All about hand guards

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All about hand guards

Postby mlentzner » 13 Feb 2014 22:27

I have what amounts to a dilettante's knowledge of HEMA so bear with me. I appreciate your comments on the following.

Just been thinking a lot about hand protection that is built into weapons, mainly swords, but not exclusively. It is striking to me that there was pretty much no attention paid to hand protection for the whole of weapon technology until the advent of the crucifrom sword (arming sword). AIUI, the technology for making a complex hilt would not be challenging to a swordsmith so if there was a need it would have been developed.

I assume this is because shields were the hallmark of a warrior until the 14th C and that the shield protects the striking hand. I'm basing that supposition on the use AIUI of the buckler in I.33. It's seem logical that the basket hilted sword basically combines the arming sword and the buckler together in one weapon - making the buckler obsolete.

Here's a question: Does the crossbar add any defensive capability to the arming sword? Certainly, having something there is useful and swords for a long time had at least a swelling of some kind. But does the long linear cross of an arming sword serve any defensive purpose? (I'm aware of it's symbolic meaning - is that it's only function?) Certainly, with half-swording it becomes part of the weapon system, but for attacking and not blocking.

If it is useful then why did it take so long to be added? Possibly this was because the sword was starting to be used alone and not always with a shield. I also wonder how shield use using enarmes instead of center gripping affects the configuration of the sword. Since an enarmed shield is closer to the body maybe the striking hand is more exposed and necessitates the cross? It could also just be that fighting on horseback exposes the striking hand more.

I have heard people say that hand protection was not needed because gauntlets protected the hand, but this doesn't hold up to any scrutiny in my opinion. People used swords for 2000 years (?) without gauntlets and without hand protection. Also, well made knightly weapons like pollaxes often had a rondel to protect the hand even though those users would most certainly be using gauntlets.

Sorry that's such a mishmash. Once again, I appreciate any comments.

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Re: All about hand guards

Postby MEversbergII » 14 Feb 2014 03:16

I've found it allows different parries and enables successful binds.

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Re: All about hand guards

Postby mlentzner » 14 Feb 2014 06:15

One other thing: as far as I know, the cruciform style was never used in Asia. Every sword I've seen has a pretty minimal hand guard - bananas, dao, jian. Granted a jian tends to have a more substantial guard, but it is no way close to the degree that an arming sword would have.

All those weapons were intended to be used by themselves and all have pretty piddly hand protection by western standards.
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Re: All about hand guards

Postby admin » 14 Feb 2014 12:32

Hi,

mlentzner wrote:Here's a question: Does the crossbar add any defensive capability to the arming sword?


Yes. The simple crossguard offers quite a lot of hand protection because it intercepts the angle that many blows naturally take when deliberately or accidentally hitting the hand during combat.

If it is useful then why did it take so long to be added?


Inventions take a long time to appear and become common. Like the wheel, water-powered hammer or firearm.

I also wonder how shield use using enarmes instead of center gripping affects the configuration of the sword. Since an enarmed shield is closer to the body maybe the striking hand is more exposed and necessitates the cross? It could also just be that fighting on horseback exposes the striking hand more.


These are both good suggestions - it is certainly notable that the longer crossguard started to become prevalent in Europe at the same time that centre-gripped shields fell out of favour and cavalry started to become more important (though on the latter point you could argue against it, as cavalry had been very important to the Franks for a long time and of course Eastern European cavalry did not adopt long crossguards until later than in Western Europe).
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Re: All about hand guards

Postby admin » 14 Feb 2014 12:35

Incidentally, the adoption of longer crossguards also more or less coincides with a period when mono-steel swords started to predominate over pattern-welded ones, and also therefore when more swords were of spring steel, perhaps cheaper and more numerous, and perhaps more capable of parrying. Perhaps for a variety of reasons, this period saw a greater degree of sword-on-sword contact, which of course might promote a more protective guard.
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Re: All about hand guards

Postby Max C. » 14 Feb 2014 15:37

The katanna guard might seem small by Western European standards but then it does protect a larger part of the hand where a crosshilt basically protects a longer area but on only two very narrow angles, at least until the invention of complex hilts. Now you might not really use it for actively parrying with but you can surely bind. Maniwa Nen Ryu and the Kashima schools do it pretty easily and the smaller size does allow for more agile although dangerous work in the bind.

That said you have several weapons in the Japanese tradition which have crosshilts: spears, halberds and even two handers like the nagamaki. They weren't the norm but they weren't unheard of.
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Re: All about hand guards

Postby Sean M » 15 Feb 2014 10:42

mlentzner wrote:I have what amounts to a dilettante's knowledge of HEMA so bear with me. I appreciate your comments on the following.

Just been thinking a lot about hand protection that is built into weapons, mainly swords, but not exclusively. It is striking to me that there was pretty much no attention paid to hand protection for the whole of weapon technology until the advent of the crucifrom sword (arming sword). AIUI, the technology for making a complex hilt would not be challenging to a swordsmith so if there was a need it would have been developed.

Being an ancient historian, I am concerned about this too. One thing that I would suggest is that if your opponent has a spear, or you are in a cavalry melee and have only one or two tempi per opponent, your hands are not very likely to be hit. Standing duels between swordsmen were not always common.

mlentzner wrote:One other thing: as far as I know, the cruciform style was never used in Asia. Every sword I've seen has a pretty minimal hand guard - bananas, dao, jian. Granted a jian tends to have a more substantial guard, but it is no way close to the degree that an arming sword would have.

Cross-hilts were used in Iranian sabres from say 1400 onwards. Does anyone in Kingsley's sourcebook object to South Asian swords for their simple hand protection? I don't recall any complaints, and the earlier and better-informed sources tended to like the flat handle and short grip of an Indian tulwar hilt, but admin-matt knows the book better than I do.
Last edited by Sean M on 15 Feb 2014 10:49, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: All about hand guards

Postby Sean M » 15 Feb 2014 10:48

admin wrote:Incidentally, the adoption of longer crossguards also more or less coincides with a period when mono-steel swords started to predominate over pattern-welded ones, and also therefore when more swords were of spring steel, perhaps cheaper and more numerous, and perhaps more capable of parrying. Perhaps for a variety of reasons, this period saw a greater degree of sword-on-sword contact, which of course might promote a more protective guard.

I have heard that some people have looked at high medieval sources on fighting, but I don't think any of them have published. That is a shame.
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Re: All about hand guards

Postby Chiron » 16 Feb 2014 16:42

I will second the comment about cavalry needing wider crossguards, short ones the other weapon can just bounce or slide over and then you have a sharp blade wresting on your wrist at < 40kmh, so it helps to have that.

Long Crossguards also allow some really fun techniques from the bind which are also important on horseback.
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Re: All about hand guards

Postby Michael Chidester » 16 Feb 2014 19:08

I also heard somewhere that crosses got longer as people realized that punching shields was unpleasant and a long crossbar helped prevent knuckle-on-wood contact. No notion who where I read it, though.
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Re: All about hand guards

Postby Mink » 16 Feb 2014 19:53

Michael Chidester wrote:I also heard somewhere that crosses got longer as people realized that punching shields was unpleasant and a long crossbar helped prevent knuckle-on-wood contact. No notion who where I read it, though.

This is the reason pointed out in John Clement's Medieval Swordsmanship, I don't know if he got it from someone else (Hank Reinard maybe?)...

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Re: All about hand guards

Postby Michael Chidester » 16 Feb 2014 20:15

Well, there you go. Take that for what it's worth.
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Re: All about hand guards

Postby admin » 17 Feb 2014 08:41

I think that is unlikely to be a factor. This was, IMHO, just John Clements' way of getting around the edge parrying problem.
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Re: All about hand guards

Postby mlentzner » 19 Feb 2014 00:34

How much do we know about fighting on horseback with sword and shield actually?

Here's what I'm thinking: An enarmed shield is used pretty passively while on horseback. For one, the hand is holding the reins so you can't be moving it around much without giving unwanted commands to the horse.

Enarmed shields came back with the Norman kite and there was no way a horseman would be able to cross that shield over to his right side to cover his striking hand. The 'heater' is IMO a development of the kite that was able to be smaller because of improvements in leg armor. But by then, the horsemen would have learned to block and fight with just the sword on the right side.

When I did a little research I was surprised to learn how short a run (~1250-~1350) the epitome of the knight's shield (heater) was. As per my comment about the lance stop, I think it was much more successful as sporting equipment for jousting, than actual battlefield use. By comparison the kite was used from ~900-~1250.

Yes, I'm speculating, but that seems like a good reason to develop a cross. The arming sword appears not too long after the kite shield at ~1000.

The remaining riddle is the Roman cavalry with their spatha. I can imagine crossing a center gripped parma or round shield over to the right. What's going on with the reins at that point and what the horse does though, I have no idea.

With missile armed horse troops I don't see a new for much defense since their side arm is going to come out to exploit a rout and not against troops still in good order. Your hand is not in much danger against someone who is fleeing.
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Re: All about hand guards

Postby mlentzner » 19 Feb 2014 00:36

Did anyone notice I wrote 'banana' instead of 'banana' a couple of posts back? Pretty embarrassing... :)
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Re: All about hand guards

Postby MEversbergII » 19 Feb 2014 04:01

Ah, you're new. That certain Japanese sword is renamed into a certain similarly shaped fruit automagically. Some kind of long-standing joke that predates me.

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The people scattered gold-dust before my horses feet;
But now I am a great king, the people hound my track
With poison in my wine-cup, and daggers at my back.

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Re: All about hand guards

Postby mlentzner » 19 Feb 2014 05:49

Actually, that's a relief. I thought I was losing my mind.
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Re: All about hand guards

Postby mlentzner » 19 Feb 2014 06:06

Just been looking at the Maciejowski bible. The artist is very careful to show the horsemen holding the reins with their shield hand when using a couched lance or single handed weapon. The reins appear to be tied around the waist when the horseman is using a two handed weapon such as an axe from horseback.

Interesting.
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Re: All about hand guards

Postby Dave Long » 19 Feb 2014 12:52

The sword dynamics paper we talked about earlier hypothesizes that large cross guards could be more for rotational inertia than anything else: ie, they keep the edge from rotating upon unexpected contact.

The hypothesis makes sense to me, as polo mallet heads have a "T" shape, in which the bars of the T are absolutely useless as striking surfaces but are invaluable (as can be experienced by attempting to play on with a broken head) in keeping the central striking area aligned perpendicular to the intended shot.

However, George Turner has a hefty caveat at the end of his cross-guard chapter (pp145-147), so some of you who have large cross guards at hand may wish to try it out yourselves?

(PS: it is more likely that the reins are temporarily hooked onto the waist somehow —as in the phrase "riding on the buckle"?— than that they are actually tied around it. Anyone who practices riding with the reins on their belt (we simply drop ours instead) should give some thought to their "quick release" mechanism beforehand, as being tied to your horse's mouth is courting disaster)
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Re: All about hand guards

Postby Sean M » 22 Feb 2014 09:38

Chiron wrote:I will second the comment about cavalry needing wider crossguards, short ones the other weapon can just bounce or slide over and then you have a sharp blade wresting on your wrist at < 40kmh, so it helps to have that.

Long Crossguards also allow some really fun techniques from the bind which are also important on horseback.

Yet we have those Cossack sabres with no guard at all, and I think that sharp swords tend to stick to each other where blunt ones will slide. Russ Mitchel's article on techniques which work when two horsemen gallop at each other was educational, and Kinsley's book has a few interesting anecdotes, but I'd be interested to hear from other people who study 18th and 19th century "light" cavalry fencing.
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