The Scottish Highlands. The very thought stirs romantic images within one’s mind. Not far from the truth. Cold, wet, windswept moors and rolling hills. Lonely mountains and sharp cliffs. Jagged coasts and misty forests. A quiet haunting feeling, of loneliness and sadness if you listen. Lost pipes upon the wind and hilltop fires summoning men. There is a sense of lethargy there, of time moving somewhat slower. A sense of emptiness, for the highlands are still empty as to what they once were. This spirit saturates the air. A people always on the “outside” of history. From the mysterious Picts of the ancient world, to the last of the Jacobite clansmen. In a way, the “Gaels” are history’s “Last Barbarians”. Living a simpler, materialistically poorer life than “civilization”. Warlike and proud. Destined to lose… This is what we feel of the Highlands, what we want to see. As an artist, there is half of me that desires the loneliness of solitude (my wife the exception of course). The desire of feeling as a passing ghost. To be lost in a poem of romance. To drink strong whisky and eat hearty meat. The sound of haunting music, shadowy fires, and the folkloric tales of faeries and heroes. For indeed there are many ghosts upon this land. The Highlands were a wellspring of folklore and myth. The combination of Gaelic, Nordic, Pictish, Welsh and Saxon folklore. A wealth of inspiration and longing. On a very real note, Scotland could arguably be one of the most active centers of folkloric belief during such an era. The folkloric belief in this land was rich and swayed into the lives of many. Far greater than that of other realms, due to this “backwater” culture. Fairy (ghost/spirit) belief and interference, folk healing, curses, and other supernatural encounters being an everyday aspect of life. Many of the witchcraft trials here speak highly of this, with many very unique. The Highlands seemed to be a nesting ground for such a thing, whether accused or not, recorded or not. The commonality of folklore causing many sincere beliefs to slip through uncorrupted by threatened interrogators, as opposed to other lands. The Highlands are a place to explore our mind and imagination, regardless of the dirty truth of past reality, the landscape demands a level of introspection. Many of those in America, especially the mid east coast have ancestry directly from these lands. The high level of this is due to the Highland clearances. The failures of the Jacobites, and the consequences of such action. This is the sadness that saturates the land, this lonely loss of life and noise. My matrilineal side being German, my patrilineal direct “son of” Scottish line came after the failings of the second uprising, settling the land of the Tennessee frontier. A new beginning from an old loss.
It is of these Jacobites and contemporaries, that we have the passing of a martial art. A form of Swordsmanship. A multitude of manual’s and instructions on the topic of many weapons, with a strong emphasis of the broadsword and targe. An interesting note of the Jacobites was their preference for close combat. A romantic yet outdated battlefield approach. Yet this is an image that has endured, and rightfully so. The Scottish Swordsman and duels of honour. This style takes us there. While on the modern battlefield the “Highland Charge” brought defeat. While once feared, Technology always replaces Prowess…
The combat style is quite the array of weapons when fully equipped. A broadsword in one hand, the hand clearly protected, not the wrist. A targe in the other, a spike sprouting from the middle of the shield, and a long dirk held downwards. That is, three points and locking locations. Unique in appearance. The image of the two handed claymore, although the single handed sword was also a claymore, stands clear in our minds. Yet the sword and shield are more relevant to the martial art and time. The twohander an archaic weapon, although there is evidence of the twohander being used in the last Jacobite uprising. Of the art, there is much to study, mainly of the finer aspects the technology grants after basic mastery. Something to explore on your own then any text specifically. The foundation is the same as any sword art. Of note is the aiming of the wrists, in that it is directly focused on again and again. To mainly strike at from underneath. This is were a downward pointed dirk is of great importance in deflection. Yet this form is not touched upon deeply. The projecting shield spike offers a great way of snagging and displacing a sword or bayonet. All the while counter attacking. Just as the backward step to protect the leg. The style is actually similar to the very early I.33, especially in “stepping” or lack of. Yet it is not I.33, as the two are clearly recognizable to witness stylisticly. It is said there might even had been clan styles, this is a tangible thought, yet probably leads more directly to training methods than clear differences in the appearance of fighting.
When I was younger, my father, brother and I visited an aloof antique dealer and collector that was a friend of my fathers. He lived in a very old house atop a hill, with absolutely everything within antique. Everything. Owned arguably the largest personable collection of American Revolutionary War arms in the world, whole armoury rooms under lock and key. As well a a creator of reproductions. Buried money in antique ceramics in his backyard. Million dollar quilt in an old chest the Smithsonian wanted to purchase, wouldn’t sell. A hole you could see the road on his van floor, etc. He also had an array of Scottish broadswords and targets, as well as some renaissance arms. Not to mention any other form of antique you could imagine. The basement the kind of place only goblins and ghosts could live in, and who knows of the attic above the third floor. Sleeping in an antique bed, surrounded by antiques and such a setting, enflamed the imagination, yet often into dark places for a young one. I will always remember the arms and such. As such a thing is more personal than any museum could be. The old shields and broadswords an inspiring memory, one can almost hear the pipes and see the fires.
While this style is something I have trained in and feel very confident with. A next training cycle is falling completly under this style. The practice of a smaller twohander (60”), almost completed in oak. As well as the broadsword (longer than my single handed sword), a stout targe with a nail through the middle (filed and wrapped in leather tip for “safety”), and a strong dirk. To all match technology more appropriately as opposed to the “close enough” items I have used. Although the bare footed training will be somewhat coming to a close in a couple months, as my yard is four acres in the middle of literally thousands of acres of forest. Not suburb forest, untouched ever forest. Nature wants to kill you not hug you, that kind. Bloody, oozy, itchy feet that appear diseased are not preferred, although I am sure to suffer at some point this season. I will miss the cold burning toes of winter training.
Artwork: Highland Swordsman 2012