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One-Handed vs Two-Handed Swords

June 03, 2017

One-Handed vs Two-Handed Swords

While some swords can be wielded with either one hand or two hands, most are designed for use either a single hand or both hands. The traditional Japanese katana, for instance, was most effective when wielded with a single hand, while the Korean Ssangsudo was most effective with two hands.

One-Handed Swords

The biggest advantage of one-handed swords was the ability for warriors to wield it with a shield. During the medieval age, protection was a critical element on the battlefield. Without protection, warriors were susceptible to traditional attacks from bladed weapons, as well as arrows from archers. A one-handed sword allowed warriors to carry a shield or buckler to protect against such threats. And in situations when protection wasn't necessary, wielding a one-handed sword also allowed warriors to carry a separate weapon, such as a mace.

One-handed swords are also more effective in close-quarter combat due to their shorter blade length. Warriors could unsheathe and use one-handed swords more quickly than their larger counterparts. This made them particularly effective in large-scale battles where dense formations restricted movement.

Examples of one-handed swords include:

  • Small sword (also known as the court sword and dress sword)
  • Basket-hilted sword
  • German koncerz
  • Greek Xiphos
  • Roman gladius
  • Wakizashi
  • Katate-uchi

Two-Handed Swords

Of course, there are also benefits to using a two-handed sword, the most notable being increased power. Two-handed swords are typically longer and heavier one-handed swords. The heavier weight, combined with the physical strength of using two hands, offered greater stopping power.

Two-handed swords were also ideal for use against armored opponents. When facing an armored opponent, a warrior may struggle to land damaging blows with a one-handed weapon. One-handed weapons typically lacked the power needed to penetrate armor, which is why two-handed weapons were designed. They offered an unparalleled level of stopping power that could penetrate through many common types of armor.

Conversely, two-handed swords more effective in open battlefields than shorter, one-handed swords. Warriors could maintain a safe distance from their opponents by using a two-handed sword.

Examples of two-handed swords include:

  • European longsword
  • Japanese katana
  • Early-model German Panzerstecher
  • Late medieval Scottish claymore
  • German Bidenhänder
  • Great swords (e.g. Oakeshott type XIIa and Oakeshott type XIIIa)
  • Scandinavian Svärdstav

Note: there are also swords that can be wielded with either one or two hands, such as the Korean Hwando and Unggeom.

Photo credit: Snake3yes

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