Warriors that were kept on retainer (knights, samurai, and so on) found themselves with an abundance of time to train. Instead of having to worry about hunting, gathering, and tending flocks, they could spend endless hours training win their killing arts.
These cats would spar and duel with each other with various weapons and would develop unique styles – think of the 7 lightsaber forms: Djem So (form 5), used by Anakin, is about power, where Soresu (form 3), used by Obi-Wan, is about pure defense.
Dudes in real life would get used to fighting against the weapons and styles of their contemporaries, for example, the samurai could defend against and use katana, ninjato, wakizashi, naginata, yari, etc. effectively. They knew the possibilities of each weapon’s attack and defense. They knew the natural angles of strikes and the speed of each weapon. They were comfortable and confident fighting against a myriad of weapons familiar to them. In the heat of battle, they knew where and how to strike once they figured out the style of their opponent – already knowing how the enemy’s weapon worked. Samurai felt pretty confident in their skills against other Japanese fighters.
Once in a while, someone invented and developed a new weapon that came with its own possibilities, styles, and implementation. Sticking to Japan as an example, some of these weird weapons were razor whips, manriki-gusari (10,000 power chain – a chain with weights on either end), kakute (single-finger knucks with one or more spikes), sodegarami (long sticks with lots of barbs – used to entangle), those weird hook swords, chakram (the Japanese version is the same as the Indian one – sharp frisbee), fans with sharp metal edges, kama (short sickle), kusarigama (short sickle connected to a weight with a long chain), chigiriki (Japanese mace), blowdarts, shuriken (throwing stars), yawara (used to jam in people’s pressure points and manipulate the body), kanobo (staff with circle at one end and spikes on the other), the kyoketsu-shoge (knife with a long chain and weight on the end), and many other strange weapons. All of these came with their own advantages, disadvantages, and applications. They were all developed and used for a reason.
All these weird weapons share one similar factor in their development: their tactical purpose: to throw off an enemy and win the engagement. An enemy who has never encountered your weapon or style of style was going to have to spend more time defending himself and trying to learn the possibilities of the new weapon on the fly.
Miyamoto Musashi, one of the most beastly swordsmen of all time, said “Once you give ground, you’ve lost.” His style was more attack-focused than most — and definitely more than your self-defense posture should be — but I think his idea was more psychological than practical. Once you start losing ground and begin backpedaling (mental or real), you have (most-likely) already lost.
The psychological edge gained by the users of weird weapons enough of an advantage to win fights. Even with weapons with marked disadvantages over others, just the use of a weapon an enemy was unfamiliar with was enough to gain the tactical advantage and win.
Today, the concept remains the same, though the advantages are limited – everyone uses guns.
PRACTICAL APPLICATION: Weird weapons are weird. But maybe in hand-to-hand a strange shaped knife will give you a psychological edge over your opponent. But it’s 2016 and you’ll probably just get shot anyway.