Sword Hero #1…. Real Sonja!
Billed in her Marvel profile as one of the greatest sword-fighting martial artists and in peak physical condition, Red Sonja most often appears in inane poses and wearing
lingerieclothing that would get one killed in real alpine environments, let alone in combat- or just walking into a traditional village in some parts of the world.
There have been exciting redesigns in recent times, yet I thought I’d contribute my own vision of what Real Sonja could be with dignity, medieval martial arts skills and sensible clothes.
Real Sonja is beautiful, but not glamorous. Her boots are muddy, her chainmail broken and rusted in places. Her skin is scarred.
Since Sonja is supposedly Russ or Ukrainian, I’ve borrowed elements of Russian infantry kit from the 13th century, whilst inventing a plausible armour rig that keeps her style of form-fitting chain/scalemail with exposed arms and loose hair. Her boots and an undershirt are lined with fur, and her hair is half-bound back from her face in a warrior’s braid.
I have closed the rectangular holes in her gloves and filled them with bands of tough leather. Sonja wears a sleeveless quilted aketon beneath her chainmail, which is strapped over with several belts and a flesh-coloured gorget of un-dyed leather. Her pants are also flesh-coloured, allowing her to visually rock the traditional Sonja look but with the practicality of actual clothing.
I’d like to think that she has a big warm cloak somewhere nearby, along with a bag, more weapons, her missing dagger and a horse. This is a practical, experienced outdoor woman who would be well prepared for harsh conditions.
Sonja’s sword technique is straight from Fiore de’i Liberi’s ‘Flower of Battle’, (the Getty version) and her stance is as close as possible to the victorious figure in the original manuscript (bottom left of folio 29r).
In this section of the book Fiore is teaching close sword plays, and this is one of many variations on how to deal with an opponent whilst fighting at intimate distance. Of this move Fiore says,
“Se uno se covra de la parte riversa piglia la sua mane stancha cum la man stancha, cum tutto lu pomo de la sua spada e penzilo in dredo e cum punta e taglio ben lo po’ ferire.”
“If he (your opponent) covers from his left side, grab his left hand including his pommel with your left hand, and pull it upwards and backwards. From there you will be able to strike him with thrusts and cuts.”*
(*Translated to modern English by Colin Hatcher, via the Wiktenauer)
I particularly like the use of the flesh toned leather to give a similar silhouette to visible mail without going for the same exposed cleavage that seems to have haunted Red Sonja for decades.
It’s a great demonstration of how even if you really want to cultivate a nod to a past look, you don’t need to perpetuate all the problems from that look.