Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Kit review: SPES Forearm and Elbow Protectors V.2

"The forearm protectors help to lessen the threat of injury during frequent historical fencing training. Additionally this model has elbow protection. Made of sturdy fabric and super-hard profiled plastic inserts, gives you high level of protection during fight. The elbow protection, an extension of the forearm protector, is specially shaped to provide the most protection for the elbows possible without impeding movement." 

Ordering review

I ordered these from the HEMA Shop rather than directly from SPES. This had the main advantage that I could pay with credit card rather than bank transfer. The HEMA Shop has an automated messaging service that does a really good job communicating the status of your order. Postage was reasonably priced and arrived within a week from the UK.


These provide significantly better levels of protection than simple motocross/skateboarding arm protectors, particularly the fact that they wrap completely around the arm to protect the inside of the forearm. This is especially good for longsword.

The plastic inserts are heavy duty and can take punishment. I was initially a little worried that because they are strips with gabs between that blows could land in the gaps, but in action this doesn't happen.

The elasticated velcro of the straps allows you to secure them to your arms providing a close but flexible fit. The straps are also generously long allowing the guard to accommodate a wide variety of padding underneath.

The elbow cups can be detached from the guards with Velcro, which is a nice touch.


The elbow cup is designed to be worn with a bulky padded garment and doesn't sit brilliantly on a bare arm or over a thin fencing jacket. One of my hopes when purchasing this was that it would help eliminate the need for wearing a bulky padded garment. This, plus my HEMA plastron would provide good protection on the high frequency hitting areas without needing the bulk of a padded garment. It isn't working out brilliantly in this regard.

It also doesn't interact well with Absolute Force gauntlets, I'm thinking about cutting these back and working out a way to Velcro attach these better.

Significantly more expensive than simple arm protectors, these cost almost $100 including postage compared to $10-$20 for cheap protectors.

Compared to simple arm protectors they are heavier and bulkier but not unreasonably so and they have little impact on movement. 


It's a good purchase and, from what I've seen, is the best forearm protection on the market. On the elbow guard I'm thinking of adding some kind of sock that you push your arm through to better attach it to a bare elbow, but otherwise this is a great bit of kit.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Defining myself as a Historical Fencer

1. Holistic - I believe that a system of combat that allows you to effectively fight in real life cannot be written within the pages of a book, it is simply too complicated to cover every possible variable. Therefore treatises are best viewed as sources of clues to a bigger picture, giving typical but by no means exhaustive examples of overarching principles. Our job as students is to train in the specific examples but always to be looking at how they fit into the system as a whole.

2. Literalist - I believe that the treatises should be viewed as practical instruction manuals that can be understood literally and without special esoteric knowledge.

3. Dynamic - I judge the success of an interpretation by it's practical application rather than as an abstract and speculative form. I value doing over talking.

4. Mostly monogamous - In general I tend to focus in one time period and treatise.

5. Sportive realist - I believe that what I am practicing for is for sport rather than earnest. Within the context of sporting play, I believe rule-sets should try to encourage realism as far as can be allowed.

6. Athletic - I believe physical conditioning for it's own sake improves my fencing.

7. Cutting enthusiast - I believe that cutting with sharps gives interesting insights, particularly where it can help inform realism.

8. Egalitarian - I believe knowledge and ability is best advanced in collaboration between peers rather than a hierarchical system.

9. Uncertain - I believe that it is best to maintain an element of doubt in what I believe so that I can be open to better ways of doing things.

6 practical steps to better training

As a follow on to my new years solutions, specifically: "Recognize that you often get the best results from a series of small changes. These incremental gains often led to profound collective effects."
  • Sort out your health and nutrition 
Getting sick takes time out from your training schedule and disrupts your flow. Likewise not being bursting with energy will lead to low intensity "talkfests" rather than real training. Find out what combination of  foodstuffs gives you the healthiest most energetic you and then stick with it.
  • Take the drama out of your life
Most of the most successful people I know lead low drama lives. Many are in long term stable relationships with careers in steady low fuss jobs. Basically they've structured their lives to allow them regular, predictable training sessions with minimal effort.  
  • Ignore the bullshit
Ration the internet, cap your involvement with club administration and focus on the training. The "bullshit", i.e. anything related to training that is not actually training rapidly takes over so maintain stern limits. 
  • Make space for training outside of your club
Training once or twice a week isn't going to cut it. Even 15-20 minutes of  training every day will make all the difference. Setup a pell in your garden and hit it every night.
  • Sort your gear out once and for all
Stop messing around getting the cheapest possible gear. Buy well, buy once and then forget about your gear and focus on your training.
  • Have an idea what the finished product looks like
Video your sparring and then compare it to your mental picture of what you're trying to achieve. Do they look the same? No, then change it!

Sunday, 16 February 2014

What does success look like?

This picture shared on FB by a friend of mine cracked me up.

What I particularly love is how the different sub-genres within "HEMA" have their own little names :)

Anyhow, on a related topic, I've been having one of my regular reassessments of my training and specifically around the goals of my training.

What got me thinking was a comment during a chance discussion with a new acquaintance. The gist of it was that they quit training with one school over practicality: the instructor held that training would be no advantage over someone untrained pulled off the street because their untrained behaviour was too unpredictable.

I found this idea quite alien because all my theory and study is centered around the idea that I am not learning a specific style that can only work when matched against another person using the same style, but is about learning principles based on factors that are consistent between all human beings. In short, in my "system" because I would understand that my opponent is likely to be “unpredictable” I can adjust my fencing accordingly to compensate. I'm learning to be adaptive because I understand the theory. Much like the difference between learning to read and play music by rote and learning to creatively play music, to jam.

This, I think, is at the heart of what I want to achieve: to learn to "effectively” sword fight is to fight creatively. Not necessarily with a specific weapon or limited within the content of a single treatise but in general, to learn the general principles behind swordsmanship, behind the treatises to become an “effective” swordsman.

I think there is often a lot of smoke around what being effective with a sword is but in a nutshell most people would agree that you are effective with a sword when you can hit your opponent without being struck by your opponent in return.

Of course some blows are better than others but if you can consistently hit your opponent without response then you are doing it right.

I also do a fair bit of cutting with sharp swords and favour steel blunts over synthetic, this I think puts me a toe hold into the practical rather than sporting camp.

Now, as you might have noticed this doesn't necessarily have anything to do with historical European martial arts. Which is fine by me. I'm into HEMA for practical reasons rather than sentimental reasons: because I think it's the best tool to achieve my goal of sword based effectiveness.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Inspirational quote for today

“To hear the internet tell it, you need to engage in epic quantities of lung-exploding, shirt-drenching, chest-pounding vigorous exercise in order to reap the health benefits of a fitness program. It can be pretty daunting, seeing impossibly chiseled people on TV executing feats of great athleticism and skill…I remember seeing those commercials and thinking ‘well gosh, there’s no way I could do that. If that’s what I have to do to be fit and healthy, I don’t really even see the point in trying."

"Of course, I eventually realized that what I was seeing on TV and reading on the internet was pretty extreme, and that I didn't need to go to such lengths to improve my health. But it took me some time to reach that realization. The amount of exercise necessary to experience health benefits is actually fairly moderate and doable.”

I feel this is true for fencing. A simple exercise program of 20-30 minutes exercise 3-4 times a week has worked wonders for me and while I might not be stacked like Conan it's amazing how much it improves your fencing. 

Sunday, 12 January 2014

New years resolutions

Act your way into a new way of thinking and being. You can't discover yourself simply through introspection. Reflection and analysis are important but are often excuses for inaction. Refine your thoughts based on action, not continued analysis.

Recognize that you often get the best results from a series of small changes. These incremental gains often led to profound collective effects. 

If you can't fully visualise the final destination don't wait to start the journey. Pick the first way point and start the journey. Then constantly review and, if necessary, re-orient yourself.

Find people who are what you want to be and who can provide the support we all need. This is not someone who keeps you as you are but stretches your thought and action .

Recognize that change may be continuous but in practice it happens in a series of bursts. Use the windows for change to best advantage. Take a series of breaks throughout the year and then before your routine reasserts itself take the chance to see things differently.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

How long to train someone in sword fighting?

I'm curious about how long it takes to achieve any accomplishment in weapons mastery when the motivation is purely to have competency as quickly and efficiently as possible. At the moment the club I'm involved with is revising and putting together an updated training regime with the idea to bring a more organised program of development for the members, rather than the ad hoc instruction that had been the norm for some years.

One of the many interesting parts of this discussion is hearing the many views around how long a course of basic instruction should take to bring someone up to competence. Based on my experience I've been putting forward the view that we should be looking to produce a good level swordsman after a year's training.

Out of curiosity I also did a little research about training in the military and interestingly there seems to be a fairly consistent time periods for "basic" training from the Roman army to the modern military:

2-3 months for basic instruction
Up to 6 months - 1 year to complete training
1-3 years (or a few months in the field) to be fully competent/senior level
3+ years competent at instruction

For example in the modern British army basic training lasts six - seven months in total by which time you will are expected to be competent in shooting and with all the skills required of infantry. This training appears to breakdown into 3 months of skills instruction and then another 3 months of reinforcement and practical application. It's impressive when you consider that within the first three months they can teach a soldier to shoot from zero experience to passing the marksman exam.

Although these guys are training full time and the club is only training 1 or 2 nights a week I think there is transferable expectations for HEMA to be gleaned from this. Mostly because military basic training is teaching a huge variety of skills while club instructors are only teaching what would be a single element of a military education.

Of course this is dependent on a few factors: such as consistent attendance at training and a minimum basic level of fitess/coordination. But provided that people turn up and do not have to significantly improve their fitness I think this timescale is a good framework for HEMA studies: after a year most people should know/be trained enough to be average at fencing. If they've trained very hard they should be in the top 85 percentile.

It's also dependent on the body of knowledge available. However I would argue that even 20 years ago the body of knowledge for basic historical swordsmanship was well understood. As a minimum picking up a military sabre manual will impart the basics which are contiguous among all styles. While studying and recreating a specific style can take an indefinite amount of time, learning the basics of swordsmanship shouldn't.