Local Metalsmith Reviving the Art of the Sword

Jim Heald

The Ashland Beacon

 

   It was not easy being a sword aficionado in the Tri-State Area back in the 1980s, as Ryan Evans can attest. Having been inspired at one point early in life by an unknown event, he knew that he had to have a real sword someday and learn how to use it.

   "I don't know if it was something on television or if it was a story somebody had told me or read or if there was triggering event," Evans said. "It has always been a part of me for as long as I can remember."

   Evans grew fascinated with the medieval period. Movies such as “Excalibur” with Patrick Stewart and the retelling of Gawain's adventure seeking the Green Knight in “Sword of the Valiant” were a part of growing up. Later movies like “The Princess Bride” and “A Knight's Tale” fed the desire.

   Over the last few years, there has been a revival of the sword, specifically the Western sword, as groups like Historical European Martial Arts have grown in popularity among historical  re-enactors. "We are having a real revival of that stuff today," Evans said. "When I was a kid in the 80s, we didn't have anything like that. To find a real sword and to know what one was, was pretty difficult."

   What could be found during that time were "wall hangers," cheap swords meant to be used for decoration. It was possible to find knock-off swords patterned after the Japanese katana for about $30 to $40 at a flea market back then. Poorly constructed, the reproductions were not safe for any practical purpose, except to hang on the wall and look pretty.

   Evans wanted to learn the art of the Western sword, primarily focusing on longsword and rapier as a martial art. This meant learning how to use the weapons in light of their actual martial applications as it was performed during their periods in history, as well as learning the art as a martial discipline.

   "I'm using a real weapon. Its application is offensive or defensive and that it has a possible lethal application," he said. "It is to be treated with that respect and that gravity at all times."

   Groups such as HEMA participate in martial arts competitions and Evans believes that the practitioners share his point of view as they train for sword-based competition. He would like to attend and compete at a HEMA gathering but winning at a tournament isn't his overall goal. "I care more about learning as much as I can and improving the martial skill of it without fighting for points. There's nothing wrong with it. I want to do that, but I haven't had much opportunity yet."

   Evans started training in rapier through the Society for Creative Anachronism. "They treated the long sword at all times like a weapon, with that regard and that respect."

   Unlike fencing with a foil, the SCA "fencing in the round" has no right of way, which makes any point on the body a target. Simulated blades have their cuts and thrusts, and a competitor may fence with more than one weapon. In the case of rapiers, the competitor may have two rapiers or may have one rapier and combine it with a choice of other weapons, including daggers or cloaks.

   As for the long sword, Evans has had to search for instruction material with which to learn the principles of its use. "I got whatever material I could find on the longsword. I got training analogs for the longsword, then purchased a long sword from Albion Swords in Wisconsin. I started reading and practicing as much as I could."

   Evans has been training in martial arts for about 20 years, including Hun Gar kung fu. However, he has not had any formal training in long sword.

   The long sword made its appearance in the last part of the 14th century and evolved into its best-known form during the 15th century. It is a two-handed weapon with a cross guard. The blade is wider at the cross-section and tapers heavily toward the tip. It is heavier and wider than a rapier.

   Rapiers have appeared in movies like “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” “The Three Musketeers,” and were the swords of choice for Inigo Montoya and the Dread Pirate Roberts in “The Princess Bride.”     Rapiers evolved from a military sword into a one-handed weapon with a guard that is occasionally very ornate. It has a thinner, more flexible blade that is good for both thrusting and cutting.

   The rapier eventually became a civilian defense weapon and was not so much deployed in war, according to Evans. However, the long sword was "most definitely a personal defense weapon, but could also be used as a weapon of war at the time."

   Evans is also a blacksmith, doing metalwork at Ferrous Fox Studios and making functional period armor. He currently offers private instruction in longsword and rapier and has a couple of students, and is looking to teach full time in the evening when it doesn't interfere with his metalwork. Ideal class size would be 10 to 15 people at a time, "but with at least five people we could have a regular class."

   His current rate is $15 an hour for private instruction. He has not yet settled on a price for a monthly rate but sees classes running at two hours an evening and meeting eight times during the month.     "You are getting some good instruction time," he said. "That way you get some time where we can go over things verbally, some written material, discussion, and practical instruction and practice. It will be mostly practice, but it gives you time to talk about some things, too."

   For more information contact Evans through his pages on Facebook and Instagram by searching @FerrousFoxStudios. He may also be contacted by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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