Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Clements #14 Affectation and Artificiality

I have written often on how Medieval and Renaissance weapon use was devoid of affectation and artificiality in favor of martial lethality. The authentic sources of combat teachings are only concerned with the pragmatic application of principle and technique whatever the self-defense situation. This is in contrast to the focus on aesthetic performance art and theatricality found in pop culture depictions of historical armed combat as well as so many of the stylized weapon routines of traditional Asian fighting styles today. The reason for this is the simple truth that genuine fighting techniques should always be direct, economical, quick, and devoid of extraneous unnecessary movements. For power and effectiveness, combat actions need efficiency and speed, not wide exaggerated motions. While dance-like twirling and swirling of tit-for-tat exchanges may make for good stunt play or staged exhibition, such is the antithesis of martial prowess. All of this extends to the composition of weapons themselves. Swords in particular can be neither overly heavy and clumsy nor flimsy to the point of being fragile or non-lethal. They must be robust, resilient, balanced, and (depending on their design) strong enough to produce deadly impacts by edge or point while warding the same. Whether as a blunt training blade for exercise, or a sharp replica blade to practice cutting on test targets, you should want your sword to be far more than a mere costume prop or wall-hanging decoration. Given the legacy and lore of fine fighting blades the world over, every student of the sword should demand no less.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Bastard Sword

The Bastard sword always gets attention. The name originates from the French term ‘epee batarde’ which refers to a ‘hand and a half sword’ or a ‘long sword’. The word Bastard was given to it due to its irregular appearance - the sword’s tang and grip were made to be effective with one hand but long enough to accommodate two hands, providing better leverage and more power. Although this made the sword more versatile it also made it difficult to categorize it as either a one-handed or two-handed weapon.

The sword’s reputation has grown over the recent years with its use in fantasy television series like Game of Thrones. Jon Snow wields the epic Longclaw, the ancestral Valyrian steel bastard sword of House Mormont.

Blade styles like the Windlass Bastard Sword have been brought back by popular demand. This particular broad sword belongs to the Battle of Bosworth Field (1485), cutting and slashing its way through Tudor ranks. Light and well balanced with a classic design, the Bastard swords have a tapered, more narrow pointed blade.

The Bastard sword packs a fair amount of damage and the training involves practicing vicious strokes and maneuvres such as thrusting, cutting and slicing the opponent. The Medieval Bastard Sword training required by a Knight started early – first as a page from the age of 7 to 14 and then as a Squire from the ages of 14 to 21. The Medieval Bastard Sword, predominantly used by Medieval Knights, became popular due to its extreme reach, cutting and thrusting abilities. The fighting power of just one knight equaled 10 ordinary soldiers due to powerful weapons like these.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Clements #13 Why the Sword?

As professional swordsmanship teacher, there is a simple question that I'm often asked: why the sword? The meaning of the question is more or less asking how a long-bladed weapon came to exist in so many different forms to become so widespread and valued by fighting men throughout history? It's not an easy question to answer in brief. It's a matter that involves many inter-connected elements of warfare, close combat tactics, metallurgy, physics and physiology, as well as cultural values and choices in personal self-defense. That's a lot of factors. To try and put it succinctly though, there is an undeniable fighting utility to metal blades wielded by hand. They stab and slash and chop better than do other materials and they also hold better up to wear and violent trauma. They ward and guard defensively to protect their users almost as much as they threaten to wound offensively. A long fighting blade is also self-evidently a greater danger than a short knife. The spear and axe and a bow all have their uses, especially at farther ranges, but closer up a long blade can out fight any of them. The situations and circumstances of which it can be used, on foot or horseback, and the kinds of garments and armors it can overcome is considerable. On top of this, it can be wielded in one or two hands and if using a single hand it leaves the other free to employ another weapon or shield. Whether for traveling on the road or going about town, defending a fortress or fighting from a battle line in the field, you can't do better than having a blade weapon either in hand or ready on your hip. In the past, a sword wasn't always the primary weapon for all fighting men in all situations, but more often than not it was the secondary choice. Around the globe among all the great civilizations of history, the technology and artistry of the blade smith was prized for a very simple reason: swords worked and they were necessary. Is it any wonder then why there are so many sword designs?

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Food and Feastware of the Middle Ages

Food in the Middle Ages was not very dissimilar to what we have today, though there was a distinct difference in food of the rich and the poor, especially during harvest or extreme circumstances like famine.
What of medieval utensils then? It is quite ironic that notwithstanding evolution and modern-day sophistication, we still love to eat with our fingers. Our ancestors were high-level practitioners of that art. They had no choice. The fork came into its own only in the Renaissance period, in Europe. Spoons, which were made of wood or horn, were used mostly to serve food, as people preferred to consume soup directly from the bowl.

Personal daggers were to that period what forks are to the 21st century. People stabbed and cut meat with the knives. However, it is their disposable dishes or “trenchers” that has to be among the most ingenious of medieval “feastware.” Trenchers were made of slices of heavy bread and could be eaten with the meal. (Just consider an environment friendly picnic without Styrofoam!) Trenchers gradually gave way to pottery, silver and gold plates, even though the tasty bread that made up the trencher remained as a popular side dish.

The most widely used vessel for drinking was a “tazine,” which was about the size of a teacup and did not have a handle. Larger tumblers, also without handles, made from wood were also common.
The affluent owned drinking goblets, of gold and silver, which were too delicate for regular use. “Flagons” (massive mugs), less popular, were exclusively used for beer and ale.  Then there were “Jacks,” lightweight mugs made of boiled leather, which were easy to carry.

Monday, January 16, 2017

A rundown on leather armor

Leather armour may not have been as popular in life as it appears in entertainment. It won't prevent a sword going right through or an axe from dealing a fatal blow, but it will muffle most swipes or slashes and can cushion the wearer from projectiles fired from a distance. Leather had many positive factors going for it such as being relatively cheap to make, more mobile than plate, more durable than cloth, and troops could provide it themselves. One downside is that it was prone to rot and therefore would need to be covered in grease, pitch, lacquer, or possibly even mutton-fat as a weather-proofer. On it's own it was certainly better than nothing, but it's use increased dramatically when paired with equally free moving chain mail.