Noted Sword and Weapons Expert
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views or opinions of either ARMA or its members.
Part 2 - May '99
What can you tell us of your own personal collection of antique weapons?
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.
Would you care to sum up some of your
notorious cross-training and sparring experiences with Asian martial artists and sport
No. Not really.
[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?
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.
So, people in general have a need today
to stereotype and generalize all medieval fighters?
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.
This relates to the whole fantasy
romanticized version of it all today -- "Clean it up, make it PG-rated?"
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.
So, what would you consider the major
distinctions, if any, between Medieval and Renaissance fighting skills?
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.
Certainly, okay then. You're going to
return to teaching private classes in Conyers, featuring sword/rapier & dagger?
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.
Yes, it's more than started on its way.
So, you've been working on a book for -- how
many years is it now?
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
What's the major theme you're going to
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.
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?
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.
There are also future plans for a
series of instructional videos and new forms of training equipment?
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.
Yes, since about 1992, I believe!
Even longer. [laugh]
What do you think of fencing coaches
promoting gross misunderstanding of the use of Medieval and Renaissance swords and
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
.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
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.
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?
Well, sure, that's the theory [laugh]. All we can do is prepare and hope we don't do
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