Thursday, 20 November 2014

What are the worst swords for HEMA?

Recently I was debating online about the "worst" weapons to use as wasters. Many people (particularly of the Old Guard or re-enactment background) hold the opinion that synthetics are awful. I don't entirely disagree. However they are not in my opinion the worst wasters. In fact they're not even near the bottom of the list.

For me the worst waster is the metal crowbar. It's the "heavy fighting" or "re-enactment" style blade with a solid 3mm edge, 2-3 kg in weight, rusty in places with burs and flakes of steel from previous engagements. Yes, they are made of metal and are therefore materially slightly closer material to the originals however:

1. Because they are super heavy they skew your training because you have to ridiculously pull your blows to avoid injuring your opponents. Or you don't care and no one wants to fight you because you always end up injuring your opponents
2. Yes they might have rounded point but because they have relatively little blade flex it means there is little practical difference between them and a sharp sword on the thrust, therefore you have to skew your technique by doing things like breaking your arm when you thrust or heavily pulling your thrusts to light taps.
2. They skew your training because you need to get into full robocop style padding, this is unarmored fighting people!
3. They require a much higher level of strength to make and recover from the necessarily explosive moves, this is a barrier many people never get over and instead they tire quickly forming lazy guards and wild uncontrolled blows
4. They handle nothing like a real sword, (often 50%, 100% or more the weight of the originals) with a blade profile that is nothing like a sharp weapon. They also tend to have heavily overweight pommels and hilt furniture to help make recovery easier which changes the "feel" of the weapon etc
5. They are very expensive, which is a real barrier to new people taking up the Art (even if they don't mind all the injuries) which also means that the most beat up swords, and least safe swords, stay in circulation indefinitely as "beginner" weapons!

The second worst waster is the wood waster.

1. Depending on materials these can also be pretty heavy, a solid oak waster is like being beaten with pick ax handle OR they can be light and they will almost certainly break under regular use
2. As they get used the wood on the blade starts to splinter and these splinters are worse than burs on drawing cuts. Then they break
3. There is no flex in the blade which means that when the enthusiastic newbie lunges you get all 70kg of their weight behind the point of the sword when it hits you. Not pleasant. So you end up skewing your training by breaking your arm when you thrust.
4. They handle nothing like a sharp weapon. Goes without saying.
5. They are however, affordable so they don't put off newbies

When looked at like this the synthetic doesn't look so bad:

1. They are relatively light and most people can work up the strength to handle them safely
2. Because they can be handled safely most people are happy with lighter or no body armour
3. They don't splinter or burr up
4. They don't break
5. The blade flexes well
6. They cut nothing like a real sword but because they are closer in weight and they don't have massive heavily hilt furniture they cut more like a real sword than the above weapons
7. They are affordable so they don't put off newbies

Of course the best options are feders or unsharpened steel swords but when compared to the other options I feel synthetics don't come out too bad, they are mid table rather than bottom of the table.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Training to improve sword cutting 1

Until now cutting has sort of been a novelty thing for me, I had a sharp sword and I occasionally got it out and cut up stuff. I've recently got more interested in it mainly because cutting with the sword is part of the Art I've neglected. For me the current attractions are:

1. cutting is a skill based activity that once learnt is largely retained and doesn't suffer unduly from week long bouts of absence due to work
2. it's largely a body mechanics activity rather than a strength/fitness training activity
3. after 10 years of training it's nice to do something a bit different
4. unlike training for tournament progress can be readily measured in direct achievement, i.e. you either can or you can't make certain cuts

To improve upon my cutting I've been putting together ideas for skills and progression perhaps with the idea of creating a program which could be taught in my club.

As I can see it there are a few different skill sets:

1. Learning to complete all the cuts: true/false, different lines and different types (wrist, elbow, shoulder)
2. Learning to complete cuts against targets of different toughness/resistance (plastic bottles, cardboard, rolled newspaper, rolled carpet, bamboo etc)
3. Learning to land multiple cuts on a single target
4. Learning to hitting multiple targets in quick succession
5. Sharpening, learning to put on a great edge perhaps experimenting with different bevels and sword profiles

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Should instructors be expected to fight in tournaments?

My thoughts on this great post by Roger Norling, :)

I want to say that I agree with Roger's sentiment that if fighting in tournaments isn't your thing or if it kills your buzz for the hobby then you shouldn't be pressured into taking part.

However here's a quibble: it's a two way street, if you purposely go out there to "reputation build" by putting it out there that you're a "master" swordsman or the like then I would say that you are creating an expectation that you should participate in some kind of competitive open forum where your assertion can be demonstrated. I think when you follow this through to all "branches" of HEMA, not just tournament fighters, it makes sense. If someone claimed to be a translator but never published their translations or if someone claimed to be a master at cutting without ever demonstrating this ability, there would be some pressure for proof. And this is fine.

So if all you are putting out there is that you put on a good workshop then you'll be expected to turn up and run a good workshop. There shouldn't be any further expectation that you should also be a master fighter.

Incidentally, in my personal view, as an occasional instructor I feel I should always score in the mid to top bracket of a tournament or internal club competition. Unless the competition was of an exceptionally high standard I feel an instructor shouldn't necessarily be The Best but they should definitely be better than average at what they do. If I dropped into the bottom of tournament rankings I would happily step back and learn from others, because I'm not in this to teach and when I find people better than me I'm happy to learn from them.

In short, I feel if you teach HEMA you shouldn't suck in a Tournaments.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

What does historical quarterstaff look like?

Just been sent the link to "British Quarterstaff Association" video again, with a "what do you think of this" message.

To be honest, it makes me think of this:

I've sometimes been told that Quarterstaff is a "close range" weapon and looking at the measure in the above you would believe that. This perception and understanding is largely thanks to the Victorians (not necessarily the Boy Scouts as is sometimes put forward) who saw quarter staff like boxing, such as this source.

Now, the thing is I'm not going to say that this isn't HEMA and that this isn't the historical way of quarter staff fighting. Because it comes from a historical source and is valid Historical European Martial Art reconstruction.

It just isn't probably how they did it "back in the day" of Robin Hood. See below good representation based on Meyer's staff:

Key differences:

1. The staff is held from the end not the middle
2. It's very much more of a thrusting weapon
3. The measure is very long
4. You try bind and thrust a great deal more than you cut through and strike

Monday, 13 October 2014

Great posts on historical fencing

Wow, people are on fire this month.

This is one of the clearest and most concise explanations of Aristotelian physics from a German tradition HEMA perspective. It would certainly get my vote for the best post on historical fencing I've seen this year.

Likewise, this post summaries well how it could be seen as a fallacy to get too "purist" in defining HEMA practice: "If the end result can be presented as a credible format using every relevant source at its disposal to practice the art : it is HEMA"

I wrote a while ago lamenting the lack of open and intelligent information sharing in HEMA "community" at that time. Beyond politicking and people generally throwing their weight around on the established forums there was little activity. It's great to see new blogs springing up with people finding channels to get their ideas and information out there.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Kit mod: heavy sparring glove 2

This is a follow on to heavy sparring gloves and SPES arm protectors.

Finally: the ultimate HEMA gloves.

Essentially I've created this final stage by removing the cuff from the gauntlet and attaching Velcro so the SPES arm & elbow protection attaches to the gauntlet. The Velcro attaches under the lip of the arm protection providing a solid join between the pieces.

My photography is lame but I hope you get the idea:

Good protection.

I would say that this setup has complete protection from injury from sparring blows from fingers to elbow. Against full force blows it takes it down from injury to some mild discomfort and possibly light bruising, against moderate blows you feel some pressure with no discomfort. The fingers are where I've invested the heaviest protection and these are pretty much 9.5/10 solidly protected.

Light weight

Because the weight is distributed along the length of the arm rather than at the wrist/hands end and because they can fit quite tightly to your body they seem lighter than most other gloves I've compared them to, even padded gloves such as hockey gloves. The only "heavy" aspect is the metal fingers, the rest being plastic and padding.


The Velcro attached segmentation gives this combo versatility, allowing it to be assembled for different uses. It has three really useful combinations:

1. Complete - perfect for sparring
2. Complete but with light gloves rather than steel fingers - even lighter and perfect for use with a basket hilted single handed weapon where finger protection is not necessary but you still want wrist and forearm protection.
3. Just the fingered glove and gauntlet - perfect for situations where the forearm isn't a target but where you still want finger and wrist protection.

Easy to use

There are no fiddly ties or buckles and with everything Velcroing together it's possible to quickly assemble and then slip on. It's simplicity itself to don these one handed. The result is that if I decide on a whim to take part in a free play session then the gloves go in seconds. If it's a hard out session I can be fully suited and booted in about a minute. It also means if I want to remove them between bouts to cool off or rest, this is not a problem.

Because it is adjustable it also works best without padding but works ok with a padded jacket. I'm thinking of sewing a velcro strip into the cuff of my Axel Petersen jacket so I can attach the glove and gauntlet to my fencing jacket with the arm/elbow protector sitting over the top.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

How to effectively train the Master Strikes

To teach the master strikes it is important to keep in mind one truth: the strike itself isn't masterful it is how it is done that is masterful. Therefore to teach them you cannot remove them from the context but must use the context of the fight to show how awesome they are. 

I created this loose play to provide context within which to train the strikes:

1.    Participants separate completely out of measure
2.    Patient adopts a position with their sword
3.    Agent steps through a guard to strike the strongest opening (they may make only one action to strike but they can vary the line in mid strike depending on the Patients reaction)
4.    Patient can parry the strike (they may make one action to parry) but must do so at the correct moment or the Agent will redirect and land the strike
5.    When the Agent touches the Patient the Patient can make one offensive action with one step, the Agent must withdraw out of measure

This is run at ¾ speed and it doesn't stop for actions, so if the patient doesn't adopt a suitable parry the agent simply completes their initial action to complete their kill and withdraw. Participants take turns being Agent and Patient.

This leaves a lot of scope for the participants but with this basic rule set:

·       The agent gets to practice correctly interpreting openings, either directly or attempting misleading signals to the patient to confuse them into parrying incorrectly. It also strongly encourages withdrawing effectively
·       The patients gets to experiment how their opening stance determines the agents actions, understanding when/where to parry without parrying too soon, and how to swiftly counter attack to catch someone who is slow at withdrawing

Once this is down pat and everyone is doing good technique introduce the first Master Strike, I like to start with the Wrath. Practice bio-mechanically what the action is and then add the following new rule:

1.    Both Agent and Patient can use the Wrath strike (the Agent for their one attacking action the Patient for their counter action)

With some suggestions about how it is to be used:

1.    Don’t do it every time, it will only work “masterfully” with the properly alignment of factors
2.    Experiment with each other and the different partners for when this action works best and against whom

Then let the loose play run, changing partners regularly and “gaming” the strike in the appropriate context. Then add the next strike, then the next etc until all the strikes are in play. The Patient will have Five masterful counterattacks at their disposal, the Agent still holds the initiative by the rules but has to both assert themselves and be careful in reading their opponent.