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The Beginner’s Guide to German Longsword, part 2: How to Hold a Longsword

2.1. Holding the sword

Holding the sword may seem fairly straightforward, but due to the complexity and versatility of our hands, it includes a lot of finesse and detail. Here are some general guidelines, which are true for all grip positions with the longsword:

  • Always be relaxed. Don’t grip the sword tightly.
  • If your hands use the full length of the lever, you will have better control in the bind (i.e. where two swords are in contact) and will change your strikes more easily.
  • If your hands are closer to one another, you need a smaller movement of the hands to move the point the same distance as you would with your hands further apart. This can lead to a faster strike, but will make the sword more difficult to control.
  • Always be ready to change grips as necessary. This applies both to the way you hold the sword as well as the distance between your hands.
  • The back hand is the hand that does a lot of the work in longsword. It gives the strikes their speed, accuracy, and finesse. When learning how to strike, focus on the back hand as well.
  • The back hand can be either on the grip or on the pommel. In the sources, only one writes about the position of the back hand, advising it to be above the pommel. However, manuscript illustrations often depict the pommel grip as well.
  • The back hand should not so much grip the handle/pommel as much as hug it. The pommel should be able to turn freely without you losing control of the sword. It is expected that in certain positions, only two fingers will be holding the pommel. If you force the grip of the back hand, you will often be forced to over rotate your torso.
  • Always keep the wrists straight. The wrist is considered straight when it can safely transfer forces from a strike made or defended to the rest of the arm instead of sending them to the wrist. If the wrist is in a broken position, even a single strong attack can damage it.

2.2. The grips

The German school has three basic ways of holding the sword. The transition between your default grip (handshake or hammer) should be practiced until it can be done smoothly even in stressful situations. Often, bulky gloves can make the transitioning that much more difficult, meaning proper form obtained through repetition is even more important.

2.2.1. The handshake grip:

Handshake grip from the side and above.

This is the standard grip for the sword. Imagine the grip of the sword is a hand you wish to shake. Place your hand on the grip so that the index finger is slightly higher then the crevice at your thumb. The crevice should form a V-like space between your thumb and the rest of your hand. The thumb should rest lightly on the grip just below the crossguard. The muscle beneath the thumb also provides support to the grip. The hand is not at a 90 degree angle to the handle, but rather diagonal. Keep both your hands relaxed, with the back hand placed according to your preference (preferably either on the pommel or just above). This grip is used in most stances.

Hammer grip from the side and above. The fist is relaxed, not clenched.

2.2.2. The hammer grip:

An alternative to the handshake grip. Thought this is not actually the grip you would use with a hammer (it is more likely you hold it in a handshake grip), it is a very simple grip. Simply make a fist around the grip, and you are done. As with the handshake grip, make sure that your grip is relaxed, and that your back hand is in your preferred position. As this is an alternative to the handshake grip, it can be used with most stances.

2.2.3. The thumb grip:

The default grip for using the short edge of the sword. It is named so because the thumb is placed on the flat of the sword. The structure of the grip changes so that the wrist is now in line with the flat of the sword instead of the edge. This grip provides extra muscle activation in the forearm, making for a more stable strike. It can also be used with most of the guard positions (Ochs, Pflug, Langort), and is always used with the Nebenhut. It is the primary grip for strikes with the short edge.

 

The thumb grip from above. It is very important that you are able to switch your handshake or hammer grip into this easily and fluidly.

2.2.4. “Flow” grips

This is perhaps the most important lesson on the grips: Be relaxed, and be safe. Everything else are guidelines, including the grips above. When you will start moving the sword, you will discover that the grip is in constant flux, always changing. Sometimes, your lead hand will only hold the sword with the thumb and index finger, with the handle resting in the nook between the two fingers, and that is as it should be. Sometimes, the back hand will just barely hug the pommel with two fingers, and that too is OK. As long as you keep your wrists straight (again, defined by being able to transfer force to the rest of the hand) and relaxed, it is a good grip.The position above are good to know for how to start, but don’t over-analyze them once fencing.

Final position of the right Ochs guard. Wrists are straight, hands relaxed. Notice how open the back hand is.

One thought on “The Beginner’s Guide to German Longsword, part 2: How to Hold a Longsword

  1. Ballsausage says:

    This is wildly inaccurate. Instead of spreading misinformation, explain what not to do maybe, because what you’re telling people to do only ever half correct.

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