Sword Fighting Classes and All You Need to Know About Them
Sword fighting classes are surging in popularity, likely due to the fancy swordplay seen in The Witcher, Game of Thrones, Vikings, and other swashbuckling television dramas. Today, sword-fighting schools can be found around the world with various traditions using different swords and other training weapons as a substitute for real swords.
In this article, we’ve rounded up the most popular sword-fighting schools in the U.S., including ones that offer online options.
What Are Sword Fighting Classes?
Sword fighting classes teach you the art of dueling with a sword. Once dominated by the highly-educated noble elites, the art of sword fighting was both a status symbol and a practical skill. Today, sword fighting is accessible to anyone interested in learning it. There are several disciplines that you can choose, ranging from Eastern to Western sword fighting arts and even one that’s based on the Star Wars franchise.
Historical European Martial Arts
The Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) is a sword fighting style based on fighting manuals from the Late Middle Ages, Renaissance, and early modern period. HEMA practitioners study the use of historical swords such as the longsword, sword-and-buckler, British military sabres, rapier, and others.
HEMA is especially popular among fans of history, fantasy tabletop roleplaying games, and fantasy in general. HEMA is a historical martial art and shouldn’t be confused with Live Action Role Play (LARP) which is an interactive role-playing game where people act as if they’re real knights and wizards.
Modern Olympic fencing is a sport that developed from the smallsword and military saber traditions. Olympic fencers use three types of fencing swords: foil, épée, and saber. However, the modern sport is focused on scoring points and does not replicate real sword fights.
In France, the French Fencing Federation has recognized lightsaber dueling as an official sport, allowing combatants to channel their inner Jedi. Lightsaber fencing is an adapted fencing style that uses battle-ready lightsaber replicas from the Star Wars series. Sabre fighting organizations such as The Saber Legion organize lightsaber matches that borrow heavily from conventional fencing styles.
Japanese Sword Fighting
In Japanese martial arts, sword fighting centers on Japanese swords, especially the long sword katana, and utilizes various training swords.
Kendo evolved from kenjutsu and developed into a modern sport. For full-contact sparring, kendo practitioners use a bamboo sword called shinai, though practicing forms (kata) also utilize wooden swords called bokuto or bokken.
Iaido is the way of sword drawing and does not involve sparring with swords. Techniques consist of drawing the sword from the scabbard, making cuts, and re-sheathing the sword. However, the forms in sword drawing may vary from system to system.
When we think of samurai, we think of kenjutsu, an aggressive style of swordsmanship designed to kill or incapacitate an enemy. It is a non-competitive art and focuses on sword techniques, in which dueling opponents perform a prearranged set of movements.
Wushu or kung fu is divided into multiple schools and styles, so which kind you learn ultimately depends on the wushu academy you go to. Northern Shaolin kung fu is one of the types of wushu that makes use of sword sequences. Tai Chi, which is popular among elderly Chinese as a way to keep active, is a form known for having sword techniques unique to families of martial artists.
What Swords Are Used In Sword Fighting Classes?
It’s not a sword fighting class without a sword! Sword fighting styles are developed to work with a specific kind of sword. For example, you can’t expect to use a foil in place of a katana because of the former’s design favoring pointed thrusts while the latter leans towards slashes and cuts.
Because of this, practice swords are designed to emulate the feel and physicality of the real sword they’re meant to replace, giving the learner a sense of what the real sword is like without exposing newbies to the risk of injury. Here are some of the swords you can expect to use when you start learning how to fight with a sword.
1. Fencing Swords
In Olympic fencing, fencers use a foil, épée, or sabre with blades that are more lightweight and flexible than real blades. These fencing swords have blades tapered to a blunted tip, usually with a button for safety, and bend well on impact.
The foil originally served as a training weapon for the smallsword, while the modern épée developed as the former was too lightweight and unrealistic for sword fighting. The sabre also emerged as a light fencing sword for the cutting and slashing weapon.
2. Bokken (Wooden Sword)
In Japanese martial arts, practitioners use a wooden sword called bokken as a substitute for swords and daggers. It is made of one piece of wood and replicates the balance and weight of a Japanese sword. It could be a daito bokken (long wooden sword) as a substitute for the katana, a shoto bokken (short wooden sword) for wakizashi, or a tanto bokken (wooden dagger).
3. Shinai (Bamboo Sword)
The bamboo sword is primarily used for sparring in kendo competitions and training. It serves as a substitute for a real Japanese sword. It consists of bamboo pieces tied with strings and a hand guard to protect the hand.
In HEMA, federschwert serves as the training weapon for a longsword or even an arming sword. Unlike real medieval swords, it has a metal blade that bends when thrusting at an opponent. It is most recognized for its narrow blade and flaring near the crossguard.
5. Synthetic Sparring Swords
In HEMA, practitioners sometimes use synthetic nylon swords or wooden wasters. However, these sparring swords do not bend in thrust and do not have the same properties as steel blades. Therefore, many sword techniques cannot be trained properly with them. Still, they can be functional for exercise drills and physical conditioning.
6. Battle-Ready Lightsabers
You don’t have to be a Jedi from some galaxy far far away to get your hands on a lightsaber. In lightsaber dueling, combatants use LED-lit, polycarbonate replicas that look and sound similar to the ones used in Star Wars.
Sword Fighting Classes and Courses Online
Many martial arts practitioners around the world hone their skills in handling various types of swords through live online courses, video lessons, and at-home practice drills.
Here are some of the sword fighting classes and courses that allow you to train live and online:
DuelloTV offers online swordplay courses on wielding the sword and shield, longsword, two-handed sword, rapier, and dagger. Their live online courses allow you to practice with an instructor and receive feedback and corrections to weekly assignments.
They also provide step-by-step video lessons for at-home practice drills—for solo and partnered exercises—and expert training advice emails with personalized instructions. For martial artists who want to go beyond basics, they also offer courses in wrestling and polearms.
2. The Old Sword Club
The Old Sword Club focuses on late 19th-century British sword fighting. They offer online courses on the British sabre and cutlass, derived from the works of fencing masters Alfred Hutton, Jules Jacob, and others. Their online courses are ideal for fencers of all levels of skill and suitable for solo and group learning.
3. Swordplay Online
Based in Illinois, U.S.A., Swordplay Online focuses on the Italian longsword and rapier. Their online courses feature basic foundational lessons to prepare you for full-contact swordplay. Their lessons include technique demonstrations on cuts, parries, and footwork based on historical manuscripts. They also offer live online classes and equipment packages to get you started.
4. Learn the Sword
Learn the Sword offers online sword training on the Japanese katana sword. They teach the proper gripping of the katana; drawing and sheathing; stances and footwork; and striking and cutting movements. Their online training includes the complete Toyama-Ryu system, video tutorials on sword techniques, consultation with the instructor, video critiques, and corrections.
5. San Diego Longsword
San Diego Longsword provides online video training on the use of the German longsword, which is ideal for beginners and advanced historical fencers. They have online classes via zoom, and the monthly membership gives unlimited access to online weekly classes.
They also offer a monthly subscription to their video library, which features historical fencing training courses, practice drills, and WMA fencing-focused workouts. These can be suitable for solo training or study groups.
6. Iaido Online
Iaido Online offers a complete training program on the Mugai Ryu Iaido and focuses on handling the katana, wakizashi, and daisho. The training program includes video lessons, officially certified exams, online classes, and private training via zoom.
However, several forms (kata) are restricted by rank, so some online lessons need to be unlocked by passing examinations based on the Mugai Ryu Meishi Ha curriculum. Practitioners also get corrections for their techniques and are able to book exclusive private classes with martial arts teachers.
7. 21st Century Tai Chi
The 21st Century Tai Chi offers online courses on learning the Chinese straight sword jian. All courses are suitable for self-learning, which allows practitioners to go at their own pace. Still, one may add workouts, webinars, and drills to any course he takes. A practitioner may also request video feedback for detailed corrections.
8. Muay Thai Sangha
The Muay Thai Sangha focuses on the sword fighting arts of Thailand and teaches the Thai double swords. Based on the Sri Agastya system, the online course covers the basics of attacking and defending with the sword, footwork, cutting, and stabbing techniques. Their classes are available in English and Spanish languages.
At Swordschool, the world-renowned instructor Guy Windsor offers online courses on European swords. He teaches the sword and buckler, longsword, rapier, and smallsword. Some courses also include cutting practice with sharp swords.
The online courses provide structure for home practice and cover everything that you need to improve your swordsmanship skills. Even if these courses are self-paced, practitioners can personally send their questions to the instructor.
10. Kung Fu Living
Kung Fu Living offers online courses on Chinese swords, from the straight sword (jian) to the broadsword (dao), and butterfly swords. Each course teaches the techniques used in sword fighting, such as sets of cuts, thrusts, and parries. Some also include tactics for counterstrikes, footwork, and strategy for finishing any sword fight as quickly as possible.
Where Can I Take Sword Fighting Classes in the U.S.?
You don’t need to fly out to Europe to find a fencing master to teach you, the U.S. has tons of sword fighting organizations that teach everything from fencing to HEMA to Eastern sword styles. Admittedly, these groups are located in and around highly populated areas of the U.S., but with such a wide spread of organizations to choose from, you won’t have too hard a time finding a teacher.
1. Sword to Sword (Houston, Texas)
Sword to Sword focuses on the German tradition, the Kunst des Fechtens (KDF). They teach the art of fighting with the German longsword, sword-and-buckler, and rapier. Some of their programs also include the use of messers, daggers, military sabers, and poleaxe, as well as equestrian combat and wrestling.
Their schools are located in the Greater Houston area. According to their site, they keep a class schedule of five classes per week at their two centers in the area. You can join them for a class at either 1117 Upland Dr, Houston, TX 77043 or 1544 Sawdust Rd, Suite 304, Spring, TX 77380.
2. SoCal Swords (California, Orange County)
SoCal Swords have dedicated classes for longsword, messer, rapier, and even tournament training. This HEMA school is located in Orange County, California. They teach classes on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays for learners aged 13 to 17 and 18 and up. Longsword classes are on Sundays and Tuesdays, rapier classes are on Thursdays, and on Saturdays they hold sparring sessions.
If you’re planning on joining them for a class, the first Saturday of the month is a great time to make your visit because they teach basic HEMA longsword techniques at that time.
3. Seven Swords Academy (Washington)
Seven Swords Academy is a HEMA school that teaches the art of fighting with the longsword, spear, staff, dagger, saber, and more! They put an emphasis on the historical tradition of HEMA, proudly proclaiming that their learning program is based on study, research, practice, and application.
Located at 5212 S Washington St. Tacoma, WA 98409, Seven Swords Academy holds classes all throughout the week barring Friday and Sunday.
4. Sword Class NYC
Quick, kendo or HEMA? At Sword Class NYC, you may not have to choose. Founded in 2009, Sword Class NYC teaches both eastern and western sword fighting styles.
The school’s instructors are masters of iaido, the German longsword, and kendo. They teach classes mainly at 1944 Madison Ave. New York, NY 10035 but there are also classes at Goshin-Ryu Martial Arts & Fitness Studio 35 Locust St, Brooklyn, NY 11206 on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
5. Pittsburgh Sword Fighters, LLC
Pittsburgh Sword Fighters, LLC is another martial arts school that offers longsword and kendo classes under the same roof. But they also have other options for you such as rapier lessons, historical wrestling classes, and even “LED saber” classes. The LED saber classes are especially interesting since Pittsburgh Sword Fighters, LLC says they’ve tried to translate historical fighting styles to correspond to lightsaber fighting styles.
6. Butokuden Kendo Dojo
When it comes to kendo, you likely can’t go wrong with Butokuden Kendo Dojo. They’re one of the largest kendo dojos in the U.S. and they teach multiple age groups and levels of proficiency. Like SoCal Swords, they’re based in California. You can find them at 1581 Browning Irvine CA 92606 USA.
7. US Wushu Academy
The US Wushu Academy is one of the older ones you’ll find in the U.S. established in 1988, they’re advocates for promoting Chinese martial arts. You’ve likely seen them and their students during the Washington Wizards vs. Golden State Warriors game halftime show back in 2016 or from one of their many public performances.
That said, the US Wushu Academy is still a martial arts school. They’ve sent athletes to the World Games and have instructors who have won and participated in prestigious wushu tournaments.
You can join them at 2979 Prosperity Ave, Fairfax, VA 22031, USA for a class.
Learn how you can save the galaxy at LudoSport, a sword-fighting school for padawans on their path to becoming Jedi knights. This school has been in existence since 2006 and has academies in San Francisco, Grand Forks, Finger Lakes, Hawaii, Tidewater, St.Louis, and Kalamazoo.
What’s It Like Taking Sword Fighting Classes?
Sword fighting isn’t at all like it seems on TV. Television series like the Game of Thrones and Vikings may be behind the growing interest in sword fighting. However, their sword fighting scenes are not always historical and realistic. Depending on one’s interests, one may engage in martial arts that focus on historical sword techniques, or modern sports that center on athleticism.
Sword fighting could be a very intense martial arts or sport that demands agility, strength, and endurance. For most on-site schools, you don’t have to buy your own gear as they typically let you use theirs either through renting or as part of your class tuition. But we recommend attending classes in comfortable workout clothes to ensure that you don’t overheat. Think of it as a cool alternative to going to the gym.
Sword fighting scenes in famous films and television series likely contributed to the growing interest in historical martial arts and fencing. Online sword fighting classes and courses allow you to learn various types of swords at your own pace. Also, on-site sword fighting classes are sure to develop your physical and mental abilities.