Every so often, I come across a discussion (online and in person, in roughly equal quantities) where people debate the merits and problems of including hands as a valid target area when fencing. Usually this is with regard to longsword, but sometimes with other weapons as well.
It is my firm belief that the hands are important targets when learning how to fence, and this article will set out my thoughts on the matter.
Maksim and Ben fencing with foils in the cloisters at the University of Glasgow.
Many practitioners of historical fencing have little interest in the modern fencing disciplines, preferring the historical disciplines for a variety of reasons. However, every so often, the question arises: “is it worth learning modern fencing?”
My advice is that if you have the opportunity, it is worth spending some time learning foil fencing. There are some quite tangible benefits that come with this practice, and you cannot go far wrong by giving yourself this experience, even for a short while.
You do not need to learn foil fencing to be able to learn one of the historical disciplines. In fact trying to retrofit foil concepts into historical systems such as those for the longsword can actually hold back your development and throw up red herrings as you work with the older treatises. If you do take up foil fencing, treat it a what it is: its own self-contained discipline, that may have some similarities to other fencing systems, along with many key differences.
One method of training that is quite popular amongst certain groups is fencing slowly, possibly using minimal safety gear, or even sharp swords, during sparring. The use of minimal gear or sharp swords will of course force the fencers to spar more slowly for reasons of safety. Alternatively, some fencers may spar at higher speeds but at the same time may avoid striking with any force. This is often because fencers may have an idea that striking quickly, with strength and with force is somehow incorrect.
Personally, I do believe that sparring with minimal gear, and sparring at slow speeds is very important and useful. However, if this becomes the only or dominant form of training, then this may represent a problem. A fencer who never fences at high speed with force is a fencer who does not know how to deal with an opponent who will fence against them at high speed with force.
Others have outlined the problems of never fencing with speed and strength, but I wanted to take a further look at this issue from the perspective of advice given in some of the longsword treatises.
A review of Longpoint 2015 from Benjamin Hawkins.
Over four sunny July days in Maryland, Longpoint 2015 was held. This year it was the largest HEMA event in North America with over two hundred registered attendees; the open longsword alone had over one hundred sign ups. Nine tournaments including open longsword, women’s longsword, rapier, sword and buckler, ringen, cutting, harnischfechten, pair techniques, a rookie training event and the meta tournament triathlon that took scores from longsword, cutting and either ringen or pair techniques for an aggregate score. As great as the sheer scale of the event was, it made it hard, if not impossible, for any one person to get more than a glimpse of each event. I myself only caught a few fights of rapier, sword and buckler and harnischfechten, while completely missing women’s longsword and paired techniques. Fortunately, I was able to see quite a bit of the open longsword, cutting and ringen.