How to become a good HEMA instructor

Mark Wilkie and Keith Farrell
Mark Wilkie and Keith Farrell fencing on the banks of Loch Lomond. Photo by Daria Izdebska, 2012.

A question I am asked quite regularly is how to become a good (or better) HEMA instructor? Of course, everyone’s situation is a bit different, but here is a simple set of guidelines for becoming a better instructor. I’m afraid this is quite blunt in places, but as an instructor you cannot hide behind delusions, and you need to be honest with yourself and your students.

Needless to say, to become an instructor (rather than aiming high to become a good instructor), the approach can be much more relaxed. The same general principles apply, though: meet people, practise as much as you can, read a lot, try to understand the material as deeply as you can, and learn how to present it to other people.

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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.

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 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 chronology of the books by D.A. Kinsley (version 3)

D.A. Kinsley is a researcher and author who has been of tremendous service to the HEMA community. His area of interest is that of first-hand accounts of British military engagements and civilian encounters during the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, and his published works have compiled thousands of these first-hand accounts.

These compilations are immensely valuable for researchers and practitioners of historical fencing, as they provide primary sources to describe the use and effects of the swords that we study, along with significant amounts of context and supporting information to guide our study and understanding of our subject.

D.A. Kinsley has been extremely industrious in collecting and publishing these accounts, and this has led to a rather confusing chronology of his books as they come into print and then go out of print, becoming available or unavailable at the drop of a hat.

Personally, I am interested in how all of Kinsley’s books fit together in sequence, since the edition and version numbers appear to be somewhat arbitrary and are not straight-forward. Since in my own work I will doubtless be citing the book by Kinsley that is on my shelf (and probably others in the future!), I wanted to be able to provide a correct bibliographic information for it – but because it is the first book with that particular name, yet supposedly third in a series, that poses a problem that is not easy to solve!

At least if the chronology of his works could be set out in a blog article somewhere, then it would be possible to look at that article and timeline and work out exactly how best to cite any of his books in a bibliography. My intention is to do exactly this task in this blog article, and to suggest a possible bibliographic reference for each of the books mentioned.

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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.

Approaching the study of Viking sword and shield

Many people are interested in the practice of Viking sword and shield, and expect that other HEMA clubs will share their interest in this system. It can result in surprise and confusion when other people and clubs then have very little interest in the system, and perhaps do not even consider Viking sword and shield to be an example of HEMA. Why might this be? And how can we approach such a study in a constructive fashion?

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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.

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 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 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.

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 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.

6 books to help learn the context of medieval HEMA

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 18th December 2015. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

There are now many publications dealing with the nuts and bolts of different medieval HEMA systems, which is a wonderful step forward from where the community was a decade ago. However, while many practitioners can reel off a list of HEMA authors, translators and researchers who produce HEMA-related works, perhaps fewer individuals are well read on the subject of the context that surrounds the medieval HEMA systems.

This is a brief list of six excellent books that would be worth acquiring to support your library of HEMA books, to help you learn more about the context of your medieval discipline of choice.

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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.

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 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.

What is HEMA to me?

Codex icon. 394a, folio 113v. Image from the Wiktenauer website.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 10th June 2016. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

We all have different motivations behind our practice of HEMA, and we also tend to have slightly different understandings of what HEMA is exactly, what all it covers and describes, and what it excludes. Rather than try to answer the question of “what is HEMA?”, this article will look at what I personally understand to be HEMA, and where I draw my lines.

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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.

Shelf numbers for books in archive

Real-size facsimile of the Codex Gigas. Image from Wikipedia, by Michal Maňas, 2007.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 24th February 2017. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

You may have observed that when discussing original source material, people will sometimes refer to sources by their shelf numbers: a series of letters and numbers, rather than using a more readable name. This much more common with medieval sources (particularly handwritten manuscripts) than with printed books, as printed books usually have their own title, whereas manuscripts often exist without a title.

What do these combinations of letters and numbers mean, and how can we understand them?

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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.

What is survivor bias?

An antique broadsword from the Kelvingrove Museum, with accession number A.1954.118. The image is from the Glasgow Museums, hosted on Pinterest.

What is “survivor bias”, and why is it important in the study of historical artefacts?

When historical items of any sort are preserved in a collection of any kind, they can give us information about the time period from which they originated. They can tell us more about that kind of item, or the kind of people who would make it or who would use it. Such artefacts are an important element in the study of history.

However, items often end up in a collection for a particular reasons; collectors rarely buy just anything and everything. Therefore, sometimes the items in collections only tell part of the story, or may even give us details that are not representative of the typical example from history.

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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.