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A Historical Analysis of the Practicality of the Weapons in Zelda XVII: The Great Fairy's Sword.

TheGreatCthulhu

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@thePlinko suggested that I do the Great Fairy's Sword from Majora's Mask, and asked how I feel about how usable it is as a sword.

Which I feel is a great way to again talk about greatsword combat.

Jeez, it seems the lot of you are very interested in greatswords, and how they were used in combat.

Makes sense, greatswords are awesome, and of course, I'd love to discuss greatswords again.

For those just tuning in, I'm trained in HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) which is where we read historical European manuals written from 1250 AD (in the case of MS I.33, the oldest text we have in this genre) clear up to 19th century cavalry saber manuals, as well as learn, through trial and error and using the historical texts as our guide to determine how our ancestors fought with these weapons.

So I'm looking at the weapons in the Zelda games as if they were actual, real weapons, and how they fare up against the tried-and-true historical weapons, in addition to how practical they would be if they were used in real combat.

With that out of the way, let's review this sword.



WHAT KIND OF SWORD IS IT?:

See, I called it a greatsword due to how large it is compared to Link himself.

1593235391165.png

As we can see in this screenshot, the sword is taller than Link is.

You might think that this may not make a difference in terms of general use, and that's where you'd be wrong.

See, swords have the designs they do based on how they were actually used.

That's why arming swords, or one-handed swords generally didn't have their tips touch the ground when you held your arms straight down. And that's because they were meant to be used in conjunction with a buckler or a shield.

This is also why I feel the Gilded Sword is too long to be an arming sword.

Because, let's say you're using an arming sword and a buckler or shield, and you assume the first guard you're taught in sword and buckler, and that's 1st Ward or Prima Custodia, from the Latin:

i33-walpurgis | Hans Talhoffer


The guard is what the Priest on the right is assuming. You could also call this "Under the arm," as the text itself says.

I think of this as the first position you enter when drawing the sword from its scabbard.

Attempt this with a longsword. It works, but due to the longsword being longer, heavier, and with a longer handle, it's a bit unwieldy to use it in such a fashion. It works, but isn't ideal.

When Link, assuming he wears the sword on his hip (as he should be), he can't really enter this guard and perform a healthy undercut without the tip dragging on the ground, which, of course, is bad for the tip.

While we aren't discussing the Gilded Sword here, it demonstrated that swords have the designs they do because of function.

And it's a general mantra to remember when I review a sword:

Form always follows function.
So with that, let's actually look into how greatswords were used in combat.

GREATSWORD COMBAT:

In general, a greatsword refers to a sword that's so long it requires the use of two hands, unlike a longsword which is generally used in two hands, but can be used in one hand as well.

The real issue here is proportions and weight. A typical greatsword varies in weight between 5-7 lbs, whereas longswords average around 3.5 lbs, typically.

That alone changes the use of the weapon. That means unlike in longsword fencing where the goal is to be nimble and gain advantage in the bind, as these chaps show in Fiore's system:


With greatswords, that means rather than stop and change direction, we carry the momentum of the strikes to move between the different guard positions. In other words, the sword must always be moving.

Here's Matt Easton from scholagladiatoria demonstrating using an 8 lb greatsword in two hands, and then in one hand.


In other words, it's a two handed weapon not because you can't wield it in one hand, but your motions are too slow and predictable. Despite their size, greatswords are still swords, and one of the main advantages the sword has over say, an impact weapon like the mace or warhammer, is that they're nimble weapons.

So despite greatswords being big, you still want them to be as light as you can possibly get away with, for the sake of making them a nimble weapon.

"Well fine, Cthulhu, but how does one actually use these weapons? Got any historical references that we can review?"

Why yes I do, as a matter of fact.

Our primary source will be Francesco Fernando Alfieri, specifically his spadone manual. Spadone, in Italian, just means "big sword."

He first, in chapter six of his treatise Lo Spadone, discusses the absolute basics of holding the greatsword:

File:L’arte di ben maneggiare la spada (Alfieri) Spadone 3.png


Of Gripping the Spadone: and Forming Yourself in Posture to Assail the Enemy.

Chapter 6

In this discourse one will show that it is much more effective to teach the figure: they don’t make speeches, because seeing the drawn posture and manner that one must observe by imitating them, raising all doubts that could be born from the weakness of the oppressive. The following figure represents how you must in one indivisible time stop in the posture, keeping yourself free to be able to wait or assault according to his good pleasure.

Wanting the gentleman to do the first lesson, it must begin with the two principle cuts, that is a forehand and backhand, and they are brought and at the same time accompanied from the right and left hand, lengthening the step, and the body, pulling the blow either down, or up, according to the place, and the time, these two cuts are pulled indifferently, and replicated more times. The forehand are pulled from the right part, and the backhand are pulled from the left hand, and whoever will well go examining and arguing with intellect will easily find the reasons for going against every one, as we reason in a place of one, and time in another, of the other following lesson.
Specifically, here, he says that holding the greatsword is better served by referencing the picture included for this part of the treatise. If you don't know the basics on holding a sword, remember that we essentially use our core muscles and legs to bear the weight, and the way we grip the weapon should serve to lock the sword into our forearms, taking the wrist out of the equation entirely.

The only way to do this is to follow Miyamoto Mushashi's advice on how to grip a sword in his Book of Five Rings:

Holding the Long Sword

Grip the long sword with a rather floating feeling in your thumb and forefinger, with the middle finger neither tight nor slack, and with the last two fingers tight. It is bad to have play in your hands.

When you take up a sword, you must feel intent on cutting the enemy. As you cut an enemy you must not change your grip, and your hands must not "cower". When you dash the enemy's sword aside, or ward it off, or force it down, you must slightly change the feeling in your thumb and forefinger. Above all, you must be intent on cutting the enemy in the way you grip the sword.

The grip for combat and for sword-testing is the same. There is no such thing as a "man-cutting grip".

Generally, I dislike fixedness in both long swords and hands. Fixedness means a dead hand. Pliability is a living hand. You must bear this in mind.
In other words, you grip a sword by holding it in more of a handshake grip than with a hammer grip.

Anyhow, from there, Frencesco continues with the basic three cut drill in chapter seven:

File:L’arte di ben maneggiare la spada (Alfieri) Spadone 4.png


The First Method to Commence Handling the Spadone

Chapter 7

This lesson one will make three cuts that are worthy of being observed. One will by the subtlety and mastery of the blow seek to consider the impression of the present figure, with which he will commence the passage. And to attain the honor that one will desire, must the body be somewhat bent and disposed to the force; the arm has to be united, and take strength with both hands in gripping the spadone, and moving the natural yet generous step you will form from one time the first forehand strike, and the backhand second, and one will replicate many times such cuts, turning the body and the spadone with the hands turning over the head, and so one will go in this continuous way, both in going forward as in the return backwards, as is more effectively shown by the posture.
In other words, you cut with your entire body behind the strike! By turning your hips and shoulders, as well as maintaining a stable base with your footwork, you naturally form the forehand and backhand strikes of the greatsword.

Notice, also, that Francesco specifically says that ideally, each cut should return to the natural, guarded position that he demonstrated earlier.

This makes perfect, natural sense. Since the greatsword was a battlefield weapon, meant to control key areas of a skirmish, like a bridge, entrance and such, you must always be willing to guard against a strike. Especially sense in these kind of encounters, you're often dealing with multiple opponents.

Thus, one must practice their cuts by not only delivering the strike with speed and power, but with enough control that it doesn't throw you off-balance or cause to over-commit your strike.

Each strike must be sharp and controlled, or, in the case of the greatsword, controlled enough that your cuts naturally flow into one guard position and the next, controlling the momentum of each strike.

And considering the mass of the weapon that we're discussing, this makes much more martial sense than using the greatsword like a bigger longsword.

He continues in chapter eight:

File:L’arte di ben maneggiare la spada (Alfieri) Spadone 5.png


The Head Guard of the Spadone: For Defending Yourself in an Ordinary Street.

Chapter 8

The present figure serves to awaken the chance memory, which by the length of time and little use of my recollection given to living voice became out of mind. Now you are shown that all lessons are so ordered that one is linked with the other. Here we learn how you will pull the three cuts, making the head guard with the spadone. This not only serves to show the disposition and skill of those who exercise, but may be given the case that paragons of mastery practice it in combat. Therefore hold the arm outstretched, and give a round of three forehand cuts over the head, and the same is done with backhand cuts. You must at once spring forward without losing time. You will turn the hands together afterward, as seen in the demonstrated drawing. With the union of the right and left foot you will extend the strike, so forward as backward, having always regard for the exactness of the step so avoiding the disgrace which removes merit.
Basically, Francesco is discussing the importance of a concept in fencing called True Time. It's the idea that ideally, by the time your cut lands on the target, your foot is down at the same time the cut lands.

This, admittedly, is awkward and counter-intuitive.

Everyone wants to make a large, heavy, slow-moving cut in an attempt to cleave the opponent in twain, but if you think about it, if your foot lands before the strike is delivered, your shoulder is exposed, and you're presenting a target.

Thus, in HEMA, for all kinds of sword combat, the goal is to constantly be threatening your opponent, and the only way that can happen is if the strike lands at the same time as your foot.

This is a learned skill, not something you pick up just naturally, because we're actually feeding the strike from the rear, instead of our HEAVY CHEST MUSCLES!!!

This is all building up to this drill that Francesco discusses in chapter nine:

File:L’arte di ben maneggiare la spada (Alfieri) Spadone 4.png


How You Must in a Wide Space do the Three Crosses of the Spadone

Chapter 9

The present lessons are all taken from the real occasions of the matter, which for most happen hot-blooded, we have come to the method of doing the three crosses. By using it in the time that you are assaulted in a plaza or a large street by several people, and to do this you all know requires much judgement, but accompanied with resolution and skill as shown in the prefixed figure.

The first cross will be split with two cuts from the forehand, accompanying it with the right foot, rotating the body and spadone around, and every single strike causes its motion, having the left foot firmly grounded, and the other which walks with the cuts two times. And then stopping the right foot, and commence with the left foot the same with two backhand cuts, and finish the two blows you will start as before with the right foot, and if it will from here pass to the right side, pull the same two forehand cuts, and stop the right foot when finished. And the left you will put to the left side and pull its two backhand cuts, and you will return then into the same place where you had started.

The second cross you will do with three cuts of the forehand, and with three backhand cuts. The forehand cuts will be accompanied with the right foot, and the backhand with the left foot, turning the body three times with the spadone. You will however keep the said order.
In other words, according to Frencesco, the blade must always be moving to control space, which is the whole point of using a large sword like this.

But, all of this seems to show that the greatsword is a cut focused weapon, but you can thrust with them by taking advantage of their length, and with a bit of inspiration from the spear, as Giacomo di Grassi demonstrates in his treatise, Ragione di adoprar sicuramente l'Arme:

File:Di Grassi 21.jpg


Of the Manner How to Handle the Two Hand Sword, in Single Combat.

To those, who would cunningly handle the Two hand Sword in single combat, it is principally necessary that (as in other weapons) they be practiced and have the skill, to use the one hand as well as the other, and they both be active in body, and strong in the arms, which are required in the managing of each weapon. And farther it is requisite that they carry the principles of this Art, surely fixed in their minds and memories, by means whereof they may become bold and resolute, in as much as they have to do, either in striking or defending. They ought furthermore to consider, how the two hand sword is used, and how it ought to be used.
He's right now, discussing the requirements of using a greatsword, which would be that one is strong, and has the fundamental basics of swordsmanship down.

He continues:

Touching the first, All men use to deliver thrusts, as well as edge blows, down right, and reversed, with both hands to the Sword which way albeit, it be profitable in the bestowing of edge blows, as being the better able to sustain the Sword, yet in the discharge of thrusts it is hurtful, for it causes them to be much shorter, then they would be, if in the beginning, they were forcibly delivered with both the hands, and then by taking away one hand from the cross, they were springed as far forth, as the pommel hand, foot, and all the body of that side, may be stretched out. For, being discharged in this manner, if they hit home they make great passage, and if they be voided, yet the Two hand sword may be quickly had again, by the retiring of a pace, and of the hand and arm, placing the other hand there where it was, and so settling in the low ward.
Here, he's discussing the principles of the first cut, which I believe Frencesco eloquently handled.

Continuing on, Giacomo di Grassi says this on how to deliver a thrust:

Therefore, when one finds himself to stand at the high ward, (the which at the two hand Sword, is framed, either with the right side towards the enemy, either with the left, in either of which ways, the arm would be borne aloft, and far off from the body, causing the point somewhat to bend both towards the ground and the body, to the end it may defend both the length of the body, and cover it in a manner thwarting or crossing, it being so far off from the sword.

Farther, in this ward, the hand that is towards the enemy, must take hold fast of the handle near the cross, and underneath, the other hand above, and near the pommel. I say standing thus at the high ward, he may either deliver a thrust, either a down right blow of the edge.

The thrust is discharged (as soon as the enemy's sword is found) as far in the beginning as he may with both arms: Then, taking away the cross hand, he shall force it farther on with the pommel hand, as much as he may stretch it forth, always in the discharge, increasing a slope pace. And the thrust being thus delivered, he shall presently retire his said pace, and return his hand again to the cross, settling himself either in the high or low warde.
In other words, you deliver your thrust much like a spear, with your back hand near the pommel for extra reach and power.

So basically you use the greatsword not like a longsword, necessarily, but think of using them like a longsword but always keep the blade moving and the momentum of the swings carrying over into the next.

Done properly, the strikes come at a terrifying speed, and if delivered with proper structure, have a f*ck ton of power behind them, and are coming at a distance which is frightening.

Why discuss how the greatsword was used?

Because again, form follows function, and the way the historical greatswords were designed, what with being long as well as being as light as possible, that means despite their size, they are actually quite nimble.

But, the Great Fairy's Sword clearly misses out on the real benefit the greatsword has.

GREAT FAIRY'S SWORD REVIEW:

The screenshot I shared earlier tells me an awful lot about the design of the most dangerous part of the sword.

The blade.

It shows me that it's basically a MASSIVE lump of metal, showing hardly any profile or distal tapering to assist the sword in the cut or the thrust.

You might say that it being heavier might make it more dangerous, but anyone making this argument has clearly never handled a sword before, let alone a greatsword.

Swords are meant to cut and thrust, okay? And their design, what with being thinner with acutely tapered edges and points assist them in cutting and thrusting into flesh.

Further, if using a quality, well made reproduction, even large swords are much more lively in the hands that you would give them credit for.

My longsword:

20190305_163209.jpg

Which is the Hanwei Rhinelander Bastard Sword (which you can purchase from Kult of Athena here) is:

  • An overall length of 45.25 inches long.
  • A blade length of 35.75 inches long.
  • Has a weight of 3.4 lbs.
  • Made out of 5160 spring steel, full tang construction, and heat-treated to 54HRc.
In other words, it's a proper sword. And it handles that way as well.

Lemme tell you, that blade does substantial damage already.

See, the point here is adding weight to a sword isn't always a good thing. You generally don't want to add weight to a weapon if it doesn't offer you any benefits.

The side ring on my longsword adds some weight, but you gain the benefit of more hand protection.

But, everything within reason.

I can tell you that the Great Fairy's Sword, as it exists in the game would handle like a sledgehammer in real life, which is not what you want with a cut and thrust weapon.

And that's because the sword has no profile or distal tapers to not only lighten the blade, but to improve blade harmonics as it flexes, as well as improve its cutting and thrusting capabilities.

Further, the hilt assembly on the Great Fairy's Sword is laughable, especially compared to my sword.

Whereas on my sword you have great hand protection, with a guard that's reasonably proportioned and sized, and a handle that's comfortable to grip, as well as being shaped properly, being ovate-to-round, the Great Fairy's Sword's hilt looks disproportionately shaped.

For those that don't know, the hilt refers to everything below the blade, which includes the guard, handle, and pommel.

Speaking of the pommel, assuming we're making a greatsword, why does it lack a pommel?

I know some Japanese Nodachi swords didn't have a pommel either, but the Great Fairy's Sword doesn't look like one of those now does it?

Further, while we're talking the hilt, let's talk about that "guard" the Great Fairy's Sword has. The quillons don't extend out far enough, meaning it won't be able to catch a sword if it happens to slip in the bind.

Further it seems large in the completely wrong way you want it to be.

And finally, that handle is weird. It seems it's either too small if we assume the blade is of the proper size, or if the handle is the right size, just how large is that blade?

FIXING THESE PROBLEMS:

Okay, the first thing I'd do is refine that blade shape. As it stands now, being so thick, it wouldn't be great at cutting or thrusting. So I'd definitely change its shape to have a nice tapering blade, as well as have distal tapering to improve its handling.

That means either re-forging or a HELLUVA lot of grinding to refine it.

Further, I'd actually redesign the hilt of the sword completely to make it more in line with something that would be practical, comfortable, and to where you can feel where the edges of the sword are intuitively.

Further, I'd actually try to plate the sword with a color, or heat it to get different colors without ruining its tempering, or gild it to make it look more fancy. There's several ways to color a sword blade, and while through these methods we wouldn't get the rainbow color, we could hint at that.

Remember, first we want the sword to be functional for combat. That means the blade must be properly shaped and heat-treated.

Another way we could hint at that is to have pattern welded steel, commonly known as Damascus. We could forge weld dissimilar steels together, and work the billet in such a way that when we submerge the blade in ferric chloride, we get a vine pattern in the steel itself, which would be super cool.

Since the Great Fairies themselves have a vine and flower motif to them, I'd actually have that motif engraved into the blade.

The guard would be designed with a vine motif, meaning twisted quillons and engraved to get that vine and flower motif.

Finally, the pommel, I'd actually do a simple disc pommel with a flower engraved into it, to just give the hints of that motif.

So, while I can't find any picture that hints at how I'd design the Great Fairy's Sword, and since I can't draw, I'm actually going to suggest a simple greatsword shape, and have the artists here design their own functional Great Fairy's Sword design.

Your design template, artists, if you get inspiration from this post, would be these:



A straightforward greatsword design, or:

Pin on Inspiring swords and weapons


This flamberge greatsword.

I'd do it myself, but I'm no artist.

CONCLUSION:

In other words, the Great Fairy's Sword is a prime example of how you do not design a weapon meant for combat.

The way the sword is designed in the game would prevent it in cutting and thrusting, would be an unwieldy thing to swing around, and has some problems that need fixing.

Lemme know what you think, and if the artists around here want to consult on fantasy designs, just shoot me a message.

Until next time guys! ;)
 
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thePlinko

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As always, a great review!

So I do have a question, compared to Child Link, it is clearly a Great Sword, but to an adult would it still classify as a Great Sword?
I just remembered that in the GameCube version of Soul Caliber 2, the Great Fairy’s Sword appears as links ultimate sword. The thing is that in SC2 it’s a one-handed weapon, not 2 handed. Does that change the design aspect at all?
 

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I just remembered that in the GameCube version of Soul Caliber 2, the Great Fairy’s Sword appears as links ultimate sword. The thing is that in SC2 it’s a one-handed weapon, not 2 handed. Does that change the design aspect at all?
I think that might confirm that for an adult it'd be more like a broad sword?
 

TheGreatCthulhu

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I just remembered that in the GameCube version of Soul Caliber 2, the Great Fairy’s Sword appears as links ultimate sword. The thing is that in SC2 it’s a one-handed weapon, not 2 handed. Does that change the design aspect at all?
If it's a one-handed sword, then the blade design would cause it to feel more like a crowbar than a sword.

I think that might confirm that for an adult it'd be more like a broad sword?
Broadswords usually refer to basket hilted swords from the Renaissance.

If referring to double-edged, cruciform swords of the Middle Ages, then they'd be arming swords, so called, because it's the sword you "arm" yourself with.
 

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If it's a one-handed sword, then the blade design would cause it to feel more like a crowbar than a sword.


Broadswords usually refer to basket hilted swords from the Renaissance.

If referring to double-edged, cruciform swords of the Middle Ages, then they'd be arming swords, so called, because it's the sword you "arm" yourself with.
So for an adult it would be an arming sword, but it'd feel terrible to hold, haha?
 

TheGreatCthulhu

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So for an adult it would be an arming sword, but it'd feel terrible to hold, haha?
Moreso awkward to wield. It'd feel like a crowbar when you're swinging it.

It's really hard to describe what a sword should feel like in its handling without grabbing a quality reproduction.

Suffice to say, the sword is a nimble weapon designed for cuts and thrusts, so I question designing a sword that runs counter to that idea, lol.
 

thePlinko

What’s the character limit on this? Aksnfiskwjfjsk
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Moreso awkward to wield. It'd feel like a crowbar when you're swinging it.

It's really hard to describe what a sword should feel like in its handling without grabbing a quality reproduction.

Suffice to say, the sword is a nimble weapon designed for cuts and thrusts, so I question designing a sword that runs counter to that idea, lol.
A club that happens to give a paper cut to whatever it’s bludgeoning?
 

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