Watch Accurate Recreations of Medieval Italian Longsword Fighting Techniques, All Based on a Manuscript from 1404

Giv­en recent events, the prospect of hun­dreds of young men meet­ing on Face­book, then trav­el­ing from around the coun­try to a cen­tral U.S. loca­tion might sound like rea­son­able cause for alarm. Yet a recent con­ven­tion fit­ting that descrip­tion had noth­ing to do with polit­i­cal vio­lence but, rather, a cel­e­bra­tion and appre­ci­a­tion of the name “Josh” (full dis­clo­sure: this writer did not attend). The gath­er­ing of the Josh­es this past April in Nebras­ka could not have been more peace­ful, includ­ing its fin­ish­ing bat­tle royale, con­duct­ed with pool noo­dles. (Win­ner: adorable 4‑year-old Josh Vin­son, Jr., or “Lit­tle Josh,” from Lin­coln, NE).

The Josh­es had no con­cern for prop­er pool-noo­dle-wield­ing tech­nique, if there is such a thing. But groups of peo­ple who gath­er around the coun­try to stage medieval-style bat­tles in live-action role play­ing (LARP) games with weapons both real and fake might ben­e­fit from point­ers.

So, too, might those who chore­o­graph sword fights on stage and screen. Where can seri­ous his­tor­i­cal re-cre­ators learn how to wield a real blade in his­tor­i­cal­ly accu­rate com­bat? One resource can be found at Wik­te­nauer, a wiki devot­ed to col­lect­ing “all of the pri­ma­ry and sec­ondary source lit­er­a­ture that makes up the text of his­tor­i­cal Euro­pean Mar­tial arts (HEMA) research.”

The Fior di Battaglia (“Flower of Bat­tle”) — an Ital­ian fenc­ing man­u­al by Fiore de’i Liberi dat­ing from cir­ca 1404 — offers rich­ly- and copi­ous­ly-illus­trat­ed demon­stra­tions of medieval Ital­ian longsword fight­ing tech­niques. In the orig­i­nal man­u­script, seen here and at The Get­ty, “the illus­tra­tions are inked sketch­es with gold leaf­ing on the crowns and garters,” notes the Wik­te­nauer entry. They dom­i­nate the text, which “takes the form of descrip­tive para­graphs set in poor Ital­ian verse, which are nev­er­the­less fair­ly clear and infor­ma­tive.” So clear, indeed, the brood­ing young men of Akademia Szer­mierzy — a Pol­ish group that recre­ates medieval sword-fight­ing tech­niques — can more than con­vinc­ing­ly mim­ic the moves in the video at the top.

Once they get going, after some req­ui­site pre-fight riga­ma­role, it’s impres­sive stuff, maybe already famil­iar to mod­ern fencers and cer­tain mem­bers of the Soci­ety for Cre­ative Anachro­nism, the LARP-ing orga­ni­za­tion of ama­teurs recre­at­ing every­thing from the Mid­dle Ages and the Renais­sance. But for those who think all live-action role-play­ing is the equiv­a­lent of the Bat­tle of the Josh­es (or off-brand Nazis run­ning through the streets in home­made armor), the sheer bal­let of his­tor­i­cal sword-fight­ing may come as a sur­prise — and maybe inspire a few more peo­ple to pull on the dou­blet and hose. See more medieval sword-fight­ing recre­ations from Akademia Szer­mierzy here, and the full text of the Fior di Battaglia here.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Renais­sance Knives Had Music Engraved on the Blades; Now Hear the Songs Per­formed by Mod­ern Singers

A Hyp­not­ic Look at How Japan­ese Samu­rai Swords Are Made

The Last Duel Took Place in France in 1967, and It’s Caught on Film

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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