There is a fascinating documentary on the rediscovery of the European ‘martial art’ of sword fighting called Reclaiming the Blade, available on Netflix, if you subscribe: http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Reclaiming_the_Blade/70111112?trkid=2361637
It begins by talking about sword fighting movies (Lord of the Rings was highlighted in particular), but once they stripped away the honor and righteous talk, it had a really good argument that sword fighting prior to the invention of gunpowder was just as legitimately a martial art as karate. In Europe, there are now European sword fighting academies which teach medieval sword fighting like my children learn karate. How cool is that?
A society now exists to promote it. http://www.aemma.org/ with lots of resources to promote this lost art (http://jwma.ejmas.com/php-bin/jwma_content.php?LLM=0&Tab=articles&MD=) is one example–the Journal of Western Martial Arts.
Three of my children are black belts in Shodukan Karate (the fourth is a green belt). My eldest son, in particular, helps me choreograph many of the fights that I write into my books. He has always suggested (perhaps instinctively due to his training) that my characters employ the whole of the sword (hilt, crossguard, and blade), wrestling techniques, and moves which are more akin to karate than you might find in movie depictions of sword fighting. Interestingly, this documentary suggests that he is correct—that these techniques were actually common practice in the Middle Ages.
Our view of sword fighting has been colored by fencing, which has rules, or by movies whose sole purpose is to put on a good show, but not to kill an opponent. In battle, there were no rules. A man in battle was likely to use his sword as a bludgeon, swing his sword like a baseball bat with two hands on the blade and smash his opponent in the face with the hilt, or hold it with two hands, one on the hilt and one on the blade of his sword (with his gauntleted left hand) and thrust it into his opponent’s midsection like a pike. A fight was likely to last less than a minute, and as Viggo Mortensen pointed out, a man wouldn’t pull his sword from its sheath unless he intended to use it, and kill with it as quickly as possible.
Fiore dei Liberi (born c. 1350) was a master of Western martial arts. His book, Flos Duellatorum (http://thearma.org/Manuals/Liberi.htm) or The Flower of Fencing is the oldest and most complete document of its type. The fighting system he recorded, apparently for the benefit of Niccolo III d’Este, is complex and beautiful in its efficiency and symmetry. The artwork is clear, the instructions direct, and the lessons valuable. While the fighting system itself is the subject of many dynamic projects, little has been uncovered about the author of this fascinating work.” http://jwma.ejmas.com/php-bin/jwma_content.php?LLM=0&Tab=articles&MD=
Here’s another video of a woman champion: http://www.thegeekocracy.com/modern-day-knight-female-wins-longsword-competition-world-invitational-tournament/
As a side note for those writing about swords, when a man did draw his sword from its sheath, the sword did not make that distinctive scraping noise that you hear movies. Metal on leather is silent.