Orthopedic Weapons - The Effect of Broken Bones, Etc.

History and Historical European Martial Arts in the Codex Martialis

Orthopedic Weapons - The Effect of Broken Bones, Etc.

Postby Thaeris » Mon Sep 05, 2016 4:50 am

I've been out of practice with my medieval arms for quite a while now on account of a "stress injury," which has improved a bit, but still will persist as a detriment. Allow me to explain:

(1.) Don't get mad. Ever. Or something like that.

(2.) A man in armor was no joke, and punching him was likely a good way of hurting yourself in a last-ditch defensive situation.

(3.) One does not necessarily feel extreme amounts of pain upon breaking or fracturing a bone.

The injury in question was brought about by stress in the workplace and less-than-ideal conditions (also terrible decisions). I had a worker shoot himself on accident with a nail gun - the first thing I sought to do was to get access to the medical cabinet so that we could clean anything up that could be cleaned up with the supplies on hand. The injury was not serious, but I care about our people, so I was trying to do what I could. I requested that the cabinet be opened - it's normally locked so it's not pilfered, which has sadly been a problem in the past - the first thing I'm asked is, "why do we have to open the medical cabinet?" After telling just about every new employee I've inboarded about that damned cabinet and the trouble of getting it open, I just snapped and set about to hit something I felt might give, which ended up being the back side of a locker (we make lockers, by the way). Well, it didn't give, but my hand certainly did, with the right-hand metacarpal bone of the little finger fracturing (though I did not know that at the time). Pain was not significant, the injury was left untended until it was too late to set without surgery, and the bone healed incorrectly.

Introduction over, I can move on towards the main point. I've found that a longsword is not difficult to control post-injury so long as both hands remain on the weapon. The problem is in handling a single-handed arming sword - mine happens to be an Arms & Armor Grunwald. Because the little finger metacarpus is now arched upwards and the grip of the sword in question tapers inward toward the pommel, edge alignment control is now quite tricky. On the bright side, I think this issue could be resolved with a new handle design which might flare and swell in the area of the break - I will in fact have to attempt this when I get around to building my Type XIV from an Albion moat blade. I may be able to adapt to using the sword again with a decent amount of precision in the future, but there's going to be a bit of time between then-and-now it that's the case.

In terms of reality and gameplay you end up with a few items to consider from this event. Fractures and breaks may not be immediately debilitating, but they may have long-term effects on the individual. Arms may become difficult to use, or specifically-made arms may be required for proficiency to be maintained. Regardless of the case, I've not seen too many examples of this sort of (permanent) thing in the games I've played so far, but from personal experience, I'm inclined to feel they should. It certainly makes things a little more difficult, though perhaps more interesting as well.
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Re: Orthopedic Weapons - The Effect of Broken Bones, Etc.

Postby Galloglaich » Thu Sep 15, 2016 12:01 am

Very interesting post, and sorry to hear about the incident. in my HEMA club back in the days before we had proper gloves almost all of us broke our thumb or some bone in our hands, but mine seems to have healed well enough that it didn't effect holding the sword.

Thank god, because as much as I love longsword i really love saber.

i did play around with the long and short term effects of things like broken bones, somewhere in here on the forum there is a section of fairly thorough critical hit system that I planned to add to the Codex as an appendix / optional rule (since so many people asked for it) but never got around to doing. now that I finally finished this 8 year long revision of the Codex Baltic book I can start working on some of those other projects again, so hopefully I will (but no promises since I failed in the past to live up to them!)

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Re: Orthopedic Weapons - The Effect of Broken Bones, Etc.

Postby Thaeris » Fri Aug 04, 2017 5:05 pm

So, a while back, I noticed I was handling the arming sword fairly well again. I should have made a note of when this happened... when it happened. On a conservative note, I'll estimate that I was handling the weapon with relative ease beginning some time in June of this year. My injury happened right at the end of May in 2016...

...Therefore, adequate recovery from a boxer's break without having a splint/cast to straighten or realign the break took about a year in my case. That might be useful information for someone out there!

I also have come to the realization that I consistently get a pretty bad blister on my palm-side pinky knuckle when handling my swords, particularly the arming sword. Even without the injury, I am now starting to wonder what sort of ergonomic changes to a handle could be made to increase comfort and decrease the amount of punishment your hands are subject to. That particular area of the hand sees a lot of motion from periods between the sword being "caged" and held in the "hammer grip" and when it is "loosed" and therefore transitions to a "handshake" position. Historic swords seem to show any number of handle shapes, from the common grips seen in most reproductions to flaring swells in more exotic examples. Many weapons don't show anything of the sort due to decay and the effects of time - I personally wonder if many Viking-era swords had a somewhat rectangular-section grip akin to the Windlass qama I toy around with from time to time. I'll write a post on that matter at some point in the future.

So, ergonomic weapons. I am certain they're a thing and can probably be applied to just about any era in which you can think of. Partially, there is undoubtedly a training issue in there which will affect how well you resist wear-and-tear from using a weapon, as well as how well you do with handling one. But, there must certainly also be a degree of design in the cutlery at hand which promotes the former. These are interesting factors to consider when it comes to gear and its use.
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Re: Orthopedic Weapons - The Effect of Broken Bones, Etc.

Postby Galloglaich » Wed Aug 16, 2017 2:29 pm

It's an interesting question.

Very generally speaking, actual pre-industrial weapons tend to be vastly more ergonomic in general, as well as better balanced and more harmonically shaped and so forth than weapons made in the modern or industrialized era, and especially the cheaper weapons you can get today. I'd say 99% of the antiques I have ever handled from prior to the 17th Century had this fantastical quality. After that it is very hit and miss. I have handled 17th, 18th, and 19th Century swords which were almost as nice as medieval ones, and I have handled some (a couple of sabers in particular) which are very poorly balanced and feel uncomfortable in the hand.

By the way I have one of those Windlass Qama - I think I bought it on your suggestion, and the grip is crude though not too bad compared to some, the big rivet or whatever in the middle of the grip on one side is a little odd but you don't feel it that much. I think if I planned to use it a lot a generous application of sandpaper might help that quite a bit.

With modern replicas, I find that the cheaper ones often have very bad grips which feel uncomfortable, and probably need some modification to make them handle well. Many people re-hilt them entirely, there are a lot of threads about that kind of thing on Myarmoury and Sword Buyers Guide.

Real actual Viking swords, historical ones, which I have seen at the Higgins armoury in Massachussets (sadly now closed) and in various museums in Europe - are surprisingly small. The grips are tight and may make it difficult to use anything other than a hammer grip (can't say for sure because I didn't get to hold one). I have an antique (18th Century) talwar and the roundel type grip definitely does force your hand into a 'hammer' type grip and you basically have to do all your cutting from the shoulder and the elbow.

The Celtic and migration era swords, incidentally, look even more delicate and small than the Viking stuff. Considerably so.

I have handled a few antique medieval and Early Modern swords and they generally have such a phenomenal ergonomic quality all around that you just don't notice any of it. I remember this one 16th Century backsword which just felt like an extension of your arm. Not heavy, not light, just as if you had a 7 foot sharp arm. Hard to describe.


Re-hilting or re-covering the hilt may be a good idea as well. Like take off the hilt, file or sand down the surfaces to fit your hand better (and even grind on the pommel a bit if you need to) to make your hand fit better, and then put the covering back on - leather, wound cord or thread, or even if you have the money, something like ray skin or shark skin.

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Re: Orthopedic Weapons - The Effect of Broken Bones, Etc.

Postby Thaeris » Fri Aug 18, 2017 3:20 am

I'm jumping the gun on some of the posts I intend to write down the road with this one, but because we're speaking of the qama again, I guess I need to post this now. It is related to ergonomics, after all.

I'm going to wager that the qama grip is very ergonomic, and unless your hands are very large, it's probably just the size it needs to be. I'll attempt to link some images to argue this point - let me know if they don't work:

https://1drv.ms/i/s!As--YsoV359khEntG5n27To7GRcn

https://1drv.ms/i/s!As--YsoV359khEjFBkvzJ4Dt_r9x

https://1drv.ms/i/s!As--YsoV359khEpwKlTo1jiolU7k

https://1drv.ms/i/s!As--YsoV359khEtbSMHHfbzvzLbE

https://1drv.ms/i/s!As--YsoV359khEwzRUbCXRoAlWbj

*EDIT: I used to be able to do direct image links with OneDrive, what happened?*

When I first got the sword, I attempted a solid grip around the handle that you seem to be describing. However, that removes all of the agility that should be afforded to a cut-and-thrust sword. Although I'm not a fan of the grip terms "hammer" and "handshake," the qama is definitely something that should be held in the latter. More precisely, I'd say it is held in a "pinch" grip - you will note that this allows the sword to be comfortably drawn from the scabbard with the rivets pointing outward. You will also note that you no longer have to have hard contact with a rivet when gripping the sword. In fact, the rivets help keep the sword secure in the hand! The back of the handle is smooth so as not to rub uncomfortably against the user when being worn and also allows the palm of the hand to comfortably rest on the pommel of the weapon. This positioning with the pinch grip allows for a substantial degree of rotation, probably far more so than with the hammer grip, when striking with the sword, and also allows for easy point control.

You will also note that the pinch grip is very similar to the thumb grip with a longsword. The difference is that there is a 90 degree difference between those two grips, but they still allow for the same things (except some cuts will use the opposite edge as with the thumb grip!). In fact, I think the pinch grip may be a superior for single-handed swords over the thumb grip, so long as the handle is appropriately designed. I do think the qama is in that regard, and the way it is held basically means that the sword will hold on to you as tightly as you hold on to it.

Finally, I'd suggest trying some of the meisterhau with the qama when using it in the manner described above - I think you will be surprised how agile and responsive it is, while the heft of the weapon will also deliver a powerful strike. Now, considering how small a Viking/migration-era sword hilt is, I do wonder if they were similarly designed. It would give the swordsman the ability to use either edge of the sword in a manner far less trackable than with the hammer grip, while being able to strike above and below a shield with ease. Try a high krump over an imaginary shield, followed immediately by an oberhau to the legs - a sword could easily be known as a "biter of knees" after that one, especially in an age generally lacking of armor. I hope this helps. :)
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