One would think that in this 21st-century world of microelectronics, satellite surveillance and drone warfare that the sword wouldn’t really have a place beyond the display case in a museum. Despite the increasingly science-fiction-like world we live in, big blades remain popular, and companies like Condor Tool & Knife are stepping up to offer customers modern, functional versions of historic blades that are meant for hard use, not simply display.
Condor’s Tactana is one of those pieces, and when you match it up with their Garuda Tanto you have a pair of blades suitable for the modern-day street samurai. Joe Flowers, who is responsible for much of the design work at Condor these days, designed both the knife and the sword. Both blades are made from 5mm-thick 1075 high-carbon steel with a matte black powder coating. Handles are black Micarta affixed with brass pins and epoxy, and feature brass-lined lanyard holes at the butt. The Garuda is a full-tang design that uses a 6-inch blade with an American-style tanto point and features a saber grind with a 3-inch, unsharpened swedge. The generous 5.5-inch-long handle brings the overall length to 11.5 inches. The scale-to-frame fit is seamless, and the Micarta is left with a slightly textured finish for a positive grip. The Garuda comes with a sturdy nylon sheath fitted with a hard plastic liner. It has a large belt loop as well as a series of MOLLE-compatible loops on the back and a utility pocket on the front. Retention is by means of an adjustable Velcro strap that wraps around the handle. Weight of both knife and sheath comes to 16.5 ounces. MSRP on the Garuda is $94.98.
While the Garuda Tanto is a good, solid tactical blade, the Tactana really steals the show when you have them both side by side. Joe told me that the Tactana was derived from the need for a combat-ready, Micarta-handled sword for the American market. It’s hardened to a Rockwell of 53 for toughness and is designed to take punishment. The handle was engineered to match the specifications of martial artists, and Condor studied dozens of design samples and even contacted Japanese sword collectors to find specifications on ancient pieces when designing the piece. Joe said that it was decided that this length was ideal for a do-it-all sword, though if it’s popular a longer version may be in the works later. Featuring a full tang and a slightly curved, 21-inch-long blade with a heavy steel tsuba above a 9.5-inch long handle, the Tactana comes in just shy of 31 inches overall. This puts it more in the size of a wakazashi than a katana, but that’s probably better suited to a modern close-quarters combat role anyway. I’ve seen the weight listed as 2.95 pounds, but mine came in at 2.6 pounds with the scabbard and 2.1 without it on my scale.
Speaking of the scabbard, Condor deviates from a traditional-style scabbard and instead uses a heavy leather scabbard with a paracord wrapping. Joe explained that it is designed to be flat and quiet so it can be stowed away or strapped onto a bag easier. It’s well made and very functional, although a little slower on the draw than a traditional-style scabbard. Price on the Tactana is a very reasonable $209.98.
The Garuda’s full-tang design and Micarta scales make for a rugged piece that held up to a lot of abuse in my testing. The factory edge was decent, although not razor sharp, but it worked fine for the rough field use I put it through. I used it to pry open a wooden ammunition crate and hack up a few ranging stakes one day on the rifle range, and I even used it to dig out a fire pit and hack up some roots that were in the way. It’s a lot tougher than some of the knives I actually did use in the service and I think it’ll work well for troops wanting a tanto-style blade for hard use. Performance was quite good, but I have to admit to spending most of my test time with the Tactana. There’s something about a sword that calls to folks, and I’m not immune to its siren song. I’d like to address an issue of practical utility with the modern sword before I go into my field tests. Though I’ve heard rumors of modern swords actually seeing service overseas with individuals in military units, I honestly haven’t seen anything to verify this. I won’t say there isn’t someone toting them around, but so far no photos have surfaced that I’ve seen, and I haven’t heard any first-hand accounts of their use. Couple that with the fact that even a compact sword like the Tactana adds a fair bit of weight and bulk to a trooper’s battle rattle and I have to say I’m a little bit skeptical. If you have evidence to the contrary, please drop us a line here at Tactical Knives, it’d make a great story!
I actually have seen a surprising number of self-defense scenarios involving swords and homeowners in the United States. I won’t say this is a common occurrence, but I watch the news feeds for knife-related stories and I’ve seen a number of cases of swords being used to defend homes and ward off attackers. Now, I’m not advocating a sword over a good pump shotgun or any other suitable firearm, or even a good alarm system for that matter, but if you live somewhere that a firearm isn’t legal or practical it’s something to consider. A sword is a good bit more terrifying to an intruder than a baseball bat and certainly can do the job if it needs to. Frankly, the allure of the sword is enough in its own right for me to get one, but if you need a little more justification there’s something for you to think on anyway.
For actual testing I enlisted my friend Mike, who has a good deal more time behind a long blade than me. We warmed up by doing a series of cuts on gallon milk jugs as well as some bigger 3-gallon jugs. The bigger jugs were made of tough plastic and had a lot more mass to them, so they were a little more interesting to cut. After some basic warm-ups, we were soon slicing through jugs with ease. The factory edge on the Tactana cleaved cleanly even through the heavier jugs and we were able to do multiple cuts on the jugs, something that’s sometimes hard after the first cut as the jug loses much of its structural integrity. After we used up our supply of jugs, we moved on to try our hand at tatami mats. I’d love to regale you with tales of our slicing mats with the skill of a tameshigiri master, but I have to admit our performance was less than stellar. Being that this was our first time cutting mats, I’m pretty sure the fault was ours. We got some pretty serious cuts in the mats but had trouble cutting cleanly through. As a control we had another wakizashi on hand that mirrored our results with the Tactana, so I really do believe it was our technique or preparation of the mats that was at fault.
It’s an interesting exercise and proved to us that it isn’t as easy as it looks when you see someone else doing it! To assuage our egos, we finished up the day by taking out our tatami-mat frustrations on a crop of unsuspecting pumpkins. Pumpkins are interesting targets. The thick rind provides a tougher target than a water jug and the natural variation in size and rind thickness makes for a more diverse cutting experience. They’re a bit messy, but fun to cut. While certainly not as useful in measuring a blade’s capability as the tatami mat, cutting practice of any sort is an important part of blade training as it lets you experience the effect of the blade striking and slicing through an object—or even what it’s like to cut into but not through for that matter.
There’s a big difference between actually cutting with a blade versus simply doing forms. One thing that became readily apparent to us throughout the day was that the Micarta handles on the Tactana work well. The bead-blasted finish of the Micarta proved very comfortable to use, even with full-power strikes. It also gave an excellent grip even when the handle was wet from the water-jug cutting and a little slimy from handling the severed pumpkins. It was certainly a lot easier to clean than a traditional cord wrap when we finished, too. If you’re in the market for a modern sword suitable for whatever defensive role you foresee, or simply a blade that will hold up to actual heavy cutting training then the Tactana will certainly fill that niche. The Garuda makes a good modern match up to it as well and will hold its own as a rugged field blade even if you don’t need a sword to go with it.
For more information on the Condor Tactana Blade and the Garuda Tonto Knife, visit: condortk.com