HNS Conference: Sword fighting 101

I’m here in Denver attending the Historical Novelist Society Conference, and today we learned about sword fighting from historical author and actor, David Blixt. Such a bold statement. It takes more than an afternoon to transform a group of historical novelists into sword fighters, but we did get a flavour for it thanks to David’s workshop, and here are some things I learned.

  1. Historical writers are blood thirsty people. When shown a hundred ways to kill, maim, and disembowel, did we toss up our excellent lunch? Heck no! After the “Oooh’s” and “Ahh’s” we demanded more details, such as how much pressure do you need to apply to the dagger to puncture the base of the skull? Handy to know for assignation scenes.
  2. Hand a sword to a historical writer and they have a mad desire to launch an attack on the workshop next door. We can take those story structure people…who’s with me?
  3. There’s a reason why fencing masters were also called dancing masters–the footwork needed to attack and retreat are very similar to dancing. In fact, the blocking/parrying positions (5a is my favourite) remind me of ballet, except instead of arms and legs pointed a certain way, you have arm and blade. An interesting fact: the style of dance would have matched the type of sword fighting of that era. Dance could be considered a form of training. Ladies, you may want to mention this to your reluctant dance partners, and you could point out, with great confidence, that Beowulf was a fine dancer.
  4. Don’t punch your opponent’s face with your fist if you can help it. Too many bones can break. Instead, whack him with your forearm. Much better. Note to self: go back and fix this in my scene.
  5. I’m convinced that one reason we write historical fiction is to play with swords. At the end of the session, it was really, really hard to give the rapier back.

This was the pre-conference workshop and a brilliant start to the weekend. En garde!


Stay tuned for more news on the HNS conference.


  1. Hi Cryssa …. Different people use different notation, but by ‘5a’ do you mean the sloping sword parry over the head ?? ….. Little known fact about me …… I spent the best part of 25 years earning my living by performing ancient armed combats of one sort or another …. everything from Gladiatorial combat to Elizabethan Rapier and Dagger via Sword and Shield and Quaterstaff etc, etc. ….. it is adrenaline rushing stuff isn’t it , even when you know what your opponent is going to do next !! x πŸ™‚


    1. Yes, that’s what they taught us as 5a. That’s awesome Moonie! I completely understand the rush!


  2. Never “punture” the back of the skull. It is a hard rounded surface. It is more likely that the blade will skitteroff to one side. Assasination would drive up from just behind and below the ear. And not The base of the skull, the spine is in the way.
    Not that I know. A friend told me. πŸ˜‰
    Sounds like a great class!


    1. There’s a soft spot at the back which is vulnerable with a sharp, thin dagger. I’ll show you at the next breakfast, Dale. LOL.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh… we were supposed to give our broadswords back? πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 2 people

    1. He/She who grips the sword may make their own rules…


  4. I was in the story structure class in the afternoon. It was great, but I wish I had gone to the morning sword flighting class!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was in the story structure class in the morning. It was very good but like you, I wish I had also taken the broadsword class as well as the afternoon session. David and Brandon did bit of Macbeth! Thanks for your comment!


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