Step The Medieval Way!

Edit 2018/19: I regularly unlist older vids which I consider out-dated or incomplete. The one on historical gaits is one of them. However, because people keep asking for it, the video is now accessible again via this Patreon post. Note that I have learned a lot about this topic ever since this presentation was recorded. If you please, find out more below. Here is the paper by Dr Marquita Volken which was made available shortly after my video was published. It is based on her lecture which I was refering to in the above video.

I think that, while a forefoot strike as part of a specific way of moving in medieval martial arts, as well as in a courtly context and in historical dance, is well documented in contemporary art, Dr Volken's paper (and a 2019 article in a French magazine named "Moyen Âge") fails to present convincing evidence for this gait to have been used by each and everyone, leave alone having been predominant, as stated on p. 27 at the end of the first paragraph. In all fairness, the text is about 15th century arming shoes, not about gaits in general. However, I would have expected a more precise establishment of diverse contexts, or at least a more differentiated approach. Even today, people use different gaits depending on ground, foot wear and action, as has been pointed out to me repeatedly by viewers, and rightly so. It would not be surprising if medieval military activities would have called for specialised body mechanics, which possibly might have been less relevant in other contexts of action. If this was indeed not the case, I would have liked to see more in-depth data and evidence to back up the more general assertions. 

This also goes for e.g. pavement of city streets, and in particular for wear patterns on surviving shoes, as mentioned in the text. This is not to say that according evidence does not exist. Dr Volken may well be right after all. She points to some fellow scholars' work regarding these issues, yet I have not come around to go through all the papers and books listed in the foot notes (particularly because Dr Volken fails to provide exact page numbers, which does not really help).

The gait issue aside, Dr Volken's paper is most valuable for practitioners of armoured combat and armour enthusiasts in general, as there is not much on arming shoes out there.

However, for now, I am reluctant to agree with the general nature of some aspects of her hypothesis, although I would like to stress that there is no doubt in my mind that there was a particular culture of motion in historical dancing and combat, employing elements that are evident in medieval art, and that still show today e.g. in ballet. In this context it is important to note that the forefoot strike is only one element of historical European motion culture. Turning either leg outwards in the hip joint so that toes are pointing forwards and to the side is at the heart of stepping the medieval way, regardless if one employs a forefoot strike of a heel strike, each of which have their place, as you can see below.

If you please, also read this related article on the subject. Plus, historical foot work and stepping in dancing and in combat is also covered in this lecture of mine which was recorded at WMAW 2019 (see below).

You might be interested in watching some more recent freeplay with sword & buckler, (May 2019), giving the foot work special attention (there are slow motion sequences of each pass at the end of the video).

I will turn my attention to this fascinating subject again, because it will be covered in my Book of Sword & Shield anyway. Right now, I am exploring aspects of fine motor skills, such as hand positions and gripping methods. Once I have re-visited the gait issue, I will shoot an according video and provide an up-dated version.


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