Most Destructive Hand-To-Hand Weapon?

I was thinking back to my old D&D days while reading some comic books and got to thinking about the different sorts of hth weapons that were available over the course of time and the evolution of said weapons. I further got to thinking, “what was the most destructive hth weapon of them all?” We’ll probably have to add all sorts of qualifiers to this, so if you want to suggest a weapon, go ahead and add your own qualifiers.

First up, we have the humble sword. Probably the most common weapon until the rifle was developed, the sword (in all its incarnations) was probably the best tradeoff between offensive and defensive power. Low learning curve, but in the hands of a master absolutely devastating.

But what about spears? A good spear fighter could impale enemies from far away, although I suspect that after one good his, he’d get stuck and unable to use his spear after that.

So then, howzabout a hallberd? Essentially a sword on a stick. Cut, slash, etc.

Then I got to thinking about the Chanson de Roland and Archbishop Turpin used a mace because he wasn’t allowed to draw blood. He seemed to smite his fair share of infidels. Jan Zizka too, IIRC had a 20 lb. mace that he crushed heads with from horseback.

I’d be scared of a guy like that.

Axes? Our stereotypical barbarian has one of those two-headed monstrosities (were those ever used?). A lot of crushing power, but if you miss, well, you’ve got to overcommit yourself with that anyway. Plains Indians, IIRC used smaller axes, both for throwing and hth. And they used spears. They seemed suitably tough.

I found some table of RPG damage values (from FATAL, if anyone’s wondering) and the various flails seem to rate farily high. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of these that had a military application (excepting the Japanese nunchaku or Chinese 3-part staff). Were these common weapons?

Anyone have any other thoughts? Logic would say that the sword was the best weapon, but if we had time to train people in other weapons, would we have been better off with legions of axe-murders? One-eyed macers?


Sharp, light, slashes down people easily.

Theres a reason the Samurai kept it as their official weapon for thousands of years :stuck_out_tongue:

Thousands, eh?

The sword was popular as a high-end weapon, but not really the most common in absolute numbers. They were expensive because they required a lot of high-qualtity metal (and a lot of work, but work was cheaper then.)
Spears in different variations could be made with relatively little metal. e.g. In the cities of the Holy Roman Empire a spear was the minimum equipment that a citizen had to provide for the defense of his city.

I think depending on the situation the winner is either the longsword or the halberd.

However I disagree about the low learning curve of the sword. Actually I think that with swords the difference between a trained fighter and an amateur is especially obvious.

The top-of-the-line Norse warriors of a thousand years ago went with what is basically a double-bladed axe. You could take out a lot of folks swinging one of those. But it took a lot of training and strength, so only full time pros generally used them.

I can’t imagine one of those guys being the least bit afraid of a Japanese soldier with a katana. The samurai might get in the first blow, but it’s the last one that counts. A Berzerker could take some serious punishment.

Low learning curve? Let me in on the secret then.

A decent swordsman took DECADES of constant study to produce.

Thousands of years?!?

Re-read your history :slight_smile:

And I would choose a two-handed longsword over a Katana any time of the day. Specially if the scenerio involved people wearing armor.

Eh… there is no second blow after you get hit with a Katana (or almost any sword for that matter). Unless you are implying that berzerkers where supernatural in nature?

Kinthalis: By a low learning curve, I believe that’s what was meant-- imagine a line graph, with the x axis as “time spent training” and the y axis as “skill.” I’d think that would be a pretty low curve. :wink:

Chairman Pow: What do you mean by ‘most destructive’? Against an unarmed individual, a mace strike is crippling, but I’d wager that maceflingers would usually only get glancing blows.


It is pretty vague question, hence my allowing the responder to add thier own qualifications, as you did. I was hoping this wouldn’t be a game of “define your terms,” so I figured that everyone could define their own and it’d be easier to sort out.

As for the learning curve of a sword, I’m studying Kali as a mix-in with some other MA and there are (in this system) eight “angles” that are the basic strikes (similar to what that Army currently teaches with their bayonet/rifle stock training). After two or three half-hour sessions within the context of a class, we were doing a pretty good job of banging each other up. That was with the eight attacks and three basic parries that really didn’t work at full-speed. Granted, we practiced on our own at home and etc., but I think that we progressed from “novice” to “beginner” fairly quickly and there was a huge difference in people who had done it 1 or 2x and those who had never done it. [also, see below for advanced training]

Reading something about Viking/Norse combat, I recall that the standard method of combat was essentially two strikes (overhand right to left and then left to right) until your opponent dropped his shield or got you.

From the book (can’t recall the title, published by Paladin Press), it appeared that that was actually fairly common.

Neither of those would take too long to train in. If you had a peasant army, I think you could train them acceptably in individual sword play in a similar time. Of course, the bulk of the training would be in following tactics, etc. Once you’ve got dozens or hundreds or thousands of people rushing each other, I don’t think that the skill of an individual is the biggest factor in their survival.

Now, from fencing and the aforementioned Kali study, me (year or so in Kali, 4 in fencing) vs. guy with a lot more experience = me going down pretty quickly. No doubt about that, but my argument was that one could teach people to use the sword acceptably much more quickly than other weapons.

I’m not familiar with Kali, but by all historicla evidence european swordsmanship of the middle ages and renaissance was a martial art that took decades to master.

And frankly bouts between novices aren’t substantial or any sort of useful measuring guide.

I still disagree. My experience in 2 years of Historical Medieval Martial arts has tought me that although you can teach someone the basics (and nothing more, although there is vastly much more) they won’t master those basics for a long time.

anyway, back to the OP:

The main problem in answering the question is that there is no such thing as “the most devistating hand to hand weapon” just as there is no such thing as “The best weapon”.

Every weapon has a certain use in mind when made, It excells in a particular environment, against a particular foe. But it might not be so good in some other hypotheticla circumstance.

So to answer the question in ameaningful way we need more information. The question must be more explicit.

I am then frankly curious as to how armies have been raised and trained in less than two years for almost all of recorded history.

Anyway, if you go by the exactly wording of the OP, it seems the most devastating weapon is the one that when used correctly delivers the maximum possible amount of force, using only the muscular energy of a human being to deliver it. It seems to me that would be a halberd (or glaive, or any sort of polearm weapon with a heavy head that can be swung at a target.)


Hmm, yes, by exacting words I suppose the pole arms would be a good choice.

My own bias would turn in a vote for the longsword of the high middle ages.

Such a two-handed blade was capable of fearsome, devistating cuts, and was still a decent thrusting blade.

My understanding is that the majority of rank+file troops, at least in Europe, used spears, pikes, or some other sort of polearm. Fighting in these situations was less about weapon mastery and more about holding formation, discipline, and getting multiple ranks of soldiers to support the guys up front.

This is true, but its also a good reason why I don’t think the OP is going to get any sort of answers to his question. I, too, used to play DnD and it was fun seeing how different weapons stacked up as far as numbers go, but It has absolutely no bearing on weapons in real life, nor are weapons modelled like that. Polearms are essentially useless without unit support. A halberd, from what I’ve heard, is probably the LAST weapon I’d like to get hit with. It was indeed very powerful, capable of getting great leverage and cutting through armor and limbs, but the time it took to swing it would make a person an absolute sitting duck without a group of men behind, defending.

If I positively had to be put in a theoretical situation where it was myself, one on one, against another weapon-guy, and I had to pick a weapon, I wouldnt dream of using a mace, axe, spear, or any polearm type weapon. A dual-wielding pocket knife guy could probably take me. I’d pick a shortsword/Shield combo. Quick enough to not have to strain lifting my weapon for a swing, and protection enough for at least a few strikes.

I think most people in a one on one situation would pick similarly (perhaps a larger sword, I just wouldnt trust myself with a 4ft blade ), and this I think is what gives swords a sort of weapon of the nobility feel. Though for full out wars, I think spears/polearms, held by properly trained units, would end up being far more useful, and far more destructive.

I think a flail would do a happy mess of whatever gets on it´s way, you swing the thing overhead to gain momentum and whack the foe to kingdom come. The swinging allows a buildup of energy on the spiked ball, so I WAG it has the potential of delivering a stronger, more destructive blow than other hand weapons.

A big sponge, soaked in VX.

What do I win?

I think I’d have to go with a chainsaw. I’d prefer a high-end one with a long, sturdy blade. A Husqvarna would be nice.

I’ll take your bet and raise you -

A chainsaw ON A POLE! I see them all the time here - I could take you AND your husky out from 12-14’ away. Heck, I could do it from a tall tree! Bring on your swords and maces, too.

All I would need to do would be to juke out of the way, knock your pole to the side, then I’d be out of range of your saw. (I could even saw your chainsaw right off the pole, leaving you at a stark disadvantage.)

It would be better to have a chainsaw on the end of a long blade equipped with a chain. It could even be electrified for extra force.