Friday, 10 April 2015

Book review: Swordfighting, for Writers, Game Designers, and Martial Artists

"This book is a collection of essays and articles, about half of which have been adapted from Guy’s successful blog, at, the rest have never been published before."

Just a quick review of this book. Firstly I should say I'm a big fan of Guy Windsor. I read his Swordsman's Companion back in the day and since then I've kept up to date with his blog. I am, at the moment, very interested in reading general thoughts on the Art of swordsmanship so when Guy released this I was quite excited. I also found it quite interesting how you would explain the Art concisely to a complete lay person who perhaps isn't interested in wielding a sword but just wants to understand how it works. Great stuff I thought.

Now, I don't think the book does that or that Guy was really making much of an effort with this book. It really is just a loosely strung together collection of his online material and I very much got the impression that this was a book written for the sake of using that online material to generate income, i.e. a book that could be sold. I think I highlighted about three pages as noteworthy to come back to, which is unusual for any book I read on martial arts. I also think if I was a writer or game designer I wouldn't really have got much out of it either. On the flip side at $9.99 I hardly feel like I've wasted my money. The concept is good and perhaps it will stimulate someone to do it better?

Some general thoughts

So I thought I'd jot down my current "biggest learning's" to remind myself:

Read everything and dismiss nothing

The more treatises you read the more it informs your area of study and the more it inspires you to better understanding of the Art. Follow up recommendations and esoteric references and ensure you understand what is being said. Make no hasty assumptions and dismiss no opinion as obviously idiotic, understand as fully as possible and keep your mind open.

The benefits of good quality free play 

Strongly resist the urge to drop everything to win in free play. Instead rationalise the benefits of focusing on following and implementing technique. Strongly consider your free play to be testing your whole method and register where your strength, speed or judgement is weak and be conscious about where you need improvement. Good quality free play is worth it's weight in gold and if used to inform your training time it's amazing how quickly you can see rapid improvement.

Use your training time wisely

Time is precious and very easily wasted so structure your time so that every element of what you do in the hall is contributing to your improvement. Warm ups, solo drills, partner drills, games and study , allocate time for all of these with the emphasis on what is getting you best reward.

Train with new people as often as possible 

Yes, have your regular partners but always take the opportunity to engage the new guy, train with the new guy or teach the new guy. The people who are not exposed to your ideas will bring you much needed new perspectives. 

Be selective
Some people you will have synergy with. Feel no compunction about find and training selectively with these people. There is no faster route to killing the joy for this hobby than training with people who you are incompatible with. 

Monday, 23 March 2015

Great quote

 "there are a great many Men, who by their Awkwardness will puzzle a good Fencer" 

Captain John Godfrey, A Treatise Upon the Useful Science of Defence 1747

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Monday, 16 March 2015

Why Meyer advocates practicing all the cuts - true, false and flat

I sometimes have to explain why I advocate doing cutting drills with all the cuts: true, false, flat on both sides even when some of these cuts are patiently awful (cutting the undercut on your right hand side with the false edge for example). Of course I can always say "because Meyer said so" but I like to offer a potential rationale. So reading this occurred to me as a nice technical explanation: we train all the cuts, even the awkward ones because of Permutational analysis:

"if I get into a new situation I cannot produce a useful action in the moment - whatever I do will be uncoordinated and slow because it is untrained. As such it is useful to dedicate a part of training to a wide variety of arbitrary variations, specifically to make it less likely that your feet will end up in a truly novel position. This is also the reason to switch up the drills every few months.”

Because if we need to do an undercut from your righthand side with the false edge because in that situation that is where the opening is and because of the guard you are in, you'll want to do it quickly and efficiently! I've described it in the past as having a full set off tools in your kit box, yes you might not need certain tools or only use them very rarely but it makes life much easier to have them when you do need them. 

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Excellent article

Great article on HROARR at the moment, specifically I enjoyed this concise summary :

"for me being advanced means to understand the logic between the individual devices and techniques and being able to interconnect the bigger picture."


"They are able to perform an absetzen in practice and in ideal condition, but fail to do so in a freefight. One of the reasons behind it is using extremely simple, improper and incoherent stimulus – reaction methods, mixing illogical actions and often limited by what is written in the surviving fighting manuals"

This really nails it for me, I'm uninterested in hearing about the latest interpretation of blah technique but very interested in hearing about drills, games and other training methods.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

HEMA games

I've spoken about this before but I feel that one of the key pillars of successful swordsmanship is developing a good mental attitude. Being relaxed and adopting a playful mindset allows you apply your knowledge gained from study and drilling to successful sparring.

Like with strength or technique there is training you can do to develop this. Training for a good mental attitude is partly about training to reduce stress and reducing the likelihood that you will freeze under pressure. It is also partly about encouraging you to understand the linkages between techniques, how to apply the technique in different situations and how a technique fits into the bigger strategic picture.

So, what's a solution? Games.

Here's a list of some that I like to use with descriptions (I'll keep updating this list as I come up with new games):

Without swords

Slappy facey / tag - based on a childhood game from my upbringing in Scotland, slappy facey in it's natural form is literally walking up to someone without warning and slapping them in the face while shouting "slappy facey" usually followed by much hilarity. Translated into a fencing game "slappy facey" is just a version of tag (tig if you're from Scotland or New Zealand...) but where you designate a body part as the target (knee, shoulder or top of the head) and then you must tag other people with your hand while protecting your target.

Usually I run this as an all against all warm up with no point scoring because this means that after "hitting" your target you have to withdraw to avoid their counter attack. Generally it devolves into a great fast moving warm up with emphasis on spacial awareness (sneak attacks are the best) and ensuring that your attack actually lands (stance/posture) while defending against counter attacks.

Finger fencing - basically this is a tag based game but where you use two fingers to represent your sword. In this you can only score with the two fingers of your right hand (or left obviously if you're left handed). You can usually score by touching anywhere on the body with this game but you can designate target area to up the skill level.

You can run this as all against all for warm up or as 1 - 1 for more fencing style game. A variation on this is to use a glove in lieu of an actual weapon, thereby slapping your opponent with the glove to count a hit. This is a great game because you can run it with very free and easy with minimal protection.

Maintaining measure game - probably a standard with variations throughout all HEMA clubs, this is the one I use: two fencers face off and find measure by extending their arm and touching the other person's chest. Once they are in measure one person moves off and the other tries to follow maintaining the measure. At some point the instructor calls out "halt" and they check their measure, if the "follower" has been successful then they should still be in measure. You can liven this up by upping the speed and introducing an spacial awareness element by suggesting that the person leading tries to maneuver the follower into objects such as other fencers or walls.

Obviously a good game for developing a sense of measure, it also helps people to internalise their footwork.

Maintaining measure game 2 -  variation from Martin Fabian where the patient takes a random step forward/backwards/none and the agent steps to either gain or loose measure to deliver a strike (cut or thrust depending on the drill) within the correct measure.

Drop glove - using the rules of the maintaining measure game both people move and maintain measure, however one person is holding a glove and when they chose to drop it the other has to catch it with a lunge before it hits the ground! The glove dropper can increase the difficulty by being progressively more uncooperative in when they chose to drop the glove.

Good for measure, footwork and reaction.

With swords

Fencing cricket - simple little game: throw a tennis ball and the other person has to hit it with their weapon. You can make it more complicated by having different colors of balls which you assign a different action, such as: yellow = vertical cut, blue = diagonal cut, green = horizontal cut.

Improves reflexes and also helps encourage accuracy, it's not as easy as you might think to hit even a tennis ball sized target. Of course to make it really difficult you can always add in thrusts.

Cudgels - I keep the rules for this simple. You use "safer" weapons such as foam swords, nylon wasters or Dussacks which means you generally need minimum protective gear. You find measure against your opponent while adopting a right foot forward stance. Once both players are "measured" then the back foot (the left) is now fixed. They can still move the right foot as much as they wish, which allows them to move out of measure. The only blow that counts is a head blow. Both parties go until a head blow is landed then the looser comes off and the winner stays on. I try and encourage a really fast turn around of participants.

This is good for working on middle work technique, working the openings, stance and leaning. Also it builds fitness and stamina but also benefits building a good mindset by getting people used to fencing under pressure and being hit on the mask.

Catch if you can - both participants will need sparring level of protection (Mask, gloves and padding) and I would recommend saver sparring weapons. You will also need a reasonable amount of space for this.

The idea is that the patient will do anything possible to avoid engagement, they will use all footwork possible to fall back to just out of measure (though they are not allowed to simply run away). The agent is trying to strike the patient and can use any technique to do so. The patient is allowed to parry but not counter attack (at this point) but is expected primarily to lean, slip and evade blows with body movement rather than sword contact. After a reasonable amount of time you swap roles.

The point of this game is that at some point in a real sparring match you want to go on the offensive against a retreating opponent. Often opponents will simply fall back before you rather than engage and very little drill or technique is actually useful in this situation. Having the ability to rapidly chase someone down and force them to engage or rapidly counter attack is a very useful skill.

Random weapon sparring - have a selection of "safer" weapons such as federschwert wooden/synthetic longswords, dussacks, plastic daggers, bucklers, light quarter staff etc. Have two contestants. Have them face away from each other and select random weapon combinations. At the command of "go" they turn, grab whichever weapons have been provided and spar. The first to a head blow wins. Immediately cycle the pair off and put a new pair up. The pair that have just come off get to select the random weapons for the new pair. Keep going until everyone is exhausted or bored.

Improves reflexes and adaptability. Encourages people to be creative while facing often radically different measures and protective capabilities. Helps people to relax in normal sparring.

Odds and evens - Designate players as "odd" and "even" player. Partners then face off at long measure, they then tactically choose opposing guards and shift them continuously to get advantage. After 20-30 secs instructor shouts a number (either an odd or even number) the player with that designation then gets to launch an attack with one step from whichever position they were in while the player with the other designation can parry but isn't allowed to move.

Random attack and defend - everyone kit up and form a ring with one person in the ring. Assign each person around the ring a number. When that number is called they step in and perform one attack on the person in the ring. The person in the ring defends the attack. To up the ante you can get the defender to perform a counter attack and you can call multiple numbers to attack at once.

Okay for improving reflexes, adaptability and training them to react well in stressful situations. It's really, really good for improving spacial awareness encouraging people to think in 360 degrees.

Loose play - it's also worth mentioning that any loose play is great when approached as a game and this is a great thing to do to encourage people to adopt a easy, relaxed mental attitude in sparring.

I like to build up the "game" by starting with an opening scenario and then adding "new rules." It's amazing how quickly you can build really complex scenarios that strongly resemble plays from the treatises. For example, it could look like this:

1. The opening scenario is that one person attacks through a guard in onset, the defender makes a response and then the attacker changes mid-stroke to counter the response. Once complete the attacker withdraws.
2. New rule: the defender can parry the attackers blow
3. New rule: the attacker can take a further action (they get two "attacks")
4. New rule: The defender can have a further parry (they get two parries)
5. New rule: after the first attack the defender counts to two and then can do anything they like. However they can't move. So the attacker has to hit and withdraw.