Study of the Destructive Capabilities of the European Longsword

by David M. Cvet
December 06, 2001

In order to fully appreciate the destructive capabilities of the European longsword, an assessment was conducted using an edged longsword and striking against a facsimile human target or FHT comprised of rolled and water-soaked straw/tatami mats afixed vertically to a stand. The purpose of this exercise was to determine the attributes and properties of an edged weapon against a reasonable FHT.

The materials used for this study and assessment were comprised of the following:

  • Facsimile Human Target (FHT): The FHTs were compromised of tightly rolled, water-soaked straw/tatami mats. FHTs were created by tightly rolling a pair of straw/tatami sheets together and securely tying them near each end with string in order to ensure the rolls retain their cylindrical shape. The cloth hemming material along the ends of the mats were removed, however, the hemming material along the edges on both sides remained intact.

    The resulting dimensions of the FHT roll of was approximately 13 cm (5.25") diameter and approximately 76.7 cm (30.25") in overall length (oa). These rolls were then placed in a tub and soaked in water overnight. Sometime during mid-day of the next day, the tub was drained and the rolls were permitted to remain in the tub to drain the excess water. The rolls were then vertically afixed onto a wooden spike protruding from the top of a vertical 10.2 cm x 10.2 cm (4"x4") post of 78.7cm (31") in length creating the FHTs used for this exercise.
  • Edged longsword: A longsword similar to the image on the left was used for this exercise was given an extremely sharp edge throughout the entire length of the blade on both edges. The sword, which is referred to as the "Mark I", is the first generation longsword produced by Heimrick Armoury and which are still in use in practice and tournys today. The sword specifications are the following:
    • oa: 117 cm (46")
    • blade: 86.4 cm (34") long, 5 cm (2") wide at quillons tapering to 3.3 cm (1.25")
    • hilt: 30.5 cm (12") (includes pommel)
    • grip: 24.7 cm (9.75")
    • quillons: 23.5 cm (9.25")
    • weight: 2.01 kg (4.5 lbs)
    • metal specs: steel-molybdenium, tempered to 47-52 RW
    • edge-geometry == somewhere between a steak knife and sharp axe

A summary and videos are provided below for reference. The video file sizes range from 2.2MB - 4.6MB. The files will require QuickTime and are compatible with most Windows and Mac systems.

No. Segment Description Video
1 First Strike: The soaked roll was stuffed onto a spike extending from the top of the vertical 4x4 post resulting in the first FHT used for this exercise. Brian prepares to deliver the first strike, specifically, a sgualembrato and does so with full force and speed. click to view the video

2 Assessment: The strike was delivered in the same manner as any other strike in the AEMMA training program. There was no "slicing" action with the sword, and there was little, if any resistence felt during the strike. The FHT possessed the properties of flesh, feeling somewhat turgid and solid. The sword easily sliced through the roll. click to view the video

3 Second Strike: David now takes a strike against another roll with full force and speed, only the strike is more horizontal tondo. Similar to Brian's experience, there was little or no resistence offered by the roll. The cut was clean and complete. click to view the video

4 Half-Force Strike: Continuing with the same roll, this strike was delivered with only 1/2-force and about 3/4-speed. Despite the obviously slower movement and less force behind the strike, the sword was able to still penetrate the roll of approximately 4.8 cm (2"). This particular test was intended to emulate fencing in training with steel swords at 1/2-force and 3/4-speed. click to view the video

5 3/4-Force Strike: Brian takes a strike at another roll with approximately 3/4-force behind the strike. This effectively emulates the force behind the blows delivered during armoured fighting that we do at AEMMA. click to view the video

6 Conclusion: Taking a final strike at the roll, the study concludes with renewed healthy respect to the destructive capabilities of the European longsword. click to view the video



The short conclusion was that a renewed and healthy respect for the destructive capabilities of the European broadsword was cemented in our minds. A weapon such as this wielded by an expert swordsman would be a force to reckon with.

The benefits derived from such an exercise, aside from the increased respect for the weapon, included "fun", quite potentially an exciting addition to the training regimen for students to experience the destructive nature of the sword.

Another benefit was the impact the sharpened weapon had on form and technique. Over-compensation was readily observed, however, some of this can be explained by the excitement of fixating one's visual attention to the resulting cut rather than properly following through with the strike. The subtle deficiencies in deployment of strikes became more apparent as well, such as the angle of inclination, the possibly less effective strike point on the blade during deployment. It appeared that this exercise does in fact provide added value to the training regimen.

Safety concerns never left our minds during the exercise. The sharpened sword is a dangerous weapon to carry around without a proper scabbard. Casual transport of this weapon will only result in injury and care must ensure the secure transport. Secondly, during the deployment of the strikes, care must be taken to ensure that no individuals are too close in proximity to the strike. Blade breakage, or even the possibility of the sword leaving the hands could result in mortal danger and therefore, sharp sword exercises cannot be handled lightly.

The FHT exhibited some attributes of a human target, save the core or living bone material. Suggestions of inserting a dowel into the roll to simulate the bone would not necessarily enhance the human attributes of the FHT because living bone is not "dry and brittle" as would be exhibited by dowels. Continued experimentation with 2-3 cm diameter ABS tubing may enhance the attributes. The point of continued development of the FHT is to develop a "pell" for sharp sword training that possesses closer attributes to a human target.

In conclusion, AEMMA will integrate this exercise into the training regimen in order to enhance the depth and interest of the overall training program. Further experimentation will be conducted to introduce other variables such as:

  1. striking with the true edge and immediately with the false edge on return,
  2. setting up the FHT to deliver strikes such as ridoppio or montante,
  3. considering alternative sword designs that are consistent with the training orientation of AEMMA (armoured and unarmoured engagements).


  1. David M. Cvet. Study of the Destructive Capabilities of the European Longsword. Journal of Western Martial Art. February 2002.
  2. AEMMA. Sharp Sword Cutting Exercises. AEMMA. January 5, 2003.

Copyright © 2001 Academy of European Medieval Martial Arts (AEMMA) - All rights reserved.
Released: December 6, 2001 / November 20, 2009