The Barton-Wright/Alfred Hutton Alliance for Historically Attested Hoplology and Antagonistics
Lonin’s 19th Century (“Victorian”) martial arts group
What We Do
- Stay in shape using Indian Clubs, Medicine Balls, and other traditional exercises
- Study the art of swordsmanship with full-weight, one-handed, basket-hilted swords
- Traditional bare-knuckle boxing (pugilism)
- Other period martial arts such as cane, stick, and knife
Over the 10+ years that this group has existed we have evolved toward a “salad bar” approach for the simple reason that not all members are equally interested in all of the styles under the BWAHAHAHA/Victorian umbrella. For example, some people are exclusively interested in pugilism while others don’t do it at all. Some are devoted to the Indian Club workout while others choose not to take part in that. Rather than try to package a “one size fits all” curriculum we encourage the formation of small group practices focusing on specific styles. This enables members to “go deep” on styles they are passionate about and to pick and choose the practices they want to attend.
As a result of COVID, all of our practice sessions are up in the air and likely to remain so until things settle down. During the pandemic we have conducted well over a hundred workout sessions over Zoom, focusing on Indian clubs as a way to help members stay in fighting condition until face-to-face practices can resume.
What You Need
For gentlemen, it’s traditional to wear a white shirt and black trousers. Ladies can wear whatever they want. We don’t actually enforce a dress code, though. You can show up wearing anything that allows for freedom of movement.
For the Tuesday evening backsword practice, you’ll eventually want protective gear including
- HEMA style mask with back of head protection
- Vambrace (forearm & elbow protection)
- Protection for man parts or lady parts
Many participants also wear a padded gambeson and knee protection. See our Armory Page for many more details about gear!
Backsword and Broadsword
The backsword is a powerful, single-handed, cut-and-thrust weapon dating to the late medieval period. It and its descendants the Highland broadsword, the heavy military saber (featured in the image below), and the cutlass survived into the Victorian era because of their usefulness on the battlefield.
Around the time of the Renaissance, sword evolution forked into two distinct paths which can be loosely described as civilian and military. Civilian swords such as the rapier were worn about town. They came to be used primarily in duels: rule-bound, one-on-one fights between gentlemen settling disputes as a matter of honor. The rapier then evolved during the 18th Century to the smallsword and eventually to the epee. These are light weapons used predominantly in the thrust.
Military swords, and the martial arts governing their use, were intended for battlefield environments very different from the structured procedures of a civilian duel. The cut is emphasized strongly, and forms the basis for offense and defense, with thrusts in a secondary role. The hilt is protected by a guard, which in the case of backswords and Highland broadswords encompasses the entire hand. The blade is wide enough to provide weight and strength, making cuts and blocks more effective.
George Silver, whose work supplies the basis for our study, was an Elizabethan gentleman who might be thought of as the last of the medieval swordsmen. In his works he argued passionately in favor of the backsword while disparaging the rapier, which in his day was increasingly popular among young Englishmen. In Silver’s mind the backsword is a weapon that Englishmen can and should use on the battlefield “in the service of the Prince,” i.e. in military service, waging war upon enemies of the crown, while the rapier has no use other than dueling in the streets, wounding and killing other Englishmen over trivial disputes.
Four hundred years later, we are able to step back from those controversies and admire the skills of our friends in the Italian Rapier group while practicing a very different style of sword fighting based on the work of Silver and others. We use basket-hilted sword simulators with blunt blades, weighing in the general range of 1000 – 1300 grams.
Our foundational text is Swordsman: A Manual Of Fence And The Defence Against An Uncivilised Enemy by Alfred Hutton , which was published in 1898. In its appendix, Hutton makes the case that the fencing academies of the Victorian era are failing to prepare soldiers for actual combat against opponents from cultures where practical sword fighting is still a living tradition. He advocates studying the work of George Silver, an Elizabethan swordsman who, 300 years earlier, published Paradoxes of Defense and Brief Instructions on my Paradoxes of Defense.