The Weapons of European SwordsmanshipWestern European swordsmanship has taught techniques to be used with the following armaments throughout history. Consult the glossary of terms for the parts of the sword discussed. Please also note that terminology and classification are sometimes subject to interpretation or disagreement, and are affected by changes in the usage of language over time:
- The Longsword: a straight, double-edged sword with a grip long enough for two hands and a simple cross-guard that was in use circa 1350-1550. Longswords were usually about 120-135 cm (4-4.5 ft) in total length with blades of about 90-105 cm (36-42"), and weighed between 1100 and 1600 g (2.5 and 3.5 pounds). Late examples sometimes have extra guards such as side rings. They were designed to be used mainly in two hands.
- The historical term "bastard sword", was considered synonymous with "longsword" during the first revivals of the 19th century, but is today commonly used to refer to a sword somewhat between the full-sized longsword and shorter arming sword in length that could easily be used in one or two hands. "Hand and a half" sword is a modernnote term that also applies, since the grip was generally not long enough to fully accommodate both hands, but rather one hand and a couple fingers of the second. Medieval primary sources indicate that a bastard sword was not the same thing as a longsword in the Late Medieval period, as the two weapons frequently both show up in event lists from tournaments, but there are no sources which indicate what style of weapon was actually meant. It's also worth mentioning that the term "bastard sword" is completely non-existent outside England and France.
- The Arming Sword: the classic straight double-edged medieval knightly sword, designed for use in one hand, and a direct descendant of the Roman spatha and Viking-era swords. They were seldom more than 90 cm or 3 ft in total length, and most weighed about 1200 g or 2.5 lb. Arming swords were typically not wielded alone, and instead were more commonly wielded as:
- Sword and shield: Exact construction depended on the time period, but the shield was almost universally made of layered wooden planks faced with linen or leather. The rim could be either leather or iron. Early shields were held using a center grip in the manner of a buckler, with an iron boss to protect the hand. Later, leather straps called "enarmes" were used. Many shields could be carried on the shoulder using a sling called a "guige". Shield shape evolved and varied throughout the time period, from the round shields most common in the Migration Era and Early Middle Ages, to the kite shield with its elongated tip to protect the leg, to the classic knightly "heater" shieldnote . The increasing prevalence of plate armor in the 15th centuries soon rendered the shield superfluous, so the sword and shield combination largely faded from use by the later Middle Ages, being displaced by the longsword and other two-handed arms such as the halberd on the battlefield, and the easier to carry sword and buckler for personal defense off the field.
- Sword and Buckler: A buckler is a small, usually round shield about a foot in diameter with a simple grip for the left hand in the center. They were either made entirely of steel, or out of wood with an iron boss and an iron or rawhide rim. While the sword and shield became less popular as time passed due to the increasing presence of full-body plate armor, (which made the shield redundant) sword and buckler remained in use, particularly for personal defense, where the smaller buckler was easier to carry than a full-sized shield. This weapon pair was extremely popular throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance and is the source of the word "swashbuckler".
- The Messer: A type of great knife or short sword that was popular in 15th and 16th century Germany with a slightly curved single-edged blade. They were typically 75 cm (30 inches long) and weighed between 900 and 1200 g (2-2.5 lb). The hilt had a simple cross-guard with a small side protrusion called the "nagel" to provide some minimal protection for the hand, while the handle consisted of two bone or wooden panels riveted to the flat tang and was capped with a small pommel. They were wielded alone or with a buckler.
- A development of this was a weapon known as the kriegsmesser; essentially a messer the size of a full-length longsword! Little is known for certain how this particular weapon was used, but what evidence is available suggests it was wielded in much the same manner as the longsword and two-handed sword.
- The Two-Handed Sword: The largest of the European sword types which ranged about 140-170 cm (55-67 in.) in total length and weighed 5-7 lb. Their straight, double-edged blades were about 100-130cm (40-50") long and often featured a ricasso with parrying hooks at the base, while their hilts were usually very large and featured grip lengths and cross-guard widths of about 45 cm (18 in) each on large examples. Because of its size it could only be practically wielded on foot using two hands. It was favored by elite mercenaries and bodyguards, as well as anyone facing multiple opponents. German Landsknecht mercenaries used the biggest versions, which were called "Zweihander" (two-hander) and weighed 7-8 lbs.
- The Side Sword: A single-handed cut-and-thrust sword with a straight, usually double-edged blade that was popular through the 16th century. It fell between the medieval arming sword and the later rapier in terms of form and technique. The main changes from medieval times were a ricasso that facilitated wrapping the index finger over the cross-guard for better point control during thrusts, and a more protective hilt that might include finger rings, side rings, and a knuckle bow in addition to the cross-guard. There were many cut-and-thrust swords for military use that are not necessarily side swords, and "side sword" is essentially a useful but imperfect modern term for swords that have developed hilts but whose blades are too short or broad to be described as rapiers. A side sword could be wielded alone or with a buckler, dagger, or shield in the other hand.
- The Rapier: A single-handed sword sword whose techniques emphasized thrusting, consisting of a long, narrow straight double-edged blade and a hilt that incorporated complex protection for the hand. They were most popular throughout Europe from about 1550-1650. Like the side sword, it featured a ricasso and was designed to be used with the index finger wrapped over the cross-guard. Long rapiers typically weighed between 900 and 1400 g (2-3.1 lb) and had blades about 97-114 cm (38"-45") long from cross guard to point, although the most extravagant examples could be even longer. It could be used either alone or together with some kind of companion weapon or off-hand defense. Among these were the parrying dagger, the buckler, dueling gauntlets incorporating plate or mail, and improvised parrying devices such as a rolled-up cloak or lantern. A flashy and uncommon style taught by some masters employed a rapier in each hand.
- Espada ropera: A type of straight double-edged Spanish dress sword first mentioned in the mid-15th century that is thought to be the precursor to the side sword and rapier. It was usually slightly heavier and longer than the later style of rapier and was worn in court as part of one's ropa, or clothing. They would often have a cup hilt in addition to a cross guard. The word rapier derives from ropera.
- The Basket-Hilted Broad Sword and Back Sword: The backsword was single-handed sword with a broad, straight or slightly curved single-edged blade and fitted with a basket hilt that fully protected the hand. These and their double-edged basket-hilted cousins were sometimes called broadswords to distinguish them from rapiers; the use of "broadsword" to refer to the arming sword is an anachronism. These were especially favored in the British Isles from the 17th century onward and found enduring popularity with the highland Scots. Other countries had their own basket-hilts, such as the Italian Schiavona.
- The Smallsword: A small, nimble sword used almost exclusively for thrusting which eventually replaced the rapier and was popular from about 1650-1800. Their straight, symmetrical blades were shorter than those of rapiers at about 33"-36" (84-92 cm) long, and they could weigh as little as 500 g or 1 lb, with most weighing no more than 1000 g or 2 lb. Compared to the rapier's highly protective complex hilt, the smallsword had a simple shell guard supported by two small hilt arms, a single up-turned quillon, and a knuckle bow. Unlike the rapier which was held with the index finger wrapped around the ricasso, a smallsword was usually gripped with the thumb and index finger pinching the quillon block. The blade was made with a triangular or sometimes quadrangular cross-section and usually hollow-ground to be as stiff and light as possible, a feature that is still seen on modern sport fencing swords. The "cholichmarde" was a blade style with a thickened forte that concentrated the blade's mass where parrying was likely to occur. The modern fencing foil is descended from practice versions of the smallsword.
- The Spadroon: A light single-handed cut-and-thrust sword that appeared in the late 18th century as an officer's weapon. The blade was usually straight and single edged, and the guard usually had a knuckle bow and upturned quillon. A bit of a cross between the smallsword and the saber or hanger, it was widely disdained as not very good at being either. It lacked the weight to make strong cuts, and the blade was often too flexible for reliable thrusting. For these reasons it a was short-lived design, but it did appear in fencing manuals of the time.
- The Saber: A single-handed sword mostly associated with military use and cavalry in particular, introduced into Western Europe during the 17th century by Hungarian and Polish cavalry. The most familiar type had a curved single-edged blade and a knuckle bow or basket guard. However, there were also straight bladed and double-edged sabers as well as a variety of guards. Polish or Hungarian examples might have a thumb ring and a cross-guard with langets at the base of the blade. During the Napoleonic wars there was a furious debate over whether the cut or thrust was more deadly in battle, with France favoring the thrust and England advocating the cut or both equally.
- The dagger, which was commonly worn both on street and on battlefield.
- The spear, halberd, pollaxe, and other shafted weapons a knight might use.
- Wrestling, which could be practiced unarmed but was also frequently useful in armed combat.
The Origin of Schools of Fencing in Western EuropeMedieval combat experts such as Tobias Capwell and Roland Warzecha believe that Early Medieval civilizations such as the Vikings and Anglo Saxons must have had refined fighting techniques to match the finely crafted weapons which have been discovered by archaeology, but unfortunately we do not know and may not ever know for sure exactly how they fought. Tantalizing descriptions of combat appear in epic poetry and the sagas, but besides the fact that the sagas were composed long after the events they describe and may contain artistic license, they only offer glimpses without laying down a comprehensive and organized system. The fact that human biomechanics remain the same throughout history and that the form of weapons can offer clues about how to use them has encouraged many who seek to reconstruct Viking Era combat or high medieval sword and shield as an exercise in experimental archaeology. These groups and individuals have offered compelling theories about what such combat may have been like, but that is beyond the scope of this article. Instead, we will deal with the fighting systems for which we have actual instructive texts. By the end of the 12th century and the beginning of the 13th, we see the first references to the practice of fencing outside of the landed warrior aristocracy. There emerge from the historical record men of lower nobility or common birth who made a living off their skills, either by starting their own schools to teach pupils or by fighting on behalf of others as hired champions in judicial duels. Suspicious nobles and city governments viewed these individuals as unsavory troublemakers or even criminals, and repeatedly tried to crack down on schools for spreading knowledge of fencing among those who were considered liable to abuse it. These measures were an exercise in futility, as the practice of fencing grew ever more popular. The weapon combination that they were using was sword and buckler, and it is probably no coincidence that the first manual that can actually be used to reconstruct medieval fighting, Royal Armouries Manuscript I.33, deals with this subject.
Sword and Buckler According to Ms. I.33work in progress Royal Armouries Manuscript I.33 (pronounced "one-thirty-three"), also known as the Walpurgis Fechtbuch, is a sword and buckler manual of anonymous authorship from Franconia, Germany and dates from ca. 1300. The manual is written in Latin with certain fencing terms in German, and consists 64 pages illustrating wards, counters, and plays with sword and buckler between a priest and his student. The last part features a woman named Walpurgis, hence the alternate title. The combatants wear simple robes with the hem tucked into their belts (so as to avoid tripping) and wield simple cross-hilted arming swords with round bucklers. There are seven wards (custodiae) or guard positions from which to launch attacks: 1. under the arm (sub brach)
2. right shoulder (humero dextrali)
3. left shoulder (humero sinistro)
4. head (capiti)
5. right side (latere dextro)
6. breast (pectori)
7. long-point (langort)
There are also a series of defensive postures (obsessiones) each of which is used to counter one of the seven wards.
Medieval and Renaissance Kunst des Fechtens (lit. "Art of Fighting"), German LongswordThe contributions of the German fightmasters ("fechtmeister") of the medieval era cannot be overstated. They provide the greatest volume of information and instruction of any other group of historical masters. One of the first of these men was Johannes Liechtenauer, who was born in the late 13th or early 14th century and whose teachings would go on to be the most influential in Central Europe. Until the release of these techniques by fechtmeister Sigmund Ringeck in the 15th century, only a select few picked by Liechtenauer or his students could learn this art. Note that Liechtenauer wrote his manual in merkverse, which is a coded poem. The function of this is twofold; firstly to prevent outsiders to the art from gleaning its secrets and secondly to provide a mnemonic device for Liechtenauer's students. The Italian school of the longsword is best codified by the fencing master Fiore dei Liberi. However though there are subtle differences in the guards, the German and Italian schools are very closely related to one another, with many of the same cuts and techniques. Some new scholarly research suggests that Fiore himself might have been a student of Liechtenauer, and incorporated his teachings into the Italian school.
Bloßfechten (Unarmoured Combat)Most German masters reference Liechtenauer's Bloßfechten at least, which is the most fundamental part of the martial art. It means "unarmoured fighting", being at its most effective when used against an adversary with light or no armour. The Bloßfechten is not quite that limited, however, as the techniques and concepts taught reappear throughout later sections and students are encouraged not to use just one part of the manual, but to use concepts from different parts together. Prime examples of masters who wrote based on Liechtenauer's merkverse are Dobringer, Ringeck and Talhoffer. German manuals mostly deal with the longsword and messer, although sometimes sword and buckler techniques are also included. While they also include spear, dagger, wrestling and general unarmed techniques, they are directly related to the teachings on swordsmanship, working in unison to produce a holistic martial art for combat with any weapon or none at all. Note, however, that it is necessary to comprehend and practise the unarmed aspects of the martial art for true competence, as sword fights were often resolved with the assistance of wrestling and grappling. The most important aspect of German swordsmanship is its baleful attitude towards defense. German masters advocated offense as the best means of survival, under the premise that an adversary too preoccupied with defending poses no threat to you. There are no techniques in the manuals that are purely defensive in nature, as the Germans advocated either defending an attack in a way that simultaneously defends against the incoming attack and delivers a counter of one's own, or defending with a technique that allows regaining initiative to prepare for delivering a killing blow or another strike. Ideally, one strikes before the adversary, takes initiative and presses that advantage to end the fight instantly. Obviously, this cannot be relied upon, so there are various techniques for bindsnote , voidsnote and other occurrences. In any sword fight, the most "perfect" action to the least "perfect" action is as follows:
- Strike in such a way that you make contact with your adversary while closing off their line of attack. In this case, your strike is both a deadly offense and indomitable defense.
- Strike in such a way that your strike defends from your adversary's strike while continuing to threaten them.
- Passively defend from an adversary's strike. (It is him who should be pushed into defensive.)
- Vom Tag
- Middle: Held at the left or right side, at the chest or shoulder, with the sword pointing directly upwards or at a small backwards angle. This is the most versatile guard from which to launch attacks, as any strike can come from this guard with near equal efficiency. This is the same as hasso-no-kamae in kenjutsu
- High: Held above the head with the sword angled no more than forty-five degrees backwards. From this position, descending strikes are powerful and fast. This is the same as jodan-no-kamae in kenjutsu.
- Ochs: Held with the hilt at ear height or a little higher, blade pointing at one's adversary or hanging somewhat, and held on either the left or right side. This is a strong guard from which to thrust, launch descending strikes and defend from incoming descending strikes.
- Pflug: Held with the hilt at hip height, blade pointing at the adversary's head or torso, and held on either the left or right side. Much like Ochs, it is a strong position from which to thrust, but it is better at launching rising strikes and defending the lower openings.
- Alber: Held with the hilt at hip height, blade pointing down and forward at an even angle, and held in the middle of the body. A highly defensive guard, it invites attack while remaining in a strong position to defend from any strike which doesn't target the head from above. This is the same as gedan-no-kamae in kenjutsu.
- Zornhau: A descending diagonal strike favoured for its simplicity, ease of use and versatility.
- Zwerchhau: A horizontal strike with a hanging point, aimed at the adversary's neck or head. It displaces high strikes and guards, aiming to close off the high line of attack.
- Krumphau: A variable strike that attacks the hands or blade of one's adversary, forcing an opening for a follow-up attack.
- Schielhau: A descending strike with the false edge, used to break low pointing guards and defeat adversaries that rely on strength.
- Scheitelhau: A descending vertical strike performed with the arms outstretched using geometry to defeat low guards and strikes.
Harnischfechten (Armoured Combat)While few people today are familiar with bloßfechten techniques, which were meant to be used on an unarmored or lightly armored adversary, even fewer are aware that there was a separate repertoire of techniques specifically for fighting a well-armored opponent. By the end of the 14th century—which is around the time when the first manuscript of Liechtenauer's verse is thought to have been created—full plate armor had developed to cover almost the entire body of the wearer. Full plate is basically impervious to strikes or cuts with the sword's edges, removing this from one's list of options. However, the longsword can do more than just cut. Not only does it have a point, but the crossguard and pommel are weapons as well. Better still, it is essentially a length of metal about four feet long that you can grip in several different ways and use as a short staff or spear to wind and compete for leverage, potentially setting your opponent up for a nasty fall. Halbschwert, or "half-sword" where the off hand grasps the blade at the middle of its length while the dominant hand remains on the grip, is the primary method of using the sword in harnischfechten. While its initial purpose is to deliver stronger, more accurate thrusts, blunt strikes and wrestling are also initiated from this position. Four basic half-sword guards are used in Ringeck's version of Liechtenauer's harnischfechten, which resemble the four guards of bloßfechten in purpose if not always in appearance. Unlike in bloßfechten, where attacks are made with a passing step and there are right and left versions of each guard, the harnischfechten guards are only held on your dominant-hand side and you must keep the same foot forward as you advance and retreat.
- First: In this guard, the hilt is held high over the head while the point hangs down to threaten your opponent's face. A high thrusting guard, it resembles Ochs.
- Second: In this guard, the hilt is held at your side below your waist, with the point upward towards your opponent's face. A low thrusting guard, it resembles pflug.
- Third: In this guard, the sword is held horizontally over your forward knee with the point going to your offhand side. A low guard that invites attack, it is like Alber.
- Fourth: In this guard, the hilt is raised to the side of the chest near the armpit while the point is held forward. It is similar to Vom Tag in that, while not a cutting guard, it is the most aggressive of the four. In purpose it is like a mounted knight couching his lance in a braced position so that his whole body is behind the point. If your point finds a gap while working from one of the preceding three guards, you should transition into the fourth guard and push your opponent back mercilessly.
- Thrusting with the Half-Sword: Although it does sacrifice some reach compared to having both hands on the grip, half-swording gives you very precise control over your point so that you may seek the gaps in your opponent's armor. The forward grip also provides more leverage, making it harder for your opponent to set aside your point. Instead of attacking the four openings, you are required to target a limited number of weak points and gaps in the armor into which you can thrust your point. These are:
- The visor, which might have vision slits large enough to insert a blade or a gap where it meets the chin defense.
- The throat, which depending on the armor may have a gap between the neck defense and helmet, or between the helmet and breastplate.
- The armpits, usually protected by the mail shirt or mail gussets.
- The groin, usually protected by mail breeches or the hem of the mail shirt.
- The buttocks, similar to the groin.
- The back of the thighs and knee, unless it is an armor specifically for foot combat rather than riding.
- The inside of the elbow joint.
- The inside of the gauntlet cuff, which overlaps the vambrace at the wrist.
- The palm of the hand, where the leather glove inside the gauntlet is exposed to allow a proper grip on one's weapon.
- Blunt Strikes, where the pommel is used to bludgeon the opponent, preferably on the head or in the face. One way to do this is from the regular half-sword position or with both hands on the grip, which might be expedient if your pommel gets close to the opponent's face while you attempt a more complicated technique. The other is using the mordschlagnote technique, where the sword is gripped with both hands on the blade and swung so the pommel or crossguard (or both) strikes your adversary. This way, the sword imitates a mace or warhammer. Furthermore, the crossguard can be used as a hook for controlling an adversary's neck or limbs.
- Wrestling Techniques are heavily intertwined with the techniques of armored fighting. While you and your opponent are seeking openings for a thrust, opportunities will arise to try and capture your opponent's sword, restrain and redirect his limbs and body using your off hand, or throw him to the ground where you can finish him off with your dagger.
Ringen (Wrestling)The wrestling element of the German system covers the whole spectrum of unarmed techniques, including strikes, grapples, throws and locks. Being predominantly a warlike martial art for the knightly class, however, most unarmed techniques are grapples that end in throws; these allow an unarmed combatant to floor an adversary in full plate armour if they can enter into extremely close range combat. Almost all offensive techniques aim to take hold of and manipulate the following points:
- The head.
- The shoulders.
- The elbows.
- The hips.
- The knees.
Roßfechten (Mounted Combat)Work in progress.
Italian Rapierwork in progress During the first half of the 16th century, the rapier evolved from the fashionable side swords that were now being worn by gentlemen at all times. In 1553, Camillo Agrippa published his Trattato di Scientia d'Arme, con vn Dialogo di Filosofia (Treatise on the Science of Arms with a Dialogue on Philosophy), the most important early work on the rapier. Aggrippa was preceded by a long Italian tradition of swordsmanship that begins with Fiore and his followers, as well as Marozzo's highly popular work Opera Nova of 1536, but Agrippa offered a definite innovation in both techniques and teaching methods. Agrippa named his four guards A, B, C, and D, but all later Italian masters that used them referred to them as: 1. First (Prima)
2. Second (Seconda)
3. Third (Terza)
4. Fourth (Quarta)
Medieval and Renaissance English FencingWhile the German longsword is the most popular WMA being researched at the moment, the English style of fighting is getting a bit of a spotlight due to the sources in... well, English, and thus interpretations are a lot easier without the barrier of translation. Interestingly enough, there are quite a fair few common ground between the English style of fighting and the styles in mainland Europe, but there are some key differences.
George SilverOne cannot talk about the English style of fighting without mentioning George Silver, who was an English gentleman living around the time of Elizabeth I. Little is known about the man himself, except that he seemed to be a Master of Defence, as people who taught such things were called in those days. His works are written in more modern English, and they gave us a glimpse of what the English fencing is like. His works are:
- Paradoxes of Defence (1599): this is more of a treatise rather than an actual manual for fighting. In this, Silver argues that the Italian rapier is a poor weapon of choice and the traditional English method of fencing is superior. Ironically, his methods of fencing share a lot of common ground with the Italians, and there's a theory that suggests that Silver's thinking comes from the fact that most "Italian masters" that he would have met would not be up to the standard, as otherwise they would have opened schools in Italy instead of England. His grievances against the rapier can be summed up as follows:
- Rapiers are too long. Silver believes that there is a "perfect length" for weapons, and for swords (one-handed or two) he thinks that the blade should be just short enough so that if you hold your dagger with your off-hand straight arm in front of you, the tip of your sword should be able to pass behind the said dagger. This is due to the fact that longer weapons are too hard to uncross when in close distance. In fact, this is actually his method of fighting against rapiers, for you make "narrow space" by putting the point aside and coming straight to your opponent; once you're "inside" your opponent's pointnote he can't do much, except retreat and try again. Silver also talks about quarterstaff as well.
- Rapiers have no protective hilt. In those days, swords in England are starting to have a "basket" hilt. This is, obviously, a serious improvement over any sword that doesn't have one, since one is now less vulnerable to having one's sword removed at the fingers. (Basket hilts, and any other protective guards, would by virtue of added weight also have helped shift the sword's point of balance back towards the hilt, which is a real design advantage for a fencing sword.)
- Brief Instructions Upon my Paradoxes of Defence (written in cc 1600s, published in 1898): This is the actual book by Silver that talks about the methods of fighting using various weapons. It seems to be unfinished as there are some parts that are quite puzzling (or it might be that people haven't quite figured out what he meant). Interestingly, in this Silver doesn't go into the techniques much, unlike other manuals at the time (particularly Italian school) where there is a lot of "if your opponent do X, do Y". Instead, Silver's idea of fighting is based on principles. The four main principles are:
- Judgement. Exactly What It Says on the Tin. You use your judgement to figure out what to do.
- Distance. There are three distances: close, wide and far distance. Close distance is the distance where you can hit your opponent (or your opponent can hit you) by just moving the hand/hand with weapon, which Silver calls "attack in the time of the hand" (the concept of "time" in this will be discussed below), or where you can cross your sword touching your opponent's sword, which Silver calls "half sword" (contrast with the German definition of "half swording"). Wide distance is further out, where you have to make two steps, or have one foot passing over the other, before you are able to hit your opponent. Far distance is any distance that is even further than this. In Silver's view, you should always fight in the wide distance, since the hand is too fast for you to react to. Thus, in close distance, "the hand of the agent being as swift as the hand of the patient, the hand of the agent being the first mover, must of necessity strike or thrust that part of the patient which shall be struck or thrust at because the time of the hand to the time of the hand, being of like swiftness the first mover has the advantage." In other words, in close fight, the one who moves first will probably hit (or not), and the one reacting is less likely to be able to defend himself. In wide distance, however, since your opponent needs to stepping in to strike, and your hand moves faster than his stepping in, you will always be able to do something before the blow lands.
- Time. "Time" is an interesting concept in Silver's methodology. "Time" here can refer to two things: one is the time it takes for the movement to finish (time of the hand, time of the body, time of the foot and time of the feet); the other is the order of things being done (eg: time of the hand and body). For the latter version of time, Silver has two classifications: true time and false time.
- True time refers to moving the hand, body and feet in that order when attacking, while false time is the other way around: feet, body and hand. True time is generally preferable because you're putting forth your weapon before you put forth your target, ie your body. Thus your opponent will have to deal with the threat you have launched at him (assuming that, like most people, he's not Taking You with Me) rather than your body. Whereas if you move your body or feet first (which brings forth your body), your target becomes available before you've made a threat, and you opponent (whether suicidal or not) will be able to hit you. Of course, Silver also advocates fighting from wide distance, where you need to put a step in before you can strike your opponent, so this takes practice; the hand moves faster than everything else and it is all too easy to have finished swinging your weapon before you have managed to get your opponent into range of it. Thus the trick is to slow down the movement of the hand so that your weapon hits your target (assuming it isn't defended against) the moment your foot lands onto the ground.
- Place. Silver has one very famous statement in 'Brief Instructions': "because through judgment, you keep your distance, through distance you take your time, through time you safely win or gain the place of your adversary, the place being won or gained you have time safely either to strike, thrust, ward, close, grip, slip or go back, in which time your enemy is disappointed to hurt you, or to defend himself, by reason that he has lost his place, the reason that he has lost his true place is by the length of time through the numbering of his feet, to which he is out of necessity driven to that will be agent." Basically, the true place is a situation in which you can do whatever it is you want without risk of being hit by your opponent.
- Aside from the four principles, Silver also talks about the four governors (actually three, but he counts the last one as two)
- Judgement: Same as above
- Measure: Knowing the distance when you can strike your opponent and when your opponent can strike you.
- Two-fold mind: Silver considers this to be two governors. A twofold mind in Silver refers to the idea that when you come forward to attack, "so must you have at that instant a mind to fly backward upon any action that shall be offered or done by your adversary". The idea is that when you attack, you have no idea whether that is enough to stop your opponent from riposting or not. Thus, once you've finished with the attack, you get out of distance in case your opponent attacks you back. Silver is very keen on defending, and he says "And here note that in all the course of my teaching of these my brief instructions if both the parties have the full perfection of the true fight then the one will not be able to hurt the other at what perfect weapon soever."
- Open Ward. Face your opponent with your sword foot back, raise your sword above your head as straight up as comfortable. This is the open ward. It is very similar to the high vom tag ward as depicted in the German longsword above except with a shortsword. This ward is "open" since all lines of attack are open (for your opponent, that is), but since you're in a charged position you can make very fast downward attacks.
- Guardant Ward. This is something more or less unique to Silver. The description given is "to carry your hand & hilt above your head with your point down towards your left knee, with your sword blade somewhat near your body, not bearing out your point but rather declining it a little towards your said knee, that your enemy cross not your point & so hurt you, stand bolt upright in his fight, & if he offers to press in then bear your head & body a little backward". This is a ward more or less a counter to the open ward, as your sword is covering the line of attack that your opponent is most likely to use, and Silver also gives details on how to deal with other lines of attack as well.
- Variable Ward. The "other" category basically. Anything that is not the open or guardant. However, Silver talks about the stoccata and passata ward under the variable ward:
- Stoccata: Hold your sword as normal with your sword foot forward. You're now in stoccata ward.
- Passata: Same as stoccata, but with sword foot back.
- There's also the imbrocata and mountanta, in which you hold your sword on either side of you head with your point at your opponent, much like the Ochs in German longsword. However, Silver doesn't like presenting the point to the opponent, as he thinks that it gives the opportunity for your opponent to do something with it.
English LongswordLittle is known for sure about the medieval English longsword. While Silver provides some commentary on the matter, he is largely concerned with Renaissance-era single swords, and therefore provides small illumination (his comment basically comes down to "[two handed swords] are to be used in the fight as the short staff."). Furthermore, the English longsword does not have the wealth of manuscripts that the German or Italian longswords do, and therefore those traditions must be taken as a template from which to interpret the English sources that do exist. English longsword sources discovered so far are: Harleian MS 3542 (written around 1450), the Cotton Titus MS (late 15th century) and Additional MS. 39564, signed by “J. Ledall” (early 16th century). In a tactical sense, the English longsword is less forthright than its German brother. While the German style places emphasis on getting in distance and controlling the bind, English longsword sources instruct us to only be in distance for long enough to deliver a technique. It solves the problem of the bind by doing its best to avoid them. To this end, its sequence of striking is very kinetic, focusing on flowing combinations of techniques that keep an adversary at bay. For instance, where a German falling diagonal strike might end in a hip-height pointing guard, an English one ends with the sword pointing towards the ground, allowing energy to continue flowing so as to more easily continue into the next technique. Within the English tradition, a falling strike is known as a "hawk" and a rising strike with the true edge is known as a "rake" (the rising strike with the false edge is called a "rabbit"). Few other techniques are elaborated on, as the sources concern themselves with using such hawks and rakes in sequence and with footwork. One technique named with very narrative intent is the "Dragon's Tail", which is a horizontal beat where the sword circles one's head again and connects with the enemy's temple. The unfortunate truth about the English longsword is that there is only a tiny amount of available sources, much of it fragmented, and it's possible that there be may no more to be had. That said, by using the German and Italian texts as core technique sources, reconstruction is still possible, especially with the aforementioned tactical approaches towards sparring.
Scottish baskethiltWork in progress
La Verdadera Destreza, Spanish fencing.La verdadera destreza (meaning “the true art”) was the Spanish system of fencing detailed first in Don Francisco Antonio de Ettenhard's Compendio de los fundamentos de la verdadera destreza y la filosofía de las armas. Jerónimo Sánchez de Carranza and Luis Pacheco de Narváez were among the most revered masters. This Spanish system of fencing focused on the teaching of the sword, usually what would be called a rapier, but was also intended to be applicable to any sort of weapon. Destreza was based on reason, geometry, and the body's natural movement. In contrast to what they perceived as the strained and unnatural low stances of the Italians, Spanish fencers held the body upright, starting with the feet close together in a relaxed but balanced posture. The sword arm was held fully extended in a straight line, with the point presented to the opponent to deter him from attacking recklessly. The fencer moved with deliberate but natural steps in the manner of walking, sometimes taking larger steps but never using a deep extended lunge in the manner of Italians. A significant principle of destreza was non-linear footwork, which also contrasted with the relatively linear Italian rapier fight. Directly advancing toward the opponent was considered dangerous and risky for the student. Instead, they were taught to visualize a circle between them and their opponent, and to make movements towards the left or right to gain a more favorable angle of attack. Distance was important; the ideal distance was to be as close as possible but to still be able to attack. Spanish masters maintained that cuts (both tajos, forehanded cuts and reveses, backhanded cuts) could be just as useful as thrusts (estocadas) depending on the situation. There was a strong focus on movimiento natural, or attacks from above to below, and on leverage, with the blade of a sword being divided into up to 12 sections, not just the forte and the foible used by Italian and German schools. The atajo was a specific technique for applying leverage on an opponent's weapon, stopping him from raising his weapon without touching the blade above. The word “atajo” later passed into the Spanish language as a way of “to interrupt” or “take a short-cut”, due to its purpose of impeding an opponent's attack.
Glossary of Terms
Components of a Sword
- Blade: The main offensive part of the sword with sharp edges and a point, which is a separate entity from the hilt.
- Tang: The tail-like extension of the blade which passes through the parts of the hilt.
- Edge: The sharpened area of the blade used for cutting.
- True Edge/Long Edge: The edge facing away from the person holding the sword, in line with the knuckles.
- False Edge/Short Edge: The edge facing towards the person holding the sword, in line with the wrist.
- Flat: The flat surface on either side of the blade.
- Fuller: One or more grooves that run along the flat of the blade on each side, reducing its weight without compromising its strength.
- Point: The sharp tip at the end of the blade used for thrusting.
- Ricasso: A blunt rectangular area of the blade just above the crossguard. A small ricasso can facilitate wrapping the index figer over the crossguard, as is the case in rapier, while a longer ricasso can accommodate a hand for half-swording, as in some longswords and many two-handers.
- Parierhaken/Parrying Hooks: A pair of small flanges or hooks just above the ricasso on certain two-handed swords, used to protect the hand and potentially help catch or trap an opponent's blade when parrying. These were usually located above the ricasso.
- Taper: A descriptor of the sword's narrowing towards the point. Swords exhibited both 'profile taper' and 'distal taper'. 'Profile taper' is the more obvious, being the tapering as viewed looking at the flat of the blade. 'Distal taper' is the more subtle way that a sword's thickness changes when viewed edge-on, and it has important consequences for the blade's mass distribution and stiffness in the thrust. As a rule of thumb, swords with a more triangular or acute profile taper are designed with thrusting in mind, while those that taper relatively little until just before the point are easier to cut with.
- Strong: The part of the blade closest to the cross guard where one can bind against an opponent strongly, i.e. "using strength against weakness". In longsword the blade is generally divided into strong and weak, but rapier masters sometimes divided the sword into three, four, or even five parts based on their role. The Spanish even went so far as to divide the blade into sections labelled from 1 (nearest the point) to 10 or 12, due to the principle of leverage used for atajo.
- Weak: The part of the blade closest to the point. A student should aim to hit his opponent with the weak because it has more reach and contains the "center or percussion" (CoP) or "sweet spot" where the blade doesn't vibrate when it strikes the target. In a bind one cannot oppose strongly with the weak against an opponent's pressure, which is where "using weakness against strength" comes into play.
- Hilt: The grip, crossguard/handguard and pommel when considered as a single entity.
- Crossguard/Handguard: The mediating component between the blade and grip which protects the hand and helps to deflect or trap an opponent's weapon. A simple cross with quillons projecting on either side was the most common type of hand guard until the 16th century, when finger and side rings started appearing and eventually full "swept-hilt" and "basket hilt" styles developed.
- Finger Ring: A small semi-circular bar that protects the index finger when wrapped around the ricasso. A pair on either side is called the "arms of the hilt"
- Knuckle bow: A curved bar that extends downward over the grip to protect the fingers.
- Quillons: The two ends of the crossguard which project out on either side.
- Side Ring: A ring of metal projecting from either the crossguard or the arms of the hilt at a right angle to the blade, meant to protect the hand during parrying actions.
- Grip: The handle of the sword, constructed around the tang of the blade. Generally a wooden core was fitted over the tang and wrapped in cord or leather to provide a better gripping surface and appearance. Some swords such as the German messer and Italian cinquaedea had more knife-like handles, consisting of a slab tang sandwiched between two bone or wooden panels.
- Pommel: The metal fitting that completes the hilt, improving the sword's handling by providing a counterbalance to the blade and preventing the grip from slipping out of the hand. It could be used as a formidable blunt weapon in its own right.
Tropes Associated with the Weapons and Techniques:
- Attack! Attack! Attack!: The German school of thought holds that you should seize the initiative and not give your opponent a chance to recover it, which means attack relentlessly so that he is entirely focused on defending himself. If he takes the initiative from you by forcing you to defend yourself, your response should contain a counterattack that both protects you and threatens him.
- Completely averted with the English school of thought which puts heavy emphasis on defense.
- Blade Lock: The binden, binds, as well as the atajo. However, instead of just trying to push back the opponent, you are supposed to meet an adversary's strength with weakness (stepping aside) and their weakness with strength.
- Dangerous Forbidden Technique: Many. They are designed to kill your opponent and forbidden in friendly encounters.
- And potentially many more that we'll never know. Medieval masters often refused to write down their techniques in order to keep potential enemies from learning them, and there's little doubt that those who did write manuals might have kept some tricks to themselves.
- Diagonal Cut: The basic oberhau of the German school, albeit the Clean Cut is optional. Most diagonal cuts, unlike the trope, aim to end at the centre line of the target. Played straighter with the Zornhau Master Strike, which is employed for its power and decisive nature. La verdadera destreza also greatly emphasized movimiento natural, a descending cut from an angle.
- Dual Wielding: While wielding two of the same weapon was usually rare, it was sometimes suggested as in the "case of rapiers". Also, most single-handed weapons could be and often were used with a dagger, buckler, cloak, or other off-hand weapon.
- Duel to the Death: During the Middle Ages these martial arts saw application in legally sanctioned judicial duels between a defendant and his accuser, usually in the case of a serious crime for which no confessions or witnesses were available. This was generally expected to result in death for the loser. As this practice declined it began to be replaced by unsanctioned private duels, which could be similarly lethal.
- Averted in the English and Scottish systems as one could be hanged for murder if he killed someone in a duel in England, and the Scots avoid killing each other as it could ignite a clan war. Thus most duels in England/Scotland were to the first blood.
- Fantastic Fighting Style: What many people consider this to be before being made aware that these existed. Furthermore, due to the lack of martial lineage, all of these arts are interpretative; we cannot be entirely sure the way we do them is the way they were done historically. By that measure, some elements of their practise may be fictional.
- Flynning: Any temptation to look like swashbuckling stage heroes is Averted in all cases, and sometimes defied by the authors of the manuals. Liechtenauer goes to the extent of saying "Exercise is better than art, because exercise without art is useful, while art without exercise is useless." In other words, a technique doesn't have to look impressive in order for it to work, and a technique that only looks impressive but doesn't work will get you killed. The German system holds that an attack that threatens your enemy is best because it forces him to defend himself; if you strike at just his sword he can move it out of the way without danger to himself and counter while you're recovering. There are legitimate techniques in double time where you beat away your opponent's sword, but you must follow up with the counter or you've wasted your chance. The same goes for inefficiently large movements; The shortest movements are fastest, so whoever attacks in the shortest distance and time from point A to B will always win.
- Improbable Use of a Weapon: Many of those unfamiliar with the teachings react to half-swording with bare hands or offensive use of the hilt as if it were this.
- Improv Fu: Encouraged, given that these methods tend to use elaborated techniques to explain principles, to the extent that an incoming technique may have several correct counters.
- Invulnerable Attack: The aim of single-time combat is to attack and defend in the same action; one strikes in such a way that their technique intercepts their adversary's technique. If taken to its ideal conclusion, this is performed in such a way that one's own attack makes contact while defending from the incoming attack. This is just a mindset, however, as there is no attack that cannot be countered if your opponent has enough time to react. There were supposedly a lot of masters who claimed to have an unstoppable secret technique to kill one's opponent without danger to oneself, and taught it only to their best pupils in the greatest secrecy, but more sensible masters warned that there was no such thing and that anyone who claimed to have it was a snake oil salesman.
- National Weapon: Although subject to modern interpretation.
- Italian Rapier
- Italian Spadone
- Spanish Rapier (Espada ropera)
- Spanish Montante
- French Smallsword
- German Longsword
- German Messer
- Italian Longsword
- English Longsword
- English Backsword
- Scottish claymore (either the two handed version or the basket hilt)
- One-Hit Kill: Each strike, done with technique and understanding, should aim to be this.
- Four of the five German Master Strikes can be this; three of them are explicitly designed this way.
- Again, averted in the English and Scottish system due to their laws and customs.
- Single-Stroke Battle: The historical reality in many cases was that the fight would be decided with the first blows. Only if opponents were a near-identical match would a fight last more than a couple of strikes.
- Special Attack: The five Master Strikes of the Liechtenauer tradition of Germany are both its trademark moves and some of the most central to the system.
- Swiss Army Weapon: The longsword, which can be used as a sword, spear, staff or war hammer.
- Sword Fight: While not exclusively about sword-on-sword combat, in most of the manuals it is the main subject.
- Sword Sparks: Sparks flying off the blades can happen, even with blunted training swords.
- Unblockable Attack: A decisive thrust, strike or cut from a bind should be this if done well. The idea is to control your opponent's weapon while leaving yourself free to hit them.
Tropes Associated with the Masters and their Students:
- Author Existence Failure: Thibault was going to follow his Academy with a second part on cavalry, but died before it was completed.
- Combat Pragmatist: Most historical European forms encourage you to be completely ruthless and use every trick at your disposal.
- Knight In Shining Armour: The intended audience for the earlier works. However, the content of the manuals implies that back in the day people were a lot more pragmatic about fighting than the trope suggests.
- Master Swordsman: The authors of the manuals and many of their students.
- Magic Knight: What the authors of the Codex Dobringer thought themselves to be, if the inclusion of magic spells is any indication.
- Multi-Melee Master: The Liechtenauer system demands this, teaching effectiveness with the longsword, messer, spear, dagger and one's bare hands. The principles of La verdadera destreza are also intended to be applied to other weapons beyond the sword.
- A sword belt rarely only contains a sword; most have space for a dagger as well.
- Renaissance Man: Perhaps not surprising, considering much of it was during the Renaissance, but lots of manuals digress into advanced geometry and mathematics to explain their precepts. Lots of masters were multi-talented, such as Agrippa who was an architect and engineer rather than a professional fencing master, and Thibault used Albrecht Durer's study of human proportions to give a mathematical proof of his system's efficacy. The Spanish masters in particular seemed to think you had to know a lot about everything in order to be a good soldier, basically looking at it as a lifetime's work.
Tropes associated with the fencing manuals:
- Bilingual Bonus: It helps a lot if you understand German, Spanish or Italian.
- Doorstopper: While manuals came in all shapes and sizes, those with the most text or illustrations could be huge. Thibault's Academy of the Sword was physically enormous and 423 pages long.
- Long Title: The manuals were written back when you had to advertise everything in the book on the title page. Therefore, you got examples such as:
- Thibault's Académie de l'epee, ou se démontrent par reigles mathématique, sur le fondement d'un cercle mysterieux, la theorie et pratique des vrais et jusqu'a present incognus secrets du maniement des armes, a pied et a cheval. (Academy of the Sword: wherein is demonstrated by mathematical rules on the foundation of a mysterious circle the theory and practice of the true and heretofore unknown secrets of handling arms on foot and horseback.)
- Saviolo's His Practice, in Two Books: the First Entreating the Use of the Rapier and Dagger, the Second of Honor and Honorable Quarrels.
- Joachim Meyer's Gründtliche Beschreibung der Kunst des Fechtens, which is the short version of the full title which means A Thorough Description of the Free, Chivalric, and Noble Art of Fencing, Showing Various Customary Defenses, Affected and Put Forth with Many Handsome and Useful Drawings
- George Silver's Paradoxes of defence, wherein is proved the true grounds of fight to be in the short auncient weapons, and the short sword hath the advantage of the long sword or long rapier, and the weakness and imperfection of the rapier fight displayed.
- Practically every book by Johann Georg Pascha, for example Kurze Unterrichtung belangend die pique die Fahne, den Jägerstock, Das Voltesiren, das Ringen, das Fechten auf den Stoss und Hieb, und endlich das Trincieren verferrigts (Brief Information About the Pike, the Flag, the Half-Pike, the Vaulting Horse, the Grapple, the Fence of Thrust and Blow, and Finally the Carving Knife)
- Take That: Certain authors took the chance that writing afforded them to mock or insult other masters whom they disagreed with. Silver heaped ridicule and contempt upon Bonetti and Saviolo, while Thibault criticized Salvator Fabris for advocating contorted and unnatural postures.