Strangest hand weapons?
April 9, 2007 4:20 PM   Subscribe

What are the most exotic weapons ever used in hand to hand combat?

I have a long fascination with crazy and impractical weapons, such as zip guns and millwill bricks but I wonder if there are any more. I know there are many martial arts weapons out there, but what kind of strange weapons have seen use in battle and not counting large crew served weapons?
posted by clockworkjoe to Society & Culture (27 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The Urumi is a long sword with a blade that is flexible enough to be coiled up. The potential for self-injury with this one is high, so it is only taught to the most advanced students of Indian martial arts.
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 4:45 PM on April 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

i don't know that that many "impractical" weapons were used for very long??? The Milwall seems kind of practical...

early firearms were pretty darned impractical, but soon became some of the most practical weapons ever, and i think it was just a matter of messing with them until getting them right

i know you said no crew operated but i've got to mention the paris gun!

very large swords were sometimes impractical

hell, even cavalry became impractical after a point
posted by Salvatorparadise at 4:48 PM on April 9, 2007

It's not quite hand to hand but with a ten foot effective range the FP-45 Liberator was pretty close. It fired one shot, then the back end had to be unscrewed and a dowel used to removed the spent casing before a second shot could be loaded. So it was certainly impractical.
posted by subtle_squid at 5:01 PM on April 9, 2007

The chain whip is pretty exotic.
posted by cowbellemoo at 5:04 PM on April 9, 2007

early firearms were pretty darned impractical
by what standards? Bows in the hands of a trained archer were more effective, sure, but it was much simpler to teach someone to point and pull the trigger. When odds are that your man is going to get himself killed anyways, that training time is just time wasted.
posted by juv3nal at 5:11 PM on April 9, 2007

I remember this from a book (exact title escapes me, something involving a castle)...I don't know if it was ever used in real life, but it seems pretty bloody impractical. The idea was a gear (sharp) with a four or five foot chain attached to the center. You would spin it like a lasso, and obviously anything it came in to contact with would experience serious pain (including, e.g., your hand/arm/face).
posted by anaelith at 5:17 PM on April 9, 2007

Tonfa are improvised threshing (beating the husks off of rice seeds) tools converted to weapons.

Ninjas used claw weapons and the Mogura clan apparently doubled them as digging tools for sapping.

I don't know about strange but a roll of quarters/nickles are handy in a fistfight.

The boomarang also comes to mind - a throwing stick with a predictable trajectory (see Mad Max).

Similar to cowbellemoo's chain whip, Jet Li's used a firehose as a weapon in several of his movies.
posted by porpoise at 5:22 PM on April 9, 2007

Tonfa are also really straight-forward and practical weapons. It only takes a few minutes to get the basic usage down and you are not at all likely to injure yourself with one.
posted by Riemann at 5:50 PM on April 9, 2007

Regarding boomarangs, it should be noted that the Australian aborigines created two kinds. The curved kind with the strange return path was a toy. A hunting boomarang is straight and travels in a straight line. It's also much heavier.

I've always thought that a bola was a pretty strange weapon. Without a lot of practice, you're more likely to nail yourself than an enemy with one, I would think. (Or to throw it 90 degrees away from where you want it to go.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:01 PM on April 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sword breakers would only be used in highly technical swordfights, I would think. And the dexterity and strength required to pull off a sword break seems beyond anyone but the most elite of warriors.
posted by cowbellemoo at 6:29 PM on April 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

firearms were impractical in the sense that they were expensive to produce and operate, heavy, largely ineffective and highly prone to malfunctioning, no matter how much training anyone had or didn't have they weren't much use to anyone...

other weapons of the time required much less training and were more deadly and easy to use in the hands of an able bodied soldier.
posted by Salvatorparadise at 7:08 PM on April 9, 2007

Take a look at this page on I particularly feel that this weapon from the above link is pretty crazy. Big knife wheel-lock gun combo. Suddenly Final Fantasy 8's Gunblade does not seem so far fetched.
posted by Mister Cheese at 7:46 PM on April 9, 2007

Oh, but I really should have mentioned this blade, gauntlet, sword catchers, and lantern combo from the same page. I kind of want one now.
posted by Mister Cheese at 7:50 PM on April 9, 2007

Response by poster: re: anaelith

A chain with a gear that moved like a lasso? That sounds so steampunk, I hope it's real so I can see a photo of it.
posted by clockworkjoe at 7:54 PM on April 9, 2007

posted by frogan at 8:03 PM on April 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Goddamn, frogan. That thing looks awful!
posted by papakwanz at 9:12 PM on April 9, 2007

There are actual rapier-type swords that are fitted with a pistol along the (base) of the blade, like the chopper Mister Cheese linked to, and exactly like the FF8 gunblade. Lord knows if one ever was used in a fight though.

You might be interested in African throwing knives.
posted by furiousthought at 11:25 PM on April 9, 2007

Some Japanese schools have mancatchers in case of intruders that are just like ones used hundreds of years ago.
Some of the African throwing knives referenced by furiousthought have a distinct phallic shape scrotum included, that is pretty exotic. The most exotic weapon in my drawer is bagh naghk (sp) from India, steel cat claws on a steel bar with loops at either end, you can hold your hands closed down at your side and nobody sees them.
posted by Iron Rat at 12:18 AM on April 10, 2007

I've always thought the sansetsukon was fairly exotic. Of course, that may stem from my instructor's stories about people nearly killing themselves with it during training.

From my (admittedly untrained) perspective, the most practical aspect of the weapon seemed to be its ability to perfectly replicate the sound of a shotgun being primed.
posted by Kikkoman at 12:58 AM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

other weapons of the time required much less training and were more deadly and easy to use in the hands of an able bodied soldier.

Apologies for the derail, but this is so much bullshit. It's widely acknowledged that the guns mark the end of plate armor/bows-type combat is precisely because a gun lets a peasant, schooled for a matter of weeks, kill a knight who trains for a lifetime. I'll grant you the early guns were expensive and prone to failure and woefully inaccurate, but they were also successful in spite of all that because of how little training they required.
posted by juv3nal at 1:04 AM on April 10, 2007

juv3nal - wasn't it the crossbow that was the real equaliser on the field? It was far more accurate, more reliable and could be fired from a greater distance. The gun was popular more for the terrifying show it produced. A fight between a crossbow wielding man and a gun wielding man of the day would most likely have finished with the crossbowman victorious.
posted by tomble at 1:36 AM on April 10, 2007

The crossbow? It has some advantages, but it's not a clearcut win over a regular bow. It requires a fair amount of physical strength to reload it, like a bow, but doesn't really allow a trained user to reload & fire again as quickly as a proper longbow.

I'm not totally clear on whether or not crossbows completely replaced longbows at any point, but if I were to guess, I'd say that the advantage the early pistol offers over even crossbows is that you don't need to be strong to fire it.

The people using those early guns knew that they were horribly inaccurate and the standard tactics were to use massed fire to saturate an area. The lone crossbow wielding man versus lone gun wielding man is kind of missing the point. The whole point is that if you can find 10 guys strong enough to fire & reload crossbows, I could probably get 50 guys who could be taught how to reload an arquebus without blowing themselves up.
posted by juv3nal at 2:01 AM on April 10, 2007

If you want to go with exotic == high-tech, what about tasers and microwave pain rays?
posted by polyglot at 6:24 AM on April 10, 2007

Personally, I love the karambit, which seems exotic if only for the way it's gripped.

And for sheer Mad Max Thunderdome brutality, search around for some World War I improvised trench weapons. Guys fighting hand-to-hand to the death with lots of twisted metal laying around can farbricate some crazy Klingon-looking instruments of death.
posted by Gamblor at 9:23 AM on April 10, 2007

I saw a switchblade cutlass about 20 years ago, it was about 20" folded, had a D shaped handguard at the end with a big heavy blade that went THWACK when it was opened. it was supposedly from the Mediterranean area about late 1800 and I have tried to Google one up but failed. Back in the day toothpaste tubed were made of lead and prisoners could make knuckledusters out of them. Dip a length of rope in elmer's glue and roll it in broken glass, that will satisfy the "crazy and impractical part of the question.
posted by Iron Rat at 12:34 PM on April 10, 2007

See Wikipedia's list of martial arts weapons. I've always thought of the kusari-gama as a pretty strange weapon. Also something called a sang kauw, but cursory research suggests that this may be a fictional weapon (or that this spelling corresponds only to a fictional version).
posted by coined at 3:27 PM on April 10, 2007

Sorry to pop in here after so long but re - longbow vs. crossbow, the English used the longbow against crossbow-wielding Italian mercenaries working for the French during the 100 years war and slaughtered them. The Longbowmen were able to beat them on range and rate of fire - keep in mind that the only way to dodge going to church back then was to sign up as a longbowman. The wiki is quite interesting on the subject.

" the war against the Welsh, one of the men of arms was struck by an arrow shot at him by a Welshman. It went right through his thigh, high up, where it was protected inside and outside the leg by his iron cuirasses, and then through the skirt of his leather tunic; next it penetrated that part of the saddle which is called the alva or seat; and finally it lodged in his horse, driving so deep that it killed the animal..."

Recent work by the Royal Armouries in Leeds indicate that the longbow was incredibly lethal - simulations show that anyone hit in direct fire at any range out to 100yds was pretty much screwed. In technical terms.
posted by longbaugh at 7:38 PM on June 27, 2007

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