Why we shouldn’t accept injuries

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.

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Good fencing, bad fencing, and incorrect fencing

Keith Farrell and Mark Wilkie sparring with sabres at Edgebana 2015.

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.

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Getting used to protective gear

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.

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Learning how to learn from play

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.

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.

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