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.

Ordering

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.

Pros

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.

Cons

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.

Conclusion

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

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Moral of this story: read the sources, it's not difficult!

"most of my understanding of Hema comes from the sources but I could never tell you where because I rely on people like you to read and relay the techniques. It saves me from having to read the treatises directly myself which I’m more than happy to do because, yes, I’m lazy and more than happy for others to do the hard work if I can still benefit just as much :) ^_^ In the end though it leaves me with little ability to point out or even know which treatise contains the things I’m absorbing and learning." - Shadiversity8


I don't really engage much with people online these days but when I do it tends to be to simply drop a knowledge bomb on them in terms of a direct quote from a source that discusses the topic they are asking for information on. Really, often that's all there is to a discussion.

Perennial classics are: Silver says you should never do "False times"

"If you meet with one that cannot strike from his ward, upon such a one you may both double & false & so deceive him" - Silver, Paradoxes of Defence 


Another classic: you never thrust in Meyer longsword

"Rule: when you stand in the Right or Left Wrath, and one strikes to you from below committing to your right or left opening, then strike high outward with the long edge and, just as it engages, then shoot the point on his sword inward to his face, just then drive off with your hands and work to the next opening with elements of going before or after." 


I think this ties back into the point that there are few absolutes in terms of technique in historical fighting. It is possible make points based on a specific treatise, such as a certain author advising you to do something, but drawing out mass generalisations is risky. To be fair with both the examples above Meyer and Silver are definitely down on both thrusting (for safety reasons) and false times respectively but it's not the same as making a blanket statement that such technique was "wrong."  

So, this is a nuance that is likely to escape you if you are relying for all your information from other people rather than the sources themselves. There seem to be a number of people who speak authoritatively on the subject who are relying on secondhand info from people who themselves might dealing with the sources from a remove.

My advice, there are some very simple sources out there. Start with one, Di Grassi or John Taylor would be my recommendations for easy starting material. 

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Michael Chidester on "Control"

"Control is not some magical trait that a martial artist automatically develops with experience; contrary to popular belief, the ability to correctly perform an action slow does not automatically impart the ability to do it quickly, and neither does the ability to do it quickly allow a fighter to slow it down. Rather, control is nothing more than choice, the ability to choose in any given moment where to strike, where stop that strike, and how much speed and force to apply. Since you can only fight the way you've trained to fight, if you only train in one way then you have no choice, and therefore no control. Developing control therefore requires mixing many different approaches and training in many different contexts, with different tools and different constraints, and striving to apply the specific lessons from each one across all of the others." - Michael Chidester

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Some quibbles on "Transitional" Guards.

"...other sources and fencing masters, particularly later ones, do mention quite a few other secondary guards for longsword. There are some variations and discrepancies between authors of course, as well as different interpretations among contemporary researchers.
Many, if not most of these are considered only transitional guards, so just particular positions while in motion from one to another primary guard or end point of a strike, cut or thrust."


Enjoyed reading this article: http://mindhost.tumblr.com/post/151381536147/secondary-german-longsword-guards

I would disagree with the article in that I think the idea that "secondary" guards are transitional, i.e. point of movement, as this strikes me as received wisdom that has not seriously been thought about by most people.

When you think about it Day, Fool, Plough and Oxs are all highly transitional. Why is this? Think about it: they are absolutely rubbish positions to hold. If you stand in these positions and do nothing you will get splatted. Day and Fool go without saying but likewise with Plough and Ochs: holding a properly withdrawn Plough leaves your Weak out there, ready to be captured and blasted through while Ochs, while deceptively protective, leaves the hands extremely vulnerable as endless posts about "how come I keep getting hit on the hands while in Ochs?" testify to. You need to move through these positions to be protected, they are positions that temporarily block lines/invite/deceive your opponent as you pass through them on your way to doing something else. Ochs is useful as it threatens a thrust and discourages an attack to your upper openings, it only actually defends you though if you move into another position such as completing this thrust and entering a Hanging Guard. Likewise with Plough, it threatens a thrust but you are only defended when you enter Speaking Window or Long Point.

Contrary to this many of the "Secondary" guards you can't help but think that some are actually relatively good positions to just sit in and receive an attack, unlike the "Primary" guards. Which is the opposite of received wisdom: Hanging guard is wonderful to camp out in, likewise with Speaking Window and Barrier Guard.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Absolutely no absolutes

The more I study and learn of historical fighting, and the more I teach, the more I become careful in throwing around "absolutes" in terms of technique. I find that to say that something is "wrong" is a sub-optimal way of thinking about fencing that hinders development. Rather I like to highlight that everything is situational, i.e. with a proper understanding of the principles of fencing that there is often a time and a place where a particular technique is optimal and that you should not completely discount anything.

For example:

(and I'd like to make it clear that I'm not being negative on these examples, I liked and remembered both these videos I'm just using them to illustrate a pedagogical mindset.)

In this interesting video, the view is put forward that you should cut and step at the same pace to ensure that your hand and body land together. This is so that you cut with maximum strength and for reasons of balance.  The idea of not stepping and cutting at the same pace is demonstrated to be wrong.


However, in the below video we have a different opinion, that the arm should slightly precede the body with the foot to follow quickly afterwards to ensure they land at the same time. This is so you can track your opponent if they move. To move with hand and body together at the same pace is demonstrated to be wrong. 


Who is correct?

From my opinion they are both right for different situations. Firstly from test cutting I find that you absolutely want the hand and foot at the same pace for maximum effect, moving the hand first and the foot following faster is invariably a weaker strike. Moving the body with the cut seems to allow for maximum engagement of body mechanics and gives you a better draw through the target. However, the second video is also correct if I fear my opponent is keyed up to counter-attack me, i.e. to attack at the same tempo as my strike, then by leading with my arm I can either draw out his response or track his movement before I commit myself. So, both are correct for different situations.

I guess my point is that neither of these people are wrong, but that in terms of how you explain technique it's important to highlight that there are few absolutes in terms of correct/incorrect technique.

When I teach and someone says "is this wrong?" I'm always very careful to say "no, it's just not optimal in these circumstances." The key point being, I think, is that by telling people something is wrong you are closing a door for them. Instead, I feel we should be cultivating a broad understanding of the underlying principles, to analyse and understand. Thus if an opponent varies the timing or measure then suddenly the "wrong" footwork becomes optimal they won't struggle against it thinking "but I was told this was wrong!" and will instead rationalise it and understand what is happening.

I like the way Silver talks about "perfect" and "imperfect" technique, it's not wrong it just not optimal.