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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Running long classes

In my last post, I talked about Running Short Classes. I talked about the challenges that can be involved in running a short class, and I gave advice on how to run a short class. Potentially equally challenging can be running a long class.

As mentioned briefly in my last post, time management is often an issue for beginning instructors, and I gave the most common noticeable example of this, which is newer instructors getting through all their material too quickly. This would normally lead to the instructor desperately trying to fill the rest of the class.

It is also worth mentioning that what exactly constitutes a long class will vary a lot from person to person.  Someone who is new to instructing may think that an hour long class sounds like a very long time, while a more experienced instructor may consider a long class to be a several hour long seminar.

Pace yourself, and let things take time

The first, and simplest, piece of advice is simply to pace yourself. There’s no need to race to the end of the material, or to hurry the students through all the drills and techniques you want to cover. While you shouldn’t have students perform the same drill or technique for so long they get bored, you also need to make sure they get plenty of practice, and giving them lots of time before you introduce the next drill or technique will ensure that they have the time they need, and that you don’t run out of drills and techniques too quickly.

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Five reasons to study Judo

This guest article has been provided by Tea Kew, of the Cambridge HEMA club. 

It’s very common for historical fencers to cross-train in other martial arts. Sport fencing and various other forms of swordsmanship are perhaps the most common, because of their obvious application for the use of swords. The value of training in wrestling is often overlooked. However, most of our early longsword manuals are clear about the importance of wrestling for fencing, and so dedicating some time to studying a form of wrestling can be extremely valuable (see an argument for wrestling on this blog). Judo is one of the most widely accessible forms of wrestling, and therefore is a particularly good candidate for cross-training.

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Running short classes

As an instructor, being versatile is key, and one way to develop and improve versatility is to teach classes of different lengths. It is not much use only being able to teach classes of one specific length, but this is a problem I see very often. If you give a less experienced instructor a longer class time than they are used to, they will often rush through their material far too quickly, and run out of things to teach in the end of their class. Another interesting problem is that of short classes: can an instructor still deliver a worth-while class in 30 minutes?

I think that being able to deliver a 30 minute class that students still feel gave them good value for money is an excellent test of an instructor’s versatility. Giving classes of this length will require an instructor to be efficient, to not take up more time than necessary, and to pack as much value into every second as possible. All these skills will transfer over into longer classes as well, so the skills needed to teach a half an hour class will also be useful when teaching a three hour class.

 

Efficiency

With a short class, you can’t afford to waste time, so you need to look critically at every other element of the class, and ruthlessly cut out anything that isn’t necessary in order to run your class more efficiently.

For example, is your warm-up taking 10 or 15 minutes? If this is the case, then you’ve already lost a third or half of the class. The primary purpose of a warm-up is to warm-up the student’s muscles to help prevent injury, so if your warm-up includes lots of stretching for example, is this actually necessary, or does it simply take up time? In a longer class, you may want to include more stretching as you can afford to spend more time (although you should still be careful not to spend time unnecessarily), but this is not true in a shorter class.

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Engaging a class

One of the skills that is very important to an instructor is engaging a class. It won’t matter how well structured a class is, how much research went into it, or how technically correct the material is if the students are not kept engaged with the class in some way. If they lose interest, then they are not going to be able to pick up the lessons effectively.

There are many ways to engage a class; just as there many ways to mismanage the engagement of a class and to lose their interest, or to let the attempts to engage them distract them from the actual technical material that is being taught.

Humour

Humour is one of the most obvious ways of engaging a class, and can be one of the easiest. Simply telling a joke or two is a quick way to make the atmosphere seem friendlier and a little less serious. Some care needs to be taken with humour though: a joke may seem like it will be funny, but then fall flat, which will not help with engaging the class, and could even do the opposite. One example comes to mind of a seminar I once took part in where the instructor came across as quite strict and serious, but out of the blue made one or two very bad jokes. This simply came across as jarring. Other instructors might include too many jokes, to the point where it becomes hard to take them seriously. It is also worth bearing in mind that everyone might not share your sense of humour, and telling a joke during class time that people might find either offensive or cringe-worthy will also not help.

The occasional well-timed, well-told joke can definitely help engage a class, although jokes that are badly timed, badly told or that are simply inappropriate, or making too many jokes can damage how you are perceived in your student’s eyes.

Humour can be more subtle than telling obvious jokes as well: I can think of some instructors who’ve done well from using a certain kind of dry humour for instance. Many of the treatises we study include phrases such as “…and then you may do as you like to him…” or “…this blow he will not soon forget”. Phrases like this, when delivered during a technique demonstration with an under-stated voice, a wink and a smile can go a long way towards this sort of humour.

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Belfast Bladeworks 2016 Review

Me fencing against Andrzej Rozycki. Photo copyright of Michael Barbour/2nd Shooter, 2016.

 

On the 3rd and 4th of December, I participated in Belfast Bladeworks 2016, which was, as the locals would have said, good craic. Belfast Bladeworks was an open longsword tournament, and was the fourth tournament of the Irish Historical Fencing League 2016.

I hadn’t been to any of the previous league events, so I didn’t have the chance to rank high in the league, but I’ve always enjoyed my interactions so far with the Irish HEMA community, and wanted to get a chance to fence with some of them again.

The original plan for the event didn’t quite work, as numbers were lower than expected, possibly due to how close the event was to Christmas. The Saturday had meant to be taken up by the tournament, to be followed by a Fechtschule on the Sunday, although the lower turnout meant these activities didn’t take as long as the time allotted to them.

There were 14 people participating in the tournament, and I understand the previous events in the I.H.F.L.  had a much higher turnout. The venue was on the smaller side though, so I think the number of participants was about right for the amount of space available.

The quality of the fencing was high through-out. In several of the pool fights I had to remind myself after the first exchange to keep focussed and not to under-estimate my opponents. I was very proud of my fencing overall though and ultimately won all but one of my pool fights, and so advanced to the eliminations stage.

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Starting with HEMA: A Personal View

An artistic “still life” collection of HEMA gear!

Today’s blog article is courtesy of Alex Davis, who is relatively new to the study of HEMA, and who wanted to share some of his thoughts on beginning in this activity. He attends lessons with Schola Gladiatoria, in the safe hands of Lucy and Matt Easton, and makes occasional visits to the English Martial Arts Academy with Martin “Oz” Austwick.

Are you new to HEMA, or to any martial art? Here are some of my experiences and my reactions to HEMA, touching on different aspects of the activity that a beginner may experience. I think of them Challenges, along with one Requirement, not necessarily to overcome them but to meet and react to them, and to show how rich and varied HEMA appears to be. I could think of them facets or principles, but the word Challenges seem fine, because they call for me to achieve something and change or improve myself. It seems that with each class, something develops that raises further questions for assessment and refinement. It is probable that I may want to change some of below in another six months time.

These experiences are my own. I do not suggest they are shared by everyone, though I am hoping they may create some thought or discussion. I expect some things may strike a chord and some things may not. We are all different.

I am very grateful to all the instructors and fellow students who guide and share as I learn and practice HEMA. Without them I would not feel able or willing to contribute.

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Systems vs self experience, invention and mixing & matching

Originally, I had wanted to write a reply to Shadiveristy’s video The Problem with HEMA, although excellent replies were made by Dave Rawlings, Martin Austwick and Matt Easton before I had the chance[1] [2] [3]. After giving it some time, I thought this was a good opportunity to address an idea that is present in Shadiversity’s video, and that I’ve heard from many other people as well.

HEMA treatises represent a deep well of useful and valid martial information, but there are often people who believe that their own experience with sword fighting is somehow more useful and valid than the information that can be found in those treatises, or the information that can be gained from HEMA instructors.

“You know what works best for you”

This is one of the most common reasons giving for mixing and matching techniques from different source materials, or techniques that are not from any source material. The rationale that every individual knows what techniques work best for them in a fight, and that therefore, they should use those techniques while not using any techniques that don’t work them, seems sound at first glance.

The practice of martial arts however; is at least in part the practicing of techniques that are new and that might seem uncomfortable or unusual at first. If a technique doesn’t work, the best option may be continuing to try to make it work rather than give up on it entirely.

If a technique doesn’t work for you, then this may be because you don’t have the right sort of build or height for it; or it may in fact mean that you simply don’t have the right structure or understanding of the technique. It may be that you are trying to carry out the technique at the wrong time, or the wrong distance, or that you haven’t set up the technique correctly.

With a certain level of experience, I think someone can say a technique doesn’t work for them, but without that experience, I think this excuse is a lazy answer.

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The limitations with experimental archaeology

Last week I wrote a post called The Importance of Written Sources, and in that article, I mentioned using experimental archaeology in the context of HEMA to help recreate fighting systems for which we do not have any written sources. Shortly after I wrote this, an article was published on ScienceNordic[1]. This article includes a video from a group called Combat Archaeology, as well as a summary and quotes about the experiment, and what they found.

The article is of course somewhat sensationally titled. It claims that an ‘Archaeologist discovers a new style of Viking combat’, when the scope was really much more limited than this. The description of the video states:

The experiment attempted to determine what body techniques Viking Age round shields are inclined to facilitate and which they restrict or otherwise discourage. More specifically, the aim was to critically assess body techniques in terms of deflection and to obtain empirical data outlining the effects associated with an aggressive as well as relatively passive use of the shield.

In essence, the experiment is designed to compare the effectiveness of passive vs. active uses of the shield, although this is of course not the same as discovering an entire style, as I’ll mention below.

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