A martial artist looks at swordfighting in the movies

I was reminded, earlier today, that one of the interesting side effects of knowing something about hand-to-hand and contact-weapons-based martial arts makes a big difference in how you see movies.

Most people don’t have that knowledge. So today I’m going to write about the quality of sword choreography in movies, and how that has changed over time, from the point of view of someone who is an experienced multi-style martial artist in both sword and empty hand. I think this illuminates a larger story about the place of martial arts in popular Western culture.

The first thing to know is this: with only rare exceptions, any Western swordfighting you see in older movies is going to be seriously anachronistic. It’s almost all derived from French high-line fencing, which is also the basis for Olympic sport fencing. French high-line is a very late style, not actually fully developed until early 1800s, that is adapted for very light thrusting weapons, epées or dueling swords. These are not at all typical of the swords in use over most of recorded history.

In particular, the real-life inspirations for the Three Musketeers, in the 1620s, didn’t fight anything like their movie versions. They used rapiers – thrusting swords – all right, but their weapons were quite a bit longer and heavier than a 19th-century dueling sword. Correspondingly, the tempo of a fight had to be slower, with more pauses as the fighters watched for an opening (a weakness in stance or balance, or a momentary loss of concentration). Normal guard position was lower and covered more of center line, not the point-it-straight-at-you of high line. You find all this out pretty quickly if you actually train with these weapons.

The thing is, real Three Musketeers fencing is less flashy and dramatic-looking than French high-line. So for decades there was never any real incentive for moviemakers to do the authentic thing. Even if there had been, audiences conditioned by those decades of of high-line would have thought it looked wrong!

A lot of swordfighting in medieval-period movies is even less appropriate if you know what the affordances of period weapons were. The classic Errol Flynn vs. Basil Rathbone duel scene from the 1938 Adventures of Robin Hood, for example. They’re using light versions of arming swords that are reasonably period for the late 1100s, but the footwork and stances and tempo are all French high line, albeit disguised with a bunch of stagey slashing moves. And Rathbone gets finished off with an epée thrust executed in perfect form.

It was perfect form because back in those days acting schools taught their students how to fence. It was considered good for strength, grace, and deportment; besides, one might need it for the odd Shakespeare production. French high-line because in the U.S. and Europe that was what there were instructors for; today’s Western sword revival was still most of a century in the future.

This scene exemplifies why I find the ubiquitousness of French high-line so annoying. It’s because that form, adapted for light thrusting weapons, produces a movement language that doesn’t fit heavier weapons designed to slash and chop as well as thrust. If you’re looking with a swordsman’s eye you can see this in that Robin Hood fight. Yes, the choreographer can paste in big sweeping cuts, and they did, but they look too much like exactly what they are – theatrical flourishes disconnected from the part that is actually fighting technique. When Flynn finishes with his genuine fencer’s lunge (not a period move) he looks both competent and relieved, as though he’s glad to be done with the flummery that preceded it.

At least Flynn and Rathbone had some idea what they were doing. After their time teaching actors to fence went out of fashion and the quality of cinematic sword choreography nosedived. The fights during the brief vogue for sword-and-sandal movies, 1958 to 1965 or so, were particularly awful. Not quite as bad, but all too representative, was the 1973 Three Musketeers: The Queen’s Diamonds, a gigantic snoozefest populated with slapdash, perfunctory swordfights that were on the whole so devoid of interest and authenticity that even liberal display of Raquel Welch’s figure could not salvage the mess. When matters began to improve again in the 1980s the impetus came from Asian martial-arts movies.

I cannot, however, pass by that period without noting one moment of excellence; The Princess Bride (1987). Yes, this is classic stagy Hollywood high-line, consciously referring back to precedents including the Flynn/Rathbone scene from fifty years earlier – but in this context there’s no sense of anachronism because the movie is so cheerfully vague about its time period. The swords are basket-hilted rapiers in an ornate Italo-French style that could date from 1550 to their last gasp in the Napoleonic Wars. The actors use them with joy and vigor – Elwes and Patinkin learned to fence (both left- and right-handed) for the film and other than the somersaults their fight scene was entirely them, not stunt doubles. It’s a bright, lovely contrast with the awfulness of most Hollywood sword choreography of the time and, I think, part of the reason the movie has become a cult classic.

The Star Wars movies make an interesting study in how Asian sword influenced the movies. In the first one, Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) the bladework was embarrassingly bad. I knew it was off even then, though I couldn’t yet use a sword myself; now I find it unwatchable, a sort of awful parody of Japanese sword as composed by someone who had no idea how kendo or kenjutsu form actually works, performed by equally clueless actors and stuntmen.

But by Return of the Jedi (1983) things were changing. Asian martial arts in general and Asian martial arts movies in particular were both rapidly being assimilated into Western pop culture at the time. Audiences, actors, and filmmakers were becoming more clued in about what real Asian sword looked like. For The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi Lucas hired an actual swordmaster (the same one who would later choreograph the fight in The Princess Bride) and the difference really showed. While those fight scenes are not great, they at least achieve competence and a nod towards what are actually reasonable moves for the implied handling characteristics of the weapons.

Even while faux-Asian sword was getting better fast, cinematic Western sword stayed stuck in its well-worn Hollywood groove until nearly the end of the 20th century. An early harbinger of change was the Antonio Banderas Zorro movie in 1998; that had some actual historically-correct Spanish sword in it, albeit only briefly in the training scenes with the fights mostly written in French high-line moves as per usual.

By the time Peter Jackson made The Fellowship of the Rings (2001) standards were rising. Jackson spent the money to have visibly different sword styles devised for the various races of Middle Earth and then hired every martial artist in New Zealand to film the fight scenes with. You could see what the historical antecedents of the styles were, and they were properly matched to the weapons. Aragorn and the Men of Gondor used two-hand double-edge longswords with Anglo-German moves; Orcs used short curved sabres with a Central European chopping guard; elves used longer single-edge blades with a very slight curve and moves as related to Japanese katana form as their swords. Blessedly, no French high-line cliches obtruded anywhere! Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn didn’t just learn to swordfight, he refused to use the light aluminum sword he’d been issued for the fight scenes and worked the full-weight steel one that went with his costume.

In Will and Captain Jack’s fight near the beginning of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), the footwork is French high line but the sword technique looks pretty correct for the late 1600s-early-1700s milieu; those weapons are being used cut-and-thrust, and the cuts don’t look pasted in but are fully integrated into the movement language. They threaten each other with high-line French guards, but there’s no fencer’s lunge in sight. While there is acrobatic stunt-work, the moves are tighter and more martial, more efficient, than an old-school Hollywood fight. A swordsman can watch this without thinking “…stupid.”

Both waves of improvement were, I think, driven by rising popular interest in the weapons. Today’s HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) revival began in the 1990s and was starting to get traction when The Fellowship of the Rings was storyboarded in 1997. I myself started training in 2005 and it would undoubtedly have been sooner if I hadn’t been busy being Mr. Famous Guy between 1997 and 2004. Western sword revival was in the air, perhaps as a belated reaction to the huge popularity Asian arts had gained 20 years earlier. And it still is.

Accordingly, I think we can expect cinematic sword to generally get better – more martially accurate, more historically sound – in the future. There’s sustained demand for that now. More people in audiences who know how to parse what they’ll looking at, and more actors for which Elwes and Patinkin and Mortensen set a benchmark for knowing what you’re doing. And that is a good thing.

134 thoughts on “A martial artist looks at swordfighting in the movies

  1. In particular, the real-life inspirations for the Three Musketeers, in the 1620s, didn’t fight anything like their movie versions. They used rapiers – thrusting swords – all right,

    Has there ever been a filmed or televised version of the Three Musketeers in which the characters used the proper weapons of their namesakes, i.e. muskets?

    • >Has there ever been a filmed or televised version of the Three Musketeers in which the characters used the proper weapons of their namesakes, i.e. muskets?

      Not that I know of. But that’s not actually strange. The Musketeers never used their muskets as much as you’d expect if you try to mentally bin them with a modern rifleman.

      The difference is down to the unreliability of pre-percussion-cap firearms. They were prone to ignition failures in damp weather. Then, too, the King’s Musketeers were a quasi-ceremonial palace guard; occasions to use muskets would seldom occur in the normal course of their duties.

      There are hints in the history that those muskets were as much prestige signifiers (they had been gifted by the King himself) as they were expected to be practical weapons.

      • It’s been many decades since I read the novel in translation, but I’m pretty sure I remember noting at the time I finished the first book that the “Musketeers” didn’t actually use their muskets, at least for any of the interesting action or plot of the story. They only came up in the Siege of La Rochelle setting as I very vaguely recall.

      • Then, too, the King’s Musketeers were a quasi-ceremonial palace guard; occasions to use muskets would seldom occur in the normal course of their duties.

        In addition to the somewhat finicky “flintlock” operating mode, most muskets have a very reliable “whack upside the head with the butt” operating mode. If one’s job requires carrying a ceremonial musket, I would expect unceremonial head-whacking would be at least somewhat frequent.

        • Or fix the bayonet, and use it as a serviceable, if slightly cumbersome, spear. That said, I don’t think I’ve ever seen spear fighting depicted particularly well in a movie. Certainly not memorably, at any rate.

          • You can’t fix bayonets you don’t have. Granted, a plug(-into-the-barrel) bayonet wouldn’t be an out-and-out anachronism in 1625, but they weren’t remotely standard for decades, and socketed bayonets weren’t adopted until around 1700.

          • There’s been some memorable spear work in Troy, and Game of Thrones, and a very few others. Can’t say how accurate it was, save that it wasn’t obviously wrong.

            But Steven is right about the timeline for bayonets. For an early 17th century King’s Musketeer, the options are A: shoot foe with musket (once, p~0.8), B: buttstroke foe with musket, C: draw rapier. And I’m assuming there was a well-developed martial technique for B, but wondering how much of it has survived to the present.

            • >And I’m assuming there was a well-developed martial technique for [buttstroke foe with musket], but wondering how much of it has survived to the present.

              It’s actually very unlikely that anybody trained at this in period. If an enemy is closing range enough that you might butt-stroke him, you’re better off drawing your sword immediately, because it’s at least as dangerous to him as a musket butt and you may well not have time to change weapons once engaged. I sure as hell wouldn’t try it.

              Note that the military musket wasn’t a rifle – it wasn’t thought of as an aimed-fire weapon to be used against individuals. It was a mass-fire weapon to be used in formation against enemy formations. So the idea of clubbing it to engage an individual wouldn’t necessarily even have been within the envelope of a Musketeer’s thinking unless he was disarmed and desperate.

              • Yeah, though even a sword isn’t going to be all that useful. In 1625, the primary defense if you have a musket and the enemy has closed range is the pikes held by the other members of your pike-and-shot square. If you’re able to hit people with a sword or clubbed musket, your pike square broke, and you’re in deep trouble.

                Which explains a lack of bayonets — bayonets don’t match well against pikes either. When firearms finally become effective enough that pikes are eliminated from formations, then bayonets rapidly evolve from a barrel-blocking curiosity to socketed standard equipment.

            • >There’s been some memorable spear work in Troy, and Game of Thrones, and a very few others. Can’t say how accurate it was, save that it wasn’t obviously wrong.

              Nobody else can say, either. There are no surviving manuals of arms for spear analogous to Western fechtbooks or the Asian sources on sword. Art and literary accounts of period combat yield little.

              The best we can do is train with weapons constructed like period spears and notice what their affordances are. I’ve not done much of this; of all the major Western weapons spear is my weakest – the closest thing to it that I’m competent at is the short (5′-6′) glaive, a bladed polearm similar to a Japanese naginata. But I have observed people who are way better with spear than I am.

              Based on this, I’m going to say the movie depictions of spear fighting in formation are pretty accurate. But the few instances of individual fighting with spears are generally way off. Solo spear has to be very dynamic, lots of footwork, lots of feints and jabbing, seldom committing with a full thrust except as a finishing strike. One if the reasons I haven’t put more time into it is that I’m not agile enough to play that game well.

              • What about Zulu?

                There are several examples of spear (assegai) versus bayonet in that. The spear fighters were actual Zulus, though they probably had forgotten their great-great-grandfathers’ technique.

                • >What about Zulu?

                  Haven’t seen it.

                  >The spear fighters were actual Zulus, though they probably had forgotten their great-great-grandfathers’ technique.

                  Mmmmaybe not. I’ve read that South-African Zulus wealthy enough to afford the leisure time have been doing back-to-roots retreats for a long time, and the original techniques might well have survived long enough in (say) Swaziland or Lesotho. More likely because the Zulu have never lost the image of themselves as a martial people who fought even the British to a near-standstill.

          • Why would you do that when you have a perfectly serviceable, functional and well made rapier/sabre at your side?

            • Later on in the flintlock period, though, wasn’t it the case that enlisted soldiers tended not to be issued swords?

              • >Later on in the flintlock period, though, wasn’t it the case that enlisted soldiers tended not to be issued swords?

                That varied like crazy. Everybody’s cavalry carried sabers clear up to horse cavalry’s obsolescence in the 20th century. British line troops (not officers) lost their swords early, but enlisted U.S. artillerymen were issued a shortsword strongly resembling a Roman gladius until near the end of the 19th century. This followed contemporary French practice, so the U.S. wasn’t some odd outlier.

                The last recorded boarding action in which cutlasses drew blood took place in 1940, Brits attacking a German freighter on the Norwegian coast, which tells you British naval arms lockers still stocked them that late.

                Wikipedia thinks the Franco-American artillery sword was impractical for combat, but I’m here to call bullshit on that. I’ve heard that experienced doorknockers in Iraq took to carrying very similar shortswords, and I believe it. I’ve handled one of these artillery swords and I’d say that even in my hands (let alone those of an elite soldier) it would be just as brutally effective a close-combat weapon as the gladius was 2Kya ago.

                • > The last recorded boarding action in which cutlasses drew blood took place in 1940, Brits attacking a German freighter on the Norwegian coast, which tells you British naval arms lockers still stocked them that late.

                  That reminds me of the story of Jack Churchill, though his kit was by no means standard issue.

    • Would you expect to see good skilled rifle use inDrunken Knife Fights of Some American Riflemen?

      What soldiers get up to in their time off is not necessarily going to be the same as what they do out in the field under discipline.

      Yeah, the title doesn’t explicitly mention that. But there are in fact four of the Three Musketeers, and whether three or four, there are too few of them to be engaged in regular military operations.

    • Large, heavy, one-shot-a-minute muskets work okay when fired en masse, or from ambush. In a short-range, small group melee, they’re poorly-balanced bludgeons.

  2. I’m mildly surprised Errol Flynn is cited as an example of a traditional fencer when he is the namesake of “Flynning”, minimally choreographed chops designed not to strike the opponent if he fails to parry. That’s also essentially what Prowse and Guinness were doing A New Hope. I’d been under the impression that Flynn’s style was essentially choreography all the way down; it’s interesting that it had a basis in an actual fighting style.

    • >I’d been under the impression that Flynn’s style was essentially choreography all the way down; it’s interesting that it had a basis in an actual fighting style.

      It did. You can see it in that final lunge, which has “theatrical training in French high-line” written all over it in letters of fire. Mind you, I don’t know where or when he picked that up; it’s possible that he never formally trained in fencing but was imitating what he’d seen other actors of his time do. But if so it was a pretty damned good imitation.

      Flynning isn’t necessarily stupid or lazy, and it doesn’t even necessarily mean you don’t know what you’re doing. It may just mean you’re pretty sure the other guy doesn’t know what he’s doing and are trying to minimize the risk that you’ll injure him.

      UPDATE: Relevant point, now that I think about it: Rathbone is very clearly the better swordsman of the two. Even if Flynn picked up his technique by osmosis, I’d bet my eyeteeth that Rathbone had training.

      • I can find plenty of documentation for him being a capable and “talented” fencer but couldn’t find out where he learned. (Possibly boot camp in Scotland, possibly at school)

        I remember hearing a long time ago that he was actually an olympic fencer but the only (unsupported by documentation) reference I can find suggests he was a “competitive fencer but didn’t really take to it”. On the other hand, apparently Cornell Wilde (who I don’t think I have never seen) did qualify as an Olympic fencer (1936 Sabre) but quit the team to take a role in the theater.

        • Well, in its other common use “Olympic fencer” means “trained in Olympic-style fencing”.

          In that use it doesn’t imply competing in the Olympic games as such.

      • Flynning isn’t actually stupid or lazy, and it doesn’t even mean you don’t know what you’re doing. It may just mean you’re pretty sure the other guy doesn’t know what he’s doing and are trying to minimize the risk that you’ll injure him.

        It’s not just the risk you’ll injure the other guy – the director wants a fight sequence of a certain duration for dramatic reasons. Even if the other guy is comparably talanted to you, expecting that you can make honest attempts to strike each other for two minutes without either of you accidentally succeeding seems unreasonable. A hit you land may not injure him, especially using prop weapons, but the audience will be left without an explanation as to why the blow left no evidence of injury while a similar one is scheduled to kill him in a minute or so.

        And I do count it as lazy, but on the part of the choreographer rather than the actor. Designing a sequence of moves that looks substantially more authentic than Flynning, meets the specified duration, and can be effectively taught on-set is more work than telling the actors the path they should take across the set and how to use the props. The downside to having the actors invent their own choreography on the spot is that their ability to communicate while the camera is rolling is limited, so they must telegraph their intentions and deliberately misaim their swings in order to avoid catching the opponent by surprise. Obviously these aren’t advantageous things to be doing in an authentic fight, so it’s no surprise that Flynning doesn’t really look like an authentic fight.

      • > It may just mean you’re pretty sure the other guy doesn’t know
        > what he’s doing and are trying to minimize the risk that you’ll injure him.

        Is there an old saw about fighting an amateur being more dangerous than fighting someone who knows what they are doing, because you can never predict the actions of a complete neophyte?

        • >Is there an old saw about fighting an amateur being more dangerous than fighting someone who knows what they are doing, because you can never predict the actions of a complete neophyte?

          Yes. :-)

          Often given as: “The best swordsman in the world doesn’t fear the second best. He fears the worst, because he can’t predict what the fool is going to do” or phrasings close to that. It’s quite widespread. I don’t have a source.

          It’s an exaggeration. The worst swordsman in the world will probably overcommit to a big looping haymaker of a slash or thrust, giving me all the time in the world to take him out.

          In fact, a good strategy against weak fighters is to take a neutral guard, or a low guard, and wait. They can often be pressured into attacking just by the right kind of stillness. When they overcommit, they’re your meat. That clip from The Duelists shows this happening.

          This also works against a surprisingly high percentage of fighters who are good enough that they ought to know better. I’ve won a lot of duels this way,

          • > In fact, a good strategy against weak fighters is to take a neutral guard, or a low guard, and wait.

            Something similar also works in table tennis.

  3. I was musing in a similar vein just yesterday. A local restored theater shows “classic films” each second weekend, and this month the definition was stretched to breaking by including The Greatest Showman. For a show that’s been so praised for its music, I was quite taken aback at how the on-screen singing was an even poorer fit than in most: The actors’ mouths sometimes didn’t even match up with the audio (lip-syncing consonants and forgetting the vowels), and nearly every movie actor seems to think that singing is performed without exhaling.

    Of course to some degree actors have to simulate competence with skills they don’t have, but it’s both interesting and distracting to see such prominent visual demonstrations of Dunning-Kruger.

  4. If a director really pushed for authenticity in an existential martial combat scene, the duel would typically be very short in duration and the stink of primal fear would be evident on the screen for at least one of the combatants. Ask anyone who has ever been cut or shot and they will tell that it was over before they hardly knew what happened. Only in fist fights do people duke it out for more than a few seconds, and even that’s pretty rare, unless it’s women pulling hair.

    • and the stink of primal fear would be evident on the screen for at least one of the combatants.

      Kurosawa really got this, see the fight in one of the viewpoints of Rashomon, or an infamous example in the production of Throne of Blood. Wikipedia mentions this:

      Washizu’s death scene, in which his own archers turn upon him and shoot him with arrows, was in fact performed with real arrows, shot by knowledgeable and skilled archers. During filming, Mifune waved his arms, which was how the actor indicated his intended bodily direction. This was for his own safety, to prevent the archers accidentally hitting him.

      But not that Mifune didn’t have to do much acting in being terrified during the scene.

      But that “stink” wouldn’t necessarily be there if both combatants thought they would win, I’m reminded of the Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone ending fight in the 1940 version of The Mark of Zorro, which certainly looked better than the 2 years earlier Robin Hood sword fights.

    • I ran across this on YouTube a while ago. The duel isn’t all that short, but it isn’t the kind of protracted all-out engagement you generally see in movie swordfights. Each individual exchange of blows lasts only a few seconds before both parties withdraw, and the loser is quite obviously scared.

      EDIT: It helps if I actually include the link: https://youtu.be/JOBTFfHJjV8

      • >I ran across this on YouTube a while ago. The duel isn’t all that short, but it isn’t the kind of protracted all-out engagement you generally see in movie swordfights. Each individual exchange of blows lasts only a few seconds before both parties withdraw, and the loser is quite obviously scared.

        Other things that are realistic:

        1. The man who stays chill – doesn’t hyperadrenalize – wins.

        2. Psychological dominance matters. The winner’s body language says that he owns this fight and knows he can lose only by bad luck or carelessness. That presentation is itself a weapon that panics his opponent.

        3. The winner’s repeated use of a low guard to draw the loser closer. Done that myself many times. He knows exactly what his preferred engagement range is.

        It’s supposed to be 1800. I’m not absolutely certain about this, but I think the blades are anachronistic. That’s an epee in its final combative (as opposed to sport) form, a decade or two too early. At this date I would expect a less modern blade shape somewhat resembling a colichemarde.

    • TomA: “If a director really pushed for authenticity in an existential martial combat scene, the duel would typically be very short in duration…”

      Would you describe the climactic sword duel in the Honor Harrington novel _Flag in Exile_ as realistic? In the background text prior to the fight, Weber says that historical duels normally began and ended with a single stroke. And that’s what happens in this novel.

      • >Weber says that historical duels normally began and ended with a single stroke.

        Not true, though closer to true in Japanese sword styles than Western ones. And Honor was using a katana.

  5. I can attest that, Flynn did have formal training. I briefly trained as a child with his fencing instructor Raulph Faulkner who by 1983 was approaching 90 years old. The instructor only taught in French, A student was expected to learn enough French to learn from him. This quickly drained my interest and they didnt teach light saber fighting so I stopped going.
    An obit
    http://articles.latimes.com/1987-01-31/news/mn-2511_1_film-swordsman

  6. Even to somebody with no training in swordfighting, the difference between the lightsaber fight in Episode IV and those in the rest of the franchise is glaringly obvious. It could, I suppose, be explained in-universe by saying that Obi-Wan is old and Vader is out of practice, but the style is much less energetic and seems more defensive, whereas the style seen in the rest of the series is more aggressive.

    • I found it quite similar to final duel of Episode I in that both included lots of aiming the swings at the opponent’s sword rather than his body. Yes, Maul’s weapon was double-ended, but it was very clear that his opponents deliberately attacked in ways that made simultaneously blocking both strikes unnecessarily easy.

      The only fight sequence I recall standing out in this regard was the last part of the final duel in Episode VI. It’s not good swordsmanship, but Luke actually looks he’s lost his cool and wants to chop his enemy in half by swinging his sword like an axe. You get the impression he realises he’s got a weapon in his hand, not a high school marching band “colour guard” flag.

        • Heh, I gave up on the franchise during the The Great Patriotic War for Planet Teddybear, but saw a bit of a fight of the female protagonist that someone highlighted because her opponent was wielding two light knives or whatever, and she backed into him, nothing between her back and his left knife, except editing out or never editing in that there was, BTW, a knife there.

          This was brought up in the context of some bad execution of the choreography of the first big fight in Planet Teddybear, Luke kicking someone way short of where they were, which actually wasn’t all that noticeable in full motion, vs. this being unforgivably bad choreography.

    • It could, I suppose, be explained in-universe by saying that Obi-Wan is old and Vader is out of practice-

      Yes! And that’s why their swordfight is more dramatic than the later choreographed stuff. Old teacher fights middle-aged ex-student, old affection and respect turned to hatred and disappointment, that’s drama. They aren’t displaying their technique, they just want each other dead. The tennis-pro stuff in the prequels might be better fencing choreography, but it isn’t drama.

  7. It’s interesting to me that you see Asian influences in “A New Hope”. I see very little of Kenjutsu in the one saber duel in a new hope (although i’m far from an expert on that). There’s a lot of sabre’s middle guard (as described by Alfred Hutton) which looks weird because of two handed also Hutton sabre is a lot less static. Most of the actual contact seems to draw from two handed “winding and binding” style influences (e.g. Fiore or Liechtenauer) with a bit at the end with Spanish Destreza influence.

    Don’t get me wrong… you’re not going to find any of those moves in any of the manuals i referenced but the flow didn’t really scream Kenjutsu to me. If i had to pick a single style i’d argue Liechtenauer where Obiwan has an unwholesome love of the short guard (and everyone sucked at swordplay a long long time ago).

    Also, an interesting factoid about the Lord of the Rings. A LOT of the extras were Australian and NZ SCAdians and medieval re-enactors (A term at the time was more closely related to “living history” in America so generally focusing on a time period, not a specific event) whose fighting style tends to draw from a watered down (for safety) version of something that is visibly recognizable as Hutton Sabre. As such, i’ve heard that a lot of swordplay happened between takes so it wouldn’t surprise me if that also influenced the sword styles.

    • Remember, A New Hope is largely a remake of Kurosawa’s The Hidden Castle with WW2 Pacific Theater dogfighting tacked on.

      There’s Asian influences, but they are at their extreme infancy.

    • >ESR, do you follow Skallagrim on Youtube?

      I don’t follow him, but I do occasionally chase links to his videos.

      >See eg here:

      Nothing surprising to me there. The misconceptions he talks about get dispelled pretty rapidly if you train with proper simulants at a martial school.

  8. I am going to strike a blow for Richard Donner’s 1973 Three Musketeers/Four Musketeers film. The fencing may not have been to your liking, but it did manage the elementary task of ACTUALLY TELLING DUMAS’S STORY. No bullshit with flying men-of-war or Richelieu plotting to seize the throne. Plus the cast were perfect.

    • >I am going to strike a blow for Richard Donner’s 1973 Three Musketeers/Four Musketeers film.

      I remember when it came out really wanting to like the movie and being terribly disappointed. You’re right enough about ACTUALLY TELLING DUMAS’S STORY, I’d already read Dumas at the time and could see that. But oh dear Goddess the terrible pacing. And the clumsy fighting. And the dreadful script – Salkind dressed up all those pretty people and gave them no place to go.

      • I had the impression that Richard Chamberlain (Shogun — Count of Monte Cristo — Slipper and the Rose –the Musketeers) was another of the actors who specifically studied “stage” fencing in different styles.

        I wonder what you think of Danny Kaye vs Basil Rathbone in “The Court Jester” ? Especially the half where Kaye is the idiot amateur who endangers Rathbone, mostly, by being so clumsy that they BOTH might fall on the blades or off the castle walls.

        • >I had the impression that Richard Chamberlain (Shogun — Count of Monte Cristo — Slipper and the Rose –the Musketeers) was another of the actors who specifically studied “stage” fencing in different styles.

          Thinking back, I have little doubt you are correct. Like Basil Rathbone, Chamberlain genuinely knew how to move like a skilled swordsman.

          >I wonder what you think of Danny Kaye vs Basil Rathbone in “The Court Jester” ?

          My memory of that was dim. but…here it is.

          Heh. This is Hollywood stage swashbuckle at its cheesiest…perhaps deliberately so as the film was a broad comedy. As fighting technique it’s a joke, but both actors are highly skilled at it and the result succeeds at what it’s intended to do.

          A comment on YouTube asserts that both actors were expert fencers offstage, and I completely believe this. Both were from an age when fencing was still taught in drama schools. Rathbone always moved like a swordsman, and I do not believe anyone can clown with a sword as effectively as Kaye does without having a pretty firm grasp on not-clowning.

          The difference between seeing that scene with my old, untrained eyes vs. my trained ones is this: before, I couldn’t tell that it sucked pretty badly as fighting technique. The moves are too large, and they’re aimed wrong. They don’t have the deadly economy of a real fight. Even the range is off; with those weapons a real fight would tend to happen slightly closer.

          (One exception, however: Kaye doing wrist parries in the doorway at about 1:29. That is really rather good. Notice how little his hand moves? He’s controlling center line with not much energy expended. Then he remembers he’s stage fighting and his parries get larger.)

          On the other hand, I’m now more impressed with the actors than when I first saw it. There’s a lot of art and skill in what they’re doing that I was not formerly equipped to understand.

          • Both were from an age when fencing was still taught in drama schools.

            I remember hearing from my father that Kaye only started his fencing lessons for that particular movie…but that the coach had said he was one of the most brilliant pupils he’d ever had. Websites like this seem to confirm it. (And add that the coach sometimes “stood in” for Rathbone, who had the expertise but was slowing down due to age.)

            Semi-apropos: Rathbone starred in a strange little 1939 picture about Richard III called Tower of London…in one scene, Rathbone, as Richard, has been halberd-fencing with his brother Edward, played by Ian Hunter.

            When they finish and throw the halberds away, the queen says something like, “I do wish you’d be more careful.” To which Edward replies–“The only way to learn to fight is to fight!” Always liked that line.

            • >“The only way to learn to fight is to fight!” Always liked that line.

              It’s true. I don’t like the idea of being seriously injured in training any better than the next guy, but I’ll tell you this much; given a choice between (a) risking pain and minor injury while fighting under enough pressure to be stress-inoculated, versus (b) being padded to the eyeballs, sparring with totally nerfed weapons, and never being under threat…I’ll choose (a) every time.

              I’ll even like it. I have adrenaline-junkie tendencies…

              In that immortal line from Lawrence of Arabia: “It’s not that it doesn’t hurt, it’s not minding that it hurts.” Yep, exactly.

          • Basil Rathbone not only had real training, he was considered one of the most skillful swordsmen in Hollywood.

            “He was the most skillful swordsman in
            Hollywood, and although his “villain”
            roles called for him to lose most of his
            fights, he always took comfort in the
            knowledge that he would have easily
            defeated any opponent in a real duel.”

  9. What do you think of the sword fights in “Rob Roy,” the Liam Neeson version? Broad sword or claymore against epee or saber.

    • >What do you think of the sword fights in “Rob Roy,” the Liam Neeson version? Broad sword or claymore against epee or saber.

      I’d have to re-watch it. It came out a decade before I learned how to understand sword movements.

  10. Does smallsword really only date to the 1800s? When I ran a GURPS Martial Arts campaign set in the French Regency (ca. 1710), I had the characters studying smallsword fencing, because that’s what the book said was prevalent then. Or is “high-line fencing” a later development in the use of the smallsword?

    • >Does smallsword really only date to the 1800s?

      That’s about when it reached the final “high-line” form that froze into Olympic sport fencing. If you want “dates to” for the beginnings of the smallsword you have to go back to around 1650, but the earlier weapons named that way are rather different than the later ones, enough so to require different form.

      Thus, training in 1710 would look different from training in 1810 – by 1810 the tempo was faster and the last vestiges of cutting moves would be gone.

      Reasonable summary here; as it notes, later versions of the smallsword became the epée or “duelling sword”. It’s wise not to get too hung up on terminology, because it wasn’t applied consistently even in period (let alone today).

      • I wrote:

        >That’s about when it reached the final “high-line” form that froze into Olympic sport fencing.

        I’ve done a little checking and it appears that this is not, as I thought, a generally recognized term. Or at least if it is, web searches are not turning it up. And, unfortunately, there does not appear to be any generally accepted equivalent. So I’d better explain it.

        Late-period smallsword fencing is called “high-line” because of the rest position of the hilt. In most earlier forms it was down around the belt-line or navel. As smallswords got shorter and lighter, the normal rest point shifted upward to chest level and the blade position in guard moved towards horizontal. This was required in order for the shorter blade to control enough space in front of the fighter to threaten his opponent and give him time to react.

        (I’m talking Anglo-French-Italian fencing here. Some schools of Spanish fencing used an extreme high-line guard much earlier and with longer weapons. No, I don’t know what the tactical theory behind this was.)

        I learned this term at my first sword school, Aegis. I don’t know who else uses it.

        • >I learned this term [“high-line”] at my first sword school, Aegis. I don’t know who else uses it.

          Related story from my first week of sword training…

          Singlesword practice. We’re using simulants of medium-length double-edged cross-hilted swords used with one hand – arming swords, shorter and lighter than the bastard sword and longsword I would later come to favor. Definitely not smallswords, however.

          Instructor asks me to step out and do a bout with him. He says “Concentrate on your tip work.”

          There’s a thing humans do where they extend their kinesthetic map into their tools. If you’ve ever felt for something with the tip of a screwdriver, that experience is what I mean. You can know where it is and sense what it’s touching as though it were part of your body. (Clever experiments have demonstrated that this is not unique to humans. Chimps can do it too. Safe guess that it’s general to higher primates.)

          I was an empty-hand martial artist before I was a swordsman. A thing I already knew in week one is that the sword has to become a kinesthetic extension of your body; you have to feel through it, cast your awareness into it, grok it. So I did. I put my awareness in the tip of my sword, took guard, and the conversation of blades began.

          I noticed a shift happening to my guard and engagement line during the bout, forced by my attention on the tip. The instructor was doing tip too. Our hilts drifted upwards. We fought in very small movements, mostly wrist, with our swords glued to center line and the blades circling each other a lot. I don’t remember who scored the touch, but afterwards I blinked a bit confusedly and asked “Uh…did we just do French high-line?”

          The instructor smiled and nodded. (Jason, it was Matt Bernard.)

          And I learned something important. I had never fenced in that style before, but I was able to do high-line fairly competently – despite my inexperience and the fact that the weapons weren’t really optimal for it – simply by assuming a particular mental stance.

          It taught me a habit I’ve kept. When I’m trying to learn a new sword style or weapon, one of the first questions I ask myself is: “Where does this style want my mind to be?”

          It does help.

    • Bear in mind that the naming of sword types is actually a relatively modern thing so it really depends on your definition. Wikipedia’s definition of a smallsword lists it as being at it’s most popular between the mid 17th and late 18th century so it doesn’t seem inappropriate (given what i know of RPG authors, it’s highly possible that’s what their source was).

      • >Bear in mind that the naming of sword types is actually a relatively modern thing so it really depends on your definition. Wikipedia’s definition of a smallsword lists it as being at it’s most popular between the mid 17th and late 18th century so it doesn’t seem inappropriate (given what i know of RPG authors, it’s highly possible that’s what their source was).

        Yeah. Frankly if you’d asked me what “smallsword” included before I read the Wikipedia entry I would have given a different set of boundaries, extending later (including dueling swords and epees) but also starting later. I would not include the earliest, heaviest things Wikipedia calls “smallswords”, because I think of them as light rapiers. In my mind it’s important that blade length and weight changed significantly around 1760 – there was a particular Italian master teaching in London who was instrumental in this but I’m spacing his name.

        I won’t say Wikipedia is wrong, but I won’t say I am either. “Smallsword” is a fuzzy term and it’s not clear it was in use until very late; application of it to pre-1760 indoor blades might be entirely retrospective.

        • Are you thinking of Domenico Angelo?

          The first known reference of “small-sword” in period manuals i can find is in 1707 (William Hope). While a brief scan couldn’t find a passage describe the weight or length of this “small-sword” in specifics it does mention it shouldn’t be too long or too heavy and “a thrusting weapon that isn’t long” is probably as good a description of a small sword as any. There are french titles related but these didn’t get translated into English until much later. If we assume that the meaning of smallsword was mostly consistent (ha) then the first manual i can find that (translated) specifically mentions small sword is L’Abbat’s “The art of fencing: Or, the use of the small sword” in 1696 (translated to english in 1734).

          I definitely agree, it’s not a matter of right or wrong here. Just different definitions and figuring out what people are talking about is half the challenge.

          • >Are you thinking of Domenico Angelo?

            Yup! That’s him.

            Thanks for the info about early uses of the term “small-sword”. I didn’t know them.

    • Me : Fencer at 14; Martial Arts student at 17. Now 71 and still practice both.
      Comment :The Duellists is great. Also “Reclaiming the Sword” covers the resurgence of “real” sword training. Highly recommend.

      • >Also “Reclaiming the Sword” covers the resurgence of “real” sword training.

        “Reclaiming the Sword” or “Reclaiming the Blade”? There seem to be films by both names.

        • I believe he is talking about Reclaiming the Blade which is currently part of Amazon Prime free streaming.

          “Narrated by world-renowned actor John Rhys-Davies (Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings). Starring Viggo Mortensen, Karl Urban, Bob Anderson. Lord of the Rings stars join with Star Wars sword-master – Bob Anderson. Reclaiming the Blade is a documentary steeped in history, the excitement of martial arts, the culture and craft of swords and modern day fight choreography”

          https://www.amazon.com/Reclaiming-Blade-Swordplay-GALATIA-FILMS/dp/B00DJZ102K

  11. Decades of watching movies involving technology have conditioned me to stop looking for anything resembling realism in that regard (including that infuriating bweeeeeep bweeeeeeep sound that computers always make). My wife’s medical background causes her to have a similar kind of reaction to the way medicine is portrayed in movies and television. The movies are made for (and by) people who don’t know what the real thing looks like or how it works, so those of us who know better are almost guaranteed to have a cringe or two at the way things are depicted. So I’ve learned to just go with it and enjoy the movie for what it is. With the exception of THAT INFERNAL BWEEEEP BWEEEEEEP SOUND – Gaaaaa!!! That was fine in 1985, but for crissake, people should fucking know by now that computers DON’T MAKE THAT SOUND!!!! GAAAA!!!!!

    (sorry. my bad. carry on).

    • Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect at the movies, compounded by cinema’s need for immediate visual indications of something that may take hours to occur in the Real World. There are rare exceptions like Grand Prix (1966) where the star actually drove the car at speed on the track.

      I was a military submariner and we never, never, EVER when active with the sonar system, it was all staying quiet and listening (including surface units).

          • Correct, and I didn’t find the typo until it was too late… Like any good hunter, we always listened to find our quarry.

            The only time we were supposed to go active is in port if there were hostile divers in the water. Hitting them with a kilowatt-range ping would disable the diver at distance.

            • If they are underwater and you do that it’s not “disable”.

              Not that I have a problem with that.

              • Yes, we are talking very large values of ‘disable’…. :-)…

                AFAIK the only active sonar in combat was final target tracking by the Mk48 torpedo after we cut the guide wire.

    • For years, computers made a sound like an ASR-33 whenever the ASR-33 printed out text. Then, they switched to glass ttys, and the same sound was used. Later, they switched to it just beeping as the text spewed out.

      • Now, when a movie or TV show wants to depict computer activity, they show source code scrolling by, usually accompanied by keyboard click sounds that could not possibly have produced the screen shown.

  12. Proper sport fencing is utterly inappropriate for movies, and looks nothing like movie fencing at all, mainly because it doesn’t look like *anything*. It’s far too fast. It looks like two people standing with swords in various static postures, connected by jump cuts.

    Proper/good swordplay for movies would probably use ultra-slo-mo footage.

    • >Proper/good swordplay for movies would probably use ultra-slo-mo footage.

      Nonsense. If real sword combat in historical styles were like that, I couldn’t do it.

      The weight and moment of inertia of real swords (or proper simulants for same) slows down fight tempo a lot compared to “sport” fencing. Go find some HEMA competition videos on YouTube and watch them, you’ll see.

      • The weight and moment of inertia of real swords (or proper simulants for same) slows down fight tempo a lot compared to “sport” fencing.

        I’d add two more factors contributing to the higher speed in sport fencing: the swords’ flexibility, and the rules governing near-simultaneous touches. When I was growing up, my brother fenced (saber) and I got to see him compete. At lower levels – we’re talking city tournaments, not the Olympics – the popular technique is to immediately sprint at your opponent, flailing your sword around like you’re trying to dislodge something sticky from the end of it. The swords are so flexible that non-elite fencers simply can’t parry effectively, because your opponent’s blade will bend around yours like a whip and score a touch anyway.

        The tendency then would be for a fencer under attack to try to hold his opponent at bay by threatening his own attack instead of attempting to defend himself. But the governing bodies try to promote “sensible” fencing, so they discourage attacking into an opponent who is already attacking, on the grounds that adopting such a strategy with real swords would be unreasonably reckless. As a deterrent, a near-simultaneous touch is awarded to the fencer who established “priority” by initiating the attacking sequence. So the fencers run at each other, knowing full well they’ll both be hit, but trying to convince the referee that they were the one to initiate the attack.

        • >At lower levels – we’re talking city tournaments, not the Olympics – the popular technique is to immediately sprint at your opponent, flailing your sword around like you’re trying to dislodge something sticky from the end of it. The swords are so flexible that non-elite fencers simply can’t parry effectively, because your opponent’s blade will bend around yours like a whip and score a touch anyway.

          /me rolls eyes

          Why does anyone even bother with this nonsense?

          You’re confirming all my suspicions. I wish sport fencing were something about which being doomed to suck at it would actually make me feel bad.

          • Why does anyone even bother with this nonsense?

            Easy answer: price. A “nylon” feder is, like, $50-75. An actual feder of equal weight but actual steel is fully ten times that much.

            I’m sure you’re referring to the fighting style, not the swords themselves, but I think one is feeding the other.

            (I can’t stand the nylons, precisely because you’ll get slapped with a hit that you would have parried if it were steel. But for beginners, I have to admit they’re ideal for learning the basics.)

      • I believe that we are talking past each other here. I should have said that properly rendering the kind of swordplay we often see in film, the swordplay that apes modern sport fencing at a sort of glacial pace, would best be shot in ultra slo mo and performed at a reasonable pace.

        I have no opinion on, say, film fencing with enormous swords.

  13. This is not relevant to the subject, but I thought you might find it worthwhile to address:

    Vox Day pointed out a couple of months ago that big tech companies’ willingness to break previous agreements (or use nebulous “user agreements” to weasel out of a contract) is turning the internet economy into a sort of third world, low-trust economy because no one knows who can actually be trusted to continue an agreement if (wildly unpredictable) political winds swing the wrong way.

    Did you have any thoughts on this subject?

      • I apologize. I was not aware of the netiquette around here. Where is a good place for such questions if no current blog post is relevant?

        • >I apologize. I was not aware of the netiquette around here. Where is a good place for such questions if no current blog post is relevant?

          There isn’t one yet. I’m considering having a periodic open thread, but haven’t done it yet.

          • To chip in with an opposing point of view: I abhor the “open thread” post model for off-topic discussions. To me it feels like trying to follow a Usenet conversation which got cross-posted to (most of) the entire alt.* hierarchy–which would be bad enough on its’ own. Sadly, most blog systems limit comments (even if only by “paginating”) after some arbitrary amount per post, leading to a periodic “latest open thread” and unnecessary breaks in ongoing conversations. Between these two effects, I much prefer communities where open conversation [if not all conversation] are hosted as some sort of message / bulletin board. I’m sure there exists some manner of solution which would allow integrating blog comments with a BBS, but haven’t done any research into the options here. [Even if I had, I wouldn’t feel comfortable proposing specific solutions.]

            Part of the reason I like this blog so much is the orderly and topical conversation. While open threads might appear to help with that, in my opinion they are neither a complete nor appropriate solution.

          • > I’m considering having a periodic open thread, but haven’t done it yet.

            The threading of this comment module will make that problematic.

            BTW, how’s your diet :)

            • >BTW, how’s your diet :)

              Down 17 pounds – would probably be more but Christmas holiday food fought me to a draw, I haven’t any net loss since the third week of December. But my paunch has shrunk a bit and I feel lighter on my feet. Progress continues.

            • >How about a little widget that lets people submit suggestions for possible posts to you?

              Maybe when somebody (else) writes it.

  14. Any opinion on bladework in the Sharpe series?
    There is a “duel” and a “lesson” is a couple of episodes, where low-born Sharpe faces off with the gentry, and turns an elegant occasion into a gutter brawl.

  15. When I think of the best choregraphed melee weapon combat in a mainstream movie, I pretty naturally think of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I’m surprised Eric didn’t mention it in the OP.

    I don’t feel qualified to place it properly in the landscape of other fighters, but if I had to anyway, I would guess that it’s much more stylized, even when you set aside the overtly stylized leaps and wire-fu stunts. I think, for instance, of Michelle Yeoh fighting Zhang Ziyi, sword against spear (and, well, everything else). It’s probably not strictly functional, but it might draw on real techniques FAIK. And boy, did it look pretty.

    And now I’m trying to think of the most functional swordfighting in a movie, and not coming up with any standouts. Functional, as in used in real combat, as opposed to fencing, which I understand to be a pursuit for professional athletes and duelists.

    • >I would guess that it’s much more stylized,

      It is. There’s a noticeable divide between kung fu movies that choreograph based on real technique and those that are impressionistic martial-arts fantasy, one my wife and I are particularly sensitive to because we are students of real kung fu. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is definitely on the fantasy side. Additionally, weapons combat tends to be more stylized than hand-to-hand because it’s more difficult to accumulate the kind of experience that leads to being able to generate or evaluate realistic moves.

      >Functional, as in used in real combat, as opposed to fencing, which I understand to be a pursuit for professional athletes and duelists.

      Having trained in both dueling and field combat, I don’t find the distinction is as great as you imply. Techniques cross over a lot. The main difference is that in dueling you have only one threat axis; field combat puts an absolutely high premium on 360-degree situational awareness and a comparatively higher one on mobility (for which reason I am, alas, a better duelist than field fighter). Also field combat tends to reward longer weapons, as it’s more important to be able to control a significant space around yourself.

    • >If Our Host doesn’t mind:

      Absolutely not. Others may feel free to post links to historical fencing groups on this thread.

    • I’m currently studying with the Toledo [OH] Historic Swordsmanship Society https://toledohema.wordpress.com/.
      We’re mostly working from the 1570 manual of “Joachim Meyer, Freifechter of Strassburg” (i.e. German style), although our senior members/instructors are interested in many other schools.

      I am aware of the Polaris Fellowship of Weapons Study and the Aegis Academy of Swordsmanship, both in SE Michigan, but I cannot in good conscience recommend either.

  16. Since we seem to have a lot of new commenters on this thread, I should summarize my experience.

    I started training in Western sword in 2005. My base style is southern Italian cut-and-thrust sword from around 1500, fought with either aming sword or basket-hilted transitional swords like the schiavona. More recently I’ve been acquiring a more German-influenced longsword technique. I’m also qualified in dagger, sword with main gauche, glaive, and zweihander (though not more than minimally competent at the latter yet, my experience is limited). The only major weapon I’ve barely touched is spear.

    Before I got seriously into longsword, my strongest dueling style was probably sword with main gauche. I’m fairly expert at a couple of empty-hand styles, so I am enabled to strike and grapple in combination with a blade.

    I’ve never done sport fencing. Only very recently have I gotten any good with late-period thrusting swords – I won’t call myself an expert but at least I no longer embarrass myself when fighting in that style.

    I’ve picked up a fair amount of Asian sword over twenty-nine years of hand-to-hand training, and have also fought SCA hardsuit. I know period tactics and have led small-unit actions.

    I don’t know how I’d stack up against the kind of people who do HEMA tournaments. I doubt I’m quite in that class, but I do suspect I’m solid enough that such people had best not slack off too much around me unless they want to lose.

    Presently I train occasionally at Modern Gladiatorial Arts in Chester Springs, PA and regularly at Kuntao Martial Arts in Phoenixville, PA, where we do a lot of Philippine blade work and shortsword in addition to our traditional kung fu.

    • A good many of us meet in New Hampshire every year in August. It’s called Fechtschule Frisbee (Frisbee happens to be the main organizer’s name). Lots of longsword, but people end up tossing all sorts of other things in – archery, tulwar(?), saber, high-line. The year I was there, someone even brought four horses and we learned some mounted techniques. Excellent crowd, IMO.

      • >tulwar(?)

        That transliteration is accepted. You may also see “talwar”; in many North Indian languages there’s a rather schwa-like central vowel that can be rendered either way in English. (Same reason the word for burning widows is transcribed as either “sati” or “suttee”.) I’ve never fought with one but I’ve trained enough with East Asian curved blades like the katana and dao that the talwar draw-cut is not a mystery to me.

        Does your crowd use the term “high-line” or are you adopting my terminology?

        • The latter. I’d seen some of them carrying around such swords and assumed that’s one of the things they’d try. Rapiers are popular as well. Generally, they’re all HEMA folks indulging their curiosity in adjacent arms.

          It’s also a booster for the local Tamworth Camping Ground, AIUI. Anyone visiting the camp on those dates is invited to spectate; participation in the actual event (attending classes, etc.) is around $100. (Plus a bit more if one were to do more expensive things like the horse combat.) But practically everyone there is into free sparring on the side.

    • >You might like the duel from ‘The Deluge’:

      It looks plausible, but I don’t know enough about Polish saber form to certify it authentic.

      There’s one detail I found rather telling, though. The winner changes sword-hand right to left and back with some frequency. I do that myself, it’s a way to rest your arms and avoid cramping your hands. It’s one of the little things that marks an experienced fighter, as inexperienced fighters (a) don’t think to do it, and (b) couldn’t fight well enough with the off hand to make it work if they did.

      If you ever fight someone who’s doing that, be wary when he switches from off hand to dominant – he’s very likely to power up at you with the just-rested arm.

  17. ESR: the technology board on 4chan had a rousing debate on copyright licenses and revocation. I thought it might interest you and your readers, so here is the link to the archive: https://warosu.org/g/thread/S69460068

    They also mentioned you:
    > Even ERS is tired of your shit

    (and)
    > > Even ERS is tired of your shit
    >It’s ESR. Sadly, like any lay-person, it seems that he seems to think the issue is settled just because no one took any action in the 2 months since the CoC.
    >
    >Your ownership of your code doesn’t evaporate just because you didn’t take legal action immediately…
    >
    >But this is what you lay-people try to tell all the programmers who could and can rescind.

    As for sword-fighting, how many medieval weapons do you own? I like to collect them myself (naturally, who doesn’t)? I especially like the balance on my crusader’s sword. It wasn’t even that expensive…

    • >As for sword-fighting, how many medieval weapons do you own?

      Zero. I tend to stick to owning weapons I might realistically street-carry.

      My wife Cathy owns a replica Viking sword.

  18. Another cinematic fight I’m curious about reactions to: The fights between Tybalt, Mercutio, and Romeo in Zeffirelli’s 1968 Romeo and Juliet.

    As drama, I thought the fight was plain brilliant–Tybalt is the most skillful and serious of the three, Mercutio’s clowning to let off steam and his death really is an accident even from Tybalt’s point of view, and Romeo’s win is mostly fluke (the film plays up his naïve and boyish side, in a way that wouldn’t match making him a master swordsman). It’s after a completely different effect than any swashbuckler, and achieves it. But how does it look to a swordsman?

    My reading of Shakespeare’s script is that his concept was different. Mercutio seems to dislike Tybalt’s (French?) style of fencing, though I’m not clear if he respects it or not:

    “Oh, he’s the courageous captain of compliments. He fights as you sing prick-song, keeps time, distance, and proportion. He rests his minim rests—one, two, and the third in your bosom. The very butcher of a silk button, a duelist, a duelist, a gentleman of the very first house of the first and second cause. Ah, the immortal passado, the punto reverse, the hai! . . .The pox of such antic lisping affecting phantasimes, these new tuners of accent . . . Why, is not this a lamentable thing, grandsire, that we should be thus afflicted with these strange flies, these fashion-mongers, these “pardon me’s,” who stand so much on the new form, that they cannot sit at ease on the old bench?

    …the Mercutio-Tybalt fight is in dead earnest, and the action suggests that the two were at least evenly matched, with Romeo the best of the three.

    • Ditto the 1968 R&J question.

      Otherwhere in the 1595 script clues suggest to me that Mercutio was a combat veteran — his dreams a symptom of PTSD. He then has a battlefield lethal/mortal/butcherous fighting style to match; and a contempt for Tybalt as a “duelist” who quits, win or lose, at first blood.

      I haven’t seen the 2013 Julian Fellowes version but would happily hear opinions on its swordplay or any other features.

      • Otherwhere in the 1595 script clues suggest to me that Mercutio was a combat veteran — his dreams a symptom of PTSD.

        Although I don’t think it’s what Shakespeare had in mind, that is a very interesting interpretation of the character…

        My own view is this: Mercutio’s death is where the tragedy starts to snowball, and I think his dreamy monologue about Queen Mab, his witty repartee with Romeo, his teasing of Juliet’s nurse, his reckless needling of Tybalt, the way he can’t stop quipping even when he’s mortally wounded, and the rest all serve a simpler purpose: to make him as alive as possible, so that the audience can feel his death more strongly.

        For that purpose, I think he’s better interpreted as young and carefree rather than war-weary and tormented.

      • Comes to mind that Mercutio’s opinions on Tybalt might have been inspired by George Silver.

  19. /unlurk/ I fenced in college FWIW, and dabbled in historical stuff. For this thread I’m wonderinf if I’m the only person who’s seen the live action Kenshin movies set in Meiji era Japan with copious swordfights? It’s like nothing else I’ve seen in movies. And done well enough to the source material that after I looked at the manga I could recognize moves and stances the author showed and said were historically recorded sword techniques.

    • >And done well enough to the source material that after I looked at the manga I could recognize moves and stances the author showed and said were historically recorded sword techniques.

      I’d like to see those. Got a YouTube pointer?

  20. Elaine T on 2019-01-24 at 13:11:07 said:

    i remembered how to find a couple one on one fights and here’re youtube links.
    On this first one my kid can call out the moves against Aoshi, from information in the manga:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ek7wOYc4uKQ

    Distinctly different styles in use by the two here:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcjjl4kTDL4

    And from movie 1, while he’s gotten sloppy over ten years of wandering, against many
    … well crap, this one keeps posting the actual video, not just a link .. if you’re interested look for Kenshin, live action, dojo fight.

  21. You should do a post on gunfighting in movies next. There is some really good examples like the shootout scene in Heat (1995), the landing scene in Saving Private Ryan (1998), and the briefcase scene in Collateral (2004). And, of course, innumerable bad examples as well.

      • Can you make a thread talking about these things.
        The OSS world has changed.
        Though the old nice hacker ways still seem to be with the BSDs

  22. Here is perhaps an interesting question. Sword fighting in movies is primarily intended as entertainment (not actual instruction), and consequently most of the action is scripted and choreographed for that purpose; hence the overly long combat engagements and stylized movements. In contrast, an actual existential combat duel with lethal consequences is typically very short and ends with a severe wound or kill stroke. The closest modern day analogy most commonly occurs in prison attacks, where the victim is often ambushed. Question, in a real life deadly encounter, would an average person more likely behave as a movie character or fall back on instinctual behaviors and reactions. For example, if a swordsman found himself facing off against multiple similarly armed assailants (typical movie scenario), would he really stand his ground and take them on simultaneously, or would he retreat to fight another day?

    • >Question, in a real life deadly encounter, would an average person more likely behave as a movie character or fall back on instinctual behaviors and reactions.

      No question. You can’t fight like a movie character in a swashbuckler unless you’ve trained to do it. Otherwise you’re just a fool waving a hunk of metal around and don’t have long to live. Instinct is going to take over.

      >For example, if a swordsman found himself facing off against multiple similarly armed assailants (typical movie scenario), would he really stand his ground and take them on simultaneously, or would he retreat to fight another day?

      Me, I’d get the hell out or use a gun if either were possible. But my mobility is limited: “run” is not a viable option.

      Ideally multiple swordsmen get bullets, one to center of mass each with followup head-shot if they don’t go down. But I might not be carrying, either.

      Going to blade-to-blade is a lousy third option – and I say that even though I have respectable skills at it.

    • Retreat to fight another day.

      2 on 1 sucks in any fight where all combatants have similar weapons.

      If you were forced to fight, say in a 1 on 1 situation, you’d fight like you trained, assuming your training had a lot of sparring. Whatever rules you sparred under, whatever techniques your sparring limited, those are the same ones you’d use in a real fight, because that’s how sparring trains people.

      If your club doesn’t use helmets, you’ll never do head hits. If your club ignores hand hits, you’ll never do them either. If your club doesn’t allow after blows or double hits, you won’t defend against them. If no one in your club fights aggressively, or feints, you won’t know how to deal with it.

      And worst case, if your club doesn’t spar at all, you’ll have no idea how to use any of your practice drill techniques in a real time situation.

  23. There is another thing that bothers me about how fantasy handles swordfights, but I don’t want to write a huge wall of text and I don’t know how to make it short. Let’s try a modern parallel since many of you are “gun nuts” here. There is the civilian with his self-defense sidearm (handgun). There is the soldier in battle with his assault rifle, grenades, helmet, googles, flak jacket and gazillion other kinds of gear. And there is not much in between. Yes, sometimes guerillas or gangsters might carry an Uzi and perhaps some helmet but otherwise no military gear but it is rare. It is normally one extreme or the other, civvie with a sidearm or full outkitted soldier.

    And it was the same back then. Either you are a civvie with a sidearm like a rapier or side-sword (common normal sword) and just clothes, no armor, or you would be a soldier on the battlefield in as much armor as you can afford, a large shield and usually with a polearm of some kind because reach matters. The “fighter” of fantasy who runs around all day in in-between gear say mail (“chain mail”) and a side-sword (“longsword”) did not exist, it makes no sense, there is no real “ecological niche” for him. Nor does Aragon or the monster-policing Dunedain rangers as a concept make sense, a dude in clothes that somehow doubles as leather armor (which wasn’t used by civilized people, a gambeson or an aketon was a different thing, the closest is maybe a hunting jerkin), carrying a sword way to too big for a side-sword (if he tried hanging it on his belt he’d keep dragging it on the ground and tripping over) and so on.

    It is pretty much like as if in the modern world you would decide to go on an “adventure” in a dangerous place, you would have an Uzi and a kevlar helmet, but just civilian clothes, no flak jacket, driving a civilian car and so on. It makes no sense at all. Any place too dangerous for a civvie with a .45 sidearm and no helmet is meant for real soldiers with real gear, isn’t it?

    If I want to be very generous, some kind of “light infantry, scouts” model could be adapted…

    • >It is normally one extreme or the other, civvie with a sidearm or full outkitted soldier.

      No. Consider hunters.

      >Either you are a civvie with a sidearm like a rapier or side-sword (common normal sword) and just clothes, no armor, or you would be a soldier on the battlefield in as much armor as you can afford, a large shield and usually with a polearm of some kind because reach matters.

      Depends very much on time period and tactical role. Your “soldier” is heavy infantry, but pre-gunpowder light infantry and archers existed. For an example of battlefield troops in something pretty close to period civilian gear, consider Spanish sword-and-bucker men from the tercio period – they existed in both armored and unarmored variants, and unarmored rodelers weren’t distinguishable from civilians except by the buckler.

      >clothes that somehow doubles as leather armor (which wasn’t used by civilized people, a gambeson or an aketon was a different thing, the closest is maybe a hunting jerkin),

      Foot troops in the New Model Army (English Civil War) would disagree with you. Many fought in buff jerkins. Others fought in heavy cloth coats indistinguishable from period civilian dress.

      Indeed, for the next 130 years or so the distinction between male civilian dress and military wear was pretty difficult to make in England and the U.S. And this was at a time when firearms had not quite obsolesced contact weapons.

    • There is the civilian with his self-defense sidearm (handgun). There is the soldier in battle with his assault rifle, grenades, helmet, googles, flak jacket and gazillion other kinds of gear. And there is not much in between.

      That is not correct.

      Oh, and “flak jackets” went out in the 1980s.

      You are right that there the “civilian” has only his pistol on his person, but some of us also have rifles and sometimes vests in our vehicles (I usually have a carbine, but don’t have a vest.)

      Soldiers wear *very* different kit depending on what sort of mission they’re working. The massive body armor they wear when fighting from vehicles, or moving short distances in urban areas is counter productive when climbing hills, moving through marshes or otherwise conducting foot patrols outside of urban areas.

      And you’re missing “police” who will wear a vest under their duty shirt (usually), and will have a level IIIa or IV vest in their trunk and will have a rifle or shotgun to augment their pistol. Also SWAT teams will have a variety of weapons and levels of armor depending on funding.

      The “fighter” of fantasy who runs around all day in in-between gear say mail (“chain mail”) and a side-sword (“longsword”) did not exist, it makes no sense, there is no real “ecological niche” for him.

      “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio”

      https://pre09.deviantart.net/7663/th/pre/f/2013/025/a/6/conquistadores_by_7leipnir-d5snazn.jpg

      Have you ever spoken with anyone who’s worn “plate” armor and tried to move in it? You can’t see s*t out of the helmets, breathing is easy–as long as you haven’t exerted yourself much. It is hard to don and take off. And it was expensive as s*t.

      Our ancestors were quite like us in a lot of ways, and one of them was a variety of sorts of arms and armor for various missions and at various technology levels.

      Nor does Aragon or the monster-policing Dunedain rangers as a concept make sense, a dude in clothes that somehow doubles as leather armor

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Texas_Ranger_Division

      Leather was rarely (if ever, I’m sure someone tried it though) used for full body armor, but hardened leather was with plates or by itself to protect other areas of the body.

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