May the Sword be with You


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.

Unexpected swords

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

Putting Up with Food: Canning

I remember jars of preserves on my grandma’s shelves. When I was little and my family would go on our annual cross-country visit to my grandparent’s home in Oregon, I always looked forward to a yummy dish of canned cherries or plums.

Not the kind from the grocery store that swims in high fructose corn syrup. Nope, the good old-fashioned home-canned variety in its own juices, some additional water and a bit of sugar. Best of all in a glass jar instead of a metal can sprayed with plastic.

In a dark, back corner of the house was the pantry in which the jars were stored. By the time I was a youngster grandma was putting up less home canned goods because the stores were filled with affordable options. However, in past years she and many like her put in a great deal of work each year to grow and put up produce.

Great pride was taken in one’s beans, tomatoes, peaches, berries, pickles, and mincemeat, etc. One scene in the movie State Fair typifies this domestic skill and pride. The main character and her mother, Mrs. Frake, are watching a contest at the state fair in which mother’s pickles and mincemeat are up for prizes. As the contestants anxiously wait, more than a few smug looks are shared by the previous year’s winner, until she finds out she lost to Mrs. Frake.

Producing the most delicious home canned goods from one’s own garden was a big deal. Much more of America farmed and lived off the land at that time. People were tied into the earth and very proud of what they could produce. Proud they were of the self-sufficiency of which they were capable.

The next time you reach for a can of peas think about the task of putting food up. Think about what kind of work went into growing, harvesting, cooking and canning those peas so you could buy them at the store. Now, imagine doing all that work yourself! That’s history!

– Amanda Stiver