Tag Archives: Götz von Berlichingen

Q&A: One-Handed Fighters: Combat Prosthetics and Götz von Berlichingen

How can a disabled character fight (unarmed/sword/knife)? He only has one good hand, and the other arm ends at a stump at the wrist. Is a wristblade possible on the stump? Can he punch as normal (boxing skills)? Holds? The setting is fantasy, and military stuff isn’t needed at all.

Well, it’s been a couple years since we’ve talked about Götz von Berlichingen, so let’s remedy that.

Götz von Berlichingen was a German soldier in the early 16th century. During his career he served as a mercenary, Imperial knight, and even became a poet later in life.

Götz is significant, because in 1504, his right hand was blown off during the siege of Landshut. The full story was a messy succession war between the Bavarian duchies of Munich and Landshut. Having lost his hand, Götz had a simple prosthetic commissioned, and continued campaigning for 40 years. For context, he was in his mid-20s when he lost his hand, and continued fighting into his mid-60s. He would later go on to have a more advanced prosthetic crafted, which could be manipulated to allow him to hold objects. Most famously, this included a pen, which allowed him to write with his prosthetic. This is somewhat fortunate, as he left an autobiography, which forms much of the historical record we have regarding him.

Finding the autobiography (and even the play Goethe wrote) is fairly easy in the original German, though English translations are a bit harder to come by. (Translations of the play are a little more accessible, but Goethe took some significant liberties with history.)

While Götz is the most famous example, his use of a prosthetic hand was not unique in the era. The technology needed for these prosthetics were basic clockwork systems, and a similar level of mechanical sophistication to wheel lock firearms.

Since you’re working with a fantasy setting, it’s possible your world might have more functional prosthetics, potentially with more specialized applications. (Though, obviously, more delicate tools built into a prosthetic would make it less useful in combat. For example: If you have lockpicking tools built into the fingertips, you probably wouldn’t want to risk damaging them by punching someone.)

I’m not aware of any historical prosthetics that had weapons built into them. Wearable weapons are uncommon, but have existed at various points in time. It’s not impossible that your fantasy gauntlet could have a retractable blade built in. However, if the blade is damaged, the user would need to go through an entire process dismantling their arm and replacing the weapon, instead of just switching to another one.

Worth noting, it’s can be harder to break free of a hold, by someone who is missing a hand (and especially if they’re missing part of their forearm.) The easiest way out, usually involves manipulating the attacker’s fingers, and if they don’t have any, pulling their arm off will be more difficult.

Can you punch without a hand? No. It’s possible you could punch with a prosthetic (though, again, if it has mechanically delicate internal components, this may be a bad idea, depending on how it was designed.)

So, the historical answer was, prosthetics. This may be more true in your setting than in the real world.

-Starke

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I’m writing for a character in a medieval fantasy setting, with full plate armor and knights, but guns aren’t really a huge thing yet. However, he’s lost his left hand just above the wrist (thankfully, he’s right-handed). If he was able to get his hand(s?) on a metal prosthetic like the one used by Gotz von Berlichingen, what sorts of options would he have if he wanted to keep fighting? Could he strap a shield to the prosthetic and fight effectively?

Well, looking at Götz von Berlichingen would suggest, “yes.“
Götz lost his right hand in combat, and continued fighting in various campaigns for nearly 40 years via the use of a prosthetic.

So, I’m inclined to say, yes.

It’s worth pointing out, both of his prosthetic hands, were custom designed pieces.

If you’re wanting to work with a character like this, reading up on
Götz

probably isn’t a bad starting point.

-Starke

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron.

I was wondering what sort of difficulties someone would face in fighting (hand to hand/wrestling or with, say, a sword) if they lost one of their arms as well as an eye. I have a character who relied on his brute strength but ends up losing an arm and most of the sight in his dominant eye. Would he be able to correct for this eventually? What sort of things could he keep in mind, etc? Thanks!

Well… they’d go into shock and die. So, there is that.

I’ll say this again. Fighting is not about brute strength; It’s about finesse. This is especially true of sword combat. Loosing an arm is just going to seriously mess with that. If he was using an epee or rapier, and was trained as in some variation of Italian school fencing, he might be able to adjust.

If he lost his dominant arm, I’m inclined to say no. You can learn to compensate for the loss of a limb in day to day life (even if you don’t have access to prosthetic replacements). But, you’ll probably be unable to ever get to a point where you’d actually be effective in combat again. (And I say this while fully aware of Götz von Berlichingen.)

The eye isn’t as serious an issue, especially if it still works. His peripheral vision would be impaired. If he’s effectively blind in one eye, you’re not going to want him trying to shoot things, but it’s not a career ending injury.

-Starke

I have a character who has been training with a sword for most of his life and has gotten pretty familiar with German-School-ish fencing, but loses his dominant arm in an accident during the course of the story. Would a person under these circumstances need to start totally from scratch in terms of fencing, or would some things, like footwork, transfer, with only parts needing to be re-learned using the other arm?

Most of the blade work I have experience with requires both hands. (One on the hilt, and the other resting against the pommel for additional control and agility.) So, losing either arm will have a very serious effect on one’s ability to fight effectively.

That said, feel free to look up Götz von Berlichingen. He was a German mercenary who lost his dominant hand in 1504, and continued fighting for decades using an iron prosthetic. (Just don’t ask me to type another umlaut for awhile, Firefox goes nuts whenever I try the alt+ code.)

-Starke