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Nat Lamb




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PostPosted: Thu 02 Jan, 2014 5:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I am really not anywhere near as knowledgeable as others on this issue, and everything said about viking swords and their use by Roland makes perfect sense, but I am not sure about the generalising out to all weapons and all tools. I know even less about Indian martial traditions than I do European, but I have heard those who do have some familiarity say that the tulwar hilt is designed specifically to force you to usethe sword in a hammer grip, which combined with the highly curved blade turns all blows into draw cuts.
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Thu 02 Jan, 2014 9:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Roland Warzecha wrote:
So the bottom line is that
a) Viking spatha type swords cut excellently at maximum reach applying the grip suggested by Peter
b) a combatant insisting on using a so-called hammer grip would willingly reduce weapon reach. [...] This does not make sense at all in martial arts and is likely to prove fatal. I doubt that this grip's proponents lived long enough to ever make it popular.


And yet, we see swords (which were used in combat) which cannot be held in handshake grip, but can be easily held in hammer grip. If hammer grip was as bad as you say, why would this be?

Roland Warzecha wrote:

In fact, I believe that fully embracing a handle is inadequate not only to a sword, regardless of type, but to any tool. Does anybody of you hold a knife while slicing bread in such a fashion? Anyone holds a file this way? And do you really press a hammer handle into your palm consistently while using it? I doubt that any expert user, say, a smith or carpenter ever does this.
Fully embracing any handle deprives you of your fine motor skills and these are eminent in any craft if executed with skill.


A bread knife is not a sword. A file is not a sword. Why would they be held in the same way? A hammer is not a sword either, and I don't hold a hammer in the same grip as I hold a sword in hammer grip, despite the name.

Roland Warzecha wrote:

Swords are about precision, not about force.
Otherwise the sword would have never been developed.


Hammer grip on swords is about precision, not force. You slice, not "hammer". The hammer-grip-friendly sword hilts let you hold a sword in hammer grip with minimum effort, with minimum force. Force is not the issue.

"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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Peter Messent




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PostPosted: Fri 03 Jan, 2014 12:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Maybe this is an overly diplomatic view for an internet discussion (though I haven't read through all seven pages) but why are many so certain that only one grip was used or even that one was dominant? I find switching between the hammer and handshake to be instinctual and fluid. I think it would be more challenging to not use both grips.

With regards to fine motor skills in battle, I believe wholeheartedly that with sufficient training, almost anyone can use fine motor skills in combat. Repetition has always been at the core of good military training; not scholarly discussion or detailed instruction (though that can also have its place). Nothing can replace the physical act of doing something over and over and over ad nauseum (with criticism and punishment of any false move), because it makes people react without thinking. If people have to think about their training, their reaction will probably either be wrong or too slow. In that vein, I think it is reasonable to consider whether the people with swords actually had any training or just picked up a sword and started hacking things with it. I don't think it's at all unreasonable to assume that the vast majority of people in the Viking age who fought with swords had some kind of skill in using it.

They're both good grips, and good for different cuts. IMO having to pick between them is like picking between walking on your left foot or your right foot. You'll move forward, but that doesn't mean you chose wisely.
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Roland Warzecha





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PostPosted: Fri 03 Jan, 2014 6:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi everyone, thanks for your responses.

First off, there is, of course, not one single grip that does it all. Whenever you strike any given blow, the grip shifts. What is of interest is what a particular finger and hand position does in the course of a blow. First you have to accelerate the sword. There are nodes in the blade that correspond to specific parts of the handle. This is true for every sword, as has been pointed out by Peter repeatedly over years. Only if you make them work for you, you can achieve maximum efficacy. This is not a question of individual preference or style.
If you look at a frisbee, for instance, you can only make it fly fast and stable if you accelerate the edge in such a fashion that the disc turns around its center. That is physics and it is true for the sword, too, although a sword has two relevant nodes that the blade is supposed to turn around: First it needs to be accelerated around its central node that relates to a spot in the handle just below the pommel. So this is the part your hand has to manipulate first. Once the point flies forward, you shift grip to control the second node which is further down-blade, closer to the point. The associated spot in the handle is just above the crossguard. This will result in a physically optimal blow that is appropriate to the weapon and makes for the fastest possible blow and the most effortless cut. The margin of grips used to work the sword this way is extremely small.
Here is an illustrated example showing a sturzhau from left shoulder that turns into a winding thrust, using a medieval sword.

So when you look at period art, it is relevant to spot which moment in time is being depicted, given that the image conveys this level of detail in the first place. As you can see in the first photo I linked to above, which shows two stages of a blow with a Viking sword, you will note that during acceleration it looks like the sword is held in what we refer to here as the hammer-grip. Yet in the decisive moment of impact and cutting through the practice target, it is held in the fashion suggested by Peter.
The very same works for tulwars, too, by the way, with pleasing results, as you can see in these photos here, here and here. I am not an expert on tulwar combat, so I do not feel qualified to make any statements in this regard, but as you can see, you are not confined to squeezing your fist between the fittings.

The main problem I see with the so-called hammer-grip (eventually more precisely: fist-grip) is that it is body-mechanically inferior on impact: The wrist creates a weak spot if the blade is held at too steep an angle in relation to the forearm. There is no denying this, bodies work the same all over the world, at any period. Angles between blade and forearm from, say, 90 to at least 120 will always result in pressure recoiling into the wrist on impact, when, as we all agree, the pressure is supposed to go into the target instead. Can you still do damage? Yes. Is it the best you can do? No. But martial arts are about pursuing the ideal solution for any given combat situation and the related weapons are optimized for being used by a skilled combatant.
So the next problem with fist-gripping your sword is reach, as I have explained above. Why would you choose to pick up a long-bladed weapon and then shorten its reach by not allowing it to extend properly?

So if there is a better way to strike with a sword that solves both these problems and requires less strength and is faster, too, I simply cannot see why any skilled swordsman would have conciously chosen to not do so in combat.

It is true that in the heat of a fight a trained combatant has only a fraction of his repertoire at his disposal. But this cannot be remedied by using wrong mechanics which impede efficiency from the start. It only means that you need to condition your body in training over and over again, using correct mechanics.
If we look at medieval combat treatises, we find that sensing through the blade is a crucial component of historical swordsmanship. This is only possible with the correct gripping mechanics. Fully embracing a handle makes you numb, you are unable to correctly judge pressure signals.
I would also like to point out that the way I grip a sword is not weak, but appropriate and very firm regardless of sword type, because the grips are very similar, in fact. However, it does take time and training to develop the skills and grow the according muscles as I am constantly reminded of when I teach students.
So if in a fight I am confronted with superior pressure, I can respond to it accordingly. Yielding to stronger pressure is not a flaw but a virtue. This is not only seen in the fencing treatises but it is taught in all martial arts.

Thanks for taking time to read my thoughts.

Off to training now.

Roland
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Fri 03 Jan, 2014 12:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

First, I think it is beyond reasonable argument that both hammer grip and handshake grip were used. We see both in art, we have surviving martial traditions which say (a) hammer grip is right, (b) handshake grip is right, and (c) both are right, and you should use them appropriately.

Second, claiming that hammer grip is so defective that swordsmen who relied on it would die due to that reliance is a strong claim, and what I argue against.

Third, yes, some people do argue that there is One True Grip. In my experience, those who say handshake grip is unworkable rubbish don't know how to use. Fewer people say the same about hammer grip. Perhaps it is the same in this case? This is my starting point, so let me proceed with some (re-ordered) points:

Roland Warzecha wrote:

If we look at medieval combat treatises, we find that sensing through the blade is a crucial component of historical swordsmanship. This is only possible with the correct gripping mechanics. Fully embracing a handle makes you numb, you are unable to correctly judge pressure signals.


If you're choking the grip using hammer grip, you're using hammer grip wrong. Relax. Hold gently. If the hilt of the weapon doesn't help you hold the weapon in hammer grip with minimum force, perhaps it's the wrong grip for the weapon. Hammer grip should be firm but relaxed, just like handshake grip.

I do believe one can find hammer grip proponents who really emphasize the firmness and strength of hammer grip, and the looseness and weakness of handshake grip. IMO, they're doing both wrong.

Roland Warzecha wrote:

The main problem I see with the so-called hammer-grip (eventually more precisely: fist-grip) is that it is body-mechanically inferior on impact: The wrist creates a weak spot if the blade is held at too steep an angle in relation to the forearm. There is no denying this, bodies work the same all over the world, at any period. Angles between blade and forearm from, say, 90 to at least 120 will always result in pressure recoiling into the wrist on impact, when, as we all agree, the pressure is supposed to go into the target instead.


But you don't chop into the target, you slice along the target. There should be no large reaction force.

If you chop into the target, you want to hit near the centre of percussion (AKA pivot point), holding the weapon with handshake grip. Apart from swords, this is good for machetes in agricultural use. If you don't hit at the centre of percussion, you'd much rather hit between the CoP and the grip, because the reaction force then goes into the palm (and this might be good, because then you hit harder that hitting at the CoP - that extra force goes into the target). But if you hit past the CoP, chopping, the reaction force is against the fingers, and reduces the force of the blow. But we see swords where the CoP is so far down the blade (away from the tip) that you would almost always hit past the CoP. IMO, this clearly shows these swords are not intended for chopping. But such swords are often classic cutting swords. How do you cut without chopping? Slicing works.

(CoP as it affects point control, which is a big deal for many swords, might be related. If you have the CoP at the tip, where you want it for point control, you must hit at the CoP or between CoP and grip; you cannot hit past it.)

These "anti-hammer-grip" arguments (if that's what they really are; they read like that to me) are IMO strawman arguments, arguments about why a hammer grip done wrong is wrong. Which say nothing about hammer grip done right.

Roland Warzecha wrote:

So the next problem with fist-gripping your sword is reach, as I have explained above. Why would you choose to pick up a long-bladed weapon and then shorten its reach by not allowing it to extend properly?


This is a good question. With hammer grip, you sacrifice reach (or at least, reach without wrist-contortion). When is this sacrifice worthwhile? IMO, the optimum choice is to use a sword you can easily use in both hammer grip and handshake grip. Use hammer grip when you want to slice at short range, and handshake grip for long-reach chopping cuts. In Europe, we see weapons where all cutting has been sacrifice in favour of thrusting. Going the other way, in other circumstances, is not so incredible (and it sacrifices thrusting less completely).

I don't know the "why". Shields help you cope with lack of reach. Perhaps you expect to face spears/lances, and have a huge range disadvantage that you can't overcome by using handshake grip. In which case, your goal might well be to get in very close, which is where hammer grip will do very well.

We could also ask why anybody would cripple their weapon by making it have a strongly curving blade, which reduces reach. The answer is, I think, the same: it slices well. And sometimes, it's worth giving up that reach.

But don't leave your shield at home! If you do, you will regret the lack of reach. At least, bring some left-hand weapon.

Roland Warzecha wrote:

The very same works for tulwars, too, by the way, with pleasing results, as you can see in these photos here, here and here. I am not an expert on tulwar combat, so I do not feel qualified to make any statements in this regard, but as you can see, you are not confined to squeezing your fist between the fittings.


Yet in artwork, we see hammer grip, with fist between disk pommel and guard, almost exclusively. In living traditions, the same.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLTcVJGMBkQ

"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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Vincent Le Chevalier




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PostPosted: Fri 03 Jan, 2014 2:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Roland Warzecha wrote:
If you look at a frisbee, for instance, you can only make it fly fast and stable if you accelerate the edge in such a fashion that the disc turns around its center. That is physics and it is true for the sword, too, although a sword has two relevant nodes that the blade is supposed to turn around: First it needs to be accelerated around its central node that relates to a spot in the handle just below the pommel. So this is the part your hand has to manipulate first. Once the point flies forward, you shift grip to control the second node which is further down-blade, closer to the point. The associated spot in the handle is just above the crossguard. This will result in a physically optimal blow that is appropriate to the weapon and makes for the fastest possible blow and the most effortless cut. The margin of grips used to work the sword this way is extremely small.

All of this might seem seducing, but when you actually study the physical equations regulating the motion of swords or more generally long rigid objects, these two points are not special or unique at all. They are not preferential centers of rotation at all. For each point of application of force on the hilt, there is an unaffected point on the blade, and of course they combine with one another when multiple forces are applied, which is generally the case. You can make the sword rotate around pretty much any point you want with the right application of forces, and this is true whatever your hand position is, even upside down Happy

The argument of reach in favour of a handshake grip is made in a verdadera destreza text (p. 30), tying into the use of the right angle position and observing that the pommel should be in the channel of the wrist, as opposed to what the vulgar fencers do. That there is such a reference, combined with the evidence from other traditions that the hammer grip was used, makes me think that describing the extended handshake grip as the most authentic is misguided, however efficient it may seem to us or even truly be.

Regards,

--
Vincent
Ensis Sub Caelo
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Roland Warzecha





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PostPosted: Sun 05 Jan, 2014 6:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dear Timo and Vincent,

thanks for your thoughts.
I would like to stress that I am not believing in one grip for all purposes. I hoped that I had made this clear by linking to one of my drawings. In fact, shifting grip correctly and accurately placing your fingers on a sword handle is one of the issues I pay particular attention to when training and teaching.
I find the term hammer-grip somewhat unfortunate, because when using a hammer with skill, your grip shifts, too, to a certain extent. So the grip that I consider utterly wrong is rather clenching your sword handle in a fist, squeezing it between the fittings. So I agree with you in that respect, Timo. I also agree regarding slicing, I do it all the time, albeit, slicing with a forward motion more often than not.
When it comes to hitting a target in combat, I find that speed and reach are more relevant than hitting with the center of percussion (which, by the way, is not the same as the pivot point that I was refering to), at least when I interpret the sources correctly that I work with (MS. I.33 most of all).

Speaking of I.33:
While this is a treatise solely devoted to fighting with sword and buckler, the depictions of hand positions are too stylised to be of good use. Many are indeed impossible to adopt and there are even anatomic mistakes in the illustrations. However, there are contemporary images of buckler fighters that had been created with a lot more artistic skill that provide the level of detail that is not to be found in I.33.
So period art (particularly when it is stylised medieval art), albeit one of our most important sources for historical swordsmanship, has to be handled with care when it comes to fine details like the ones under discussion here.
Don't get me wrong: I am not suggesting to easily dismiss details that do not easily fit our beliefs. I like to believe that I am taking great pains to remain as true as possible to the sources I work with and have repeatedly re-assessed my interpretation, ending up with better solutions that were also more in line with the sources.

Regarding turning the sword around other points:
Yes, sure it is possible. But speaking as a user of single swords, I can say that I get best results when I do make use of these two pivot points and all manouvers in my fencing repertoire work best when I remain true to this.

I think that details like this would require explanation and demonstration sword in hand and I would be happy if one day we would get a chance to discuss in this fashion, face to face. I have really nothing to add to what I have put forward and I have not read anything that made me change my beliefs. So for the moment, I am fine to agree to disagree.

So in a nutshell, I strongly believe that the historical use of a Viking sword requires to make the pommel an integral part of the handle, placing part of the flat of the handle onto the heel of the hand. This is the most convenient and efficient way to hold such a sword, as I found out in my reconstruction of Viking single combat, in cutting practice with replica swords as well as in my examination of period originals. Grip changes in the course of a blow, but in the moment of impact, you get best results in cutting as well as in a tactical context when the blade is extended to form a straight extension of the forearm. Same is true for thrusts, according to my experience. All this is only possible with the grip suggested by Peter almost ten years ago.

All the best,
Roland
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C Kuzik




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PostPosted: Mon 06 Jan, 2014 5:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I really don't want to be that person, but... Vikings were known as rather strong men. They had to be. Strong hands allow for greater blade control, no matter the grip needed. Saying that the Vikings only used one type of handgrip is foolish. No offence to you weapons experts out there, but many of the people researching this stuff aren't putting much effort into it. I haven't seen many that are in decent physical condition.

Swords take a long time to master. The initial handling and ten trials of a blade is nowhere near what's necessary to understand how to use it. If I'm beating a dead horse, just ignore this.


Good day.
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PostPosted: Mon 06 Jan, 2014 7:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

C Kuzik wrote:
I really don't want to be that person, but... Vikings were known as rather strong men. They had to be. Strong hands allow for greater blade control, no matter the grip needed. Saying that the Vikings only used one type of handgrip is foolish. No offence to you weapons experts out there, but many of the people researching this stuff aren't putting much effort into it. I haven't seen many that are in decent physical condition.

Swords take a long time to master. The initial handling and ten trials of a blade is nowhere near what's necessary to understand how to use it. If I'm beating a dead horse, just ignore this.


Good day.


I'd research some of the people you're addressing before making those sweeping generalizations.

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Christopher B Lellis




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PostPosted: Mon 06 Jan, 2014 12:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ian S LaSpina wrote:
C Kuzik wrote:
I really don't want to be that person, but... Vikings were known as rather strong men. They had to be. Strong hands allow for greater blade control, no matter the grip needed. Saying that the Vikings only used one type of handgrip is foolish. No offence to you weapons experts out there, but many of the people researching this stuff aren't putting much effort into it. I haven't seen many that are in decent physical condition.

Swords take a long time to master. The initial handling and ten trials of a blade is nowhere near what's necessary to understand how to use it. If I'm beating a dead horse, just ignore this.


Good day.


I'd research some of the people you're addressing before making those sweeping generalizations.


You not included and others, however he does have a point. There are a lot of self styled sword "experts" out there who have pretty much no physical ability to wield them. I will absolutely not give names but I have already met some people like this, nice guys, but no swordsmen if there can be considered such a thing in this age.

There is definitely a growing interest in swords by guys that do have ability now, that is a good thing. Real athletes and people who take care of their bodies. That's another step into truly learning how to use swords, by actually handling them and not so gently either.
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C Kuzik




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PostPosted: Mon 06 Jan, 2014 9:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ian S LaSpina wrote:
C Kuzik wrote:
I really don't want to be that person, but... Vikings were known as rather strong men. They had to be. Strong hands allow for greater blade control, no matter the grip needed. Saying that the Vikings only used one type of handgrip is foolish. No offence to you weapons experts out there, but many of the people researching this stuff aren't putting much effort into it. I haven't seen many that are in decent physical condition.

Swords take a long time to master. The initial handling and ten trials of a blade is nowhere near what's necessary to understand how to use it. If I'm beating a dead horse, just ignore this.


Good day.


I'd research some of the people you're addressing before making those sweeping generalizations.


You think I didn't? I would not have said that otherwise.
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C Kuzik




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PostPosted: Mon 06 Jan, 2014 9:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Christopher B Lellis wrote:
Ian S LaSpina wrote:
C Kuzik wrote:
I really don't want to be that person, but... Vikings were known as rather strong men. They had to be. Strong hands allow for greater blade control, no matter the grip needed. Saying that the Vikings only used one type of handgrip is foolish. No offence to you weapons experts out there, but many of the people researching this stuff aren't putting much effort into it. I haven't seen many that are in decent physical condition.

Swords take a long time to master. The initial handling and ten trials of a blade is nowhere near what's necessary to understand how to use it. If I'm beating a dead horse, just ignore this.


Good day.


I'd research some of the people you're addressing before making those sweeping generalizations.


You not included and others, however he does have a point. There are a lot of self styled sword "experts" out there who have pretty much no physical ability to wield them. I will absolutely not give names but I have already met some people like this, nice guys, but no swordsmen if there can be considered such a thing in this age.

There is definitely a growing interest in swords by guys that do have ability now, that is a good thing. Real athletes and people who take care of their bodies. That's another step into truly learning how to use swords, by actually handling them and not so gently either.


Yep.
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Mon 06 Jan, 2014 11:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

C Kuzik wrote:
I really don't want to be that person, but... Vikings were known as rather strong men. They had to be. Strong hands allow for greater blade control, no matter the grip needed. Saying that the Vikings only used one type of handgrip is foolish. No offence to you weapons experts out there, but many of the people researching this stuff aren't putting much effort into it. I haven't seen many that are in decent physical condition.


Don't overestimate the strength needed. You're only talking about 1.1-1.2kg of steel, on average. That isn't that hard to swing around, even for a dedicated desk jockey.

Secondly, don't underestimate the ergonomics of these things - a proper grip on a proper sword takes little effort, little strength. You can take average Joe/Jane off the street, put a sword in her hand, and she can cut things up with it. It doesn't take an Arnoldish Conan to manage.

C Kuzik wrote:

Swords take a long time to master. The initial handling and ten trials of a blade is nowhere near what's necessary to understand how to use it.


For sure.

"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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C Kuzik




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PostPosted: Tue 07 Jan, 2014 2:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Timo Nieminen wrote:
C Kuzik wrote:
I really don't want to be that person, but... Vikings were known as rather strong men. They had to be. Strong hands allow for greater blade control, no matter the grip needed. Saying that the Vikings only used one type of handgrip is foolish. No offence to you weapons experts out there, but many of the people researching this stuff aren't putting much effort into it. I haven't seen many that are in decent physical condition.


Don't overestimate the strength needed. You're only talking about 1.1-1.2kg of steel, on average. That isn't that hard to swing around, even for a dedicated desk jockey.

Secondly, don't underestimate the ergonomics of these things - a proper grip on a proper sword takes little effort, little strength. You can take average Joe/Jane off the street, put a sword in her hand, and she can cut things up with it. It doesn't take an Arnoldish Conan to manage.

C Kuzik wrote:

Swords take a long time to master. The initial handling and ten trials of a blade is nowhere near what's necessary to understand how to use it.


For sure.

Yes, you are correct. However don't forge that these men were already farmers, oarsmen, and professional fighters. Most fought with spears, and possibly a sidearm, if not a sax. I think it's reasonable to assume that all vikings trained with spears and/or javelins. This correlates with their already difficult lifestyle.

How long can Mr. Joe wield it for though?

All due respects,

C Kuzik
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PostPosted: Tue 07 Jan, 2014 5:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I understand that there are a lot of people in the reeanctor and HEMA world that probably couldn't do a simple 3 mile run or a few pullups without dying, and it's just as ridiculous to me to see these folks, however well-intentioned, think themselves in any way comparable to a people who were dedicated to a life of arms. I took issue with the above comment mostly because he threw it in there right after something Roland Warzecha said. And if you know who he is at all in the world of HEMA, you know he is most definitely not the kind of person who Mr. Kuzic had in mind when leveling his accusation. He's been at this for decades and is most definitely in fighting shape. There's an entire generation of folks in the HEMA world right now who do this AS a profession and possess the physical capability to do so. I myself am active duty military, have been for 10 years, and take fitness incredibly seriously. But this is pretty off-topic for the thread. The point is, don't assume everyone who enjoys HEMA is a desk-jockey who can't lift an unloaded barbell, and for whom physical conditioning is an afterthought. And on the same token, don't mistake the men of the Dark Ages and Middle Ages as some sort of mythical transcendent beings forged in the fires of battle and myth... they were people too.
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Philip Dyer





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PostPosted: Tue 07 Jan, 2014 7:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ian S LaSpina wrote:
I understand that there are a lot of people in the reeanctor and HEMA world that probably couldn't do a simple 3 mile run or a few pullups without dying, and it's just as ridiculous to me to see these folks, however well-intentioned, think themselves in any way comparable to a people who were dedicated to a life of arms. I took issue with the above comment mostly because he threw it in there right after something Roland Warzecha said. And if you know who he is at all in the world of HEMA, you know he is most definitely not the kind of person who Mr. Kuzic had in mind when leveling his accusation. He's been at this for decades and is most definitely in fighting shape. There's an entire generation of folks in the HEMA world right now who do this AS a profession and possess the physical capability to do so. I myself am active duty military, have been for 10 years, and take fitness incredibly seriously. But this is pretty off-topic for the thread. The point is, don't assume everyone who enjoys HEMA is a desk-jockey who can't lift an unloaded barbell, and for whom physical conditioning is an afterthought. And on the same token, don't mistake the men of the Dark Ages and Middle Ages as some sort of mythical transcendent beings forged in the fires of battle and myth... they were people too.

Good point, but I it is safe assumption that, while not every Dark/Middle age person was perfect physical specimens, on average, they physically fitter than us.
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Kai Lawson




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PostPosted: Tue 07 Jan, 2014 10:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Again off topic, but the above statement isn't necessarily true. The instances of human parasites, nutritional deficiencies and the diseases prevalent in many european communities of the time may well have contributed to a general LOWERING of 'physical health/fitness.' Someone who suffers from mild arthritis and has lice in their hair might not be healthier/fitter than me by modern standards, but the hours and years doing any particular task would have acclimated them far better than someone who exercises on a regular bases but does not partake in that specific activity. Conditioning is not the same as fitness, but can make a much larger difference in how long or well an action can be performed.

As an example, see rice planting or vehicular mechanics: the constant bending and holding and general stooping of rice planting would kill the backs of most people who have never done it, but the people doing it aren't necessarily 'fitter.' I know vehicular mechanics who can easily lift large truck tires up onto a low-jacked truck or who can take glass dishes out of the oven with bare hands (gotta move quickly!) but are 30+ pounds overweight and have blood pressure and heart issues.

I think the safest assumption we can make about people using and owning weapons 1000+ years ago is that if the individual did it long enough, they'd be better at using them than most of us--more familiar with the weapon at hand, the movements required to use it and the advantages and limitations of the weapon. Many of them could likely run or walk for longer periods than many of us, and they were likely more used to being colder or wetter than many of us are. Warriors also killed people (potentially more than one, and the best killed many), and were no doubt better prepared (conditioned) to actually kill folks, and not be seriously emotionally bothered by that.

It's conditioning, and using very well designed equipment. Mail is a fantastic armor for a number of reasons, and the 'typical' viking hilt arrangement allows for a variety of good grips and effective manipulation of the sword.

"And they crossed swords."
--William Goldman, alias S. Morgenstern
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Tue 07 Jan, 2014 11:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

[quote="C Kuzik"]
Timo Nieminen wrote:
C Kuzik wrote:
I really don't want to be that person, but... Vikings were known as rather strong men. They had to be. Strong hands allow for greater blade control, no matter the grip needed. Saying that the Vikings only used one type of handgrip is foolish. No offence to you weapons experts out there, but many of the people researching this stuff aren't putting much effort into it. I haven't seen many that are in decent physical condition.


Don't overestimate the strength needed. You're only talking about 1.1-1.2kg of steel, on average. That isn't that hard to swing around, even for a dedicated desk jockey.

Secondly, don't underestimate the ergonomics of these things - a proper grip on a proper sword takes little effort, little strength. You can take average Joe/Jane off the street, put a sword in her hand, and she can cut things up with it. It doesn't take an Arnoldish Conan to manage.

Yes, you are correct. However don't forge that these men were already farmers, oarsmen, and professional fighters. Most fought with spears, and possibly a sidearm, if not a sax. I think it's reasonable to assume that all vikings trained with spears and/or javelins. This correlates with their already difficult lifestyle.

How long can Mr. Joe wield it for though?


Mr Joe can wield it for long enough to understand how the weapon works (which doesn't mean that Mr Joe reaches that understanding). Actually being able to fight well, being able to cope with lack of food, lack of sleep, etc., while marching in an army, being able to scrounge food, these are the things that will separate Mr Joe from his ancestors. But these don't have such direct influence on weapons technique. Compare target shooters with soldiers. But target shooters know how to shoot. And can often shoot very well, despite any differences in physicality.

The problem, as far as there is a problem, isn't historians being too puny to wield swords, but that, traditionally, weapons were art, and art doesn't involve hitting people with weapons, so there was a divergence between the study of historical weapons and the study of fighting. Hoplology is a deeply unfashionable academic field, even more so than military history.

But anyway, wielding a weapon should be easy. OK, put a brute of a sword, say 1.6kg of one-handed sword, into somebody's hand, and they might have trouble with it. But put a typical sword of good handling, such as a 900g cavalry sabre, into the same hands, and very often the reaction is "Hey, this is really light and easy!".

(How long should you be able to wield a sword for? Are you fighting 100 orcs? Are you fighting 1 opponent? There are some mysteries of ancient battles - how were Roman armies able to fight each other all day, and inflict about 10% casualties? Clearly, they weren't lining up and chopping up/stabbing each other all day.)

"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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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Mon 31 Mar, 2014 4:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Timo Nieminen wrote:
Wes B. wrote:
IMHO the handshake grip is just asking to have your sword knocked from your hand, whereas a hammer grip is rock solid.


Both are solid. A handshake grip is not the same as the sabre grip (thumb along grip), since the thumb is around the grip, not along it. It isn't the same as the foil grip (where the thumb and 1st two fingers grip the hilt), since the thumb and last two fingers do the gripping. If the handshake grip wasn't secure, we wouldn't see it so widely used in martial arts with old living traditions - it's the "correct" way to hold katana (not modern; see Book of Five Rings) and jian.


I've recently had the chance to play around a bit with some practice swords that had round grip cross-sections (not flattened into an ellipse, oval, or oblong polygon matching the axis of the blade). It's interesting to note that the handshake grip proved to be rather weak and shaky when paired with such round grips, and I had my sword knocked out of my hand several times during the practice drills and bouts. The effect was particularly pronounced when the grip wasn't just round but also somewhat too large for my hands (so that my thumb couldn't lock against the distal joint of the middle finger the way it usually does when I'm in the handshake grip).

I don't think this proves that the handshake grip is useless; I found it as secure as ever when I went back to swords with flattened cross-sections on the grip, and I won't hesitate to keep using it in serious practice. However, it may show that the handshake grip (and the even looser sabre/epee grip) could be particularly unsuitable for grips that aren't flattened in cross-section -- not something I'd expect in historical European swords (or good reproductions), but then there's no shortage of cheap replicas with round grips, not to mention authentic weapons from other cultures (possibly including modern American prison shivs?).
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Mon 31 Mar, 2014 11:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:

I've recently had the chance to play around a bit with some practice swords that had round grip cross-sections (not flattened into an ellipse, oval, or oblong polygon matching the axis of the blade). It's interesting to note that the handshake grip proved to be rather weak and shaky when paired with such round grips, and I had my sword knocked out of my hand several times during the practice drills and bouts. The effect was particularly pronounced when the grip wasn't just round but also somewhat too large for my hands (so that my thumb couldn't lock against the distal joint of the middle finger the way it usually does when I'm in the handshake grip).


Why would one make practice swords with round grips? Too large will be a problem, too. Yes, I think a large cross-section can be managed better with hammer grip.

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:

I don't think this proves that the handshake grip is useless; I found it as secure as ever when I went back to swords with flattened cross-sections on the grip, and I won't hesitate to keep using it in serious practice. However, it may show that the handshake grip (and the even looser sabre/epee grip) could be particularly unsuitable for grips that aren't flattened in cross-section -- not something I'd expect in historical European swords (or good reproductions), but then there's no shortage of cheap replicas with round grips, not to mention authentic weapons from other cultures (possibly including modern American prison shivs?).


Thinking of round-gripped swords out there, the most prominent are SE Asian dha. Two-handed grips. Round would be less bad for a two-handed grip.

A discussion of round vs non-round grips: http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showthread.php?t=17194 (spears and polerams, more than swords).

"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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