The Cateran Society (https://sites.google.com/site/cateransociety/) has taken on the ambitious project of reconstructing the teaching and use of historical highland weaponry. Recognizing that, unlike eastern marital arts studios, there is not a Highland broadsword fencing salle within 5 miles of most Americans, the head of the Cateran Society, Christopher Scott Thompson, has penned this guide to help those without regular access to an instructor. Highland Broadsword: Lessons, Drills and Practices is a 100 page, no-frills guidebook to get a prospective student started.
Thompson quickly points out that there is no continuous martial tradition, passed directly from instructor to student, for the highland broadsword. He is quite clear that the methodology that he teaches is a reconstruction, though he cites a number of surviving period sources. He warns about the difficulties of learning to fence from a book – carefully trying to straddle the line between promotion and discouragement.
The heart of the book is a series of fifty-two lesson plans, designed to give a student and his training partner(s) a basic program to guide them through their first year of study. As such, the layout of the book does not really follow that function very clearly. The three chapters each contain a number of lessons, with the first and third containing additional materials before and after – the division of certain class plans into certain chapters is not terribly clear.
The early classes are devoted to (what we find are eventually) ten Lessons. I found some of the later classes a bit confusing, as there are a couple of instances where ‘class’ and ‘lesson’ are used interchangeably, which, functionally, they really aren’t. The early lessons are also a bit jumbled, requiring a couple of readings to get a good feel for what is intended.
The book has a nice Gaelic glossary in the back, and stresses that a knowledge of the language is not needed to develop the program’s skills, but, as many of the terms refer to relevant portions of the lesson, I think that I would have liked to see the terms interspersed through the lesson – if someone was interested in learning the Gaelic terminology, it would be easier to follow along lesson by lesson. Also, no guideline for pronunciation is provided. Believe me: if its needed for any language group, it’s the Celtic…
Layout and clarity concerns aside, the actual content of the lessons seems to lay out a pretty good plan. There is a properly stressed emphasis on establishing good form early in the curriculum. The introduction of new material is moderately paced, giving sufficient time to absorb the current lessons before moving on. ‘Loose Play’, or free sparring, does not occur until fully halfway through the year’s lesson plan. Due attention is paid to safety concerns in sparring.
The author leads an extensive program for training with the Highland Broadsword. The book does not lay out how closely it resembles the Cateran Society’s formal program, nor does it make extensive reference to it in the course of the lessons. The Society’s website has some excellent illustrations and videos that could be very helpful to the student on his own: In our own digital age, any curriculum should take advantage of those resources.
On the whole, the book is a good first attempt. It could benefit from some reorganization and clarification, but I would love to see a second edition. The author’s reverence for the content is easily seen throughout, and I would love to see it focused to make passing on this reconstructed martial art even easier.