I just watched a fantastic documentary entitled Reclaiming the Blade. Narrated by John Rhys-Davies of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark fame, it is an excellent journey into the history of western martial arts.
The film covers the choreography of sword fights on stage and screen, sport fencing and sporting events among the Society for Creative Anachronism, comparisons with eastern martial arts, and finally the resurgence, study and practice of western, particularly Renaissance, martial arts based on written materials from that era.
It isn’t a how-to on sword basics, but if you watch closely you will pick up on a great deal of the varied techniques. On the whole it gives the interested viewer a very cool documentary that also happens to explain the history of a weapon that is infrequently used outside of action-filled adventure movies or Shakespearean plays.
Sitting on a powder keg
Swords were high technology in their day, but the western tradition of sword fighting and dueling shriveled into the tameness of modern day sport fencing with the introduction of gunpowder and gun culture. If you have ever been to a gun show at your local fairgrounds you will see the domination of explosive powder based weapons compared to blades. Sure there are always a few stands that feature knives of various kinds, but knife and sword shows tend to be subordinated to the world of rifle and revolver.
One point made very well in the film was that what you generally see in action-adventure films with any amount of swashbuckling is a strange mixture of fencing and kung fu or something similar. Not true to the western tradition in which many of these films are set. However, movies like Gladiator, Troy, Rob Roy, and a few others have been produced with a bent to historically accurate fighting sequences.
On a biblical note, if you have ever read the “armor of God” section of the last part of the book of Ephesians and wondered what a soldier did with all those weapons, this documentary will help fill in your understanding of what it took to successfully wield a sword. “The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (NKJV),” will take on a whole new meaning: the seriousness with which a scholar of the Bible needs to approach and handle the words of that historic book.
As interviewee John Howe, a well-known illustrator, says in the film, “Now, we’ve reached a point [in time] where we’re looking all around trying to find meaning to what’s happening… [so look to history because] …There’s nothing like history. History is all of us over thousands of years.”
Take the opportunity to watch Reclaiming the Blade, a genuinely interesting documentary film that just might become your gateway to history.
– Amanda Stiver