Getting to the point: Medieval swordsman John Clements offers classes at HMNS

As a child, I loved two things: dinosaurs and swords (and you can probably see why I’ve wound up at HMNS). Like many children, the movies I watched informed how I’d play – and having grown up on classics like The Princess Bride (which you can watch at HMNS on March 21) and Star Wars, it’s no surprise that play sword fighting was my favorite activity. I had at the ready all the materials I needed in my backyard: a stick for a sword, a tree as a stand-in dragon; what else could a kid ask for? As a teenager, this interest continued as my friends and I would craft “weapons” (nothing dangerous, I assure you) from objects around the house, but it wasn’t until college that I really started to learn about and appreciate the history of the sword and how one is to be used properly.

While there are many, many types of swords, used throughout different times and places as prize fighting items, the idea behind their design and how to use them has remained the same (no, not just the pointy-end-goes-in-bad-guy concept). Swords were meant to be a very economical way to fight, allowing the knight (or the dueler, etc.) to expend as little energy as possible while holding their opponent at bay. Aided by a good foundation in basic mechanics (i.e., fulcrums and levers), one seeks to use their appendages with the most efficiency — a small bit of movement and a twist of the wrist should be all one needs to propel the blade through your opponent’s defense.

Building from this principle, swords have been designed to be best suited to different fighting environments. The broad sword, invented in the Middle Ages, was best suited for combat and dueling. The aptly named cut-and-thrust sword is designed to cut and thrust. The rapier was designed with similar intent, made to work like a giant ice pick, so that you could fight in the crowded city streets of France and Italy. The modern sport of fencing was invented when a French blade was blunted – also called foiling the blade (this is where the word “foil” comes from).

So now you’re up-to-date on swords. But you know you want to learn more (and how could I blame you; swords are awesome!). In that case, you should join us for some upcoming events where you can learn the art of sword fighting (no prior experience necessary!). John Clements, one of the premier swordsmen of our age, will talk about the sword of the 13th century and the knights who wielded them (on Feb. 26) and teach you the Art of Defense in an evening workshop (on Feb. 27).

To take advantage of this special offer and reserve your spot, purchase your ticket at the HMNS Box Office or call 713.639.4629 and present coupon code $10offsc to receive $10 off your ticket. (Discount not available on online ticket purchases.)

13th Century Sword & Buckler: Origins of the Knightly Fighting Arts
John Clements, ARMA
Weds., Feb. 26, 6:30 p.m.

The liberal arts in medieval times were those subjects studied by a free man—who was free precisely because he was armed and trained in the fighting arts. Much of what is known of 13th-century sword and buckler training is documented in the only surviving fencing manual of the period. John Clements, martial arts historian and director of ARMA (Association for Renaissance Martial Arts), will describe the science of defense developed in this period, as well as the arms, armor and chivalric work of knights. This lecture will be followed by a live demonstration of medieval martial arts.
Click here to purchase tickets online.

Introduction to the Sword
Thurs., Feb. 27, 6 p.m.
Tickets $75, Members $65

The sword is an important symbol of power—from the gladius of gladiators to the light saber of the Jedi. It has been used to change history. Whether leading a conquest of the Normans or to helping to secure the seed of democracy, the sword is an important symbol of martial skill. Thought of as a “lost art,” swordsmanship is still taught using the writing and illustrations passed down from Renaissance sword masters. Learn the basics of this martial art in this class lead by John Clements, director Association of Renaissance Martial Arts.
Click here to purchase tickets online.

THE SWORDSMAN: John Clements
John Clements is a leading authority on historical fencing and the world’s foremost instructor of Medieval and Renaissance fighting methods. As a long-time Western martial artist who has been studying historical fencing since 1980, John is the most prolific writer on the subject of historical fencing. He has practiced European cut-and-thrust swordplay and for more than thirty years, taught on it in 16 countries, and researched arms and armor on four continents. He instructs both nationwide as well as internationally.

License to kill: Sabers and saber-tooths

There are few things as exciting as the clash of blades. The sound of steel on steel, the feel of stopping the momentum of your opponent’s blade, the thrill of turning that momentum back on him or her, and the joy of connecting blade to foe. Because these are just practice weapons, there is also the joy of getting together and cooking afterwards.

Modern competition fencing has evolved over several centuries from the traditions of Western Europe. Its current iteration emphasizes the intent and equipment of the 19th century. By the 19th century, bladed weapons were on their way out as practical armament and had taken a more athletic aesthetic. By the end of the 20th century, the sport of fencing consisted of just three different blades: the foil, the epée, and the saber.  The epée is modeled after rapiers and short swords, while a foil was just a practice epée that took on a life of its own. Both the foil and epée are thrusting weapons (i.e. the pointy end goes into the other person) and work much like an ice pick.

The saber is modeled after cavalry sabers, which were in use up through the First World War. The saber is a curved, single-edge sword made to cut and thrust. While the tip can be used to thrust, the edge of the weapon can cut across. When used in a charge, the blade goes where the tip side is pointing. If the blade is held with the tip side pointed toward the sky, the blade goes up, and the cavalry officer will have a broken wrist. If the tip is pointed to the ground, the force of the charge will carry the blade through the target and toward the side of the rider’s horse. Throughout history, there has been a debate over whether a straight-edged sword or a curved sword is better for use by cavalry. Because I like to have my wrist after a charge, I always choose the one with the curves.

Some ancient animals made use of saber-like teeth much the way fencers do. The most well known is the saber-toothed cat. What we call “saber-toothed cats” actually comprise a number of different feline and marsupial species. They all had overly large canine teeth, most of which could still gleam menacingly while their mouths were closed. One of the most iconic “cats” is Smilodon. Erroneously known as the saber-toothed tiger — despite its lack of relation to tigers — Smilodon was a 1,000-pound ambush predator. While Smilodon did not have as strong as bite as a modern day lion, its long teeth more than made up for its bite. It used its power to wrestle prey to the ground and then followed up with its saber to deliver the coup de grace (not to be confused with the Kansas City shuffle) — a very efficient way to take out prey.

There were even some herbivores that picked up the saber teeth. Uintatherium was a rhino-like (although not related) planteater that possessed a pair of saber teeth. While they were the cool “cats” on the herbivore block, they used their formidable teeth as weapons of defense against predators and against other males to win a female’s favor.

The new Morian Hall of Paleontology hall contains fabulous fangs. Check them out!