In this blog we briefly demonstrate some tatami cutting with the Arms and Armor English Longsword, and discuss how to hold a sword with a shorter, historically accurate, grip while cutting resistant targets. In our experience, many people who mostly handle long-gripped modern feders are often confused about how to use a longsword with a historically accurate grip length. These shorter grips were not made for people with small hands, nor is it necessary to grip the pommel for most cutting actions. Instead, holding the sword with hands touching helps to engage your core while cutting instead of relying on the smaller muscles of the arms.
While there are many ways a sword can be gripped, and indeed there are many grips illustrated in the period manuscripts, we contend that both hands should usually be together for the optimal grip when attempting to cut or hew. Of course, swords with much longer grips were likely optimized for other kinds of cuts and winds, but many historical longswords had grips that were significantly shorter than those on many contemporary feders and sharps.
This post is a response to a bunch of online discussions about this type of sword over the years. For example, in our friend Skallgrim's review of our English Longsword, he argues that one should hold the sword with the rear hand on the pommel for cutting. While you can do it this way, it is not the most powerful or efficient way to cut with this type of sword. We should also note that this review is from 2015. He mentions a clicking sound in the pommel during his review as an issue. With wooden grips this can sometimes arise due to shrinkage and expansion. We used to fit most of our grips without any mastic or filler inside. This was to reduce the use of modern materials in our products looking to historical authenticity. It also allowed more ease in breakdown for sword maintenance. As research has shown quite a bit of mastic usage in period, among some other weird additions in grips. We decided that the use of some mastic would increase longevity, since most sword buyers today do not live near a competent historical cutler. However, if you prefer no mastic in your grip, just tell us and we will be happy to accommodate you.
The discussion of how to grip these swords is also addressed by Phillip Martin in his review of our Leeds Castle Sword prototype, and corresponds to how Mike Edelson describes gripping a longsword on pages 76-77 of his "Cutting With the Medieval Sword: Theory and Application".
Cutting with the English Longsword
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Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography. He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.
Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985.