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How effective of a combat technique is a spin attack with a sword that actively propels you? How might it change the development of combat and counter-techniques?

Most experts of real-life combat will tell you that executing a "spin attack" with a melee weapon such as a sword is impractical - it is slow, it leaves your back vulnerable, and it's not nearly as useful as seen in fiction. However, this ignores a common trope that is often being used in fiction: that, through magic or the like, the spinning motion is "powered", turning the fighter and their weapon into a living buzzsaw.

A common example of this is seen in the Zelda series, to varying degrees. The sword will be charged with magical energy that is released, and this propels the user unstoppably 'round and 'round, until they firmly plant their feet and bring themselves to a halt (or, sometimes, spin so much that the energy runs out and leaves them dizzy). It is somewhat akin to the sword having rockets strapped to the blade which adds continuous momentum over the duration of the spin. In essence, the swordfighter is not spinning their sword, but rather, the sword is spinning the swordfighter.

What are the implications of the existence of such a technique? Would it be unbeatably fast and effective in close-combat? How fast could the spin be executed - would swordfighters be more limited by the G-Forces they can sustain, akin to modern fighter pilots, than by any traditional warrior traits? How would historical weapons, armor, and techniques change in the presence of a magically-rocket-powered-spinning technique?

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    $\begingroup$ One imagines (counter-magic) nets and (tangling) bolas and (thrown) spears and other counters would become somewhat more widespread in response. Humans have many millennia of experience at countering new, surprising tactics, and have developed a broad range of responses that can be easily adapted to most 'new' attacks. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Aug 27 at 17:46
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Still too many gaps, I'm afraid. Even if you could somehow magically get a sword to do that, and have the human using it not suffer vertigo from moving as fast as buzzsaws do, you wind up with another problem. The sword's just not tough enough. Any impact the sword suffers will be transferred to the wielder, meaning that a magically accelerated swordwielder will be taking rapid fire impacts to his hands whenever he hits something - which will be shields and armor, because you can't move fast while spinning, meaning the enemy shieldbearers will just intercept and your sword will smash into their shields, probably shatter from the impact because you want to whip a sword around at that speed into metal shields, and your hands will be bruised, possibly broken.

Assuming someone with a ten foot spear doesn't jam it into your head first. Or you become a pincushion for arrows. Or even get nets chucked at your feet to bind your legs Battle-of-Hoth-style and have you trip and fall. Or you hit someone else from your side who also is using a spinning sword. Spinning, in general, is not a good idea.

Does it have no uses? Actually, it does. It'd be great for breaking through your enemy's frontlines, given that the same force from the spinning sword will be transferred to whatever it hits. Give them to your skirmishers, and have a suicide troop charge the enemy's position with said swords to disrupt their lines, leaving them vulnerable to your army's massed charge.

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Overall, your propelled sword would pose a couple of issues for your warrior. I'm assuming that the rockets are mounted perpendicularly on the flat face of the blade, and since rockets generally only accelerate in one direction, the sword would be sweeping out a circle around the warrior, with the warrior as a pivot/center. Any design that accounts for the circular motion of the sword would require delicate calibration and rockets on both sides of the sword, which I'm assuming isn't practical for mass distribution.

First, your warrior's feet would probably need to be fastened to the ground: the acceleration of the propelled sword, regardless of how the warrior holds it, would probably sweep him/her off of the ground almost instantly and cause the warrior to move quite erratically and uncontrollably -- bad in most situations, but you never know.

Second, your warrior would also probably need a pretty strong grip: any slip or slide would result in the sword flying off in one direction (which, if timed, could be potentially useful, now that I think about it). The rockets can't be that powerful, or else the poor warrior's arms would be dislocated, which seems like a pretty bad experience.

Third, the cost of manufacturing such a sword would probably be in the thousands of dollars. Given that warriors generally block blows with the flat face of their sword, any jab at the wrong time could potentially break one of the rocket engines, resulting in a malfunctioning weapon that would need to be repaired.

My ruling on this device? Probably useful if you want to throw it into enemy lines, but not quite practical if it's to be wielded.

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  • $\begingroup$ To be clear, I'm saying that it is like rockets were attached to the sword in many ways, but not literally. There are no actual physical rockets giving mass, nor construction costs - it's magical energy shooting out of the back of the blade in a similar way. It's a magic spell or technique, not an engineering property of the sword. $\endgroup$ – Southpaw Hare Aug 27 at 17:19
  • $\begingroup$ Oh. I see. Although I suppose some of my points could still apply. $\endgroup$ – Cloudy7 Aug 28 at 0:16
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A spinning sword user is not going to be any more effective against a spearman who can stab the sword user from beyond the sword's reach. Having the spin powered also does nothing to change the fact that as soon as the weapon is spun past the opponent the user is vulnerable until they complete their next rotation.

If anything having the spin powered externally would be more hazardous to the user than the opponent. Unless the acceleration of the spin is gradual there is a risk that the user may not be react fast enough or grip hard enough to hold onto the weapon as it started, any impact the weapon made would also severely jolt the user. A grip failure here would mean disarming yourself as your sword flies off, a clearly exploitable vulnerability. Better hope you manage a fatal hit and only one opponent.

Keeping your feet under you while being pulled through the spin by your weapon would also be a danger assuming you even could maintain a grip on the weapon. If your focus is just holding onto your weapon while it powers through a spin you probably aren't able to watch where your footwork as closely, if the battlefield isn't completely clear a stumble could easily lead to you being pulled off balance and falling and once on the ground your spinning weapon isn't going to help at all.

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As always, if there is a new technique or a new technology, there would be a concerted effort to counter it.

The new spinning power would be quite visually powerful, and may dazzle / surprise some defenders, however only initially. Someone would likely work out that arrows are an adequate defence against such an attack.

What may be more useful though is the developments that would occur after. If spinning swords become ineffectual, why not spinning shields? This could be a good defensive strategy if tactically used.

Ongoing developments could be interesting too - how about spinning spears or flails, this would expand the area of effect, or spinning crossbows / ballistas, which could deliver a wide field of damage if you are surrounded.

The other implication is that if your sword is really self propelling, then perhaps they could self propel forwards like missiles - becoming perhaps the precursor to modern missiles with great range.

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"Spotting" while spinning for any length of time is hard work in itself, there's also the risk of having both shoulders dislocated by centrifugal forces. There is a more fundamental problem though:

The purpose of a sword fighter is to propel the swords, if the swords propel themselves, what is the purpose of the sword fighter?

Better to independently mount the swords on some sort of trolley with a rotating pole and propel them into the enemy's lines. Or more likely launch self propelled swords independently into their lines.

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  • $\begingroup$ It's implied that if this is some kind of technique or magical ability, that the energy still comes from the wielder; they are still needed to "charge" it first. Though I guess it's debatable how long that could last. $\endgroup$ – Southpaw Hare Aug 28 at 13:08
  • $\begingroup$ For charged weapon propulsion, I'd go with javelins every time. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Aug 28 at 13:11

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