Tag Archives: Götz von Berlichingen

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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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