Friday, 21 September 2012

Mike, Y U No update blog?

Because I haven't been doing HEMA. Because I cannot make any HEMA training sessions.

I'm going to Swordfish in November. Signed myself up for most of the competitions and everything. I guess I'll have to get into reasonable shape and wing it from there.

Ultimately, I'd like to train Liechtenauer's unarmoured longsword fencing, and I'd like to train it well. If the way to make that happen is to effectively run a club, eeh. I've got enough going on right now and HEMA isn't that much of a priority. I hope some other people have the drive and circumstance to make that happen, so I can go and train with them.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Post Fight Camp Blues

An update? Oh me oh my. I haven't really been able to do much HEMA lately, so there hasn't been much to say.

Last weekend I went to fight Camp, the largest UK HEMA event, and four nights of camping. Met interesting people, sparred a bunch of them, learned from a bunch of them, got drunk with a bunch of them. Great times.

In terms of Liechtenauer longsword, I need to focus on fencing in range at the moment - on series of cuts (like Roger Norling's wonderful lesson on Meyer), but also on recognising and being able to act on changes in that range (which also came up in Lopes' biomechanics class).

Pete took a class on how to fall safely. I don't think that it was what people were expecting. The feedback seemed to be that the pace was too fast, and that he needed to have better awareness of a large group of students of mixed ability. Stuff for him to work on I guess.

There's always too much to say without turning it into another "this one time at FightCamp" thread. Matthew from Northern Ireland (sorry, I've forgotten your last name!) and Mike Ball both seriously impressed me with an awesome attitude. Miri is a damn great guy (and his documentation of the event is brilliant). Bryn is incredibly sound and makes far too drinkable sloe vodka, as well as impressing everyone in the mixed-nylon competition.

Looks like I won't be able to make Slovenia because of work. I'll have to get my arse to SwordFish instead...

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Can't talk...

...busy training.

Please disregard all previous moping. Time to get my HEMA face on.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

HistFenc Review

I recently had an order from HistFenc ( arrive. HistFenc are a Polish company that produce kit designed for HEMA. Today I finally had an opportunity to test the equipment, so here's a review of it all. We only got kitted up, tested the mobility and did some Federschwert sparring, so these reviews are 'initial reactions', not 'tested to destruction'. I'll keep you updated on how they stand the test of time.

I received a small discount and free shipping, for making a large group order. Excellent. Unfortunately there were delays with getting some of the products ready - but these things happen, and the HistFenc team was in constant communication. The HistFenc guys replied to our emails politely, promptly and helpfully. Top marks for customer service.

Personally, I ordered the "Axel Petterson" Fencing Jacket; Padded Skirt; Groin Protector; Integrated mask overlay with occipital protection "Trinity" (Prestige model); Forearm and Elbow Protectors and the Calf Protectors. This works out to 'all the protective kit that they have', more or less. I'll be reviewing the pieces independently, but also bearing in mind the level of protection that they provide as part of a 'full ensemble'.

  • "Axel Petterson" Fencing Jacket - 165 Euros.

The jacket is available in both standard sizes and custom fitted. I ordered a standard 'Medium' size for myself, and also for my brother to try before deciding (he has the shoulder to waist ratio of Captain America).
The jacket has been reviewed several times in other places - you can read some of them for yourself:
I thoroughly agree with them. It is the best jacket I have tried to longsword fencing. The mobility is a lot better than a coach's jacket (or for that matter every gambeson that I have tried). Most of all, the cut and fit of the jacket stops it riding up the body if you lift your arms above your head, you can still roll your shoulders forwards and back and so on. As the other reviews say, the collar is too wide for my mask's bib to sit on the outside, but with the bib inside mobility was fine (and the jacket collar is turned over to catch blades). On the other hand, the design of the collar and the zip at the front was fantastic in terms of cooling and ease of use. The only mobility draw-back I felt while wearing the jacket was a bit of resistance to bending my torso at the waist, but that was negligible.
In terms of protection from bruises, so far I have only done federschwert and nylon freeplay, but the jacket was perfectly fine and I'll keep you all updated. I have no idea how resistant it would be to a broken steel blade on a lunging fencer, but then again experience has shown that Olympic fencing gear won't hold up to that either. I suspect wearing the jacket will be better than wearing a T-shirt, but it doesn't seem designed to be stab-proof. A lunging fencer with an intact-federschwert? No problem.

4.5/5 - The collar annoyance and the fact that the jacket isn't made of puncture resistant magical material prevent me from giving the jacket an absolute 5/5, but it is the best longsword fencing jacket that I have tried.

  • Padded Skirt - 55 Euros.

The Padded skirt is exactly what it says on the tin. Made of thick gambeson-esque material, the weight sits on your wise and hips, and it stops your hips, groin and top of the thighs from being exposed, especially if your jacket lifts up. The flaps stop above the knee, and never seemed to get in the way. It is only made in one Unisize, which meant that of my tiny friend it was slightly too large, but for me it was perfect.

5/5 - It does the job. For a reasonable price. Without any issues. Excellent.

  • Groin Protector - 7 Euros.

This is one of the 'Clockwork Orange' style suspensors, holding a pouch with a plastic cup in it in front of your genitals. Protecting them is obviously important, but it's very difficult to come across a groin protector which is comfortable, doesn't limit mobility, and also protects you. This model is 'off the rack'; it's cheap, doesn't limit my mobility and is relatively comfortable for me to wear. Initial impressions are good.

4/5 - It isn't the 'Holy Grail' of jockstraps, but I have no complaints about the product.

  • Forearm and Elbow Protectors - 44 Euros.

These are quilted, wrap-around forearm guards with hard plastic inserts. They are designed to dissipate the force of an impact over a wider area. This model has an additional flap that protects the outside of your elbow from blows travelling up your arm, and to some degree from the side as well. They are comfortable and well made, and seem to do their job well (perhaps eliminating the need for separate hard elbow protection). I'll report back on that one when I've been hit harder!

4/5 - They haven't yet been tested to destruction, but initial impressions are good.

  • Calf Protectors - 39 Euros.

These are very similar in design and function to the Forearm protectors. They don't fit me quite as well (again, being unisize), being tight around the base of my calf. I'll extend the 'fluffly' side of the velcro further, and it will cease being a problem. For people without out of proportion calves, it may not be a problem at all. The design certainly covers the sides of your calves better than conventional 'shin guards' or 'brush cutter guards'. They are well made, although I think that HistFenc should consider adding knee protection into the design. At the moment, the knees are unprotected, and it may be worth developing a design that protects the knee as well, like the Forearm Guards protect the elbow. Whether a design that protects the side of the knee is feasible (or for that matter can be competitively priced against 'brush cutter guards' that do the same job, is another matter.

3.5/5 - They are a solid product that achieve what they are intended for. However, that I need to make some minor adjustments, that it is relatively expensive for the job it does, and the fact that the overall ensemble leaves the knees exposed means that I'm wary of giving it too high a rating.

  • Integrated mask overlay with occipital protection "Trinity". Prestige model. - 120 Euros.
An overlay with a good fit.

The mask overlay sits on top of a standard fencing mask and provides additional padding, a larger bib, throat and back of the head protection (from hard impact - a normal bib will not protect you from having a crushed windpipe), as well as limited protection to the collar bones. The overlays are well made, out of leather and fabric with solid plastic inserts.
The construction is solid, and I felt (but wasn't hurt) by a hefty blow to the back of the head today that normally would have stopped me fencing for a few minutes. The bib construction is also good. Getting the cover on and off (and also taking on and off your mask while it is on) is a little bit of a nuisance when you are wearing gloves, but I'm sure will become easier with practise. On the other hand, the covers are fairly heavy, and certainly restrict the amount of air-flow that travels through the mask, making it a lot hotter to fence

Not this is where the review becomes difficult. Each piece was individually made to our measurements. There was some confusion about the measurement that we needed to give and although HistFenc were helpful and informative (and have improved the information on display) - I think that we still got the measurements wrong at our end. It is the kind of problem that could have been solved in five seconds face-to-face, but by email (between four different people in two different countries) was rather difficult.

We received three overlays. One of them fits our masks well, but two of them are far too big. A correct fit seems to seriously affect the overlay - too large and they shift as you move and the mask turns inside the overlay so that it obstructs your vision.
An overlay with a poor fit.

Fortunately, when I got back in touch with HistFenc (asking how best to adjust the mask size), they responded with the following:
“Trinity will be produced in couple of different sizes based on Leon Paul masks to avoid mistakes with sizing as it happens with your order.
By the way, please do not change them yourself. Send them to us with new dimensions of your masks (taken just before the rubber band around the mask). We will fix them and send them back at our expense.”
Which goes to show quite how good the company’s customer service is.

?/5 - A proper fit is essential, but they do a very good job of protecting the throat and back of the head. On the other hand they are hot and a bit bothersome. I’ll update this review when I’ve tested them with a proper fit.

HistFenc has come up with a great line up of custom-tailored Historical Fencing gear. What's more, they have excellent customer service and a genuine desire to improve their products and make sure that they among the best designed and most reasonably priced on the market. I sincerely hope that the company is successful, as they are an asset to HEMA.

Rhetorical Questions

My life's been dominated by work recently. I've still managed to attend a few Exeter sessions, but Plymouth has become more difficult. I'm going to begin Olympic fencing again instead - as much for the exercise as any other aspect of training.

I've also been thinking a bit recently about the difference between 'doing HEMA' and 'training a HEMA', but that feeds back into 'doing HEMA for entertainment' as opposed to 'finding training a HEMA entertaining'. Which in turn raises questions about 'What does it take to create a good training atmosphere'. That in turn brings in other things like 'Multiple coaches who know how to train people' and 'a set space reserved for training in.' and lots of other things. It all boils down to 'I don't know how to keep training well beyond ten basic sessions in one aspect of one martial art.'

And then I think that if boxers can achieve the levels of skill and athleticism that they do, with do little, how come HEMAs (especially in this country) don't?

And how come other groups, in other countries, have progressed so far ahead?

Lots and lots of rhetorical questions here. Imma gonna go and order some sparring gloves, so that I can train better rather than whining.

HistFenc review coming up soon.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Laugh at me.

Went down to the park. Dabbled. In terrible longsword, terrible grappling, and even a bit of terrible basket-hilt stuff.
And came away having learnt something:

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

All Quiet on the West Country Front

Few updates lately - I'm currently working as much as I can, and what little HEMA time I have left has been spent trying to fight better with a steel sword. I ran a 'longsword 101' the other day though, which seemed to go well.

But on the other hand, the HistFenc order just arrived...

Monday, 30 April 2012

KdF Weekend.

This last weekend I travelled up to a seminar by Thomas Stoeppler for the KdF group. The man is fast as  greased lightning, strikes impressively hard and is generally better at Longsword fighting than me. The seminar was brilliant, and touched up a lot of things that I was aware of, but hadn't tried to use in fencing for a long time.
On a different note, his Schielhau and Scheitelhau interpretations were pretty different to any that I had seen before. I need to investigate.
But generally, the form he presented seems much closer to the depictions in MS Germ.Quart.2020 and Cod.44.A.8, compared to how I've been fighting. He also had a good explanation of how that developed into Meyer-esque deep stances with shifting torsos.

Now, time to bring that into my fighting...

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

'Even if I'm training well, what am I training towards?'

Long time no post. Been on holiday, and other excuses.

Which gave me time to think. I’ve been having two main frustrations with HEMA. One of them is the day to day stuff of running a club. The usual stuff most people who have run a hobby group will be familiar with. Time, continual motivation, being good enough. That kind of thing. Some days I think it would be easier to quit IDC, give it a few months to recharge the batteries, and then try and start a new club as part of the KdF organisation. But there are also great guys in the IDC, a great atmosphere, and so on. Let's stick with what we've got, maybe spend less time instructing and teaching rather than training myself. Perhaps not try and run the group as much. After all, I'm not in charge of the group, and it was never my intention to do that.

The other frustration has been a matter of teleology. Having read too much philosophy, I tend to throw jargon like that out. I mean ‘What am I training towards’, ‘what am I trying to achieve by doing this?’ It’s easy to cite ephemeral advantages to what I spend my Monday evenings doing (physical fitness, for example), but I could get much the same advantages by playing Badminton.

I want to train HEMA. I want to be a good fighter. I’m trying to achieve those goals. I’m also trying to achieve other goals at the moment, like gaining good employment and sustaining a good relationship with my girlfriend. But they’re not what you guys are interested in. But there’s a lot bound up in just ‘train HEMA’ and ‘good fighter’. Pete’s been writing a ‘What is HEMA?’ rant that hopefully I’ll be able to post soon. But for now, here are some things that have been stewing, when it comes to being a ‘Good Fighter’.

“does an interpretation follow what’s written (and/or drawn), and does it work?” - Pete’s tests for judging HEMA

“And think that from every winding you can use a strike, a slice and a thrust. And these are called the ‘three wounders’” - The Ringeck Gloss

“The sort of snipy cuts we see in many bouts can cut, if you know how. It's very, very hard, and I'd wager 0.1% of the people using them today can manage it, exept against naked flesh.” - Michael Edelson

“I decided that I wasn't going to be "hema scholar" guy...I want to fight well. Simply because I love it...and so I will start to devote the required time in to be that better fencer. win more lose less...try to enjoy it. I don't like to compete...but neither do I like getting my ass handed to me.” - Johann

“People resist cutting because once you start down that path you realize that your core mechanics, things you've spent years working on, are wrong and you need to change them. At this point what you do is a test of character. You can say, "Okay, I will do what I need to do" or the good character equivalent "I'll just admit I'm a sport fencer and move on, no biggie."” - Michael Edelson

“It’s when you take advantage of something lacking in simulation to win. For example, in sparring yesterday with nylon backswords, I cut a parry into an opponents cut down from the right. With steel, I would probably have covered myself and been in position to thrust along the inside to his chest/face in the bind. Instead, the nylons bounced, and his blade went past my left side while mine skipped over his hilt to stab him in the chest. It was an accident, but if I tried to do that, I wouldn’t be training for a historic context and system any more, I’d be training for “BackSword! The Combat Sport”. It would still be a martial art - there would be a lot to use with steel - but it would be a combat sport.” - Pete’s HEMA rant.

“the way I fenced was a deliberate solution to how my opponent was fencing and how I had observed the judges were calling after-blows/double.” - Dustin Reagan

“the rules for FA are not in any way designed to be a "real fight".” - Scott Brown
What, you want actual references? Screw you, I'm not paid enough for that.

I agree with Michael Edelson. If you want to be good at sword fighting, you need to know how to injure someone with a sword. Primarily, that means being able to cut someone well with a sword. I cannot at the moment, and I accept that. I’d like to change it. But there’s no-one about who can teach me how to cut. I only have very limited access to sharp swords. I cannae affort a good sharp sword at the moment, cappun. The bank account cannae take it.

But on the other hand, if I wanted to train to win fencing competitions, then I would patch things up with my old Olympic fencing coach. Get back into that style of fencing. Their competitions are better run. It’s a cheaper hobby. The training is better. I would be able to train more. But I’d like to practise a martial art, not a martial sport.

So, at the moment I don’t think I’m going to have much luck trying to become a better fighter if I’m ever teleported to outside Nuremberg’s gates, c. 1480. Equally, the idea of going back to trying to win the SW regionals doesn't appeal.

Rather I’ve been falling back to trying to improve the sword fighting simulations we play at (which boils down to spending more money than I really have on kit. See also - bank account). But not everyone is in a position to be able to do that, if they want to, if it’s enough of a priority for them. So I’m not sure how many people I’ll have to train with at that level. I’m also trying to re-engrosse myself in understanding the martial art - that is, KdF as a technique delivery system. That’s why I’m driving up to Nottingham on Friday for a seminar.

But I want to perform the martial art well. I want to pressure test what I know. I agree with Johann that just being a ‘scholar’ of martial arts without being able to win in serious opposition to other people isn’t satisfying enough. But competitions, especially with outside judges, are martial sports. They’re not simulations. They’re also monkey-dances with swords, not fights. Sure, they test relevant skills and attributes, and I respect that. But they aren’t the art in itself. For example, cuts are heavily favoured over thrusts and slices, as they’re easy to see from a distance. At the same time, I don’t think that I can be a good fighter without putting myself on the line like that. So far I’ve shied away - from lack of experience and from safety concerns, but I don’t want to have those excuses.

So yeah, what began in my head as a ‘How should we deal with slices and thrusts in free play?’ question has devolved into a long rambling rant about The Great Triangulation and my frustration with it.

So yeah...

Lesson plan for next week?
Warm up. 30 mins on ‘Explosively moving from a Zwerch-Zornhau bind into range to do a Hip-Throw.’ Coach people if they want coaching. Otherwise get some free-play in myself.
I’ll also email people and try and get numbers up again after a bumpy month. Would be nice to see all the old faces too.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Michael Edelson - The John the Baptist of Cutting Practice

Imagine this scenario. I give a cutting class at a big event. People who take it can't cut through a mat using whatever mechanics they use until I adjust them. Later on that day, they go fight in a tournament, reverting to their original mechanics. They hit each other and score points. But...they can't cut, not even when the target is soft and easy and standing still and there is no pressure. So, what are they actualy doing in that tournament? 
People resist cutting because once you start down that path you realize that your core mechanics, things you've spent years working on, are wrong and you need to change them. At this point what you do is a test of character. You can say, "Okay, I will do what I need to do" or the good character equivalent "I'll just admit I'm a sport fencer and move on, no biggie." Or, you can make up reasons why you don't need to learn how to cut and try to convince yourself and others on the internets. The problem is most people never get to make this choice in an informed way because most of what they know about cutting is misinformation. So they sever a mat or two, or hack apart a hanging pig, and they say "Look ma, I can cut!" and think that's all there is to it.

As I think I've said before - I cannot cut very well with a longsword. I would like to learn how to, for the kind of reasons that this post highlights. Ultimately, I want to learn historical fencing as a martial art, not an alternative form of fencing. If I wanted to do that, then I'd still be wearing white breeches. There's no-one, as far as I know, in this end of the country who teaches how to cut with a sword. I don't own/cannae afford a sharp of my own. My ability to test cut is somewhat limited.

HEMA frustrations...

Saturday, 31 March 2012


I'm off on holiday for a few weeks. Enjoy sword fighting without me. There are some videos from training up on the Facebook and stuff, including one of the Feder being used for the first time (yes, not enough protection for there to be any intent. Deal with it).

Anyway, I'll be back to training in three weeks or so. Have fun y'all!

Monday, 12 March 2012

12/03/12 Session

Large class. More experienced people did 'The KdF longsword bind drill', then into just a sprechsfenster drill, with a third person coaching. Then they did it with steel.
The less experienced people were introduced to guards, covering and then attacking different quarters. Dead to begin with, then drilled, then a bit more alively.
Wasn't exactly the smoothest session, but hopefully people got something out of it.

Need to do:
More video-ing.
(For me) Less talking, more training.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

5/3/12 Session, some questions to the dudes and a bit of snideness.

This last Monday we did Fiore. We started with a warm up and stretch, and then worked on a few of Fiore's wide plays again. It was a mix of experienced and brand new people, which always makes leading class interesting.

Then we moved on to the close plays. Unfortunately, since we didn't do dagger first, the relationship between some of them and some of the dagger plays wasn't self-evident to most people. Oh well. And again, because it was mostly introductory stuff, the drills were relatively dead. I did try and emphasise training pairs of one more and one less experienced people.

Then I worked with the newer people for a bit on basic cutting mechanics and 'the first decision tree' of a bind. You have the centre line/they're pushing you off the centre line/oh crap they have the centre-line and aren't leaving it.

So anyway, a few questions to the more experienced people - how are you finding training lately? How's your free-play going? What are the strengths and weaknesses of your fight? What bits of a fight don't you feel you understand? Any ideas of how we can train so your fighting/fencing/freeplaying/whateveryouwannacallit is better?

Oh, and HEMA Alliance and Schola Gladiatoria forums are all agog with talk that an American fencing (as in, Olympic fencing) organisation might certificate people for Historical Fencing. I'm not going to touch that discussion with a ten foot pole.

Is there an opportunity for me to become a better fighter, or better at turning other people into fighters? Awesome.

Everything else is politics.
And [nearly] every time I see someone bring up about God/Chivalry/Honour/Poorly communicated philosophy and its relationship with HEMA?

I think of this:

Monday, 5 March 2012

HM JKL Fiore Dagger video

I stumbled over

today. It's one and a half hours of Fiore's dagger, in English, by Historiallinen miekkailu JKL. Those of you who are interested in Fiore's dagger might be interested.

It's not how I'd present Fiore's dagger, or how I'd drill it (once people are drilling towards the end). It's not Fiore's dagger through the medium of Aliveness 101. But then again I didn't make a 90 min video on the system, so I can't complain.

Friday, 2 March 2012

On Sparring out of Distance

Watching two people both waiting out of distance, hoping the other guy twitches first is only dramatic in Kurosawa movies. For sparring, it's a lot like pulling closed guard and clinging really tightly in BJJ, hoping the other guy will give up and go away.

I have nothing against feints done right. I'm totally for trying to steal the initiative with footwork. I'm only slightly annoyed by one handed shots out of distance when you don't have to care about edge-alignment.

But this.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Vier Leger - This is how they were recorded.

The 'Vier Leger' are the 'four guards', the fundamental positions of Liechtenauer's fencing. There are only four of them. Of course there are others (Langort/Long Point, Kron/Crown etc.), but those aren't that important.

Hans Talhoffer, the anonymous blogger, knows more about Medieval High New German than I do. He once explained to me:
 Guards are by no means a static position. The text is telling us, that the "vom Tag" is a way to lift your sword up over yourself. The misunderstanding in the old way of interpretations is the word "leger" where you stand still and be protected. But the guard is no protection but "to be on guard" is the exact translation from "auf der Hut sein" - to watch out for trouble coming. There is no much protection for someone on guard, he is the first one to be attacked in a battle. The translation "Leger" is probably wrong. There are two meanings in Middle High German: 1. lying in bed 2. lying in siege to a place, or bring yourself in a good position (to attack). You can choose the meaning that you like. But as these words has been made up by warriors, I would think the second meaning suites better.
So the saying "do not "leger" yourself but attack" by Liechtenauer makes much more sense. It means: do not try and wait for a better position, you may never get one. 
So anyway, let's get on with it. This is how they are shown/explained. I haven't bothered with much Meyer/Paulus Hector Mair, because I haven't got that far making pretty pictures yet. Same for Jorg Wilhalm Hutter and a few other outliers. I also haven't bothered to infer what I think these positions should be like here. I haven't posted pictures of what aren't explicitly described as one of the 'vier leger', I haven't looked at plays or techniques that refer to them (ie. worked out what Ochs is from the description of the zwerchau). This is just the simples.

Also, these pictures lack context (most often a line given to indicate the floor/horizon/perspective), or how crammed onto a page they were, take them with a pinch of salt.

Also also, these positions varied with time or what have you. What Hutter shows, for example, is nothing like what the early illustrations show.

Liechtenauer's poem:
About the Four Wards:
Four wards alone –
Hold onto those, and curse the vulgar.
Ox, plough, fool,
From-roof–there are no others for you.

The Doebringer gloss adds to this:

Liechtenauer holds only these four guards that come from the upper and lower hangings, and from these one can fence safely. This is regarding the four guards.
Four guards only, and leave the common ones alone. The ox, plough, fool, from above/the roof, these should not be unknown to you.
Glossa. Here he mentions four guards that are valuable. But before all things, remember that you should not remain too long in one guard. Liechtenauer has a saying “He who is still, is dead, he who moves will live”. And from these guards comes the understanding that you should move in swordplay, and not wait in a guard and thus waste your chance.
Also know that you break all guards and positions with the strikes. You should strike bravely at the opponent so that he must move away and defend him. Therefore Liechtenauer does not hold the guards in such a high esteem; he is more interested in that you try to win the first strike. 

MS 3227a/The Pseudo-Doebringer Gloss has Pflug and Alber a different way around. It describes this position as:
The fool [Pflug] breaks what (your opponent) strikes or thrusts. From the hanging strike and at once and follow by attacking after.
The third guard the fool [Pflug] is the lower hanging, and with it you break all strikes and thrusts when it is done correctly.
The Pseudo-Peter-von-Danzig gloss describes it as:
The second guard is called the Plough and set yourself in it thus, Stand with the left foot forward and hold your sword with crossed hands with the pommel under you near your right side on the hip so that the short edge is above and the point stands against him in his face.
On the left side set yourself in the guard of the plough thus, Stand with the right foot forward and hold your sword near the left side with the pommel under you to the hip so that the long edge is above and the point stands in his face. This is the plough on both sides.
The Ringeck gloss describes it as:
Hold it like this: stand with the left foot forward, and hold your sword with crossed hands beside and slightly above your right knee, in such a way that the point is towards his face.

The Pseudo-Doebringer gloss describes it as:
The second guard is the ox, or the upper hanging from the shoulder.
The Pseudo-Peter-von-Danzig gloss hasn't been translated.
The Ringeck gloss describes it as:
Hold it like this: stand with the left foot forwards, and hold your sword beside and slightly in front of the right side of your head, and let the point hang towards his face.

MS 3227a/The Pseudo-Doebringer gloss has Pflug and Alber a different way around. It describes this position as:

The first guard, the plough [Alber], is when you hold the point (of the sword) in front of you aimed at the ground or to the side. After a displacement it is called the barrier guard or simply the gate.
The Pseudo-Peter-von-Danzig gloss hasn't been translated.
The Ringeck gloss has it as:
Hold it like this: stand with your right foot forwards, and hold your sword with outstretched arms in front of you with the point towards the ground.

Vom Tag:
The Pseudo-Doebringer gloss says that:
The fourth guard is from the roof, is also the long point. He, who does it well with outstretched arms, is not easy to hit with strikes or thrusts. It can also be called the hanging above the head. 

The Pseudo-Peter-von-Danzig gloss hasn't been translated.
The Ringeck gloss has it as:
Hold it like this: stand with the left foot forwards, and hold your sword at your right shoulder. Or hold it with outstretched arms above your head. And how you shall fence from these guards, you will find described in this book.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

27/02/12 - Back to the Italian.

So, this week we took a break from the Liechtenauer to do a compare and contrast with Fiore's system. We ended up working with the Giocco Large (wide-play) section of the sword-in-two-hands in the Getty Manuscript. I'll send out an email with links to copies of the manuscript.

The session was pretty manual-focused, going through the plays in order. The drilling was pretty dead, but this was really an introductory class - different vocabulary and different cutting/body mechanics too.

Man, I prefer Liechtenauer as a system.

Monday, 20 February 2012

20/02/11 Session

A brief re-cap of what happened:
Warm up, incorporating a little bit of getting used to 'being in each other's space'.
Some points on body mechanics. Beginning with everyone walking around the room looking snooty - head tilted back, shoulders rolled back and hips stuck forwards. Specifically, keeping the hips facing forward. Keeping the elbows 'in line' with the hips. Keeping the hilt in line with the forearms. Doing 'Ochs' right. It's basic stuff, but we'd been sloppy and I wanted to bring people up on it. It's partly also a tactical choice - you can fence more linearly, or with different weighting.
Then JP led us into a footwork drill. It began with mirrored stances, and the dance leader either performing a round, compass step or a 'shuffling' step, and their partner mirroring it. That naturally led to doing it with a bind, and then without a set leader, and finally while also going for thrusts.

Then sparring. Tom in particular impressed me with how much he has improved over the last few months.
As for depictions in period art, I'm working on an infographic in my spare time. Short answer - compare and contrast the following. They're a bunch of explicitly labelled depictions of Pflug:


Tuesday, 7 February 2012

06/02/11 Session Re-Cap

Sorry for the lack of a written out lesson plan, I didn't make one.

This lesson focused on feints, and generally speaking all the stuff that happens in the beginning of a fight, out of distance. Trying to gain the initiative and the vorschlag. It's an area that the early sources don't tend to focus on, so I worked mostly from Olympic fencing principles to 'pad out' an area of the KdF.

To begin with, the key point that I wanted to make was that a good feint should be a credible threat, and in order for a feint to be a credible threat the attacker should be able to continue through into a strike. To emphasise this, the first drill was a set attacker and defender one. The attacker had to make a feint. If the defender reacted, then the attacker stopped. If the defender didn't, then the attacker could carry on through into a strike.

After that, it was the usual game of increasing options and intensity. For example, the next stage had the defender able to respond with an oberhau if they felt that the attacker was feinting - seizing the initiative, doing a nachreisen or whatever. At this point someone (I think Ant?) said:
 'Doesn't it make sense for the defender just to do a zornhau most of the time?'

After that we started adding more options for the attacker - switching target quarters, stopping short (as an apel, or by changing your silhouette shape, or a twist of the hips - something to gain a reaction without presenting a target), and then we moved onto being able to transition between the hidden strikes after beginning a movement - for example beginning an attack, seeing an incoming oberhau, and transforming your cut into a zwerchau to regain the initiative.

Then we played around with daggers, because daggers are cool. I sparred JP at the end - he's come on a long way, although as always there are a few things that could be improved (ELBOWS!). He's planning on running a footwork drill he learnt in France next week. See the above meme for my feelings on the matter.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

To fence with steel, with intensity.

Monday's session was drills, drills, drills sparring. It seemed to go not too bad. Thoughts on a back of a postcard, please. Anyway:

Some people, as referenced elsewhere, are happy to play with steel using the bare minimum of protection. There's a spectrum of protection, from 'T-shirt' through to 'Full harness'. Obviously, different amounts of protection lead to different artefacts in free-play - if you're messing about in t-shirts, then you're not going to be using the same techniques against your sparring partner that you would against a tatami mat with a sharp. Equally, if you're dressed like 'Panzer Tom', then you're not going to move as you would if you were just wearing a T-shirt.
Thousands of tons of armour and Tom / making it's way through the... castle?
Let's get down to brass tacks and work out how much HEMA asks from your wallet.

Now then, all sports have their budgets. HEMA is relatively expensive to get into - most groups expect you to pick up a mask, a nylon and some gloves after a couple of months.
Let's say that is:
Sword - Knight's Shop Pro Line XTREME Rawlings Nylon Sparring Longsword Waster thingy - £47 + P&P
Fencing Mask - The Weapon Store (Pre-order Price of £50 + P&P), or Red Dragon (£65 + P&P). Given that the Weapon Store one isn't available yet, and that that is a cheap price, let's say £65.
Gloves - The cheapest Lacrosse gloves currently on UKLacrosse are 'Warrior Tempo Elite 11 Gloves' at £30.

So, you're looking at a 'beginners' cost of at least £150, not to mention classes etc.

Steel is even more. Of course, the sky is the limit. But, I was wondering earlier today, how much does it cost to play 'at the top of the game', ie. in a Swordfish tournament, using bought kit?

Longsword - I'd recommend either an Ensifer or a Regenyei Peter federschwert, if asked. Of course, you can go Chinese roulette, and get a Hanwei Federschwert cheaper, or if you have the budget go for a full on Albion, but that's your call. Last time I checked, a Peter's prices began at was 170€, or £140. Plus postage and packaging, bringing it up to £175. If you prefer a 'real sword' then I'd recommend something like a Pavel Moc, coming to £270-290. So, for a good HEMA training sword, you're looking at a 'ballpark' figure of  £200-£300. Let's pick a nice round £200 here.
Gloves - Looking at the Swordfish injury report, there's only one glove that I'd recommend - the Ensifer Sparring Glove, at 200, or £167.
Torso Protection -'s Axel Petterson Sparring Jacket, because it will make you fence like Axel. It's also £140.
Groin Protection -'s groin protector and Padded Skirt, £40.
Head Protection - Assuming that your mask is still going, and you trust it, then you'd only need mask padding and back of the head protection.'s 'Vectir' stuff comes to £40, or the 'Trinity' hood comes to £100 for the version that makes you look like a badass monk (a must for all I.33 practitioners). Let's say £40.
Mask - If you no-longer trust your old mask, then by this stage I'd recommend a top of the range three weapon coach's mask, such as an Allstar-Uhlman coach's mask, at £150.
Leg's - Leaving aside the bad-ass pair of three-quarter-length-gusseted-breeches, with matching socks, I'd recommend either some knee pads or some brush-cutter guards, at £15 or so.
Arms - Again, you could go for elbow pads, although also does combined forearm and elbow protection for £33.

As usual, there will probably be some more things that you might like, such as a throat protector. But these are all pretty necessary. And they come to at least £635.

That's a lot of money. Sure, you could spend however much you want on golf clubs, but you don't need £600+ of kit to have a go at your local tournament. I mean, HEMA is a hobby where people are prepared to drop £600 for a book that's contents are freely available online.

Sometimes, when I'm having a bad day and spend too much time reading internet forums, I feel that HEMA is a martial art for middle-aged, unathletic, well-off men. Certainly, when you look at how much it costs to compete at a decent standard (No FightCamp, you don't have a decent longsword competition.) the price is certainly a barrier to taking part. 

And at the end of the day, high barriers to taking part (and even more in the past, gated access to knowledge) means that HEMA is more likely to have bullshit merchants in it. At least when it comes to the documentary evidence:
On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other. -
Edit - Well, after ranting like that, it Jake N goes and posts something like this. Oh, and as someone pointed out:
[These] frustrations with HEMA aren't the result of lacking cash or watching others spar in WrongFun mode. I think they're because we don't get to train often and hard under good instructors.
Which, sadly, is true. 

Monday, 23 January 2012

Class Structure, 23/01/12

Okay. Here's the plan. It's Garry's last session for a while, and I think that we should give him an opportunity to spar/free-play everyone. It'll be entertaining. Still, the beginning of the session will have a bit more structure than that.

I like free-play. I think it's great. Branston pickle and red Leicester cheese sammich levels of good. But I also don't see it as the end of what I do - getting good at freeplay isn't what I'm training towards. It might happen as a side effect of getting better at Historical Fighting though.

Now, let's consider what we normally free-play at to to be the 'Standard model'. Not fencing at maximum intensity so we can try out new things. Kitted out with gloves, mask, for-arm protection and perhaps some extras, but not swinging at maximum force, because we're not gits. It's good, fun and helps. But it isn't all it could be in terms of improving you different levels of "freedom" and intensity.

On the one hand, you can change the force levels people use, from tippy-tap fencing to Conan-swinging. Another variable you can adjust is the intensity - from T'ai chi free-flow stuff to 'Swordfish finals' intensity. Adjusting those in training allows people to practice and test themselves to a greater degree.

Another thing that you can change are the options open to each fighter - forcing them to focus on one aspect of the fight. From the simple 'No closing to grapple' to 'Begin the fight with a Schielhau'. The epitome of this would be the 'robot fencing' drills on the HEMAA forum. The opposite end of the spectrum would be sharp-longsword-fight-to-the-death-with-sharps scenario.

Finally, the value of freeplay with a wide open choice table is greatly enhanced by having people watching/videoing and coaching actively what's going on. Let's incorporate that. I wish people did it for me more often! If you're in a 'coaching' role, then please video everything that you can.

10 mins: Meet, Greet.

10 mins: Warm up. Hopefully led by the great Gazza.

10 mins: Stretch. Discuss what the plan.

5 mins: Minimum intensity, minimum force fencing. (10%/10%) With no protection what-so-ever. No hits to the hands or the head. No thrusts above the shoulders. Be bloody sensible. I trust you guys.

2 mins. Regroup. Feedback. Discuss.

10 mins: Put on masks and gloves. Now, form into groups of three, with at least one 'experienced' or motivated guy in each group (JP and Dan should be good at this.) Begin 'standard' sparring at exactly the same intensity as before. Take the guys out and give them advice. Then increase the intensity, but not the force levels. End up at something like 40% intensity, 10% force.

5 mins. Re-group. Discuss what we've noticed.

10 mins. Now, let's change everyone around, and increase the levels somewhat. People can try more protective kit if they'd like. Something like 60% intensity, 40% force. More coaching. Go back in there!

10 mins. Now, the final burn. Let's ratchet the intensity up to the most that people can muster at this stage. 100% effort to win the fight. The coach's job is to keep an eye on how much the fighters' skill is degrading, but also on the force levels being used. If they creep too high (say, above 50%), then get them to tone it down again. If needs be, do a Mikael and jump in there with a rear-naked choke.

5 mins. Now, this is where we mind fuck with people. Remove all the kit. Now, reset back to the minimum intensity, minimum force levels we talked about before. You can only Vorschlag with an Oberhau. See how well people do.

That's what, an hour and a quarter of physical activity? We can do this guys.

Rest of Session - Beat on Garry with Sticks. The rest of the room coaches the guy fighting Garry. Not only looking at the fighter's weaknesses and how to overcome them, but also for any holes in how Garry is fencing, and how to punish him for them.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Approaches to HEMA.

This is a re-post from the HEMA Alliance forum, of a post by Michael Chidester for the private email list of his old group, True Edge Academy. I'm re-posting it because it highlights some differences in people's approaches to historical European martial arts - I laid out my own thoughts when I began this blog. It's certainly food for thought:
My perspective on this issue puts Mike Cartier and Mike Edelson very much in the same category (something that will probably infuriate them both to read, since there's no love lost there). Michael E., as many of you know, sees a serious problem in the methodology of modern HEMA instruction--across the board, from raw recruits to champion fencers, our cutting technique is atrocious. His message is 'If you can't cut properly, if you treat your sword like a cruciform baton and consider any forceful touch with it to be a "kill", then I don't know what game you're playing but it's not fencing.' Very simply, if you can't attack cleanly and effectively, you're not a martial artist.
Not wanting to be a crank, he offers us a solution to this problem: cut early and cut often. While most people treat test cutting as an occasional tangent from real training when we feel like having a bit of fun, he advocates making it a core component of training--and not just cutting against easy nothing-targets like pumpkins and water jugs, but against durable, resilient targets that properly simulate people-stuff and will actually make you work for the cut. He's been accused of introducing alien concepts of Japanese Swordsmanship into HEMA, but as more examples of test cutting in Medieval and early Modern Europe pop up, it's clear that this is a practice that is quite appropriate for all of us.
Mike C.'s article, to me, represents the other side of that complaint. He also sees a serious problem in modern HEMA instruction--we really like to armor up to train unarmored combat and feel unsafe without our gear. His message is 'If you can't defend yourself, if you need to wear armor in order to feel protected in a fencing match and have little or no confidence in your ability to defend yourself with your weapon, then I don't know what game you're playing but it's not fencing.' Very simply, if you can't strike without being struck, you're not a martial artist.
Not wanting to be a crank any more than Mike E., he also offers us a solution to this problem: get used to training with minimal gear (eye-protection is the only thing he really advocates). Ditch the armor at times and learn to fence without it. A lot of people do this from time to time, but Mike C.'s advocating this as a core component of training and even the ultimate goal of training. He rightly points out that this requires two different kinds of "getting used to", mental and physical. Mentally, he says that we need to learn to trust our weapon and fence without fear--something that masters from Liechtenauer and Fiore all the way down to Joachim Meyer and George Silver clearly advocate (I'll pull quotes if anyone doesn't want to take my word for it). Physically, he says that we need to not only learn defensive techniques better and drill them hard and often, but also that many of us will probably need to adjust our general styles of fence to something that is less reckless, less exposed, and more stable and controlled (these attributes are also praised by many masters).
Mike C. then takes it a step further; just as Mike E. has been calling for cutting competitions to separate those who can use swords from those who only know sticks, Mike C. wants to see more time and energy spent in reconstructing the historical art of school fencing and more attention given to historical tournaments (which differ greatly from our modern sport of HEMA tournaments in a number of ways). In doing so, he expects that we'll start seeing a separation between those who train real arts of defense from stick-jockeys who train to win points in the ring. He might be accused of an ulterior motive here, since the teachings of Joachim Meyer are both his passion and uniquely suited for such competitions, but there's nothing wrong with that.
I support both of these men in their respective endeavors, and I hope that their experiments outside the HEMA mainstream will feed back into the group and raise the level of us all.
 Suggestions on the back of a post card, please.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

16/01/12 Session - Krumphau

Well, I took this session to get back into the swing of things after the festive season. I felt like someone who had eaten too many roast potatoes lately.

The basic plan for the class was to introduce the Krumphau to the newer people, and to get more experienced people used to the positions, pressures and opportunities that arise in the bind after the krumphau is struck.

At the beginning of the session, Garry led the warm-up and stretch side of things. Which was very nice of him, and a good alternating pattern of jog/footwork/sprint/footwork/jog etc.

After that it was on to the Krumphau. We don’t tend to use that secret-strike very often. Partly because it’s a situational technique, but partly because we’re not comfortable using it yet.

Introduction:This is the krumphau. It’s a downwards cut that falls along the plane perpendicular to the centre-line, and from the right ends in crossed wrists. That’s a definition. You can do it by waggling your sword from Schrankhut to Schrankhut. Want more information than that? Come here and let me show you...

When do you use it? Well, when the other guy is thrusting, or in Ochs. You spring out to the side and let the weight of the sword fall on his hands, or on his blade. Or you can do it if he cuts are you. Theoretically it’s what I should be doing when I get hit by rising cuts up the centre-line. It doesn't work so well against Pflug, because Pflug is structurally strong in that plane.

Practice it against a standing still target. First, practice throwing the point at their hands from a standard Vom Tag, hitting with the flat. Then try hitting them on the blade with the edge of your sword. Remember to spring out to the side and get used to not forcing the blade...

Okay, we've started on dead foundations. Let's start things off by building from that. Mask up. Start well out of distance, and then begin with the Agent entering from the guard of their choice with a thrust to the head or body. Do that ten times, getting used to the movements.

Stage 2, as the thrust comes in, the patient krumphaus, getting used to krumphauing (krumphewing?) to the blade. The agent gets used to the different pressures. Hard and soft. Equally, the patient gets used to the feel of it, whether or not they managed to break their opponent's structure.

Stage 3, mix it up. Game it up. Introduce the concept of tempo to it. When do you want to be beginning the movement of the krumphau? Where on their blade do you want to strike?

Stage 4, introducing decision trees. Just like in a 'standard' bind, there are a lot of different options depending on the circumstances, ie the distance, the pressures, the movement of the fighters. For the Agent, these are mainly either sticking in the bind or leaving it. The basic decisions aren't too different to any other bind - if the opponent is too strong, duplieren behind their blade or leave the bind. If the opponent is too weak, push on through immediately. If the opponent is structurally sound and threatening you, wind like a windy thing. If you're both rushing in, grapple and disarm and throw like a ninja. Simples, eh? He's an example of Pete's old decision tree for the krumphau:
Mine was a mess of lines on a page, all leading to 'Zwerchau like a boss'.

Stage 5 - Show the guys this video:
So yeah - there's the krumphau. Being demonstrated at fairly high intensity. Can we get working up to that speed, if only doing constructive freeplay, if only for five minutes?

Damn right we can. You guys made me proud!

And then some people sparred, and I had a chat with a new person. The End.

No idea what to run next week. Suggestions (and any videos from this session) on the back of a post card please.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Happy New Year!

Well, this is just a quick update to let you know that things aren't dead at IDC. Although we've taken a break for the mid-winter festivities, some of us did get in some fun with sharps last week (although sadly I think that we didn't record any of it). Normal sessions will resume on the 9th.

That said, I'm starting a new job in the morning. Hopefully I'll be back in time. We'll see.

And as for New Years Resolutions, for HEMA I have: