The Cateran Society

An Comunn Ceatharnach

Peasant Rebellion!

This video explores the combative use of the sickle, an agricultural tool that could also be used as an improvised weapon. Some clips show the use of one sickle against the broadsword, and others show two sickles. The approach shown here is based on the Cateran System’s “MacGregor Method” rather than on any historical sickle training. We found the sickle to be one of the most interesting weapons we have ever played with. The curved blade of the sickle allows it to easily capture the opposing sword blade and whirl it off-line. Training weapons from Purpleheart Armoury, music by Finnish folk metal band Korpiklaani.

Sword and Dagger

According to Scottish swordsman Donald McBane: “When you fight sword and dagger, you are to keep your sword as directed at a good outside guard, your dagger above your brow in order to defend your head, often having them across.”

McBane would have used this weapon combination during his career as a stage gladiator, after he had returned from the wars in Europe. The dagger he’s referring to is a basket-hilted parrying dagger, long enough to be considered a short sword. It is possible to extrapolate a surprisingly large number of techniques from McBane’s simple advice, many of which can be seen in this video. The techniques are presented in slow motion so you can see exactly how to do them.

For anyone who took the sword and dagger class at Iron Gate 2015, this is the same set of techniques plus a few extras we didn’t discuss. Enjoy!

Cudgeling: Stick-Fighting in the MacGregor Method

Note: in this video, we use Action Flex foam weapons so we can hit each other without holding back. We usually train with actual sticks, but of course that requires much more restraint.

This video teaches the basic principles of cudgeling or stick-fighting in the Cateran Society’s MacGregor Method, a system for using all cold weapons according to the principles of the Highland broadsword.

One of the most famous manuals on the use of the Highland broadsword was written specifically to teach self-defense with the cudgel or stick, applying the principles of the broadsword to that weapon.

The author was Captain Sinclair, a retired officer of the Black Watch, and his manual was called Anti-Pugilism, referring to the superiority of the stick over the fist in a street fight.  According to Sinclair, training with the cudgel or broadsword is “well calculated for chance encounters in the street, as there is no show or preparation in it, and our adversary probably supposing you are totally unacquainted with the stick, will heedlessly attack you, when in all human probability you will settle the difference with the point of your stick, without any trouble, or receiving a single blow.”

Battlefield Broadsword

The Highland broadsword is a battlefield weapon, but the broadsword fencing system is designed for single combat. Considering the popular martial arts saying “you fight like you train,” why is this the case? This exercise should help clarify the issue.

A duel of skill with the Highland broadsword is a much more complex scenario than anything likely to occur in a melee fight. First-hand accounts of real broadsword combat suggest that battlefield swordfights were usually short and simple, often lasting no more than a second or two.

To simulate the conditions of the battlefield, designate one fighter as the antagonist and the other as the protagonist. The antagonist sees the protagonist, runs in and makes between one and four simple but powerful attacks. The protagonist must respond with an effective defense and end the encounter with a decisive technique.

Rather than starting from a guard position, the antagonist should simply raise the sword and cut as if charging at the enemy. The protagonist should start with the broadsword lowered, the safest and least fatiguing way to carry it on the field.

As you can see from this video, the battlefield use of the broadsword is much less sophisticated than a standard broadsword bout. Anyone trained in the art of broadsword fencing should find this type of encounter almost simplistic by comparison. The training is actually much harder and more complex than the scenario you’re training for, giving you a distinct advantage against an opponent without equivalent skills.

Presented in slow motion for clarity.

Birthday Bouts

Broadsword Academy Germany and Razmafzar Persian Martial Arts put together this video of their training as a birthday gift. Thanks guys!

Taking the Initiative


Drills for seizing the initiative in a Highland broadsword bout.

Martial Exchanges

Loud, spooky post-punk music by The Soft Moon.

In the Cateran Society, earning mentor rank requires a “certification bout” with an opponent from another style or school. We’ve been doing this since the Society was founded, and Cateran Society president Chris Thompson has bouted with opponents from a number of different styles, including German longsword, Italian saber, English backsword, Yagyu Shinkage Ryu, Tai Ji, Hung Gar, Praying Mantis, Kali and several others. Some of these styles are not usually known for being open to this type of bout, but they are often more willing to give it a try if you propose a “martial exchange” instead of a challenge.

What is a martial exchange? Simply a bout where you don’t keep score, and where the emphasis is on exploring and displaying your art rather than on winning or losing. When you’re hit, you just say “touch” or tap the spot to acknowledge the hit. This video provides a few examples of the concept to help our members understand it.

The first bout is Highland broadsword against Highland broadsword, but is still fought according to the martial exchange concept. You can see a range of techniques from the Cateran System in this bout that you might not see as often in a bout fought for points.

In the beginning of the bout, Chris makes a number of aggressive probing attacks against Matt. These are intended to draw a response and expose an opening- an example of the Provoke strategy from our Seven Words. This is the primary strategy Chris uses throughout the bout, while Matt relies more often on Wait.

At :51, Chris switches to Old Style broadsword, Level II of our curriculum.

At :54 and 3:20, you can see the Bind. This technique can be found at several points in our Core Curriculum, as the Turkish Disarm in Lesson 5 of Levels I and II and as the Bind in Level III.

At 1:50, you can see McBane’s “cut outside, thrust inside” feint- one of the most effective feints in the art of the broadsword.

At 2:24, Matt pulls off a Whirling Feat from Level V. It doesn’t look exactly like the Whirling Feat in Lesson 10 of Level V, but it’s the same idea. Matt spins to avoid the attack and thrusts to the face, stopping the attack dead in its tracks.

At 3:30 you can see the Elbow Lock from Lesson 8 of Levels I and II.

The second bout is Highland broadsword against messer. There are several long exchanges of attack and defense in this bout, examples of the Overwhelm strategy in action. These are followed by an interesting example of “listening” at 5:13, in which both fighters use their weapons to try to feel the opponent’s intentions through blade pressure. This is also an example of the Wait strategy- when Seth attacks, Chris is able to sense the attack through the blade and counter with a strong cut to the shoulder.

The third bout features unusual weapon combinations. Matt uses double broadswords (referenced in Gaelic folkore as an option for unusually strong fighters) and Chris uses the broadsword and dirk. It’s hard to see in this video, but if you look closely you should be able to spot several parries with the dirk, as well as several Binds. This bout is an example of Level IV in the Cateran System, the MacGregor Method.

This is what we mean by a martial exchange- a bout where you don’t just try to win but to demonstrate your skill in the Cateran System, including our fencing strategies and some of the techniques from the Lessons. If you’re planning to fight a certification bout, we want to see the art displayed to the best of your abilities based on your current level in the system. If you’re certified through Level IV and working on earning your Cateran rank, we want to see martial exchanges with a range of techniques and strategies comparable to what you see in these bouts.

Broadsword in the Blood


This photo shows William John Mackay (1819-1877), great-grandfather of Cateran Society mentor Elmo Mackay, who is based in Nova Scotia. As Elmo says, the use of the broadsword only skipped two generations in his family! Thanks for sharing this, Elmo.

Scottish Quarterstaff

Both Donald McBane and Archibald MacGregor discuss the quarterstaff briefly in their works on swordsmanship. Based on MacGregor’s description the staff in Scotland was often used as a weapon of urban self defense, allowing the user to fight his way to safety in one of 18th century Edinburgh’s frequent riots. McBane also mentions its use by “rustic fellows” such as gamekeepers. As you can see, the staff has a huge advantage over the sword in single combat, although we had to keep it light and slow for safety reasons.

We’ve attempted a preliminary interpretation of McBane’s quarterstaff advice here:Donald McBane’s Quarterstaff Exercise

And of MacGregor’s advice on the staff here:

MacGregor’s Quarterstaff Exercise

If these look a little slow and awkward, it’s because we were working from written notes and don’t have these sequences memorized. However, they should be enough for you to get an idea of the Scottish approach to quarterstaff.

Cateran Society Fencer Wins Equestrian Broadsword Tournament


Equestrian broadsword competitions were a popular form of entertainment in the 19th century, but have not featured in the modern HEMA revival due to the rarity of competitors with skills in both riding and broadsword fencing.

Broadsword Academy Siberia, our branch school in Kemerovo, Russia, recently organized an experimental equestrian broadsword tournament featuring five competitors. Four of the five were professional riders. Daria Osipova, a Level I Mentor in the Cateran System, was victorious in the tournament using the mounted broadsword system of Henry Angelo as shown in his “Hungarian and Highland Broadsword.” Congratulations to Daria, Broadsword Academy Siberia and Daria’s instructor Sergey Osipov!

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