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.)

MEDIEVAL LECTURE
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.

ADULT CLASS
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.

Educator How-To: Create your own medieval ID with basic heraldry

Heraldry is a unique identification system developed in the Middle Ages to aid in the identification of fully armored knights on the battle or tournament field. The roots of heraldry lay in the insignia, seals, and symbols used in ancient times for individual and/or national identification purposes.

Heraldic designs were applied to shields, tunics, horse blankets, and other items. These graphic designs functioned much like a team jersey by identifying individual players. A variety of emblems were used to adorn shields and many are the same as modern team mascots.

Colors (Tinctures)
These devices were bold in design, so as to be immediately recognizable at distance. Bright contrasting colors and bold graphics were employed for maximum visibility.

Two metals and five colors are used in heraldry.

Metals:

  • Or: Gold (yellow)
  • Argent: Silver (white)

Hearaldry 1Colors:

  • Gules: Bright red
  • Azure: Royal blue
  • Vert: Emerald green
  • Sable: Black
  • Purpure: Royal purple (rarely used)

Hearaldry 2

Field Divisions
The shield may be divided. Two common reasons for division are differentiating, to avoid conflict with a similar coat of arms, and marshalling, combining two or more designs into one.

Hearaldry 3

An example of extreme marshalling.

 Charges
A charge is an emblem or device occupying the field of a shield. I only address emblems in this paper. Below are some common charges, but there are many more, each with a meaning.

Hearaldry 4

(Click here for more examples of charges.)

Design Your Own Shield
In order to design your very own shield, you will need the following items:

  • Copy of the shield template
  • Markers
  • Pencil
  • Emblem design you want to use
  • Ruler

Questions to consider:

  • Do I want to separate the field?
  • What emblem(s) do I want to use?
  • How will I make the best use of color to create a contrasting design?

Use a pencil to sketch out your design. Putting a copy of your emblem under the shield template and carefully sketching against a sunny window allows you to trace your design onto the shield.

Use markers to apply color. White is used to represent silver and yellow is used for gold.

Do you mind passing the hand sanitizer? I think I’m coming down with a touch of the plague.

Today, as I sit and tidy up the Plague curriculum for the upcoming ExxonMobil Teacher Tuesday I can hear the children in the classroom next to me coughing….. just a bit.   I begin to think, maybe I need to make that appointment to get the flu shot.  I mean, it’s the least I can do to protect myself and the others that come into contact with me, right?  Hmm…,  I wonder.

In the year one thousand three hundred and forty eight when the Black Death set her dark sights upon the unsuspecting West, I wonder what the good people of Europe were thinking?  It sure wasn’t “Pass the hand sanitizer and warm me up a cup of Theraflu.”

The plague boasted the following symptoms: aching limbs, vomiting of blood, and lymph nodes that swelled to the size of chicken eggs before bursting.  I would have been first in line for my plague vaccination, had there been one available at the time. 

The Crow
Creative Commons License photo credit: Kessiye

As a plague victim in the Middle Ages, you would count yourself lucky if your family didn’t abandon you in the street to die alone.  If you were really lucky (so to speak) a doctor might pay you a visit.  If you were luckier still, maybe he wouldn’t.  Common treatments for the plague included, but were not limited to:  bleeding by leech or blade (sometimes until there was no blood left), purging by laxative (better to die of dehydration, right?), and various herbal treatments. 

In the stead of drugstores, the Medieval town might have had a local apothecary.  Check out some of the herbs that were used, mostly in vain, to treat the plague:

Thyme – a natural disinfectant used in the “nosegays” carried by doctors in an attempt to ward off the plague.

Rosemary – burned like incense, it was thought to ward off sickness of all types.  It was hung around the neck to protect from the plague.  It was also thought a twig of rosemary could ward off the evil eye.

Sage flower
Creative Commons License photo credit: tanakawho

Sage – among the most important medicinal herbs of Medieval Europe.  No covenant garden would be without a substantial patch of sage growing to treat the ailing masses.

Angelica – according to legend, the Archangel Gabriel revealed the powers of this Nordic herb to the Benedictine monks.  During the Middle Ages it was commonly cultivated in monasteries and used to treat symptoms of the plague.

Lavender – thieves who made a living stealing from the dead and infirm used lavender as an ingredient in their “Four Thieves Vinegar,” a concoction they used to protect and cleanse themselves after a hard night’s work.

During the plague in the seventeenth century, you might have even scored a visit from this guy (pictured below).

17th century plague doctor

And if that wasn’t enough to scare you to death, wait three days and the plague might get you anyway. As the poet Boccaccio said, “one could eat lunch with friends and have dinner with ancestors in paradise.”