The sword world is beginning to have events and tournaments again. I have been fielding lots of questions from folks looking to buy their first steel or upgrade. In discussing training swords with customers I am seeing some of the same questions occurring. It is interesting how the same bits of "knowledge" keep creeping in especially for people new to the use of the sword about what their sword should be like.
Gripping the sword as depicted by Dürer
I have been referring several folks to our post from a couple of years ago about grip size on medieval swords. This contains some good info on what the swords of the period where like. The craftspeople of the past where integrating how the swords where being used into the design and function of the sword with real world input and use.
In the context of today's Martial and Sport training with the sword, the emphasis can change on how the swords are being implemented, i.e. safety. It being a much higher priority than deadly outcomes in battle for todays use. This can have some adverse affects on design if the original understanding of the swords purpose and use is obscured. A good example is when the safety gauntlets many folks wear today force the need to adjust the length of grip and affect the nimbleness of the hands in longsword use as we touched on in this post.
Here we can see the tips of the fingers just able to touch the palm.
In the general case extending a grip is usually not too detrimental on longswords. It can make the tip a bit unstable but that can be compensated for. One of the chief mistakes is folks will increase the diameter of the grip they are getting. This creates a sword that is harder to control and less secure in the hand.
While modern ergonomics have affected tool design to minimize carpal tunnel and other issues, it is not a good answer to how to keep your sword in your hand when your opponent tries to disarm you. When the grip is to large physics can make holding on to your weapon quite difficult.
To large a grip diameter.
Having the correct tool is best when doing any job, whether a craft or combat. Using the tool one has, to best advantage, is where the art of martial arts comes into the practical world. It is something that many folks miss. Even though we are weapons makers and are trying to sell you our wares. We know that the most important part of any tool's usefulness is what we call the GGI in the shop. This stands for ground grip interface. :-)
I explain it to new sword users this way. Would you rather face the best swordperson in the world who is armed with a stick or the worst swordperson in the world armed with the best sword? Easy answer, correct?
That is why the mind/body of the sword wielder is the crucial part of the equation.
The Black Prince Sword showing grip dimension in hand.
The way one interacts with the grip is more important than having the perfectly shaped grip on a sword. I was reminded of this when I saw one of Dr. Guy Windsor's recent posts about the way to avoid injury when using a sword frequently. I see far too often people hindering their form by gripping the sword in ways that will not only lead to injury but also an over emphasis on trying to generate power through their grip.
Another good source for info on the need for correct interaction between your hand and the sword grip are some of the videos by Dimicator Roland Warzecha. These practices will improve not only your appreciation of a good sword but improve your use of any sword you may need to use.
So when its time for you to get a new/another sword (you all know you want to) think and study whats the best tool for you and you won't go wrong.
Swords shown above
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