Did the swordsmen in the past ever actually do the things we see in movies, books, and exaggerated but unhistorical illustrations like unsheathing and drawing a sword from a back scabbard when provoked to a swordfight? It’s a fascinating question, and the answer to this question depends largely on the culture and geographical setting where swordsmanship is being defined. To sum up:
Unsheathe a sword from the back is possible but slower than unsheathing from the hip. Carrying a sword on the back makes sense during long travels but a back scabbard is not the optimal place to carry a sword during a battle.
There are some very interesting facts about this subject, and we shall discuss these facts in this article and find out when does pulling out a sword from a back scabbard make sense and when it doesn’t.
When Does Drawing a Sword From the Back Make Sense?
As a general rule, in a real fight, it is very difficult to unsheathe and draw a sword in the time available before an attack. So, if you are going to draw your sword in a fraction of a second, it makes sense to do it as quickly as possible!
Another situation where unsheathing a sword from a back scabbard makes sense is when you are in a tight or enclosed space. In these kinds of situations, it is much easier to draw a sword from a back scabbard than it is to unsheathe a sword from a sheath or scabbard that is fixed to your belt or strapped to your leg.
This is because, when you are in a confined space, you have to bend down or at least lean forward to unsheathe your sword. So, unsheathing a sword from a back scabbard is actually a very good idea, even if you are not going to use the sword. It will speed up your draw time, and thus, your reaction time.
In the East, unsheathing a sword from a back scabbard to be fast in battle only makes sense if you have a sword that is designed and intended to be carried and drawn out from a back scabbard, as a short katana (Wakizashi). The scabbard must also be fastened to a sling that is loose enough to allow you to freely move the scabbard in any direction you want it to be.
Long Katanas as the No Dachi (all FF7 fans can check the related article about Sephiroth’s Masamune!) were usually carried on the back during long travels because of the extreme lenght.
So even if you are carrying your sword on your back, you can move the scabbard to a position that allows you to swiftly draw your sword faster than your opponent’s reaction time. This makes it easier to use the scabbard as a “launching pad” to help you get off a quick running start when you want to attack or defend with a drawn sword.
Loose scabbards were typically used by ninjas so they could move the scabbards to any part of the torso so they wouldn’t impede their movements like jumping off from high places like trees or houses to the ground while rolling over.
Did Back Scabbards Really Exist?
Knights in medieval Europe normally would have their swords and scabbards dangling in their hips.
Fixed back scabbard actually existed both in Medieval Europe and in East Asia. But the sole purpose of a back scabbard in Medieval Europe was for transport convenience and not for readying yourself for an engagement.
In the East, however, the scabbard was attached to a sling that made it easy to move around the torso. So technically, you could position the scabbard either on your back or on your hip.
But what about Deadpool then? Well… I must say that’s just a movie and such scabbard didn’t exist in ancient Japan.
But let’s move on now!
Is Unsheathing a Sword From Your Back Slower or Faster Than Unsheathing it From a Hip Belt?
Well, obviously, if you happen to be a swordsman from medieval Europe who have a longsword like a claymore, you’re better off have someone carry and draw it for you because by the time you draw this huge sword from your back your opponent has already cut your body into half! In other words, how efficient you are in quickly drawing a sword from a scabbard depends on the kind of sword you are using!
Now let’s take a closer look as to why unsheathing from a back scabbard does not make sense in the West, especially in a Medieval European setting:
- First, you should not draw a longsword on your back. It makes sense to carry a longsword on your back especially for transport, but a longsword would be too long and heavy for you to comfortably draw out from its scabbard. Even if you managed to get it out, the process of releasing the weapon would be awkward, slow, and somewhat pathetic. The only way to avoid this problem is to hang the sword lower so it is at or near hip level. However, if you want to fight with a longsword drawn out from a back scabbard, then just throw it on the ground and stomp on it! This will make your opponent laugh so hard he won’t be able to fight back. And if you do manage to land a blow on your opponent, it will be so unexpected and so pathetic, it will be over before your enemy knows what hit him. It’s actually sarcasm, but if someone is stubborn enough to do it because it’s cool, he can follow my advice as a last resort and if everything else fails.
- Second, a back scabbard is not more comfortable than a hip scabbard. In fact, it’s much less comfortable. A hip scabbard does provide a little more freedom of movement. And yes, you do get both freedom of movement and an epic look. You don’t have to stretch your hand over your head to grab your weapon. It will dangle from your sides, leaving your hands free to use other parts of your body to fight off your enemies.
- Third, you should be wearing your scabbard over your hip when you are drawing your sword. This gives you a more stable platform from which to draw your weapon, and it also makes it much more likely you will successfully complete the draw. It’s not wise to wear a sword over your back when you’re in a fight. You’re compromising your safety. Every time you reach for your sword hilt, you are giving your opponent an opportunity to chop off your hand.
- Fourth, it’s already difficult enough to put your sword away when you’re on defense, let alone trying to do it while fleeing from the enemy. Curved sabers and swords are even more dangerous to your survival when they are not in their sheaths. Curved sabers are hard to handle when the scabbard is banana-shaped. The shape of the scabbard causes problems when trying to put the weapon away. On the battlefield, this often leads to the enemy chopping you down before you even have a chance to draw your sword.
Sheathing a curved sabre or sword like a Scimitar (check related article) is already difficult enough, but drawing it on your back without any ability to see it? It’s just asking for trouble!
- Fifth, unsheathing a sword from a back scabbard requires two hands and requires a lot of force. This is assuming you have a normal kind of scabbard. A “safer” type of scabbard that has a mechanism to lock the sword in place so it won’t accidentally fall out of the scabbard is going to require two hands. To use this type of scabbard, you will have to unlock the scabbard with one hand and take the weapon out of the scabbard with the other hand.
Unsheathing a sword from a back scabbard makes sense in certain situations, but not in Medieval Europe.
The longsword is not an efficient weapon for drawing from a back scabbard and unsheathing a sword from a back scabbard while on the run or wearing it over your back leaves you extremely vulnerable.
You can unsheathe a sword from a back scabbard as a last resort if all else fails. But it should only be used as a desperate measure because it is just too inefficient.
If you are going to draw your sword anyway, then just carry it sheathed on your belt or strapped to your leg. It’s much more comfortable and it’s more effective.