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The Swordfolk Among Us

Friday, September 19th, 2014 | Posted by M Harold Page

I write “anything with swords in it.”

The New York Times has done a short documentary on modern longsword fighting and everybody’s reacting like the media suddenly started covering quidditch; all the muggles are looking around and seeing the wizards for the first time…. except we’re swordsfolk, not wizards. However, like the wizards, we’ve been around a long long time.

Rewind a couple of weeks. I’m in a slightly tatty but sterile NHS consulting room speaking to a specialist doctor…

“I see you are a writer, Mr Page.” My consultant, as we call them in the UK, is an avuncular German, perhaps in his 50s.

I admit to my profession. I write “anything with swords in it.”

“Ah! You like swords?”

I tell him about my hobby, show him my sword scar.

“Tell, me,” asks this decidedly grown up, highly-qualified professional, whose eyes now have a twinkle. “Have you heard of Academic Fencing?”

Academic Fencing is a primarily German tradition. Young men with special face masks to protect eyes, ears, and mouth slash each other with whippy dueling blades in a highly ritualised environment. It’s why Prussian officers have scars in all the old movies.

And he’s done it.

Menzura-Korporacja_Sarmatia_2004

Young men with special face masks to protect eyes, ears and mouth slash each other with whippy duelling blades in a highly ritualised environment.
(Picture Czestomir, WikiMedia)

He’s fought with sharps. He has dueling scars. He’s “one of us” but more so.

For a few moments, our formal doctor-patient relationship falls away. We shake hands. He shows me his faded scars and lets slip that he won more duels than he lost.

So much for my little sword scar.

And as I negotiate the cordon of smokers outside the hospital, I add another skein to my mental map of the web of swordfolk that permeates western society.

I first became aware of this invisible steel web a couple of years ago. I was in Edinburgh, walking down my street to catch the bus to fencing, and I spotted a bearded man lugging a similar shaped bag up the street.

“Swords,” I blurt.

Beardy stops. “Pardon?”

“You have swords in that bag.”

He frowns. “Two swords, a seax, and an axe.”

I pat my bag. “Longsword and greatsword.” I gave a half bow. “DDS.”

He smiles. “Men of the North.”

We exchange pleasantries and go our separate ways. Over the next months, I have fun spotting part-time Vikings lugging a variety of weapons to their practice venue. (Top tip for those carrying concealed weapons: a two handed axe and a heater shield wrapped in brown paper still look like a two handed axe and a heater shield…)

But what I’m getting at.  In any city, you are never far from somebody who knows how to use an edged weapon. I’m not just talking practitioners of the Eastern Martial Arts. I’m talking battle re-enactors,  SCA, Living History and my own beloved Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA). You don’t believe me? Google “HEMA” plus your city. See what comes out.

So now thanks to the New York Times, the curtain has raised a bit. So… (ahem)…

Hello… Muggles! Don’t worry. The weapons are blunt. But if the zombies or the Fae rise up, if the werewolves rampage, it will be sturdy practitioners of German and Italian Longsword who carve them into tiny pieces!


M Harold Page (www.mharoldpage.com) is a Scottish-based writer and swordsman with several Historical Adventure franchise books in print all of which have swords in them. His creative writing handbook, Storyteller Tools is available on Amazon. He would love to teach you how to use a longsword.

 

7 Comments »

  1. Ha! Long ago in the days or yore (ie. back at university), I had a single fencing class. This was far before European martial arts had started to catch on, at least in any numbers outside of the SCA. I loved it, but realized very quickly that I had not the talent for such, so I never took another class or lesson … unless one counts rennaisance festival training, and I don’t, at least not what I had (basically a quick intro to stage combat). If I were younger and in better shape, I would definitely be interested in HEMA, but alas, the body aches and slows and injuries don’t heal like they used to. Still wouldn’t go back to fencing, though. :-)

    Comment by Ty Johnston - September 19, 2014 1:22 pm

  2. I love that the Wikipedia page for Academic Fencing fails to mention that not only did the Nazi government ban the sport, but also just about every government in Europe and North America as well. The main reason it is practiced primarily in Germany is because most of the laws enacted by the Nazi government were thrown out (most of these fraternities are in Germany, Switzerland, and Poland), while the contemporary laws in the UK, France, Italy, and Spain are still on the books.

    I saw a few bouts in Switzerland when I was in Italy during an archeology field school years ago.

    The last few nights I’ve been watching The Roosevelts on PBS, and that is exactly the kind of thing Theodore Roosevelt was talking about when he spoke of Martial Honor. It’s also at the heart of what the Spanish call Machismo. The definition of anachronistic behavior.

    Comment by darangrissom - September 19, 2014 9:03 pm

  3. I saw a demonstration of Academic Fencing in Racine, WI last year at the bi-annual WMAW. As part of the entertainment at the Saturday feast, two of the instructors (Jake Norwood and Roland Warzecha donned the sparse facial protection and sparred with messers.

    The people I work with think I’m more than a little nuts that I gear up and spar with steel longswords and Bowie knives.

    Comment by Light in the Black - September 19, 2014 9:31 pm

  4. There was a story on the news last night about a crook on the run in Wichita Falls, TX, who broke into a house to hide. He decided to take his chances with the police when the owner of the house attacked him with a spear. It must have been a slow news night because the station devoted about two or three minutes to the story, even showing the trail of blood the crook left on his way out the back door.

    The video is embedded at the end of the news story: http://kfyo.com/texas-man-defends-home-by-stabbing-intruder-with-spear-video/

    Comment by westkeith - September 19, 2014 11:46 pm

  5. @Light in the Black

    > The people I work with think I’m more than a little nuts that I gear up and spar with steel longswords and Bowie knive

    See, we’re everywhere!!!

    Comment by M Harold Page - September 20, 2014 11:28 am

  6. @M Harold Page

    > See, we’re everywhere!!!

    “No one knew we were among you…Until now.”

    (Queue’s Queen)

    Comment by Light in the Black - September 21, 2014 11:27 am

  7. […] there are people among us that know how to use historical weapons, that can wield a real sabre, not the bendy car aerial sports variety, have fought in plate armour, […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » Four Books on Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) - October 2, 2014 5:45 pm


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