Beginning Swordplay, Part 2

Week two of classes began with my getting ill, and subsequently missing the next class. We had been assured at the beginning of the course, however, that there were multiple catch-up options. I was easily able to arrange a half-hour session before the beginning of the Wednesday class to cover what I had missed through my convalescence. During week one we had been told that this was an option for any of the students in the class. I didn’t request a specific instructor, but Selman came to my rescue.

What I had missed was the first lesson on the defensive use of the longsword. The cuts we’d worked on the previous week were entirely offensive. The defensive side of things is slightly more complex, which personally, I found more interesting. It was more technical, and felt more proactive towards actually winning a fight. There are several different ways to defend against an opponent, and in the beginning it was very overwhelming. I felt a little bit in over my head at the start of class number four, having missed class number three and only catching up on it a few minutes earlier. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, though. The instructors, as always, were very patient, and while I hadn’t had as much practice as the others in my class, I was nowhere near as behind as I thought I was. Almost as though the material I’d learned in the first week had stuck with me!

Throughout these classes, what I was learning, apart from the basics of the longsword, was just how complex the weapon itself could be. Contrary to what film, television, and my own preconceived opinions would have me believe, it wasn’t just a matter of waving a heavy piece of metal around and hoping it would hit an opponent hard enough to knock them out. The form that the longsword requires was far more than what I had expected. Moving on to defensive use of the sword also revealed just how deceptive the weapon could be. One defence is simply deflecting your opponent’s sword by getting behind it with yours and helping it along further in the direction it is already going. This is very effective. We also learned how to collect our opponent’s sword, or how to catch it in such a way that it’s no longer a threat. Coupled with the thrusting method that we were shown, which is less of a stabbing motion and more putting your sword in such a position that your opponent walks into it, I was finally started to feel like I wouldn’t be killed immediately in a swordfight. Lastly, we learned how to you can cut into an opponent’s sword, meeting their cut with one of your own. This added another layer to what was already shaping up to be a far more interesting weapon than I had initially believed.

The other side of the longsword, the actual physicality of using it, was also a learning process for me. Compounding upon the challenge already posed by the material within the first four classes, for the last fraction of each we put weapons away and participated in  grappling sessions. As with everything else in the class, at the beginning I was sceptical.  In this particular instance, I questioned the relevance that old-fashioned wrestling had to the other topics covered. Surely if I’m learning to swordfight, the point is to take someone with my sword before they got a chance to engage me themselves? As with everything else, I was both wrong and misinformed.  The grappling portion of the class focused on something called ‘structure’, a strong, stable stance. Initially we worked on developing this structure, and moving within the stance in a stable way. This led to a lot of ridiculous moments featuring my trying to lead a partner across the room by their elbow while they desperately attempted to prevent me from doing so. Moving on from this, we worked on ways to break our opponent’s structure. Despite my misgivings, I found this to be a lot of fun because it was mostly about finding creative ways to knock someone over.

The grappling fed in almost seamlessly in with the swordplay portion of the classes. I hadn’t realised until actually working on the defensive longsword material, but I was immediately dropping into grappling structure when practicing with the longsword. The stance provided me with more stability when actually swinging the longsword, and helped me work with the sword. I was finding it far less awkward than I had been back in the beginning. The other, more exciting way that grappling and swordplay fed into each other was the structure-breaking element. Breaking someone’s structure in grappling wasn’t very different to breaking their structure with a sword. Of course, this was all planned by our instructors for the purpose of building our skills towards being able to spar safely, — I just hadn’t realised at the time.

Next week, we pick up a new type of sword, and learn the satisfying sound that is steel on steel!

This is part 2 of a four-part series. You can read part one here.


devonboorman Devon Boorman is the Co-Founder and Director of Academie Duello Centre for Swordplay, which has been active in Vancouver, Canada since 2004. Devon’s expertise centres on the Italian swordplay tradition including the arts of the Renaissance Italian rapier, sidesword, and longsword, as well as knife and unarmed techniques.
Read more from Devon Boorman.