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Sword Study


with John Clements

I write a lot about swords. It's my job. I study them. I train with them. I collect them. I'm fascinated by them. And I know how to use them....very well. I've been able to seriously pursue this passion for over 37 years of research and practice now, with 16 years of professional teaching. It's not easy. It's a continual learning process and not without sacrifices. But, because I've had the opportunity to handle literally hundreds of antique specimens (even exercise and do cutting practice with some), it colors my perspective whenever I evaluate replicas and modern pieces. Cutting practice on realistic target materials is a pretty regular activity for me. So, my interpretations and opinions on the functionality of different blades and their techniques is influenced by that experience as much as by the pioneering research I've done in historical fencing methods. Decades of sparring and free-play with various mock weapons (against literally thousands of opponents) certainly grants insights into varieties of swords and different styles of swordsmanship. With all that in mind, I'm sometimes reluctant to give opinions on swordplay in popular culture or respond to online opinions about swords. If I don't like something it often earns enmity and resentment. If I do like something then you're always going to find someone somewhere with nowhere near my qualifications or authority nonetheless obnoxiously disagreeing. And yet, as a veteran fight instructor and professional swordsman, one of my primary goals now is to help educate the younger generation of sword enthusiast and historical fencing student. They simply don't have the opportunities that I have had in my work - the advantages of travel and investigation or the benefits of a large collection to train with, let alone do they have access to an accomplished teacher offering a proven program of study. When you add to this the myths perpetuated by media and the problematic issues raised by the increasing focus on sporting contests and artificial tournaments as opposed to learning serious self-defense skills in a genuine martial art, things can become even more blurry to novices. The amount of information now available on swords, the translated historical source works, and the diversity of practice blades as well as sharps is certainly unprecedented. But, putting it all together into some type of coherent curriculum with good guidance...well, that's a different matter entirely. As much as I can I try to help young students of the sword appreciate the reality, beauty, and significance of swords. Their history and heritage deserve no less.