The aesthetics of HEMA safety gear

Today I wanted to offer a brief set of recomendations for HEMA clothing and safety gear aesthetics. Safety gear should of course be protective, and this should be the prime concern, but we should also wear safety gear that looks professional, gives a good impression of HEMA, and also fits into the established HEMA aesthetic. We want people to take us seriously, whether they are students, potential training partners, or members of the public, we want to give HEMA a good image, and I think we should attempt to look good while doing HEMA to show respect for the discipline of HEMA itself.

Someone with a clean professional look will give off a much better impression on behalf of themselves, their club and HEMA generally. This means that we should try to present a look like this, rather than, for example, wear a mismash of badly maintained psuedo-historical gear and motocross gear. Even those wearing HEMA gear could often do something to improve their look, e.g. replacing a painted mask design with a more professional one, or replace some black items with something a little more distinctive.

Me in my current set of HEMA gear. Photo copyright of Lindsey McMahon.

Me in my current set of HEMA gear. Photo copyright of Lindsey McMahon.

As a comparison, this is previous st of gear, which is less distintrive and recognisable in terms of national and club colours, and also had a less professional mask design. Photo coyright of Keith Farrell.

As a comparison, this was my previous set of gear, which was less distinctive and recognisable in terms of national and club colours, and also had a less professional mask design.
Photo coyright of Keith Farrell.

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What skills do you need to make your interpretation work?

Goliath (MS Germ.Quart.2020), folio 22r

Goliath (MS Germ.Quart.2020), folio 22r

When we read a section of text from one of the historical fencing treatises, there is a wealth of information required to make the techniques work effectively. Unfortunately, much of this information is not communicated explicitly in the sources, especially in the medieval sources.

When developing an interpretation of a given passage and trying to understand how to apply the advice in practice, there are several things that must be considered. This article will try to provide some insight into the “hidden” information that we must acquire before we can make our interpretations work.

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Review of Edgebana 2016

Medals and prizes from the Edgebana 2016 competitive event.

Medals and prizes from the Edgebana 2016 competitive event.

Last weekend, I attended the Edgebana 2016 competitive event, the fourth such event in Dundee. This will be a brief review of the event and my own learning points from the competitions.

There were three tournaments over the course of the weekend: open synthetic longsword, invitational Franco-Belgian, and open steel longsword. I entered all of these tournaments, and will give some brief thoughts on each.

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Cutting mechanics in cutting practice and in sparring

Two activities within HEMA practice are sparring and cutting. Sparring helps us to ensure that we can actually execute techniques effectively against an uncooperative opponent, and cutting helps to ensure that those techniques would have the potential to kill or significantly injure an opponent.

This is important because a hit with a sharp sword is not guaranteed to cause enough harm to an opponent to make them stop fighting. Even if a hit is done with some force, this is still no guarantee that it will stop a fight. Strikes with a sword must be done with good cutting mechanics, i.e. they must be done with good edge alignment and sufficient follow through, the strike should land with the centre of percussion, not just with the tip of the sword, and the cut should be directed at a high value target. For example, a well formed cleaving cut to the head has much more potential to end a fight than a shallow cut to the forearm.

For a display of this, please see this video released last month by Holmgang Hamburg. The video is not safe for work, and shows blood and people being injured, so viewer discretion is advised. Please also note that we do not condone the actions shown in the video, and we would strongly recommend against this type of practice as it is very unsafe. Nonetheless, videos like this can give us interesting insights.

NEU Holmgang Hamburg – Scharfe Zweihänder Teil 2 – fighting with sharp swords

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Buying HEMA Gear

mask and swords

This week’s guest article is courtesy of Tea Kew, from the Cambridge HEMA club.

One of the most common questions on HEMA forums and Facebook groups, perhaps the most common after “Where’s my nearest club?” and “What sword should I get?”, is some variation of “What protective gear should I get?” or “Is this piece of equipment worthwhile?”. Normally this is asked by new fencers, who are looking for the best balance of cost and effectiveness to equip themselves for safe training.

The general answer is always basically the same: buy the de-facto standard HEMA gear, from reputable HEMA-specific manufacturers.

In this article, we’ll look at some general principles to use when buying gear, that help explain why to buy the standard kit instead of alternatives. Depending on your local situation, some of this standard equipment might be difficult to obtain, but understanding these principles means you can make much more informed decisions about how to select replacements if necessary.

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Is it acceptable to teach non-HEMA techniques in a HEMA lesson?

Image of Kendo c.1920. The fencer on the right is in chudan-no-kamae. Image taken from Wikipedia.

Image of Kendo c.1920. The fencer on the right is in chudan-no-kamae. Image taken from Wikipedia.
Is it useful to take a similar position or technique from another martial art, adopt into our HEMA practice?

This is a question that does come up every so often when someone with non-HEMA experience discusses the idea of setting up a HEMA club. Of course it seems like quite a reasonable idea to continue teaching the non-HEMA material with which you are familiar, and there are probably techniques from your previous training that would be useful in various situations in HEMA sparring.

I worked through this process myself, several years ago, when I started looking at HEMA after spending around fourteen years studying karate. I had achieved my 3rd dan black belt in karate, and I thought that importing some karate techniques and concepts would help to shore up any of the many deficiencies I perceived in the HEMA systems I was trying to learn.

However, with more experience of HEMA now, I can see quite clearly that the biggest and most important deficiency was my own lack of skill at the systems I was trying to learn! Now I know that these systems can deal with almost any problem (within the appropriate context) if I apply the techniques and concepts properly – and if I need to solve a problem in a different context, I just use a different (and more appropriate) system.

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On painted masks

One practice that is quite common within HEMA is painting fencing masks.  The fencing mask is the most common item of safety kit that a HEMAist can own, and so many HEMAists will personalise their masks. There are many possible reasons why a HEMA practitioner might paint their own mask: it may be so they can find their own mask quicker if a group of masks are left together, or it could be so that they can identify themselves in photos more easily, or so that others in the HEMA community will recognise them more easily, or simply because they think the idea of a painted mask might look cool.

For quite some time, I wore a painted mask. Most recently, I wore a mask painted with a skull, and before that, I was borrowing a friend’s mask with a zombie/Jason design. When I got my mask back, freshly painted with a skull, I was very happy with it. The painting had been done well, it was very distinctive, and a few of the newer students said that the mask made it more intimidating to spar with me, which was very satisfying. After this I acquired a new mask, which hasn’t yet been painted. Taking time to think about exactly what I wanted to be painted on my new mask made me think about the entire practice of painting masks, and especially the problems associated with it. I was very happy with both of the painted masks I have used, but I have been thinking recently that the issue might be a little more complicated than simply having your mask painted because it looks cool, which was the only real consideration I ever had personally with regard to having a painted mask before.

Me, in my old mask painted with a skull. Photo copyright of Daniil Lapko.

Me, in my old mask painted with a skull.
Photo copyright of Daniil Lapko.

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Curved Swords and “Polish Sabre”

Keith Farrell with a Polish hussar sabre. Photo by Miroslav Zaruba, 2013.

Keith Farrell with a Polish hussar sabre. Photo by Miroslav Zaruba, 2013.

I have a curved sword. When I fence with it, am I practising Polish sabre?

The reconstruction of 17th century Polish fencing with the sabre has been gaining in popularity for a few years now, with various researchers and interpreters working to improve their own understanding of the issue, and teaching their ideas at events and gatherings. Several items of research have been produced and published, including translations, articles, books, and sword typologies.

However, along with the surge of interest among scholars and the publication of research, it is becoming more common to hear people state that they “do Polish sabre”, or to make assertions that this or that kind of guard or technique “can be found in Polish sabre”. In fact, it is quite possible to see some people “doing Polish sabre” and for the resulting fencing to look no different from how they “do British sabre” or indeed how they “do messer”. There are of course people who put incredible amounts of time and effort into training a fencing system that could well be an excellent reconstruction of 17th century Polish fencing with the sabre, but there are also people who dabble, and so “doing Polish sabre” has become a relatively common refrain.

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HEMA myths and fact-checking

Today I want to talk very briefly about the importance of fact checking things you say. It is not uncommon to hear people repeat “facts” that they have heard. They may go on to repeat these anecdotes or pieces of information in a conversation, or in a class. The people that hear these “facts” can then go to repeat them at a later time, and so these statements are continually brought up and told to new people without anyone actually checking if these “facts” actually have any basis in fact.

Three examples of this that spring to mind in particular are that:

– Italian longsword is flashy compared to the straight-forward German longsword system,
– that the messer was a weapon designed to get by through legal loopholes
– and that it was the advent of the gun in Europe that made swordsmanship skills die off.

These “facts” are all old; however I hear them repeated every now and again. It is therefore worth quickly debunking these stories.

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