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
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
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:
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
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
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:
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…?