There's a trend, surprising as it may be, is a refusal to refer to weapons as weapons. Typically, this is a reaction to post-columbine academia, which shits its tweed trousers at the thought of weaponry on campus. Insisting on terms like "theatrical props" or "sports equipment," is a levee against the storm of bullshit for drama departments, fencing teams, and the like to take what refuge they can in.
(The fact that establishing schools as weapon-free zones has been a miserable, blood-soaked failure is another matter. Campus carry becomes a fact of life in more states every year, and progress in that arena continues. But it is only tangential to the matter at hand.)
I can understand the need to placate the huge bureaucracies that control your fate. I know that a humanities discipline can ill-afford to rock the already-shaky ivory tower. And no fencing team wants to share the sad off-campus fate of NSDU's team.
But in the long run (15 years since Columbine, as I write this), this irritating fiction does more harm than I think anyone realizes.
For one thing, it kills credibility. It is impossible to hold up a sword, with a straight face say, "it's a prop, not a weapon," and not look like a godsdamn tool to anyone who's been remotely near a scrum. Worse if it comes from the lips of an instructor. Because now not only have they been stupid enough to say it, they're someone in authority with enough stupidity to say so. Even if an operator is willing to give benefit of doubt (and most will throw said individual right into the mental "fuck this idiot" pile), they'll be distracted for the rest of the session. Their attention will be split between following the lesson and watching the instructor like a hawk, ready for the next asinine thing to come out of their mouth.
For another, it shows a lack of respect for the weapon. Refusing to call a spade a spade encourages one to treat it like something else. In a world where a news commentator throws an axe, misses his target and hits a drummer, we need MORE respect for a weapon, not less.
Yes, weapons inspire fear in those unfamiliar. Familiarity should transform that fear into respect, not unthinking complacency. Such thinking is exactly what leads to "justs." It was "just" a bread knife that went 4 inches into an actor's torso in Tuscon, AZ. It was "just" a throwing axe that fortunately didn't seriously injure a West Point drummer.
On yet another level, it's just dishonest. When I began selling knives, I've been asked why I didn't use this payment service or that retail service, and my answer would take them aback. "They don't allow weapons dealers to use them," I'd say. To which they would be dumbfounded, saying, "But you just make training/prop/theatrical knives."
As if that makes them any less knives. This fundamental dishonesty rankles me.
(I'd like to point out now to all my gentle readers, the ridiculously easy segue into American weapon politics this could lead to. I'm not gonna go there, 'cause it's a whole 'nother kettle of fish. But I easily could go there.
Be grateful for that, motherfuckers.)
Lastly, it lets us hide from the nature of our stories. Drawing a "theatrical prop" with a dramatic flair and all thoughts on spectacle ignores the fact that thousands died on the point of that "prop." In doing so we do no justice to our stories, nor those whose lives they were based on.
Am I saying that every story told with these weapons should be as grim as a drill instructor at a funeral? No. Not at all. And the fact that we're somehow conditioned to expect that is part of the problem. Taking up arms does not confine or relieve someone of the human condition. On the contrary, it brings that condition into a new level of vivid detail. One lost if those extensions of their bodies and will, their weapons, become just another prop to put on the table and have ready.