Interview with Ryan Wittinger of Kult of Athena Aug 21, 2014 8:52:17 GMT
Post by Jack Loomes on Aug 21, 2014 8:52:17 GMT
When it comes to people who have handled swords, I couldn't think of a person who had more experience than Ryan Wittinger. Going by the numbers, Kult of Athena has the biggest range, and I suspect amongst the highest sales volumes (if not the highest), of any sword vendor out there. That is why I figured Ryan had alot to offer our readers in terms of experience he could pass on, and fortunately I managed to get him to agree to an interview with Sword-Site.
I have the great fortune of having Kult of Athena as a sponsor Sword-Site. In fact if I were to be able to choose a vendor of Kult of Athena's type, I would have Kult of Athena at the very top of my list - the same goes for Medieval Fightclub. Kult of Athena, like M.F.C., are consistently the vendor with the best prices in their class and so that makes them an easy choice to recommend. Sales can be hard, but when you have a company like K.O.A. to recommend who are best of breed, sales tends to be relatively easy, and so when I recommend my readers buy their swords from K.O.A. I do so without caveat, in fact I buy from Kult of Athena extensively myself.
Needless to say I am a great admirer of the company, and was delighted to receive Ryan's responses to my interview questions today. As you will see his thoughtful and considered answers have made my interview questions look somewhat simplistic, though I am fortunate that Ryan deigned to answer each question with a dignity which is quite beyond my skills as an interviewer.
So without further ado I present to you my interview with Ryan Wittinger of Kult of Athena www.kultofathena.com
Bill Blake 20/08/2014
Bill: What first kindled your interest in swords?
Ryan: That is a good question and I’m not sure if I know the answer myself. I kind of feel like I was born with it. As a child I was always drawn to weapons, swords particularly. I’d walk around the neighborhood with a stick as a make shift sword, organize Medieval battles with other kids in my backyard and try to draw pictures of every weapon I could think of. I think my parents were a bit concerned about my preoccupation with weaponry, but never guessed it would turn into something positive. I remember being absolutely enthralled with any sword based movie I would see. Something about ancient weaponry just spoke to me and awoke a life long passion.
Bill: Is the sword your favourite weapon? If so why?
Ryan: Yes, I’d say that it is. While I have a great appreciation for all weaponry, the sword is somewhat unique. The sword is one of the only ancient “pure” weapons. Most ancient weapons were designed originally for hunting or were repurposed tools. Knives, spears, bows, flails, axes were all originally designed for purposes other than warfare. The sword, on the other hand was designed specifically as an anti-personnel weapon, with no utility as a tool or hunting implement. As such it holds a different position amongst weaponry. Swords were also status symbols. Because they were complicated and expensive to make compared with many other weapons, they tended to be reserved for the elite throughout much of history. The ability to make a good sword was considered nearly magical by many societies with sword smiths being held in high regard. A sword was revered by many cultures. Something to be named, handed down for generations, brought with one to the afterlife, have oaths sworn over it, or sacrificed to the Gods. No other weapon holds such a reverence in history.
From a practical standpoint, the sword is very versatile. While some swords are designed strictly for cutting or thrusting exclusively, many can excel at both. Most other weapons are limited to one or the other.
Bill: What are your favourite films or books featuring the sword? Why do you pick this one(s)?
Ryan: I’m a fan of “sword” movies in general. I tend to like historic based epics quite a bit. Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, that sort of thing. And of course I will always have fond memories of the movies of my childhood, Conan, Excalibur, Clash of the Titans, the old Sinbad movies, Jason and the Argonauts. I love that stuff.
As far as books go, I tend to read history almost exclusively, specifically military history. I find history more fascinating than fiction, so I dedicate the little time I have to read to that.
Bill: According to your personal tastes what are your favourite types of swords and why?
It is some what difficult to pick favorites. I have a deep appreciation for all styles and have favorites amongst all cultures and time periods, but there are certain styles that seem to resonate with me more than others. I find myself drawn to the Roman Gladius, Viking Age Swords and Swords of the Migration Era the most. I’m also a sucker for a nice, classic, Oakeshott Type X.
Bill: What made you decide to go into the sword business?
Ryan: When I was growing up, there were very few sources for quality swords. Most of the market was expensive, decorative, fantasy swords. When I was old enough and settled enough to buy some reproductions, I was able to find some decent, low end pieces, but the selection and service left something to be desired. Ultimately, I wanted to create the source I was looking for, but could not find. At the time there were a few good brands available, but they were kind of scattered and it seemed that a lot of the retailers wanted a premium for them. My goal was to try and pull all of these brands together under one roof and offer them at the best prices I could.
Bill: What is it you love most about swords?
Ryan: For one thing it is the connection to the past, but I also find the sheer variety of sword types fascinating as well. People without much understanding of history or outside of sword collecting, seem to think of swords as belonging to one specific period of history. “Sword Time” the same mythical time period where you find Vikings and Dragons at your local Ren Fare. But the reality is that swords are thousands of years of weapon evolution. From the first Bronze age swords, little more than long daggers, of 3300 BC until the last sword armed cavalry charge was literally obliterated by the machine gun during World War I, the sword was a constantly evolving weapon. We are talking about over 5000 years of weapons with just the one word “sword”.
Bill: You must have handled many, many swords. Do you have any observations about your experience you would like to pass on to our readers?
Ryan: I am in a somewhat unique position for this. I have handled literally thousands upon thousands of swords at this point, from nearly every major manufacturer, and every price point. One piece of advice I have is for customers to always take sword reviews with a grain of salt. Reviewing a sword is not like reviewing a blender. Everyone knows what a blender should do and how it should work. This is not the case with swords. Sword reviews can be clouded by the experience, or lack there of, of the reviewer as well as incorrect assumptions. As a result I have seen some very good swords get bad reviews and some terrible ones get glowing, 5 star reviews. In general we have been trained by popular culture to think we know what a sword should be like, but the pop culture version of a sword is fantasy, not reality. When those facts do not live up to the legend, some people find themselves disappointed. Ultimately a sword is a tool like any other, and like any tool it needs to be used properly for its intended purpose. Just like you would not use your screwdriver as a hammer, you should not use your sword as an axe.
An extension to this is understanding what a particular sword is designed to do. Sometimes with newer collectors there can be a tendency to consider “swords” as one product with one set of properties, when in reality, swords are dozens of different weapons under one category, all with different properties. Katana, Falchion, Scimitar, Rapier, Gladius, Broadsword, Claymore, Greatsword, Saber, Bastard Sword, they are each their own weapon type with their own properties and capabilities. The trick to appreciating and using them, is understanding their differences and limitations.