Making Mutieren work in sparring

The "Mutieren" technique, shown in the Goliath manuscript: MS Germ.Quart.2020, folio 17v.
The “Mutieren” technique, shown in the Goliath manuscript: MS Germ.Quart.2020, folio 17v.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 13th January 2017. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

Following on from my article about how to make techniques work in sparring, I would like to present a case study from my own training. Over a period of two or three months, I began to have more success at applying the Mutieren during sparring with the longsword.

If you are unfamiliar with this technique, it is somewhat similar to the croisé in classical and modern fencing; converting an attack to an upper opening downward to thrust into the lower openings, maintaining blade contact with the opponent’s sword for greater safety.[1] With the longsword, because it is so easy for the opponent to lever his sword around to make another strike, it can be quite daunting to try to attempt this technique, and it is often a technique that many longsword fencers struggle to perform.

This is the process through which I have learned to apply the technique more successfully in sparring.

Read more

Good fencing, bad fencing, and incorrect fencing

Liverpool HEMA lesson
Roland and James performing an exercise during a lesson at Liverpool HEMA. Photo by Keith Farrell, 2017.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 20th May 2016. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

Can good fencing ever be considered “bad fencing” or “incorrect fencing” at the same time?

Sometimes people integrate actions or concepts into their sparring that could be described as “good fencing”. However, sometimes these actions or concepts might also be described as “bad fencing” or “incorrect fencing” at the same time, and I think this is an interesting paradox that is somewhat unique to historical fencing.

This article will present a few examples, and it is not the intention to say that any one skill or behaviour or idea is “bad” or “incorrect” all the time. Rather, the intention is to suggest circumstances that may lead to certain actions or concepts changing from “good” to “bad”, or vice versa, or perhaps remaining “good” but suffering from being “incorrect” according to the system. If you take from this article the inspiration to think about these notions, then I will have achieved my purpose, and hopefully more people will consider what counts as “correct fencing” in the system that they study.

Read more

Feinting with the longsword, according to Ringeck

Liverpool HEMA lesson
James and Matthew performing an exercise during a lesson at Liverpool HEMA. Photo by Keith Farrell, 2017.

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

A common action in modern Olympic fencing is that of feinting: making it look like you intend to do one thing, when in fact this is a trick, because you actually want to do something else. If the opponent falls for your trick, then he creates an opening that you can exploit. A very common example of feinting is to perform an attack toward one opening, then when the opponent makes to parry your attack, to take your sword away and go to a different opening instead.

However, is feinting a big part of Liechtenauer’s system of unarmoured fencing with the longsword? It is common to see people utilising feints in sparring, but are these actually part of the system?

This article will examine the advice presented by Ringeck. Other sources within the tradition may well offer different advice, and I would encourage practitioners to examine the issue from these other points of view too. For the purpose of this article, and to stimulate discussion, I will argue the stance that feints should not be used as frequently as most people (myself included) tend to use them in the sparring.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

“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.

Read more

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 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.[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.

Read more

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?

Read more

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.

Read more

Thoughts about the Schaitelhaw and fencing from Alber

Folio 7v from the Glasgow Fechtbuch, showing an action from the advice on the Schaitelhaw. Image from the Wiktenauer.

The Schaitelhaw is one of the most difficult strikes in the Liechtenauer tradition of fencing, and most people struggle to find a good interpretation of the technique that they can rely upon during sparring and tournaments. I will be the first to raise my hand and say that I’m not 100% convinced by my own interpretation and skills at applying it in uncooperative fencing.

This article will explain some of my thoughts on the matter, and will discuss how one may fence intelligently from the position of Alber, according to the 15th century Liechtenauer material.

Read more

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.

Read more