Category: Swordsmanship and fencing

Top 10 Christmas Gifts for the Catholic Swordsman

So, you have a Catholic swordsman that you are looking to get a gift for and you are in need of ideas. You’ve come to the right spot! Sword-based western martial arts is a fairly unique thing and as such it is hard to get reliable information on equipment and training needs. This quick guide can help you to outfit your loved one this Christmas so he is ready to learn the art with the other members of the Order of Lepanto!

1. Sword Maintenance Gear. The thing about using weapons that are designed similar to their Medieval and Renaissance counterparts is that they require much more maintenance than you think. Consistent maintenance is necessary to protect your investment and to ensure your tools are performing to the best of their ability.


A person who has a wooden sword will need to have boiled linseed oil to regularly treat the sword.





For those who have a blunted steel sword, there are a few more items needed


Oil to prevent rust – you can use a gun oil or a sword oil for this






A flat metal file with a medium grit to dress nicks in the edge






And a way to store the sword when not in use that will protect it from rust. I recommend using a gun sock made for rifles, they are inexpensive and the length is just right.





2. Sparring Gloves. While the original manuals do not show people wearing gloves, except during the winter, there is a need in our modern society to take some basic hand protection into account. While, it would seem that thick gloves would be the order of the day, it is actually better for your dexterity to use thinner gloves with just a bit of padding to reduce the force of an impact.

A set of T-Rex gloves by Magid. These gloves offer good protection to all 5 fingers, knuckles, and the back of the hand.





A set of Original M-Pact gloves from Mechanix. Good protection for 4 fingers and knuckles, okay protection on the thumb and back of hand.





or basic leather one’s will do nicely.






3. “The Spiritual Combat” or “Manual for Spiritual Warfare”. The thing about being a Catholic swordsman is that you are studying Western Martial Arts, not for its own sake, but as the metaphor and training ground for spiritual combat. In that vein, you need a good manual of spiritual warfare.

The Spiritual Combat by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli is the book that Saint Ignatius carried with him and that he read every day.





A more modern book, the Manual for Spiritual Warfare by Paul Thigpen is a wonderful companion too.





4. Training Dagger. Training weapons made of hickory or blunted steel are a critical component of this art. A wooden dagger is a nice additional piece to add to your martial artist’s tools and it has a lower cost than a full sword.

The Rondel was favored during this period





but a bladed Gauche would also have been seen.





5. “The Knightly Art of the Longsword” or “Codex Wallerstein”. We are studying a sword-based martial art, so having multiple manuals from the Medieval and/or Renaissance is important for a student. These are the best for beginners in the art

Sigmund Ringneck’s translation is a little dated, but the manual is easy to understand and gives an excellent foundational understanding of the longsword, which is the basis of all western martial arts.





Codex Wallerstein gives another perspective on the longsword as well as adding in wrestling, dagger, and other weapons.





6. Membership to The Order of Lepanto. Just what every Catholic Western martial Artist needs – a 1 year membership to the Order of Lepanto! We are dedicated to faithfully re-creating the martial arts that the knights used during the Medieval and Renaissance periods, along with building the faith of the men involved.


7. Fencing Mask. A key component to learning any martial art is sparring – testing your skills against a real opponent in a friendly setting where both can learn. With sword sparring, a mask is required for safety.

Luckily there are a couple of affordable options from Absolute Fencing and Blue Gauntlet Fencing.





8. Wooden Waster. The wooden water is a time honored tradition that hearkens back to the Renaissance. Since swords were expensive and one did not want to damage them during training, men would use wooden training weapons that simulated the look and feel of the real thing. We only recommend using impact grade hickory swords. Some of our recommended ones are:


Hollow Earth Swordworks

Purple Heart Armory

or New Stirling Arms




9. Bob Torso Training Bag. This training tool was developed for unarmed martial arts, but it works quite nicely with a waster or a blunt steel sword.

You can use the BOB to ensure your edge alignment is good and for practicing combinations. If you are handy, you could also build a pell out of a 4×4 post and some other materials – a nice set of instructions can be found here.





10. Steel Sword. The ultimate gift for the budding swordsman in your life! While this is a more pricey piece of equipment, there is nothing like practicing with steel sword. There are a lot of low-quality swords out there that are not designed or built to withstand the rigors of sparring. The one’s listed here are built to withstand the pressures of the fight.


The Maestro Line from Albion is currently the ultimate in sparring swords. The Meyer and Liechtenauer are the models to looking at.





Another good choice is a Feder from Regenyei Armoury. These are good mid-tier swords.





Finally, there is the Tinker-Pearce Longsword from Hanwei. It is a beginners sword with a price to match. This one won’t last as long, but it is a way to spar with a real steel sword.





Merry Christmas to all!

       (updated on 28 Nov 17 to reflect some new options)

5 Words That Explain it All

Now that is a bold title – Five Words That Explain it All. What does that even mean?  How can five words explain everything about everything?  Well they can’t, but if we use the five words as tools to live by then those five words can explain our actions in every situation.

Well, what are the words?  In the Liechtenauer school of fencing specifically in the Dobringer Cod.HS.3227a codex Hanko Dobringer writes this, “Before [Vor], After[Nach], Weak [Weich], Strong [Hart], in that instant/just as [Indes]. On these words hinge the whole art of Liechtenauer, and they are the foundation and cornerstone of all fencing on foot or on horseback, in armour [Harnusche] or without [Blos].”  So the words are Before, After, Weak, Strong, and In the instant/moment.

In the art of the sword these words have a very powerful meaning. Let’s take a moment and explore that before we go on.

  1. Before. If you attack before your opponent then you are usually much safer than waiting for them to attack. If fact, if you succeed in your attack; then your opponent does not even have the opportunity to respond to it.
  2. After. If you cannot attack in the before then attack in the after. Make sure that you take initiative away from your opponent.  Take control of the fight.
  3. Weak. Liechtenauer states that if your opponent is strong, then be weak. This does not mean to concede, but rather to use your opponent’s strength against him.  Fall back, re-group, and find another way.
  4. Strong. The other side to that statement is when your opponent is weak, be strong. If the opponent is drawing away press him. Don’t allow him to re-group.
  5. In the instant/moment. Always be aware of what is happening now.  What is your opponent doing? Where are you spatially in regards to each other?  Where is his sword? Be aware of your physical surroundings (trees, rocks, mud, etc.).

These are all very important concepts in sword. In fact these are the basic concepts to almost all martial arts distilled down to five words. These base concepts span all of martial arts history and are as true today as they were in the 1300s.  Okay, that’s great.  If I get in a fight I know to use these as the basis of my strategic and tactical thinking, but how do these words have any relation to my life in general?  Well, let’s look at this in light of our everyday life and then we will get into how we can use these words as the basis of our faith walk.

In our everyday secular life we wake up, go to do what we do during the day, come home, and go to bed in order to start the whole process again tomorrow. But the five words are always there.

  1. Before. I have to be first. I must cut in in front of that other car. I need to get that last bagel before someone else does.
  2. After. I better get that project done before my boss finds out that it’s late. The Jones’ just got that new car, I better get one too.
  3. Weak. Hello officer, what seems to be the problem?
  4. Strong. I need that report now.
  5. In that instant/moment. Honey I love you. Why is that guy riding my tail?

Not necessarily the most flattering examples, but you can see that these words are definitely applicable in everyday life.  So how about our faith walk?  As we go through our day could these words help us avoid the trips and traps of sin?  Can they be used to help us get closer to God and to follow his teachings?  Let’s find out.

  1. Before. Pray. Pray before everything. Luke 9:16 “Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them, and broke them, and kept giving them to the disciples to set before the people.” Before Jesus gave the loaves and fishes he blessed them. He prayed.  Matthew 26:36 “Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’” Jesus prayed before he did anything.  That is an example that we need to emulate.
  2. After. Be thankful and try to sin no more. As Catholics we have the sacrament of Reconciliation that we can take advantage of.  We can go and have our sins forgiven so we can take back the initiative of our faith.  Jesus said this multiple times.  John 5:14 “Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing befall thee.” John 8:11 “She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.’” Jesus teaches us to “Go” this is not passive.  This is something that we should be actively seeking, to sin no more.
  3. Weak. This is a prevalent theme throughout the bible. In sword, the statement is when your opponent is strong be weak.  Christ teaches us that the weakest of us is actually the strongest.  Those that know they are broken, know they need God. These are the ones who will inherit the earth.  In Spiritual Combat by Father Scupoli, it teaches us to always distrust ourselves and to always trust in God.  That is seen as weakness in today’s society. 2Corinthians 12: 9-11 “but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
  4. Strong. We are called to be strong in our faith. Whenever trials and tribulations happen, we have a firm foundation to cling to. Too often today people question why God allows something to happen? Why are cancer, abortion, natural disasters, car wrecks, and any number of awful things allowed to occur? I don’t have an answer for that.  But, God’s love and mercy are sufficient to overcome all of that.  Look at the example of Job. He had horrible things happen and he stood steadfast to his Lord.  Romans 4:20 “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,” 1Corinthians 16:13 “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.”
  5. In that instant/moment. Of all of the words this is the one that I believe is the hardest. In that moment of temptation, that moment of sin we must stand firm and be aware of what is happening.  We have to make a choice.  In sword it is the choice of what next.  Do I block? Do I attack? In our faith it is the choice of, do I trust? It is hard to be in the moment. Matthew 4: 3-4 “The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”  Jesus was in the moment.  He recognized the trap of sin for what it was and refused to succumb.  We look at when Jesus called the Disciples.  He walked up to a couple of people and said “Hey you drop what you are doing and follow.”  And they did.  Should we do any less? In each moment of our day what can we do to glorify God?

So, five words that explain it all? Maybe, maybe not; however, the concepts behind them can be used to help us be better Christians and people.  The art of the sword, like so many other things in life takes dedication, and practice.  You don’t pick it up and are immediately good.  The same is truth of the faith.  We need tools that we can use to practice on a daily basis the lessons we learn from the bible.  These words give us a tool to remember who we are and what we are striving for. Just like the Fechtbuchs of old they give us a representation that will call to mind the technique to use for victory.

Why Fellowship in Faith and Martial Arts?

We all live in community and the attitude of our fellows impact the depth of our faith as well as how we train in the martial arts. Good intentions are not enough – we must practice what we say we believe.

While any collection of people (whether virtual or physical) can be called a community, the strength of the bond between them is the result of the shared interest and each person’s commitment to it. Is it only martial arts and historic studies, or does it include the depth and breadth of the Catholic faith? It is the bonds of faith which are the most lasting, because they anchor our community in a transcendent truth as taught by Jesus and passed on by the Catholic Church throughout the last 2,000 years.

What brings a student of historical fighting arts together with others? If you were to travel back in time, you would see that this craft, sometime called a noble science, was never practiced as a simple leisure activity nor solely for the glory of the person. But rather, with a recognition that as a warrior the fighting man was part of a brotherhood of arms. Whether as some order of Catholic or feudal knight, or gentleman courtier, as scholar in a school of defense or fellow in a fighting guild, learning and practicing the art of arms demanded solidarity among practitioners. Beyond this mere brotherhood of arms, there was also the brotherhood of faith. Belonging to the same faith allowed the men of Catholic knightly orders to share a common point of reference, one that transcended language, kingdom, or even family. The role of faith in the broader context of relationship during this time period is often overlooked by modern practitioners.

One of the offshoots of the concept of the “rugged individual” which is found throughout the culture of the United States, is the idea that we can “go it alone” in everything. Similar to the idea of “me and Jesus”, many modern enthusiasts like to imagine they can train alone in their own “solo art.” It is not true for martial arts practice nor is it true for the faith. We are designed by God to live in community – as it says in Proverbs, “iron sharpens iron,” leading to the logical conclusion that you need the iron of others in your life. In the same way, fighting skills are not practiced in a psychological vacuum but with the need for mental and emotional control. A martial discipline cannot be practiced in social isolation, independent from the need to exercise with and against others. Indeed, many religious found the martial arts a help to understanding the greater spiritual combat that we are called to in our Christian life. Outside of faith, even humanist educators of the Renaissance stressed the martial arts as part of their curricula because of its value to help make a better citizen.

There is no doubt that, ultimately, self-defense is a highly individual matter that consists largely of self-effort — whether engaged on the battlefield in combat, or in the spiritual temptations we are called to fight. However, the knightly art of arms was never really something to be practiced remotely in seclusion or for some singular occasion, but with one’s fellows—and not just any fellows, but those whose honor was demonstrated and whose respect had been earned. Just as the faith was meant, not to be practiced alone, but with those fellows who were earnestly trying to achieve heaven, and whose council could be trusted in matters of faith. There was no selfish “lone warrior” myth nor much truth to the knight errant, any more than you go to Mass alone to receive the Eucharist. The Art as expressed in the Renaissance source teachings, was taught with the recognition it was intended only for those who were deemed worthy, those trustworthy to receive it. Lest you think faith is much different, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:13, “Every man’s work shall be manifest; for the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work, of what sort it is.” Our work in pursuit of the faith will be judged and found either worthy or not – we are called to works through our love and faith to prove ourselves just as the Renaissance martial artists judged each other as worthy in a human context. Exactly how much these practices were followed in historical reality, we can never really know. But in striving for best in our faith journey and our martial skills, we teach and demonstrate to others a desire to learn and to strive for mastery of the craft and the faith.

People today often complain about how modern society view the pursuits of life and faith. Modern society tends to over-commercialize many things and trivialize those who seek to live with sincerity, commitment, and deep faith. What drives some to long for the past is seeing how people were able to live an integrated life, where faith and action were equaled teamed to not only teach right and wrong, but created a call to DO right and AVOID wrong. Here we have in this craft a legacy that at once celebrates individual achievement and awards personal effort while it simultaneously acknowledges our shared connection to a Catholic heritage. It has an ability to draw us closer to the men who once defended the faith in a unique way, while also increasing our own understanding of God’s call in our lives. The men in our group strive to live by the traditional dedication to principle and honor.

Although unselfishness is not a feature that immediately springs to mind in regard to either historical research or the practice of a martial discipline, it is a key feature of the Christian life that believers are called to. In pursuit of a restoration of reverence, renewal of a uniquely Catholic sub-culture, and preservation of our heritage the practice of unselfishness is key. So it is worth asking yourself – what is your interest in the martial arts of Renaissance Europe? Are you trying to use them for your own needs? Or do see this as a way to share with others? Or do you see it as even broader – a desire to build the faith, to see more men in relationship with Jesus, to see more people trying to live out His will, and to share your faith and martial skills with others? We work to reconstruct and revive these lost fighting systems, for far more than the history itself. We do it to rebuild and re-energize our Church in a modern age which has thrown off reverence, belief, respect, principle, and honor. Why even seek out others who share our passion if it is not because of something more than just a commonality of collective curiosity? We are much more than a loose affiliation with strangers – we are a community of believers who are committed to a mission.

This craft is about self-improvement and mutual education as a means to rebuild our individual faith as well as he Church as a whole. It is not a group that exists in some virtual social networking media, nor is it defined by shrill online banter, or the pretentious role-play of some imagined nobility, but it is an organized assemblage with real principles and sincere values. As a self-defense art, this discipline can be somewhat centered on the individual, and certainly it is self-preserving and self-realizing. But by pursuing it with the love of neighbor and love of enemy that Jesus called us to, we can engage in our quest in an unselfish manner – neither deceiving nor exploiting one’s fellows. By identifying with the saints and with real historical masters, along with the Church and fighting guilds, we can improve the craft, ourselves, and our larger community. All of this is why petty politicking and commercialism is shunned within our guild.


Today, just as in the Renaissance era, those who seek others to train with or a teacher to learn from must do so with a sense of camaraderie, loyalty, morality, and trust. Anything less disrespects our heritage and works against the very ideals the Masters upheld. …Faith, History, Heritage, Self-defense, and Camaraderie. Who could argue with that?






Getting Started

I have been attending men’s conferences and local parishes recently in order to talk to men about the Order of Lepanto. There is, invariably, a lot of excitement when we show sparring (either live or in videos) and as interest builds the question of equipment and cost comes up. I have prepared this short article to try and answer the question of what is needed, divided into must have, good to have, and nice to have.



Our first must have is a uniform – black pants and a white shirt. You are free to purchase cotton or moisture wicking pants and shirt, though we do emphasize that they need to have no logo (or a smallish logo). There is also the option of an historical uniform – any medieval or renaissance swordsman shirt in white or natural would be acceptable. As for historical pants, you can also substitute knee breeches or long pants. Shorts can be worn in hotter climates.


Second up is shoes. While there are some excellent options available if you want to be as historic as possible, for the must-have section the requirement would be athletic shoes of any type. The wearing of combat boots or work boots is highly discouraged because they will stop you from being able to perform many of the stepping maneuvers in the art.

Good to Have

First in this section is a fencing mask. We have a dual emphasis on control and safety in the Order of Lepanto, so we train for good control and require some safety devices. The first requirement is that everyone wears a fencing mask while sparring with any kind of weapon. You can get a fencing mask fairly inexpensively ($50) and we have a couple of vendors that we recommend here.



Next up is gloves. Historically speaking, gloves were not used until the 15th century; however, many practitioners need to have a bit of finger protection because our hands are vital to our jobs. What we want to avoid here is overly padded gloves that distort the handling and feeling of the sword. A set of leather gloves, or the mechanics gloves with the rubber pads work nicely. We require gloves for our transitional squires and first level knights, more experienced knights can opt for “knight’s privilege” (historical training privilege) though it not recommended. ($25)


Finally, there is a waster. Wasters are wooden swords that are made of impact grade hickory (anything else would shatter too easily in sparring). Getting the correct length is important to your training and we provide a sizing guide here. There are several good companies to choose from and you can find our recommendations here. While we are trying to have some loaner equipment available at our study groups, it will not always be possible. So check with your local group. ($75 – $100)

If you get all of the items so far, you will be set for your training for quite a while and the total (aside from the uniform) is under $200. The next section covers those items that will become important as your training progresses, but can be delayed for a year or so while you learn the foundations of the art.


Nice to have

The first thing we’ll cover in this section is a blunt steel sword. This is first because it is the most visible sign of a more experienced practitioner. There are only a few companies that make good blunt swords for sparring – Albion, Regenyei, Lutel, and Hanwei. Prices range from $200 to $500 for these swords. The best of these are the swords from Albion, while the Hanwei swords are the most affordable. Also, be aware that the Hanwei Tinker-Pearce comes with a square edge that you must file down for safety.



Next we have additional weapons which will become necessary for advanced ranking in the order. You will need, at some point, to get a dagger simulator (either rondel or main gauche), a single handed sword, a buckler, and a quarter-staff. These items range from $25 – $500 depending on which we are talking about. The swords will come from the same manufacturers list above, dagger simulators are usually available from the waster companies, and steel bucklers are widely available at a good price point.






Footwear. While any kind of athletic shoe can work at the start of your training, the historical manuals show no shoes with thick soles (a la running shoes), heavy boots, or thick heels. All of the period footwear appear to be thin with flat soles. Therefore, as we attempt to more accurately reproduce what the sword fighters did, we will need to wear shoes similar to theirs in order to more accurately move. So, what do I recommend? Get some wrestling shoes, sport fencing shoes, simple tennis shoes, or even tae kwon do shoes. They are cheap, look decent, and meet all the requirements. But avoid those cheap flimsy kung fu slippers — truly the slipperiest shoes on the planet and just terrible. They offer no protection to your toes or heels and they rapidly deteriorate from use.


While there is a cost to getting the equipment you need for this activity, the cost fairly low and can be split up over a several months as needed. The faith aspect of our group can be studied without additional expense, as the manual is freely available electronically. You will want to add religious books as you grow in your faith, but that can be spread out over a lifetime!

Sparring Systems of The Order of Lepanto

For many who are involved in Western Martial Arts (WMA), the only goal of practicing historical swordsmanship is to come as close as possible to developing real martial skill in the use of period weapons. Members of The Order of Lepanto also share this goal, but not as a means unto itself: it is a path to enhancing your faith life, preparing for spiritual warfare, and guides you in living out your vocation.

Unlike sixteenth century swordsmen, today’s student of the sword will, most likely, never have the opportunity to put his skill to the ultimate physical test. Even so, we want to develop true martial skill in the art. By then translating the lessons to our spiritual life, we will be more prepared for the real-life tests our faith will have to endure. So the approach we have developed at the Order is true to martial skills, martial heritage, and orthodox Catholic teaching. It is certainly one of the most complex, and it offers something more than what is generally available in Western swordsmanship. Let’s look at what the Order of Lepanto’s method of teaching historical swordsmanship and spiritual growth is all about.

What’s the point?

If you’re serious about learning swordsmanship, then the measure of any system of study is the quality of the education that results. In other words, you expect a working knowledge of how to fight effectively with swords. You also want to acquire the basics within a reasonable amount of time – without the “wax on, wax off” routines that tend to keep beginners from quickly advancing. Ultimately, the system should produce a mature, competent swordsman – a swordsman capable of using real weapons in actual combat.

The farther a system gets from the reality of combat, the less useful it becomes to the student who wants true martial skill. Realistically, all systems involve a certain amount of “distance from combat reality. Simulations are used as an alternative to real fights. Safe sparring systems must be created to meet the demands of modern studies. A reasonable gage of an effective system is to see how closely its sparring system resembles the dynamics of real weapons use. This is an area where The Order of Lepanto and one other group stand out. Our sparring systems are merely a means to an end, not an end in themselves. We do not try to achieve skill at “sparring.” Rather, a number of sparring techniques are used to develop skill at fighting. You can judge the value of a sparring system by measuring how well true fighting principles work in the sparring environment. Ideally, the system should allow you to do what works without letting you get away with what wouldn’t. Target areas and sparring weapon construction are two factors which will figure in this appraisal.

If you’re serious about growing in your faith, then we would measure that system by a different standard: are you becoming more patient, are you learning to love people who are hard to love, are you increasing your knowledge of the faith. Many people today have been left with a teenage understanding of the faith because that is where the traditional religious education program stopped. The Order of Lepanto aims to build an adult understanding of your catholic faith and help you to grow in that faith.

Learning a fighting skill, like WMA, is not an invitation to random violence, as some might suggest. Rather, it is learning to discipline your body and mind to achieve a difficult goal. The building of courage, strength, decisiveness, and confidence are the fruits of the martial arts portion of The Order of Lepanto, while finding out how God wants those skills directed and used are the fruits of the spiritual component of our program. Pursuing both the physical and spiritual with equal gusto are necessary to

Determining the Focal Point

Before proceeding, let’s narrow the focus a bit. The only way to evaluate any training system properly is to first grasp its intended role in the overall goal of a program. Developing martial skill and building a healthy, Catholic faith life is the goal of our system. There are no contests or competitions. Sparring itself provides a workshop in which members can safely practice the martial skills that they’ve learned. Our faith studies then go on to provide a framework to relate that martial skill to the realities of spiritual life for the Church Militant. Comparing what The Order of Lepanto does to what a number of non-martial groups are doing with swords will help bring this point into focus.

First, we will look at sport fencing. In spite of its ancestry, modern fencing is not meant to transmit the art of historical swordsmanship. The foil, epee and saber are no longer stand-ins for weapons but ‘weapons’ themselves. In sport fencing, the value of a technique is not its lethality but its ability to score, and the attitude of the modern fencer is competitive rather than martial (a trend that can be seen in some Eastern martial arts, too). It must be said that modern fencing lays no claims to teach an historical system of swordsmanship – it’s an evolving sport where new innovation takes fencers towards the sport aspect and further from its roots.

However, things you learn from sport fencing instruction can be useful in studying historical swordsmanship. Familiarity with fencing terminology is a plus and practicing fencing is a better preparation for a real sword fight than no practice at all. But the purpose of fencing is not the study of historical swordsmanship, so the merit of the sport has little impact on our present evaluation.

A sub-culture has emerged in the fencing community which is focused on the teaching of eighteenth and nineteenth century swordsmanship. Classical fencing asks the question, “What if our swords were sharp?” Techniques and thinking of the modern fencer are removed, and the classical fencer returns to a more martial use of the dueling epee and the smallsword.

A second practice we will review is the fighting done in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), which they classify as “heavy” and “light”. While these forms are practiced as a kind of competitive sport by many, and as a semi-martial practice by some, their intent is not to produce swordsmen skilled in the use of real weapons. As with sport fencing, there may be many benefits afforded by SCA, but these are secondary to the main purpose of the pursuit.

The question of “purpose” or intent is critical, as you can’t fault a system that doesn’t claim to teach real swordsmanship for using a sparring system that doesn’t prepare a student for the realities of combat, much as you cannot fault a secular school for failing to teach the Catholic moral standards. While many people criticize systems like that of the SCA for these reasons, we must understand that SCA combat was never intended to be a martial pursuit.

Stage combat falls into the same category. Many stage combatants use replica weapons, and they create a spectacle which looks convincing to the untrained eye. We must remember that stage combat is about creating an illusion, not a fight. In that pursuit, stage combatants often sacrifice “authenticity” for the purposes of safety or entertainment and we shouldn’t be surprised – or concerned. People study stage combat to learn how to pretend to fight, not how to do it for real.

In summary, the exclusion of these three categories is not intended to disparage their participants or discourage their pursuit. All require skilled participation and can produce impressive results. None of them claims to teach historical swordsmanship, like The Order of Lepanto and a couple of others. But unlike other martial programs, The Order of Lepanto exists not only to preserve and pass on a practical understanding of historical swordsmanship, but to also cultivate a faith life similar to the deep religious belief of the historical swordsman himself.

The obsolescence of the sword

One factor irrevocably separates anything we do today from the historical reality: the obsolescence of the sword. No matter how proficient your skill with the sword, you’ll most likely never use it in a life or death context. Even if the nearest thing at hand when your house is broken into is your trusty longsword, the odds of your intruder also being a swordsman are slim to none.

Because people no longer use swords for real anymore, there is no common knowledge to draw upon in the study of swordsmanship. Nowadays we use guns, and even people with no formal firearms training know enough to operate the weapon. The same was most likely true in the fifteenth century with swords. The process of learning swordsmanship without that common knowledge means not just starting from square one, but moving back to square zero. With historical accuracy as our goal, we must unlearn the things we have learned from TV, movies, fencing, SCA and Eastern martial arts.

To study historical swordsmanship, we have to focus on learning the real techniques preserved in the historical manuals, which reveal themselves through training. And since we’ll never have the chance to try them in combat, we need an effective method of practice and sparring that checks the effectiveness of our technique against a determined opponent.

The need for safety

That’s where safety rears its ugly head. The only way to be confident that a technique works is to use it effectively against a determined, skilled opponent in a life or death struggle. When you try to simulate this reality as closely as possible, you’re essentially weighing safety in one hand and realism in the other. You’ve got to strike a balance as far in the favor of realism as you can without sacrificing safety.

If you begin with real combat as your “ideal,” the first obvious safety measure is to use blunted weapons. The next measure is to use both headgear (fencing mask) and gloves – though there is precedent for “scholar’s privilege” which is an agreement not to thrust to the head, The Order of Lepanto requires both men to have achieved Knight Scholasticus ranking before it can be invoked. But a blunted weapon isn’t necessarily a safe one, which means that participants must also exercise proper control. Strikes must be carried out with enough speed to be effective in a real confrontation and yet contact must also be controlled enough to keep your partner safe.

Simulating the sword

In the medieval and Renaissance period, swords were not mass-produced to some pre-determined standard. Looking back, it is impossible to define the specifications of a longsword versus a cut-and-thrust sword beyond generalities. Therefore, we cannot say for certain that a specific sword accurately simulates the handling of all swords of a similar type.

One of the key issues is that virtually no modern maker has their hand-forged pieces tested for durability in warding off the full force blows of other sharp blades, nor do they go around hitting soft and hard armors full force. So much work and effort has gone into their pieces that they do not want to see them damaged. Further, customers who have spent a lot of money are not about to damage them doing the same either. Most every maker and every consumer does minimal work to evaluate a blade to the point of destruction. They then base their future impressions of other swords upon that small experience.

Another problem is that every sword can be unique. Even ones that match the same general geometry and form can vary considerably. When it comes to replicas, unfortunately, there are just so many different elements to miss and crucial factors to get wrong that the bad samples seem to outnumber the good ones by a good bit. Just getting the general shape and weight correct, then using quality steel that’s been properly tempered isn’t enough.

When you pick up most any sword, you can make an instant decision as to whether or not it “feels” good. However, without manipulating that sword with proper motion and energy, this is a very shallow assessment. There is a combination of factors that go into making a sword really stand out as a real weapon. While these are not evident through holding a piece in your hand or moving it through empty air, they become obvious it’s wielded with the requisite force and energy needed to strike effective blows against a test target combined with practice in warding off forceful strikes. This is where you see whether a weapon holds up and how well it maneuvers for whatever combat actions it was originally designed.

Nevertheless, we know from other examples that simulation can be a valid form of training – police live-fire combat ranges and pilot training programs make similar trade-offs without losing their effectiveness as tools. As long as there is an awareness of the nature of the simulation, and the aspects of combat that the model doesn’t accurately portray, the use of simulation in training is a plus.



Two Three-Legged Stools

Ironically enough, fighting it out with the real weapons is the most ineffective method of training of all, since only one participant gets the opportunity to learn from his mistakes. To learn historical swordsmanship more effectively, we need a system that uses a “triangulating” approach – combining different aspects into a cohesive system of the sword and faith. Much like the three-legged stool of the Church – Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium – without which the faith cannot stand, the studies of the Order of Lepanto are three-legged as well.

The first leg of our training is structured drills, undertaken with either a wooden “waster” or a blunted steel. These weapons have the weight and appearance of the real thing, and they have some of the same handling characteristics, such as a tapering blade and a discernible edge. They teach precision and finesse. We review drawings and descriptions of the actions in historical documents and then work to understand the motion and dynamics being described. This first takes places at slow speed, before building up to a medium pace, with the overall intent of creating muscle memory of the action so that it can be employed with little thought. Drills in this category include fuhlen (or feeling), where the practitioner learns to feel his opponent’s sword and read his intent, in addition to master stances, master cuts, and counters.

Taken alone, structured drills with blunt replicas is not an effective method for learning the martial aspect of historical swordsmanship. The second leg of our stool is sparring (referred to as “free play” by some). In sparring, we look to deliver solid, forceful blows without injuring an opponent, which allows a full-body target – an essential for realistic combat training. In sparring we put the actions that are practiced in drills to use in an adversarial (yet friendly) situation. The more realistically sparring is conducted, the more it sharpens reflexes, develops perception, teaches adversarial counter-timing, explores spontaneous tactics, conveys the skill of deceiving without being deceived, and lets the student try things that end up with them either getting whacked or not, but in the process not being maimed or killed.

Our third, and final, leg is the Catholic perspective. In this area of our studies, members are actively reading period writings by saints such as Ignatius of Loyola, and looking to understand how the martial arts of that period shaped their understanding of the faith. We look to leverage our knowledge of sparring technique and weapons drills towards a deeper understanding and appreciation of spiritual warfare. Sharpened reflexes, detailed perceptions, and being able to respond spontaneously are all skills that are sharpened with martial arts and critical to the spiritual battles everyone will face. We also explore this area though prayer – our groups are required to open and close each practice in group prayer. The act of practicing martial arts servers to bring our members closer together and when combined with the positive spiritual experience shared prayer, we grow towards a closer brotherhood.

Taken as a whole, this system “triangulates” true skill by approaching practice from several different angles. When you add to this our insistence on test cutting (and thrusting) with sharp weapons, you get a fairly complete understanding of both historical swordsmanship as distinct skills and how that skill shaped the faith of the historical swordsman.

Don’t miss the focus

This is not a question of condemning fencing, the SCA, or any other group. You don’t have to look hard to see that there is a difference between what they do and what The Order of Lepanto does. The mistake people make is to look at one or two aspects of what we do and missing the bigger picture. He saw a part of the picture, but not the whole.

The thing that separates what The Order of Lepanto does from sport fencing, groups such as the SCA – and most any other program you compare it to – is that the purpose of our method is to produce skilled combatants. But there is another dimension too – because while there are other groups whose sole focus is historical combat, only The Order of Lepanto looks to grow beyond pure combat and help to build faith-filled Catholic men, who can use their martial skill in the test of spiritual warfare. In that vein, we do not sponsor competitions or anoint kings or put on performances. Our focus is narrow and concerns itself with than the effective use of historical weapons as a martial art and building a strong Catholic faith. You must not look at any aspect of the Order of Lepanto training system as a stand-alone piece or an end unto itself. As our introduction pointed out, no one involved in our group is concerned about learning to fight well with wooden swords or learning to fight well with padded swords. What we are concerned about is learning to fight well with real, sharp swords and with a real prayer life. All of these simulators are tools to help accomplish our goal, and together, they combine to offer a very effective system.

Here are The Order of Lepanto’s guidelines employed as general rules of thumb for sparring:

  • Situational Awareness = Maintaining good edge alignment and targeting
  • Purpose = striking with a degree of force within range to achieve actual contact; must be done in a way that has proper motion to simulate the inertia of a real blow
  • Control = not hitting too hard or too fast to prevent injury, striking the selected target
  • Time-on-Target = connecting with a sufficient interval of time whereby the weapon makes contact in order to simulate the energy that would have impacted or penetrated

The Rosary, Western Martial Arts, and “The Lord of the Rings”

I was reading an article from Br. Joseph Bernard Marie Graziano that was published on Bishop Barron’s excellent Word on Fire blog, titled “Where the Rosary appears in ‘The Lord of the Rings’” which got me to thinking about the how those things relate to what we at the Order of Lepanto are doing. In the article, the author outlines the connection between the phial containing the light of Eärendil, Lady Galadriel’s gift to Frodo, and the Holy Rosary, the Blessed Mother’s gift to us.   Just as the phial provided Frodo and Sam with light and hope, the rosary does the same for us, and both the phial and the rosary are: “terror to evil ones.”

However, the article misses an important point about the Rosary and the light of Eärendil in regards to action through faith. This critical point appears in the Bible in James 2:14-17,

“What shall it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but hath not works? Shall faith be able to save him? And if a brother or sister be naked, and want daily food: And one of you say to them: Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; yet give them not those things that are necessary for the body, what shall it profit? So faith also, if it have not works, is dead in itself.”

If you are looking for an historical example of this phenomenon, you can study the battle of Lepanto from 1571. While many will write about the power of the Rosary: the Pope had asked all of the faithful to pray the Rosary for intention of victory, the commander of the Catholic forces ordered his men to pray the Rosary on the morning of battle before the fighting began, and finally the men carried their Rosaries into the battle. Indeed, the prayers of the faithful had been heard, but without the “yes” of those men, without their dedication to fighting against evil and for good the prayers could not have been answered. That very Catholic combination of works in faith is what made the victory possible.

Interestingly enough, this point is not overlooked by Tolkien: Frodo’s use of the light of Eärendil to get Shelob to stop her attack is quite similar to prayer, but he must use his elven sword, Sting, together with the light to finally drive the spider away. The combination of faith and works, of martial spirit with prayer is what saves Frodo from this initial attack. When Frodo’s sword is used with the phial it displays “at its edges a blue fire,” symbolizing the amazing strength of prayer and action. The message to us is that the prayers of the Rosary combined with the strength a “yes” to go and physically engage evil creates a force that cannot be withstood. Shelob, though larger and more aggressive than the Hobbit, could not stand up to the incredible mixture of prayer and martial arts, fleeing from Frodo. By extension of the symbolism, Tolkien is trying to communicate to us that the malevolent people in the world cannot stand the combination of prayer and action. What happens next in the story is just as important – once Frodo realized that the immediate danger had passed, he let down his guard. This happens to us too. We turn to God in the dark times, yet as soon as the situation improves we go back to ignoring Him (sometimes not even bothering to say thank you for His help). When we turn from prayer and action too soon, or for too long, the evil that had threatened, returns. In the story Shelob sneaks into a hiding place and sets a trap. Her next attack deprives Frodo of his phial and sword – unable to pray or to defend, he is quickly defeated. How often this occurs to us. We leave our prayer life and our taken by surprise by Satan and sin. Without the protection offered by the spiritual graces, we are quickly subdued and taken. If we are lucky, we have a friend like Samwise Gamgee who will pray for us, defend us, and rescue us when we are in the deepest need.

The mission of Order of Lepanto is to create an active movement of men, who enjoy physical activity and camaraderie in a setting that is faith-building. The decisiveness and audacity required to be a good martial artist is key to getting men prepared to defend their family, the Church, and the society from spiritual threats. When these skills are combined with an active prayer life, men gain the insight and wisdom to lead their families towards God. Our goal is to get men involved and connected with each other and the Church, while building their courage and confidence so as to give glory and honor to God.

Martial Arts helps physically, mentally, AND SPIRITUALLY?

The most obvious short-term benefit of engaging in a martial art is an increased ability to defend oneself if needed. Beyond that benefit, it is fairly common knowledge that a martial arts program can help people in their physical fitness. Some of these benefits are:

  • Strengthen muscles – As a person ages muscles begin to age too, possibly causing the loss of some muscle density and strength. This is why it is important to keep muscles in use and to work on strengthening them. Martial arts activities require a person’s muscles to be in constant use, helping them to stay strong. The desire for better performance in a martial art will often drive people to begin other types of physical conditioning, resulting in a faster increase in benefits. In addition to strength, you also increase your agility, balance and flexibility.
  •  Help you lose weight – Practicing martial arts as an adult requires you to remain active, which will keep you burning the calories and losing weight. Additionally, as previously discussed, you will be building muscle mass, which will also help improve your metabolism and allow your body to burn more calories at a rapid pace.
  • Relieve stress – It’s easy for us to feel overwhelmed and stressed out. Between work, kids, and general household duties, it seems like the worries never end. The exercise and concentration involved in the practice of martial arts allows you to be able to blow off some steam and relieve some of life’s stresses in a healthy and efficient manner.

In addition the obvious physical benefits, there are mental benefits too:

  • Improve confidence – There is a definite increase in confidence for people who are comfortable using self-defense techniques from martial arts. If you ever find yourself in a dangerous situation, you will be better able to manage your emotions and not be afraid. Knowing that you have the skills necessary to protect yourself from harm will help you to be confident and act in a more effective manner, even during the most troubling of times.
  • Improve concentration – Martial arts of any kind requires great skill and concentration. Practitioners learn to act fast in order to defend against attacks. This will not only help you to improve your reflexes, but your concentration, as well. You will be required to focus with intensity on details and anticipate your opponent’s next move before they’ve even blinked.

Listed above are the usual benefits anyone can expect from any credible martial arts program, regardless of its focus. However, a well-tailored program that includes a Catholic faith-based perspective has additional benefits to your vocation and your spiritual life:

  • Deepen your faith –Our group reads, studies and discusses writings from saints and other significant, orthodox works from the Medieval and Renaissance. We are learning from the authors and from each in other about spiritual warfare and how to apply the lessons of European martial arts to that spiritual war. We also actively engage in group prayer and stress the importance of personal and family prayer time each day. In combining faith and sparring, we build a bond of brotherhood between the men in our groups. This bond allows us to offer each other fraternal correction and support from a position of trust and respect. We truly help each other to be better men.
  • Be a better husband – As a husband, you are the spiritual leader of your family. Good leadership requires courage, confidence, strength tempered by faith, wisdom, caring, and love. The martial arts that is practiced in the Order of Lepanto requires that men learn not only how to use a sword, but also how to control strikes so as not to injure your partner. The control exhibited in while being influenced by adrenaline, helps you to control yourself in other areas of life and to care about the well-being of others. The study of medieval and renaissance fighting masters and great saints increases your knowledge of the art and your faith; while working on these skills with your fellow practitioners puts that knowledge into action, forming the building blocks of wisdom. Finally, there is a concept of being “in the moment” or as the German fight masters called it “In Des” – this is the ability to take what you have learned and practiced and apply it in the 1 or 2 seconds you have to react in a sparring match (or real combat). Being able to do this will help you to better respond to the needs of your spouse, family, and faith community.
  • Be a better father – The improved physical conditioning of a student of martial arts comes in handy as a father, when pressed into to duty carrying children, their paraphernalia, or both. Your improved health and vitality will be a treasure that you can pass on to your children in habit and by your presence in their lives for as long as possible. As with being a husband the skills of caring while being strong and being able to act in the moment will be a tremendous help to you. Besides, you will love the look on the boy’s face who comes over to date your teenage daughter and you inform him that you are a full-contact sword fighter!

The participation in martial arts, while not for every man, offers great benefits to you in your physical, metal, and spiritual well-being. The Order of Lepanto is on a mission to get men involved and connected with each other and the Church, while building their courage and confidence.

Deepening your faith through martial arts

Just as the gifts that God bestows on each person are unique, every member of the Church is called to bring those unique gifts and their varied backgrounds to the community for the betterment of all. There are gifted speakers who are engaged in apologetics, writers who excel in bringing distinctive viewpoints to age-old teachings thereby refreshing them for all, there are builders, singers, and countless others. This article, though, is about a passion and skill that does not often get equated with men of faith – martial arts. The practice of specific forms of martial arts, however, is an excellent venue to bring men closer to their faith.


Much has been written about a lack of men in the faith. The truth is that many men see Catholicism and Christianity as a feminine pursuit, even those who are believers. The truth, however, is strikingly different. God created masculinity just as much as He created femininity, and both must have a place in the Church. The masculine spirit thrives on challenge, adventure, and truth. We want to hear God’s teaching about the right way to do things and be personally challenged to achieve that lofty goal. The true masculinity that God has called us to is not the one where we watch sports all day on Sunday and drink beers with the guys; it is a vibrant and strong relationship where we strive to live God’s calling as spiritual leader and that of beloved son of the Almighty. While there is nothing inherently wrong with those activities, when they are pursued without regard to faith and family our lives become focused on the wrong goal. Too many men are missing from the pews today, and that is just a visible sign of the deeper problem: Too many men are absent from their roles as spiritual leader of their homes. How can we attract men back to the faith? My proposition is that a strong, faith-based martial arts program is one avenue to accomplishing this.


Obviously not every man is interested in martial arts, but many are and they see it as a path to self-discipline, physical fitness, and an ability to protect themselves and others from the darker parts of humanity. While those are all good goals, not every martial arts program is easily integrated with Catholicism. The eastern martial arts (Karate, Tae-kwon do, etc.) are based in eastern mysticism and spirituality which are not entirely compatible with the Christian faith. Many modern people think only of eastern martial arts, but there is a rich history of martial arts in Western Europe, too. The Europeans, with their Catholic faith, created their own martial arts which were (and still are) quite effective. This system covered the use of weapons as well as unarmed confrontations, and many parts were written down so that today, several hundred years later, we can know how many of their techniques worked. Not only are western martial arts effective and compatible with Catholicism, they actually offer the practitioner unique and valuable insights into the spiritual journey and answering the calling of men by God.


Effective use of the traditional European longsword bears a striking similarity to spiritual warfare. Also, the way in which we learn western martial arts parallels how we learn about the faith. In regards to learning, think about the foundations of faith in childhood. We learn to memorize our standardized prayers first: Our Father, Hail Mary, Nicene Creed, etc. These foundational prayers are the basic tools of the spiritual life. Once we can recite them from memory, we learn about the richness of their meaning and then combine them with each other to form even more powerful prayers, such as the rosary. In western martial arts, there are foundational stances and cuts that a beginning student learns. After mastering the basic moves, we combine them into drills and finally into unscripted, unique demonstrations of martial skill called flouryshes (pronounced the same as flourish). The flouryshes prepare us for sparring in much the same way that practicing our prayers help us to prepare for the spiritual battles we will all face in our lives.

At the Order of Lepanto, we stress that early and frequent sparring is necessary to building up a man’s martial skills, but it has the added benefit of preparing him for spiritual combat, too. In sparring with a sword, a man learns to face a practice version of a deadly weapon without fear, hesitation, or even blinking. (By the way, the practice version does have the ability to hurt if wielded incorrectly.) Sword fighting requires being “in the moment” or In des as described in the old fighting manuals. In the moment you must combine your skills and knowledge, applying them actively to defend and attack in such a way as to protect yourself and defeat your opponent. This is exactly what spiritual warfare is too – the difference is your opponent cannot be seen, your weapons are faith-based, and stakes are much higher if you fail too often. This defense, spiritual or martial, requires courage as well. Standing up to a sword being swung at you demands the control of fear, and standing up to a culture of death and unbelief demands the courage to face ridicule and embarrassment from the culture. But failure to act in either circumstance is disaster, either getting hit by the sword or losing your country or family to the “wickedness and snares of the devil.”


The skills learned in martial arts build a man’s courage, build friendships, emphasize spiritual leadership, and strengthen prayer lives. In short, they make a better Catholic man. There are plenty of excellent programs for men that use the name of Knight or the symbols of Knighthood, but only in the Order of Lepanto do you actually learn the real martial skills of the Catholic Knights.


Historic Fencing Definitions

Historic European Martial Arts

How to Define Historical Fencing

There are multiple terms in the modern parlance for referring to the practice of the various forms of “historical fencing” or Western sword play. While we certainly cannot control how different groups refer to themselves, members of the Order of Lepanto are encouraged to use the following definitions to bring a level of clarity to the discussion:

Historical Swordsmanship – refers to the study and practice of Medieval and Renaissance fighting methods as a true martial art. Groups in this category are primarily concerned with the rebuilding a realistic understanding and duplication of historical Western combat skills under adversarial conditions – meaning there are no pre-staged or choreographed movements. This is the primary focus of efforts by The Order of Lepanto and similar organizations. It clearly involves the study of diverse, period armors and weapons beyond the sword, including unarmed fighting techniques.

Classical Fencing – The definitions for just what constitutes “classical fencing” can be highly variable in and of itself. There are people who it is seen as training for personal “duel” with the 19th century epee du combat. While others see it as a “gentleman’s encounter” – more of a ritualistic form of 19th century duel. Finally, some view it as simply fencing using pre-modern, traditional grip foils and epees while following the methods prior to the advent of electric equipment and international competitive rules. The general idea is to return to more of fencing’s gentlemanly dueling intent and martial content to revive the state of modern sport fencing.

Sport Fencing – This is the modern 20th & 21st century competitive sport of Olympic and collegiate foil, epee, and saber, conducted either with electric or “dry” practice equipment. It is an athletic, exciting, quick international game with rules devised early this century and now far removed from its martial origins. This type of fencing is occasionally referred to as “modern fencing” or “traditional fencing” (though the tradition is certainly not a long one).

Theatrical Fencing – This type of fencing is what one sees at a Renaissance Faire, or a dinner-theater set in a medieval time period. Instead of pure fencing, it is a tool of acting intended to create an impressive illusion for use in a performance. It is thoroughly choreographed, based on a foundation of martial techniques and principles, and rehearsed to maximize its entertainment value. It is a respected performance art and can be quite enjoyable; however, it is not a martial art.

Arranged Performance Fighting – This is a distinct activity that can be clearly distinguished from both theatrical fencing and historical swordsmanship. It combines elements of arranged drills and preset routines of techniques for the direct purpose of demonstration and education in general sense, without the end goal of engaging in martial studies (as with historical swordsmanship), or entertainment (as with theatrical fencing). These “historical action” fight sequences are conducted for realistic display by delivering techniques in-range, at speed and with intent, but stopping prior to injury. Some weapon-to-body contact is employed for purposes of illustration as are certain exaggerated movements or assumed reactions/results.

Mock-Fighting & Martial Sports – This category contains a variety of other approaches to historical Western sword play that are not easily classifiable and which do not fit into the above categories. Included in this group are the simulated battle presentations of reenactment or living-history groups, or the play-fighting of live-action role-playing games. Others are concerned with conducting knightly tournament bouts, large-scale fighting scenes, or personal duels of honor. They generally differ considerably in their goals and motivations.

Sword Terminology

What do all these terms mean?

Learning the vocabulary of Replica and Reproduction Swords

In past 10 years or so, sword purchasers have become more knowledgeable. However, they remain vulnerable to misinformation or (hopefully less common) disinformation during the pre-purchase evaluation process for a modern sword. Even sword makers can have false ideas or a misunderstanding of true historical swords as they were used in combat. An ongoing project within the Western Martial Arts community, which the Order of Lepanto is proud to participate in, is to improve communication between consumers, enthusiasts, and professional sword makers. The basis on this communication begins with common terminology for all to use. The following vocabulary of common terms is offered in hopes of reducing the disagreement over definitions that can cause unnecessary angst.

Authentic – While authenticity in a replica is somewhat subjective, there are objective measures that can help the qualification process.

  • Use of high-carbon steel
  • Appropriate temper
  • Possess a full and correctly shaped tang
  • Correct cross-section and dimension of blade
  • Edge displays proper bevel angle
  • Securely attached hilt
  • Design based on a known period specimen or example

Battle-Ready – A modern marketing term implying the sword could potentially be a real fighting tool. The term has little meaning because nearly any item could potentially qualify as a tool for killing (e.g. a rolled up newspaper).

Blade – The entire continuous metal structure from tang to tip. A blade is traditionally the tempered and forged portion in contrast to the hilt attachments. When hilted, a blade generally refers to the metal portion from tip to cross.

Bladesmith – A term which is typically applied to a knife maker who uses forging as the primary shaping technique. Similar to a swordsmith, but referring to the blade only rather than a complete sword.

Blunt – A generic term for an unsharpened sword which are typically used for practice or training.

Case Hardened – A variety of techniques by which carbon is diffused into the surface of a low or no carbon iron. Case hardening usually produces only a thin outer skin of steel and is, therefore, metallurgically inferior to full tempering.

Center-of-Percussion – The portion of a cutting blade that is the ideal location for striking to cause the greatest impact with the least effort or vibration (i.e., the “sweet spot”). It is a factor or the blade’s length, width, cross-sectional shape, and overall balance.

Center-of-Gravity – a term expressing how a sword wields and handles determined by its weight and how its center-of-percussion relates to its center-of balance.

Custom made sword – Any sword that is individually handcrafted by one individual and may or may not be historically accurate. A few may be produced, but if the manufacturer mass produces the sword it is no longer “custom” sword.

Edge – the place where the bevel planes of a sword, knife or other bladed tool meet or come closest to one another. An edge bevel is the part that tapers in toward the centerline of a cross-section of the blade forming an edge. During sharpening usually just the edge bevels are actually ground/polished. Some edge bevels can be the entire side of the blade. Blade bevels are the tapering sides of the blade that lead to edge bevels. There are many different types of edge bevel possible.

Elasticity – The ability of a blade to return to its shape without distortion, also called springiness.

Fantasy Sword – A modern sword produced from an original or imaginary design as opposed to a known historical specimen. It may or may not be a functional weapon and may or may not be made through a historical process.

Federschwerter / Feather-sword – a special practice sword used in the Medieval and Renaissance eras for training and mock combat. Also known as a foyle. Though having the same balance and weight as a “sharp” (a real weapon), it had thick rounded edges with a blunt rounded point as well as a more flexible temper on the last quarter of the blade.

Forge – To form a blade by heating and hammering the steel either manually or by mechanical aid. “Hand-forged” refers to using traditional hammers rather than pneumatic power tools. A modern smith may use one or both.

Forgery – Making a replica of a sword in a condition that intentionally falsifies its antiquity.

Grind/Polish – The coarse removal of metal by abrasive action to change the shape of a piece of metal to match the desired shape of the blade. To shape/refine the finished surface or edge of a blade. This may or may not be accomplished by the aid of modern machinery or power tools.

Hardening – The necessary process of transforming a blade of soft steel to a hardened state through quenching and tempering.

High-carbon steel – Steel that contains a minute percentage ratio of carbon that results in harder metal. A broad and imprecise term referring normally to a steel with between 0.75%-1.20% carbon or steel that is over .50% carbon. Many replica swords do not go over .8%. Lower carbon steel would .01-.20% and medium, .20-.50%. Typically steel, of low or no alloy content, will reach maximum hardness at about 0.60% C and will get no harder as you increase the carbon content, you just wind up with (hopefully) undissolved carbides for the rest.

Historical Sword – A specimen documented to have actually existed and been used, in this case, during the Middle Ages or Renaissance eras. Evidence may come from an authentic surviving or excavated example or one depicted in historical artwork.

Historically Accurate Sword – This can be an exact copy of an actual historical piece (which itself may or may not have been a functional “long bladed hand tool” weapon) or it can be a sword constructed by adhering to the known materials and manner of production (which are derived from the close study and testing of historical or ethnographic swords). Accurate swords are ones that have comparable metallurgical quality, cross-sectional measurements, and dimensions of length, weight, balance, and hilt configuration of the original.

Honing – The act of sharpening a blade to a very fine edge.

Impact Strength – A qualitative term referring to the resilience a blade has in withstanding stress during strikes with a rigid target. This may refer to impacts on its edge or flat.

Lamination – A construction method involving the welding together of steels of different hardness and carbon contents to produce a blade of desired strength and resilience.

Museum-Quality – A modern marketing term (and a meaningless one as well) implying the sword is good enough to pass for a duplicate of one in a museum’s historical collection.

Peening – The act of attaching a pommel to the tang by hammering over the small nub that protrudes or riveting it with a small cap.

Plasticity – The property of a blade to bend without breaking or fracturing. This does not indicate whether the blade remains deformed afterwards. (See “elasticity”)

Practice Blunt – A modern term for a training sword – see Federschwerter

Quenching – The act of rapidly cooling a blade that has been heated to a critical temperature in order to harden it (forming martinsite). Quenching steel can be accomplished in water, oil, or air and are referred to in that way. What makes a steel air hardening, oil hardening, etc., is the amount and type of various chemicals in the steel besides the base iron and carbon.

Replica Sword / Reproduction Sword – A modern sword that attempts to replicate an original historical sword based on a surviving specimen or from a photograph, drawing or description. An accurate replica sword blade may or may not be hand forged (e.g., stock removal is fine if the other attributes are met) and may or may not have a hilt made in the exact manner (for various reasons). The goal is to reproduce what the subject piece was like in a new condition in terms of dimensions, balance, and weight –so long as a piece is not a replica in appearance only (i.e., a “full scale model car” as opposed to a working vehicle).

Sharp – A generic term for a sword with a sharpened edge –in other words, a weapon for either real fighting or cutting practice.

Smelt/Smelting – To extract metal from ore through the use of heat and controlled atmosphere. Traditionally this entails the use of iron ore and a reduction furnace to separate the iron from the other minerals and impurities which would then be used to make steel through a secondary operation. Some cultures could smelt directly to steel. A more modern way is to use commercial iron powder and a crucible/furnace combination to make steel.

Spring steel – Steel with a temper that permits considerable flexibility without breaking and are used in applications where flexibility or springiness is required (e.g. leaf springs). Typically preferred for sword blades. Modern steels exist in broad families based upon their intended main application: high-speed steels are used for drill bits because they chemically do not soften from tempering at the temperatures such bits are exposed to, shock resistant steels are used for jack hammer bits, and high-wear steels are used for dies and wear surfaces. There is no family called “sword steel”. In the past this term usually referred to a specific alloy of carbon steel, today it refers to any steel used for springs. Carbon contents for modern spring steels range between 0.50% C to 0.95% C.

Stock Removal – A process for making knife or sword blades using abrasive or cutting tools to shape a flat piece of steel by grinding away excess material. Depending on the quality of tempering following the process can produce a very good or very poor blade. If a manufacturer uses the stock removal method to form blades they are a “maker” if forging is the primary means they are called “smiths”. Even forged blades (modern or historical) will have some degree of stock removal performed on them for final shaping/polishing.

Sword-like-object (“SLO”) – A derogatory term for an ahistorical blade-shaped bar of steel that is neither an accurate replica nor reproduction (i.e., a stage-combat “banger”). Modern slang for wall-hangers, or non-functional swords that despite appearing to be real cannot be used in realistic practice or serious training, let alone for their historical function.

Sword Cutler – Historically this was a person who put together a sword from parts made by others (i.e., a swordsmith). This was the usual method of sword manufacture.

Sword Fabricator – A person who uses rolling mills, CNC machines, or other machinery to produce blades and sword parts that are fairly identical. Depending on the quality of the final piece(s), this process can be good or bad. This is fabricating with the same meaning of the word that is used throughout the metal shaping industry.

Swordmaker – A loose term for anyone who makes swords or sword blades, either from parts or completely from scratch, using any fabrication technique or combination of techniques. A swordmaker may or may not conduct his own hardening and tempering process. The term most properly applies to an individual as opposed to a company.

Swordsmith – One who forges a sword blade – done by heating a bar of metal and pounding it into shape, then grinding or polishing and finishing it. A true smith is also capable of quenching, hardening and tempering his own blades.

Tang – The portion of a blade that extends through the handle to the pommel. It usually is of a different temper than the working portion of the larger blade itself. Accurate reproductions swords are those with square or rectangular “full tangs” –that is, extending the full length into the pommel –as opposed to having a rod welded on.

Temper – A selective reheating process performed after quenching to reduce the hardness of martinsite (hardened steel) by applying specific heat over a period time.

Tempering- The application of lower temperature to the metal part for a certain length of time to soften it up. This can range anywhere from light stress, to very springy and medium hard, to almost as soft as the un-quenched piece. A blade is first heated in a forge until bright red and then quickly dunked into a trough of water (quenched). At this point it is harder than a file and brittle as an icicle. Then, it is baked (tempering) at a low temperature for a short time so that it emerges springier and much less hard.

Test-cutting – The evaluation of the performance of a cutting sword, and/or swordsman, by striking test materials with a sharp weapon.

Test-to-destruction – Purposely testing a blade until it fails by breaking or catastrophic bending. Usually a sequential experiment from soft to hard-target testing designed to ensure the blade is no longer usable. Used by swordsmiths/makers to find the outer limits of performance of their blades.

Wallhanger – A derogatory term for a decorative sword (i.e., a costume sword or prop) that is neither an accurate replica nor reproduction and is not a functional tool or true weapon.

Weapon – What a historical sword was primarily intended as…a bladed fighting tool