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Sword Types - The Saber
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Widely recognized and highly popular during its prime, the saber lives on today as one of the most swashbuckling weapons to roam the earth. While not used on the battlefield any longer, it still plays a role in military parade dress within armies around the world. How did such a weapon become so famous and central to the military? How is it unique from other swords? What makes a saber a saber?

Physically, a saber is a type of backsword which in most cases sports a curve in the blade, allowing for more sweeping cuts, while leaving the option of a thrust available to the swordsman. Generally the classic saber hilt featured a crossguard which extended out over the the knuckles of the hand connecting to the pommel to protect the hand from slashes and cuts. This is not standard with all sabers however as many Arabic and Polish hussar sabers feature a regular crossguard. Most sabers, are generally agreed upon as being curved swords, although there are some exceptions, such as the Patton saber, designed by General George S. Patton in 1913 which itself was modeled off of a British cavalry saber design that was also straight and resembled modern fencing sabers quite closely.

Originally introduced into Europe through the East by the Polish and Hungarians, the saber eventually gained great popularity in Europe when the French first conquered Egypt and brought home the exotic scimitars. It proved to be highly effective as a cavalry weapon during the Napoleonic wars and was also adapted for infantry and naval operations as well. Throughout these wars, the elegance and effectiveness of the saber increased its popularity to the point that, despite declining effectiveness the weapon was not relegated to ceremonial usage until World War I. Within the U.S. it saw minimal usage within the Civil War, however by the end of the war, many Confederate cavalry discarded their sabers in exchange for carbines and pistols which proved to be more practical for the typical engagement in what was the first modern war to date.

The saber is typically thought of primarily as a cavalry sword. As such, it would have been used with broad, sweeping slashes which would have been exceedingly lethal. The power of a charging horse combined with a sharp blade would easily provide enough force to horribly mutilate an opponent. However with time straighter sabers were employed which would be used to thrust, which is equally lethal allowing for the swift creation of deep wounds which are difficult to recover from. Saber fencing itself naturally grew to be a specific science. There can be found several manuals on proper saber fencing techniques. Of particular note is Alfred Hutton's 'Cold Steel', which concerns itself primarily with the science and motions behind saber fencing attacks, with some attention given to battlefield use, however most of the focus is upon the proper stances, attacks and defenses in single combat on foot. He encourages saber fencers to refrain from unnecessary attacks, instead focusing on forcing your opponent to initiate and learning his reach, style, and such while engaging the opponent with the occasional stop-thrust and riposte.

Despite its present state of retirement, the saber continues to serve as one of the most famous and elegant weapons historically recognized around the globe. Saber fencing as a sport has flourished and the saber fencing techniques utilized today closely resemble those employed during its prime. It continues to live on, romanticized in poetry and proudly worn in parade dress by the U.S. Marine Corps to this day.


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