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Ineffectiveness of Cuts to the Head

Typically during freeplay sparring practice with swords, we will consider a cut to the head as something decisive which will end the fight.

I've long believed that this is NOT true. There is a good chance a person can still continue fighting even after receiving a direct cut to the head. This is because the skull is one of the toughest and strongest bone in the human body, and a sword cannot easily penetrate it to deal direct damage to the brain.

Even if you make a thrust, the rounded shape of the skull makes it easy for the sword to slide away, resulting in a cut instead. Furthermore, people do not just stand there motionless for you to thrust or cut at them, especially at their heads. A quick jerk of the head can easily lessen the damage taken.

Here is a real video of a Machete fight in the streets. There is little gore, so should be alright for most audiences. Video link:

Real machete fight

The fight started with White shirt versus Yellow shirt. Yellow shirt had an additional wooden stick in his left hand, which he used for blocking.

2 men swinging machetes at each other.

The 2 men began swinging cuts at each other. Note that these are FULL SWING cuts, not small tappy cuts which we can commonly observe in sword sparring matches

Full swing machete cut to the head.

White guy managed to land a hit on Yellow's head. Probably due to the concussive effect, Yellow stumbles to the ground, but quickly regains his composure to continue the fight

head wound from machete cut

Later on in the video, the camera got close to Yellow and did a close-up on his head wound. There was a cut on the left side of his head, but Yellow was still walking around with full consciousness. He later took off his Tshirt to apply pressure to the wound.

This is why I think that in sword sparring matches, we should practice to continue EVEN after getting cut on the head. This will create a truer sense of combat realism, and also makes sure that people do not think that they've won and slack off, when actually the victim is still conscious and able to counter-attack.

Dadao War Sword

The closest war weapon that we can compare this to, is the Chinese Dadao War Sword. It was used at a time when people do not wear full suits of armour, due to firearms.

If you swing a full blow to the enemy's head with the Chinese Dadao War Sword, a few possibilities can happen:

  1. Your cut has the same effect as discussed above. The enemy shrugs off his injury and carries on charging at you.

  2. The cut was so powerful and direct, that you managed to penetrate the thick skull and cut into the enemy's brain. But this also means that likely your sword will be STUCK in the skull, which makes it easy for the enemy's teammates to come finish you off.

  3. Your cut hit his helmet, rendering your attack useless.

Alternatively, if you cut at the neck region, your chances of success is higher:

  1. The neck region consists of soft tissue. Easier to cut, and your sword won't be stuck in bone.

  2. If you cut the major artery, blood will spurt out ferociously and the enemy will almost instantaneously lose consciousness. Now you can carry on taking down the other enemies.


Particularly in response to Craig Peters in the comments section below: In Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman's book, titled "On Killing", he mentioned that in the military, they practiced weapon sparring by continuing to fight even after getting hit, no matter how 'legit' or 'devastating' the blow might be.

Imagine if you always stop the fight after you got hit, you may then bring this habit to a real fight, which is bad. It develops lack of alertness after hitting the enemy.

In a real fight, we let physics be the judge. If my body really does suffer such a heavy blow that puts me out of the fight, then physics will take care of that. But my mindset should always be to continue fighting even after getting hit. And if my training partner does that to me, it helps me to develop alertness even after what I may think is a neutralizing blow.

Let me know what you think in the comments section below!

Jack Chen

Ancient Chinese Martial Arts Manuals

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