Sword fencing maestro revives old techniques

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A modern martial arts maestro is reviving the traditional art of swordsmanship in the heart of Edinburgh, with students being taught the techniques learned by warriors and duellists from centuries ago.

Professional instructor and sword-maker Paul Macdonald, 41, has been involved with historical fencing for the past two decades. He is training his pupils to use the classic Scottish broadsword, quarterstaff, knives and even the 17th-century rapier.

Swordsmanship instructor Paul Macdonald. Picture Jon Savage

Swordsmanship instructor Paul Macdonald. Picture Jon Savage

Combination weapons, such as the backsword and dagger, or the targe – a traditional Scottish shield – are also used by fighters.

Mr Macdonald said of the extreme sport: “There has been a resurgence in it. The usual idea that folk think of when martial arts is mentioned is eastern martial arts, but we had our own traditions in unarmed work, knife-fighting and various types of swordsmanship for the past 600 years at least. We do train in the same methods and techniques that worked historically.”

The Scottish broadsword was the main frontline weapon used by Scots through the 17th and 18th centuries and is at the core of teachings at the Macdonald Academy of Arms based on Lochend Close, just off the Royal Mile.

The academy has about a dozen students. Pupils have to train for at least six months using wooden practice swords before they are able to graduate to “free fencing”, where they wield real steel blades.

Mr Macdonald said: “The first element of safety is in control. Every student to become a free fencer must pass an examination to demonstrate they can safely control the weapon at full speed. It’s no good if you’re actually breaking each other.”

Competitors do not score points during free fencing but must perform effective techniques such as cuts or thrusts without receiving any blows themselves in combat.

“It certainly doesn’t look like a Hollywood fight,” Mr Macdonald said. “Martial swordsmanship is quite measured, but the actions are quite fast.”

A free demonstration of swordsmanship skills is being run at the academy on October 28 from 8.30pm.

Blade in scotland

THE Scottish broadsword first appeared in formal record in Scotland in 1643. Basket-hilted swords were in common use across the country by midway through the century. Instructor Paul Macdonald said: “The most common myth is the swords were great big, heavy things. Any good sword made for practical use is light and fast and well balanced.”