Hi Reddit! I'm Chris, nice to make your acquaintance. I currently teach these skills in the fair city of York in the United Kingdom, but there are various classes, study groups, schools and other places to learn dotted all over the world. WMA (Western Martial Arts), sometimes known as HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts), cover a huge gamut of martial skills ranging from the late 1200's through to combat techniques used in the 1940's during WWII. Many of us who practice these arts feel it is important to emphasise that the Western world has a rich and fascinating martial heritage, much of which has been forgotten about. We work from original manuscripts and spend a lot of time dispelling various myths perpetuated by bad re-enactors, Hollywood, and people's own pre-conceived notions about how martial arts are only ever Eastern in nature.

Here is a link to the British Federation of Historical Swordplay, one of the larger "umbrella" organisations in the UK: http://thebfhs.org.uk/

And the Facebook page of the school I currently teach with: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Hotspur-School-of-Defence/558468250860622

Comments: 107 • Responses: 46  • Date: 

whispering_grass10 karma

Could you describe a usual medieval fight?

Quixoticish18 karma

On an actual battlefield the majority of killing was done with longbows and polearms. The sword was commonly a sidearm, essentially like the pistol that soldiers wear today. However due to the nature of the weapons being used hafts would break, points would dull, and people would turn to their longsword more than soldiers do to pistols today. In armour the technique used with the longsword is to "half-sword". This is where (assuming you a right handed) you would keep your right hand on the grip of your sword and bring your left hand to grip your blade roughly half way down. This turns the sword into something very thrust oriented and allows you to close into grappling and wrestling range and potentially slip the point through a chink in your opponents armour to make a kill, or at least get him down on the ground so you can finish him with your dagger. This is essentially because you can hit a man wearing a suit of armour all day with a sword without doing anything other than blunting your own weapon! A pollaxe is actually the best tool to use in reality.

The combat itself is a lot quicker and more energetic than most people think. Contrary to popular belief medieval weapons were not huge, heavy hulking things that require a great deal of strength to use. Many of them were quite light and nimble. Think less "clang, clang, clang" with lots of grunting and heaving of weights and more quick shifting through guards, feinting, parrying, seeking openings and striking at them rapidly.

Judicial duelling was also quite commonly practised throughout the medieval period. We have quite a few sources on this, these range from standard, ritualised combat starting with a casting of spears at one another before moving into sword range. These were often done completely un-armoured, although the layers of woollen clothing people wore did afford some protection. There are also dedicated duelling weapons such as the infamous "duelling shields" depicted in Hans Talhoffer's manuscripts from the mid 1400's. These are essentially six foot plus shields with brutal spikes on either end that can be used in both hands. There is even a section that details a judicial duel between a man and a woman, and presumably to equalise the combat the man sits waist deep in a pit armed with a club and is not allowed to move, whilst the woman can move freely around him and strike at him with what can only be described as a large heavy stone wrapped in a length of cloth. A rock in a sock, if you like.

As you can see there isn't a "usual" medieval fight, however one thing they all have in common is a set of highly skilled combatants using very effective martial techniques to kill, disable or disarm one another.

MonsieurAnon0 karma

one thing they all have in common is a set of highly skilled combatants using very effective martial techniques to kill, disable or disarm one another.

My knowledge of history conflicts with this. Often, the skilled combatants were the ones choosing not to fight. A typical battle in Italy, during some periods of history, might involve a set amount of peasant conscripts being sent to fight each other with an assortment of farming implements and spears, while professional, mercenaries wrote letters home to their respective bosses, informing them of who had won the battle and how much they owed.

Of course, there are exceptions to this mode of combat, and this is often seen when the stakes are higher (such as trained longbowmen at Agincourt), or semi-professional soldier cultures like the Tatars, but I don't think I can agree with your statement.

A lot, if not the majority, of medieval warfare, was like a giant drunken pub brawl with lots of randomly chosen sharp things ... while those with skill and good equipment looked on, or fought the decisive portion.

Quixoticish2 karma

Unfortunately these are misconceptions that we work hard to dispel. In academia until very recently it wasn't the done thing to consider actual combat to any degree. Battles were studied, tactics dissected, but there was very little focus on the actual individual acts of combat. In the study of medieval history there was a long legacy dating back to Victorian scholars that we are saddled with to this day. I'm sure you know the myths. Medieval longswords weigh ten pounds and are huge, cumbersome weapons. A man in harness could only move very slowly and if they fell over couldn't get back up again. That sort of thing.

In the various fencing manuscripts we work with we have plenty of evidence that the "common" person was a skilled fencer as well, and the very fact that we have manuscripts teaching things like the langes messer (a weapon used by and available to all, a farmers friend, if you like) illustrate that there was most definitely a martial culture in all stratas of society.

Saying that medieval conflict was like a giant drunken pub brawl is simply a misconception I'm afraid. The evidence is out there indicating quite the opposite, and common sense also backs this up. If you were being asked or forced into a situation where you had to defend yourself against other people with cutting, slashing, piercing and crushing weapons, you would want to have at least a snippet of knowledge of how to look after yourself, even if it's a good understanding of body mechanics from wrestling. Our research tells us that the vast majority of people had more martial skills than many people give them credit for.

toleressea8 karma

I just read all the way through this - thanks so much for the detailed answers. Here are a few questions of my own:

  • I have studied swordplay, primarily longsword, off and on for the last 5-10 years. The "off" periods usually come about due to a lack of dedicated practice partner who shares my passion for the subject material. Frequently, friends I beg to try it out lose interest when they realize I want to study, and not just hit each other for an hour. What do you recommend as a beginning method to get people started? I need to keep people interested, but I also want to learn very badly.

  • When it comes to studying, can you outline a best practice method for applying some of the historical manuals? I've tried using books such as "Fighting with the German Longsword" by Tobler, but then I've seen people talking about him negatively in other places. I saw you recommend a book further up. Is it better to go straight from the original translated text, or to work from someone's interpretation?

  • How frequently do you recommend practicing? At times when I had sessions twice a week I noticed some real improvement, with once a week barely registering basic maintenance. Life has many demands; how do you best fit it in? How do you keep it up, especially studying so many different styles and weapons?

  • What's your opinion on the best practice weapon? I know people swear by wooden wasters. I have been using hard impact nylon longswords for the last few years, made by the dwarven smithy (hopefully you know who I mean). What are your thoughts on them?

  • (bonus round) Are you familiar with the somewhat recent game, Chivalry: Medieval Warfare? Most of the "loading screens" in the game are actually plates from some of the historical manuals, with captions providing hints about the game. A huge portion of the game is utterly inaccurate, but they do manage to capture the mind game that is sword-fighting, as well as the many different styles of weapon and the matchup it can have.

Thanks for doing this - I've taken quite a break (many months) from fighting lately, and you've inspired me to take an interest again!

Quixoticish6 karma

Many thanks for taking the time to reply! I didn't expect any interest so I'm bowled over by the response so far. I'm very glad you've been inspired to pick up the sword again, it's an obscure hobby that can be difficult to stick with if you don't have a training partner.

It's always a rough run to tread the line between hitting one another with swords (let's be honest, one of the more fun aspects of what we do) and actually getting down to the studying. Perhaps set up a little study group and as the one who does most of the studying why not lead the group yourself? I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that we do what we do because it's fun, if it ceases to be enjoyable there's no point in sticking with it. I'm paraphrasing Guy Windsor when I say this but it's one of the best pieces of advice I've ever heard. None of us have to fight a duel with sharp swords in the near future, so if it takes us a bit longer to get better, what difference does it make? Drills are important and a vital part of what we do, sometimes we introduce games to get people learning skills without realising they are. Try dodgeball but only using historical fencing footwork, for example. Message me and we can mull over some ideas if you like and I can tell you what I do to try to keep the boring bits fun with our students here.

Tobler's German Medieval Swordsmanship book is getting quite dated, but it's been a starting point for many people. If you're stuck without an experienced teacher and want to go the self study route then pick up ANYTHING and work through it. Just be humble enough to accept that in a few days, months or even years, you may eventually have to turn around and acknowledge that everything that you've just trained was wrong. But that's not a bad thing, it's been a learning experience and by doing it wrong you know how to do it right. Soon enough you'll get enough of a grounding of how you think the basics should work to be able to develop your own interpretations from the original source material.

Practice as often as you can. I'm fortunate that I'm able to work from home quite a bit these days, so I find myself using fencing footwork to get to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. When I'm cooking I often find myself flourishing with wooden spoon. Just let it take over your life, bit by bit, and you'll find yourself squeezing in little bits of practice even when you're not formally training. Above all, read anything and everything you can get your hands on and try it out at the earliest opportunity. If you don't understand it stick a post-it note on it and come back to it at a later date when your knowledge has grown. Everything will click into place eventually.

The best practice weapon is something as close to the real thing as possible. So a sharp, steel sword, crafted by a good smith who knows how the historical examples feel and handle. But that isn't something I'd recommend unless you've had many years of training and are working with a partner you trust implicitly. So the best thing is a blunt steel sword. Nylons are good for solo drill but I find they don't behave very well in the bind if you're working with a partner and tend to slide about or bounce off one another. Even a blunt sword doesn't behave like a sharp sword but that's an acceptable compromise. Wood is better in the bind but doesn't move in the same way a sword does, I think nylon has the edge slightly here. If your budget allows, get yourself a decent quality blunt sword. If it doesn't, try to adjust your mindset and treat your nylon like you're training with a steel. Don't grab the edge, wipe it down with a cloth now and again, don't jam the tip in the floor, don't wobble it around. It sounds silly but it does help!

Funnily enough I've literally just picked up Chivalry: Medieval Warfare in the last Steam sale. Haven't had a chance to play it yet though, I'll let you know when I do!

Cromodileadeuxtetes2 karma

Before Chivalry, I was a big fan of the more common weapons we see in movies but that game taught me to appreciate polearms. Right now I spend most of my time playing with the regular spear. Once you get the hang of controlling distance it's amazing.

Quixoticish3 karma

If you have the measure and can hit him where he can't hit you you have an immediate advantage. It's up to the person with the shorter measure trying to get inside your measure, and the beauty with a simple polearm like a spear is that by sliding the haft back through your hands you can simply shorten the measure again very quickly if needed. Wonderful weapons.

Marclee17038 karma

I got a bunch of questions!

1.) What is your opinion on John Clements?

2.) I live in a country where there are NO hema/wma/sca interested people. If I were to convince a friend to train sword fighting with me, do you think it would be feasible? No trainer, both of us unexperienced. Could we make our own wasters and then try to emulate what we see on youtube videos?

3.) What is the reason the community is so enamored with the sword and two-handed sword in particular? How come other weapons of the Middle-Ages, despite being very common, are not practiced with.

This question could be extended to include not only other weapons but other forms of fighting like fighting in formation, fighting on horseback, ranged combat. Do you think these other weapons and disciplines can expect a greater focus in the future? Do you personally have any passion for them?

I know the English have a really great community of warbow shooters. Would you consider them as martial artists in the sense you are when practicing with the sword? Is it possible to make archery a martial art?

4.) For fun: What would be your weapon and armor of choice in a zombie apocalypse?

Quixoticish9 karma

Hi Marclee1703! 1) I don't feel as though I can publicly comment very much on JC. I'll just say that I find certain things he says quite derogatory to other practitioners of the art. If you wish to discuss him more please feel free to private message me.

2) I just want to draw a distinction between SCA and WMA/HEMA, they are two very distinct things and whilst some people do both we try to draw a line between the two. No disrespect meant to any SCA people, I understand that many of them are now looking at manuscripts themselves, but it's much the same as comparing WMA/HEMA and re-enactment. They may seem similar but they're actually very different. With regards to getting the manuscripts and training yourself, yes, yes yes! If you're keen and passionate about this, do it. We're in the fortunate position to have instructors now (I've only been teaching a relatively short time but my mentor has been teaching over a decade) but in the past everyone started with a small group of likeminded individuals trying to make the manuscripts and techniques work for them. Just keep safety and accuracy in mind and remember that there is a whole community out there whose brains you can pick if you ever get stuck. Message me on here if you need any help getting started and I'll do whatever I can to point you in the right direction.

3) In my opinion people are so enamoured with the sword because it is a symbol of the strength of arms and military might, and the reason it became a symbol is because it is arguably the first true weapon developed from the ground up with the sole purpose of killing an individual. Spears, daggers, hammers, axes, bows, all of these have utility outside of combat with a fellow human being and were used as such before being weaponised in many instances. From the outset the sword was a weapon. It's important to note that especially in the early medieval period the sword was hugely expensive compared to other weapons, doubly so because of the larger quantities of steel needed to produce it and also because it had no use outside of combat. That secondary use quickly became that of a status symbol.

There are some individuals out there currently training on horseback. It's an important skill and we do have some manuscripts that describe exactly how to do it, however as you can imagine it's vastly expensive so only something many people can aspire to, particularly in a niche martial art that worldwide probably counts less than 10,000 active practitioners at any one time. As you quite rightly say we'll see much more of this in the future.

I also practise warbow archery. I'll be the first to admit I'm not particularly good at it and it definitely takes second place to fencing/wrestling and other Western combative forms, but it's equally as valid a pursuit. In many ways they are at polar opposites of the spectrum. Whilst fencing is an art where you are constantly learning new skills, techniques and methods archery is the art of doing the same thing consistently over and over again. This is not doing it a disservice, it's actually a hugely difficult skill to master because of this. But yes, I consider warbow archery to be as equally valid as medieval fencing techniques, and it's just nice to pull a high poundage bow with the right technique and have a somewhat distant but sometimes profound connection with our ancestors and the activities that they performed.

4) I think lightly armoured and mobile would be the way to go. With regards to weapons, the romance of a sword is wonderful but without replacements to hand and no idea when the zombie apocalypse may end I think a pollaxe would be the ideal deal for crushing skulls, backed up by a tomahawk and a longknife for close in work. Both will last no matter how often they are used, and can be used for felling trees, skinning animals and other assorted bushcraft bits and pieces that would come in very handy!

Int21h1 karma

Hi there! Very nice AMA, I would just like to clarify one point, since you're in the UK you're exposure to the SCA may be limited.

Quite a few of us are VERY serious about our study and practice of historic forms, we use steel weapons and only limit our practice as much as we feel is needed to keep it safe.

I have personally been training and teaching Italian forms (Giganti, Fabris, Capo Ferro primarily) for about 11 years and my teacher practiced for about 30 years before retiring. So we have a long history and a LOT of experience in reading, translating and practicing western marshal arts.

However one confusing point is that we have divided ourselves into two disciplines, armored and unarmored.

Armored in the SCA is practiced with sword simulators, usually rattan. Which don't behave quite like a real sword, spear, etc. This is what most people are familiar with. This is hugely fun, if you've never been on a field with 1000 of your closest friends with another 1000 opposite, felt the rush of the charge, the clash of shields, well you're missing out.

Unarmored on the other hand is practiced with steel sword, probably the same you're using, rapier, side/back sword, long sword etc. Since we are using historically accurate weapons it only makes sense that we study the manuals we have available and use them correctly.

We also have a large archery community, running for 48 years now, we have some VERY skilled archers, bowyers and fletchers, we recreate as much historic archery as we can from equipment to tournaments. This includes horse archery, I have the pleasure of living near some highly skills equestrian practitioners.

We are also exploring how to allow more diverse marshal activities, which still keeping our insurance. Some of us hope to have full BoTN style fighting, grappling, judicial dials all possible in the near future. The trick of course is that the SCA is large and must protect itself against lawsuits when expanding it's umbrella.

So I hope this did not come across badly, I practice with HEMA / WMA groups as well as the SCA and feel that the SCA often gets too little credit for it's contributions to the study of western marshal arts.

*edit spelling

Quixoticish1 karma

Thanks for the clarification. You're right that my exposure to the SCA is limited, in fact it comes from a chap from the US who was ex SCA and now studies WMA.

Almeh7 karma

Can you explain the flail? Somehow slinging around a ball of spikes on a chain in the middle of a battle always seemed kind of insane to me. In fact, there's a ton of different medieval weaponry you see in video games and stuff - what advantages would a sword have over, say, an axe, a flail, or a warhammer? Is the wide variety of usage of medieval weapons in video games under-exaggerated or over-exaggerated?

Quixoticish8 karma

The fact that they appear isn't over-exaggerated, these things did exist and were used, but often the context is wrong. Something like a flail is a great cavalry weapon to be used on horseback, (this puts you just at the correct height to ride past and smack people forcefully on the noggin) and also in judicial duelling. As you can imagine widespread use on the battlefield for flails wasn't the done thing to the best of my knowledge, they are too unpredictable and are likely to get you killed. They are terrifying things to work with though, once you get them spinning it's very hard to stop without injuring yourself if you're using one on foot! It's important to keep in mind that whilst the weapons themselves were actually used that in the case of bludgeoning weapons like hammers, maces and flails they were often much smaller in real life than what we see depicted in Hollywood. Having a heavy mass is all well and good but it still needs to be a quick weapon that isn't a liability that leaves you exposed.

gapagos7 karma

How widespread was knowledge of sword use in the middle ages? Did most men know how to handle a sword fight? Or was sword fight a skill mostly reserved for knights / professional guards & warriors? Similarly, how widespread were alternate weapons? Can you briefly comment on which weapons were most frequently owned / used, and which ones were rarer? You've mentionned the flail is mainly useful while horseriding, and I assume most people did not own a horse so its use was probably rarer? Did most people owned a claymore, a long sword, a short sword, etc...?

Quixoticish11 karma

This varies from country to country. In England throughout various bits and pieces of the middle ages the cost of a sword was actually controlled by law to make them affordable to almost everyone. The crown often stipulated by law that different classes in society were armed in certain ways so that an army could be raised quickly if ever needed. The people on the bottom rung of the social ladder would have used billhooks, pikes and other implements, but only a few rungs up (and there are a lot of rungs on the ladder of medieval class) swords would have been commonplace.

Many people like to think of the romantic idea of a smith hand forging a blade, however the middle ages saw the rise of industrialisation. Blades were often manufactured by a method known as stock removal and shipped en-masse to places around the globe. So ten thousand blades may arrive in a shipment from one of the famous blade-making centres on the continent, to be distributed amongst local cutlers who would then add a hilt, pommel, crossguard and other fittings. As you can imagine the cheaper swords were often of lesser quality but did the job very well, and there would have been very cheap "seconds" that perhaps had a slightly kink in the edge of the blade, or were slightly asymmetrical. These would be sold very cheaply but would do the job perfectly well.

I'm currently spending a lot of time studying and teaching the langes-messer or "long knife" in the German tradition. These range from machete size up to about thirty inches in blade length, and are often single handed, single edged cutting swords with a clipped point. It's interesting because they are knives no matter how long they become, even if they are longer than swords. Henceforth everyone could own one, whilst there were long, elegant langes messers made for "war" they were utilised by everyone, especially the lower classes in society, for self defence.

If I could pick one weapon that was the most frequently used in the medieval period I'd say the dagger. Everyone had a dagger, now matter what class you were from. There are huge sections in many manuscripts from the period showing us various knife attacks, disarms and how to use them to supplement other weapons. They were used on the battlefield to dispatch armoured opponents, they were used to defend youself if you were attacked and they were generally always there as a fall-back just in case. Everyone carried them, from archers to knights, from peasants to nobility. I think it's also important to mention the staff/stave/stick. However you dress it up it's a simple weapon made up of a length of wood. Everyone could create one and everyone would have known how to use one. There's a reason it's considered "the" weapon of the English throughout the middle ages.

Similarly polearms were the go-to weapon for battlefield combat, be it a spear, pollaxe, or (later) a halberd. These were incredibly common and could be found everywhere in a tremendous variety of shapes and sizes all over the world.

gapagos4 karma

Wow! I'm very impressed by how detailed your answer was! Fascinating. Thank you very much, sir! If I was in the UK I would have loved to join your school especially considering there's no better teacher than one who has a passion in what he teaches. - Cheers

Quixoticish4 karma

It's my pleasure Gapagos, and as you've picked up on my passion as well!

Kidquick262 karma

Were there any renowned smiths during this time that created swords that were above and beyond the quality of the average smith? Like if their swords were watches they'd be a Rolex?

Quixoticish2 karma

During the medieval period the lone sword maker sat hammering away at his forge almost became obsolete. Smiths were still in existence producing tools and so forth, but sword makers quickly became large, industrial almost assembly line style processes with many blades created via the stock removal method to ensure good quality control. Cologne was known as a major centre for sword production, as were Passau and Solingen. Milan was known as a centre of excellence for armour, and longbow staved were often also imported from Italy due to the high quality of the yew. Blades of exceptionally high quality were paid for by a buyer and shipped in their thousands to wherever they were needed. When they arrived in their country of origin they would then often be hilted and adorned in various ways by a local cutler.

The entire process is much more modern than many people think for the time period.

Kidquick262 karma

Thanks for the reply! What was the quality of the steel? I've heard that the middle east had much more advanced smelting techniques during these times and therefore was able to craft a stronger and more flexible blade.

Quixoticish2 karma

We tend to split the middle ages up into three periods, the early middle ages (up to around 1000), high middle ages (up to roughly 1300), and late middle ages (up to around 1500).

In the early middle ages the quality of the steel was poorer (I'm not saying "poor" in general as it made some fantastic weapons) however by the high middle ages sweeping changes across society produced far better smelting and steel manufacturing techniques and the actual steel used in the production of swords (certainly from the major centres of production that I've listed in my previous reply) was of excellent quality with quite even carbon distribution, often tempered with great skill and capable of handling most of what was thrown at it. In some cases we actually see some surprisingly narrow and elegant blades like the sempach longsword types that wouldn't have been possible to produce if the steel had been of poor quality.

It certainly wasn't perfect (certainly when compared to modern standards) but it certainly did the job for weapons. Armour production on the other hand was much tougher, as you can imagine it required far greater quantities of steel and rolling and shaping it would have been a very arduous task. In many ways it is the development of plate armour, rather than swords, that shows the limiting factors of steel in medieval society.

Metalhed691 karma

Can you provide a good source for someone wanting to read more about the stock removal method as an industrial/metallurgical process?

Quixoticish1 karma

I don't personally outside of the basics, (shaping a bar of iron into a sword shape before tempering as opposed to forging it from scratch) but I can put you in touch with a sword maker who will be able to discuss it at great length with you. Feel free to message me.

boobieaficionado6 karma

Your answers have discussed in depth the problems and techniques associated with fighting in armor, but to what extent was armor available to soldiers in medieval battles? My understanding is that constructing a suit of armor is a very resource- and labor-intensive undertaking, particularly for full suits that require individual "tailoring" for fit and articulation. For footsoldiers or lesser mounted troops, what sort of armor were they likely to wear? And what sorts of weapons and techniques would these soldiers use?

Quixoticish4 karma

This is actually a very interesting question, thanks for asking it.

I think it's important to consider that what we are learning from the fencing manuscripts now is often an "uncommon" thing, many people would have been illiterate when we're discussing the lower classes in society so wouldn't have access to these manuscripts. Often we see references to "common fencing" and techniques to beat them, so this tells us that most people know how to fence.

You're very right in that people in full plate harness would have been in the minority on the battlefield. Most people would have been equipped in padded armour made from linen and wool (actually surprisingly effective against lighter cuts) with a helmet. The vast majority of footsoldiers and lesser mounted troops would have used spears, glaives and other simple polearms on the battlefield, along with maces and other bludgeoning implements. That said as I've mentioned previously in the thread in some nations there were laws controlling the prices of swords so they certainly would have been in use on the battlefield even amongst the footsoldiers from time to time, albeit as sidearms rather than a primary weapon. For instance, English archers were often utilised as light shock troops when time allowed and their skills with sword and buckler were well known.

Marthinwurer5 karma

I have been interested in learning either longsword or sword and buckler for the longest time, but there are no groups in my area. What would be the best way for me to learn them?

Quixoticish7 karma

Sword and buckler comes in various shapes and sizes, however one of the most beautiful (but the most esoteric) is I.33. This is actually the oldest fencing manuscript in existence dating from the late 1200's and is a full system for using the arming sword and buckler together. However if you're just starting out it probably isn't the best system to approach "cold".

If you want to learn longsword from scratch then 100% the book I recommend is "The Swordsman's Companion" by Guy Windsor. It's a stunning book that will take you through the kit you need, the basics of footwork and body mechanics, and it gives you a lot of exercises to do on your own and with a partner. It's the easiest and most enjoyable fencing book I've had the pleasure of reading. Buy it forthwith! :)

Marthinwurer3 karma

I.33 is the school of sword and buckler I'm looking at learning. What school of longsword does the book cover? Edit: just looked it up, and it uses Italian style. Are there any similar books that show the Liechtenauer school?

Quixoticish4 karma

Hi Marthinwurer. It focuses on the work of Fiore dei Liberi (one of my favourite longsword systems) but presents it in a very down to earth way. The good thing about this is it will give you a grounding in the basics of Fiore, and then you can go on if you so choose to and either develop your understanding of longsword by looking at Vadi (a later Italian system) or by looking at the other things that Fiore teaches, so unarmed work, dagger, spear, longsword in one hand and more. Guy's book will give you a great grounding in the basics of movement, footwork and body mechanics along with the basic terms that you can then take off in either of these directions.

Marthinwurer2 karma

Oops, didn't refresh before I edited my comment. Are there any similar books that cover the German schools of fencing?

Quixoticish4 karma

None that I'd recommend as much. Bear in mind that Fiore himself says he was taught by many Germans amongst others so it isn't as obscure and disconnected as many people think. The pedagogy in the book is excellent and I've yet to see it bettered. "Sigmund Ringeck's Knightly Arts of Combat" is rather good, but the longsword section mostly focuses on fighting in armour if memory serves, but there is a section on sword and buckler combat from the Liechtenauer tradition that you may find interesting as I.33 is actually somewhat distinct and seperate from the Liechtenauer school and in many ways represents the end of something "older" rather then the start of something "newer". If you can get hold of a copy Tobler's "Secrets of German Medieval Swordsmanship" is still relevant even though it's quite old now and could do with an update.

Buckcock5 karma

How long would a typical duel (longsword, sabre, rapier) take? Also, where do you get your weapons?

Quixoticish8 karma

How long is a piece of string? Two equally matched combatants in a duel (not mass battlefieldcombat) could go on for hours. There are examples of duels with rapiers and smallswords where the combatants fought until they lost the light and the duel had to be picked up the next day, likewise there are examples where both duellists decided that honour was satisfied when they were both on the brink of collapsing with exhaustion. There were also duels that literally lasted seconds, especially if one duellist was much more skilled than the other. When you fight with swords conserving energy can be a useful tactic, especially if you get the feeling you're going to be in it for the long haul and can outlast your opponent.

Edit : I purchase my weapons from a variety of smiths. I'm not sure about Reddit's rules for what could potentially be construed as advertising so I won't post links, but for my longswords there is a smith with the initials PR located in Hungary who I trust implicitly. Likewise MD in the UK produces stunning work, and there is a rather talented sword maker in Inverness that we'll call JE who produces stunning high end work and works with you down to the finest detail to produce exactly what you've requested. If you require any more information please message me directly :)

Buckcock4 karma

Sorry about the first question, just wondered whether (classically) duels had time limits like with hour glasses or not. You see in movies all the time where duels between evenly matched opponents only take seconds, but I figured they could last much longer.
It's super cool that you purchase weaponry from practically all over the globe. Is the community just that tightly knit, or are you just particularly well connected?

Quixoticish8 karma

You've nothing to apologise for, it was a good question! :)

To the best of my knowledge duels weren't fought with time limits, but often to a condition. To death, to first blood, or until "honour is satisfied". As you can imagine the last phrase is open to interpretation. If you were to insult me and I was to challenge you to a duel, I may take the term to mean I can fight until I feel you have acquitted yourself as an honourable gentleman, I can fight until you yield, or I can fight you until I kill you. Whatever I feel satisfies my honour! As I mentioned earlier in the thread I'm a medievalist at heart so the more common duels with rapiers and smallswords fall outside of my field of expertise, but this is certainly my understanding of how the vast majority of them worked. Generally medieval duels were to the death, albeit fought quite infrequently.

The community is quite tightly knit. That isn't to say it's not open to outsiders, in fact many of us hope that what we do continues to grow in popularity until one day in the future you'll be able to get a longsword lesson or medieval wrestling lesson or rapier lesson at just about every community centre, school and gym in the same way you can a karate or judo class at the moment. With regards to buying weapons, you tend to buy globally because you trust the person making your weapons. When we spar or "freeplay" we do so with masks, padded gloves and padded jackets, but even then a broken blade could cause a fatal injury so it's important that you buy from someone who produces quality kit. 99% of what you see on the high street isn't suitable for what we do. It's often made of stainless steel (too brittle for fencing, it will break quickly), and they are far too heavy and feel poorly constructed and badly balanced. So you buy where you know you get quality and where you know the smith/swordmaker understands historical swords. It probably doesn't come as a shock to learn that the best makers are also fencers themselves, many of them teachers!

KnavishSprite5 karma

Hi there,

Regarding Hollywood - are there any films that really stand out for their accuracy, i.e. ones you watch and say "Hey! They're doing that right!"? Likewise, are there any that really make you cringe?

And what are you hoping to get for Christmas?

Quixoticish11 karma

Hi there!

My particular speciality is the medieval period from the late 1200's through to about 1500, and I can honestly say that there are no films I have ever seen that get it right. You learn to forgive and forget though in precisely the same way that I imagine someone who studies Iaido or Kenjutsu watching "The Last Samurai" would.

Kingdom of Heaven was one that made many of us sit upright in our seats. When Liam Neeson tells Orlando Bloom about "Posta di Falcone" (the guard of the hawk) this is actually a guard from De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi by Filippo Vadi. Sadly this was written a few hundred years after the film is set and they hold it utterly and entirely incorrectly, but at least somewhere along the line someone actually took the time to read a genuine historical fencing manuscript which is a step in the right direction.

Outside of the medieval period a lot of my friends and colleagues who teach smallsword, sabre and later styles of swordplay rate "The Duellists" very highly.

Edit : What do I want for Christmas? A shiny a new sword of course! ;)

MartelFirst2 karma

Yeah, I heard that "The Duellists" has well regarded sword fighting scenes from martial arts specialists of that time period.

It's also a fantastic movie.

Quixoticish2 karma

It is, it's one of my lazy Sunday afternoon favourites. Very moody and atmospheric. Lovely stuff!

qwerity1234 karma

Do you find that find that Thibault cancels out Capa Ferro?

Quixoticish5 karma

Unless the enemy has studied his Agrippa… which I have!

auatarch2 karma

Was there any sort of historical basis involved in that scene or was all the talk of technique and blades purely for comedic effect?

Quixoticish3 karma

A bit of both really. The fight is delightfully Errol Flynn/swashbuckling in nature and the banter is fantastic. As the article Qwerity123 has linked to states, yes, they are all historical fencing masters, making the banter doubly hilarious.

Perhaps unsurprisingly I know a lot of rapier fencers who got into Western Martial Arts based on that scene! :)

songwind1 karma

What about the use of "wizard" as a title for a virtuoso fencer? Was that actually a thing? (This is from the book, not the movie.)

Quixoticish1 karma

This I have never ever heard. Master, maestro, provost, all of these were various terms used for highly skilled fencers. Wizard is one I've never heard of ever being used historically in my experience, although if someone can come up with a source that shows it being used in a historical concept that would be great!

Benthenerdpyle4 karma

What would you say is the most effective weapon on the battlefield

Quixoticish8 karma

On the medieval battlefield? This is a twofold answer. Firstly this would be the pollaxe. It crushes, it cuts, it stabs, and it can happily deal with men in armour, horses, lightly armoured people and gives you some extra reach due to its length. It's an all purpose tool and a master of everything. Secondly I'd have to say the longbow. The sheer volume of fire that could be put out by archers is phenomenal and it could quickly change the tide of a battle.

MonsieurAnon1 karma

How do you rate the Longbow next to the repeating crossbow?

And the pollaxe next to the hafted blade? Basically the same thing, but balanced for cavalry use.

Quixoticish1 karma

I don't know a huge amount about repeating crossbows and their use in medieval europe. My understanding is that due to the repeating mechanism the poundage was actually quite low, so the bolts were usually dipped in poison?

Everything is good, and everything has a purpose for it's own specific situation. Weapons are tools, they're designed to do a job and they're usually very good at doing that particular job. The hafted blade appears to be a variation on the glaive, and these were used very successfully against lightly armoured people. In contrast the pollaxe is a can opener that is perfect for defeating people in armour.

Lonesome_phoenix4 karma

Hey, I might be a little late here but would appreciate an answer very much.

Have you ever tried/tested weapons made of Damascus? I have read and heard stories that Damascus weapons were very powerful and hardly ever break in combat, is that true?

Quixoticish7 karma

Hi there! Damascus steel is strong when we consider the period of history in which it was forged, however it certainly isn't indestructible and it would break if used incorrectly like any sword. The myths for damascus steel rival that of the katana, for example the ability to cut through machine gun barrels, other swords, intercontinental ballistic missiles etc. They were very strong for their time, but by the time we start getting into the high medieval period metallurgy had improved to the point where the damascus method produced blades that were only marginally better than those forged from standard steel or produced using stock removal. It was still used from time to time however it was costly and expensive and had no real use for a weapon that was a tool and could potentially break anyway.

boobieaficionado6 karma

I must not be up on my sword myths -- I never heard Damascus steel was especially strong, but that it made swords sharper than contemporary Western swords, due to micro-serrations along the blade (a function of carbon nanotubes forming during the forging process).

Quixoticish6 karma

I'm no expert by any means but I also understood it made the edge retention on the blades better because they were both harder and more flexible making them much more suitable for use as a sword. I imagine your mileage may vary like this and quality control was very difficult to establish. Sadly I understand that the knowledge for making true Damascus steel as would have been made by our ancestors was lost around about the 1700's, I know modern smiths can produce the look of Damascus but not the famed properties we're discussing. In some ways it's sad, but in other ways it's always nice that some little mysteries remain unsolved I suppose!

beders4 karma

What is the original 'medieval source material'? Is there a Polearms for Dummies written in Old High German?

Quixoticish8 karma

Hi Beders. There are a number of manuscripts that have been discovered in libraries, private collections, languishing in attics and so forth. Often historical fencing and combat manuals were overlooked by academics as being worthless so discarded until being discovered by practitioners of the art. Thankfully the internet makes things so much easier to share, but a few decades ago it was a case of visiting libraries, tracking down catalogue numbers and pleading to have photocopies made and sent out to you.

The oldest manuscript we have is MS I.33 (also known as the Tower Fechtbuch) kept at the Royal Armouries in Leeds. This is a manual that dates from around 1300 that depicts sword and buckler combat in a series of images with instructions in Latin with a series of German fencing terms. It's fairly easy to translate but difficult to decipher without some prior knowledge in historical fencing.

The manuscripts of Fiore dei Liberi (Fior di Battaglia, Florius de Arte Luctandi and Flos Duellatorum, (The Flower of Battle)) date from the late 1300's to the early 1400's and are finished in Medieval Italian and Latin. These are more approachable for the beginner as Fiore gives us a complete system that starts with unarmed combat and uses a set of "masters" to teach various body positions before moving on to use these with the dagger, then the longsword, then the longsword in one hand, then with polearms, and so forth. It is a complete system from start to finish with a single set of body mechanics that in most cases can be applied to every weapon in his syllabus.

One of the most approachable manuscripts is Joachim Meyer's 1570 "Gründtliche Beschreibung der Kunst des Fechtens", a true "dummies guide" in many ways. It is wonderful in that it takes you through almost everything you could ever need to know. You start with the longsword (itself becoming an obsolete weapon at the time the manuscript was written) and then Meyer carefully builds on the techniques you learn with this with his next weapon, the dussack, a training tool for single handed cutting weapons. Then he elaborates further on his rapier section (more a cut and thrust sidesword than what we know as a true rapier) and builds up to polearms, dagger, wrestling and so forth. You can literally start at the beginning of the manuscript and work through to the end and get a fantastic grounding in a full martial system.

There are many manuscripts currently in existence that date from around 1300 with I.33 and run right through to some of the Fairburn Sykes knife work that was used by special forces in WWII. As I'm sure you can imagine the older sources tend be an awful lot harder to translate, decipher and interpret, but once you realise there are only so many ways to utilise the human body and that you should always do what is most martially sound if in doubt everything else starts to fall into place.

When we consider the medieval period it's important to remember that we're all at a massive disadvantage immediately and will never be as skilled as our ancestors. They were wrestling and training with the dagger as soon as they could effectively pick one up, and their martial training continued from an early age as part of everyday life.

TL;DR, yes, there essentially are "for dummies" guides for historical fencing that are great fun to use once they've been translated into your native, modern tongue! :)

genuinesickcunt4 karma

What is the one weapon you would never ever wish to face in a real situation

Quixoticish12 karma

A machine gun, because my lovely swords would be useless! In all seriousness, smallswords put the fear of the gods in me. They are essentially very sharp, very pointed knitting needles that will slip into you and out again before you even realise what's happened. Unless you hit the heart or puncture a lung the death can be slow, painful and agonising and often takes place many weeks after the actual combat, especially given the state of medical knowledge around the time these weapons were used.

I've just asked my brother (a fellow WMA practitioner) and his answer was some of the random farming implements people were using during the various peasants revolts in the medieval period. How do you deal with someone coming at you with a pitchfork, or a massive threshing flail, or some other rusty monstrosity designed for use out in the fields? There aren't any techniques in the manuscripts for dealing with these!

Any death in armour can also be pretty grisly and terrifying. You will often get hit on the head forcefully by something and end up with a concussion. There are records (especially in jousts) of knights helmets needed to be hammered off their heads, imagine that on a battlefield when no-one is around to do the hammering, and you're stuck, panicking and bleeding into your helmet, perhaps vomiting as well. Nasty way to go! When someone pins you down and delivers the mercy stroke with a dagger through the slit in your visor I can imagine how that could almost be a blissful release.

jabask6 karma

Imagining that gave me, like, a claustrophobic anxiety attack.

Quixoticish5 karma

Sorry about that jabask! ;)

Int21h1 karma

Mair covers fighting with some farm implements :)

Quixoticish1 karma

That he does! I have a good friend who studies Mair's sickle. It's not something I've ever had the pleasure of trying but it looks like great fun.

partidwin3 karma


Quixoticish11 karma

Personally no, however my brother was once assaulted by an aggressive drunk and utilised a controlling joint lock from the work of Fiore dei Liberi (1340s - 1420). It worked a charm and he was able to escort said drunk to the local law enforcement.

A question I get asked a lot by students is why should I do this? Why shouldn't I do a more practical self defence art like karate? I always tell them that if self defence is your primary goal then you're in the wrong place, but to keep in mind that people lived and died by these arts, their lives depended on them, and they DO work if you train them properly. Admittedly there are some techniques I would never recommend from a self defence point of view (especially those involving dislocations, eye gouging and taking your attackers knife and impaling him repeatedly in the face) however the self confidence of knowing that you know how to look after yourself often pays dividends and there are always basics (especially when working with dagger techniques and unarmed grappling) that do the job very well.

I actually have a friend who has trained in BJJ/MMA for many years and he has turned his hand recently to medieval wrestling techniques, and in his opinion the similarities are striking. An awful lot of what "works" in MMA/BJJ crops up in medieval fighting manuscripts from the 1300's and 1400's.

Our ancestors certainly knew what they were doing! :)

Trinity-4 karma

taking your attackers knife and impaling him repeatedly in the face

I admire your endearing matter of fact-ness here.

Quixoticish4 karma

This comes from being married to a human anatomist. You get used to revelling in the gory side of things.

songwind1 karma

An awful lot of what "works" in MMA/BJJ crops up in medieval fighting manuscripts from the 1300's and 1400's.

And Greek and Indian wrestling, etc. There's a reason they work. :)

Quixoticish1 karma

Exactly, there are only so many ways to move the human body so the systems that "work" are going to end up being quite similar in places.

keeping_the_balance3 karma

I recall learning something about Western martial arts from the documentary "Reclaiming the Blade". I was fascinated, to say the least, but it makes perfect sense that people in the Western world would have had to defend themselves from outsiders in some fashion, therefore necessitating the creation and refinement of martial arts.

To see some of the techniques play out on video was quite informative and entertaining. I wonder: is it at all possible that you could link us to video examples of some of the material that you teach? "Reclaiming the Blade" just didn't have enough. There is quite a bit to find on Youtube, but I have no way of knowing if any of it is historically accurate.

Also: As awesome as the television adaptation of "Game of Thrones" is, the clunky sword-swinging leaves much to be desired if you know anything at all about how unrealistic it is. Has your organization done anything at all to approach television or movie studios in an attempt to encourage inclusion of realistic Western martial arts into period or fantasy series and films? TV and film would be so much more engrossing and thrilling if only they got the fighting correct.

I thank you in advance for any response you may be able to offer.

Quixoticish5 karma

Hi there! If you can get in touch with me via message I'll send you some videos that I think represent the art quite well if you'd like to chat a bit more about it. Reclaiming the blade was rather enjoyable, I have to say.

Game of Thrones has some horrible choreography in my opinion. Historical authenticity is one thing, but the actual fighting in general is just clumsy and awkward. I think there's a fine line between choreography and historical accuracy and the two don't always have to meet, I'm a big fan in what Bob Anderson used to say, that a fight should first and foremost tell a story, that is why it exists in the film/television show, and that should be the primary concern of the choreographer. I think in the past HEMA/WMA has been very much suffering from an identity crisis. No-one knew where to pigeonhole it with it not being re-enactment and not being Eastern martial arts, it existed as a bit of an oddity and very few TV and film people knew anything about it nor understood what was being discussed when they were approached. I'm quietly confident that we'll slowly see a shift in thinking as time goes on and hopefully be able to squeeze in a little bit more historical accuracy whilst still keeping things entertaining. We've done public demonstrations in period accurate clothing for the public in the past at various events, however it never goes down quite as well as the re-enactment that inevitably follows. Not that all re-enactors are bad by any means, in fact I count many as students and also close friends. But there are many who get it very wrong. It's difficult to try to break people's pre-conceived notions about medieval combat, especially how skilful and fast it can be, when you then get followed by someone with hideously cheap kit who loudly proclaims that the medieval longsword weighed ten pounds and was a brutish, bludgeoning weapon that only the super strong could use. Onwards and upwards for the future though!

yellowstoned_bird3 karma

How does this kind of fighting differ from typical olympic competition fencing?

If I was sent back in time somehow and ended up in a duel, assuming all other things were roughly equal how would the different styles match up?

Quixoticish5 karma

A lot of my peers started in sports fencing, however it's not something I've ever partaken in so you'll have to bear with me!

I think it's important to note that sports fencing has it's roots in duelling with the smallsword and later things like the épée du combat, so the principles are the same. However the execution is quite different, as is the mindset, and this is the most difficult thing to get your head around (no pun intended!) The further back in time you go the less I imagine sports fencing would help you due to differences in body mechanics due to the nature of the swords being used.

Mindset is really what it all comes down to though, and it's something I'm very keen on trying to coach into my students. We train as though we are using a live, sharp blade to inflict mortal wounds on our opponent for the most part. In sports fencing both fencers are equally aware that what they are doing is a sport, there is very little risk. If you are fighting with live, sharp weapons then double hits and afterblows are unacceptable. You MUST always fight from cover, keep yourself safe, and then strike out at your opponent. You can't take chances or put yourself in unnecessary harm.

Therein lies the real difference. Sports fencers are phenomenal athletes with stunning reactions, however they are sportsmen and sportswoman rather than martial artists working with live blades or live blade simulators, so the real difference is in state of mind than anything else.

Excuse my ramblings on this subject but it's actually a really fascinating question I haven't really considered before. The TL;DR would be that dealing and coming to terms with the fear of death would be the deciding factor I would imagine.

Trinity-3 karma

I know this is outside of your time period but what did you think of the depiction of 17th century duelling and field combat in "Alatriste"?

Quixoticish3 karma

I'm embarrassed to say I haven't seen it. I shall add it to the "must watch" list on Netflix. What did you think of it?

Trinity-2 karma

I thought it was phenomenal mate, definitely give it a watch. Viggo Mortensen gives an incredibly powerful performance as a poor but deadly Spanish officer fighting in the Low Countries.

Quixoticish3 karma

You've got me tempted now. I've got a class to teach tomorrow evening but I think this will be Wednesday evenings viewing sorted!

MunchkinPumpkin3 karma

Do you get many women interested in this sort of thing? I was really interested to see this AMA because I was just thinking the other day when I saw that kind of scene in a film how cool it would be to learn how to do it recreationally

Quixoticish3 karma

We do! Our school is almost half made up of women, and it's something we're always keen to promote. There is a splendid group promoting the interest of women in Western Martial Arts known as Esfinges. Many of us are acutely aware that what we do can often be seen as a male dominated activity and we're keen to attract as many ladies to the art as gents. Some of my best students are female, and wife is a keen practitioner as well. Different schools vary in the level of macho chest beating they indulge in, but it's very much in the minority and the fairer sex are very well represented, and having crossed blades with many of them also highly talented swordspeople! The sword is a great equaliser. Tall, short, wide, thin, female, male, having three feet of steel suddenly equalises the playing field and allows everyone to "compete" on even footing. Whereabouts in the world are you? I'm sure there will be a school in your local area.

Dolannsquisky3 karma

Go over to r/martialarts my friend!

Quixoticish2 karma

I shall pop over there and say hello! :)

Kidquick262 karma

How long would the average modern-day person live if they suddenly found themselves in medieval Europe in a populated area?

Quixoticish3 karma

Interesting question. I think it's a case of understanding the culture. The language barrier would probably get you in a great deal of trouble very quickly, various languages, dialects and idioms of speech were in use and this would quickly mark you out as some kind of foreigner. If you could muddle on by then I actually think you would do well as long as you respected the people and the culture, and accepted the local laws and customs.

I always try to explain to my students that if we're studying 14th and 15th century martial arts then we need to dip our toe into the prevalent mindset at the time to fully grasp the technique. It's very contrasting, because on a deep, intrinsic level it's important to remember that people were human just like us. They weren't stupid simply because they existed hundreds of years ago, and they were driven by the same emotions that motivate the modern mind. Hunger, love, greed, jealousy, these things haven't changed. What has changed is the day to day living and that is where there is often a vast gulf in our ways of thinking. Violence was a much more readily accepted way of life, however it was codified and regulated by strict rules and instructions, it wasn't outright savagery all of the time. Likewise religion played a huge role in day to day life, it was simply accepted, there was no such thing as an atheist or agnostic in reality. But it was very different in how it pervaded people's lives, in some ways much more intrusive, in other ways (especially pre-reformation) it was surprisingly forgiving and relaxed in ways that surprise people living in the 21st century.

If someone ever invents a time machine I'll be the first in the queue to let you know how it goes! :)

Kidquick262 karma

Awesome, thanks again for the quick and detailed reply! I find this kind of stuff fascinating so I have a lot of questions. Last one! How does the physical strength, stamina and cardiovascular endurance of the average modern human compare to that of its medieval counterpart? Obviously we lead very different day-to-day lives and and have a much different diet, so I'm wondering if that could be a significant factor in any differences.

Quixoticish3 karma

Many questions is great, ask away!

I think diet and lifestyle certainly played a huge role in things and people would have been (on average) far stronger and hardier than many modern people are (myself included!) Stamina would have indeed been far better, and they would have been "tougher" in a martial sense, having been training in these skills from a very early age and far more frequently than we do.

That said the quality of the diet was much lower and quite nutritionally poor, in some circumstances the bulk of your diet was bread and ale with a small smattering of vegetable matter from time to time. But then many people needed such a carbohydrate rich diet due to the amount of physical labour done in a day, and well water from public supplies was often unsafe to drink, hence the beer.

They were uncountably tougher and hardier on average but we need to remember that the sword is a great equaliser. I'm a big chap (6'1) so if I wrestle or grapple with someone smaller than me I am at an immediate advantage. Put 3 feet of steel in front of someone and suddenly things become much more evenly matched!

Metalhed691 karma

I would think exposure to diseases that were common then, like smallpox, would probably kill you pretty fast.

Quixoticish1 karma

This is a very good point. I imagine your ignorance of what water to drink would probably land you with a deadly case of something very quickly!

It's something I've never considered before but despite the fact that they were quite likely to die from various ailments that we can deal with easily today or have since been all but eradicated they must have had much better immune systems simply because of all of the things they were exposed to.

songwind1 karma

They weren't stupid simply because they existed hundreds of years ago, and they were driven by the same emotions that motivate the modern mind.

Have you read the novel Timeline, btw? This comment just reminded me of an exchange between one of the historians and the other characters, after said character's scheme failed.

"My god, did you think we're smarter than these people?"

Quixoticish2 karma

I had read Timeline, I quite enjoy a bit of Crichton from time to time. For all of the various faults of his novels they are still excellent reading and he's a cracking writer. That is a cracking quote!

somewhatdim2 karma

awesome AMA! thanks for doing this!

Quixoticish2 karma

Thank you!

amordel2 karma

Hi, have you played The Witcher? And if so, how do you feel about Geralt's sword technique.

If you're still interested in the question here is a video showcasing most of his stuff.

Quixoticish2 karma

I haven't played it but it looks like fun. There's no real way to comment on authenticity because that obviously isn't the goal when developing a game like this, and it's almost nigh on impossible to re-produce accurate swordplay and combat within the confines of a 2D screen and will the controller limitations. You can't replicate something with a game controller or keyboard/mouse that relies so much on subtle feelings of pressure coming down your blade, on interpreting the smallest hints of body language from your opponent, on feinting and pulling blows at the last minute and so forth.

Once you have your basic cuts and your basic guards historical swordplay quickly becomes about subtlety, and layers upon layers of it.

There was an attempt to produce a game recently via a Kickstarter campaign that would use a custom controller to produce a much more "realistic" version of historical fencing. I believe it's still in an alpha/pre alpha state and is looking for further funding now. Fingers crossed!