Que se passe-t-il si un épéiste européen, du Moyen Âge ou de la Renaissance, s'en vient à croiser le fer avec un samouraï japonais de la même période? Il perd? Rapidement? C'est une question pas très fine -- du genre "qui a la plus grosse?" -- mais elle révèle notre ignorance crasse de l'Art du combat en Europe avant que les armes à feu ne remplacent totalement les armes de contact.
Si l'on associe facilement les termes mêmes d'Art martial à l'Extrême-orient, peut-on aussi parler d'Arts martiaux européens? Et je ne parle pas de formes de combat à mains nues, comme la boxe française, le pancrace ou le samoz, je parle de formes de combat avec des armes de contact, et notamment l'épée. Biberonné aux films et séries médiévales ou pseudo-médiévales, j'ai tendance à me représenter les combats à l'épée "européens" comme beaucoup plus lourdauds, et sans vraie technique, que leurs équivalents asiatiques. Genre: le chevalier en armures de plaques qui concentre tous ses efforts dans le soulèvement de son épée trop lourde pour asséner un coup de bûcheron sur un autre chevalier immobilisé par son armure trop lourde... Cliché?
Si les Japonais ont su garder vivants leurs anciens Arts martiaux -- du moins, c'est ainsi que je me représente les choses --, tel n'est pas le cas des Européens. Les Arts martiaux européens ont été peu à peu occultés et oubliés par le développement des armes à feu. Et nous en sommes réduits à essayer d'imaginer à quoi pouvait bien ressembler un combat au Moyen Âge ou à la Renaissance, n'ayant pas d'exemples modernes des formes de combat de l'époque. Et, de manière générale, les habitants du continent ont une piètre opinion de l'usage que leurs ancêtres pouvaient faire d'une arme de contact en ces âges lointains et barbares. Ça participe d'une vision noire du Moyen Âge européen, en France notamment (lisez l'excellent Pour en finir avec le Moyen Âge de Régine Pernoud, pour prendre la mesure de la piètre considération dont pâtit cette période de l'Histoire).
Heureusement, il y a Casus no et le lien que j'y ai trouvé vers Top Myths of Renaissance Martial Arts, un excellent article publié par the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts. Son auteur cherche à démonter un gros bataillon d'idées reçues concernant le combat tel qu'il était pratiqué en Europe, de l'An Mil jusqu'au développement des armes à feu à l'époque moderne. Je ne maîtrise pas assez le sujet pour me rendre compte du sérieux de son propos mais ça reste une lecture particulièrement intéressante. Surtout pour un rôliste! L'article est en anglais: désolé pour celles et ceux qui peinent avec cette langue.
Je vous refile l'article tel quel. On verra après son intérêt pour mon JdR préféré.
TOP MYTHS OF RENAISSANCE MARTIAL ARTS
The diverse range of misconceptions and erroneous beliefs within historical fencing studies today is considerable. But there are perhaps some myths that are more common, and more pervasive, than others. This webpage presents an ongoing project that will continually try in an informal and condensed manner to help address some of these mistaken beliefs.
Serious investigation and exploration of the legitimate historical sources of actual Renaissance Martial Arts (or "MARE" for short) today is still in its early stages. It is no difficult thing to accept that few today have the opportunity and resources by which to pursue the study of historical fencing, academically and physically, to an exceptional degree of proficiency and certainty. The obvious fact is that most people are not equipped to properly evaluate a great deal of the information and opinions about historical fighting and arms and armor they may encounter, as they lack the physical skills, historical materials, and scholarly experience by which to do so confidently. What would even constitute such expertise in a subject matter long on opinions and short on knowledge is itself open to discussion.
Unfortunately, as with much historical information many claims are often tentative and can neither be verified nor falsified but only weighed according to what evidence has been accumulated. But when it comes to historical close combat reliable evidence is frequently missing or substituted with myth.
For the vast majority of students of historical swords and swordplay, education in the subject is self-directed and ad hoc. It should come as no great surprise then, that despite a keen interest in this subject some enthusiasts are nonetheless extraordinarily misinformed about historical arms and armor and their actual use. Misconceptions and distortions long present in popular media combined with the pervasive influence of inaccurate sources of information all but guarantee the problem. Some of this is merely due to insufficient quality learning materials while another element of it is admittedly due to willful ignorance on the part of some enthusiasts.
It sometimes seems the case that because for so long there have been no credible experts or demonstrable expertise in this subject it has allowed most anyone to feel especially confident or well informed just by following the generally available sources of conventional wisdom, whether or not they are credible, accurate, or complete. But, one would hope that because there are so few who can speak with authority on matters of historical European fighting arts, especially swordplay, such would now be readily welcomed by every interested person.
For some reason though, when it comes to swords and swordplay, there is, for a few, a sort of emotional investment involved in holding certain beliefs that often precludes continued education or improvement of opinions. It is not all that unusual to encounter an attitude of essentially, "I don't really know anything about this and even if I did I wouldn't change my mind." This is all the more remarkable considering that what many already believe is largely acquired from exposure to the information of others that they themselves at some point had to read, view, or simply assume.
The following are those myths we most frequently encounter today provided with a brief refutation of the notion. While each itself could be the subject of pages of material complete with citations of documented sources of supporting evidence, and explanatory footnotes covering their origin and promulgation, they are addressed here for quick reference only in summary:
1. There were no "martial arts" in Western European civilization.
False. Combative systems developed the world over, and Europe from the time of the Ancient Greeks through the 19th century had indigenous traditions of highly effective and sophisticated fighting arts that were passed down and recorded. Though these skills eventually altered, atrophied, or became extinct due to changes in military technology and social conditions, these methods and teachings from the Medieval and Renaissance periods were well documented at the time in numerous volumes. Their efficacy and formidability is virtually self-evident. The practice of the martial arts of Renaissance Europe (which we might conveniently abbreviate as “MARE”) is a subject that has to be reconstituted and restored by holistic study of its surviving teachings. Experts from the 14th to 17th centuries left behind for us unmatched historical documentation for their personal combat methods covering the reality of self-defense in battle, duel, or street encounter. This vast technical literature represents for us "time-capsules" of authenticity for us, in that they are undiluted and unpolluted by the civilianizing de-martialization that later occurs as generation after generation no longer has need to practice such integrated combat skills. See: An Introduction to Historical European Martial Arts and Renaissance Martial Arts Literature and The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe.
2. Medieval and Renaissance fencing were not real "arts" of codified fighting systems based on any higher scientific principles, but just collections of "tricks" and unconnected techniques with some wrestling thrown in.
False. The prejudice that Medieval or Renaissance close combat skill was based on little more than heavy weapons and strong blows and lacked any larger "art" of established principles and systematic concepts is largely the result of ignorance by 18th and 19th century fencing masters and fencing writers. Having transitioned to narrower and more specialized applications of swordsmanship, they lost not only the old skills but understanding of how and why they existed as well as by what manner they were taught and practiced. From their perspective, primarily focused as they were on gentlemanly duels of single combat with single identical swords under fair conditions, their perspective was skewed and flawed. With little surviving from pre-Renaissance fighting arts, they interpreted unfamiliar armors, weapons, and heavier sword types designed for battlefield or street fighting only through the prism of what little they understood from their Baroque fencing style. That they did so with typical Enlightenment-era presumption or Victorian-era arrogance is understandable, though incorrect. The influence of their view survives to modern times. Today however it is an established historical fact that Medieval and Renaissance fighting was highly systematized and incorporated a diverse range of personal combat skills and weaponry well outside that of the more limited craft of 18th and 19th century fencing. See: An Introduction to Historical European Martial Arts and Renaissance Martial Arts Literature.
3. Medieval and Renaissance unarmed fighting methods were less developed and less sophisticated than elsewhere in the world.
False. There were a variety of grappling styles and wrestling sports practiced across Europe since ancient times. The surviving manuals and illustrated study guides featuring these teachings reveal a sophisticated understanding of unarmed self-defense and combat wrestling techniques, including understanding of: throws, joint locks, groundfighting, wrist locks, open hand blows, kicks, bone breaking, and even pressure-point manipulation. Though they emphasized grappling over pugilism and a preference for the power of armed over unarmed fighting, to argue any of this is somehow "less developed" or "inferior" to other versions is a non-falsifiable premise since we cannot truly know the full extent and skill of Medieval and Renaissance combatives and their modern reconstruction is still in its infancy. The reason these skills faded and were lost is almost entirely due to the impact of handguns and other firearms on Western civilization. See: Grappling & Wrestling in Renaissance Fencing.
4. Knights in full plate armor were clumsy and slow.
False. The popular belief in untutored knights clumsily swinging crude swords while awkwardly lumbering around in heavy armor is inaccurate and uninformed. Mistaken claims that Medieval armored horsemen had become clanking tanks or that unhorsed a knight was at his foe's mercy have become common even among some medieval historians. A warrior in plate armor was far from being the sluggish lobster so frequently mischaracterized by military writers. While an armored man was not as agile as an unarmored one, plate armor overall was well balanced and ingeniously designed to permit considerable maneuverability and nimbleness. This fact is clearly expressed in the fighting literature on armored combat and born out by modern experiments in both antique armor specimens and historically accurate reproductions. Unlike what has been notoriously misrepresented in popular culture, a well-trained and physically conditioned man fighting in full harness was typically a formidable opponent (and there were many different kinds of armor for foot or mounted combat). But this is not to say that fighting in full plate armor was not tiresome or stifling. Armor restricted breathing and ability to ventilate body heat, as well as limited vision and hearing. If armor did not work well it would not have been around for so long in so many different forms. (For more on this see: "Medieval Armor: Plated Perfection" in Military History, July 2005).
5. A science of thrust fencing replaced cruder cutting swordplay by the 16th century.
False. Thrusting was an important and integral part of Western fencing since the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Thrusting was long recognized as a dangerous and deadly technique in Medieval fencing as far back as the 13th century. Narrow tapering swords with very sharp points, both single and double-handed, were widely used for both military and civilian fighting beginning in the 14th century. These were the ancestors of those longer, lighter, narrower swords appearing in the early 16th century for street-fighting and duelling. Specialized thrusting swords with stiff heavy blades for puncturing the gaps in plate armor were also produced as early as the 14th century and versions continued to be used into the mid-17th. By the early 16th century, as armor use declined due to increasingly effective firearms while the need for individual close-combat skills decreased on the battlefield for similar reasons, there was an increased amount of civilian combat and duelling. Large crowded urban centers saw an increase in private armed fighting among all classes and a thrusting method of unarmed fencing suited to these encounters quickly developed. Under these conditions new lighter, longer, quick thrusting single-hand swords, called rapiers and specifically intended for unarmored combat, gained advantage over more traditional military cut-and-thrust swords. They were soon adopted by the aristocracy as the dueling weapon of choice. During the 16th century, as this new "foyning fence" (thrusting swordplay) using long narrow blades for unarmored civilian fighting took hold, it was seen as a new innovation. In keeping with the renewed cultural interest in all things classical at the time, it was also viewed as reflecting something of the enlightened thrusting swordplay of the ancient Romans. While over the next two centuries a methodical thrust-oriented swordplay came to dominate civilian fencing and duelling in Western Europe, especially among the aristocracy, styles of cut-and-thrust swordplay continued in use and new types of swords were still being devised all the way up to the early 20th century. The orthodox and now cliché view of fencing history for sometime has been that at some point in the early 16th century men suddenly realized that thrusting was better than cutting and quickly lightened their weapons and discarded their armor, which was already being made obsolete by guns and crossbows. The usual belief goes that along with change in sword forms eventually came a more "scientific" and "proper" mode of fencing that leads in a linear evolution to today's modern fencing sport. This is inaccurate and the truth is much more complicated and much more interesting. Fencing history and European martial arts were far more diverse and sophisticated than once believed, with many branches, styles, and methods, each adapted to a particular niche at a particular place and time. See: Questions and Answers About the Rapier and The Myth of Cutting vs. Thrusting Swords.
6. Medieval swords were heavy and weighed tens of pounds.
False. Despite what is continually misrepresented in popular media and literature on fencing, fighting swords of the Medieval and Renaissance eras were fairly light, well-balanced, ingeniously designed, exceptionally well-made, and properly proportioned for their purposes. They were neither heavy nor poorly balanced for the challenges they faced and the tasks they were designed for. See: What did Historical Swords Weigh? and The Weighty Issue of Two-Handed Greatswords.
7. Weighty swords were at first needed to bludgeon and crush armor and only later when armor use declined did swords become lighter for skillfully thrusting with the point.
False. The notion that heavy swords were "necessary" to crudely bash and hack at combatants in heavy armor is a considerably inaccurate and misinformed one. Virtually all Medieval close-combat can be shown to have involved some sort of systematic basis and principled action involving cutting and thrusting techniques. These were optimized for the type of arms and armors encountered at the time. Thrusting has always been important in close-combat, especially armored swordplay, where it is actually the primary form of attack precisely because hacking and chopping are typically much less effective against armors. (It was after all following the era of armored combat that large curved chopping blades actually experienced a resurgence in European cavalries.) Cutting blades naturally require a certain mass to produced optimal impacts, whereas thrusting swords ideally benefit from lightness that permits an agile point. Quite often specialized swords developed as ideal for one situation or condition of fighting would prove disastrous if employed in another. The later development of much lighter single-hand thrusting swords therefore reflected a transition away from the more complex self-defense challenges of a military environment and more toward civilian concerns of unarmored single combat. Compared to modern featherweight versions, historical swords that for centuries proved effective and formidable fighting tools can therefore only be viewed as somehow "heavy" or "awkward" if you are unused to properly training with them at length following proper methods.
8. Swords were not primary weapons during the Middle Ages.
False. Swords were neither cheap nor easy to make and took considerably more training to wield effectively than did simple axes, spears, and club-like weapons. For these reasons swords were also associated with knights and men-at-arms more so than with common soldiers. Other weapons were certainly more numerous on the battlefield but the sword was still a primary weapon of choice for close-combat precisely due to its versatility and effectiveness against a range of different opponents, armored or unarmored, foot or mounted. The sword in its various forms was the most personal weapon, the most prestigious, and the most resourceful. While by the 16th century it did come to find a greater role in civilian self-defense than in war, its effectiveness was undeniable and reason why it persisted in so many different forms for so long. Although the sword is sometimes described as being a secondary weapon in the Middle Ages and even as one that was more a badge of nobility or authority than practical, this can confidently be dismissed as inaccurate. While the lore of the sword as a noble "knightly" weapon is unmistakable, the evidence for its use by non-knightly warriors in military and civilian self-defense during the period is considerable. Considering their ubiquity in literature and art throughout the 11th to 17th centuries, the volumes of material written on methods for fighting with these tools, the extensive variety of types produced compared to other weapons from the era, their versatility as fighting implements, and their military as well as civilian application, their value practical is self-evident.
9. Only knights were permitted to use swords in the Middle Ages.
False. Though the sword is closely identified with knights and knighthood, virtually any foot soldier or fighting man could employ a sword and was expected to know something about doing so. Many early fencing teachers were themselves commoners, and urban militias made up of ordinary citizens were frequently equipped with swords. Knights might also have retinues of non-knightly retainers who were armed with swords and mercenary bands were a common element of medieval warfare. By the late 15th century entire fighting guilds and schools run by common tradesmen and craftsmen trained and taught the use of all manner of swords. There were several attempts at different times in different parts of Europe to restrict the wearing or owning of swords by commoners (or their use in judicial duels), but such attempts at arms control were frequently violated and largely unenforceable. By the 16th century, the wearing of some sort of sword by any fighting-man, nobleman, gentleman, militiaman, mercenary, soldier, sailor, tradesman, guildsman, or brigand was fairly common in most cities of Western Europe.
10. Medieval and Renaissance swords were generally of inferior quality and workmanship.
False. There is no reason whatsoever to believe that Medieval and Renaissance swords were anything but superbly made and well-crafted weapons carefully designed as highly effective fighting tools. Metallurgical study of swords has confirmed they reflected considerable knowledge of how to produce resilient high-carbon blades with hard steel edges, while investigation of their designs has demonstrated their utility and functionality. Fighting men of this time were no fools and for centuries their self-defense weapons reflected the highest level of technology and craftsmanship. The quality and accuracy of modern reproductions of such swords, however, is an entirely different matter. See: Critical Characteristics of Historical Swords and "Hey, Mister, is that sword real?"
11. Medieval and Renaissance swords were not very sharp.
False. There are different degrees of "sharpness" and a sword was sharpened according to the material it was expected to penetrate and the degree of bevel its edge geometry could support. Different sword types required and permitted different degrees of sharpness. But even a dull or unsharpened edge could produce a serious wound provided it struck strongly and had sufficient mass and hardness. Surviving sword specimens, the instructions for their use, and historical descriptions of the injuries they produced confirm that Medieval and Renaissance swords were indeed very sharp, though not always to same degree along their entire length.
12. Curved swords were not known in Medieval and Renaissance Europe.
False. Curved blades indigenous to Western Europe were known since the time of Ancient Greece and some types were used until the 20th century. During the Medieval and Renaissance eras several types of curved blade were used by both knights and common soldiers. Some of these resemble Eastern scimitars and sabres while others were unique forms. These swords go by names such as falchion, badelaire, braquemart, storta, and many more. See: The Myth of Cutting vs. Thrusting Swords.
13. Fighting with a sword and shield was the typical method of Medieval foot-combat.
False. Despite their ubiquity in popular media's depictions of Medieval combat, and their close association with knights and medieval warriors, by the 14th century large shields were actually uncommon and all but disappeared from battles and single combats. This decline continued as the decades wore on. Rather than a single-handed short sword with large shield, soldiers, knights and men-at-arms were equipped typically with double-handed weapons (whether polearms, hafted weapons, or double-hand swords), or with two weapon combinations (swords with maces, axes, daggers, etc.). Large shields survived as specialized tools mostly for sieges and judicial combats but were not primary equipment. Smaller bucklers and other hand shields were by far more common than larger shields and typically served as a principal means of training.
14. Sword and buckler fencing was practiced only by commoners.
False. Considerable evidence establishes the weapon combination served for several centuries as a primary training method for fencing among all classes, especially knights. Many study guides on its use were produced over the centuries. It was considered a military style, even though civilians did frequently train in it. By the late 16th century it fell out of general favor as a common tool for war as well as street defense and private duel. See: The Sword & Buckler Tradition.
15. Fencing reached a "golden age" in Europe during the 19th century.
False. This can be proven demonstrably inaccurate on several levels. By the early 18th century, the vast array of traditional arms and armor as well as heavy cutting blades for self-defense, duel, or battlefield close combat were already all but obsolete and no style based upon earlier Medieval and Renaissance cutting swordplay survived. The foyning fence of the civilian smallsword, descended from the 17th century rapier, provided the foundation for nearly all fencing instruction thereafter. Fencers in this period, disconnected from and ignorant of martial arts from previous centuries, came therefore to incorrectly believe that their own method of fencing for gentlemanly single duels with light slender thrusting swords or light dueling sabres was a superior "evolutionary" advance over the vicious and brutal ways of the distant past. Concern for aesthetics and form came to dominate how certain men chose to defend themselves. The modern myth then developed that "crude and simplistic" cutting had been replaced by "superior" thrusting. With the emergence of modern militaries in the new age of advanced firearms and cannon, the environment and conditions under which men now fought in earnest with swords and other hand weapons was much less frequent, far less demanding and not nearly as diverse as it had been in the pre-Baroque era. Fencing by the 19th century became far more specialized and narrowly focused on formal duels of gentlemanly single-combat with secondary considerations for light cavalry. Even among the limited military use of sabers, broadswords, and cutlasses, gone now were any concerns for fighting under varied circumstances against multiple opponents, dissimilar weaponry, pole-arms, shields, or armors. Virtually totally absent now were concerns about closing-in techniques for seizing and disarming, grappling and wrestling, two-weapon combinations, etc.; in effect, all the considerations that encompass all-out fighting for a martial art of battlefield utility or general self-defense. Fencing also shifted in this era toward less serious and less potentially dangerous duelling to eventually become a sporting game. Thus, rather than any "golden age" of refined and "superior science" of defense, fencing in this period metamorphosed into a sport and therefore can be viewed instead as a remnant of earlier more sophisticated and dynamic European martial traditions. See: Historical Fencing Studies: The British Heritage.
16. Traditions of Medieval and Renaissance fighting arts survived as a "living lineage."
False. Over time through disuse and neglect the necessity for close-combat skill with older arms and armor vanished and were replaced by newer concerns primarily for ritual duels and sporting play. The very reason we must now reconstruct and revive these lost arts from historical source literature is precisely because they first grew irrelevant, then obsolete, soon atrophied, then finally became almost wholly extinct. That is why so little is known about them. No one living today was trained by any historical (i.e., Medieval or Renaissance) Master of Defence or even by anyone who themselves was indirectly trained by one. No one living today has experience in using authentic Medieval and Renaissance weaponry in life and death combat nor was trained by anyone who had. No one living today was taught by anyone who retained unchanging knowledge of these old styles and lost systems. Nor can anyone living today document with verifiable evidence that any genuine surviving teachings or methods from these old methods persisted unbroken down through the centuries as either a local custom or cultural tradition. Time has severed the links. There was a cultural and pedagogical disconnect. While there are core similarities and fundamental principles universal to the concept of armed combat that have remained unchanged, our modern fencing is based largely upon Baroque-era styles and not upon the weaponry and skills of earlier European martial arts. Modern styles of fencing retain very little of Medieval and Renaissance era teachings and techniques. Instead they have for several centuries focused on substantially different kinds of tools used under considerably different conditions of practice. Starting in the late 19th century a handful of historians of arms and fencing masters began an effort to explore earlier fighting methods, which they recognized as having been abandoned. But even then they had to struggle to rebuild and recover what little remained from those styles within their modern fencing as they knew no Medieval and Renaissance teachings still existed among masters or within schools. However, despite much pioneering experiment their respectable efforts resulted in an understanding that is now viewed as incomplete and flawed. There are no "living traditions" or "living lineages" of Medieval and Renaissance fencing. There is no method of combat-effective teachings (i.e., devised for and intended for use in real combat) from these eras that has survived as a martial down to even the 18th century, let alone later times. What little that has survived of earlier swordplay and weapon skills within modern fencing is derivative of fencing for ritualized dueling applied now within a purely sporting context. These styles, even the cut-and-thrust versions, are post-Renaissance in origin with little to no connection to the far older extinct systems now at last being systematically investigated and reconstructed. There are no more historical masters of Medieval or Renaissance fighting arts, nothing was hidden away or "secretly" preserved, and modern fencing masters are not the repositories for these styles of swordsmanship. Those claiming otherwise are frauds and deceivers. See: Historical Fencing Studies: The British Heritage & Martial Art or Combat Sport.
17. These extinct martial arts cannot be accurately reconstructed or credibly resurrected by relying on books.
False. We can recover the teachings and the fighting techniques from the voluminous technical manuals and highly detailed study guides the old masters left behind (many of which are heavily illustrated) provided we vigorously train and seriously experiment. We can further work now with these teachings derived from authentic historical sources in drill, exercise, and serious contact sparing, not merely some stunt routine or choreographed performance. This process of interpretation and application is not easy and requires considerable continuous effort, academically and physically, to test or revise assumptions. But we can reach a confident approximation of these lost fighting systems by following in the same manner by which they trained and the methods by which they practiced. The challenge is to do so in a manner that is historically valid and martially sound. What we redevelop may not be the exact art they had, since we do not study it for survival anymore. But nonetheless, it is no less accurate and authentic than any other "extant tradition" of martial art that has purportedly survived unaltered by oral tradition to present times without such a wealth of supporting literary and iconographic sources. Uniquely, the source literature of Renaissance Martial Arts itself tells us that reliance on books, while incomplete on its own, is vital for learning. Yes, we do have a continual task of subjective interpretation and analysis facing us -- even as we gain increasing confidence in understanding the totality of their teachings -- but such interpretation and subsequent experimental application is a necessary aspect of its revival. The means by which these skills were once acquired may be what is now missing to us, but the methods themselves were preserved. After all, the real richness of any martial tradition is in its physical movement and lessons on applying core principles, the things learned in person from those who know. This instructional literature, surviving among voluminous treatises and collected works, is therefore something that as a community of students we have very much inherited. Despite being extinct and little known, this material is unequaled in its technical and iconographic detail. It arguably represents the most well documented martial arts teachings in history. While we may never know with full confidence how our craft was authentically performed or practiced by the historical Masters of Defence, our source teachings don’t suffer from being sportified, commercialized, or mythologized. Thus, we have come to know --with great depth -- their theories, principles, concepts, techniques, and philosophy of self-defense. See: The Modern Study of Renaissance Martial Arts.
18. Some swords could cut through plate armor.
False. Although maile armor ("chain mail") was not foolproof against strong sword cuts, a fighter in full plate armor was however effectively immune to the edged blows of swords. There are no real-life accounts of edge blows effectively cutting through an armored harness; that is one reason why plate armor was so popular and so much effort put into perfecting it. Though swords were not capable of cutting through plate armor, a fighter would not avoid striking edge blows against an armored opponent if it might bruise or stun him, knock him about, tear into or crack open his helmet or visor, slice through straps and tear off pieces, or otherwise weaken his defense against a more effective technique such as a thrust. While sword cuts that would have been debilitating or lethal on bare flesh might have no effect against soft or hard types of armor, if delivered with great force they could sometimes traumatized the tissue and bone beneath and thereby incapacitate a target. Although, to be accurate, not all armor was of equal quality and some type of helms could indeed be partially split by edge blows from swords. While there are many images from Medieval sources of swords cutting into armor or through helmets, nothing in the historical accounts of actual armored combat or the voluminous instructional texts on armored fighting supports this as being common. Modern experiments, when performed under realistic conditions with historically accurate weapons using proper technique against historically accurate reproduction armor, have yet to convincingly duplicate what is depicted in such images. An armored fighter was still vulnerable to sharply-pointed tapering swords and other weapons employed in thrusting as well as to crushing from specialized anti-armor weapons. Yet even thrusts against plate armor were difficult to succeed with because it was intentionally designed to deflect and resist them, thus gaps and joints were typically targeted. Yet descriptions of fights with specialized weapons designed for fighting plate armor, such as pole-axes and maces, reveal even they were able to pierce through armor only infrequently. More often they were effective in simply denting and cracking armor to stun and bruise the wearer into a vulnerable condition. But, given strong effort and a hit to the right spot, a rigid point stabbing strongly could puncture armor even if its cutting edge would not. (See: "Medieval Armor: Plated Perfection" in Military History, July 2005).
19. There was no grappling or wrestling in rapier fencing.
False. Close-in techniques for seizing an opponent and throwing them, trapping their weapon, locking up their arm or otherwise immobilizing them, were common in Medieval and Renaissance fighting. They formed a vital foundation for all systems of defense and indeed grappling or wrestling were considered by many masters to be the basis of all fencing. Historical accounts of armed combat where these moves were employed are numerous while fencing texts from the period almost always included detailed sections on the craft or even entire works devoted to it. They even included kicking, empty hand strikes, joint locks, and nerve pinches. This applied to rapier fencing almost as much as it did to earlier forms of cut-and-thrust swordplay. See: Grappling & Wrestling in Renaissance Fencing.
20. Formal duels of honor were the preferred means of settling fights in the Renaissance.
False. The term "duel" can apply to a wide range of ritualized and formal fighting from judicial combats to street fights to formal duels of honor in the Medieval and Renaissance eras. The history of duelling in the Renaissance period has however tended to focus upon those accounts by a few chroniclers of the aristocracy who recorded the duels of nobles for their audiences of upper class peers; the ones with the leisure time to concern themselves with codes of honor and formal challenges to their reputation, character, and social status. These works have tended to focus upon formal duel and challenges and not on the more common everyday scuffles, street-fights, rencounters, affrays, ambushes, brawls, drunken violence, and assassinations, which predominated. Men went about armed after all not so they could just agree to formal combats at some later appointed time and place, but because they lived in a very violent world where self-defense was a necessity against the daily possibility of personal assault. Going about so armed probably prevented as many of these fights as it aggravated. However, popular culture and fencing histories since the 19th century (a time in which formal duels increased to become the norm at the same time their danger and lethality actually decreased) has tended to emphasize duels among cavalier gentlemen as being the standard of the period. This imprecise view more or less survives still today.
21. Only nobles fought duels.
False. Commoners as well as nobles in different parts of Europe fought different kinds of duels, both official and ad hoc. Judicial duels between commoners often had special rules in place concerning the conditions as distinct from those permitted nobles. Challenges to single combat between commoners, whether as sudden street-fights or more private affairs, both emulated as well as influenced the duels of honor among the aristocracy.
22. The rapier developed to defeat armor.
False. The rapier was specifically developed for unarmored civilian combat and was not a weapon of war for the battlefield. While it is frequently stated that larger swords were produced to face heavier armorers, the fact is, over time, swords actually got larger as armor use declined. Swords also eventually became lighter and thinner only as effective firearms all but eliminated the customary value of armor. During the age of plate armor special swords for piercing into its gaps and joints were developed but these stiff, heavy, edgeless weapons (sometimes known as tucks or estocs) were a different branch of sword family and not the forerunner of the later rapier. The true rapier developed rather out of existing cut-and-thrust arming swords ("side swords") for the purpose of urban self-defense and had no relation to traditional knightly weapons of war for fighting heavy armor. Indeed, many 16th and 17th century accounts refer to the inability of rapiers to pierce maile armor or even simple heavy leather coats. See: Questions and Answers About the Rapier.
23. The rapier was strictly a gentleman's weapon.
False. A weapon is not invented to fight itself, but created to fight (or outfight) existing arms and armor. So it was with the rapier. Renaissance swordsmen did not create it over night so that they could then go about asking others to duel them with the new invention. The rapier may have helped encouraged the later craze for private duels of honor but it was not their cause nor exclusive weapon. The rapier, interestingly, has no direct lineage to knightly weapons of war, which were the traditional tools of noble fighting men and those originally employed in their duels and judicial combats. Though it descended from cut-and-thrust style arming swords suited to military use, the rapier actually originated among common citizens and soldiers with their frequent street-fighting, brawling, urban gang wars, and yes, duelling. The earliest references to the weapon in use surrounds urban homicides, criminal assaults, and common fighting guilds, and was not immediately associated with either fencing masters or aristocratic duels of honor (as it was in time to become so closely linked to and perfected for). As the weapon and its new method of fencing became more and more associated with genteel duels of honor, wearing and using it became more than ever an expression of class and wealth (or at least pretensions to both).
24. True rapiers could make lethal or debilitating edge cuts.
False. No historical rapier text teaches, implies, or expresses that edge blows with true rapiers, that is, the slender narrow blade forms developed in the 1570s or 1580s, killed by cut. Indeed, several historical sources specifically criticized these kind of rapiers for their lack of lethal cutting capacity. No historical accounts in the voluminous evidence of rapier combats describe rapiers as killing with cuts (or debilitating limbs by edge blows) but only as producing assorted lacerations and scratches. Modern experiments with replica weapons as well as antique specimens supports this understanding. Despite what for decades has been depicted as being performed in stunt fencing with these weapons, true rapiers (unlike their cut-and-thrust cousins) simply lack the edge bevel, blade width, and weapon mass to produce lethal cutting wounds. As ideal thrusting swords that's simply not what they were designed to do, otherwise why even produce any wider cutting blades? See: Questions and Answers About the Rapier.
25. The Renaissance rapier replaced the older heavy and crude Medieval "broadsword."
False. The common view of European sword history has been that of a "progressive line" from wide "weighty" and "awkward" Medieval cutting blades used with one or two hands toward lighter cut-and-thrust forms, then the slender thrusting rapier, and finally the agile diminutive smallsword. This pervading view is simplistic, inaccurate, and misleading. The "evolution" of swords and fencing in Western Europe did not occur in a straight line and did not proceed in an environment immune from the technological and social transformation wrought by firearms and cannon. Medieval swords themselves existed in several forms, many of which were quite narrow. As swords necessary to fight against heavier weapons and armors became less necessary by the early 16th century due to changing military technology, a variety of versatile cut-and-thrust military swords came into use. From these the innovative rapier soon developed as a light, quick, thrusting weapon for self-defense in street fighting and urban duelling. Rapiers were ideal for this kind of unarmored civilian single-combat. But on the whole rapiers never faced and defeated military swords so that the later were somehow abandoned or discarded and fighting men switched over to the new sword en masse. A considerable variety of large cutting and thrusting blades in fact persisted in wide use throughout the rapier's popular run of roughly 200-years. It is a matter of history that swords and fencing in Europe each altered in response to changing martial and social factors. It is important to remember that in the Renaissance, as in the Middle Ages, there was continual experimentation going on in the development of effective sword designs and hence, continual exploration in ways of using them. The social and cultural changes in the early 1500s that produced the rapier and its affiliated schools of fence, as well as those in the late 1600s which brought about the smallsword, must each be viewed within their own martial context. Sword designs did not change by themselves. Men changed them. They changed them to do new things or better things that previous existing kinds of swords did not. It is by identifying and understanding just what those things were that we can better understand the history and metamorphosis of swords.
26. The 18th century smallsword defeated and replaced the longer, slower, clumsier rapier.
False. There is no evidence that longer thrusting blades for unarmored combat were somehow deemed suddenly inferior to shorter and lighter ones so that fighting men switched to it out of necessity. There is also no evidence that rapiers were either defeated or overcome by a new design of quicker thrusting sword. No accounts of sword duels or combats are known to substantially support such a view. The earliest smallsword fencing texts also do not address the gradual change in sword styles and the commensurate altering of technique that took place in civilian swordplay during the mid-to-late 17th century. This process of transition itself did not occur all at once. The Baroque smallsword developed among the aristocracy from the rapier rather as a more convenient and more elegant weapon of formal gentlemanly duels at a time when swords themselves (especially inconveniently long ones) were becoming increasingly obsolete for war as well as irrelevant for general self-defense. The smallsword (court-sword or walking-sword) was easy to manage and carry about crowded towns, when riding in carriages or wearing with ornate formal clothing in an age when aesthetics and style was increasingly important within aristocratic culture. It reflected a style of fighting emphasizing deportment, composure, grace, finesse, and proper decorum rather than sheer martial effectiveness and the weapon was often worn solely as ornamentation by anyone professing gentility. It was an effective tool but did not regularly face, nor was it called upon to resist, the diverse range of weapons and opponents that its Renaissance ancestor the rapier encountered. The lighter quicker smallsword also did not on its own cause the dagger to vanish as a defensive companion weapon of single-combat or duelling. Rather, it was the dagger's social stigma and close-in lethality that discouraged its use among gentlemen duelists. Daggers, being shorter and lighter than swords, are extremely dangerous and difficult to combat when in close. Doing away with them in civilian swordplay reduced the lethality of formal duels and made the ritual safer for gentlemen fencers to better avoid the more potentially lethal outcomes that such weapons tended to promote. The smallsword's ascendancy in civilian duels lasted some 200 years. It succeeded the rapier, but did not replace it entirely and cannot be viewed as either superior or inferior to it. Instead, it was adapted to the particular niche of its age. But, in keeping with views toward advancement in science and technology, it is understandable that fencers from its time would eventually come to see it as an evolution over swords that had been long out of common use. See: Questions and Answers About the Rapier.
27. Prior to the 16th century, swords were used only for "offense" and not in "defensive" actions.
False. An oft-encountered assertion in writings on swords and fencing history is that prior to the 16th century swords were not used for "guarding". The usual assertion is that fighting men instead relied on their shields and their armor alone for defense and never their sword. This inaccurate view so widely accepted in the 19th century is false for a number of reasons. Fighting postures that employ a sword to ward or protect as well as threaten are inherent to any form of swordplay (or for that matter, to the effective use of nearly any archaic hand-weapon, ranging from a dagger to a spear to an axe). A warrior carried a shield to protect himself from attack but could certainly use it offensively as a secondary weapon. He put on armor in case he was hit not so that he could be hit. No fighting man was going to purposely receive a blow on his armor if he could help it. If he could avoid a blow entirely or deflect it with his off hand he obviously did not have to use his sword for that purpose and was thereby left free to use it in counter-attack. This was not any deficiency of "parrying" at work in Medieval and Renaissance fencing, but a quite valid and intentional methodology. Earlier fencing styles did indeed have an assortment of efficient ways for defending against attacks with their swords alone. The primary means of defending with the sword to was a counter-strike that simultaneously deflected an oncoming blow and struck back. The secondary means was to just knock it aside, close and intercept it, or else actively receive it in a manner that permitted a rapid return strike. The least desirable or effective was to passively block an attack with a static position.
28. Parrying cuts with the edge of a cutting sword was a common and preferred means of defense in Medieval and Renaissance swordplay.
False. There is no direct evidence in Medieval and Renaissance fencing literature (or within historical accounts and fictional tales of sword combat) for blocking cutting blows with the edge of a cutting sword as being a common, let alone preferred, action. There is actually considerable evidence instructing not to do so. Active defense was instead achieved by hitting the oncoming blade edge against flat, or else receiving the edge of the oncoming cut with the flat while moving into it. Otherwise, a cut might also be intercepted on the edge at the intersecting shoulder of the blade and the cross-guard while moving in against the attack. Intentionally blocking with the edge, despite its ubiquity in stunt fencing performances and widespread use in later fencing, was a sure way of unnecessarily damaging a sword and risking it breaking. See: The Myth of Edge Parrying in Medieval and Renaissance Swordplay.
29. All European fencing is based upon the idea of "parry and riposte" fighting.
False. The ideal of making a separate parrying action (or defensive block) prior to delivering a follow-up attack became predominant only in the fencing systems of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Prior to this, the means of defending against cuts and thrusts consisted essentially of a single action that counter-attacked by displacing the oncoming blow with a strike while simultaneously hitting back. This element is common in the armed fighting arts of many cultures. Or else parrying was achieved by closing in to stifle an attack before it impacted by moving to encounter it against the hilt (where there was greater leverage) at the lower portion of the attacker's weapon (where there was less momentum). These elements are almost entirely absent from the later methods of fencing developed during the very different military environment and civilian self-defense conditions of the 18th century which relied almost exclusively on a "parry-riposte" method of defense. Other than this, Medieval and Renaissance swordsmen were taught to void or dodge attacks entirely while delivering their own strike to the opening created by the opponent's own attack. Many 15th and 16th century fencing teachers stressed the virtue of counterstriking rather parrying and even emphasized that offense was defense. In later fencing styles (chiefly based on the method of the smallsword) the parrying of cuts became a static action employing a rigid position using the edge (but still nearest the hilt), which was then followed by a separate attack from that position. This is the familiar edge-to-edge action seen in most stage-combat and saber fencing.
30. Medieval knightly combat was always chivalrous and courteous.
False. There were certainly customary protocols to virtually every aspect of Medieval (and Renaissance) society, and courtesy as an aspect of chivalry was a large part of the martial sport of knightly tournaments as well as the ritual combat of judicial duels. But personal armed combat at this time was a violent, brutal, and bloody affair with little room for niceties and false etiquette. While social norms have always influenced ritual elements of close combat among different social classes, such as within duels, the chivalric literature of the period largely reflected an idealized manner of courteous combat that was contradicted by the harsh reality of survival in violent situations. Fencing masters and authors on combat teachings or dueling codes made clear that a fighting man was free to use whatever worked within individual combat and that naive courtesy was foolish when your life was at stake. The historical record of battlefield fighting, judicial combats, streetfights, ambushes, sudden assaults, and duels firmly establishes this. While episodes of noticeable mercy, compassion, and fair-play are known, so too are ones of unscrupulous deceit, duplicity, and underhanded behavior. The pragmatic reality lies somewhere in between.
31. Double-edge swords are inferior to single-edge swords.
False. A sword was designed with existing technology as a tool to meet a desired function, that of doing harm to another or preventing harm to oneself. Both single and double-edged swords were produced across many cultures. Each has advantages and disadvantages and was the subject of almost continuous experiment and refinement as armors improved and the conditions of combat changed. Single-edged blades tended to allow for more powerful cuts and were more fitting on curved swords that slice or slash. Double-edged blades were well suited to stiffer tapering swords that permit better thrusting and allow for more versatile techniques (i.e., back edge cuts, half-swording, throwing, etc.). Renaissance fighting men employed numeoru stsyles of single edge swords, from single-edged warswords to falchions to messers, stortas, badelairs, braquemarts, back-swords, and the two-handed saberlike grossmesser.
32. Some swords had two edges so that when one was ruined the other could be used.
False. Since ancient times two-edged and single-edged swords have been designed and used, often within the same cultures and fighting communities. There are only two ways to produce a cutting sword; it either has a single edge or a double one. Two edges are a natural result of producing a flat straight blade that is ideal for thrusting and chopping at resistant materials. Although a blade with a single edge has a wider bevel that allows for a deeper cut, and has a stiffer back that permits greater stress; a double-edged sword does permit a greater range of techniques (you can cut both ways with it). While a fighter could conceivably rely on one edge more than another or switch should it become dull or heavily nicked, this was not its purpose (since either edge could just as quickly become damaged as easily in the same manner). But no historical evidence exists to support the assertion that a two-edge blade design was intentional because one edge was expected to become ruined. In fact, three out of five of the major cuts performed in Renaissance fencing are delivered with the back edge of the sword.
33. Medieval and Renaissance fighting men did not conduct any mock-combat weapon "sparring" in their training.
False. Modern research in historical European martial arts has revealed considerable evidence in Europe from the 12th to 17th centuries for several different forms of mock combat used as earnest self-defense training, battlefield rehearsal, ritual display, and sporting contest. From knightly tournaments to prize-playing contests to bouting a few veneys or assaults at arms and impromptu scrimmaging, the evidence for "free play" or "playing loose" as practice-fighting is substantial. This activity involved substantial contact, and not merely pulled blows or surface touches. Examination of the methods by which this kind of "sparring" was pursued (e.g., its equipment, its intent and purpose, its permissible techniques and safety considerations, and its risk of injury, etc.) is a main area of exploration in historical fencing studies. See: To Spar or Not to Spar.
34. European fighting systems never included any spiritual or ethical components.
False. It is uncommon to find Renaissance Martial Arts teachings that did not address ethical or spiritual matters. Not only do most of the source texts on Renaissance Martial Arts (as well as much literature of that age) contain direct references to what is and is not ethical behavior among fighting men, they also offer advice on the avoidance of fights and comment on when and where and under what conditions it is appropriate to use violent force. Masters of Defense did not teach fighting skills in a cultural vacuum but drew upon classical learning, Christian morality, chivalric traditions, and humanist ideas. These elements formed much of the later ideal of what it means in Western civilization to be an officer and a gentleman.
35. Flex-testing a sword is a good way to demonstrate the quality of its blade.
False. The mistake of flex-testing sword blades today (i.e., giving it a slow bend by hand then holding it there) is something that has become quite common as a result of misleading information among reproduction sword manufacturers and their commercial distributors. Sword enthusiasts today frequently fall victim to this misconception that their swords must have a tremendous flex to them that can be repeatedly demonstrated, not realizing that not only is this not a true sign of a well-made fighting sword but that each time they do this they damage the structure of the blade. Each time the test is performed the blade is weakened as bending begins to exceed the steel's stress limits. Over time such damage will eventually cause the blade to fail under stress. Repeated slow flexing will also prevent the blade from returning true. Flex testing is supposedly a way of showing good resilience and blade quality but the action is misleading and all but useless for demonstrating a sword's sturdiness for combat. Slow flexing is a gradual application of force to a blade that it will never really see in actual use. Real swords need to be quite rigid yet still be flexible under stress. This is a matter of having good resilience, not "whippiness" or a "noodly" flexibility. Many modern replica swords cannot be test-flexed at all because they are of inferior temper or poor metallurgical quality and will either snap or stay bent. Ironically, many kinds of actual historical specimens would also not pass such a test either, as their blades were very often exceptionally rigid. (In fact, this is how the sword of a dishonored man or surrendered leader would be broken, by straining it in a bend so that it snapped). Different portions of a blade typically will not have the same degrees of flexibility due to cross-sectional differences. Thus, a slow test bending by hand at one portion of the blade does not equate to a fast flexing under force at other portions as would occur when a sword stabs strongly at a resistant target or is struck forcibly against its flat at the middle or lower near the hilt. Historically, proving a blade was accomplished in various ways. An early method was by making a heavy blow on a block of wood or iron, first with the flat, then with the edge, and lastly with the back followed by briefly bending the blade flat-wise against it. The operation concluded by driving the point through a thin iron plate, which later became known as the "Toledo test". Several 17th and 18th century French fencing masters wrote how one should never force a bend in a blade as it may cause the blade to be weakened and break upon use. They stated some tests of thrusting swords involved a quick thrust at a firm target to note how the weapon sprung back to proper straightness. In the 19th century military sword tests could include smashing one down on a hard surface or sticking it in a block and bending until it broke. Different kinds of blades with different shapes and cross-sectional geometries will typically have gradual change in the degree of flexibility along their length. Most cutting blades will actually reflex spring at the striking portion when impacting with a strong blow (this all but invisible elastic recovery can be witnessed in slow motion videos of test-cutting against substantial materials but it is near impossible to display or check through slow bending a blade by hand). This is why impact testing for cutting blades is a true test of quality, not mere flexing. Impact strength has little to do with flexibility. As well, slender thrusting blade shapes with more "corners" or sides will have much less flexibility than would be the case if they had flatter or rounded cross-sections. Strangely, the very defect of too much flexibility in a blade is frequently assumed as the measure of a good sword. This error likely comes from confusing flexibility in a blade with the plastic elasticity of its steel; elasticity is necessary, but flexibility is useless and always detrimental in a fighting blade. Although quick and effective parrying demands a certain amount of elasticity in a fighting blade, whether for cutting or thrusting it is impossible to have one be too stiff. There is no possible use of a sword in cutting, thrusting, or guarding, in which great flexibility would be advantageous. Sport fencing blades are of course extremely flexible by nature in order to prevent injuries that would result if genuine stiff weapons were used in the same manner. Historical fighting weapons intended to do real harm were not designed this way.
36. Japanese katanas wielded by samurai cut through European military swords in martial encounters.
False. No documentable verifiable evidence has come to light of any incidents where personal combats between Renaissance-era European swordsmen and feudal Japanese samurai resulted in a sword being cut or broken. Interestingly, a Dutch account from the year 1669 does describe a demonstration occurring at a temple in Japan wherein a European smallsword was set up stationary and cut in two. However, putting the account into context, it is important to know these light blades were very narrow and slender civilian weapons designed for unarmed dueling, not military blades for cutting, and were also well-known to snap during fights if grabbed and forcefully strained by a bare hand. Further, an account from Scotland in the year 1689 similarly described how pikes and smallswords were cut clean through by Scottish broadswords as well as how pikes, smallswords, and muskets had been snapped by blows from single-handed claymores. So, the cutting of a smallsword is no particular feat. No reliable evidence exists for any real-life incident wherein any historical Japanese fighting sword cut through any historical European fighting sword during combat. (And no, evidence is not defined either by what appears in Anime or by anecdotal claims that a friend of a friend's cousin's brother's sister-in-law's uncle knew a guy whose old master's master once heard a story.)
37. Japanese katanas are the ultimate swords in the universe because they routinely cut completely through Volkswagens and employ secret powers of "Ki".
False. ...And if you believe otherwise, nothing will likely convince you.
38. Historical European martial arts were really copied from Asian martial traditions.
False. They were actually stolen from Amazonian Martian cyborgs who are in fact the true ancestors of ancient Africans via Atlantis [saperlipopette... mais il parle de RIFTS?!]. ...But seriously, refer to entries 1, 2, and 3 above.
39. A really well made sword should never break.
False. Sometimes swords broke. This is a historical a fact for all swords in all cultures through history. They were typically well made and resilient (they had to be) but they were not indestructible. They were perishable tools with limited working lifetimes. Depending on how much use and abuse they were put through under particular conditions that period could vary widely. Like any human hand made object they might also sometimes have flaws that rendered them less durable.
40. "Real" Masters of Arms still exist.
When someone today is accredited as a "master of arms" by a fencing federation this exclusively means that they are recognized by that organization as having earned expertise only in teaching the modern form of sport fencing. The title only holds relevance for the modern competitive collegiate/Olympic fencing styles using the tools of epee, foil, and sabre. It has nothing whatsoever to do with knowledge or mastery of a historical martial art of self-defense using military weaponry of even the 19th century, let alone from any European fighting arts of the pre-Baroque era. No modern school of fencing anywhere retained connections back to Medieval and Renaissance close-combat combat skills nor preserved any authentic instructional methods of their techniques.
The whole process of being taught by a teacher who comes from a "line" of teachers is meaningless unless there is some preserved core skill-set of collected knowledge that was retained unchanged and transmitted unbroken from instructor to instructor along the way. For the martial arts of the Renaissance, we know this was not the case. Virtually nothing survived the generations to be retained and passed on by later fencing masters using wholly different tools and methods for far narrower conditions of self-defense. It is one thing today to construct a new curriculum of martial skills based on interpretation of the historical methods within the surviving source literature, and then call yourself a "master" of that new reconstructed effort. But it's something else entirely to claim some unique authority in this subject by virtue of some supposed "special learning" acquired from some dead modern fencing instructor who allegedly preserved "secret knowledge" of lost arts. In the first case it is called renewal and revival; in the second it's simply called fraud. What makes such claims all the more pathetic is when self-proclaimed experts today exhibit comparatively mediocre fighting skills.
It can also be surmised that as 19th and early 20th century arms historians and fencing writers examined wrote extensively on how swords and swordsmanship from past eras was supposedly crude and clumsy, had any fencing master at the time known differently, they would surely have spoken up to correct their mistaken peers. Had any of them had a better conception of the true nature of Medieval and Renaissance fighting arts and close-combat skills, they would have exposed the mistakes and myths then being perpetuated, if not to reveal their superior knowledge then simply to give proper credit to their own heritage. That none are documented as having stepped forward to do so, but instead recorded as largely regurgitating the same general consensus errors, tells us great deal about how much had been forgotten and lost. This fact alone exposes the lie of there having been modern era fencing masters still wise to the lost methods of earlier European martial arts. They could not provide wisdom they did not possess. Modern fencing masters and “masters of arms” long ago ceased being Masters of Defence expert in martial arts, and had since become mere sport coaches.
41. The use of axes, maces, and warhammers in close-combat was unique.
False. It is often asked why there is apparently no surviving instructional literature within Medieval or Renaissance fighting disciplines for employing common weapons such as maces, axes, and warhammer? The likely answer is that there simply was no need for it. First, these weapons were not nearly as prevalent during the later Middle Ages and Renaissance eras as popular media (and Victorian sources) have tended to give us the impression they were. Second, the observation can be made that such concussion weapons (often used against heavier armors or simply employed by secondary troops) do not require particular skills or specialized technique. As has been suggested, their use is really a matter of aiming, swinging hard, then repeating as necessary. The most probable reason we can conjecture then for why they are noticeably absent from the instructional fighting literature is that clubs, maces, warhammers, axes, are in every way superseded by proper study of the sword along with the polaxe, the spear/staff, and the dagger. After all, while there was long recognized such things as swordsmanship and swordsmen we do not read of “axemanship” or “mace-men.”
In summation, there is a world of difference between the earnest study of a diverse martial art of armed and unarmed historical fighting skills and the practice of fencing for ritual honor combats, duelling sports, or entertainment display. While the above list presents some of the major myths pervading the subject of historical European martial arts they are far from the only ones. Myths about sword construction and sword evolution alone would fill several articles. We might just as well include many others and new myths and misconceptions are developing even today. That many of these myths are mutually contradicting is itself evidence of the extent of misinformation found largely in film, television, anime, video and board games, historical reenactment, sport fencing, and stunt fighting.
Robust debate and vigorous dissension are certainly not to be shunned in discourse on a subject as varied and open to investigation as this. But because inaccurate and erroneous assumptions are so widespread it is fortunate there are now assets that can be devoted full time toward compiling credible and verifiable information from diverse areas. Though exploration of this craft is still in its infancy, the old orthodox view of fencing history, as well as the general mistakes popularly held about swords, is finally beginning to fade in the light of new and better information.
A fencer learns the basic actions of fighting by exercising in repetitive movements and partnered routines of attack and counter-attack. But skill in the art is not acquired just by doing drills and exercises. The more effective and better-prepared fighter will be the one whose practice comes to reflect the energy and tempo of real close-combat.
Intéressant, non? Mais qu'est ce que ça nous apporte pour RIFTS?
Côté background, il y a des coins du Méga-univers dont les références sont clairement médiévales-fantastiques et occidentales: le Monde de Palladium (Palladium Fantasy RPG et toute la gamme), Wormwood (Rifts Dimension Book One: Wormwood), l'Angleterre (Rifts world Book 3: England)... Il est bon alors d'avoir en tête ce genre d'informations au moment de se représenter des combats avec armes de contact s'y déroulant. Une Maîtrise d'Arme de contact, et notamment à l'épée, implique de la technique et du talent plus que de la force brute.
Côté règles, RIFTS n'est pas un JdR simulationniste. Il ne s'agit donc pas de reproduire en jeu toute la technicité de certaines formes de combat. Le système ne s'y prête pas. Mais là encore, cet article enrichit considérablement notre vision du combat de mêlée et peut avoir des déclinaisons ludiques avec des règles simples, et ouvertes, comme celles de RIFTS, de D&D5 et des jeux OSR. "Ouvertes" car il est possible d'y mettre en avant les bonnes idées des joueurs, en plus des talents chiffrés des PJ. Une règle aussi élémentaire que celle des "avantages/désavantages" de D&D5 (on lance deux d20, au lieu de un seul, et on conserve le jet le plus/moins élevé) peut connaître de nombreuses déclinaisons intéressantes à la lumière de ce qui précède. Et c'est une règle transposable telle quelle dans RIFTS. Un MJ motivé et consciencieux peut se servir des (courtes) données technico-ludiques de Palladium Book of Weapons & Armor et Palladium Book of Weapons & Castles pour ce faire.
En fait, les armes sont assez présentes chez Palladium Books, dans la série des Weapons Compendiums suscités et dans RIFTS notamment. Mais je ne pense pas que Kevin Siembieda, l'auteur de RIFTS, soit féru "d'Arts martiaux médiévaux et Renaissance" pour autant et qu'il y connaisse grand chose. Cependant, cette forme de combat est un aspect assez conséquent de l'univers du jeu: les armures des Cyber-Knights, la Crusader Body Armor, les épées en tous genres (vibro, psi, mecha...), la quantité de PJ et de PNJ qui vont privilégier le contact et la mêlée... En dépit de sa partie S-F, et de son catalogue de 2000 armes à distance énergétiques, RIFTS est fortement imprégné de méd-fan. L'héritage de Palladium Fantasy RPG est très présent dans ce jeu. Alors autant prendre la mesure de ce que les épées et les autres armes de contact peuvent amener d'enrichissant en termes de narration, de description, de simulation... Il ne s'agit pas de faire de RIFTS un jeu réaliste sur ce sujet, loin de là, mais d'étoffer la matière du jeu. Et rendre cette partie du jeu plus intéressante pour les joueurs et les MJ (moi!).