The Zombie Survival Manual — Part Two

ZombieSurvivalLogoHere continues the Strongblade Zombie Survival Manual. In my last post, I spoke about the effectiveness of swords in a zombie apocalypse. Today, I’m going to talk about the effectiveness of heavy things that can crush bone to bits and spatter blood in a twenty-five foot radius. That’s right. Get your maces and mauls out, because today, I’m talking about bludgeoning implements.

 

Bludgeoning Tools

I look away from the portcullis and kick at the fiends advancing on this side of the gate. They fall upon me with their ungainly weight. Pin me to the stones and pull at the plates of my armor. They are clever chickens, these demons. They know they cannot hurt me until my armor is off.

Two of them pull at my helm with both hands. The strap at my chin bites into my flesh. My sword is still trapped in the head of a demon. I cannot find the [blade]. I flail with my hand, striking a swollen arm. It is like punching dough. The strap tightens against my chin and creaks. Either the rivet holding it to my helm will break or my jaw will. I strike at the demons with my hands, pull at them, scratch at their flesh with my gauntlets.

ScourgeCover_New_250More and more of them tug at my armor. I kick a gourd-nosed monster in the face three times, crushing cartilage and tearing flesh, but it continues to pry at the greave on my left shin. The greave snaps off and the creature falls backward holding it in two misshapen hands. I swing wildly at another demon with my fist. It is a good blow. An astounding blow. So powerful that it causes the monster’s head to explode in a cloud of blood and bone and flesh.

I made a demon’s head explode.

I look at my gauntlet. There is no blood on it. I look back up at the creature as it falls sideways. A man in rusted chain mail stands beside me. I did not make a demon’s head explode. He did.

The man swings something heavy and black and another demon head erupts. The pressure on my helm ceases. I glance back at the portcullis. It is up at about waist height. The demons outside make no attempt to enter.

“Get up!” The man in the rusted mail holds a flail. His entire body lurches as he swings the spiked ball in a slow, wooshing circle.

– From THE SCOURGE:NOSTRUM by Roberto Calas

There is nothing more satisfying than pounding a human skull with something blunt and heavy. The thud of metal on bone. The warm spray of blood. The beautiful vibrations in your hand and the grunt of your victim as his (or her) body crashes to the ground. An exhilarating experience.

Or so I’ve heard.

Think about the times when you are most frustrated. Those moments of mindless, infantile rage. Do you feel like slashing something at those moments? Stabbing something? No. You feel like going PC-load-letter on the nearest inanimate object. You feel like picking up something heavy and hulking out with it. It’s an innate desire in humankind—the urge to crush. That urge is your primal self. And, in a zombie apocalypse, you should listen to your primal self. Because blunt objects are, arguably, the best choice when dealing with the hungry dead.

It is difficult to penetrate a human skull with a blade, but hammers and maces and mauls were designed to do just that. When only a head-shot will do, you can’t go wrong with a bludgeon. And one of the best all-around bludgeoning tools is:

his is a LARP war hammer. It is a foam reproduction of a real medieval war hammer. Use this awesome hammer for all your pre-apocalypse activities. Use a real war hammer against real zombies.

his is a LARP war hammer. It is a foam reproduction of a real medieval war hammer. Use this awesome hammer for all your pre-apocalypse activities. Use a real war hammer against real zombies.

The War Hammer:

Advantages: Fast, excellent penetration power, light, often equipped with a spike for added lethality.
Disadvantages: Wide swinging arc, small striking area.

No one could possibly fault you for bringing a war hammer to a zombie battle. Well, they could, but you have a war hammer in your hand, so they probably shouldn’t. And even if you didn’t have a war hammer in your hand, they still wouldn’t say anything because the war hammer is a damn good choice. (Although if you didn’t have one in your hand, they would probably fault you for not bringing a killing implement to the zombie apocalypse. So, really, you can’t win with these people. Haters gonna hate. And stuff.)

Let’s start by getting our definition’s straight. When we talk about a war hammer, we’re not talking about the thing Thor uses (called Mjolnir, if we’re getting all technical and stuff). We’re talking about that thing to the left. A European war hammer from the late middle ages. Light, fast and lethal. It’s loosely related to the poleax, which I’ll talk about in a later post.

There are two types of war hammers. The long-handled ones, used by footmen against mounted opponents, and the short-handled ones, used in the lethal duck-duck-goose games played by horsemen against foot soldiers.

Because of the slow swing and long haft of a horseman’s hammer, it is not as effective against the hungry dead (unless you are mounted, in which case you should probably just ride the hell out of Dodge). What I’m referring to is the footman’s hammer. A thing of zombie-crushing beauty. Light, fast, heavy. It was made to penetrate steel helmets, so what chance does a rotting skull have? The head is a one-pound block of iron or steel, usually with four raised points at the front to focus the power of your blow. And if that doesn’t do it for you, just flip it over and pound with the steel spike on the back. And once you’ve finished off the hungry horde, you can always use the spike to open a can of Hi-C or Hawaiian Punch. Ahhhh. Apocalyptically refreshing.

The drawback to a war hammer is the same as most bludgeons: You need room to build up the momentum necessary to crush bone. So, when the dead close in, your hammer becomes far less effective. And that’s when you’ll remember the second drawback: It’s difficult to kill yourself with a hammer when the demons start tearing chunks out of you with their teeth.

Okay, assuming you haven’t adequately prepared for the zombie apocalypse (we tried to warn you), and you don’t have a war hammer handy. Below are some other Bludgeoning items you might want to consider.

Maces have been symbols of power for hundreds of years. Show the zombie horde your power. And when I say that, I mean, hit them in the head with a flanged mace like this.

Maces. Shattering skulls for thousands of years.

The Mace:

Advantages: Fast, good penetration power, light, sometimes flanged or spiked for added lethality.
Disadvantages: Wide swinging arc, small striking area.

Maces have been symbols of power for hundreds of years. Show the zombie horde your power. And when I say that, I mean, hit them in the head with a flanged mace like the one to the left. Maces are close brothers to the war hammer, in the dysfunctional Pulveration family. Except that the striking points—even on flanged maces—are not as focused as on a hammer. But if a war hammer is not an option for you, then reach for one of these beautiful instruments of zombie annihilation. And show the zombies your power.

 

paladinwarhammer1_l

Maul. The name says everything you need to know.

The Maul:

Advantages: Monstrously effective at killing, coolness factor off the charts, Builds muscle and endurance.
Disadvantages: Wide swinging arc, extremely slow speed, wielder becomes exhausted quickly.

Mauls are the sledge hammers of the Middle Ages. Massive, powerful, intimidating. You can get a bloody nose just by looking at them. One blow will completely obliterate a head. Zombies are mindless, but even they are afraid of mauls. So, a perfect choice, right? Wrong. While a maul will give you high marks for style, its heavy weight and slow swing will put you on the menu after two or three swings. Exhaustion comes quickly with a maul, and an exhausted survivor is what we like to call “dinner.” Or worse.

 

Cool, powerful, but slow.

Cool, powerful, but slow.

The Flail:

Advantages: Excellent penetration power, style points, builds muscle and endurance.
Disadvantages: Wide swinging arc, slow speed, risk of self-injury.

In the second book of my trilogy, The Scourge: Nostrum, a man who calls himself Praeteritus uses a flail to fend off the hungry dead. A flail is a spiked metal head connected to a handle by a short chain, Like a maul, the flail gives him high marks for style. Unfortunately, the flail requires a lot of room to use effectively. Add to that the amount of energy required for each swing and you have a tool that kills you faster than your opponents.

 

No.

No.

The Club:

Advantages: Better than using your hand.
Disadvantages: It’s a club.

Don’t. Just don’t.

 

 

Fast, but useless.

Fast, but useless.

The Staff:

Advantages: Fast in hands of well trained wielder, good range.
Disadvantages: Very poor penetration power, wide swinging arc

The staff, cudgel, or quarter-staff is a decent choice against unarmored humans, but a poor one against zombies (whether they have armor or not). A staff can crack a skull on a skilled strike, but who cares about cracking skulls? Your opponents have loose flesh dangling from their faces. Some of them don’t have any damn noses! (And, you might ask, “If they don’t have any noses, how do they smell?” And the answer to that, of course, is, “Terrible.”) To kill the hungry dead, you have to get past the skull, into the brain. And a staff is not effective at doing that.

I’ve included a diagram that details each of the items discussed above, their strengths, weaknesses, and overall effectiveness. The higher the rating number, the more effective. Print it out. Study it well. Keep it with you always. Keep it safe. Your life may depend on it. Or you may have to jot down someone’s phone number and not have paper available.

 

BluntEffectivenessChart

Zen and the Stage Combat Sword

Stage fighting. The timeless art of not dying.

(This is part 2 of a two-part article on the difference between battle-ready and stage-combat swords. You can find the previous article here.)

If anyone can fill Yoda's shoes, it's this guy. Sort of.

Beaker will be playing the role of Yoda.

So, in my last post, I talked about battle-ready swords. And Yoda.  And I promised to reveal the secret of the crop circles in England. So, in this second part of the post, I want to address stage combat swords. And Beaker, sidekick to Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, of Muppets fame.  And, as promised, I will reveal the secret of the crop circles.

But first, let’s talk about stage combat.

 

When you battle on stage, you are trying to accomplish three things:

  1. To present a skillful display of martial prowess that will impress and entertain the audience.
  2. To move the story forward in an energetic fashion
  3. To not die.
Stage fighting. The timeless art of not dying.

Stage combat. The timeless art of not dying.

The skillful display of martial prowess requires training, practice and choreography. Moving the story forward requires a good script and a director that understands the need for good pacing and realizes that a fight scene must not just introduce action, but also says something about the characters. And to not die requires good stage combat sword. And actors who like each other.

But what is a good theatrical combat sword?

Well, let’s start by saying what it’s not. A stage combat sword is very different from a battle-ready sword. You see, each sword has a completely different purpose. A battle-ready sword, historically, was meant for one thing: Killing people. A purpose directly opposed to directive 3 of stage combat. We talked last time about how tempering a sword allows it to hold a good edge, although making the blade more brittle. In stage combat, we don’t want a brittle blade. We want a blade that won’t send shards of metal into an audience (unless you’re trying to pioneer 3D live theater, in which case you might want that, although I would consult an attorney before moving forward). In stage combat, we want a sturdy blade, one that will endure hundreds of performances, thousands of sword on sword strikes. And one that will do the least amount of damage should an accident occur. So, how do we achieve this?

Latex and rubber. Not just a fetish anymore.

Latex and rubber. Not just a fetish anymore.

Well, you could always use a high-end LARP sword. A lot of movie studios are using the more detailed rubber swords and foam swords that LARPers are using. These weapons are safe and look good on camera. And Beaker approves of LARP weapons. I just watched Hercules last weekend and I think I noticed a LARP sword that Strongblade sells being held by Dwayne Johnson. Nintey-nine percent of audiences won’t notice, especially for quick shots on camera. But on the stage, well, that’s a different story.

On stage, the audience will have a long time to look at the weapons, and they will expect to hear the sounds of steel on steel when swords meet. So, for the stage, you need a strong, high-carbon steel weapon. But there is one thing not everyone agrees on. And, that is, as Hamlet so eloquently stated, “To temper, or not to temper?” (Most people aren’t aware that Shakespeare wrote the original version of Hamlet with that line in it.) (Editor’s note: That’s becauseShakespeare didn’t write that. Stop making stuff up).

Some stage combat performers like tempered swords, because they have a harder surface and won’t suffer so many nicks and scratches. Tempered swords also flex back to their original shape when you flex them. But, as mentioned earlier, if you flex a tempered sword too much, it may break, turning your performance into the aforementioned 3D live theater. A non-tempered sword might bend during a performance, though, which isn’t going to help your audience suspend disbelief (and may symbolize bad things about your main character if he is male).

The best way to make a decision on tempering is to assess the type of sword you will be using. Many re-enactors and performers use a non-tempered, high-carbon blade that is really thick. A thicker blade is less likely to bend (which is what I tell my fiancée whenever I can).

Crash cars don't have hood ornaments. Learn from this.

Crash cars don’t have hood ornaments. Learn from this.

Regardless of whether you temper a weapon or not, there are a few things that are not optional. Your stage combat weapon should have a full tang, just like a battle ready weapon. It should also have squared or rounded thick edges, a rounded (not pointed) tip, and should *never* be sharpened (see directive 3 of stage combat).

Beaker, of Muppet fame, once said something important about stage combat weapons. He said, “Meep meep meep. Meep meep meep, meep meep–meep meep meep, meep meep Meep meep meep; meep meep..”

And I think that says just about everything you need to know about stage combat weapons. Although he left out the part about guards. You see, on a real, battle-ready sword, the guard is used only for incidental contact. On stage, there are many more sword-on-sword strikes, which means more chance of the guards being struck. Because of this, the guards on a stage combat sword should be made of very strong steel, with no decorations or plating.

These have absolutely nothing to do with stage combat.

These have absolutely nothing to do with stage combat.

What about balance? We talked about how important balance is for a battle-ready sword. Is it important in a stage combat weapon? The answer is long and rather technical:

No.

Some people cling to the belief that they need a perfectly balanced weapon for stage combat, but those are the same people who think that cars should get a new paint job before taking part in a demolition derby. Safety and durability are the two most important factors in a stage combat weapon. Everything else is just lipstick and eyeliner.

 

Do any of you agree or disagree with what I’ve written? Do you have any stories about stage combat? Let us know in the comments! Who knows, you might win some swag.

 

Oh, and now, for the unveiling. I will reveal how the crop circles were made in England. The answer was discovered by Beaker, of Muppet fame. And I will let him tell you in his own words”

“Meep meep meep, meep meeep meep. Meep meep, meep meep meep, meep meep: Meep Meep. Meep. Meep meep.”

That Beaker. He’s wasted working for Honeydew.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zen and the Battle Ready Sword

Sword fighting is like cool Chinese stuff.

There’s a popular saying in the sword industry: “Don’t put your tongue on the polishing wheel.”

Um. And there’s another popular saying in the sword industry that might just be a little more relevant than that one: “A sword is not an axe.”

A sword is not an axe. Unless it's this sword.

A sword is not an axe. Unless it’s this sword.

Okay, maybe that’s not really saying, but it should be. Because swords really aren’t axes. If you want to cut down saplings or thorns bushes, then you probably don’t want to buy a battle-ready sword. You want an axe. And as I hope I’ve established here, a sword is not an axe. Unless you name your sword “Axe,” in which case you have found a loophole. But you still shouldn’t use it to cut down brush.

I hear the questions all the way from my computer desk as I write this, which is odd because I’m writing this in your past, and you probably live really far away from me. Your question: “But why *can’t* I use a sword to cut down saplings? It’s battle-ready, right? That means it’s really, really tough.” And I give you my best Yoda nod, and say, “Much to learn, you have, young Jedi. Much to learn.”

Let’s start with definitions.

Strongblade sells battle ready swords. But what does that really mean? And what’s the difference between a battle-ready sword and a stage combat sword? In this two-part article, I will answer both those questions. And I will also tell you how the crop circles in England came to be there. But, in this first part, I will focus on battle-ready swords.

There really is no industry-standard definition of “battle-ready.” It’s one of those terms that people throw around, like, “special forces,” or “best-seller,” or “licensed practitioner of medicine.” What a joke. I mean, I perform surgeries all the time and I have no medical degree whatsoever. You see what I mean? The terms sort of mean something, but there is no exact specifications for it. There are some pretty solidly established minimums for battle-ready swords, and that’s probably the best place to start.

YodaKnight

Yoda hopes he doesn’t have to repeat his lesson.

Construction
I think everyone agrees that a sword should be made from carbon steel. Especially this guy. And not just a little carbon. A good sword should be made from high-carbon steel. Stainless steel swords look nice, and they’re usually pretty inexpensive, but as that guy in the link found out, they shatter easily. Carbon steel won’t shatter. This is why Conan’s dad didn’t talk about “The Riddle of Stainless Steel.” It was just the “Riddle of Steel.” Learned your lesson now, you have? asks Yoda. Yeah, Yoda. Just because.

Tempering
We’ve talked about tempering before, so I won’t go into too much detail, but tempering is a heat-treating process that makes a sword flexible on the inside and brittle on the outside. Which is the complete opposite of me. I am flexible on the outside, but inside I am shattering and crying and calling for my mother and wishing Saturday morning cartoons came back.

Sword fighting is like cool Chinese stuff.

Sword fighting is like cool Chinese stuff.

Why would you want a sword to be brittle anywhere? Well, perhaps brittle is the wrong word. You want the sword to be more rigid on the outside–harder and less flexible. Why is this? Because you want that sword to hold a nice edge. And to hold a nice edge, you need a really hard metal. The problem with hard metal is that it breaks more easily. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Well, there’s a cool concept from the Chinese philosophy, Taoism, that explains this. The Taoists know that an oak tree is stronger and more rigid than a blade of grass. But when a powerful storm hits, it is this rigidity that makes the tree snap in the wind. A blade of grass is flexible enough to wave and flow with the storm, and it does not break. Or, as Yoda likes to say, “Upon a polishing wheel your tongue should never rest.” Yoda knows nothing of Taosim.

Because of this rigid edge, a tempered sword will actually break before a non-tempered sword. Without heat treatment, a high-carbon sword will bend easily, but won’t break (see oak tree/grass blade analogy above). But without the heat treatment, you can’t get a nice sharp edge on the sword. And, as you know, people don’t kill people. Sharpened swords kill people. But you shouldn’t let your sword kill people. It’s not cool. And totally against all Taoist principles. And Yoda doesn’t like it either.

Tang. Not even remotely what we're talking about.

Tang. Not even remotely what we’re talking about.

Tang
To be a strong, battle-ready sword, the high-carbon steel should be quenched in a barrel of Tang®. Apparently this powdered orange drink used by astronauts has a certain chemical in it that gives the steel . . . um . . . okay. I’m reading my notes now. What I said is incorrect. *Waves hand in Jedi fashion* These are not the tangs you’re looking for.

The tang is actually the narrow part of the sword that you attach the grip to. There are a lot of different types of tangs, but the strongest style is the full tang. This means that the blade and the tang are made from one piece of steel. Some sword blades have the tangs welded onto them. Which is like using blades of grass as the foundation to your house. (Yeah, I’m reeeeeeeally stretching that grass metaphor). Welded tangs have a tendency to snap off, and all you can do is keep pretending you still have a sword blade, and complimenting your opponent on his skillful ability to avoid being hit.

 

Melina in split sword dagger

Yeah. balance matters.

Balance
Balance is really a subjective thing. Some people like a more forward weight, so their strikes have more power. Some prefer a more rear balance, so the blade isn’t so top-heavy. And others swear that the center of balance should be a few inches north of the guard (north being toward the tip). A sword may not be balanced to your liking, but it could still be a fine battle-ready weapon.

A battle-ready weapon, although it is finely crafted using the best materials and forging techniques, should not be smashed against things, or used to chop down saplings. You would no more use a battle-ready sword to cut brush than you would use an F1 car on your road trip to Florida. Fine swords are meant to be used in battle by skilled swordsmen, who know the strengths and limitations of their weapons. I cringe every time I see a movie with sword fighting in it. Usually because the script sucks. But the other common reason for my cringing is the fact that the combatants are using their swords to block their opponent’s blade. Sword fighter in the Middle Ages rarely used their swords like this. Their weapons were too big an investment to use as a shield. Interestingly, they actually *had* shields. And why did they have shields? So they wouldn’t have to stop a hurtling piece of 3lb metal with one of their most expensive pieces of equipment—their swords. When two swords meet, bad things usually happen. Even though Hollywood would have us believe otherwise.

And there lies the fundamental difference between battle-ready swords and stage-combat swords. The latter are meant to take sword on sword abuse, and are typically used by actors rather than trained swords fighters. So check back soon to see the second part of this article, about stage-combat weapons. And crops circles.

Come back, you must.

Making your Mark

Read to the bottom of the post for an exciting contest!

Shadowward

Knights sometimes used swords to engrave people’s flesh. That’s not what we’re talking about.

In the Middle Ages, a knight’s faith was in his sword. No, literally, it was *in* his sword. Knights would have blacksmiths engrave sacred words on their blades. Words from their favorite prayer, the name of a patron saint, or simply the name of Jesus Christ. What do you have faith in? What favorite words or symbols will you put on your blade? A religious quote? Your family crest? Lyrics from a Bobby McFerrin song? It doesn’t matter. Strongblade’s custom engraving can add just about anything you want to your blade, usually for only $15 or less!

But it’s not just engraved swords. We can do helmet stands, tankards, daggers, pistol stands and knives. Here’s a page with all our engravable items (and more are being added constantly.) What can you have engraved on these things? What can’t you! Me, I’d like to engrave Gwyneth Paltrow’s lips on the top edge of my tankard, but I’m a lonely, lonely man. Have a wedding party to buy gifts for? Want an award for your employees? Going to become a sword-wielding superhero and want your mantra on your blade? The possibilities are endless!

So, how do you show us what you want engraved on your sword? It’s easy as a Kardashian! Just go to the product page of the item you want to buy, then click the “Engrave” button next to the item name. You’ll be magically whisked away by the power of Internet to Strongblade’s interactive engraving tool. This thing is like a video game! Seriously! I win every time!

The interactive engraving utility (I like to call it the Inenguti, but that hasn’t caught on) allows you to type in up to three lines of text, and position each line exactly where you want it. Here’s my latest:

 

Screenshot 2014-07-23 02.49.44

Move thine mouse here and touch button to swell the image

And the fun doesn’t stop at words. Strongblade can also engrave logos and other line art symbols. That’s right, put your own stylistic stamp on your blade. Want to know how? Just send an email to service@strongblade.com to get started with images.

Yeah. Game on.

So, are you ready to start engraving? How about a contest? The person who writes the funniest line of text to put on a sword will receive an e-book copy of my novel, THE SCOURGE. Just write the line in the comments below. There has to be at least ten responses before I will judge the best line.

Have a look below for some examples of custom engraving:

Engrave_Crusader
Engrave_Gladius
Engrave_Pirate
Engrave_Phalanx

I’m back. And this time, it’s personal.

Hello, friends of Strongblade!

This is Roberto Calas, former partner here at Strongblade. I’m back with the company I love, in a support role. For those who don’t know me (which is, realistically, pretty much every one of you), I wrote most of the original product descriptions and copy on the site, and I fielded many of your phone calls on the customer service side of things.

I’ve missed each and every one of you . . . except maybe the guy who told me on the phone that I wasn’t pronouncing my last name right. I didn’t miss him all that much. But the rest of you—the rest of you wonderful people—have plagued my dreams since I left. Assuming plaguing dreams is a positive thing. And speaking of the plague . . .

ScourgeCover_New_250What have I been doing in the three years since I left Strongblade? I’ve been doing some creative writing. Two of my historical fantasy novels have been published by 47North. Both are Amazon bestsellers, and I couldn’t have done it without my experiences at Strongblade.

What are the novels about? Here’s the elevator pitch:

A 14th century knight travels across a plague-swept, demon-infested England to save his wife.

Interested? Click here to have a look at the first book, The Scourge. If you read it, please let me know what you think in the comments below.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about you. And what you can do for me.

If this award existed, Strongblade would win it. Every. Damn. Year.

For starters, you can keep shopping at Strongblade. It’s not just about the amazing inventory and the Awesome Supplier’s Society awards they win every year (okay, there’s no Awesome Suppliers Society, but if there was, Strongblade would win the award. Every. Damn. Year.)

You will be hard-pressed to find more decent people than the current partners. And you can bet that they will make sure your satisfaction is the highest priority. I know. I was there. And they are doing even more than ever to provide everything you want: from product engravings to stage combat weapons; from costumes to genetically altered miniature giraffes that fit in your backpack. There is nothing they  . . . nothing they won’t . . . oh . . . sorry, I’ve just been told that we’ve had some customs problems with the miniature giraffes. The miniature giraffes are off the site (for now).

Apparently genetically altered giraffes don't qualify as "historical replicas" for customs purposes. Sheesh.

But enough talk about you. That’s my introduction. If you want to know more about me, you can check out my website: robertocalas.com. If you want to buy some cool stuff, keep browsing Strongblade.com. And if you want the latest updates on new products, special offers, historical facts, and behind-the-scenes snapshots of life at Strongblade.com, subscribe to this blog.

Happy browsing!

Roberto