An Interview with
Noted Sword and Weapons Expert
Hank Reinhardt

Note: The following content does not reflect official
views or opinions of either ARMA or its members.

Part 2 - May '99

ARMA:
What can you tell us of your own personal collection of antique weapons?

HR:
Well, I started collecting a long time ago. They were cheap then but I still couldn't afford it. I only wish I'd known then what I know now: I let some great pieces go by. They're hard to get hold of now. Everything is very expensive. You can't find good European blades for sale really. There's plenty of Indo-Persian stuff out there.

Anyway, I traveled a lot -- back then they were easier to find -- so I got some in Germany about 40 years back, kukris, scimitars, some pole-arms and such. I don't really have anything medieval -- although one is possibly late 1400's, and a poleaxe of about 1440. Most all mine are from the 1500's. I have an axe blade and an 11th century spear head, a Saxon sword of 1580, a long-sword from about 1550, a nice rapier I bought from Ewart Oakeshott dated 1590-1610. I've got an estoc, a cup hilt rapier, and a hand-and-a-half & cavalry sword from about 1640, plus 4 or 5 daggers and several other sabers and basket hilts.

I bought some replica stuff of course, a lot from Raven in the UK. They make probably the best -- good stuff but pretty expensive, going around $700-$900 a piece.

ARMA:
Would you care to sum up some of your notorious cross-training and sparring experiences with Asian martial artists and sport fencers?

HR:
No. Not really.

ARMA:
[laugh] Fair enough. In general, what do you think are among the more significant but under-appreciated elements regarding Medieval European warriors? Anything come to mind?

HR:
Well…we in this society expect conformity when we think about them. We have this idea in mind of the medieval soldier/warrior and we want to lump them all together in this generalized ideal. We can't do this. Look at the French for instance, whose concept of chivalry and warfare caused then to get butchered on several occasions. Look at the Swiss, who were cold, pragmatic, and incredibly mercenary. They would fight to the last man on some occasions for employers and other times turn them in to their enemy for greater pay. But the Swiss could not adapt when tactics changed. It's hard to talk about without getting really into detail. We are talking about many different cultures, different attitudes toward war, not totally different but significantly different. They had commonalties but with distinctions that set them apart.

ARMA:
So, people in general have a need today to stereotype and generalize all medieval fighters?

HR:
Yes. That's not possible. They were varied -- more varied than those of later ages. Again, we try to judge all societies and all morality by our own, this is ridiculous. We can't judge medieval morality by what we know now or how we feel today. Truthfully they had no regard for human life. Certainly they had it for their own and their family but not for others. They were surrounded by death. It was an everyday experience. When they wanted to eat meat they had to kill it. If a relative died they had to prepare the body, there were no undertakers. They dealt with death on a 24 hour basis, when people died it was just a part of their world. [In contrast], we live in a highly isolated culture today.

ARMA:
This relates to the whole fantasy romanticized version of it all today -- "Clean it up, make it PG-rated?"

HR:
Modernize it, yes. [Medieval people] romanticized it too, but the reality was in their face. They had a different mentality. There were different ethnic/cultural attitudes and individual psyche differences too. It's very difficult to lump [warriors] all together from any age.

ARMA:
So, what would you consider the major distinctions, if any, between Medieval and Renaissance fighting skills?

HR:
This is not something I can give a quick ready answer to since it's so involved. Well, first of all, we have to deal with medieval, which encompasses a great deal of time, from my own point of view the Viking age ends about 1066 -- just my opinion -- then the Middles Age changes dramatically about 1370 with the coming plagues -- again just my opinion. Armor changed by then. When most of your people are carrying a wooden shield and maybe a little mail, you use a sword differently than when people are wearing reinforced mail or plate. This is something I will expand on when I finish my book. Swordplay actually deteriorates with the age of plate but then begins to pick back up by the early Renaissance. There were a lot more swords around by then. They were expensive and not throw-away items. But the prices dropped due to increased industrial capabilities. Then gunpowder enters into it, and then the ideal of the duel is fostered -- not that they were that common, despite what people say. It's all something you really have to examine closely in detail.

ARMA:
Certainly, okay then. You're going to return to teaching private classes in Conyers, featuring sword/rapier & dagger?

HR:
Well, I've started to tutor a few individuals, mostly people from the company here [MRL], just doing a little basic dagger work and some rapier. I've not been able commit the time with my current schedule and projects as much as I've wanted, but that's going to change. I've got the problem of the large metro area to cover, and I want small classes.

But the HACA concept is going to take off nationally. The idea I like is for us is to get students rated, get them their qualified ratings with individual weapons, and then later on get some officially qualified to teach the techniques and know the history. You can know how to fight, but without the [the scholarship] you can't really teach. We will probably have to start with just sword & shield, then single sword, maybe knife, then add some pole-arm, and then rapier & dagger, and you have to include single rapier in that. I have to get my old friend Eddie Floyd in Tennessee, with whom I've been sparring since, oh, about '73 together with us to arrange curriculum. It will all get worked out.

ARMA:
Yes, it's more than started on its way. So, you've been working on a book for -- how many years is it now?

HR:
Yes, just one more of the never-ending projects I never seem to have enough time for. I've essentially got the first three chapters prepared, leading up to metallurgy. You see, the metallurgy involved is crucial and not generally understood by people. Then I will talk about use.

ARMA:
What's the major theme you're going to pursue?

HR:
Well, swords, of course [laugh]. I intend to start with Viking and early Medieval swords and go from there. I'm not sure if I can cover up to the Renaissance or not in one volume.

ARMA:
Well, we're all anxiously awaiting this never-ending story of your book. There are future plans for a series of HACA weapon fighting workshops. While it's a bit premature, what can you tell us?

HR:
I hope to be able to hold two-day workshops once or twice a year in Atlanta to offer general instruction and qualify advanced individuals as instructors in certain weapons. The idea is to bring some sort of legitimate recognition to the level of knowledge and skill available out there. But, it's all still in the early stages.

ARMA:
There are also future plans for a series of instructional videos and new forms of training equipment?

HR:
Well, the equipment I can't talk about for commercial reasons, you understand. But the video we hope to begin late this year, a two-hour basic how-to on sword and shield. I've been wanting to pursue it for years now.

ARMA:
Yes, since about 1992, I believe!

HR:
Even longer. [laugh]

ARMA:
What do you think of fencing coaches promoting gross misunderstanding of the use of Medieval and Renaissance swords and weaponry?

HR:
Hmmm… well, I don't want to get into bashing people, especially those who don't know a damn thing -- as there are far too many of them, in my opinion. But….I will say….the problem today is that too few people train with real weapons. If you don't handle an honest-to-God real weapon how can you expect to know a darn thing about [handling] them?

Fighting was a bloody violent, chaotic affair not at all like in the movies and never like in a dojo or classroom. The other guy simply never does what you expect or want him to. It involves a lot less finesse and a helluva lot more adrenaline and fear.

ARMA:
Yes, but aren't there still certain fundamental underlying principles that can be discerned and practiced to diminish the element of change and chaos and thereby improve our reactions? Fight like you train and train like you fight, as they say?

HR:
Well, sure, that's the theory [laugh]. All we can do is prepare and hope we don't do something stupid.

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