practices techniques with an actual 450-year-old
John Clements practices
techniques with an actual 350-year-old
Playing with the weapons
Working up a sweat (...and goading HR into offering a few tips).
Hank Reinhardt offers a sword fighting tip to John Clements.
Receiving advice from the "Master".
A Visit and Study with Hank Reinhardt
'98 Atlanta Excursion
By John Clements
Over Labor Day weekend four of us stayed at the new fortress-like home of original HACA founder and mentor Hank Reinhardt. We spent hours learning about swords and weapons from him, gaining some instruction and fighting tips, doing a little sparring, and going through his incredible collection of more than 300 weapons. We handled and practiced with more than two dozen swords, pole-arms, and axes, including many of his unique one-of-a-king custom replicas from top makers around the world. These were examples of the finest and most beautiful reproductions available. We also test-cut thick cardboard tubes and melons with several types, including those of the impressive Raven Armouries.
We also videotaped an extensive interview with Hank for an commercial video on sword history -- including test-cutting with sharp replicas on hunks of raw meat and bone (gruesome) as well other items and materials (you will all just have to wait to see it!). Hank was also gracious enough to arrange for several of his antique weapons to be on hand for our examination. We even got in some practice with them. There is truly nothing like going through your moves and techniques with an actual 450 year old sword. We also tried out an exciting new and greatly improved contact-sparring sword design.
Hank Reinhardt is without a doubt one of the World's experts on the function and use of medieval and renaissance swords and weapons, a Western martial artist of the highest caliber. Much of what he revealed in candid conversation and in formal interview will appear in his definitive book on historical European swords and their use due out in late '99. His knowledge of swords, weaponry, armor, metallurgy, and historical fighting is as boundless as it is practical. With almost 50 years of experience, his pragmatic, no-nonsense fighting skill is still self-evident in his quick, smooth movements and deceptive, unpredictable feints and counters. This 64-year-old man, who complains incessantly that he is out of practice and out of condition, and who is still recovering from surgery and pneumonia, was nonetheless able without much apparent effort to show he could cut us numerous times in under a minute (as we really never contact-sparred, I personally found myself less on-guard against him or looking for openings than just plain studying and admiring him in awe as he danced about ...of course I snuck in a few good cuts on him, too).
Another coup was that we were also able to obtain some extraordinary replicas from Hank's private collection, including many unique one-of-a-kind pieces from some of the finest makers in the world and not normally available (most no longer even being made). Overall, for sword nuts like us it was truly a spectacular experience. It was an honor to think that in all the world, there was probably no other place that individuals such as ourselves could come to listen to a world expert on fighting and weapons, handle antique swords, and then go and actually practice with the things! Not even being at the Royal Armouries Museum in England would be as useful as this experience. Nowhere else could we free-spar, pick up fighting techniques and tips or train with dozens of replica swords and weapons of all types and get to do test-cutting.
Hank & John Cross Swords
If anticipation had an odor, we would have reeked with it. We were five students of the sword on a quest for knowledge, skill and refinement. Our party included Mark Bertrand, Stephen Bertrand, John Clements, Christian Darce' and Todd Palmer. Our destination was rural Georgia outside of Atlanta, home of Hank Reinhardt president of Museum Replicas Limited. Although each of us had their own personal objectives for the trip, there were some definite goals we were all set on. The main reasons for us to be in Atlanta were: to learn as much as possible about medieval & renaissance swordsmanship; practice through sparring, test cutting and drills; take footage for the commercial sword video; and obtain some new equipment for our training. John in particular was further able to deepen his seven year relationship with Hank. All of this had to be done in only four days. Indeed we did return with many opportunities left for another time. Postponed for a later date would be the opportunity to exchange blows with Hank's friend Eddie Floyd and his students.
We got to know a few new things about Hank. He had plenty of experiences to share. When Hank was in his early teens, he had that common experience of fighting with trash can lids and sticks. Later the mothers of the other boys would scold him for hitting their sons in the head. He would just say it was their fault because they did not parry correctly. Hank has been collecting arms and armor since he was 18. A perfect start for the President of Museum Replicas Limited. He did try fencing for a while but his instructor had problems with Hank's unorthodox techniques like grabbing the opponent or thrusting to the knee. Perhaps this was an influence of his early Judo and Wrestling experience. He was one of the founding members of the SCA but left in the early 70's after becoming dissatisfied with their system. And again he was accused of using unfair techniques or cheating by being "unchivalrous" (i.e., realistic). In all of this you see a man concerned not about fictitious chivalry or artificial honor, but for the need to survive on the battlefield and in duel. Hank admitted his favorite historical master to be George Silver. Silver's and Hank's pragmatic no nonsense attitudes seem to match well.
During our time there Hank gave us several short
The best communication of knowledge in European martial arts is sparring. Plenty of just that was had by all. Hank showed us what an experienced man (read 64 years old) could do to his younger foes. Even after a recent hospital stay he was incredibly quick and skillful. Plenty of sparring weapons were at our disposal. We used flexi-rapiers, schlagers, bucklers, daggers, wooden wasters, padded weapons and a new prototype of sparring weapon that has us all thinking. Equal amounts of similar and dissimilar weapon sparring were done. For example, sparring cut-and-thrust against rapier is very enlightening. Unfortunately I see very few other groups doing this.
Of course a real weapon can not be handled properly unless
Lots of time and effort was utilized in practicing drills, routines or just free form "shadow boxing". With several hundred replica weapons to choose from over days, one was often left standing in a stupor trying to decide what to use next. Being able to try the various designs was invaluable in learning the subtleties of each weapon. Where else in the world could you practice with one pole arm design, then the next, and the next, and the next? The same goes for maces, spears, axes, shields, and of course swords.
Some of the best moments of our trip were talking to Hank during the video interviews or driving from place to place. He has a wealth of knowledge about historical arms and armor and in particular their use. This is combined with a refreshing no-nonsense attitude about what the intended use of these weapons was. Some of the insightful things he would point out matter-of-factly would blow us away but he just considered them common sense. It is fortunate that he is now finally, finally writing his first book to put this extraordinary knowledge down for all of our benefit. Much of the information will be available when the video comes out. But not all of the hours of interviewing will be on the video so here is a short summary of some of the basic ideas he shared with us.
* Although fighting technique changes over time, the objective to kill will always be the same.
* Swords must be looked at in their historical context. There was not an evolution of swords to an ideal or optimal form but modification as a result of changes in armor, social factors, laws, metallurgy, etc.
* A true rapier is almost worthless to cut with. It is nonsense about draw cuts, push cuts, or serious edge slashing. A true rapier would not get past much flesh, much less armor. He would not bother to parry a rapier slash and would take the minor cut in order to deliver a deadly thrust.
* In regards to the above Hank was clear to note that the definition of rapier is very vague. What he means by rapier includes a narrow blade. In other words a thrusting blade that is thick compared to its width. This does not include a cutting blade mounted on a compound hilt.
* The edge of a sword was of course never used for parrying.
A block with the edge would ruin the blade. He cited Viking sagas that
described swords being used for generations. Also a German katzbalger was discovered
to have been made from an 800 to 900 year old Viking pattern welded blade.