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13 Of The Dumbest Things Pop Culture Gets Wrong About Sword Fighting

Updated January 28, 2021 3.6k votes 528 voters 149.7k views13 items

List RulesVote up the sword-fighting tropes you have seen the most.

A duel to the death, a clash of blades - a sword fight is one of the most thrilling parts of a story. But there are plenty of things movies get wrong about swords and sword fights. 

Sword-fighting is an ancient art that has been developed over the course of centuries. In medieval and early modern Europe, the art of wielding different kinds of swords became a subject that well-to-do people, especially knights, studied. Manuals explaining the ins and outs of swordsmanship also made the rounds, and various schools of swordplay emerged. Being good with a sword often represented manliness, but some women took up arms, too, though you wouldn't necessarily know it from pop-cultural depictions of sword fights.

Indeed, even though sword fights are all over films, television shows, and video games, accurate sword fights are still few and far between. Instead of depicting duels in their complex, realistic glory, pop culture often sacrifices grounded accuracy for dramatic spectacle. From dangerous moves to unrealistic aspects of a fight, sword fighting myths prioritize what looks and sounds cool over what makes the most sense.

  • Photo: Gurren Lagann / TXN

    When Sheathing And Unsheathing A Sword, It Makes A Metal-On-Metal 'Sching!'

    The Trope: When pulled from its sheath or scabbard, a sword sings out to indicate its sharpness and craftsmanship.

    Why Is It Inaccurate? Well-sharpened swords may make a sound when slicing through the air. But it's unlikely that pulling a sword from its sheath would have a similar effect. That's because, for much of history, sheaths and scabbards were made from leather and/or wood - duller, quieter materials. As historian Neil Grant points out, hard scabbards in the Middle Ages "were often lined with raw fleece," which would have further muffled the sound.

    Metal scabbards were less common and more expensive before the 19th century. 

    Notable Offenders: Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl; The Lord of The Rings trilogy; The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind; Devil May Cry; Dracula Untold.

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  • Photo: Outlander / Starz

    Sword-Fighting In A Large Battle Always Becomes A One-On-One Duel

    The Trope: In the heat of battle, two combatants somehow find one another and begin dueling one-on-one, despite the battle raging around them.

    Why Is It Inaccurate? Battles are never neat, little skirmishes where each side is evenly matched. Historically, battles have been incredibly chaotic, with multiple people slashing and hacking at each other. Richard III didn't survive the Battle of Bosworth Field, for example, because multiple enemy soldiers likely attacked him at once.

    Notable Offenders: The Patriot; Outlander; The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; 300

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  • Photo: The Adventures of Robin Hood / Warner Bros.

    Fighters Aim For Each Other's Swords

    The Trope: Two opponents fight by simply clashing their blades together. 

    Why Is It Inaccurate? The point of a duel isn't to tap blades together. Blades clash because the opponents are locked in a fight where they try to hit and block one another. According to one early modern sword-fighting manual:

    [...] when he strikes, then parry that blow... and you shall quickly cut after that parrying.

    Clashing swords is thus what happens during a fight, not the aim of the fight.

    Notable Offenders: The Adventures of Robin Hood (Errol Flynn said in defense of his inaccurate swordplay, "I'm not a fencer. I'm a thespian."); The Legend of Zorro; The Princess Bride; Troy; Highlander

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  • Photo: Kingdom Hearts II / Square Enix

    Duelists Cross Swords In A Blade Lock And Talk To Each Other

    The Trope: Duelists, their blades crossed, stand face-to-face and talk.

    Why Is It Inaccurate? If two people were engaged in a duel, it was because they wanted to fight - not because they wanted to chat or get to know each other better. Since sword-fighting was exhausting, combatants had to conserve their energy; chatting or swapping insults was not a good way to do that.

    Most duelists also strove to present a smaller target to their opponent - so standing face-to-face to them, with blades locked, would have been ill-advised.

    Notable Offenders: Kingdom Hearts II; the Star Wars franchise; The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess; Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

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