Longswords vs Zweihanders

4 Jun 2019 by gebhard, No Comments »

Recently I was asked what seems like a simple question. Do period sword techniques translate for swords around (48 inches) or great swords (6 feet or longer)?

I asked if they wanted the short or the long version, they said “Long”, So let’s dive in!

Long Swords

A brief history
In the beginning, swords were short and made of bendy stuff, copper and bronze. As metallurgy, improved, the quality and quantity of steel increased (iron mixed with carbon) so did the length of swords. Around 1350, long swords (swords that can be used as one or two hands) started to gain popularity. They were great for smiting your foes from horseback, as they gave reach while maintaining a steady grip on the reigns.

The long sword is roughly 2-4 lbs in weight and commonly 39-52 inches long. This made them quick blades with fair reach giving them utility for a lot of situations. They are not so large they couldn’t be put into a sheath, hung from a belt and carried around town.

They gained popularity in tournaments as they are flashy, fast, and against an opponent armed at all points, they are still unlikely to cause permanent harm (at least against the armored spots).

Due to their amazing popularity during their nearly 500 year run, hundreds of treatises were made on the usage. Below I’ve linked just a few.

Fun Links

Joachim Meyer’s

Hans Talhoffer

George Silver

Fun videos of longsword ussage


Marc’s Crown fights

Drills By Duke Marc

Class By Duke Marc when he was King and in Japan

The Zweihander

Also known as Greatsword by the English, Claymore by the Scots, Montante by the Spanish, and  Portuguese and Spada da due mani by the Italians.

A brief history

The Zweihänder (a non-historical modern popular term, German term for “two hander”, for the more accurate Doppelhänder (“double-hander”) or Beidhänder (“both-hander”) is a type of large two-handed sword primarily in use during the early decades of the 16th century. It’s normally around 4-7 lbs and 6-7 feet in length (although the parade version gets crazy long and heavy). They have a short lifespan in period use, roughly 1475 to 1650, but had ceremonial usage for a fair bit longer.

Its length and weight make it far more like a Polearm than like a long sword.

They are slow and lumbering. If the long sword is the cheetah of two handed weapons, then a Zweihänder is an elephant. It’s slow and lumbering, but you don’t want to be anywhere near it if it’s charging your way.

The Zweihänder were definitely used, but there is still a lot of controversy around how these were used in combat. There is documentation of them being on the battlefield, but what tactics included them remains pretty muddy. What is generally believed is Zweihänders were used to hold ground on a bridge or narrow gap, and also to protect an important person.

They were the weapon of choice for bodyguards. The few resources we have on its usage relate to taking on opponents while surrounded. A single Zweihänder wielder could hold off numerous attackers giving time for others to escape.

Giacomo di Grassi, an Italian fencing master, says to use the large two handed weapon as a spear against a single target, and as a long sword against many.

Fun Videos

How does this all apply to the SCA?

For long sword, mostly everything works. The biggest difference is rattan is super bouncy so binding doesn’t really happen. I find most techniques work with surprising effectiveness.

Learning long sword techniques, I believe, will help with every area of your fight.

There is a reason it was a popular tournament weapon long after swords were no longer effective on the battle field.

To get very specific about SCA combat, learn about alignment, measure, and hanging guards, and oche and how to transition through them. Most great weapon fighters rely on the fast slot down. These will help stop that by building a good oberhau defense.

For Zweihänders, this gets mucky. A six foot sword is a lot like a polearm. It’s not very much like a long sword. I consider these two swords to need completely different styles, and I’m really only good with long swords.

If you follow Giacomo di Grassi and use it like a spear, I think that can work great. Duke Anton certainly has done well with this.
Outside of that, standard SCA polearm tactics work fine.

However, the long sword is capable of so much more than standard SCA polearm tactics allow, and it’s very good at them even lacking the mass and reach.

The long sword is a style unto itself, and it is the core style from which all others are derived, at least according to Joachim Myer.

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