Monthly Archives: January 2016

Ethical considerations with antique swords, part 1: sparring

1885 pattern British cavalry sabre

An 1885 pattern British cavalry sabre, from the Triquetra Services (Scotland) collection.

This is going to be a short article, presenting an ethical consideration. Some HEMA groups who study sabre have collected antique sabres, filed them down and blunted them for safety, and then have used these antiques for their training and sparring activities. Perhaps this was more common a decade ago than it is now, but every so often I come across references to the idea when people are discussing where to buy a good training sabre.

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The bracing sequence

This week’s post will be a very quick introduction to something known as the bracing sequence. This is a sequence that I make a lot of use of during my classes, and is basically a series of steps that the students can follow to arrange themselves into a structured position and achieve midline stabilisation.

I should say that the bracing sequence is not my idea, it was developed by Dr. Kelly Starrett, and if you search for “bracing sequence” on Youtube you will find many videos by him and others explaining the bracing sequence. I am not going to be adding new information for those that already know about this, but I hope that HEMAists who have never heard of the bracing sequence before will begin to make use of it after reading this article.

The four step sequence[1]

Step 1: Squeeze the glutes

Step 2: Pull your ribcage down to your hips

Step 3: Get your belly tight

Step 4: Set your head to neutral and screw your shoulders into a stable position

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Using unusual techniques

One bit of feedback that I have heard being given quite a few times, and sometimes said myself, is that an opponent did lots of unexpected things in a fight. For example I’ve often heard one fighter say to another that the blows coming in against them were at unusual angles, and so were difficult to deal with. At first, this clearly seems like a good thing. If your attacks are unusual or different in some way, this can often make it much harder for the opponent to parry them, so you therefore should be able to hit the opponent more.

While this article will be focusing on unusual attacks, the same applies to footwork, defences or any other element of fighting. There are many unusual things a fencer could do in a fight: they might try to duck under an incoming strike rather than parry or step back, a broadsworder may use short edge attacks instead of the normal cuts 1 through 6, a longsworder may decide to switch hands mid-fight. There are many other possible examples, and to the fencers making use of them, they may seem useful and valid.

However, doing the unexpected in sparring is not always a good thing, especially for beginning or intermediate fencers. This may sound like a bizarre thing to say, as fighters are normally encouraged not to be predictable, but using unusual techniques is often more of a hindrance than a help. In this article I’ll be outlining a few reasons why this might be the case.

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How should a new club set its attendance fee?

A photograph of a group exercise about range and distance, taken at one of the practices at RMAS in Dundee.

A photograph of a group exercise about range and distance, taken at one of the practices at RMAS in Dundee.

One of the most difficult decisions you have to make when setting up a new club is to decide how much to charge for participation in your training sessions. If you set the rate too low, then you will have difficulty paying for hall hire and meeting your financial obligations. If you set it too high, then people might not be willing to pay that much, and you will have difficulty finding and retaining members.

Nonetheless, it is my opinion (based on significant experience teaching at both an amateur and professional level) that it is better to set a higher price than a lower price.

Rather than picking a number out of thin air, it is important to consider the matter carefully, and to choose a number that works for you and your club. It is not necessarily helpful to base your choice on what other clubs in the area may charge for sessions, since they may have advantages (or disadvantages) that you do not have.

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Doing it right, or just doing it

Keith demonstrating a technique with John during a training session.

Keith demonstrating a technique with John during a training session.

One of the ideas that causes problems for a lot of people across the world is the idea that whatever you want to do has to be right, or perfect, before you begin.

People delay opening a business until the “perfect” moment, and then never quite manage to open up. People keep planning their novel, adding more and more detail to their world, but never quite end up writing the story. People decide that they don’t want to put themselves forward as an instructor of HEMA until they understand it properly – and so clubs never quite take off.

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