For much of the early medieval period, the sword continued to remain a symbol of status. During later years, production techniques became more efficient, and so, while the sword remained a privilege, it was not so heavily confined to only the richest individuals, but rather to the richest classes.
These weapons, based on the early Germanic spatha, were made very well. The technique of pattern welding of composite metals provided some of these northern weapons superior properties in strength and resilience to the iron gladius of early Rome.
Medieval fighters had plenty of technique. Their methods were neither awkward nor boorish. Instead of slugging it out, Medieval fighters artfully ducked, dodged, parried and trapped. They used graceful footwork combined with equally graceful techniques.
Fighting styles differed because of the weapons and nature of combat. Modern style fencing would have been folly in the 15th Century, just as Medieval fencing was inadvisable for 17th Century duels.
Medieval fighters strive for powerful attacks. They do not use light techniques. Every strike is made to do damage. The power is needed for two reasons. First, power puts a man down fast. Light techniques may hurt, but they also waste time. Second, a soldier would often have to attack an armored opponent. Whether the armor was a leather jack, chain mail or plate armor, it took added strength to cause harm to the man inside the suit.
As for defense, the main trick of Medieval fighters was to not be where the strike fell. They would sidestep, duck, dodge and slip. Backing this up were various parries, deflections and blocks. A fighter would try to deflect a blow, rather than block it by catching its full force on shield or weapon. Many a defense was also a counterstrike. Fechtbuchs show techniques that deflect the weapon and inflict damage to the adversary in the same motion.