Two weeks ago I wrote a post on Getting Used to Protective Gear. One of the reasons that it is important to get used to protective gear is so that we can wear the appropriate protection and thereby reduce our risk of injury. It is important that we do what we can to reduce the risk of injury, whether that is through wearing high quality protective gear, restricting target areas, deliberately controlling the intensity of the fight or any combination of the above.
Sometimes HEMAists dismiss the risk of injury, but there are several reasons why we should take injuries seriously, and make attempts to prevent them if our practices are unsafe.
It is worth bearing in mind that HEMA is a contact sport, and so of course, injuries will happen, and that when they do, we should simply move on with life. If we couldn’t accept any risk of injury at all, then we would never leave the house. I have had several patellar dislocations, and every time after I recovered, I went straight back to HEMA, but I’ve also done everything I can to prevent that happening to me in future. Fundamentally I believe that all HEMAist must make concerted actions to prevent injuries, for yourself, your training partners, and your students.
Is playing a game of parry/riposte an example of “correct fencing” or “incorrect fencing” for the system that you study? For sabre, it is often an example of “good” and “correct” fencing. What about for longsword?
Can “good fencing” ever be considered “bad fencing” or “incorrect fencing” at the same time?
Sometimes people integrate actions or concepts into their sparring that could be described as “good fencing”. However, sometimes these actions or concepts might also be described as “bad fencing” or “incorrect fencing” at the same time, and I think this is an interesting paradox that is somewhat unique to historical fencing.
This article will present a few examples, and it is not the intention to say that any one skill or behaviour or idea is “bad” or “incorrect” all the time. Rather, the intention is to suggest circumstances that may lead to certain actions or concepts changing from “good” to “bad”, or vice versa, or perhaps remaining “good” but suffering from being “incorrect” according to the system. If you take from this article the inspiration to think about these notions, then I will have achieved my purpose, and hopefully more people will consider what counts as “correct fencing” in the system that they study.
Protective gear is obviously of vital importance to HEMA practitioners, as it serves a key purpose: it makes practicing HEMA safer. The downsides of wearing protective gear sometimes get raised, and typically people identify three main problems that they believe protective gear causes: people acting recklessly from feeling over protected, a lack of mobility, and a build up of heat. All of these can present problems; however, these problems can be overcome, and unless you are practicing in a specific and controlled context, then wearing insufficient protective gear can be an even bigger problem.
To start with the issue of people acting rashly because of protection, it is often argued that people wearing too much protective gear will simply start acting foolishly, simply because they no longer feel threatened. The idea is that if someone is wearing someone so much protective equipment they don’t feel hits at all, then they won’t try to defend themselves. This makes sense in some contexts, and less sense in others, as the amount of safety protection that is required and is reasonable depends on the levels of force being used. Making a blanket statement like “wearing lots of protective gear means that people won’t feel hits” doesn’t make much sense. If someone is wearing a lot of protection, but they are in an international tournament, and are fencing against opponents who use a lot of force, then they will probably still feel some level of threat. If they were to wear that exact same amount of protection in a far slower environment with lower levels of power being used, then they might less threatened. The problem isn’t just if people are wearing too much protection, the question is: are they wearing the right amount of protection for the environment they are in? Some environments simply require more protective gear than others, and if someone is wearing a fair amount of protective gear, but that amount of protective gear is what their context calls for, then it is not useful to say that protective gear makes people act unsafely, or that it distorts the art.
Keith Farrell (left) fencing with Federico Malagutti (right). Not much protective gear, but suitable gear for the type of sparring and to achieve the purpose of the exercise.
In martial arts, broadly speaking, there are two types of training exercise: those where you have a specific goal to accomplish, and those where you do not.
It is my belief that exercises without a specific and achievable goal are only useful for experienced practitioners who have already learned how to learn during play. For beginners who have not yet learned this skill, all exercises must have a well-defined goal to strive towards.
The Titan X-Change HEMA Mask
One of the most important pieces of safety equipment that we can own is our fencing mask, and for this reason it is often worth spending more money on the fencing mask compared to other items of safety equipment. A head injury is simply more likely to present a serious problem than an injury than to many other parts of the body.
We are now seeing more masks being developed specifically for HEMA, such as the masks by Gajardoni, or the Titan X-Change HEMA mask by Leon Paul which I’ll be reviewing today. I would argue that there is no true, mass-produced mask built for purpose. In an ideal world, a mask built for HEMA would have integrated back of head protection and an overlay above the mesh, or using solid plates instead of just wire mesh around the top and sides of the head. This would prevent us needing separate masks and overlays; in the mean time however, this isn’t a huge problem and we can continue to use masks and overlays, as long as the masks themselves of sufficient quality.
The Titan X-Change HEMA mask is part of Leon Paul’s Titan Range, which is mostly based off of SPES’s range of HEMA equipment. The Titan mask is an upgraded version of Leon Paul’s prior X-Change masks, featuring several enhancements.
When looking to buy a fencing mask, there are a huge variety of makes and models, and they all come with some numbers to describe how protective they are.
If you have listened to club members talking about masks and their protectiveness (or, even worse, read some of the nonsense that people spout online when discussing fencing masks), you may have come across the terms “350N”, “800N”, “1600N”, or even “12kg” or “25kg”. Unfortunately, most people do not understand correctly what these numbers mean – and if you are going to buy a fencing mask, you should make your decision based on a proper understanding of what the ratings actually mean.
Alex fencing with minimal gear with Aäron Faes at Fechtschule Brugge.
Photo by Pjay Peere.
Last weekend I was at the wonderful HEMA event Fechtschule Brugge, run by the Hallebardiers. One of the most interesting things about the event to me was their sparring format, which they referred to as Blössfechten, or just Blöss.
Of course most longsword practitioners aim to practice Blössfechten (as opposed to Harnischfechten, or fencing in armour), but generally this will be done wearing quite a lot of protective equipment, such as a gambeson or fencing jacket, chest protector, gorget, heavy gloves etc. Instead the fencers at the Halleberdiers prefer to fence with a mask, light gloves and nothing else. I sparred a fair amount over the course of the event, and I only wore my sparring gloves and jacket for a single sparring bout. I fought all the rest of my bouts in their Blöss format, and I also competed in their King of the Hill Blöss tournament.
To do this safely, there was a heavy emphasis on control, and the mask was the only valid target as it was the only protected part of the body. Further, as the Hallebardiers are working in the Fechtschule tradition of the 16th century and later, thrusts were not allowed.
The very tight focus of the sparring (cuts to the head only) did mean that you could fight with a relatively high amount of intensity, as long as you had sufficient control of your sword, i.e. you could strike to the head with real intent, but you had to be prepared to abort an attack if the opponent moved in a way you did not expect, such as moving his hands in the way.
An Albion Meyer and a pair of Sparring Gloves.
Photo by Keith Farrell.
It is easy to spend a long time discussing gloves for longsword fencing. Each make and model has advantages and disadvantages, and every practitioner will have their own preferences and needs.
This article lays out the brief comparisons and recommendations that I give to my students when they ask me about what gloves they need for lessons in the clubs at which I teach.
This is an updated version of the article; the first version was published in April 2015, and since then, I have had more experience with some of the types of gloves mentioned here, and have remembered to include one or two others!
In today’s article, I’m going to be outlining a few reasons to start grappling in HEMA classes, and in longsword classes in particular. Some people just train longsword in isolation, which is strange from a historical point of view, as a medieval fencer would not just have trained in one weapon, they would have trained in many combat arts, including wrestling. Training longsword in isolation like that is not the best way to develop martial skills either I feel. Other HEMAists already include grappling in their training regime, and they should continue to do so; this article is aimed at groups that don’t already do any grappling, and will outline a few reasons why they should.
Keith Farrell and Mark Wilkie sparring with sabres at Edgebana 2015.
You often hear the advice that you should train with a heavier weapon, in order to improve your strength, balance, coordination, stamina, whatever. In fact, this notion is recorded as early as Vegetius, who wrote about Roman training methods. Alex Bourdas has written an article on this blog previously about the advantages and disadvantages of training with heavier weapons.
This article will set out my current thoughts to argue that in fact lighter swords are very beneficial for beginners, and that people should not rush into using a heavier sword before they are ready.