It’s a tool, not a handicap

You know what irritates me the most when watching films set amidst a mediaeval war? How they deal with swords and armour.

Not every film or show does this, but in productions of which I would expect better, people flail swords around like they’re crowbars, and clomp about in their armour like Ripley in her power-loader. If that’s really how things were, it’s amazing humanity made it through the middle ages.

Look, I’m a swordfighter; I’ve worn armour. I’m not Wonder Woman, nor am I built like a brick sh*thouse (well, okay, I am; a very small one). I can say with confidence that plate armour does not have to be designed any differently regardless of whether the wearer is male or female; it does need to be designed to the scale of the wearer of course, but breastplates — not boobplates — function the way they’re supposed to regardless of the wearer’s physicality underneath. You can turn cartwheels in a properly-fitted suit of armourModern armies understand this. So why does it persist in popular culture?

A sword is a weapon. It’s a tool, it’s balanced to make combat fluid, effective and deadly. Even those immense 6-foot greatswords were entirely useable; the soldiers didn’t just stagger over and try to DROP them on someone (honestly, one of my history professors at Edinburgh University said that in total seriousness). A greatsword weighs in at about 10 pounds; our smaller cat weighs that much. If you spend regular practice sessions maneuvering that mass around — which is balanced around the hands — you get used to controlling it very quickly. I’m relatively small, and I can put up a good fight with a longsword that’s roughly 2/3 my height.

Which is why it infuriates when I see actors, playing characters who have supposedly been using these tools all their adult lives, dragging around single-handed bastard swords (roughly three pounds of steel, balanced an inch or so in front of the hilt) like steel baseball-bats, and plodding around in steel plate like they’re carrying a tank on their shoulders. It’s very rare to have production-quality gear made of traditional materials, but the playacting of carrying weight is going a bit far.