Go Watch This: Medieval Combat Techniques Hollywood Ignores

by Gabriel Valdez

This quick video is a superb illustration of all the things movies get wrong about combat in heavy armor. We like to think that they all fought like Gandalf and Aragorn, whirling dervishes of blades whipping this way and that while cutting down enemies with a single blow. I’m a big fan of that fantastical style of swordplay – I even wrote an essay about fight choreography as myth, using Troy and Serenity as examples.

All that said, I wouldn’t mind an historical movie that actually treats combat in heavy armor like the mix of precision strikes and ground-based grappling it really was. Mel Gibson involved some in the choreography for Braveheart, while Ridley Scott has come close with his choreographies in films like Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood, but Hollywood is still a good distance away from giving us real, gritty choreographies that are more thrusts and grapples than wild swings and balletic dodges.

Observe a more accurate view of the mobility of heavy armor and the techniques used in medieval warfare:

Thanks to Wilson Freeman of Drifting Focus Photography for the heads up on this.

2 thoughts on “Go Watch This: Medieval Combat Techniques Hollywood Ignores”

  1. I mean, I’m not sure how often you really saw heavily-armored infantry, though. There’s probably someone who who is a better expert in that subject than I am, but armor is expensive, and that kind of plate is usually the province of your heavy cavalry, where once they’re off the horses, you’re really seeing a lot of dudes just get wailed on by giant hammers.

    There is a lot that’s pretty interesting, though, I just did a workshop about medieval longsword (for unarmored deuteragonists), and I’d be interested to see fight choreography that looked more like the techniques you see in some of those older fightbooks

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s one thing I think Braveheart did right. You actually didn’t see that many swords, and even Mel Gibson pretty regularly drops his to pick up a hammer or a pick or flail.

      You would see unmounted heavy in some instances, but that was much later in the period, and they usually were specialized troops that were more there to anchor an advancing line for the lighter forces that would do the real work.

      There are a lot of moments in medieval movies, though, where someone in full armor gets sliced across the chest and keels straight over. That always takes me out of it. I can believe in orcs, but I can’t necessarily believe a sword bouncing off full iron plate kills one in a single blow.


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