Thursday, 16 February 2017

An excellent Master

"An excellent Master is esteemed by his knowledge and by his character. He possesses his art in all its extent and the order in which he has put his ideas and his principles is so natural that he is always ready to give the reason for it and to speak of it with great precision and ease. Interest is his long-term view and the progress of his Students obliges him as dearly as his reputation. Always occupied with their advancement, he studies their aptitude and their character in order to use the most appropriate means to make them succeedd. He does not change the order of his principles but he is ingenious in presenting them under the forms most intelligible and easiest to retain." The Art of Fencing Reduced to a Methodical Summary, Jean De Brye (1721)

A stable and strong foundation

"First of all you want a stable and strong foundation. That means your body. If you’re not physically able to train HEMA, you won’t get much out of training HEMA. You’re better off using your limited free hours to get strength, mobility, and endurance up to scratch. Then they stop holding you back in class. As a coach, I’d rather have a blank slate of a student who can train well for two hours in class than someone who knows the basic cuts but can’t last a class." Peter Smallridge

Monday, 23 January 2017

Counting on the stupidity of your attacker

"This technique assumes the attacker has a “dead” arm and is unable to move it. What’s more, he’s dumb enough to both leave his knife way out there and forget all about using his other arm, footwork or evasion to handle that kick. Counting on the stupidity of your attacker to make a technique work is not a winning strategy..." Wim Demeere, Are you really an expert? 

Monday, 16 January 2017

Sword fighting isn't about knowing it's about doing.

One thing that has become abundantly clear to me after studying historical European martial arts for the last ten plus years is that raw knowledge in of itself is not very impressive. As we get more and more published source material of ever better quality translation this is a trend that will only increase. In my current training sessions it is not uncommon for a typical conversation to involve discussion and comparison between up to four or five sources ranging from 1.33 to the 19th century. Raw knowledge is not the scarce resource that once it might have been.

Likewise, with the more you read the more you become aware that between the 13th century and 19th century there was little invented that was new and in fact generally you see the same body mechanics reinvented over and over, adapted to different technological and cultural circumstances. Therefore with a grounding in the underlying principles of sword fighting you can comprehend and digest new sources relatively quickly and easily. 

Thus these days I find turning that knowledge into useful action is the only outcome I find interesting. Ultimately there comes a point when you appreciate that sword fighting isn't about knowing it's about doing. 

I can see that plenty of people show that they have knowledge of the theory but far less who can actually pull it off or have any actual skill or finesse with it. This is the current frontier of HEMA and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you something.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Some thoughts around "warm-ups" and the proper order of training

Firstly, I'd like to correct some misconceptions about what a warm-up is:

"a period or act of preparation for a match, performance, or exercise session, involving gentle exercise or practice"

A warm-up is the five minutes you spend at the beginning of a session prepping your limbs for the physical activity that's about to happen. This is important because with a little warm-up your body prepares itself physiologically for the exercise that's about to happen and this keeps injuries to a minimum. A few key points about warm-ups:
  • Your action should closely mimic the action that you're about to do
  • Your body only needs a few reps to get up to speed with what's happening (if we needed 30mins of warm-up we'd all have been eaten by tigers a long time ago...)
  • Stretching is not warming up. You can do a warm-up then a few stretches once warm because you're feeling a little tight, that's cool, but stretches are not substitutes for warm-ups.
Cool. Glad we're all clear on this: warm-ups are short, less intense versions of what you're about to do. A typical warm-up = 5-10 mins tops, anything following this is training.

Now it's an endless annoyance to me see workshops (especially beginner workshops) where the "warm-up" includes a portion of physical training, i.e. sit-ups, press-ups etc etc. I don't mind PT (but I do it on my own time) and it irks me because from an instruction point of view it's bad from both an audience participation perspective and a health and safety perspective to tire out your class with PT before you do your sword swinging. People are capable of learning less and are less safe when they are tired. The "correct" order for training should be: warm-up, games or light technical training, sparring, then any PT and stretching.  

So, why do instructors smash out the PT at the beginning of classes? TBH in my head when it happens it's mostly because that's how they've always done it or seen it done. Doubt they've even thought about it for a minute. Or it's because they are making a point of some sort either about how fit they are or as a means of sorting the wheat from the chaff. Either way, it doesn't say anything good about the class.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Kit review: Rage Pro Gloves

"Pro Gloves High Grade EVA (Pair). International standard poly-ethylene front, EVA foam padding interior for comfort. The most widely used molding shape."

You can find them here.

Firstly, I should outline what use I'm reviewing these gloves for. For me, I use these gloves as day-to-day instructing / training gloves and as a full intention sparring glove for a single-handed sword with a knuckle-bow. Primarily for use with synthetic weapons. I'm reviewing them on this basis. I wouldn't use them for full intention longsword sparring and I'm not reviewing them on that basis.

I've owned these for four months and have used them at most, if not all, training session.


I ordered these directly from Rage Field Hockey website and at $35 USD plus postage this was a very reasonably priced glove. Ordering through the website was easy enough and they posted the next day. Nothing noteworthy or to complain about here.


Well at $35USD I'm certainly not going to complain about the price and, in fact, they are certainly a lot cheaper than most other glove options.

Good padding on the fingers, backs of the hands and thumb. There is also a line of padding along the side of the forefinger to prevent these wrap around strikes on your fingers. Finally there is a thumb cap in the thumb finger with a wad of padding inside it.

Considering the above these gloves are very compact, nothing like most hockey gloves you get.

The materials are well stitched and formed with nothing coming apart or any wear holes starting to appear. I've put this glove through the wash several times and this has removed all the sweat and stink without any impact on the glove.

The palm material seems to be some leather effect material but it is not unduly slipping on your sword grip. The velcro cuff is nice and keeps the glove in place under your AP jacket.


None really for the purpose I use them for. The lack of any wrist protection, without any collar or the like is a minor issue in the protection. However, I can put these into my modular gloves to add wrist protection.


They are cheap, well made and well protecting. While they are not bomb proof, certainly I'd regret using them for longsword sparring, they are protecting for most of the knocks I get in training and in synthetic single-handed sword sparring.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Great time for quotes at the moment: if you're asking what is HEMA? STFU.

Is it HEMA... Is it HEMA if we use this weapon or that? Is it HEMA if we add to the texts? Is it HEMA we compete in tournaments? Is it HEMA if we train against multiple opponents? Is it HEMA if we grapple? Is it HEMA if we train to the touch? Is it HEMA if we study Japanese sword fighting?

Who care's if it is "HEMA"? You can do whatever you want. Some people will think it is cool. Some people wont. Nobody owns any of this stuff. You can manifest your love of history, swords, martial arts, etc... however the hell you see fit.

The only thing that is important is that *you* know what *you* want from *your*self, and you have a way to measure that. If you want to be the best larp fighter ever, than all you have to do is win all the larp fights. If you want to be an expert on Capo Ferro, than all you need to do is know everything there is to know about Capo Ferro.

If you are looking for approval, acceptance or status in an established community of people who have already decided what HEMA should look like, than by all means continue asking permission. Otherwise, stop bollocksing around and do the bloody thing you want to do. -  James Reilly