The “Draw Sword, Draw Blood” trope: Fact and Fiction

TV Tropes: Draw Sword, Draw Blood


“That is a K’tok! Once drawn, it cannot be sheathed until it draws blood.”
— G’Kar, “A Day in the Strife”, Babylon 5

In some circumstances, drawing a weapon is taken very seriously. So seriously that some warriors are not allowed to sheath their weapon until they have used it to draw blood. Usually the intent is to wet the blade with the blood of one’s enemies, but if none are available, the warrior may substitute his own blood to honor the letter of the rule. In such cases, the warrior will usually cut his hand with the blade.

The reason for the rule can vary widely per example. Some warriors may feel honor-bound to carry through the threat that a drawn weapon implies. The rule might serve to limit pointless aggression or empty threats by forcing the warrior to only draw in life-or-death circumstances. Maybe the weapon is treated as a living thing that must have its bloodlust sated. Whatever the reason, the weapon bearer will usually be very reluctant to transgress the rule.

In real life, this trope is sometimes found in myths about various warrior cultures, but they are always untrue: real-life Proud Warrior Race Guys know that weapons need to be drawn all the time for maintenance and practice, and cutting yourself deliberately out of such a superstition (especially in times of poorer medical knowledge) is a silly reason to risk sepsis.

TV Tropes: Television Is Trying To Kill Us

Draw Sword, Draw Blood is entirely fictional. Even among samurai, Gurkhas, and Sikhs, weapons have to be drawn all the time for maintenance and practice, and cutting yourself intentionally was a good way to get a potentially lethal infection. There’s also a theory that the Gurkhas started telling tourists this to get them to quit asking them if they could see their kukris (though there are also reports of them cutting themselves to impress outsiders).

The Rogue’s take

While I have no special insight on Gurkhas and Sikhs to give you, I have spent quite some time among the local variety of (self-perceived, at least…) Proud Warrior Race Guys, and some more time steeped in the folklore of urban and rural criminals from all over, and I gotta say: this is totally a thing that people say, and they really mean it. Just not in the silly, literal sense of “you must draw someone’s – anyone’s! – blood if you draw your blade for whatever reason”. It’s a saying. Poetic licence applies.

The gist of it is “Don’t be a showoff. Don’t be a poser. Don’t brandish your weapon willy-nilly. Don’t bluff with a bare blade. When you’re facing someone, it’s not a game, and your blade is not a toy: only draw it if you actually intend to stab him with it. Otherwise, keep it sheathed.”

Obviously, this does NOT apply to drawing a blade in order to clean it, or to use it for whittling poultry (the saying often refers specifically to knives, and knives are tools as well as weapons), or anything of the sort. And even in a fight, if you pull out a knife and your opponent flees, you are not in fact honour-bound to shed some random guy’s blood instead, or your own. Because that would be dumb.

That said, I can confirm that pretending the saying applies literally, in order to intimidate or make fun of some hapless outsider who doesn’t know your customs, is also totally a thing. And if you intimidate the hapless outsider while wielding a blade, you get bonus points for automatically breaking the rule you just quoted, in spirit if not in letter.


Meanwhile, a common inscription on Spanish navajas (and other folding knives) says something similar: No me abras sin razón ni me cierres sin honor, which means “don’t open me without a reason and don’t close me without honour”.

Of course, like all rules of that sort, the saying exists because people don’t actually conform to it. They brandish their weapons willy-nilly all the time. And that’s hardly surprising, since these social environments practically nurture hotheaded showoffs. And the more it happens, the more it needs to be admonished by the relatively levelheaded, who invariably moan how in the old days people were serious, whereas today’s kids are all posture, tsk tsk tsk.

And this here is an 80-year-old rebetiko (underground Greek songs originally popular in hashish dens and prisons), relevantly called “The Showoff”, and displaying ridiculous amounts of posture in a noble effort to battle posers.

Hey tough guy, that knife of yours
If you’re gonna wield it
You gotta have the soul for it – showoff!
And have the heart to draw it

I don’t bite and don’t get scared
So put away your blade
Because I’m gonna get high – showoff!
And come where you live

Get out of here, showoff
Go show off elsewhere
‘Cause I’ve been smoking too – showoff!
And I’m high as a kite

I warned you, don’t act up now
Or I’m gonna break you
I’ll get my piece and come – showoff!
And I’m gonna waste you

[originally posted by Rogue on tumblr]

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