Akido has a well known technique of "sword-taking" (太刀取り, tachitori), where an unarmed defender disarms an attacker with a katana. This technique surely has utility against an incompetent swordsman, incompetent in the sense of telegraphing the strike by raising the arms before making a downward cut that is easily sidestepped.

But I've never heard of such a technique in regard to an opponent with straight sword.

  • Do any techniques exist for an unarmed defender disarming an opponent with a straight sword, and if not, why?

I'm especially interested in what western fencers have to say on the subject, since they're the most specialized at point-fighting.

  • 1
    Background: I specialize in Chinese fencing, which heavily focuses cuts in practice, but the guard position I was taught is quite close to the guard I was taught in rapier & saber—weight on one foot, handle at waist level with the blade pointing at the defender's eyes, fully protecting the main target of the torso while making it difficult see the blade. It's also worth noting that the epitome of Chinese fencing is the "single drop of red", which refers to dispatching an opponent by penetrating their body to a depth of a couple of inches, such that the sword can be immediately withdrawn.
    – DukeZhou
    Nov 11 '20 at 0:02
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    Bujinkan does practice unarmed vs. sword. Probably other schools of Japanese classical jujitsu do as well. The theory of movement is the same katana vs. straight sword. Straight sword would attack in the center line, but a lot of Japanese katana attacks also do that (seigan no kamae, standard defensive posture holding the center). You step off line diagonally and towards your opponent's weak side. Once you're in close, you can control that sword arm. In theory anyway. Dog Brothers probably have videos showing sword vs. unarmed or sword vs. stick. Might be useful to look at. Nov 11 '20 at 0:12
  • @SteveWeigand I'll take a look but I'm highly skeptical that any unarmed person can prevail against a competent swordsman, and even less so against a competent point fighter who does not need to rely on cuts. (Stabbing is also quicker with a straight sword due to the balance of the weapon compared to curved blades optimized for cutting.) Knife attacks are difficult to contend with, and sword beats knife, just due to range. And, like any martial art, swordmanship is nothing without good footwork. I've never seen a convincing technique for disarming a competent swordsman.
    – DukeZhou
    Nov 11 '20 at 23:36
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    Unarmed vs. sword is a bad situation. But guess what. You encounter bad situations in real life. And the classical jujitsu ryu of Japan all knew that and prepared for it. I don't think any of them were under the delusion that they had a good chance of winning. But it's better to have something you can try, rather than just standing there. It happens in the UFC, too, except unarmed of course. A fighter steps off the line and brilliantly performs a strike perfectly timed, and his opponent goes down. This is all about timing. And that takes practice and skill. It's the same against a sword. Nov 12 '20 at 5:46
  • Well it depends what you mean by "disarming an opponent with a straight sword" - removing the opponent's arms using a straight sword? Or doing that while having had it done to you (being "unarmed")? Awaiting clarification. Dec 17 '20 at 18:10

Since this question hasn't yet generated an answer, here's my guess:

There has been much discussion on the deficiencies of disarming technique against even an unskilled knife wielder, and swords are exponentially more dangerous, both for their range and versatility.

  • Slapping away the attackers blade is the only defense I know of that has been proposed, and that was still considered dangerous even with a leather glove.

[See also: The History of the Rapier (2013) p.15].

Pure thrusting swords, such as late rapiers and poniards are so light and quick, a slap is unlikely to make contact. The blade can be thrust and withdrawn in a fraction of a second, the "sewing machine" technique can be utilized, and fencers can change the angle of attack, thrusting from almost any angle.

  • The torso (typically abdomen to avoid bones) is a prime target, but a fencer can also stab at the face, legs, and even the arms, making defending one area of the body insufficient.

Cut and thrust blades, such as early rapiers, basket hilt claymores, and chinese jian, can additionally cut into a slap, which would be grievous, due to the amount of momentum that can be generated in a very short distance, and microscopic surface area in which the force is concentrated on contact.

Additionally, good fencers can put the point of rotation pretty much anywhere along the blade, such that even cut and thrust swords have a high probability of avoiding a slap.

  • An expert knife fighter can kill with single thrust, but a merely competent fencer, if uncertain of those specific targets, can impale.

Generally, impaling is contraindicated as it can cause the fencer to lose control fo the blade, but in a one-on-one match, this is acceptable. Regardless, any puncture wound received from a sword anywhere on the body is likely to be non-trivial.

Post-medieval cut and thrust swords used for fencing are also quite capable of executing a "sewing machine technique".

  • Advancing obliquely, as seen in in katana disarming techniques won't work, as fencers are quite capable of circling

Here the intent to to maximize the target area of the opponent's torso. While western sport fencing is entirely linear, free form fencing does not have such restrictions—in Chinese fencing, circling and changing direction is common.


  • There is no way for an unarmed defender to disarm a competent fencer

The only strategy is to stay out of range.

[You can test whether this seems correct by simply by facing a fencer holding even an unwieldy wooden practice sword with a point, and evaluating whether that's a bet you want to take—here I don't even mean that the wooden sword is lethal, just that the amount of force which will be concentrated into a point is, in an of itself, strongly disincentivizing, and still quite dangerous.]

  • My martial brothers and I tested this with wooden swords, and our empty hand practice involves not telegraphing or winding up for strikes. No one was able to make the slap, everyone got poked, and the sword wielders merely had to react by instinct. (The general feeling of executing the pokes was confusion at why someone would rush a swordsman:) DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME! Everyone involved in the test had at least a decade of training, such that we were able to touch as opposed to wound, and we still used old-style heavy canvass sport fencing jackets.
    – DukeZhou
    Nov 17 '20 at 0:46
  • I think the exercise you tried is a very good way to find out what works and what doesn't. It seems you learned firsthand why people came up with shields and armor. As for aikido, there's also people who have tried to pressure test aikido techniques for a similar knife defense. It typically doesn't go the way it's supposed to, either.
    – BatWannaBe
    Nov 24 '20 at 16:36
  • "Expert knife fighter" - oy. How many people get into multiple knife fights in their lives, much less enough of them to acquire 1970s-movie ninjalike skills with a knife? Reminds me of Youtube video titles like "MMA Black Belt Vs Street Fighter!". Dec 17 '20 at 18:13
  • @AmorphousBlob Maybe not so much in the developed world anymore, but machete attacks are still fairly common in some regions of the world, for instance. (My point about a single stab being potentially lethal comes from an anecdote about a surgeon sewing up a stabbing victim with dozens of wounds. The surgeon's observation: "amateurs!"
    – DukeZhou
    Dec 22 '20 at 23:05

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