German Longsword Demonstration

Last night was the first of the new Australian College of Arms special training night and this month we had a visit from Leith Golding from Collegium to show us the basics of the 14th and 15th century German longsword technique.

It's a very interesting style – very simple, direct and brutal. There's very little that's fancy about it but it needs to be remembered that this is the fencing style used in judicial duals. If you have a quarrel with your neighbour or the local authorities, a magistrate me sentence the two of you to duke it out with longswords in the public square. You needed to have the courage of your conviction that you were in the right because you may well die or lose a limb. Because of this, the Germans needed a fencing style which could be taught quickly and easily to individuals with little or no previous experience.

To say that it's the martial equivalent of rock-paper-scissors will give you an idea of its simplicity but completely hide its subtleties and complexities. The basics can be quickly taught but there's plenty of scope for further study and intensive training is required to master it.

For me it was interesting to hear Leith talk about the primary texts. He says that Ringeck and Dobringer are the best sources. These are texts without the pretty pictures found in, say, Talhofer. He says that after Talhofer became the fencing master to the Prince of Swabia he needed to get capitalise on his good fortune and quick publish an advertising brochure to attract people to his school.

What I'd really like now is a demonstration by someone who studies specifically Italian longsword techniques. These concentrate very heavily on keeping the tip of the sword pointing at your opponent – it's a small wonder that the Italians were the first to develop the rapier into a coherent fighting style.