Before guns came around, the sword was the most popular weapon used by human beings all over the world. Fighting with a sword is a dangerous affair that could lead to a gruesome death. If you are not trained properly, you could easily fell victim to your own sword. However, there are people who mastered the art of sword fighting so well that their legacy outlived them. While some of them were not necessarily heroes that could decimate multitudes of fighters like the ones in films, these swordsmen were so good with their swords that their skills were imprinted into history.
It is impossible to talk about the history of the Spanish city of Valencia and Spain as a whole without mentioning El Cid, the man that united Muslims and Christians in the 11th century. He took control of Valencia after his final defeat of the rebelling factions led by Ibn Jahhaf, the then chief magistrate of the city. Before taking control of Valencia, El Cid, who was Castilian and brought up in the court of King Ferdinand I, was the commander of the king’s forces.
He served under King Alfonso VI of Leon and Castile, helping him defeat the Almoravids and other Muslim insurgents that threatened his kingdom back in the day. When the king exiled him in 1081, he became a mercenary for the Muslims, becoming famous for scaring whole armies with his sword named Tizona. He later forced the leaders of Valencia to pay tribute to him and chose to retire in the city as its ruler in his old age. His sword is still on display at the Museum of Burgos, regarded as a national treasure of Spain.
The Battle of Stirling Bridge was one of the worst defeats suffered by King Edward I during his rule, and it was all at the hands of this man William Wallace. There are differing opinions about him depending on whether you asked the English or the Scots. To Scotland, he was a national hero that proved to Edward that the Scots would not bend the knee.
To the English, he was a bandit and a cutthroat that betrayed his king. Although the Scots won independence in 1306, Wallace almost won it for them in 1304 when he starved and wore out King Edward’s army, reducing the battle of Falkirk to near equal odds with his army of peasants. He lost the battle to Edward but not because he couldn’t fight. He is regarded as one of Britain’s greatest ever swordsmen of all time.
The Sengoku period in Japan saw the rise of many swordsmen, but none became as great as Kamiizumi. He was born in Kozuke province in Japan before being forced to move to different places over the years due to battles and conquests. He was a great fighter but believed that battles should only be entered when it was absolutely necessary. He learned all the major Samurai teachings, including Kage-Ryu, and combined it with battle strategies and divination. He soon became one of the most revered swordsmen in Japan, with at least 84 disciples and his own Samurai school named Shinkage-Ryu school of combat.
This man would have been named the greatest Samurai in Japanese history if he didn’t lose his final battle to Miyamoto Musashi discussed below. He was born in Japan’s modern Fukui prefecture and learned to fight either under Toda Seigen or Kanemaki Jisai or both; records are unclear. However, his skills as a sword fighter caused him to leave his teacher and start his own fighting school known as Gan-Ryu or the large rock style. His fighting school remains one of the most prominent Samurai tactics of all time. He defeated all his opponents except Miyamoto Musashi, who killed him in their final battle in 1612 after tricking him into getting angry during the battle.
It is nearly impossible to talk about Fencing in Renaissance Europe without mentioning Sigmund Ringek, a German fencing master whose roots and destiny remain mysterious. He authored three texts that were used all over Europe as the primary text for armoured and unarmored long sword fencing. He also wrote a detailed text on how to protect yourself when going against different opponents. While there are no details of any battles he might have fought, his texts show that he was probably the best fencing master in Germany in the 16th century.
Miyamoto Musashi was Sasaki Kojiro’s Arch-rival who fought 60 battles in his lifetime without losing any. There are lots of accounts of battles between the two, most of which ended in draws until the final one. He was also a longsword fighter (nodachi) and enjoyed the trick of playing with the opponent’s mind before attacking them. He wrote The Book Of The Five Rings, one of the best sword fighting and battle strategy literature of all time. He was also a Samurai Master that invented the Niten-Ryu style of fighting, one only rivalled by Kojiro’s Gan-Ryu. On the day he defeated Kojiro, he allegedly arrived late for the planned duel to make Kojiro angry, causing him to attack first, which made him vulnerable.
Fiore Dei Liberi
He was the author of Fior Di Battaglia (Flowers Of Battle), The earliest known manuscript and guide for fencing from Italy. He learned fencing from many masters according to his manuscript and became one of the greatest Fencing Masters in the Holy Roman Empire in the late 1300s. He also said some of his masters later became jealous of his tactics and had to face off with him, and he defeated all of them.
He believed in retaining composure no matter the direction a battle was taking and focusing on your own strengths rather than your opponent’s moves. He dedicated the last days of his life in the 1400s documenting his work, and it is now used as the best reference for early Italian fencing. He is also believed to have taught fencing to multiple armies in Milan and Modena before his death.
Ittosai invented the Itto-Ryu fighting technique, which advocates anticipation of your enemy’s moves and staying on the defensive until you reach a level where you can deliver one deadly strike. He is also a legendary Sengoku period Samurai believed to have come from a poor background. His journey to swordsmanship was only sponsored by villagers that were grateful when he defeated a bunch of bandits. He learned fighting from Kanemaki Jisai, another legendary master, but he decided to follow his own path after discovering his fighting technique. He went on to fight in 33 battles and never lost any of them.
Being a mixed-race man in 18th century France was difficult, which is why the achievements of this man are so touching. He was born in the French colony of Guadeloupe to a French father and an enslaved Senegalese mother. He then learned to play the violin and compose music but also learned how to fence. He got a job in the court of King Louis XV because his father was a friend of the court.
He was also known as the greatest Fencer in France at the time, which is why he got the job to protect the king. He became a war hero after being named a colonel and forcing advancing Austrian armies on Lille to fall back, but racial segregation at the time caused him to be sent to prison. His orchestras are now the most appreciated works of Joseph Bologne.
All Samurai sword masters look back to Bokuden at one point or another because he is believed to be the father of all wandering swordsmen. He learned to fight from his father and started travelling the country to test his skills against other swordsmen. He then started his own fighting school, which he called the Kashima Shinto-Ryu. In his life, he duelled 19 times and fought in over 30 battles killing at least 200 people. However, as he grew old, he also hated fighting and killing. Legends say he once rode to an island with an insolent challenger, and instead of fighting him when they reached the island, he rowed his boat back, leaving the ruffian on the island and called it the art of fighting without fighting.