Learning to apply difficult techniques in sparring

The "Mutieren" technique, shown in the Goliath manuscript: MS Germ.Quart.2020, folio 17v.
The “Mutieren” technique, shown in the Goliath manuscript: MS Germ.Quart.2020, folio 17v.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 6th January 2017. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

One of the common problems faced by many practitioners of historical fencing is that while we know and have learned many cool techniques from our source materials, we may not be able to apply these difficult techniques in the heat of sparring. How can we work towards being able to apply all of our techniques at will, even when under pressure? It requires a little bit of thought and effort, and perhaps you need to change your typical sparring and training habits.

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Review of the Superior Fencing forearm & padded elbow guards

The Superior Fencing forearm guards and padded elbow protectors. Image from the Superior Fencing website.

I recently had the opportunity to test and review the Superior Fencing forearm and padded elbow guards. They are very protective, and are not as bulky as some other forearm guards, although the standard size is perhaps a little too large for smaller people.

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Good fencing, bad fencing, and incorrect fencing

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

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 20th May 2016. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

Can good fencing ever be considered “bad fencing” or “incorrect fencing” at the same time?

Sometimes people integrate actions or concepts into their sparring that could be described as “good fencing”. However, sometimes these actions or concepts might also be described as “bad fencing” or “incorrect fencing” at the same time, and I think this is an interesting paradox that is somewhat unique to historical fencing.

This article will present a few examples, and it is not the intention to say that any one skill or behaviour or idea is “bad” or “incorrect” all the time. Rather, the intention is to suggest circumstances that may lead to certain actions or concepts changing from “good” to “bad”, or vice versa, or perhaps remaining “good” but suffering from being “incorrect” according to the system. If you take from this article the inspiration to think about these notions, then I will have achieved my purpose, and hopefully more people will consider what counts as “correct fencing” in the system that they study.

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Learning how to learn from play

Daria Izdebska and Keith Farrell fencing with the longsword. Photo by Daria Izdebska, 2017.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 6th May 2016. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

In martial arts, broadly speaking, there are two types of training exercise: those where you have a specific goal to accomplish, and those where you do not.

It is my belief that exercises without a specific and achievable goal are only useful for experienced practitioners who have already learned how to learn from play. For beginners who have not yet learned this skill, all exercises must have a well-defined goal to strive towards.

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Some thoughts about the afterblow

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

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 14th October 2016. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

The afterblow is still sometimes a contentious issue in the HEMA community, depending on the person or people with whom you speak. I used to disapprove of the concept myself, but over the last several years, I have recognised it to be a valuable training method with genuinely important outcomes. I would like to share a few of my thoughts on the matter.

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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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