Bringing a Sword to a Gun Fight


I won’t be surprised if the title brings up a debate, but that’s not going to be what this is about.  I’m more interested in why the ancient weapons seem to pop up in modern stories.  How often have we seen a movie with guns blazing everywhere and a guy with a sword shows up?  Sometimes the character is a joke and other times they’re nigh unstoppable.  Yet, they’re there with a weapon that you wouldn’t see in a real world action setting.  So . . . why?  Here are a few reasons that I’ve thought up:

  1. More interesting and cinematic fight scenes.  With guns, a lot of the action ends up being long distance with a few close encounter dodge/shoot events.  It’s really exciting until someone wonders why the bad guys can’t hit the good guy standing in the open and they’re getting nailed while behind cover.  With ancient weapons like swords and axes, it’s based more on physical strength and speed than aim and focus.  So, you get the hand-to-hand fight with a lot of near hits and a lengthened battle time because you can’t end it as quickly with a gun.  Acrobatics are a big part of this too, which you do see with some gun-based scenes.  Still, melee weapons come under less scrutiny than dual wielding pistols while jumping through a 5 story window to land on a nearby crane and still hit the sniper two buildings over.
  2. There’s this odd trope that you can make a character look like a badass if he defeats a small army of gunmen with a melee weapon.  This usually isn’t very realistic unless the swordsman uses stealth, traps, and know the terrain.  Yet, you see it all the time with a hero rushing those with machine guns and blocking the bullets that never seem to find his/her legs.  You end with this visual of a blood-soaked warrior standing amid foes who should have been superior.  After that point, the audience may believe that nothing can stop them.  Here it’s not so much about the weapon specifically since it can be done with swords, axes, crowbar, pencil, or just about anything that isn’t a range weapon.
  3. Stepping away from melee, we do see a lot of archers these days.  The last decade seems to have seen a sudden rise in such characters like Katniss, Green Arrow, Hawkeye, Robin Hood (again!?), Legolas, and several others.  You would think these characters would lose to gunmen, but it rarely happens.  Some never face such a foe and others are given superhuman skills such as firing blindly or only running out of arrows when the time is right.  One could call them a middle ground between guns and swords, which might be why they hold a strange fascination.  There’s a lot of skill involved and it’s connected to ancient times, but it’s range like a modern gun.  Another advantage here is stealth, so it fits very well for any character who works from the shadows.
  4. Maybe another reason is that it’s easier to get a melee weapon than a gun in some places?  I mean, I could just go to a store that sells swords and buy one.  It’s probably more for decoration than use, but it doesn’t require what’s needed for a gun.  This makes it a more accessible weapon.  While we’re kind of in this ballpark, these weapons don’t have ammunition.  So, one might see an advantage to having this instead of something that has limited use.  With the majority of modern melee fighters being stealth-based or at least big into planning, this is something to consider.

Thought I had more in my head, but I guess I didn’t.  Skipping the ‘gun vs sword’ argument that appears at times, what do other people think about ancient weapons being used in modern settings?  What’s the appeal and/or benefits?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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50 Responses to Bringing a Sword to a Gun Fight

  1. Swords (and other blades) are quiet.
    Mud or water won’t make a sword suddenly stop working properly.
    A sword won’t blow up in your hand if something goes horribly wrong.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Good points. Although it is hard to use a sword underwater. That might make things easier for gunners. Knives might have the advantage there too.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think Thomas is onto something. You can sneak around with a blade and take out individual opponents, so ultimately the group you face is fewer in numbers. There will be noise as the victim struggles, but it won’t carry as far as gunfire and could be mistaken for something else.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah. Hollywood (and other sources of popular entertainment, etc.) tends to depict a “silenced” firearm as almost silent — no louder than a cat’s sneeze, maybe. In reality, a suppressor reduces the noise a bit but does NOT make the shot too quiet to be heard nearby.

        If the person with the blade really knows what they’re doing, there won’t by any “noise as the victim struggles.” Stealth, remember?

        (Don’t look at me like that… Copyeditor here — it’s my job to know about wide range of topics that may come up in fiction, so I can make sure the author is describing things correctly, or at least not making any blatant mistakes that could cause a reader th throw the book across the room. Also, my twin is rather knowledgeable about a lot of weapons- and combat-related stuff, and I end up absorbing that information, too.)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sure, but we also need to realize that the victim is going to fight for their life just as much as the hero would. They are going to make as much noise as physically possible, in hopes of drawing allies to aid them.


      • You can also try to stab them somewhere they die instantly. This is probably why assassins always seem to have blades.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Dude, you’re breaking the suspension of disbelief. Of course none of this works in real life, but it’s cool. I don’t care if it’s speculative fiction like Blade, or trying to be realistic like Bond. I’ve shot many a gun, and dabbled with archery. Those over-the-shoulder shots while driving your motorcycle are not going to strike home other than blind-assed luck. That Walther PPK fires a .380 Auto round that doesn’t blow up tanks either. One Kung Fu man isn’t going to take down 40 warriors, even if they have no weapons. Still, it’s fiction, and part of this is what makes it fun. Take this to a muzzle loader era, and the dynamic changes. You’ve got one (inaccurate) shot, and a longbow is much faster. For me, I write speculative fiction. I’ll take bullets and bracers over the reality all day long. Dianna’s forearms, filled with bullet holes, doesn’t make for much of a story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • To be fair, Wonder Woman is bulletproof herself. So the beavers are more for showing off. Anyway, there are times where someone with a sword turns up and keeps a bunch of cops at bay. I don’t know why it is, but I remember it happening in Florida and NYC. There’s a fiction book I read where a villain points out that many people are more scared of getting stabbed than shot. There’s an odd sense of being able to either survive the bullet or die without suffering. Getting stabbed brings about images of bleeding to death. So, there’s a psychological factor here too.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved Rambo (First Blood II I think) where he used a high velocity bow and arrows to shoot grenades, etc, into enemy positions (in one scene, for several miles, into a Vietnamese General? And blowing him and his troops to hell 👍😃


  4. L. Marie says:

    At least Hawkeye has some arrows that explode upon contact.

    I can’t help thinking of Sokka’s mentor in Avatar–Master Piandao. He was the lone swordsman among the Order of the White Lotus. Everyone else was a bender. But I loved that he was a swordsman, rather than a bender, just as Sokka was the only one among Team Avatar (with the exception of Suki) who was not a bender.

    I also can’t help thinking of the light saber, which was described as “an elegant weapon.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • The lightsaber is a strange one. It seems to attract lasers in order to block them. With Avatar, fantasy tends to put swordsmen with magic using types. A manga called Negima had this too. The explanation was that it takes time and focus to use magic, so the warrior is there to provide cover.


  5. Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
    Check out this great post from Charles Yallowitz on this Legends of Windemere blog on the topic of Bringing a Sword to a Gun Fight


  6. You’re right, It is weird to bring a melee weapon to a gunfight or mage battle. Realistically — realistic, ha ha! — there would have to be a compelling reason for doing this. Bullets move too fast compared to human reflex. The relative disadvantage is too great.

    With characters like Sokka, mentioned above, I think he took up the sword because he didn’t have the option of bending. He kept getting into these situations which were very dangerous, and he wanted to help his friends and/or protect himself. But I think he would have been bending if he could.


    • I think people put too much pride in guns to begin with. There are some advantages that blades have over guns. Much of it revolves around terrain and the user. For example, a person with a gun needs to know who they’re aiming at. If they’re fighting a swordsman that they can’t see then they lose their advantage. It’s situational though. Most ‘vs’ discussions involving combat tend to be thought of as head-to-head, which means stealthy characters and weapons will always be at a loss.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Reblogged this on Where Genres Collide and commented:
    I think it has to do with the mythical idea of the sword.


  8. Pingback: Bringing a Sword to a Gun Fight – Where Genres Collide

  9. My husband’s current computer game project has a hero fighting bad guys (of course). I told him about this post and he said it’s pretty much all about your reason #1. 🙂 My husband says he’s thinking of going all hand-to-hand because firing at an enemy off the screen is no fun at all for the player.


  10. Swords are fun weapons. I know how to use one, and enjoy them. Knives are fun also. I’m well versed on sneaking up and taking someone down with one. Trouble is running someone through with one, and if you screw up, which happens in the real world, blows your cover when the guy screams. Give me a good rifle with a scope, and I can take down almost any target from a thousand meters and not once give away my location. I think my problem is that I’ve had to do things in the real world, and my fictional worlds are influenced greatly by that.


    • I think the difficulty with sniping in reality vs fiction is that it’s kind of boring for most audiences. It works with an internal dialogue and the right description, but it typically lacks the fast pace of melee weapons that keeps the attention. It is odd how often people think a run through is always an automatic death.


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