Is your art really “a killing art”?

Liverpool HEMA lesson
Ben and Marc performing an exercise during a lesson at Liverpool HEMA. Photo by Keith Farrell, 2018.

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.

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Unhelpful advice part 1: “Make yourself a smaller target”

Keith Farrell
Keith Farrell with a Polish sabre. Photo by Miri Zaruba, 2013. Note the “side-on” position as described by many authors of sabre treatises.

This is the first article in a short series, discussing common pieces of advice that sound helpful but in fact can be detrimental to your practice of some HEMA systems.

A common piece of advice in HEMA is to stand in profile, with your side towards your opponent (rather than shoulders squarely forward), and the rationale is usually “to present a smaller target”. While this is quite reasonable advice for some disciplines, such as broadsword or smallsword, I believe that it is not only incorrect for other disciplines such as longsword, but that it is detrimental to your practice of such disciplines.

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