Back when swords were the weapon of choice in warfare, Russian warriors wielded theirs with a special pride. Anyone familiar with Russian history knows that the sword has always been seen as a symbol of power and status. Specially made weapons were passed on from father to son, while some warriors swore on their sword. Great warriors were often buried with theirs, and at one time, swords were even accepted as legal tender. It stands to reason that Russian swordmakers were recognized worldwide as some of the best craftsmen of their time. Blades made by these metal workers were highly prized, and were even believed to contain magical powers.
At the same time, not every Russian warrior was privileged enough to carry one. They were forged individually, with the person who would eventually use them in mind.
Furthermore, it was not the army’s prerogative to hand out blades to every soldier, recognizing that not everyone had the necessary skill to use the weapon effectively in battle.
Because only the capable wielded them, Russian swords and the men who carried them were known to be deadly and devastatingly efficient in combat. A well-placed heavy blow with a strong sword was usually enough to slice through some of the toughest armor, mortally injuring the man behind it and incapacitating an enemy with a single strike.
Three types of Russian swords
As fighting styles and the needs of combat evolved, so did the basic weapon, giving rise to three types of Russian swords: the shashka, the Cossak sabre, and the kindjal. The first and second types of swords are closely related. First, the shashka. Sometimes referred to as shashqua, it is a slim, durable sword, with a blade straight enough to be a good thrusting weapon while still sporting enough curve to make it excellent at cutting and slashing. The shashka looks like something between a straight sword and a full sabre, and its name originates from an Adyghe word meaning “long knife”. Typically, it sports a very sharp single edge, and is wielded with a single hand. It is a guardless sword, meaning that the blade is completely hidden in its wooden scabbard when not in use, leaving only the large, curved pommel and decorated hilt in full view. Widely used during the 19th century, the shashka eventually became the standard weapon in almost all Russian cavalry units, replacing the ordinary sabre except hussars. By 1881, the shashka became the official weapon for all Russian troops and police. The Cossack sabre was a modified form of the basic shashka. Used as early as the 17th century and still prominent in Russian troops in the Second World War, it is thin, light, and features a less ornate grip. Russia is home to one of the few cultures to incorporate swords in their cultural dances, and the Cossack sabre is used in this tradition. Finally, we come to the kindjal. A short, double-edged sword that was sometimes used together with the shashka or sabre, it was such an integrated part of Russian military culture that it became part of the uniform. To this day, a ceremonial dagger is part of an officer’s uniform. The kindjal blade is a short, straight, and double bladed sword with a wickedly sharp point. Along the blade runs a follow path, leading from the grip and almost down to the tip. Different kinds of kindjal have different locations of this groove, ranging from being precisely centered to deliberately off-center, to having double paths. There are also different blade shapes, as opposed to the common belief that the typical kindjal is slightly curved.
The finely crafted handles are usually made of wood or horn, and rest on to top of a wooden sheath when the sword is not in use. The sheaths are also commonly encased in ornately decorated leather or metal. A dear friend of four years, Yula Kalina, is an equestrian gold medalist in Russia who performs with the team of horse riders in The Kremlin School of Riding. The team travels around Russia, Europe and other nearby countries performing in historical plays incorporating the use of the Russian swords while riding the strong horses. All three blades are esteemed in Russia’s history and culture. Recently, there has been revived interest in the art of wielding them, if only to preserve their history and cultural significance.
“Mumbakki” Daniel Foronda is an MMA champion and a Filipino martial arts expert. He is currently based in Russia where he is a combat tactical trainer to the country’s Military Special Forces.