Open Wounds

Stage Combat

Y is for Yielding Parry

"Look at his form!" "Look at his style." "Is that an Armani?"

“Look at his form!”
“Look at his style.”
“Is that an Armani?”

A yielding or ceding parry is a parry executed against a flowing attack without separating the blades.

For example. You lunge and your opponent parries. As he counter attacks you remain in contact with his blade as you slide his foible into your forte and parry him in return. This is a move for point work (small-sword, foil, épée) and is a nice contrast to the sound of tick-tacking blades (if you were choreographing a fight…).


X is for Xiphoid

A xiphoid? Ooo, Ooo, I want one!

A xiphoid? Ooo, Ooo, I want one!

What the hell is a xiphoid? Let me tell you. Even my spell check doesn’t recognize it as a word… but it is. I had to dig deep for this one. Because really, there are not a lot of X-words out there and how many could really have anything to do with fencing?

Xiphoid, (Urban Dictionary) also known as a Retractable Forearm Dagger, is a class of weapons with a blade that is retractable into a forearm worn wristband or bracer sheath.Designed for swift and quick surprise attacks. Xiphoid is used with other wrist-mounted weapons: claw xiphoid, gun xiphoid, spike xiphoid
Weapons known as Xiphoids include wrist-blades, forearm-swords, wrist-spikes, wrist-crossbow, wrist-flamethrower,hidden sleeve gun rigs, etc.
Can you imagine a fight between sword and xiphoids (rather than sword and dagger?)? The xiphoid acts as both defense and secondary attacking weapon. Or two xiphoids drawn silently in a large crowd. They appear as if by magic in combatants hands and the violence is swift (as knife fights tend to be), leaving a space in the crowd for one body to be seen amidst an expanding pool of blood.
Now tell me the idea of a xiphoid wrist-flamethrower didn’t get your morning off to a good start.

W is for Window Parry

Fencer with Rapier

All parries have numbers whether they’re in English, French, Spanish, or Italian. The numbers start low left (1) low right (2), upper right (3), upper left (4), head (5), head (6), middle left (7), middle right (8). Depending on whether you’re fencing or involved in stage combat they numbers may mean slightly different parries and have different positioning. Some parries have cool names too.

If someone strikes at your head the 5 parry, or head protect, is the most natural of parrys. It’s a classic automatic response parry. You raise your hand and your sword creates a line/barrier above your head so you don’t get hit. Now reverse the tip of your blade and your hand positioning (hand goes to the left of your face, palm now facing towards you rather than away from you) and you have a “window” (6 parry) to look out from and a slightly weaker and more awkward parry but an effective one none-the-less.  It also sets up a nice back-hand riposte.

Now… take the window (or 6 ) parry and move your hand back to the right, letting the blade “hang” down protecting your right side and back. This is a hanging parry – taken from a cavalry parry (while on horseback). Look for this parry in the fight (link below) from The Count of Monte Cristo. The fight choreographer is the famous William Hobbs. It’s got elements of realism and entertainment – who could ask for more? The movie is pretty good too. Spoiler alert – this is from the ending so if you haven’t seen the movie or don’t know the story… you’ve been warned.


U is for Under Stop-thrust

If your opponent knows you like to stop thrust and they expect you to counter in the high line (for their head or wrist) you  under stop-thrust (really a reverse lunge or pasata soto) and go for the low line or hip or under his arm which if they’re parrying or attacking high goes under their defense. You’ve got to have good flexibility in your groin (okay just think about it – a reverse lunge that is deeper than your regular lunge and supported by your left hand on the ground – I’m thinking groin pull) or it’s gonna hurt. I’ve had a number of friends do this in a stage fight and get up very slowly afterwards. Just saying.

Can you use this in competition? Sure. Is it used often? No. Could it be effective in a real fight? You betcha, but it’s a move you use only once and it either works or you’re probably dead.

Now for a special treat watch this video – The Speed of Fencing. Look for the attacks to the toes, the duck and stop-thrust, the slow  motion hits on the wrist and chest, and the graceful beautty of the dance. This is épée.


T is for Traverse

"I thought you said re-verse." "Traverse, Traverse!"

“I thought you said re-verse.”
“I said, Traverse, Traverse!”

Traverse

…is a defensive (mostly) move to the side. It’s an evasion of the blade by displacing your body left or right. In an advance you move forward. In a retreat you move back. In a traverse you move your front foot to the side while you parry. Then you keep going sideways and get the hell out-of-the-way.

Traverse left, parry two.

Traverse right, parry seven.

Attacks with the point tend to be direct, giving fencing a linear feel. The feet are lined up one behind the other and most movement is forward or back. Side-movements like traverses and voltes give transitional rapier and small-sword fighting more dimensions.

Broadsword and rapier fighting can be more circular. The stance is more squared off because it makes it easier to cut and move with a heavier weapon when your feet are both facing forward and your hips are squared to your opponent. Both feet advance.


R is for Remise

Come on!

Come on!

Remise…

is one of my favorite fencing terms.

It means to attack and attack again. If your first attack misses or is blocked you do not retreat or recover. You attack again without pause. That is a remise.

It requires great confidence and nerve, sometimes leg strength for a double or triple lunge. If you pause after missing the first time and hesitate, even for a second, you lose the initiative. The remise is finished. So don’t pause. Keep going forward and attacking until you touch your point to his chest (or wrist, or arm, or head, or, or, or…). It is thrilling to do and a bit frightening to have done to you.

To defend against the remise you retreat, parry, stop thrust, or some combination of these three in order to stop the juggernaut. Cut into his attack. Get out of distance. Make him pause and hesitate, so that you can take the initiative from him.

My books original title was Remise. My publisher said it had to be changed. “It is a French word,” she said. “Nobody will know what it means.”

Open Wounds is more brutal but Remise is elegant violence.

Here’s my main character, Cid Wymann learning about the remise from his old Russian fencing master, Nikolai Varvarinksi.

->—

Open Wounds, by Joseph Lunievicz, Chapter 17

->—

“Aldo Nadi says—”

“I am not Nadi,” Varvarinksi shouted and threw his glove onto the ground. “You want to take lesson from Nadi you find Nadi!”

“I didn’t mean—”

“Kónchit’! No more questions. You learn. I teach! Remise is attack, then attack.”

“What do you mean?” We had been working on parry-riposté drills, Nikolai pushing me to parry later and later, and to riposté faster and faster.

Nikolai picked up his glove and épée. He cinched his leather wrist strap tight and secured the grip against his palm. “With foil you extend arm before attack. Da?”

I nodded and rolled my eyes, having heard his explanation of foil what seemed like a thousand times before.

“Good,” he said, ignoring me. “You know difference between foil and épée?”

“Yes, yes,” I said, nodding and mouthing the words with him.

“If you parry, I withdraw arm, extend again before I attack in redoublement,” he said, showing me with his blade in quick, sharply etched movements.

“That sounds French,” I said.

“Quiet!” he shouted and launched an attack at my chest so quickly I barely had time to parry. Only instead of relaxing his arm back into en garde he kept his arm extended and attacked again to my hip. I stumbled back just in time to parry his strike in seconde and retreated again, now off balance, parrying another attack to my shoulder in sixte, only the third time I was too slow and his point touched my upper arm. Nikolai didn’t stop. His momentum threw him forward and pushed his point into my flesh. I tripped over my feet and fell to the ground. My arm felt as though it had been pierced.

“Remise!” he said, looking down at me, anger seething out of his lips.

“Remise,” I repeated, my own anger building in return. I touched the bruised skin of my arm. There was some blood where the point had hit. It was sore and would be black and blue in the morning. “Remise,” I said again, quietly. The world slowed down and my senses expanded. I heard the rasping sound of gravel shifting beneath Nikolai’s front foot and the dull thudding of my heart. His breath was ragged. A high-pitched buzzing floated by one of my ears and passed around to the other.

It seemed impossible for such a large and out-of-shape man to move that fast. In drills he pushed me with his own attacks, but they were timed and rhythmic, beautiful in their own way and mesmerizing in their patterns, but never blinding in speed. I’d thought he was fast enough to touch me only if I made a mistake. Now, watching him walk awkwardly away from me, his shoulders slumping forward, his belly hanging again over his pants, my anger grew. “Why don’t you try that again?” I said, the words seeming to elongate out in front of me as if in a dream.

Nikolai stopped in his tracks, then turned to face me. “You want to fight me?” His words were crisp, dangerous.

“Yes,” I said.

->— Open Wounds, by Joseph Lunievicz


P is for Pommel

French for little apple. It is the metal fixture that locks together the different parts of the weapon and acts as a counterbalance to the blade. It also means to strike, beat, bash, hit with the pommel.

If you want to see how well-balanced a weapon is try to find the place you can rest the weapon on two extended fingers.  It should balance a little past the hilt and the ricasso (the part of the blade just past the hilt that is not sharp and begins the forte). A well-balanced sword will swing easily and be controlled easily. It will feel right, not tip-heavy.

Pommels can be plain or ornate, or somewhere in-between – just like your characters.

sc0011a3df


O is for Open Invitation

I have an itch. Anyone... anyone... a little help?

I have an itch. Anyone… anyone… a little help?

Open Invitation is a deliberate placement of the blade which exposes the entire body, intended to draw an attack from an opponent. This is a tactic a more experienced fencer usually takes against an opponent to throw them off their game or to try and make them make a mistake by making an obvious or rash move.

For example, I was fencing Coach Wrak (that’s really his name) in his backyard salle (fencing studio) where swords of all sorts hang from the walls in addition to his wife’s clothing, luggage, various exercise machines in various modes of disrepair, ancient torture devises (a cement brick with a rope tied to it and attached to a dowel that you hold in your hands and using wrist and forearm power tried to roll up), books (of which mine is one), stacks of fencing equipment, and a greenhouse looking ceiling and three walls, one of which is painted as a school mural with now curling strips of paint hanging off it. So… I was fencing Coach Wrak last Friday night and I was doing well, getting touches off his wrist and arm (we were fencing épée and the whole body is a target), scoring twice on straight attacks and once off of a deceive – and then there was the stop-thrust to the head that always cashes in for morale points. I was feeling cocky and he was getting a little frustrated – at least that’s how I’m reading it looking back. Then he gave me the open invitation – he relaxed a little in his on guard, opened his arms to show me his whole body was unprotected, and smiled at me, inviting me to attack.

I got nervous.

I attacked and stopped half-way into the thrust at his chest, which he’d left open. He waited, didn’t even defend – nerves of steel. The corner of his lip curled up. “What are you going to do now?” he asked, his Polish accent thick.

“Good question,” I answered and lunged straight for his chest.

He parried four.

I deceived to three.

He brought his blade back and caught me in three, riposte to my chest – touché.

This happened three more times. He left himself open but he was far from defenseless. I did not score touches again until he changed his guard.

He got into my head with his open invitation and I couldn’t get him out.

I couldn’t think of what to do because I could do anything. Too much freedom gave me brain freeze. He set a trap and I fell into it.

Wait until next week.

As a writer this kind of positioning is a wonderful opportunity to show character through choice of guard (or the way you hold your blade in on guard – know that every guard shuts off a line of attack and opens up another. Only the open invitation leaves them all open.). What does Coach Wrak’s choice speak to of his personality, confidence, skill level? What do my reactions and choices show of me. Okay, let’s not go there. I’m neurotic enough as it is. Anyway, you get the idea…


N is for Nee

sc0011695fWe are the knights who saaaaaaaay… nee. What does this have to do with fencing? Well… they are knights…


M is for Main Gauche

It’s French for left-handed dagger. Ah the French with their lovely words for articles of mayhem.

Rapier and dagger fights are so cool.

Seriously.

First, they look cool. One of my favorite film fights with rapier and dagger is Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Don Juan, the final fight on the stairs. At the end he throws  his sword to the side and says, “The sword is too good for you. You die by the knife!” Then he leaps down onto him. This is a little talked about fight because it comes from a movie that is late in Flynn’s career but if you get the chance to see it you won’t regret it. It’s very tongue in cheek and quite the spectacle. There’s also a fight in a tavern that is wonderful as it’s in an enclosed space. Flynn does all his own work in this film. You can tell because all the shots of him fighting you can see his face rather than shots from behind – when a double is usually in place. As an added bonus see if you can find the clip of the film that comes from Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood. They plucked the scene right out of it and integrated it into this one! Hah.

Second is that the fight with a main gauche moves very fast. The reason for this is that when you parry with your dagger you can, at the same time attack with your sword. This cuts into the time of your opponents attack. Instead of a beat of tick tack tick tack you get ticktackticktack. It can look just ferocious. When choreographed it is much more complicated and stage combatants have to really be aware of where the blades are and what each hand is doing – for the more experienced combatants only. You can also attack with the main gauche as an added bonus in case you close the distance or want to get someone away from you who is too close.

Third and finally, there is something about a dagger, of any sort that just seems dangerous. A knife expert told me once that if anyone ever pulled a knife on him he would get the hell away as fast as he could. Why? Because in knife fights fatalities are common. You’re just too close to miss. So good advice. As they say in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Run away!

rapier & dagger


K is for Knuckle Bow

sc0011f494The knuckle bow is part of the sword guard that sweeps from the hilt to the pommel in a bow shape offering protection to the sword hand.

Competitive sabres have them and many rapiers did. Not only great for protecting the hand but great for in-fighting also – smashing into the face especially. The pommel is great for that also as is the cross guard. You can also (as a neat trick) reverse your sword, holding the blade with both hands, one hand on the foible and one on the forte. Then use the parts of the hilt and grip as a weapon. Nasty stuff. Not taught on the lawns of the great families but in the dark alleys where the smell of brandy and whiskey is strong. That and urine. I had to add that in. Couldn’t help myself.

The Masked Man

The Masked Man

J is for Joust

Don't Ask. Don't Ask.

Don’t Ask. Don’t Ask.

I know what you’re thinking. Jousting is not swordplay. It’s two men on horses in armor trying to knock each other off with a lance.

It is that.

But it also was so much more. Swordplay in medieval times was more brawn than finesse. Armor was heavy and so were the swords and shields. Originally a joust could be a battle on horse, a grand melee or single combat on foot. On foot is could be with pole-axe, axe, dagger, or… the sword. By The Sword by  Richard Cohen is one of my favorite books on combat with the sword and he’s got a whole chapter 0n this type of combat.

On the melee, “… these jousts were  condemned by the church for their high casualty rates.”

On single combat, “…the use of heavy armor and heavy weapons allowed only simple movements, forcing contestants to concentrate on one blow at a time, so that complicated phrases were impossible… Only when a shield was so cut up as to be useless were the swords themselves used for parrying, as edge-to-edge clashes were mutually damaging.”


I went to visit a Society for Creative Anachronism group a few times where they roleplay medieval life including fights with swords. I fought twice. They use rattan taped up with duct-tape – think getting hit with a two-by-four only it’s lighter so it moves a little faster. I wore leather armor and a full steel covers the whole head like the black knight in Monty Python and The Holy Grail, helmet, hand-made by a friend. They calibrated me for the fight (so I would know what a death-blow was vs a glancing blow or arm-cutting-off blow) by wacking me in the head with their swords three times. “This is a death blow.” Wack. “Let’s do that again.” Wack. “Once more so we know you got it.” Wack. My head was ringing. Then they put a sword in my hand and gave me a shield (heavy) and we went at it. In a matter of seconds I had been hacked in the legs and wacked in the head. Death-blow. I tried again and lasted about two minutes. It was very humbling. All my opponent did was smash into me with his shield, and wack me with sword blows to my head – very very fast, repeatedly. O as fast as he could go with all that armor on. Okay it seemed fast to me, even it wasn’t. Hell, I had no idea what I was doing.

I still had fun.

I would do it again.

Wouldn’t you?


I is for Imbroccata

It's only a flesh wound.

It’s only a flesh wound.

Imbroccata is an Italian word for a downward thrust, generally delivered from the right side with the hand pronated over one’s opponent’s sword arm. Your sword hand is higher than your shoulder and the point of your sword is angled down. – Actors On guard by Dale Anthony Girard. It looks vicious in a stage fight and in competition I find it makes my opponents hesitate (as in what the hell is he trying to do now?).

I love all the Italian words for the different fencing moves. The opposite of the imbroccata is the stoccata (attacking from the bottom up under the opponent’s sword arm). Mandritti are cuts from the right side. Botta Dritta is the straight thrust. Botta longa is the lunge. Stramazone is a slicing or cutting blow made with the point/tip of the sword. Mandritti Squalembrato is a cut from the right side oblique and downward attack. Volte is a specialized foot movement to avoid a thrust – nothing to do with a battery. And finally Botta segrete or the secret attack – is the secret attack that only a few fencing masters know of that no one can defend against.

The language of fencing whether it’s in English, Italian, or French, is a language of textures, colors, aggression, and heavy breathing. Yes it’s very much a language of sex in addition to one of violence.

The rest I’ll leave to your imagination.


H is for Hit

Hit! Touch! Choreography!

Hit! Touch! Choreography!

Colpira senza essere colpito. Hit but don’t get hit. This is from an Italian Master of fencing from the 16th century.

Good advice.

What’s the difference between competitive fencing, a duel, and staged choreography? There is a conceptual difference that is important for writer’s to understand and incorporate into their work. It all centers around what it means to be hit.

Stage combat is choreographed (if someone ever says to you, “Let’s just go at it and see what happens. It’ll be more spontaneous that way.” Run. Run as fast as you can.). It is like a dance made just for the characters involved, tailored to each of their personalities. A fight that could be used by any character without signature is a generic fight that doesn’t add to the story. It is a fight for a fight’s sake. Hollywood does this all the time. That’s why so many fights look the same and even though the action is kinetic it is ultimately un-engaging and leaves us feeling used – as if we weren’t considered smart enough by the director to handle the “smart fight.” Don’t get me started.

Competitive fencing with épée (the closest to a dueling weapon) allows double touches and scores a hit for one and not the other if you hit a fraction of a second before your opponent. You don’t worry about the second hit because it’s later and doesn’t count. We’re not hitting to kill or draw blood. It is a sport. Hits are called touches. The weapons are dangerous (why else wear masks and canvas to protect ourselves?) but safety is emphasized in the rules and play stops after every touch.

What about a duel? The mind-set changes. If it’s to first blood it can be blood anywhere so hits to the wrist and arm may be sufficient. But fights to the death are another story. What follows is from Aldo’s Nadi’s book On Fencing chapter in which he describes a duel he was involved in 1910. Remember, this is a man who was considered the greatest fencer of his time. No one could beat him. Then he challenges a forty-year old fencing critic who has fought 4 previous duels before while he, at 24, although he has just won the championship in three weapons has never fought in one. This chapter is worth reading. Here’s an excerpt in Nadi’s words.

“…You have heard shouts under the mask before, and you have never paid the slightest attention to them. why even without mask, this man is like any other. He is armed with a weapon quite familiar to you, and there is no reason why he should beat you–none whatever. When these few seconds of uncertainty and uncontrollable fear and doubt are over, you counterattack, and touch, precisely where you wanted to touch–at the wrist, well through the glove and white silk. but during the violent action of your adversary, his blade snaps into yours, and its point whips into your forearm. you hardly feel anything–no pain anyway; but you know that after having touched him, you have been touched too. “Halt!” shrieks the director.

Caring not for your own wound, you immediately look at your opponent’s wrist, and then up at his face. Why on earth does he look so pleased? Haven’t you touched him first? Yes, but this is no mere competition. He has indeed every reason to be satisfied for having wounded you–supposedly a champion–even if he nicked you after you touched him.

Young man, you must never be touched. Otherwise, the blood now coming out of your arm may instead be spurting from your chest…” – Aldo Nadi


F is for Fencing Measure

rec birdFencing measure is a stage combat term than means the distance you are at from your opponent that is safe to do your choreography from. You are out of distance of each other’s blades so you can’t be hit but close enough to give the illusion that you can be hit. It’s all smoke and mirrors I know but that’s film and theatre. It’s entertainment and safety is key. But we can learn from this.

You measure this distance by, from your on guard position, extending your arm fully and touching your opponents bell guard with your point. Tip to guard. Then you are just out of distance.

Distance is an interesting thing in fencing and in a fight. Depending on the person and how threatening they seem to you and whether their weapon is drawn or not, the distance at which you might be attacked or feel threatened is very different.

In stage combat class most actors get into each other’s faces for violence and forget they have a sword at their side. They’re used to fists. They were not born with a blade in their hand or in the hand of others around them. They have not been training with a sword since childhood and seen death come to their town, city, castle, family, from the razor edge or the point of steel.

So notice that distance to attack can be as close as an extended arm plus three feet of steel. It can be two to three feet longer for a lunge distance and another two to three feet for an advance and lunge, or even further if your opponent runs at you.

Look at how distance is used in the first duel in Ridley Scott’s movie The Duelists. Notice how far they are to start. Almost tip to tip. Watch how scared one combatant is to close the distance and how quickly he leaves the killing space. Notice how Harvey Keitel (with the long hair) understands the distance so well that he plays with it.

Think of this. The edge on a sword should be as sharp as a razor. The point is like a pin.

I can tell you having seen a real machete (a slightly curved weapon that has one sharp edge used for farming and self-defense) fight in a very remote community in Honduras somewhere near the Nicaraguan border that thirty feet away was not far enough. When the combatants ran at each other and their blades hit sparks flew and people dove for cover – me included. I saw the wounds of one man up close after the fight and after applying some basic first aid – pressure to stop the heavy blood flow – helped to carry him to a hospital a few hours away on foot. I got to see his wounds up close. One wound across his chest took 34 stitches and a cut that scored his forehead near his hairline left a flap of skin that fell forward across his face. These wounds were enough to give me great respect for and want to keep a great distance from – a blade.

Distance is everything. You can’t hit someone if you can’t get close enough. And if you can hit them, they most likely can also hit you.


C is for Capo Ferro

Lunge

Lunge

Capo Ferro has not nothing to do with Italian food or stringed instruments.

Lunge Capo Ferro

It, or rather he, has everything to do with what we know about actual rapier, rapier and dagger, and sword and buckler (shield) fighting from the renaissance period. Since we don’t have film from back then and no photographs, we have to go by line drawings and any books that were written that described it like the one above from Capo Ferro’s book Italian Rapier Combat originally published in 1610. I bought my copy in Portland from Powell’s Books (awesome indi and just a huge huge store). This book is a series of plates with short explanations of the positions and moves of Italian rapier fencing. The Italians were known in the 16th into the early 17th century to be the best with the sword. The French surpass them later but not for a long long time. Ferro was a fencing master in the city of Siena. My favorite are the many images that show (see below) what happens when you are successful in attack. Notice the three different angles the blade can take and the successful parry with the dagger.

capo-ferro-plate-92-600x360

Of course this is 1610 Italy so most people in the plates are fencing naked or mostly naked (very strategically placed scraps of cloth or leaf)- not sure I’d recommend that – must have been very hot in Siena.

Here are some words from the first section: Some Remembrances or True Advices of Fencing

First, if you are found at blows with your adversary; you must always have the eye on the sword hand more than in other places, all of the others are false, because looking at the hand you will see the stillness and all the movements that it does, and from this (according to your judgement) you will be able to determine what you will have to do.

Methods that one must hold against a brutal man:

If you have to encounter a brutal man who, without misura and tempo, hurls many blows at you with great impetus, you will be able to do two things. First adopt the interplay of mezzo tempo, as I will teach you in its place, you will strike him in his hurling of the point, either by cut in the hand or in the sword arm. Otherwise, you can leave him to proceed at emptiness with somewhat voiding the vita backwards, and then you instantly drive a point into the face or chest.

Needless to say, I chose Capo Ferro as a model teacher for my protagonist in my novel Open Wounds.

How could I not?


B is for Blade

stop thrust

What do you do with this thing?

You stick him with the pointy part.

Different types of blades were used in different ways. Let’s look at a typical one-handed medieval sword. It’s main weapon was its edge, not it’s point. The point wasn’t really used a lot during the middle ages. Armor stopped it. Big heavy swords were used more for smashing and hacking. Still for swordplay know that there are two ends of a sword one with a pommel (heavy enough to counter balance the blade and to smash into things like people’s faces) and the other with our famous point. The cross guard is nice for stopping opposing blades from sliding down and cutting your fingers off but also wonderful for punching into the face. You’ll notice a theme here. Pommel to dross-guard is the hilt. The blade has two parts a forte (or strong) bottom third closest to your cross-guard that is used to parry or block your opponents strikes and a foible (or weak) upper third for cutting your opponents in half. The sharp edge can be on both sides (two true edges) or one in which case the blunt side is called a false edge.

All swords in one way or another have these parts even if they look different and are different sizes. Some things to remember about sword fights whether they are with medieval swords, renaissance rapiers, small-sword from the 17th century or the American Civil War. You can fight clean or you can fight dirty. If you fight dirty because it’s an ambush on a city street or you’re a soldier in the middle of a large battle, you will use any and or all the parts of your sword to get rid of your opponent(s). If you are fighting a duel you will probably use the blade only but that depends on the upbringing of the combatants (royalty, upper class, training, personality). And different blades are used to do different things – the use of the edge versus the use of the point. To see visually how two very different blades and upbringing can influence how a fight happens see the following two films:

Rob Roy – the final duel between Rob Roy and the English antagonist is a duels between the past (a large two-handed claymore – which is a heavy hacking edged weapon) and the present (a long, thin, pointy small sword that uses the point to do damage). This is choreographed by famous English fight choreographer William Hobbs. These two characters fight the way their personalities tell them to. The fighting is not generic, it is character-based. A good lesson for all writer’s to learn.

Watch any of the fights in Game of Thrones and then watch the scenes of Arya training with Syrio. Two-handed medieval broadswords are weapons of strength while Arya’s Needle is more point than edge  (swords from two very different time periods but hey, it’s a fantasy novel so you can do whatever you want!).


A is for Actors On Guard



The DuelActors On Guard, by Dale Anthony Girard – a great book on the use of the rapier and dagger for stage and screen.

A young man, a kid really, is doing choreography with a rapier, musketeer blade (double wide épée), cup hilt. He does the choreography well with his partner, an experienced actor and stage combat veteran named Dave. Dave is waiting for the kid to start his schtick.

“What’s the real thing like?”

So it begins.

“I bet I could hold my own in a fight with one of these.” The kid’s looking at the blade with confidence.

“Sure you could,” Dave says. He’s tired from almost three hours of fencing choreography – two classes, a beginner’s class and an advanced. This is the advanced class. He’s sweating and perspiring. He worked all night at his seventeen-year proofreading job, graveyard shift. He won’t go to sleep until that evening – if he can last. Its been 24 hours since he slept.

“Seriously, Dave,” the kid says. “Why won’t Joe fence against me?”

“Just stick with the choreography.”

“I bet I could fence against you.” The kid thrusts his blade tip at Dave’s chest.

Dave bats it away with his hand – his leather gloved hand. He’s more awake now. “You’re not a fencer,” he says with just a bit of an edge. “You’re an actor.”

“I’m pretty good,” the kid’s bouncing on the balls of his feet. “I could fence.”

“Joe,” Dave shouts and turns away from the kid. “Kid wants to see what it’s like to fence.”

An older man, probably in his seventies – the decades speaking in the lines of his face – rouses himself from reading the paper at the teacher’s desk. He slaps the newspaper shut and stands up, pushing his chair back. “David,” he shouts back. The rest of the class stops their work on the days choreography to see what’s happening. “Get the kid suited up.” He smooths back his white hair with his fingers and walks over to a locker, pulls out his gear. Dave gets the kid suited up with fencing jacket, mask, glove, competitive sabre. The old man suits up in similar whites. His fits loosely, like he used to fill it out more. Still he wears it with familiarity. He walks past the kid with his helmut under his arm. He turns smartly. Dave has pushed the rest of the class back so they’re all against the wall – out of range. All except the kid. Dave’s put him in the center with the old man.

“We’ll do three touches,” the old man says. “Dave, you’ll judge.” Dave nods and the old man salutes him, the kid, and the audience, then puts on his mask. The kid, a huge smile on his face, copies him.

“Fencers ready?” Dave asks.

The old man nods and says, “Yes, sir.” He is still. His sabre in the line of three.

Dave repeats his question to the kid. The kid is nervously swaying back and forth, the blade moving from side to side.

“Fencers ready? Dave asks him a third time.

He nods finally.

Before the kid can take a step forward the old man slashes his sabre’s edge across his chest. The kid stumbles back a step clutching his chest with his free hand. He rubs it smartly.

Dave hears him breathing shallowly. He knows that one hurt, even with a canvas jacket on.

“Fencers ready?”

The old man cuts the kids arm and the kid grabs the place where he was hit.

“You ok?” Dave asks sweetly.

The kid nods.

Third go.

The old man waits this time. He drops his guard down, inviting the kid in to an open target.  The kid attacks. He cuts to the old man’s head. The old man parries easily in five and smacks the kid hard in the head, hard enough to make him stagger back a step and to make the rest of the class gasp.

The old man swipes off his helmut and throws it to Dave. “Carry on,” he says and retreats back to his desk where his paper waits for him.

Dave directs the others to go back to their choreography. He walks up to the kid. “Ready for choreography?” he asks.

The kid nods. He’s still wearing his mask. He still hasn’t moved.

For the A-Z challenge I’ll be talking sword-play, every letter of the alphabet. I love to fence and I love to do the choreography of stage fencing. Outside of playing rugby there’s just about nothing better. As a writer who’s first book has more fencing and stage combat in it than most I hope this unique expertise can help others figure out how to write about the use of the sword whether it’s a small sword, a foil, a broadsword, a bastard sword, or a rapier and dagger. Maybe it’ll help with your next fantasy novel or historical. If you have questions, ask. Otherwise onward tomorrow to B.


Gladius Tattoo

Take a look at this video and then come back. Go ahead. Full Metal Jousting.

Here’s a variation on the theme of writing what you. What if you write about something that you don’t know? Can you still write about it? The answer is both yes, no, and… it depends.

Have you seen Full Metal Jousting on the History Channel? Have you seen the collision of lance and armor? It is an incredible spectacle. It is also a real life history lesson for the writer who wants to depict a medieval setting. There’s no staging of hits. There are no theatrics other than what comes from the drama of watching repeated collisions of horse and rider and lance. It’s the real deal and it is an intense sport reborn for modern times.

Each episode has added two or three facts about jousting that are terrific details for the writer. For example: in one episode a smaller horse was chosen to give the rider the advantage of targeting up at the opposing rider – a greater chance to unhorse than targeting down. In another episode they talked about the need to release the reigns once the horse and rider begin their charge down the lane. The reason is so that when (not if) when they are hit – if unhorsed – they don’t pull the horse down with them and hurt the horse. Knights then retake the reins after they pass their opposition so they can stop the horse. Another example: armor weighs 80 pounds and knights (what else can you call them?) walk funny in full armor – legs out a little wider, more bent, torso stiff, neck immovable. Another example: the horse is as important as the rider and the relationship between horse and rider is critical to success.

If you’re writing about this time period and wanted insight to the practice this is the perfect show to watch.

I wrote a lot about fencing in my novel Open Wounds. I have fenced on and off for some thirty years, mostly épée, but also foil and saber. I’ve also choreographed and taught stage fencing using rapier, case of rapiers (two at once), rapier and dagger, short sword (like épée), and broadsword. I’ve done these things because I love playing with swords (who doesn’t?) and I’m fascinated by them (who isn’t?). They also inform my writing. Giving me details about combat with swords that would be difficult to get without the insight of personal experience.

A writer named James Duffy, who has written a wonderful pulpy series of historical novels about gladiators in ancient Rome called Gladiators of the Empire. On his website you can see pictures of him doing gladiatorial reenactments with a group of re-enactors in New england where he trained for two days as a way of doing research. I have to say… that sounds like fun.

This is one of the wonderful parts of writing – doing so that you can write more authentically. It’s opportunity to learn and fun. I wrote a novel (one more revision still needed) with a protagonist who played a Warhammer like fantasy miniatures game and collectible card games like Magic The Gathering. I played these games at a gaming club for a year – doing research, and having a lot of fun.

Does it mean you have do what you write about? No. Can it help? Yes. Do you have to do what you write about? It depends (on what you’re writing about).

And in case you haven’t seen the show – check out Full Metal Jousting and let me know what you think.


Sword Master Bob Anderson

Bob Anderson died yesterday at the age of 89 and with his passing another legend of behind the scenes hollywood sword masters passes with him. He worked with Errol Flynn in Masters of Ballantrae, Antonio Banderas in his Zorro films, Johnny Dep and Orlando Bloom in The Pirates of the Caribbean, all three Lord of the Rings films, and the first three Star Wars films with George Lucas. He choreographed the fights as sword fights before they became, in the later Star Wars films, fights of acrobatic fancy with a little swordplay mixed in-between. Anderson was the real deal, fencing in the Olympics three times, coaching the national team, and from all the gossip you could gather, was a perfectionist that actors loved to work with, a gentleman, and an overall good man who simply fell in love with the sword as a kid. His style of choreography and his wisdom from working in the business so many years will be missed.

Why the Point is Quicker than the Edge

I’ve still got three questions to answer from CWPost. I’ll get to them. I promise.

But a birthday today got in the way, as did a grant proposal that I have to write for my day job in order to stay employed and keep my staff employed. So it’s important. And it takes up all my time for a few days – driving my anxiety up and me near into madness. Well… you get the picture.

So last week I did a fencing workshop/reading/Q&A at the Flushing Library with my friend actor/stage combatant/fencer Dave Brown. Dave’s the best because he does these things for me for no other reason than I ask him (and I take him out ot dinner). He is an extraordinary friend. We get to fence in front of an audience – and he’s the best fencing partner – totally trustworthy and only once in our time as fencing partners has he every hit me by mistake. Hah.

At the reading there were three kids who had read my book and who actually helped me give the synopsis of Open Wounds. That was the first time I’ve had people in the audience who’d read the book. Morya Haughton, the most excellent YA Librarian who invited me and rounded up the kids for the event, told me the library had six copies of my book and it was in constant rotation… and rarely on the shelves. That pretty much made my day.

So there were twenty some odd kids at the event and I didn’t know any of them and that was cool. They liked the swordplay – who wouldn’t and most of them stayed an extra 45 minutes after the event was over to handle the swords and ask questions about writing and fencing. Dave and I had a blast.

One young woman asked a question that really got to me. She was one of the people who had read the book. “Why is someone like Maddie (Cid’s grandmother) who believes in God, so cruel to Cid?” I had to stop a moment just to let that one sink in. My answer was pretty simple. “Because she is. Just because someone believes in God doesn’t mean they can’t also be cruel. It just works that way sometimes. It’s not pleasant but it’s true.” She nodded and looked away. It made me wonder what the question behind the question for her was.

I think human beings are complex and rarely all good or evil – usually a mixture of both to different degrees. Mad Maddie Wymann is like that. You know little of her past but it must have been bitter to turn her into the person she is. And when her son, Cid’s father, disappears, she grieves for him.

When she is lost, Cid grieves for her because she is all he has.

So it goes.

Flushing Library

I’m doing a lecture/reading/Q&A at the Queens Historical Society this Thursday. Let’s see what questions I get there.