Kult of Athena


Saturday, October 15, 2011

East vs. West: Cinematic Showdown

I am one of the people who never considered any of Netflix's recent changes to be anything more than a tiny blip on the radar.

Prices. Quickster. Stock plunges. Blockbuster's last-gasp (albeit valiant) attempt at collaboration with another aging dinosaur, the Dish Network. None of these things have made me miss an opportunity to take advantage of Netflix's savvy recommendations when it comes to the sword-swinging films that I love.

But, in indulging in these screenings, I have noticed a significant change in the geographical origin of my predominately Western/Anglicized stock: Asia.

It would seem that more and more "period epics" are coming from oversees and providing an incredible story line with plenty of action. Not be ethnocentric, but where and when did Asia get all of these amazing ideas and the cinematic clout to make it happen? Could it be their 6000 years of rich history? Yes, I'll give them that. Could it be the legacy of legendary filmmaker of all things Samurai, Akira Kurosawa? Perhaps. But while his Samurai films were groundbreaking, he never had the scope (nor the tools) to do what is being done today.

No, I think it began with main stream martial arts films such as Crouching Tiger and House of Flying Daggers.

They grabbed US movie-goers and shook them until they were like, "Huh? Asia? Whoa!"

Now, the movies earned my undivided attention were films called "Geomon" and "13 Assassins." These no doubt translated titles don't lend too much to the rich plot of the story, and may seem a little campy, but, while they cant rival the tantalizing titles of "Gladiator" and "Braveheart," their stories, scenery, and weapons (especially) more than stack up.


Two ninja, both alike in deadly skill and cunning. One is the ward of one of Japan's greatest Shoguns, Oda Nobunaga. The other, the charge of his greatest general and Samurai, Hatori, Devil, Hanzo (stop thinking Kill Bill). One sword must become two. Two empires must become one. Interested yet? I won't give it away, suffice to say that your patience and the straining of your eyes to handle the all encompassing CGI cinematography will be rewarded, as the battle scenes are non-stop ninja badassery from the East, mixed with small bits of weapons and armor from the West, from start to finish.


Horror master Takashi Miike (think Audition) brings to devastating life the very splintering of the Samurai psyche. Torn between service to the empire and doing what he knows to best for its people, an aging Samurai and his "Magnificent Seven-style" band embark on what they know will be a suicide mission to rid the world of an evil (and I mean truly evil) lord.

As you would expect from any Samurai film, there is just a ton of this:

But, what sets this movie apart from other ridiculous hack and slash martial arts films are moments like "The Lane of Blades," a scene which includes a Samurai who fights in the deadly dual-wielding style of one Miyamoto Musashi (the father of all Samurai and the Book of Five Rings) to perfection, and looks an awful lot like Patrick Swayze:

Watching these two films, I become more interested in what the Asian markets are ready to offer. I look to films such as "IP MAN" and others to show me that even though stars like Jackie Chan and Jet Li have hung up their sword belts, others are ready to take up the fight and win the war for foreign imaginations (and dollars).


Still holding the belt for the greatest epics in the movie industry, and not to be outdone by their Eastern counterparts, Western cinema has put their best booted foot forward with some very impressive medieval underdogs. No, it is not that trash Robin Hood bastardization with Russel Crowe nor is it the huge budget flop-buster about a thunder god who relies more on looks and CGI than actual plot to sell the story.

The films that earn my allegiance are a sleeper that relies on gritty, hopeless, no-holds barred action with an all-star "that guy" cast, and a foreign film that begs the audience's forgiveness for Swedish subtitles with an incredible sub-plot and fantastic fight choreography.

Sword lovers, I present:

  • Ironclad
  • Arn


In the beginning, I didn't lend much credence to Ironclad's preview. Gore just for the sake of gore is never necessary in an epic. Seeing "how it really was" can be done much more tastefully than Ironclad made it seem. But, while watching this film, I started to become more involved with the characters and truly began to appreciate how much training had gone through for their roles.

Plus, the cast of characters couldn't have been more appealing, nor more delightfully inconspicuous:

Brian Cox, Uncle Argyle from Braveheart, Agamemnon from Troy, ect

Derek Jacobi, Senator from Gladiator, Vampire Overlord from Underworld, anything Shakespearean

Paul Giamatti, chubby super villain who is terrifying when he yells about Merlot

Jason Flemyng, the quintessential "that English guy" in everything

Mackenzi Crook, the skinny guy from Pirates

Vladimir Kulich, badass barbarian chieftain in the 13th Warrior

Combine well-trained actors, new and interesting medieval weaponry and fighting styles

and sound tactics about how to take an ancient keep (bombarding it with flaming boulders and digging mines to blow up the foundation), and Ironclad is surprisingly on point and definitely worth a watch.


Canal +, a French movie studio, provides some of the best cinema on the planet. I am convinced that they have a discerning staff that actually takes the time to read and appreciate a well thought out plot. Arn: The Knight Templar, a movie based on a literary work by Jan Guillou, is no exception.

Without giving away too much, as I want you to see and appreciate it (please give the subtitles a chance), I will say that Arn has everything. Love. Hate. Hope. Division. Faith. Struggle. Scenery. Dialog. Heraldry. Tactics. Weaponry. Magnificent battle.

A Swedish monk, trained in the arts of war, is forced to join the Templars. He is respected and feared among his enemies in the holy land, while at home, and his love, are threatened and pushed to the edge. He must choose between duty to his God, and love for his people.

Albion, one of the finest sword makers in the world, seems to agree with me, as they created a line of magnificent swords directly from the film.

Their care and dedication to recreating these masterworks from the film mirrors the care and effort put into the writing of the film. For fans of the sword, Arn will become your new Braveheart because it has the courage to push the boundaries of cinema and not simply consign itself to poorly-acted hack and slash dreg. It has a shining soul to it, and draws it out inch by inch with grand design and flare.

East vs. West. Both offer amazing stories but very different cinematography. Both offer incredible weaponry, action scenes, and authentic wardrobe, but take place worlds apart. But, as you view these films, take note of the common threads of struggle, perseverance, and fortitude. They are what makes a story worth your attention and something tangible that you can take with you as the credits role.

Monday, September 12, 2011

You WERE Spartacus

I would like to express my heartfelt condolences to the family of actor Andy Whitfield, 39, who played the Thracian warrior Spartacus in the hit series "Spartacus: Blood and Sand." Whitfield, unfortunately, lost his 18-month battle with Non Hodgkin’s lymphoma today. He was surrounded by his family and, sources say, went very peacefully.

Going very peacefully....unlike his enemies in Blood and Sand! When this loin cloth wearing madman wasn't bedding the hottest Roman debutantes Capua had to offer,

he was slicing himself off slabs of whoop ass (and flabby enemy meat parcels) using his quick action two-handed sword style. Bloody, gritty, fast, and awesome.

He was the alpha innovator for this series (Gods of the Arena is the prequel) and the only warrior/actor who ever made me believe that there was life beyond a shitty pilot episode.

Gladiator, we salute you!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Shipping Swords

I have heard in tales across the Internet that there is a monumental shift in the way people spend their hard earned money. Most are not going out to buy the newest and greatest Apple gadget right off of the shelf. They aren't investing their money in gold and oil as people have done in previous shaky economies of yesteryear. No, their investment is in creation, in remembrance, in the genesis of life long memories through unforgettable travel to foreign, exotic locations.

Think about this. You purchase something collectible. It's beautiful. It's tangible. You can hold it, feel it. It's a showpiece. It showcases part of yourself and your soul, who you are just past the surface.

But then, after a while, it becomes something different. You change.

You take it off the wall to make room for something new. You wrap it up in noisy bubble paper, put it in the corner or under the bed. Eventually, whatever this thing was to you has completely changed and eventually collects dust in your attic, your basement, or the dark recesses under the bed. Your desire is still there, but the possessiveness ebbs away.

It's not that you're a bad person. It's not that you aren't grateful for the work that went into said thing that meant so much once upon a time. You have just outgrown whatever it is that you were holding onto, and now you are looking for something better, something that has no expiration date. The mind's escape at the office. Your now favorite story. The all impressive "yeah, I've been there. Went last year. Beautiful."

So, when Shelley, my lovely fiance (we're marrying next July), and Mr. Rob Stewart, my very best friend (getting married in less than a month) let me know that there were ways in which we NEEDED to celebrate right and proper, I knew that sacrifices for immortality had to be made. And, those transcendent experiences weren't going to pay for themselves.

Now, don't get me wrong, I have a decent paying job. But I knew all the overtime in the world wasn't going to give me what I needed. $2500 for this, $20,000 for that, trip to NYC for one last hurrah? Why not! It adds up, and fast. I knew that haste was needed and I knew that the showpieces I had collected since I was 16 years old were just collecting dust.

It wasn't easy, but I decided, as I had purchased almost all my collection from Ebay and from the SBG Swordbuyers Guide (SBG) For Sale pages, at less than market cost, that I would just sell sword back into the market.

My Global Gear Solingen Broadsword.


No big deal. I don't remember how much I paid for it before college and I didn't care. With all the money I spent on "good beer" senior year at UNH (shudder), I could afford to take a minor dip on the return.

The sword sold in a day.

There is nothing better than that message "YOU'RE ITEM SOLD!" from Ebay when you open your email. You finally have that warming streak of good luck all over and that little smile at the edge of your mouth. It's the best single malt you'll ever taste.

I was in! If selling pieces that weren't really my style to begin with, pieces that were simply collecting dust in an attic was this easy, they all had to go:

Eye of Balor Sword from Windlass Cutlery:

12th Century Broadsword from Darksword Armory:

VERY RARE Icingdeath Sword of Drizzt Do'Urden Windlass Cutlery

High Elven King Sword Gen 2 (1st Edition, rare):

Generation 2 Excalibur Sword (Very Rare, Discontinued):

Total Profit: $1355.00

With millions on Ebay, and thousands on SBG, it was like fishing with dynamite. Collectors, backyard cutters, man cave decorators, they all knew from the descriptions (essential!!) that my swords were the real deal.

But, with every sale, came the big question: How was I going to ship these? USPS had no boxes, and frowned upon shipping weapons (metallic wall art) across state lines. FedEx wanted and extra $20 to make me a custom box. UPS only had boxes big enough for one handers. Come on. This is America! I don't ever have to leave the house again if I don't want to, and you're telling me I can find a long cardboard box? There's got to be a better way.

So, looking for solace and an answer to my query, I posted a question to my Bretheren of Steel on the almighty Facebook and got the an overwhelming response "Just make them. Try the Home Depot."

Manna from heaven.

The place is a warehouse after all. 90 percent of their materials are home construction pieces, long, skinny plywood and plastic siding the require long heavy duty cardboard boxes that can withstand the rigors of interstate travel. Exactly what I was looking for.

"Hey, what do you guys do with the empty cardboard boxes?"

"Eh, we crush em and throw them out to be recycled."

"Mind if I grab a couple boxes from over here? You guys don't sell them (Progress Lighting Recessed Lighting Accessory, Pro-Optic T-Bar Hanger Bars boxes fit even the longest swords) by the box do you?"

"Nah, we dont. Go ahead. Knock yourself out."

Sweet!! Free shipping materials! I walked right out of that Home Depot with two perfectly sized boxes for sword shipping. The best part was, it was all free!

Later, I slapped some free newspaper (many cities have free news publications that you can use as packing fodder to keep the sword from bouncing around) inside of those boxes, slapped some packing tape around the top, and she was good to go.

Now, I will say this, if a sword does not fit, you are going to have one hell of time MAKING a box to fit the dimensions. Make sure you have the following essential materials in order to create a wider/longer/more accommodating box for any size sword:

  • Long sections of cardboard, approximately 5 feet in length
  • Plenty of extra cardboard for mistakes and packing
  • Two 22-yard packing tape rolls (clear or brown the best, dont use duct tape)
  • Standard box cutter(scissors suck on cardboard)
  • Free newspaper for packing
  • Ventilation (box making is sweaty work)
  • Patience (see previous point)

Yes, your house will look like this:

But when you are cruising along on your honeymoon in the Mediterranean Sea, or sharing a jail cell in New York City because your friend punched the midget at the donkey show/bachelor party, I think you'll agree that it was totally worth the mess.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Monopoly on Sword Posts

Sword related photo of the day:


Monday, July 18, 2011

The Top 10 Movie Swordfights...That You Have Never Seen!

My current situation, it's not all bad. In fact, a wise person keeps telling me everything happens for a reason and maybe this change will be great. I like to believe that as well as she does. When these things happen, I am all about the silver lining. And, in my travels across the Internet looking for ways to pay bills on time, I often take little side trips for blog ideas. From these small soirees, and from the compounded learning of the wise, I give you:


If you are looking for Kill Bill, Braveheart, Gladiator, the Princess Bride, or Crouching Tiger, I invite you to hit up Google and the hundreds of movie buff websites that will show you everything that everyone else will. But, if you have a little yearning for variety and something new, the next 10 minutes or so could be very enlightening. I'll keep my opinions to a couple of sentences. Promise. Enjoy!


There's just something about a geriatric James Bond taking out the guy who played Quint from Jaws (Robert Shaw) that warms my heart


Foreign film makers always take the time to try and equal up to their US counterparts. Take some notes Michael Bay


You can take Andalusia from his cold...dead...hands!


Like mixing your roast beef with cap'n crunch. It's ridiculous but oh so much fun.


Some blade combat between interstellar badasses


It's very easy to lose sight of the fact, with all of the nakedness, big speeches, feelings, and skullduggery, that Game of Thrones has some pretty epic fight scenes.




What is "gun-kata??"


A dapper MI:6 Irishman sword fights a North Korean despot turned English socialite...the only thing that makes sense is Madonna's corset being undone.


Rise a knight...I think I just did

Leaving the Schola St. George

The economy never sends you written warning first. It's always quick. It is always remorseless. It is always so final, and it always leaves you searching for ways to "trim the fat." Sometimes its heading out to dinner, not golfing every Sunday, removing that one guilty pleasure of yours that helps you to save whatever you can in order to have "emergency cash" should something go south.

Well two weeks ago, a certain place, for personal security reasons I'm not going to say which one, announced that they were taking a certain operation, to a certain town very away from me, to which I would have to drive 4 hours a day.

Needless to say I was less than thrilled. But, in the wake of this little hiccup, I found myself doing 2 two things: putting my entire life to paper in short succinct little sentences and second looking at my daily life and making my own very tough cuts.

After approximately nine months with the Schola St. George, I had to tell them that I was going to cut back on the sword lessons that I loved so well. To save needed cash, I would need to miss more than a few lessons and they wouldn't be seeing my for some time. It was not an easy decision by any means but Charles, my Instruttore, God bless the man, was very understanding:

"We understand that family and loved one come first. If you ever want to de-stress, and come back, we can waive the floor fee. Good luck, and I will reach out to my contacts for you."

What a guy...

So now, that I am bit further than I wanted to be from the Schola, I find my transition has taken me from this:

to something more along the lines of this:

Friday, May 13, 2011

Western Martial Arts Sparring Gear

My last post was in February. Most bloggers keep at it day in and day out, but with the sword industry being such a niche (to say the least) hobby/lifestyle/obsessive passion, keeping up daily becomes a bit of chore. Plus, there were some smaller things keeping my attention, I started selling things on EBay, put in a new lawn at my old house, oh, and my engagement to my beautiful girlfriend of 5 years, you know, no big deal.


But amidst all this crazy work and changes there have been some very interesting developments in the my little microcosm of steel: the graduation of from Zugadore to Compagno in the Schola St. George, and the purchase of all my vital training equipment.

While a Zugadore, these are the people who come for a few lessons, "players" really, and then decide learning the medieval forms from Fiore are not for them, can borrow equipment, it is a requirement for a Compagno, literally someone you "break bread with," a brother, to have his own swords (plural) and protective equipment.  I have seen men and women come and go from this class, and shrink from this challenge, frequently, for what would seem valid reasons. If you aren't 1) serious about learning a complicated martial art, 2) don't have the extra cash to spend on lessons and equipment, then consider yourself weeded out my wayward warrior. 

This class, as I am only now REALLY learning, is no joke.

My self serving sojourn (with saving for an engagement ring, I have had very few spending sprees) began back in my beginning, say January 2011, when I was told I needed to buy a wooden practice sword. I had seen them advertised on KOA and other places, but I decided to go the EBay route. 

Big mistake. I thought I was getting a great deal. But, as the axiom goes, and it rings so true, "you get what you pay for." Take a look at what they sent me for the "two-for-ten" sale:

 I know. Just awful. The sword is bent. It curves to the left. It's held together with tiny nails and glue, and, if the first photo is any indication, someone might have used it as a bong at one point. Totally Frankenstein's dick. I was devastated. But, in truth, I kind of deserved it.

Rather than suffer the embarrassment, I borrowed my teacher's sword again, but this time ASKED where I could go to get the good stuff. Answers all lead me here:

$95 (yes, for a wooden sword guilty) later, I had the real deal. I had the only practice sword I would ever need. I was thrilled. See what I mean:

Sleek. Stylish. STRAIGHT AS AN ARROW. This thing was something a man could be proud to bring to battle (mock). So, as I practiced, learned Elephant Plays, Poste, and the medieval forms and counters of Fiore, I began to plan out the rest of my gear and how I would set aside the cash. 

You cannot, as stipulated in the by-laws of the Schola, practice with just a wooden sword and a smile. You need the following at least to begin to spar:
  • Helmet
  • Gloves
  • Gambeson (think big padded sword sweater to protect your vitals)
  • Gorget (what is a "Gorget"??)
  • Nice pair of medieval Nikes (optional but optimal)
  • Synthetic Sparring Sword (to prevent serious injury. The kiss of a cherry wood sword to the head sucks!)
Now, for someone who holds down a decent job (and pays decent bills) these items wouldn't seem to be too much of strain on the wallet right? Well, as honed as my bargain hunting skills are (thanks mom), there comes a point where a man says "Leave the shopping to the mad women at Marshalls, lets just get this done."

You're the boss: 




Oh, and to tie it all together, it is best to buy a sword bag too to carry your weapons:


And that's it for the Sparring Set...$700 later. I think I will be OK as soon as the debit card and my PayPal account stop smoking. Then comes the Steel Set...I cant even imagine...

But, this is nothing new to the world of Western Martial Arts. In the Middle Ages, only the wealthiest nobles could become knights. It wasn't because their incredible bravery and man-prowess was greater than the common mud man, working to support his lack of contraception, no, it was because he could afford it. The medieval knight had to pay for horse, armor, sword, squire, lance, secondary weapons (axe, mace, etc), food, lodgings, gifts, tournament entries, weapons master's training, jousting trainers, horse trainers, and a host of other things that made him the PGA all star of 15th Century Europe. If he did well, he might win a purse, but nothing close to paying all of his expenses. That came from daddy, and then, eventually, when daddy died, he held the purse strings.  

Course, they did get all the medieval trim for all their spending. My  fiance doesn't bother to let  people know I am "warrior."

For all my nickel and diming in this post, I love it. Money is nothing but numbers on a page. It can be taken away so easily and there is always a way to make more. 

But, what you earn, yourself, through sacrifice, effort, and devotion, cant be weighed. It can't be bought. Most importantly, it can NEVER be taken away.