What is the special grip needed for a narrow hilt viking sword?

In your review of Ronin Katana's Euro sword line, you mentioned that the hilt on the model 8 was roomier than on a traditional Viking sword and that the smaller version required a specialist grip that most casual collectors are unaware of. I was looking for more information on that particular topic, if that's possible.

Comments for What is the special grip needed for a narrow hilt viking sword?

Click here to add your own comments

by: Paul

You can find more information (quite a bit of it actually) right here on the SBG Sword Forum.

Hope this helps.

- Paul

Sword grip
by: Kveldulf

The purpose of the short grip on a viking sword was to make the user move his index finger over the guard. This results in a faster, more powerful

I have a rather old Indian tulwar with a disk-shaped pommel that prevents you from even sliding your little finger backward, while the guard is smooth and indented where the index finger crosses it.

This grip enhances the balance and performance of any edge-oriented sword (and is the reason I have no use for katanas). Try it and you will find the sword comes alive in your hand.

Viking sword grip
by: Adam Pendragwn

For those who don’t know, I have been a Medieval Historian for almost 40 years, and the world’s foremost leading authority on Western European swords between AD 900 and AD 1200. I know this time period is a little late but it doesn’t matter. So-called "Viking" swords had very short grips compared to today’s swords, not because people were smaller but because the hand was intended to be squeezed into the grip between the guard and pommel to lock the hand in place. This way you don’t have to hold onto it so tightly and it keeps the hand and wrist from becoming too fatigued. Today’s manufacturers don’t know this so they make most sword grips—of any type—too long for most men’s hands—one size fits all. So, the proper length grip should be only 3 to 3/12 inches long for most men, not the typical 5 inch grips they make today. As to wrapping the index finger over the guard, that would be fine if you don’t mind loosing that finger; however, this method was not used with Medieval swords but rather later rapiers and fencing swords. Doing this does offer more control over the sword; but swords of the Dark Ages and early High Middle Ages were too heavy and not balanced correctly to do this with—the balance being around 5 inches down the blade as opposed to in the cross guard of most rapiers. Most correctly, for a Viking sword the grip should be as short as possible, and forget about trying to wrap your finger around that massive guard—you’ll just loose control, your finger will hurt, and your hand will get real tired real quickly—and you might also get that finger crushed or cut off! Rapiers have some kind of guard protecting the finger, and the blade is never sharp there—remember, Medieval swords were sharp all the way down, or at least enough to cut your finger off if it were to come in contact with the edge of someone’s shield, that kind of thing. But this is only if you intend to use the sword the way in which it was intended. Hope this helps.

More about grips
by: Kveldulf

Adam Pendragwn, thank you for your expertise on sword grips. I wrote my earlier comments based on a sword book I read as a teenager half-a-century ago when I had never held a real or reproduction sword and had seen only those few on display in the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

The first time I ever held a real sword was at age 26 when a co-worker brought in one he had bought from a Tuareg in North Africa. In style it resembled a Medieval arming sword except for having a carp's tongue point. When I first picked it up, I held it in the normal manner. It felt very awkward. Then I stretched my finger over the guard as that long-ago book had suggested and the sword immediately felt like an extension of my arm.

I mentioned before an Indian tulwar in my possession. I just measured it: three inch grip on a light 22 inch blade. It is all but impossible to fit my hand into the grip and certainly not comfortable. It was very clearly designed to be held with three fingers on the grip and the index finger over the guard.

My only other genuine swords are a Turkish yataghan with a roomy but awkward grip (I swear it was designed to be held sideways) and a late nineteenth century French cavalry sabre. Neither has a cross guard.

I do have a few Windlass replicas, a Viking sword, a bastard sword, and a shamshir. The first two both feel better held finger over guard while the shamshir is indifferent. However, I gave a different Viking sword to my niece and a Roman gladius to my brother and neither works my way.

My conclusion (and I know I am not qualified to disagree with you, yet I do) is that early swords were so weak that they were never used in parrying so it was safe to use the stronger grip. When steel became strong enough to withstand the shock, the over-the-guard grip went out of fashion.

Kveldulf’s comment
by: Adam Pendragwn

Kveldulf, I was referring only to "Viking" swords—I’m not familiar with the ones you mentioned. Considering "Viking" swords often had quite thick cross guards, it would take an incredibly long index finger to wrap around it in the first place; and, as I said, without some kind of additional guard to cover said finger, it would be unprotected and easily cut off. These swords were simply not designed to be used that way. All early Medieval swords were designed for slashing and chopping, not poking (thrusting)—that’s why the tips were most always rounded and not pointed, and why they were more "end heavy" than later thrusting swords. In other words: more meat cleaver, less filet knife. I’m not sure what you meant about the blade strength, but if you meant they were not strong enough to be used for chopping that’s just not true. Most Medieval sword steel was superior to most of the sword steel we have today—partly because it contained silicon. Finally, we don’t see things the way they are, we see things the way we are. Which means, Medieval swords were not made to beat on car tires for hours on end, like today, they were made to chop through wooden shields to get to the man underneath. And, although you may prefer holding a Medieval swords like a fencing sword—which is your prerogative—most of us don’t. Early Medieval swords were not meant to be held that way—that would come a few hundred years later when blades became narrower and lighter. And by the way, those old books about sword fighting, the reprints of which are so popular today, were written in the sixteenth century not the ninth, and are about fencing or sword sport—which is why they’re standing inside little fences—not sword fighting in Medieval battles. A lot of people don’t get that. And I don’t take offense to anything you’ve written—everyone has the right to an opinion and the sharing of information.

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Ask Questions.

Looking for honest, trustworthy sword sellers? Look no further than:

The Official SBG Sword Buyers Directory!

Sword Buyers Digest Newsletter!

Sword Buyers Digest Newsletter

Sign Up Now

Sign Up to Our FREE Monthly E-zine for all the latest sword news, info and much, much more! Click here for more info.