NYT visits a longsword tournament



I am really excited that this article is getting so much traction. HEMA is a pretty new phenomenon and I would love to see it as popular as Tae Kwon Do or Brazillian Jujitsu (dreams are awesome).

It’s a pretty good write up, and they let the girls show their bruises a bit, instead of trying to focus on the sexy. Nothing says gender equality like a lady with a sword. I teach a class and most of my students are women, and I would love to send one to longpoint.


I did a lot of fencing as a in middle and highschool – epee and saber – and always dreamt of creating a “real swordfighting” sport that used modern electronic gear and rules (one hit, one point) but in a 3d arena with staircases and chandeliers.

I got to college and the LARPers were fighting with foam swords in a round arena. I was kind of excited, but quickly realized (a) none of them were very good (five years of fencing was better preparation than a year of being a sir knight, I guess), and (b) I didn’t want to be a LARPer.

These guys look like they would have had me for breakfast, however. It looks pretty fun. (I doubt, however, that it will truly ever get rid of its LARPing-like image.)

Wrestling is a very popular part of HEMA now, I wrestled at this competition and fought in 4 other events there…some of these guys are brutal wrestlers. It’s tons of fun

The NYT video is rather well done. I was expecting a half arsed video by a reporter forced to do two jobs, but instead got a better than average mini-documentary, with well composed interviews, good sound, and most importantly, good explanations.

The internet is really what has enabled the western martial arts community to collaborate on the study of European martial arts. When I started studying historical sword play in the 80’s I found the rapier styles to be fascinating and well developed, but since then what has been surprising to me is the wealth of information about the richness and complexity of long sword techniques from the 14 and 1500s - as rich as Asian martial traditions.

With all of that, I’m still wary of long sword sport fencing. Swords are “force multipliers” - they concentrate a lot of kinetic energy down to a small edge, so even dull edges for long sword sport fencing are a potential amputation risk to fingers, can separate tissue with impact lacerations and can easily break bones. Unlike modern sport fencing, which uses super light, springy and flexible weapons, long swords don’t bend edge on. So it was very cringe worthy to watch people in the video fencing without protection for their collarbone, which is a classic target for disabling an opponent with blunt weapons.


Those jackets that we’re wearing in the video actually offer a great deal of protection. Also, myself, and many other fencers wear additional padded garments under them during Steel Competitions in order to prevent the injuries you’re talking about. I am actually very very glad that we don’t use light springy swords for our training, not only are they not historical, but they don’t offer the same feedback and fühlen that a heavy blade will provide. Our tournament weapons are also very different from blunt swords. Most of the tournament weapons we use at the heavier tournaments are Federschwerts, and are designed with a thinker edge and a center of gravity closer to the hilt, which allows for “safer” striking. Don’t get me wrong, they hurt. They can hurt a lot, but it’s different from the kind of damage a true blunt sword can do…


Matches have complex rules and use a scoring system based on ancient dueling regulations.

“Stick them with the pointy end.”


You should probably qualify that statement. Modern sport fencing weapons are “historical” since “modern” sport fencing is not a recent invention. :slight_smile: And many sport fencing épée blades are not far off from the weight and stiffness of many small swords.

Also, springy whale bone training swords were used historically - the problem being that when when I say “historically” it gives a false impression of homogeneity. The tradition and tools of sword play varied widely over the years and throughout Europe.

And while I love the rebirth of historical European sword play, people should not get the wrong impression about this sport. The attacks on armored opponents as shown by Fiore Dei Liberi are specifically on the weakness of armor, because if you just hit armor, it works, as shown by the relative safety of your sport - you’d all be dead or maimed if armor didn’t work if you hit the armor. Instead, one of the aspects “real” combat is work to attack all of the places the armor doesn’t cover, all the chinks - which is the opposite of what you need to do to keep the sport safe. So, just as modern sport fencing has many aspects, from rules to light springy weapons, that diverge from real duels, so does “historical” long sword sport fencing. Neither are perfect analogs to real combat. Both are sports inspired by historical sword play, though one can argue that long sword sport fencing is a lot more analogous to its origins than modern sport fencing.

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I agree with everything you said. Let me re-phrase my point. A light springy blade, say made out of Aluminum would not be “historical” Historically there were blunt steel Federschwerts. I know people who have handled the extant pieces, and then worked with swordsmiths to re-create those same features in modern fencing tools. one other point I want to clarify, since it isn’t very obvious, is that most of what we do at these tournaments is a controlled simulation of Unarmoured fighting, what the German masters called Blossfecten. Harnisfecten, or the Art of Armored Combat is a lot like you say, and Fiore spends a lot of time showing you how to exploit the opening of a suit of Armor. And yes, we wear a lot of protection when we simulate “unarmoured” fighting, but then again, a three foot long piece of steel REALLY hurts…

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Thanks. That kind of thing isn’t always obvious to spectators - especially since at some Western Martial Arts tournaments I’ve seen they do use historical plate armor (and, frankly, I have no idea what kind of combat they were supposedly doing other than not actually attacking the chinks - I just remember the broken blade flying into the audience, having broken off impacting the armor or sword of one of the combatants. If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, it is that any sword can break, no matter how well respected the maker. Short of requiring x-ray inspection of all weapons prior to a bout I’m not sure what can really address that issue…)

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Yeah, I’ve broken a couple of extremely high quality swords. Albions. It happens sometimes. At Longpoint 2014 we broke 2 Langes Messers during the Finals Livestream. I’ve also broken a couple bones, both on myself and on another. We don’t try to. We actually try to exhibit tons of control while we train, yet accidents happen.

I have a couple of friends who do full plate Harnisfecten, it’s intense. The winner is usually the person who knocks the other person down first.

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Sounds pretty intense. And that makes me wonder at what point state prize fighting regulations kick in? I was reminded of that by a clip from the Fight Church documentary where the Christian MMA fighters have to fight muay thai instead of full MMA because of NY State regulations. The term prize fighting originally came from sword fights to earn entry to England’s sword instructors guild, and later for paid sword bouts, so it would actually not be a stretch to consider that full contact sword fighting that regularly results in broken bones could be covered by state prize fighting regulations - but I really don’t know anything about them.

you know…I never thought about that. There aren’t too many clubs in New York oddly enough. I belong to one in New York City, there’s one out of Long Island, but I’m not aware of any upstate… There’s currently only one tournament in the state of New York, and it’s one of the smaller ones. There are also no cash prizes, if that would make a difference of any kind…

Well, if anyone is interested in HEMA in Germany, I recommend Ochs e.V. as the club to look to. I was with them for 4 years, partly as a sport, partly to learn real fencing to improve stage fencing, and partly because it was a good workout with knowledgeable athletes. They have meetings in several German cities, so go check them out.

For the record, my preferred weapon was the Langes Messer

Hiro doesn’t have any zanshin at all. He just wants this over with.
The next time the businessman sets up his ear-splitting screech and
shuffles towards Hiro, cutting and snapping his blade, Hiro parries the
attack, turns around, and cuts both of his legs off just above the


Funny you quoted that, because my initial reaction to seeing this post was, “Huh. I thought that longsword fencing was basically just something that Neal Stephenson invented.” (Or tried to.)

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