Do not attempt to do this, do not even think of attempting to do this. I don’t care if you’re drunk out of your mind and want to impress that special someone with some sort of feat of derring-do or want to try and win a bet with your other drunken friends. I cannot stress this enough, do not fuckin’ do this. If you do, chances are we’ll be paying you a visit in the emergency room or perhaps even worse.
Now that we’re clear on that, a little history is in order…
The practice of sword swallowing dates back to around 2000 BC and is believed to have originated in India as some kind of religious ceremony. From there it later migrated to China and Japan. After that it made its way to Ancient Greece and later Rome. From Rome it moved throughout the rest of Europe but any religious connotations were lost. The art of sword swallowing was now something akin to what might be called performance art or even street theater. It later found its way to the States and became a popular attraction for those travelling sideshows and carnivals that crisscrossed the continent during the 1800 and early 1900’s.
Fact or Fiction
Many people, Harry Houdini included, considered the act of actually swallowing a sword to be some kind of myth. They believed that there is some kind of magic trick to it or that it is an illusion. Even the Encyclopedia Britannica refers to it in those terms. From what I can determine, those people are flat out wrong. Crazy as it sounds, people train themselves for years to do this sort of thing. I have no freakin’ clue as to what their motivation might be.
You want me to put what where?
Like many other things in life the act of swallowing a sword does not come naturally. It often takes a performer years and years of both physical and psychological practice before they can strut their stuff on the road.
Some basic anatomy is in order. A human beings gastrointestinal tract is made of the throat, the esophagus and the stomach. A sword swallower must guide the instrument through those three areas with puncturing or lacerating any of them. When it’s in a “relaxed” state your GI tract has many twists and turns. In comparison, a sword is rigid and straight. The sword swallower must navigate those twists and turns with extreme precision all the while fighting back what is commonly known as a gag reflex. This is easier said that done since the gag reflex is considered to be involuntary. Think about it. Have you ever stuck your own fingers down your throat to try and make yourself puke? If you answered yes, then you know what the gag reflex is all about. If you haven’t, go on and give it try. I’ll wait…
See what I mean?
The basic technique surrounding sword swallowing is to tilt one’s head back as far as it will go. This will help hyper extend your neck and relax something known as your esophageal sphincter. Flatten out your tongue but make sure the sword passes over it. This will help coat it with saliva and lubricate it for its downward descent. Once the sword passes through the throat gravity takes over and it gently passes through other various body parts until it reaches the stomach.
Ok, now that you’ve got the sword inside you’ve got to figure out a way to get it out. Remember, all this time you’ll be fighting back the urge to gag. If you don’t and your body starts to go into spasms you’re going to be in some deep shit. Chances are you’ll lacerate something along the way and a trip to the hospital is inevitable.
In contrast to the slow, gentle motion of guiding the sword downward, the sword swallower will remove the sword in one swift motion. This reduces the chances of the dreaded gag reflex taking hold.
Some sword swallowers have perfected their craft to such an extent that they are able to not only swallow straight swords but also those that have curves in them. I don’t even want to think about the amount of practice it takes to even attempt to undertake such a task.
Believe it or not there’s even something called Sword Swallowers Association International that sets the rules and guidelines for one to be considered a successful sword swallower. Here’s just some of them.
All swords used in a performance must pass inspection by officials and witnesses.
All blades must be non retractable or collapsible and be made of solid steel.
All blades must be at least 15 inches in length.
All blades must be at least ½ inches wide.
Given those conditions, it comes as no surprise, at least to yours truly, that there only approximately 100 active members of the Sword Swallowers Association International.
If you think swallowing just one sword at a time is impressive, get a load of some of the current Guinness World Records when it comes to sword swallowing.
On February 28, 2009 someone by the name of Red Stuart swallowed a total of 50 swords at once with blades measuring 18" long by 1/2" wide at Ripley's Believe It or Not in Atlantic City.
Someone by the name of Brad Byers swallowed 10 swords after inserting them individually one at a time, and then twisting the 10 swords 180 degrees in his throat before removing them.
In 2003, someone by the name of Matty Blade Henshaw swallowed 14 swords in 270 shows within 365 days for a total of 3782 swords swallowed in one year.
At a whopping 7' 4" tall, someone by the name of George the Giant has an advantage at length and holds the record for swallowing a 33" sword.
Someone by the name of Dai Andrews set a new world record for the "Largest curve in a sword swallowed" by swallowing a sword that was curved 120 degrees from point to hilt on September 12, 2009 at Pimlico Race course in Baltimore, MD.
And that’s just a partial list of some of the amazing feats that the few people who take up this profession were able to accomplish. For the full list, go here
In closing, I really don’t know what else to say. I’ve never seen a live performance in person but I gotta tip my hat to the very few people who risk some very serious health issues just to keep us entertained.
Esteemed user wertperch has provided an outlet for those of you would like to try a more pleasurable and much safer sword swallowing experience. You can find it here.
Oh, one last thing. Apparently the term "sword swallowing" also has some kind of sexual connotation associated with it. I'll leave it up to somebody else to provide the details.