Three different ways to hold a sword – some tips for authors who write about swords

Did you know that there are three different ways to hold a (one-handed) sword?

Modern sword fighters have recognized three different grips. Each grip is unique, and allows you to do wield the sword differently. We call them grips, and they involve moving your fingers on the grip of the sword in different ways. The grips are utilized for different situations when you are dueling.

I will illustrate the three grips using my Viking-type sword. This type of sword was used in Europe during the Viking Age (circa 790-1050 AD).

The hammer grip

When you think of someone holding a sword, the grip that comes to mind is likely the hammer grip. It is called a hammer grip because it resembles someone using a hammer.

Hammer grip, the grip that most people think of when they use a sword, and also how people tend to hold swords when they use them for the first time.

The hammer grip is great for chopping strikes, particularly at your enemy’s upper body, such as shoulder or head. It also gives your strike a lot of power – if I were to try and crush someone’s helmet, I would use a hammer grip!

The thumb grip

The second grip is called the thumb grip. Similar to the hammer grip, the thumb is placed on the flat of the blade, and your hand slides up the grip a few centimetres. The thumb gives your sword more support and is much more dextrous than the thumb grip. That means the thumb grip is ideal for swipes or horizontel strikes, along with hard hits or cuts using your wrist – particularly to the torso.

If you want to parry, the thumb grip is your go-to. It is also great for binds – that is, when you parry your enemy’s sword, and you take control of their sword using your blade!

The handshake or screwdriver grip

The final grip is called the handshake grip, or screwdriver grip. It is called that because you place your hand on the grip as if to shake a hand / you end up positioning your index and middle fingers as if you were using a screwdriver. It allows for you to strike with precision. Stabbing fits this grip well.

The handshake/screwdriver grip is ideal for precision. Is your opponent heavily armoured, and you need to strike a small, exposed point? This grip will help! Careful and precise cuts, strikes, and thrusts will come to you.

As you can see, each grip has its own advantages and disadvantages. I prefer the thumb grip myself, but lately, I have been experimenting a lot with the handshake/screwdriver grip to satisfactory success. An individual fighter will have a preferred grip, and others have preferred grips for different situations. Some fighters even switch grips in the middle of combat!

What does this have to do with fiction writing? Understanding the weapons your character uses can give your writing more confidence. Swords are some of the most common weapons that pop up in fantasy, but few writers will learn how to fight with a sword. A sword is a real weapon, with real skills, techniques, and scholarship behind it. Give it some thought, and when your characters use this weapon, you can put your knowledge and experience into their strikes! This will boost your confidence as a writer, and make your writing feel more authentic.

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