Sword Master F. Braun McAsh

Braun McAshLast Friday, I had the honour of meeting sword master F. Braun McAsh. His claim to fame is the Highlander TV series. And that is how he is introduced by everyone.

Highlander TV SwordMaster

His pledge to the producers was that he would provide an original move or way of using a weapon in every episode. “Original” meaning that the technique would not have been previously seen in film or television. He was also given the artistic freedom to decide on the weapons used in each fight.

He talks about that time, when they filmed an episode every five days, as a fight director’s dream. Always learning and implementing new weapons and styles.

Intimidating By Reputation Only

McAsh is a tremendously nice guy with a strong hand-shake. He smiles a lot and has an avuncular manner that is easy to like. Barrel chested and deep-voiced, it is odd to hear him talking about the book he is writing or the hours he spends in the library doing research. You expect him to be brawling with ruffians. Even to hear him talk about the history of swords is a little unnerving.

He has a deep knowledge of swords, military history, and the use of weapons through time. To understand a particular sword shape and its proper use is intimately tied to the armour used, and both exist in a context. To truly master any individual weapon, Braun recommends researching every aspect of its circumstances. And he exemplifies that advice, a veritable encyclopedia of arms and armour.

Head of the McAsh Clan

Yes, he has a castle or two. We talked about our Scottish ancestry and the fact that he is the eldest of his clan.

Stage Combat and Stunts

We talked for a while about the sad state of stage combat in Vancouver. (More on that in another rant – I mean article). Suffice to say that he echoes a sentiment I’ve heard before: that Vancouver is dominated by stunt coordinators who can get away with injuries and breaking weapons, leaving no room for the safe fight choreographer. He is careful not to cast stones and never mentions names, but can barely contain his contempt for movies that have 300 accident reports.

Sword Research Yields Practical Hilt

Thumb-ringAt the end of the evening, he showed me his custom hilt with a thumb ring. The image to the right is a thumb-ring on a different sword, just for illustration purposes. The thumb-ring on his side-sword was not a closed loop, but a U-shaped side ring on the thumb side of the hilt. He said that all kinds of cuts are improved by taking advantage of this shape.

I did a couple of moulinets to see what he was talking about. To be able to suspend the sword on the thumb at the bottom of a vertical circle gives a lot of mechanical power to bring it back around the rest of the circle. I was sold.

He theorizes that it developed from the scimitar, and other curved swords used by mounted cavalry. It is most often found in German swords. From its usefulness in completing big circles, one can see how horse riders would love it, but also understand why it fell out of use for infantry. It is useless for thrusting.

Keeping Up

As I alluded to, he is in the middle of writing a book, though computer problems have interrupted his process this week. He is still working on films, and spent this week on set. I met him at Academie Duello, where he organizes their Stage Combat Study Group, and drops in for other classes as often as he is able. Come by on Friday evening for free sparring, and you might meet him yourself.

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