I would ask our readers to bear with us. I know I promised a new essay soon, but we have experienced two disasters to our lives, one of which could have killed us both. Without going into greater detail, I hope you will give me the time to recover from these incidents. I promise that I will fulfill my promises and continue to provide what I can to this website and that the Ring Of Steel will continue to teach. I thank you for your understanding.

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The sword exercise of the British Cavalry, based on original sources, and including original pictures from primary instructional manuals from 1796. This will be a two-apart essay due to the large and diverse amount of information.

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And if you call it a 'skirt,' you'll get kilt...

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 Recently, I was wearing the plaid in a two-part episode of “Once Upon a Time,” (which is all the information I’m able to divulge since I don’t have any particular desire to be sued by Disney) and thought, this being a site devoted to historical bladed weapons, that a piece on the Claymore might be appropriate. Actually, I have no idea why this didn’t occur to me before, seeing as I actually am a clan Chieftain. So…

The Claymore. The name itself has been under contention for quite a while. The most common explanation of its origin is the term “claidheamh-mor,” roughly translated from the Gaelic as “great sword.”  This term, crudely Anglicized into “Cly-more,” is found in a document dated 1772, and refers to a “great two-handed sword.” The term is also applied to the single-handed basket-hilted broadsword and is described as such in a text dating 1773. There are Gaelic scholars who further contend that the term “claidheamh-mor” actually refers to a broadsword whereas the term for a two-handed sword is actually “claidheamh-da-laimh.”

And here’s where the controversy begins. There are those who contend that the name should be used exclusively to describe the two handed weapon and that the single-handed sword be more properly referred to as the “claidheamh-beag,” ostensibly translated as “little sword.” However, texts appear to relegate this description to a particular type of sword known as a ‘bilbo,” which is a colloquial name for a small rapier which, in my mind, definitely does not fall into the description of a broadsword. It is also thought that the term “claybeg” was the invention of Sir Guy Laking in the 1800s, a gentleman who apparently spoke not a word of Gaelic. If true, this is roughly the equivalent of referring to a wakizashi as a “Katty-beg,” seeing as it’s simply a smaller version of the katana.

There is also the ‘claidheamh-cuil,” which purports to be the name of the single-edged Back-sword. It has also been identified as a “claidheamh-caol,” or “narrow sword,” which, again, appears to be describing a rapier.

Whatever the “proper” term – and personally, I’m going with Claymore as being legitimate in describing both the double and single-handed sword, it is visually a very distinctive Scottish weapon.

Its origins can be traced by viewing tomb effigies where it is often depicted as being worn on the belt, its proportions suggesting a single-handed weapon. Even then, it had the distinctive V-shaped angled quillons, often flattened at their ends, but not perforated, and with a pommel that was either round or more in keeping with the pommels common on Viking weapons which has led some to suggest the possible origin of that design.

Eventually, the blade lengthened, the grip evolved to accommodate two hands, considerably separated, (but not to the extent of the European Great Sword or Bidenhander) and the termination of the quillons became pierced into the distinctive quatrefoil and also with two short langets that run from the quillon several inches on the flat of the blade’s extreme forte.

As for the single-handed broadsword, the earliest example I know to exist is at Cluny Castle and is dated at 1414.

With regard to the single-handed Claymore, it has been suggested that the basket-hilt design was a copy of the Italian Shiavona, which name derived from the Schiavoni, the Istrian and Dalmatian guards of the Doge of Venice. But since the first basket hilt Claymores appeared before this design by at least a century, I tend to disregard it.

The basket hilt handguard of the Claymore is decorated with piercings and designs that, at least early on, and inscriptions on the blade were given mystical significance.

There are many single-handed Claymores whose blades are attributed to the Solingen workshops. Indeed, the “running wolf” guild mark was said to make a man bullet-proof. I would imagine, if this was indeed true, that it would have been a relatively short-live affectation since it wouldn’t take too many men seeing their brother warriors catch a musket ball to, no pun intended, scotch this superstition. Other blades are attributed by their marks to the Klingenthal workshops in Alsace, while others came from Sterling, and around 1740, Birmingham became a centre for manufacture when smiths such as Drury, Jeffries and Harvey were given contracts by the British government to produce swords in the Highland style to equip Scottish regiments in English service. These latter were considered to be inferior in both blade and hilting. Strangely enough, apart from a few hammermen in Glasgow, it seems as though after a certain point, Scottish smiths were primarily engaged in creating and mounting the hilts on blades made outside the country.

There are also not a few blades attributed to the great Italian hammersmith, Andrea Ferara. While a few might have been, Ferera is believed to have been born in 1530 and died around 1583, making it impossible for the bulk of blades bearing the Ferera mark to have been made by him. It’s thought that most were of Solingen origin and inscribed with the A.F. mark. It would also be rather unusual that there would be, relatively speaking, so many more Ferera swords in Scotland than currently found in Italian collections.

Now for weight and dimensions: I have handled a few two-handed Claymores and found considerable variations. The Coll sword weighs four and a half pounds and is superbly balanced. However, there is another sword, said to have been used by Lundin of that Ilk at Bannockburn, with a blade length of 49 inches and an overall weight of six and a half pounds, whose balance is, let us just say, less than perfect. In general, the two-handed Claymore appears to have had a blade varying from 42 to 49 inches with a 13 to 14 inch-long grip and an average weight of five to five and a half pounds, although there will always be exceptions. Blade width on weapons I have examined is usually between two to a rarer two and a half inches.

Weight, as I have alluded in previous articles, is a relative term. Putting a sword on a scale and measuring its weight gives no evidence as to how that weight is distributed. Balance is an entirely different thing and is crucial to recovering the inertia and momentum of a sword in motion. Two-handed swords with long grips also facilitate this process as well as adding the ability to generate torque on cuts.

The single-handed Claymores I have examined have blades between 32 to 38 inches in length with a width of between two and a quarter to two and a half inches and an average weight of three and a quarter to three and a half pounds. Again, I would stress that I speak only of swords I have personally handled in my museum studies. Naturally, there will be exceptions. And unlike the two-handed version, the basket-hilt Claymores have fullers in their blades, generally of two types: a wide, central fuller or two smaller side-by-side narrow fullers, both which extend six to eight inches above the hilt.

One of the things that go with the old saw of Scottish thriftiness is that there is positive evidence of re-using damaged blades. Some two-handed blades were cut down to be re-hilted in one-handed swords, and broken blades from one-handed swords appear to have been occasionally re-cut and re-hilted in dirks.

You have probably noticed that I have mentioned nothing about the actual use of the Claymore. This is because I have found no documentation on the subject, at least in respect to the two-handed sword. However, consider that the design, weight and balance of a weapon, combined with universal physical dynamics and anatomy dictate how a weapon is used. The two-handed Claymore is in between the dimensions of a longsword and a greatsword, with more in common to the former. Handling these weapons, I have found that the techniques of the German and Italian schools of longsword work perfectly well, with the Claymores’ longer grip compensating for the occasional sword whose weight and balance is comparatively slightly excessive. As for the basket-hilt, similarly, there is only documentation once Scottish regiments entered British service and the drills are pretty much identical to comparable swords used by the British army of the time. I have, for instance, the complete manual of Scottish Broadsword produced by colonel Harris of the  Light Horse Volunteers of London and Westminster, as approved by Field Marshal the Duke of York (the instruction being that of the use of the sword on foot) and there is no substantial difference between it and any similar foot regimental drills I have previously studied.

Nor do any historical records give much of a clue. The Gillie MacBane, fighting against the Campbells is said to have brought down fourteen of them before he fell, but no indication as to the specifics of how this was accomplished. Similarly, the Chevalier Johnstone gives a description of the Scots engaging the enemy in the 18th century, where, after discharging their muskets and casting them aside (since reloading didn’t appear to be a Scottish tradition) “…draw their swords, and holding a dirk in their left hand with their targe, they dart with fury on the enemy through the smoke of their fire. When within reach of the enemy’s bayonets, bending their left knee, they, by their attitude cover their bodies with their targes which receive their thrusts of the bayonet, which they contrive to parry, while at the same time they raise their sword arm and strike their adversary. … bringing down two men at a time, one with their dirk in the left hand and another with the sword.” Pretty deft coordination, if you ask me. But sorry – there are no SECRETS OF THE SCOTTISH CLAYMORE tomes out there.

And just as a side-bar, I haven’t a clue why the US M-18 anti-personnel mine is termed a Claymore apart from the fact that the Calord corporation that initially produced it and its owner and the man who developed it was named MacLeod.




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The hazards of being the demonstration partner...

Hello, everyone. Just a quick note to let you know that workshops are currently being planned for between mid-summer and fall. These include an unarmed combat and Art of Choreography workshop currently being developed for the Film Factory in Kelowna, a knife defense workshop for Urban Tactics Krav Maga in Richmond and a German Longsword workshop in Victoria, plus others. We’ll keep you posted as to exact dates and other germane information.

Now as you can see, I don’t reply much to questions in the comments section. This is mainly because most of them appear to be about my blog format, etc. So let me just mention again – I just write the content. My partner Joanne set up the format and we use a pretty much standard WordPress platform. So with regards to any other questions, please remember that I have the computer skills of a gerbil.

Now if anyone has any questions about HISTORICAL BLADED WEAPON COMBAT, or any requests for subject matter for future articles, that would be greatly appreciated. Meanwhile, new articles are being compiled.

Best to you all, and thanks for reading our stuff.

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Well, you must admit that this is unusual. People have often asked me what my favourite weapon is and my response has always been “Whatever I have in my hand when I’m attacked.” It’s axiomatic that you don’t always get to choose with what you defend yourself and I suppose if two farmers ended up contending in the hay field, this might be an option. (I assume that the rather high-end clothing in which the combatants are depicted is just an artistic convention)

First, a little background on the commissioner of this work:

Paulus Hector Mair (1517 – 1579) was a civil servant in Augsburg. An active practitioner of the martial arts, he was also a passionate collector of Fechtbucher and set about to compile a sort of Grand Treatise – a collection of all the knowledge of the accumulative fighting arts of his day. To help with this ambitious project, he commissioned Jorg Breu the Younger as artist, and engaged two experienced sword practitioners who were charged with testing and validating all the techniques prior to their being painted. This process (since this monumental work included two volumes, the first encompassing the Longsword, Dussack, Staff, Pike, Halberd, the sickle, the sythe and wrestling, and the second volume expounding on the Dagger, the Spanish Rapier, Battle Axe, mounted combat and tournament combat, plus judicial combat and fighting in armour – shield, spear and longsword) took roughly four years to complete. Three versions of this treatise plus one later-published and lesser explicit manuscript are known to exist.

Unfortunately, this process consumed most of his personal and family fortune. Equally unfortunately, Mair apparently had a somewhat extravagant lifestyle which included lavish and frequent entertaining. This led to the imprudent embezzlement of city funds, and when this was discovered, he was hanged for theft at age 62. Not the most glorious of endings.

However, his manuscript is the most inclusive single source of contemporary combat styles, a sort of one-stop shopping for the practice of fighting skills of the day.

So: the sickle.

First, physically, this was never intended to be a fighting weapon. As a result, there are certain limitations in its design. Obviously, it has a point, but its position doesn’t allow for the maximum concentration of force such as is inherent in the comparable Japanese sickle, the Okinawa Kama. It does, however, have rather nasty ripping ability. Some of his techniques definitely depict a point attack to the face.

The edge, naturally, is restricted to the inside curve of the blade. It is because of this curvature (and the relatively light weight) that the sickle doesn’t cut very well percussively. To cut at all, at least in terms of inflicting a cut of any significant size, it’s necessary to strike, then pull back towards yourself, inflicting a tearing wound or pulling the weapon upwards in order to involve the upper third of the inside edge nearest the point. Another way would be to strike with the central area of the inside edge (which would allow maximum impact) and forcefully rotate the weapon towards or away from yourself, depending on the target being struck, in order to involve the greatest degree of moving edge contact. There are a few pictures that depict what appears to be a cut being delivered by the back of the sickle. This, of course, would be futile since the sickle’s back is similar to the spine of a single-edged sword and not really capable of being sharpened.

Naturally, it is also capable of hooking, which, as the treatise demonstrates, can be used to stop and re-direct a blow by targeting your opponent’s sickle-arm, executing a hook behind the neck to drag him towards you (which could easily involve the carotid artery utilizing a left or right rotating drawing action) or hooking him behind the knee and pulling him off balance.

There is also a rather horrendous depiction of directing the sickle in between his legs and inserting the point up the rectum – definitely an attention-getter.

Mair also advocates a stance that leads with the right foot with the sickle in the right hand. He also describes several techniques in which one uses the left hand to seize your opponent’s sickle arm to block a blow, and to deflect it way. He also advocates, in some positions, to hide your left hand under your sickle-arm, and also to displace your forward foot to the outside of your opponent’s forward foot, or, in some cases, depending on your opponent’s stance, to hold the sickle low in the manner of some Dussack positions with the left hand on the left hip. He also advises passing forward on the left foot for defense-attack combinations as well as combination left-right foot passes to press your attack once the incoming sickle arm has been seized or deflected to the left or the right, depending on the nature of his attack. He also instructs that if your opponent has managed to hook your weapon arm and pulls, to follow the pull by passing forward.

In some circumstances, he advises to control your opponent’s weapon arm from the elbow on the outside of the arm. Many of his strikes are to disable the weapon arm, including one that cuts the triceps muscle just above the elbow which would disable the entire arm.

There are also depicted techniques which place the left foot, after executing a pass, in direct contact with your opponent’s forward right foot on the inside, ostensibly to hinder further movement.  And, as one might expect, there are techniques showing the use of the sickle to directly parry and hook your opponent’s weapon. This particular technique should be executed more as a deflective beat to prevent your weapon, due to the curvature of the blade, from becoming ensnared on the opposing blade which would inhibit a quick and decisive counter attack.

I could go on, but this site isn’t specifically intended to teach technique, especially something so esoteric, but to expose to aficionados of historical Western European combat techniques to both mainstream and unusual combat forms. This is certainly the latter.

Examine the pictures included in this post with regard to the text I’ve provided. And if you are going to attempt to reproduce any of the techniques, it should go without saying that you must proceed slowly, use dull or edgeless reproduction weapons with completely rebated points and should wear a fencing helmet and full neck protection.







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In this treatise, we will examine the VIER LEGER – the Four Guards of German Longsword play as described by Sigmund Ringeck, whose text, KUNST DES FECHTENS, is dated to the first half of the 15th century. We know very little about the man except that he was once employed as the fencing instructor to Albrecht, Duke of Bavaria. It is thought that he was a member of the lower knightly class, but barring empirical evidence, this is unsupported supposition.

Ringeck’s treatise draws on an earlier work by Hanko Doebringer whose 1389 text contains our earliest known reference to the great master Liechtenauer.

First, let’s define what we mean by the term “guard.” In this context, it is a specific position for the sword from which you launch and end attacks. It only “guards” a portion of the body by virtue of the fact that it would be illogical to attack an area where the sword is already present.

Some of the guards, such as Ochs (the Ox) and Pflug “the plough) are obviously conducive to thrusting, whereas the other two, Von Tag (from the Roof) and Alber (the Fool) are more conducive to delivering a strike, especially the former. 

As I stated, a blow should begin from one of these positions and end in another, in other words, from one position of strength to another. When practicing, you should see which thrusts and strikes are most conducive, or most powerful from each specific guard position, and how changing one strike to another – say the Zwechau (transverse or cross-strike followed immediately by a Zornhau (the Wrath strike) produces a position that most  naturally lends itself to assuming one of the Four Guards.

I would state two things here. First, you must not consider any Guard a static position, whether it’s a beginning position or coming at the end of an offensive move or moves. The sword should always be in motion, one attack following another, with appropriate defensive moves as the flow of the fight necessitates. You are admonished to press your advantage, to maintain the VOR (the Before) and if forced onto the defensive, the NACHT, (the After) to regain the VOR as soon as possible.  Liechtenaeur also advised that a blow should not start from the left side, so this should inform your choice of positions.

So here, translated directly from the German as accurately as I may, are the Four Guards which Ringeck considered the core of his system, which he warns, in the forward to his work, “Vier leger allain davon halt und fluch die gemain – Ochs, Pflug, Alber, Vom Tag – sy dit nit unmer. Ist das du von kainem leger nicht halten solt den alain von den vieren die hie genant worden sind.”

“Four guards only hold and disdain the common; Ox, Plow, Fool and From Above should not be unknown to you. You will not assume any guard except the four above mentioned; how to do that is explained here.”


“The Fool. Stand with your right foot forward, the sword point toward the ground in front of you with straight arms.”


“The Plough. Stand with your left foot forward and hold your sword with crossed hands below your right side, above your knee, with the point aimed at his face.”


“The Ox. Stand with your left foot forward and hold your sword just below your right side of your head. Let the point be pointed toward your foe’s face.”


“From Above. Stand with your left foot forward and hold your sword on your right side next to your shoulder. Or hold it with arms stretched above your head.”

These are the positions as described by Ringeck in his text. It must be noted that other German masters had variations on these positions – Vom Tag, for instance, is pictured in other Fechbuchs as having the flat of the blade resting against the shoulder with the cross-hilt at upper chest level. The Plow is also pictured as being held with the quillons of the sword parallel to the ground and the thumb coming over the quillon from underneath and being placed against the lower flat of the blade just above the hilt.

Ringeck’s treatise also includes other secondary guard positions such as Nebenhut – the Low or Near Guard. But positions like it and Shrankenhut – the Fence Post, are considered specializes positions and not part of the Veir Leger.

Naturally, this short essay barely touches the subject, but I hope that it gives the basic necessary information and prompts you to your own research,


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Recent and Upcoming Events.

Me and animal actor Damu the wolf from the Windsong Project.

Just a note on recent past and upcoming events involving The Ring of Steel.  We appeared as guest speakers and demonstrators at the 2nd Vancouver WebFest where Joanne and I presented a furious rapier and dagger duel in full costume. I co-sat a Q&A with stunt coordinator Kirk Jacque on fight direction and set safety, and Joanne and her assistants presented a flying demonstration with her beautiful falcons and hawk, then set on a Q&A with other participants about the use of animals on the set.

The WebFest was a great success and we look forward to participating in future festivals.

We will also be appearing as sword and falconry demonstrators and lecturers once again at the Victoria Highland Games on the weekend of May 16 – 18th in Victoria, BC.

Stay tuned for an illustrated article on the four guards of the German school of Longsword!

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And now, on the theatrical side…

Myself as Ritter Hans Kirschner in the soon-to-be completed “HIGHLANDER: DARK PLACES,” smoking a Turk. My role was shot entirely on green screen, which, with the proper compositing and CGI team, saves us from the time and expense of location shooting, a significant concern for lower budget projects.

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In the near future, stay tuned for an article and pictorials of the Vier Leger (four guards) of the classic German school of Longsword, and an interesting piece on the techniques of Grain Sickle fighting – yes, SICKLE FIGHTING – by Mair. (see illustration as a teaser)

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