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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Tue 31 Jul, 2007 10:28 pm    Post subject: A little question about the usage of axes         Reply with quote

It's pretty obvious that poleaxes (which in some cases aren't technically "axes" anyway) are used with a steady grip, but I can't help wondering about other, earlier kinds of axes. Would have they been used with the same kind of grip, or would they have been more like utility axes in that the forward hand moves down the haft as the wielder strikes?
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Robin Smith




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PostPosted: Wed 01 Aug, 2007 12:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dane axes were most likely used with a sliding hand. You split a sheild the same way you split a log...
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Dan P




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PostPosted: Wed 01 Aug, 2007 7:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Seems like it would be logical to do both fixed and sliding hand positions with a 2-hand axe.
Fixed grip for close strikes and thrusts.
Sliding grip for extended-reach, powerful strikes.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Wed 01 Aug, 2007 8:17 am    Post subject: Re: A little question about the usage of axes         Reply with quote

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:
It's pretty obvious that poleaxes (which in some cases aren't technically "axes" anyway) are used with a steady grip, but I can't help wondering about other, earlier kinds of axes. Would have they been used with the same kind of grip, or would they have been more like utility axes in that the forward hand moves down the haft as the wielder strikes?


Why exclude the poleaxe as far as using a sliding grip ? I can see that in a duel it might be a bad idea being maybe overcommitment and difficult to recover from. In a battle a strong blow that would be very slow or telegraphed would still have uses against someone occupied fighting someone else who can't see you coming.

Not being argumentative, just curious ? Cool

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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Thu 02 Aug, 2007 12:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, I was just going by the Jeu de la Hache. I haven't done a sufficiently extensive pictorial studies of 14th-and 15th-century illustrations to be able to say whether there are examples of the grip sliding down the haft. I can easily see how it's supposed to work, though, even if the poleaxe has a hammerhead instead of an axehead.

Anyway, thanks for the confirmation. I was just trying to swing an axe in the backyard, imagining a human-sized target instead of a tree, and sort of felt that it's a bit unnatural not to slide the hand when making a long-range, full-bodied blow. Granted, the axe was a felling axe, not a lighter and handier battleaxe, so I worried that the impression might have been a faulty one.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Thu 02 Aug, 2007 1:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:
Well, I was just going by the Jeu de la Hache. I haven't done a sufficiently extensive pictorial studies of 14th-and 15th-century illustrations to be able to say whether there are examples of the grip sliding down the haft. I can easily see how it's supposed to work, though, even if the poleaxe has a hammerhead instead of an axehead.

Anyway, thanks for the confirmation. I was just trying to swing an axe in the backyard, imagining a human-sized target instead of a tree, and sort of felt that it's a bit unnatural not to slide the hand when making a long-range, full-bodied blow. Granted, the axe was a felling axe, not a lighter and handier battleaxe, so I worried that the impression might have been a faulty one.


My poleaxe is the A & A one that has the hammer on one side and the axe blade on the other so the axe blade should be useful against the lightly armoured but the top and bottom tips of the axe are probably used mostly for blocking/parrying or hooking moves. A sharp edge might have a deterrent effect also on someone trying to grab the head or aft ? If sharp enough?

Mine I sharpened to an almost paper cutting edge.

Sliding of hands seems to be standard with spear work and with the partisan. ( Spada II, assuming I understood the text and pics correctly. Wink ).

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PostPosted: Thu 02 Aug, 2007 2:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Thibodeau wrote:
My poleaxe is the A & A one that has the hammer on one side and the axe blade on the other so the axe blade should be useful against the lightly armoured but the top and bottom tips of the axe are probably used mostly for blocking/parrying or hooking moves. A sharp edge might have a deterrent effect also on someone trying to grab the head or aft ? If sharp enough?

Mine I sharpened to an almost paper cutting edge.

Sliding of hands seems to be standard with spear work and with the partisan. ( Spada II, assuming I understood the text and pics correctly. Wink ).


There are no sliding blows in any pollaxe source I've found except a hint of one in Codex 11093 (see attached); I strongly suspect, however, that that strike starts "long" (meaning holding it at the end) rather than sliding through your hand. There are numerous instances of sliding *thrusts*, however, as with a pool queue, in Le Jeu de La Hache.

I doubt that the blades on pollaxes with a blade on one side and the hammer on the other side were used for striking. I rather suspect they were used for hooking, hence the sharp tips almost all of them have as one of my students found to his detriment when I accidentally hooked the back of his knee when I was demonstrating a technique (note that this would mean they are used identically to the type of axes shown in the Fechtbücher that have a Mail and a spike for hooking). Unfortunately, except for the aforementioned Codex 11093, there are no Fechtbücher that show axes of that type, they all show the type with a hammer head on one side and a spike or hook (this spike, contrary to popular opinion, is never used for striking, it's only used for hooking) on the other so I can't prove this suspicion, but it's based on the way an axe blade hits armor: A wide blade tends to wobble when you hit a hard surface with it, causing the blade to misalign and the blow then does little damage. The Mail, or hammer head, on the other hand, is toothed to help it stick to metal surfaces, and it is this that works best against plate. Also, if you look at the second attached picture below you'll see that the figure on the left is making a swinging blow and seems to be striking with the Mail, not the axe blade. In fairness, however, I must admit that a colleague of mine has suggested that the axe blade may be of greater against some targets, such as the fingers, where the Mail might not be a good fit. I don't agree with him, but we just can't say anything with too much certainty.

Having said that, the Fechtbücher focus on Kampffechten, not on war. The pollaxe techniques taught in these books don't work in the crush of bodies in a melee because you simply can't move your shaft the way you need to without striking or entanling your companions, so it seems it must have been necessary to use the axe "long"--and possibly with sliding blows--in that circumstance. Still, that's mere speculation and we should focus only on what we have documentation for.

Incidentally, axe blades probably weren't sharpened to a paper-cutting edge; they were weapons of Harnischfechten and hitting armor--even the kettle hat of lightly-armed support troops, would quickly chip and shatter such an edge. Conversely, even a fairly dull axe blade would be absolutely lethal against non-plate targets with no similar risk. That may be why pollaxes with axe blades are so rare in the Fechtbücher but so common in the non-Fechtbuch iconography: They may be creatures of war, where lightly-armed troops could be found, rather than of judicial combats where all parties would be fully armored.

Finally, to your comment about the top and bottom being used for blocking and parrying: Both ends were certainly used for displacing blows, but you have to understand that in the early stages of an engagement the pollaxe was more of a spear than it was an axe in the sense I think you mean. Swinging blows were mostly relegated to finishing off a wounded, unarmed or otherwise relatively helpless opponent, not as an opening strike. Think of a pollaxe as a "spear with benefits"; the top and bottom spikes (the Dague and Queue, respectively) were the *primary* "weapons" on the pollaxe, if you see how I mean that.



 Attachment: 112.79 KB
0043B.jpg
Swinging with the pollaxe held "Long"

 Attachment: 124.54 KB
0044A.jpg
Striking with the Mail, not the blade.

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Hugh
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Thu 02 Aug, 2007 4:31 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hugh Knight wrote:
Incidentally, axe blades probably weren't sharpened to a paper-cutting edge; they were weapons of Harnischfechten and hitting armor--even the kettle hat of lightly-armed support troops, would quickly chip and shatter such an edge. Conversely, even a fairly dull axe blade would be absolutely lethal against non-plate targets with no similar risk. That may be why pollaxes with axe blades are so rare in the Fechtbücher but so common in the non-Fechtbuch iconography: They may be creatures of war, where lightly-armed troops could be found, rather than of judicial combats where all parties would be fully armored.

Finally, to your comment about the top and bottom being used for blocking and parrying: Both ends were certainly used for displacing blows, but you have to understand that in the early stages of an engagement the pollaxe was more of a spear than it was an axe in the sense I think you mean. Swinging blows were mostly relegated to finishing off a wounded, unarmed or otherwise relatively helpless opponent, not as an opening strike. Think of a pollaxe as a "spear with benefits"; the top and bottom spikes (the Dague and Queue, respectively) were the *primary* "weapons" on the pollaxe, if you see how I mean that.


Mine is paper cutting sharp as mention but at a fairly obtuse angle and very appleseed so it's not thin or overly fragile but only cleaned up to a zero edge. ( well, not quite a zero edge which would be razor like but the flat were the edge bevels meet are rounded to a thin edge ).

Oh, yes the spearlike use most of the time seems similar to the play with the partisan as shown in that Spada II article I mentioned: In a one on one duel thrusts and windings seem to dominate in the same way that a exagerated winde-ups or follow throughs are avoided as they either telegraph or open you up to attack. ( My limited number of training sessions are starting to pay off, but my experience is at a dozen training sessions at most. Wink ).

Another good reason to use the hammer side is that the edge of the axe would not be damaged and would stay sharp for those maybe rare occasions when a sharp edge might be useful.

So, I'm not disagreeing with you: Mostly recapping with opinion/questions/theory. Big Grin ( Sort of the old " active " listening thing making sure I understood what you wrote ).

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PostPosted: Thu 02 Aug, 2007 8:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Let me add in at this point that I have seen where a blunted reenactment Dane axe split an 8" notch in a shield. Scary stuff. Especially considering its is supposed to be a blunted "safe" axe. After seeing that, I think having a sharp edge on an axe is entirely unnecessary, since it will split skulls, shields, or helms with ease without needing a delicate edge...
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Hugh Knight




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PostPosted: Thu 02 Aug, 2007 10:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Thibodeau wrote:
Mine is paper cutting sharp as mention but at a fairly obtuse angle and very appleseed so it's not thin or overly fragile but only cleaned up to a zero edge. ( well, not quite a zero edge which would be razor like but the flat were the edge bevels meet are rounded to a thin edge ).

Oh, yes the spearlike use most of the time seems similar to the play with the partisan as shown in that Spada II article I mentioned: In a one on one duel thrusts and windings seem to dominate in the same way that a exagerated winde-ups or follow throughs are avoided as they either telegraph or open you up to attack. ( My limited number of training sessions are starting to pay off, but my experience is at a dozen training sessions at most. Wink ).

Another good reason to use the hammer side is that the edge of the axe would not be damaged and would stay sharp for those maybe rare occasions when a sharp edge might be useful.

So, I'm not disagreeing with you: Mostly recapping with opinion/questions/theory. Big Grin ( Sort of the old " active " listening thing making sure I understood what you wrote ).


Hi Jean,

Well, as Robin wrote above, even a completely unsharpened axe blade is more than lethal enough. But as I said originally, I think that's moot because I don't believe that the axe blade was *typically* (note the emphasis!) used for striking. I believe it was typically used as a hook, just like the Bec de Faucon on the back of axes with a Mail on one side and a spike (that's the Bec) on the other. That would mean that despite the gross visual differences, the axe blade+Mail axes were used exactly the same way as the Mail+Bec de Faucon axes, an idea that just makes sense to me. Virtually every pollaxe with an axe blade I've seen has a very sharp point on the bottom of the axe blade, and personal experience has shown that those are *superb* at hooking things.

What I'd really like, however, is to have someone do a close hands-on of extant pollaxes from different museums. The only ones I've been able to see close up were at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and while they appeared dull (as in they were intended to be that way, not as in they got that way over time), it was hard to say. If we looked at enough samples and saw they had clearly unsharpened edges (again, not ones that had dulled with time or use) that would be pretty conclusive.

The pollaxe is a great weapon--in my opinion the ultimately knightly weapon--but almost nothing about its use is intuitive.

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Hugh
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Christian Henry Tobler
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PostPosted: Thu 02 Aug, 2007 10:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Hugh,

Cod. 11093 isn't the only fechtbuch to show bladed axes. Peter Falkner shows them, and includes blows swung with the axe blade.

Paulus Hector Mair, clearly drawing from the 15th c. manuscripts in his early 16th c. compendia, illustrates bladed poleaxes as well.

Interestingly, Falkner makes almost a point of saying you use a halber the same way as this weapon: "If you have a murder axe or a halberd..."

There might be some other sources with axe blades...I'll have to dig in and look.

All the best,

Christian

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Robin Smith




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PostPosted: Thu 02 Aug, 2007 11:41 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hugh: I am not disputing that later axes were primarily used as hooks, but the Dane axes of the 10th-11th centuries were most certainly used for striking. Contemporary sources speak of them being swung in great circular arcs that were capable of decapitating a horse. Now granted, the effect might be alittle exaggerated, but that certainly sounds like a strike, not a hooking maneuver...
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PostPosted: Thu 02 Aug, 2007 11:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Christian Henry Tobler wrote:
Cod. 11093 isn't the only fechtbuch to show bladed axes. Peter Falkner shows them, and includes blows swung with the axe blade.

Paulus Hector Mair, clearly drawing from the 15th c. manuscripts in his early 16th c. compendia, illustrates bladed poleaxes as well.


You're right--I have just been looking at that, too, but it flew out of my head. I think it might be because he seems to use his weapon more like a Halberd than an Axe; more like you see in Meyer than you see in Talhoffer, if you take my meaning.

And speaking of Mair, this plate shows interesting relevance to my argument about the axe blade not being for striking but for hooking:
http://mdz10.bib-bvb.de/~db/bsb00007894/image...?seite=180
The fellow on the right is hooking his opponent's neck with the axe blade, while the fellow on the right is striking with the Mail, not the axe blade.

Quote:
Interestingly, Falkner makes almost a point of saying you use a halber the same way as this weapon: "If you have a murder axe or a halberd..."


Hmmm.... That's interesting; every source I've seen seems to use a halberd quite differently from the way you use a pollaxe. Halberdiers seem to focus on the head of the axe rather than the butt, at least to judge by Meyer and some other things I've seen. As for Falkner, I have yet to see a copy of that book (hurry up, Christian!), but the picture you included on p. 214 of In Service to the Duke shows one figure using a weapon that seem to me to be *much* more halberd-like than pollaxe like. What I find interesting about the other figure in that picture, however, is that it's almost the only example in a Fechtbuch that shows the third pollaxe configuration: The Axe Blade+Spike configuration. The only other source I see for that is Mair's Munich text Part I:
http://mdz10.bib-bvb.de/~db/bsb00006570/image...?seite=387
And again, the pollaxe plays there are very Halberd-like, with the Butt used only for one technique, a version of the ubiquitous Back-lever throw.

These sorts of pollaxes, the Axe Blade+Spike axes, are conceptually very similar to Halberds, which, after all, are made the same way. That connection may be what Falkner was talking about when he said you use them the same way and why Mair uses a supposed pollaxe much like a halberd. That's probably also why Falkner shows swinging blows with the axe blade as you mention above: His pollaxes don't have Mails.

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Hugh
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PostPosted: Thu 02 Aug, 2007 11:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Robin Smith wrote:
Hugh: I am not disputing that later axes were primarily used as hooks, but the Dane axes of the 10th-11th centuries were most certainly used for striking. Contemporary sources speak of them being swung in great circular arcs that were capable of decapitating a horse. Now granted, the effect might be alittle exaggerated, but that certainly sounds like a strike, not a hooking maneuver...


No question, Robin! My claim is only for weapons after the introduction of full plate; there are plenty of early sources that illustrate axe blows with the edge. I hope I didn't make it sound as though I was talking about pre-plate stuff!

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Hugh
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PostPosted: Thu 02 Aug, 2007 11:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Penetrating or not, a poleaxe blow to the head will make itself felt. Further more, it is likely to be followed up with hooking or other kinds of wrestling.

two handed axes and polearms are used in a quite fluid manner, which by necessity means sliding a lot. The question is just where you stop sliding to stabilize your strike.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
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PostPosted: Thu 02 Aug, 2007 12:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Elling Polden wrote:
Penetrating or not, a poleaxe blow to the head will make itself felt. Further more, it is likely to be followed up with hooking or other kinds of wrestling.


Most manuals tell us to only use swinging blows as follow ups because the mass of the head makes it relatively slow when compared to the Butt end. Thus, hooking usually *preceeds* blows, not the other way around.

I can show you dozens of techniques in various manuals to supprt that if you'd like.

Quote:
two handed axes and polearms are used in a quite fluid manner, which by necessity means sliding a lot. The question is just where you stop sliding to stabilize your strike.


What is your documentation for that statement?

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PostPosted: Thu 02 Aug, 2007 12:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Hugh,

Flip back and forth a few pages in that Mair codex - there's no Mail, only back and side spikes.

I don't see Falkner as employing the weapon in any substantially different way from Talhoffer or Kal. He has the same hooks, change-throughs, etc. The butt is used in his techniques as well. It's a shorter weapon and it's used very dynamically.

The differences I see between poleaxe and halberd use are akin to the differences in treatises for short and long lances/spears. Gladiatoria's spear (short) is a tad different from von Danzig's (long). If you have a long hafted weapon (like most halberds) you're unlikely to use both ends as much as when you have a shorter hafted one (such as the poleaxe). The same is true with the spear - Gladiatoria's shorter spears are used more fluidly than the 'point on' two guard system employed in Liechtenauer's verse, which clearly is biased toward using a spear that was, prior to your dismounting, your lance on horseback.

There's considerable evidence to suggest that the medieval treatise writers didn't view the use of the two weapons as fundamentally different. Of course, size, weight, and configuration will define the way techniques need to be adjusted for each variant. If I recall correctly, some of Paulus Kal's axe is redacted in one of the Mair compendia, only shown with bladed, rather than coronal-headed, axes. What seems to change however in the 16th c. is that a preference evolves, in general, for such weapons being wielded with both hands on the extreme of the haft.

Let me check into the Kal/Mair connection again...

All the best,

Christian

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PostPosted: Thu 02 Aug, 2007 12:53 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Christian Henry Tobler wrote:
Flip back and forth a few pages in that Mair codex - there's no Mail, only back and side spikes.


I know, that's what I said. I felt that the Mair axes were more like halberds because of that.

Quote:
The differences I see between poleaxe and halberd use are akin to the differences in treatises for short and long lances/spears. Gladiatoria's spear (short) is a tad different from von Danzig's (long). If you have a long hafted weapon (like most halberds) you're unlikely to use both ends as much as when you have a shorter hafted one (such as the poleaxe). The same is true with the spear - Gladiatoria's shorter spears are used more fluidly than the 'point on' two guard system employed in Liechtenauer's verse, which clearly is biased toward using a spear that was, prior to your dismounting, your lance on horseback.


I think that's an interesting insight. I'll have to look at it.

Quote:
There's considerable evidence to suggest that the medieval treatise writers didn't view the use of the two weapons as fundamentally different. Of course, size, weight, and configuration will define the way techniques need to be adjusted for each variant. If I recall correctly, some of Paulus Kal's axe is redacted in one of the Mair compendia, only shown with bladed, rather than coronal-headed, axes. What seems to change however in the 16th c. is that a preference evolves, in general, for such weapons being wielded with both hands on the extreme of the haft.


I suspect that reflects a military connection: As I said, in war, when you're in ranks, you simply can't use a pollaxe as the Fechtbücher show so you have to use it long.

Quote:
Let me check into the Kal/Mair connection again...


I look forward to your insight; my view doesn't show that, but I don't have it in translation and the pictures never tell the whole story in Mair, as you know better than I.

Regards,
Hugh
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PostPosted: Thu 02 Aug, 2007 12:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Hugh,

Some further notes:

1. Falkner actually illustrates three distinct variants: a hammer-faced axe, a bladed one, and one that has a bill-like head with a forward hook. There's nothing to suggest anything is specialized for these weapons in the techniques he describes.

2. What's your source for assuming hooking is preferable to striking? I don't see that in my read, although I haven't cracked open "La Jeu de la Hache" in a long time.

3. I see the use of the head as being akin to Liechtenauer's Three Wounders with the longsword (hewing, thrusting, slicing), only as the axe doesn't slice, that action is replaced with the hook. These tactically match up:

    a. You can strike a hewing blow with the axe/sword.
    b. If the axe or sword falls short, thrust.
    c. If the axe or sword overshoots, slice with the sword or hook with the axe.


Certainly much is made of the idea of 'hauen' (hewing) with the axe in a number of treatise. This clearly indicates, to my mind, the use of a blow, not just a placement ending a hooking motion.

All the best,

Christian

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PostPosted: Thu 02 Aug, 2007 1:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hugh Knight wrote:

What is your documentation for that statement?


Personal experience, and what you are saying.
Say that you strike from the long. How did you get to the long grip? By sliding. You thrust with the but end, slide, hook and step in, slide, sweep, slide back to strike, hit him in the head, slide, thrust him in the armpit, and so on.

While the individual techniques might have static grips, moving between these grips is best done by sliding. These also need be quite fast, or the opponent will counter you, or attack you in the transition. you might change to the long grip and then strike, but this will be both slower and less powerfull than just sliding to long as the blow starts.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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