New book on Highland Swordsmanship

Ben Miller, Author of the phenomenal book „Irish Swordsmanship“, publishes another masterpiece in cooperation with Jared Kirby and Paul MacDonald: Scottish Fencing: Five 18th Century Texts on the Use of the Small-Sword, Broadsword, Spadroon, Cavalry Sword, and Highland Battlefield Tactics.

We all know and use the several written sources on the Use of the Highland Broadsword, like Donald McBane, Thomas Page, Captain Sinclair and others. However, up until now, a number of scottish treatises on the use of the sword have not drawn the attention of fencers, readers, authors and publishers. So it is indeed great news, that here are five such texts presented, published again for the first time in more than two centuries.



I. Examination & Vindication of the Highlander’s Manner of Attacking and Fighting the Enemy in a Day of Action. — Though not a fencing text, this is an unique early eighteenth century manuscript on battlefield techniques that has never before been published, and is now presented here with the permission of the Royal Library at Windsor Castle. Authored by an anonymous Highland veteran, it includes a spirited defense of the native manner of fighting, and provides new insight into the use of the targe during the period of the great Jacobite conflicts.

II. The Sword’s-Man; Containing a Series of Observations on the Use of the Sword. — This treatise, authored in 1788 by Edinburgh fencing instructor John Ferdinand, contains instruction in the use of the most popular side-arms of the period: the broadsword, small-sword, and spadroon.

III. A Dictionary, Explaining the Terms, Guards, and Positions, Used in the Art of the Small Sword. — This useful and interesting glossary on the art of fencing is embedded with numerous instructions, and was written by Hary Fergusson, a native of Aberdeenshire who taught fencing in Edinburgh and North America during the 1760s and 1770s.

IV. A Treatise on the New Sword Exercise. — This treatise on the use of the cavalry saber was first published in 1797, shortly after the widespread adoption of the 1796 pattern cavalry sword. Its author was Sholto Douglas Sorlie, a native of Edinburgh, Sergeant in the 7th Queen’s Own Light Dragoons, and later a veteran of Salamanca, Vittoria, Pyrennees, Navelle, Orthes, and the Peninsular War.

V. This final chapter explores the life and career of Donald McAlpine, a soldier from Inverness and officer in the famed Queens Rangers (an early Special Operations unit), who taught the use of the back-sword in Boston during the American War of Independence. His student sketched what is currently the earliest known illustration of fencing technique in the American colonies. The full, original page containing the illustration of McAlpine’s instruction is faithfully reproduced herein for the first time ever.

Additionally the contributors also wrote about the authors and historical background of the texts.

The genesis of the book began a few years ago, after Maestro Jared Kirby and Ben Miller managed to obtain some rare Scottish fencing treatises: John Ferdinand’s “The Swords-Man,” and Hary Fergusson’s Small-sword “Dictionary.” The work by Fergusson was actually helpful in compiling the glossary for Ben´s earlier work, “Irish Swordsmanship,” as Fergusson’s text contained a few definitions that didn’t seem to be found in other fencing glossaries of the period.

After some more time passed, Ben came across another obscure treatise, such as one on the Cavalry exercise, by a Scottish soldier named Sholto Douglas Sorlie, and the two authors decided that there was enough material worthy of being published as a book.

In 2017 Ben came across another discovery while combing through the online catalogs of the Royal Library at Windsor Library in Berkshire. This was an anonymous manuscript treating of (and defending) the native battlefield tactics of the Highlanders. You can see the original text published here.

Back then the material was not online, so after contacting the staff at the Royal Library they agreed to scan it and send it to Ben. In reading the text, it initially seemed like it was written by an outsider defending the Highlanders. However, in the second half of the text, it became clear from the language used that the author was certainly a Scot (and likely Highlander) himself.

Ben told Maestro Paul Macdonald about this text, when they met at a Martinez Academy exhibition and event. He sent Paul the text, and with his knowledge of Scottish martial history he was able to discern even more information about the author, and greatly narrow the time when the manuscript must have been written. Paul later compiled this information in detail, and penned an Introduction to the book.

In 2018 Ben recontacted the Royal Library and asked them permission to publish a transcription, which the Librarian most kindly granted. As good fortune should have it, Ben was also able to add one more chapter concerning Donald McAlpine.

He had first written about McAlpine in 2009 in an article on Fencing in Colonial America for the AHF (to read the article follow this link). McAlpine taught the Back-sword in Boston, and one of his students sketched what is currently believed to be the earliest illustration of fencing technique in the American colonies. This sketch was crudely reproduced in a 19th century text on the famous Count Rumford (who was McAlpine’s student), who was born in the colonies, but later becoming a Count in Bavaria, being responsible for many reformations of the Bavarian Army as well as other great inventions next to his influence on the creation of the famous English Garden in Munich.

Ben however wanted to find the original diary and he finally managed to locate it’s whereabouts, and the New England institution that owns the text kindly granted permission to publish. So the mystery of the “diary” has finally been solved, and some additional information about McAlpine – such as his role in the Queen’s Rangers and his ultimate fate – are explored in the book. Some other essays were inclueded in the book about what could be found about the other treatise authors such as Fergusson and Ferdinand.

This is really great work and thanks a lot to Ben, Paul and Jared and all others involved to makes this happen. This is an amazing cotribution to the HEMA-community and the scottish swordsmanship enthusiasts especially.

You can pre-order the book here.

(informations within the text with kind permission of Ben Miller)

Balefire Blades Broadsword Prototype Review

Every historical swordfighter not only struggles with interpreting of the old manuals, but also with finding the right equipment. Luckily the rise of HEMA introduced some great suppliers for gear such as masks, jackets and gloves. But finding the right weapon of choice is still a tricky nut.

The Angelo Prototype Broadsword made by Chris Adams of Balefire Blades

When it comes to steel training swords, we Highland broadsword enthusiasts don’t have as big a selection to choose from as longsword fencers, for example. The basket hilt often makes the weapon more expensive than others, even in their most basic design. So much the better, then, when you can help to develop a prototype broadsword together with an excellent swordsmith.

Chris Adams is from southern England, where he is now working. His workshop, Balefire Blades is in Uckfield – about half an hour from Brighton by car. It is surrounded by fields and woods and hills, which is just the right atmosphere for Chris – not to mention many pubs.

Chris Adams at work

Chris discovered a passion for historical fencing at the Sussex Sword Academy, where he trained in Highland broadsword under the guidance of Lyell Drummond. Chris then began studying swordmaking under Marco Danelli in 2013. After graduating his apprenticeship, his main work became making entry level swords and blades for all of Marco’s swords. Since starting his own business in early 2018, the main challenges have been confidence and organisation. Chris amassed all the requisite skills after making many swords and thousands of blades under Marco. Yet his goal is perfection, so knowing when a sword is “finished” can be a struggle, and a journey of constant improvement.

The idea for a Highland broadsword trainer first came up on the beautiful island of Malta in 2015, when I met Chris for the first time. We not only had an amazing exchange with steel on the fortifications of Fort St. Angelo (Video), but we also chatted a lot about broadswords, sabres and Bavarian haxn. When I bluntly asked if he could make a training Broadsword for me, he said he was flattered – but as he was still an apprentice he’s have to wait.

Close-up of the Basket-Hilt

Time went by and Chris kept his word. In early 2018 he approached me to assist him in developing a sturdy, well balanced Highland broadsword prototype. It was to be based on extant originals yet designed with an affordable price in mind. No question, I was thrilled – and so we exchanged ideas and pictures. Luckily my fencing group had the opportunity to visit the arsenal of the German Blade Museum in Solingen and to photograph, measure, weigh and use some original Highland broadswords (as well as some other basket-hilted swords). I was able to describe my impressions to Chris and send him photos of the weapons. The result of this cooperation is the “Angelo” prototype, named for the famous British fencing master whose manual is one of the major texts that the Cateran Society uses to train in Highland broadsword. Chris sent the prototype to me, and I was amazed from the first moment I unpacked the weapon.

The design is based on regimental broadswords of the 1750s-1770s. These were simple military arsenal weapons, but designed to be used in battle. Chris was able to preserve the spirit of these weapons just perfectly. The basket hilt is sturdy and offers good protection. After some trial runs, we spoke about minor improvements such as additional bars for more protection on the top and bottom of the hilt, as well as hardening the steel. However, even in its prototype form the design works well.

The blade is narrower than older clan-period broadswords, taking inspiration from regimental backswords (although double-edged). We decided to keep it light and quick, as most Highland broadsword students start with what we call the Regimental Style. This focuses on the military broadsword as found in the second half of the 18th Century until the Napoleonic Era. Keeping in mind the swift actions called for my masters such as Angelo, Sinclair, Mathewson, Roworth and Taylor, the Angelo prototype should be suited for this style, making it an easy choice for new students. The blade has no fuller, but it’s flexible enough in the weak for thrusting and stiff enough for solid cuts and parries. For safety purposes, Chris created a blunt, swollen tip, but future models could also have a flatter tip with a rubber cap, depending on personal taste.

The Angelo Highland Broadsword Prototype

At the Broadsword Academy Germany we used the Angelo prototype in training for around two months. It took a hard beating, not only in drills, but also in several sparring bouts. These were mostly against broadswords made by Armourclass. Although the Armourclass was a bit lighter in the hand, its wobbly blade made it hard to parry the cuts of the Angelo, which was solid and unimpressed in its parries. The blade stiffness to flexibility ratio is very, very good. The blunt edge suffered some minor scratches and dents, though nothing outside the bounds of what any fencing weapon would face.

The basket hilt proved robust enough, especially the slooping quillons. Only the bars at the very back of the hilt gained deeper dents, which could be bent back easily. However, as written before, Chris’s adapted model will feature a hardened steel basket, solving this issue.

The wooden grip has a simple but comfortable design. It is wrapped with cord, which lies much better in the hand than many leather or fishskin grips I’ve tried, especially with gloves. Although custom grips may be available for those who want their weapons a bit more “shiny”, in my opinion this grip is perfect. It’s also comfortable for smaller hands. Very big hands may benefit from a slightly thicker grip and wider basket-hilt, but for me (186cm tall and of average weight, with average hands) I would say it’s perfect. In my opinion the PoB could be a tiny bit closer to the basket-hilt to make it even more accurately balanced (and it is already well balanced), but Chris and I have discussed some adjustments, which will improve the final model to the optimum.

So to sum it up: Chris did a great job making the Angelo prototype robust, wieldy and good (meaning authentic) looking. Even without the small changes in the works, the prototype is a very, very good broadsword trainer and I would have no trouble highly recommending it.

Overall Length: 103 cm
Blade Length: 86 cm
Total weight: 1250 g
PoB: 7,5 cm

Grip and Basket-Hilt of the Angelo Prototype

Cateran members on “Knife or Death” show (History channel)

The Cateran Society is very proud to announce that two of our Broadsword Academy Apprenticeship Online Program members are taking part in the TV show „Forged in Fire – Knife or Death“. Joshua Campell and Kenneth Tucker are taking part in this show.

The show is an competition series that airs on the History channel as a spin-off from the successful „Forged in Fire“ series. The show is hosted by former NFL-player and wrestler Bill Goldberg and Tu Lam, a former Green Berets operative, martial artist and edged weapons expert. Two-time „Forged in Fire“ champion Travis Wuertz assists as the show’s blade inspection specialist. On each episode, eight contestants compete through two rounds, using edged weapons that they have either forged themselves or had fabricated to their specifications. They must submit their weapons to a preliminary examination by Wuertz and can be immediately disqualified in case of a safety issue or failure. The contestant who finishes the second-round course in the shorter time advances to the season finale, with a $20,000 cash prize at stake.


Joshua is a 1st degree Mentor working in our Program under the mentorship of Chris Thompson and Heiko Große. Joshua trained already for a long time and next to the Broadsword with Targe, Dirk and the Twohanded Greatsword he now is working through Level II (Old Style). He was interested in the show, when he saw a casting call for it last spring. He applied online and went through a number of interviews to get on the show. It is not known yet when his episode will airing, but as soon as possible we will announce it here.

Kenneth Tucker, born and raised in Marmet West Virginia, the very town his scottish ancestor Gideon David Fairleigh came in 1648, holds a shodan in Shotokan Karate and has been doing martial arts for over ten years and sword specific for 3 years. He found out about the show facebook and sent an email with a basic synopsis and a video of him cutting. After a few months process of interviews videos and emails exchanges he was given a flight and a filming date. His episode will be airing on 10/31.

See this Trailer for the show on facebook (inlcueding Kenneth).

We are very much looking forward to see their skills in the show and wish them both good luck and success. Congratulations to both gentlemen!

New Book: Lessons of the Broadsword Masters

Cateran Society founder and first president Christopher Scott Thompson is happy to announce his next book “Lessons of the Broadsword Masters”.


The most comprehensive book ever written on the art of fencing with the basket-hilted Highland broadsword, including every major technique and concept from broadsword and backsword masters Donald McBane (1728), Thomas Page (1746), Andrew Lonnergan (1771), Captain G. Sinclair (1790), Archibald MacGregor (1791), Henry Angelo (1799), John Taylor (1804), and Thomas Mathewson (1805).

Christopher Scott Thompson is the founder of the Cateran Society and the author of several books on the Highland broadsword and related topics, including Highland Broadsword from Paladin Press and the self-published Broadsword Academy and Lannaireachd: Gaelic Swordsmanship.

Lannaireachd was an early attempt to interpret the Highland broadsword style for modern historical fencers, and it contains inaccuracies and errors of interpretation. Despite its limitations, it did feature beautiful illustrations by Bob Giordano that Paladin Press chose not to include when they published Highland Broadsword. When Highland Broadsword was first published by Paladin, the state of research into the historical art of broadsword fencing was much less advanced than it is today. As a result, the book focused almost exclusively on the methods of Henry Angelo and neglected the wealth of information available from other sources. Broadsword Academy was meant to address this deficiency. However, Broadsword Academy did not include clear and complete instruction on the basics because that information was already included in Highland Broadsword. When Paladin Press went out of business in 2017, the copyright for Highland Broadsword reverted to the author, and it finally became possible to create a new book containing both basic instruction and complete, detailed information on the techniques of all eight broadsword masters studied by the Cateran Society.

This book contains text from all three works as well as Enclose and Command: How to Fight with Weapons. However, the material has been rearranged in a clear and logical order and expanded considerably to include nearly 500 training drills, as well as several of the Bob Giordano illustrations originally published in Lannaireachd. In addition, all text has been rewritten to use gender-neutral language. Extensive quotes from the manuals allow readers to directly compare the techniques of McBane, Page, Lonnergan, Sinclair, MacGregor, Angelo, Taylor, and Mathewson in chronological order, tracing the development of broadsword fencing over time.

Lessons of the Broadsword Masters is meant to be the most complete and useful reference work yet published on the use of the Highland broadsword, replacing all previous books by the author on the same topic. It will be useful for broadsword instructors, HEMA practitioners, and interested martial artists of all styles.



Further informations also see: New Book

New mentor certification in Germany

The Broadsword Academy Germany is proud and happy to announce, that Peter Stabel has reached his certification for Broadsword and Targe successfully. Peter is training at the BAG since five years and is a very dedicated and technical fighter. After reaching certification for Regimental Broadsword (Level 1), he was constantly training for Level 3 Boadsword & Targe. Also he is helping a lot in regular classes and seminars as assistant-instructor.


Peter showed his technical skills in many training sessions, working through the program and testing his skills in many training bouts, successfully adopting his lefty-style to his mostly right-handed opponents. Here you can see two training bouts of Peter showing his level of skill with the scottish shield:

As the final test Peter faced five different weapons in his official certification bouts. These were Broadsword & Targe, Broadsword & Basket-hilt Dagger, Double Espada, Espada y Daga and finally Half-Pike/Spear. He fought each bout constantly for 2-3 minutes with only short breaks in between the rounds always facing fresh fighters and different weapons. He clearly showed his ability to adopt to different styles and weapons, using the technical repertoire of Broadsword and Targe very well.

Here you can see Peter´s certification bouts in full:

We would like to thank our friend and brother-in-arms Lapu Lapu Dog Ericsson, who joined this certification bouts as an external fightzer. He is a long time practicioner of FMA Stickfighting and bladed weapons, being a 1. Dan of Modern Arnis and a full-dog of the Dog Brothers tribe.


Congratulations, Peter, very good job!