Tag Archives: Starke answers

Hi, what can you tell me about double edged weapons? Is it true that it requires a tremendous amount of skill, or is it just impractical all around? If it does require skill, how long would you say it would take for one to master a double edged weapon?

I’ll be honest, I don’t think those really have much of a history. There’s probably some obscure case I’m simply not aware of, but the only thing I can think of is Darth Maul. My recollection is; Ray Park was just using a staff form.

I’ve got a double knife around here, somewhere. I picked it up as a show piece item about a decade ago. But, I’ve never even seen a double knife presented as a practical weapon.

Okay, on the ability to actually use them? Maul’s lightsaber works because they’re effectively frictionless, and the individual blades can be turned off. If you take away either of those, I’d really worry about being able to control weapon, when actually connecting with another combatant or their weapon.

With staff combat, the closer your hands are, the faster you can move, but the less control you have over the weapon, which in turn means you have to slow down (yes, by staff standards, Maul was moving slowly). I don’t think this is really even a skill issue, simply controlling a double bladed sword would always be finicky.

I would believe that double weapons were used as exhibition pieces, but as combat weapons, without more information, I’m pretty suspicious.

Double knives are slightly more plausible. I’m not aware of any history, and, my own experience left me with a nasty self inflicted cut on my off hand, but there are enough uses for a reverse grip blade that having one there all the time wouldn’t be a complete liability. But, carrying one could be. Mine uses a lockblade mechanism, but in a setting without collapsible knives, I’m not sure how you’d keep yourself safe from your own blades.


I think you got the loading sequence for flintlocks backwards. The bullet goes down the barrel after the powder, not powder after bullet. The wadding serves to keep the bullet tightly in the barrel, so it would not fall out. There is a good description of the loading sequence here: firearmshistory(.)blogspot(.)co(.)uk/2010/04/loading-mechanisms-muzzleloader(.)html

Yup. These are the joys of midnight editing. I was literally correcting the post when you sent this. Worst thing is, I’ve actually fired a blackpowder musket before. I know better. *Facepalm*


I just watched the first episode of Sleepy Hollow, and it showed Revolutionary War soldiers firing flintlock pistols and balancing the barrels on the wrist of the other hand to help with aim. (At least, I think so–it was a quick shot, but they looked too short to be rifles.) Is this historically accurate technique? Either way, do you have any tips for (fictional, of course) use of flintlock pistols?

Well, they were inaccurate as hell, for one thing. Rifled barrels existed in the sixteenth century, but most flintlocks were smoothbore, meaning the weapon was exceedingly inaccurate outside of very close combat. This is why you could line infantry up in melee formations, tell them to shoot at a similar formation, and they wouldn’t all die after the first volley.

Balancing on the wrist? Search me. There’s a rifle stance where you balance across your elbow, and there are some handgun stances where you use the back of your wrist to stabilize your shooting hand, while gripping a flashlight or knife. But balancing the gun on the wrist sounds really odd to me.

EDIT: It hit me as I was editing in the tags. Balancing across the wrist is a coach gun stance. It lets you keep a couple shells for the shotgun in your hand while firing. It’s a really oddball grip, though, no idea if predates breach loading shotguns. But, if that’s the case, then you’re probably looking at either a blunderbuss, (think of them as the ancestors to the modern shotgun) or a gun that really shouldn’t be there.

With smoothbore firearms, longer barrels equal more accuracy, up to a point. Flintlocks came in a lot of different sizes and shapes, so without having seen it, it could be any number of firearms. On a hunch, I’d recommend checking the blunderbuss as a possible suspect. I don’t think Carbines date back to the Revolutionary War, but it’s possible that their arms master flunked history.

Now, advice on writing in that time? First, don’t call it a rifle. It’s actually pretty easy to mess this one up. Rifles have been around since sometime in the early sixteenth century, but they didn’t become the standardized infantry weapons until the Napoleonic Wars. The practice of calling every longarm a rifle is actually very modern. US forces were still transitioning to rifled muskets during the Civil War, so while I know they had some rifles during the revolutionary war, what you’re actually talking about are muskets.

It’s worth pointing out, at least with flintlock pistols, the reloading procedure was to pour the powder, then the ball, finally drop the cartridge paper in, and tap it all down with the ramrod. This was to keep the bullet in place as the weapon was carried. As I recall, reloading took something like ten to twenty seconds, and was impossible in melee.

Paper cartridges did exist. These were premeasured tubes of paper that would contain enough powder for a single shot, and sometimes a bullet. Most of these were not intended to be simply shoved into the gun, though. They’d be torn open (usually, with the shooter’s teeth) and poured in after the bullet.

Though, there were exceptions, where the entire cartridge would be loaded into the weapon in a single piece. That usually involved paper treated with potassium nitrate. Nitrated paper would burn almost completely. As far as I know, the nitrated paper cartridge came into use with percussion cap firearms, so the 1820s at the earliest.

Anyway, I’m still working through our backlog. Sorry about the wait.


I’ve noticed that while Asian fighting styles tend to viewed as martial “arts”, European fighting systems tend to be described more in a more scientific light (“scientific boxing”, fencing, etc.). Which view do you tend to prefer?

I prefer to avoid indulging in Orientalism as much as possible. Here’s the thing, maybe it’s because, literally, all my hand to hand training has come from cops, but physics, physiology, and psychology have been just as important in explaining all of it.

Now, Orientalism itself is a practice of ascribing mystic qualities to Middle Eastern and Asian culture and societies. This includes the general idea that Asian martial arts are somehow not as scientific as European ones.

If you really want to dig into this more, Edward Said originated the term. His book on the subject, conveniently titled Orientalism, is a fairly fundamental text in the field of post-colonial studies.


As a professional bladesmith/archeometallurgy dork prone to pedantic lectures on the pointlessness of “folded steel” in a world of modern tool steels it was nice to see someone taking the piss out of Katana As Best Ever, but then I read close and–Well. The way you gloss technical details suggests someone that doesn’t really know about basic metallurgy re: the refinement and heat-treatment of steels? In your eagerness to bash the ur-sword katana of myth you see to have lurched to another (cont.)

Yeah, metallurgy is not my strong suit, and I’m sorry but we never got the rest of your response. Also, apologies for the delay, we’ve got a few left over in our backlog from during the trip, and I’m going to try to knock those out over the next couple days.

The short version is that the katana was forged out of pig iron. The Japanese gave it a fancy name, but it was still the same low quality stuff Europe and China were using to make plows and cookware. It was forged using the same techniques Europe had used in the 800s, and abandoned before Japan was ever founded.

My understanding is that you beat the blade out and fold it, in an effort to remove excess carbon, making the blade less brittle, but also softer.

I’ve heard (and read) that Katanas should be refereed to as either iron or cold steel, and, as with a lot of the Katana, there’s a lot of parsing of myth from reality, because of the blade’s cultural history and status. I erred with cold steel, which, given everything else, might be technically wrong.

Anyway, if you want to dig in more, I’d be glad to post it together into a coherent post. The easiest format would be if you’d actually register an account, and write the whole thing up in one shot, but I can use the quote system in here to stitch it together.


Do you know anything about axes that a writer might find useful? to be a bit more specific: I’m vaguely aware that the US army still has ‘tactical tomahawks’ of the pointy bit-ed axe variety, but can find nothing on their use in combat.

I’m pretty sure those aren’t intended for combat. Though, being able to kill with one is probably viewed as a perk.

Most axe combat, and even just using axes as tools, is based around momentum, building it quickly and maintaining it. Fortunately, the axe’s weight works in the combatant’s favor here.

Fair warning: neither of us are axe experts. I’ve use axes and hatchets extensively in Scouts; but, obviously, not on people. So neither of us know any of the more advanced techniques.

One handed axe strikes usually work by forcing the axe head into an elliptical path. The combatant will bring the axe up, then use the wrist or shoulder as a fulcrum to drive the axe into its strike vector. This can actually start with the blade being driven away from combat, only to flick it around and back into the opponent with little to no warning.

Two handed strikes usually work off building and maintaining momentum through multiple strikes.

A woodsman’s strike uses the combatant’s hands as a fulcrum. The strike starts with both hands placed far apart, one near the shoulder, and one near the knob. The combatant draws back, and as they strike they slide their hand down the shaft, closing the distance between their hands. This is strictly a one shot strike, though, as there’s no follow up, once the axe is imbedded in someone.

If the strike blows through someone, or reflects off a hard surface, you can regain control by moving the leading hand back up the haft, though this will also eat it’s momentum. I suspect that, with practice, you can simply whip the blade around into someone else, without completely killing it’s momentum, but I’m not sure of the logistics involved.

There was a historical technique for a bearded axe, that resembles a whip flourish. The axe would be swung in an “infinity” pattern. Starting over the shoulder, it would be driven down in front of the combatant, and back over behind their shoulder, it would then cross its path on the opposite diagonal. That said, the bearded axe had a six foot haft, so it handled more like a staff than a normal axe.


I have a character who has been training with a sword for most of his life and has gotten pretty familiar with German-School-ish fencing, but loses his dominant arm in an accident during the course of the story. Would a person under these circumstances need to start totally from scratch in terms of fencing, or would some things, like footwork, transfer, with only parts needing to be re-learned using the other arm?

Most of the blade work I have experience with requires both hands. (One on the hilt, and the other resting against the pommel for additional control and agility.) So, losing either arm will have a very serious effect on one’s ability to fight effectively.

That said, feel free to look up Götz von Berlichingen. He was a German mercenary who lost his dominant hand in 1504, and continued fighting for decades using an iron prosthetic. (Just don’t ask me to type another umlaut for awhile, Firefox goes nuts whenever I try the alt+ code.)


Tricky question, not sure if this is the right place, but here goes: I’m starting up a futuristic dystopia where all firearms are prohibited from the civilian population and it’s going to be in an urban setting. What kinds of hand to hand weapons would reemerge in such a situation?

I don’t think any weapons would “reemerge.” I mean, we talked about how a bow is out of the question a long time ago. Actually, I’m going to step back a bit. “Dystopia” has become a keyphrase for fascist/authoritarian lately. Any sufficiently bleak setting can end up as a dystopia. Strictly speaking, there’s an entire subgenre of postapocalyptic stuff that falls into that range, along with a fairly large chunk of the cyberpunk genre.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because guns tend to remain in circulation in those settings, even if they’re illegal to own. It’s fine to say that the governments of the world outlawed firearms, but that doesn’t explain how they managed to round up the roughly half a billion firearms in circulation.

Even if you say the police respond more harshly to gun crimes, for example, summary execution for suspicion of possessing a firearm, then that removes the veil of authority and turns the police into just another inner city gang, to be killed on sight, albeit a better equipped one. This is actually a problem police face currently, in some major cities, like New York and Los Angeles.

Anyway, stepping back from that, any other weapons? Honestly, this is going to read more like a list of improvised weapons. Because almost anything can be used to kill someone else, this is by no means exhaustive.

Anyone with a belt sander and a piece of scrap metal can make a shiv, knives aren’t going anywhere, and they’re easy to conceal.

Even if we’re talking about a post-apocalyptic setting, improvised flamethrowers and cattle prods should be fairly easy to rig up, for anyone with some decent metal working equipment. Getting good fuel for a flamethrower could be an issue. It can’t be something too corrosive that’ll eat through the weapon’s feed system. It can’t be something that produces a lot of residue, which can gunk up the same system. And, of course, it needs to be flammable, (which is probably the easiest requirement).

Zip guns are also really easy to make. You can check youtube for some examples of those. Ammunition is the same. It won’t be commercial quality. But, if we’re talking about black market weapons and ammo, the production may very well be just as good. I think the Anarchist’s Cookbook has how to guides on all of the above examples, but I’ve never actually gotten around to reading it.

Hatchets and hand axes are unlikely to go anywhere. Sledgehammers and shovels are lethal as they are obvious.

I mentioned rebar earlier, but that stuff has some serious value as an improvised weapon. It’s small enough that it could, potentially, be stashed up someone’s sleeve, and it can easily kill.

I’ve always felt chain whips are a bit goofy, but you can certainly lash the hell out of someone with one. A whip can also be improvised from electrical cable, though, that’s more of a novelty weapon.

Tactical batons aren’t going to have disappeared either, and those are a lot harder to track down. Basically these are telescopic steel batons, they come in “18 and “24 varieties, and either size can really wreck your day. They collapse down into a small cylinder about the size of a pocket flashlight.

While I’m thinking about flashlights, any metal D-Cell flashlight can be turned into a really vicious weapon.

On the subject of dystopias, in general, I’d recommend researching feral cities and failed states. A lot of the feral city research has been in the last couple years, so getting access to good articles could be difficult, but there’s a pretty substantial body of work on failed states. This should give you some ideas for dystopias that range beyond: just another fascist state.


Hi, I have a character in a fantasy setting who mainly uses a bow for hunting animals and monsters, and also carries a sword in case of close combat. I’ve read over your post about the bow, but I still have a question. If she’s in close combat and using her sword, what does she do with her bow? Bows don’t really have sheathes. Is she just supposed to toss it on the ground and run the risk of someone stepping on it?

Bows were unstrung and wrapped when not in use. This isn’t completely true of modern bows, but was the case with most historical bows.

The wrapped bow could be carried over the shoulder or attached to a pack, but it’s still a fairly sensitive item. It would also need to be kept dry. This was primarily because the glues were water soluble.

Your character probably wouldn’t want to keep the wrapped bow near them in combat, and if they’re dumping their pack somewhere before a fight, then that’s where their bow would be.