The Longsword/Broadsword divide

One of the relatively recent and ongoing debates within the Society of American Fight Directors revolves around a category we’ve been calling “Broadsword” for years. It’s a slightly problematic term, since it’s historically been used for a variety of things, and not at all specifically for the hand-and-a-half cruciform swords the SAFD uses to to refer to – something that probably has as much to do with pop culture and misinformation than historical research. Calling it a broadsword probably won’t make any D&D players bat an eye, for example. But stylistically, functionally, and historically the most accurate parallel would be the longsword, something that has been experiencing a second (or third, if you include the Victorian-era rediscovery with folks like Hutton) renaissance.

“Fetch me my longsword, ho!” – Lord Montague

We now have a wealth of translations and reprints available, active HEMA and WMA groups scattered around the globe, longsword fencing tournaments, specialized vendors making fencing feders and sharps for cutting practice, ongoing conversations between those who go deep into the German or Italian traditions… exciting developments, most of which I’ve watched happen since I first started in stage combat, and while I dabbled, enjoyed, and incorporated some of this into my work, the depth of knowledge and skill  that has disseminated has left me in the dust.

So we now have various levels of experience, comfort, and interest in this within stage combat. Many of us initially trained in a very different, much more stagey system, using way over-weighted props, slower tempos, exaggerated movements, etc. – but there’s also various places where we can see European reenactors, HEMA groups, or a select few stage combat choreographers who try to reconcile the deadly techniques of combative or competitive longsword (which frequently includes things like stabs to the face) with the needs of dramatic storytelling. I remember the gasps from those of us on the Paddy Crean workshop field trip down to the Royal Armoury at Leeds in ’00, before the Edinburgh workshop, when we first saw the interpreters there do a full-speed thrust towards someone’s face, or the glee we had at watching Paul Macdonald and Andrea Lupo Sinclair take each other down with longsword binds and grappling.

It’s been slow to work its way into the mainstream though, either in live theatre or video, but it’s happening. Since I’ve seen several of these examples go viral in the past few months amongst my social media channels, I thought I’d compile and share a few favorites here:

First, more of a demo reel than story, but here’s the one and only Nigel Poulton (of both the Australian and American fight societies, and probably a few more besides) demonstrating some of what he’s been working on.

 

Another that was making the rounds this past week or two, from people I don’t personally know but who’ve been playing with mixing WMA content in for years now:

 

…and stepping away from the Germans,  here’s one for the Italian fans:

The inserts of the Fiore plates are a nice touch – it’s used a bit like the planning sequences in the Robert Downy Jr. “Sherlock Holmes” movies (featuring the excellent work of Fight Master Richard Ryan), but also shows the great interpretation of the historical material.  A shorter excerpt of just that section has been making the rounds as well.

Sadly the closest study group to me is still several hours’ drive away, but I’ll get to play with some of this again I suspect at this winter’s Paddy Crean Workshop, where I’m very excited to be returning as staff. Come join us in Banff – it’s not too late to register!

 

 

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