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Swordplay & WMA

Note: I am not an expert. I'm just an enthusiast and the learning never stops. :)


Ever since I started collecting swords and weapons, I've been interested in learning about their use as well. I think an understanding of the techniques and nuances can deepen your appreciation for these weapons and the people who used them historically.

My first experience with a sword art came in the form of the Fencing club in college. Clearly, this is not a historical combat technique, but rather a sport that was originally based on light dueling swords. As with any sport, it's designed with completely different goals than actual warfare. Likewise, the strategies will always be different when the participants know they're operating in complete safety, and their lives don't depend on what happens in the next few seconds.

I think this is the primary reason that I never gravitated towards SCA combat. While it looks to be loads of fun, I've always doubted what it could teach me about historical combat and the capabilities of the weapons that I was fond of.

In recent years, I've been participating in a historical swordsmanship class offered at VAF, which is primarily following interpretations of period manuscripts from longsword masters, most notably Johannes Liechtenauer.

This sort of WMA (Western Martial Arts) program poses an interesting challenge. Unlike the eastern counterparts, the western arts were abondoned centuries ago. Eastern cultures have kept their martial arts in a continuous living tradition. Western cultures, on the other hand, took an entirely practical approach and allowed their martial arts and sword construction techniques to be lost when firearms became practical and abundant.

For this reason, current revivalists have to translate and interpret the few surviving texts that were written by the period masters. Much of what we learn may be tossed aside as new superior interpretations become clear.

While I've been working towards learning what I can about medieval swordsmanship, and I'm in the advanced level in my sword classes, I still consider myself to be an overall novice. The more I learn, the more I learn how much more there is to learn. :)

roughly 50 lbs of steel and leather

Accidental katana cut into the wooden post

This is a wonderful demonstration on YouTube. It's a different interpretation than what we're learning, but there are many similarities.

Another good demonstration video. Less showy, without all the nice cinematography, location, and garb. But a nice demonstration of a variety of moves.

Another video from the Gladiatores group.


  • SwordFodder01 (7MB WMV, or 5MB Quicktime)
    My first formal sword test-cutting. I had been to a "cutting party" as part of my swordsmanship class once, but only did a little cutting on water jugs at the time. But this was the first time I set up with some decent targets (from swordfodder.com) to really try to work on my edge alignment. I sucked, but managed to pull off some good cuts with the katana by the end of the session. This video is from the end with those good cuts. Yes, I'm telegraphing like crazy, but that wasn't the point of this excersize. This video is to keep track of my progress, it's not meant to be entertaining. :)

    I had one cut go too low (not shown in this version of the video) that cut into the supporting wooden peg. It travelled most of the way through the wood. I wasn't using much power, so I probably could have cut through.

  • VAF non-telegraphing drills, Oct 2006

    The point of this excersize is to make non-telegraphing attacks. That is, make an attack with as little warning as possible before the blade strikes. The defender tries to parry this attack, knowing only where it will be and not when.

One of my classmates also has a wesbite, complete with videos, that's worth checking out.

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