Martial Styles – Longsword
Period of use: The 13th to 15th centuries.
Main way of using: Two handed. The longsword was proficient as both a cutting and thrusting weapon.
Used by: Knights and men-at-arms.
Popularised by: The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Game of Thrones.
The longsword was used by knights and men-at-arms from the middle of the thirteenth century to the end of the fifteenth. These swords had lengthy cruciform hilts with grips over 15cm in length, which provided room for two hands, and long quillons, which, according to Fillipo Vadi, should be the same length as the grip. They also possessed straight double-edged blades and weighed typically between 1,200 and 1,400g – light specimens being just below 1,000g, and heavy versions just over 2,000g.
Just as there were variation in weight there were also variations in the lengths of longswords, with blades often over 90cm in length, however, according to Fillipo Vadi, the overall length of the sword should be in proportion to the person wielding it, with the pommel of the sword just coming up to armpit. Other suggestions that Vadi has on the form of the sword are that the pommel should be “round in order to fit in the fist” and that the handle should be square-shaped, whilst the blade should be pointed to wound and cut. By this he is immediately implying that the sword should be used for thrusting as well as cutting.
Joachim Meyer “The Art of Combat”
His treatise was written in 1570. It contain Meyer’s take on the long tradition of German combat utilising Longsword, Dussack, Rapier, Dagger, quarterstaff, halberd and Pike. The treatise is a very good start on the way to constructing a system. But only in part. He states that he is describing the use of these weapons in the contexted of the Salle (school). This means that safety and honour is taken into account. In some earlier treatises the emphasis is on grappling, kicking, thrusting, half-swording etc. the stuff of knights in battle. So we have turned to others to discover a broader knowledge of the craft. However Meyer has a clear description of guards, Postures and and effective cutting system/exercises used for defence and attack and this is very much part of our overall system. He also covers a number of good “Combat Devices” methods for using the constucts he presents to the reader.
The sword should be of the correct measure with the pommel just under the arm, as it appears here in my writing. To avoid any hindrance, the pommel should be round to fit the closed hand, do this and you won’t be in trouble. And know for sure that the handle should be a span long, use other measures and you’ll be confused. To prevent your mind from being deceived the guard should be as long as the handle and pommel together, and you won’t be condemned. The hilt is squared and strong as needed with iron broad and pointed its duty being to wound and cut.
Little is known of the life of Fillipo Vadi. His treaty “Liber de Arte Gladitoria Dimicandi” was written between 1482 and 1487 and it is dedicated to Guido da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino. Within this he tells us that he was born in Pisa and that he had learned his fencing skills, “from the practical experience and doctrine of many masters of arms of different countries, well versed in their Art”.
Fillipo Vadi is often compared to the other major Italian master of the longsword Fiore Dei Liberi who wrote the 1410 manual Fior di Battaglia (‘Flower of Battle’). Some scholars have made the assertion that Liber de Arte Gladitoria Dimicandi is merely a poor copy of Fior di Battaglia, but although there are striking similarities between the two, as may seem befitting of two Italian systems of a similar time frame, there are also differences, which range from the positions of the guards and the technical application of blows to additional insights. Just then as the gospels of Matthew and Luke were supposed to differ from that of Mark by the addition of some other unknown source (referred to as ‘Q’) the work of Vadi varies sufficiently from that of Fiore Dei Liberi to indicate that it is no simple copy and, in this instance the ‘Q’ of Vadi is probably his own learning and by no means insubstantial as it helps to create and shed light on an extremely dynamic system. In fact Liber de Arte Gladitoria Dimicandi seems to be infused throughout with Vadi’s individuality, bringing life, intelligence and personality into the text. For example he writes in prose and describes the guard posta corona as, “I am the crown and I am master, in bindings I am skilled,” whilst of blows he describes the fendenti as, “We are fendenti and we do question of cutting teeths with straight reason.”
Some may argue that by using this poetical approach Vadi fails to convey all the intricate details that we would wish to see in the system, but this is consistent with the masters of the time who were not prone to reveal all the nuances and secrets of their systems in a publication, and he also seems to suggest that much of his system is there for those who have the wit and dedication to seek for it, thereby reemphasising the view of many contemporary masters that fence was a high art and one that should be approached as such. More than this, however, Vadi created a treaty that tells a story and a complete system that is imbued with strength and character, both of the sword and its master, whilst emphasising the import of lightness and fluidity, whose vitality is obvious even in the present day.