Legs, Wounds, and Standing Fights in Historical Fencing

By John Clements
ARMA Director

"A full blow upon the neck, shoulder, arm, or leg, endangers life, cuts off the veins, muscles, and sinews, perishes the bones. These wounds made by the blow, in respect of perfect healing, are the loss of limbs, or maims incurable forever."
- George Silver, Paradoxes of Defence, 1598

leg1.JPG (36981 bytes)Frequently, I’m asked by practitioners and members to comment further upon certain unfortunate practices within versions of historical-sport fencing games: that of electing to reflect leg and hips strikes so as to require combatants to drop down in order to continue to play. I refuse these requests out of hand, as they are not germane to ARMA’s Study Approach. When I am however asked to help provide documented evidence of the effects of leg wounds in Medieval and Renaissance combat and their meaning in historical fencing study today, I cannot refuse.

Let’s take a brief look then at just what historical accounts and descriptions of combats actually tell us about leg wounds and standing up in fighting. 

I33.jpg (109058 bytes)The ancient author Dionysius of Halicarnassus wrote of a battle in 436 BC between the Romans and the Gauls, describing how with the short gladius the legionnaires, "would cut the tendons of their [enemies] knees and topple them to the ground".  In the 1300s, William of Apulia writes of battle describing "Feet lopped off at the knee and ankle" and well known are the skeletal remains from the battle of Wisby in 1361 on the Baltic isle of Gotland off the coast of Sweden. Excavations and forensic examinations of the remains of more than one thousand of the fallen fighters reveal that more than 400 of just over 1000 fighters suffered serious leg wounds. Bones were sheared through or cracked and shattered, others were cut to through teh muscle and tissue. Several victims even loss both legs completely. (Thordeman, p. 167-172).

CWfoot158.jpg (21151 bytes)It was even common in 15th century Spain for monetary compensation to be paid to knights for wounds received in combat and "…the grand sum of 120 maravedís was recommended for those who lost …a leg below the knee." In the Fechtbuch illustrations of Joerg Wilhalm from 1523, there are even color depictions of fighters clearly bleeding from minor wounds to their calves during practice with blunt great-swords. One page also shows three separate stop-thrusts to the foot (in which the sword punctures the armored sabaton in a splatter of bright red). The same manuscript even shows an unarmored fighter continuing to practice with a bloodied bandage on one of his bare calves.

Viking Sagas are rich with accounts of leg blows and their effects. In the 13th century Kormak’s Saga, we read how "Ogmund whirled about his sword swiftly and shifted it from hand to hand, and hewed Asmund’s leg from under him." In Eyrbyggja Saga we read how "Thorarin cut the leg from thorir at the thickest of the calf" and how Steinthor "smote at Thorleif Kimbi, and smote the leg from him below the knee..." From the Laxdaela Saga there is the account of how "Kjartan cut off one leg of Gudlaug above the knee, and that hurt was enough to cause death" as well as how "Thorleik struck him with his sword, and it caught him on the leg above the knee and cut off his leg, and he fell to earth dead." From the 14th century Icelandic Grettir’s Saga, we read of Onund and how a man "struck him and took off his leg below the knee, disabling him at a blow." From Book I of Saxo Grammaticus’ late 12th to early 13th century Nine Books of the Danish History, we also read how against his opponent one warrior "clove asunder his left arm and part of his left side and his right foot". We then read how Horwendil fought Koller "and at last hewed off his foot and drove him lifeless to the ground."  In all these examples, with a single heavy blow from a single-hand cutting blade the unarmored leg is hewn from the body and the victim is immediately incapacitated or killed.

From the Gesta material of c.1125, we do read the folkloric tale of the legendary Saxon hero, Hereward the Wake, who "called his sword 'Brainbiter'" for "He could fight twelve people at once with it!" In one likely apocryphal episode (Gesta section XXXII) he fought an eminent knight in single combat, which would likely have occurred in maile byrnies with sword and shield: "Hereward drew from its sheath a second sword… and attacked his opponent more vigorously. And at the first blow, while feigning an attack on the head, he struck the man in the middle of his thigh. Still the soldier defended himself for some time on his knees, declaring that for as long as there was life in him he would never be willing to surrender or look beaten. Admiring which, Hereward praised his bravery and courage and stopped attacking him, leaving him and going on his way." This fictional tale says nothing of the magnitude of the wound to the thigh and as Hereward seeks for him to yield the soldier is only able to defend himself awhile -not attack or strike back, just defend. From the leg blow the man is unable to stand and falls downs to his knees, where, although he manages to stay alive, he is unable to effectively fight, and Hereward, knowing the man is clearly beaten, respects his refusal to surrender and so simply walks away rather than finishing him off. Hereward knows he can kill him easily enough… and that there is nothing to prevent Hereward just walking away.

leg2.JPG (21364 bytes)In 1263 a chivalric combat occurred in Scotland between Sir Piers de Curry and Andrew Nicolson. As the mounted Piers brandished his spear at Nicolson, Nicolson charged Piers on foot and with his sword struck a blow that severed Piers thigh from his body and killed him on the spot. In the 1300s there was a combat between two Spanish captains at Ferrara, in which: "the combatants being engaged, one of the parties received a desperate wound, which occasioned such a loss of blood that he sank to the ground; when his antagonist, according the noble institutions of chivalry, rushed on him with the point of is sword to his throat." The combat then ceased.

Hutton recounts a fight in the 1400’s, as relayed by one Lindsay of Pitscottie, between Sir Patrick Hamilton and a Dutch knight, Sir John Cockbewis. "Then both the knightis alighted on thair foott, and joyned pertlie togidder with rightawful countenance; each on stark uther and foight the space of an hour with uncertaine victorie, quhill at the last said Sir Patrick rusched rudlie upon the Duchman, and strak him on his knies, and the Duchman being on his knies, the king kest his hatt over the castle wall, and caused the judges to stay and red thame; but the trumpeteris cryed out and soundit, saying the victorie was Sir Patrickis." Once the combatant was down on his knees, the fight was stopped.

While the idealized and often fantastical knightly combat in early chivalric romances sometimes does provide clues to the reality of such fighting, at other times however it represents something else entirely. In the 12th century epic, Iwein (itself a German version of Chrétien de Troyes' Arthurian epic Yvain) by the Swabian knight and poet, Hartmann von Aue, we find the following unusual comment regarding a description of two knights in single combat with swords: 'They did not try to strike any blows below the knee because they did not have any shields' (See Pincikowski in Classsen, p. 105). However, from his translation work of this courtly literature, medievalist Scott Pincikowski believes that there is no proof this kind of statement was reflective of actual reality. Rather, he suggests that such idealized conceptions of combat were an attempt by poets at the time to offer chivalric knights a ritualized mode of behaving that did not result in certain violent death or maiming to one another. We have no way of knowing, he notes, to what degree such a statement was followed by knights in the 11th and 12th centuries. But the very fact that such an idea (i.e., hacking at shields and helms rather than vulnerable legs) had to be put forward in early courtly literature was, he feels, an indicator that it was not the norm.

phmleg89.jpg (29199 bytes)It is sometimes suggested that tournament fights at the barriers forbade strokes below the waist, yet the real reason for employing barriers in the first place was to prevent grappling and wrestling between combatants and to help to limit the lethality of contests. Plus, for every reference to tourneys which excluded leg strikes there can be found one that did not.  In some tourneys in fact, there were even special penalties against a knight who fell to his knees or had to steady himself with a hand on the ground.

In the 14th century tale, Le Petit Jehan De Saintré, Antoine De Le Salle writing of a knightly duel states: "…to combat against them on foot with pole-axes and small-swords only, until the one party or the other should be borne to earth or disarmed of their weapons." It was well understood that a combatant on the ground was no challenge and realistically had no chance.  As Fiore Dei Liberi symbolized in his fighting manual of 1410, the legs are like the strength of an elephant, a fortress, and "never [will] I kneel down or I [will] lose my balance"—a master of arms himself offering unequivocal advice.

40.jpg (69297 bytes)In the fictional account of a 14th century knight, Le petit Jehan de Saintré, we are told how in a challenge Saintre stood firm and "…with the great force of his thrusting, Sir Nicolo fell to the ground on his hands and knees. At that Saintre lifted up his foot, for to have dealt him a buffet in the side and borne him altogether to the ground; but for his honor’s sake he forebare." Here we have a description of a judicial duel in which once down the combatant is beaten, yet if desired may still continue to be attacked. Froissart relates a judicial duel from 1386 between the Chevaliers de Carrouges and Jacques le Gris. Witnessed by the king himself, the ailing de Carrouges on the verge of losing was able to run his sword through the prostrate Gris. 

At the battle of Crècy in 1346, the sixteen-year-old Prince Edward, outnumbered in fierce hand-to-hand fighting became the target of many direct attacks so that on one occasion he was briefly "compelled to fight on his knees" (Geoffrey le Baker, Chronicon, p.  84).  But falling down while surrounded and protected by retainers hardly qualifies as effectively fighting from a kneeling position after being seriously wounded in a leg.

footblk07_1.jpg (171877 bytes)In a duel with bastard-swords in the early 1500s, one Fendilles delivered a thrust to the thigh of the Barron DeGuerres that laid it completely open. Yet, despite such a terrible leg wound the Baron was still able to charge and wrestle his opponent before dying from blood loss. The mid 15th century English text on great-sword, MS 39564, also instructs leg blows, stating in its 22nd entry to "lyghtly pley a rabett at hys legge lowe by ye grownde", while in its 23rd entry it speaks of "smytng a full spryng at hys legge".  Examining Medieval sources then, it appears only severely hacking or copping into a leg with a sturdy cutting blade would effect a combatant, and when it did, he would drop to the ground and no longer be capable of fighting. With lighter, narrower Renaissance sword duels, as well, there is no evidence whatsoever of either thrust or blow disabling an opponent and a significant amount to the contrary. 

Untitled-8.JPG (45717 bytes)With rapiers, the results of leg wounds change but are just as interesting. The period chronicler Brantôme for example chronicles a sword and dagger duel from the mid 1500s wherein the combatants armored in long "sleeves of mail" made attacks mainly at the leg .One soon inflicted a serious and gaping wound, from which the blood flowed freely. The wounded man still continued on and made a fierce thrust and two rapid cuts in succession at the other, but with no success. He did not sit or kneel.

In a duel in the early 1500s between Captain Saincte-Croix and a Spanish Cavalier, Signor Azevedo, Saincte-Croix received such a wound on the upper part of his thigh as laid bare the bone and caused such a flow of blood that in trying to advance and revenge the blow he fell. On seeing that, Azevedo tried to get Saincte-Croix to surrender, but he just sat grasping his sword. Azevedo then said, ‘Get up; I can’t strike you like that.’ Saincte-Croix got up and walked two steps before falling again. Here we have no standing, no sitting down, and no fighting. Acting as a second in a duel in the early 1500s, Girolamo Muzio did once refuse to permit the use of armor that did not allow kneeling, but this was because it did not allow the parties to properly pray.

Brantôme also informs us of a duel between Gouard and Chastaigneraye (of later Jarnac fame) where the latter would not kill his man while he lay fallen but waited for him to get up again. In the oft mentioned 1547 judicial duel between the nobles Chastaignerai and Jarnac, Jarnac delivered a slicing cut behind one of his Chastaignerai’s legs (to the ham or knee, sources are not specific). However, the accounts are specific that from this simple cut by a light blade (the infamous "Coup de Jarnac"), Chastaignerai instantly fell down prone to the ground. Knowing the fight over from this result Jarnac backed off and Chastaignerai was able to recover himself. But from the injury he could barely stand. Resuming reluctantly, Jarnac then  made the same attack on the other leg of his stubborn but valiant opponent and from this second atatck Chastaignerai could not stand at all. From the first wound Jarnac well knew the fight was over and his opponent could not continue. Chastaignerai certainly did not sit up or continue combat from his rump or threaten to bite Jarnac’s legs off.

In the mid 1500s a combat took place between Albert de Luignes and Captain Panier, fought before the King in the woods of Vincennes, wherein Panier inflicted a severe wound on the head of his opponent, who fell upon his knee; his seconds ran to the rescue; but Luignes, recovering himself, gave him a mortal wound thrust through the body. There was no attempt to fight sitting down. In the late 1500s a duel between Signor Amadeo and one Crequi fought on an island in the Rhone. Crequi brought Amadeo to the ground and without more ado killed him –so that Amadeo’s relatives later complained of the recumbent manner in which their fellow perished.

Brantôme tells us that in the 1570’s the fugitive Baron De Vitaux with two compatriots ambushed one Millaud in front of his own house as he emerged (this was but one of three such surprise attacks against other gentleman made by the Baron over the years). Before he was killed in the assault, Millaud wounded one of his attackers in the leg with his rapier and "caused him great loss of blood but did not prevent his escape".

In 1567, the seventeen-year-old Edward de Vere, the future 17th Earl of Oxford, while practicing fencing with Edward Baynam, a tailor, in the backyard of his guardian's mansion in the Strand, accidentally wounded an unarmed undercook named Thomas Brincknell with a rapier thrust to the thigh. Brincknell died the next day. A crooked jury later determined Brincknell who was drunk had caused his own death and had committed suicide by wilfully hurling himself on de Vere's rapier. (Interestingly, this is also the earliest reference to the rapier in England, and apparently being taught to a young noble by a common tailor).

LegJW1.jpg (190284 bytes)The Master Giacomo Di Grassi in the 1570’s advised several times in various ways that the "enimies legge must be cutt with the edge" but never once implied doing so would cause the opponent to drop down or keel over. Nor did Di Grassi advise any thrusting to the legs. Vincentio Saviolo in His Practice in Two Books, of 1594 also advises that with a wider sharper  rapier "the Scholler maye likewise give a mandritta at the legges" and suggests "strike the said riversa or crosse blowe at his legs". Yet, George Silver writing on Illusions for the maintenance of imperfect weapons & false fights in Chapter 10 of his Paradoxes, declared that in regard to swords: "When blows were used, men were so simple in their fight, that they thought him a coward, that would make a thrust or a blow beneath the girdle."

Cavacalbo.jpg (45270 bytes)In Note 8 of this statement, he elaborates that when "weapons were short, as in times past": "…to strike beneath the waist, or at the legs, is a great disadvantage, because the course of the blow to the legs is too far, & thereby the head, face & body is discovered. And that was the cause in old time(s), that they did not thrust or strike at the legs, & not for lack of skill, as is these days we imagine." Given the evidence from tournaments and judicial duels wherein victories were secured by thigh and leg blows, Silver may here be referring perhaps to knightly tournaments of the early 1500s, or to earlier public Prize Playings, or even the common rough-and-tumble street brawls with sword and buckler.

foothit15_2.jpg (72197 bytes)Girolamo Cavalcabo in his text of c. 1580 is one of the very few to illustrate any solid thrust to the leg, in this case a string straight attack into the shin with his long, slender, tapering blade of flat-diamond cross-section (...that's gotta hurt). Cavalcabo's action is actually a counter attack made on the pass with a left-hand parry of the opponent's thrust.

The French Master Sainct Didier in 1573 advised several times slashes to the calf of the opponent --but not the front of the leg or the thigh. The reason being obviously that a good solid hit to the lower leg muscle is of greater effect than a whack with a slender blade across the hard shin bone or the thick upper leg. In his 1617 treatise on sword, rapier, and staff, Joseph Swetnam advised it was safest to attack the adversary’s nearest target "whether it be his dagger hand, his knee, or his leg".  As he often did, Swetnam was writing ambiguously in reference to either sword or rapier.

From a Medieval tale, Signeot versus the giant from a 15th century manuscript.

Writing in 1631 of the old sword and buckler brawls, Stowe stated, "Yet seldome any man hurt, for thrusting was not then in use: neither would one of twentie strike beneath the waste, by reason they helde it cowardly and beastly." What is of significance here, is the obvious understanding that when one does strike below the waist, serious and disabling injury results. Thus it would be understandable such actions might have be excluded from practice playing just as thrust to the face would have, but as we’ll see later this was not the case.

MeyerTargets.jpg (55113 bytes)Silver, who is known for criticizing the rapiers, also complained of the inferiority of thrusting over cutting by saying: "And again, the thrust being made through the hand, arm, or leg, or in many places of the body and face, are not deadly, neither are they maims, or loss of limbs or life, neither is he much hindered for the time in his fight, as long as the blood is hot." Silver also argued, "I have known a Gentleman hurt in Rapier fight, in nine or ten places through the bodie, arms, and legges, and yet hath continued in his fight, & afterward has slaine the other". Again, no sitting down here. Silver’s weapon was a sturdy cut-and-thrust blade, no slender rapier and he added "…A blow upon the hand, arme, or legge is maime incurable; but a thrust in the hand, arme, or legge is to be recovered." In his "Circle Number 8" of his 1630 fencing treatise, Thibault mentions side stepping to deliver a diagonal blow to the meat of the thick part of the opponent’s thigh. But Thibault immediately adds a continuation by thrust to follow up, and never even suggests the thigh blow was any thing than a distracting attack to gain advantage. He, as with every other Renaissance master, never mentions anything about a fencer sitting or kneeling.

Occasionally today in their rapier fencing enthusiasts will assume that a push or draw cut to the inside of the thigh would be an immediate "disabling" action because of the large arteries in those areas. The nature of the blades, the advice of the historical masters, and modern cutting experiments on raw meat contradict this belief. There are no accounts of such actions where the blade is placed against the target and forcefully drawn or pulled across ever resulting in kills during any rapier duel or even combats with wider, sharper Medieval cutting swords. Nor do the period manuals (such as Thibualt's) suggest such a move would be either a killing or disabling action. 

The clothing worn at the time of the rapier is also a factor, as thick wool or leather lined garments common in the period cannot be sliced through by a narrow, light blade. Consider the statement by Sir James Turner in his 1683 Pallas Armata –Military Essayes of the Ancient Grecian, Roman, and Modern Art of War: "It were to be wish’d that if Horsemen be obliged by their capitulation to furnish themselves with swords, that their Officers would see them provided of better than ordinarily most of them carry, which are such as may be well enough resisted by either a good Felt, or a Buff-coat." (London, Richard Chiswell, 1683, p. 171). Sir Turner makes this comment referring to cavalry blades, so consider how much more it holds true for either blows or "draw cuts" by the slender blade of the rapier. As George Silver in his Paradoxes so firmly said, "A full blow upon the head, face, arm, leg, or legs, is death, or the party so wounded in the mercy of him that shall so wound him. For what man shall be able long in fight to stand up, either to revenge, or defend himself, having the veins, muscles, sinews of his hand, arm, or leg clean cut asunder?" Examining Renaissance accounts then, neither piercing nor slashing nor slicing upon a leg with a rapier would have much effect upon a fighter.

Writing in 1662 of English "Gladiatorial" prize fighters he had witnessed, Samuel Pepys in his famed diary described "…one Westwicke, who was soundly cut several times both in the head and legs, that he was all over blood; and other deadly blows they did give and take in very good earnest, til Westwicke was in a sad pickle." John Godfrey, commenting on the skill of the 18th century prize-fighter, William Gill, foremost pupil of the renowned prize-fighter, James Fig, wrote: "I never beheld any Body better for the Leg than Gill. …he oftener hit the Leg than any one; and…his Cuts were remarkably more severe and deep. I never was an Eye-Witness to such a Cut in the Leg, as he gave one Butler, an Irishman, a bold resolute Man, but an aukward Swords-Man. His Leg was laid quite open, his Calf falling down to his Ancle". But Westwicke neither fell nor fought from the ground. Even in a small-sword duel of 1712, the Duke of Hamilton received a seven inch wound on the right side of the leg, another in the right arm, a third in the upper part of the right breast, and fourth on the outside of the left leg…yet was survived victorious. 

fab1.gif (22468 bytes)There is no question the feet and legs were prime targets in all forms of Medieval combat. In its finale, the 15th century "Poem of the Pell" instructs "Hew of his honde, his legge, his theys, his armys". In his text on swordplay from the 1480s, master Fillipo Vadi even offered advice on what to do "if the head or left foot are under attack, because they are closer to the enemy than the right". From, Le Jeu de la Hache, a 15th century Burgundian treatise on the technique of chivalric poleax combat, we read the advice: "You can jab at his face with the queue [lower end of the haft] of your axe, or at his". Still further it admonishes, "If he gives you a jab to the foot with his queue, you must lift your foot, while presenting your queue against his, which has no protection" and "you must deliver these jabs frequently, sometimes at the foot and sometimes at the hand or face". Achilles Marozzo in part 4 of his 1536, Opera Nova, comments several times on leg and foot strikes saying: "and if your enemy would attack your head or leg, you should move your left foot sideways towards the right side of your foe, and strike with a roverso at his head" and if "your enemy would attack your head or legs …make a long step…and at the same time put your sword and buckler close together to parry the said strike, and strike his legs".

jw2leg-4.jpg (41823 bytes)It is interesting to note that while attacks to the lower legs in sword combat are evident in earlier combats, they begin to disappear from swordplay by the 19th century. Some 18th & 19th century fencing schools continued to value it to one degree or another, but various fencing masters of the 1800’s advised against cuts to the lower leg and upper thigh or even below the waist entirely (as is now customary in sport saber fencing). Why the change? Such strikes were declared by many 18th & 19th century fencing masters as too easy to avoid by withdrawing the exposed leg and countering with cuts to the head, arm or hand.

They expressed exactly this standard philosophy that an able swordsman never exposed his head and shoulders by cutting so low. But ironically, Sir Richard Burton (who subscribed to this very view) admitted in his 1876, A New System of Sword Exercise for Infantry, that "In our Single-stick practice the first thought seems to be to attack the advanced leg –which may be well enough for Single-stick" (in his mid 19th century Sentiments of the Sword, Burton had also noted how the "Oriental [e.g. Indian or Arab] affects only two cuts, the shoulder blow and the "kulam," or leg slash).

Defending against leg strikes by moving the target and hitting back was certainly nothing new in later times, it was an element in all earlier fighting and is even detectable in Fiore’s manual as well as Sigmund Ringeck’s and Marozzo’s.  Among the different saber-schools of the 19th century, polite manners and gentlemanly consensus, not necessarily martial effectiveness, could frequently determined acceptable target areas for practice or duel (actually, leg targets were included in some schools of sport sabre fencing up until the early 20th century). Yet obviously, as swords lost more and more of their military value and cutting actions went from full cleaving blows to light slashes from the wrist and elbow, the nature of swordplay changed (not to mention that shorter, lighter blades are employed differently than dedicated cutting swords used with shield, buckler, or dagger, and are different still from longer double-hand weapons used against armors).

0073.jpg (54787 bytes)Curiously, the master Fiore Dei Liberi in his treatise of 1410 reasonably advised: "When someone strikes to your leg, step slip with your forefoot. You retreat backwards and strike a downward cut in his head..." This same advice was to be found in many later works. However, he then asserted (despite the iconographic and practical evidence to the contrary from the era) that low leg hits were specifically impractical with a longsword: "With a two-handed sword you can not strike well from the knee downwards, because it is very dangerous for the one who strikes, because the one who attacks the leg remains all uncovered. Unless one has fallen on the ground, then he can injure the leg well, otherwise you can not, being sword against sword."  His logic was sound, and yet the longer the weapon the easier lower leg hits are.

wpe373.jpg (4167 bytes)Leg wounds thus, are either very serious matters or not at all. There appears little in between. Even in later combats this was still true. In an 1846 official duel at Munster, two young officers fought with sabres in a roped off area. One received two slight cuts on the arm but soon gave his opponent "a cut in the thigh which toppled him over upon the ground, and made it impossible for him to continue the combat." In an 1858 epee’ duel in France, the Marquis de Galiffet and De Lauriston fought for 30 minutes. The latter was wounded in the hand and the former pierced in the thigh so that the physician concluded he could not continue.

jw2leg-5.jpg (36877 bytes)So what conclusions can we draw then? Without a doubt, the factors of physiology and psychology are important in the effects of any wounds. Yet even today law enforcement and military specialists will comment that firearm wounds to the legs either break and shatter bone –thus preventing standing –or else do not disable the victim from standing and even running. From Viking Sagas in the 9th century to British Army reports in the 19th, there are accounts of blows by cutting blades removing legs above the knee or both legs below the knee… but never once of any combatants sitting or kneeling to fight while wounded in the hips or legs.  Thus, when wounded by a leg blow, depending on the severity of the attack, a fighter either immediately fell down if it was grievous or else they managed to continue on without toppling over. Leg wounds even seem to make up a larger portion of injuries in sword combat than any other except head wounds.  This is no surprise since arms and torsos are often protected by shields and are more easily armored (besides, feinting high and striking low is a fundamental attack).

From an anonymous 15th century German manuscript illustrating a chivalric romance a villainous knight his defeated only after he is chopped to pieces limb by limb in a Pythonesque scene. From the work, one knight in a judicial duel is shown knocked from his horse and severely wounded struggling to rise from his knees as his opponent prepares to finish him.

PalasArmata1.JPG (225685 bytes)As can be seen in the above cases of recorded historical combats, there is no sitting or kneeling whilst fighting…and no attacking of opponents while sitting. There is nothing within any account of Medieval or Renaissance combat to support doing so as a reasonable simulation of weapon injury.   Nor is there any chivalric or code duello evidence in favor of the practice, whether in battle, tourney, judicial combat, affray, or private duel of honor. There simply is zero historical, physiological, forensic, or martial legitimacy to the assumptions supporting the practice of continuing free-play or mock-fighting from a kneeling or sitting position.  Indeed, there is in fact no evidence whatsoever for such practices within study of a subject as exciting and rich as Medieval & Renaissance combat. Is it any surprise that not one of the more than 100 surviving historical fencing texts (both printed books and un-published manuscript) from the 13th to the 17th centuries offer us a single "technique for fighting from the ground"?  Perhaps these facts will eventually give pause to historical groups wherein the lamentable habit of conducting fencing while sitting or kneeling is conducted…a habit whose fundamental premise is without historical foundation or martial validity.

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"Beholde a fencer, who making at his enimies head,
striketh him on the legge"
- Guazzo

 

Note: This material was compiled from the forthcoming book on Histrocial Fencing by the author, source references were removed from the online version. Copyright (c) 2000

See also: Kneeling Down in Weapon Sparring Rules and Importance of the Full Leg Target in Weapon Sparring

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