Tag Archives: swords

Hello! I’m writing a story where some of the characters have had training with weapons such as swords, spears and so on. The problem is, is that I don’t know how long it would take to go from being a novice to an expert. How many months or years would it take?

Traditional, European, knight training would last fourteen years. Starting when the prospective knight turned seven, and lasting until they were twenty-one. They’d spend seven years serving as a page before becoming a squire at fourteen. Obviously, that encompassed a bit more than just training on a sword, but it’s a good starting point. In a modern context, you can probably train to an expert level with a sword in five or six years.

For a spear, I’m inclined to say six months for combat proficiency. From what I know, polearms are a lot easier to train on. To actually become an expert? You’re probably still looking at years of training, but, and I could be wrong, in conventional combat, spears have a much lower skill ceiling than swords. So, I’m inclined to say the extra time and effort would be wasted.




Do you have any tips on writing scenes with swords involved?

If you’ve got a local renaissance fair, your best bet would be to actually find the people using swords and seeing what they’d be willing to teach you. Most of the renfair participants I’ve known, have been more than happy to explain what they know.

There’s that old cliche about writing what you know, but if you can get hands on experience, it’ll go a lot further than anything I can offer you.

Beyond that, I’d recommend spending a little time familiarizing yourself with German school fencing.

The general idea with German School fencing is to maximize the efficiency of blade movement. Most guards are kept across the body, to aid with parrying. Most hews (strikes) focus on very narrow blade arcs.

For an experienced fighter, their blade will feel like a natural extension of the arm. I know it sounds corny, but it’s also true. They’ll know exactly where the blade is at all times. The weight and balance of the weapon will have been completely internalized, to the point where they’re probably not even actively aware of them anymore. If they’ve trained on multiple blades (which is very likely), then they should be able to acclimate to a new sword fairly quickly (which is usually what those test swings you’ll see in fiction are for).

Obviously, there’s a bit more difference if you’re moving from a shortsword to a longsword or from a saber to a claymore, but so long as your character is using a sword that’s similar to the one they’re familiar with, acclimation should be fairly easy.

Also, it’s worth pointing out, German School fencing is specifically intended for European longswords, you can use an arming sword, Viking sword or bastard sword, but it won’t be a perfect fit. Additionally if your character is using something like a scimitar or a greatsword, those all encompass different styles.

Ironically, the original Star Wars trilogy isn’t a bad visual reference for German school fencing. There’s more blade on blade combat then you’d like in a real combat scenario, but a lot of the techniques and stances are there.

Michi would be irked if I didn’t recommend the Errol Flynn films as visual references. Just keep in mind that the actors are fighting very conservatively, because they’d been given live blades, and, for the most part, are trained in Italian School fencing, which evolved to use lighter blades.

If you’re talking about using swords in mass combat, as opposed to dueling, then I’d be tempted to suggest Aragorn and Boromir from the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings films. I’m not as familiar with mass combat forms, but what they’re doing looks close to what I’d expect.

I keep saying this, but look at Robert E. Howard’s Conan. One of the necessary parts of being a writer is finding someone else who went before you and seeing what they did. When it comes to sword combat, and accessibility, Robert E. Howard is probably the best source I can suggest. There’s a fairly cheap three volume paperback set that’s in print, and, because it’s public domain, most of it is available through Project Gutenberg.


I’m trying to write battle scenes for a piece set in a medieval war, and I’m nervous about portraying it accurately. The main character fights with a longsword that’s seen several generations of battle, and while war is in his blood, he’s still a bit unsure of what to think about it. Any advice for how to stage/describe the battles, or where to look for good visual or historical representations?

Okay, this has been sitting in our inbox since the trip; it, and a few other questions got lost under a bunch of questions, sorry about that. We’ll get those out shortly.

The first thing I’d say is; read Robert E. Howard. Conan has a reputation in pop culture as being simpleminded, but Howard’s work is actually excellent. As a bonus, Conan actually uses a longsword most of the time, so it should give you a lot of ideas for your work.

If you can dig the books up, White Wolf’s Exalted setting has some relatively coherent advice on fantasy warfare. It also has a fixation with superheroes, so you’ll need to filter that out, but there’s some serious consideration to how to maintain an empire, and how to engage in warfare.

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but Mount and Blade is a game that’s worth looking at, when you’re trying to get a feel for medieval combat. In your case, I’d recommend Warband.

I’m not completely sure about the viability of actually using the same sword over multiple generations. Most of the surviving blades I’m aware of, either didn’t see much combat, or were buried with their original owner.

Okay, so, random etymology lesson; “in the blood” as a way to talk about heredity dates back to around the thirteenth or fourteenth century. I’m not sure where we ended up with the idea that skills and personality were hereditary, though the modern phrase certainly carries that baggage. This leaves you with a potentially anachronistic situation. The whole idea that you did what your father did because it was somehow passed on to you went by the wayside in Europe someplace during the enlightenment. To a modern reader, the idea that you are destined to do something because it’s what your parents did is a little odd. But, in the timeframe you’re probably talking about, it was perceived as completely reasonable.

Thing is, hereditary careers tend to be perfectly acceptable in post-Tolkien fantasy. I’m not saying all modern fantasy is all crap, just most of it. If you want to go the route of “war is in his blood,” then you’ll be best served by seriously evaluating what that means, and what the implications are, philosophically, before you dig into the story.


If in the near future, guns were not preferable for some reason, what would a sword made with modern technology and practices look like and what would it be capable of?

I’m sorry, if you really want an answer to this, “for some reason” will have to be a lot more specific. The short version is; I don’t see swords coming back into use anytime in the near future.

The only situation I can think of, in a modern setting, where a sword would be preferable, is if you were dealing with things that could take an inhuman amount of damage without being affected, and where lopping body pieces off is the way to go. I’m thinking classic horror monsters, here. Even then, there are shotgun loads, and anti-materiel rounds for that kind of situation.

If you want a crash course in using firearms to hunt the supernatural, I’d recommend Ultraviolet, (the TV Series, not the film), about modern day vampire hunters, who’ve adapted modern technology to deal with vampires. They strap cameras to the ends of their guns, in order to quickly identify vampires (the whole, no reflections thing), load their weapon with pressed carbon fragmentation rounds (to effect the wooden stake through the heart), use gas grenades designed to respond to the chemical weakness in the old garlic folklore. In short, it’s a very inventive (and at six episodes, very short), look at how one can adapt modern technology to hunt monsters.

If you’re thinking of some kind of apocalyptic event, I’d refer you to Eternity Road by Jack McDevitt. It’s a post apocalyptic novel about a group that sets off from St. Louis into Canada in search of a lost archive of pre-plague books. The main thrust of the setting is that the printing press is lost technology, but firearms remain in frequent use.

The problem being; guns are incredibly easy to manufacture, and basic gunsmithing is common enough, and useful enough, that it’s unlikely to be lost.

On top of that, an apocalyptic event like that would snuff out most of the interesting things we’re seeing in modern forging technology.

If it’s a technology marches on, kind of situation, then there isn’t much that could really negate the bullet without making a sword equally useless.

On what we can actually do right now, the only thing that comes to mind is cryoforging; I suspect that’s a trade name. From what I understand it’s just a tempering process involving liquid nitrogen to quench the blade. It supposedly results in an improbably durable weapon that will keep its edge through almost any abuse you can throw at it. I’d take this with a grain of salt; the only material I’ve seen on it was from a company that was selling cryoforged katanas back around 2002.

On the “in the year 2000” side, it depends on what your setting has, nanotechnology might be an option. Pick your poison on what you want a nanotech blade to do. But it’s worth pointing out that in the real world, nanotech research has gotten mired pretty heavily in patent conflicts, and the entire field is at risk of stalling out.

Carbon Fiber Weave swords are another possibility, basically this is a plastic, but it’s fairly durable stuff. I don’t know if the current iteration of the technology can hold an edge in combat, but edgeless training swords have been around for years.

If you really want to play in that range, I’d say dig up all the William Gibson and Neil Stephenson you can stomach. They’re the architects of modern cyberpunk, and really almost required reading if you want to push the envelope of what can be done with technology. For Stephenson, I’d recommend Snow Crash, and Cryptonomicon. With Gibson, I think Neuromancer is the place to start. If I recall correctly, Snow Crash is the only one of those which really talks about a character using a sword. Still, if you haven’t read them yet, and this is the genre you’re looking at writing in, they’re all worth your time.