Sword Fighting and Training Basics for Beginners

While sword fighting skills may not be as much of a pressing need as it was to our ancestors, most sword collectors have an interest - whether it is largely academic, a lifelong dedication to training or just practicing a few moves and/or doing some occasional (safety conscious) 'backyard cutting'.

With this in mind, I am pleased to present to you a series of articles that address the more practical side of the hobby - Western, Eastern and general sword principles as well as links to further resources and much more to be added as this page expands over the coming months.

To get started, simply select your main area of interest from the quick jump menu below or just scroll on down to get a general overview.

Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA)

One of the earliest known surviving sword manuals

Generally speaking, with the exception of modern day fencing - the older sword fighting methods of the West died out many hundreds of years ago, at least as a continual, unbroken line as seen in many Eastern Sword Arts.

However, despite this, all has not been lost.

Some skeletal information has been retained in old, once forgotten dust covered medieval sword fighting manuscripts and instructional tomes. From this raw information a handful of dedicated individuals have taken it to task of putting the flesh on the bones of the past, and as a result of their careful and exhaustive efforts the Historical European Martial Arts (also sometimes referred to as Western Martial Arts/WMA), are experiencing something of a Renaissance.

No doubt mistakes are made 'connecting the dots' and with the source material being so old and occasionally intentionally cryptic (as to a large degree, secret sword fighting methods are passed down orally from teacher to student) misinterpretations are bound to happen. However, as you will see - the scholars who have dedicated themselves to this work have done a fantastic job of reviving the old arts, to a very high standard.

VIDEO: German Longsword Techniques

An excellent demonstration of German Longsword Techniques

Indeed, who can doubt that the techniques shown in the video are anything less than scientific and highly effective...

Equipment Needed

At its most basic, the only real tool required and frequently used in European sword fighting and training is the Wooden Waster (wooden training sword).

At their most basic, they can be made of either wood or bamboo and are readily available online for around the US$15 mark, such as a bamboo hand and a half sword here at Trueswords.com or a simple wooden arming sword here should do for starters.

The benefit of swords like these is that they can be used for practicing basic solo drills without fear of serious injury, and can be carefully used for two partner exercises (though they are not recommended for sword fighting or sparring, as many are sturdy enough to break bones or cause concussion from a direct hit).

RSW Training

Some practitioners get a great deal of mileage out of foam or padded swords (LARP Boffers) either purchased or hand made (such as those made by Lancelot Chan at his Realistic Sparring Weapons website).

The benefits of these foam swords as that it is possible to indulge in sword fighting quite fiercely with an absolute minimum of armor (just a basic helmet and groin protection is usually enough) and while they do hurt a little if they hit full force, it allows a very realistic approximation of a sword fight and make great modern sword training tools.

You can read a comparative review of some LARP swords by Palnatoke and Epic Armoury here as well as an overview of LARP gear (armor, costumes, etc) here

Otherwise, there are many blunted steel swords for more serious steel on steel practice.

Articles on European Sword Training

The MSI.33 Manuscript detailing sword and buckler techniques

Medieval Sword Training Schools
For an in depth article on the history of the medieval sword fighting tradition, including resources on where to find out more information, how to find a school near you and a free 46 page ebook detailing the footwork, guards, cuts and master cuts of the German and Italian Longsword Tradition, click here!

Japanese Sword Arts (JSA)

My hero Master Obata Toshishiro

The Japanese Sword Arts (JSA) can be broadly categorized into Iaido, Kenjutsu and Kendo - though there is some overlap between these styles, and some modern schools, such as Shinkendo that seek to bring them all back into one system...

Unlike Western Martial Arts, the Japanese Sword Arts are a living tradition that have been preserved more or less intact from generation to generation and date back to when their mastery was a matter of life and death.

However, it is not just their practical aspects that make Japanese sword training so interesting, but it is also the deeper aspects of the arts, designed to develop the swordman's spiritual and personal qualities that have long fascinated the West.

While it is possible to learn some of the basic techniques without a teacher, it is not at all recommended - not only for obvious safety concerns, but also because the Japanese sword arts are so deep, with many layers and levels, and self training can too easily result in an inflated sense of confidence and retard your ultimate development.

That said, we do cover some basic techniques and training methods in the further resources section of this category, but it truly is barely scratching the surface...

Equipment Needed

Each style and each dojo is quite different in their approach to the tools of the trade as it were - and the best advice I can give is that if you are serious about Japanese sword training, you ask your Sensei! That way you won't be going out and spending money on things you don’t need, or won't be allowed to use...

That said, the following is a basic idea of what you will probably need - and a few recommendations...

Like with the Western Martial Arts, many (though certainly not all) schools start their students off with bokken or bokuto - in other words, a wooden sword.

These come in many different levels of qualit: from lignum vitae super bokken to US$85 Japanese white and red oak and hand crafted in the USA bokken by Samureye reviewed here, but generally speaking - it isn't necessary to spend anywhere near as much as this (the lignum vitae bokken are seriously overpriced really - if it is an almost indestructible, yet better balanced Bokken you are after, Cold Steel offer a very innovative and modern polypropylene version called the Cold Steel Highest Quality Bokken, a $29 training tool that compares well in terms of handling to much higher quality ones, and is extremely impact resistant - though not without its' weaknesses).

"Polypropylene bokken"

Cold Steel

Price Range: $30 to $35

OVERVIEW: A modern, innovative training tool that is highly impact resistant and well balanced, but that is not without its weak points..

Click here for the full review

"Samureye Bokken"


Price Range: $229

OVERVIEW: Hand made from exotic hardwoods in the USA, Samureye.com have developed a solid reputation for crafting - they are expensive, but when only the best will do, these are the guys to go to..

Click here for the full review

Anyway, for most beginners - even a simple $10.00 hardwood bokken such as these ones are good enough to do the job.

After some time with a bokken, the student typically graduates to practicing with an iaito - or non sharpened Katana (though some schools skip the bokken entirely and go straight to the iaito).

Iaito come in many different types and price ranges. Those from Japan are made from an extremely light (but rather fragile and impossible to sharpen) aluminum alloy, primarily because Japanese law prohibits the mass production of steel swords...

The main problem with these blades is that they are much lighter than a real Katana, so there are also iaito manufactured and used outside of Japan that are made of real steel.

For the budget minded student, Cheness Cutlery offer some extremely popular non-sharpened iaito that have been accepted into many dojos across the world as a very good value for money piece such as the sub $200 Delux Non Sharpened Iaito (reviewed below).

"Delux iaito"

Cheness Cutlery

Price Range: $189.99

OVERVIEW: Many iaito are made of light weight aluminum, and really don't handle anything like a real Katana. This one has the same weight and balance as the real thing.

Click here for the full review

A very few schools only train with live blades, with most using them only when they have a specialized cutting session - which varies in frequency from school to school. Live Katana are reviewed elsewhere on SBG (if you haven't seen these reviews, click here).

The only other bit of equipment usually 'used' when Japanese sword training is the Dogi and Hakama uniform. These, and Kendo Bogu Armour, are readily available at several online sword sellers.

Japanese Sword Training

Japanese Sword Training Basics
Detailed basic sword techniques, etiquette, tradition, training resources and a free ebook - Japanese Sword Arts 101 - this article provides a comprehensive, yet easy to read overview of Japanese sword training methodology.

An Introduction to Tameshigiri
Tameshigiri is a lot more than just cutting stuff up with a Katana... In this article, we take a look at what exactly it is all about, some differences between the styles that practice it and how to learn to do it properly for yourself!

Test Cutting

Probably the most exciting part of training, other than sword fighting and sparring practice, is test cutting - and it is practiced at various levels.

From formalized and very serious Japanese Tameshigiri to casual backyard cutting of water filled bottles, often all you need is to take into account some very important safety considerations, a suitable target and - of course - a well made and sharp sword.

Of course, for the sharp sword part - you'll find plenty of reviews and information on many different types of swords in the various sections of SBG.

But for information on what kind of targets to use and how to cut safely, I think you'll find the free ebook and video below to be of some considerable benefit:


Three 100% free to download PDF ebooks from SBG. An introduction to Backyard Cutting, The True Swordsman (Longsword training manual) and Japanese Sword Arts 101! Simply click on the cover to download!

An important Word on Sword Safety

VIDEO: Sword Safety 101

A MUST watch video for everyone and anyone who handles swords

They say a picture tells a thousand words..

And in this case, the picture sent to me below is the best way to REALLY drive it home that swords are not toys and that a moments lack of concentration can have implications that last a lifetime...

This injury was caused by a Gladius sword that cut right through the target and kept going, biting deep into the cutters leg and causing him to lose 6 pints of blood and requiring 66 stiches and emergency surgery...

Swords are not toys. So please, for your own sake AT THE VERY LEAST, watch the video to avoid this kind of thing happening to you...


I hope you found this information on sword fighting and training helpful. To return to the Sword Buyers Guide Hompage from Sword Fighting and Training Basics, click here

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