And Yet the Blade

Posted July 14, 2008

In our day and age many historically favored pastimes are rejected in favor of more "sophisticated" amusements. One example is the art of Celtic dance as preserved in the still practiced Scottish Country dance. Though there are thousands of practitioners worldwide, this art by and large has fallen off in favor of more modern "dances". It was enjoyed by people of all ages at various social functions. It provided simple dances for beginners and young ones, and yet still had compelling numbers for those whose greater skill called for more challenge. This has always led to personal development in both physical and mental realms (believe me, Scottish dance can be quite a mental en devour).

Another example of such a historical pastime is the age-old art of fighting with the longsword. The original weapon we here refer to was developed by the Germans and was used to great effect against Roman invaders in instances such as the little known battle of Touteberg forest. Germany having once included the modern nations of France and Spain (among others) as well as exerting a heavy influence on Great Britain by the Anglo-Saxon migrations may also take credit for later derivations of the weapon throughout Christendom. The most well known variant must be the standard European longsword popularized sometimes as "the crusader sword". It had a straight, broad blade, a cross-guard for protecting the hands, and a somewhat thinner blade than the length and breadth of the weapon would seem to demand, relying rather on precise geometric patterns to absorb the force of an opposing object (weapons, armor, etc).

Another well known strain of this line of weapons is found in Scotland. This weapon (known as the highland claymore) was rather shorter than other longswords in use throughout the middle ages, probably due to the marshy and mountainous nature of the territory it was generally used in. The claymore also had a distinction in the design of the cross-guard in that rather than branching out from the weapon at a right angle the two arms rather bent toward the blade at a varying degree, presumably to allow greater freedom to the wrists in combat. The shortness of the weapon inevitably led to its being lighter than the normal variant and therefore would render itself more easily balanced causing the claymore to be a faster and more agile (if not stronger) blade.

The great exception to this pattern is the famed Wallace sword. Named so after its owner William Wallace, this monster was more than a foot longer than its contemporary counterparts, probably due to the fact that the owner was himself of prodigious size and of legendary strength. This weapon when wielded by its master, would cleave through raised sword, shield, arm, helm, and skull.

In contrast modern fencing incorporates the techniques and weapons of a somewhat later period, namely the rapier and sabre. As firearms caught on, broadswords such as the claymore and other European longswords became cumbersome in a battlefield quickly being ruled by the speed of the warrior rather than the temper of his steel. The rapier was a straight, one-handed weapon used primarily for thrusting and sometimes useless for cutting except in cases of extremely tough steel. The sabre or saber as it's more commonly spelled today was designed as a cutting or slashing weapon. It was often fashioned as a backsword meaning it only had one sharpened edge and sometimes with a curve. This curve would shorten the length of the weapon making it more mobile without decreasing the actual blade length. These were a favorite amongst cavalry. The three categories of modern fencing are foil, epee (both taken from the rapier I believe), and the sabre. The actual weapons wielded by practitioners of this more modern art are merely stout wires with electronics wired in (for scoring).

The weapons I started learning longsword with (see my other sword post) were fashioned from two hockey sticks due to the toughness of the wood and that we just happened to have two lying around. They were measured for size based on a standard highland claymore. Even though these are much lighter than steel one half-hour's exercise will try one's arms sorely. Just this simple practice has given me a greater respect for my ancestors who wielded such a blade. We have recently acquired padding for the blades, allowing us to start full-force, full-speed training.

Fighting with longswords gives a greater appreciation for one's ancestors as well as strengthening the body and mind of the combatant. I hope to continue with my siblings and perhaps introduce other friends and relatives into this enjoyable exercise.