Author: Suse Coon

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Monday, November 13th, 2006 at 6:54 pm
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At the Sign of the Cross and the Sword

Brunswick Street Lane is a surprising venue, not far off Leith Walk, for a sword-maker. There is no great foundry, no dramatic exhibition hall and no sparks, clangs and clashes. Instead, swinging in the breeze is a sign “of the Cross and Sword” which identifies the home of Macdonald Armoury. This unostentatious but specialist armoury has been producing craftsman-made swords since 1998, which are exported throughout the world.

at the sign of the cross and the swordMaster at arms Paul Macdonald is the man behind it all. Originally from Moidart, Paul came to Edinburgh with a fascination for swords and swordsmanship which he had hitherto been unable to pursue. His interest and skills as a sports fencer thrived in the city and by the time he graduated from Napier University with a degree in Graphic Communications Management, he had no thought of following anything other than the path of the sword. His first job involved making reproductions for the tourist industry with Castle Arms. But Paul wanted to take a more respectful approach and so Macdonald Armouries was born and has been making authentic, high-quality reproductions of historical weapons for re-enactors, historical fencers and collectors since 1998.

Now deemed one of Europe’s leading researchers and teachers of traditional martial arts, Paul works mainly on a commission basis. “ Weapons from Macdonald Armouries are not toys or decorative wall-hangers,” states his web site “but rather well-balanced, sturdy, and elegantly functional reproduction weapons. While a sword can only be as effective as the hand that wields it, these pieces are worthy instruments with which to express the art of fencing.”

Higher Ideals
Having commissioned a sword from Paul, the customer will end up with a true work of art, individually designed, measured and balanced in the spirit of an age-old tradition. For the sword is revered in many cultures as more than a fighting implement. It is often depicted with saints and is symbolic of higher ideals.

Paul can supply any style to suit historical fencing or re-enactment on the battlefield. Scots have used swords since Celtic times but it was only in the 15th century that we begin to see a distinctive Scottish style, typically one with slanted quillions, and, in the 16th century, the evolution of the famous two handed Highland claymore. Elsewhere in the world, Italy and Germany are famous for producing quality edged weapons, both swords and daggers.

making a swordMaking the Sword
The first part to be made is the blade. This comes from 2” wide strips of Sheffield steel which are cut to shape and length, then ground and sanded. Next, the quillions are cut, shaped, welded and sanded. Then the pommel is made to act as a counterbalance, and finally the grip, which will be a wooden core covered in leather or wire.

Paul’s work is guided by his extensive research in museums and collections throughout Europe, his experience in historical fencing, and his own sense of aesthetics. He is much in demand for restoration work and recently made a copy of the Bruce sword owned by Lord Elgin. “I love to handle originals,” he says. “They still speak to you and tell you how they were used.”

Academy of swordsmanship
And speaking of use, Paul has also established an Academy of European martial arts, where over forty forms of weapons styles can be practised, learnt from six centuries of development, characteristic national styles, and multitudinous accepted academic and social combative customs.

“Training in swordsmanship takes you above and beyond instinctive fighting,” Paul explains. “Anyone can fight instinctively but you will be more efficient if you train your judgement, timing, measure and placement. It takes training to overcome fighting.”

This self developmental approach to martial arts is a slow, but intense experience, working the body, focusing the mind, and balancing the spirit in reviving a true living tradition. Beginners work with a wooden sword, typically a straight stick made from ash, but are expected to follow all forms of sword etiquette, until they are ready to graduate to a steel blade. Even then, training swords are used in the Academy, these swords having to be tougher and springier. All techniques are learnt, from debilitating cuts to stopping the opponent with one good cut or thrust. Anatomy and physiology are studied in order to learn where to aim but, as in all true martial arts, the first art to learn is that of defence. Here, Paul, with dagger, demonstrates some of Fiori di Lieri’s dagger defences against the longsword of Ken Mondschein in Holyrood Park.

swordsmanship at Holyrood Park

The Academy practices of historical swordsmanship are also taken to a wider audience over the year, where public demonstrations and workshops are presented at various venues throughout the UK, Europe and the US.

Some sword forms use additional defensive implements such as the Scottish targe, a dagger or a cloak but Paul can also show you how to fight with a 15th century duelling shield from Germany, which was used for trial by combat and is designed to be both weapon and defensive shield in one.

Paul with Montoya swordPrincess Bride Sword
Paul’s favourite sword is a reproduction of the rapier made for the film Princess Bride. He made one for a customer, one for himself, worn on his wedding day (it is legal to wear a blade with the kilt), and a third which has not yet been finished. The sword is 24k gold plated with intricate carving depicting the story of the Princess Bride and is set with real garnets and lapis lazuli. It would set you back around £1500. A matching dagger is £300.

For price quotes, terms, and conditions of other swords, contact Paul at Macdonald Armouries or e-mail macarmouries@aol.com.

Paul is a member of the Guild of Master Craftsmen, and also a founder of the International Masters at Arms Federation. His school of historical fencing, The Macdonald Academy of Arms, can be found at Harry Younger Hall, Lochend Close, Edinburgh. Interestingly, this is the church hall of Edinburgh’s Canongate Kirk, which was the last resting place of the venerable Sir William Hope, one of Scotland’s most famous fencing masters.

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