Freitag, 5. Februar 2016

Some thoughts on the Sica

Now this is the blade I featured some time ago, a not-so-authentic version of the Daco-/Gallo-/ Roman sica knife. Arguably not so authentic is the semi-integral bolster, but I simply love it. But then there are sicae and other knife shapes found from the Roman empire or from Celtic and Iberian finds, e.g. a Sica from Botorrita, with a short socket where the handle was fitted into, just like with some modern-day gouges, so the look might be excuseable even for reenactors;-). The reason why there are no semi-integrals found (at least not with these relatively simple knives) and even full-tang knives are relatively scarce (abundant only in Roman and Celtic countries, with the exception of iron age seaxes in Germanic culture, that presumeably had an Eastern provenience, another interesting topic), is that iron, and even more so, steel, was costly and was obtained at great pains. It tells a big story that in ancient Rome full-tang knives were quite common.

This one, however, does not at all claim to be a detailed reconstruction. It is made from an ancient chisel I found in the woods and shows a very weird spark analysis, might be Tungsten-alloyed steel such as HSS. The Sicae (or Kopis) knives I have made so far were not having that much an offset in the blade, and I thought to give it a try to test out the extreme. I have, for now, put a piece of antler on it to check out the balance while I contemplate what buttcap to fit. Balance point should be on the index finger.

Having played with it I must say that for everyday tasks such as cutting meat and slicing onions you have to think along a different train of thought. The blade gives you fierce cutting ability with a good purchase when you use it in a drawing motion, as you do with a sickle, so to say. The forward orientation of the tip gives you the possibility for a more pushing motion in a pressure cut. The shape of the blade really shines in two aspects: Woodcarving and slashing. The blade is ideal for delicate woodcarving in my book. I also tested the chopping prowess and again had to apply a different mindset. It will not work when you use the same motion as with a straight, say, drop-point knife. Is it less capable then? Not in the least, because when you use a straighter knife shape, you always have to adapt to the natural arcing motion of your wrist. With a Sica you have to keep in mind that this is not necessary. You can chop softer wood with a slashing motion by keeping your hand where it is and your wrist tight. Of course, it is no Khukhuri, but I was amazed.

The Sica in ancient Rome had a somewhat sinister reputation as the preferred weapon of back-alley cut-throats, and, having handled it, I can relate to that. It would also make a very effective fighting knife, if you knew how to handle it. The tip is always forward, and the sickle shape makes for amazing slashing capability. What fascinates me with this, is that the blade´s shape is most ancient and dates back to the earliest bronze age. And it actually follows a whiplash line, and I can´t tell it any other way, also feels "whippy". The "sweet spot" or "purchase spot" lies along the line of a Golden Ratio spiral, and, while there are always some liberties taken if you apply static geometry to a dynamic process, I strongly suspect that this has something to do with the "springy" feeling when  slashing. By the way, if you analyse the ideal curve of the application of force in some martial arts, you also get the impression of a similar dynamic (whiplash line e.g. in Qi-Gong). Of course, yeah, I admit it, I am a bit obsessed with that whiplash line thing, and might be I see spectres everywhere, but I can´t think of a better model for explaining it, and it works for me in martial arts and even mountainbiking, so, hey, I don´t get paid for this;-), so I can cook up any theory I´d like.

The culprit is, it was a great experience again to actually be able to do some work with a most ancient blade form. You can talk about endlessly about who has written what about it and when, but only if you rebuild it and use it will you be able to understand, and the enlightening effect feels that good I think I am getting addicted to it.;-)

When the knife is ready, I guess it deserves a "name" and a story, and I will see how it fares in the woods... watch this space!

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