Keith Farrell’s workshop in Toulouse – some reviews
This week’s article is a set of reviews from members of L’Ost du Griffon Noir, a HEMA club that practices in Toulouse in the south of France. At the end of January, they invited Keith Farrell from the Academy of Historical Arts to run a weekend workshop about Liechtenauer’s longsword. The overarching principles of the workshop were the “five words” of Liechtenauer’s art:
“the five words: Before [Vor], After [Nach], Weak [Weich], Strong [Hart] and Instantly [Indes]. On these words are built the whole art of Liechtenauer, and they are the foundation and core of all fencing on foot or on horseback, with armour or without.”
William Bouillez and some of the other members of L’Ost du Griffon Noir have been kind enough to write some short reviews about the workshop from their points of view.
I was honoured to be asked by William Bouillez to teach this workshop on Toulouse. Although I have done a lot of teaching in my life, this was the first full weekend of teaching in a foreign country, and I felt a bit of pressure to make the lessons go well! I wanted to focus on the “five words” of Liechtenauer’s art: before, after, instantly, strong, weak. I had an interesting opportunity with this weekend event – the attendees all had some experience with various styles of fencing, and I had the opportunity to apply Liechtenauer’s teachings to existing experience to streamline and improve the various skills that already existed. Normally I only have the opportunity to teach Liechtenauer to beginners, and I think there are issues with this sort of approach (see my article here), so the chance to teach Liechtenauer’s system as I believe it was intended to be taught (taking fighters with an existing knowledge of how to fight and then improving their approach) was exceptionally interesting for me.
L’Ost du Griffon Noir is home to some very competent fencers and a lot of very nice people. I enjoyed my stay in Toulouse greatly and am looking forward to returning at some point for more fencing or even just for a social call! I must thank William for organising the event and to all of his helpers who assisted with the event. I have a growing respect for the developing HEMA scene in France, and every time I visit a French club or event, I come away with a greater respect for what is happening in the country!
Academy of Historical Arts
What came out of Keith Farrell’s workshop
Since I knew well what Keith wanted to achieve, I have a different point of view than other people.
For me, the very important ideas were:
– the Vor / Before: use our skill to act before the opponent, do this so that you are not in a purely defensive mode but in a strong position. Must not allow the opponent too much time otherwise he might take the Indes.
– the Indes / Instantly: Try to feel the blade of the opponent if he has taken the before, and use your skill to feel what to do next. If he is strong, get out of there and strike, or bring the strong of your sword onto the weak of his and stab him. If he is weak then make yourself safe and hit him hard or stab him.
– the strong and the weak: there is the feeling of the blade, it is a type of discussion with the opponent’s sword, and there is information that will help you to use the right technique at the right moment.
– the Nach / After: is a way of getting out of the fight and avoiding the after blow by hitting the opponent continuously after having touched him the first time, or backing up in a defence position…
During this workshop certain exercises caught my attention:
– The “step 1, 2, 3, etc” exercise allows us to revise the basics and to understand a technique better. The idea of cutting an technique or sequence into several parts and gradually putting them back together is just brilliant.
– The “blind” exercise was for me a first. I found it very interesting and useful to see how you react in certain situations. Also it helps your reflexes to become better, and it helps develop the feeling of the blades.
– The exercise for putting master strikes into action was very interesting because it help fencers to see when they can use various kinds of techniques
All in all it was great, and of course what made me smile during the whole of the workshop is the the way that Keith explains things – you have to live it to understand what I say!
L’Ost du Griffon Noir
Well, for me, the main idea of the workshop was to look at the technique mechanics of movement, and the dynamics of a tactical approach to sparring, as shown by the following exercises:
– performing simple strikes in attack or defence;
– master the basics of the bind, and understand that we can apply these basics in many situations;
– to be conscious of the distance and range of all your techniques;
– the question of what works (or not) against a guard, extrapolated to making decisions and reacting to similar situations;
– chain several attacks creatively and consistently with respect to the actions and reactions of the opponent, while keeping safe and in control!
In the end, we were able to go to fight in a dynamic situation, by drawing on a range of technical improvisations that are sensible and tactical. We made solo drills to work on this, moving towards more rational improvisations!
The structure of the exercises (“step 1, step 2, … step 5”) enabled the novice to discover the movements, and to develop a more advanced grasp of the fundamentals (such as caring about the knee). It was good, since if you made a mistake in one step of the sequence, you would have the opportunity to do it again properly and build upon it in the next step.
As for the interpretation of the master strikes, I remain undecided. Keith’s interpretation shows strikes that “only the masters can use”, with their high standards and their tactical finesse. Comparatively, the interpretation of Laurent (the Liechtenauer instructor at our club) seem to be more common on the internet, suggests that the blows “dominate” other strikes. His interpretation is perhaps tactically more flexible than Keith’s, but I don’t know which is better. Do we need to cut hard in a “dominating” fashion to incapacitate a man without armour if you hit the face with a blade? Especially given the intrinsic power of a longsword? Mystery, mystery…
L’Ost du Griffon Noir
For Keith, the idea of ??maintaining a healthy body is vital: even down to the small details such as moving with the foot pointing towards the opponent and the knee aligned above the heel so as not to wear out the joint.
One should not stop at the first technique, you should be able to continue with more strikes, and then withdraw with protection. When striking, you should look after your thumb by resting it lightly on one side of the blade.
Feeling out the opponent is important. You can test different positions and different guards to know a little more about the opponent, and to see if he knows how to fight well.
You need to adapt your style to beat your opponent and understand if there is a strong or weak or fast to adapt the techniques. You also need to think about how to adapt the movements to the size of the opponent – for example, during an assault against a taller or shorter opponent, do you make a big or small blade rotation towards his hands in his “Ochs”? Many things can depend on the size difference between the two participants.
Keith showed me the importance of the notion of distance. I need to have good distance in order to address the opponent effectively, but also to dodge and counter attack. Distance is useful when attacking both directly and indirectly, and good footwork helps
The method of ??instruction by repetition, and returning to basics (step 1 through to step 6) allows students to see again and again the first part of the sequence, and to ensure that this technique is done well. To clarify, this repetition helps build a solid foundation for the exercise, with a gradual increase in complexity.
The position of the feet, legs, knees and arms (for example with the hands low and chambered, ready to give more power for thrusting) provides a solid structure for a good parry or to resist being disarmed.
Finally, overall, a brutal way of sparring is not necessarily effective. It is more useful to perform a controlled exchange, where we understand and measure both blades and body. This will look more attractive and will also be more efficient.
If you are interested in the idea of having Keith or one of the other instructors of the Academy of Historical Arts come to your event to teach then please get in touch with us to discuss the idea. It is part of our organisation’s charitable mission to spread our knowledge as far and as widely as possible, and our instructors have a lot of skill and information that we would be happy to teach. Our contact details can be found on our main website here: http://www.historical-academy.co.uk