There are many ways to prepare for Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) tournaments. Competitors may study from manuscripts and other historical sources in order to learn swordsmanship. These types of competitors can range from people that dedicate themselves to a single system to others that pursue a general study of multiple systems to understand a weapon as a whole.
However, studying treatises is not the only way competitors prepare for HEMA tournaments. Others put more emphasis on the physical aspect of tournaments and swordsmanship. They may also take a trial and error approach to learning techniques and tricks that work to aid them in a tournament.
At one extreme, the competitors who study the manuscripts bite their thumb at those that ignore the sources. On the other extreme, the competitors who focus on the physical aspect believe that treatises are limiting and prevent fencers from adapting in a fight.
Today we will begin a two part series on the advantages, and disadvantages, of studying treatises to prepare for HEMA tournaments.
The first and most useful advantage swordsmanship treatises provide is structure. A treatise contains a series of actions, vocabulary, definitions, and other teachable objects that allows for everyone studying the treatise to speak the same language. In the case of British military sabre systems, this is demonstrated with numbered cuts and sequenced plays. (Roworth, 1824) In the case of I.33, it is the terminology and plays that help illustrate techniques to perform. (Manuscript I.33, Early 14th Century (2018)) In Meyer’s longsword system, the sword actions are named to help assist in understand ways the longsword can move. (Meyer, 1570 (2015)) Even loosely structured systems like George Silver’s system contain terms like variable, open, and guardant to define how a fencer is to conduct themselves in different scenarios. (Silver, 1599)
This allows for competitors preparing for a tournament to communicate specific techniques effectively and to connect with a larger audience of competitors who also use the treatises to learn swordsmanship. Being able to learn and practice with a larger audience who can reference specific terms and techniques helps grow competitors in their journey in learning swordsmanship.
Learning from the Past
Another advantage to studying treatises is the ability to learn from the past. In many cases, the treatises come from a history of learning from prior masters which continued to develop and refine what they believed to be the proper way to use their respective weapon. For the Bolognese sidesword and buckler system, Achille Marrozo and Antonio Manciolini learned from the Dardi School of Fencing. (Wiktenauer, 2021) For German longsword sources, there is an entire lineage of sources developed in the Liechtenauer Tradition. (Wiktenauer, 2022)
Specifically for the Liechtenauer tradition, the Fellowship of Liechtenauer listed in Paulus Kal’s manuscript contained seventeen individual names that were involved with the development of the system as a whole. Later, Joachim Meyer would continue the Liechtenauer tradition adding even more literature to study and learn from.
Even in the cases where there is not a clear lineage like I.33, competitors can learn from the lessons that are taught. These treatises serve as a way at least one person believed a sword should be used. By studying these treatises, modern competitors can learn what worked, and did not work, from previous fencing masters.
Studying treatises as described in this blog post is not just reading manuscripts. Drills, peer reviews of techniques, practice, sparring, and other tangible activities are all required to properly study a treatise. However, with practice and a scholarly approach to learning treatises, a fencer can learn to become a competent competitor in HEMA tournaments.
There is no doubt in my mind that given enough trial and error, HEMA tournament competitors could re-create the systems written in the treatises. However, by studying the treatises, HEMA tournament competitors can immediately learn practical techniques which can take a bit of the guess-work out of learning swordsmanship.
Manuscript I.33.(Early 14th Century (2018)). (D. J. Forgeng, Trans.)
The Medieval Art of Swordsmanship: Royal Armouries MS I.33
Meyer, J. (1570 (2015)).
The Art of Combat. (D. J. Forgeng, Trans.)
Roworth, C. (1824).
The Art of Defense on Foot with Broad Sword and Sabre.
Silver, G. (1599).
Paradoxes of Defence. Retrieved from http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/paradoxes.html
Filippo Dardi. Retrieved from Wiktenauer: https://wiktenauer.com/wiki/Filippo_Dardi
Johannes Liechtenauer. Retrieved from Wiktenauer: https://wiktenauer.com/wiki/Johannes_Liechtenauer
From time to time I come across people speculating that the purpose of first ward is to have a ward that can draw from the scabbard to attack. This argument seems to stem from first ward being similar to a sword position used in Japanese sword systems. This hypothesis would indicate that first ward could support techniques like the Iaijutsu, a quick-draw attack intended to strike an opponent when the sword starts in a scabbard or sheath.
However, there are a number of features lacking in the first ward that makes the attempt to quick-draw like the Iaijutsu difficult, if not impossible. This blog post will explore my rationale on why I do not believe first ward is intended for fighting when the sword starts in the scabbard. Rather, first ward is its own guard and practical within the I.33 system and intended for use when the sword is already drawn.
Before we begin with this analysis, I would like to give a huge shout out to Charles Turner of East Texas Historical Fencing who discussed this topic with me at Gesellen Fechten 2022. He highlighted a number of points about drawing a sword from a scabbard that supported my argument presented today. His comments, specifically on Fiore and the assistance of the off-hand to draw a sword, are presented in this blog post.
Understanding the Iaijutsu
To begin, we must first aim to understand the Iaijutsu. The Iaijutsu is a quick-draw attack designed to strike with the sword when the sword begins in a sheath or scabbard. Examples of this technique can be found in the following video:
While performing the Iaijutsu, the sword is drawn forward. Upon analysis of this technique, the practicality of it becomes evident. The ability to attack when the sword begins stored would be an effective defensive (or offensive) action when in a sword fight. If I.33 could include a technique like this, it would be a useful technique indeed.
Unfortunately, there are a number of features that prevent first ward from being the desired ward for this quick attack. There is further evidence to support that first ward is intended to be like any other ward in I.33 where the sword is free and ready to attack.
Analyzing First Ward in I.33
The first problem first ward encounters when trying to be used for drawing the sword in combat is the positioning of the hands. First ward is holding the sword hilt close to the armpit which is much higher than a scabbard would be worn for a medieval sword. However, assuming the sword were in a scabbard in this position, the buckler hand presents the next biggest challenge.
The buckler is shown in two different positions in I.33; one where the buckler covers the right side and the other where the buckler covers the left side. While the buckler hand may be holding a scabbard when facing the left side, it would become a hindrance to the draw when facing the right side because the buckler arm crosses over the sword arm. Both of these positions of I.33 are used to show the same technique, falling under the sword, where the sword is extended forward to bind against the opponent’s blade. It seems more likely that the sword is already free from a scabbard and the fencer has taken the position of first ward to bind safely against the opponent’s blade.
Furthermore, the fencer in I.33 is advised to place their blade against the opponent when falling under the sword. The motion required for this bind would not support the forward drawing motion of the Iaijutsu.
Drawing a Sword from a Scabbard in Fiore
Just like with the Iaijutsu, the Fiore manuscript shows the use of the off-hand supporting a sword draw from a scabbard. In this manuscript, a play exists that shows how to use a sword in a scabbard to defend against an aggressor with a dagger. At the start of this play, Fiore is resting his longsword on his shoulder with the scabbard covering the blade.
While the opponent is holding the dagger high, Fiore grabs his scabbard and extends it forward to block the opponent’s arm from being able to deliver the plunging thrust with the dagger. Again, similar to the Iaijutsu, the scabbard is held while the blade is removed.
Drawing a sword from a scabbard when under threat
In 2021, a quick thought experiment was conducted at VBHF involving drawing a sword from a scabbard while under threat of an opponent. The scabbard was belted to me while my buckler was hung onto the hilt of my sword with a simple rope loop. The exchanges for this experiment can be found in the following video:
In some cases, I was able to draw my sword without the assistance of my off-hand. However, to achieve this, the sword had to be drawn high and up towards my right shoulder to clear the scabbard. I was able to delay the exchange by defending with the buckler while I drew the sword from the scabbard.
In other cases, the scabbard was either held with the buckler hand or pinned against my body using my buckler arm. These actions appeared to be the fastest ways to draw the sword and engage the opponent.
Interestingly, instead of engaged the sword quickly, I preferred to defend with the buckler. Further experimentation would need to be conducted on whether defending with the buckler was the safer action, or if holding the scabbard and drawing the sword similarly to the Iaijutsu attack would have been a better option. For the Iaijutsu attack to have been feasible, the buckler would need to be secured some other way to the person as opposed to hanging off the sword hilt.
There is no question to me regarding the value of being able to attack with a sword while drawing from the scabbard. Unfortunately, based on the evidence presented, it does not appear that first ward is designed to support this action. While first ward is an effective ward in I.33, it would be dramatically limited if the sword were still in its scabbard. Instead, first ward and the techniques presented in I.33 appear to assume that the sword is already drawn and ready to engage the opponent.
As much as I love the Type XIV Arming sword by Viktor Berbekucz (VB), the sword has not been as popular in my class with my students. Many of my students feel that the shorter stockier blade is hard to manage. Instead, many of my students have looked at a different VB sword for their first sword.
Today we are going to discuss my thoughts on the Type XVI Arming Sword by Viktor Berbekucz and why it has become the most popular sword in my sword and buckler class. We will compare the characteristics of multiple Type XVI swords by VB and minor differences I have seen between them.
Just like with all the one-handed VB swords I have used, the Type XVI sword shows remarkable durability. If you are looking for a training sword that will last for years, the Type XVI sword by VB is a solid choice.
Just like with all the arming swords I have trained with, the crossguard will inevitably become loose and rattle. Originally I was able to hammer the crossguard back to being secure but I am unable to do so now on the older type XVI swords I have. Instead, I have been using epoxy to hold the crossguard in place.
Viktor Berbekucz swords continue to be one of the most affordable swords on the market (at least in the United States). With the price and the durability, these swords make a fantastic beginner sword purchase.
The Type XVI sword by VB features a straight crossguard and a fuller running up the blade. The sword is a simple and functional design that serves its purpose.
VB does offer the Type XVI sword with both a wheel pommel and a pear pommel. This allows for a bit of customization and personal preference that is not normally seen with VB swords.
However, be aware that some of the pear pommels have been observed having variability in hilt length.
Variability in Feel
Each Type XVI sword I have handled by VB has had its own feel to it. This is partially due to the handcraftsmanship and also due to the span of time when comparing Viktor Berbekucz’s swords. While the newer swords feel more standardized, they still all seem to have their own balancing and handling.
To further illustrate the variability, let’s take a look at the Type XVI sword by VB in my collection.
The Outlier (Purchased in 2019)
Overall Length 39.0 in
Blade Length 31.2 in
Grip Length 5.3 in
Weight 1124 grams
Blade Width at Crossguard 1.52 in
Blade Width at Tip 0.44 in
POB Passed Crossguard (Approx.) 3.5 in
Crossguard Length 6.3 in
Crossguard Thickness 0.38 in
This Type XVI purchased in early 2019 has always stood out as an outlier in Type XVI swords by VB. The sword is far lighter and more nimble than other Type XVI swords by VB but struggles the bind.
While this sword is an outlier because of its weight, it is also the more popular of the Type XVI swords I have to available in my class. The lighter blade is perfect for brand new students who are still getting used to the feel and handling of the sword.
However, even though it is popular, I see this sword as an outlier and is not the sword I would expect to receive if I purchased it in 2022.
Thick Crossguard (purchased in 2021)
Overall Length 38.5 in
Blade Length 31.2 in
Grip Length 5.0 in
Weight 1232 grams
Blade Width at Crossguard 1.60 in
Blade Width at Tip 0.48 in
POB Passed Crossguard (Approx.) 3.5 in
Crossguard Length 6.2 in
Crossguard Thickness 0.40 in
This sword was purchased in early 2021 and has a similar feel to the next sword on the list. Again, the standardization of the swords shows how Viktor Berbekucz is honing his craft.
One difference this sword has from the next on the list is its thicker crossguard. This has been great for its durability as the crossguard has not been hit so hard that it has bent. Overall, I see the crossguard thickness as a minor detail that does not impact the sword.
This sword feels more thrust-oriented than the next sword on this list. This may be due to the face that the point of balance being half an inch further down the blade. However, this sword is still a cut and thrust sword and is only slightly more comfortable in the thrust than the cut.
Thin Crossguard (purchased in 2021)
Overall Length 38.5 in
Blade Length 31.5 in
Grip Length 4.8 in
Weight 1222 grams
Blade Width at Crossguard 1.61 in
Blade Width at Tip 0.44 in
POB Passed Crossguard (Approx.) 3.0 in
Crossguard Length 6.3 in
Crossguard Thickness .38 in
Finally, we have the other sword purchased in 2021. All of the measurements are within tolerance of the other Type XVI sword discussed earlier. The only difference is the slightly longer and slimmer crossguard and the point of balance.
This thinner crossguard also has not been misshaped by impact during sparring so it would appear that the difference in the crossguard is negligible.
Who I Recommend It To
This sword has earned a spot as my go-to loaner sword in my medieval sword and buckler class. Everything about it screams “Classic Arming Sword” and is great for teaching swordsmanship. I have used this sword for teaching sword and buckler as well as messer with great success.
What this sword offers is a generic sword feel. It is great for both cutting and thrusting and is a great starting point for HEMA practitioners.
Some of my students have stuck with the Type XVI sword throughout their training. They cite the versatility of it and that it “just feels right” when using I.33 or Talhoffer techniques.
While some students may learn that they prefer swords that favor thrusts or cuts more, or shorter and longer blades, or a myriad of other variations, this sword is a great sword for just about anyone.
Why I Recommend the Type XVI over the Type XIV for New Students
As much as I have praised the Type XIV in an earlier review, the impact behind the cuts, the shortness of the blade, and the stiffness of the blade are major detractors for my students when learning I.33. Given the amount of thrusts I.33 uses as well as the wrist actions, the Type XIV sword is just not as forgiving for newer students when compared to the Type XVI sword.
The longer blade allows for students to comfortably thrust without feeling like they need to close to grappling range. The lighter blade also makes it easier to deliver wrist cuts which is advantageous when learning I.33. Finally, the Type XVI sword has better flex in the blade that makes it a kinder sword to spar against.
It is for all those reasons that I generally recommend the Type XVI sword to students looking to buy their first sword.
The Type XVI arming sword by Viktor Berbekucz is a fantastic sword for anyone looking to train with a medieval one-handed sword system. It is a durable trainer that has enough weight to it to bind effectively while also being light enough to deliver wrist cuts. The sword also has the option of a pear pommel or a wheel pommel which adds to its versatility.
Whether you are a new student to medieval sword systems, a longtime practitioner of HEMA looking for a simple arming sword, or an instructor buying swords to loan to students, the Type XVI arming sword by Viktor Berbekucz is a keeper that you will not regret.