Monday, August 9, 2010

Left-Handed Sword Fighting

Medraut, the hero in my Arthurian trilogy, is left-handed. I’ve often heard that left-handed fighters have the advantage (hence the term “sinister”, which is Latin for “left”). I decided to investigate how Medraut could use this to his benefit.

First stop, Stephan’s Florilegium ( For those of you who aren’t familiar with this website, it’s a compendium of various on-line discussions between members of the Society of Creative Anachronism. Some of the material is extremely well-researched, though you have to be careful to ensure that the information you’re accessing is appropriate to your historical period, as the SCA covers everything from late Roman times to the Renaissance. There are also a lot of articles describing how to recreate historical technologies with modern materials, so you do have to keep on your toes. Probably the largest benefit to the articles, though, is the sheer volume of material on the practical details of how something feels or works. It’s articles like this, I find, that help me get into the heads of the people living with and using those technologies.

Click under “Combat” and you’ll find archived several articles on left-hand fighting (LH-fighting-msg).

OK, this is what I learned. There is something different when you’re right-handed facing a left-hand opponent. Blows fall differently. If you’re not used to fighting a lefty, it indeed does give the lefty an advantage. But only if the righty is inexperienced fighting a lefty. An experienced rightly like Lancelot, for example, could knock the sword out of Medraut’s left hand every time.

Unfortunately, SF didn’t give me the details of technique I wanted. And, darn, I know I’ve seen some good stuff somewhere! On to Google and “Left Handed Sword Fighting”. Hah! Just found “Heinrich’s Guide to Sinister Sword Fighting” Another member of SCA.

Now we’re into the nitty-gritty.

First, protecting yourself. Heinrich says, “As a left handed fighter, you will also get pounded along the left side of your body much more than a righty would his right. This is because you are mirrored to your opponent. Your sword side is directly across from his sword side. Your shoulders are going to be hit and well as your legs and rear end. Wear enough armor to cover these areas without sacrificing mobility.”

Shots: Believe it or not, the various thrusts a sword-fighter makes are called shots (at least in SCA.) And there are a lot of them. Heinrich comments, “You may want to avoid putting a thrusting tip on your sword especially at first as it will inhibit some of your key shots. By this I mean the quick snap shot to the face. This is a bread and butter shot that all lefties need to be able to throw quickly and accurately. You can end a fight before it even starts by throwing this quick flat to the face of your opponent as they come in on you or as you engage. This works well for righties as well so be aware.”

What makes fighting a lefty-so dangerous? There’s a lot of info about fighting techniques on a webpage by another SCA member, titled "Sword and Shield Fighting" ( In addition to a lot of practical advice about weapons, armor, fitness and shots (and the link for a good video on U-tube where he demonstrates all this), he’s also got a whole section on fighting left-handed.

What makes fighting a lefty different from fighting a righty (if you’re right handed) is that the shots and defense all come from a different side? If you’ve had some practice sword-fighting, you automatically know where to move your sword and shield to counter the blows coming in. With a lefty, the same blows are coming from the opposite side. And your sword/shield may not be there in time to stop them. It’s easier for a lefty, for example, to hamstring a righty because their blows come in to the back of the righty’s leg.

The reason for the difference in direction of shots is how the two swordsmen’s equipment match up in a fight. In a right on right or left on left, your shield is opposite the opponent’s sword. So you’re in a position to deflect most of your opponent’s sword blows with your shield. With left-on-right, the configuration is shield to shield and sword to sword. In other words, as a righty, your sword arm is vulnerable to your opponent’s sword.

Somewhere I read – and I’m really frustrated because it was a long time ago I sourced this material and can’t find it now – that the smartest strategy for a lefty was to keep moving forward and around towards his/her left, which forces the righty to step back in order to protect his/her sword arm. This puts the opponent’s balance at risk, and balance is crucial for a good sword fight. It also forces the righty to shift his shield further over the front of his/her body, which limits his/her visibility.

Of course, a righty experienced at fighting a lefty can use exactly the same strategy on the lefty.

Finally, from My Armory dot com ( a little bit on how a good righty could defend him/herself against a lefty: “IMHO as a right-handed fighter I would be inclined to move in very fast right sloping steps (i.e. counter-clockwise) around the left-hander's outside to 1) keep away from their shield, 2) close in and bind up their sword arm with my shield, 3) attack from behind with my short edge to their head, neck ,shoulder, back, torso, hip, back of thigh, or back of knee, or long edge to the calf, lower leg or ankle, maintaining pressure with the shield the whole time. Should they disengage I would continue circling right so that any strike they could manage would be back-handed and easily deflected with my shield while presenting me with a number of open long-edge targets along their outside. I think such maneuvering would negate most blade contact while employing the shield in exactly the way it is intended to be, as a dynamic defensive barrier. I think the trick is to maintain superior speed and not be thrown off by the idea of fighting a left-hander, just get in quick, tie them up, and cut them down. Again this is strictly IMHO.”

OK, Medraut, you have a lot to learn.

BTW, the realities of life have struck and I’m going to have to limit my blogging to once a week, if I’m going to do a good job of it. I’ll be posting my blogs on Mondays New Zealand time from now on (that’s Sundays for you in the Western hemisphere.)


  1. Oh, Vicky, I'm so excited. I made my hero in The King's Daughter left-handed because I did know this stuff about lefty-vs.-righty swordsmen. I love to see someone else's mind work the same way!

  2. Great information and I love the links.

  3. Yes, thanks for the awesome links! I don't have a lefty in MTC, but now I have to consider that for the next book. ;D Or possibly having someone train to use both hands equally well in order to take advantage of such tactics.... Bwa ha ha ha

  4. You're all very welcome! I've barely used any of this with Medraut, but as I plan the third book in the trilogy, he's really got to stand on his own two feet. I think he needs a new mentor...