Sunday, November 05, 2006

Throwing Swords for Dummies

Alright, admittedly this post is not in keeping with my previous ones, in that I am not going to be strictly commenting on internet tools for historians.

I'm not sure if I am the only movie-buff in the world who has noticed this, but sometimes it just seems this way. Have you ever watched a movie where the main character throws their sword? The most recent flick that I had seen it done in was "The Last Samurai" where Tom Cruise throws his sword, and it impales some guy like a spear.

Honestly, I can't help but start laughing whenever I see this. What strikes me as so funny is, first: the idea of using a sword as a spear sometimes seems to be a result of not actually having a spear in the prop department.

It kind of makes me think that our civilization does not actually remember what sword is for.

Second: (and I admit that I could be flat-out wrong on this one) Swords cannot be thrown like spears/javelins. Trust me, I have tried throwing any number of sword-like objects in the past (hey, we were all kids once!), and swords are just not balanced like spears, or knives.

Now, I have tried searching the web for this topic, but it seems to me that no one has actually posted on the real-world physics behind throwing swords. When performing a search on the google, the main hits returned were from a bunch of RPG-players trying to come up with the stats for "throwing swords", and sword manufacturers. There was one site that seemed as though the author had done some credible empirical research, until he made the following statement:

"...pointed out that there's a LOT more momentum behind a missile from a horse. Partly because of the extra height, partly because you've got that extra 30 mph to add to the missile. So, yes, a thrown big knife will do enough damage to be noticed."

Once again, demonstrating to me that scienticians (my definition: non-science people commenting on science) should take some physics.

So to end of this rant, I am going to start a list of movies that incorporate a scene where the hero throws a sword and impales his/her enemy, or cuts some object at the last possible moment to stop a chain of (possibly deadly) events from unfolding:

1) The Last Samurai; Tom Cruise impales the racist American colonel, from horseback.
2) Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves; Morgan Freeman throws his bizarre scimitar at the witch just before she stabs Robin in the back.
3) Any Movie with Schwarzenegger holding a sword; Conan, Red Sonja, the Conan Sequels, Predator (apparently this a machete, but hey!)
4) Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail: The Black Knight, anyone?
5) Gladiator: Russel Crowe gets one of the riders in the colosseum (who is on horseback)

If anyone would like to add to the list, please feel free.


Kevin Marshall said...

I don't think it's really all that difficult to throw a sword like a spear. I imagine it involves using the same technique that enables the hero to knock down a flying sword with his own sword (the villains have not yet learned this technique).

I am a particular fan of the axe throw. Logic would dictate that there's at least an equal chance of the handle hitting the villain as there is of the axe head hitting him. Yet the axe always ends up embedded in the villain's skull, and it stays there even when he falls down (he must drink plenty of milk).

I'm sure there's an historical connection here somewhere, I just haven't found it yet.

Adam Marcotte said...

on the notion of axe-throwing-
from a cursory reading of some websites, it seems as though the trick to axethrowing is the same as for knife-throwing. the number of rotations that the thrown object will complete can be predicted by the distance between the target and the thrower. so, it is strange that the heroes seem to be able to calculate this "optimal" distance as easily as they do, but it does not strike me as impossible.