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Peter Johnsson




PostPosted: Tue 19 Oct, 2004 8:49 am    Post subject: Gripping and using a Viking sword         Reply with quote

This post and the resulting topic that will continue here was originally created to respond to This Post by Joel Thompson in another topic. I felt it was generally off-topic enough to that original topic and informative enough to split into its own topic. Fact is, this is all extremely interesting stuff that needs to be discussed on its own. It's so interesting that I've also made it a Spotlight Topic. [Nathan Robinson]

(In response to Joel Thompson, sharing his experience with his Albion Clontarf sword and showing a photo of him cutting with it)

Hi Joel,

I am happy top see that you are putting the Clontarf to good use.
However, the way you are gripping the sword wil not bring out the best out of it.

It seems that the proper way to hold a viking sword is less than instantly intuitive. Many try to use a "hammer" style grip. This will unfortunately invite too firm a grip that will make the sword "dead" in the cut.

A sword must be held with a more supple and lively hand. No harder than a pleasantly firm handshake. As you hit the target you will make the grip more firm, but not cramping.

The shortness of viking era grips seems to mystify many contemporary students of the sword. The ever ongoing question seems to be why vikings had so small hands...(They did not)
(This is the same kind of question as "how sharp is a sword?": try to ansver the question: how shap is a 20th C pocketknife?...)
We need to understand the proper context and use of these weapons if we are to appreciate their real character and potential.

Swords from the iron age up to the viking period has as a rule pretty short grips. This is not because people were smaller, but because the mode of griping the sword and wielding it was different from what we often assume today.
One major thing is that the pommel was an active part of the grip, not just a way to top it off, or just for "counterbalancing" the blade.
I have attached a drawing (not a very good one I'm afraid...) attempting to show how a viking sword is supposed to be held. The lower one shows how the sword rests across your open palm and the top one shows roughly what it looksd like when you close your fingers arounbd the grip. You may still use a hammer grip in some situations, but that has a limiting effect on the performance of the sword. I think the hammer grip is used when only short chops in close mode is an option. In full length distance a more supple grip is used.
As the sword is swung towards a target it should move in your hand. This will increase cutting power remarcably.
The pommel is part of the grip. Descriptions telling you to finger the pommel is misleading, I think. It is more like the pommel resting inside your palm between the little finger and the fleshy part of your thumb. You might even imagine the pommel being the fulcrum around where the sword pivots during the cut.
The grip typically sit at an diagonal across your hand.
If your grip is now more supple you will notice how the sword becomes alive in your hand.
The movement, or "rotation" forwards of the grip in your hand as your arm swings towards and throught the line of your target is where the "secret" of the effective cut lies.

If you give a sword of viking type too long a grip it will actually make this way of working with the sword more difficult.
A shorter grip can strangely enough help overcome the tendency of the pommel to dig into your hand, but only when it is held the proper way.

Try this out and see how it fits you.
It is important to remember that cutting with a sword is very different from hitting with a hammer.
A hammer delivers as it hits the target, the sword will deliver as it passes *through* the target. It is all in the line that slants across and through the target and guiding the blade as freely and quickly as possible along this imagined line.
You will cut the best when you do not think too much about the target but more about how the sword arcs through the space around you. Imagine a perfectly flat plane that cuts across the target. When you manage to guide the sword along this plane quickly and precisely you will cut effortlessly.
But you need to use a supple grip, or this will not be possible.

Best of luck and happy cutting!



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Joel Thompson




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PostPosted: Tue 19 Oct, 2004 2:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi, Peter. Ohhh! I must disagree with your interpretation of the grip. And your very nicely drawn illustrations help my point. I believe that the Viking style grip was intended to be used exactly the way it looks, with a hammer style grip. It is true, as I mentioned that one will not get as good a cut with this grip as with the grip that you mention. However, I still believe that the hammer grip is what they used. You can still get a pretty good cut with this grip (see my picture). I don't think anyone being struck this way is going to laugh at you and say, "You only cut part way through my arm".
Remember also that this sword is more often than not going to be used in conjunction with a shield. A supple grip allows a full follow through and a better cut, but this is not necessary with a shield and may even be dangerous. Since the shield is the primary parrying tool on the left side, the sword does not need to be over there. It needlessly over exposes your right shoulder. Therefore, I believe that the Vikings did in fact use the hammer grip as the primary style (especially in battle situations where a full follow through is difficult anyway). I think their fighting style involved the repeated chopping motion so easily done with this grip.
Having done a lot of test cutting with these blades, I can also attest to the fact that the other grip that you have illustrated, will begin to dig into your palm with every cut and become very uncomfortable. You can see in your illustration where the edge of the pommel will dig in. I think the repeated blows that one must employ in combat necessitate the hammer grip with this style of handle. I have more thoughts on this subject if you wish to continue our discussion. Perhaps we should move it over to another part of the Forum.

Best regards,

Joel
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Tue 19 Oct, 2004 3:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Joel Thompson wrote:
Hi, Peter. Ohhh! I must disagree with your interpretation of the grip. And your very nicely drawn illustrations help my point. I believe that the Viking style grip was intended to be used exactly the way it looks, with a hammer style grip. It is true, as I mentioned that one will not get as good a cut with this grip as with the grip that you mention. However, I still believe that the hammer grip is what they used. You can still get a pretty good cut with this grip (see my picture). I don't think anyone being struck this way is going to laugh at you and say, "You only cut part way through my arm".
Remember also that this sword is more often than not going to be used in conjunction with a shield. A supple grip allows a full follow through and a better cut, but this is not necessary with a shield and may even be dangerous. Since the shield is the primary parrying tool on the left side, the sword does not need to be over there. It needlessly over exposes your right shoulder. Therefore, I believe that the Vikings did in fact use the hammer grip as the primary style (especially in battle situations where a full follow through is difficult anyway). I think their fighting style involved the repeated chopping motion so easily done with this grip.
Having done a lot of test cutting with these blades, I can also attest to the fact that the other grip that you have illustrated, will begin to dig into your palm with every cut and become very uncomfortable. You can see in your illustration where the edge of the pommel will dig in. I think the repeated blows that one must employ in combat necessitate the hammer grip with this style of handle. I have more thoughts on this subject if you wish to continue our discussion. Perhaps we should move it over to another part of the Forum.

Best regards,

Joel


I'd have to disagree with you. When held like Peter illustrated, the pommel slides by the heel of your hand; it doesn't dig into it. I did a lot of cutting recently with Viking and non-Viking swords, and there's a lot of benefit to the hand-shake grip. I never had a pommel dig into my hand, whether Viking or not, and my cuts with all the swords improved quite noticeably.

I believe there are period illustrations that show the grip Peter illustrated, so it is a historically viable option.

But, Peter is the one who designed the sword, and would know more than I would about how it was used. Happy

Happy

ChadA

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Patrick Kelly




PostPosted: Tue 19 Oct, 2004 4:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I agree with Chad on this issue.

while working on an upcoming review of a viking sword I performed some testing cutting and dry handling, with shield, with both grip techniques. The Hammer grip works well in close quarters, like that of a shield wall. The palming grip as illustrated seems to be much better suited for most other environments.

"I'd rather go upriver with 7 studs, than a 100 sh!theads." - COL Charlie Beckwith, founder SFODD
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Joel Thompson




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PostPosted: Tue 19 Oct, 2004 6:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

" The hammer grip works well in close quarters......" Exactly. I believe these men designed their swords for war. Mass battle techniques, not single combat with lots of room. They were already used to the chopping motion with shield from using the axe. I think they designed and used their swords in the same way. I don't believe the opportunity came around all that often to experiment with other grips and so on. Necessity is the mother of invention. It wasn't necessary to get a better cut by using a grip that, albeit more efficient for cutting, didn't have a place on the field of battle. IMO. I suspect these boys were expert at shield work, since they used them with most weapons, and I think they did most of their sword and axe fighting up close and personal.
What's everybody's opinion on why the grip has this specific design? Obviously, my opinion is that it was designed to be held hammer style. You don't design a hammer and then hold it differently so you can drive a nail at arms length. You hold it as it was designed. Short chopping strokes.
I also don't believe that the sword was a primary weapon in a shield wall, but I suppose that's another discussion.

Joel
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Patrick Kelly




PostPosted: Tue 19 Oct, 2004 8:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think you're unneccesarily limiting the sword's involvement in nordic culture Joel. We can't discount the very prevalent practice of Holmganga in this time period. Not only was the sword a battlefield weapon but it was also a highly utilized tool for personal combat as well. Even discounting this practice there would plenty of opportunity for both gripping techniques to be used on the battlefield.

Quote:
I also don't believe that the sword was a primary weapon in a shield wall, but I suppose that's another discussion.


I agree, but as you said that really doesn't fit into this discussion.

"I'd rather go upriver with 7 studs, than a 100 sh!theads." - COL Charlie Beckwith, founder SFODD
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Geoff Wood




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PostPosted: Tue 19 Oct, 2004 11:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Joel Thompson wrote:

What's everybody's opinion on why the grip has this specific design? Obviously, my opinion is that it was designed to be held hammer style. You don't design a hammer and then hold it differently so you can drive a nail at arms length. You hold it as it was designed.

Joel



Joel
Since you ask for opinions, I share yours. I've expressed a similar view previously, and been told, basically, that I was wrong and about the other grip. Peter's illustrations are very interesting. They explain the other grip better than anything I've seen before, and I've played around with it. I can see what he means, and a sword is usable that way, but I still don't think that that is the way that the swords were primarily held, in serious use, although as has already been said, it was probably used. To me, the shape and size of the grip, guards and pommel (and also the way that some of the the later forms of the pommels evolved) looks like a man in a high state of emotion (anger, fear etc.) was meant to jam his paw in there and make sure it stayed there, and chop, be it at an opponents shield or a peasants head. However, I suspect we may be in a minority of two on this issue. Interesting discussion though.
Regards
Geoff
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Aaron Justice




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PostPosted: Tue 19 Oct, 2004 11:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Joel Thompson wrote:

What's everybody's opinion on why the grip has this specific design? Obviously, my opinion is that it was designed to be held hammer style. You don't design a hammer and then hold it differently so you can drive a nail at arms length. You hold it as it was designed.
Joel



Well, that's the interesting thing about a sword, it's not a a hammer Laughing Out Loud

The hammer grip is quite impossible with the Del Tin 2100 I have (it's in my avatar picture) in certain motions. It digs far too uncomfortably into the wrist for proper handling. That's why I love Peter's illustration, the "handshake grip" works quite well. I find I can grip it both ways depending on the kind of strike I want to initiate, swinging to my left side really hurts my wrist, but not the other way. As I swing it I can readjust my grip ever so slightly to accomodate. Especially since I follow the advice of Peter and not grip the sword too heavily.

So see Joel, there can be a perfect middle ground rathr than "only one way is correct."

How can there be a perfect sword when PEOPLE come in all shapes and sizes too?
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Joel Thompson




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PostPosted: Wed 20 Oct, 2004 2:57 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm not saying that there is a correct way or an incorrect way. I'm saying that there is a historically accurate way. I just believe that, generally speaking, the sword was designed to be held hammer style. And I believe that swordsmanship was still in its infancy in this period, and that the finesse movements associated with the relaxed grip were not yet prevalent on the battlefield. Again, generally speaking, I believe the Vikings used the hammer grip.
Also, you say the sword is not a hammer. I disagree here also. Using the hammer grip, it is also quite handy for hammering someone with pommel. Either directly or backhanded after an inverted parry. The other end of the chopping motion.
You say your 2100 digs into your wrist if you hold it hammer style? I can't visualize that. But you also say "in certain motions". I'll wager that these motions are the very ones that I say the Vikings didn't use for that very reason. Hammer style, the edge of the pommel shouldn't come anywhere near your wrist.

Joel
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Kenneth Enroth




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PostPosted: Wed 20 Oct, 2004 4:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Swords had been used for thousands of years before the viking age. There is no reason to believe that viking swordsmanship were less sophisticated than the medieval warriors. In fact beacuse they placed such high value on weapons it would be reasonable to think they would use them in sophisticated ways. A high level of sophistication is actually evident in viking technology. A good example is the longships that took them all the way over the atlantic.
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Allen W




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PostPosted: Wed 20 Oct, 2004 5:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As to design intent with viking grips I think that the flat pommels with short grips sort of auto-align the edge as the pommel enters the palm. Regarding historical use I find the hammer grip especially uncomfortable and lacking focus when throwing the low, horizontal shots to the lead leg that are so often described in the sagas, though the hammer grip is appropriate (though not exclusively) to the vertical shots thrown in a tight shield wall. There is nothing to prevent easy transition from grip to grip.

P.S. It is refreshing to encounter others willing to argue with experts when their own experience contradicts the words of even extremely, experienced and acknowledged experts such as Peter. Far to often people hide behind the words of experts (who can only interpret as the rest of us do) or manuals to define historic accuracy often to the point of denigrating their own practical experience. So to bury this dead horse, I feel that our field is flirting with orthodoxy and this debate, while I generally disagree with you, is a very positive sign.
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Kirk Lee Spencer




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PostPosted: Wed 20 Oct, 2004 6:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Gents...

It seems odd to me that we are stuck in the either/or mode. The transition from a hammer grip to a loose "hand-shake" grip is really quite easy. As a matter of fact just loosening the tightness of the grip will cause the blade weight to pull the pommel into the palm. So I suspect that a viking warrior could change the grip quickly and easily.

As I read through the Viking sagas it amazes me how many cuts are made to the legs. I believe such a cut would be one instance, especially from a standing position, that would be facilitated by a transition from a hammer grip to a hand-shake grip.

Great discussion

ks

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PostPosted: Wed 20 Oct, 2004 6:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kirk wrote:
Quote:
As I read through the Viking sagas it amazes me how many cuts are made to the legs.


If I recall correctly, the vast majority of finds in battlefield archaeology (i.e. bodies) show severe trauma to the legs. It seems that the legs were a primary target, at least in medieval warfare. In this case forensics would corroborate the witness of the sagas very nicely.

David
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Shane Allee




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PostPosted: Wed 20 Oct, 2004 7:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It is nice to see a few more people understanding this grip, just a few years ago the majority looked at you like you were crazy just for suggesting it. Here is an older picture I had taken trying to illustrate this grip. I only wish I would have left the gloves off.
A number of period illustrations show people with their little fingers "wrapped" over the pommel, this is one of those things that you pretty much have to dislocate your finger to do with a hammer grip. However, with this grip your little figure naturally wraps around it. Also with this grip the shaping in the side view of the upper guard and pommel on many swords makes since, the lowering of the surface near the junction of the guard and cap allows the lower section of your palm a place to sit. As it has been mentioned this type of grip isn't limited to just the viking age, some of the shorter gripped germanic swords prior to them would most likely required it as well. It is very natural to grip La Tene period swords in this manor as well.

Joel I'm afraid you have been mistaken on a few things. First as it has been pointed out, swordmanship was well established by this time period. Next you state that after awhile even this grip will dig into your hand, however it simply can't. The flat of the pommel sits flat against the palm of your hand. You also brought up fighting in close proximity in formation, remember though that these are the times when the spear was the primary weapon. Only after the fighting was starting to individualize would swords have been drawn.

I don't feel that every single viking age sword was designed to be used this way. However when one starts looking at the sword designs that feature the shorter grips it becomes clear that the majority of them are ones that have design shapes and features that lend themselves to this style grip.

P.S.
The sword pictured is Arms and Armor's Shifford, the grip on which is short enough that I couldn't grip it in the typical hammer style with my hands.



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Alina Boyden




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PostPosted: Wed 20 Oct, 2004 8:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

And now we run into a new problem. My hand isn't big enough to grip comfortably they way Peter and others are describing. I've tried it numerous times and I find it awkward and I feel that I'm about to drop the sword. Looking at Shane's picture I can see how it would be comfortable for a guy with a big hand, but I find it hard to accomplish.
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PostPosted: Wed 20 Oct, 2004 8:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As a fellow with relatively medium-sized hands, I must echo Alina's concern. The "handshake" grip, to me, seems to be awfully slow in the recovery, and would propably increase the chances of beind disarmed if the sword happened to bite into a shield or get stuck in bone, not to mention when being subjected to something like a glizade or a strong beat.

Of course, it might be that I'm doing something wrong or that I just happen to have oddly shaped hands, but a slightly modified hammer grip (I hold the sword in an otherwise normal hammer grip, but turn my hand just a bit so that the pommel rests on the heel of my hand - this way, it can't really bite my wrist) seems to me to be the most effective.

Rabbe
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Alina Boyden




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PostPosted: Wed 20 Oct, 2004 8:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Rabbe Jan-Olof Laine wrote:
As a fellow with relatively medium-sized hands, I must echo Alina's concern. The "handshake" grip, to me, seems to be awfully slow in the recovery, and would propably increase the chances of beind disarmed if the sword happened to bite into a shield or get stuck in bone, not to mention when being subjected to something like a glizade or a strong beat.

Of course, it might be that I'm doing something wrong or that I just happen to have oddly shaped hands, but a slightly modified hammer grip (I hold the sword in an otherwise normal hammer grip, but turn my hand just a bit so that the pommel rests on the heel of my hand - this way, it can't really bite my wrist) seems to me to be the most effective.

Rabbe


That's the way I hold it as well. I have short fingers and they just don't wrap far enough around the pommel for it to be secure for me. So I shift the hammer style grip so that the pommel rests against the heel of my hand. That way I have a more secure grip and the edges of the pommel don't bite into my wrist.
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Aaron Justice




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PostPosted: Wed 20 Oct, 2004 8:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Joel Thompson wrote:

You say your 2100 digs into your wrist if you hold it hammer style? I can't visualize that. But you also say "in certain motions". I'll wager that these motions are the very ones that I say the Vikings didn't use for that very reason. Hammer style, the edge of the pommel shouldn't come anywhere near your wrist.

Joel



A viking wouldn't use a horizontal strike, vertical strike, or a thrust? That's when the pommel digs into my wrist. You have to account for hand alignment when it comes to a Peteren type H, if the pommel is as wide as the Del Tin it will dog into your wrist.

Fact is that depending on your palm size (my palms are fairly big) and the size of the grip (the 2100 is only 3.5 inches, ever so slightly smaller han my palm size) some digging into the wrist is unstoppable.

You are not factoring in the pommel width and the crossguard width. if both are wide and perfectly straight, like the Petersen type H is, there will be some digging in the wrist using the hammer grip. The handshake grip not only eliminates it, but when cutting some bamboo with this sword it feels perfectly natural.

How can there be a perfect sword when PEOPLE come in all shapes and sizes too?
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Blaz Berlec




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PostPosted: Wed 20 Oct, 2004 9:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

What about such hilt designs?



They seem very non-ergonomic, no matter how you grip them. Although the "hand shake grip" seems logical, the sharp edges would dig into your palm or the "fleshy part of your thumb" when you rotate the sword. Or is the strong pyramid tapering of pommel designed just to avoid that? Should really try this on the replica, but unfortunately there’s none in my grasps’ reach.


I also noticed some similarities of the “Viking hand shake” gripping with the gripping of the one and a half handed sword. Early one and a half handers had really awkward shaped pommels – disks with wide protrusions, very wide brasil nuts or even “boat shaped” pommels wider than 5 cm (2”). And all that with the grip length that isn’t really very comfortable for a nice two handed “hammer” grip – only about 13 – 15 cm (5 – 6”). A lot of later medieval “bastard” swords had pommels that allowed gripping (Semapch and such) and grip lengths in excess of 18 – 20 cm (7 or 8 inches), and with so much room you can place your grip however you wish. With earlier shorter grips you have to place your left hand in a similar grip as the “hand shake” grip sketched above by Peter, and the pommel sits comfortably in your palm when you swing the blade – at least I’ve been holding such swords like that.

And really interesting topic, by the way. Thank you all for contributing!


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Patrick Kelly




PostPosted: Wed 20 Oct, 2004 9:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

From Kirk:

Quote:
It seems odd to me that we are stuck in the either/or mode.


Not all of us Big Grin My entire point was that I believe either gripping method was used, depending upon the situation. They both work well depending upon the circumstance.

There's another problem we need to avoid when examining these types of things. We often fall into the trap of evaluating a technique when the results are based upon our own physical limitations. The old-timers lacked our modern conveniences, and their day to day existence would have been much more laborious than ours. A grip that may feel insecure in our soft 21st century hands probably would have been fine to a hardy viking age warrior.

When evaluating these things we also need to use an appropriate tool. Most production viking swords (as well as many custom ones) are simply too blade heavy, and lack the proper mass distribution that allows a sword of this type to function in the appropriate manner.

"I'd rather go upriver with 7 studs, than a 100 sh!theads." - COL Charlie Beckwith, founder SFODD
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