Two glimmering swords lean against the back corner of Professor Andrew Lemons’ office, reflecting a mysterious history that he hopes to access through Clemson Longsword.

Historical manuals like this provide instruction on swordsmanship through illustrations. The Clemson Longsword Club is part of a movement to revive this lost martial art.

Historical manuals like this provide instruction on swordsmanship through illustrations. The Clemson Longsword Club is part of a movement to revive this lost martial art.

Once forgotten in the evolution of martial arts, longsword dueling is making a comeback in these hills.

Longsword fighting is unique because it is based on interpretation of its mentions in literature, which gives it considerable flexibility. All of the moves, procedures and tactics of dueling are taken from medieval fighting manuals. Because many of these historical manuals provide instruction on swordsmanship through illustrations, the new Clemson Longsword club focuses on discovering what can happen between these static pictures.

Clemson Longsword is situated in a larger, worldwide resurgence of medieval martial arts. Lemons, an associate professor of English, discovered the activity “a year and a half ago, and I was like no way; they’re doing this?! And I just had to do it.” Equipped with medieval weaponry, historical documents and a passion for research, the task of members of Clemson Longsword “is to read these texts and make it happen,” Lemons said.

In this way, they bring history back to life.

“Scholarship hasn’t really bothered with these [texts]…they’re not very literary,” said Lemons.

Clemson University professer and Longsword faculty adviser Andy Lemons uses a historical manual to instruct club members as they work on techniques.

Longsword faculty adviser Andy Lemons uses a historical manual to instruct club members as they work on techniques.
Image Credit: Clemson University

As an ancestor of the more contemporary fencing, longsword fighting has similar elements but is a bit grittier than the traditional thrusts and parries. Lemons defined the activity as a more realistic approach to sword fighting, clarifying that in fencing “where a touch is a touch (which is impractical because you’re still alive after a touch), [longsword fighting] tries to simulate a real duel scenario.” This calls for heavier body armor because, even though a typical longsword is only around four pounds, the blunt-force trauma from repeated moves has to be protected against. Clemson Longsword doesn’t yet have all of the resources for this level of fighting, but members are hoping to develop their equipment to allow for a greater exploration of the activity.

Unlike live action role playing, Clemson Longsword is more of a historical study that focuses on scholarship and athleticism. “We are really making an effort to make it a sport,” said Sarah Fishburne, who is the club’s first president.

Because of the subjective historical research and longsword’s relatively recent revival, there aren’t major regulations or rules on how to do it. Lemons explained that the activity’s development “has its problems but also its opportunities. You’re not coming in as a novice in a room full of masters.”

Clemson University professor and Longsword Club adviser Andy Lemons, left, and Club President Sarah Fishburne pose with their longswords during a recent meeting..

Lemons, left, and Club President Sarah Fishburne.
Image Credit: Clemson University

Any reservations a student has about inexperience can be set aside. In fact, Fishburne is most excited about developing the club’s student leadership. She hopes to dive into the historical documents with her fellow students to craft fresh longsword techniques, asking, “That’s their interpretation — what’s our interpretation?

Clemson Longsword meets on the second floor of the Hendrix Student Center every Wednesday at 4 p.m., and club meetings usually involve warm-ups, footwork and drills to develop more advanced longsword moves. The main goal of the club, aside from recreational fun, is to give students more of a “living” knowledge of history.

“Not too many longsword communities are associated with universities, which makes us really unique. This is fun and alive; it’s an action rather than a reading,” Lemons said.

Fishburne similarly revealed her strong emotional connection with Clemson Longsword’s recreation of history: “You know, people dedicated their entire lives to this, and we get to bring some of that back.”