Is your art really “a killing art”?

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

Back in September, Kaja Sadowski posted quite an interesting question to Facebook for discussion by her friends and colleagues:

Honest question for my HEMA friends: if you consider the totality of the sources you work from, to what extent is the art you practice really “a killing art”? 100%? 75%? 50%? Less?

Follow-up: what do we gain/lose by framing it exclusively (or primarily) as such?

This is an excellent question, and I’m grateful to Kaja for posing it and giving me the opportunity to consider my thoughts. I think it is a rather important question for practitioners of any martial art (especially those with swords) to ask themselves, so that our practice is framed properly and is placed firmly within its proper context, as best we can understand it.

What follows is an edited and improved version of my original response to her question on Facebook.

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Keith Farrell

Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers.

I have authored Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick and the award-winning AHA German Longsword Study Guide, and maintain a blog at www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

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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Keith Farrell

Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers.

I have authored Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick and the award-winning AHA German Longsword Study Guide, and maintain a blog at www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

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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Keith Farrell

Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers.

I have authored Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick and the award-winning AHA German Longsword Study Guide, and maintain a blog at www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

Thomas Page and Timothy Buck

singlesticks

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 22nd July 2016. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

While searching for something else, I came across an interesting small article about broadsword author Thomas Page, published in The European Magazine and London Review in July, 1782.

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Keith Farrell

Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers.

I have authored Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick and the award-winning AHA German Longsword Study Guide, and maintain a blog at www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

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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Keith Farrell

Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers.

I have authored Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick and the award-winning AHA German Longsword Study Guide, and maintain a blog at www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

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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Keith Farrell

Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers.

I have authored Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick and the award-winning AHA German Longsword Study Guide, and maintain a blog at www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

How to begin working with a HEMA source

Folio 29rfrom the Goliath manuscript. Image from the Wiktenauer.

HEMA is an activity that relies on sources; but what does working with a HEMA source involve? Although it may seem obvious to people who have involved in HEMA for a while, it is not the simplest process, and there are many things to consider at each stage.

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Keith Farrell

Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers.

I have authored Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick and the award-winning AHA German Longsword Study Guide, and maintain a blog at www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

How Scottish is the broadsword method of Roworth and Angelo?

singlesticks

A common question in the study of broadsword sources is how Scottish is the method of Roworth and Angelo? How much of it is merely labelled as Scottish, but in fact comes from elsewhere? It is quite fascinating to trace the development of this method over the course of the 18th century.

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Keith Farrell

Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers.

I have authored Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick and the award-winning AHA German Longsword Study Guide, and maintain a blog at www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

What sabre system should you study?

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

If you have been intrigued by the idea of starting to fence with the sabre, then a common question is what sabre system to study? There are so many different systems that have been written about, so what sabre system is good for a beginner? Read more

Keith Farrell

Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers.

I have authored Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick and the award-winning AHA German Longsword Study Guide, and maintain a blog at www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

Go for the legs!

Keith Farrell
Keith Farrell with a Polish sabre. Photo by Miri Zaruba, 2013.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 16th October 2015. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

It is a common piece of advice for shorter fighters who face taller opponents that they should “go for the legs”. I wrote about this unhelpful piece of advice in a previous article, Myths of the Short Person in Martial Arts.

However, with the correct tactical set up, the legs can be an interesting target to attack, and it can be quite safe to do so. The important thing is to ensure that the opportunity is set up properly, and to recognise when it is not safe to pursue the target.

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Keith Farrell

Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers.

I have authored Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick and the award-winning AHA German Longsword Study Guide, and maintain a blog at www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

Five reasons to learn foil fencing

Foil Fencing 2013
Maksim and Ben fencing with foils in the cloisters at the University of Glasgow. Photo by Keith Farrell, 2013.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 21st August 2015. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

Many practitioners of historical fencing have little interest in modern foil fencing, preferring the historical disciplines for a variety of reasons. However, every so often, the question arises: “is it worth learning modern fencing?”

My advice is that if you have the opportunity, it is worth spending some time learning to fence with the foil. There are some quite tangible benefits that come with this practice, and you cannot go far wrong by giving yourself this experience, even for a short while.

You certainly do not need to learn foil fencing to be able to learn one of the historical disciplines. In fact, I believe that trying to retrofit foil concepts into older historical systems (such as those for the longsword) can actually hold back your development and throw up red herrings as you work with the older treatises.

If you do take up foil fencing, treat it a what it is: its own self-contained discipline, that may have some similarities to other fencing systems, along with many key differences.

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Keith Farrell

Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers.

I have authored Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick and the award-winning AHA German Longsword Study Guide, and maintain a blog at www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

What is a “Claymore”?

Albion Chieftain
Is this a “claymore”?
Short answer: no, it is not.
Nonetheless, it is a very pretty sword.
Photo by Søren Niedziella from Albion Europe ApS.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 6th February 2015. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

A question that appears regularly is “what is a claymore?” There is a persistent misunderstanding about what the term means, where it comes from, and to what kind kind of sword it refers.

This blog article will attempt to provide some answers and to be an easy point of reference whenever the subject is discussed.

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Keith Farrell

Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers.

I have authored Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick and the award-winning AHA German Longsword Study Guide, and maintain a blog at www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

Short Biography: Johann Justus Runkel (1751-1808)

Signature of J.J. Runkel. Image from the Swords Collection blog.

I am interested in working with antique swords, since studying the original items can tell us much about the construction and use of swords in history. I have a small (but growing!) collection of antique swords, and some of them bear a signature on the spines of the blades, indicating that a “J.J. Runkel” had something to do with the manufacture or sale of the swords. This was an avenue for research, and so I endeavoured to find out more about this person, so that I could understand the antique swords in my collection a little better. This article presents my findings as a short biography of this interesting character from history.

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Keith Farrell

Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers.

I have authored Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick and the award-winning AHA German Longsword Study Guide, and maintain a blog at www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

Five solo practice drills: Scottish broadsword

Keith Farrell and Mark Wilkie
Keith Farrell and Mark Wilkie fencing with sabres at Edgebana. Photo by Thomas Naylor, 2015.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 23rd September 2016. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

If you spend time working on your skills in between your regular weekly sessions, your skill will develop more swiftly, and you will find yourself better able to learn from your regular lessons.

Here are five solo practice drills that you can do at home to help improve your basic skills.

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Keith Farrell

Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers.

I have authored Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick and the award-winning AHA German Longsword Study Guide, and maintain a blog at www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.

Fencing with mixed weapons

Keith Farrell and Yvain Rit fencing with longswords at TaurHEMAchia 2017. Photo by Andrea Boschetti, 2017.

An idea that seems to be enduringly popular is to see what happens when fencing with mixed weapons; if one person as a longsword and the other a messer, or sabre against rapier, or spear against sword and buckler, for example. Some combinations are of course quite far-fetched, but others are quire reasonable, and there are even some sources that discuss fencing with one weapon against a different type of weapon.

So why don’t we see people fencing with mixed weapons more often? This article will attempt to answer the question from my point of view.

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Keith Farrell

Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers.

I have authored Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick and the award-winning AHA German Longsword Study Guide, and maintain a blog at www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.