‘Walking Dead’: Michonne actress Danai Gurira talks katana skills

Oct. 14, 2012 | 2:45 p.m.
twd gp 301 0507 0278 Walking Dead: Michonne actress Danai Gurira talks katana skills

Danai Gurira as Michonne in “The Walking Dead.” (Gene Page/AMC)

The third season of AMC’s hit series “The Walking Dead” is just about to kick off, and one of the highlights of the upcoming run of episodes is sure to be the introduction into the ensemble of Danai Gurira’s Michonne. The defiant warrior woman is a favorite among fans of the Robert Kirkman comic book that inspired cable television’s highest-rated scripted drama, and actress and playwright Gurira was brimming with enthusiasm about landing the role during a recent visit to the show’s Georgia set.

Michonne, of course, is known for her skill with a katana, but Gurira was first introduced to the weapon after landing the part.

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“In grad school I’d done some broadsword training, but I’ll tell you right now, the broadsword is nothing compared to the katana,” Gurira said with a smile between takes. “I watched a little video of the broadsword being tested against the katana just in terms of little things that have to do with severing armor or whatever, and the katana was so much more bad-asser than the broadsword. The broadsword was useless almost – it was like, ‘Oh, you Brits, you failed. Japanese 1, Brits 0.’ It was like learning from scratch because it is not the same weapon.”

So how did she perfect her skills in order to wield the weapon with apparent ease? Training, training and some additional training.


“I worked with a sword master — he’s also a stunt man,” Gurira explained. “You just work very intensively. We just worked all the time.  She wasn’t trained in the bamboo forests of Japan. She figured it out, but there are aspects of even the way she’s portrayed in the comic book where there’s just a calm about how she utilizes it that I found very interesting.

“When I was watching samurai films, there was that same sort of focused calm, effective, efficient economical aspect to it that rung true to what I had seen of her on the page,” she added.

— Gina McIntyre

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21 Responses to ‘Walking Dead’: Michonne actress Danai Gurira talks katana skills

  1. mr me says:

    Oh Danai Gurira, you failed history. Broadswords are made to go through iron armor…japanese katanas through light leather armor, if any at all.

    • monstersdoexist says:

      Mr Me, try swinging that broadsword for about 10 minutes and you will see why we swordsmen prefer the lighter (and sharper) katana.

      • AES says:

        Been there, done that. Plenty of people prefer longswords, so don't try to speak for all of us. Also read my comments below looking at ACTUAL weights and point of balances. You'll quickly see your comments about weight are not grounded in fact.

  2. AES says:

    Katanas are really overrated – people don't realize that in order to get a blade so sharp, it becomes very, very fragile. It was historically used against flesh only – not against plate armor. They are so prevalent in film more because of aesthetics than effectiveness.

    The video she's referring to (probably a popular youtube clip from the show "locked and loaded") has been thoroughly discredited as being biased and unscientific. The host used a BLUNT longsword (which, by way, was primarily a stabbing weapon), and they swung it amateurishly sideways like a baseball bat. The katana was swung downward at a 45 degree angle like you're supposed to use it. How much can you really learn from such a biased comparison? Nothing.

    There is a much better video that a german show put out a couple of years ago comparing the two. The longsword cut equally as effectively as the katana – and with both edges – and had more available techniques. The katana was then swung downwards -edge to edge- on a longsword. It got badly chipped and bent like a corkscrew. The longsword was swung against another longsword in the exact same test. It got chipped, but it also fractured the other sword!

    It would really be nice to see a proper medieval european longsword – with historically accurate and deadly techniques -used in a zombie movie. They were some of the best weapons in human history, but they get trashed nowadays for no good reason.

    • Tom says:

      In battle, speed is power. The katana is a lightweight, elegant weapon that is far superior to many weapons because of this. Not stopping there, its just a fact that many European weapons developed in a diametrically opposed manner from the katana, preferring a heavy handed style to overcome plate armor (the claymore comes to mind, as well as all the different bludgeoning styled weapons, like the mace and the morning star). It may not be perfect, or the most durable weapon, but a trained samurai would out-maneuver and utterly destroy the most "skilled" and powerful European sword wielder, I have very little doubt. Skill of the sword being matter-of-fact for any accomplished samurai (take one second to look up the word bushido, and you will see that perfection is a very important word), a knight, or other such heavy sword wielding combatant spends much of its study elsewear, aside from absolute perfection in their chosen swordcraft. I definitely don't think this is a flaw, but it just wouldn't be a fair duel.

      Its no secret that the katana is not a thick weapon… It is not fair to compare them based on their durability alone, as the skill of a samurai involves primarily movement, parry, and dodge abilities. It would be a very young, very dead samurai who thinks it wise to defend directly like that. As per in combat against a plated opponent? I first would hazard to point out that no armor is perfect, and second that not all battles need ever be fought… A large benefit to not being clad in heavy plate is being allowed to successfully run the heck away.

      To sum this up: the weapons are not used the same, and the natural sources that would carry these weapons would never have fought any sort of duel in reality.

      Now, put a knight on a horse, give him a spear or a lance? Then you have a fight (probably a short one–definitely going the other way).

      • AES says:

        First off, no sword is meant to cut through plate armor. None. That's a preposterous assertion. That's what polearms and crossbows were used for. Longswords were dueling weapons just as much as they were war weapons. Hence the existence of the specific terms "blossfechten" and "harness fechten" within the German schools of longsword fencing. Unarmored fighting vs armored fighting.

        The conception of European swords as being "slow" and "heavy handed" is a really strange one. Bizarrely, it originated in Europe itself – from the rapier enthusiasts! Now then, look at the weight and point of balance of any longsword. And then of a katana. Here, I'll give you two examples:

        Oakeshott Type XVII: Overall length: 45.875" (116.21 cm)
        Blade length: 36" (92 cm)
        Center of gravity: 4.5" (11.43 cm)
        Weight: 3 lbs (1.36 kilos)

        And a high priced reproduction katana:

        Overall Length: 41'' Blade: 29 13/16''
        Weight: 2 lb 7 oz
        Center of gravity.: 10'' (though this ranges from 5" to 10", from what I've seen)

        As you can see, the actual weight difference is very very slight. And that's with modern euro sword reproductions tending to be quite overbuilt. But more importantly, look at how it's distributed. The katana has a forward-heavy center of gravity to assist in chopping and slicing. The longsword has that pommel counterbalance. So even though it has a longer blade, it can be maneuvered quite quickly.

        Lastly, on the "bushido" concept: it's vastly unfair to both a samurai or a knight to assert that the former studied only swordsmanship, or to imply that the knight did not live by a code of honor and discipline. The two are vastly similar.

      • AES says:

        Furthermore, to think that Europeans relied on brute strength and had relatively little training (compared to their Japanese counterparts) is simply false, and I would encourage you (and Danai Gurira) to not form opinions out of thin air. Take a look at the vast collection of medieval and renaissance literature that was produced describing the use of the longsword (and other contemporary weapons). Johannes Liechtenauer's works predate Musashi's the book of 5 rings by several centuries, and contains all the principles emphasized in Asian arts: hard and soft, concealing intentions, dexterity over strength, speed and cleverness.

        Seriously, watch some videos of modern reconstructions of unarmored longsword combat. It's FAST.

      • Fleur de Lis says:

        Guys, why not pitch your ideas to television shows- right now the interest is very keen — this is captivating! So, Gentlemen through down the gauntlets and pitch the idea to local broadcasters – this would enhance their ratings- and have at it on the Telly. Trust me, there is a lot of interest n the Walkers. And by the way, do donate some of your proceeds to youth groups. As knowledgeable as you Gents are, you should impart your knowledge or Bushido, and European longswords. You could put this on youtube, and there are many people of means who own these instruments who would wager.

  3. Sophie says:

    Liked her comments. She has obviously used both weapons and is not talking from TV viewing or theories. I also come from the viewpoint that everything Euro is overhyped anyway.

    • AES says:

      Sophie- opposite situation. Everything Asian is overhyped. Look at the big business behind karate dojos, kung fu gyms, etc. Euro stuff is underhyped, if anything. There's very little genuine awareness of people's own heritage.

      Also, her main quote is "I watched a little video…" So where are you getting the idea that she is not talking from TV viewing or theories? For the record, I have used both quite a bit. I prefer the longsword, obviously. Far more versatile and better balanced. Katana is a one trick pony.

      • Michael says:

        She studied broadsword as well, if you read the article. So she is presenting an informed opinion based on training in both weapons.

      • AES says:

        Studying stage combat in drama school with overbuilt swords that bear nothing in common to the real thing is hardly any form of realistic training. If you read the article with a more careful eye, you'll notice her entire opinion on a Euro sword's lethality is based on a video, not experience. A deeply flawed video, I might add.

        Also keep in mind she is promoting a TV show, so she's obliged by contract to talk it up to the press. The press thinks and speaks in sound bites, much to the chagrin of the truth, which is always a bit more nuanced.

  4. @undefined says:

    I falled in love with her. What should i do?

  5. BladeMage001 says:

    For its size damage output and versitility the Japanese katana has proven over and over to be a superior weapon to both broadsword and longsword design has a lot to do with it as well as the way they are crafted (the folding of the steel enables the blade to hold a sharper edge for much longer) and AES does sound a bit but hurt.

    • AES says:

      "(the folding of the steel enables the blade to hold a sharper edge for much longer)"

      Folded steel was an obsolete technology even before 1000AD. The only reason it persisted in Japan was the highly impure nature of the iron ore in Japan. They had to fold multiple types of impure steel to even out the properties. Places with better ore quality switched to monosteel swords centuries earlier. You don't have to look very far from Japan to see this. Look at the very differently styled, flexible yet sharp swords found in China. The Vikings got away from folded steel too because of how brittle it could be. A large strong man swinging a pattern-welded, folded sword could easily break it, regardless of its design or how well it was made.

      Lastly, look at the military swords Japan produced during the 20th century. With rare exceptions, they are all monosteel.

      In terms of versatility, not sure where you all are getting your blanket statements from. The katana can cut and stab. The longsword can cut, stab, and also deliver blunt drama from the crossguard and pommel. That makes it a useful weapon against both armored and unarmored opponents. A sword and a poleaxe combined, essentially, provided you know how to half-sword properly.

      I'll reiterate my most important part – Japanese swords proliferate in media primarily due to aesthetics.

  6. QBN says:

    Katanas are awesome.. nobody wants to see a clumsy European broad sword.

  7. Swordsmen says:

    Well I have trained in bith for over 15 years and find the Katana to be superior as a weapon, check this video for a good accuarte comparision, Sorry AES, it is as true as the saying do not bring a knife to a gun fight.

    • AES says:

      That video has been debunked countless times.

      If a real (ie well made, sharp longsword) was used in that comparison, and a $20 stainless steel imitation katana were used in that video, all the anime fanboys would be crying foul just like the europhiles are.

  8. EyeRoller says:

    Good lord. Get off your high horses, you lot. Bragging about how well you know about facts doesn't impress anyone, and only make you look like snobs. Get over yourselves.

    • zombie slayer says:

      But if we out all these online we can shoe the world we are smartwr than everyone else..lol..I read the first 3 and got bored. Its funny cause its a prefernce thing im sure with facts to support both but who cares just enjoy some bad ass zombie killing baby!

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