Tag Archives: swords

Hand Injuries That Could Prevent Using a Sword

Hi! I was wondering if you’d be able to tell me about some hand/arm injuries that could permanently prevent someone from wielding a sword? Sorry if this is a weird ask..

It’s not so much weird, as vague. There’s a lot of range on this. I mean, a severe CTE could prevent someone from effectively using a sword, though, obviously, that would come with some other, more significant, symptoms.

So, the most obvious answers are:

Loss of the hand or arm. If you don’t have an arm, you can’t pick up a sword with it. This one is kinda self explanatory. Worth remembering Götz von Berlichingen. He will come up, basically ever time we talk about lopping off a hand. A Bavarian mercenary, he lost his right hand to cannon fire in 1504, and had prosthetic replacements made, which he would continue to use while campaigning over the next 40 years.

While less dramatic, the loss of fingers can leave you without the ability to hold a sword. Also, I suspect, the loss of the thumb. I won’t rule out the possibility of custom modified blades specifically for individuals who’ve lost digits, but, generally safe to assume they can’t just pick up a sword.

Nerve damage could leave the hand or arm partially paralyzed, resulting in the inability to effectively wield a sword, without complete loss of the arm. These can originate from relatively minor injuries, if they damage the nerves. I had a friend who had lost sensation on a patch of their palm because of a (non-poisonous) snake bite. (The snake had damaged the nerve connection to that part of his hand.) Though, this didn’t affect his overall usage of the hand, you could easily end up with a penetrating wound like this either disabling some fingers, or the hand entirely.

Probably worth knowing, that some animal venoms can result in tissue atrophy, or necrosis (meaning, the meat literally rots off of the body.) It’s pretty horrifying, and, yeah, get the wrong spider bite on your hand without access to modern medical resources, and you could easily lose it.

Improperly healed broken bones in the hand could impair the manual dexterity enough to limit, or outright prevent the use of a sword. I’m a little fuzzier on exactly how this could happen, but because the bones in your hand are pretty delicate, it’s not a short list.

Somewhat obviously, this isn’t an exhaustive list of possibilities. I’m still thinking of other things that could potentially mess up the hand to the point where you wouldn’t be able to use a sword. Likely, the answer is as simple as it getting stomped on by a horse, or losing some fingers to someone else’s blade, but there are a lot of ways the human body can break.


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Maybe Don’t Carry a Big Sword on Your Back

Why do characters in fantasy always carry longswords on their back? Then pluck them off to fight like the only thing holding the sword on his magnets or something. I cannot figure out how this works. It seems like it’d be rlly difficult to get a sword in and out of a scabbard that’s carried across the back. So how are longswords actually carried? Is the sword on back thing actually real? And if it is, how on earth does it work?


It’s real, but it is unusual. Normally, you would carry a scabbard on your hip. This has the downside of the sword hanging off your belt and potentially getting in the way (especially as a longsword is likely to protrude out in some direction, usually to the back), but it is extremely accessible.

As for why it’s so popular in fantasy, I’m not completely sure, and I suspect there isn’t a single, universal answer. In some cases, I’m sure it’s simply chosen because it looks cool. In others (particularly games) it gives the player the opportunity to see the weapon they’re carrying and about to draw. It also allows a character to sheathe a greatsword, which would be fairly difficult otherwise.

You can pull a longsword off your back, however it’s awkward. If the scabbard is articulated, and can swing away off the back, you can pull the sword forward, directed across your shoulder. In an emergency you could certainly get to it, but it would be less convenient than if you carried it on your hip. Putting it away is a similarly awkward process.

So, why is this a thing? Because in some situations you’d want to keep your sword on your person, but wouldn’t need to access it on short notice, and you may not have wanted the scabbard flapping about.

For example: If someone was traveling, they may sling their sword over their shoulder (they’d want it when they got to their destination), but when moving through crowds, having the scabbard bashing into members of the crowd could create an awkward situation. If they expected trouble, they’d be likely to unsling their sword and either return it to their hip, or carry it openly (depending on the situation.)

I know it’s real, but I’m not sure how widespread it ever was. I remember running across a historical manuscript which told readers that they should instruct their students not to carry their sword across the back. This sounds like the practice was fashionable at some point, but it could have been a singular example that pissed off the author.

If you were traveling, then you might carry your sword on your back, otherwise, you would be unlikely to do so, unless you were making some ill advised fashion statement.


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Q&A: Using a Greatsword With One Hand

Hi, I’m writing a story where one of the main characters carries a greatsword. I understand swords shouldn’t be heavy by nature (…right?) But what would be the scenario if the OC was super strong and the sword would be heavier than average? Could it be wielded was a broadsword?

You’re correct about sword weights, they’re not particularly heavy. The exceptions to that rule are decorative pieces, not combat weapons. With greatswords you’re probably looking at around 5-8lbs.

Using a greatsword with one hand isn’t a strength issue, it’s an issue with leverage and control. The weapon isn’t especially heavy, it’s simply awkward, and having a second hand on the grip is a massive help in controlling the blade.

It probably should be mentioned that greatsword not a historical term. The weapons we class a greatswords today, such as the German Zweihander and Scottish Claymore were distinct weapons. Now, in a fantasy setting, this isn’t an issue, you can define the greatsword as a very specific weapon type (and many writers do), but it’s worth remembering that wasn’t a term. I can’t even find an academic entomology of, “greatsword,” which makes me think the word only dates back to the late 20th century.

Similarly, broadsword is a term that kinda means whatever the author wants. I’ve seen everything from a gladius, some variants of arming swords, a falchion, and even some saber variants called broadswords. In fact, the Claymore was described as a broadsword in literature of its era. The term is not precise, and all it really means is that the sword has a broad blade. Outside of something like the estoc, I suspect most greatswords would also be broadswords.

Now, I suspect you mean some variant of longsword, though, again, longsword is not a historical term. This gets into larger discussion, I don’t think you really signed up for, about how modern antiquarians (mostly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries) heavily segmented and categorized the various types of swords throughout history, and then fantasy authors (and also quite a few game designers) have served to standardize that terminology. It’s not a problem until it is, and unfortunately, the broadsword is one of those awkward moments when the whole thing starts to fall apart.

So, if you’re looking at the idea of a character being strong enough to use a greatsword like a longsword? The answer would be, “Kinda, sorta, not exactly.” At the risk of sounding like game advice, the sword isn’t really a strength weapon. You have a razer blade that is somewhere between three and six feet long. Your goal is to preserve that edge to the best of your ability. Just sinking your weapon into someone with as much force as possible is axe work. You want to open them up and take them apart. That means cutting, and slicing, not hacking. You can do that with one hand, but it will be much easier to get that precision when you have both hands on the weapon.

Notice that I did not say both hands on the hilt or grip. Some strikes (Called: “Half-handing”) involve gripping the flat of the blade above the guard, for more precision in a thrust. The user is sacrificing reach for control, and can deliver a lot of force on a very precise point while doing so.

It’s also worth remembering that if you have a sword and your opponent has plate armor you’re not hacking through that. A sword wielder needs to work around their enemy’s armor. They need to find gaps and weak points. They can’t just bash their way in. Attempting to do so will damage (or destroy) their blade. (Note: there is a technique which appears in some surviving training manuals where the swordsman will grip the flat of the blade with both hands and beat on their opponent using the guard or pommel. So, there is an exception to the above statement.)

Now before someone says, “not all swords,” they’re correct. Swords evolved into many highly specialized variants. Ironically, there are swords deigned to deliver a lot of brute force into the target, such as the previously mentioned falchions. The greatswords are highly specialized variants. They’re designed to keep enemy combatants at a safe distance while dispatching them. If you’re armed with a longsword (or something shorter) you do not have any tools to effectively counter a greatsword.

If you have a character using a greatsword, they can take a hand off the weapon and still use it one handed. It’s not a strength question. They simply have no leverage, but they can still swing it, they can keep someone at blade point. They’ll just be less effective than if they were still holding it with both hands.


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Q&A: Substitute Sword

Hi! Your blog is great and it helped me more than one time, because I’m not an expert but I’m trying to be accurate. One of my character is used to fight with a sword, but for a series of reasons she has to fight with a different one, which is shorter and lighter. What problems could she have and how should she adapt her style to the new sword?

Unless the differences are extreme, it’s not going to matter much.

For example: if your character’s normal weapon is a Zweihander, and she’s trying to use a longsword, yes, that’s going to require some adaptation. However, if they’re even close to the same size, that would only require fairly minor adaptation.

Similarly, unless the weight is so different as to be entirely distinct kind of weapon, it wouldn’t affect her much. Again, comparing something like a longsword to a fencing blade. Even then, she wouldn’t need to adapt because it was lighter, she’d need to adapt because it is a different weapon.

The two important things to remember are, swords are light weapons. There’s some variation, of course, but even the heaviest combat swords rarely exceed 10 pounds. Weight is important with a sword, but not the way you seem to think. More weight in a blade is a negative. You don’t simply hack away with someone using blunt force and the weight of your weapon. The heavier a sword is, the more it will wear you down, so there’s a strong incentive to keep the blade as light as possible. Using a lighter weapon would be less physically strenuous than she’s used to, so she wouldn’t tire as quickly, and that’s a net positive.

Second: Unless we’re talking about something very specialized, like a epee, estoc, or falchion, the sword is very versatile weapon. A shorter blade will not have the reach she’s used to, but that’s a fairly minor issue overall, and one that’s easy to adapt to on the fly.

If it is a highly specialized sword variant, it’s possible she wouldn’t have much experience using it. For example: give an Italian School fencer a claymore and the results will not be pretty for them. It’s a much longer, heavier blade. One that is not suited for their style of combat at all.

One worst of both worlds situation would be if she was used to using an iron sword, and the only weapon available was a bronze one. Bronze is a copper/tin alloy. It is heavier and softer than iron, meaning the sword would be shorter, heavier, and less durable. This would create a situation where she would have to fight harder, and the difference between the weapons would be appreciable.

The biggest issue for simply scooping a weapon up off the floor is, you don’t know its quality. You don’t know if it’s been well cared for, or if it’s damaged in some way. In the middle of a battle you cannot take the time to stop and assess it. This means grabbing dropped weapons can be risky, though in an emergency, if may be your only option.

A related possibility is that she’s scooped up a broken hilt. There’s still the fragment of a blade, and it may be usable in an emergency, but it’s not an intact weapon. In that case, it will depend on how much of the sword is still intact, and the overall condition of the blade, but she would be improvising, and working around the damage as best she could.

As for what to do? That will depend on a host of more specific information. In most cases, her basic combat drills should still apply. The exception being if it is a very different weapon, at which point you need to ask if this is a kind of sword your character understands how to use. If she does, then she’ll know what to do. If she doesn’t, she’ll need to come up with a way to use the weapon effectively under pressure.


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Q&A: Sword Tricks

My friend has a question but no tumblr to ask it, so I’m submitting for her: In movies you sometimes see disarmed combarants kicking their sword up and into their hand. Is that possible or a movie myth?



I want to say this was a Bob Anderson thing. It can be done. Given how many stunt actors picked this up I suspect it’s pretty simple in execution, though I don’t know, exactly, how to do it myself.

The basic idea is that you foot under the blade’s balance point, and then just kick it into the air and catch it. This sounds a lot more complicated than it is. If you spend any serious time with a weapon, you will get a feel for where it’s balance is. On most swords (or at least the ones I’ve spent time handling), that’s slightly ahead of the cross guard. Then it’s not much more complicated than kicking anything else into your grip. It’s flashy, it looks cool, and it’s kinda pointless; you could just bend over.

So, it’s possible, and not a myth, just not something that has any real combat value. This is pure showmanship. It’s about presenting a visually engaging fight and showing off how skilled the character, or stunt performer, is.

The important thing to remember is that what you’re seeing is the result of two (or more) performers putting on a show. They’re working together. In that environment, you can do things you’d never do in a real fight. Things that are too risky, but look cool.

Any flourish beyond simply knocking the blade in the air and catching it is just pure performance. It’s impressive to see, and that was the point.

There’s a related disarm, where you lock up with your opponent and spin it a couple times, this torques the weapon against their wrist and pops it out of their grip. That’s real, and works if you take a longsword against someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. The Bob Anderson flourish was to catch their disarmed sword mid-air, and bring it to ready off-hand. That’s not easy, and extremely impressive if you’ve spent any time around a sword.

Never underestimate the creativity of a couple of armed friends who very good at what they do, and have been set loose to screw around.


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Q&A: The Sword is King of Mid Range Melee

We got a bunch of sword questions all in a row that don’t require particularly detailed answers, so I figured we could do them all together for efficiency.

So are swords really useful/practical weapons, or just iconic/popular for media and fiction?

The sword is one of the best weapons mankind has ever designed for killing other humans. While there are other weapons we could focus on (like the staff, spear, and other longarms that don’t get enough love), don’t fool yourself in selling the sword short.  This weapon has ruled as a fixture of combat since it’s invention, and only recently fell out of popular use. We know this because of how enduring the sword is throughout history and with countless cultures across the globe who all developed their own variants then refined, refined, refined them until we finally outdid ourselves by developing the gun. Even then, we’ve had guns since roughly the late Middle Ages, and it’s only in the past 100 years or so that swords have really fallen off as the preferred sidearm used in addition to other combat weapons. The sword was also a weapon of self-defense in Europe, and wasn’t just a weapon of the upper class.

The 20th century still saw swords being fielded as part of mounted cavalry units, and were used right up until WWI where they became obsolete in the face of modern weaponry.

The sword is the preeminent king of mid range melee combat.

Weapons endure because they are useful. Weapons are discarded when they are no longer useful, or no longer appropriate to the threats faced on the battlefield.

This is the rule of the weapons. It doesn’t matter how cool they look if you’re dead. If the weapon doesn’t work then cast it off. Weapons that no longer fit the combat of the day get you killed.

The ironic truth is that the sword is actually a much better, more well rounded, and versatile weapon than popular media makes it out to be. It is also a much lighter weapon than popular media would have you believe, which means there is no strength requirement. They weigh less than your average housecat, and a lot less than your laptop.  If your protagonist can’t lift two to four pounds then they’ve got bigger problems than just one weapon.

Some sword variants are more specialized than others, and are designed around specific battlefield functions. Not all swords are created equal, and some will work far better in some circumstances than others. It is very important that you view weapons from different time periods in terms of scientific advancement and ever changing battlefield requirements.

Your protagonists are doing more than accessorizing when they choose a weapon or martial art. Suitable is decided by the world they live in and the threats they face, and then, after a host of other practical considerations, by what appeals to them.

not sure how many questions you get like this and i’m sorry is it’s been asked, but world a dagger be effective with someone with a sword. would a weapon like Asuma’s from naruto actually be useful

Asuma wields a real weapon that saw use in real combat, primarily in the trenches of WWI. The weapon is called a trench knife. One part knife, one part knuckleduster or brass knuckles, this weapon excels in tight, close quarters combat. The name itself should be a  dead giveaway for the purpose it served in combat. This is an aid for hand to hand combat, and therefore not particularly useful against swords because the person with the trench knife risks getting cut to pieces by the sword wielder before they ever get into the range their knife is suitable for.

This is, in essence, the problem for knives or daggers versus swords. In a straight up fight, the sword has the range to attack at will while the person with the dagger is forever on the offensive with no means to break past them. You don’t have the option to attack, while they can attack you whenever they feel like it. Swords face similar problems against long arms like staves and spears.

This is a martial concept called range. Range is dictated by the distance it takes for you to reach your opponent versus the distance it takes for them to reach you. Range matters most when dealing with weapons. A common misconception about range is how much that distance given by height matters in hand to hand.

The end of this story is you’ll need to kill the guy with the sword before he has the chance to get his pants on, which actually makes a knife like the trench knife the perfect weapon for an assassin like Asuma. After all, they never planned to give you the option of fighting back. The knife is the “surprise! death!” weapon, and one of the fastest combat weapons from hit to kill.

Would a left-handed knight fight with their sword in their left hand and their shield in their right? I’m writing a left-handed character who fights with sword and shield, and I want to be aware of any advantages/disadvantages such a style will give them.

Listen to me when I say this, the shield is a weapon. That is the most important lesson I have to teach you about the sword/shield combination. The sword is a weapon, the shield is also a weapon. You can hit people with it. You can also kill people with it. More importantly, you can use it as a tool to lock up your enemy’s weapon  and kill them with your primary weapon. This is an active, not a passive, article working in conjunction with your sword and a defined part of your character’s strategy in their approach to combat.

The sword/shield is an offensive combo, not a defensive one. Video games and DnD will teach you that the shield is only good for defense. You’ll find people everywhere, including those giving advice on the shield outside the HEMA community who will parrot that assumption. It is a lie.

As with anything, the combo can be used defensively but you’re not actually giving up your offensive opportunities. You are, in fact, maximizing them by giving yourself one more means to break through your enemy’s defenses. You are dual wielding, and the off-hand shield serves a similar purpose for what you’d be doing with a second weapon like a knife or sword in that off-hand and with less risk of the two getting caught cross-ways of each other. The shield lets you be bolder in your attacks because you have more defense, but you’re not just going to sit there in the midst of battle and turtle like an MMO tank. No, you’re going to be proactive. More defense gives you more options to be aggressive because there are fewer risks involved.

What you sacrifice is the extra power, finesse, speed, and control lent by the second hand (your non-dominant hand) on two handed weapons like the long sword. This is the drawback: you give up the power, precision, fine control, and utility of a single weapon. Note, power does not mean strength in the way you imagine. That second hand is needed as a lever to provide your weapon with greater momentum than you can achieve with a single hand or arm. The front hand or gripping hand is the guiding hand and the back hand or the hand on the pommel is the power hand. You’ve limited yourself to attacks based on the movements of that single arm,and the power you can generate from that arm. You’ve also given up the utility provided by your off-hand for the shield.

In martial arts, the off-hand or the non-dominant hand is the control hand or the utility hand. It is much more important than your power hand, in fact losing your non-dominant hand is much more catastrophic as a fighter than losing your dominant one. The control hand lacks the power of the dominant hand, but because it’s harder to learn to control the side your worse with due to that hand being less natural during training you end up developing a lot of fine motor control. You use this hand to strike, to defend, to grab,  and create openings for strikes with the power hand.

Martial artists are mostly ambidextrous by necessity, all the parts of your body are going to be used. A character who is left-hand dominant will actually use their right hand in combat more often than their left, and vice versa is true. I’m right handed, but my left will almost always strike first. This is the side I predominately turn to for any and all utility. This is the opposite of my regular life, where my right is doing most of the work.

A left-handed person will use their dominant hand in a fight, but that doesn’t mean their right is useless. Their non-dominant hand is one of the most important combat assets they have. This is their defense hand, their blocking hand, the set-up hand, the fast striking hand, the risk-taker hand that seizes for joint locks. The non-dominant hand is the one with all the finesse. This is why the finesse hand/arm holds the shield, you’ll be taking complex actions with it.

This is going to be a backwards way of thinking if you’ve never done martial arts. Your dominant hand is not the hand that’s better at “doing things”. The dominant hand is the power hand, the finisher hand, it’s really good at hitting harder than the non-dominant hand which is why you want it handling your sword.

A left handed person can have an advantage over someone who is right handed because the left hand being dominant is less common than the right hand, and therefore someone who is right handed encounters left handed fighters less often. However, a left hand dominant fighter is nowhere near rare enough to hang your character’s hat on that as a decided advantage over the other warriors they encounter.

Writing combat with weapons requires an entire re-framing of what popular culture has taught you about combat, including concepts like “strength”. Power is not created by physical strength, but by momentum. Momentum is generated through proper technique. Proper technique is developed through training. Weapons are, by and large, not heavy because physically heavy weapons are difficult to wield for prolonged periods and you might have to fight for prolonged periods. A weapon you can’t wield is useless to you, and one which wears you out quickly is actively dangerous to you.  You don’t need a weapon to weigh much in order to generate the momentum necessary to kill another human being.

You’ll notice weapons like the warhammer and the morning star put most of their weight in the head of the weapon. Why? Not because you need to be physically strong to wield them, but to aid the wielder in generating more momentum on that downward swing.

Is a baseball bat heavy? Your answer should be no.

Someone in armor, with a shield and a sword has the opportunity to take more risks than the person without those. This leads to them being more aggressive, rather than less. That defense serves the specific purpose of allowing you to take actions you wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Knights in heavy armor were both highly mobile and incredibly versatile, they weren’t slowed down much by that armor.

Weapons aren’t just an aesthetic choice for your character,  they’re designed with a specific purpose in mind. Most of what those weapons were designed for will, on occasion, actively roll against the grain of how they’re presented in popular fiction or used in video games. There’s a lot of missing nuance, strategy, and tactics in the application of a dice roll.


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Q&A: Sword & Gun

So my story exists in a modern-day setting where magic and supernatural entities are extremely common and well known. The main character is what is known as a “Bladesman”, a sort of modern-day knight who specializes in magical combat, as well as dual-wilding a sword and a revolver (no semi-automatic weapons- never got that far because magic was cooler). How do you think this fighting style would work out? What’s kind of strategies would be employed?

These actually came as two separate questions, hence the broken format.

So, I know I’ve said this before, but the problem with swords in a modern combat environment is range. If you have any kind of repeating firearm, the chances of getting into range where you can use a melee weapon drops dramatically. Even if your setting is only using revolvers, the chances of your character actually using their sword is fairly slim.

Gun and sword combinations are most prevalent when the firearm will not adequately dispatch your foes, but can function as way to open combat. If your setting is age of sail, with single shot, inaccurate smooth bore pistols which need to be reloaded after each shot, then carrying a saber for melee makes a lot of sense. Especially if you’re going to be fighting in close quarters.

Revolvers start to skew these situations against the gun and sword combo. It doesn’t mean you can’t use them. Just that your character is far more likely to carry a sword, and switch to that when their revolver isn’t working.

This is especially plausible when you’re dealing with creatures that are impervious to bullets, or require some kind of specialized equipment to dispatch.

I’d also caution against the, “magic was cooler,” bit. When it comes to weapons technology, people tend to look for what’s more efficient, or effective, before they worry about how cool something is. When it comes to aesthetics, sure, but that no one developed an autoloader because it wasn’t cool enough isn’t consistent with how people actually behave.

You don’t use a gun that can fire eight times, which is also easier and faster to reload over a six-shot revolver because it looks cool. You use it because you’re getting two extra shots, and a faster reload, because that’s a decisive advantage over someone who’s fumbling with their wheel gun.

There are legitimate reasons why your character might use a revolver, there are even legitimate reasons why semi-automatic firearms may not exist in your setting, but coolness shouldn’t be a consideration.

Some possibilities include the idea that the revolver itself is enchanted in some way. Your character may be loading unconventional rounds into it that wouldn’t function in an automatic. Your character may prefer the accuracy or even the feel of the revolver. If your character spends a lot of time unable to care for their weapon, a revolver might be a better option simply for the ease of maintenance, and overall durability.

You might also have a setting where advanced machinery malfunctions in the face of magic. This could render firearms more advanced than a revolver non-functional when dealing with magic users. Of course, this would also cause serious issues for other mechanical systems, like almost all modern vehicles. So, that’s a major world-building issue you may want to think through.

It’s possible the overall mechanical simplicity of a revolver makes it easier to enchant in your setting.

There’s also a legitimate argument for sufficiently advanced magic impairing the development of technology in a setting. After all, why would you need phones if you could communicate with someone else using enchanted objects. This can lead to a complex web of anachrotech as things like cellphones or even computers don’t exist in favor of magical alternatives. This may result in a situation where characters are using some kind of multi-shot cartridges for their firearms. As in you load a single shell, but can fire ten or more magical blasts from it. At that point, the idea of a conventional semi-automatic firearm wouldn’t have much of a place. Though, I suspect you’d see something more like a bolt action pistol, designed to be fired multiple times on the same chamber before cycling (which doesn’t exist in the real world, for obvious reasons.)

It’s also distinctly possible your character (or other characters) may carry talismans designed to ward off bullets. This would cause the swords to make somewhat more sense. Though, again, we’re back to the situation where your character would be using one weapon or the other, though probably not both at the same time. Though, they may draw both together, and begin by firing before switching to their sword.

Also, before I forget, what are some swords that you can wield effectively with one hand? Thanks!

Nearly any sword can be used effectively with one hand, even greatswords like the claymore or zweihander. It’s worth remembering, even the largest didn’t exceed 8lbs, (most greatswords were 5-6lbs.) Most European swords were designed for use in one hand, so, while they benefit from an off hand, they don’t need it. To be fair, wielding a great sword with one hand is not ideal.

There’s also a number of swords, mostly early modern ones, such as the saber and rapier, which were designed to be used in one hand exclusively.

So, nearly any sword. I suppose when you start mixing in magical enchantments, even those limitations start to become a bit more flexible.


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Q&A: Longswords

Sorry for the stupid question, but what actually is a longsword? Is it a sword intended for 2 handed use but can be used with 1? Most rpg games have longswords classified as 1 handed weapons, but from what i’ve read on the internet a longsword is supposed to be mainly 2 handed.

That’s not a stupid question, it’s reasonable confusion based on some idiosyncratic classifications created centuries after the weapons saw use. The very simple answer is, the longsword was “a sword.” Most of the specialized names for swords, particularly anything ending in “sword,” is probably a modern classification which doesn’t fully reflect the weapon in question.

Historically you wouldn’t have described your weapon as a longsword, it would have simply been your sword. A lot of the modern terms like longsword, shortsword, bastardsword, greatsword, broadsword, arming sword, and so on are exactly that: modern. Many of these terms only date back to the 19th century, when antiquarians were attempting to classify swords into very specific categories.

In some cases, these categories accurately reflect weapons that existed, and can give you a quick shorthand to understand what the weapon was, and how you used it. For example, “shortsword” and “greatsword” are useful terms. They describe distinct classes of swords that existed historically. That said, the edges are a bit, “fuzzy.” For example, determining when a knife becomes a shortsword isn’t an exact science. There’s no specific length where you can say, “nope, no longer a knife, now it’s a shortsword.” How the weapon was used can help to inform what you want to call it, but these are not hard and fast rules. Your shortsword may be a long knife to someone else.

To expand on this, something like an executioner’s sword is a useful name, because it refers to the function of the weapon, and it has a distinct stylistic element that makes it easy to identify and distinguish (in this case, a flat end instead of a sharpened tip.) There are also plenty of weapons that incorporate distinct elements which make them unique. Another example would be the estoc, which has a mostly unsharpened blade, but boasts a very sharp tip, primarily for piercing the joints of plate armor.

So, there’s three specific examples I should probably expand a bit, because you’ll run across them all the time in RPGs and other media, the Longsword (which you asked about), the bastard sword (which you asked about incidentally) and the greatsword.

A longsword can be anything from a Viking era iron blade, up through to some small two-handers. Usually defined as having a straight blade, these cover dozens of distinct sword designs, which popped up in Europe over nearly a millennia. Because the term is so diverse, there’s really no one “true” longsword, even in popular media. Even within a single game you may see weapons ranging from 8th century one-handed swords next to 15th century two-handed longswords. Usually games will present these as weapons you can wield one-handed, though even this is a bit misleading as most greatswords can be wielded with one hand, at the cost of some finesse and efficiency.

Bastard Swords are… something. There’s no certainty on what the term meant historically, and unlike some other names kicking around, bastard sword was a historical term. The modern meaning of a bastard sword is (usually) a longsword blade with a greatsword grip. That’s, basically, fantasy. Swords like that did exist, but they weren’t considered a unique class of blades until the 19th century.

Greatswords are a modern weapon (though, in this case I do mean early modern, so 15th to 16th century.) The actual names vary by culture of origin. There’s something of a theme here, with most cultures naming their greatswords some variation of “big” or “large” and “sword.” The German Zweihander is a minor departure, as that simply means, “two hands.” While I’m not completely certain, I think the term “greatsword” comes from the translation of Claymore. (Specifically from the Gaelic claidheamh mor.) Historically, the greatsword fell out of use as European armies transitioned to longer polearms, and by the 17th century, firearms were becoming an increasingly important part of warfare, so these enjoyed a brief moment before disappearing.

It’s probably also worth remembering that swords are very light weight. A 4lb longsword would be heavy, most ran 2 to 3lbs. With two-handers the norm was slightly under 8lbs. Substantial for a weapon, but not heavy to the point that you’d be unable to lift it with ease. Real world swords have (basically) never been about overall weight, so much as finesse. This is part of why I said earlier that you can wield a greatsword with one hand. It wouldn’t be as effective, but you could still maneuver the blade. The entire point was to open your opponent up, usually by finding vulnerable points and then exploiting those. This is part of why Europe transitioned to lighter, faster, blades, which could get in and out quickly. It’s also why weapons like the Estoc existed at all. Allowing the user far more control when they drove the tip through a joint in their foe’s armor.

Most swords can be used two handed. Even if your off hand won’t fit on the hilt, you can use your fingers to help control and direct your strikes. Even with larger swords like the zweihander, your off hand isn’t there to provide more strength, you use it to stabilize and guide your attacks.

A lot of games use longswords as one handed weapons because it’s easier and simpler. It provides the player with a clear delineation between that weapon and a two handed weapon class. You know, when you find one, what it will do and how you can use it. This is further reinforced in many video games, where you would need separate animation sets for wielding the weapon one handed vs two. In cases like this, there’s a real incentive to lock it into one mode and leave it there, especially if a two handed weapon class already exists.

So, the short answer would be: It’s a sword.


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Q&A: Swords

Can a sword cut through steel bars, or is that fantasy? Also, how much space is needed to use a sword correctly and is there a lot of difference between say, the space needed to use a long sword as opposed to a short sword? I’m guessing an enclosed space the size of a closet would suck. I’ve tried searching through your tags for an answer to this but didn’t find it.

For the first question, the short answer is no. There’s a full discussion to be had on metal hardness

As I said, there are a lot of relevant factors here as well, such as how easily the object will bend out of the way, but when you’re talking about trying to cut your way through a bar of metal, you’re going to need a lot more than just, “a sword.”

I should probably add, you also don’t simply hack through metal armor with a sword. It doesn’t matter how sharp the blade was when you started out, that kind of brute force will wreck the weapon. Instead, you’re looking for openings, which are necessary to allow the user to move.

This still applies for cutting through bars. While the bars and sword may have similar hardness as materials, the blade’s edge will be more fragile, and any attempt to simply hack your way through won’t end well for the sword.

When it comes to simply hacking through objects, you’re better off with an axe. Those are designed to deliver a lot of blunt force along the edge. You still shouldn’t expect much from taking a steel axe to steel bars, but it is better suited for that kind of abuse.

Now, if you’re using some kind of fantasy weapon, like an impossible blade that breaks down anything it connects with on a molecular level, like Warhammer 40k’s power weapons, or a lightsaber, then steel bars aren’t going to pose much of an obstacle. However, in cases like that, you’re not really concerned with how sharp it is.

Okay, back to the second question. There isn’t a concrete answer, because it will be determined by the sword and the techniques your character’s been trained in. It is entirely possible to use swords, even fairly large ones like the zweihander, in fairly tight quarters.

For a lot of European sword combat, the tip of the blade is the most important point of contact, so you’re more interested in linear thrusting strikes, rather than large slashing patterns.

Even when you are whipping the blade around, there’s still a major focus on being efficient with your motion (at least in most of the surviving schools of thought). There are still a few surviving manuscripts and approaches which focus on wider arcing strikes, which would require more space.

Remember, one major use for swords in Europe was in tight quarters while assaulting castles and fortresses. If the sword couldn’t be used in close, it wouldn’t have remained in use for long. This does mean that, sometimes, you need to get creative. There are a number of grips where you’ll control a sword with one hand on the blade (called half-handing, or half-swording), and others where you’ll strike someone with the pommel, which can be executed at much closer ranges.

With very few exceptions, you don’t wave your sword around in large telegraphed strikes unless you need to. It may look cool, but it’s far easier to defend against. Just like in hand-to-hand, exposing your movements to your opponent is something you want to avoid whenever possible. Keeping movement inside your silhouette makes it harder to track. With that said, the circular sword styles you’ll see in something like The Witcher 3 do have a basis in history, and those can work, for a trained practitioner on open ground.

Historically speaking, shortswords weren’t really a thing, sort of. Bladed weapons in the range of 12 to 24 inches existed, were, and are, real, but, like the greatsword or bastard sword the term is almost certainly modern.

Depending on the era, a shortsword would either be a sword, or a variant of knife. This has to do with the overall technological development. The Roman Gladius was a sword, but, turn the clock forward 1500 years, and a similar weapon would have been a knife or bayonet.

If it’s a sword, it’s probably a sidearm. An early iron era soldier would probably carry a spear or some other polearm as their primary weapon, with a backup sword if their primary weapon was lost or destroyed.

If it’s a knife, it’s probably a backup sidearm. An early modern solder, or even a soldier today, will likely carry a knife as an emergency backup should their primary weapon and sidearm fail, or if they need to use it in very tight quarters. For example, if a soldier was tackled to the ground, stabbing their opponent with a knife would be a legitimate option.

It’s probably worth mentioning, a smallsword is actually a rapier, epee, or another sword with a similar long, slender, blade. The name referred the weight of the blade, rather than it’s length.

Sideswords are another descriptive variation. These were longswords specifically intended for use as sidearms. Depending on the individual blade’s country of origin, these could also be a smallswords. They’re not so much a distinct kind of weapon, as a distinct use for one.

There’s an entire discussion to be had on how modern sword names actually make things more complicated than they need to be. The abbreviated version is: A lot of descriptive sword names come from the 18th or 19th century. They classify a lot of  blades idiosyncratically. It’s where we get the modern meaning for terms like long sword, bastard sword, or short sword. Historically you would not have had “a short sword,” it would have simply been, “a sword,” or, “a knife.” There are a few more egregious examples, like the broadsword, which was never used historically. And, as I’ve mentioned, the term “bastard sword,” isn’t new, but on one knows what these referred to historically. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use those terms, just understand, most never really meant anything, historically.

So, in spite of not being a thing, short swords, or long knives, or bayonets, had a role as an emergency backup weapon. That, really hasn’t changed. The way you’d use a combat knife today is fairly similar to what they would have been used for eight-hundred years ago.


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Q&A: Basket Hilt Broadsword

so silly question(s), time. Was/is there any account of people wearing gauntlets while wielding a basket/complex hilted sword? I feel like most of the appeal of the basket hilt is how it functionally replaces arm protecting armor when expecting a fight, and if not expecting a fight isn’t so much to lug around. but then are people Doing (insert type of sword with a simple cross guard)Sword Wrong because they aren’t wearing the appropriate armor? it’s probably more complex than that ….

Matt Easton will explain the purpose of the basket-hilt broadsword better than I can. You can also look at the Wikipedia entry.

The short answer is that the basket-hilt broadsword is from the Napoleonic era and was primarily a military sword rather than a sword that saw use in civilian life like a rapier or a smallsword. So, yes, it would have been used with leather gauntlets and the armor of the period. (Like the Cuirassier.) More hand protection for the grip does not equate a replacement for armor. It just means more hand protection. Hand protection is important because the hand is one of the first (and best) targets to strike for with a sword, if they don’t have a hand or if the hand is injured then your opponent can’t use their sword. (The fact that the basket hilt exists at all should tell you how important that hand protection is to a soldier.)

Most people who’ve never engaged in any sort of martial training, martial arts tend to think the center is the first place one strikes toward because (obviously) that’s obviously the quickest way to end the fight. Ranged weapons aim for center mass, but in a duel, in hand to hand, or with an armored warrior on the battlefield, that center is going to be the most well-defended part of the body. Your extremities like your arms, your legs, and your hands are much easier to reach, and just as necessary to your opponent putting up a defense or retaliating. They’re also more likely to be open to attack, so you go after those first.

However, for every advantage given to a weapon, there is a disadvantage. The problem with the basket-hilt in civilian life is, as Easton points out in his video, the sword is potentially difficult to draw quickly and provides more opportunity for fumbling than a sword with a less complex hilt. The more protection you give a sword’s hilt then the fewer options you have to just grab and go. The same rules you’ve applied to your enemy also apply to you, the wielder. For the civilian, who has different priorities from a soldier, this is an issue.

A civilian is going to be going around their daily life with their sword sheathed, and need to draw quickly in case of emergency. They’re going to face surprise violence from unexpected places. The soldier will likely already have their sword drawn when the battle starts. The civilian needs speed over additional protection, where the soldier needs that extra defense. You see this concept painted most clearly with the Old West gun duels, but the general answer is: he who draws first wins. Your sword has a lot of hand protection, but that won’t help you much if you can’t get it out of its sheathe. (The same is true in the knife versus gun debate. The gun has range over the knife, but that doesn’t matter if the knife is out and close enough to strike while the gun is still holstered. The fight will be over before the one with the gun has time to draw.) The civilian, for the most part, doesn’t have extra armor to buy them time. They need to be quick, and they need to grip the hilt from any potential angle. In that scenario, the basket-hilt hinders more than helps.

Just because one person adds more armor doesn’t mean they’re doing that so they can take away from somewhere else. The soldier is still going to wear their gauntlets and gloves to protect their hands, they’re just reducing the chance of being struck further with the basket-hilt or quillions on the cross-guard. After all, the basket-hilt only protects the hand and not the rest of their arm. Someone sticks you in the bicep or triceps, good luck using your arm. After all, if you can’t use your muscles then there’s no way to move the arm, or you’ll be doing so while in extreme pain.


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