Tuesday, 21 June 2016

John Taylor on footwork for a "real contest"

"Although an extensive lunge is doubtless advantageous to those who can make it easily, yet it will not be found on a real occasion so necessary as a quick recover. For which reason it will be imprudent in gentlemen to accustom themselves to step farther out than their strength or activity naturally admit.

Care must always be taken to place the right foot flat on the ground, and not to make so violent an extension, as to pitch on the heel of that foot.* The proper extent is to bring the left knee
straight, and the right knee perpendicular to the instep.

* It should be considered that in real contest the difference of the ground, and many other circumstances, concur to render any unnecessary extension hazardous ; especially to such persons
as have used themselves to practise on an even floor, perhaps with slippers chalked at the bottom."

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Train the "art" not the ruleset

"One of the great benefits of non-standardization of rulesets is that it keeps us training "the art" as the central study rather than constantly working towards gaming a particular tournament ruleset." - Toby Hall, Fechtschule New York 2016 Open Longsword Tournament Rules

Saturday, 4 June 2016

John Taylor would not recommend practice with sharps

"I would not however venture to recommend the practice with a friend for the sake of improvement with naked swords; since although not attended with danger in the cavalry exercise, yet as the situation of persons engaged on foot does not confine them to one or two particular cuts at commencing the attack, but admits of more various and complicated movements, an error in regard to the parades might prove fatal."  - Art of Defence on Foot, John Taylor 1800

Sunday, 29 May 2016

The path we take



“No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” - Socrates

I, like many other people it seems on Facebook, enjoyed the TEDex talk by Devon Boorman's . It was refreshing to see someone talk about HEMA from a personal development perspective which I think is a very compelling selling point for HEMA in general. It's also something I could watch with my Wife and discuss themes that we could both relate to.

My perspective was/is slightly different from Devon's but similar. I was physically capable of "sports" and on school "field" days I did quite well and spent several years being gently harassed by various Coaches to attend games. Now I was never top shelf material and I'm pretty sure I was only seen as necessary to make up a full squad. But they could just never get me to show up for games. 

This was largely choice though on my behalf because I just found them boring. I never wanted to sacrifice the joys of running through the woods with a pretend sword or building immense castles out of straw bales for getting up early on a weekend morning to catch a bus, in school uniform, to stand in the pissing rain in some frozen field somewhere in Scotland to stand around while a bunch of other guys passed the ball to each other.

Fortunately though I never labelled myself as "not sporty" I just labelled myself as someone who was "not into the school Sports thing." The net result was that when life presented me with an opportunity for physical activity that stimulated my interest I've not been loath to take it. From multi-day wilderness hikes, to rock climbing, kayaking, biking, boxing and when I found a bunch of guys fighting with swords in a car park (exactly like Devon's experience) I took it. 

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Marcelli's thoughts on Internet Warriors

"Take care not to be so delicate of spirit, or flighty of will, that at every minimal clash, or trivial occasion, you look to put your hand to your sword; copying the example of the bravoes of our age, who think that by using it often they acquire the reputation of being brave and strong.

The gentleman I deem more gallant than any other, is the one who with the mere presence of his virtue, and credit of his valour, renders himself formidable to enemies, and esteemed by companions; not one who does not pass a day without seeing his brand unsheathed in his hand. He is the most vile, and least regarded of all, since it shows he lacks the virtue to make himself feared, and the qualities to make himself esteemed. Hence he is often given occasion, to have insults to avenge." 
- Francesco Antonio Marcelli (via Piermarco Terminiello)

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Why you should not treat armed combat like unarmed combat

"In unarmed fighting, the relative difficulty of accomplishing a single, instantly incapacitating blow means that an aggressive fighter can take a reasonable, calculated gamble in dodging, blocking, absorbing, or riding his opponent’s blows while launching his own strikes. This same level of aggression becomes reckless when faced with e.g. a sharp sword, due to the increased risk of incapacitating injury as well as the additional speed required to traverse the increased effective range of the weapon." - Dakao Do

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Some thoughts around running a HEMA club

"How can profit and authenticity be reconciled so that one does not destroy the other?" - Ashley Read, Authentic Profits

I'm currently reading this book which is rather good. It's about how to run a Martial Art club in a way that does not compromise your integrity (and still make money if that is a goal that interests you). I have always been rather skeptical of people who run their HEMA club as a business, the main reason for this is that many appear to automatically fall into the ubiquitous "Mcdojo" approach.

To run such a model leads to most of the pitfalls I see in most Martial Arts and is, from what I can see, an ongoing and emerging issue in HEMA:

1. High quantity, low-quality

The club will never turn away anyone because larger groups equal more money for the business owner. It's all about getting as many people as possible in the door and paying fees. This means heavy marketing and appealing to every possible market: this is "street", "spiritual", "sport", etc. In being something for everyone it is, in fact, equally nothing to everyone, i.e. does nothing well and people become quickly disillusioned. The net result is that it attracts lots of people the majority of whom then leave.

2. All filler, no killer

Time = money so the more classes the students have to take the more income for the business owner. Also the higher student to teacher ratio the more profit. This means almost an inevitably slow and tedious progression for any student irrespective of ability or interest. A way many Clubs have to maintain interest despite glacial progression is to have extensive and complex ranking systems, as they are a great way to give the appearance of content without the substance. Finally, it's a good way of selecting the "true believers", because no large club can go it alone and the "Master" needs proven sycophants, er I mean "assistants", and those who have invested the money and time to progress through complex hierarchies are unlikely to rock the boat.

3. The all-knowing and powerful dictator

The Martial Arts "mastery" of the business owner is their unique selling point and nothing must be allowed to happen that would threaten this. Unfortunately, nothing is a bigger threat to this than those pesky students, which means that any dissent or discussion that runs contrary to the teaching of the Leader must be quashed. Even with an essentially well-meaning teacher, the high student to teacher ratio makes dealing with everyone fully and with attention is impossible. It also means, given the stakes that loss of reputation entails, they must treat sparring or competing with extreme caution. The end result being that the teacher builds a wall of authority between themselves and all but a select few trusted students.

4. Everyone else does it wrong

When operated through this business model which tries to be everything to everyone, then naturally every other club out there is a potential threat and most be destroyed! (or even in the most benign club they are all "doing it wrong") This often becomes personal because every other teacher out there is a potential threat to the business owners unique selling point, their "mastery."

So, what's the "other way" to this? Well, to have a rational think about some of the outcomes of the above:

1. Large numbers = high overheads and low quality
2. Trying to be everything to everyone = hard sell and inevitable disappointment with high turnover
3. Relying on your "mastery" = Compromising your training for fear for your own authority from students and your peers

The solution could then be seen as:

1. Small numbers = smaller overheads and better quality teaching
2. Focused on a niche market = higher quality product which can be sold for more money and less need to see everyone as rivals. In fact, it's in your interests to turn away unsuitable students and you can recommend them other places more suited to their interests.
3. Be more like a coach = have a more personal relationship with students (which equals more loyal customers and an ability to charge more money) but makes it Ok for them to progress beyond you.

To put this in business lingo: the end result is a more quality product, with more consistent customers that you can sell your "product" to for more money. 

Which club would I rather train with? I'd go for the smaller, more personal training with direct access to an quality training, at my pace and with a teacher who wasn't afraid to prove themselves. And I pay more money for it and if I didn't want to then there's all those McDojo's out there ready and waiting for me.

Of course most of this goes out the window if you're not running your club as a business. But some of the factors remain constant, do you want the hassle of a larger numbers of students and the resultant higher overheads with lower student-teacher ratios? Well maybe you do, especially if you tweak the model so it looks like this:

1. Large numbers - higher overheads but more paying members
2. Still focused on a niche market - better retention because you've chosen a popular subject, stuck at it and are doing it well
3. Still acting like a coach - because it's not dependant on your personal prestige (and your eye isn't on your personal bottom line) the sky's the limit in terms of instructors which means better teacher-student ratios.