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Arming Sword (spada) and
Unarmoured Longsword (spada longa) Training @ AEMMA

The longsword is a type of European sword used during the late medieval and Renaissance periods, approximately 1250 to 1550. Longswords have lengthy cruciform hilts with grips over six inches (15 cm) in length, straight double-edged blades often over thirty-five inches (89 cm) in length, and weigh between 2 (0.9 kg) and 4.5 pounds (2 kg).

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The arming sword (also sometimes called a knight's or knightly sword) is the single handed cruciform sword of the High Middle Ages, in common use between ca. 1000 and 1350, possibly remaining in rare use into 16th century. Arming swords correspond to Oakeshott types XI, XII, XIII, and XIIIa.

The longsword is commonly held in combat with both hands, though it may be used single-handed. Longswords are used for striking, cutting, and thrusting. The specific offensive purpose of an individual longsword is derived from its physical shape. All parts of the sword are used for offensive purposes, including the pommel and crossguard. Arming sword (short sword) forms one of the three foundational components of the core training program for recruit training, i.e. arming sword (spada), grappling (abrazare) and dagger (daga). The arming sword was carried by individuals in the period to provide them defense in a civilian environment. The arming sword usually accompanied with a dagger were worn as part of the normal day-to-day wear of the period. The arming sword is a single-handed weapon and provides the maximum instructional benefits in terms of the student's developing their sense of timing and distance and other core fencing concepts.

Scholler training continues to focus on the core elements described for the recruit training, however, the training is expanded to include other weapons and fighting styles such as longsword, pollaxe, spear, etc. The longsword was the most visible and most noteworthy of the suite of weapons employed by the medieval knight. The core training program is based on Fiore dei Liberi's [ 1 ] treatises entitled "Flos Duellatorum" or "Flower of Battle". This treatise was written in 1410 and offers a complete training paradigm with particular emphasis on the foundations built-up with grappling and dagger techniques.

All of recruit training is unarmoured. This makes for a relatively low entry cost to begin one's training with medieval weapons in terms of equipment. Equipment requirements for training in the scholler unarmoured longsword provides enough bodily protection without significantly compromising the true nature of unarmoured longsword fencing bouts. One important piece of equipment is the fencing mask, which is not period, but is considered a "transparent" compromise during freeplay arming sword fencing bouts given that a blow to the head (fencing mask) results in the conclusion of the fencing bout. Details of unarmoured longsword equipment requirements can be found on this website or by clicking here.

Brief History

The medieval longsword, langeschwert, or spada longa, was a specialized form of the knightly cruciform sword that developed in the early 13th century. Although it was initially developed to combat reinforced mail armour, by the mid-15th century, the longsword had also become a dueling weapon in the city streets of Europe. This style of swordplay became so popular that sparring fencing matches are recorded in Germany as late as the mid-18th century, two hundred years after the weapons usefulness on the battlefield had long since died out.

The roots of the longsword, or in more general terms "broadsword" can be traced directly to the swords employed by the Vikings, from the long two-edged iron swords of the prehistoric Celts. Many of these splendid weapons from the first four centuries B.C. have been found in various parts of Europe which have blades of an average length of 76cm (30") and are about 5cm (2") wide at the hilt. These dimensions reflect the average dimensions of the swords of the medieval centuries.

AEMMA's longsword requirements can be mapped to Oakeshott's sword typology and therefore, come in three flavours or Oakeshott types that satisfy AEMMA's armoured longsword needs. The first, Type XII presents a longsword with a slight taper to the blade and an acute point (in AEMMA's case, the blade tips were rounded off for safety purposes), a relatively short grip and a fuller, which does not extend beyond two-thirds of the length of the blade. However, Oakeshott after much deliberation defined a further classification or subclass of Type XIIa (illustrated on the left) that expands upon the attributes defined for Type XII with the length of the grip extended to essentially a grip, which is consistent for a longsword. In this type, the blades measure from 88.9 cm (35") to 110 cm (43 1/4"). The period for which these swords were in use was between 1300 - 1400, with the odd Type XIIa positioned in and around 1250. The design of such swords was to compromise chain mail, which during this period was the principle defensive mechanism for the armoured warrior. The rather tapered shaped permitted for enhance efficiency for penetrating mail visible in areas such as arm pits, groin and throat areas.

Continuing with Oakeshott's typology, two more flavours are employed at AEMMA, types XVIa and XVII. Type XVI were in use during the period between 1300-1350, exhibit attributes including a flat and broad enough cross-section providing an efficient cutting edge. The somewhat tapered blade suggests that the design was efficient to allow penetration through chain mail defences. This style of sword was popular with the Italian fighting man. The sub-type XVIa continues to exhibit the base attributes of Type XVI, but with variations to the grip length achieving what is expected with longsword type of weapons. Blade lengths measure from 78.8 cm (31") to 91.1 cm (35 3/4") capturing the bottom end of the swords employed at AEMMA. The fuller rarely reaches beyond 1/2 of the blade length as illustrated in the image on the right.

The last "flavour" of Oakeshott's typology is the Type XVII, a sword designed to address the last quarter of the 14th century and the 15th century for the era of complete plate armour. Although mail was occasionally worn to reinforce plate in the form of "gussets"[ 2 ], the more acute taper which permitted the sword to enter between the gaps of the overlapping armour in search of the softer body parts beneath the armour. The design does not lend well to "bashing" the plate, but rather was an effective "hunter and seeker" approach to locating potential entry points within the plate armour defences, often times resulting in "gioco stretto" (close-quarters) type of engagements in which the sword was gripped on the blade with the left hand and used to leverage the opponent to the ground using techniques described as 1/2-sword or "meza spada" (middle-sword). These swords, according to Oakeshott's typology are positioned in the later half of the 14th century, some of the surviving examples today possibly originating in the Swabian (Germany) region when compared to the illustrations found in the German fechtbücher. Blade lengths measure from 76.2 cm (30") to 96.5 cm (38").

Oakshott indicates one example of the Type XVII, the sword weighed in at around 1 kg or 2 lbs. This of course, is without the grip (which had long since deteriorated away, and the oxidation of the blade resulting in loss of mass over time). It has been our experience with periodic examinations of the medieval sword collection at the Royal Ontario Museum or ROM, our swords are generally about 0.45 kg (1 lb) to 0.79 kg (1 3/4 lbs) heavier than their historical counterparts.

Training

Training is scheduled on a rotational basis, in which each recruit training class is focused on a particular component of the core training components (grappling, dagger or longsword). Training for recruits is offered three times weekly. For details on the scheduling for recruits training and fees, click here.

The images below depict typical unarmoured fencing bouts with longsword. Note the equipment worn by the combatants. Details on this can be found by clicking on unarmoured equipment requirements. Secondly, click on the images below to view a short video clip related to that image. Unfortunately, the video clips are available only in "wmv" format, meaning Windows Media Video. If not using MS Explorer, ensure that you have the wmv pluggin for your browser including Netscape, Mozilla, etc..

click on image to view short video click on image to view short video click on image to view short video click on image to view short video
This clip is an extract from a scholler test. Brett on the right is a recruit who challenged for the rank of scholler, and is engaged in a longsword bout with David. Brett demonstrates some good parrying skill. This clip is from the same scholler test as the previous video. Brett is on the left who is now taking the brunt of strikes from Brian. This portion is to observe the scholler candidate's abilities to handle repetitive strikes. This clip is from a free scholler test and depicts Murph on the left and David who clips Murph with a strike using the sword's falso filo. This clip is from the previous scholler test and depicts James on the left and Brett on the right. This movement shows a classic high incrosada, with James continuing to push aside Brett's sword and return low with a colpi mezana across the abdomen.

For details on AEMMA's training program, equipment requirements, armoured tournaments info, and ranking system, click on "training" on the navigation bar at the top of your browser window.



Footnotes
  1. Fiore dei Liberi - Fiore dei Liberi of Cividale d'Austria was born sometime between 1340 and 1350 in Cividale del Friuli, a small town on the river Natisone in Italy. According to available information, he had been practicing the art of swordsmanship for 50 years at the time of his writing the treatise entitled "Flos Duellatorum" or "Flower of the Battle". Accounts indicate that he trained in swordsmanship under the direction of the scholar and Swabian Johannes Suvenus (a former scholar of Nicolaus con Toblem). The knowledge and skill he developed under Johane's direction elevated Fiore dei Liberi to a master swordsman of his time.
  2. gussets - shaped pieces of mail which were sewn to the arming doublet to cover the armpits and portions of the arm left exposed by plate defenses.
Relevant References, Resources & Videos

Copyright © 2009 Academy of European Medieval Martial Arts (AEMMA)
Released: June 12, 2003 / Last modified: April 04, 2011