Fencing who? The longsword is a medieval blast from the past

Violet Van Fleet ‘21, Feature Editor


The Olympic sport fencing is often associated with snotty, privileged kids of the upper class who frequently appear in movies as antagonists. Stereotyping finds fencing a pale imitation of the grand duels of the past centuries; however, its lesser-known sister brings the average sword-fighting enthusiast that much closer to replicating the power and ferocity of our steel-welding ancestors. This is referring to the longsword, a branch of the Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) that has been gaining popularity in recent years. 

The history of the longsword, a two-handed sword with a double-edged blade, is a rich one. Dating back to the late 1300s, the longsword is a subsection of the German school of fencing. In its early days, the longsword was first taught on a major scale in the Holy Roman Empire. From there, it earned its name as it spread like wildfire across all of Europe, gradually becoming the art we know and love today. Johannes Liechtenauer, a fencing High Master or Grand Master that dealt mainly with the longsword in the 14th century, is largely responsible for the development of classic sword fighting with his widespread teachings. 

The action of the longsword is vaguely similar to fencing, yet the hype of watching it is exponentially higher. While wielding dulled longswords, contenders don extremely thick padding and a black mask that mimics the ones worn by fencers. Matches, strangely enough, seem reminiscent of a wrestling ring. While traditional fencing calls for standing across from each other and only moving back and forth in a straight line, those who take up the mantle of the longsword circle each other much like two wrestlers about to brawl. 

In most matches, the person who reaches the most points in the minute and a half to two-minute time frame is crowned victorious. Points are awarded based on the amount of “clean hits” (a successful or unblocked attack when the sword hits a standing opponent that is facing the attacker) and “grapples” (managing to get the opponent to the floor) one gets. Junior Cameron Veresh said, “[Longsword fighting] looks a lot more interesting [than fencing]. I like the aesthetic of it.” It is more physical than fencing while maintaining the beauty of sword-fighting. 

There are multiple ways to immerse yourself in this fantastic art form. The Ann Arbor Sword Club is one such company that offers one-on-one as well as group sessions for those looking to pick up the sword. For more experienced fighters, there are also competition opportunities. Since its founding in 2007, the National Fencing Foundation has hosted the Capitol Clash, a national HEMA tournament every January for swordsmen and women across the country, if not the world. Other organizations, such as the HEMA Alliance strive to inform and organize training sessions for those who practice HEMA. In an interview with The New York Times, Kiana Shurkin, a women’s steel longsword champion, said, “It’s a serious martial art and a serious sport and we’re hoping that awareness will grow.”

The art of the longsword that is a nod to the medieval period is sprouting anew in America, and you could join the thousands of competitors for the ride. Fighting alongside your ancestors and mastering moves that could put even the best-trained knight to shame is easily the greatest hobby to take on. If you are looking to arm yourself against your enemies in the classic sense, the longsword may be for you. Because trading steel that would have made any lady of the court swoon is more than sword of amazing.


Photo courtesy of chivalrytoday.com

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