Today we look at the application of the techniques and the outcome of these applications.
Day 3 of our look at Scotland’s rich martial heritage. Today we shall look further at the training methods employed by both Highland and Lowland Scottish troops.
Today we shall look at the tools of the trade. I was greatly privileged to get a chance to handle many of the weapons through my contacts in Scotland’s Museums. I did find some weapons more elusive than others but hopefully this will allow people a greater understanding of the tools that made up this martial tradition.
This week was my week to update the blog and so I have decided to try a different format. Over the next week I shall upload a section of my MLitt thesis each day. I had the pleasure of studying an Mlitt in War Studies at the University of Glasgow and while there came across an original text by a Scottish soldier named Donald McBane. His story is one of the best I have had the pleasure of reading and I would advise it to anyone. Within the period from 1690-1740 men from Scotland (such as McBane) had ample opportunities to gain distinction both in battle and duelling and both these activities have been studied in detail, however, no study has been undertaken to determine the differences that would have met a man skilled in one while participating in the other. That is what I set out to do and I hope you enjoy this work.
It can often be very difficult to describe the concept of the historical European martial arts (HEMA) to someone who has never come across them before. To most people, “martial arts” are fighting styles from the east that use punches and kicks, perhaps grappling depending on the style, and are predominantly unarmed. The idea that well developed and comprehensive systems of fighting arts developed in medieval Europe seems to be a difficult concept to absorb for many people. This is mainly due to influences like early Hollywood films depicting medieval fighting as unskilled and brutish; to be fair to Hollywood, fencing masters such as Egerton Castle in the 19th century believed that medieval fighting from only a couple of centuries beforehand was a brutish and unskilled affair: he stated quite clearly in his “Schools and Masters of Fence” (published 1884) that the “rough, untutored fighting of the Middle Ages” was greatly inferior to the contemporary art of fencing.
The truth is quite the opposite, and rather than re-inventing the wheel by writing an essay on the subject when a much more talented and experienced researcher than myself has written about the exact same subject ( http://www.thearma.org/essays/straight.htm by Matt Galas ), I would like to show a selection of video clips produced from some of the most skillful and eminent groups, practitioners and scholars of the European martial arts today. Please feel free to browse this collection of video links, and enjoy this visual introduction to the martial arts of medieval Europe.
Gladiatores – German longsword
This clip is one of the best introductory videos to the art of Liechtenauer’s longsword. The Gladiatores are a German group and one of the first to upload such videos to YouTube; despite the age of this clip, it is still one of the best clips available!
Gesellschaft Lichtenawers – German longsword
These two clips show why Liechtenauer’s longsword is a real martial art and not just playing with swords or swinging in a brutal and untrained fashion. The technical skill of these combatants is awesome, and it is clear that any of these sequences would leave the lesser combatant dead in a real fight.
Žehart – mixed weapons
On a lighter note again, this group shows a selection of weapons and a good grasp of the martial applications, and does so with great humour!
Hammaborg – poleaxe
Hammaborg is another German group, on the cutting edge of research into the medieval manuscripts. This video shows an interpretation of poleaxe fighting, with some very clever artwork to illustrate the process.
Hammaborg – sword and buckler
Hammaborg are renowned for their sword and buckler skills, and these two videos are very impressive. The first video is an advertisement for a DVD about sword and buckler by two of Hammaborg’s top sword and buckler fighters, and the second video shows how plays and sequences can be built up using techniques from the manuscripts.
Blossfechter – knife fighting
Some of the information in this video clip is a little suspect, but the video itself is very enjoyable and compares the European dagger styles to the Japanese dagger styles. The multiple attackers section near the end is incredibly impressive, and shows how lethal and effective the European martial arts were as a method of self defence.
Cateran Society – Highland broadsword
As introductory videos to the art of the Highland broadsword from 17th and 18th century Scotland, these video clips are superb. The fluency of the motions makes the combatants look like they are dancing, but the techniques they are using with their swords are certainly lethal and effective!
GHFS – German Longsword
The Göteborg Historiska Fäktskola (Gothenburg Historical Fighting School) is one of the leading groups in the field of historical European martial arts. Their members have uploaded hundreds of videos to YouTube, but here are some gems that show that they can perform displays and demonstrations of their martial art while training in a professional and modern fashion. The third clip shows what it is like to be involved in a longsword sparring bout from the point of view of one of the combatants.
ARMA – longsword
The Association for Renaissance Martial Arts has been a driving force in the study of European martial arts for many years. The first video shows some superb drilling practice against a wooden pell, the second clip shows some of very skillful ways to counter incoming attacks, and the third video is a fun slow-motion clip showing some of the longsword techniques cutting through milk bottles filled with water!
Schola Gladiatoria – cutting
Continuing with the theme of cutting through milk bottles, Schola Gladiatora has uploaded these videos showing some of their test cutting practices. The level of skill is very impressive, an unskilled swordsman would knock over the milk bottle on the first swing and would not be able to manage a single clean cut, let alone four or five!
NYHFA – cutting
The New York Historical Fencing Association is yet another group who test their sword techniques against a cutting medium, but this group uses rolled tatami mats in a similar fashion to the Japanese sword arts. Note the clean and controlled strikes, and note the precision required for the multiple cuts to be successful.
GHFS – sword camera
As well as being incredibly talented, the GHFS are also slightly mad. They thought it would be a good idea to strap a camera onto their sword to see what the world looks like the wrong way around, and these are the results.
Sword Buyer’s Guide – cutting
Finally, this video from the Sword Buyer’s Guide shows how one can practice cavalry sword techniques if one does not have a horse. Perhaps this video clip is not as skillfully made as some of the others, but it looks like amazing fun!
I hope that watching some (or all) of these video clips will have been enlightening, and I hope that my visual definition of the historical European martial arts will help people to understand that there is actually real skill and martial application in the study of the medieval manuscripts.
For discussion: are there any video clips that I missed that you think should be in the above list? Please leave a comment with the link to any such clip, so that readers can have a look at the videos that you recommend.
This week, I have to decided to post a more technically orientated HEMA post. At first, I thought about writing a post of the importance of studying principles over techniques, but that subject has already been written on many times (see Theory and Reality of Fencing or The Importance of Principles over Techniques (Hand, 2005) for example). So instead, I decided to approach the topic of principles from a slightly different perspective. Can we over apply principles? This essay will focus on the principles of Liechtenauer, however I will also be looking at George Silver as a point of contrast.
The quotes taken from Liechtenauer himself have made made red to mark them out, quotes from any other source are in black.
A while ago, I posted on the ARMA forum asking if someone could provide me with a source for a version of Vom Tag held by some modern practitioners, in which the hilt is held next to the temple, and the blade is pointing straight upwards. I told them that I was only aware of Vom Tag resting on the shoulder, or held above the head. This led to a 6 page argument about whether or not it was acceptable to rest Vom Tag on the shoulder. A lot of ARMA members argued that you couldn’t let the blade rest on the shoulder because of Frequens Motus, or constant motion, a principle given to us by the HS.3227a: “Here note that constant motion [Frequens motus] holds the beginning, middle and the end of all fencing according to this art and teaching. That is you should quickly do the beginning, the middle and the end without delay and without any hindrances from the opponent and not letting him strike at you.” (17v)
Apparently the same principle is also discussed by George Silver in his Paradoxes of Defence: “And if one of them shall run, and the other stand fast upon…some advantage the runner has, because he is an uncertain mark, and in his motion” (paradox 6) He also lists continual motion as a principle of the true fight in all weapons. So obviously Silver thought continual motion was important too, although it appears he thought so for slightly different reasons to the writer of the HS.3227a. Silver thought continual motion was useful for defence, as it makes you an “uncertain mark” and therefore makes it harder for the opponent to find the place, or the true place for that matter, on you, as the place will be continually moving. In contrast, the HS.3227a seems to see continual motion as offensive in nature, continual motion is the act of relentlessly attacking. There is no reason why continual motion can’t do both, in honesty. It’s useful both in offence and defence.
So we can agree that continual motion is good. Does this mean that resting the sword on the shoulder is bad? I would argue not. Perhaps while you are in striking range of the opponent, then stopping moving could be bad (although there are exceptions to this as I will explain below), but what’s wrong with resting the sword on the shoulder while you are out of effective striking range? If you are closing in to the distance where you can strike, but have not yet reached that distance, then why is there a need to move your sword? We should not move for the sake of it, as that is nothing other than a waste of energy. If motion helps either our offence or defence, then yes, we must do it, however refusing to rest your sword at any point, even while outside of striking range, does neither. Frequens Motus does not mean that every single part of us must move at all times. After all, if Frequens Motus means that we cannot rest anything, does that mean we have to waggle our toes, or do we have to shake our heads from side to side while fighting? Obviously not, as that is completely pointless motion, and adds nothing. So if it’s okay not to shake our head, why MUST we move our sword at all times?
Another principle I will address here is that of the Vor, or before. The HS.3227a tells us continually how important it is we control the Vor and take the initiative: “And when you must fight for your neck [i.e. for your life] , then you shall use the earlier described teachings and seek and win the first strike” (27v – 28r)
“Fence with good mind and always win the first strike” (29v)
“Therefore Liechtenauer does not hold the guards in such a high esteem; he is more interested in that you try to win the first strike” (29v)
I could go on and find more examples, but I’m sure you get the point. The writer emphasises again and again how crucially important it is that you get the Vorschlag and control the Vor. Not all the writers seem to agree though: “That which is called the “long point (Langenort). Before you come too close to him in Zufechten, set your left foot forwards and hold the point towards him with outstretched arms towards the face or the chest. If he cuts at you from above and down towards your head, wind with the sword against his cut and stab him in the face. Or if he cuts from above or from below against your sword and tries to knock the point away, change through and stab him on the other side into the opening. Or if he meets the sword powerfully with the cut, let your sword snap round. Thus you strike in against the head. If he rushes in towards you, grapple or slice him. Watch out so that it does not go wrong for you!” (MS Dresden C487. 47v, 123r)
Sigmund Ringeck added his own section on using Langenort, and in it he doesn’t describe a single method for attacking, but only describes counters. From experimentation, it can easily be seen that remaining in Langenort while out of a bind is very safe, in that the opponent has trouble reaching you, and you can easily hold them back, it is pretty much impossible to attack an opponent effectively from Langenort. To cut or slice, you have to pull the sword back, telegraphing, and thrusts, while possible, lack power and reach, as your arms have nowhere to extend to. So Ringeck thinks it’s acceptable to wait while apparently Liechtenauer and the writer of the HS.3227a don’t. How do we explain this contradiction? Simple. Ringeck, Liechtenauer and the writer of the HS.3227a are all different people.
I think Meyer put it best: “Everyone thinks differently from everyone else, so he behaves differently in combat” (The Art of Combat: A German Martial Arts Treatise of 1570, foreward, page 45)
“For as we are not all of a single nature, so we also cannot have a single style in combat, yet all must nonetheless arise and be derived from a single basis.” (The Art of Combat: A German Martial Arts Treatise of 1570, chapter 7, page 16)
Liechtenauer may very well have thought that you must attack first at all times, but Ringeck didn’t. There is no contradiction here at all. If you expect a tradition spanning almost 300 years and at least 30 different masters to be homogeneous, you are deluding yourself. My co-writer Keith and I are working from pretty much the exact same sources, we have been a massive influence on each others interpretations and fighting style, yet we still fight very differently. For example, Keith often likes to wait in a low guard and counter, whereas I hate starting a fight from anything other than Vom Tag, and strike first whenever I can. Keith doesn’t particularly like ringem am schwert, even though he is quite capable of it, and would rather use push-kicks to stop his opponent from getting in close enough to grapple, whereas I love ringem am schwert and seek grapples and disarms whenever possible. I could go on. Different people fight differently. This is not an excuse to ignore Liechtenauer’s principles entirely and do your own thing, but it does mean that you cannot expect to be the exact embodiment of his style, nor can you expect any of the other masters to follow him exactly.
Liechtenauer apparently tells us never to wait, Ringeck seems tells us we can wait if we want. There is no contradiction here, just different styles for different people. Which means while the principle of the Vor, and the Vorschlag, and the importance of carrying out the latter to control the former is an excellent principle, it cannot be applied to the whole art. Okay, so Liechtenauer never waits, Ringeck sometimes does. Sorted.
Except. even if we only look at Liechtenauer, the position of the Vor is still more complicated than that. So we’ve seen that acting and attacking first is good, does this mean we can apply this principle to the entirety of combat? Many people would say yes, but this is far too simple. Ringeck appears to be basing his section on Langenort off of the Sprechfenster, in which we are given similar advice, to wait, to “Doing the speaking window: stand straight, observe what he does. Strike in, when he twitches” (HS.3227a, 47r). Bear in mind this advice comes directly from Liechtenauer. Liechtenauer is telling us to wait while in a bind. This is no way conflicts with earlier advice, because in Zufechten it is quite safe to attack continually without waiting, but while in Krieg, this prospect becomes a lot more dangerous. In Krieg, the opponent has already gained the place on you. Also, as Silver points out “the hand is swifter than the eye & therefore deceives the eyes” (Paradoxes of Defence, paradox 24). What he means by this is that if the opponent attacks us in the time of the hand (the fastest, and also shortest time) they will strike us as it will take us too long to perceive their movement. So, because the time of the hand can be used in the bind, the opponent’s attacks are harder to deal with.
Further, the principle of Uberlauffen doesn’t apply in Krieg: “what the war strikes from above, is ashamed from below” (HS.3227a, 23r). In Krieg, the opponent is at a range where they can easily hit your lower openings, while normally this is not the case. So once we start moving in for the wind, we have suddenly doubled the targets the opponent can hit. All this means that Krieg is more dangerous than Zufechten. So in Krieg while we have more opportunities to hit our opponent, they also have more opportunities to hit us. This means that that we cannot attack blindly, we must be cautious. While the opponent is in the process of moving, we have an opportunity to counter him. If he twitches, he will briefly take the point offline, giving us a moment of safety to attack. If he starts winds up to an upper hanger, we can predict that he will try a high thrust. If he tries to leave the bind, he allows us to use Nachraisen on him. These are just a few examples to show that by his movement, he lets us know what our defence and offence should be, he gives up an opening to attack. Once in Krieg, attacking in the Vor is unsafe, but attacking Indes, or in the Nach is much safer. Just because Liechtenauer endorsed the principles of Uberlauffen and of the Vorschlag, this doesn’t mean we can apply those principles to every part of the art.
Other principles espoused by the HS.3227a could cause confusion. “Do not strike at the sword but wait for the openings.” (HS.3227a, 18r) At first, this seems like excellent advice. Striking at the sword doesn’t kill the opponent, striking at the opponent does. However, at times we have to strike the opponent’s sword. The zornhau-ort requires you to first strike the opponent’s incoming sword, before you can thrust safely. The krumphau is perhaps an even better example. “And you shall strike with your flat, and when you hit the flat (of the opponent’s sword?) you shall remain on it with strength” (HS.3227a, 25v). So first he tells us not to strike the opponent’s sword, then he explicitly tells us to strike the opponent’s sword? How confusing. Except that this makes perfect sense if you don’t take the advice about not striking the sword literally. While it is dangerous to make assumptions about what the masters are ‘actually’ saying, I strongly believe that when he tells us not to strike at the sword, he is just warning us against the utterly pointless sword tag fighting we frequently see in beginners. I’m sure you’ve seen the type, where they fight at a range where they cannot hit the opponent due to nervousness, and so continually strike the opponent’s sword, to no real purpose (there could also be an element of subconscious bargaining going on here. They might think that if they don’t hit the opponent, their opponent won’t hit them back either). If we strike at the sword in order to either defend ourselves, or to create an opening on the opponent, I think this is perfectly acceptable. The principle of not striking at the sword is good. Just don’t take it too literally.
I hope I’ve made you think a bit more deeply about Liechtenauer’s principles in this article. His principles cannot be ignored, they should be remembered and considered deeply. However, make sure that you really do consider them deeply, that you seek to understand when the principles apply, rather than trying to apply them to all things. I admit that my own understanding of his principles is not as great as I would like it to be, so I love to hear some of your comments. Do you think that there are any other principles of Liechtenauer which cannot be universally applied to fighting within the Liechtenauer tradition of longsword? Or do you think that principles should be applied universally?
Frequens Motus – Constant motion.
Fuhlen – Literally “feeling”. This is identical to the sentiment de fer of modern fencing. It is the ability to measure how much pressure an opponent is putting on your blade, and where on your blade the pressure is being applied.
Indes – Literally “at once”. This mean to act at the same time as your opponent.
Krieg – One of the phases of a fight. The Krieg only refers to the act of winding your sword against your opponent’s.
Krumphau – Literally “crooked-strike”. One of the five master-strikes of the Liechtenauer tradition.
Langenort – Literally “long-point”. This refers to a position in which your sword is fully extended towards, or indeed, into, the opponent.
Nach – The after. This means to act after your opponent.
Nachraisen – Literally “following-after”. This principle covers a variety of techniques to do with acting in the nach in order to take advantage of holes the opponent has left in their defence.
Ringem am schwert – wrestling at the sword. This covers throws, takedowns and disarms, all conducted while holding your sword.
Sprechfenster – Literally “speaking-window”. This refers to the use of Langenort while in a bind to attempt to predict what the opponent might try next by using Fuhlen.
The place – A term from George Silver to mean any place where you can hit your opponent.
The true place – Any place where you can hit your opponent, but he cannot hit you.
Uberlauffen – Literally “over-reaching”. This refers to the principle that a high attack will out-range a low attack.
Vom Tag – Literally “from roof” or “from day”. A high guard for the longsword under the Liechtenauer tradition.
Vor – The before. To act in the vor is to act before your opponent does.
Vorschlag – Literally the before strike. This is the first attack thrown in a fight.
Zornhau-Ort – Literally “wrath-strike-point”. This is a technique that has you follow up the throwing of a Zornhau, another of the master-strikes with a thrust.
Zufechten – Another range of a fight. This covers everything that happens before Krieg.
HS.3227a, anonymous, circa 1389
Translated by David Lindholm
MS Dresden C487, Sigmund Ringeck, circa 1510
Translated by Keith Farrell
The Art of Combat: A German Martial Arts Treatise of 1570
By Joachim Meyer, translated by Jeffrey Forgeng
2006, Greenhill Books -Thanks must go to Mike Cartier of the Meyer Freifechter Guild for finding the quotes I’ve used from this book in this article for me.
The Importance of Principles over Technique. In Teaching and Interpreting Historical Swordsmanship.
By Stephen Hand 2005, Chivalry Bookshelf. 39-46.
Theory and Reality of Fencing
By Anton Kohutovic
Paradoxes of Defence, George Silver, 1599
This week it is my turn to write the blog post for Encased in Steel. When brainstorming for a suitable topic I decided it was time to define a term that I have been using in business plans, fundraising applications and personal correspondence: “historical hobbyist.” Before I begin though I think it is prudent to start by addressing what I foresee as being the most common objection to the use of this term. I am not attempting to say that all historical hobbyists are the same or that they have the same aims or purposes, I am very aware that there are huge differences between groups of historical hobbyists. However, to fail to recognise our similarities would be foolish and is putting an unnecessary barrier in the way of inter-group cooperation.
So to begin let us define the term in its loosest sense, a historical hobbyist is…, thereby setting up a framework within which to work as we dive deeper into discussion of this topic. A historical hobbyist is an individual who partakes of activities within which lies a varying degree of recreation of recognised or perceived historical events, ideas or activities. A historical hobbyist undertakes these activities either professionally or as a hobby, but in either case does so primarily because such undertakings are found by the individual to be enjoyable.
Having given a loose definition it is now possible to have a look at some key sections within the historical hobbyist market, to comment on what they do in a broad sense and how it relates to historical hobbyism as a whole. This is not an in-depth analysis as that is not the purpose of this essay, but rather this is meant to provide the reader with some further framework within which to consider historical hobbyism and hopefully to promote greater cooperation between these sections. It should also be noted that most groups and individuals belong to more than one section of historical hobbyism and that this is not an attempt to classify oneself as a particular type but rather to define the hobby.
Strictly Academic Hobbyists
This section of the hobby is primarily recognised by the fact that it does not involve personal physical immersion, so for example it lacks dressing up or “trying out” historical artefacts. The top level of the academic hobbyists are those working in universities, libraries or museums, working to discover and interpret the past through rigidly defined methods and systems. Within the historical hobbies it is the highest level of Strictly Academic Hobbyists who get to define what becomes historical fact. This is also the section with greatest access to the finds contemporary with the period under study. It is rare to non-existant for practitioners in this section to ever allow or accept non-accuracy of any sort with regards to the work relating to history and there is a large amount of peer review in place to assist in ensuring accuracy. People in this section are also the primary educators of the past and as such its practitioners are the most respected of historical hobbyists.
Life Portraying Hobbyists
This is probably the largest non-professional grade of historical hobbyist with a large majority of the historical hobbyists participating in the section to some level. For the purpose of this essay however I am using the term to refer to those portraying reality to a greater or lesser extent rather than those who attempt to portray fantasy that has realistic elements. Individuals and groups within this category tend to dress up and also gather together for the purpose of meetings, camps or banquets designed to assist with full immersion into the escapist element of the hobby. This section is made up of re-enactors and living historians (at the high end of accuracy) and renaissance fair participants (at the lower end) and subjunctive history participants (SCA, Adrian Empire and other anachronistic historical groups).
Often hobbyists within this section perform for the public, and their shows and events range from extremely high levels of accuracy to perceived accuracy to solely pseudo history. Due to many groups within this section containing participants desiring the full range of accuracy levels, a large amount of elitism (both real and perceived) has developed within and between groups of this section which has led to a great deal of segmentation of the hobby as a whole. The accuracy argument is perhaps the most common, most divisive and most threatening to the continued survival and growth of the hobby. This is the largest market for traders within the hobby and for suppliers to the historical hobbies due to the clothing, kit and sundry items required for participation even at the low end.
Historical Fantasy Hobbyists
This is the segment of this essay that I believe is going to receive the most ire from my readers, but I ask that you hear me out and set aside personal bias in order to see why I include this section as part of the historical hobbies.
Historical Fantasy Hobbyists differ primarily in that they do not seek to recreate any form of historical event but rather that history provides the engine with which to power the creatively imagined fantasy within which their hobby can be enjoyed. In order to better explain let us look at one segment of this section, LARPing (aka Live Action Role Playing). LARP in most instances is carried out with all participants accepting an alternate world/reality/universe and within this alternate space they are a persona but not necessarily human. However in order to portray aspects of this persona or character, by the very nature of reality’s laws it is often easiest for the setting to be much like a perceived past. Thus the characters make use of items such as swords or other historical accoutrements, but without the requirement of needing to show any degree of accuracy to real history, they are able to use items freely, often mixing accoutrements from multiple periods with fantastical designs in a creative manner to assist with escaping into the alternate reality in which the game takes place. Participants in this section of the hobby participate for personal pleasure and this section rarely performs for the general public. Participants favour creativity and artistic expression far more than historical accuracy which has led to an us-and-them attitude between practitioners of this area of the hobby and practitioners in the other areas. The author would suggest though that rather than adopting this attitude, participants of the historical hobbies should see this creative section as a stepping stone into the hobby as a whole, and in small doses occasionally it can be an enjoyable and relaxed entertainment activity for historical hobbyists (much like a history professor reading a fantasy novel for pleasure). For traders and suppliers to the hobby it is important to keep this large portion of the market in mind and to supply it, as many people enter the historical hobbies from participation in this section of the hobby.
Experimental History/Archaeology Hobbyists
This final section of the historical hobbies is made up of many individuals and groups worldwide who work to interpret areas of the past via rediscovery, recreation and development within those areas. This can involve cooperation between academics, craftsmen, martial artists and other specialists as well as amateur hobbyists who have an interest in this area.
One of the largest and fastest growing examples of this section is the HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) community. This community attempts to recreate the martial traditions of Europe using evidence from historical texts and extant equipment examples. This section of the historical hobbies strives towards accuracy in the area they are studying but also aims to further develop that area and in many cases bring it “back to life”. To achieve this, accuracy is often mixed with modern advancements and developments forming a hybrid that allows for full rediscovery while still taking into account difficulties such as modern legal restrictions. An example of this is the use of fencing masks, modern gloves and clothing, better steel and nylon training weapons within the HEMA community that allow for full speed and full power sparring without the high risk posed by adhering solely to traditional methods. This section of the hobby works to tread the line between public and academic perception and often is accepted both within the public and academic sphere.
For the purpose of traders or suppliers this section of the market is often looking for highly accurate historical items or highly modern items. They tend to be a difficult area of the market to break into, but once one gains acceptance, they are a very loyal market base.
In conclusion I hope this has allowed you to better understand what is meant by the term historical hobbyist. I have looked briefly at and made a broad analysis of sections within the hobby as a whole, and have attempted to provide some examples as and where necessary. I believe that greater cohesion and cooperation should occur between all sections of the hobby as I believe we all share certain desires and needs, and if our differences could be put aside we could achieve far more for our hobby as a whole.
Topic Discussion Question: How can the historical hobbyist market work towards greater cohesion, and if there was a body willing to assist in this what would you look for from them?
Last weekend, I attended SWASH, or the Symposium of Western Arts through History. This was my first major HEMA event, as up until SWASH, the only multi-group event I’d been to was the one I organised the week earlier with the GCoD. This meant I’d been looking forward to the event for a while, and luckily, it didn’t disappoint.
I went with another member of the AHA, Gus, and we arrived late on the Friday night. We started off the Saturday with the group warm up, then we went straight into Tactics within I.33, taught by Herbert Schmidt. Herbert was an excellent teacher, explaining everything very clearly, giving us just the right amount of time for drilling each technique, and he came across as a lovely guy. Most importantly though, he really helped to advance my understanding of the I.33. Herbert argued that there were three basic and fundamental defences against an incoming attack: the shield-strike, the thrust-strike, and the overbind, and that which of those you do depends on the range. If the opponent makes a probing attack from distance, you respond with a shield-strike, if they rush in close to attack, you overbind, and if they are between these two ranges, you thrust-strike. I’ve recently started research into the I.33, and so I was aware of these three defences, but I wasn’t sure when you used each. We also looked at using the upper covering against the second guard, using those same three defences. In a way, it was a shame that the techniques were so basic. Herbert asked what people’s experience levels were at the start of the class, and on seeing that many in the class did not have much experience with sword and buckler, he adjusted the class to make it a bit easier to digest. It was obvious he had more material, as at the end, he decided to demonstrate the other techniques that he would have taught had he had more time. So while I’m glad I got a lesson I could more easily keep up with, it seems a shame that he didn’t get to teach everything he planned. Still, he deserves credit for adjusting his class on the fly. Overall, I’d say this was definitely the best class of the event.
Next, I went to Sean Hayes’ lesson on Italian longsword, which began with a nice icebreaker, warm up and footwork practice combination, in which you had to pass around the hall using longsword footwork while giving people you pass high fives. I’ve done this sort of thing quite a few times by now, but it’s always a nice way to start off a class. The rest of the lesson focused on two displacements from the Iron Gate against attacks from above, and counters to these displacements. This lesson was useful in that I rarely use low guards, so it was good that I was forced to use something different for the class, while the very focused nature of the class meant that perhaps I did not learn as much new stuff as I did in the other classes, but I really did improve my ability to fence from the lower guards.
Next there was Entering Strategies with the German Longsword, taken by Jorg Bellinghausen, which was a close second for my favourite class. This lesson focused on chaining together multiple strikes to enter in, such as the Wechselhau, or a combination from Meyer which had you do a false edge Oberhau from the right, instantly followed by a true edge Unterhau from the left, then a true edge Unterhau from the right, finally ended by a true edge Oberhau from the left. Two things really set this class apart. The first was the more advanced nature of the class. Jorg was very clear at the start that if you were a beginner, you were in the wrong class, and he would not teach you how to strike. After two more beginner friendly lessons, it was nice to have that change, and second that he made sure to have people switch partners regularly, as it’s too easy to become complacent when you get used to how your partner moves.
The final class of the day for me was the Close Fight, taken by Rob Lovett. This lesson was a bit of an enigma, as it wasn’t described on the BFHS site, and the class name didn’t really tell me exactly what it was about. It turned out it was about using Fiore dei Liberi’s stretto plays to counter his largo plays. We first drilled the three basic largo plays, with each play corresponding to a different amount of pressure on the bind, then the three basic stretto plays, which again correspond to three different levels of pressure in the bind, then we used the stretto plays against the opponent trying to use a largo play. Rob explained that if an opponent tries to use a largo play, but you close distance, then they will be disordered, and you will be able to use a stretto play on them. The only real difficulty I had in this is one of the stretto plays, which involved pushing the opponent’s sword down, then thrusting up under your own arm. I had massive difficulty with this technique, although luckily Sean Hayes was there to help. I have to give Sean a massive thank you for the help and advice he gave me during this lesson.
The next day, I was exhausted, and ended up not doing any combat. For the first session, I was in weapons handling, and it is always a delight to handle original pieces. They had about 20 weapons out, ranging from early medieval blades, right up to early modern backswords. The collection was impressive, and I fell in love with a complete beast of a longsword. It had an impressive size and weight, and a real presence behind it. I kind of wanted to steal it.
I wasn’t that interested in the next set of classes, so I took the opportunity to wander around the museum. I’d never been to Leeds before, but the armoury was so good that I think that it justified the trip by itself. The collection is huge. Just when I thought surely that must be the end, you turn round a corner, and there’s yet more swords. Beyond the standard swords, they also had some amusing oddities, like a combination pistol, knife and knuckle duster.
Finally, I watched the tournaments. Mostly I was watching the longsword tournament, but I took glances at the backsword tournament in between longsword rounds. I think it’s a real shame that the tournaments where at the same time, as I’d have loved to watch both. The fighting was fantastic, and I’d love to compete in the longsword tournament next year. Congratulations to Tim Gallagher for winning, he fought well, and his timing was excellent. Probably the stand out moment for me though was one of the earlier rounds when one of the competitors (I don’t know who it was) pulled off a perfect Unterhau. Their opponent came in for an Oberhau, and just before it came in to land, they stepped to the side, and threw the Unterhau across the opponent’s stomach. It was an amazing example of fencing.
All in all, it was an excellent event, and I highly recommend it for anyone considering going next year.
- BFHS – British Federation for Historical Swordplay. The largest umbrella group for HEMA in the UK.
- GcoD – The Glasgow Company of Duellists
- Iron Gate – A low guard, found in both the Liechtenauer tradition and in Fiore.
- Largo – long distance.
- Oberhau – literally “overstrike”. A strike that comes from above.
- Shield-strike – a technique in which once you are bound with the opponent’s sword, you strike down onto his sword and buckler with your buckler, so that you may freely strike them to the head with your sword.
- Stretto – close distance.
- Thrust-strike – this is similar to the shield-strike, a major difference being it ends with a thrust rather than with a strike.
- Unterhau – literally “understrike”. A strike that comes from the below.
- Wechselhau – The change strike. A technique in which you strike in one direction, then instantly strike back in the opposite direction. For example, a true edge oberhau from right to left, followed instantly by a false edge unterhau from left to right would be a wechselhau.
Last weekend the Academy of Historical Arts organised and ran an event for our members to train with some of the Glasgow Company of Duellists. It seemed quite mad that we all train in the same city, yet really only a few of us had ever trained with each other! Since both groups have begun study of the Highland broadsword recently, we decided to have our event focus on this weapon.
Everything was organised perfectly, the weekend was all ready to start, and then Alex (the President of the GUCDS in the Academy) went to pick up the keys to the training hall from the Dispenser of Keys at the Location of Training. The Dispenser of Keys told Alex that the appropriate Booking Form (which we had never seen nor heard about!) had not been sent to him, and thus he would not be able to release the keys to us. No matter what Alex suggested to get around this problem, the Dispenser of Keys remained resolute in the face of common sense and refused to budge even an inch to help us.
A swift discussion followed between all attending Academy members and Duellists, and one of the Duellists went and phoned up the training hall he normally uses for his weekly martial art teaching. This hall was going to be considerably more expensive, but would be able to accommodate us even at this short notice. We all decided to give this new hall a try, since it was either that or postpone the event. Luckily, we had JUST enough car space for all the equipment and all the people, so we all made our way over to the Caledonian Taekwondo Health and Fitness Centre in Anniesland. It is a superb venue, at a very excellent hourly rate considering the amount of equipment and space that comes with the hall hire.
So we held the event at this Centre instead of our previously intended Location of Training. We began with a gentle warm up, an hour of Anti-Pugilism under Dave Britten, an hour of Broadsword and Targe under Ben Kerr, and then finished with an hour of Medieval Dagger under Alex Bourdas.
The three hours passed quickly, and it was a fun afternoon. From my point of view as an instructor within the Academy, it was excellent to have the chance to practice with people other than my students for a change. Not that I don’t like my students (definitely not what I am saying!) but rather that it is good for my own development to train with people who look at me as an equal rather than as an instructor. I think everyone in the Academy benefitted from having this chance to practice with new people, and I think the skills we have been teaching in the Academy over the last semester were helpful for our students to be able to absorb this new information quickly and understand the hows and whys of the practices. I hope the Duellists enjoyed themselves as much as we did!
We in the Academy would like to take part in more of this type of joint training event with other groups. Unfortunately most of these events happen down south in England, or even in other countries, so it looks like we will have to start running a few such events up here in Scotland to make our lives easier!
For more information on the groups who took part in this event, please have a look at the following websites:
So, discussion topic: if we were to run an event in Glasgow for HEMA practitioners, bearing in mind our access to resources like the Kelvingrove Museum and the other libraries/museums of Glasgow, what sort of topics/themes/practices would people be interested in seeing us run?