Sunday, 20 March 2011

Swordplay: Look, Both Hands

I think what I'm going to do with this little series is turn it into something a bit more permanent, in the form of a regular midweek post on something sword or martial arts related. Why midweek? Partly so it doesn't clash with blogfests, but mostly because that happens to be when I fence, so I'll probably be in the right mood.

For now though, some thoughts on the other thing your hero could be doing with that spare hand: using it to hold the sword. Two handed swordplay is common in all sorts of literature, mostly of the sort where the sword is almost the size of the hero. How common is it really though, and is it an efficient way to use a sword?

The first point is that there are swords out there that need to be used two handed thanks to sheer size or weight. The Japanese No-Dachi, for example (basically a bigger katana) or some of the larger European swords. Dei Liberi's longsword method, for example, mostly shows two handed grips when not using a shield. It's also the preffered grip for some martial artists using things they could hold one handed- the katana in particular.

What you have to remember is that this does have an impact on the swordplay. It allows for greater power, but will reduce the available field of movement, and limit the use of the off arm with a shield or second weapon. Some figures disliked it a great deal, most notably the Japanese sword master Miyamoto Musashi, generally reckoned as that country's greatest ever swordsman. His school was based on two swords, but even for the single sword, he recommended the one handed grip for anything except moments requiring a lot of power.

Few Chinese or European dueling blades are made with the second hand in mind. In fact, it would limit the use of the fingers in manipulating them. Medieval european blades are a trickier call. Slightly shorter or lighter early examples are clearly intended for at least some one handed use. Yet in my own training with a slightly later style longsword, I found that it was a little too heavy for total one handed use, particularly since the style uses a lot of attacks in opposition and counter cuts, where the extra leverage of the second hand helps.

I'll see you later in the week, when I'll be looking at the four basic kinds of fight.


Tessa Conte said...

Very cool idea for a series. I always wonder whether or not my 'fight scenes' have even a vague semblance of authenticity...

Stephanie M. Lorée said...

Love this new series, Stu. It's ncie to see a realistic view on sword fighting. Thanks for sharing with us!