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Author Topic: Fact-checking fight-books: comparing historic injury patterns to strikes...  (Read 8447 times)

Thorsteinn

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Sir Brian

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Great read and excellent find! I finally found in the very last paragraph of the article the very vindication for my long held belief that the legs are not a valid or prudent target for the longsword.  ;)

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Moreover, the users of the longsword found their lower limbs to be largely immune from attack. This prevalence for head and upper limb injury in this population confirms the method of the longsword technique as found in the historical manuals and the skeletal record.
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Sir Edward

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Great find! It'll go up on the Order's FB page today.

Yeah, I think the leg shots with longsword are very risky, since it leaves you significantly open while executing it. That's one of the things I hate about those one-handed shin-shots in competitions. It's too big of a risk, for something that's not likely to be a fight-ender in the real art. But when contact earns you a point, and you know you're not going to die, it becomes a common technique in that environment.

Usually when I try something like that, I'm still aiming for the torso. Admittedly I sometimes drop the angle by accident (and less frequently, intentionally). :)
« Last Edit: 2014-06-13, 13:46:30 by Sir Edward »
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Thorsteinn

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On the AA one guy commented that at Visby there were more upper & lower leg hits than elsewhere. I did hear a good reasoning on that: If you are using a shield, then you can open up the upper & lower legs of your opponent. If your opponent is using a shield, and isn't that good (as the vic's in Wisby were), and you have a daneaxe/etc then the lower legs also open up and striking there would be a fight ender.

IIRC the Romans taught to strike for the lower legs as well, for as we know in the SCA a leg wound may not end a fight in a duel but it would in a war.
« Last Edit: 2014-06-13, 16:48:49 by Thorsteinn »
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Sir Edward

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Oh yes, there are many ways to end a fight with a leg strike. What I was mainly referring to are the quick one-handed shots with little travel to the weapon, that we see in HEMA competitions. Those are mostly an artifact of the rules.

Longsword is sort of the odd one out when it comes to legs, since it is both the weapon and shield at the same time, and aiming low effectively reduces your reach.
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Ian

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Well this is a bit of apples and oranges.  Fightbooks are generally depicting fighting in a controlled environment, most often the setting of a Judicial Duel correct?  So the techniques in fightbooks, and those recreated in HEMA are intended for single combats between two dudes with the same weapon in a judicial duel or deed of arms etc... In that setting of longsword v longsword blossfechten it follows that the legs are probably a bad target.

Wound patterns at Visby and other battles are the result of massed troops fighting at war.  The techniques found in a fechtbuch apply little here.  Obviously fighting principles are the same, but on the battlefield we're not seeing the results of single combats between two unarmored opponents.  We're seeing the result of lines of men-at-arms fighting with various weapons, wearing different levels of protection, and in a massive melee.  There the leg is a great target.  It instantly takes a man out of a fight.  If that wasn't so, people wouldn't have bothered with leg harnesses.
« Last Edit: 2014-06-13, 18:02:25 by Ian »
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Sir Edward

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Yes, several of the manuscripts are targeting judicial duels, but I think others are written in the mindset of general "art of defense" techniques. But it's true that most of the time they are written toward matching weapons, which is still indicative of duel-like scenarios.
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Sir James A

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I may be following something completely goofy, but I recall reading about how the US designed the AR15/5.56 rounds to be primarily for disabling, whereas the global AK47/7.62 rounds were designed to be fatal. Idea being that if you wound one enemy, you can effectively remove two or more as the uninjured will try to tend to the injured; whereas killing someone outright only removes one. The AR15/5.56 is weak enough it's illegal for hunting deer in Virginia, so it seems possible.

No idea if that's a true story (or how to validate it), but if so, I wonder if Wisby was similar; thin the ranks faster by trying to injure people without being outright fatal?

Or possibly that leg armor was less prevalent and just an easier target, when you're talking about partially armored opponents a "lower value" but unarmored target is probably better than a "faster kill/value" target with armor?
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Ian

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From Rolan Warzecha's facebook post a few minutes ago, he much better explained what I was alluding to yesterday.  It seemed very forced to relate HEMA and fightbook techniques to battle, and I wasn't alone in thinking that.  Roland goes on to question the entire basis of the cross-section of skeletal samples as well, all good points.

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Here is an interesting article that Niels Kristian Egense Møller kindly pointed me to: <http://www.tameshigiri.ca/2014/06/12/fact-checking-fight-books-comparing-historic-injury-patterns-to-strikes-in-modern-european-sword-arts/>. It is about charted weapon trauma on skeletal remains from medieval battle victims being compared to statistics on targeted areas in modern sparring with simulators of medieval weapons. The academic, a certain Matzke, was hoping to find out if modern reconstruction of medieval combat based on surviving fighting treatises could be considered accurate in this regard.

Now while I very much appreciate any research in this field, I am afraid to say that such a venture is unlikely to yield useful results.

First of, the surviving fighting treatises are about single combat exclusively. We know close to nothing about battle tactics and techniques being used. But because all arms, armour, technique and combat tactics can only be fully understood in its particular context, it is not a valid approach to compare battles and single combat in the first place. Duels, for example, had rules and there were people controlling the fight. An even match was particularly important and according precautions were taken. Combatants also had a lot of time at their disposal, they were fighting on even ground and they knew that no outsider would interfere with their fight. This is a totally different context than a battle.
Matzke wanted to focus on professional warriors. But how does he know that the charted battle victims were indeed well-trained men-at- arms? At the battle of Wisby in 1361, the bulk of victims were townsmen, often in out-dated armour, slain by professional Danish knights and soldiers. In terms of technical skill and quality of equipment, most engagements at Wisby were uneven, which makes for a stark contrast to combat in fechtbuch context, which exclusively describes fights between evenly equipped (and trained) opponents.

Furthermore, there is no consensus on modern reconstructed combat (particularly when we look at sword and shield). Interpretations vary and so do training methods and sparring rules. So depending on which groups participate in the survey, you would get different results. So any such results would only be applicable to the groups taking part. And even if these groups were indeed training authentic technique, they certainly do not train to the same extent as professionals in the medieval period, who, according to the Norwegian King's Mirror of c. 1250, were advised to practice twice a day with proven veterans. So in all likelihood modern skill levels are considerably lower than historical ones. If modern practitioners fail to regularly pull of reconstructed technique in combat simulation, this might mean that the reconstruction is faulty. But it could just as well mean that the simulation is inappropriate to validate a particular technique and/ or that the skill level is too low. With these variables, Mr. Matzke's approach to verifying HEMA reconstruction simply does not make sense to me.

And how useful are charts of skeletal trauma in this regard anyway?

They say exactly nothing about slit necks, pierced organs, cut bellies or any other injuries of tissue and blood vessels that did not affect bone. The results of many fatal thrusts to face and neck, one of the most important attacks in historical swordsmanship, would go unnoticed when looking at skeletal remains. And even those finds that show damage to skulls and bones say nothing about how recorded wounds were inflicted. So if you look at a skull with its jaws being split vertically, what can you say about the circumstances of the injury? Which weapon caused it? A sword? An axe? A hand weapon? A pole arm? Was it a rising or a descending blow? Was the victim fighting? Was he on his knees? Already on the ground? Or was he in the saddle on top a horse? And was his opponent mounted, too? Or was he being attacked by multiple opponents from the ground? Or was he rather an infantry man, struck down by a horseman? And did this happen in regular formation or was it when people were fleeing in panic?

I am inclined to say that there are way too many variables and too little useful data to ask as specific a question as Mr Matzke did, although I would truly like to know the answer, too. So while I find the statistics interesting, this approach simply cannot provide any authoritative result, I am afraid to say.
« Last Edit: 2014-06-14, 13:55:36 by Ian »
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Sir Edward

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Awesome, thanks for reposting that. He makes excellent points, all around.
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Sir James A

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The flesh-based wounds is a *fantastic* point that I hadn't even thought about!
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Ian

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Roland's second to last paragraph is a little off though.  Modern forensics, even on 14th century skeletons can most definitely tell if a wound was consistent with a sword, or axe, or mace etc.  You can also tell by skeletal damage if the victim was most likely standing, sitting etc.. and other information about the positional relationship between him and his attacker.  He's selling forensics a little bit short.  But that doesn't really take away from his overall point.
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Sir Brian

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I watched this National Geographic episode of their Warrior Graveyard series a couple of months ago. It really breaks down how several of the skeletons were killed in the battle of Jacob's ford castle in Israel using forensic anthropology.


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Aha! I mentioned that show to Sir Nathan when going to / coming back from VARF. And maybe Chris too. But I know I mentioned the show and couldn't remember the name of the battle. I thought it was interesting.
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