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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The “Mutieren” technique, shown in the Goliath manuscript: MS Germ.Quart.2020, folio 17v.
Following on from my article about how to make techniques work in sparring, I would like to present a case study from my own recent training. Over the last two or three months, I have begun to have more success at applying the Mutieren during sparring with the longsword.
If you are unfamiliar with this technique, it is somewhat similar to the croisé in classical and modern fencing; winding an attack from the upper openings down to thrust into the lower openings, maintaining blade contact with the opponent’s sword for greater safety. With the longsword, because it is so easy for the opponent to lever his sword around to make another strike, it can be quite daunting to try to attempt this technique, and it is often a technique that many longsword fencers struggle to perform successfully.
This is the process through which I have learned to apply the technique more successfully.
The “Mutieren” technique, shown in the Goliath manuscript: MS Germ.Quart.2020, folio 17v.
One of the common problems faced by many practitioners of historical fencing is that while we know and have learned many cool techniques from our source materials, we may not be able to apply these techniques in the heat of sparring. How can we work towards being able to apply all of our techniques at will, even when under pressure? It requires a little bit of thought and effort, and perhaps needs a change in your typical sparring and training habits.
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 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.
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.
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 this case, trying to perform the right kinds of techniques for the situation, with appropriate setting up and positioning, without the stress of high-intensity sparring and the fear of injury.
I think that fencing with a sword and driving a car involve some very similar skills. If you drive, then you may recognise some of these similarities. Putting some thought into these ideas may help you examine some of the ways you think about fencing, drawn from your experience behind the wheel of a car.