Using lighter swords in training

Liverpool HEMA lesson
Ben and Marc performing an exercise during a lesson at Liverpool HEMA. Photo by Keith Farrell, 2018.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 25th March 2016. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

I often hear the advice that you should train with a heavier sword, in order to improve your strength, balance, coordination, stamina, whatever. In fact, this notion is recorded as early as Vegetius, who wrote about Roman training methods.

In this article, I will argue that lighter swords are in fact more beneficial for beginners, and that people should not rush into using a heavier sword before they are ready.

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Training for the future

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

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 18th September 2016. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

Although I enjoy my HEMA training as it happens, I make a point of training for the future. A few months ago, I turned 30 years old – in this time, I have been practising HEMA for around 8 years, and I also have 14 years of experience in karate.

Now that I enter my 30s, I feel that I can no longer rely on my body and my physical attributes in quite the same fashion as I could when I was 18; I can’t just push myself to my limits and then expect to be without aches the following day, nor can I shrug off injuries in the knowledge that I will heal within a week. I’m still a youngster compared to many other martial artists who have my great respect, but I would be a fool if I kept approach life as if I were still a teenager.

I have been lucky enough to have spent 20 years practising martial arts without taking any long-term injuries, but I’m aware that they could be just around the corner if I don’t pay attention to what I am doing.

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Attacking the hands in sparring

Sparring Gloves and an Albion Meyer
Sparring Gloves and an Albion Meyer. Photo by Keith Farrell, 2015.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 28th August 2015. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

Every so often, I find a discussion (online and in person, in roughly equal quantities) where people debate the merits and problems of including hands as a valid target area when fencing. Usually this is with regard to longsword, but sometimes with other weapons as well.

It is my firm belief that the hands are important targets when learning how to fence, but we should look after them and not take matters to extremes.

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Feinting with the longsword, according to Ringeck

Liverpool HEMA lesson
James and Matthew performing an exercise during a lesson at Liverpool HEMA. Photo by Keith Farrell, 2017.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 18th September 2015. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

A common action in modern Olympic fencing is that of feinting: making it look like you intend to do one thing, when in fact this is a trick, because you actually want to do something else. If the opponent falls for your trick, then he creates an opening that you can exploit. A very common example of feinting is to perform an attack toward one opening, then when the opponent makes to parry your attack, to take your sword away and go to a different opening instead.

However, is feinting a big part of Liechtenauer’s system of unarmoured fencing with the longsword? It is common to see people utilising feints in sparring, but are these actually part of the system?

This article will examine the advice presented by Ringeck. Other sources within the tradition may well offer different advice, and I would encourage practitioners to examine the issue from these other points of view too. For the purpose of this article, and to stimulate discussion, I will argue the stance that feints should not be used as frequently as most people (myself included) tend to use them in the sparring.

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How to become a good HEMA instructor

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

A question I am asked quite regularly is how to become a good (or better) HEMA instructor? Of course, everyone’s situation is a bit different, but here is a simple set of guidelines for becoming a better instructor. I’m afraid this is quite blunt in places, but as an instructor you cannot hide behind delusions, and you need to be honest with yourself and your students.

Needless to say, to become an instructor (rather than aiming high to become a good instructor), the approach can be much more relaxed. The same general principles apply, though: meet people, practise as much as you can, read a lot, try to understand the material as deeply as you can, and learn how to present it to other people.

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The development of historical technique in modern HEMA tournaments

Keith Farrell and Robert Schwartz
Keith Farrell and Robert Schwartz fencing with the longsword at Edgebana. Photo by Thomas Naylor, 2015.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 15th May 2015. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

One of the criticisms that is often levelled at modern HEMA tournaments is that the fighting seen in the bouts does not look like what is described or illustrated in our source material, and that the style of fighting is more like “sport fencing” or “playing tag” than “proper fighting”.[1]

Many people bemoan the state of the current HEMA movement, especially with regard to the medieval weapons such as longsword, messer, and sword and buckler. However, I believe that we can see something more interesting, and much more hopeful in the general trends.

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The problem of attribute fencing

Keith Farrell and Federico Malagutti
Keith Farrell and Federico Malagutti fencing with longswords, December 2013.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 21st February 2014. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

This article will attempt to define and explore the concept of attribute fencing, and why relying on this style of fencing can develop problems both for your own long-term development as a fencer and for the development of training partners. The points raised in this article will be equally applicable for practitioners of other martial arts.

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A chronology of the books by D.A. Kinsley (version 3)

D.A. Kinsley is a researcher and author who has been of tremendous service to the HEMA community. His area of interest is that of first-hand accounts of British military engagements and civilian encounters during the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, and his published works have compiled thousands of these first-hand accounts.

These compilations are immensely valuable for researchers and practitioners of historical fencing, as they provide primary sources to describe the use and effects of the swords that we study, along with significant amounts of context and supporting information to guide our study and understanding of our subject.

D.A. Kinsley has been extremely industrious in collecting and publishing these accounts, and this has led to a rather confusing chronology of his books as they come into print and then go out of print, becoming available or unavailable at the drop of a hat.

Personally, I am interested in how all of Kinsley’s books fit together in sequence, since the edition and version numbers appear to be somewhat arbitrary and are not straight-forward. Since in my own work I will doubtless be citing the book by Kinsley that is on my shelf (and probably others in the future!), I wanted to be able to provide a correct bibliographic information for it – but because it is the first book with that particular name, yet supposedly third in a series, that poses a problem that is not easy to solve!

At least if the chronology of his works could be set out in a blog article somewhere, then it would be possible to look at that article and timeline and work out exactly how best to cite any of his books in a bibliography. My intention is to do exactly this task in this blog article, and to suggest a possible bibliographic reference for each of the books mentioned.

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Footwork and handwork for longsword

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

Footwork is undoubtedly one of the most important skills to develop for any martial art, and HEMA longsword is no exception.

I have the impression that people often become quite caught up with trying to integrate their footwork into their interpretations of techniques. Instead of making the technique work better, I think this tends to lead to confusion, and I believe it also makes it more difficult to perform the technique successfully in sparring when it is tied to a particular footwork.

It is my belief that footwork and handwork can (and should) occur independently of each other, so that neither forms an intrinsic part of the other. Instead, the one can be used to support the other, in a fashion most appropriate for the any given situation, and this will increase the likelihood of success.

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Some thoughts about tricks and systems in HEMA

Liverpool HEMA lesson
Singlestick play at Liverpool HEMA. Photo by Keith Farrell, 2018.

I believe that there is a difference between a system and a bag of tricks, where historical martial arts are concerned. Both are effective, and both are important to have in your repertoire; the greatest skill, however, the greatest skill comes with recreating a full system, and being able to incorporate a variety of tricks into that system without making it any less systematic.

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Approaching the study of Viking sword and shield

Many people are interested in the practice of Viking sword and shield, and expect that other HEMA clubs will share their interest in this system. It can result in surprise and confusion when other people and clubs then have very little interest in the system, and perhaps do not even consider Viking sword and shield to be an example of HEMA. Why might this be? And how can we approach such a study in a constructive fashion?

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