What to read to begin studying longsword

Keith Farrell and Colin Farrell
Keith and his brother Colin fencing with longswords during a demonstration at Glasgow University. Photo by Rene Bauer, 2012.

New people are always coming into HEMA, and many want to begin studying longsword. A common question is what sources or books to read? What online resources are there? How to get started?

This would be the five resources I would recommend to new people who want to begin studying longsword.

Wiktenauer Liechtenauer Compendium

The first resource I would recommend would be the Wiktenauer. It is like Wikipedia for HEMA, except better. It is truly stunning just how much information is available on the Wiktenauer, and how much effort has been put into it by members of the community.

However, there is so much information available there that it can be overwhelming for a beginner. After all, which of the sources do you start reading first? Which work well together? Which sources are peculiar and are more hassle than they are worth for a beginner?

Luckily, Michael Chidester put together the Wiktenauer compendium for Liechtenauer glosses, including images and translations from the Hs.3227a (aka the Codex Dobringer), from Ringeck’s gloss, and from the pseudo-von-Danzig gloss. This is available as a PDF download, free of charge, and it puts three reasonably cohesive sources in close proximity to each other in a very usable format.

Sword Carolina YouTube Channel

To accompany the Wiktenauer compendium, look at the Youtube channel by Sword Carolina. They have put an interpretation of the entire Hs.3227a gloss online, so this will help you to visualise what the Wiktenauer compendium is talking about.

Everyone has different interpretations, and I’m pretty sure the Sword Carolina guys themselves have changed their ideas since they made and uploaded these videos, but it is a very good starting point to begin to see how things link together.

Blood and Iron YouTube Channel

Another YouTube channel that I would recommend highly is the Blood and Iron channel. This is a rather relaxed and light hearted channel that is chock full of valuable information about basic mechanics and the rationale behind why we do things in the community. Their videos about test cutting and general striking mechanics are worth their weight in gold.

AHA German Longsword Study Guide

I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to suggest the AHA German Longsword Study Guide that I wrote with Alex Bourdas. It is not an interpretation; it’s purpose is to show where we get our information from the sources about different techniques, guards, and concepts. It may come as a shock at first when you find that this source describes the Krumphaw this way, and that source describes it that way, and that other sources describes it completely differently… The AHA German Longsword Study Guide will help you navigate these situation and will help you make find in the sources what you learn in class.

The Art of Combat (trans. Jeffrey Forgeng)

The final resource I would recommend is the book The Art of Combat, translated by Jeffrey Forgeng. It is a translation of Joachim Meyer’s treatise from 1570, which is quite different from the glosses in the Wiktenauer compendium. It will help to flesh out your understanding of the theory of fencing, and it is well worth reading if only for the theory in between the examples of sequences. It may be quite heavy going at times, but it will round out your learning as a beginner and should be quite helpful with its explanations.

Keith Farrell

Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers.

I have authored Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick and the award-winning AHA German Longsword Study Guide, and maintain a blog at www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.