On Learning European Longsword

Time to take a break from talking about submissions to talk about something else that’s been going on in my life and that relates to writing: I’ve started taking lessons in European Longsword. Fellow aspiring fantasy authors, if you want some amazing source footage for how to write sword fights as they ACTUALLY would have been fought, look no further than this video.

I used to watch films to try to get an idea for how people fought with swords. Troy, Braveheart, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Hero were all favorites to revisit, depending on the style I was going for. But I’ve come to realize through the course of these lessons that films just… aren’t a great way to study this, not if you want any degree of realism. How MUCH realism depends on you, of course. Maybe you just want to write a really cool scene with lots of witty banter between blows and cinematic elements. That’s totally legit. It’s one approach to a problem that has a multitude of solutions. But for myself, I like to try to research as much as I can for my books to get things as accurate as I possibly can, and martial arts are no exception.

Watching and reading can only teach you so much, though. Nothing substitutes for actually learning something, for getting your hands dirty (or in this case calloused), for feeling how the sword moves. What it feels like to block an oncoming strike, even when that strike is pulled for the sake of safety, or how heavy a sword is when you’ve held it in a guard for an extended period of time. What is possible in terms of body movement, and what’s not. Footwork. Guards. Strikes, thrusts, and parries.

So about six weeks ago I started learning. The specific style I’m learning is German Longsword. You can read a bit more about it here, or here. I also took a couple of seminars in broadsword and long & short form quarterstaff/spear, but those were specifically for stage combat, so for historical and writing purposes I’m focusing on longsword.

I’ve always been fascinated by swords, since I was little, so this has been a bit of a dream come true for me. Not only am I enhancing my writing, I’m getting to realize a life-long dream, which is pretty badass. Once my introductory class is done I’ll post up a video of a choreographed routine between my instructor and I, but for now I’ll leave off by saying that if you’re looking to add a touch of realism to your fight scenes without taking lessons yourself, look up half-swording (maneuvering your sword with two hands, one on the hilt and one holding the blade). This is something I rarely see in fantasy novels, and has a lot of historical basis. You can see it a few times in the video I linked above.