, you can bet both sides are working hard on ways to stay ahead of the other. This can be anything from strategy to weapons types, to enhancing or bettering the weapon into something more useful to the current climate.
Every weapon has strengths and limitations, every weapon has circumstances where it shines. Instead of trying to find a key that fits all the locks, just use different keys.
Cheesy as it sounds, at the end of the day, the best weapon is the human brain.
The person who wields the weapon is the one who trumps all.