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Stuff You Didn’t Know About Medieval Swordplay

3 min read
Monty Python and the Holy Grail - the Black Knight
Not pictured: the number of times King Arthur hit the tree by accident

As a weapons geek and medieval swordplay enthusiast, I’m often reminded how little people understand about what’s actually involved in swinging a sword around. To that end, please allow me to blather on a bit about swordplay while I’m drinking coffee and pretending to be some kind of expert.

Have you ever wanted to develop really strong arms

Boy, do I ever have a surefire way of getting HELLA ripped for you! Forget going to the gym, lifting heavy weights, and grunting repeatedly; what you need to do is spend an hour a day spinning five feet of forged steel over your head.

I can still remember the first time I picked up a longsword. By the end of that first class, it felt like my shoulders were about to fall off and crawl away under their own power. My arms hurt, like seriously hurt! The delayed muscle soreness the following day was pure, unadulterated agony, and I couldn’t lift anything heavier than the coffee cup I’m currently holding.

Swords are actually pretty light. You will definitely be able to pick one up, they’re only about four pounds at the most. The whole idea of heavy swords is pure nonsense, and here’s a really good reason why: the distribution of that weight and the way you have to work to move it through space is grueling, even at only a couple of pounds. So clearly the appropriate formula for acquiring massive gains is to pretend you’re an extra in Game of Thrones a few times a week.

Never practice swordplay on a floor you care about

Now, for all I know, you’re into short weapons and you don’t usually drop them, which means you are nothing at all like me, Ms. Butterfingers. But one of the very un-sexy things that no one ever mentions about practicing swordplay is the amount of damage it does to the floor.

I love my longsword, and I love practicing with swords taller than I am, but trust me on this: never, ever do it on a floor that you don’t want to see ruined. I have bounced swords off the floor more often than I can count; I have straight up dropped big swords because I was trying out something and fumbled the hilt. And you learn–dear gods above, you learn–that it’s better to let it fall and get your feet out of the way rather than get your toes broken.

Short weapons are their own level of crazy. Doing spins and flicks with a blade like a karambit looks really awesome, but may also come with a side order of launching the weapon across the room when you mess it up. (Side note: I’ve done this several times. I’ve no idea how my karambits are still in one piece.)

Sudden Opinions on Every Star Wars Movie

I want you to know that it’s okay, this is entirely normal, and it’s nothing to be worried about. Once you’ve been practicing medieval swordplay for any great length of time, you will develop very strong opinions on everything to do with lightsabers and lightsaber fights in the Star Wars movies.

You may twitch uncontrollably at the sight of terrible lightsaber ballet in the prequels, and also wax lyrical about how the use of the swordfighting in the original trilogy made far more sense and everything else is complete rubbish. You may also start worshipping Bob Anderson, the legendary fight choreographer who taught Errol Flynn how to rock a rapier.

Really? Just me? …Okay then.

Well, that’s it for my coffee, and now I’ve got to go and work on my quarterstaff drills. Hopefully I’ll be able to avoid hitting myself on the back of the head more than once. Stay safe out there, true believers!


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