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Man At Arms: Art Of War - Episode 3, African War Blades

If you are going through ″Forged In Fire″ withdrawal as I am, last night we had some relief on the El Rey Network. Another new episode of ″Man At Arms: Art Of War″ aired, hosted by Danny Trejo. This week his team of blacksmiths, artisans and martial arts experts looked at African war blades. Two in particular, the Za, also known by many other names, including the Hunga Munga, and the curved sword, the Shotel. ″Forged In Fire″ fans will recall these two weapons. The Za is a multi-bladed throwing weapon, also used by executioners. The Shotel is a rather nice sword, especially designed for attacking enemies equipped with a wide shield.




Martial Arts expert, Da′Mon Stith returned to help Trejo and his team. Stith talked a bit about the African god, Ogun, a god of war, iron and for blacksmiths. Blacksmiths in small, African villages were often believed to possess magical powers and were often feared by locals. Matt Stagmer assigns Ilya Alekseyev to fashion both weapons from freshly smelted iron. Being from Russia, where he began learning to work with metals early in school, Ilya starts off working on the Za. Once he smelts his raw iron, he folds it several times on the power hammer to make it homogenous.


Ilya then starts to shape the billet. Once he gets it into a nice bar, Ilya punches a hole on one end and proceeds to split that end in order to fashion the two main blades. As he draws the bar out, he also splits a small piece on the handle to make the third blade below the two. Satisfied, he shifts gears and smelts more iron for the Shotel. With this billet, Ilya rotates it from side to side as he power hammers it, drawing the billet out. The plan is to make the Shotel about 40 inches in length. However, the front end of the billet is not forging properly, so Ilya chops it off. Hopefully, he′ll still have enough material for making the sword.


Ilya returns to forging the Za. He hammers out the rough shape and gives it a quick quench. Unlike steel, iron does not harden when quenched. That will come from further working the edges with a hammer. Matt then takes over the Za, grinding off the excess iron and finishing the final shape. He then begins grinding to sharpen the edges. Foreman John Mitchell finishes the Za by wrapping coarse twine about the handle and epoxying it in place. The Za is now ready for testing.


Da′Mon Stith is first up, throwing the Za at a mock wildebeest. He scores a hit on the skull, which appears real, and the Za easily smashes it. Danny Trejo then tosses the Za at the mock wildebeest after the skull is replaced by another. Trejo scores a good hit as well, then uses the Za to butcher up a ballistic head and torso target. Thus showing that the Za is not only a throwing blade, but can also be used as a hand weapon.\


Back at the forge, Matt grinds away at the Shotel. African military historian, T. J. Desch-Obi comments about the differences between African and European style combat. In Europe, most sword fighting is done through thrusting, a very linear method of attack. However, curved weapons like the Shotel are designed for attacking around a shield. Thus, African sword fighting is more circular in style. Matt finishes the edges as Ferenc Gregor, a master carver, fashions the handle out of ebony wood. Matt then works the handle unto the tang of the Shotel, completing it with a metallic disc as a pummel on the end.


Da′Mon demonstrates the Shotel, slashing around a shield to strike blows on a large sandbag. He manages to strike his blows from about 5 feet away with his arms fully extended. Next, stunt expert Crystal Santos tests the sharpness of the blade by hacking into a modern fire hose. She easily cuts more than three-quarters of the way through it. Santos then demonstrates how the Shotel was used to dismount a rider from a mock horse, ′killing′ a man-sized, burlap dummy filled with sand. She then finishes the dummy off once on the ground. Next week on ″Man At Arms: Art Of War″, Danny Trejo and his friends go Mongolian!


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