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Medieval sword fighting: realistic vs fantastic

Discussion in 'Research' started by Lvl20wizard, Aug 24, 2014.

  1. Lvl20wizard

    Lvl20wizard Sage

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    I thought to start this thread because I haven't seen any other threads about this topic. I read the thread about swords but saw mostly discussions about the crafting.

    Here in Denmark I have been fortunate enough to be picked up by a gang of steelswinging hooligans and medieval enthusiasts who have actually introduced me to the arts of European swordplay/martial arts. Been with them on and off for about a year now. Quite a few illusions about the art (mostly originated from Hollywood, games and various fiction) got shattered. Some of them were:

    1) Pivoting to create kinetic power behind a swing. The first and last time I tried that I got thoroughly smacked in the back and butt. Which makes sense. Why would you ever turn your back on a foe even for a split second?

    2) An expert can take on at least five goons. Not very likely! Only if they are severely demoralised or dumb enough to come one at a time (they are in the movies). If the hooligan theorists are to be believed, there actually were certain techniques to kill another man in such a horrible fashion so as to aspire adequate fear in his companions. This was especially favored by German mercenaries in quelling rebelling peasants, skewering out the poor sod's entrails only to step on them and get a good scream out of him (hope I won't see that in the increasingly grimdark movies though).

    3) You must first learn to parry before you swing. You know the old saying: the best defense is an offense. From what I have experianced, it is true to an extent. On my first few days I asked of course: when do we learn to parry? My red bearded, tattooed hulk of a master answered: "You don't parry. You counter attack." I have found it to be quite true (at least if I wanna win), because there is actually little sense in parrying unless you mean to follow it up with an attack. Oh, of course it happens in the chaos and frantic panic of trying to avoid getting your head split, but teaching a guy to focus on parrying makes his fights a prolonged loss. On the other hand, counter attacks can be very effective, since you can drive his blade away and get a brief hole where you can stab him.

    I probably have more ammo for this kind of rant but suffice to say, ever since I have started on this I have gotten increasingly distracted from the story in movies and books when I see these kind of things happen. So what I wanna know: does anyone feel the same or are most of you ok with these kind of things? Do you mind the hero pivots to finish his foe or dispatches dozens of enemies at the same time, or is it fine with you since it's only fictional entertainment?
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2014
  2. Guy

    Guy Inkling

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    In addition to swords, I'm like this about guns and gunfights in movies - magazines that never run out of ammo, handguns that send people flying backwards, heroes who never miss. etc. In The Return of the King, as Aragorn is fighting a troll and blocking its blows I'm thinking, "It'd make a lot more sense to just get out of the way, especially since the enemy is so much bigger and stronger." I'm generally okay with it as long as they don't get really crazy with it, or if it's explained away by magical weapons or such. Probably my favorite movie swordfight is the final duel in Rob Roy. I thought it did a good job of contrasting superior strength vs superior skill.
     
  3. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    I blame a lot of it on lazy, greedy fight choreography. Why find the camera angles to show how dangerous it is to have just two long-range shots driving the hero to cover, or two swordsmen to outmaneuver at once? Easier to spam "attacks" at him that all miss.
     
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I agree with everyone here ... but ...

    Legolas shooting ridiculous bow shots in Peter Jackson's movie (the first one) was awesome precisely because it was so unbelievable. Somehow he managed to make us (okay, me) believe it. Once in a while, if you are very, very good, you can go beyond realism and wow the reader.

    Alas, there are no guidelines, still less formulae, for accomplishing this.
     
  5. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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  6. Guy

    Guy Inkling

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    I chalked it up to experience resulting from a long, long life in which to practice and perhaps the elven neuromuscular system. Still, I kind of liked it when he got a bloody nose in Desolation of Smaug.
     
  7. Lvl20wizard

    Lvl20wizard Sage

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    Thanks for showing this! And yeah viking fighting is fun, reminds a bit of boxing with the weaving of shield and sword.

    And I have to agree with you, many fights last about 6-30 seconds and can often be decided by a simple well put thrust or slash. Pros can often as not though get into heated exchanges of counter attacks upon counter attacks (which is a cool sight in its own right).

    I think actually one of the main reasons I started this thread is because I often find fiction describing fighting with swords as being something totally different from a gritty unarmed brawl. It becomes a delicate coreography and a beautiful dance. I guess that is what vexes me. From what I have learned, it actually isn't much different from a fist fight, except the knuckles gets replaced with 5 pound steel. And then you know it's bound to get messy.

    But I have to agree that, for some reason, whenever I get a "plausible" reason I can accept the characters doing all kinds of funky stuff. Neo in Matrix: It's a dream world. The Witcher: Geralt is alchemically enhanced. Legolas in LOTR: He's a freaking elf!

    So what I like to see is when the chaos and mess of a fight is grasped by a writer. Even the most epic Witcher Geralt ends up getting mortally stabbed by a simpleton farmhand with a pitchfork simply because he is taken from the back and surrounded by too many enemies. That is something I dig. Expert or no, sharp edges are still sharp edges, and when they get used in a fight (especially by the unpracticed) things get messy and it's difficult not to get hurt.
     
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2014
  8. Warrioress

    Warrioress Scribe

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    this is a great thread! i use a lot of sword fight's in my writing and always try to make them as realistic as possible...this really helps!
     
  9. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    I believe the perception that a sword-fight between professionals could last any longer than a few seconds stems from the prejudice that longer fights with a lot of gymnastic maneuvers are more dramatic. A scene in which one fighter offs their opponent within thirty seconds isn't exactly most people's preconception of a climactic battle.
    This summer I tried writing a scene in which one tribal woman with a spear and machete took on three Velociraptors (as in the man-sized fantasy kind). Choreographing the whole scene was a challenge that practically broke the whole project's momentum, and after reading this I am not sure it could have worked out without the heroine being torn to shreds (and this was supposed to be fairly early in the story).
     
  10. Bortasz

    Bortasz Troubadour

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    As someone who also have fight in medieval brotherhood I can say this.
    It is possible. But it more depend on your armour than you skill.
    If you have good armour you can survive many blows. With give you time to massacre peasants. And since you can ignore some of there weapon you are for them a Juggernaut. This add to you "Fear armour" since they know that in reach of you weapon is kill zone, and they need very strong punches to really harm you....
    If you have good armour and good gambesons under the metal it is really hard to harm you. Even with blunt weapons. My hardes testing was with axe to the belly. Chainmail + very very good gambeson.

    In this helmet:
    [​IMG]

    I was hit by this:
    [​IMG]

    In the back of the head.
    I did not even notice. One second I was having one enemy in front of me, the second I have two. And that all.

    Remember that Movies ALWAYS diminish value of the armour. To the absurd point. If you have well armed man, he will attack with greater confidence and aggression. Simple Chain mail make all cutting practically pointless. You must deliver a strong blow, or thrust to harm the opponent.
     
  11. Guy

    Guy Inkling

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    Taking on multiple opponents is way more difficult than Batman makes it look, but it can be done. Musashi did it.
     
  12. Lvl20wizard

    Lvl20wizard Sage

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    Well met fellow butcher! I think you have a fair point, armour makes for a great differance. Hell, taking a guy on fully armed in plate you have to practically knock him off his feet and start hammering through his metal shell with hammer and chisel. Or stab him through the visor. . . Or just let him lie on the ground since he won't be getting up anytime soon.

    But yeah, as you say fear has a lot to do in it. And it makes sense that you don't always wanna risk your neck against one guy in a metal suit of death, even if your death means the others can kill him. So to be fair, and to readjust my words, a german swordsman with a humongous zwei-hander and armed in mail and plate could probably chop down a bunch of peasants with axes and pitchforks, simply because they are too poorly armed and poorly experianced to dare land proper blows.
     
  13. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    It's a one-two effect of 1) rushing one opponent quickly so you can drop him and have time to turn and deal with the others, and 2) having them scared enough that you have that vital half-second longer before the next attack comes at you, and/or enough armor to shrug off more of those blows. (A variation of the first is maneuvering so they can't reach you all at once, say by putting one of them between you and the others.)
     
  14. Bortasz

    Bortasz Troubadour

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    Hello :)

    Not only this.

    Give me a shield + short sword and put against untrained 2 people with just swords. I will have a chance beating them up.
    Give me gambeson and even bronze plate. And I will have no problem with them.
    Add to this 2-3 hard intense training and I think that soldier can go up to 4 people.

    Body armour work like wall of Fortress they multiple strength of soldier.

    Also pleas remember that Full body armour not only mean a Full Plate Armour from 15 century.
    [​IMG]
    Add to this chainmail protection of legs.

    What you think about creating another threat for armor?
     
  15. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    So, I wrote a fight scene where a guy takes on a half-dozen attackers, but I wrote it very intentionally. He knew ahead of time the guys weren't swordsmen (except two) they were miners, and he isolated opponents based upon their body language, deciding who had balls enough to strike and who was just following the leader.

    I train in European swordplay and my teacher can usually come out on top of a five on one battle against competent but not expert swordsmen. That's kinda what I wanted to go for in my scene. but in the writing, I showed all the character's decisions and how he set up the fight through maneuvering and tactics.

    Yes please! The more information we make available, the fewer terrible fight scenes I have to read/ watch. Bad ones just make me throw up in my mouth a little. As a sword-fighter and archer, there's a whole lot of misinformation available from Hollywood and it seems quite a few writers don't know where to conduct actual research.
     
  16. Hainted

    Hainted Sage

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    I like a well choreographed sword fight occasionally (Dread Pirate Roberts Vs Inigo Montoya anyone?) but honestly I've always suspected most fights went down more like Brienne VS The Hound on GoT last season. (One of my all time favorites as well)
     
  17. Bortasz

    Bortasz Troubadour

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    Find this. Quite interesting.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 10, 2017
  18. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    And here's a few pics with single rapiers:

    Single blades is tricky because you don't have a secondary weapon. If you get bound, you're just in trouble. Caution...it's good sometimes but it can get you killed.

    [​IMG]

    Yep, this (below) is about six seconds into the fight I think. Quick is really the word. You only get a chance to throw a few shots and you have to make them count. I think for people who train together often, you may end up with a certain amount of stalemate moments, I know my instructor and our other instructor do, but for the most part, duels are decided very quickly.

    [​IMG]

    Like here (below), where one bad parry pretty much ends the combat. You know, the interesting thing about these photos, is that when they were posted, a guy immediately commented, "one is pointing up and one is pointing down? I assume it ended badly for the one pointing up (since it is not cut and thrust, that most likely is not a cut down from first)"

    I mean, it's pretty impressive that just from a still shot an experienced fencer called the outcome of the fight. Maybe that's just impressive to me because I'm not really very skilled (after all, it was my terrible parry that got me killed). It just goes to show how experience and training really give you an edge in this thing.

    When you learn how to sword fight, you work to overcome all those little bad habits that get a common person killed the moment they enter a duel and don't really know what to do. If anything, I'd like to see more of that in fantasy. Rather than heroic, one-in-a-million shots that get thrown around, I'd like to see that bit of realism enter the scene. Real thoughts as they flow from an actual fighter's mind. I know that's a big request, but it's what I strive for now, to portray every fight like I feel them.

    BTW, this guy was really super cool and it was his first tournament too. We met at a huge event and he even invited me to his camp (where they had a roped off sparring court set up) for private lessons after our fight. It was really a good time and I learned a lot about one hand and two hands with a dagger. It's just awesome as you get to meet other fencers and learn their techniques and test yourself against a variety of skill levels.

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2014
  19. Bortasz

    Bortasz Troubadour

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    Maybe you could create one or two fight scenes? For us who never fence is hard to imagine how it look like.
     
  20. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    yeah, I've actually got a few up here on this site. I'll post the links here for you though.

    Here's the MFMA, a game we played in 2012. I'll post my entry below for convenience (it's probably been edited), but this thread was all writers pitting their characters against each other. There were some good fights in here: http://mythicscribes.com/forums/challenges/2546-mfma-tournament-battles.html?highlight=MFMA

    Here's my entry, a swordsman against a brute with an axe. Enjoy (well, maybe not, I wrote this in 2012 and I've come a long way since then...):


    MFMA Tournament Challenge

    In the red corner, this Mixed Fantasy Martial Artist holds a record of 24 wins with 2 losses and 1 no contest. Standing six feet six inches tall and weighing in at 288 pounds, he hails from Þórólfsstaaðir, in the icy northern wastes of Skúllajarður. He's a freestyle fighter trained in the wolves' lair, the new camp led by Thorgærd Ultrygg; the leader of the rebel group, the Alewolves. Introducing Authun Blóðøx Gærhialmsson, and his war axe, Harðráði!

    And in the blue corner, this fighter holds a professional record of 2 wins with no losses. He stands six feet tall and weighed in at 180 pounds. Reputed to have achieved the rank of Provost with the Brazelton’s Masters of Defense, and a notorious bravazzo, his amateur record has never been recorded. Fighting out of Brazelton, cultural hub of the Independent South, introducing Ranieri di Francesco Vezzano!

    Fight: Authun Blóðøx Gærhialmsson vs. Ranieri di Francesco Vezzano

    A dozen or so men stood waiting against the stone walls of a rotting old church. Trees’ bare branches hung over the courtyard walls, badly in need of pruning, and leaves and debris lay thick on the winter-brown lawn.

    As the two contestants sized each other up from across the courtyard, Guerrante Vinattiere stood solemnly observing the men placing bets.

    “That is your swashbuckler?” asked Giovanni, the son of Guerrante's patrician partner.

    “He is well-trained," Guerrante said. "Reputed to have studied in his youth under one of Brazelton’s Maestros.”

    “I thought he was a street-brawler.”

    Guerrante smiled. “He is.”

    “So,” the young man said, looking confused, “you think he can win against that behemoth of a foreigner?”

    The old man raised an eyebrow and gave the youth a knowing half-smile.

    “But if he’s killed, he can’t pay you back.”

    “Sure he can.” Guerrante frowned, returning his gaze to the two fighters. “My money is on Bloodaxe.”

    “You bet against your own fighter?”

    “I’m here to make money, Giovanni. If you spoke less and observed more, you’d already be a rich man.”

    *

    As soon as his opponent stepped into the ring, Ranieri cursed himself for making such a critical error.

    The sheer size of his adversary wasn’t what gave him cause for concern; what was a half-foot in height, after all? No, the thing that worried Ranieri was the double-headed axe the brute clenched in one of his huge fists. Who goes to a duel with an axe? He’d only heard rumors of such men, northerners who walked around half-clad in the bitter winds and snow.

    The weapon gleamed in the dim light and though the swordsman was no expert of war weapons, he anticipated his parries would be useless in stopping the force of a axe, and he wasn’t willing to rely on his padded leather doublet, either.

    He glanced nervously at Guerrante. It was little consolation to know that a win would satisfy Ranieri’s debt with the dubious creditor, when to benefit, he’d have to live. The old man stared back with drawn features.

    Before Ranieri could read anything into that look, the adjudicator ran from the paved center of the courtyard, leaving only the two combatants. Ranieri drew his blade and readied himself, and the northman gave a shout. “Harðráði will feast on your blood!” Ranieri’s heart sank as he watched the giant heft his weapon of choice with ease.

    The four governors repeated in his head as his opponent approached; perception, distance, timing, and technique. Ranieri searched for a weakness in the towering target.

    The northman swung first and Ranieri dodged. He threw himself aside, having to compensate for the axe with a much bigger movement than he was accustomed to. Quickly regaining his feet, his instincts kicked in. The duelist is no stranger to self-preservation, but seldom had Ranieri faced such overwhelming odds. Guerrante swore the duel would be to first blood, but it was painfully clear that if Ranieri’s blood spilled first, it would be at the loss of his head.

    Trying to regain his composure, Ranieri began the dance of Scandiaglio, feinting and probing to test the northerner, attempting to discover the other’s nature. Since no counterguard would be effective against the wide arc of the axe, Ranieri would have to depend on speed and reflexes, wearing down the bigger man who put incredible effort into his attacks.

    Darting in and out, scarcely missing time and again, Ranieri scored his first hit with a few well-timed mediatajo, cuts from the elbow rather than the shoulder. They were less effective, requiring less strength, but quicker and speed was the only advantage he had.

    Minutes later, the hulking brute slowed. Not enough, so Ranieri scored a few more mandritta bringing his blade about quickly, and cutting from the shoulder.

    The northman bled from a dozen or more wounds, but still he kept coming.

    Tight muscles ached in Ranieri’s back and shoulder. Duels were typically short-lived things, with one group dead or turning tail and running before stamina waned. A feat, even for a young man, to pick the northman apart. But Ranieri wouldn't lunge, just to get caught with the axe. He had to keep the fight at a comfortable distance, which meant tip cuts.

    “Yield!” Ranieri called to his opponent. “You are defeated.”

    “Never!”

    “Yield! Don’t force me to kill you.”

    In response, the huge axe swung again, narrowly missing Ranieri’s head, but catching the terzo of his blade. Too late to let go of the sword. The axe clattered against the mortuary hilt, stopped by the heavy cage protecting Ranieri's right hand and two new broken fingers.

    Desperation. Ranieri pressed forward, the axe safely bound by a quick turn of his wrist. Pain summoned a grunt and a howl as he drove his blade forward.

    Into the northman's torso. Any target would do. Ranieri couldn't be cautious when it took all his concentration to just keep moving forward.

    But the blade didn't enter soft flesh. Instead it encountered resistance. As if he'd lunged at a tree, Ranieri's blade flexed first, then snapped. His momentum carried him through the lunge, into the northman's chest. Into the northman's fist.

    Ranieri felt the impact and the next moments became a blur. With his body taking over, no direction from his mind, he had only a second to orientate himself.

    Broken sword, axe free, opponent approaching--slow but still out for blood. Left-handed he might be able to hold his own, but with a broken blade? He dared a brief glance back to the man whose eyes bored holes in his back.

    Guerrante had the faintest hint of a smile on his cruel face.

    Ranieri knew then that his creditor intended him to die. He wasn’t fighting to pay off his debt with the hopes he would win against the odds…. The very fact that Guerrante entered a fighter in the tournament meant the odds would be unbalanced; everyone knew the loan shark was a cheat.

    Ranieri, kneeling in the mud, watched his opponent. Grasping his broken hilt in his left hand, he prepared for the attack.

    When the axe came down, Ranieri threw his weight forward, rolling past the blade as it sunk into the ground. Regretting it already, he brought the sharp blade to, and sliced at the backs of the northman’s knees. A debilitating wound and one he wasn't satisfied to deal, but he wasn’t ready to roll over and die, a pawn of Guerrante’s cruel manipulation.

    The brute fell down and still went for his axe. Ranieri used his remaining strength to wrench the weapon from the dirt and fling it aside.

    He dared one last look at his creditor, but only caught the trail of his flowing cape as he left the courtyard.

    The priestesses came then to attend to the wounded northman and Ranieri’s broken hand. If only they could do as well for his broken sword.


    Ranieri di Francesco Vezzano wins!



     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
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