Modern sword fighting disciplines like Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) often utilize blunt steel training swords to simulate combat while also ensuring a modicum of safety.
Blunt swords like our Fechterspiel, pictured above, allow martial artists and scholars to recreate historical fighting techniques in a historically appropriate manner. Indeed, our felhterspiel is based on several surviving examples of 16th century training swords from Germany that were used to develop and demonstrate the chivalric skills of medieval Europe.
An image of a 16th century fencing tournament
Although blunt swords were used historically to teach and demonstrate fencing, they are an imperfect stand-in for sharp swords because they behave differently two swords strike each other. Blunt swords tend to rebound from each other when strong contact is made. This is because the swords are made of hardened steel with an edge that is thick enough to prevent cutting. Conversely, when two sharp swords are struck together with edge on edge contact they each sword tends to bite into the blade of the other, potentially creating a momentary bind when the blades are keyed together. The bites taken out of the blade edges also change the character of gliding actions along the blade that are often used to wind to an opening in HEMA.
Recognizing that most folks don't just have a bunch of extra high-quality sharp swords laying around that they are willing to damage the pursuit of science, we've decided to take it upon ourselves to see how edge on edge contact is different from fighting with blunt swords, and what kind of damage said contact might produce in historically accurate replicas. This video is also the first in a series in which we will attempt to sharpen out the marks of combat, and compare the new blade profiles with those of historical swords in The Oakeshott Institute Collection.
For this video we used a custom longsword belonging to Nathan that we made with a blade from our Durer Longsword, a classic 15th century German sword with historically accurate construction and geometry. As with all of our swords, this features a blade of 6150 carbon steel hardened and tempered to 50-52 Rockwell. Check out all of our sharp longswords here.
Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography. He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.
Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985