Under a pavilion at McPherson park in Colleyville, a group of combatants swing swords and shields aloft as the instructor critiques their form.

At another part of the pavilion, a pair of students thumbs through a historical manuscript, deep in contemplative discourse. This is a typical class for Vier Blossen Historical Fencing, a club that teaches medieval sword fighting, President Donny McKay said.

The club is a local chapter affiliated with the nonprofit Historical European Martial Arts Alliance, McKay said. The group meets weekly in dedication to sharing knowledge about different sword-fighting systems and weapons by analyzing historical texts dating back to the 1400s. The namesake denotes a concept that serves as a visual representation of angles of attack when manipulating swords.

The backstory

The Colleyville chapter began in 2016, teaching a style of German longsword, side sword and Dusack, a cutlass-like saber, McKay said. After McKay joined, he brought with him knowledge of the sword and buckler, a system that pairs a single-handed sword with a small, center-gripped shield, contrary to the German longsword, which requires both hands.

In 2020, classes shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic before reopening in 2022. At this time, McKay became president, and the curriculum shifted to teach primarily German longsword as well as Germanic sword and buckler, he said. But the club does like to remain flexible in its teachings based on student interest.

“It's very individualistic. I think every club has its own flavor to it. Some clubs will put more emphasis on the athletic side; some will put it more on the curriculum side,” McKay said.

The details

Classes are offered three days a week, and students can pay monthly or per class. Students spend Mondays and Wednesdays learning techniques on both weapon categories. They pour through manuscripts, drill body mechanics and practice them in sparring sessions at the end of class, McKay said. Fridays are structured for more free form and delve into teachings outside the standard curriculum, such as side sword and military saber. Fridays are also dedicated sparring and tournament preparation days.

Students train with blunt metal blades that mimic the weight and balance of their sharp counterparts. This allows them to train safely while still experiencing the heft of real weaponry, McKay said. In addition to swords, students wear fencing jackets; elbow, hand and leg guards made of rigid polymer; and helmets similar to fencing masks but with more protective coverage.

People of all sorts can find enjoyment in the training, McKay said. It's not reserved for those interested in martial prowess—in fact it's generally the opposite. Some might join because they are intrigued by the history behind it; others followed a path from books, video games and other mediums of fantasy fiction. There are even elements of geometry involved for the mathematically inclined.

“It's a physical activity that keeps us healthy and keeps us engaged, and keeps us tied in with the community,” McKay said.

Going forward

The club has formed study groups dedicated to studying weapons outside the ones taught in class but don’t have a large enough interest to be jettisoned into the curriculum. One of these focuses on the montante, a large, heavy, two-handed sword closer to the length of a polearm, McKay said.

These study sessions allow students who aren’t engaged in formal classes to dip their toe into the world of historical sword fighting. But if enough people show interest for the weapons covered in these sessions it may one day be added to the official curriculum, he said.

“I think the most rewarding part about it is seeing so many people who are interested in history and swords coming together and learning together,” McKay said. “We have people from a lot of different walks of life who are bound together.”