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Reverse Sword Grip: Benefits, Drawbacks, and History

Written By: David Mickov
Published On: June 9, 2023
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

The reverse grip has been the subject of heated discussion among martial artists for as long as the art of swordsmanship has been studied and practiced. The reverse sword grip is a contentious issue because it is an unconventional striking method. While some swordsmen celebrate the distinctive advantages it can offer in some conflicts, others quickly point out the many ways it falls short.

We will review its possible benefits, drawbacks, and history to better understand whether the reverse sword grip is worth it. In this article, we will include all possible scenarios so you can decide if the reverse grip was used in history and if it is practical for modern swordsmanship today.

What Does a Reverse Sword Grip Mean?

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The very popular sword stance seen all over modern media – Credits: Basilisk Rules

The term “reverse grip” in swordsmanship refers to holding the sword, knife, or any type of bladed-edged weapon, with its blade pointing downward, which is different from the traditional grip. In a traditional handshake or hammer grip, the blade points upward, the wielder’s hand is placed beneath the guard, and the blade aligns with the forearm. For two-handed swords, the dominant hand usually has a forward grip or under the guard above the other hand, which is placed on top of the pommel for added control and power.

This unique method of holding a sword has recently received much attention in the media. The reverse grip has become a cultural icon for originality with the unexpected thanks to its frequent use in anime, video games, Hollywood fantasy blockbusters like Star Wars and Netflix’s The Witcher.

Despite its popularity on screen, the reverse grip is more complex than it might seem. For some, it represents an entirely different approach to handling a sword, necessitating its own skills and understanding. In contrast, for others, it is seen as foolish and unnecessary compared to a normal grip.

Benefits of a Reverse Sword Grip

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A reverse grip sword is a very effective but very limited type of attack – Credits: Murphy Barret

Although the reverse grip is rare in sword martial arts manuals, there are depictions in some illustrations. In the European context, a reverse grip is called an “ice pick grip,” referring to holding the sword as if you were going to break ice. More than just using it in a stabbing motion, the reverse grip stance offers some benefits.

Benefits of a reverse grip include:

  • Shorter swords – The shorter the sword is, the bigger the benefit of using a reverse grip due to the quicker and easier maneuverability of the shorter and lighter blades.
  • Close quarters – Holding the sword in a reserve position could allow for some elements of defense and offense in tightly confined spaces.
  • Throwing – As can be seen in historical manuals, the reverse grip is a proper stance to hold the sword on its handle and throw it like a spear.
  • Quickdraw – Some swords carried upside down, such as the Japanese katana, allow for much swifter unsheathing of the blade and a quick slash to the enemy.
  • Half swording – Double-edged blades, such as the European longsword, can be held on the blade in a reverse position to be used as a stabbing tool.
  • Surprise – Thanks to its unusual nature, the opponent may not be ready for an unexpected reverse grip that might prove fatal.
  • Stealth – Holding a short sword or dagger behind one’s back in a reverse grip could better hide the weapon.
  • Grappling – In some situations, the reverse grip posture can be employed for grappling, disarming, and choking to gain control of the opponent.
  • Downed opponent – A reverse grip would be the most beneficial method when finishing a downed opponent, whether armored or unarmored.

Drawbacks of a Reverse Sword Grip

The Reverse Grip Sword is not to be used as a main fighting stance – Credits: Sellsword Arts

While in modern media, a reverse grip is typically seen on Japanese ninjas and proves successful most of the time. This type of stance, in reality, is situational and has massive drawbacks that make most swordsmen refrain from using it. While it can be used for some self-defense tactics, using the sword in a traditional way offers better fighting techniques and a more successful fight.

Drawbacks of the reverse grip include:

  • Range – Using a reverse grip on your sword greatly limits its reach, making it more difficult to attack or defend against an opponent wielding a similar-sized weapon. Because of the length of a rapier or smallsword, a reverse grip would be quite cumbersome.
  • Exposure and vulnerability – Because more of the body, including the forearm, is more vulnerable with the reverse hold, and without the protection of the sword’s guard, you leave yourself open to almost any type of counterattack. 
  • Less power – Slashing or thrusting strikes delivered from a reverse grip position have about 70% less power due to the limited swing range and the use of different muscle groups.
  • Fatigue – Using a reverse grip might cause early fatigue since it places the wrist and arm in an unorthodox position leaving the weight of the blade to feel much heavier. 
  • Balance – Using a sword with a backward grip can throw off the weapon’s balance, making it more difficult to handle, taking away from the advantage of the blade’s point.
  • Limited techniques – Cutting, thrusting, and parrying with a sword held in a reverse grip is challenging and limits different techniques, which makes it a rare choice when sparring.
  • Disarmament – Depending on the type of sword, a reverse grip increases the likelihood of the wielder being disarmed. 
  • Transition – Transitioning from one sword stance to another is crucial in winning a sword fight. Changing from a reverse hold to a conventional grip amid battle is difficult, and missteps can leave you vulnerable to assault.
  • Requires specialized training – The blade of a battle-ready sword is extremely sharp, making it easier to injure oneself by mishandling the weapon without adequate training and guidance.
  • Awkward wrist positioning – The odd wrist posture in the reverse grip makes it unpleasant or even painful for many people to use in HEMA or any type of sword sparring.
  • Less intimidation – Although this sword posture seems intimidating in movies, someone using a reverse grip, in reality, would be an easy opponent to an experienced swordsman.
  • Not practical – A sword is not created with the means of being used in the reverse grip stance. Placing the crossguard, round guard, basket guard, or any type of guard beneath the hand in a proper handle stance makes it highly impractical.

Reverse Sword Grip Use in History

Reverse Sword Guard History
The sword community when talking about the reverse grip sword subject – Credits: Matt Easton

The employment of a sword held in a reverse grip was real in historical battles, tournaments, and fencing duels. Although rare, some manuals describe it throughout Europe to the west and the Filipino islands to the east. However, it is not to be confused when compared to reverse sword grip fighting in movies where the main protagonist uses this fighting method as his primary sword stance, such as a Star Wars lightsaber.

The reverse grip can be utilized for knife fighting, for example, the Bowie Knife or the Nepalese Kukri. It is also effective on swords, but the most important thing is that it is a situational sword stance and grip. It should only be used in rare cases and can be utilized for powerful counterattacks, such as when a sword is wielded in the primary hand, and a shorter sword is held in the other using the reverse grip.

The reverse sword grip is not favored as a main fighting stance for many reasons, and using a sword in a traditional style is easier and more effective. Even when sheathing or unsheathing a curved katana, handle strike would be situational, as seen in Iaido, where the samurai would switch to a traditional fighting stance. However, the finest results come from combining traditional swordsmanship and reverse grip sword fighting.

Sources Cited

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