I have been looking forward to the publication of Cutting with the Medieval Sword by Michael Edelson, and now that it is finally in print, I bought a copy immediately. It arrived a few days later and I immersed myself in it over the course of an evening.
In summary: this is a fantastic book, and you should have a copy of it in your bookcase. If I were to list everything I like about the book, my list would have more bullet points than the book has pages. There is nothing to dislike about it.
This review: motivation and transparency
I bought this book for my own interest and development, and wanted to offer a good review for what I thought is a very important book that belongs on the shelf of every serious longsword student.
(Edit: this “motivation” section was added on the 9th of March 2019, as part of an effort to improve the transparency of the various reviews on this website.)
The book is intended for anyone who practices with medieval European swords, whether at a beginner, intermediate, or advanced level. The author notes that the same principles and mechanics apply to the use of other swords as well, including single-handed swords, swords from a later period, and non-European swords; the book has a reasonably specific focus, but it worthwhile and applicable to a huge audience of people outwith the study of medieval European swords.
There is a huge amount of information about the fundamentals of using a sword to achieve its intended effect. It is not enough just to pick up a sword and swing it around; not only will this be unlikely to have any meaningful effect to your target, it may damage your sword and may even cause injury to yourself if your mechanics are not correct. The information regarding fundamentals makes the book accessible both to beginners and to more experienced individuals who need some supplementary material to improve their performance.
It has 162 pages, nearly A4 is size, making it long enough to contain all the necessary information for people to understand the subject, yet without being an interminably long effort to read the whole thing. The text is concise without any filler or rambling – it stays on topic, and every page contains something valuable.
The production is excellent. The book is visually appealing, with colour printing throughout, and many photographs and instructional images. The layout is pleasing to the eye and the text is eminently readable. The tone of the text is matter of fact, yet quite amiable, and it is not remotely difficult to read. It has clearly been edited extensively to produce the final polished version.
The book begins with a solid introduction to set the book and its contents into the appropriate context, and then there are three “modules”: theory, practice, and calibration. Each module builds on the information presented previously, and the journey from front cover to final page is seamless, as the author guides the reader step by step, offering copious explanations, diagrams, reminders where appropriate, and references to other useful works.
The theory module introduces the body mechanics and the reasons why these are important.
The practice module builds on this, an describes several drills and exercises that you can use to integrate these body mechanics into your practice.
The calibration module describes how to sharpen and care for your sword, how to select, prepare and store a medium for “test cutting”, and describes several exercises that you can practise on your medium in order to improve your body mechanics and your fencing skills even further.
Needless to say, when most people think of “cutting” with a medieval sword, the mind jumps immediately to “test cutting” with a sharp sword against rolled tatami or plastic bottles filled with water. However, this is not what the book is about, and the author takes pains to reinforce the message that “test cutting” is just part of the training process, and is not the ultimate expression of art. He also suggests that practitioners should strive to perform solo drilling, paired drilling, sparring, and test cutting without any variation or deviation in performance; by utilising the same body mechanics in each type of exercise, a practitioner will become a significantly better fencer, without suffering from any artefacts or issues in performance. This is something that I agree with completely, and have been telling my own students and readers for years!
No matter what your strategy for reading this book, whether you read it cover to cover, or drop in and read just a section in isolation, or even just a random page every day, you will benefit from the information it contains. There are no issues or criticisms that I can raise with the book, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.
Since I don’t really have anything else to say about it, without repeating myself and praising it yet further, you should now go and buy your copy.
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 teach regularly at Liverpool HEMA, and help behind the scenes with running HEMA in Glasgow at the Vanguard Centre.