I just watched a fascinating documentary on the rediscovery of the European ‘martial art’ of sword fighting. It was called Reclaiming the Blade, and started out talking about sword fighting movies (Lord of the Rings was highlighted in particular), but once you stripped away the honor and righteous talk, had a really good argument that sword fighting prior to the invention of gunpowder was just as legitimately a martial art as karate. In Europe, there are now European sword fighting academies which teach medieval sword fighting like my children learn karate. How cool is that?
Two of my children are black belts in karate (and a third has his brown belt and is working toward his black belt). My eldest son, in particular, helps me choreograph many of the fights that I write into my books. He has always suggested (perhaps instinctively due to his training) that my characters employ the whole of the sword (hilt, crossguard, and blade), wrestling techniques, and moves which are more akin to karate than you might find in movie depictions of sword fighting. Interestingly, this documentary suggests that he is correct—that these techniques were actually common practice in the Middle Ages.
Our view of sword fighting has been colored by fencing, which has rules, or by movies whose sole purpose is to put on a good show, but not to kill an opponent. In battle, there were no rules. A man in battle was likely to use his sword as a bludgeon, swing his sword like a baseball bat with two hands on the blade and smash his opponent in the face with the hilt, or hold it with two hands, one on the hilt and one on the blade of his sword (with his gauntleted left hand) and thrust it into his opponent’s midsection like a pike. A fight was likely to last less than a minute, and as Viggo Mortensen pointed out, a man wouldn’t pull his sword from its sheath unless he intended to use it, and kill with it as quickly as possible.
And when a man did draw his sword from its sheath, the sword did not make that distinctive scraping noise that you hear movies. Metal on leather is silent.