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Insights from a real swordfight


It's all Guardia Alta!
It's all Guardia Alta!

I am as appalled as anyone at the outbreak of violence at the Golden Temple in India last week. It is amazing and very fortunate that so few were injured. It does however give us a (thankfully) rare insight into how trained fighters (I am assuming that these chaps actually practise with their weapons; there is a long tradition of Sikh warrior arts) actually behave under the stress of combat.

Take the above image, (by Reuters, taken from here) for example: of the five swords visible, four are being held above the head to strike a downwards blow; one appears to be held for a thrust. The gentleman in the yellow shirt and blue turban, on the right, is holding his (empty) scabbard like a sword; perhaps he is left-handed and his sword is in his left hand and not visible to the camera. You can see it more clearly here:



Which is taken from this image (taken from here):


Which has a fascinating range of grip styles on view. Reading from left to right, we have a standard “hammer grip”:

grip1Then a very strange combination of grips on what appears to be a sickle, but is actually some kind of steel bar, with the blade that appears to be going between his fore and middle fingers being actually behind him, wielded by the man with the above hammer grip:

grip2What the left hand is doing there, I cannot say. This may be an improvised weapon. You can see it is a tube of some kind from this closeup of the other photo:

sikh 6

The chap with the bandolier, going down the stairs, is extending his weapon behind him, I guess to keep the onslaught at bay. He is holding his sword in an extended grip, as one would expect:



Then we have a very interesting finger-over-the-crossguard grip, with the thumb on the back edge, like in modern and classical sabre, here:grip4

And finally another finger-over grip, and the thumb making a fist, here:



Looking at the two images side by side, it's actually quite hard to say which was taken first; I think it is this one:


because if you look at the man in the doorway holding an orange cloth, here he seems to be out and thrusting. And, most interestingly, somebody is apparently holding him back by the elbow:

It's all Guardia Alta!There is some video here; it is not terribly graphic, but purists will note just how many of these men apparently violate our sacred tenets of leading with the sword, striking with control, etc. Watch especially for the man who is disarmed, runs to grab another weapon from one of his mates, and ends up arguing with him too! And all this, apparently, over an argument about who would speak first at the ceremony to mark the 30th anniversary of a military raid.

Leaving aside the irony of this, one thing leaps out at me: under the stress of actual combat, people fall back on gross motor actions, and haul off to hit really, really hard; even with weapons that can slice a man's arm off with barely any effort. I'd be very interested to hear from any practitioners of the Sikh martial arts regarding how this matches with their training.



I'm sure you have an opinion: do share!

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