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.

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