Tuesday, 29 November 2011

28/11/11 Lesson Plan

Tonights plan is either to cover Absetzen and then possibly Shielhau, or to cover my interpretation of the Krumphau, depending on what people fancy when I get there. I'll type it up with drills etc. after.

And a quick note - there won't be a session next Monday because the space will be in use for more Church-y things. I'll send out an email and mention it in class.

No-one had a camera, so no footage was taken.
The turn out was quite good - the limit of what the other end of the church can support, I think. And we were missing a couple of regulars for some reason. Ben was back though after life getting in the way, which was nice even if I didn't get a chance to sword-fight him.

The first thing we did was to introduce absetzen - in this case displacing an incoming thrust while keeping your point online. It also brought up the question of when to displace into Pflug and when to displace into Ochs. After drilling that for a bit, introduced that it could also be used to defend against an incoming cut. Kind of like
this video. But without the steel, skill or soundtrack. I tried to tie it all in together with a drill - both people start in the bind and vie for a stab to the head. Lots of doubles were had by all, and this was one of those drills where I really began to take a dislike to the synthetic training swords. I'm not a 'steel fetishist', but steel is just better at giving feeling in the bind and a combination of different generations of Rawlings synthetics didn't help. That said, the newer guys seemed to get this quite quickly - Jamie in particular impressed me. We both arrived at HEMA from a fencing background, and I couldn't help but find it funny that he was able to pick up on complicated aspects of the bind when he's still struggling with the idea of a passing step.

After that, I introduced the shielhau as a hidden strike, being a cut and an absetzen at the same time. We were  mainly focussed on cutting so that the hands ended up in plfug, rather than extended right out or into an ochs like position. After all, this was some people's second lesson and I didn't want to confuse things too much. This exchange is an example of a more extended shielhau.

Finally, I introduced my interpretation of the krumphau, as much because people asked for it as anything else. It is, I think, a bog standard and uninteresting interpretation and we only did introductory drilling as we were running out of time.

During the 'free-play' period at the end I fenced Andy, which was as enjoyable as every and led to a discussion about drawing your sword, the 'Universal' parry, high-percentage techniques as opposed to elaborate systems and all that jazz. I then worked with Tom on trying to improve his footwork, working on having a more balanced stance with bent legs and taking fewer, smaller steps while keeping his weight  centred and not slipping into a sideways-on 'Olympic Fencing' stance. Which made me feel a liiiitle bit like a hypocrite  since that's where I tend to stumble.

It does occur to me that I really ought to do some more one-to-one stuff with guys like Ben, JP and Dan who have enough experience and a great attitude, so I've mostly been allowing them to wonder off, do their own thing and help others.

JP was also talking about, at some hypothetical point in the future, finding other people in Plymouth who might be interested in this kind of thing. Awesome.

As I said before, there's no class next week. I need to send out an email for that, since some of us were discussing taking part in the dreaded Monday Night Firehouse Pub Quiz.

And now, because you managed to survive this far, have a silly picture:

Friday, 25 November 2011

How to do 'not too bad' in a sword fight: 1. How to cut and thrust.

[Well, no real feedback from Monday's session. I ran the Scott Brown drill I had had planned for last week, and I think people were able to do it. Hopefully they also got something out of it. I'm out of town this weekend, so here's something else.]

Now, this post follows on from the introduction. Essentially it's a brief analysis of what the early sources of Liechtenauer's Kunst des Fechten have to say about how to cut and how to thrust. Now, I personally think that these things are taught best face-to-face - better still interspersed with test-cutting. This fits with the advice given in the documentary evidence. However, that's a tangential topic. Let's get on with it.

Firsty up we have MS 3227a, an anonymous collection of anonymous works. It’s normally dated to 1389, but that’s a bit iffy given that the date given for MS 3227a is based on circumstantial evidence such as a calendar copied into the same book, and the lack of a prayer for the dead when referring to Liechtenauer. The author begins their introduction to the Kunst des Fechtens by going into quite some depth on the subject of how to strike (with a side-rant on the subject of flashy fencers). Now, this text is pretty easy to read and common-sense-ical in its explanations, apart from some technical points to do with Aristotelian philosophy and the KdF. I began copying out the relevant sections, but truth be told it’s all bloody relevant. Go, now, to wiktenauer and read the ‘Anonymous treatise on the fundamentals of combat’ section. It’s 1,500 words of pure gold, and that's nothing major. Read it now. NOW. It's why Peter comes up with things like ‘Rule 1: Be efficient, and Rule 2: Stab him in the face.’

Look at the re-capitulations too, while you’re at it. The advice is to be confident, go for the first cut at your opponent’s head and body to seize the initiative and be ready to keep moving - so don’t overcommit! Do not freeze up, keep on looking for an opening and use the feel of the bind, for example saying:
‘Hence Liechtenauer said: "Do not hit at the sword always the aim to openings hold. At the head or the body, so that harm stays away. If you hit or fail, seek to aim at the openings. In all lore turn your point keen in his face. And who makes big movements, will be humiliated. At the very nearest bring hits and thrusts properly. And hurry, that the other will not be the first to arrive. So you may stand against a good fighter.’ - 65r
However, here are some other specific points from the gloss of the unarmoured fencing epitome:
‘Do not strike at the sword but wait for the openings.’ - 18r
‘Also when you want to fence strongly, then fence from the left side with the whole body and with full force to the head and to the body wherever you can hit – and never to his sword, but as if he (the opponent) does not have a sword or as if you cannot see.’ - 19v
‘He (Liechtenauer) also means that you should not step straight in with the blows, but from the side at an angle so that you come in from the side where you can reach him easier than from the front.’ - 19v

CGM 1507, a book from 1470 by Paulus Kal, contains illustrations of Liechtenauer’s unarmoured epitome.
‘The Wrath strike [Zornhau] threatens with the point.’ - 59r
The guy in pink has cut into a bind. Notice how he has ended up right foot forwards, his point threatenning the other guy, his hilt in line with his fore-arms and his arms not fully extended.

Mscr. Dresd. C 487 contains a copy of ‘Ringeck’s gloss’ of Liechtenauer’s epitome, the full explanation of which is available on wiktenauer (http://wiktenauer.com/wiki/Ringeck). The beginning of the gloss repeats similar themes - step with the cut. Because after all:
‘If you cut with an Oberhau from the right side, follow after the cut with your right foot. If you do not do this then the cut is poor and insincere, because your right side lingers behind. Then the cut becomes too short and cannot follow the correct arc down towards the other side, in front of the left foot. [...] In this manner you can perform all of your techniques correctly and with strength. And in the same way should all the other cuts be performed.’ - 13v-13r
‘It also repeats the theme to attack the other person with confidence, and to strike at their head and body and be ready to follow up the attack if it ends in the bind, for example saying:
'All fencers who are hesitant and wait for the incoming attack, and do nothing other than to ward it away, they gain very little joy from this sort of practice because they are often beaten. Always fight with the strength of the whole body! Cut close into him, to the head and to the body, so he cannot change-through in front of your point. And when the cut ends up in the bind you shall not hesitate but shall quickly and fluently make attacks against the nearest opening, using the five strikes and other techniques that will be described later.’ - 13r-14r
Equally, the author also advises you to begin the exchange with a cut from your dominant side, for example from the right if you’re right handed, saying:
‘When you come against him in Zufechten, if you are right-handed and want to strike him, you must not throw your first cut from your left side. That is because this is weak and cannot bring strength to bear if he binds the strong of his blade against you. Therefore, cut from your right side, so you can be strong and skillful in the bind and can do as you will.’ - 14r-14v

Finally, we also have the 'von Danzig' gloss. It first appears in Codex 44.A.8 from 1452, but a translation is most easily available from MS German Quarto 2020, the 'Goliath' manuscript from 1510-20. My folio references will refer to Codex 44.A.88, but the translation will be from Goliath. Don't blame me, this is how wiktenauer is laid out!
Much of the same advice is repeated again, but so instead of regurgitating it let's have a look at other ways in which the advice is presented. The glossa for the zornhau states that:
'Glosa The Wrath Strike counters all high strikes with the point. And it is indeed nothing other than a bad [or simple and straightforward] peasant strike. Deploy it thus: when you come to him in the pre-fencing: if he strikes to you from his right side high to the head, then to this also strike from high on your right (note in margin: in the weak on the sword) wrathfully displacing with him on his sword, if he is then weak on the sword, then aim to shoot ahead with the point and stab to his face, or attack the chest between the arms.' -  ff. 13r-v
In other words, a simple cut is from the right side to the head, at an oppening (the opponent's right shoulder), yet on this occasion simultaneously displacing his incoming cut. From the bind there's also enough room to extend into a thrust. Generally speaking though the advice when it comes to thrusting is to 'drive out' into it, or 'shoot' with a stab. Without adding too much personal interpretation, there's not that much more to say that won't be covered under 'how to cover yourself'.

It's worth noting that here I've picked the sections which illuminate the mechanics of simple cuts here. There are plenty of other sections that I could have chosen, and indeed I tried to ignore the 'hidden' strikes which have different cutting mechanics.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

How to do ‘not too bad’ in a sword fight: Introduction

An alternative approach to Liechtenauer’s Kunst des Fechtens 

Well, our usual training schedule is up in the air a bit, so beyond arranging informal meet-ups, sprinting up hills and getting into some kind of exercise routine, I guess I'll just have to geek out about sword fighting. M'kay?
This post has its roots in the KdF Roadmap that Pete wrote, and also in something that Chris Walters said over on the HEMA Alliance forums. The idea behind it is that the sources we look at are not manuals. Rather they’re mnemonics, easy to remember poems from a dead oral culture. Or they’re glosses and illustrations, explanations of jargon from a highly technical area of carefully preserved yet hidden knowledge. Or they're artist's sketches. Or they might be attempts to preserve a dying art. It’s difficult, we have to look at the intent behind the documents - they’re not Longsword 101 for complete newbies who have modern training equipment and intentions. We can’t just look at the pretty pictures and take guesses. Or for that matter study techniques in isolation and expect to be able to sword fight.
N.B. There's a counter-argument to all this along the lines of 'But Meyer's printed work is a Longsword 101! Why not just study Meyer?' My answer to which is that I find Meyer really cool, and want to learn more about the fencing system he presents. But I don't think that it's the same art as, for example, Paulus Kal practised in the 1450s.

Yet at the same time, there’s something that I’m going to call The HEMA Hypothesis - basically that the dead dudes knew their stuff. It might be expressed as ‘a fight that simulates historical context will have historical fighting work’ and conversely ‘If, in your simulation of a historical fight, the evidenced methods of fighting don’t work, then it’s because of a fault in your simulation. Not because of a problem in the methods.’ Or it might be expressed as something like ‘In order to learn what are the effective mechanics of interpersonal violence in a particular context, it might be worth paying attention to the opinions of those who would be in a position to know.’ I don't think I'm stepping over the line by saying that that’s a pretty core assumption or belief for most people who train HEMA.

Because of those two points there is space for works that attempt to lay out the contents of the primary sources in a more easily digestible, 'how-to' manner. There are plenty of examples - just look at the texts from the Freelance Academy Press, Chivalry Bookshelf or Paladin Press. Very few of them actually present uninterpreted(ish) primary sources and translations. Rather lots of them are presentations of some dude’s interpretations. Nothing wrong with that - that’s what an awful lot of this blog is. Fair enough - it’s only within the last few years that the sources have become widely available, or available at all without huge personal expense, thanks to resources like wiktenauer. They've been invaluable.

But any way. At the moment I believe that there is a very small gap in the market here - for a freely available copy of what the dead dudes say about fighting in their times. True we already have one, one called wiktenauer. But if we take the resources up on wiktenauer as the sources presented raw (or al-dente) at one end of the spectrum, and a work like John Clement's Medieval Swordfighting as the evidence pre-digested, then this would just be a little bit chewed. The evidence laid out as ‘this is how you sword fight better.’

Which is what this series of posts is going to be. Of course, it’s not going to be a substitute for training. Or for training with people who know their stuff. It also won’t last for ever - in time there will be better resources, better organised ones, and more freely available images and translations. But hey. That’s progress. And progress is inherently good, right?

But, back to that balancing act between interpretation and presenting the evidence. This isn’t going to just be a system that I’ve made up (though you could make an argument that we each have our own individual understandings of how sword fights work, but that's straying into naval gazing. Which we don't have time for...) As Pete laid out in his Kunst des Fechten Road Map, he outlines what he thinks are the three most important things
to know before engaging in sparring, so that you're not just getting beaten up for no reason:
  1. How to cut and thrust.
  2. How to cover yourself.
  3. How to control the bind.
I think that's pretty reasonable. It's not an exhaustive list, but they're all pretty key areas in a sword fight. In fact, I'm going to steal it and use it as the structure for three upcoming posts. In a perfect world I'd have the time to train and communicate these things on a one to one basis with each guy in the group, but we simply don't have the resources right now.

Instead, this 'Alternative Approach' will be looking at the documentary evidence and using it to justify what I do teach. The sources tend to focus on techniques, rather than on basics such as ‘This is how you should hold a sword’ or ‘This is the body structure you should have behind Pflug’. It makes sense - when you’re laying out a system, they've spelt out the structure of it, and then specifics for specific situations. I guess instruction on things like approaches in a bout or how to cut well would have been done informally.

There’s also relatively little out there about ‘common fencing’; presumably fighters would either already have some fighting experience, or some basic actions would have been built up in training and the authors thought that it wasn’t worth wasting words on.

Finally, I’ll be focusing on sources from Liechtenauer’s KdF rather than different systems like the 'Fiore school' or the English sources. The reason for this is that I'm not terribly confident at interpreting them, indeed if I look at Fiore, I understand its plays as displaying KdF principles now - one might show a ‘Hangen and Schnappen’, or another something like a zorn-ort. If I was using those sources as examples, I’d be conveying my interpretation of them without being that confident that I was doing them justice. Moreover, I would then be converting that into a package that I think the Liechtenauer guys in my group can learn from. Publicly. No thanks. Some day I'm going to drink a lot of coffee, map out all the conceptual stuff and all the technique-decision-trees I can think of, and copy and paste all the relevant bits of all the documentary evidence to support it. That'd be 'my' KdF. But you know what? Life's too short.

These posts will hopefully be coming up over the next few weeks, depending on how much of a pain real life decides to be.

Finally, because this post is a very long wall of text:

Monday, 14 November 2011

No training today.

Well, due to circumstances beyond my control there was no IDC session this week - it seems that the space we normally used is literally falling apart. Looks like we may have to look at alternative venues (which was something that we were thinking about anyway...)

Hopefully some people might be up for meeting up in the park this weekend regardless.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

A Not-So-Universal-Parry?

Gregory Mele has a rather interesting article over at the Freelance Academy Press blog, called The Truly Universal Parry. Give it a read. What's a shame is that the article doesn't go into much detail about why the technique works - how it functions on a mechanical level. It doesn't explain why changing from holding a single-handed sword as-if-it-was-in-its-scabbard to high-on-the-right-with-the-point-extended is structurally strong and a powerful movement, or how stepping allows you to generate more force and stepping off-line changes the nature of the parry. There's also a mechanical difference between it used as a hanging-guard with the point out to the left, as shown in this Talhoffer .gif, and it ending with the point directed at the opponent, as shown in the Fiore .gif.
N.B. The .gifs are pretty massive (about 5-7MB). It may be worth right-clicking on them and opening them alone in a new tab.
An animated .gif of the play from Talhoffer. The parry is made as a hanging cover under the incoming cut - elsewhere it is shown as a displacement up followed by a stab down the centre-line.
A Fiore play, cobbled together haphazardly from Flos duellatorum: Il Fior di battaglia di maestro Fiore dei Liberi da Premariacco by Francesco Novati - a critical edition of Fiore's Flos Duellatorum, Pisani-Dossi MS, Private Collection, Italy, 10 February 1409
Bonus points for why the same parry isn't as prevalent in weapons that require two hands. The equivalent cut in Lichtenauer longsword would be an unterhau from Nebenhut-on-the-left-hand-side to crossed wrists in Ochs-on-the-right-hand-side, using the true edge.
The chap in the bottom-right is in something like I imagine nebenhut-on-the-left-hand-side to be. Mittelalterliche Hausbuch von Schloss Wolfegg, after 1480,  f. 3r; 'Introduction miniature "jugglers and acrobats" (figures in some cases worked by the "people-Four" from the "Great card game of the Master ES of 1463)'. Wikipedia it.
On the other hand a cut up with the false edge from Wechsel into something like Kron or Langort is very strong.
Said cut, cobbled together from Hans Talhoffer's  BSB Cod.icon.394a, f. 2v and  6r.
I have my own explanations or theories as to how it functions, but I'd be interested in hearing other, more experienced peoples'. Who knows, if I have enough time I might write out my own.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Flowing/Cutting/Footwork Drill Theft.

Scott Brown is a guy who does HEMA. He seems to like flow drills, geeky references and coffee in the morning. You can find his youtube channel here, or you can stalk him yourself.
At FightCamp he did a class this year in which he presented a drill. Initially, I felt that it was very confusing and 'dead' drill. Now though, I feel that it may be useful in order to help get people used to changing footwork. The drill also has a lovely mathematical elegance, and that kind of stuff is important in sword fighting. Just ask the Spanish rapier guys.

Pete summed up the drill as follows:
1 is cutting from your right, down to the left.  2 is cutting from your left, down and to the right.  When you cut line 1, you step with the right foot, whether passing or shuffling.  When you cut 2, you step with the left foot.  You parry into the guard with the sword-side foot to the rear.
To explain - start with parrying with Pflug on the inside.  You start with your left feet forwards.  You're gonna start.  So cut 1, with a passing step forwards.  He parries with a left Pflug, so needs to pass backwards.  Then he cuts a 2, so needs to pass forwards again, while you pass backwards.  Then you cut a 2, but you've now got a left foot forwards, so it's a shuffle for you and him.  etc  You need to do 12211221 to reset to starting positions.
Repeat with inside Ochs blocks, and then outside Ochs (hanging stylee) and outside Pflug.

This may or may not have something to do with Monday's class.

Yes, this is somewhat at odds with the 'drill with intent/aliveness' line I've been going on about. Meh.

Monday, 7 November 2011

07/11/11 Lesson Plan - Now with video and added feedback.

Well, last week's lesson wasn't great - I was tired and unclear, the drills didn't play out well enough and there were the usual kit issues. Today's plan is nice and laid back - partly in response, partly because I may be running late.
Plan is to run a pair of drills, and then go straight into coached and cornered sparring. If anyone wants to do any one-on-one work, I'll be more than happy to.

The drills are:

  1. Start out of distance. The aggressor enters in Vom Tag and makes an attack with intent from that guard. The defender can respond however they want. Swap roles. Swap partners.
  2. The second drill is very similar - the pair start out of distance, with the aggressor in Vom Tag. However, as he closes to enter he transfers to a different guard - could be one of the main four, such as Alber or Pflug, or it could be one of the more marginal guards. In either case, the defender still has the same job - recognise the threat, respond to it, repeat.
Also, don't do this please:
Well, when I say 'however they want', this wasn't what I had in mind...
See you all in a few hours...

How'd it go down? Middle I guess. Low turnout (partly because of the holiday weekend, partly because of illnesses). We were off to a slow start, and again there was the usual swapping around of kit to be able to drill. A rather nasty smack someone received in the first few minutes also blew the wind out of the sails of the drill.
On the other hand, the free-play went quite well. I spent a lot of time working with Tom to try and encourage him to develop his fencing and not just rely on a few techniques, his build and our unwillingness to hit him really hard. By the end of it his footwork had improved a lot, he was experimenting with bind-work and it was all pretty encouraging. Hopefully we can build on that.
Ant also surprised me with how his bind-work has come along. Hopefully his feet will get with the program and he can start kicking my arse soon!
JP bought along a camera, so hopefully there'll be plenty of footage soon.

I'll also try and organise a play in the park this weekend if the weather is any good.

Edit 2:
JP's put up some of the footage from Monday night:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5eRRO2CyvA - Ant and I are sparring in this one. As I said above, your bind-work has come along nicely. None the less though, I get the impression that you're not always using the guards other than Vom Tag very effectively out of the bind - there's a section from about 1m44s where it really shows (although I'm impressed by how quickly your feet recover when you realise you're in a grappling situation, although you haven't done very much of it). At this point I think we should probably work on your fencing before we get to the bind - transitioning between guards, hunting for openings and having the footwork in place to support your cuts and closes into distance.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dWeNKxTbz4 - JP and I are sparring in this one. Looking at your Vom Tag, your hands are wandering forward to the point where they become easy targets (although I don't go for them in the video), and your head is crouched forward as well, meaning that your cuts are very strong, but don't have the range (or don't have the structure to support them when the cuts are more extended.) I also feel that you're passively waiting for opportunities and openings to arrive in this exchange/spar/assault/whatever, rather than moving around, transitioning between guards and trying to create them. A lot of the time you're not stepping to support your cuts/work the angles, instead fencing linearly. Although looking at the end of the video your footwork is a lot better.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0H4kf4TLCSU - Tom and Jakob are sparring in this one. I think/hope this video was taken before we had the one-on-one training session. A lot of the things that we talked about are evident in it, from the 'pawing the ground' tell at 12s in, to making big swings with all your weight on a straight front leg, like at 16s. You're also swinging at Jakob's sword a lot of the time, rather than trying to hit him, and ending up getting really heavy blows to the side after your opponent gets bored of the clackety-clack game. As I spelt out on Monday - you can get away with it in a friendly sparring situation at the risk of upsetting the other guy who is hoping to learn something, but in a tournament or competitive environment you'll get muller-riced if you try and fence like that. Relying on physical intimidation in free-play has also meant that your fencing hasn't progressed much - you've shown me that you can use the bind, displace and all that kind of stuff, but it's not showing up in sparring. Hell, if we skip back to March then back then your free-play was better, if anything - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ehgzhgvDXg . I think you need to ask yourself if you're happy to sit comfortably on the plateau you've reached, or if you want to become better at fighting with a longsword. If you do, then I'll do everything possible to help and support you in that ;)

Any other feedback, comments, criticisms etc. from the rest of the internet?