The first season of The Witcher delivered a stylish fantasy adventure – right up the the point where Henry Caville’s character started sword fighting multiple opponents with a reverse-handed grip. Dear Netflix, why, oh why, oh why…?
The Witcher isn’t the only guilty show; GoT did it, Legolas in Lord of the Rings did it; every version of Zatoichi has it as the character’s signature style.
We all know the right way up to hold a sword is the standard ‘hammer’ grip. In no historical treatise that I know of (corrections welcomed) does anyone hold anything but a dagger in the reversed ‘ice pick’ grip for stabbing downward. So why do fight choreographers insist on slipping this into sword fights when the mechanics of the reverse grip are so woefully inefficient?
There are at least seven deadly (to the user) sins committed in using the reverse handed grip.
1 Reach. The grip is counter to the way humans swing any long tool. Why get a long blade then cut your effective reach in half but holding it the wrong way up?
2 Power. Reverse-handed cuts are inherently weaker than hammer grip cuts as the human musculature and skeleton has evolved to beat drums, rocks, and enemy heads on the same direction that the hand and arm naturally descend under gravity.
3 Geometry. The reverse-handed swordsman has to work with a whole new set of lines and angles to get the blade’s edge in line to cut or parry. Usually against an opponent using the conventional hammer grip.
4 Structure. The biomechanics of using the weapon the wrong way up make cuts and parries structurally weaker, as opposing force is taken below the elbow and shoulder instead of above where the swordsman’s joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons are set up to absorb and resist opposing forces
5 Twirling. Fight choreographers love to give their actors some fancy twirling and spinning, but this is all so much showboating for the camera, turning a deadly weapon into a cheerleader’s baton. Reverse-handed twirling is even more ridiculous and awkward than doing it the right way up. And just as pointless as a cowboy twirling a six gun. “Did you have too much time on your hands? Nothing better to practice?” [Stab]
6 Spinning. Far too much 360-degree pirouetting accompanies the reverse-handed grip, just to try to get the blade in the right place and because it also looks balletic and somehow ‘cool’. That said, there’s far too much spinning like a top in most stage fighting, whatever weapon or grip. This breaks the number one rule in sword fighting – never turn your back on your opponent.
7 Strokes. Fighting reverse-handed also seriously restricts your repertoire of cuts and parries in what you can physically do with the sword the wrong way up in a shortened stance. You’re left with six cuts (at close range), five decent parries and a good chance of slicing both your own legs off. Thrusting attacks are next to impossible because you’re holding a long thing the wrong way up. Unless you want to stab your opponent in the foot.
Yet none of the opponents in the movies or on TV appear to recognise this showboating performance for what it is – an opportunity to reach out with a decent lunge and stick the pointy end in the other guy. I’ll save it for my epic Medieval Western where the bad guys actually learn some proper technique. RC