Bringing Encased in Steel to its Conclusion

We opened Encased in Steel on the 17th of February 2011, meaning that the blog has been running and posting on a weekly basis for slightly more than six years. However, we are now going to draw the blog to its conclusion, and will no longer be posting on a regular weekly basis. There may still be some new updates from time to time, but it will not be a regular thing.

We will continue to host the blog, and the better quality articles will remain accessible and free of charge, although we may take down some of the older, less relevant and lower quality articles.

I fully intend to keep writing my own thoughts and articles on my own personal blog, over on my new www.keithfarrell.net website. Again, it may not see regular updates, at least not in the near future, but I will be continuing to write and to make my thoughts on martial arts available to the community.

It has been a pleasure writing for the community over the last six years, and thank you to everyone who has engaged in discussions resulting from our articles. It has helped us come to terms with our own understanding of HEMA and history, and we hope the blog has helped others in their own journey too.

Musing on “doing HEMA”

A question that came to my mind recently, after watching a fairly cringeworthy piece on historical fencing by the BBC, was this: is it better to do HEMA badly, or not to do it at all? Phrased differently: is it better just not to do HEMA if you cannot do it well?

My current answer is that it is still worth doing HEMA even if it is not being done well, and we should be encouraging more people to start doing HEMA and to keep doing HEMA, even if the performance is not great in the beginning.

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Fashion throughout history: wearing clothes “incorrectly”

“Handmade White Chaperon” image from an article by Vicky Binns on the Modern Medievalist blog: http://modernmedievalist.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/profile-in-excellence-vicky-binns.html

It can be all too easy to look at people who wear their clothes incorrectly, to make a disapproving face, and say something like: “kids these days… Back in my day, we wore our trousers properly.” While I don’t mind people wearing their baseball caps in whatever direction (the brim does help to keep the sun from burning skin), some other fashions do annoy me a little.

However, looking back in history, there are examples of people wearing clothes “incorrectly”, and apparently they must have done so often enough to create new fashions. This article will look briefly at a few of these examples.

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The perspective of a tournament organiser

Keith Farrell receiving a hit from Gordon Love at the AHA Glasgow Broadsword Tournament 2016. Photo by Andy Lawrence.

About a month ago, the Academy of Historical Arts ran a broadsword competition in Glasgow, with a new rule set that was quite a significant departure from other rules we have used in the past.

In this article, I would like to share my thoughts as the tournament organiser, to discuss what I was trying to achieve with the event, and what some of the results and learning points were at the end of the event.

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Come to an Understanding with your Fear

Keith Farrell fencing with Joshua Stocks at Edgebana 2016.

Fear is an interesting emotion. It can be a distinctly negative and problematic emotion, crippling you with anxiety when you need clarity of thought, rooting you to the floor when you really need to move, and preventing you from seizing the opportunities that you need to take.

However, it can also be a beneficial emotion, by warning you that an idea is likely to go wrong, or that a course of action will lead to negative outcomes. Fear can keep you in line and force you to pay attention to defending yourself, which is not necessarily a bad thing! Read more

Can a modern person move like a medieval or renaissance fencer?

Codex icon.394a, 1467, folio 113r.

The immediate follow-up question to the title of this article would be: “Should a modern person move like a medieval or renaissance fencer?”

Since the origins of the current period of HEMA reconstruction, debates have raged about the correct way to perform footwork and whether or not we should wear historical footwear. Some people believe that using historical footwear holds the key to understanding footwork in HEMA systems, while other people believe that it is largely irrelevant. Other people hold a point of view somewhere in the middle, perhaps thinking that it is a good idea, but just not taking the plunge to begin using historical footwear themselves.

Regardless of one’s point of view on the matter, there is an interesting observation to be made about one of the difficulties inherent in using historical footwear to inform our studies of footwork in HEMA: can we actually make any sense of what historical footwear would tell us?

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What skills do you need to make your interpretation work?

Goliath (MS Germ.Quart.2020), folio 22r

When we read a section of text from one of the historical fencing treatises, there is a wealth of information required to make the techniques work effectively. Unfortunately, much of this information is not communicated explicitly in the sources, especially in the medieval sources.

When developing an interpretation of a given passage and trying to understand how to apply the advice in practice, there are several things that must be considered. This article will try to provide some insight into the “hidden” information that we must acquire before we can make our interpretations work.

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Review of Edgebana 2016

Medals and prizes from the Edgebana 2016 competitive event.

Last weekend, I attended the Edgebana 2016 competitive event, the fourth such event in Dundee. This will be a brief review of the event and my own learning points from the competitions.

There were three tournaments over the course of the weekend: open synthetic longsword, invitational Franco-Belgian, and open steel longsword. I entered all of these tournaments, and will give some brief thoughts on each.

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Is it acceptable to teach non-HEMA techniques in a HEMA lesson?

Image of Kendo c.1920. The fencer on the right is in chudan-no-kamae. Image taken from Wikipedia.
Is it useful to take a similar position or technique from another martial art, adopt into our HEMA practice?

This is a question that does come up every so often when someone with non-HEMA experience discusses the idea of setting up a HEMA club. Of course it seems like quite a reasonable idea to continue teaching the non-HEMA material with which you are familiar, and there are probably techniques from your previous training that would be useful in various situations in HEMA sparring.

I worked through this process myself, several years ago, when I started looking at HEMA after spending around fourteen years studying karate. I had achieved my 3rd dan black belt in karate, and I thought that importing some karate techniques and concepts would help to shore up any of the many deficiencies I perceived in the HEMA systems I was trying to learn.

However, with more experience of HEMA now, I can see quite clearly that the biggest and most important deficiency was my own lack of skill at the systems I was trying to learn! Now I know that these systems can deal with almost any problem (within the appropriate context) if I apply the techniques and concepts properly – and if I need to solve a problem in a different context, I just use a different (and more appropriate) system.

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Unusual techniques 2: building on common techniques is an effective strategy

Maybe opening the majority of exchanges with a predictable Oberhaw is not such a bad thing?

A while ago, Alex posted an article on the subject of unusual techniques, and he discussed why he felt that it was not a good idea to spend too much time trying to use these unusual techniques in your sparring. I agree very much with his thoughts, and would like to propose an extension to this idea, that it is beneficial to work mainly with the more common techniques in your system, even if they are predictable.

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