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.
This week’s blog article is a review of the HEMAC Glasgow 2016 event, written by Tea Kew, an instructor in the Cambridge HEMA group.
Last weekend, I was lucky enough to be one of about 50 fencers gathered in Glasgow for an exploration of Style in Longsword Fencing. We were treated to an excellent event, with a generous programme of classes, sparring time, and local bars.
We began on Friday, meeting at the Vanguard Centre (the AHA’s new dedicated training facility in central Glasgow) for sparring and discussion, followed by a short presentation on linguistics in HEMA by Dr Daria Izdebska (AHA). This was a very interesting opening to the event, and helped remind us of the twin aims of the weekend: to fence with new people, and to learn new things.
“…if you fear easily, you should not learn the art of fencing, because a fragile discouraged heart, it does no good when it becomes struck by any art.”
Sigmund ain Ringeck. MS Dresden C487. C.1504-1519. Translated by Christian Trosclair. Folio 16V.
As I’ve pointed out before on this blog, the context of modern HEMA sparring is very different to the sort of fighting (either real fighting or sparring) that might have taken place in the medieval period. One of the big differences is how we might feel during a fight, which will then determine how we act.
During the recent HEMAC Glasgow event, we were having a roundtable discussion on style and HEMA, and the problem of context came up, namely that we are fighting in a radically different context, and that therefore the stylistic elements that we are inclined to show in sparring may be different from the elements that we should be showing if we were remaining completely true to the methods seen in the manuscripts that we work from. One of the suggested solutions to this problem was fencing with no protective equipment. The idea is that because people would not be wearing protective equipment, they would fear the opponent’s sword a lot more, and so would act more cautiously and safely and therefore they would fence in a way that more closely match the manuscripts. Essentially, this argument would cultivate a fencer’s fear in order to keep them fighting in a more stylistically pure fashion.
This idea does sound reasonable, and it may apply to some styles; however it raises an interesting question about how to manage fear within the Liechtenauer tradition, and what exact mental state best matches the mental state that Liechtenauer might have wanted us to have. We could try to encourage a more cautious, fearful approach, but this does not necessarily meet the stylistic elements of early KDF.