Q&A: The One Armed Bodyguard’s Greatest Foe: Doors

I have a character who is a skilled warrior (guard for the royal family’s children) and was born without their left arm. They mostly fight unarmed, however, I don’t think that would be super effective against someone with a sword. Are there weapons that someone could use efficiently with one arm?

december-rains

“They mostly fight unarmed?” I think I see what you did there.

You’re correct that an unarmed fighter would be at a significant disadvantage when going up against someone armed with a sword, or anyone with an extra arm they can use to strike with while parrying an incoming blow.

The hard thing with questions like this stems from a misunderstanding about combat. Combat isn’t about being, “good enough,” it’s about leveraging any advantage over your foe.

A sword vastly increases one’s reach and lethality. As we’ve mentioned before, reach is an incredibly important part of combat, but is frequently overlooked in entertainment. If someone can kill you at a distance where you cannot respond, you have no path to victory.

You’ve heard the cliché of bringing a knife to a gunfight, and that’s because of range. The problem is, while it’s a less extreme example, bringing a fist to a swordfight will be just as suicidal.

So, what weapons can someone use effectively with one hand? Well the sword comes to mind immediately. Most swords are usable one handed, even the large two handers, such as the zweihander or claymore. The two-handers will be more awkward in a single hand, but they are usable.

Competitive fencing is no stranger to one armed duelists. Particularly with weapons like the rapier or foil, your off-hand is primarily used for balance, and a one-armed fighter, who can adjust to their lack of an arm, is not at any real disadvantage.

In fact, loss of the non-dominant arm in fencing is not enough to make someone eligible for the Paralympics. As far as Olympic and Paralympic rules are concerned, a one armed fencer is not considered disabled. There are even a few very successful examples, such as the elusive Al Snyder, who was the 1944 US National Foil Champion. From what I can understand, he lost his right arm to a shotgun blast as a child, and took up fencing in college (at Stanford) with an exceptional competitive record.

It’s been less than two months since we last mentioned Götz von Berlichingen, but if we’re on the topic of one armed soldiers, he is an important example.

If all of this sounds unusually positive, I do have an issue, and it’s a big one.

(guard for the royal family’s children)

I have absolutely no problem seeing someone like this as a swordmaster or master at arms. I could see someone like this training members of the royal family in the use of the sword. Possibly even see them as the commander of the palace guard. It would depend on personal history, but these are all (conditionally) plausible.

As a minor nitpick, I think it’s more plausible if they lost their arm in combat, rather than as a congenital defect, simply because that would smooth the line for how they got into their position. It makes a lot of sense for a member of the royal family to keep someone around who’s been their trusted personal guard for the last 30 years, and lost an arm defending against a failed coup a decade back, while moving them into a position where they’re still as valuable. It makes less sense for the master of the guard to look at a one armed kid who wants to sign up, and say, “yeah, we’ll take you.”

The problem is the job itself. It’s not that I don’t think the character can fight. It’s that I know they cannot open a door behind them while keeping their weapon trained on the assassin who just burst through the window.

That may sound petty, but it’s the tip of an iceberg. You have a character who cannot use their off hand to take any action while they have their weapon drawn. (Because the off-hand doesn’t exist.)

The example above is one of the more glaring issues: They cannot open a door or operate any machinery without putting away their weapon. In a situation where seconds matter, that could easily be fatal for the children. Relying on the children to keep their cool during a crisis is an incredible gamble.

Similarly, when faced with an opponent armed with a shield or parrying dagger, they are in extreme jeopardy. If their strike is blocked or deflected, they have no defense against a riposte. This is not a consideration in fencing, because, in a sport environment, competitors have standardized equipment, and rules designed to ensure a fair match. None of this is true when your character is in an actual battle (or fending off assassins.)

Now, if the question is, do I think a sufficiently hardened one-armed swordfighter could safely dispatch a four limbed assailant? Yeah. Absolutely. However, assigning them as the personal bodyguard (no matter how good they are) would be irresponsible for several reasons.

First, that door example means they can’t evacuate the children from a dangerous situation without dropping their guard. This is more universal than the specifics would suggest.

Similarly, they can’t carry an injured child to safety and open doors on the way. Realistically, that’s a much more pressing concern. It’s unlikely that the royal children are presented with attempts on their life on a regular basis. However, the risk that one of the kids is injured by… anything, and incapacitated is a real danger.

Those kids are not just kids. In a, hereditary monarchy, they are simultaneously, and incredibly valuable diplomatic resource, and the continuity of government. Only giving them a single guard collectively, no matter how many limbs they have, is extremely concerning.

Again, I could see a one-armed veteran guard acting as the head of their security detail, but that would be talking about your character having a squad of guards at their command, not simply being, “their personal guard.” Particularly, if your one-armed character is (almost) always accompanied by a subordinate.

So, what could the use? A sword. But, that’s not the biggest issue here.

-Starke

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