As makers of high quality and historically accurate reproductions of medieval swords we need to understand swords both as artifacts and as practical weapons. Indeed, it is understanding both of these aspects that allows us to make swords that look, feel, and work like the originals. We think that many common misunderstandings about swords arise from well-meaning interpretations by folks who are experts in only one of these two areas. One of the places that these common misunderstandings tend to be propagated is in museum catalogues written by curators or academics with limited practical experience in fighting with swords. Now, this is not a universal problem as there are several examples of curators and academics who bridge this divide such as, among others, Tobias Capwell of the Wallace Collection who also fights in armor, Jeffrey Forgeng of the Higgins Collection who also translates historical fight books, and Ken Mondschein who is a fencing maestro as well as a historian. It is, however, an issue that is frequently betrayed by the descriptions of swords in catalogues.
I was reminded of this issue recently while rereading "Arms and Armour of Knights and Landsknechts in the Netherlands Army Museum". Now, overall, this is an excellent volume that contains detailed descriptions of many pieces from the Netherlands Army Museum. It is widely available and is a lovely resource for makers, afficionados, and practitioners of historical European martial arts. However, many of the descriptions of how swords were used are deeply misleading. Now, this post is not to pick on this particular source, there are many others that make similar claims. Rather, the descriptions of swords and sword combat in this catalogue are quite typical of the kinds of interpretations expounded over the past century and a half by academic experts with little practical experience using the objects they are curating.
Myths about thrusting told by experts
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.