Mounted Mechanics

This post was originally published on Academie Duello’s blog in March 2013, and is part of a series detailing the requirements for the Green Spur, or first rank of the Mounted Combat program.

finestra-mountedLast week we took a brief tour through the mounted combat arsenal as part of the Swordplay Knowledge section.  For the last portion of the Green Spur checklist we ask that you are familiar, at least in theory, with the general mechanics of swordplay from horseback, and how it differs from fighting on foot.

Mounted Swordplay Knowledge

  • Describe the mechanics and timing of throwing a sword blow from horseback.
  • Describe which sword blows can and should be thrown from horseback to a mounted rider and a fighter on the ground.
  • Describe the mechanics required to keep your seat when striking from horseback.

Mechanics and Timing

In Fiore’s mounted section, all plays are described either from the walk or the canter, as the trot was considered too rough a gait for an armoured knight with long stirrups.  Although Dom Duarte later describes the Ginetta saddle which was used with shorter stirrups and a two-point position that would have made trotting more comfortable and easier on the horse, we still consider the walk and canter to be the more important gaits for mounted combat.

Delivering blows at the walk

Because the walk is a smooth four-beat gait, the rider does not need to worry about the rhythm of the horse’s movement when considering the timing of blows.  When both horses are moving, the measure closes faster than when the opponents are on foot, and the mounted swordsman needs to get used to throwing cuts slightly sooner than he might from the ground.

The nature of the defence following a cut is different as well.  From the ground an opponent’s riposte will still come from the front or slightly to the side.  When both horses are moving, the riposte is often an attack from behind, which makes the window guards (finestra and finestra sinestra) particulary helpful in guarding the moving target of your side and back.

Holding your horse back, and even reining back as your opponent approaches measure is a way to control the timing of your blow.  A nudge with the legs as you deliver your blow will send your horse forward, adding power to the cut or thrust, and quickly moving you away from your opponen’ts counterattack.

Much of mounted combat at the walk involves turns on the forehand and haunches, and leg yields into and away from your opponent to protect your horse and gain the advantage of position.

Delivering blows at the canter

The canter was used for mass cavalry charges, quick in-and-out attacks, and running down opponents on the ground, as well as for tournament spectacle.  The timing of hand and foot — that is, the timing of your hands with your horse’s feet — depends on whether you are cutting or thrusting.

muybridge-canterTo understand timing, first you need to understand the canter.  This is a 3-beat gait with a moment of suspension.  The sequence of footfalls is:

  1. Outside hind (line 2 in the above Muybridge sequence)
  2. Inside hind and outside fore (line 3)
  3. Inside fore (line 4 & 1)
  4. A moment of suspension, when all four legs are off the ground (end of line 1)

This gives the characteristic da-da-DUM beat recognizable in the William Tell Overture and coconut-assisted in Monty Python’s Holy Grail.

The Cut

A descending cut is best delivered on the 3rd beat of the canter, when the leading foreleg is hitting the ground.  This adds the horse’s momentum to your own, creating the most powerful blow.  The surge forward from the moment of suspension gives the most forward impulsion, therefore upward cuts can be delivered at the same time as, or just fractionally later than descending blows.

The Thrust

For targetting accuracy you want your thrust to be delivered in the smoothest part of the canter.  This is the moment of suspension, just after the downward beat of the leading leg.  As well as delivering sword thrusts, this is the moment of the canter that will give you the most accuracy at lancing spears or the quintain.

Since we don’t even ask you to canter at the Green Spur level, never mind use a sword or spear at the canter, this is all theoretical knowledge for the time being.  However, when you are watching horses canter, use this knowledge to imagine yourself delivering your cuts and thrusts at the proper moment.  Watching knowledgeably from the ground is a great way to improve your technique from the saddle.

next week: types of sword blows from the saddle

Posted in Cavaliere Archives | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Getting Your Feet Wet

jm-landels-workshop-nov-8-2016On Tuesday November 8th I’ll be giving a talk at the Royal City Literary Arts Society entitled ‘Getting Your Feet Wet‘.  It’s about submitting to literary journals and magazines as stepping stone in your writing career, but really, what does that have to do with feet?

The idiom ‘getting your feet wet’ has become common enough that we no longer really think about the metaphor, which is probably a good thing.  I live in BC’s lower mainland, and when my feet get wet it’s usually because my boots have been soaked through from rain, or even more thrilling, been pulled right off my feet in knee-deep December mud at the barn.  Wet feet is seldom something I go out of my way to find.

A better metaphor is perhaps the precursor, ‘dipping your toes in the water’.  This at least brings images of the seashore on a day that’s warm enough for swimming.  Your friends try to convince you the water’s fine, but that first touch sure feels icy on your bare feet, and you might hop back a step.  Still, if you screw your courage to the sticking place you will get your feet wet … and your ankles even.  By the time you’re up to your knees, your feet no longer mind being wet at all.  Soon you’ll be fully afloat and  telling your friends, ‘come in, the water’s fine!’

Submitting our writing to an editor can have the same frisson as stepping into the ocean.  Despite the happy swimmers we see out there, the fear of rejection is chilling.  And indeed, our feet (our writing, that is) may not quite be ready for the water.  We might need to feel the icy sting of rejection, jump back, hop from foot to foot (revise, rewrite, throw out and write something better) many times before our feet are inured to cold.

Small press magazines and literary journals are shoreline tidepools:  a little warmer, a little calmer, and a little easier to step into than the open ocean of publishing.  Test your toes in these friendlier markets while you hone your writing for the big time.  This workshop will guide you through the submissions process, including finding the best markets for your work, tracking your submissions, catching an editor’s eye, what you can expect once you’ve hit ‘send’, and what you can expect once a story has been accepted.

No flippers required!summer


Posted in Blog, Pulp Literature | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Mounted Arsenal

This post was originally published on Academie Duello‘s blog in March 2013, and is part of a series detailing the requirements for the Green Spur, or first rank of the Mounted Combat program.


Swordplay Knowledge: mounted weaponry

Aside from knowing your way around a sword, we also ask in the Green Spur that you have a basic knowledge of the types of weapons typically used from horseback:

  • Describe two different types of cavalry sword
  • Describe three alternate types of mounted weapons

Broadly speaking, any type of weapon you can manage to use while on horseback is a mounted weapon, but historically some have proven more useful than others.

Cavalry Swords

The two types of swords commonly seen in Mounted Combat in the Western European tradition have been the knight’s longsword, which was covered in detail last week, and the cavalry sabre, which came into use later and lasted until horses were no longer used for battlefield charges.

Both these swords are strong cutting weapons, although the sabre typically has only one cutting edge to the longsword’s two, is not as easy to couch in the thrust, and lacks the long grip and pommel useful for disarms.  The advantage of the sabre however, is that its shorter, slightly curved blade is quicker and easier to draw from under the reins.


The measure closes fast from horseback, and the ability to switch from thrust to cut is an important feature of a cavalry sword.  Anything longer than a longsword may as well be considered a lance when mounted.  Greatswords were not used from horseback as they were too heavy to use one-handed.  Rapiers might have been worn for show by mounted nobles, but their length and lack of cutting power would have made them impractical for mounted combat, as would the ornate guards which tend to entangle reins.

Other Mounted Weapons

As the segments from the Bayeux Tapestry at the top and below show, a variety of other weapons were used in mediaeval mounted combat.

Spear: Perhaps the oldest mounted weapon, the spear, both thrown and couched, has been used since the days of chariot warfare.  These mounted polearms developed different shaped heads and shafts depending on their use.  The jousting lance evolved from the spear, and its use continues in modern-day tent-pegging


Clubs and maces: There are several instances in the Bayeux Tapestry of ornate maces and simple wooden clubs.  In later years mounted knights would often use a short-handled flail, mace or morning-star as a back-up to the sword.


Bows: Although there are visual depictions of mounted archers in mediaeval documents, there was not the same culture of horse-archery in the West as there was in Eastern Europe and Asia.  Many of the archers in European armies were more like dragoons, riding to battle, but shooting from the ground.  However, lighter cross-bows and stone-bows were used mounted for hunting and warfare in the Renaissance and Early Modern periods.


Grappling:  Not a weapon as such, but grapples and throws were an important part of mounted combat.  They were accomplished unarmed, or with pommels, spear shafts, or whatever part of a weapon was to hand.


Next week:  the mechanics of mounted swordplay

Posted in Cavaliere Archives | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Death Throes of Dinosaurs

What we are witnessing in America, and around the world really, is the noisy death throes of sexist, racist, and homophobic culture. dying dinosaur
The world as a whole is not as bad as it was 100, 50, or even 20 years ago. A hundred years ago women in North America couldn’t vote. Fifty years ago Jim Crow laws were still lingering in some US states. And same sex marriage has only been legal across Canada for just over a decade.
Yes, there are still pockets: countries, regions, and groups of people where women are oppressed, where being gay is illegal, and where having a different skin colour is dangerous.
But in most western societies it is not socially acceptable to seem sexist, racist, or homophobic. That alone is a huge step forward, despite the fact that rape culture still exists, that assholes are making laws telling us what bathrooms to use, and that being black in America is still bad for your health.
The dinosaurs out there — the notallmen, the sad puppies, Fox News, the ‘War on Christmas’ bletherers, the Trump supporters — they can smell the change in the wind and it frightens them.  It’s the death of the bad old ways, the perceived erosion of their privilege, whether it be white, male, cis … whatever, that has them shitting in their shoes.  It’s not a conscious fear.  It’s a knee-jerk, gut reaction, and believe it or not it’s a good sign.
If this ingrained privilege weren’t eroding we wouldn’t be hearing the titanic roars of fear-driven protest from the rabid right.  They would be quietly drinking beer, playing golf, and only bothering to vote if it didn’t interfere with watching a football game.  Society is changing and leaving them behind.  The deafening noise comes as they thrash and howl in the rising waters.  Watch with compassion, but don’t allow them to capsize your boat.
America, we know you are better than Trump and his howling dinosaurs.  Stay safe while the death throes run their course.
Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment


autumn_2016_cover-smallRegular readers of Pulp Literature will notice, as issue 12 starts arriving in their mailboxes, that there is not an excerpt of Allaigna’s Song within.  Instead you’ll find a short story, ‘Masquerade’.

It’s the first story I wrote using Dale Adams Segal’s The Hour Stories, at a writing workshop at Lodge at the Old Dorm on Bowen Island (where we now hold our annual Muse retreat).

It’s been through many revisions over the years, but the feeling of it remains.  It was the story that made me decide that maybe I could be a writer, after all.  I’m delighted to have it see print at last, beautifully illustrated by Mel Anastasiou.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed revisting it!masquerade-title

PS: fans of Allaigna, never fear.  She will return in Pulp Literature issue 13, with the first chapter of the sequel, Allaigna’s Song: Aria.



Posted in Pulp Literature | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Sword Words

This post was originally published on Academie Duello‘s blog in March 2013, and is part of a series detailing the requirements for the Green Spur, or first rank of the Mounted Combat program.

Swordplay Knowledge

In the Horsemanship portion of the Green Spur curriculum you needed to know the common vocabulary of the rider.  Similarly, for the Mounted Combat checklist, you will need to demonstrate a basic level of swordplay knowledge:

  • Describe the anatomy of the cut and thrust sword
  • Describe two different types of cavalry sword
  • Describe three alternate types of mounted weapons

Anatomy of the Sword

The cut and thrust sword is a fairly simple creature, and the parts you need to know are:

Pommel: The counterweight at the end of the handle.  It stops your hand from sliding off the end of the sword, balances the weapon’s weight, and can be used to strike in close quarters.

Grip or Handle: The length of the handle not only determines whether a sword can be used in one hand or two, but also provides extra counterweight and hooking power for disarms.

Cross-guard or Quillons: Often just referred to as ‘guard’, these stop the opponent’s sword from hitting your hands, and can be used like the pommel for striking.

Hilt: this refers to the the entire section of pommel, grip and guard.


Forte: literally the strong part of the sword, this is the half of the blade closest to the hand, used for parrying, collecting, and crossing the opponent’s sword.

Mezza-spada: the middle of the blade, where the forte and debole meet.  This is the harmonic ‘sweet-spot’ of the sword.

Debole: the ‘weak’ part of the blade, furthest from the hilt.  The weakness doesn’t refer to the actual strength of the steel, but the mechanical weakness of being far away from the hand.  The debole is used for deflections.

Point or tip: the sharp end of the sword, used for thrusts.

True edge: The edge of the sword that aligns with your knuckles and elbow.  If you were using your sword like a knife to chop veggies, it would be with the true edge.

False edge: The edge of the sword that aligns with your thumb and the inside of your arm, and is upward in the more natural hand positions.

To get a better look at sword anatomy drop into our museum sometime, where you can see a dissected longsword and rapier on display.

Next week: the mounted arsenal

Posted in Cavaliere Archives | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Pet projects

sketch - Dana's puppy smallOne of the rewards offered in Pulp Literature‘s recent Kickstarter campaign was pet sketches.  These were challenging but fun.  The challenge with the pug puppy was how contrasty he is.  He’s a creamy white with very dark markings around his face, and I wanted to capture his expressive eyes without losing them in the surrounding dark fur, and delineate enough of his white body without darkening it with too much detail.

The cat was the opposite problem.  He’s all black, with no markings.  As someone with two black horses I know how hard it is to get good photos of black animals.  His owner sent me several shots which I was able to manipulate in Paintshop to get some good detail.  I chose not to shade him in thoroughly, which would have been overbearing in a pencil sketch.  Instead I tried to capture his imperious and slightly mischievous expression, and left his colouring up to the imagination of the viewer.  Did it work?  You tell me.sketch - Natasha's cat small

Posted in Artwork, Pulp Literature | Tagged | Leave a comment

‘The Wolf’ due out soon!

Whew, it’s been a while since I updated this blog!  However that’s nothing compared to the time span between the days when I used to cartoon on a daily basis and sitting down to draw and ink an eight page graphic short for Pulp Literature.

It’s been a long and indirect path to here.  I started drawing comics back in university, as a diversion from studying population genetics or Paradise Lost.  Finding the Cartoon Centre in London UK fuelled my scribbling and gave me some professional guidance under artists Dougie Braithwaite (Punisher) and David Lloyd (V for Vendetta, Aces Weekly).  In a Continue reading

Posted in Artwork, Blog, Pulp Literature | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mounted Combat at VISS

originally published in Academie Duello’s blog on 19 Feb 2013


As wonderful as all our venues for the Vancouver International Swordplay Symposium last weekend were, none of them were quite large — or rustic — enough to host a mounted combat workshop.  Though we were sad not to be able to offer swordplay from horseback to the conference attendees, we did manage to bring a small group of instructors and guests to Red Colt for a mounted combat crash course.

Our participants ranged from experienced jousters and dressage riders to those who only had a few trail-rides under their belts, so we began the session with a quick riding lesson to let the riders get to know their horses and get used to reining with one hand as well as two.


Before picking up swords we worked on control and measure by exchanging the friendliest of blows — high fives on the lists.

In the program the first thing we do once we have swords in hands is sack out our horses. This involves desensitizing by passing the swords all around the horses’ bodies, slowly at first, and working up to cutting motions. Our horses are very blasé about swords, as you can tell from Jack’s expression as Nicole was testing him with the sword.  Nevertheless, a quick sacking out is a good habit to get into, no matter how many times your horse has seen a sword.


Next we began moving around the arena practising simple X’s and ribbon cuts from the high and low lines. For these expert swordsmen and -women, such basic exercises would be child’s play from the ground.  However, controlling a horse with your legs and left hand while controlling a sword with your right requires significant brain and body rewiring from either just riding or just using a sword.  I always like to spend a few minutes doing practice cuts at all paces before beginning mounted drills.

Likewise, the sensation of receiving a blow is quite different on horseback.  On the ground, when you are hit you can step backward, absorbing the impact.  From horseback, you need to relax and yeild your upper body only to avoid being swept from the saddle as your horse carries on forward.  Our swords are nylon trainers, which allow us to deliver blows strong enough to break the opponent’s structure without hurting each other or our horses, and we practised simply receiving blows without parrying at first.

Because our group was small, Devon and I had the luxury of teaching from the saddle which made demonstrating plays easy.  From here we moved on to clearing the sword from low guards on the left and right, and eventually to follow-up attacks as our horses passed each other.

No mounted combat primer would be complete without a bit of grappling, so we worked on a few holds used to unhorse opponents.

As the light began to fade we finished up with our progression of mounted guards, and had some fun spearing rings and cutting blocks at walk trot and canter.

I was thoroughly impressed by all four participants. Nicole and Scott completely met my expectations as experienced riders.  Jessica and Sean progressed amazingly fast with good seats and control by the end of the day, thanks, no doubt, to superb body awareness from their years as martial artists.

None of this would have gone as smoothly as it did without the help of our volunteer ground crew who came out early to set up, ferried people to and from Vancouver, groomed, tacked up, and assisted our riders as needed.  Huge thanks to our team of squires: Aurelia, Chris, Crystal, Kirsten, Michael & Roland.  You guys are awesome!


To our participants, I hope to see you all again soon!

Jennifer Landels, Maestra di Scuderia
Academie Duello Mounted Combat Program


mounted, left to right: Devon Boorman on Jack, Scott Wilson on Flavie, Sean Hayes on Chicco, Nicole Allen on Winnie, Jessica Finley on Princess.

photos: Chris Richardson

Posted in Cavaliere Archives | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Over, Across & Around: turning the sword

Swordplay from the Ground: the three turns of the sword



The last of the swordplay skills you’ll need to demonstrate for your Green Spur is an understanding of the three turns of the sword.  These turns have the same names as the turns of the body, which makes them easy to remember. It may be helpful to review the cuts and thrusts of the sword to refamiliarize yourself with their terminology.

Volta Stabile

The stable, or fixed point turn changes the orientation of the sword’s edge from inside to outside, or false to true, without moving the point significantly.  It is easy to think of this in terms of rapier guards.  Changing from guard to guard involves a stable turn: the hand moves, say from palm up to palm down when switching from quarta to seconda, but the point stays on line.  With a longsword the hands may move farther and the wrists may cross when switching from a low to a high or an outside to an inside guard, but if the point stays on line it is a volta stabile.

This turn is used to change the line on which you are defending your body, to change a cut into a thrust, (eg, to change from a fendente to an imbrocatta), or to reach around the opponent’s sword in a punta dritta or punta roversa.

Practise your stable turns by placing your point gently on your partner’s open hand, or on a wall.  Change through your guard positions, from high inside, through the stretta guards to high outside, and back again, keeping the point in one place.

Mezza Volta

In the half turn, the point of the sword travels in semi-circular arc from one line to another.  Although the point makes a half-circle, the blade ends up about a quarter of the way along the cutting circle.  For example if your sword moves from inside to outside on the high line (roverso to mandritto squalembratti) this would be a half turn.  Another half turn is a cut that moves from a high to low guard on the same side of the body.

These turns often occur when the sword is parried but can also be used as feints, or to change the line of attack in response to your opponent’s movement.  However for the Green Spur we are not looking for this level of sophisticated response.  The ability to demonstrate a simple mezza volta of the sword is enough.

Tutta Volta

The full turn takes the point of the sword in a complete circle.  A stramazzone (a wrist cut that makes a full circle) is an example of a tutta volta.  So too is an elbow cut that starts in a low outside guard and delivers a roverso squalembratto to the opponent’s left shoulder.  In order to make that cut you need your sword point to travel in a circle behind you and across to the other side of the body.

Tutte Volte generally travel along the diagonal cutting paths from low to high, inside to outside, and vice versa, and are good preparations for powerful cuts.

Next week: Anatomy of the Sword.

Posted in Cavaliere Archives | Tagged | Leave a comment