Disclaimer: Methos, Duncan MacLeod and the U of S don't belong to me, they belong to DPP. No harm, no foul, no money made on my part. The original sword dance was written by Brian Jacques in his book 'Luke the Warrior' – if you're not acquainted with the Redwall series, what are you doing reading this, go read it! - and has been borrowed and modified without permission. Again, no harm, no foul, no money made. Done for love and entertainment.
Comments: Inspired by a trip taken to the Royal Armouries in Leeds (UK) with Athena. This was a very bad thing - two Highlander fans let loose in a place where there are swords to be found in large numbers... Seeing how two handed broadswords could be used - something that wasn't really explored in HL on screen - was certainly eye opening.
Comments 2: Thank you to Ekat for reading this as it developed and providing me with several very helpful comments when I was writing the actual sword routine. Thank you also to Athena for suggesting the trip to the Royal Armouries - it was a truly wonderful day, well spent.
Timing: For cannon junkies, and those who like to know these things, this is set roughly between Chivalry and Timeless.
The Sword Dance
Methos glared at MacLeod.
"Read my lips. N. O."
MacLeod pouted. "Awe c'mon, Methos. These kids will really benefit from seeing it - most of them have no idea a sword can be used like this."
Methos rolled his eyes. "So do it yourself - it's not difficult. I know you can do it, and before you say 'but I use a Katana, it wouldn't be right,' I know you've trained with two handed swords."
MacLeod groaned. "But not half as much as you have. For most of my life, the Rapier has been the 'fashionable' sword..."
"And?" Methos cut in. "So use a Rapier."
"But it wouldn't be authentic. Besides, you said yourself, you've been training for centuries using just this kata."
"It's not a kata."
"Then what is it?"
"It's..." Methos shrugged. "OK, kata would cover it. But it's European. Not Oriental."
"I know. And that's half the reason it's perfect for my class. Show them that the Europeans had martial arts as well as the Chinese, the Japanese, the Koreans...whoever."
Methos growled in exasperation. "For the last time. No."
MacLeod sighed. This was not going as he expected. "Please, Methos. You'd be doing me a huge favour." Methos raised an eyebrow. "And you are staying here at the moment."
"I can move out."
"Can you?" MacLeod watched as Methos thought about the question. "I know you don't have an apartment arranged here yet, so where would you be going? A hotel - that Adam Pierson can afford?" The ancient Immortal shuddered. "Which won't stock a decent brand of beer and certainly won't have a minibar in the room."
"OK, so I can't move out. I'm still not..."
MacLeod grinned in predatory fashion. "You will if you want to keep staying here until you've got an apartment."
Methos flashed MacLeod a very dark look. "This is black mail."
Methos sighed in defeat. "OK. I'll do it. Now what exactly did you have in mind?"
MacLeod settled back in his seat, savouring his victory. "The class I'm teaching is Arms and Armour History, with particular emphasis on European arms and armour." Methos nodded. "So far, I've talked about the different types of armour and I've had one practical session where we got one of the students into a full suit of armour."
"I'm glad you've not managed to con me into that one," Methos muttered. "I hated that stuff."
MacLeod grinned. "But you wore it."
"Of course I wore it. I got mixed up in one of the crusades and mixed up with the Knights Templar." Methos grimaced. "Don't ask."
MacLeod decided to not push his luck. "Anyway. Having covered the armour section, I've moved onto the weapons and I've done a lecture on the different types of sword favoured by the knights. I took in examples of them, but I could see in the eyes of my students that they didn't believe me when I said how well balanced and manoeuvrable a two handed broadsword could be. So I've been looking into getting some form of demonstration, but there isn't anyone in the Seacouver area with enough experience to stage a mock fight with me, and besides which..."
"That won't really prove a thing," Methos finished wryly.
"I hate it when you're right."
MacLeod smiled. Methos grimaced. "My idea was to get you to come in on a couple of occasions..."
"Two?! No way, uh-uh, not a chance."
"On two occasions - tomorrow and Friday - and do or help me do two demonstrations. Firstly that kata, and then secondly, the basics of Rapier work."
"Get a student."
MacLeod's eyes narrowed. "Not likely. Besides which, U of S wouldn't insure me for that. I may be a trained swordsman - they're not."
"I forgot universities these days take rather a dim view of skewering one's students." Methos sighed theatrically. "Pity. I suppose I'd better help you out on that one too, then. Although that one will cost you several beers at Joe's - I haven't used a Rapier since..."
"Don't tell me, let me guess," MacLeod chimed in, "you inspired Shakespeare to write Romeo and Juliet."
"No need to get cute, MacLeod."
Methos finished arranging his props for the kata demonstration just as MacLeod led his class into the auditorium.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce Mr Adam Pierson," MacLeod began as the class sat down in the first couple of rows of seating. "Mr Pierson is, amongst other things, a member of the SCA, and as much of an expert on various different styles of European sword work as you are going to find in the twentieth century." Methos smiled, more than slightly amused by MacLeod's introduction. "He is going to be with us today and again on Friday to perform a couple of demonstrations. Today's is going to be about the two handed European broadsword. Mr Pierson?"
Methos nodded as MacLeod took his own seat. "Good morning - can you hear me all right?" There was a general clatter as people indicated they could. "OK. The European broadsword was a vicious weapon, particularly preferred by the British. Now, the British, as a rule, tend to be an unruly bunch, so it stands to reason that their favoured weapon would be able to do a lot of damage."
Methos turned to the table beside him and picked up one of the two swords resting on it. Holding it upright, he turned back to the class.
"This is a two handed broadsword, and with it, one could not only hack, slash and stab with it," Methos punctuated his words with the appropriate action, "but you could also quite literally brain someone with it." He mimed bringing the hilt down onto someone's head. "As you can see, it's not a subtle weapon." The class laughed as Methos grinned. "But despite its size and length, this was one of the most well balanced swords of its time.
"This particular blade is a 'safe' blade - the edges are deliberately dulled for display purposes, but even so, you could still comfortably kill someone with it." He replaced it on the table. "The major advantage of using a sword as big as a two handed broadsword is that once you start a swing, it gains momentum as gravity acts. The real skill in using such a sword is being able to control that momentum, and that is where this demonstration comes in.
"It was not only customary but required to practice with this weapon, and much of that took place in formal war games or tournaments where mock battles could be and were staged. However, many people liked to be able to hone their skills away from competition, so like any other martial art, practice routines were created and then passed on. The then sword masters wrote down some of these, in the late fourteenth century, and it is from these written records that the following kata - to borrow the Japanese word - is taken.
"This particular routine was considered, by the master who noted it, extremely flashy and difficult, so more than likely it was developed for use in some form of tournament. That said, there are also records of it being used as a real test of a swordsman's skills, right up until the beginning of this century. The clue that it was originally designed for a broadsword and specifically the two handed British broadsword is that it was first written down in 1437.
"Before I show you the weapon, let me explain the set up," Methos continued, moving to one side of the stage so that his audience could clearly see the three stools he had set up. "These three stools indicate the position that three men would have assumed. In a tournament, these might have been freemen, or they might have been condemned men or slaves - the records don't show - but for practice purposes, then stools would have substituted. On the first two are apples, while on top of the third is a mushroom. The objectives are as follows: The first apple, cut the stalk from the apple without harming the fruit. Second apple, to be cut in half without damaging the stool. Mushroom, to be quartered, again without damaging the stool. There were also said to be other challenges from time to time, using things that a fourteenth and fifteenth century swordsman might have to hand, but these were the three most common.
"Now," Methos turned to the table and picked up the other sword, "this sword is a fully edged weapon. It will do horrible things to wood, never mind what it would do to flesh and blood. So, if I can have three volunteers, I'd like you to verify what shape these stools are in now." Methos glanced at MacLeod.
MacLeod nodded. "Three people?" A few hands raised. "OK, Sandy, Michael and Phil." The three people named went up onto the stage.
"Sandy, Michael, Phil - you three are going to be my judges and you're going to tell your classmates how well - or not - I do." Methos grinned. "I want you three to inspect the three stools, the apples and the mushroom to make sure that I haven't cheated in any way."
While the three students did as they were asked, Methos pulled off his sweatshirt, removed his boots and socks and started to do some warm up stretches.
"What's the verdict on the stools?" MacLeod asked.
"They look OK," Sandy answered.
"Good." Methos finished his warm up and came to stand behind the three stools. "If you three can sit back down - when I've finished, you'll come back and see how I've done." All three nodded returned to their seats. Methos carefully measured how far away from the stools he was with the sword blade, then took a large pace back. Gripping the sword in front of him with the blade pointed down, Methos looked out at his audience. "With the scene set, this is the Sword Dance."
An expectant hush fell on the auditorium as Methos slowly centred himself ready to perform the kata.
Bowing to the audience, he flipped the sword from salute to ready and started the first section of the practice. The first stage was the piece that had given the routine its name of 'dance'. All practice katas had a dance-like quality to them, but this one was more so somehow. He drew the sword left, letting his body weight follow. Punch forward hilt first, rotate, draw back, right foot step forward, lunge point first, each move flowing naturally into the next with the deliberate rhythm of a pavane.
Left foot across, withdraw, pivot, right foot across, slash down to the right, slice up to the left. One, two, three, four - move in time to the count. Draw the sword to the right, body weight follow, punch forward hilt first, rotate, draw back, left foot step forward, lunge point first. One, two, three, four - the rhythm was soothing, allowing his muscles to ease into the heavy sword work before the three trials. Right foot across, withdraw, pivot, left foot across, slash down to the left, slice up to the right.
Holding the last position for a moment, he prepared for the next stage – the trials. Then, with a primal yell, he started the second section.
He stepped forward on his right foot and brought the sword down in a glittering arc, nicking the apple stalk as it came through. Before the stalk could hit the floor, he stepped with his left foot and brought the sword over in a brutal over head cut, slicing through the second apple, before withdrawing and taking a step back.
One trial left now.
He stepped forward and across with his left leg, stabbing forward then slashing up to the left before bringing the sword over for two lightning fast downward blows, quartering the mushroom. As he withdrew from the last downward cut, he stepped back again and returned the sword to the ready position. He held that for a second, then reversed the blade and bowed in salute.
Methos held the salute for a couple of seconds, then relaxed and looked up at the audience who broke into a round of applause.
Smiling, Methos turned to the table and picked up a polishing cloth to clean off the blade. As he wiped it down, and the applause died away, he said, "Where are my three judges?"
The three students who had inspected the set up returned to the stage and started to examine the stools and their contents.
"What's the verdict?" MacLeod asked.
"There's not a mark on any of the stools," announced Phil in awed tones.
"The apple isn't quite halved," admitted Sandy, "but it's pretty close."
"The other apple's intact," said Michael, "and missing its stalk – although I can't find that."
"What about the mushroom?" MacLeod asked.
"Perfect quarters," said Phil.
"Overall verdict - out of ten?" Methos asked, having finished cleaning his sword.
The three students looked at each other. "Ten," they answered in unison. This prompted another round of applause. Methos smiled again.
The three students returned to their seats, while Methos came to the front of the stage. "Does anyone have any questions?" A few hands raised.
"Jamie?" prompted MacLeod, selecting one of the raised hands.
"How often would something like that be done?" Jamie asked.
"Good question," said Methos. "It would depend. Partly on the individual, and partly on circumstances. Practice in general would be a daily thing for many people, but a practice routine as complex as the Sword Dance would be performed only in the run up to a tournament, or to prove a point. There are records that show certain groups - many of them connected to the German university of Heidelberg - used this particular kata, or one very similar, as a test to show how good a swordsman a new inductee was right up until the turn of the century."
"Aaron?" MacLeod picked another question.
"What other practices would there be?"
Methos smiled. "Basic drills, mock battles, sparring - much as you have today in the modern sport of fencing. Except that in the 1400s and 1500s the drills were nowhere near as stylised as they have become now."
MacLeod looked around the room. "Tina?"
"How easy is it to use a broadsword?"
Methos' smile turned into a grin. "Like I said at the start, it's such a heavy weapon you don't need to know any more skills than how to use it as a club and you can use it as a weapon. So from that angle, every single person in this room now knows how to use a two handed broadsword. However, to use it as a sword rather than a club, that takes a little longer. Probably between six months and a year, realistically, for you to learn all the basics and have them down. After that, it's a matter of practice. Any more questions?" No further hands were raised. Methos glanced at MacLeod.
"In that case," MacLeod said, "that's the end of class for today. Thank you to Mr Pierson for coming along today. Remember, Friday's class will be in here also - so come straight here." With the class dismissed, the students slowly started filing out of the auditorium.
Methos turned back to the table and started to pack away the two swords.
"That was awesome!" exclaimed one of the departing students.
"Mr MacLeod said it was possible," reminded another. "But I didn't believe it."
Methos smirked. Job done. As he turned to clear away the remains of the three trials, he was aware of MacLeod approaching.
"There - that wasn't so bad," MacLeod began in a condescending tone of voice.
"MacLeod, there is still plenty of time for me to take your head before Friday morning."
"Awe c'mon - you enjoyed it."
Methos rounded on MacLeod. "Yes, it was enjoyable to do that routine in front of a proper audience again. Sue me." MacLeod chuckled. "I can assure you though," Methos continued, smiling, "it didn't beat the feeling of performing it for Guinevere."
Then, before MacLeod could say anything more, Methos picked up his belongings and headed for the door.