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Collapsible Sword: Is It Worth the Hype?

Written By: Abigail Cambal
Published On: March 16, 2023
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

Collapsible swords are gaining popularity due to their being compact and portable. Sometimes called telescoping swords, their extendable blade segments slide into one another. When sheathed, the entire blade is contained within the handle, making it much smaller than it appears. However, their retractable blades also have their drawbacks.

Let’s explore the pros and cons of a collapsible sword, how it is structurally different from a real sword, and its various uses.

Unlike fully-functional swords, collapsible swords have telescopic blades consisting of hollow metal segments, making them lightweight and portable.

1. Tai Chi Sword

Retractable tai chi sword
Retractable tai chi sword for training and exhibitions – Credits: Fuji Mae

The Chinese straight sword jian is among the most common weapons in kung fu or wushu. Some tai chi practitioners use a collapsible tai chi sword in practicing sword forms. However, their uses are limited to solo practice and demonstrations and not employed in contact drills. Some dance performers also use a tai chi sword in Chinese Sword Dance.

2. Collapsible Sword Prop

Retractable sword prop
Retractable sword prop used by Karl Urban – Credits: Julien’s Auctions

Collapsible sword props are often used in sword fighting scenes in films to give the illusion of stabbing opponents. These swords are usually custom-made and realistic looking, unlike their toy counterparts. Most types include fantasy swords, medieval longswords, broadswords, samurai swords, and so on. Original sword props used in popular films are highly sought-after by many collectors and sold in auctions.

3. Retractable Lightsaber

Disney’s retractable lightsaber – Credits: Finding the Force

Disney invented a lightsaber with a retractable, illuminated blade that can extend out of the handle. At the push of a button, its blade can easily extend and retract, though it won’t be able to slice through any object. Disney’s lightsaber serves as a theatrical prop or special effects device that simulates the fictional energy sword seen in Star Wars films.

Hacksmith Industries also created a retractable plasma-based lightsaber. However, it requires a massive power source, including liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) or propane gas, oxygen, and a sparker, making it dangerous. In fact, its light beam is burning at around 4000°F (2204°C) and can be colored using salts. Also, it could cut through a lot of things, making it a real-life lightsaber.

4. Collapsible Toy Sword

Retractable ronin sword
Retractable ronin sword – Credits: Mark III

Collapsible toy swords range from medieval longswords to broadswords, samurai swords, ninja swords, lightsabers, and so on. However, most collapsible toy swords seem to be a bit bigger compared to their film inspirations. Other alternatives include slender versions with detachable blades instead of retractable ones.

Characteristics of a Collapsible Sword

Collapsible swords are distinguished for their telescoping design and hollow retractable blades. However, they cannot be considered functional or battle-ready due to their construction.

Here are the things that make a collapsible sword unique:

Metal and Construction 

Collapsible sword blades consist of hollow segments of lightweight metal that retract into each other. However, these individual segments compromise the blade strength, making it unsuitable for sword fighting. Most have aluminum, chrome-plated alloy, or stainless steel blades that can easily get damaged when dropped or if you hit something with them.

Blade Appearance

Retractable sword
Retractable sword blade- Credits: LCW Props

For the blade to collapse, it would have to be hollow. While it makes a handy sword for cosplay and martial arts, a collapsible sword is unsuitable for sparring as its hollow blade is too lightweight to hit or block attacks and could shatter into pieces when struck.

Due to its collapsible nature, a retractable sword also has an unsharpened blade and is unsuitable for cutting and thrusting. It also lacks a full-tang construction to be a fully-functional sword.

Size and Weight

Collapsible swords vary in length, depending on the sword type and segmented blades. Some retractable blades measure 36 inches in full-length and can be drawn back into about 12 inches long. Therefore, they are convenient to carry around if you don’t want the bulk of a normal length sword. Unfortunately, collapsible swords lack the proper balance of a real sword. Still, they could be functional training swords for practicing forms and techniques.

Sword Mounting

Tai Chi sword with red tassels
Mounting of the tai chi sword – Credits: Fuji Mae

Most collapsible swords have mountings identical to the real swords they imitate. The tai chi sword often features the classical design of the Chinese sword, usually with red tassels and engraved hilts. Some retractable katana swords also feature the traditional mountings of a samurai sword, including the hilt wrapping and sword guard (tsuba). Instead of a scabbard (saya), most come in a small carry case.

Materials used for sword mounting also vary, from plastic to metal, usually with a realistic look. Most retractable swords have collapsible blades that fit into the handle. Some transform into full-length blades with the flick of the wrist, while others require manual lengthening of the blade. Some fantasy swords such as the Star Wars weapon lightsaber, could be retracted by pressing a button on the handle.

Uses of Collapsible Swords

Collapsible swords remain popular in pop culture, theater plays, dance and magic performances, and martial arts. 

In Pop Culture

Collapsible swords used in movies such as Star Trek – Credits: Movie Clips

Collapsible swords and weapons remain a popular theme in films and television series. The most popular is perhaps Ronin’s collapsible sword in Hawkeye and Avengers: Endgame. In Star Trek, Hikaru Sulu used a retractable sword in hand-to-hand combat against Romulans. A retractable lightsaber that lights up is also a significant upgrade in Star Wars films.

In Theater and Cosplay

At Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, Jedi performers use a realistic, collapsible lightsaber. When waved around, the lightsaber makes sound effects similar to those in the films. However, the realistic-looking lightsaber is unlikely to be available to the public. At Disney’s Galactic Starcruiser, guests were only allowed to use the traditional toy lightsabers without retracting blades.

However, collapsible swords, retractable knives, and other weapons should not be used in a stage fight. In sword fighting scenes, a retractable blade may appear plunging into the body as someone stabs you. However, it also risks jamming and not retracting, making it unsafe. In fact, most theaters have banned them, including plastic ones.

In Various Performances

Collapsible swords are sometimes used in magic performances, such as pretend sword swallowing. However, the Sword Swallowers’ Association International (SSAI) requires their sword swallowers to use solid steel swords that are non-collapsible or non-retractable and at least 16 inches long. Collapsible swords are also widely seen at Halloween performances.

In Martial Arts

Some martial arts practitioners utilize collapsible swords for solo practice. However, they are unsuitable for sparring and not recommended for partnered contact drills. For demonstrations and competitions, practitioners would also need a proper training sword that does not retract.

In Japanese martial arts, practitioners use a wooden sword called bokken and unsharpened aluminum or carbon steel sword (iaito)—not a collapsible katana sword. In Historical European Martial Arts, HEMA practitioners rely on flexible metal swords that bend when thrusting.

Conclusion

Collapsible swords are among the most popular prop swords due to their compact size and portability. Some martial arts practitioners utilize them as training swords, though their retractable hollow blades make them weak and useless in offense and defense. Today, they remain popular among some martial artists and collectors, though they would function more as a prop than functional weapons.

Sources Cited

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