15thC German Armoured Combat ("Halfswording")

armoured

Brief Summary

The improvements in metallurgy and smithwork made better armour increasingly more available, and by the XV century it was not that uncommon to have a full plate armour suit not only for the nobility, but also for mercenaries. Naturally, the weaponry and tactics had to be altered to stay effective against the new reality.

Most of the regular techniques do not work against full armour. One cannot slash it, and there are very few weak points that can be pierced, mostly located on the inside of the joints. To make matters worse, contrary to the popular belief a fitted full plate armour suit almost does not constrain an experienced wearer: we have records that it was recommended for a knight to be able to do a salto mortale in full armour. Thus, on a battlefield blunt weapons would often be used against it, in order to restrict the movement of a warrior by damaging the suit. In addition, halberds and various other polearms proved to be effective against those few weak points the armour had.

But it was duelling that really let the art shine. Treatises were written on how to fight, and the nobility would sometimes hire fencing masters to train them.

A multitude of weapons could have been used in a single armoured duel. The opponents could begin the fight using spears, then move to longswords and then finish the fight with daggers.

In the academy we focus on the longsword, practicing halfswording – a fighting technique where the main hand holds the weapon in the regular fashion, while the other hand grips it on the blade, at around the half of the length. This allows for a close combat to happen and for many interesting techniques to be executed. When training, we aim to achieve high historical accuracy in our interpretation and then to use it with great skill, still having our safety in mind.

Armoured combat is a fun lesson to take. It is also a great example of longsword as a "total weapon" - meaning that every part of it can effectively be used to attack. Thus, it is definitely something to try for many aspiring historical fencers.


Main Sources

- Anonymous. MS Germ.Quart.16, c.1435-1440.
- Danzig, Peter von. Codex 44.A.8, 1452.
- Talhoffer, Hans. MS Thott.290.2º, 1459.
- Talhoffer, Hans. Codex icon.394a, 1467


Equipment

To begin practicing this discipline in the Academy of Historical Arts, you will need the following items:

- synthetic longsword
- fencing mask
- padded gloves

The links will take you to the appropriate pages on the Corsair's Wares website, where you may purchase the necessary equipment. Buying through Corsair's Wares puts money back into the Academy of Historical Arts so that we can further our educational activities.


Protective Gear Minimum Requirements

According to the AHA Health and Safety Policy, these are the current minimum requirements to engage in activities safely for this discipline. Items marked with an asterisk (*) are mandatory, items marked in italics are recommended. Most of these items are available through Corsair's Wares; buying through Corsair's Wares puts money back into the Academy of Historical Arts so that we can further our educational activities.

- drilling with wooden/synthetic swords
* Head: CEN level 1 mask
Head: CEN level 2 mask (recommended)
Head: padded mask overlay (recommended)
Head: back of head protection (recommended)
Neck: rigid throat protector (recommended)
Torso: rigid chest protector (recommended)
Torso: padded jacket or gambeson (recommended)
Torso: groin guard (recommended)
Arms: forearm & elbow protection (recommended)
Hands: well padded gloves (recommended)
Legs: knee & shin guards (recommended)

- sparring with wooden/synthetic swords
* Head: CEN level 1 mask
* Hands: well padded gloves
Head: CEN level 2 mask (recommended)
Head: padded mask overlay (recommended)
Head: back of head protection (recommended)
Neck: rigid throat protector (recommended)
Torso: rigid chest protector (recommended)
Torso: padded jacket or gambeson (recommended)
Torso: groin guard (recommended)
Arms: forearm & elbow protection (recommended)
Legs: knee & shin guards (recommended)

- drilling with steel swords
* Head: CEN level 1 mask
Head: CEN level 2 mask (recommended)
Head: padded mask overlay (recommended)
Head: back of head protection (recommended)
Neck: rigid throat protector (recommended)
Torso: rigid chest protector (recommended)
Torso: padded jacket or gambeson (recommended)
Torso: 350N or preferably 800N rated underplastron (recommended)
Torso: groin guard (recommended)
Arms: forearm & elbow protection (recommended)
Hands: well padded gloves (recommended)
Legs: knee & shin guards (recommended)

- sparring with steel swords
* Head: CEN level 1 mask
* Head: back of head protection
* Torso: padded jacket or gambeson
* Hands: well padded gloves
* Legs: knee & shin guards
Head: CEN level 2 mask (recommended)
Head: padded mask overlay (recommended)
Neck: rigid throat protector (recommended)
Torso: rigid chest protector (recommended)
Torso: 350N or preferably 800N rated underplastron (recommended)
Torso: groin guard (recommended)
Arms: forearm & elbow protection (recommended)


We have gone to great lengths to ensure that we do not mandate and price people out of the activity. It should always be possible to participate in training, even if only to a lesser degree of intensity. Obviously the more intense and less safe the activity becomes, the more protective gear is necessary to mitigate the risk of harm. You are always welcome to wear more protective gear than the minimum requirements, we will never tell you to remove protective gear (unless it poses a risk to yourself or other participants, for whatever reason).


Useful Resources

book cover
(More information about this book and where you can purchase it.)
Farrell, Keith, and Alex Bourdas. AHA German Longsword Study Guide. Glasgow: Fallen Rook Publishing, August 2013. ISBN 978-0-9926735-0-5.

For a comprehensive list of treatises, transcriptions and translations, there is no better resource than the Wiktenauer: http://www.wiktenauer.com/