Game of Thrones sword fighting
17th Mar 2012 | 12:00
Ever wondered what it would be like to actually employ the sword skills of Skyrim, the Witcher 2 or the characters from Game of Thrones, in short just what would it take to become a *ahem* legendary medieval swordsman?
Well as part of our splendid Game of Thrones competition we recently got a chance to find out, with a day's training in the bloody art of medieval warfare and sword fighting and dagger combat, courtesy of the London Longsword Academy.
So with a song in our hearts and only a slight grimace on our lips, it was down the darkest depths of south London and a local gym to see just what medieval warfare was made of (apparently if you do it outside, local residents tend to call the police).
It wasn't long before we were starting to earn our spurs under the expert eye of friendly instructor David Rawlings. We began by taking a look at reproductions of some of the actual swords medieval warriors would use. These ranged from shorter one-handed blades designed to be wielded with a shield, to longer two-handed broadswords like Longclaw.
Heavy and unwieldy as they may look, all these weapons are actually beautifully balanced, with heavy pommels counter-acting the weight of the long blades. It's very easy to start swishing them around and they feel extremely pleasing in the hand. However It's very much a case of safety first and extreme caution must be exercised, with the sharpened blades even the merest touch from the edge would slice through your skin in an instant.
Most are actually not designed to bludgeon or cut your opponent apart, or hack your way through their armour. A knight in full plate mail is an intimidating target and a sword's edge no matter how sharp would most likely simply bounce off his plate or chain mail. For most fighters, the aim would be to attack the weak spots in the metal, at the joints between elbow, and neck, under the armpit or at the back of the knees.
When you picture a medieval battle, it's very tempting to picture a huge melee where everyone wades into battle, just laying about them and smashing into their opponents,
However you soon discover the art of medieval swordsmanship is a every bit as refined and almost scholarly as the classic Japanese Samurai techniques.
Books and manuscripts like the Fechtbuch I.33 and several English and German sources like Talhoffer or Johann Liechtenauer are actually sophisticated medieval combat manuals outlining a series of strokes, guards, postures and counter guards which the aspiring swordsman should emulate if they want to master their weapon and defeat their enemies.
In Game of Thrones, when you see Jon Snow training at Winterfell or Castle Black in his time with the Night's Watch, he practices every single day under the eagle eye of the weapons master or the cruel barbs of Ser Alliser Thorne and it's easy to see why. Repetition breeds confidence but it's no surprise in such a brutal business you have to be as well prepared as possible.
For medieval swordsmen the art of survival was far more important than making a kill or landing a stylish blow and when you imagine being on the wrong end of one of the swords you easily understand why. Most training was therefore undertaken using leather wrapped practice blades you can see in the photos.
Cuts are practiced as if you were striking at a clock face, cutting down through 12 o'clock, diagonally at two or horizontally at three, aiming for the head of your opponent. You're encouraged to really follow through and then withdraw back to a guard position to your parry.
Moving onto more advanced training included parrying a downward cut, jabbing at your opponent's face and then catching them off guard as they tried to block you, the art of dagger fighting how to fight with cloak and dagger (a real historical term) and some intriguing disarming manoeuvres.
Okay so perhaps we were never going to become master swordsman in one afternoon, but it was a real revelation to discover that the ancient art of medieval sword fighting was alive and well and being taught in south London. Next time we swing a sword in Skyrim, wield a silver blade in The Witcher 2 or catch another episode of Game of Thrones, we'll now have some real insight into how it should work.