A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
Albion Armorers Maestro Line Meyer Sword
A hands-on review by Bill Grandy
During the middle of the 16th century there was a gentleman by the name of Joachim Meyer. Meyer was a German fencing master who published a remarkable fencing treatise in 1570 called his Thorough Description of the Art of Combat. The treatise is significant for a number of reasons. First, it is of the Liechtenauer tradition, a German tradition of fencing that stretches back some two centuries earlier, and this text shows clear evidence of the survival of this lineage into the Renaissance. Further, it is a very complete manuscript, going into great detail to list out various techniques and basic theory, something that was not as clearly explained in earlier fencing books.
Meyer's treatise deals with a number of traditional German weapons and styles. The dagger, the staff, the halberd, and the dussack all make an appearance. Meyer also introduces the rapier into his system, a weapon not previously known in the greater Liechtenauer tradition. Of all these weapons, however, the one depicted most often is the queen of weapons in the German tradition: the longsword.
By the 16th century, the longsword was not a common weapon for either military or civilian usage. Despite this it remained in the fencing schools of the day as both a weapon of tradition as well as a weapon of sport. Within Meyer's treatise, much like many other German fencing manuals, the fencers practice with longsword "foils". These practice swords have the general form of a sharpened longsword, but are blunt with a rounded point. Further, these swords have characteristic "winged" ricasso areas, known as the schilt (shield). This type of sword is often erroneously referred to as a federschwert (feather sword), though this is an inaccurate term, and there is no evidence that such swords were ever called this in period. Nonetheless, the style of sword itself seems to have been quite popular for training from as far back as at least the 15th century, where the type can be seen in period iconography.
Because these practice swords seem to have been commonly used in period, it seems only fitting that modern practitioners would want to use similar designs as well. The particular model being reviewed here was created by Albion Armorers and is named the Meyer. It is part of their Maestro Line, a line of purpose-built practice swords for western martial arts partner training.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Albion Armorers of Wisconsin.
In short, this practice sword feels wonderful. The handling characteristics are incredibly lively, feeling like a light but realistic longsword. If it were a sharp, it would be the kind of weapon that would feel at home as a knight's sidearm for riding about the countryside as well as a back up weapon for battle. It does not have the heft of larger weapons of war, but it makes up for this with a certain nimbleness that one would expect of a nobleman's dueling weapon of choice.
The cross is long, and this can be considered positive or negative, depending on your viewpoint. It is about the length of my forearm, a length that the 15th century master Filipo Vadi recommended for a sword intended to fight in armour. I am a tall person at 6' 2", and I have not found this guard to get in the way at all. In fact, I have found it to be very protective. On the other hand, a shorter fencer may find it more problematic. I can imagine it bumping the forearms of someone with shorter arms than myself, so this should be taken into consideration before purchasing. The finials are rounded, so even if it did bump you on occasion there is little worry of injury.
The strong of the blade (the half nearest the hilt) is quite rigid, but the weak of the blade (the half nearest the point) tapers drastically to give a very flexible thrusting tip. Thrusts are safe without making the blade "whippy" or unrealistic, yet the heat-treat allows it to keep returning straight. It also has nice, wide edges that are rounded at the corners. When drilling and fencing against other blunted longswords, the Meyer suffered little more than minor surface scuffing. The Meyer even started to damage some cheaper sword blades.
One minor issue that appeared immediately was that I could just barely feel a slight "click" in the pommel during strikes. It was barely noticeable, but if I forcibly attempted to move the pommel around I could feel it. After over a year of using this sword several hours a week, this never became an issue. I suspect that my sword has a very slight space between the pommel and tang, which so far has not affected performance at all, nor has it gotten any worse. Five of my students use this same model regularly, and none of them has experienced this problem. I have also handled a few other samples that did not have this issue, so I suspect it was only my sword, and as I said, it is barely noteworthy. I didn't even bother contacting Albion about it since it was so insignificant.
In terms of raw performance, I am going to have to rate this sword at an A+. It handles amazingly, it is tough, and provided the practitioners use proper judgment and common sense, it is safe enough for controlled practice.
Fit and Finish
While the blade is high carbon steel, the guard and pommel are stainless steel with a brushed finish. This may or may not be a good thing, depending on your intent with a training weapon. For me this is a huge plus, as my practice sword fittings usually end up a brown-black color from corrosion as I am constantly holding them with my sweaty hands. Even with a quick clean up after use, they often end up dirty very soon afterwards. Having stainless steel fittings is a very nice way to prevent this, and the brushed finish keeps the material from being too obvious.
The grip is wrapped with heavy hemp cord. The cord is a little rough on the bare hands if you are not used to it, but otherwise provides excellent traction. It is also very sturdy. Occasionally a partner's sword may accidentally hit the grip, and so far this has not seen more than minor markings. Leather wraps are generally more prone to tearing. I do wonder, though, if the entire wrap would need to be replaced if the cord does eventually tear, but so far I doubt this will be a concern for quite a long time.
There are only a handful of sword makers that I've come to trust who will make accurate-handling practice swords. There are even fewer who make accurately handling practice swords that are also presentable and attractive. Albion Armorers has managed to earn my respect in both categories. Here is a sword that can handle the rigors of constant practice and will allow the student to understand the realistic properties of a sword while training. It is also an excellent choice for anyone who does public demonstrations, particularly if anyone is reenacting fencing schools of the 15th and 16th century. It has both the right look and feel, and it is certainly among the nicest training longswords that I've handled.
About the Author
Bill Grandy is an instructor of Historical European Swordsmanship and sport fencing at the Virginia Academy of Fencing. He has held a strong passion (obsession?) for swords and swordsmanship for as long as he can remember. He admits that this passion comes from a youth spent playing Dungeons and Dragons, but he'll only admit that if there are no girls around.
Photographer: Bill Grandy