Knighthood in the Modern Age

My first question received under the “Ask Medieval” feature came from Gaharet and concerns how knighthood can be carried into the modern age.  To paraphrase, what are the essential features of knighthood and how might one be a modern knight?  The first quality of a knight is to be able to fight.  All other qualities of a knight surround the central fact of the knight being a warrior.  A knight may hesitate to strike a blow, but will not hit weakly when his hand is forced.  To that end in modern times, knowledge of how to shoot and martial arts are eminently desirable.  Next there comes keeping fit and healthy for action.  Thirdly, a knowledge of Historical European Martial Arts, though archaic, help in staying fit and better imagining what combat was like from a medieval knight’s perspective.

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The central virtue of the knight is courage.  The word courage derives from the French word for heart.  The knight must take care to keep his heart pure lest the taint of sin lead him to use force wantonly.  To which end, the virtues of faith, charity, chastity, honesty, magnanimity, obedience, loyalty, and good cheer are necessary.  To perfect his character still more, the knight ought to take on the mantle of meekness, not vaunting his own achievements but giving the glory to God.  The knight par excellence is a Christian gentleman.

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Medieval Book Review: Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc

Most of you have not heard of this historical novel of Mark Twain’s; yet, he regarded it as his best work.  In his own words, “I like Joan of Arc best of all my books; and it is the best; I know it perfectly well. And besides, it furnished me seven times the pleasure afforded me by any of the others; twelve years of preparation, and two years of writing. The others needed no preparation and got none.”  Mark Twain is known as something of a humorist, and many humorists see the dark side of life and turn to humor as a way to cope with it.  For example, many people know that Twain often wrote to underscore the injustice of Southern society towards blacks–both before and after the Civil War.  Twain loved fairness and justice above all, and these things shone yet more gloriously when painted against a background of villainy.

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Examining Light Novels: Latin in the Middle Ages

My latest article on Beneath the Tangles talks about why Latin became the Franca lingua of the Middle Ages, and about how the Catholic Church preferred–and indeed, still prefers–this language above all the rest.  This topic and the last one I wrote about, monastic contributions to European economics, Isuna Hasekura gets very right.

Examining Light Novels: Latin in the Middle Ages

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The House of the Wolfings: A Review

William Morris’s The House of the Wolfings will stand as my medieval book of the month.  Though published at the end of the 19th century and set prior to the Middle Ages, it reads very much like a Viking saga–even if the prose is more ornate than the saga writers tended to use.  William Morris numbers as one of those forgotten pre-Tolkien fantasy authors.  I first became interested in him when I heard of how Tolkien borrowed the name Mirkwood from the book under review.  The House of the Wolfings has not disappointed me in the least.

Wolfings

The story appears to be set around the first century AD and concerns the Roman invasion of Germania, but the clans of the Mirkwood are fictional.  The hero of this epic, Thiodolf, leads the Men of the Mirkwood against the invading Romans, and some fantastic elements include the prophecies of the goddess Wood Sun and the Hall Sun, who is the daughter of Thiodolf and the Wood Sun, and an enchanted dwarven hauberk.  The prophecies of these two women and the Romans history of conquest leave the reader guessing up until near the end what the final outcome of the war will be.

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On Old Movie Sword Fights

Those of my readers who are interested in swordplay might enjoy this video of Matt Easton’s, talking about the most important sword fight in the movie The Flame and the Arrow.  It talks about how the swordplay one sees in mid-twentieth century films differs from medieval swordplay and what steps the actors take to stay safe.  This video has to be one of Easton’s best fight reviews.

Medieval Tome for October

About a week ago, I finished reading Edward: the Prince of Wales and Aquitaine by Richard Barber.  In researching its author, I discovered that he differs from newer medievalists in having fallen in love with the period through Arthurian romances rather than The Lord of the Rings.  (Yours truly has a children’s book of Erik the Red’s adventures as the cause.)  His vast bibliography reflected this as one can find numerous books on chivalry and King Arthur therein.  The way he brought Edward the Black Prince and the personages of his times to life within the pages of this work is the happy product of his enthusiasm.  At any rate, I am pleased that this enjoyable and accessible volume also happens to be the seminal biography of this English hero of the Hundred Years’ War.

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Fans of Braveheart will be intrigued to learn that this book relates the events following the death of King Edward the Longshanks, who, despite the portrayal in the film, was actually a good king.  The wife of Edward II, Isabella of France, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, deposed the king and cruelly assassinated him.  As for how cruelly, in imitation of his supposed sin of sodomy and trying to hide the unnatural cause of his death, they had a red hot iron thrust into his rectum.  (Now, you know the most horrible death ever to have been inflicted on an English king.  Quiz your friends!)  This led to a brief period when Isabella and Mortimer held sway in England, though Edward III, son of Edward II, had been crowned in 1327.  Two years later, Mortimer had angered enough noblemen with his corrupt favoritism that he himself and the queen were deposed by band of angry knights, Edward III among their party.  And England could boast of a real king once more.

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A Great Series on the Katana

Recently, I discovered a new YouTube Channel called “I am Shad” through Shad’s video on the Kite or Norman shield.  Shad is about as entertaining to watch as Skallagrim and as factually reliable as Matt Easton–though, not with that gentleman’s depth of knowledge.  Shad’s excellent sense of humor and solid interpretation of the facts manifest themselves well in “The TRUTH about the Katana.”  This series delves into the strengths and weaknesses of the katana’s forging process and its design in the most even-handed manner I’ve yet seen.  I found myself hooked on this series as soon as he used Rurouni Kenshin for a reference point.  Few anime fans don’t have an interest in katana, so I encourage all my dear readers to check out this series.  Parts one through four are short enough to be watched in tandem, however the last video is almost fifty minutes long.  Enjoy!

The TRUTH about the Katana, part 1: Introduction

The TRUTH about the Katana, part 2: What it is Made from

The TRUTH about the Katana, part 4: Differential Hardening

The TRUTH about the Katana, part 5: Design and Shape

On Training with Sharp Swords in The Rose of Versailles

One scene in The Rose of Versailles features Oscar and André, Oscar’s valet and greatest friend, fencing quite vigorously.  At the end of which, Oscar compliments André by saying that he’s become quite a challenge while fencing “with sharp swords.”  A few years ago, this would have caused me to roll my eyes in disgust.  I would think to myself: “Practicing with sharp swords!  That wasn’t done, and you both have a death wish!”  I had that very response towards A Game of Thrones when Joffrey demands that he and one of Ned Stark’s sons spare with sharps instead of wooden swords, and the fencing master refuses to permit it–though he offers that they might practice with blunts.

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Very many of you likely have the same opinion as I used to.  One of the first books on medieval fencing I ever read, John Clements’ Medieval Swordsmanship, does not talk about sparring with sharps anywhere.  It recommends cutting practice, technique drills, and sparring with boffers, wooden swords, or synthetic ones.  I used to figure that by combining the three one can “triangulate” in order to understand what fighting with a real sword would feel like.  In addition, I read two accounting of practicing with sharp swords which boded ill for one of the fencers.  In one viking saga, a father trains against his son while using a cursed blade.  The sword having been knocked backwards with a certain parry, it buries itself in the father’s brain and makes an end of him.  On the other occasion, Alexandre Dumas recounts in one of his historical fictions that people at first practiced without foils, but with swords having a point and sharp edges.  During one practicing bout, one fellow was stabbed sixteen times and fell dead after the session.  Both reinforce the idea that fencing with sharp swords is a very, very bad idea.

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Reasons to Watch Scholagladiatoria

Matt Easton of the YouTube channel Scholagladiatoria recently posted a video thanking those who’ve spread the word about his channel to bring the total number of subscribers up to over seventy thousand.  Those of you who’ve clicked on my Guide to Becoming a Scholar of Swords and Swordplay page know that I place this channel above all the rest in terms of the accuracy of information one finds there and the breadth of Matt Easton’s knowledge.  But, let me do my part here by sharing some awesome videos of his with you, and I hope that many of you who have an interest in the Middle Ages or fencing will subscribe if you haven’t already.

The following video explains how to accurately grip a Viking sword.  More people grip a Viking sword incorrectly than any other blade.  While one can often get away with a wrong grip in the case of other blades, doing so with a Viking sword will cause the pommel to jab into one’s wrist when cutting, which leads to the user hating a perfectly good sword.  One cannot but admire the facility with which Easton shows that he can wield the blade when gripped correctly.

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May Quick Takes

A combination of factors leads me to write this Quick Takes article: 1) it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything here; 2) I’m rather ill; and 3) because I am rather ill, my ability to focus has gone down the tubes.  Some of these points deserve their own article.  At any rate, let me begin.

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Arslan Senki reminded me of the curious fact that non-believers often try to paint God like Allah.  What brings up the comparison?  The high priest of the Lusitanian religion decides to torture the captured Lord Shapur to death and remarks how unbelievers deserve this.  Then, Lord Shapur gamely defies the high priest by saying that he hopes to see him burning in hell with his evil god.  I am forcibly reminded of a scene from Muhammad’s life, where he kills all the pagan Arabs he captures after a battle–the last pleading for his life for the sake of his only daughter–and then burns the bodies of the slain.  Muhammad then remarks that the smoke of burning heretics is pleasing to Allah.

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Skallagrim Comments on Maria the Virgin Witch

In my last Quick Takes article, I noted how realistic Maria the Virgin Witch’s presentation of combat, weapons, and armor in the Hundred Years War was.  It’s cool to see that Skallagrim has also watched this series and made a video in praise of the realistic details.  He adds many more points than what my article mentions, and I encourage all my readers to check the video out.

Oh, yes, I’ve decided to come out of hiatus earlier than planned.  I have accomplished certain goals which were set in me taking the break, and I missed interacting with my dear readers too much anyway.  Expect another article tomorrow!

Quick Takes from Maria the Virgin Witch

Initially, I was not too keen on watching Maria the Virgin Witch (aka Junketsu no Maria); but many posts on the show inflamed my desire to do so, and Kaze’s comments in the 8th podcast of Beneath the Tangles proved to be the final impetus.  In any event, I gobbled up these twelve episodes in three days.  The show obviously derives from a liberal mindset, but it’s not as unfair to the Church as many other liberal takes on the Middle Ages.  The reason for this lies in the author having a decided interest in the Middle Ages and Church history; though, one wishes that he had added a double dose of Catholic theology to his studies.  But, in this post–presented in the Quick Takes format, I wish to write about how well the show represented the Middle Ages.  I’ll talk about its philosophy another time.

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The armor, weapons, and battlefield tactics employed at this period in history are all very well researched by the author.  Not a single piece of armor or weapon is anachronistic or incorrect.  There are problems with the sword and buckler fights and with how well two-handed weapons are sometimes wielded in just one hand.  Also, there is an obvious absence of chainmail, but that can be explained by the difficulty of animating a coat of rings.

Manga's probably the only format you'll see a byrnie in.

Manga’s probably the only format you’ll see a byrnie in. From Vinland Saga.

I like how the anime features primitive examples of the firearms which were first coming into use.  The depiction of Britain’s standard defensive tactic relying upon longbow archers protected by men-at-arms was perfect.   I also can’t remember the last time in an anime medieval soldiers wore gambesons, the padded coat which most soldiers could afford as armor.

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Two of Ewart Oakeshott’s Books Reviewed

Connoisseurs of medieval weapons will instantly recognize the name Ewart Oakeshott.  He stood at the forefront of the movement to create accurate replicas of medieval swords and to understand how medieval warriors really fought.  Many museums now hold antique blades donated from his private collection.  That the stereotype of knights as clumsy oafs bashing away at each other with swords is slowly disappearing owes much to Oakeshott’s work, which included delving into both history and the weapons themselves.  These habits come across very strongly in the two works under review here: A Knight in Battle and A Knight and His Armor from Oakeshott’s “Life of the Medieval Knight” series.

Oakshott's Knight and His Armor

 

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Medieval Otaku’s Second Quick Takes

Well, here’s another set of quick takes for you.  Once again, they have been inspired by Nami’s Quick Takes on The Budding Philosopher.  I feel like I should post, but don’t have energy to concentrate on writing a proper post.  May you enjoy these quick takes!

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My laptop adapter broke.  So, I’ve been relying on my smart phone for the past while, which is the least pleasant way to browse the internet.  At any rate, I’m happy to report that the replacement adapter has arrived.  So, I hope to make up for lost time in reading my fellow bloggers’ articles.

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Pennsylvania produces my favorite beers.  I love beers from Weyerbacher, Yards, Victory, Sly Fox, and Troegs.  One unpleasant surprise I had in regard to these beers, however, is that the Troegenator doppelbock–at least, the last time I had it–actually tasted pretty bad.  As my friend said, it tasted like malt liquor, which is sad because the Troegenator launched my interest in the realm of craft beer.  Troegs brewery seems to have made up for it in their Cultivator Helles Bock.  The flavor is quite fresh with a creamy mouthfeel and notes of biscuit and raspberry.  Very good stuff!

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Thoughts on C. S. Lewis’ The Discarded Image

Here is yet another of the articles I promised as part of my Candlemas Resolutions.  I have only four days to review the theological work and the Japanese one; otherwise, I shall fail to keep my resolutions in the very first month I made them!  And I should send little e-mail to TWWK ere then too.  Vae!  Sunt multa facienda, sed tempus fugit!  

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At any rate, let me get on to C. S. Lewis’ The Discarded Image.  This work marks the last book of Lewis’s published while he still lived.  These two hundred and twenty-three pages refreshed my knowledge of Medieval Model of the universe.  Lewis both delineates the major features of the model and offers details which will please readers more versed in the Middle Ages.  By the way, medievals and yours truly have much in common, and I think that highlighting these similarities as I write about the major points of The Discarded Image will amuse my dear readers.

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New Page: Guide to Becoming a Scholar of Swords and Swordplay

This is my longest run for continuous posting yet.  Looking at the past two National Blogging Months, I’ve managed to post for the first nineteen days before running out of steam.  And many of those posts consisted of reblogs!  This year, I have actually managed to write a post of some kind for each day, and today I have created a new page.  I’m going to contact a friend who knows even more about the subject to comment on additional sources I might add.

If Tatsumi was competent, that awed expression would be the last one on that villain's face.

At any rate, “Guide to Becoming a Scholar of Swords and Swordplay” provides a long list of sources for interested readers to peruse.  If you manage to cover all that material, you’ll certainly be an intermediate student of the subject and will know where else to look for more information.

Cheers!

How Not to Animate Sword Fights: Episode 8 of Akame ga Kiru

I have remarked on Twitter that watching Historical European Martial Arts and Oriental Martial Arts videos has made it more difficult to enjoy anime sword fights.  Either the fight needs to be outlandish enough for me to completely suspend my disbelief–like the fights in Jubei-chan II–or bear a significant degree of realism–like those of Carried by the Wind: Tsukikage Ran.  (No, I’m not going to spoil any of the fights for my dear readers.  You must watch the show if you haven’t seen it!)  On the other hand, the eighth episode of Akame ga Kiru went to neither extreme, which left me cringing at their bad techniques and scientifically impossible feats.  The bad techniques went far beyond General Liver and Bulat standing in place and exchanging lightning fast cuts and parries in a manner reminiscent of the later fights in DBZ.  I know that Akame ga Kiru is fiction and that I should not expect moves out of the Codex Wallerstein–as awesome as that would be; but, bad swordplay will detract from anyone’s enjoyment of the fights.  A friend of mind who cares nothing about HEMA even noticed that the fight was badly done!

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But, let’s start here in my highlight reel of bad swordplay:

Three on OneIf you remember the fight, Bulat takes out the fighters behind him with kicks and bisects the opponent before him simultaneously.  There are many problems with this nonsense: 1) One does not stay in the middle of multiple opponents, but attacks the closest one and attempts to tangle up his foes by out-positioning them (e.g. 4:40 into this video); 2) Two side kicks delivered simultaneously would have no power; 3) the bearded enemy to Bulat’s front, being closer, should have been struck down first no matter how you look at it.  Tatsuki ogles at Bulat’s awesome technique, but I look at this scene as pure laziness by the animators.

Next one’s a doozy:

Ridiculous High JumpRemember how high Tatsumi jumped to deliver this strike?  Akame ga Kiru loves showing these ridiculously high jumping attacks, but they should all be epic failures.  Remember when you caught fly balls in little league?  Essentially, that’s how devil kid should have approached this situation and taken Tatsumi out with a strike to his back.  Who in their right mind would block a strike that started a hundred feet high?  Also, Tatsumi misses his first chance at slicing off devil kid’s fingers.

The third one stands as the worst shot of the whole fight:

Bad BlockIf you watched the footage carefully, you’ll notice that Tatsumi blocked well ahead of the strike, and the devil kid obligingly attacks his sword.  Why?  Tatsumi’s arms are actually ahead of his weapon and a much easier target!!!  This was just wrong, I tell you!

And we have a good parry from Tatsumi, but…

Great Parry…he neglects the obvious counter-cut and the fight continues.  Nevermind, this is a terrible parry.  See how far Tatsumi needs to extend his arms?  They’re even locked, which is a huge error!  How much easier to simply draw back a little, let the strike pass, and deliver a solid cut in the opening left by devil kid’s attack?

Three things need to be said about this picture:

If Tatsumi was competent, that awed expression would be the last one on that villain's face.

If Tatsumi was competent, that awed expression would be the last one on that villain’s face.

Lindybeige has an excellent video on this very common position which we see in movies and TV shows.  There’s an additional point to make here that the devil kid’s fingers have no protection whatsoever.  Tatsumi could easily slice them off!  Then, let me reiterate two more points Lindybeige makes: 1) This is a very bad and unnecessary position to be in–whoever moves first wins; and 2) Tatsumi should have half-sworded into his foe’s neck.  Yes, you can grab a sharp sword with your bare hands–you really can!

The following pictures suffer from the same defect:

vlcsnap-2014-08-24-15h29m03s250 vlcsnap-2014-08-24-15h29m38s89Neither of the fighters’ swords have proper hand guards.  Bulat’s cut should have traveled down the blade and through Liver’s fingers.  In the second, either opponent has that option.  A guard of some kind, even a simple cross guard, must be part of a sword if one means to bind with it.  Ancient swords had no guards because they were always used in conjunction with a shield.  And no, it is not unchivalrous to cut your opponent’s fingers off!  We see it in European manuals, and the world of Akame ga Kiru has no chivalric code to speak of!

What the...?  Send that sword back to the Kung Fu movie set where you found it, Bulat!

What the…? Send that sword back to the Kung Fu movie set where you found it, Bulat!

That concludes the glaring defects I found in this battle.  Did anyone like the fight?  Sheele’s final battle in episode six is so far the best fight in the series.  It followed my rule of being so outlandish as to suspend my disbelief.

Terrifying words, but at least one character believes in having a proper guard on their weapon!

Terrifying words, but at least one character believes in having a proper guard on their weapon!

Cool Sword Channels on YouTube

As you know from my handle and previous posts–especially this one, I’m fascinated by medieval swordplay.  I’ve discovered several great channels on YouTube by enthusiasts of Historical European Martial Arts and figured that I should share the best of them here.  Some of my dear readers are no doubt curious what the difference is between real Medieval swordplay and what Hollywood portrays.  Medieval swordsmanship had been been lost until people in the latter half of the twentieth century began to try to reconstruct medieval swordsmanship from old manuals and the ergonomics of the weapons and armor.  There is a particular degree of ignorance in the study of the long sword and other weapons–as Skallagrim admits here; but one of the virtues of this community of enthusiasts is that they correct each others’ misconceptions.  You may watch this video where Skallagrim points out some errors in a prior video.  The other nice thing about that video is that he links to other channels which he considers valuable resources.

Naturally, I place Skallagrim at the top of the list.  He easily runs one of the most entertaining channels.  Though he calls himself a beginner, his videos make it obvious that he’s studied swordsmanship for a long time.  I disagree with him on religious issues–as you saw here; but his videos on swords, fencing, guns, gun rights, and various rambles make for informative viewing.  Many medieval sword sparring videos on YouTube make it seem like the opponents are trying to ding each other with the weapon rather than cut each other down.  Skallagrim’s videos show good technique based on the historical manuals and practice, which reveals that Europeans of the Middle Ages did more than just bang at each other with their weapons.

Next, I would place Matt Easton on the channel scholagladitoria.  He’s practically an encyclopedia on warfare and swordplay from medieval times to the 19th century.  His memory for original source material on his topics is rather amazing.  Also his demonstrations of sword techniques are quite good.  I found myself rather impressed by his skill with the broadsword.

About as entertaining as Skallagrim is Lindybeige.  His specialty seems to run from ancient to medieval weapons (good man 🙂 ); yet, as a history buff, he’s fluent in most areas of European history through the 19th century as far as I can tell.  As with Skallagrim, I disagree with him on religious and philosophical topics.  (He’s a determinist, for example; but, freely admits that the knowledge that he does not have free will does nothing to change the way he interacts with society.)  Other than that, his videos are very entertaining and informative.  His rants can be particularly fun and cover every topic under the sun.

Lastly, I just discovered ThegnThrand, who’s a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism.  This rather long video reveals that his knowledge of the history and use of medieval and ancient weapons is astounding.  Also astounding are the demonstrations with sharp weapons involving a partner.  They do seem to have great awareness in regard to what their doing, but I myself would not trust anyone less than a master, e.g. Nidar Singh, to demonstrate a technique with a sharp blade on me.

There you have it.  I hope that you enjoy some of these videos on medieval swordplay.  I’ll get back to writing about anime pretty soon.