Monday, 31 January 2011


Open day at Temple Gates Open Dojo today, which was good fun, especially since I haven't had much martial arts experience. Cross training in grappling and to a lesser extent striking would be good, except that I really don't have the time or the funds at the moment. I did a short presentation with Jon about HEMA, which seemed to go quite well - he wrote it up on the SG forums, for those interested.

Mulling over things, the idea of going back to basics with the Lichtenauer system and working upwards into more complex stuff is definitely appealing if I teach more. Got to think about IDC a bit some time too.

And this art / is quite earnest and righteous, and it goes / from the nearest in search of the closest and / goes straight and right when you wish to / strike or thrust. [Text from Dobringer, Picture from von Danzig.]
As an introductory session, I'm trying to think of a way of presenting Lichty in a was that people of varying levels of interest can get something out of. At the moment, for a first lesson, I'm thinking something along the lines of:
The guards (Vier Leger) - cue moment in the pub of 'These are my guards. There are many like them, but these four are mine.'

  • Ones that present a clear threat (Ochs, Pflug, Vom Tag). How Alber doesn't, but how by inviting an attack it takes the initiative.
  • How some of them are hanging guards, (Ochs and Pflug), and how they displace an attack. Introduction.
A drill to get people more comfortable with displacing an attack, similar to Jon's blocking drill. ie. Person A attacks with either a downwards or an upwards cut, and Person B displaces it with their point on-line. Degrees of complexity. OR Start in the bind, Person A thrusts, Person B displaces it. [It's a question of how isolated the technique needs to be - it can be used either from zufechten or the if the feeling of the bind is right. I guess the second drill isolates it more, but feels more isolated/artificial. Sticky swords is good, but not the foundation of teaching.] Isolation.

The beginnings of a core drill that a hell of a lot can be built from - Person A attacks with a Zornhau, Person B counters with a Zornhau of their own, and whoever has the centre line thrusts (the good old Zorn-Ort). Whoever receives that thrust displaces it by moving into either Ochs or Pflug. [Srsly, from this kind of drill you could build up  almost all the bindwork]. Intergration

Sure, there's a lot of conceptual baggage not explicit there, hell it doesn't even include the iconic Meisterhau-s. But it seems as good a place as any to start.

Monday, 24 January 2011

24/01 Training

Well... that was interesting.

First session that I led class. On the spur of the moment, which wasn't ideal. Turn out was seven, including instructors and also one new person who showed up for the first time. Johann took him to one side to run him through introductory stuff, which I didn't really have much to do with.

Warm ups - 'wrist grabbing' game. Not that intense for me, but I think that some of the others got a bit more of an intense warm up seperately.

Then on to cutting practise, simply because people were holding longswords at the time. 10 fendente/zornhaus each, round the circle, to posta longa/langort, and then another set down to boar's tooth/pflug. Then back up with the false edge, rabat style.

Which led to the drill I did on the spurr of the moment. It began with a simple rabat set up, because that's what I could remember. Person A comes in from out of distance, goes for a fendente. Person B beats it upwards with the false edge from a low guard, clearing the centre line, and enters with a cut. I've done it with IDC, and also with Matt Easton's Schola Gladiatoria back in times long gone. Tried to emphasise that Person A's cut had to be realistic and with intent, and that B had to make use of the space that they had made.

At some point, one of the guys asked me if we could do some blade on blade stuff. Winding or whatever. So on the spur of the moment I modified the previous drill to have Person A, when their sword has been beaten away, pull it back and under/round Person B's blade, and come in with a thrust, protecting themself by going into Posta di Fenestra/Ochs. I forget the technical names for it, zucken or whatever. Kind of like the finishing section of this play.

TBH, people weren't getting it all that well. We haven't done anything like it really, and I probably wasn't explaining it too well. As area to think about and work on.

Final part, because lots of the time people couldn't clear their tip around the opponent's sword, I introduced coming in under a hanging guard (ochs/posta di fenestra again) to enter into grappling. Again, a bit rushed and poorly thought through, but hey.

After that, got people 'structured sparring', essentially starting quite close and being reset whenever they got too far apart, or used silly German meisterhau to win the drill.

Things people wanted to see more of: Wrestling at the sword. Winding.
Things I want to see more of: Planning, structure, clear explanations. Sure, I can do that move fine, but everyone else should have been able to do the zucken technique at least in the drill.

After that, sparring. Off the top of my head, sparred Johann, trying to offer him a choice of 'Either we can do this from the bind, or play a tempo and distance game in which I smack you on the hands.' I seemed to be re-assuringly all right at the tempo and distance game, but I hope that Johann's thumbs are ok, and am interested to find out his thoughts on it. Was a continuation from looking at the videos last week - none taken this week. Damn it.

Finally, sparred Ben. Good fun as always, and I tried to concentrate on using the basic German fundamentals well (offsetting, guards, meisterhau). Of course, he keeps getting better. Damn him! Never quite heard if he made his mind up about buying shinies though. Felt bloody unfit after though...

No guy whose hand I hit hard last week. Damn it.

Eugh. Feeling pretty shattered and an early start tonight, so hopefully I'll get a chance to come back and mull things a bit.

Conclusion: Hopefully worth the £5 for the regulars, and we did something a bit new. Need to build on it though.

Comments and Criticisms please!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Return of the IDC Blog.

Hurrah for the return of the blog! Since this blog got Johann thinking, I figure I might as well write out my thoughts here.

First of all I'm looking forward to the guides, they should both be useful given how much fun the pollaxes are, and the affordability of the padded jacket. Go go crafty fighter!

But I’d disagree that the classes have been ‘rubbish’. A bit unstructured perhaps, but they’ve been focusing in on the areas that as a group we’ve been lacking in – making committed attacks and getting more comfortable in distance last week for instance. Certainly the drills that we’ve been working with ( be they focusing on using hanging guards, or making use of timing and distance to get off hits), have been good. In the last post I put up some issues that I had with the last one, but only because I felt that the drill could be built on and improved.

More drills are good. Pete once sent me what, in his own words, was a 'nail-to-the-church-door rant' on HEMA full of good advice, and part of it was:
 "Steal ideas.  Steal drills for conditioning, for techniques, for applications of those techniques.  Steal concepts for how to make the group function and succeed.  If someone challenges you on the theft, admit it and offer them some other second-hand ideas in return."
I agree whole heartedly, and would point people to the HEMA-Alliance forum, which has a stickied thread devoted to grabbing other people's ideas and running with them.

But at the same time I feel that drills are much more useful when people know the principles or techniques which are being taught, where they come from and how to apply them under pressure. So, building up complexity, intensity and aliveness in a drill, but all the while hammering home what's being taught and why.

Jon's method was normally to pick a play from Fiore, or a couple of related plays, and first talk a bit about the context - when it's used in a fight and why, and then make sure that everyone present could perform the technique under the easiest of conditions. After that, he'd introduce the drill and build on it.

Perhaps that was the point that I was really trying to get across - I could work out what the drill in class was for and why we were doing it, but that wouldn't have been obvious to someone with less experience. To steal the drill structure from a very worthwhile article I was sent a while ago:
  • Introduce (should only take a few minutes, if not it is probably to complicated for the participants) - Show everyone how an attack can be displaced while staying in distance, making a threat the other person, for example Fendente into a Fendente. Talk about it's application in a fight, and the advantage over running out of distance/staid block.
  • Isolate (Isolation sparring in an Alive way) - Pretty much the drill that was run in the session, although perhaps the class size meant that the instructor could have observed and given guidance a little bit more to ensure that the drill was alive, and that people were getting from it what they needed to.
  • Incorporate (Add into your total game) - Spar with it - although perhaps an intermediate stage where people got to spar starting in distance and forced to stay in distance, closely refereed (and perhaps stopping wrestling at the sword too.)

As you said, we're reaching the stage where most people know a reasonable repetoire of techniques. However, I think that people have forgotten some of them, or never learnt others, or don't include them when sparring. Sure, we should steal MOAR DRILLS!, but when using them we should make sure that people know what they're learning and why they should be able to do it, and that they are comfortable using it in sparring.

Now, for some random ideas on the areas that you mentioned:
  • Fitness - None of us are in amazing condition, and IMHO it shouldn't be too much of a focus. So long as people are willing to try their best then I'm happy. Sure, I'd like to get fitter (between all the cigarettes and pints of beer), but we aren't a gym, and people don't show up to get fit as an end in itself. I enjoyed this week's warm-ups as a bit more intense, and some people dropped out after having had enough. Fair enough. To be honest, I just try and keep my work rate up and encourage other people to do things. If they need a break or don't fancy it, fair enough.
  • Reactions - Well, these are more emergent, and I don't think you can teach them in the same way that you can a cut or a drill. We can try and teach people what is going on, so they can recognise it, and the correct response, so they can re-act when they have recognised it, but ultimately reactions are down to the individual.
  • Offense - Hmm. I think we could all benefit from another lesson on how to make commited cuts (perhaps a bit before the next Swords & Cyder if we're going to be doing cutting then?).
  • Defense - Perhaps going through the guards again, and analysing how each of them is used, and how to transition between them with cuts? I don't know - both Offense and Defense are tied to techniques used at different distances, and can be taught at the same time with the same drills (ie. How to Fendente, how to counter a Fendente, how to do a punta from the bind etc.)

So far I've concentrated on Johann's first point, because to be honest I don't know enough about paying for the hall, or people's situations to talk about what we need to be charging people. What do other people think?

As for the videos - we got a fair amount of thoughts on how we're sparring. I'll embloggen on them some time later, if I have time.

Monday, 17 January 2011

17/01 Training.

Ok, given that this blog concerns getting lernin' across, it seems reasonable to reflect on how are training sessions go, rather than it just being rants or drama-stirring. Let's also try and be honest - we'd only be deceiving ourselves otherwise. Ultimately, it's worth gauging them in terms of 'Was the session worth the money?', as it's a more immediate meter than 'Was the session the best it could have been?'.

So, the first session since the blog's been up. Here is some contemplation:
The turnout was quite small, with just six of us. A bit disappointing given the numbers that we've been getting recently, and it would have been nice to see a few more of the regulars, but it's enough to break even on the rent.
Thing's kicked off by doing a fairly unusual warm up that just grew from doing a 'sticky swords' drill with one of the guys while we chatted before class, progressing through a bit of dagger faffing to warm up, and ending with guys running from one side of the room, doing a couple of cuts against a pillar 'pell', running back and repeating. It was only a brief burst at the end, but people seemed to like it, and it's the kind of intensity I enjoy.

The drill that Johann enigmatically warned us about was an exercise that involved an attacker and a defender; the defender trying to stay in distance (but not too close for wrestling at the sword techniques), and protect themselves from cuts coming from the attacker. It had quite a nice internal progression in terms of intensity, from slow speed (lacking in aliveness?) through to full speed with masks.
I guess the drill would have allowed absolute new-comers to get comfortable with the training tools (had there been any), and I found it enjoyable to play at the 'Edel Krieg'. Certainly as a group we lack comfort at that kind of distance, and much prefer hand-sniping or rushing in, to our detriment.
That said with a more critical eye to the drill it was perhaps a little bit two dimensional, without much structured progression in terms of the depth of techniques or concepts introduced to the drill. I guess different students bought different skill sets to the drill, and I tried involving thrusts to force people to wind, displace and so on, rather than static blocking.
Which I think is my main criticism of the drill - that unless properly supervised it encouraged the wrong response to that situation. I think in the future, if it's re-cycled then it could be the culmination of some more basic drills on how to behave in the bind ('zorn-ort'/'fendente and punta', 'Volta'/'Abnahmen' etc.) and possibly ending in some structured sparring? As it was, it encouraged static blocking (or waving the sword back and forth) - as the defender I tried alternating between Pflug-s to Absetzen incoming cuts, to keep up the pretense of always having a threat, but really it was a token gesture.

In any case, what followed was sparring. I took the opportunity to give one of the guys some advice on relaxing more as he cut, since I noticed he was a bit tense when doing a practice 'kata' at the beginning of the session. By his own admission, he was shattered from work, so I have no idea whether or not it helped, but he seemed amiable to it.
Sparring was a hodge-podge of longsword sparring against Johann and another couple of guys. To be honest, I don't think that I was on top of my game, partly due to lack of physical fitness, and partly because things just didn't flow. I tried to concentrate on using the German guards and the meisterhau-s that I'm not comfortable with (Shiel and Sheitel, and to a certain extend Krump), and also work on my basic footwork.
In any case, I managed to keep up a decent work rate, but I did manage to hurt (but hopefully not injure) one of the guys by making an upwards cut from Alber into his hands while he cut down. Uncool - the first rule is not to break your toys, because then they won't play with you any more...
He seemed OK, and we did some mucking about with a dagger for the last twenty minutes or so, but still, the synthetic swords that we use can break thumbs very easily. Safety comes first.

After the session, pub as usual. I had a chat with Johann about things, and it seems that I didn't jump the gun making this blog. There was a toast and everything.

Conclusion: Worth the £5 for the regulars, but I'm not sure how much a total beginner would have been able to get out of it. Fortunately, not an issue.

I took some videos of the sparring on my phone's rather terrible camera - I'll try and get them online soon. But in the meantime, how does everyone else think the session went? Am I being too harsh? Have I forgotten about anything important?

A bit of background...

“I think it’s fair to say that, when you start teaching something, you’re expected to master it" - John Danaher
For the last couple of years, I've studied, practiced or whatever something called HEMA. In essence, it's trying to re-learn the old martial arts that existed in Europe, by examining and working from the sources and evidence that its practitioners left behind. At its worst, it's a bunch of neck-beards pretending to sword fight, at it's best, I think that it's a very respectable martial art.

You're doing it wrong!

That's better...

In terms of categorization, it's somewhere around Kendo, Olympic Fencing, Re-enactment, Wrestling, the Society for Creative Anachronism and so on, but in its own way is distinct from each of them. I don't want to bash those other past-times and I have nothing against people who do practice them (or practice them alongside HEMA), but I do think that they should be kept seperate and distinct. I love bacon, and I love ice-cream, but the two together don't make a meal.

That said, most people reading this will already be involved in the HEMA world, and so I won't go on. I got involved in HEMA after rage-quitting Olympic fencing a few months before hand. Now, there are plenty of things that I like about Olympic fencing; - the intensity of training, the professionalism of the competitions, and the theory behind it. However, there were also things that I disliked about my time in that sport; - the mindset that it seemed to pander to and foster, the pseudo-history of sword fighting and the way in which a valuable training tool had become a srs-business game of tag.

I became involved with the group now known as The Iron Door Collective in Exeter, after significant prodding from my brother who had been involved in the scene for a while. The IDC is quite a laid back group, perhaps reflecting the West-Country pace of life. At FightCamp  last year our members took home trophies for the spirit they showed, rather than for achieving high places in the competition.

Which I think is admirable. There's a real sense of comradery in the group, (well, we are called the Collective), and I think that to a large extent that's down to the two guys who have been leading classes, Johann and Jon. (I think I'm going to stick to first names in this blog, if I name people). They were both good instructors, working mainly from the treatises of a bloke called Fiore Delli Liberi. More than that, both of them are quite honest about not being all-knowing - HEMA is a collaborative enterprise of research, experimentation, interpretation, triangulation and personality clashes...
The Ancient Medieval Nuggie
Unfortunately though, Jon unable to practice with the IDC any more, on account of moving across the country and everything. Which leads me back to the quote at the top. From what I can recall of Jon's leaving party (there was beer, vodka and a great time), it would be good if I could help with the lerninatin' process in the club, or whatever the diplomatic way of putting that is.

Ok, so I admit that I'm not about to start teaching Georges St-Pierre BJJ, but I agree with the sentiment that's being expressed in the quote at the top. When you present yourself as being worth listening to on a subject then that had better be the case. Now, I'm not the world's most knowledgeable guy, or an excellent coach. But I hope that by being honest and self-critical about what I'm doing and how everyone else is getting along then I can give people a hand in becoming better HEMA-ists.

That said, this blog way prove to be superfluous - there's already an IDC Facebook Group, but not all the members have Facebook. There's also a IDC Blog that Johann runs, but that's his baby (at least, at the moment). So this place will be more of a personal things. My own opinions, views and mistakes.