One of the more common and interesting discussions in swordplay is that of which weapon is the “best.” It seems there are as many opinions as there are weapons. Some think the rapier is best, because of its reach and preeminence in the a one on one duel. Some argue for the longsword for its versatility and power. There is the side that likes the basket hilted broadsword for hand protection and ease of carry. Some people even say the katana is best because they know nothing about swords. It’s always a fun conversation. Continue reading
Bring me to a Fencer, I will bring him out of his fence trickes with good downe right blowes
-George Silver, Paradoxes of Defence
Singlestick is a game with simple rules. It has been practiced for centuries in Scotland. You stand, without moving your feet across from your opponent with the stick for which the game is made raised and protecting your head in the position the Scots called St. George’s Guard. Your opponent does the same. On the command of “go” you attempt to strike each other on the head with enough force to draw blood without him striking you in return. There are occasionally variations, but that’s the gist. Singlestick is a game with simple rules but endless complexities and strategy. Continue reading
It’s not often these days that you’ll see me practicing Italian Rapier. Lately, though, I find myself drawn to it and feeling the need to study my Capoferro once again. A big part of that is that I have been giving much thought to the ideal sword to first pick up. I often consider what sword style is the best to teach someone who has no previous training and for a multitude of reasons I keep turning to Capoferro’s Rapier. I have no doubt that there as many opinions on this subject as there are instructors, but I thought I would lay out my reasons for starting new students on this particular brand of swordplay. Continue reading
The Scottish have something of a reputation for fighting. Back in the 18th Century this was also the case. I think it’s no coincidence that the Romans built a wall to keep the Scots (okay, the Picts actually) out of their territory. Sadly, there isn’t much in the way of recorded Scottish swordplay and what does exist has been diluted by English sword masters pretending to teach a Scottish system. Hey, this was good business on their part as they were simply marketing to what was in demand.
Probably the best source we do have of Scottish swordplay comes form a man named Thomas Page. Mr. Page was an English artillery officer who wrote a very brief summary of Scottish highland broadsword play as he observed it. Now, I am loathe to describe any system of martial arts as being superior to any other, but Page would probably not have agreed. He saw the Highlander fight first hand and saw them as true masters of the sword.
So what made the Highlanders “better” than their English contemporaries? Well I have a couple of theories. I think the biggest thing was training. For an Englishman to become a soldier was a career choice. For a Scottish Highlander, being a warrior was cultural. Sword training began at a very young age. So when matching a lifelong swordsman against someone with only a few months or even weeks of training, there is really no contest.
English Broadsword of this era also had some pretty strong deficiencies as well. As much as I love the swordplay as practiced by masters Henry Angelo and John Taylor, their system is highly derivative of the point oriented smallsword way of fighting. This translated in to a very linear fight. When you think and fight exclusively in straight lines you are opening yourself up to complete decimation by a swordsman used to using oblique angles and circular movement. Guess how the Scots liked to fight?
We also have some body mechanic issues as well. Being so close to the smallsword system, English broadsword was focused of keeping the sword hilt between you and your opponent at all times and almost exclusively relied on wrist powered cuts. While these cuts are perfectly effective when delivered properly, they were far less devastating than the elbow and shoulder cuts that were favoured by the Highlanders. It was a trade, really, between the stronger defence of the English Style and the more powerful attack of the Scottish. Of course the Highlanders compensated quite well by using a device that was out of style the rest of the world over: the shield.
So despite not having access to any true first hand sources of uniquely Scottish swordplay, we still have a good idea of exactly how the Highlanders would have fought. It’s a fascinating study that I am just getting to the meat of and an area I plan on training in for a long time to come.
I tell people I am a fencer. This to them summons the image of those guys in the white suits poking at each other with what looks like car antennae. So in order to combat this I thought I would provide a brief history of the sword as well as explaining exactly what it is I do. Continue reading
I have had the privilege of knowing and training with some truly awesome fighters. Fighters that work hard and show the results. Every now and then, though, I come across an odd breed of fencer. These folk win many of their fights with what can only be described as trickery. These sneaky tricks often make use of bad technique. Now it’s important to mention that I have no wish to disparage these fighters and I will shortly explain what I mean by “bad technique.” It’s also important to note that were I called upon to train someone for a life or death duel, I would teach them to fight exactly as I described. I have a repertoire of deadly tricks that tend to work exactly once and if you needed to defend your life in a one time duel, I would drill you with one of these techniques. It’s my feeling, however, that reliance on tricks severely hampers the development of true skill. Continue reading
There’s something that’s been bothering me about historical fencing for a while. I’ve been having a lot of problems with the term “guard.” In theory a guard is any position your body and sword take to defend yourself. There are complexities within that definition and some people have their own different definitions. For example, one interpreter of the medieval I.33 system stated that there were no guards present in the style, because you were never supposed to stand stationary to protect yourself in any particular position. One of my own instructors once made the ridiculous claim that any position you can hold your sword in is a guard, but it is only a “good guard” if it serves to protect you. Ignoring the fact that if every position is a guard then the entire concept of guard becomes useless, some refining to the term is clearly needed. Continue reading
I have been working a lot recently with the broadsword. That is to say, the basket hilted sword that is also sometimes called the backsword. Not any of the following examples.
Broadswords belong to a class of weapons that are primarily designed to cut. Cutting is a funny thing. I equate cutting to punching. Hand a person a sword and right away they are going to want to cut with it. Put someone in an unarmed situation and they are probably going to want to punch. Just as it is with cutting it is with punching, unless you’ve received quality training you’re going to do it wrong. When teaching unarmed fighting I tell my students it will be about three months before they are going to be able to throw a proper and effective punch and this seems to be about right for most people. Continue reading