Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fast Sword Draw vs. Fast Gun Draw

I know this is an obscure title, but there's a point to it. What follows is a follow up to this blog, because, as I was battering small bamboo sticks into submission this morning, I was thinking about this and so here it is.

Talking about battering bamboo sticks around. This is a part of my sword practice, as discussed here. It has the advantage of being both, good sword practice, and good exercise. And, since it has been shown that exercise is far more beneficial to your brain—and your body as a whole, of course— than any dumb-ass computerized brain training, it seems like a healthy practice to follow.

Anyway, about drawing swords and guns.

Let's start with guns. What we're talking about is the gunslinger stuff, newly popularized in that notable neo-Western TV series, Justified. The basic thing here is that having to get your gun out of a holster and aiming it is not a good thing, practically speaking. There's a lot that can go wrong along the way—snags and misses, etc—and you've also got to get the gun into line with the target, preferably aim right as well and shoot. That's a tall order, and it requires, I daresay, a lot of practice. People who do this kind of thing for show purposes usually have themselves trained in particular moves and setups, such as to avoid the snags and misses. Special holsters, affixed to the body in ergonomic ways, positioned just-so, and so on. Special guns, too, I suppose,; and if not that, then probably a limited number of different weapons, because handguns come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and they all behave differently and require different ways of gripping, drawing, cocking (or not, e.g. with Glocks) and aiming them. Some are OK for single-handed shooting, but the larger calibers become problematic in an unsupported hand. And so on.

But there is something about approaching things the Raylan Givens way; named after the hero of Justified, who never waves his gun around in anybody's face, but keeps it in the holster until he chooses to use it to kill someone. That 'something' is the non-threatening nature of this approach. For when you point a gun at someone, that's an aggressive act, a threat. Doesn't matter if it's meant as a signal to some attacker, indicating that maybe he'd better think twice before proceeding. It 'ups' the conflict level in a situation and puts you on the spot. Are you going to use it or not? Pointing a gun at anyone and not being prepared to use it is a fool's bluff. Chances are much better than 'even' that the bad guy facing you senses that you will chicken out. In that case, you may end up getting shot with your own weapon.

On the other end of that spectrum, you may be so worked up that you end up shooting the guy even though raising the threat-level actually 'worked' in a given case, but the attacker made some stupid move that you, in your hyped-up adrenaline-pickled state, misinterpreted. Plus, of course, having a loaded, ready-to-fire weapon in your hand means that any number of other things can go wrong. So, basically, it's not really such a good idea—apart from the aspect of raising aggression levels, quite possibly unnecessarily.

On the other hand...and, yes, there is a third...there is, however, also an argument that, in a self-defense situation, and in order to ensure that, when they judge you afterwards, you can claim that the aggressor was aware of your lethal capabilities and the risks he faced, you need to actually make him aware of said risks—which might well include presenting the gun, thus making clear your capabilities for defense; despite the fact that this only includes the physical capabilities and not the 'mental ones, if you will.

And there's another hand...four-armed is forearmed...which says that it's actually better, in the situation itself, not to advertise one's capabilities too clearly. It's usually beneficial to have an enemy underestimate one's capabilities. This isn't always the case—think of MAD, the Mutually Assured Destruction ideology of the Cold War—but in your average self-defense situation, your two most important weapons are probably your capability to use your feet to run away, and if that is not an option, then to have your adversary underestimate what you can do.

Still, bottom-line, having a holstered gun will slow things down.

The sword... Well, thing is, it's bigger than a handgun, and it isn't really in use these days. You can't conceal it, so a lot of the considerations above don't apply. If you have a wakisashi, the situation is a tad different, though it's still kind of hard to hide, except if you're wearing a suitable kind of coat maybe.

Anyway, this isn't what this blog is all about. We're not talking 'reality today', but maybe a kind of pretend-reality in some fictional universe where people use swords as weapons, rather than guns. So, in this pretend world, let's look at how the sword, drawn from the scabbard and into an immediate cut—the equivalent to draw-and-shoot—differs from that scenario.

Several issues are pretty much the same. There's snagging and missing, and a sword is quite long—though, again, a wakisashi is easier to manipulate; both, because it's shorter and lighter as well. But there's another important difference, because a sword doesn't just work for you by pulling a trigger, but it needs some physical force behind it; a swing. A drawn sword, held in a chudan position—the typical kind one might find in a defensive situation, where you're wanting to tell some aggressor to stay away by pointing the very sharp tip of a sword at him—is not very effective when it comes to actually using it. You can stab with it, of course, but that's about the only motion that doesn't require a time-wasting and dangerous movement to get the sword to pick up some momentum. And, yes, you could use other positions, which are much more effective that way, but these are inherently aggressive, and basically equivalent to pointing a loaded gun straight at someone's face. Not nice at all, and potentially inflicted with the same psychological pitfalls I talked about before.

This is where drawing comes in very handy, because it combines the comparative inoffensiveness of a sheathed sword—"I am armed, but not aggressive."—with an ability to actually get the required swing out of the act of drawing itself; mainly because of the position the sword is in. If you think about it, there's a strange beauty in the functionality implicit in this.

I just thought I'd mention this, because to some people anyway, the whole iaijutsu thing, cutting from a quick draw, seems to have an artificial air about it, that only serves to make life difficult. Well, this isn't actually the case. A skilled fast draw-and-cut is just as fast, and in some cases faster, than cuts from positions where a sword is already drawn.

The key attribute here is 'skill', no doubt about it. And that does take time.

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