The development of the sword is traceable to the Bronze Age, and the earliest specimens from 1600 BC indicate that swords evolved from daggers. Early swords were short and without a cross guard. Since the development of swords, swordsmanship had been a skill learned by the nobility as a major. A master in any form of art or sport is known by that sport, but the master swordsmen are rarely remembered in history as swordsmen. This is because the master swordsmen almost always emerged as kings, great warriors, or rulers, and their superior positions attained by virtue of their swordsmanship suppressed their contributing skills to be recorded in history prominently. Swordsmen had been mostly known for fighting in wars, duels, and the sport of fencing. The Japanese Samurai are known for their excellence in swordsmanship. ‘Cutlass’ was a short sword used by pirates to achieve their short-term objectives.
1. Fiore dei Liberi
Fiore Furlano de Cividale d’Austria, commonly known as Fiore dei Liberi, is best known for his third oldest manual of martial arts entitled The Flower of Battle. He was born as the son of Benedetto belonging to the nobility in Cividale del Friuli, Italy in the late 1340s. His exact date of death is not known, but it is generally accepted that he died in the 1420s in France. According to himself, he learned from countless masters in Italy and Germany. During his endeavors, he encountered many false masters whom he assessed even below the level of basic learners. He was constrained to fight five duels for his honor, and every time he emerged as an unhurt victor. In 1381, during the Civil War, he was given the command of an artillery unit which was equipped with catapults and crossbows. He was assigned to protect the city. He also worked as a magistrate and as a diplomat.
Charlemagne, also known as Charles the Great, was born to Pepin the Short and Bertrada of Laon as their first son on April 2, 742 in Herstal, Wallonia. He died of pleurisy on January 28, 814 in Aachen. He was the King of Franks from 768 to 773 and was the King of Italy from 774. He was the first Holy Roman Emperor. He is remembered as the Father of Europe. During his rule he conquered the Saxons and Bavarians and expanded his kingdom to include parts of Spain and Central Europe. Pope Leo III crowned him as Emperor in 800 on Christmas Day. Charlemagne was a great swordsman, and his two swords, including his personal sword Joyeuse, are preserved in the Weltliche Schatzkammer in Vienna and at the Louvre in France.
3 Miyamoto Musashi
Shinmen Musashi Miyamoto, commonly known as Miyamoto Musashi, was born in 1584 in the Harima Province of Japan. He died in the Higo Province of Japan on June 13, 1645 at the age of 61. He was an excellent Japanese swordsman and founded the Hyoho Niten Ichi-ryu or Niten-ryu style of swordsmanship. He is also known for his work ‘The Book of Five Rings’ which enlightens on tactics, strategy, and philosophy. Miyamoto Musashi received his early training from his father, Munisai, who was a great swordsman. He fought his duel at the age of 13 and won it easily. He fought for the Toyotomi clan against the Tokugawa clan. Although Musashi was not a regular samurai, there are no two opinions about his being an unparalleled duelist and swordsman.
4. Yagyu Muneyoshi Sekishusai
Yagyu Sekishusai Taira-no-Munetoshi, commonly known as Yagyu Sekishusai, was born in 1529 in the Yagyu village and died on May 25, 1606. He was a respected samurai in Japan in the Sengoku period. He is best known for his mastery over the Shinkage-ryu fighting style and for introducing it to the Tokugawa clan. His father Letoshi was a small land owner and joined a general Kisawa Nagamasa in fighting against a powerful warlord Miyoshi Chokei. But Kisawa was killed, and Miyoshi took over the control of more than half of the province. Miyoshi left the rest of the work to be completed by his second in command, Lieutenant Tsutsui Junsho who attacked the Yagyu Castle with a 10,000 member strong infantry and conquered it. Muneyoshi submitted his learned swordsmanship and was recognized as commander by Tsutsui.
5. Kamiizumi Nobutsun
Kamiizumi Ise-no-kami Fujiwara-no-Nobutsun, commonly known as Kamiizumi Nobutsun, was born in 1508 at Kaigayago Kamiizumi, Kozuke Province of Japan. He was a famous samurai in Japan’s Sengoku period. He is best known for founding the Shinkage-ryu School of Combat. He belonged to the Ogo clan which took over Ogo Castle at the foot of Mount Akagi. He received training from a Zen teacher, Tenmyo, at the age of 13. He learned battle strategy from Ogasawara ujitaka. He had hundreds of students all over Japan, and many were later founders of some great schools of swordsmanship. They included Hikita Bungoro, founder of Hikita Kage-ryu, Hozoin Inei founder of Shin Shinkage Ichiden-ryu and Komagawa Kuniyoshi, founders of Komagawa Kaishin-ryu.
6. Johannes Liechtenauer
Johannes Liechtenauer is considered the grandmaster of German swordsmanship. He was born in Liechtenau, Germany. He traveled throughout Europe to learn from the masters of his time. He wrote a poem in the form of mnemonics to teach his students without revealing to the outsiders. In this poem, he urged the young knight to love God, respect women, preserve self-respect, and keep control over the arms be they spears, swords, or daggers, because they would not benefit him when in others’ hands. He also pointed out that skipping at times was as important as striking. One of his students, Hans Talhoffer, who was himself a master swordsman, wrote a fencing manual describing the concepts of Liechtenauer
7. William Marshal
William Marshal, also known as William the Marshal, and Sir William Marshal, the first Earl of Pembroke, was born to John Marshal and Sybilla of Salisbury in 1147 and died on May 14, 1219 at the age of 72. He was a famous English swordsman and statesman. Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said about him that he was ‘The greatest knight that ever lived.’ He served four kings including: King Henry II, Richard the Lionheart, John, and Henry. He was honored with the title of first Earl of Pembroke. In England and throughout Europe, he was known simply as ‘The Marshal.’
8. Francois Vivonne
Francois Vivonne was born in 1520 in France and died on July 11, 1547 in Saint ”œGermain ”œen-Laye due to wounds received during a duel. On account of his physical strength, courage, and excellent swordsmanship, he was brought to the court at a young age. During the wars of Italy, he was posted in the military headquarters of Cuneo where he proved his worth. During a duel with the Baron of Jarnac, he received a serious injury on his leg. The baron had learned a treacherous cut to the leg from an Italian instructor and applied it successfully during the duel. A French idiom, ‘Coup de Jarnac’ meaning ‘to stab in the back’ or ‘to deceive and strike,’ evolved from this event.
9. Tomoyuki Yamashita
Tomoyuki Yamashita was a famous Japanese swordsman. He led the Japanese forces through the Second World War. He conquered the British colonies of Malaya and Singapore in this war and, from that time, was popularly known as the Tiger of Malaya. He was tried for war crimes which became so controversial that America had to make some legislative changes in justification of the war crimes trials against him. A new rule was named after him. The trial culminated into Yamashita’s death sentence.
10. William Wallace
William Wallace was born in 1272 in Scotland and died there in 1305. He led the Scottish infantry during the independence war against England. One on one, combat is not of crucial importance in modern warfare, as it was during his time. The sword was the only arm for the survival of a warrior, and the sword of the enemy was the prize of the winning fighter. Competency in swordsmanship was the only virtue that counted in wars in those days. Wallace was the guardian of Scotland and fought bravely against the enemy. However, King Edward I of England captured him and executed him on charges of treason. In Scotland, he is remembered as a great patriot and as an excellent swordsman.
Not all the swordsmen had been necessarily fighters too. Some tribesmen use a cutlass not as a weapon but as a bush-cutting device. In Sikhism, a ceremonial, short type of sword known as a Kirpan is worn by the Sikhs as articles of faith. The sword is the simplest arm which becomes invaluable, depending upon its handler. Studded with jewels and protected by golden sheaths, many swords, like that of Napoleon Bonaparte, were transferred from one to the other generation as an object of pride.