Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Fiore was "that" guy wasn't he?

"More than anyone else I was careful around other Masters of Arms and their students. And some of these Masters who were envious of me challenged me to fight with sharp edged and pointed swords wearing only a padded jacket, and without any other armor except for a pair of leather gloves; and this happened because I refused to practice with them or teach them anything of my art." - Fiore de'i Liberi, "The Flower of Battle"

This is a bit tongue in cheek, but reading this passage got me thinking: Fiore sounds an awful lot like that guy. You know, the one that everyone rolls their eyes when you mention? The guy on the internet or at the workshop who is loudly and verbosely telling you that everything you are do or think is incorrect. And will find any and all reason to not practically demonstrate their skill in a free play. 

You can almost imagine the frustration of Fiore's contemporaries: "uh huh Fiore, how many duels with sharp swords have you won? Five, really? But you won't train with us or show us anything of your Art? Really? We'll I find that all very hard to believe..."

Friday, 20 November 2015

On mixing sources.

"The masters often brag about how much they traveled and the variety of sources that they learned from. It would be vain to think that we are so intelligent that we can learn the art of fencing from a single source when the masters we seek to emulate could not." - Jonathan Allen

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Some thoughts on slow play.

As I see it the purpose of slow play is stop wailing away at full speed for a minute and bring mindfulness to your actions, to catch nuances of our mechanics that you wouldn't notice when moving fast. It allows realisations such as "oh hey, I didn't realize that I wasn't voiding my torso fully when parrying" or "I didn't notice how my elbow sticks out when I make this guard." It can explain happenings that are hard to understand at full speed like "how come I'm always thrusting short?" or "why do I always get hit in the same place?" Slow play is a great tool for finding inefficiencies in your technique and experimenting with solutions. Once you've identified the solution you can iron out the bad technique by drilling at faster speeds.

Is slow play something we should be proud of in of itself? No, not really. Drills including slow play are nice but really should only be judged on the resulting improvements in your full speed play: did slow playing that problem lead to resolving the fact you were always getting hit on the arm when taking that guard, yes or no?

In my experience an over focus on slow play or slowed down play is particularly bad for several things: firstly it degrades your reaction time as you become less used to reacting to things at full speed. Secondly it degrades your economy of movement as you will take advantage of the extra time to add more and more movements into the action, movements that wouldn't exist within a proper tempo. This leads to fantasy technique such as responding to half tempo actions with time and half or double time responses. Finally extended slow play, especially of set piece plays, removes the "mindfulness" element that is the whole point of the exercise as you find yourself sedately "going though the motions" of the play without thinking.

Of course doing everything slow has the benefits of reducing the risk of injury. Because: more speed = more force

Now I believe that a few bumps and bruises are a worthwhile risk for a closer approximation of the Arts. Especially if the following obvious steps are taken:

1. Mitigate the other main multipliers of force, such as weight of your weapon (it's worth noting that with a really heavy weapon there can be no injury free speed), length of weapon, width of edge etc.
2. Understand that it's not about delivering every blow with full force but delivering a fast blow when appropriate to the technique
3. Learn to deliver fast blows accurately
4. Coupled with point 3, ensure you have targets suitably prepared to take the additional force (such as the mask, plastron or into your opponents sword).

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Guidelines for being a Good instructor

Inspired by this blog from Academie Duello

Guidelines for Being a Good Instructor

1. Your goal is to be a better swordsman

You should be doing this to be a better swordsman. Acknowledge that this should be at the center of everything you do, including instructing, and you're all good.  The real trap with teaching is getting sucked into the bullshit that comes with the whole "position of authority" thing. Teaching people because you like being a teacher smacks of ego. Teaching people because a large club is important to you smacks of ego. Ultimately if teaching isn't about making you a better swordsman then your motives are questionable.

2. Teach to learn

It’s that simple: you are teaching other people to improve your own Art. Partly it’s about creating useful training partners and partly it’s about field testing your understanding of sword fighting. Students can be relied upon to pick holes in your theory and force you to properly think through your practice. There's isn't anybody that you can't learn from while you're instructing them. If you are teaching people and not learning anything yourself then you are doing it wrong.

3. Train peers, not students

Measure success as an instructor in terms of the ass-kickings your students give you. Measure success in terms of how quickly you can turn out independent peers. This can take place in both theory and practice, though ideally both. There’s little point training people up unless they can challenge you to improve your swordsmanship.

4. Train people to think for themselves

Always facilitate constructive criticism. Peers who can only challenge you within the framework of your own ideas are sub-optimal to your personal development. Ensure that they understand how to develop ideas and opinions within the structure of the sources.

5. Cultivate healthy respect

Ensure you and your students understand the difference between respecting someone as a person and as an authority. Sometimes people use “respect” to mean “treating someone like a person” and sometimes they use “respect” to mean “treating someone like an authority.”

Ensure respect as a “person” is automatic while respect as an “authority” is earned.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Some thoughts on Martial Art v's Sport

Let's be honest: there is an underlying conversation which is "people who think they are good at sword fighting finding reasons why they aren't the ones winning tournaments."

Personally I appreciate the dash of reality you get from getting your arse kicked at tournaments but it's interesting to watch the online cognitive dissonance from people trying to maintain their self identification as an "authority" and justify the fact that they are unwilling or unable to put their money where their mouth is.

Apparently it's because:

1. Tournament rules are prejudiced against "real" sword fighting techniques
2. You have to do special training for tournaments and this takes time away from "real" swords training
3. A slippy slope argument about how HEMA is the next MMA thanks to "Sportification"
4. [insert rationalisation here] etc

Is victory in tournament the only achievement worthy of respect? No. But, it is inescapable that the Art is made up of theory and practice, that some kind of demonstration of free fighting has always been and will always be part of the Art.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Strength and Speed Matters

"No matter what your mother told you, you are not necessarily equal to your opponent. If your opponent is stronger or faster, you will have to adapt your strategy and mechanics. Not every technique is meant to work against every opponent. If you are smaller and weaker than average, many techniques just won’t work consistently enough to rely on. Skill makes up for gaps in natural attributes, but you won’t normally be fighting people who are significantly less skilled than you are. Unfortunately, smaller and weaker individuals need to put more work into keep up." - Ben Michaels