Is Shanks a swordsman in One Piece? Explored

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Shanks, undoubtedly one of the mightiest One Piece characters, started as an appendice to Gol D. Roger, eventually becoming the captain of the Red Hair Pirates, and a Yonko. Further, Shanks plays a paramount role in the series, being Dracule Mihawk’s peer, Blackbeard’s sworn enemy, and Luffy’s mentor.

With his exceptional, almost unparalleled, combat prowess, and his natural charisma, Shanks is a true icon of the One Piece series. Everytime something big happens, the “Red Hair” is always involved, and he never fails to leave fans amazed.

Righteous, but surrounded by a mysterious aura, Shanks somehow inspires admiration and fear at the same time. While his behavior might be cryptic, his fighting style surely is not. The matter is often a subject of debate, but it seems clear that the “Red Hair” is a masterful swordsman.

Disclaimer: This article contains major spoilers from the One Piece manga up to chapter 1101 and reflects the opinion of the author.

As of One Piece chapter 1101, it’s clear that Shanks is a swordsman

Haki isn’t a separate fighting style, but an integral part of swordsmanship

The quarrel about how Shanks fights stems from the age-old debate regarding who is stronger between him and Mihawk. Some fans claim that Shanks isn’t a swordsman, but a Haki user, and thus, wouldn’t fall under the implications of Mihawk’s title of World’s Strongest Swordsman.

However, Haki is not separate from swordsmanship, but an integral part of it. Haki is the bread and butter of mighty swordsmen, as it allows to enhance swords (Armament Haki), amp them to the next level (Conqueror’s Haki), and ultimately turn them into Black Blades, the strongest weapons of all.

A high enough level of Haki is a precondition to wield the most powerful swords. For instance, Enma tests its owners by draining away their Haki. Weak Haki users would be left devoid of energy and unable to fight within a short time.

Conversely, mighty fighters such as Kozuki Oden or Roronoa Zoro can use Enma at the fullest, as they feed the sword with their Haki. Given his role as one of the main characters, it can be said that Zoro is the swordsman par excellence in One Piece.

During his battle with Kaido, Zoro was implied to be strong enough to inflict serious damage on the Yonko. This was because Zoro’s Armament Haki was much more powerful than that of the Red Scabbards, and thus, his attacks were several times stronger than theirs.

Even when Zoro permanently injured Kaido, leaving the Yonko impressed, the decisive factor to achieve this impressive feat was Haki. The strongest move used by Zoro during the fight, the Nine Sword Style: Ashura, was implied to be nothing but a byproduct of his Conqueror’s Haki aura.

Cutting steel, performing Armament Hardening, mastering Enma, unleashing all the power of his Conqueror’s Haki, creating the King of Hell Style, and, in the future, achieving a Black Blade—almost the entirety of Zoro’s growth as a swordsman involves him learning or improving his Haki.

Even though most of his techniques and power-ups are based on nothing but Haki, Zoro is, unequivocably, a swordsman, which emphasizes the double-strand bond between Haki and swordsmanship.

Back then in Arabasta, to cut through Mr 1’s steel body, Zoro needed to learn the ability to cut anything and, simultaneously, nothing, a feat that needed him to convey his will into his sword. Later in the story, this power would be revealed as an advanced form of Haki.

Challenged by Pica to overcome his Haki-hardened body, Zoro imbued his blades with Armament Haki and cut through the former, fatally injuring him. Zoro did not attribute the reason of his superiority to anything else but his Haki being much stronger than Pica’s.

When he fought a high caliber swordsman such as Oden, Kaido was impressed by his Haki, not his dexterity in wielding his blades. Likewise, when faced with the Red Scabbards, Kaido called them weak, simply because their Haki was less powerful than Oden’s.

This emphasizes that a swordsman’s overall power is directly tied to the strength of his Haki, which, in turn, implies that Haki cannot be separated from swordsmanship.

When Zoro asked Mihawk to teach him “the way of sword,” the World’s Strongest Swordsman literally taught him nothing but how to use Haki. Clearly, Haki is not a separate fighting style, but a boost available to all characters to amp their capabilities, whatever they are.

When Luffy, Zoro, and Sanji learned to use Haki, they didn’t change their fighting style. Luffy remained a brawler, Zoro stayed a swordsman, and Sanji kept being a martial artist.

Like Luffy, Zoro developed his potential as a natural-born Conqueror’s Haki user. He even learned to coat his attacks with the Color of Conqueror’s, a skill that only Kaido, Shanks, Gol D. Roger, and a few other legendary fighters of the One Piece world can perform.

Impressively, Zoro created a new sword style entirely based on Haki, the King of Hell Style. When using this mode, Zoro unleashes his Advanced Armament Haki and Advanced Conqueror’s Haki simultaneously, reaching an insane peak of power.

As a prominent Conqueror’s Haki user, Zoro showed the ability to intimidate people, making them faint with his aura, just like Shanks does. That’s far from being a typical sword move, and yet, using it doesn’t stop Zoro from being a swordsman.

Based on Zoro’s development, it’s clear that the pinnacle of swordsmanship is closely linked to the usage of Haki. Unsurprisingly, the revelation of Zoro’s Conqueror’s Haki powers was directly tied with his ambition to become the World’s Strongest Swordsman.

Despite using Haki blasts and constructs, Haki barriers, as well as Conqueror’s Haki bursts, Zoro remains a swordsman. The same goes for Rayleigh, Mihawk, Oden, and more, who were all showed or implied to heavily rely on Haki, and yet clearly depicted as swordsmen.

There’s no reason to think that different rules should apply for Shanks, who has always used either his sword Gryphon or his Haki, or a combination of both in every battle or combat sequence he was involved in.

Swordsmen remain swordsmen, no matter which abilities they use

The notion of “pure swordsman,” that is sometimes recalled in debates, is totally pointless, as no swordsman in One Piece is “pure.” Whether Haki, Devil Fruit abilities, a mixture of both, or something else entirely, all swordsmen enhance their combat effectiveness somehow.

Even swordsmen who use their blades together with Devil Fruit powers, including those who employ them as little more than a medium for their abilities, are considered swordsmen for all intents and purposes.

Kaku uses the Four Sword Style, a combination of Rankyaku attacks and sword strikes, further boosted by a Zoan Devil Fruit. After the timeskip, Kaku seemingly doesn’t use his swords anymore, but only relies on his Devil Fruit, which he evolved to the stage of Awakening.

Even before the timeskip, Kaku described himself as a swordsman, even though his strongest move, the Sky Slicer Rankyaku, didn’t involve him using his swords.

Many other Devil Fruit users, including Law, Brook, Shiryu, Fujitora, and more, are stated to be swordsmen, simply because they combine their Devil Fruit abilities with their swordsmanship.

Given that Devil Fruit users can still be considered swordsmen, and that Shanks doesn’t even have a Devil Fruit ability, it’s pretty much common sense to regard the “Red Hair,” who used a sword every time he fought or was about to, as a swordsman.

In fact, even if he ever displayed other abilities distinct from swordsmanship and Haki, that wouldn’t make him any less a swordsman. In fictional series, swordsmen often use flashy powers that go beyond merely wielding the blade, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are swordsmen.

One Piece highlighted Shanks being a swordsman in all possible ways

Even as a child, Shanks was always depicted wielding a sword. In the years ahead, every time he confronted a foe, he used his sword, Gryphon, enhanced with Haki. As previously mentioned, this is a trademark trait of the mightiest swordsmen.

To confront Edward Newgate “Whitebeard”, Shanks used Gryphon, coated with Advanced Conqueror’s Haki. One Piece fans have been waiting for years to see the “Red Hair” using a named technique, and he finally showcased one during his fight with Eustass Kid.

Shanks’ first named attack ever showed in the series was Divine Departure, which, needless to say, is sword move. This attack, that was powerful enough to defeat Kid in one single strike, was the same signature technique of Gol D. Roger.

Shanks was Roger’s apprentice, which implies that he learned his fighting style from the late Pirate King. In fact, the “Red Hair” fights using a combination of Haki and swordsmanship, just like Roger was shown to do.

Even when he unleashed a Conqueror’s Haki blast towards Ryokugyu, intimidating the Admiral to the point where he was paralyzed, Shanks used his sword Gryphon as a medium to exert his aura. The manga depicted him holding the hilt of Gryphon, right when he unleashes his Haki against the Admiral.

Additionally, both the sword and the Haki aimed at Ryokugyu have the same exact SFX. The anime episode unambiguously showed the “Red Hair” exerting his Conqueror’s Haki through his sword.

Saint Figarland Garling owns a saber very similar to Gryphon, and uses it every time he is involved in combat, which clearly depicts him as a swordsman. Garling is implied to be a close precedessor of Shanks, if not even his father, which is another big clue about the “Red Hair” being a swordsman.

In the Volume Four Billion, a databook containing information about the characters featured in the movie One Piece Film: Red, Shanks was described as:

“A swordmaster who was able to fight with Dracule Mihawk.”

This goes with many other official sources, including other databooks and even direct statements from Eiichiro Oda, which likewise labelled Shanks as a swordsman.

“Red Hair” and “Hawk Eyes”

Of all One Piece characters, Oda used Shanks as the term of comparison to explain why Mihawk is the World’s Strongest Swordsman. The implication was that Mihawk is the most powerful of all swordsmen because he surpasses even Shanks.

This implies that Shanks is a swordsman, as the analogy would be pointless if he weren’t one. Logically, only a swordsman can be the yardstick that measures how powerful the World’s Strongest Swordsman is.

This is pretty obvious, to the point where it is self-explanatory. To deny that Shanks is a swordsman, one has to pretend that this panel doesn’t exist, or argue that Oda, a meticulous and precise mangaka, did the equivalent of comparing apples with oranges.

As it’s well known, the “Red Hair” fought several ferocious battles with Mihawk. Their clashes became famous throughout the entire Grand Line, and even a pirate of Whitebeard’s caliber acknowledged them as legendary fights.

The dualism between Shanks and Mihawk has been depicted as a parallel to Roger and Whitebeard’s iconic rivalry. While in the past they have given rise to legendary battles, Mihawk stopped being interested in fighting Shanks once the latter lost an arm.

The One Piece Vivre Card databook revealed that Mihawk is waiting for a challenger even stronger than the “Red Hair.” In all likelihood, that person will be Zoro, who is continuously improving, looking for the strength needed to fight “Hawk Eyes” on equal ground.

Shanks is a swordsman, and Mihawk holds the title of the World’s Strongest Swordsman. So, it’s only natural that the latter is mightier than the former. They are close in power, to the point where they can be considered equals, but if one of them is stronger than the other, according to the official sources, that’s Mihawk.

As the World’s Strongest Swordsman, Mihawk is the king of all swordsmen, the one who dominates them all with overwhelming power. Thus, “Hawk Eyes” is bound to be stronger than all the other representatives of the category, including even “Red Hair” Shanks.

In fact, the very beginning of the story showed a bored Mihawk, who, after many years, finally found himself excited again. Upon noticing Zoro’s exceptional potential, Mihawk understood that he is the only swordsman who can surpass him.

Keep up with One Piece manga, anime, and live-action as 2023 progresses.