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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Everyone has a different point of view on the future of HEMA tournaments and their role in the development of the community. There are regular posts on Facebook discussing how the tournament scene might develop as the community grows larger.
I feel that it is important to look at the tournament scene in the long term, and to consider what we might want it to look like several years from now. My real hope is that as the community develops and grows, the tournaments will also develop, without stagnation.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 11th October 2013. It has been edited and improved for posting 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.
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.
This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 31st July 2015. It has been edited and improved for posting 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. 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” 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.
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?