The Zombie Apocalypse, Part 6: Get The Point
||: Hack, slash, poke, repeat :|| ~
Jonathan Glazer, 20 November 2015
Swoosh! And the Katana liberates the Zombie’s heads, in quick succession from the tyranny of being attached to their rotting bodies. Andrea was saved from the horror of being eaten alive after losing her balance and falling to the forest ground. This was how the character of Michonne was introduced to the story of The Walking Dead. The Samurai sword carries high regard as a Zombie killing melee weapon. Is this adulation warranted? Arguments can be made for both sides of that controversy. As an active practitioner of the Japanese Sword Arts (JSA), I have my own opinions that I feel are rooted in reality. Most will agree that edged weapons are an essential tool for every toolbox following the ZA. They are silent, do not need reloading and are relatively free from excessive regulation. That last point is quite subjective as many bladed weapons are restricted in some areas. The UK has severely curtailed possession of what they deem to be “offensive” blades, which include swords and the US has a federal ban on switchblades, although automatic knives are in common use despite this ban. We will touch on these points momentarily.
If we wanted to pick a type of blade that was ideal for use in a world overrun by mobile corpses, there are a couple different paths we can choose. The process should start with the kind of damage that needs to be inflicted and work backwards from there. Slashing, cutting and hacking are important, but they take more energy to perform and are less likely to result in the ultimate goal, which is the cessation of brain stem activity. Puncturing the skull and penetrating into the brain are paramount. In The Walking Dead, it is common to have a large group of targets behind a fence. The living need to methodically poke though the chain links and pierce brains one after the other, thereby causing the now completely dead bodies to stack up like cordwood.
They use many different types of knives to accomplish this. In fact, there is a significant amount of product placement occurring during the show.
Daryl uses a Busse Team Gemini knife, which is a fighting type fixed blade made by a company with a fanatical following. That knife costs approximately $500 and is tough to find, due to the way their products are marketed and controlled by the maker.
Carol uses a Benchmade Infidel, which is an Out-The-Front (OTF) automatic knife (what we referred to when I was a kid as a “stiletto”) which costs around $300. A blade used to perform rapid stabbing through bony skulls should be in the 6 to 12 inch range. Any shorter and you risk not being able to fully penetrate the brain while also putting very little space between you and those hungry jaws. Any longer and you lose some ability to be flexible and adapt to changing situations. You are more likely to bump into obstacles and not be able to move around them, thereby costing you precious time, making unwanted noise and possibly losing the advantage.
The blade should be strong enough to resist bending and breaking and it should also be full tang, meaning the blade continues through the handles all the way to the base of the handle. This gives you more strength. A sharp cutting edge is nice to have if you want to use if for camp chores such as slicing rope, but a sharp point is mandatory for dispatching the stinking biters we are discussing. The Busse knife used by Daryl fits the bill, but they are not commonly found. The OTF is super cool, but it has moving parts that are likely to get gummed up from leaking bodily fluids and it is just not long enough or strong enough to be optimal.
I feel the best close quarter zombie slaying blade is a military bayonet. They are extremely strong, in the right size range (for the most part, as some older ones are very long) and designed for punching through varied density biological targets. They are also widely available at military surplus stores and army navy stores. They are rarely under any kind of restriction and are easily portable. Many have belt attachments as a part of the scabbard. Bayonets are typically not sharpened as they were historically issued for the sole purpose of being mounted on the end of a rifle and not used as a utility knife. Some counties did create features on their bayonets which increased their utility. Many Soviet Bloc countries designed their bayonets with wire cutters to be used when breaching barbed wire obstacles.
Aside from bayonets in general, or the Busse Team Gemini used by Daryl, there are lots and lots of effective knives that have the length, the strength and the portability to be used when puncturing melons. This article began with discussing swords, or more specifically, the Katana. How would the sword carried by the Samurai fare post ZA? With heavy heart, I do not feel it is ideal. They have several things going for them. The sharp cutting edge when wielded by a skilled JSA practitioner is fearsome. It can decapitate a body handily and cleave limbs and torsos readily. The katana is an able stabbing instrument, despite the curve (in Japanese, the Sori) of the blade design. It is light weight, compared to many western style swords and can be used with blinding speed.
The reasons why I feel the Japanese sword is not ideal for the ZA stems from two reasons. One is the fragility of the blade. The Katana is easily bent and damaged. It requires a lot of maintenance to continue having a long and useful life. There are many old blades from Japan without blemish. Those blades were on display and not heavily used. The samurai from the feudal period used their swords regularly and they took a beating. It was not uncommon for a sword that was damaged in battle to be shortened by a swordsmith into a shorter sword (called the wakizashi). Swords would bend and take a set and need to be either fixed by an artisan or face disposal. Also, the bodily fluids they would encounter are corrosive to the high carbon steels used in swordmaking.
JSA practitioners learn to flick the blade after each use in order to get off as much blood and tissue from the blade as possible until a full cleaning can be undertaken. This action is called the Chiburi and is a ritualistic part at the end of every sword technique. The amount of use that Michonne’s sword receives is excessive and would result in a shortened lifespan, yet hers keeps chopping. The second reason for the Katana to not be optimal for the ZA is the amount of skill required to safely use it.
I initially sought to learn how to use the Katana after buying one and seeing how dangerous the cutting edge was. I soon found out that there is so much to learn in order to safely use a Katana that it does take years. Students use an unsharpened sword called an iaito to learn how to draw, cut with and sheath the sword. A slight miscalculation would result in a severe injury. Some students never transition to a sharpened sword (called a Shinken), even after years of training. Using a sharp samurai sword in a high stress combat situation without years of training is asking for a self-inflicted wound.
There are other types of sword styles. Western blades, such as cutlass sabers or the other military swords used for centuries by the armies of Europe have some utility in the world overrun by the undead. Without discussing each and every one of the styles, I would be concerned with the strength and durability of the blade and the ability to puncture a brain case and then quickly with draw it. Keep in mind that large heavy swords become unwieldy which makes dealing with multiple attackers more difficult. Dealing with still living attackers makes the use of swords attractive because they are frightening. And live humans fear the kinds of grievous wounds that come from slashing and hacking, so those elements are likely to cause your adversary to back away. Just be aware that it is foolish to be armed only with a sword at a gun fight. Know what I mean?
Going back to knives, I mentioned one very expensive effective knife and one very expensive not so effective knife. There are millions of blades in circulation and thousands of blade styles. Fighting knives bearing the traits which are needed for fighting off ghouls abound, regardless of price. There are lots of different types of steels used. They range from high carbon steels with technical sounding names like 154CM, S7 and 1095 carbon steel to stainless steels with high amounts of chromium added. These steels are more resistant to corrosion. That does not mean they will never rust. Plus, they tend to be more difficult to sharpen and retain an edge. Learning a little about the steels used would be helpful and are beyond the scope of this discussion. Do your homework.
Regarding the styles, there are fighting knives with varying kinds of edges. Different knife fighting techniques favor varying designs. When poking holes through rotting zombie pumpkins, none of that may matter. There is a style of knife that I favor as a back up blade. It is called the Push Dagger. The blade tends to be a little on the short side, but the handle is perpendicular to the axis of the blade and allows you to put a lot of force into stabbing and then withdrawing the blade. Cold Steel made a few variants of this design as did United Cutlery. None of these are particularly expensive.
Speaking of cost, there are high end companies such as Randall, Al Mar and Chris Reeve which make very effective fighters. There are mid-range companies in terms of cost such as Buck, Kabar, Emerson and Boker which make just as efficient blades, not to mention the lower end companies such as United and Frost which make knives that vary from complete garbage to respectable pieces. If you get a feel for the design characteristics and blade materials, you should be able to make an effective choice.
Remember that one is none and two is one. That means you should always have more than one knife. Blades break and you will also need multiple knives for different tasks. You wouldn’t want to eviscerate a zombie, wipe off the guts and goo and then slice your sandwich. I could be way off on that, but anything that goes into my mouth and stomach gets its own silverware. Folding knives work very well for many camp chores, but for fighting, they tend to be less strong and have the possibility of debris jamming the action. Automatic knives, meaning those which open with the operation of a switch or button are very groovy. But the stress of plunging in and out of bony objects will break them and jam them. They are good for intimidation of the living and make an impression, but will also attract the wrong kind of attention if you are stockpiling them now.
In short, choose several knives that are handy, stout and well made and will be long enough to pierce a skull without getting you too close to the chompers while not being so long that it becomes unwieldy. If you are going to consider a sword, pick one that will stand up to long term use and learn how to use it. Choose function over form. You don’t want to wind up as a mostly eaten corpse lying next to a groovy looking blade.
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