Sparring and Fighting

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

This is a guest article by Duncan McEvoy. Duncan and I have had several discussions over the last year or so, on the topic of sparring and fighting, and how we think these elements fit into the ways that we each conceptualise HEMA and martial arts. Since Duncan has some different points of view to my own, I asked if he would be willing to write some of his thoughts for a guest article, so that the website can show another way of looking at HEMA. He kindly agreed, wrote this article, and sent it over to me for hosting on the site.

Do you spar in your club? If you do why do you do it? My guess is there will be some common answers like “it’s fun”, and “it helps me to prepare for competitions”, and “it helps me to pressure test ideas and techniques”, etc. Of course there will be many none standard answers too, maybe almost as many answers as there are people sparring out there. I’m certain they are all good answers as they are your answer, and whatever works for you … works.

So we all know what sparring is, what we use it for etc, but do we have any mis-conceptions that could be doing us more harm than good? Maybe, so it could be worth looking into sparring a little deeper and its relationship to learning how to fight. This is worth thinking about and looking into as one of the most common answers I see is along the lines of “it helps me become a better fighter”, or “it’s how I can pressure test myself to fight better”, or variations on that theme. Basically what we are saying is it’s a way to train to become a better fighter. So… Here is the question. Is that correct?

For the purposes of this article we are mostly looking at one on one encounters.

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Sometimes, people write a thing that has some value, and would like for it to be somewhere on the internet with a little permanence, so that it can be found again later. These guest articles can provide a variety of different points of view that I might not normally write about myself. If you have an idea for an article that you would like to see hosted here, please contact me with your suggestion.

Some thoughts on corporate sponsorship for the development of the HEMA community

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

Recently there was a Facebook discussion about corporate sponsorship for individuals in the HEMA community, which was quite an interesting topic. James Conlon posted the following question:

“Inside the world of Longsword Fighting” by The New York Times was posted on YouTube over 3 1/2 years ago. To quote Jake Norwood “We need about a million dollars, is what we need. To actually pay for staff… hey Red Bull, right?”

With the exponential growth seen in HEMA over the last couple years is corporate sponsorship a reasonable expectation at present or within the upcoming years? Is corporate sponsorship something that HEMA as a community even wants or needs? What would the foreseeable pros and cons of corporate sponsorship entail? Could corporate sponsorship lead to more of a sportification of HEMA or would HEMA potentially lose its close knit aesthetic that so many of us have come to love?

My thought is that any funding or corporate sponsorship that leads to general development and improvement of the community is a good thing, whereas any funding that leads towards polarisation or isolation of communities, clubs, events, activities, etc, is probably best avoided.

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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.

Book Review: Sport and Physical Education in the Middle Ages

Sport and Physical Education in the Middle Ages by Dr Earle F. Zeigler.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 4th March 2016. It has been modified for reposting here.

A while ago, I bought what promised to be a fascinating book with great relevance to the study of historical fencing: Sport and Physical Education in the Middle Ages, by Dr Earle F. Zeigler.[1] Unfortunately, I have very little positive to say about the book, as it was full of glaring problems and issues. This review is going to explain just how poorly the book has been put together, and will attempt to show why proper attention to editing and adherence to reasonably high standards are important, even in self-published works.

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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.

Sparring is not always the best training method to become better at sparring

Keith Farrell and Ciaran O'Sullivan
Keith Farrell and Ciaran O’Sullivan fencing with longswords at Edgebana. Photo by Thomas Naylor, 2016.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 11th October 2013. It has been modified for reposting here.

I have often come into contact with the idea that the best way to become good at sparring is to practise lots of sparring. This does have some kind of logic behind it: after all, the common saying is: “practice makes perfect.”

However, in my opinion, there are much better ways to become better at fighting than just sparring a lot. Certainly, plenty of sparring is important to the development of a martial artist, but training cleverly is better than training hard – as long as you work hard at training cleverly!

This article will seek to illustrate some of my thoughts about the issue.

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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.

“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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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.

5 ways to train the Abzug (and to avoid an afterblow)

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 31st July 2015. It has been modified a little for reposting here.

The medieval and renaissance German martial arts (particularly those with the longsword) include the concept of the Abzug, or the “withdrawal” from an exchange.[1] Not only must you be able to enter safely and effectively with a blow, you must hit cleanly, and you must also withdraw under cover so that you can remain safe even after landing a hit.

Regardless of your personal point of view on the “afterblow”[2] and whether or not you think it is a good thing for practitioners to use in their fencing, it is nonetheless obvious that it is better to be able to protect yourself at all times and never to receive a hit that could have been parried easily if only you were paying attention.

To this end, I will suggest a few exercises and ideas to add into your regular training, to help promote the Abzug and to help defend against afterblows in sparring.

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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.

When can we question the masters?

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

An interesting discussion that arises from time to time in the HEMA community is how much we can trust what the authors of our source material wrote, when we may in fact have better ideas and can improve upon these methods, and generally: when can we question the masters?

For some people, it seems only reasonable that we should use the source material as inspiration and then create our own systems, without being beholden to some long-dead author. For others, it seems ridiculous that anyone would claim to be in a better position to talk about the realities of swordfighting than the masters who taught it for a living at a time when swords were still in use.

So when can we question the masters? When can we decide that we “know better” and can therefore make a system that will be the equal of one of these HEMA traditions?

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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.

A sensible progression for buying longsword equipment

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

When people begin training at a club, it is only reasonable for them to be able to borrow some equipment from the club. After all, no one can reasonably expect that a complete beginner will run out and buy themselves all the protective gear to participate in high intensity longsword fencing, right from the first session! However, people will inevitably want to begin to acquire their own kit – or, if they don’t, the club may need to wean members from borrowing equipment after a while, to free it up for newer members.

This article will attempt to advise a sensible progression for buying equipment for learning to fence with the longsword, along with suggestions for items that might be most suitable and useful.

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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.

You cannot hide from boolean data

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

One of the most important developments in my practice of fencing was when I started doing test cutting, because this gave me boolean data, and either I succeeded or I failed. There was no longer any way to hide behind an excuse for why a technique didn’t work, as the data was perfectly clear: it either worked or it didn’t.

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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.

Reconsidering the buffalo

Folio 7r from the MS KK5012 by Peter Falkner, showing the Schilhaw defeating the buffalo. Image from the Wiktenauer.

The Liechtenauer glosses speak of the buffalo, and not in a very complimentary fashion. However, we should not make the naïve assumption that the buffalo is a fencer who is strong but dumb, nor should we assume that the buffalo is a bad fencer.

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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.

Trying to simulate a real fight

Keith Farrell and Ciaran O'Sullivan
Keith Farrell and Ciaran O’Sullivan fencing with longswords at Edgebana. Photo by Thomas Naylor, 2016.

When people design rules for a HEMA tournament, a common idea is that the competition should simulate a real fight as closely as possible. This always involves a series of assumptions about what a “real fight” is, exactly, and also about how a person will react after receiving a hit.

I believe that this is too problematic a goal to be useful to the current HEMA movement, and in this article I will explain my reasons.

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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.