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Effectiveness of Cuts to the Forearms

In a sword-fight, the forearm is the easiest place to attack because it is the closest target to you, and attacking it has the ability to neutralize the opponent's fighting abilities.

The fingers can also be an even closer target, but they are frequently protected by the sword's guard and attacking it can result in the opponent being unable to use his weapon.

Commonly heard at sword sparring or free-play sessions, includes things like: "I cut your forearm, so you can't use that arm anymore.", or something along that line. To see what kind of effects does a blade have on the human forearm, let's analyze a real video for this discussion.

WARNING: Do not scroll down if you cannot stomach seeing a man being attacked for real with a machete. Leave now and play with barbie dolls.

In this real video footage below (converted to an animated gif), we will see a man being attacked by a machete. The attacker comes from the left side of the video, and wields a long machete that's easily the length of a Straight sword Jian or Broadsword Dao.

As he swings down the machete, the victim raises his arms up to block the cuts, thus suffering cuts on his forearms. You can see some white bits after he got cut, and that's his flesh getting shaved off by the cut.

Here's a few learning points to highlight and discuss:

1) The cuts were received directly In a real fight, or even just sparring or free-play, people will be actively trying to defend themselves from being cut. But in this video, the forearms were presented to be cut. The victim put up his forearms, as you can see, to intentionally allow himself to be cut there (better than being cut on the head).

If even such direct cuts cannot severed a man's forearm, nor can it stop a man to continue using his arm, what kind of consequences do you think it will have in a real fight?

Should a practice or free-play match be considered over when you managed to attack your opponent's forearm? Or do you think your opponent can still continue to fight even after suffering a cut to the forearm?

2) These were full-swing cuts. In sparring matches, people always want to attack in the fastest way possible, in order to hit the opponent first. Frequently, this results in people making small "tappy" type of attacks.

Notice in the video, that the attacker was making full swings, and not small snappy type of cuts. The blade was raised up high and swung down forcefully.

Even then, it was unable to sever the victim's forearms in one swing. Flesh & skin were cut and dangling. Bones were probably exposed, but not cut.

Knowing this, do you think a quick snappy small type of attack will be able to effectively remove a man's abilities to use his arm? I would think that there is a good chance it will take more than 1 cut to achieve that.

3) How sharp were the blades? Of course, with a sharper blade, the damage done will also increase. It may not be fair to use test-cutting videos commonly found on YouTube for analysis for a few reasons:

  • Test-cutting videos were done against a cooperative stationary target. You have the chance to brace and prepare yourself adequately before attempting the cut. But in a real-fight, everyone is always moving quickly and you will not have the luxury of time to do that.

  • How sharp were the blades? In some test-cutting demonstrations, the blades were intentionally made very sharp, in order to create a more impressive performance. But this is not realistic in combat. Razor-sharp blades get damaged more easily, because the sharper your edge is, the thinner the material there. If I used a not-so-sharp blade and clashed edge-on-edge with your razor-sharp blade, my blade will "bite" more deeply into your edge. Hence, swords made for fighting are usually made not-so-sharp for better durability. Besides, even if your sword is razor-sharp, after a few clashes here and there, it will instantly become a not-so-sharp sword.

What's your verdict?

Of course, you can get lucky and sever the opponent's forearm is one swing. But how high are the chances of that, against an uncooperative target?

My opinion is that:

  • We should practice to continue fighting even after receiving a cut on the forearm, no matter how "valid" it seems, because it will teach us not to let our guard down, just in case the enemy was able to carry on fighting.

  • No more snappy tappy type of quick small cuts to the forearm just because it's a target with a smaller mass. If you ever need a reminder why, just come back to the video footage in this article.

What do you think?

Let me know in the comments section below.


Thank you for all the wonderful comments.

Please allow me to address them:

  1. I agree completely that this one case does not represent ALL cases. There can be many factors which may be different, such as blade quality, swordsman's skill, etc...

All of which will affect the outcome. I would use this machete case only as a reference to gain some insights, but not lay a definitive conclusion to any specific case. Furthermore, who knows if one day you may see a victim who drinks milk regularly and have tougher bones? =D

Jack Chen Ancient Chinese Martial Arts Manuals


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