Tag Archives: sword

Q&A: Bastard Swords and Zweihanders

bastard swords and zweihanders are so massive, they have to be carried either at the side of a giant or extremely tall character, of on a person’s back. as well, how well do they work? is it a matter of fighting style, terrain, opponents, all the above? they look so cool and awesome, but are also just so big

So, it’s probably worth saying, up front, the bastard sword is, basically, a modern term. Not, a modern invention per say. The term itself is also not new. But, the way it’s applied today is less than 200 years old.

The bastard sword is just a different name for a longsword. Usually the definition would be, “a longsword with a two handed grip,” but, really, that is most longswords.

So, you’re talking about a sword with a 28″-36″ blade, and a grip you can hold in both hands, or use one handed. Historically, these would have just been called “swords.” Nothing particularly special about them.

As much as I like “zweihander” as a term, it’s probably worth remembering that this is, just, German for “two handed.” They’re long blades, usually around 48″ inches, though they do come longer. They also have a longer grip, to give the user more leverage. These are going to be heavier than a normal sword, but it’ll still be less than your average, domestic house cat.

In general, the etymology of most European two handed swords boils down to, “hey, it’s a big sword.” Even the Claymore is basically just, “hey, it’s a big sword,” in Gaelic. The zweihander is just, “hey, you’re going to need more than one hand to use this,” in German. (Incidentally, there are alternate German names for large swords including bihander. I’ve never come across the German Grossschwert, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s an acceptable term as well.)

Beyond that, a zweihander is still a sword, you use it like a sword. This means the normal strike patterns for a blade still work. It’s been scaled up, but not to the point that it’s become unmanageable. The point is to make a sword that can win a game of bleed tag, not turn it into a roving slab you can’t get moving before your opponent has run you through.

Because of the longer grip, two-handed swords do allow for some more fluid, circular strike patterns. From what I know, these were mostly practiced by Spanish and Portuguese schools. If I understand correctly, schools in that region viewed greatswords as a tool for dealing with multiple attackers. I’m not entirely sure if this was simply a drill technique, to get the swordsman used to the idea of moving between opponents, or if they really intended these guys to take on multiple opponents simultaneously. The former seems far more likely, and is a useful skill to cultivate for any combatant.

The major difference between a longsword and a zweihander is reach. A zweihander will let you strike at foes who are not close enough to attack with their blades, while still giving you a way to keep them at range, and punishing them for attempting to close. This is especially true of thrusts with a zweihander, which can vastly exceed what you’d see from a “normal,” longsword.

In most cases two handed swords could be used one handed, but because of the extra weight it was exhausting and the user would sacrifice some fine control over the blade.

You are right about the blade length. At least with the Zweihander. These were long blades, and if you were traveling, you’d probably want to wrap it, and carry across your back or along side your pack. If you were traveling with a horse, you would probably leave that on your horse. If you were expecting trouble, you’d need to get it ready before things got out of hand, because you wouldn’t get the opportunity in the moment. Also, unlike large axes, polearms, or staves, you couldn’t really use on as a walking aid when not in use. And, yes, just because you can’t draw a sword from your back doesn’t mean you can’t keep one there for later.


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Two young (say, early 20s) female fighters square off against each other. One is fighting with a bo-staff, the other with a rapier. I understand that these two fighting styles couldn’t be more different, but is there any possible way for it to be a fair fight? Or would one style greatly/laughably overpower the other?

Oh, one of these is definitely going to laughably overpower the other. I’m just not sure which one it’d be. The staff has reach, the rapier has speed and has the advantage of stabby stabby over blunt force trauma. It’s really going to be a question of whether or not both fighters know how to use their weapon’s advantages to the fullest extent. What’s going to keep it a “fair” in the understanding that any non-same weapons used in a fight is never fair, then it’s going to come down a question of skill.

The staff wielder is going to have the advantage so long as she can keep the other woman with the rapier at a distance. The woman with the rapier will have the advantage if she can find a way to maneuver herself into striking range without taking too much debilitating damage from staff strikes. The rapier has to be aggressive in this situation, while the staff wielder is fighting a battle of attrition. All they need to do is wear their opponent down and keep giving them knocks until they can’t lift the sword anymore. They can also attack the legs and feet more readily and safely than the one with the rapier.

All I can say is whoever takes the initiative here is going to keep it and that’s not at all helpful, I know.

I’d look at Scholagladitoria’s Quarterstaff vs Sword, pt 2, pt 3.

Then, look at this video from EnglishMartialArts in response to those videos about the merits of the quarterstaff.

Now, these are about quaterstaffs versus sword because the quarterstaff is the standard European staff and the bo-staff is a Japanese staff.

When I’m responding in these videos, I’m basically assuming that these two women are training in the same style. It should go without saying that bojutsu and other styles are meant for combat against weapons from their same region. On some level, there’s going to be a lot of similarities with staff techniques (though looking at the wide variety of usages and developments of the weapon worldwide, that’s not necessarily true) but what a weapon style was designed to deal with will obviously massively effect the techniques used. There is no comparative sword to the rapier in Japanese martial arts. Whereas techniques with the European quarterstaff involve the skills and strategies for facing a wide variety of swords because there was a greater likelihood of facing one. So, the movement patterns one might use to fend off a katana won’t completely translate (at all) when faced with a rapier.

So, I’m just throwing that out there.

One of the trickiest aspects of writing with weapons is realizing that most of them, even if there is a similar version present in another culture, are limited by what their practitioners expected to face. If you’re using from a weapon that comes from a culture with a lot of cross-pollination and a lot of variance because it’s people were constantly dealing with different cultures or a lot of massively different styles of combat then it’s going to have an inherent advantage over a weapon and style that comes from a culture that doesn’t have that. (That weapon will probaby still have an advantage in it’s home environment though.) There’s more expectation of the unexpected, more variance, more likelihood you may be facing a kind of opposition or new tactic that you’ve never seen before.

I am, however, assuming that these two are from the same school and trained in the same style, they are just using different weapons.


In the latest Hobbit movie, (keeping this as spoiler-free as possible) an elven sword, clearly not designed for throwing, is thrown some 25 or 30 feet upwards and buries itself in the chest of an orc. The question is: is this even possible given the design of the weapon? (look up Thorin Oakenshield’s sword, Orcrist. The sword in question is similar to that.)


Yes, but see, they weren’t on EARTH-Earth, they’re in Middle-Earth. The physics are completely different.

No, it’s the people. Tolkien was building off of material like Beowulf, The Epic of Gilgamesh, Norse myth (which is why Tolkien named the dwarves after the Norse gods, on “a whim”), and (possibly) Greek mythic heroes. Middle Earth is supposed to be a long forgotten dark age.

As with Beowulf and Gilgamesh, the concept of an alternate world, or at least an alternate earth, isn’t there. It’s an overly dramatized account of (fictional) history. Or, at least, that’s what Tolkien was trying to do. Reading it as an alternate world is, mostly, the result of applying genre conventions to the work that didn’t exist when Tolkien was writing.

It’s not that the physics are different, it’s that the people that inhabit the world are far more than human.

The Elves and Dwarves are very clearly superhuman, but Tolkien’s “Race of Men” is more closely related to, again, characters like Beowulf and Gilgamesh. Everyone, even ostensibly human characters like Boromir, is trending into the superhero range. And, honestly, that’s kind of important for understanding what’s going on with the book.

If you want to get into a discussion on authorial intent, Lord of the Rings is a decent counter-example it. Tolkien was trying to write a kind of modern epic. Instead he co-opted and redefined modern fantasy, replacing authors like Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber.

justyouraverageauthor said:

Can I just say this only happens in Jackson’s adaptation; it did not occur in the original book.

Yeah, you certainly may. I can’t speak to the Hobbit films (I haven’t watched them) but, based on the Lord of the Rings films, Jackson’s adaptations are kind of like having an overexcited eight-year-old trying to relate the book he just read.

The details are kinda messed up, and there’s random tangents that run on, because: awesome. Important plot points get delayed because he forgot; so he has to go back and add those in later.

But, most of it’s there, more or less, and ironically the perceived tone isn’t completely wrong, it’s just not what the author intended in any way shape or form.

fulminata2 said:


I can’t remember if Thorin’s weapon is an Orc-bane, like Glamdring or Sting… but, basically? No.

It’s kind of important to remember that, even in Tolkien’s books, the entire setting is pushing towards a kind of epic of myth. Everyone is capable of feats that are well beyond actual human limits. Whatever issues I have with Jackson’s adaptations, it is a basic concept from the source material he clearly understands.

Given that Tolkien and Robert E. Howard are probably the two most influential writers for modern fantasy, and both of them were prone to that in their own ways, it probably doesn’t matter for your writing.

But, no, throwing a sword with enough force, and accuracy, to impale someone is basically not possible.


Some of the old longsword treatises have sections on sword throwing, specifically Fiore de Liberi.

And thus was born the world’s most gruesome game of lawn darts. It actually doesn’t surprise me much that Italian school fencing would have some throws buried in its history.

That the technique apparently died out says something… I’m just not sure what. Possibly that it didn’t work, or just that disarming yourself on the hope that you’ll kill your opponent in the process is a really dangerous gamble.

It is worth pointing out that, “yes, people did try to do this,” though.


In the latest Hobbit movie, (keeping this as spoiler-free as possible) an elven sword, clearly not designed for throwing, is thrown some 25 or 30 feet upwards and buries itself in the chest of an orc. The question is: is this even possible given the design of the weapon? (look up Thorin Oakenshield’s sword, Orcrist. The sword in question is similar to that.)

I can’t remember if Thorin’s weapon is an Orc-bane, like Glamdring or Sting… but, basically? No.

It’s kind of important to remember that, even in Tolkien’s books, the entire setting is pushing towards a kind of epic of myth. Everyone is capable of feats that are well beyond actual human limits. Whatever issues I have with Jackson’s adaptations, it is a basic concept from the source material he clearly understands.

Given that Tolkien and Robert E. Howard are probably the two most influential writers for modern fantasy, and both of them were prone to that in their own ways, it probably doesn’t matter for your writing.

But, no, throwing a sword with enough force, and accuracy, to impale someone is basically not possible.


Where and how would be the safest places to take a sword cut? (It doesnt have to be that deep but where would be the safest places so as to be able to keep fighting?)

There isn’t one. With knives you can “safely” take a couple strikes to some areas of the forearm, but, that doesn’t hold up for a sword. So the safest place to take a sword strike is anywhere you’re not standing. Failing that, taking a blow to the shield, or to heavy armor, or parrying with your own weapon is about as good as it gets. Taking a sword strike to exposed tissue is almost always going to run the risk of a crippling, or lethal injury. You can get lucky, and suffer a superficial injury nearly anywhere, but it will never be “safe.”


Would a sword disguised as an umbrella be a useful/efficient weapon? If not, what would be the best way for a person to carry a sword in public (best disguised as what)?

I’m not convinced an umbrella would be a good place to hide a blade, given the mechanical complexities would mean there were so many more things that could go wrong. It’s one thing to have an umbrella, but what happens when the umbrella mechanisms start breaking?

That said, umbrella swords do actually exist, and you can buy cheap knockoffs for a couple hundred dollars, online. There’s also umbrellas with various sword hilts because… it’s the internet, so of course there are. Just like the sword canes that masquerade as revolvers, because when you’re trying to conceal a sword, your best choice is as a different weapon that people are more likely to be worried about. They’d never suspect you’d actually stab them with a gun, that’s ridiculous.

Anyway, I actually have a cheap sword cane around here somewhere. Now, even at their best, they wouldn’t be able to keep up against someone using a sword intended for heavy combat. But, if your character can carry a cane without coming under a lot of scrutiny, and isn’t trying to take it through a metal detector, it might just be their best option.

I’m also going to post this link. It’s to an ask we got a while ago about fighting with umbrellas.


How do you think would a fight between a baseball bat and a sword play out?

One of these things is a weapon that is used for combat. One of these things is an object used while playing sport.You’re asking about an improvised weapon versus an actual weapon. In that, the actual weapon has the advantage.

While a baseball bat can be devastating if it connects, there are too many ways to circumvent it. The heavy tip means that when it’s swung it creates a wide arc, but all the force is in the tip. An unarmed fighter can completely dismantle a baseball bat’s effectiveness by getting inside it’s arc, because of the way the force is distributed it won’t actually do much damage if the target isn’t in the right place. It’s also painfully easy to avoid because the swing is so large. You can test it’s effectiveness, actually, if you have a baseball bat at home. Take it out into the yard and swing as hard as you can, then try to bring it back. How long does it take for another strike if the first misses? The answer is too long

A baseball bat is very dangerous to someone who is untrained and doesn’t know what to do with it or someone who is already prone on the floor.

To turn a baseball bat into a useable weapon, you have to grip it about halfway up the length of the bat. However, while it becomes more effective as a defensive weapon, it greatly reduces it’s range thus lending the sword the advantage.

A better match up, ultimately, is a sword versus a tire iron. The tire iron can be wielded like a baton or nightstick and will damage the edge of the sword when it connects. The wielder of the tire iron will have no fear going after the blade itself, because the tire iron is the more durable of the two. The person wielding the tire iron is still likely to lose, but it’s ultimately more interesting.


(via http://www.youtube.com/attribution_link?a=9_t6jCPSL_FsXuWJV8YbDg&u=/watch?v=O8RWLxlzTiM&feature=share)

These two are from the Academy of Historical Fencing and they are sparring with a spear versus a sword and buckler. The sword is a light blade, but here’s a good example of European spear combat. Notice, they hold the end of the weapon to extend it’s reach and maximize the momentum with quick bursts.


European Parrying Daggers

Photo #1

  • Dated: mid 16th century
  • Culture: German
  • Medium: steel; elk horn grip
  • Measurements: overall – l:37.80 cm (l:14 7/8 inches) Wt: .22 kg. Blade – l:27.70 cm (l:10 7/8 inches). Quillions – w:6.50 cm (w:2 1/2 inches)

Photo #2

  • Dated: 16th century
  • Culture: Italian
  • Medium: steel; russetted and damascened guard and pommel; wood and wire grip
  • Measurements: overall – l:50.70 cm (l:19 15/16 inches) Wt: .60 kg. Blade – l:36.50 cm (l:14 5/16 inches). Quillions – w:16.50 cm (w:6 7/16 inches). Grip – l:13.30 cm (l:5 3/16 inches)

Photo #3

  • Dated: 17th century
  • Culture: Dutch
  • Medium: steel, wire grip, perforated blade
  • Measurements: overall – l:46.00 cm (l:18 1/16 inches) Wt: .44. Blade – l:30.90 cm (l:12 1/8 inches). Quillions – w:9.80 cm (w:3 13/16 inches). Grip – l:12.00 cm (l:4 11/16 inches)

Photo #4

  • Dated: early 17th century
  • Culture: Italian
  • Medium: steel, perforated blade; openwork grip
  • Measurements: overall – l:46.00 cm (l:18 1/16 inches) Wt: .34 kg. Blade – l:32.10 cm (l:12 5/8 inches). Quillions – w:8.80 cm (w:3 7/16 inches). Grip – l:11.00 cm (l:4 5/16 inches)

Source: Copyright © 2013 Cleveland Museum of Art

This is an awesome website that’s totally worth following for you sword oriented, weapon minded people. It’ll give you some useful ideas for the artistic component of historical swords and describing it in your own writing.

Also, history is neat.


I have a character skilled in hand-to-hand combat, spear use, and swordsman ship. The thing is, does using these weapons change said character’s build? How do I show the reader something realistic without drowning it out by over detailing the fights? And do you know of any good reference for this?

Build as in body type or build as in RPG?

If it’s build as in body type, then that’s going to depend on the kind of armor he’s wearing, not the weapon he’s using. I know, it feels ironic, but it’s true. The armor is the additional weight his body is going to be lugging around and has to get used to moving quickly in, etc. Different kinds of armor create different body types.

For example, your typical martial artist will have a body type that’s similar to that of a marathon runner: long and lean. If you’re trying to identify them out of a crowd, you might accidentally pick someone who does parkour instead. Compare to someone who spends a fair amount of time wandering about in plate mail, they’ll look a little more stocky like a gymnast with a lot of muscles built up in their upper body (shoulders, back, and arms). They’ll also have thicker muscles in the neck. This isn’t because the sword is heavy, most swords were actually light weight, it’s the armor (which also isn’t that heavy, it’s cumulative over time: more weight on the body requires more stamina to keep fighting for a longer period of time and stave off fatigue).

The other thing you need to decide (though the weapon choice may have already decided it for you) is which weapon is your character’s primary? My guess would be the spear, simply because they’d always be carrying it in their hand and it’s a weapon that’s very difficult to store (you can’t put it on your hip and it’s awkward across the back), so it’s what they’d turn to first. Then, to the sword, then to the hands. The hand to hand combat they’d be most used to and use most frequently wouldn’t be punches or kicks but wrestling and grappling. The techniques you need when an opponent has gotten past your weapon’s guard and is threatening to take you to the ground. They’d be supplementary techniques for desperate situations, your character’s first instinct is going to be: always reach for the weapon. He’ll either grab for his spear or move to draw his sword, depending on what’s available. In situations where he’s feeling threatened, he’ll probably move his hand to rest on the pommel of the weapon or grip the shaft of his spear more tightly.

When writing your combat sequences focus on what the techniques are doing, not what they are. You want to craft sensations intertwined with what the characters are feeling, leave the minutiae for when they’re not in combat. The best way to prove your character knows what they’re doing is how they behave when they’re not in combat. This frees you up to keep on point during the fight sequences.

Fight Write: Your Characters Weapon is also a Character

If I were you, I’d start checking out both the Italian School and the German School of Fencing, these are the surviving schools of European sword combat styles. Also: ARMA: Association of Renaissance Martial Arts and Wiktenauer a site run by the Historical European Martial Arts Alliance and contains the worlds largest library of historical training manuals. Both groups have experts who’ve written books on the subject, I’d check those out too.

On the spear, you need to do yourself a favor and pick which style of spear combat your character is using. I’m assuming we’re talking European for sword combat, but it’s worth remembering that almost every culture throughout history across the span of globe with access to enough iron deposits had their own variation on the sword and sword combat. This is also true for the spear. The Chinese version of spear combat is wildly different from, say, the Greek, but both are effective. So, narrow your scope. If you’re doing European forms of sword combat and not say, Chinese, I’d suggest sticking with Europe but unfortunately there aren’t that many visual examples of European spear combat available. So, heh.

The Hidden Fortress by Kurosawa show cases a sequence with spear combat. Hero with Jet Li has a phenomenal combat sequence between sword and spear. 300 uses spears, obviously, I don’t know if it’s accurate to the Greeks but it’s worth throwing on the research pile. Also: the Protector of the Small quartet by Tamora Pierce has some of the best fight scenes regarding staff/spear/glaive combat and hand to hand. I’d read her entire Tortall catalog, she’s one of the few authors I feel comfortable recommending. You can tell she’s got some experience with the techniques and this series goes over some jiujutsu holds and grapples in the early books. Those will be helpful to you.

 I also recommend picking up a copy of Wally Jay’s Small Circle Jujitsu and Taiji Chin Na The Seizing Art of Taijiquan by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Min. Dr. Yang, Jwing-Min also has several other books detailing both Tai Chi Chuan and Shaolin with a combat focus that might be worth a look. Both are great because they talk about concept, not just technique.