My goals for 2019

sparring with singlesticks
Keith Farrell and Thomas Sylvester sparring with singlesticks. Photo by Daria Izdebska, 2018.

Since the new year is upon us, I’d like to set myself some goals for 2019. I could do that quietly and privately, but I want to try and give myself a little public accountability, to make sure I actually get these things done!

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How I keep fit while working from home

Keith Farrell cutting with a sharp longsword. Photo by Daria Izdebska, 2017.

I am often asked how I manage to keep fit while working from home. I am also often asked what I do to train myself to do HEMA better. It is the same answer to both of these questions! Hopefully by sharing my thoughts and approach, it will help other people both to keep themselves a little healthier during the working day, and to see more opportunities to do relevant training for HEMA.

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“If you frighten easily…” and bravery in martial arts

Keith Farrell and Colin Farrell
Keith and his brother Colin fencing with longswords during a demonstration at Glasgow University. Photo by Rene Bauer, 2012.

Bravery is an integral part of fencing with the longsword, with Liechtenauer’s Zettel saying explicitly that “if you frighten easily, you will never learn to fight.” Although this may seem like fairly obvious advice (yet it may also seem counter intuitive, because if you frighten easily, surely learning to fence would help to teach you courage?), there are some deeper meanings that could perhaps be teased out of this statement.

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The value of HEMA in the modern world

Keith Farrell and Jacopo Penso at TaurHEMAchia 2017. Photo by Andrea Boschetti, 2017.

What is the value of HEMA in the modern world? Why is it worth spending so much time (and so much money) in the pursuit of this activity? Why do we undertake such physical and mental exertion to do what we do? Why not just go to the pub directly and cut out the middle-man of training?

I believe that the answer to all of these questions is that the practice of HEMA is incredibly valuable to everyone who participates, and it helps us all become better people. That is why I spend so much time, effort, and money in the practice and teaching of HEMA, because I believe it enriches my life and the lives of those around me.

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Doing it right, or just doing it

Mark Wilkie and Keith Farrell
Mark Wilkie and Keith Farrell fencing on the banks of Loch Lomond. Photo by Daria Izdebska, 2012.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on the 1st of January 2016. It has been modified a little for reposting here.

One of the ideas that causes problems for a lot of people across the world is the idea that whatever you want to do has to be right, or perfect, before you begin.

People delay opening a business until the “perfect” moment, and then never quite manage to open up. People keep planning their novel, adding more and more detail to their world, but never quite end up writing the story. People decide that they don’t want to put themselves forward as an instructor of HEMA until they understand it properly – and so clubs never quite take off.

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Argue with me if you like, but please argue well

“Duty calls”. Image from the XKCD website.

It occurs almost every time I post a blog article: someone disagrees with me and wants to argue with me. That’s fine, I really don’t mind when this happens. Disagreement that leads to discussion can be one of the things that drives forward our understanding of an issue.

However, arguments have to be constructed and presented well in order to be meaningful. A simple “no, you’re wrong” is pretty useless. Ignoring the message of my article and saying “tournaments suck / sportification is bad / destroying that art / blah blah blah” is not only not a good argument, but usually entirely irrelevant to the topic at hand.

If you want to argue with me, I’m happy to have that discussion with you, but you have to argue well. That’s the deal.

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Good and bad things about flying

A plane taking off. Photo from the Stansted Airport website.

I do a lot of travelling for my work. HEMA events happen in many different countries, and often the only practical way to reach them is to fly. I used to hate flying, with a passion, but I have come to terms with it over the last few years, and now there are even some things I have learned to appreciate about it. Read more

Buying gear on a tight budget

feder in a field
A feder in a field, at the AHA Loch Lomond 2013 event. Photo by Elliot Howie, 2013.

I was brought up as a stereotypical Scotsman, making many purchasing decisions with my wallet-brain. This meant I almost always went for the cheapest option, and didn’t even consider more expensive options. However, this also meant that I ended up making poor decisions and often ended up buying more expensive equipment in the end, so I wasted quite a lot of money in the process.

Buying equipment on a budget is an issue that almost everyone will face at some point in time. The budget may be very tight, or it might have quite a bit of space in it for more purchases, but inevitably everyone will reach a point where they will think “what can I afford, and should I maybe take a cheaper option?”

Often, and most especially when starting out, I believe that the best policy is not to skimp on certain purchases. It is far better, for many reasons, to save up for a little longer and to buy something better as a result.

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When an advanced student moves on

longsword sihouette
Silhouette of a longsword on the banks of Loch Lomond. Photo by Keith Farrell, 2012.

For some years now, I have been mulling over the decision I made about six years ago to take a break from karate in order to study historical fencing in more depth. I didn’t have the time or the finances to study both disciplines at the same time, so I had to prioritise one or the other.

With fourteen years experience of karate, and with my black belt, I decided to retire (temporarily, I hope!) from that art. My reasoning was that I should be able to return to it fairly easily at any point in time, and I expected to mature as a martial artist by broadening my studies.

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