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Knights in the snow.
February 4, 2011 8:12 PM   Subscribe

Knights in the snow. Western martial artists Theresa Wendland and Davis Vader, of the Chicago Swordplay Guild, duel with longswords in the bitter cold of February in Chicago's Pulaski Park. Here's another video of her trouncing larger and stronger opponents indoors.
posted by Slap*Happy (39 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Davis... Vader.
posted by boo_radley at 8:25 PM on February 4, 2011


She grabs hold of a supposedly live blade in the trouncing video. Is that in the rules?
posted by the cuban at 8:37 PM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know what rules they play by, but haft handing and grabbing blades is in MS 1449 as well as a few other fechtbuch.
posted by Faux Real at 8:43 PM on February 4, 2011


"She grabs hold of a supposedly live blade in the trouncing video. Is that in the rules?"

Chainmail or plate gloves grabbing a heavy sword which is meant for cleaving armor with its weight, but is not razor sharp - it's actually historically accurate. I've seen illustrations from period fencing manuals which showed that technique.
posted by tdismukes at 8:43 PM on February 4, 2011


I don't get it. These blades look like they're metal, which means they're not swinging them for effect. Why is this impressive?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:45 PM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's a wad of steel, not a light saber.
posted by boo_radley at 9:06 PM on February 4, 2011


Why is this impressive?

It sure looks like they are having fun, which is great. But definitely not very impressive, at least to me. There's such a huge difference between tapping the swords together and nasty real-life attacking, and so while they are having a great time, this doesn't give any window into anything other than a certain kind of play-acting. I'd rather watch them doing the same thing but with wooden sticks or those bamboo kendo sticks where they could swing at each other with some force and actually aim at something other than the other person's sword.
posted by Forktine at 9:27 PM on February 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


From the perspective of a minimal amount of fencing background the movements look so slow, and yet they seem to be fighting for 'touch' points rather than attempts to land blows of any significant force. Maybe I just don't get it, but I'd have to imagine there are folks out there who could swing those blades much harder and faster, although perhaps that could lead to broken limbs, particularly on lower arm hits. I presume from the motions I saw that blows at or below the waist are forbidden (unlike epee which was the game of wrist and toe shots).

Also, these are called long swords, but look extremely awkward when wielded one instead of two handed. Is this historically accurate? Perhaps it is the taint of too much Gygax, but I thought a longsword would be a blade appropriate for use single handed as well, these look like they are easily blade lengths of more than half the fencer's height (hard to say but I think they are closer to 38" or so). Are there sport limits on when these become claymores instead of longswords?
posted by meinvt at 9:44 PM on February 4, 2011


If you want to see nasty blows with intent, look up some SCA videos. They use rattan sticks and have lots and lots of padded armor, so basically the worst that can happen is heavy bruises... so there's a lot of heavy blows, and quick, nasty fights.. especially so if it's not sword/shield vs sword/shield. polearm and greatsword combat can be especially quick and brutal.
posted by vrogy at 9:46 PM on February 4, 2011


Which dictionary are you using the definition of trounce from?
posted by dobbs at 9:49 PM on February 4, 2011


Forktine/Cool Papa Bell/boo_radley:
Most of your sword arts actually do require you to take into effect the opponents weapon and not just swing for a body target. The main reason being that if you commit to a target too much and miss, you leave yourself extremely open to a counter attack to your now exposed meaty-bits. Your sword is not just an attacking weapon, and the point of clashing steel is to try and put your opponents weapon in a position where you can attack the body with more (relative) safety. Also, you'll notice in the trouncing video, a lot of her "points" are coming from tagging the opponents on the forearm. The goal being to render the opponent unable to wield a weapon, and thus being at your mercy. Many martial arts are very "sporting" in this sense. You fight to the disarm, not to the death. Otherwise a lot of teachers wouldn't have very many students, just a lot of body parts hacked up on the classroom floor.

There are, however, other forms of sword fighting that are exclusively about smashing through the opponents weapon, but those are for things like, say, Claymore and other berzerker styles, which, well, have a much lower surviving chance.
posted by daq at 9:50 PM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is a better sword fight (NSFW).
posted by Thoughtcrime at 9:54 PM on February 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


Grabbing blades (especially with gauntlets on) is not only legal but an integral part of traditional broadsword fighting. There's very few movies that accurately portray real broadsword combat because the real thing is actually kind of boring and subtle to watch, and it's also not just about swords, it's also about grappling and hand to hand combat. And a lot of dirty tricks, like tripping, headbutts or other physical blows.

Note how she traps the blade under her free arm. They're only using swords but traditionally that's a time and place where you'd drop your sword and draw a dagger or dirk and stick your opponent at close range. Or headbutt them. Or use both hands to remove their sword, which are all legal.

I don't get it. These blades look like they're metal, which means they're not swinging them for effect. Why is this impressive?

Outside of bad Hollywood movies you don't swing live steel like a club and hack blades edge to edge. For one, it's insanely heavy and you have to be able to stop the blade if you miss. Recovery and recycling to a defensive position is almost always more important than a risky offensive lunge or wild swing and a miss. For two, sharp steel tends to be brittle. Watch the orientation of the swords. They mostly block and parry with the flats of their blades, and they're very aware of leverage.

The part you're probably missing is that interplay of flats and edges, and the moments where they've made "lethal contact" and they're scoring each other and conceding points. Yeah, they're not fighting full speed or with full force. That's intentional, because they could break bones or theoretically lop off entire limbs, not to mention swords could shatter. Practicing at "half speed" or "three quarter speed" is common for both mock sword play and live steel. Yeah, half speed takes a lot of practice to be fair, and it looks very silly, but it's an essential part of training to think as you move.

Broadsword fighting is about conservation of momentum and the use of leverage. The bottom half or so of the sword above the hilt/crossguard is called the forté - the strong part of the blade, which is where you get the most leverage. Ideally your opponents upper half, the foible (weak part) is where you make contact with your forté, giving you more leverage than they do because the forté is closer to the point of leverage than the foible.

So both swordfighters are constantly trying to stay at the right distance, just like boxers do. Too close and you can't throw a punch. Too far and you can't throw a punch. Just right and you both can throw punches, but the game is to get within striking distance and be prepared to strike first... Except you have swords (and fists), and a whole lot of different ranges and domains of motion, leverage and lethality, making it all much more complicated.

I'm not sure what general rules they're fighting under, but when I use to mess around with swords it was flexible. Fairly light dragging contact of an edge of a blade on a limb was usually considered a loss of that limb. If it happened to be your sword arm, you switched your sword to your remaining arm. If it was one or both legs, you would kneel and fight from your knees. If it was a head, neck or torso stroke it was considered lethal contact. If you lost both arms, well, ask for mercy.

So what you should be watching for is the lethal contact, which in most of the bouts in the indoor video happens shortly after they lock up their blades at close range and grapple for leverage. Watch the edges of their blades. Usually one or the other will suddenly find an open advantage and you'll see their blade leverage over or around the fulcrum point of the crossed blades and do a dragging or pushing "cut" with most of the length of their blade on the point of contact. It's often shoulders and neck cuts in this video, but it looks like there's a few torso shots as well.

And from what I can see, she knows what she's doing. She's accurately targeting and striking lethal zones reliably. The neck, the clavicle and upper shoulder, under the arms along the ribs - all places where a good cut will disable an opponent through cut tendons, muscles or major arteries.

The whole thing is over in fractions of a second once they make that pivot, and it's really easy to miss unless you know what to look for. It's not a strike or a blow, it's not dramatic. It's like watching someone use a nice fountain pen on paper, it's just the stroke of an edge. When they make contact they tend to step apart, acknowledge the kill and re-engage for the next round.

How do they keep score? They don't, really. It's not about points. It's an honor system that self-polices. You have to be pretty disciplined to be a good swordfighter. If you want to be an undisciplined cheater without substance and you make the mistake of being mouthy about your lack of actual skill, chances are pretty good that someone who is highly disciplined is going to make a point of making an utter fool out of you on the floor. This is what happened to the Highlander wannabes at my practice group. The guy that did most of the teaching had a way with gravity, balance and being able to wait for just the right moment to lightly tap you on the forehead and knock you flat on your ass, neatly demonstrating that he understood your center of gravity even better than you did. And it was bloody humiliating, but educational.

Sure it would be more exiting to watch if they spent more time wildly swinging their swords around in dramatic arcs, but broadswords don't actually work that way, at least not in trained hands. And I promise you you're not going to win against a trained fighter making wildly photogenic swings with a sword. They're going to stand out of your strike range and laugh until you tire yourself out or give yourself a case of tennis elbow, or if they're bored they may carefully add a great deal of momentum to your wild baseball bat swings and see if you'll spin around more than 360 degrees or fall down.
posted by loquacious at 9:56 PM on February 4, 2011 [34 favorites]


Oh, and by "lethal" contact, I really mean "disarming contact" as daq points out. In swordfighting the actual goal isn't to kill the opponent, but to disarm them or render them unable to wield a sword or weapon. If you can accomplish the disarmament, it's tactically the same as death.
posted by loquacious at 10:02 PM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, these are called long swords, but look extremely awkward when wielded one instead of two handed. Is this historically accurate? Perhaps it is the taint of too much Gygax, but I thought a longsword would be a blade appropriate for use single handed as well, these look like they are easily blade lengths of more than half the fencer's height (hard to say but I think they are closer to 38" or so). Are there sport limits on when these become claymores instead of longswords?

It sounds like you're the one who is tainted by Gygax a bit too much. They're German longswords: "langschwert". Usually about 1.2-1.4m long and easily used one or two handed (but generally two). If you need to D&Dify them think of it as a bastard sword.
posted by schwa at 10:04 PM on February 4, 2011


Sure it would be more exiting to watch if they spent more time wildly swinging their swords around in dramatic arcs

For this we have stage combat, which is an art in its own right.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:07 PM on February 4, 2011


It sounds like you're the one who is tainted by Gygax a bit too much. They're German longswords: "langschwert". Usually about 1.2-1.4m long and easily used one or two handed (but generally two). If you need to D&Dify them think of it as a bastard sword.

Right. Except these are a bit lighter and narrower than a hand and a half or a bastard sword, and they look like they have great balance.
posted by loquacious at 10:11 PM on February 4, 2011


Longsword in this context equals greatsword in most peoples minds.

If a sword were sharp enough to cut you if you just grabbed the blade, the edge would be ruined the moment it hit anything hard. Swords were much closer to axes in terms of how sharp you'd want them to be, and the medieval manuals are all over the notion of grabbing your opponents blade as well as something called half-swording, which you do to give yourself a leverage advantage.

The repro behind my closet door is of Oakshotte XXa.1 - It's just over four feet overall and weighs about 4.5 lbs, but feels unbelievably light and balanced. You could cut with it against an unarmored man, but if you were trying to take down someone in armor, you'd use the last foot or so of the blade as an ice pick, and the rest of the blade and the grip to steer it into some gap in their armour.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:28 PM on February 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I try to keep up with stuff that's happening in the reconstruction of Western Martial Arts mainly because I grew up watching knights and stuff... I even have a longsword waster but a lack of yard makes it hard to regularly practice. Anyways, loquacious said most of the stuff I wanted to and more, so I'll just post a link to Hammaborg bouts with Theresa Wendland, which I like. Seemingly slow speed, but controlled fighting.

I mostly lurk on Swordforum, so I'm familiar with some names in the WMA/HEMA community, but don't really participate in it (too shy). I believe Wendland is actually a practitioner of the Fiore de Liberi derived Italian style.

A little more on grabbing blades: it's typically safe to do if you don't let it slide across your skin. You need a really firm grip. Also, blade grabs are done when the sword to be grabbed is stopped. A demo by Hammaborg. If I sound like a Hammaborg fanboy it's because I think sword and buckler combat is cool.
posted by Mister Cheese at 11:21 PM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's also probably important to point out that there's a huge difference between swordplay and swordfighting. The former is play and practice, the latter is usually deadly. Anyone sane knows the difference between the two and you can't really take any of it too seriously. Frankly, real swordfighting is probably pretty disappointing as a spectator sport. It's not going to be a long drawn out Highlander scene. It's usually going to be over quickly. Unless it's in The Princess Bride, which gets a free pass.

Also, to contrast this more "realistic" live steel sparring with something more modern here's a video of 1 on 1 Society of Creative Anachronisms bouts. Notice how the style and action is totally different, swords held high with a downward strike around a shield, and long, arcing Hollywood style swings that pivot from the wrist and elbow rather than pivots around the center of gravity of the sword. It's evolved (or devolved) into using a sword as a club - because that's what they're doing, which is beating on each other with rattan clubs. It's rather like watching pairs of riot cops go at each other.

Which is why someone invented SCA in the first place and why it's called Creative Anachronisms, because they realized how boring (and dangerous) real sword fighting is, and they wanted something with more speed and impact, that looked and felt more aggressive and was more physically satisfying - so they invented their own style of armored mock-battle using duct-taped rattan and a lot of rather heavy armor.

Here's a fairly good sized and very chaotic SCA melee.

Here's a full scale SCA war.
posted by loquacious at 2:16 AM on February 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've not seen any demonstrations of Western martial arts beyond Olympic-style fencing so I thought this very interesting. In particular, I was tickled to see old familiar stances from my days in Kendo (jodan, chudan, etc.) - completely different arts, developed in isolation, but very similar. Some convergent evolution? Martial homophones?

Of course, it may just mean there's a fairly limited number of options when you want to cut up the other guy as efficiently as possible.
posted by Tikirific at 2:33 AM on February 5, 2011


In particular, I was tickled to see old familiar stances from my days in Kendo (jodan, chudan, etc.) - completely different arts, developed in isolation, but very similar.

I've noticed that before as well, but I've never practiced Kendo. But there's a lot of the same shuffling and keeping your feet apart but out of harm's way. We did use Kendo shinai (sp?) for practice swords for European broad/long sword because they're brilliant and they're much cheaper and less dangerous than a real sword. And much less alarming to the public if there's 30 people in a park flailing them about. Also, since they have four sides they're great for teaching edge and flat awareness.
posted by loquacious at 2:55 AM on February 5, 2011


I've not seen any demonstrations of Western martial arts beyond Olympic-style fencing

Odd you've never seen a boxing match. Do you live in a cave?
posted by the cuban at 2:55 AM on February 5, 2011


Odd you've never seen a boxing match. Do you live in a cave?

Was thinking armed combat, but didn't write it :/ Big boxing fan.
posted by Tikirific at 4:29 AM on February 5, 2011


Fair do's.

Regarding your point about different styles having similar moves, Lee said: unless there is a being with more than two arms and two legs.. there is only one style of fighting, the human style.
posted by the cuban at 6:46 AM on February 5, 2011


ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side.
posted by fuq at 7:26 AM on February 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Tikirific: Some convergent evolution? Martial homophones?

It seems to me that it is partly this, and partly that everything today is a reconstruction of western cutting sword martial arts. Heavy cutting swords and how to use them went away hundreds of years ago, and there is no unbroken tradition of teaching to call upon. The handed-down art of fencing (with foil, epee, and saber) is qualitatively different than fighting with these weapons.
posted by moonbiter at 7:35 AM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks, loquacious.

As a side note, I look at these SCA videos and can't help but think that these guys need basic athletic coaching. "Bend your knees, for Chrissakes!" They really do look like computer programmers with sticks.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:17 AM on February 5, 2011



Odd you've never seen a boxing match. Do you live in a cave?

Was thinking armed combat, but didn't write it :/ Big boxing fan.


Don't forget (real) wrestling!
posted by codswallop at 8:41 AM on February 5, 2011


From the perspective of a minimal amount of fencing background the movements look so slow...

I was thinking the same thing, at first -- I fenced epee in college, and this seemed an order of magnitude slower than any kind of martial arts sparring I've done since then. And I watched the snow video first, and I didn't think I saw a lot of what looked like skill there. But I think they were just horsing around in that video.

Watching the "trouncing" video, I tried to put myself into one of the fighters' position, and imagine a sword at least 4 times heavier than I'm used to. A lot of the quick movements that decide fencing matches wouldn't make any sense in this context. And I could start to see some of the subtle things she was doing to end up sliding from blade to arm, for instance, while her opponent got nothing but blade.

These videos are a lot more fun to watch for a non-expert than fencing videos are, because the things that decide matches are actually visible at a reasonable speed. That doesn't mean they're easy things.
posted by gurple at 10:42 AM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ah crap! I just realized I posted a link to the same video as Slap*Happy did under "trouncing." My apologies, I feel a MeFi dunce. That'll teach me to watch the entire post. Have a look at some of Fiore's plays by these people. There's some blade grabbing about 50 seconds in.
posted by Mister Cheese at 12:06 PM on February 5, 2011


As a side note, I look at these SCA videos and can't help but think that these guys need basic athletic coaching. "Bend your knees, for Chrissakes!" They really do look like computer programmers with sticks.

Things not to do in SCA fighting has you covered, CPB.
posted by loquacious at 1:19 PM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nice!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:32 PM on February 5, 2011


This one is pretty cool. The Kendo guy seems to know his footwork.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:36 PM on February 5, 2011


Why are all SCA shields solid pieces?

You don't need to block arrows, and damage to your shield is kind of irrelevant because you're not actually on a battlefield (i.e. no one's coming to kill you, and you can repair or replace a shield between bouts). The swords are lighter and blunt, too. All you need to do is block/deflect an incoming blow, and even then all you're trying to do is reduce the odds of a scoring hit (because you're not going to get sliced open).

Shields should be made of loose wicker mesh for lightness and maximum visibility (i.e. the ability to look through your shield), if there's a restriction against using transparent plastic. Even being able to see a shadow through your shield would be helpful when bouts are decided in the tenths of a second it takes to swing.

I can't possibly be the first person to think of this ... ?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:51 PM on February 5, 2011


I can't possibly be the first person to think of this ... ?

The rules and regulations for SCA armor and weapons are very strict and detailed. Thankfully I'm not so nerdy that I recall any of them off the top of my head, but they're so specific that they detail the thickness and type of metal required for, say, a helm, and how it should be welded and constructed. (And it's really thick metal on a helm. Like 8 or 10 gauge cold rolled plate steel. SCA armor tends to be thicker than traditional period armor, and uses modern high tensile rolled steel as opposed to hammered/forged steel.) Same goes for other plate armor. They have inspections and stuff, and as far as I recall a lot of this regulation and gear inspections happens within a local chapter of SCA. By the time you're participating in regional melees and meets, or worse, the full scale national Pennsic wars you and your crew are supposed to have all of those rules integrated and your gear dialed in to specifications.

So I'm guessing it's a mixture of technical requirements mixed with the "Creative Anachronism" side of things. They probably specify a wood face to the shield to protect whatever is left of the "Anachronism" part of the scene. (Though, many shields I've seen have metal frames or backs.) Which is probably why you genermally don't see people in hockey armor and doing some kind of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome interpretations at SCA events, because being that creative isn't encouraged.

But those non-conformist weirdos certainly show up at Ren Faires. Often with live snakes as fashion accessories and steampunk goggles. "Uh, ok. So. Who or what are you?" "I'm a time-traveling cyber vampire warlock mage! Raargh!" *backs away slowly, casting magic missle*

Anyway, you usually can't see shit from inside a helm. Between the sweat in your eyes and the limited visibility of a helm you end up fighting blind after a few bouts. A mesh see through shield will be of limited use. Also, it doesn't absorb shock as well as wood does. Holding a metal shield and having an SCA heavy whack on it would hurt.
posted by loquacious at 4:36 PM on February 5, 2011


Oh, you said wicker, not metal. Don't know how I misread that.

A wicker shield would fly to pieces in seconds during an SCA bout. Those guys hit really hard. It wouldn't be cost effective to keep throwing away wicker shields. You'd need half a dozen of them to last one bout in a heavy match. The rattan "swords" they use are about the thickness and density of a pine closet hanger rod or the handrail to a staircase, except they're solid rattan so they won't splinter or shatter like pine would, and they're wrapped in layers of duck tape. They're about equivalent to a baseball bat, maybe worse.

Also, SCA is less about points, scoring or winning, and much more about an excuse to strap on a lot of armor and vaguely period costumes, beat the crap out of your friends, get drunk on mead and making out with wenches. In no particular order.

Yeah, you could go out there in hyperlight, sports-science designed armor and "win" all the bouts you want, but it's not going to make you popular within the social scene. If anything it would be considered unsporting and overkill, or trying too hard. It won't win you kisses from maidens or wenches, or as the case is sometimes in SCA, the big armored lunk you were just sparring with.

The part you don't see in the SCA videos I linked is the insane all night parties people get into at SCA events. Fuckin' mead heads. And I've been intentionally ignoring and not mentioning all the behind the scenes cliques and social drama that goes on in SCA circles when people take it way too seriously and it becomes their entire life. Days of our Lives has nothing on the socio-political psychosexual nerd drama that is SCA.
posted by loquacious at 4:50 PM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Shields should be made of loose wicker mesh

You grossly underestimate the power behind SCA heavy weapons combat. I've seen people throw blows with the rattan "swords" that dent the steel helms we wear. Wicker wouldn't last a hot minute in any combat scenario (on review: what loquacious also is saying). Really, watch some of the videos posted in this thread; it's fierce.

And frankly, building out your kit is enough work. Asking someone to re-make their sheilds on a regular basis...well, there's a reason they didn't do that in SCA period, either. :)

Also: Combat archery with blunted arrows is actually a part of many SCA battle scenarios, so yes there are arrows to block, as well. We don't just do one-on-one, we also have melees with upwards of thousands of combatants for some Wars. A shield, as heavy and cumbersome as it can be, is oftentimes your only friend in many cases.

To expand on what loquacious said, the history of shields in the SCA is...complex. And I'm not a fighter. But basically, almost everything has evolved out of a pretty serious balance between Authenticity, Affordability, and Safety. Metal shields do pop up a lot, and are accepted, in large part because they are much less likely to break (although I'd not be surprised that some group in the SCA's timeframe used all-metal shields).

And honestly, it's mostly Safety -- there's been a LOT of experiments around SCA combat over the decades, and what's done today is the product of a lot of collective wisdom. It's not just programmers, either; I know way too many active and ex-Military in the SCA, including not a few Special Forces (but oddly, no SEALs I can think of), and my first King was a Golden Gloves champ.
posted by Asim at 4:54 PM on February 5, 2011


>>Shields should be made of loose wicker mesh
You grossly underestimate the power behind SCA heavy weapons combat. I've seen people throw blows with the rattan "swords" that dent the steel helms we wear. Wicker wouldn't last a hot minute in any combat scenario (on review: what loquacious also is saying). Really, watch some of the videos posted in this thread; it's fierce.


Quite, I mostly use a round shield made from 3/8" oak plywood and edged in rawhide. On good year I can go through four or five of them though I have had a brand new one turn to mush after a weekend with some particularly vigorous opponents. These day I save the wooden shield for wars/tournaments and practice with one made out nylon sheet.
posted by the_artificer at 9:35 PM on February 15, 2011


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