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Harry J. Fletcher




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PostPosted: Wed 19 Aug, 2009 1:56 pm    Post subject: Peter Johnsson's Post GRIPPING AND USING A VIKING SWORD 2004         Reply with quote

Being a new purchaser of a Viking sword (the Tinker Pearce 9th Century Viking) I noticed that the pommel would dig into my wrist when trying to cut or slash using a more traditional sword hold. I experimented and found that the handshake grip as called by Mr. Johnsson seemed to work much better. Then I stumbled across his 2004 post and the discussion which ensured.

The only reservation I have in using the handshake grip is that it is not a firm grip and could result in the loss of the sword. However, the design of the pommel and grip lend themselves to this grip style. The only explanation I can offer is the Vikings had very strong hands well developed from rowing long hours as well as farm work or ship building or whatever.

In some of my studies I observed that the North European swords especially the German ones of 900 AD to around let's say 1300 AD had Brazil nut pommels. I am wondering if the design of the Brazil nut pommel was accomodate a firmer hold AKA hammerhold. The large round pommels do not lend themselves to digging into the wrist like the Viking pommel but I do have a Windlass of Oakshotte Type XVIII which is very heavy around five pounds and I use the handshake grip because I brace the large round pommel against my inner forearm just above wrist for more support of the sword and for better control.

Would like to hear about the observations and experiences of others in this regard. Question

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Nathan Robinson
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PostPosted: Wed 19 Aug, 2009 2:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

For other readers of this topic, here is a link to the original topic being references here: Gripping and using a Viking sword
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Wed 19 Aug, 2009 2:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I use a handshake-like grip on all my swords, Viking or not, quite often and haven't lost one yet during cutting (knocking on wood).

On a related "note" (sorry for the pun) I play trombone professionally and teach it as well on the college level. If you have a death grip (tight grip) on the moving slide you will never move it like you want to and may actually hurt yourself in the process. You need to hold it tight enough to control it and keep from dropping it, but not so tight that your wrist and forearm are tense.

It's similar (in concept) to a sword grip. You need a grip on the sword that is firm enough to control the sword and not to lose it, but not so tight that you tense yourself up too much.

Happy

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Vincent Le Chevalier




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PostPosted: Wed 19 Aug, 2009 2:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In my opinion the fear of losing the sword is simply a result of inexperience. All the sword arts I know emphasize that having a tense grip is detrimental and even makes you more likely to be disarmed. I've witnessed the effect of a tight, apparently firm grip first-hand in my martial arts studies. Your muscles are so contracted that you lose the feel of what the blade is doing. Your range is diminished. Even the cuts are not so fast because the sword does not swing freely.

As Chad points out it's true of many hand-held tools or intruments. As you become familiar with them and learn to use them, the virtue of a more relaxed, more fluid grip become apparent, but it's not something you can expect to feel the first time you hold a sword.

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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Wed 19 Aug, 2009 2:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Chad Arnow wrote:
I
It's similar (in concept) to a sword grip. You need a grip on the sword that is firm enough to control the sword and not to lose it, but not so tight that you tense yourself up too much.


And with a Brazil Nut or Tea Cozy or D shaped pommel one can loosen one's grip on the handle and have the large and wide pommel keep the sword handle from getting away even with an almost open hand. ( Hand loose on the grip but still " handshaking " the pommel ).

The support at the heel of the palm can also take some of the weight of the sword and helps with a more relaxed and less tiring grip. Also helps with a quick stopping of the sword and recovery.

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Hadrian Coffin
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PostPosted: Wed 19 Aug, 2009 6:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It is interesting this came up. One of my main areas of interest is the length of viking era sword grips. Of the literaly hundreds of originals I have measured and examined they all tend to have a grip length of ~3.85-3.9 inches. This obviously varies but this is my current unofficial average. I am planning on compiling all measurements and finding a mathematical average, but still have more measurements to do. As I have been examining one of the "oddities" I have noticed is that a few have slightly down turned guards and up turned pommels. After some disscusion with various Western Martial Arts proffesionals, many found the "handshake" grip a bit inefficient for actual combat. While the "handshake" grip works beautifully for cutting tatami, the disarms are a bit to easy. Several other methods were tried including "hammer" and allowing the little finger to slide past the pommel, these were all less effective than the "handshake". However a new method of holding the sword was soon discovered, holding the sword with the flat towards the body and the edges pointing to the left and right. Suddenly the sword seems to almost "float" in the air, work with a shield becomes very easy, and the "oddly" crossed and pommeled swords disscused above suddenly make perfect sense. This method of holding a sword can be found throughout history with different styles of swords. Many of the overhead cuts easily made with the viking sword could be taken right out of some of the German treatises. Without any surviving work on viking combat technique it is pure speculation, but so is the famous "handshake" grip, personally I find the newer option most credible as it is martially the most sound. To each their own, however, since we cannot say for certian.
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Hadrian

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Craig Johnson
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PostPosted: Wed 19 Aug, 2009 7:37 pm    Post subject: Saga Evidence         Reply with quote

We also have the sagas describing the use of lanyards around the sword and wrist in case it is dropped as well as instances where a second sword is hung from the wrist by a lanyard in case the first is lost. These later examples may have been in duals as opposed to open combat I would have to check the details again.

Best
Craig
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Aug, 2009 2:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I essentially hold my sword with thumb and index. The other fingers merely steer the sword.
Agility is exelent, and you can smoothly go into any other grip. Throwing the tip forward, you are effectively in the handshake grip.
If you miss, or the blow is a feint, rotate it around the tip to transfer energy to a new blow.

This also works with viking blades, as the back of your palm does not need to touch the hilt.

"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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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Aug, 2009 4:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hadrian, I'm not sure I understand your new method. You described the orientation of the blade, but what is the new grip?

I agree with the folks who like a loose grip. The more I swing Viking and early Medieval swords around, without over-analyzing it, the more natural it is to transition between handshake and hammer, depending on the position of the sword and wrist. Pommels like Brazil nut seem especially well suited toward this. I'm not sure how relevant 15th century disarm techniques are when both opponents have shields in the other hand - this might be an historical anachronism. And in any age the handshake grip will give a few extra inches of reach on any sword - as in modern fencing.

One thing I would add - in Karate classes they taught us to use a loose fist and then tighten just before impact. I find the same works here - tighten the grip just as the blade impacts. This also allows for a little extra velocity snap at the end. Again, this seems to come natural with practice.
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Vincent Le Chevalier




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Aug, 2009 5:57 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

We should keep in mind that there can be several good solutions for hand position and edge orientation as well. Personal preference and technical repertoire will have an influence on the dominant choice for a particular person. At least this is true for later weapons (I'm thinking rapier in particular), and I can't see why it wouldn't be the case for earlier swords.

One thing is sure: a very tight grip is not a very wise option in the long run (though as pointed out, your grip can tighten at specific instants during the fight). I'm increasingly convinced that being able to change your grip to adapt it to the technique you want to do is a key component of swordsmanship. There is no best grip, in a way Happy

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Hadrian Coffin
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PostPosted: Thu 20 Aug, 2009 7:31 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi,
To explain it further, hold the sword as you normally would, then twist the sword in your hand so the flat lines up with your thumb. Fifteenth century disarms are not proof of anything, the fact that the sword was so easily disarmed though makes it seem odd that it would be the main choice of grip technique. The fact is that swordsmanship in every culture with surviving technique. is really more similiar than it is different. I have seen many reenactors who try and modify I:33 to work with a round shield. Interestingly when the grip I speak of was used many of the easiest strikes were very reminiscent of German cuts. The tightness with which one holds the grip is purely personal prefrence, I personally prefer a fairly loose grip. There will unlikely ever be proof of any specific "proper" technique, and perhaps all sorts of different styles and grips were used in different places and times within the period 793-1066. Food for thought.
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Hadrian

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William R. Short




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Aug, 2009 3:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Whenever this topic comes up, I scratch my head with puzzlement.

I've studied a small number of historical Viking-age swords (but not "hundreds") and have been able to pick up and swing about two dozen or so of those. And of all them, I can only think of one that I couldn't comfortably fit my hand between the lower guard and upper guard (or pommel).

The average grip length for the Viking-age swords listed in Peirce's Swords of the Viking Age is 92mm, according to my calculation.

The average grip length for the Viking-age swords found in Iceland is about 100mm. (There's a fabulous database of Viking-age weapons found in Iceland being compiled by FS═, the Icelandic archaeological society. When completed, it will be a valuable tool, since there are more weapons finds there than I suspect most people realize.)

All this suggests to me that most fighters in the Viking age could use a conventional grip, if they chose to, even if they were ham-fisted.

Regardless, Hadrian Coffin's grip suggestion is intriguing, and I look forward to trying it at our next practice.

I discussed this topic in my new book, Viking Weapons and Combat Techniques, which finally was released at the beginning of summer. More information about the book is here.

Best regards,
William Short
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Philip C. Ryan




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Aug, 2009 4:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Not trying to belittle anyone, but when some people complain about a viking age sword pommel digging into their hand... I tend to chuckle. yes, it digs in, and as you practice, you develop a callus and it quits bothering you. Same as if you are using a hammer or firearm today. You have to learn the feel of the tool or weapon before it becomes completely comfortable. I have been freesparring for years with viking age, as well as medieval weaponry. All weapons are different, and wear on different parts of your hands. Keep up the sparring/ practicing, and your hands will "toughen up" just fine.

I have to agree with other posters here as far as switching grips throughout combat, as well as how tight to hold a weapon. These variables constantly change, all depending on the specific attack/ counter attack/ defensive move you are doing or about to do. If you try to constantly keep the same grip on the weapon without adjusting as necessary, you will not be able to use it effectively.

Skjaldborg Viking Age Living History and Martial Combat
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Hadrian Coffin
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PostPosted: Thu 20 Aug, 2009 4:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi William,
I spoke to you last year at Higgins. Yes 92 and 100mm (3.7 and 3.9in) are quite normal. Ease of handling can really vary by type, a type L is much more comfortable than a type H. One theory on the reason for hilt length I heard while at Higgins last year, was that perhaps originally the swords were made with longer hilts and over various re-hiltings the sword grips gradually shrank in size. Personally I think they were just made this way, with shorter hilts, as some swords found are clearly in there original fittings. Just an interesting theory.
Best
Hadrian
p.s. Glad to hear your book got published, I look forward to reading it.

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Patrick De Block




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Aug, 2009 10:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Unless I understand your description wrongly, I see a very strong resemblance to the forehandgrip in tennis.
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Harry J. Fletcher




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Aug, 2009 11:15 pm    Post subject: Loss Of Fine Motor Skills In Combat         Reply with quote

Not that I am saying the Vikings were wimps or something of the sort but being in close hand to hand combat does have an effect on a person's fine motor skills. Vikings or any other combatants would have been scared silly of being sliced into dog meat which is what literally happened. A causualty left on the battlefield was usually set upon by dogs drawn by the scent by the scent of blood and torn to shreds.

I think that the Vikings gripped their swords in the most familiar unthinking way from muscular habit be that from practice with a sword or from the use of tools without thinking. Their task was to dispatch their opposition as quickly as possible without regard for finesse. I think as has been pointed out that their vigorus lives made them extremely hardy with strength of hand, arms, shoulders, and back unheard of in today's modern society. We also need to bear in mind that many of their victums were either unarmed or poorly armed untrained men and boys. Given that the Vikings were courageous fighters against organized opposition we know that they used their weapons effectively. How many had swords? Surely not all, most had a sheild and spear or an ax plus seax or scramasax as secondary weapon. Later, probably many if not most had swords.

Alas! Since the Vikings were not scholars but warriors they left no written records and would be amused at our discussion of how they gripped their swords. Question

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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Fri 21 Aug, 2009 4:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Saxes and large figthing knifes are actually quite rare in the norwegian material. The weapons used are swords, spears and axes. At the time Pettersen wrote his book (1919) there where MORE swords(1500) than axes(1200) and spears(1000) found.
This could be doe to swords beeing more likely to end up in museums (Quite a lot of the finds are random loose finds, or farmers stumbling upon graves when plowing), but indicates that they where definitely not that rare.

The purpose of combat training is to make people flinch in efficient ways, replacing the regular panic reactions with something more usefull. With practice, using a loose, dynamic grip is more instinctive, and the hammer grip will feel unattural. (It does to me, after years of training)

"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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PostPosted: Fri 21 Aug, 2009 6:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Elling Polden wrote:
With practice, using a loose, dynamic grip is more instinctive, and the hammer grip will feel unattural. (It does to me, after years of training)


Just conjecture on my part but the above inspires these thoughts: To the untrained a tight grip feels more secure and is based on the loss of fine motor skill when fear and adrenaline take over, to the trained an over-tight grip feels like it's limiting the way the weapon can be used and to the trained using the best technique is more reassuring than a " death grip " on one's fighting tools.

Confidence in one's competence in a fight is a great help in not having to fight against a panic reaction but in going with the flow of the adrenaline rush i.e. using fear and or " cold " anger to focus the mind and not cloud it !

The trained body can also react faster than the mind has time to register fear and the subconscious mind is a better fighter than the conscious mind, and much faster when speed and decisiveness is critical.

( Note: Cold anger is the quiet kind of lucid " no way am I letting you win " and not the hot red anger that dulls perceptions instead of sharpening them, AKA blind anger. Wink ).

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Richard Hare




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PostPosted: Fri 21 Aug, 2009 6:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Very well put, Jean.

Re. Death grip, or looser grip, I heard a very apt description regarding using a shotgun in sporting shooting;

"Relaxed preparedness"
Seems to fit this topic quit well!

R.
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Vincent Le Chevalier




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PostPosted: Fri 21 Aug, 2009 6:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Thibodeau wrote:
Just conjecture on my part but the above inspires these thoughts: To the untrained a tight grip feels more secure and is based on the loss of fine motor skill when fear and adrenaline take over, to the trained an over-tight grip feels like it's limiting the way the weapon can be used and to the trained using the best technique is more reassuring than a " death grip " on one's fighting tools.

Except that very few untrained persons grip their sword during enough of an adrenaline rush to cause the loss of fine motor skills nowadays... I really feel the issue is more that an untrained person tries to keep absolute control of where the sword is and how it moves, because of the fear of doing something dangerous either to themselves or others, or because they want to achieve a specific motion they have in mind but don't know how to do. Because of this they are reluctant to let the sword "flow" if you like, move with its own momentum. They use too much of their muscles in order to keep that absolute reassuring control all time. A static hammer grip is also a symptom of that.

Problem is that when this fails it fails dramatically: the sword starts moving on its own and you're not used to that. if anything overcomes the tightness of the grip losing the weapon is a definite possibility.

A trained fighter with an apparently less tight grip is used to letting the sword move at times and get the control back whenever he wishes to. He is able to fight longer because he does not use unnecessary contraction. When something disturbs the intended motion he knows how to regain control and is therefore harder to unsettle and disarm.

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