Sword Fighting 102
In the feedback from my last submission, it has been requested that I write instructions on two handed swords. I must admit, I am not as proficient with the two handed sword as with the one handed so I fear that the quality of this submission will not be as high as the last. You will find that this submission looks very much like my last, this is because I simply altered my last submission to focus on the two handed style. I hope I did a satisfactory job.
If you are under 13 you should not practice any of the drills involving a sword-like implement without adult supervision, in fact I wouldn’t recommend anyone under the age of 18 do said exercises without the consent of their parent or guardian. I STRONGLY recommend that no one of any age practice swordplay without supervision.
There are many methods that may be used to learn and practice swordsmanship. This is one of the first I have learned. Before I begin, I should state that I do not know all there is to swordsmanship and have only learned from experience and a very small amount of training. If you disagree with my advice or feel I am not explaining properly, I urge you to purchase a book on swordsmanship or consult a sword master.
Step 1: Unarmed Practice
Before you begin practicing with a sword like implement (wooden poles, bamboo, boffer swords, etc.) I would suggest practicing some basics. This section is identical to the Unarmed Practice section in Sword fighting 101. Even so, you can never over practice the basics. I encourage everyone who chooses to practice swordsmanship to spend some time on these exercises even though they may seem tedious.
Drill 1: The Stance
I would recommend using a horseman’s stance. Stand with your right foot forward with your toes pointing forward (left foot if you are left handed) and your left back. Your left foot should be at a 90 degree angle to your right foot. Keep your feet at a comfortable distance from each other, about shoulder width apart. They should be wide enough that you are stable but not so far apart that it is hard to move. Be sure to bend your knees and put your weight on the balls of your feet, not your heels. Practice this position until you are relatively comfortable with it. Remember, if you are not comfortable with your fighting stance, it will act as a distraction.
Drill 2: Movement
For this drill, begin in your horseman’s stance. First, practice moving forward and back. To do this, step forward with your forward foot and pull you back foot forward. To move backward, step back with your back foot and pull your front foot back. Always move the foot in the direction you are going first (i.e. front foot first for forward motion) and remember not to step too far and overextend yourself. Also, be sure to maintain a good stance after each movement.
Next, try moving side to side. Use the same basic principles discussed in the forward-backward motion drill, but apply it to left and right motion. Remember to step with the foot in the direction you wish to go (left foot first for leftward motion).
Once you get the hang of that, mix the motions up some. I recommend working with a partner and having one person call out the motions while the other carries out the motions. Or, if you prefer, you could practice with a mirror drill. One person moves and the other follows, always staying in front of the opponent.
Always remember the basics, and be sure not to cross your feet. If you cross your feet or bring them to close to each other, you will lose balance and could even fall over. Keep your knees bent, stay relatively low, and your weight on your toes. I know it is difficult to maintain this position but with time and practice your legs will get stronger and you will be able to stay in this stance longer and more easily.
As you grow confident you can practice circling with a partner, just use the same basic steps and follow a circle pattern always facing each other.
Step 2: Armed Practice without a Partner
Now that you have practiced the basic movements it is time to apply the weapon element. I would not recommend fighting or even practicing with a partner until you are confident with your abilities with a weapon. Even though a well trained expert is dangerous in battle, an untrained novice is even more dangerous in practice.
Choose an implement that you are comfortable holding, a short wooden pole, a stick, or even a cane. It is important that you choose a weapon that is not too heavy or large otherwise it will be cumbersome and difficult to use effectively. This practice weapon can be longer and heavier than the one you used in 101 because you will be using both hands.
Drill 1: Grip
Now that you have chosen a weapon, let us explore your grip. For a two handed weapon, the basic principles are the same as a one handed weapon, but you will need to incorporate the second hand.
First, you should not grip your weapon too tightly, like a baseball bat. You should hold it securely enough so it doesn’t fly out of your hand, but not so tight that it doesn’t move in your hand. I recommend gripping with your index finger and thumb and using the remaining fingers for additional control, this applies for both hands. Your dominant hand should be on top of your grip and your subordinate hand towards the bottom. Explore this grip by holding the sword and moving it around in your hand. When you move your sword you should use your dominant hand like a pivot and your subordinate hand should move the sword. For example, if you are right handed and taking a forward swing, you should hold your right hand in one place and pull back with your left hand (if you wish to add more power to a strike push your right hand forward rather than holding it still). This may seem a little robotic but bear in mind that in the end you need to do what you feel comfortable with. You should still practice this technique as it will be brought up later. Swing it around a little, try a few basic attacks. Don’t get to wild though; you may end up hurting yourself. 😉
Drill 2: The Ready Position
Now incorporate the weapon into your stance. Begin with a good horseman’s stance. In 101 I told you to hold the sword in your dominant hand and hold it over your dominant shoulder. For two handed swords, however, we will start with a stance that allows you to use the length of your weapon to help keep your opponent at bay.
For now I will explain the first stance I was taught which I will simply refer to as “the ready position”, complicated isn’t it? For this stance, hold your sword with both hands in front of you. Keep your elbows bent and relax. If you were practicing with a partner, which you shouldn’t be right now, the tip of your sword should line up with his/her eyes. In other words, your eyes, the tip of your sword, and your opponent’s eyes should form a straight line. It is a fairly simple technique and I am sure you will pick it up quickly. Practice your movement drills with your weapon in this position until you grow confident in it.
This is the stance I will have in mind when writing the rest of this instruction. I will list other stances toward the end.
Tip: When using this stance some opponents may choose to move your sword out of the way by pressing the tip of their sword against the tip of yours. Don’t let them do it, it weakens your defense. If they try it simply lift the tip of your sword out of their range and reset and continue doing so until they either stop or you find an opening.
Drill 3: Attacking
First let’s look at the basic attack, I will explain how a right handed person should move. Begin in your ready position with a good stance. Now, simply extend your arms, until your right arm is parallel to the ground. Once you arm is extended, pull back with your left hand and bend your right wrist forward to bring the sword down onto what would be your opponent’s head if you were facing, and near to, an opponent. When doing this, tighten your grip so that you provide a firm hit. Remember to keep your grip relatively loose until you start the hand motions. This motion should be quick and as soon as you complete this motion bring your arm back to the ready position. The overall motion should be quick like a cobra strike. To add a little more power, step forward slightly, but not too much, during this motion.
This attack will work as a head strike but would probably be most useful as a thrust. Simply adjust the mechanics of the motion so that you strike the chest of your opponent once you reach your full extension.
Other attacks should follow the same basic principles. Extend the arms, pull back with the left hand, bend the right wrist, and tighten your grip as you strike. Of course, you should not follow this pattern too rigidly, allow your motions to flow and if one attack is blocked use the rebound of your weapon to gain momentum for another attack from a different angle.
Another possible thrust attack exploits the reach of the two handed sword, though I would not recommend attempting it if your sword or sword like instrument does not have a pommel (the thing on the butt of the sword that keeps your hand from slipping off). To begin make sure your right foot is forward (if you are right handed). Next, from your ready position pull your sword back as if you were pulling a rope. Then thrust forward, but as you do release your left hand and allow the sword to slide through your grip and catch it at the pommel when your arm is at full extension. This allows you to add a good 4 inches to your reach which, though it may not seem like a lot, could make the difference between a killing blow and a light wound. Of course, as soon as you reach full extension you will want to snap back to your ready position in case your strike was ineffective. This may seem a little complicated but with enough practice you should be able to master it.
Practice these attacks and others against the air, until you feel confident.
Drill 4: Accuracy
For this exercise, you will need an object to practice against. I recommend a wooden pole or tree. Be sure, if you choose a tree, not to be using an implement that will harm it, trees have feelings too. Choose a point on your target, I recommend a spot that is about at the level of your opponent’s head. Now, practice striking that spot using various attacks. Remember to incorporate stabs, slashes and chops into this from varying angles. Continue until you can hit the point consistently and then try other points lower on the target (or higher if you were initially aiming low).
Drill 5: Feint Attacks
One important tool a swordsman employs is deception. It is useful to mislead your opponent to think you are attacking when you really aren’t. Practice this without a partner to start. Begin from your ready position. Now, swing around where you opponent would be and aim at the legs. Do NOT hit the legs, but follow through, continuing your circular motion and strike where the opponents head would be. This technique, when done properly, will draw the opponents guard downward and leave their head vulnerable.
Drill 6: Chaining Attacks / Shadow fighting
One thing that may help you win a battle is the ability to chain attacks together. To practice this put yourself in a battle with an imaginary opponent you can use a post or tree as your opponent or nothing at all. In this imaginary battle, practice blocking your imaginary opponent’s blows as you would in a real battle and practice chaining attacks together. If you are using a post or tree as your opponent then use the momentum of the recoil of your strikes to bring the weapon around for another attack. If you are practicing against the air you will need to imagine the recoil and move your weapon accordingly. When you are doing this drill, start off slow at first to get the accuracy of the cuts and the movement of the blade down. Then gradually speed up. If you like you can make up a pattern of attacks and practice it over and over until it gets written into your muscle memory, then you can use the combo at any time during a battle without thinking about it.
When you are fighting your imaginary opponent, don’t make your imaginary opponent an amateur who as never seen a sword in his life. Make him about as good a fighter as you, this means make sure to imagine he blocks many of your attacks and even gets some combos in on you. It may be difficult but it will help you in the long run.
Step 3: Armed Practice with a Partner
Now let’s try a few drills with a partner.
CAUTION: This is a very dangerous practice; DO NOT practice with a partner unless you are both equipped with the proper safety measures. Wear helmets and armor. If you are using boffer weapons, a hockey helmet, elbow and knee pads, gloves and a cup should be sufficient, though I would strongly recommend neck protection. If you are using rattan, bamboo or any type of wood or metal, I strongly recommend using steel armor. I would NOT recommend using metal weapons AT ALL at this stage. I don’t even use wood weapons yet and if you are taking lessons from me, you have no business with a steel or aluminum sword. But if you ignore that warning, please, wear helmets, a breastplate, elbow and knee cops, heavy gloves or gauntlets, and a gorget or coif. PLEASE, if you cannot protect yourself and your partner sufficiently, DO NOT continue. Safety is the most important part of swordplay.
Drill 1: Exchange of Blows
For this drill it is best if both combatants use two handed swords to achieve the greatest benefit. Begin in a good ready position facing each other. Next, swing at your partner’s head from the side. For the sake of the drill the side you are swinging at may be predetermined (i.e. the right or the left). Your partner should then raise his/her sword to block by raising their subordinate hand above their head on the side the swing is coming from. This motion should result in the sword being vertical with the pommel pointing up and the blade protecting the side of your head from the incoming blow. After successfully fending off the blow, your opponent should swing the blade of the sword behind his/her head and bring it around to strike your head from the predetermined side. You in turn should bring your sword around to mimic your opponent’s previous block then repeat. Continue this pattern for as long as you like. You should start slow until you get the rhythm down and then you may speed it up until you have mastered it.
Other practice drills are covered in Sword fighting 101
A second stance you my employ is a low guard stance. Start in your horseman stance with your subordinate foot (the left if you are right handed) forward and hold your weapon so that your hands are at your dominant hip with the blade pointed down and behind you. It may seem like this stance severely reduces your defense but with enough practice you will find that you can, in fact, defend your entire body from this position once you have improved your speed and reflexes. The primary attack I would recommend from this position is an upward slash to your opponent’s torso.
A third stance is a high guard some of you may recall as the Guard of the Hawk as featured in Kingdom of Heaven. It is quite simple, just hold your sword over your head and make downward swings at the desired body part. The downside to this guard, as I have found, is that it is not particularly good at defending against thrusts to the abdomen.
Since this the 102 class I thought I might share a few extra training suggestions. These simply exercises you can do in the gym to improve your physical ability with a focus on swordsmanship. I will not explain them in detail; if you wish to learn how to do the exercises you should consult a coach or an appropriate website. The first and possibly the most important (in my mind anyway) is the squat, this will strengthen your legs and allow you to stay in your horseman stance more easily. I also recommend dumbbell flies of all types or any muscle that works the shoulder muscles, the shoulders are always the sorest part on me after a rough day of fighting. In the case of two handed weapons I recommend medicine ball exercises specifically, throwing the ball with both hands in a manner as if you were swinging a baseball bat. This will help build swing strength and speed. And as always I recommend cardio exercise. Jogging or running sprints will help improve your endurance and allow you to fight harder longer.
Safety: Again, I cannot stress enough; this is an art meant to KILL people. Even if you are not practicing with live steel you can still cause serious injury and in extreme cases death. If you don’t respect it enough to wear the appropriate armor, do not participate.
Weapon choice: If you have no prior sword fighting experience, I would recommend using a boffer sword, which is essentially PVC pipe covered in padding. I have produced instructions on how to construct one, please see How to make a safe sword for fighting in the blacksmithing section.
Good ways to loose a battle: There are a lot of things we see in movies that look really cool on film but almost never work in battle. Case in point is the popular spin move. My advice is to never turn your back on the opponent as soon as you do odds are they will kill you. I am certainly not good enough to accomplish this, and if you are taking advice from me, odds are you aren’t either. Also, don’t do that flashy sword twirling stuff you see in Star Wars and such. Though twirling your sword may be a good way to work on your dexterity, it does not win battles. If you walk up to an accomplished swordsman twirling your sword like that he will laugh at you.
Armor: If you are using wooden or metal weapon (again NOT recommended) I strongly recommend steel armor preferably 16 gauge or thicker. I recommend wearing full armor to minimize any damage that may occur. Some of you may be thinking “But Thal in movies they go without armor all the time.” True, but those are movies, the actors are trained not to hit each other, are being supervised by a professional sword master and medical personnel and most of the time they are fighting they are far enough a part that they can’t hit each other. Besides, they are depicting wartime fighting where the speed gained by using less armor could provide a crucial advantage. But you are not practicing wartime fighting and should be more concerned with protecting yourself and your partner than running them through.
Injury: This is a rough sport, bumps and bruises are bound to occur, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore safety. Wear as much safety gear as is needed and more, but don’t be surprised if you get a bunch of bruises and sore joints. Also, even using boffer weapons, you could injure yourself badly if you get a good hit to a joint. Protect your joints, if you have a history of bad knees, wear a brace as well as knee protection. Protect your hands, odds are, this is where you will get the most injuries.
When to spar: In driver’s education, they teach you not to drive angry. The same is true for sword fighting. When you are angry your judgment is impaired and you may end up doing something you regret. This is not a form of anger management. Also, don’t fight under the influence of alcohol.
Where to spar: Spar in a place with lots of room for motion and plenty of room above your head. Don’t fight in your living room or someplace where there are a lot of breakables. If you have a spacious back yard that would be a good place. A park or a gymnasium would also work. Make sure to check the ground for holes and rocks if you are outside, a bad fall or a wrong step could cause injury if the ground is not clear. Just be sure you are not breaking any rules by sparing there and make sure you are in an area with few people.
Supervision: If you are under 18 I recommend adult supervision when practicing with a partner and even if you are over 18 it is still a good idea to have a referee of sorts to keep an eye on you and make sure you don’t harm yourself, your partner, or people around you. When fighting you can become so focused that you may not notice the 4 year old walking up behind you, or the park bench you are about to trip over.
Safety: Again, I cannot stress enough; this is an art meant to KILL people. Even if you are not practicing with live steel you can still cause serious injury and in extreme cases death. If you don’t respect it enough to wear the appropriate armor, do not participate. (I know this is a repeat, but I am not kidding) I have been involved in several situations where people nearly experienced serious injury because they either forgot to put on their armor or they didn’t have proper protection.
Thank you for reading and please, use common sense when practicing. We don’t want anyone to get seriously hurt. Sword fighting can be a lot of fun when practiced responsibly.
Thanks to justin37d for suggesting I write this and to Glofin for his input on the subject.