Recently Fringe Sport announced a new product line - the Sword Mace. The 5lb model is shaped like a samurai sword/katana. I purchased the Sword Mace excited but not sure what to expect. When it arrived, I put the Sword Mace to the ultimate test - martial arts sword training. Specifically, I was eager to compare the Sword Mace to my own martial arts training weapons and a real custom-built katana I hold black belts in multiple martial arts. My hands have held a sword in hand for many grueling hours of training. I am also a Crossfit athlete. My observations are coming from this point of view. The observations below are my own.
In the picture below are two traditional samurai training weapons, a real katana and the Sword Mace from Fringe Sport.
A - Shinai
Weapon used for practice and competition in Kendo – modern day sword fighting. Made of four bamboo strips with leather wrapped grip and tip. It is light weight and flexible. During a kendo match elite competitor can strike a single blow in 2-3 milliseconds. Fast! And the shinai is flexible at the tip causing an almost whip like action when used correctly. It stings!
B - Bokken
Traditional wood training sword, made of dense oak, shaped like a katana. The bokken is both a training tool and a weapon. Heavier than a katana it allows the user to develop the necessary muscles, stances and discipline needed to successful wield a katana. As a weapon the bokken moves just like a katana with one difference. It smashes and crushes bone and tissue with devastating results.
C - Katana
Japanese sword characterized by a curved, single-edged blade with a circular hand guard and long grip to accommodate two hands. The same sword depicted in every samurai movie you ever watched. The blade edge is wicked sharp and durable. The tip is designed to be deeply thrust into the human body.
Samurai traditionally carry two swords. The katana is the long sword with the greatest reach and cutting capability.
D - Sword Mace
A 5lb mace profiled to look like a katana including hand guard (tsuba) and long grip. I’ve spent a week working with the Sword Mace. And even took parts and pieces of a real katana workout to create a nice 15-minute sequence for non-martial artist training. All the while trying to stay within the functional movements taught in Crossfit.
Out of the box the Fringe Sport Sword Mace looks like a katana. The first thing I noticed is the handle is round rather than the traditional oval shape of a katana. This caused me some concern about my ability to safely use the Sword Mace. Indexing of a bladed weapon, knowing the relationship of your hands to the blade's edge, is critical to safety and accuracy. A round handle can make indexing the blade’s position difficult. The grip has deep knurling to better ensure a proper grip. I proceeded.
With the Sword Mace in hand using the traditional two-handed, spaced grip I executed the basic beginner’s cutting exercises.
With my right foot slightly forward, tight core & proper posture, head up, using a two-handed grip with 4-5 inches between each hand and gripped so elbows are facing out I brought the sword mace to the ready position. Slowly moving the blade over my head until the tip touched
my tailbone. Using a controlled swing moved the blade over my head back to front. Ending the cut at waist level. Return to ready position.
The mace is very heavy compared to a katana or training sword - as I expected. More interesting is while an actual katana’s weight is focused more towards the front of the blade. With the Sword Mace the weight is toward the handle. See the comparison spreadsheet.
The sword mace is well built. The handle appears to be solid steel. The blade section is welded to the handguard/tsuba in a way that keeps the blade section rigid during sweeping blocking movements, cutting swings even at high speed.
However, if the “flat” of the blade strikes a solid object - metal pole, tree truck or the ground - the blade bends. It is very noticeable. But it is “soft” steel, I was able to bend the blade back to its original shape. A possible concern is if this happens regularly and the blade is bent back and forth it could compromise where the blade attaches to the hand guard/tsuba. A broken blade is no fun and dangerous.
Unlike typical training maces you might see on YouTube this sword mace has most of its weight towards the handle vs the end of the blade. I think this is a good thing. It requires the user to “control the tip” of the blade using a heavy handle. This can be difficult yet develops muscle control and strength in the arms and little used muscles in the shoulder and back. Controlling where the tip of the blade should be part of any exercise regime developed.
Fringe Sport should consider making the overall sword mace heavier, particularly in the handle area. For example,
- Extend the handle by 1 to 1.5 inches in length.
- Increase the diameter of the handle by 0.25 to 0.4 inches.
- Double thickness of the hand guard/tsuba.
- A slightly thicker blade might also be of help,
Do not try this at home!
To simulate more weight, I slipped a 2.5 lb barbell weight over the handle and taped it to the hand guard/tsuba. I then executed the basic movements described above. For me it was a much more rewarding physical workout. I then added an additional 2.5 lbs. weight for a total of 5 lbs. This required all my skill plus mental focus. Moving the weight from 5 lbs. to 7.5+ lbs. with the increase primarily near the handle and thus the user’s hands is a proper physical challenge worthy of any gym athlete. Again, do not attempt to alter the Sword Mace. The Sword Mace is NOT designed to have weight added
The grip is the human connection to any weight device. If it is possible the Sword Mace should have an oval shaped grip. This allows for “indexing” the hand position in relation to the “edge” of the Sword Mace. The oval shape would be safer. Preventing the Sword Mace from “rolling” in the hand.
In the world of swords, a baseball bat or golf grip is very dangerous. The user must always have spacing between the top right hand and lower left hand, 4-5 inches. Using a baseball bat grip will cause a katana or Sword Mace to come back and hit your head.
The right hand should not touch the handguard at the top of the handle. A hand too close to the handguard is in danger of being injured. On the katana the handguard/tsuba is there to protect the user from an opponent’s sword. The left hand should not extend to the bottom of the handle. While the Sword Mace has a pommel at the end the left hand should well above it. I added yellow tape to the Sword Mace to illustrate the upper and lower limits of a two-handed grip. See heighted picture below.
With a katana, bokken or shinai the user must master the grip with all five fingers on the handle. Yet it is the first three fingers on both hands (thumb, pointer & index) that are used to position and power the katana’s moments. This allows for a flexible control of the sword. It also prevents the user from applying a “death grip” with all their fingers frozen on the handle. This results in death.
The Impact Zone - Controlling the Tip
As I began to explore possible workout patterns and exercises. I focused on the impact zone of the katana.
Length of the impact zone in relationship to the human body (your opponent in combat) starts at the top of the head. It ends at the hip. The width is approximately 24 inches. The impact zone represents where the cutting edge of a katana strikes the human body. The first 6 inches of the katana’s blade edge do all the cutting. Below are three diagrams: the impact zone, the traditional katana cutting angles (the eight cuts or cardinal direction cuts) and impact zone superimposed on the eight cuts.
This represents where the tip of the katana will be most effective. Moving the tip outside the impact zone is wasted effort. Controlling the tip is an important safety measure when using the Sword Mace. Despite what you may have seen in samurai movies, dramatic swings should not be attempted, ever.
Work out ideas
At present I am considering how to transfer katana training into Sword Mace exercise routines. It must be exercises true to the nature of the katana and supports functional training teachings.
Gripping the mace sword properly, elbows turned out, hands spaced across the handle.
- The beginner’s cut or overhead cut
- Using the eight cuts to develop a pattern of movement
- Lunging forward (impaling your opponent)
- Sword draw from left side of waist to ready position, then opposite side
- Blocking an opponent’s blow (example split jerk stance, with Sword Mace overhead in horizontal attitude.
The most challenging may be incorporating proper footwork. Including turning from facing forward to the rear while cutting and blocking.
The Sword Mace is built well, a solid training tool. With practice it can be a highly effective training tool.
You will be surprised how much core and upper back work is required to move this weight. It is a
physical and mental challenge.
“The sword has to be more than a simple weapon; it has to be an answer to life's questions.”