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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 →
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.
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.
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.
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.