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.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Kit review: Oil v's Wax

Sword care and rust protection isn't a subject I've really given much attention. I don't have a big foundation of information and most people I know don't really have much to say on the subject. For example the first sword group I was in their recommendation was to soak your weapon in salt water, let it rust up all over and then clean down from top to bottom leaving the sword "naturally blackened." Personally I could never bring myself to do this.

My entire sword maintenance routine consisted of cleaning my steel after ever training session with WD40 (or its equivalents), sandpapering off any rust spots as they appeared and leaving it at that. It has done me surprisingly well but my older swords tend to be spotted with rust where I've missed a cleaning session or left the swords for a period. I'm now aware that while WD40 is great for cleaning it does little for long term protection because it evaporates and is hydroscopic, i.e. attracts water. Great quality for cleaning, lousy quality for protecting between uses.

So I've been on the hunt for something good to look after my steel with. In the main the choice seems to be come down to wax or oil, to find out what is good I've bought one of each and what follows are the results of my comparison.

For the oil, I followed a tip off from a friend that bike chain oil was really good for sword care, I got a can of Castrol motorbike chain oil. As my friend put it the theory here is that motorbike chain oil:

1. Will have a higher viscosity being designed to stay on a motorcycle chain with minimal throw off. If it can do that, it can stay on a sword pretty easily
2. Because it's designed for use on a chain it's not designed to be hygroscopic but to repel water

For the wax, I've bought a tin of Renaissance Wax which seems to be the product of choice by most suppliers of sword gear. As a product specifically designed for preserving I was expecting big things.


Pros: super easy application just spray and spread. Easy to ensure the steel is fully covered including all the awkward places around the hit furniture, oil also seems to flow to fill in any gaps that forms due to bumps and scrapes. Finger prints don't seem to get through this and a bit of casual handling doesn't seem to affect it at all. I've used it on my sharps and had a round or two of plastic water bottle bashing with great results with the water beading up and rolling off very easily. Even after wiping down the blades afterward there was a good layer of oil left. Finally, this oil was cheap $7 for a can that'll probably last me forever.

Cons: it's super sticky attracting dust and lint really easily. However on the plus side it's pretty easy to spray with de-greaser cleaning the dirt off and then re-greasing.


Pros: it's still pretty easy to get this on your blade, not as super easy as oil and it does take more work to get a good covering, however it's not bad. Have to do a bit of work to get it into the awkward places. It definitely attracts less dirt than oil though it does accumulate it over time. It's pretty much bullet proof in terms of protection, 100%. Once it's on, it's on and it doesn't come off meaning the protection is excellent. It's also a plus that this can be applied to preserve the leather on the sword.

Cons: Once it's on, it's on. So I've found that while it takes a while to get dirty it's much harder to get that dirt off. I've found the best thing to do is simply rub the whole thing down with a cloth and apply more wax. It doesn't seem to get as clean and a de-greasing but it's acceptable. Finally, the wax is actually pretty expensive, $25 for 65ml. Will have to see how far this takes me.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Does "gentlemanly conduct" bias your practice?

"They utterly ignore the rules and customs of gentlemanly fencing, and betake themselves to mere fighting of a nature scarcely creditable to a Whitechapel rough" - Alfred Hutton, Cold Steel pg 43

The rules and customs of "Gentlemanly" fencing as outlined in Hutton and presumably ubiquitous in later fencing treatises has been hugely influential for setting HEMA custom. The format of entering measure, touching blades/saluting, then taking one step back and adopting a guard before starting an exercise or bout is deeply ingrained in many fencers practice and is clearly visible in historical fencing culture, particularly at tournaments. 

"To ENGAGE. Having performed the salute, cross the blades, and tap them smartly together twice; then draw back the left foot so as to be out of distance, and come to guard." - Alfred Hutton, Cold Steel pg 42

However I wonder if many people consciously consider the impact this is having on their practice? When you consider the era and system of combat from which this was born, it's often completely inappropriate practice for the system you are studying. 

For example using this practice for technique from Meyer's or I.33 results in outcomes that look little like the treatise. That's because systems, like Meyer, require an assertive opening phase of combat that doesn't work within a passive "gentlemanly" paradigm. From a Meyer perspective specifically (and from the perspective of more aggressive systems in general) there are big problems with:

1. Starting bouts and exercises within what is relatively close measure
2. Starting within static "settled" guard positions

If your system is largely defensive, i.e. involves waiting in a particular guard position or cautiously entering measure with half steps until you can bind, then Hutton's system makes great sense. However if you're trying to enact assertive attacking philosophies driving through dynamic "covering" guard positions they do not work well from this start position.

"When you want to fence with someone on the fencing not place yourself in your guard immediately, so that the adversary does not see right away what kind of guard you have, but go at him with several steps, until you are almost upon him, and then you can set yourself in a guard, which pleases you." - Halle in Saxony, Short though Clear Description treating of Fencing on the Thrust and Cut (1661)

The solution is simple: rather than starting within measure ensure that your default is to start all your exercises and bouts from completely out of measure and without an initial guard position. If your system is assertive this allows you to launch an aggressive attack, if it is defensive you can plod to within measure and adopt your static guard.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Attack & defend drill

Attack & Defend Drill

Partner up, find measure so that you require one step to strike your partner. Taking a short step forwards (i.e. a lunge) strike at your opponent who will defend with the appropriate parry. Defender can either remain still or withdraw the front foot when they parry. For this drill follow this cutting pattern using flicks to start with:

Cut 1: crown strike (starting from your right but ending straight down)
Cut 2: diagonal strike from your top right
Cut 3: horizontal strike from your right
Cut 4: under strike from your right
Cut 5: under strike from your left
Cut 6: horizontal strike from your left
Cut 7: crown strike (starting from your left but ending straight down)

In this drill you take turns and you both follow this pattern so it ends up looking like this:
1.    Person1 lunges and performs crown strike, person2 parries through high guard
2.    Person2 then lunges and performs crown strike, person1 recovers into high guard
3.    Person1 lunges and performs diagonal strike, person2 recovers and parries through high or low guard
4.    Person2 lunges and performs diagonal strike, person1 recovers and parries through high or low guard

This drill encourages people to train with all the cuts, trains people to parry as a part of their recovery, drills measure and is significantly better than having doing solo cutting drills. It’s important that participants are actually in measure and landing their cuts so that if participants are not parrying currently they get struck.

It is also very, very important to highlight that unless you are doing 19th century historical fencing within the rules and customs of that time, however that this turn taking approach is just a strength and muscle memory trainer not something that you would expect to reflect a real bout.

There are many, many variations depending on what technique you wish to drill, such as:

1.    Perform the same cuts with moulinets
2.    Perform the same cut lines but with the false or flat edges
3.    Intersperse the cuts with thrusts so that it goes, for example: crown strike, parry, high thrust, parry, diagonal strike, parry, low thrust, parry etc.
4.    Change the footwork so that one partner is advancing with every cut while the other is retreating with every parry
5.    Change the type of parry, for example if you are working on beating you can parry with a beat rather than a static parry.
6.  Random strike, number all the strikes from 1-4 (or 7 if you're doing both inside and out) and get someone to call out the number. This introduces a random element.
7. Practicing with your off hand it's a great way to build ambidexterity 

Longsword variation

To make this drill work well with longsword it's best alternate between inside and outside strikes, striking from the left and then the right changing the lead foot each time.