February 25th is International Sword Swallower’s Awareness Day

It takes years of practice to learn the art of sword swallowing!
It takes years of practice to learn the art of sword swallowing! | Source

February 25th is International Sword Swallower’s Awareness Day

I have always considered sword swallowers to be magicians or illusionists. I just assumed that the sword slowly collapsed in on itself like a telescope. But it appears that I have been mistaken. Sword swallowing is truly a dangerous art form that takes many years of practice and discipline to perfect.

I considered making a joke about the holiday of International Sword Swallowers Awareness Day … you know, something along the lines of, “If I had a sword down my throat, I wouldn’t need a special day to make me aware of it. I’m pretty darn sure I would know!” But sword swallowing is very serious business. So we will just pretend that I didn’t say that.

In 2008, February 28th was proclaimed to be International Sword Swallower’s Day by the Sword Swallowers Association International (SSAI). Interestingly enough, the month of February is also National Swallowing Disorders Month.


What Kind of Sword is Used?

Most swords used by sword swallowers do not have sharp edges. Despite this fact, these blades can puncture and scrape the gastrointestinal tract. Multiple swords being swallowed at once can be particularly dangerous as they can slide against each other and act as a scissors to any flesh caught between them.

The SSAI states that a sword swallower is anyone who can swallow a 15” (38 cm) sword. The SSAI also has a recommendation on the maximum length that should be attempted, 24 inches (61 cm). This longer length would easily place the tip of the sword into the swallower’s stomach. Swords must also be at least .8 inches (2 cm) wide.

Both straight and curved blades are used.


How to Swallow a Sword ~ The Taste of Metal

Swallowing a sword and swallowing food are not even close to requiring the same actions of your body. In fact, they are exact opposites of each other. Swallowing food requires muscles to “contract”, therefore “forcing” the food down. Swallowing a sword requires muscles to “relax”, therefore “allowing” the sword to be inserted.

Let’s look at a general overview of how someone would go about swallowing a sword. The first thing a sword swallower has to do is to get into the proper position. This means having to tilt their head back at just the right angle and then extending their neck to align their mouth, esophagus and pharynx. Before inserting the sword, they have to deliberately relax their throat and upper gastrointestinal tract to prevent the gag reflex and allow the sword to pass. Then aligning the sword with the path created by their mouth and esophagus they begin inserting the sword.

As the sword is inserted, it straightens out the curves that are in the esophagus. A longer sword will even pass into the stomach! Saliva acts as a lubricant, although some sword swallowers use other lubricants such as vegetable oil as well.

The sword also has to nudge some organs, such as the heart, out of its way in order to be fully swallowed. The basic idea is to completely relax the throat turning it into a “living scabbard.”

If by some chance you think this sounds easy, use your finger to touch the back of your throat. Imagine if your finger had been a sharp blade as the muscles go into spasms because of your gag reflex. As difficult as it sounds, a sword swallower must be able to overcome this “reflex” for the full length of the sword both in and out.

As you can well imagine, learning to control your body to this extent takes even more than lots of practice. It requires a tremendous amount of physical and psychological preparation to enable the sword swallower to remain totally calm and focused during their performance.

Mastering the gag reflex in order to be able to swallow swords involves purposefully triggering the gag reflex repeatedly which can cause vomiting and severe discomfort. Do this often enough, and the gag reflex becomes dulled enabling the sword swallower to take in the sword.

An Alternate Method

Several sources, including famous magician and escape artist Harry Houdini, have stated that most performers actually swallow a metal tube that can act as an internal scabbard prior to their performance. The sword is then inserted into this tube during the “magic” act.


CAUTION:

Either of these methods can sound deceptively easy, but for someone untrained and inexperienced, sword swallowing is extremely dangerous. Sword swallowing should never be attempted unless under the tutelage of an experienced professional.


Dangers of Sword Swallowing

Although the swords used are typically not sharp, injuries do occur.

  • The irritation (throat pain) that sword swallowers get which is a hazard of doing their job is referred to as “sword throat”.
  • Lower chest pain likely from injury to the diaphragm and/or esophagus. Can be persistent, but after several days of refraining from swallowing swords the pain usually subsides.
  • Internal bleeding caused from cuts, scrapes and perforations – some may require surgery.
  • Inflammation of the lungs
  • Inflammation of the sac that surrounds the heart.


Men and women both practice the art of sword swallowing.
Men and women both practice the art of sword swallowing. | Source

History of Sword Swallowing

Sword swallowing originated in India before 2000 BC. It was practiced by various shamans and fakirs (a Muslim or Hindu religious ascetic or mendicant monk commonly considered a wonder-worker) to demonstrate their power and union with the gods.

In the 8th century, sword swallowing spread to China and then into Japan. It also moved into Greece and Italy, and then into Europe during the early Middle Ages. It struggled during the Inquisition and then eventually died out.

Although coming to America in the early 1800’s, sword swallowing did not become popular in the states until after a performance at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.


Heather Holliday Swallows 2 Swords at Once

Sword Swallowers have Made Many Contributions to the Medical Community

In the 19th century sword swallowers were used to study the human digestive system. A sword swallower was given small hollow metal tubes with holes in them to “swallow.” The tubes were filled with raw meat. After specified periods of time, the tubes were brought back up. The meat was studied to determine how much was digested over given time periods.

As early as 1868, it was suggested that sword swallowers would be great subjects for esophagoscopy. During an endoscopic procedure, rigid instruments are inserted down a patient’s throat. Researchers have since worked with sword swallowers during the development of these instruments because of their bodies ability to accommodate the instruments.


Sword Swallower X-Rayed While Swallowing Sword

I apologize in advice for the soundtrack with this video - it contains static - but the video is so good that I just had to include it. You do want to hear what they are saying however.

Source

Other Interesting Tidbits about Sword Swallowing

  • In carny lingo, sword swallowers are referred to as “blade glommers” or “steel slurpers.”
  • In 2008, at the Philadelphia Tattoo Convention, a sword swallower, Red Stuart, set a record for most swords swallowed by swallowing 34 swords simultaneously!
  • In 2003, Matty “Blade” Henshaw swallowed 3782 swords during the course of that year!
  • Not being able to break either of these records, Thomas Blackthorne decided to create a record for himself – the Most Swallowed Sword! He has been lugging his sword, affectionately called the “Sword of Swords” around the world; and it has been swallowed by more than 33 different performers.


7 Swords at Once!

Learning to Swallow Swords

Although it is extremely dangerous, many sword swallowers instruct themselves in the art. Others are instructed by experienced professional sword swallowers. And still others take classes such as those offered at the Coney Island Sideshow School.


WARNING:

CAUTION: Sword swallowing is extremely dangerous! Do NOT try this at home.


All Rights Reserved

Copyright © 2012 Cindy Murdoch (homesteadbound)



Sword Swallowing Resource Sites:


Your Future is Waiting! Do you feel you have great information or stories to share with others? Sign Up Here. . . It’s quick, easy and free to join HubPages!

More by this Author


Comments: "February 25th is International Sword Swallower’s Awareness Day" 25 comments

davenmidtown profile image

davenmidtown 4 years ago from Sacramento, California

I don't know why exactly that this topic irritates me. It is a well written and very interesting hub that is also well laid out... but something in my mind is turned off when I read this.


RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Wow! I do not think I will be trying this one any time soon! Lol. It is fascinating though - for the life of me - I can't imagine ever thinking it would be a good idea to try it! Ouch! Let's just keep the knives in the drawer homestead! Up and awesome and interesting!


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

I cannot believe people really do this stuff. You would have to be nervous doing it and I mean besides all the other, what if your hand slips and you drop it?


homesteadbound profile image

homesteadbound 4 years ago from Texas Author

davidmidtown - the topic really does not irritate me, but it does kind of creep me out and leave me asking why would anyone want to do that. My gag reflex is so strong I cannot imagine what it would take to overcome it, and I can't imagine putting myself through the process. thanks so much.


hazelwood4 profile image

hazelwood4 4 years ago from Owensboro, Kentucky

I always thought that sword swallowing was fake, until one day I was watching the show with real life Superheros with Stan Lee and I discovered otherwise. They showed a guy swallowing a HUGE sword, and then they x-rayed his stomach! "Seeing truly is believing when it comes to sword swallowing. Thanks for sharing another interesting article!


George the Giant 4 years ago

Very wel done article. I'm glad you pointed out how dangerous Sword swallowing really is. I have been performing for over 20 years and sword swallowing was one of the most difacult stunts to learn.


Jeannieinabottle profile image

Jeannieinabottle 4 years ago from Baltimore, MD

Well, there really is a holiday for everything, isn't there? Fun hub and voted up!


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

Thanks for the warning. I don't think I will try this at home or anywhere else. Voting this Up and Interesting.


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 4 years ago from North Carolina

Ouch!! This has amazed me since I was a young child. This is a very creative idea! Well done.


Haunty profile image

Haunty 4 years ago from Hungary

Great information here. It always gives me the creeps when someone does this in front of me. I'm not going to swallow 3872 this year, but I'll definitely do one on Feb 25th. :)


homesteadbound profile image

homesteadbound 4 years ago from Texas Author

RealHousewife - I can't imagine anyone thinking it is a good idea. In fact, not many people do. In the articles that I read while researching this subject, I found that there are only hundreds worldwide. official members are just over 100. That is not many!


homesteadbound profile image

homesteadbound 4 years ago from Texas Author

Jackie Lynnley - I so agree with you. I cannot imagine "swallowing a sword under any circumstances. I am glad that you enjoyed this hub and took time to comment.


homesteadbound profile image

homesteadbound 4 years ago from Texas Author

hazelwood4 - I like you had thought that sword swallowing was a "magic" act, which apparently is not the case. I would not be able to, or want to do, what it takes to overcome the gag reflex. That would we so uncomfortable. That alone tells me that these artists are committed to what they do. Thanks so much!


homesteadbound profile image

homesteadbound 4 years ago from Texas Author

George the Giant - I am so honored and humbled that a true sword swallower would visit and comment on this article. I am in awe of anyone who can perform this act, as it is so much more than an act. Thanks so much for stopping by.


homesteadbound profile image

homesteadbound 4 years ago from Texas Author

Jeannieinabottle - Yes, there truly is a date for celebrating most anything, including the taste of cold hard steel.

Who would have thought that Sword Swallowers Awareness day could be something to celebrate. Thanks so much!


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

Wow what anamazing and ubnique hub.

A brilliant read;and as to be awarded my up up and away.

Eddy.


DonnaCosmato profile image

DonnaCosmato 4 years ago from USA

Wow, Cindy! I always learn something new and unusual by reading and following your hubs! This is exceedingly well-researched and presented in such an appealing format that I couldn't resist sharing and bookmarking it:)


Ruchira profile image

Ruchira 4 years ago from United States

Seriously Cindy...I thought that it was a magic done by such people.

THANK YOU for such a wonderful hub!

Loved reading about it. Dare not ever try it!!!

now, gotta share it :)


Haunty profile image

Haunty 4 years ago from Hungary

I tried to comment on this twice on your birthday, but HP was acting up and both my comments disappeared. Let's see if this one stays. I can't wait for the 25th to swallow a sword, you got me all excited. We usually say '(s)he swallowed a sword' when someone is being to silent and not talking. Great hub!


ImKarn23 profile image

ImKarn23 4 years ago

hilarious that they chose the same month as national swallowing disorder month! Now - that's IRON-y! Veddy Interesting (which is what i shall vote)


homesteadbound profile image

homesteadbound 4 years ago from Texas Author

alocsin, tammyswallow, Haunty, Eddy, DonnaCosmato, and Ruchira - thanks to all of you for stopping by and my birthday. All of you helped to make it so memorable. Haunty - I am not sure that swallowing a sword is such a good idea - do you get my point?


homesteadbound profile image

homesteadbound 4 years ago from Texas Author

Haunty - When you say swallowing a sword, I do hope you mean that you intend to stay silent all day and not talk. Swallowing a sword is scary business ... I do hope you are not being serious. I am pleased you enjoyed the hub, but do not enjoy a sword! Thanks for stopping by!


homesteadbound profile image

homesteadbound 4 years ago from Texas Author

ImKarn23 - I thought it was funny that they chose National Sword Swallowing Month to be the same month that celebrates national swallowing month. That is indeed - IRON-y! Every pun intended!Thanks so much for the pun!


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 4 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

I, also, thought it was an illusionist's trick. Super informative hub, although I didn't watch any of the videos. Just the thought of the act, now that I know it's for real, sets my gag reflex on edge. Voted up, interesting, amazing. :)


homesteadbound profile image

homesteadbound 4 years ago from Texas Author

Sally's Trove - I myself cannot imagine having to overcome my gag reflex to stick anything down my throat, much less something as large as a sword. Thanks so much!

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working