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A bit of backstory:

So I wanted to know if there were any advantages of women fighting against men. And the only thing I came across was lower center of gravity. On average, women lose against men in both strength and speed (I think just sprinting/running) but have a lower center of gravity. However, I never found anything which really complimented the lower center of gravity. There are answers saying that a lower center of gravity helps with throws (judo, jiu jutsu, etc.) but doesn't really apply to sword fighting.

But then I wondered if the lower center of gravity would help in side to side movements. And if it would help in deflecting opponents attacks to off balance them.

So overall... do women have any advantages in sword fighting? I'm more specifically interested in long sword fighting.

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  • I think the biggest disadvantage women have in sword fighting in general is that their decreased height requires a shorter length sword. When you have a fight between swordsmen, and there's a significant difference in sword lengths, probably the longer of the two will win. And that's just because the longer the sword is, the harder it is for the shorter of the two to enter in close enough to execute a cut without getting cut. The longer of the swords can also sweep out a larger area, which requires the opponent to be faster. – Steve Weigand Jun 26 '17 at 2:24
  • And as for the center of gravity, that's for leverage. That's why it can be used to an advantage in grappling arts when there's a difference in height. In sword fighting, however, leverage plays no role except for disarms, throws, and other techniques requiring jujitsu. – Steve Weigand Jun 26 '17 at 2:28
  • @SteveWeigand I'm not very familiar with sword fighting, but would a lower center of gravity help with throwing an opponent off balance if you're pull them by the neck? The situation I'm thinking of is if the woman uses the crossguard to throw her opponent by the neck. Kind of like using a murder stroke, but instead of hitting them with the crossguard, just using it as leverage. – A. L Jun 26 '17 at 2:50
  • I'm not sure of the scenario you're describing. But if you're talking about a grapple on the neck, it requires her to get close to her opponent, inside the sword range. But that's a huge hurdle. – Steve Weigand Jun 26 '17 at 15:01
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There's basically two factors here that matter.

Height and Reach

Reach matters with melee weapons, however... it matters most when you're fighting with similar weapons. Since your context is specifically "sword vs. sword" presumably of similar type, reach is going to matter.

You can change the effects of natural reach with things like longer weapons (polearms, for example) or a means of blocking while entering - shields, parrying weapons, etc... which is typically what you see happens with smaller combatants of any gender.

Skill

For weapons, skill matters the most. It's about reach, timing, and angles, not hammering through people's defenses. This is why even in the sparring heavy/competitive spaces you find a broader age range of high level practitioners than empty hand sports. So in this regard, the usual issues of strength matter less.

Of course, if you are thinking about things like grappling included in your sword fight, or the larger context of "We're marching 30 miles, carrying camp equipment for our army, then we fight" - strength and frame size can become very important.

In short

So, while women have no specific advantages in a sword fight, the usual claims of disadvantages are not in the way most people think, and unless you're looking at a duel of similar weapons, most people would just do the sensible thing and fight with a different weapon to make up the difference of reach.

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  • Having a lower center is, debatably, a potential advantage, although it can be offset by reach. Strength and reflex speed and how they combine are other considerations. To be clear, not brute dead-weight strength, but rather tensile strength. – decuser Jul 14 '17 at 23:29
  • Great point about grappling. As a practitioner of wudang and tai chi sword, 2/3 of my training is empty hand, striking and grappling. In the HEMA show "Knight Fight" which featured armored melee, putting an opponent on the ground with throws was a regular technique, as was punching. – DukeZhou Dec 23 '20 at 2:05
  • I wonder too if the reach factor is why the naginata was the signature weapon of the onna-bugeisha (women knight errants.) – DukeZhou Dec 23 '20 at 2:08
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Not really no…

The winner in a fight is generally the one with the more skill. And skill can be acquired regardless of gender. The nature vs nurture debate might rage here saying that some people are better suited genetically (mentally or/and physically) to certain things rather than others. Still, spend ten years doing anything for eight hours a day and you will master it. Certain things such as weight, height, equipment quality, willpower, luck, etc., do play a part. However, such are relatively minor adjustments compared to skill.

The plural of anecdote is not evidence and while this or that event clearly shows David winning against Goliath, statistically Goliath squashes David a much larger number of times. Not a perfect analogy but you know what I am driving at…

On average, women tend to be physically smaller and less strong than men. That is a disadvantage when yielding mêlée weapons: Both strikes and parries will be weaker. The weight of the weapon one can swing will either be less or one will not be able to do it for as long as a stronger opponent. Any increase in speed/agility by giving up weight is negligible: it actually does not matter that much if you are athletic. Size cannot be changed, but does not affect your hitting area that just in any case at mêlée range.

While some might claim that cleavage is distracting (thus bikini-armour) and that gentlemen do not hit ladies, this is nothing but sexist manure. However, sexism might spur a woman to excel by training much harder than her male counterparts to prove she is as good as they are. This was the case of an old sensei of mine. Clearly, most of the time, it is a turn off and not a performance enhancer -- just to be clear.

Something that I did notice is that dancers pick up kata (empty handed or weapon based) at an accelerated rate: they are used to following patterns and their eyes grasp the movement much quicker than most non-dancer. Since most dancers are female, this is an advantage but not one linked to gender.

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  • Well, the skill argument is kind of moot since that applies to almost everything that you can do. I'm going for more of an objective/average points, like how spears have the advantages over swords in that they are long, but lose their advantage once the fight enters short range, and the reverse goes for a dagger. – A. L Jun 26 '17 at 8:48
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    I was going to share the common chestnut about women having a higher pain tolerance, but a quick bit of research showed that had been disproven several times over... – Macaco Branco Jun 26 '17 at 13:06
  • Women tend to be more flexible than men, does flexibility help in anyway with sword fighting? – A. L Jun 26 '17 at 22:01
  • @A.Lau Citation needed about flexibility. Flexibility neither helps nor hinders with sword fighting provided that there is some. – Sardathrion - against SE abuse Jun 27 '17 at 7:19
  • @Sardathrion well I've read that because they're more flexible because of the requirement of childbirth – A. L Jun 27 '17 at 7:21
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I wouldn't say advantage but my experience is that women have greater aptitude for Wudang sword which is often subtle and indirect.

(For this reason it is also important to train in Shaolin sword if starting young enough, for its emphasis on building physical strength, and techniques such as aggressive thrusts and lunges, even if lunges are not recommended for historical fencing.)

  • Wudang fencing heavily relies on the concept of "inviting your opponent's blade" by letting it get within a few inches of your body.

This allows more decisive counters, and the best strike in swordplay is the safest—not an initial thrust, hoping to hit before your opponent reacts, but having countered definitively, such that a riposte can be delivered with no possibility of reply.

As footwork and posture can be said to be even more crucial in wudang sparring than other internal arts b/c swords can be instantly fatal, having more grace, lower risk tolerance, and even some dance training, is a huge asset, speaking as a teacher, both in terms of poise and flexibility.

  • Women have been shown to be slightly more risk-averse on average, which is a huge advantage in any contest that can be instantaneously lethal.

(Sometimes women students have trouble making cuts like they mean it, but they typically have better basics than the guys.)

Here's a video of Cheng Man-Ching doing an internal fencing exercise designed to develop "sticky" (maintaining contact with the opponent's blade to control it and counter decisively) and teaching intention (swordplay is the channeling of intention through body and blade.)

Although sword sparring comes mostly to wrist cuts, point fighting, and occasional wave counters, having developed the stickiness and intention shown in the wudang fencing video is ever more essential.

FIE fencing, because of the use of non-combat weight weapons, and lack of consequences for getting hit, clearly makes pure speed definitive in competition, but HEMA longsword suggest that historical weight weapons can mitigate that advantage.

Wudang is advantageous here because it utilizes the waist, not arms, to make "drawing" cuts, thus lower strength shouldn't be a factor. Waist is also use to power and enhance the power of a variety of cuts and thrusts and counters, pretty much everything. As for cuts which purely rely on wrist strength, it doesn't require all that much to slice into skin and flesh with a sharp edge.

  • Speaking as someone who trained under a master 5' tall, lower center of gravity is definitely an advantage is countering (deflecting to gain advantage)

At least in this style, which is close fighting, and, aside from the primary technique of wrist cuts, prefers to attack from inside.

In the recent HEMA program, Knight Fight, which featured armored melee, hip throws were a regularly applied technique, and lower center of gravity can be definitively advantageous in grappling.

If I lock blades with someone down by the guard, putting them on the ground is my goto. (Wudang fencers typically spend as much or more time practicing grappling in the form of tai chi & bagua as they do on blade training.)

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