Warming up at Liverpool HEMA

training with the dussack
Keith Farrell teaching dussack at a seminar. Photo by Daria Izdebska, 2018.

Warming up before training is something we should all do, to prepare for the lesson and to avoid injuries. Although this is usually common knowledge, information about HOW to warm up before martial arts practice is perhaps less common, and there is (unfortunately) a lot of bad advice and out of date ideas floating around.

At Liverpool HEMA, we approach warming up in a relatively simple and straight-forward way. In this article, I would like to share some of our common exercises and strategies, after first setting out some fundamentals.

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Footwork and handwork for longsword

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

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.

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Making footwork lessons work for you

Folio 54r from the MS Dresden C.93 by Paulus Mair. Image from the Wiktenauer.

There are two broad kinds of footwork lessons: technical lessons and integration lessons. You need both of these types of lessons before your footwork will begin to work for you in sparring, and you also need to be training the right thing before it will begin to work for you!

This is just the same as for striking techniques, where there are technical lessons to teach the mechanics of the action, and then integration lessons to help integrate the technique into everything else that you are doing.

This article will give a brief introduction to my point of view on the matter.

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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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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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Five solo practice drills: longsword

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

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 21st October 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 some solo practice drills that you can do at home to help improve your basic skills.

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Improve your footwork – play games like children!

Folio 22r from the MS Dresden C.93 by Paulus Mair. Image from the Wiktenauer.

A common problem for almost every practitioner of HEMA (and indeed, of many martial arts) is that footwork is difficult and could always use improvement. But how to go about improving footwork? Common exercises involve standing in line and practising this kind of step going forward, that kind of step going backward, this other kind of step going forward, and so on. It is an activity that is totally denuded of context, and in my opinion, it is a problematic way to approach the development of footwork skills.

Instead, I suggest that one of the best ways to improve your footwork skills would be to play simple games, as children do.

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Meyer’s four openings drill (aka Meyer’s square)

meyer-four-openings-square
Meyer’s diagram for attacking the four openings. This modern image is courtesy of Ilkka Hartikainen, who very kindly made it available for use by the community.

In his 1570 book, Joachim Meyer included a brief paragraph and a small diagram to describe an exercise for learning how to strike to the four openings (the Vier Blossen) on an opponent. Both the diagram and the exercise have become popular in the current longsword community, with an increasing number of people asking what it is and how to use it in training. This article will explain how to use the exercise in a constructive fashion, as well as highlighting some common errors and problems.

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