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Ruel A. Macaraeg





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PostPosted: Sun 22 Dec, 2013 4:06 pm    Post subject: Oakeshott sword-cutting techinque         Reply with quote

Can someone explain this statement by E. Oakeshott, where he describes cutting while keeping the wrist stiff? A video clip would be even more helpful.
Quote:
"In the old slashing, smashing days of mail armor and broad, flat-bladed cutting swords, the wrist was little used in sword-fighting. A blow was made from the shoulder, the arm straight and the sword a rigid, yet sensitive and flexible, extension of it." [Oakeshott 1997 p51]


A similar concept is reported by Elgood about Indian sword-cutting:
Quote:
Colonel Blacker suggested that the Indian cutting stroke was the only one capable of penetrating the layers of cloth in turbans and quilted jacket armour. 'The native practice not only requires a stiff wrist, but a stiff though not a straight elbow, for a cut that shall disable.' [Elgood 2004 p184]


I'm having difficulty visualizing it because trying to keep a stiff wrist means fighting against the natural centrifugal motion of the sword during a cut, which automatically rotates the wrist and hand outward. This seems to reduce rather than strengthen the power of the cut, and makes getting a sword strike up to full speed difficult. Has anyone else had similar observations about this cutting technique?

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Nick P.





Joined: 20 May 2010

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PostPosted: Sun 22 Dec, 2013 4:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm not sure about the wrist in the European context. It seems as though he meant that the wrist is rotated forward with the point closer to 180 degrees than 90. Maybe it was held at an angle and the arm and body moved, but the wrist doesn't.

The Indian one is talking about draw cutting. The sword is held at around 90 degrees and when cutting you sort of pull towards yourself. This video shows what I mean.

http://youtu.be/RQwbf1_LP8w?t=6m42s
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Mon 23 Dec, 2013 12:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The comparison is with modern styles of sword-fighting, where a lot of the motion can be rotation about the wrist, with the arm remaining fairly stationary. This has relatively little power. Cutting from the shoulder, where there is little movement in the wrist and elbow, generates enormously more power - it's a larger movement, and more mass is moving. A lot of the motion can also be provided by rotation and motion of the whole body - even more power. This much is largely independent of the angle between sword blade and forearm.

It's ideally suited to draw-cuts (as already described above), whether the angle between blade and forearm about 90 degrees, or more open (as long as the hand is leading the blade of the sword). Is is a very effective cutting action. You shouldn't have to fight against centrifugal force, any more than you should need to fight against gravity in a blade-forward guard. Your sword should not be that heavy and ill-balanced.

If you combine the body motion described above with rotation about the wrist, you generate a very hard and fast strike, but it is more percussive than slicing. Since European Medieval art often shows about a 90 degree angle between sword and forearm when the sword is held near the body, and almost 180 degrees when hitting, this is likely to be a historical technique. And it works well in the SCA, where percussive power matters and slicing doesn't: http://www.bellatrix.org/school/section04.htm

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Ruel A. Macaraeg





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PostPosted: Mon 23 Dec, 2013 11:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I notice that too -- that period European art often shows sword cuts beginning from near perpendicular orientation. But no matter where the cut begins from, I can't quite see how you *wouldn't* fight centrifugal motion. Since the centers of balance and percussion are always above the hand/wrist, there will always be centrifugal force exerted on the wrist no matter how light the sword is. I'd think that this pressure would only increase if most of the power in a cut came from the shoulder, since that would be even more centrifugal force trying to rotate the wrist.

I don't doubt that stiff-wrist cutting is effective -- indeed, many kinds of sword pommels (talwar, Viking, takouba, etc.) prevent free wrist rotation. It's just not intuitive to me, and I've been unsuccessful trying to figure this out on my own! Would really love to see video of full speed, full power stiff-wrist cuts against resistant targets, if any are available...

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T. Kew




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PostPosted: Mon 23 Dec, 2013 11:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

My guess is that Oakeshott is talking about cutting primarily from the shoulder, and wanting to make it clear that the medieval sword wasn't (generally) suited for purely wrist cuts, unlike some later blades.

It's also worth remembering that while he was an absolute expert on the history and development of swords, he wasn't a martial artist, and so isn't a perfect source for how they were used in combat.

Instructor and scholar, Cambridge HEMA
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Mon 23 Dec, 2013 2:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ruel A. Macaraeg wrote:
I notice that too -- that period European art often shows sword cuts beginning from near perpendicular orientation. But no matter where the cut begins from, I can't quite see how you *wouldn't* fight centrifugal motion. Since the centers of balance and percussion are always above the hand/wrist, there will always be centrifugal force exerted on the wrist no matter how light the sword is. I'd think that this pressure would only increase if most of the power in a cut came from the shoulder, since that would be even more centrifugal force trying to rotate the wrist.


First, you're not moving so much mass, so fast, balanced so far out along the blade, that it's a problem. Take a cut with the sword moving in a circular arc. Radius of the motion is about 1m. You're moving about 1kg. If you move the blade really fast, you're moving it at about 10m/s. This gives about 100N of centrifugal force, the weight of 10kg. This is a reasonable guess at the upper limit of the force. For most of the blow, the force will be less - the sword won't have reached the top speed yet.

Second, the tip of the sword, and the centre of mass of the sword, are further out from the shoulder than the hand. While you are accelerating the sword, the inertia of the sword will push it against the top of the hand (between thumb and first finger). This will (partly) counter the centrifugal force. For the 10m/s top speed above, for a 1m long motion to reach top speed, the acceleration will be about 50m/s^2, for a force of 50N, half of the centrifugal force. How much this force and the centrifugal force depends on the angle of the sword - how far behind the hand along the path, and how far out radially, the centre of mass is.

Third, when the sword gets to top speed, it should, if all goes to plan, be in contact with the opponent - they have to worry about the centrifugal force, not you.

Fourth, you can reduce the centrifugal force by technique. Start with an almost straight arm, and pull your hand inwards as you cut. This gives a straighter path, and less centrifugal force.

Where you might have problems with centrifugal force, and the inertia of the sword, is after the blow, rather than before and during contact. Some say that blows using hammer-grip can be painful/awkward at this after-the-blow time. One piece of advice I've seen is to let the wrist roll so that the sword flips over. For a right hand forehand blow, starting with palm up, at the conclusion of the cut, you let the sword flip over the top of the hand, so you end up with the sword blade on the left of the hand, and with the hand palm down. If you don't do this, and your sword has an excessively long grip for ideal use of hammer grip, the pommel can dig in.

Otherwise, at the conclusion of the cut, push the hand out so the centre of mass is behind the hand along the motion. Then there is no twisting of the wrist, just force pushing the the top of the hand (OK, that still twists the wrist a bit, but the moment arm of that is so small, it's no problem). This only works if you've kept the forearm-blade angle about 90 degrees; otherwise, you might need to flip as above.

Ruel A. Macaraeg wrote:
I don't doubt that stiff-wrist cutting is effective -- indeed, many kinds of sword pommels (talwar, Viking, takouba, etc.) prevent free wrist rotation. It's just not intuitive to me, and I've been unsuccessful trying to figure this out on my own! Would really love to see video of full speed, full power stiff-wrist cuts against resistant targets, if any are available...


Try it. For the hammer grip oriented swords (tulwar, Viking, etc.), keep the angle at 90 degrees, and cut with a feeling of slicing. If you want a resistant target, try clay (wet, of course). You want something you can slice, rather than chop.

If you find you have too much centrifugal force, angle the tip of the sword out from the body more. Don't do a really big motion with the sword moving at high speed for a long way. Use a shorter motion with more acceleration - that's a faster cut as well. Move the hand in during the cut. The support from the hilt is important. A tulwar with a snug hilt might be good to try.

For a less supporting hilt, try letting the sword extend out, letting the sword move from hammer to handshake grip during the cut. This is, I think, part of Oakeshott's "flexible".

Some relevant videos:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLTcVJGMBkQ (tulwar technique, no cutting)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2tkPJ_SSpg4 (cutting clay, two-handed)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_mCNoqqK0k

In the last one, you'll see that he sometimes lets the sword flip over as described above.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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