Sword and buckler class

I taught a little sword and buckler class last Tuesday, and we had a matching tournament. It was tons of fun, and I did a little write up for it.
Historical sword and buckler
Sir Gaston de Clermont
Sword and buckler fighting is one of the best documented, and clearly the earliest documented sword based fighting styles thanks to the I.33 manuscript from the end of the 13th century. It bears many similarities to later works such as Talhoffer, and Fiore, and shares much in common with images of buckler fights between the knight-poets of the Manesse codex. This is intended as a brief overview of the main concepts of I.33, with some additions from the related sources.
In the I.33 style a bout begins by one opponent adopting a custodium, what we would call a guard, or ward and his opponent adopting a counter to that custodium. The seven custodiae are depicted below (they’re numbered in the text 1-7 counter clockwise from the upper left in the first plate, and clock wise from the upper left in the second.

Source: http://www.thehaca.com/Manuals/i33/i33.htm
1. The first ward starts off as if you’re drawing your sword from the scabbard. It offers a good strong slash to your opponent’s ribs, and by bracing the blade with your buckler you can stop it quickly, and even half sword a thrust. It blocks blows to the left side (which are the most powerful) quickly.
2. The second ward has the sword on the left shoulder. This also blocks the left side well by using the sword and buckler in unison, but offers higher cuts and thrusts.
3. The third ward is related to Liechtenauer’s vom tag- from the roof. It offers powerful displacing blows which are good against opponents who like to thrust and those who have less forceful defenses. In the Manesse codex we see a variant on the 4th ward on the left, and the 3rd ward on the right:

4. The fourth ward is familiar to anyone who has studied Belatrix or Oldcastle styles in the SCA, and begins with the sword on the right shoulder. It too is more offensive than defensive, and can be used much like Fiore describes his “Posta di Donna” (the woman’s guard). It leaves targets exposed, seducing an opponent to close range with a “come hither” approach but counters any advances with a powerful blow and a wide shot selection.
5. The fifth ward is defaced in the manuscript but has the blade out behind like a tail on the right side. This is useful to displacing thrusts with power and preventing an opponent from quickly binding.
6. The sixth ward keeps the sword hand on the breast, ready to thrust and the buckler forward to ward against displacing moves.
7. The seventh guard is related to Liechtenauer’s alber (fool’s) guard or Fiore’s dente di cinglare (boar’s tooth). From there it’s possible to cut up from below, but it’s vulnerable to binds from above if you don’t move quickly.

Each ward has at least one counter ward, and I.33 depicts and discusses plays from various combinations. Half shield, which holds the sword forward and near vertical with the buckler defending the hand, is a good default, though not the strongest against every ward. “The crutch” which the writer of I.33 claims has his own innovation is similar, but with the sword inverted counters many wards well, but it’s noted that blows should be thrown quickly from there. “Long point,” which has the blade and buckler extended provides a thrust and some control over the middle of the fight, but there are several counters to it, such as displacing the point with a sweeping blow from any of the first five wards or simply grabbing the tip of your opponent’s blade.
Many of the maneuvers in I33 involve controlling your opponent’s weapon quite directly. The most common is binding, which forces their blade out of your way using your sword. Control of their sword may be transferred to your buckler, freeing your weapon to finish the fight. Shield presses are particularly useful since in most plays in this style the sword and buckler hands are kept together to the hands and arms are protected (this fact is not as true in Talhoffer’s fechtbuch, but he also depicts combatants having their arms severed). So if you can press your opponent’s shield, you can frequently pin the sword as well. A shield press from the Manesse codex is depicted below:

Source: http://www.tempora-nostra.de/tempora-nostra/manesse.php?id=203&tfl=62
Footwork is clearly critical to the success of any fighting style, and it’s even more true with such a small shield. Unfortunately, few words are spent on the subject and between the fairly flat artistic styles of the 13th and early 14th centuries, the baggy garb and symmetrical shoes it’s difficult to glean even which foot might be forward, or when steps are recommended. “Stepping through” is mentioned in I.33, which likely means a long stride to close range, and generate power. It has been surmised by various scholars in the field (Stephen Hand, Paul Wagner, Brian Price, Robert Holland) based on later treatises that passing steps and stepping on diagonals are likely techniques. Mr. Price uses such steps and transitions between wards (called posta in the Italian style) as a foundation for his classes on Fiore.
What has been presented here barely scratches the surface of what’s quickly becoming a large body of work. Groups such as AEMMA, ARMA, Chicago Swordplay Guild, and Scholla St. George actively teach a variety of techniques from manuscripts which can add variety, power and style to your fighting. While many of the approaches presented in the old manuals are quite foreign and can be difficult to understand and incorporate at first their more exotic nature makes them more difficult for modern fighters to anticipate, in some cases making them even more effective than they were hundreds of years ago.

Forgeng, Jeffrey The Medieval Art of Swordsmanship: A Facsimile and Translation of Europe's Oldest Personal Combat Treatise, Royal Armouries MS I. 33 N.p.: Chivalry Bookshelf 2003

Price, Brian R Sword in Two Hands: A Full-Color Modern Training Guide based on the Fior di Battaglia of Fiore dei Liberi N.p.: Chivarly Bookshelf 2007

Tallhoffer, Hans and Mark Rector Medieval Combat: A Fifteenth-Century Manual of Swordfighting and Close-Quarter Combat N.p.: Barnes and Noble books, 2006

Tobler, Christain Henry Fighting with the German Longsword N.p.: Chivalry Bookshelf 2004

Wagner, Paul and Stephen Hand Medieval Sword and Shield: The Combat System of Royal Armouries MS I. 33 N.p.: Chivalry Bookshelf 2003

"Anonymous Fechtbuch: Manuscript I.33" 13th century German Sword & Buckler Manual The Haca 2007 < http://www.thehaca.com/Manuals/i33/i33.htm >

“Manesse Codex” Scans of manuscript Tempora Nostra 2007 < http://www.tempora-nostra.de/tempora-nostra/manesse.php?id=203&mi=0 >


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