In Soviet Russia, Swords Wield YOU!

Sorry for the cliched heading, I just couldn’t resist… 🙂

Anyway, today, at the behest of one my regular readers, I’m going to talk about Russian swords. Actually mostly about one specific Russian sword, The Russian Shashka (also sometimes called the Shashqua). Lots of info below, so grab a cuppa joe, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride…

In the history of pretty much every nation in the world, there is always at least one bladed weapon that is a predominant, and sometimes even defining, fixture of the culture. Russia is no different, and for them, that weapon is a saber. A very unique saber called the Shashka .

As I pointed out in a previous post, the saber is a very strong and versatile sword design. It is heavy enough to be used for work that would make a Japanese Katana simply asplode, is straight enough to be a good thrusting weapon, but still has enough curve to make an excellent cutting weapon.

The Russian military needed a sword that was as tough as they were, and this saber fit the bill on all counts. There are, in fact, several different kinds of historical Russian sabers, but I found three specific variations that seem to stand out.


The first, and fairly common design is the officer or calvary saber. This has with an inward curving pommel, and a full and often ornate hand guard. This is a common design that is used today by the military forces of many different nations. No surprises here:

Russian Calvary/officers Shashka

click image to view full size

click image to view full size


The second is a cross between a standard saber and Persian scimitar hilt, with an inward curving pommel, and a cross guard. Very close in design to the Persian shamshir, except straighter, heaver and stronger, with a fuller (or two):

Russian Shamshir Style Shashka

click image to view full size

click image to view full size


The third, most distinguished design, and the one we will primarily be talking about today, is the Caucasian Shashka design made famous by the Cossacks. When one mentions the Shashka, this is the sword that will most likely spring to mind:

The Shashka

click image to view full size

click image to view full size

This Shashkas basic design originated from a weapon used by the people of the Caucasian mountain ranges, but was later adopted by Russian and Ukrainian Cossacks, due to it’s better overall design.

While there are numerous examples of highly decorated Shashka, In keeping with the great Russian tradition of strong, no frills, form follows function weapons design, the basic shashka has a number of unique design features that clearly demonstrate how the sword was intended to be used. We’ll start with the blade.

The blade on this Shashka is a fairly standard single edged, curved saber design that is great for both hacking, cutting and thrusting. However that where the similarities to most other sabers end. The blade on a Shashka is often either hollowed out, or has two, sometimes even 3 fullers. This was done in order to both cut weight and improve the stiffness of it’s fairly wide blade.

Hilt and blade of a Caucasian style Shashka

click image to view full size

click image to view full size

The hilt of a Caucasian Shashka is also very unique. The first thing you’ll notice on the Caucasian Shashka is that there’s no guard. Apparently the Caucasians, and later the Cossacks, were so bad ass, they could deflect sword strikes with their bare hands… Ok, so maybe they wore heavy gloves, but still. I guess if you’re that good you don’t need a guard… No really. I kid you not. Go look up Systema sword defense techniques if you don’t believe me… 😛

I have also seen it argued that the lack of a guard was to improve the inherent cutting ability of the sword, as a guard generally reduces how close to the hilt a cutting motion can begin. I kind of doubt this is the case, since in most scenarios, practical considerations would make it difficult to use that extra inch or two of edge right next to the grip in a combat situation. I’m more inclined to believe they simply never found a guard necessary for their fighting style, and so never saw a need to implement one. Not to mention it greatly simplifies manufacturing and maintenance.

A few other interesting features of the hilt was that it was actually curved forward slightly, has an unusually small grip, and ended in a rather large and abrupt pommel, that was often bifurcated:

A Bifurcated Shashka Pommel

click image to view full size

click image to view full size

The short grip was intended to ensure positive one handed placement, and the large, split pommel ensured that the sword remains seated properly in the hand and could not slip out of the hand, as well as provide a tactile feedback to the user about what the sword was doing.

Each of these small details had a specific function: To enable the sword to be used quite vigorously using one hand. Compared to the Japanese Katana, which is clearly designed to be used with both hands on the grip, it is clear that a lot of design thought went into the one handed grip approach, which makes sense when you consider that they were also great horsemen, and the ability to use a sword one handed while riding a horse would have been a great boon to the Russian calvary…

One other interesting feature of the Shashka involved not the sword, but the scabbard. Unlike most other swords, the scabbard of the Shashka often covered the grip, right up to the pommel, in addition to the blade. I imagine that this was to protect the grip surface from the elements, as well as provide a little extra shielding for the blade, without resorting to the comparatively time consuming Japanese practice of perfectly mating the opening of the scabbard to the collar on the hilt. As usual, a simple, but effective Russian approach to solving a problem:

click image to view full size]

click image to view full size

The Shashka has also naturally played a prominent role in Russian and Cossack tradition. In fact, just like some traditional Chinese art forms, the Cossacks are one of the few cultures to make common use of two Shashka in traditional forms:

Old School Shashka Joint.

The New Shashka Hotness…

Now that is my kind of art… Old or new… It’s all good. And all kinds of cool. There are definitely more than a couple of those dual sword moves I need to learn… : ) I wonder how effective those moves would be in combat… Or are those just limited to making vodka orange smoothies without a blender…?

26 Responses to “In Soviet Russia, Swords Wield YOU!”

  1. 1 Niccolo
    July 29, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    No guard? That is badass… Wow. You know, as nice as katana are, it’s good to see a blade made of pure unadulterated killing.

    But what’s with the bifurcation?

  2. 2 ladyofspiders
    July 29, 2008 at 7:30 pm

    Those are some nice looking sabres

  3. July 29, 2008 at 9:19 pm

    Well I wouldn’t necessarily go as far as to say that the Shashka was made for pure unadulterated killing… One of the strengths of the shashka, and sabers in general, are that they are useful for a number of other mundane tasks. Because of the harsh environment in which the Cossacks lived, this added flexibility would have been of great value to them, in addition to it’s efficacy as a killing tool.

    The Japanese made no such concession. Not to take anything away from the lethality of the Shashka, but I’d have to say that as swords go, the Japanese Katana is perhaps the most highly engineered killing weapon of all time that I am aware of. It was not really designed to do anything *but* kill…

    Regarding the bifurcation, If you look at a few other samples of Shashka (the one I showed in the post doesn’t show this very well) you’ll notice that the bifurcation had the added effect of slightly widening and thickening the shelf at the bottom of the grip. I think this was done in order to help with weapon retention when used vigorously…

    Indeed. There are a lot of saber styles out there, but the Russian Caucasian Shashka is one of the few sabers that i felt was unique enough to warrant a post…

  4. July 30, 2008 at 10:17 am

    Very nicely done. Lots of great info.

    Thanks much…

  5. July 30, 2008 at 10:50 am

    You are welcome! 🙂

  6. 6 Crosseyes
    July 30, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    I thank you very much for refering to my ancestors as “bad-ass,” because they no-doubt were 😀

    As humble as I’d like to be, the fact that these excelent blades are so offensively oriented comes as no suprise to me. In fact (and I’m not sure if I ended up submiting this or not) I just recently advocated for another guardless blade that you posted not long ago. And in any case, a parry or dodge is much more fun to a swordfighter if they’re good enough to exclude the guard move. And on top of that, there’s the economics to think about. (?) If a japanese sword-maker works in a time of peace, he’s out of a job. Then a Russian sword-maker works in a similar time, and he still sells his shashkas as lumber axes, or whatever else they’re good for. Now what you arrogant japanese punks? now what? Think you’re so cool, yea, well did your “awesome samurai/ninja ancestor” ever need to rely on a guard in combat? Yea, thought so.

    Wow, sorry about that whole russia over japan thing, at least you guys still got video games, and most of your country is even habitable (chernobyl = 40x more radiation than hiroshima) Thanks once again to Phyre for the helpful post, and I look forward to owning one of these soon

    your Comrade

  7. 7 Crosseyes
    July 30, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    Crap, should’ve seen the video first, o well, sorry to phyre for the double post.

    How Awesome are your hands if you can deflect swords with them? The amount of pure coolness coming down my family tree is astounding.

  8. July 31, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    LOL Hey Comrade Crosseyes,

    The Russian people have always been really tough cookies. You have every right to be proud. Just don’t make a habit of bashing others… There have been lots of very tough cultures throughout the ages.

  9. 9 Crosseyes
    August 1, 2008 at 8:08 pm

    Agreed, Russia may be cool, but that doesn’t mean other guys can’t be awesome too

    There should be a simulator to match up different armies from different time periods, that way we can see who’s really best…

    My money’s on Rome, next’d have to be the U.s. THEN Russia in third (we may’ve been good but those romans were insane)

  10. August 14, 2008 at 10:26 pm

    crosseyes, the mongols would win at almost any land battle (maybe not the hot gates in greece, however they could always call tamerlane with the chalk of destiny to do something about it), but earlier china would rule the seas with zheng he’s fleet

    the spinning sword moves makes it very hard to get a blow in, especially with 1 sword following the other as one sword knocks the blade’s path away from the russian if the other misses. but it would make a good puree for bloody maries. just take a chute and fill it with tomatoes with a circle of sword spinners standing at the bottom of the chute on a grate. have the multi use come in handy as they skim the ground cutting up anything left in the grate.

  11. August 17, 2008 at 7:40 pm

    LOL… I may just try that one of these days… A Russian Bloody Mary… 🙂

  12. 12 shadowstalker
    August 19, 2008 at 4:59 am

    i would like to have seen this sword in battle in the hands of a experianced cossack. but to be honest i dought that the cossacks would have fought like that in battle. this style leaves them too open to attack if they only had one blade whicgh i think they did but ive never seen them fight so i dont know.

  13. August 19, 2008 at 1:09 pm

    Indeed, i really was curious about how effective that particular style would be, so I went back and looked at some of the things I learned for the Chinese broadsword, and compared that with the moves in each video with particular attention to practicality.

    Not being an expert in Russian sword arts, I can only speculate based on my own experience, however I found was that in the first vid, there was a lot of excessively flamboyant motion to the sword dance, that would indeed be rather risky in a combat situation. However I am also thinking that is more or less a highly ritualized version of the combat art, and is probably not a good representation.

    The second vid proved to be more interesting. There were a lot of overly flamboyant and wasteful moves in that vid as well. However, there were far more useful moves that made sense from a combat perspective. The first half if the guy in the red shirts “kata” (for lack of a better word) consisted primarily of a number of different single sword slashes that would have been very effective in combat, with a quite a few flourishes thrown in for effect.

    The second half of his demo was about half and half. The first half of his double sword bit looked good. The second half… I dunno. It was fast and flashy, but apart from the bit at the very end, hard to say if it would have been defensively effective. Certainly not offensively so. But all in all, they did have a very effective dual sword style, though it is hard to distill the flash from the tactic based on it’s traditional ritual interpretation…

  14. 14 Crosseyes
    August 24, 2008 at 10:19 pm

    … did you see the vid on russian MAs and how they block other swords? I would think that because of that you wouldn’t need any (or at most very little) defensive ability in the sword itself. In most cases (blade-wise) using two hands on one sword is more focused and direct than dual-wielding, as there is only one motion you have to focus on rather than having to split your mind amongst two. Also, the swordplay in the videos may have looked cool, but if you noticed, the first guy (vid1) is on a stage, meaning his fancy moves were probably for show. I imagine that if someone were fighting, it would be more like warrior type moves, instead of Drum major type moves lol.

    P.s. are you sure about that mongols over romans? I mean, the Mongols were bad-ass and all, they terrorized a country somewhere around 5 times the size of their own. But on the other hand, rome conquered at least one nation in every time zone (forcefully in many occasions)

    A blade store just opened in my local mall with alot of famous movie and VG swords on display, probably most of them are real (hence the reason the clerk would’nt let me try out any of them) Final fantasy, 300, legend of zelda, I’ll gladly get some pics up to anyone who wants ’em

    Grandad is critical

  15. August 25, 2008 at 1:44 am

    You really have to ask if anyone would be interested in seeing reproductions of famous movie and VG swords? Have you forgotten where you are posting?

    D00D… You’re scaring me…

  16. 16 Crosseyes
    August 25, 2008 at 9:38 am

    lol, fine, next time I visit there I’ll take some pictures and post them here. Then, if u post them, I’ll ask the clerk some of your questions.

    because I’m just that kind of guy 😀

  17. 18 Cossack
    April 4, 2011 at 5:09 am

    I am simply writing to relate an interesting and true story to you . I am of Don and Siberian cossack heritage . I am proud of my heritage and have learnt alot about it . I was taught how to correctly weild a shashka and am very skilled with one . My family has resided in australia now since the late 40s as many cossacks were purged during the revolution . In any case this story is about my fathers God father , dadya Mitya . He died in 94 but was born in 1896 . He fought in the first world war as a cossack captain and suffered numerous injuries including but not totalling the loss of all his right toes from frost bite , 13 gun shot wounds and a split skull as well as three mustard gassings . He related this to me as is in person . During one fight he had with german troops in a trench he fought a german captain sword to sword one on one . His shahska which was very well made and a family heirloom was shattered by the german captains sword which continued on its course to smash dadya Mitya’s skull and knock him unconcious . At the time it was considered rude to kill an officer and simply not done but on seeing what happened his men shot and killed the German officer . After inspecting the German sabre when he regained cociousness dadya Mitya found that it was quick to weild but very heavy on the swing . To cut a long story short they snapped the blade which appeared to be heavily built and found it to be hollow and half filled with mercury . This made it both quick to defend with and heavy in the down stroke as the mercury rushed to the end .

  18. 19 Cossack
    April 4, 2011 at 5:33 am

    I hope that i am not being rude but i wish to relate the reasons i was given as a child for the shaska having no gaurd , I am not sure of how true what was told to me is but i can only offer it for consideration and even i am sceptical of some . Number one it was considered before cossacks fought for the Czsar that it was cowardly to both ware armour or use a sword with a gaurd . Number two , a shashka was originally forged with some blood donated from the intended owner which became tradition , it was said to from that point house some of the owners soul and that they were one . I personally beleive that this may have come from the practice of originally plunging a blade through a prisoner caught during a wife or clan raid to add carbon to the blade in a semi shamanistic practice which then became Christianised after the cossack clans converted and has lost its original practical purpose . I was also told that it was to allow for a free swinging action from horseback that did not require as much muscular input from an individual thus allowing one to fight for longer periods . I personally am sceptical of this one . I was also told that to retain the blades integrity they were sheathed in wool lined scaberds which would protect them from the bitter cold and damp as well as lining them with natural lanoline oil each time they were drawn thus protecting them from rust and thus the more of the sword that fit in the scabbard the better protected it was from both damp and cold induced brittelness .

  19. 20 Cossack
    April 4, 2011 at 5:48 am

    One more post . As i have previously stated my family and many other cossack families were purged during the revolution . Between the revolution and the second world war my grandfather and Dadya Mitya gaurded gold pay trains in Manchuria as mercanaries inorder to make a living along with many other banished cossacks . I have been told that many Manchurian swords of the time resembled very closely the shashka . The reason for the slightly recurved hilt is for easier removal after a downard stroke from horseback and a more powerful ergonomic swing as has been proven by the design of say the gurka knife . Also the hollow blade design also acted as a very proficient blood channel which Dadya Mitya said was of unestimable importance in real battle as i had no idea how hard it could be to pull a blade out of a person from internal pressure .

  20. 21 Cossack
    April 4, 2011 at 6:06 am

    Just read the end of your article , dual shaska’s were never used in combat it is a cavalry sword prominently or dueling sword when it comes to quarrels and a saviour when de-horsed , however dancing is considered very important to cossack tradition and flashiness is valued . I used to go to cossack camp as a youngster and learnt to dance and appreciate the beutiful girls that would take part . Contrary to popular belief we are not a dour people but a people full of joy and life . We fought a 300 year war against the mongols and were not subdued ( probably due to the closeness of lifestile and sheer determination ) but also because of our love for life . One thing we are all taught is that as long as we are alive , all is well regardless of our situation and if we are dead then there is nothing left to worry about as nothing more can be done . Old cossack saying ” Build your church first , the stable second and then your house ” . We have strong beleifs and are a passionate people full of love and energy , but God help those who would take it from us !

  21. 22 Cossack
    April 4, 2011 at 6:33 am

    In response to phyreblade ( I hope that you are all tollerant of my spelling , I have always been articulate but not so good at spelling , my apology’s ) . Yes the Katana is a great killing tool , however the English or Norman short sword has been proven as the most efficiant sword of all time . It is not as you are currently picturing it im sure . It is always built and weighted to its individual weilder . It is usually the leangth from the inner shoulder to the tips of the finger of the weilder . It has a broad double edged blade from the hilt tapering to a much finer tip . It is a small hilted one handed weapon with a large counter balance pommel . It has been tried in a cutting test against a well made katana and had negligble difference . It has beaten the katana in speed of use and ease of thrusting motion as well as penetration and due to its shorter but heavier blade much better at penetrating light armour . it cross gaurd allows for better sword play and grapple . It is an ugly and poorly made looking piece of kit , but very efficient and extremely effective .

  22. 23 Cossack
    April 11, 2011 at 1:02 am

    I would just like to add an opinion with all respect to crosseyes . The Roman military’s streangth was derived from the ancient greek form of moving as one and perfected by their military . As individual fighters i take nothing from them . However their true streangth lies in the ability of large formations to move as a single unit . In my humble opinion a phalanx of roman spearman matched to counter a wave of cavalry would decimate any unit of equal size to hit it ( this includes say a cossack regiment ) . Mongols rode what was called the whirlwind and used many techniuqes including whisteling arrows and sheer brutallity to intimidate enemies long before they joined in battle , this resulted in most enimies being routed from the field long before decisive victory was assured . Seiges were discoureged by any city falling being slaughtered man woman and child leading to more surrenders than opposition . As i have mentioned earlier my people fought for 300 years against them and are very proud that we were not conquered as many others , infact it is still a story that is told to almost anyone that will listen . My personal beleif is that they would have not done so well against a “work as one” apponnent which at this time in history had just about disappeared .

  23. 24 Michael Vishniakoff
    May 16, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    Vitali, I believe that I may be related to you. Did your family come to Australia via Tubabao on the Phillipine Islands in the late 1940s?

  24. 25 kuu
    August 24, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    MAMUSHKA!!! 😀

  25. 26 Dmitry Vyatkin
    July 14, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    Shashka is not a sabre. Shashka is a big knife like machete.

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