Last weekend, Danial and I teamed up to host another historical demonstration at Uhuburg Castle at their CastleFaire event. What we did not realize going into the event was that our first day was about to become a research project on weather’s impact to sword and buckler. Bundled in cloaks and wool in our period clothing to combat the cold, Danial and I fought through the mud and the rain in front of a small crowd to better understand what the cold, rain, and the mud would do to our technique.
The first significant change to my historical kit was the inclusion of the cloak to help insulate myself and keep me warm. After researching, I selected the bocksten cloak by Grommet Leathercraft because of the historical evidence of this cloak style. It also freed my sword hand, which felt like an advantage over a more traditional cloak like what Danial chose. With the cloak thrown back to free my buckler hand, the cloak minimally impacted my overall technique and even assisted in a blade grab where Danial’s sword got caught in my cloak on a missed thrust.
My footwear remained the same simple leather shoes I had worn for other historical demonstrations. These shoes feature little tread, forcing me to use shallow steps like I had to do with different rough terrain sparring. Unfortunately, even while trying to maintain these shallow steps, I still slipped when stepping forward to attack my opponent. Fortunately, I never fell into the mud, but more arm and rib cuts occurred than deeper target hits on days 2 and 3 of the demonstration. The risk of over-extending was likely the culprit for this because I did not want to slip in the mud reaching for a thrust to miss and get hit by Danial. While my shoes had been soaked through, my feet were not wet thanks to the assistance of the chausses I was wearing. The shoes even dried out before the second day which was an added bonus.
From a perspective of fighting in Historical Clothing/footwear in inclement conditions, footwear significantly impacts the bad conditions. Clothing hinders and protects in equal measure, but historical footwear is objectively a downgrade.
A long cloak was used to stay warm for the demonstration. The cloak I used prevented the utilization of several wards (Namely 1st and 5th), even when thrown back over the shoulders. This was due to the risk of tangling a sword in the cloak and being unable to respond to a siege or any other defensive action required. However, it did provide some level of protection from strikes when it turned blades flat or, better yet, slowed blows to allow for grabs or other entangling actions. Beyond that, the length of a woolen cloak (especially one close to the ground) can stretch while wet, which increases the risk of slipping or tripping, which did happen on several occasions. This led me to use much tighter and more controlled lunges and steps, even with modern shoes.
Footwear now is an entirely different story. The slick conditions of rain and mud were nearly ignored while using modern soles, and this allowed me to exploit a lunging distance that was unopposed by a fighter wearing historical shoes. The ability to put this consideration out of my mind certainly gave a mental advantage in the fight as it was one less thing to consider with actions. Knowing that my opponent was wearing historical footwear also allowed me to press my advantage to advance and retreat much faster than he could safely, which defeats a common maxim (It is faster to advance than retreat). So, as anyone could conclude, any step up in footwear will pay dividends, especially as the ground conditions become worse.
We were both acclimated to the temperature after standing in the rain and lecturing for minutes before sparring. We also had the opportunity to survey the ground during this time, which allowed us to think about how we would fight in the muddy and rainy conditions. Ultimately, fighting in rain and mud felt similar to other rough terrain I had experimented with. However, I may have felt slow and sluggish if the heavy rain had soaked my clothes. Thanks to our cloaks, most of our layers were protected from the rain, allowing us to fight freely without being soaked. Because of this, I believe that cloaks for rainy weather were more beneficial to preserving swordsmanship technique in the rain than we had initially considered going into the shows for this weekend.
As always, we had a blast teaching and demonstrating historical fencing to the visitors of Uhuburg Castle. We had a great time meeting new people, trading sword stories with others, and making history fun for everyone. We owe a huge thank you to the staff of Uhuburg Castle for running an excellent event. We also want to thank Ash, Rachelle, and Don, our support staff, for helping our table booth run smoothly.