A Brief Introduction to Armoured Longsword Combat
- By Matt Anderson and Shane Smith (ARMA Virginia Beach)
Most practitioners of historical fencing have not extensively explored armoured fighting techniques. This is due to several factors, including the expense and difficulty inherent in obtaining a decent reproduction harness.
The fact that most harness fighting techniques involve thrusting and violent grappling actions is also daunting. Still, several members of the ARMA, Virginia Beach study group have for several years had a keen interest in trying to recreate the type of harness fighting we see in the "fechtbuchs".
Not the hack and bash type of display commonly seen at Renn faires, or the armoured stick fighting practiced by some medieval reenacting groups, but something more like what might have really been seen in 15th century Europe. We knew from our examination of the "fechtbuchs" that real armoured fighting of the period was efficient, effective and brutal.
Certain tactical basics became apparent early on. The edge of the sword, for example, is relatively useless against plate armour. Most source texts show no edge blows at all. Rather, armoured sword fighting is all about putting the point into a relatively unprotected area.
In order to thrust effectively and accurately to these relatively small targets such as the face, armpit, inside of the elbow, and other areas which are not covered by plate armour, and defend them, half-swording is the predominant technique.
Half-swording, with a firm grip closer to the point, gives one the thrusting accuracy to hit these relatively small areas. It also enables one to thrust with power and body weight behind the attack, often necessary in order to penetrate the maille and padded garments between the plate defenses.
Grappling moves such as trips and throws are an essential element as well. Levering with the sword, arm and wrist locks, even kicks and hand strikes are all useful techniques against an armoured man. It is often necessary to throw your opponent to the ground and perhaps hold him there in order to make an opening for your finishing move.
The more we studied the source texts, the more we realized that the only way to really learn how to fight in armour was to armour up and try to duplicate what we saw in the source texts. We have studied and experimented with several sources and many techniques but in this article, we will focus on what we have learned in our exploration of the armoured longsword techniques from Fiore Dei Liberi’s Flos Duellatorum.