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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Cutting mechanics in cutting practice and in sparring

Two activities within HEMA practice are sparring and cutting. Sparring helps us to ensure that we can actually execute techniques effectively against an uncooperative opponent, and cutting helps to ensure that those techniques would have the potential to kill or significantly injure an opponent.

This is important because a hit with a sharp sword is not guaranteed to cause enough harm to an opponent to make them stop fighting. Even if a hit is done with some force, this is still no guarantee that it will stop a fight. Strikes with a sword must be done with good cutting mechanics, i.e. they must be done with good edge alignment and sufficient follow through, the strike should land with the centre of percussion, not just with the tip of the sword, and the cut should be directed at a high value target. For example, a well formed cleaving cut to the head has much more potential to end a fight than a shallow cut to the forearm.

For a display of this, please see this video released last month by Holmgang Hamburg. The video is not safe for work, and shows blood and people being injured, so viewer discretion is advised. Please also note that we do not condone the actions shown in the video, and we would strongly recommend against this type of practice as it is very unsafe. Nonetheless, videos like this can give us interesting insights.

NEU Holmgang Hamburg – Scharfe Zweihänder Teil 2 – fighting with sharp swords

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Buying HEMA Gear

This week’s guest article is courtesy of Tea Kew, from the Cambridge HEMA club.

One of the most common questions on HEMA forums and Facebook groups, perhaps the most common after “Where’s my nearest club?” and “What sword should I get?”, is some variation of “What protective gear should I get?” or “Is this piece of equipment worthwhile?”. Normally this is asked by new fencers, who are looking for the best balance of cost and effectiveness to equip themselves for safe training.

The general answer is always basically the same: buy the de-facto standard HEMA gear, from reputable HEMA-specific manufacturers.

In this article, we’ll look at some general principles to use when buying gear, that help explain why to buy the standard kit instead of alternatives. Depending on your local situation, some of this standard equipment might be difficult to obtain, but understanding these principles means you can make much more informed decisions about how to select replacements if necessary.

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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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On painted masks

One practice that is quite common within HEMA is painting fencing masks.  The fencing mask is the most common item of safety kit that a HEMAist can own, and so many HEMAists will personalise their masks. There are many possible reasons why a HEMA practitioner might paint their own mask: it may be so they can find their own mask quicker if a group of masks are left together, or it could be so that they can identify themselves in photos more easily, or so that others in the HEMA community will recognise them more easily, or simply because they think the idea of a painted mask might look cool.

For quite some time, I wore a painted mask. Most recently, I wore a mask painted with a skull, and before that, I was borrowing a friend’s mask with a zombie/Jason design. When I got my mask back, freshly painted with a skull, I was very happy with it. The painting had been done well, it was very distinctive, and a few of the newer students said that the mask made it more intimidating to spar with me, which was very satisfying. After this I acquired a new mask, which hasn’t yet been painted. Taking time to think about exactly what I wanted to be painted on my new mask made me think about the entire practice of painting masks, and especially the problems associated with it. I was very happy with both of the painted masks I have used, but I have been thinking recently that the issue might be a little more complicated than simply having your mask painted because it looks cool, which was the only real consideration I ever had personally with regard to having a painted mask before.

Me, in my old mask painted with a skull.
Photo copyright of Daniil Lapko.

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HEMA myths and fact-checking

Today I want to talk very briefly about the importance of fact checking things you say. It is not uncommon to hear people repeat “facts” that they have heard. They may go on to repeat these anecdotes or pieces of information in a conversation, or in a class. The people that hear these “facts” can then go to repeat them at a later time, and so these statements are continually brought up and told to new people without anyone actually checking if these “facts” actually have any basis in fact.

Three examples of this that spring to mind in particular are that:

– Italian longsword is flashy compared to the straight-forward German longsword system,
– that the messer was a weapon designed to get by through legal loopholes
– and that it was the advent of the gun in Europe that made swordsmanship skills die off.

These “facts” are all old; however I hear them repeated every now and again. It is therefore worth quickly debunking these stories.

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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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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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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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Review of the Titan X-Change HEMA Mask by Leon Paul

The Titan X-Change HEMA Mask

One of the most important pieces of safety equipment that we can own is our fencing mask, and for this reason it is often worth spending more money on the fencing mask compared to other items of safety equipment. A head injury is simply more likely to present a serious problem than an injury than to many other parts of the body.

We are now seeing more masks being developed specifically for HEMA, such as the masks by Gajardoni, or the Titan X-Change HEMA mask by Leon Paul which I’ll be reviewing today. I would argue that there is no true, mass-produced mask built for purpose. In an ideal world, a mask built for HEMA would have integrated back of head protection and an overlay above the mesh, or using solid plates instead of just wire mesh around the top and sides of the head. This would prevent us needing separate masks and overlays; in the mean time however, this isn’t a huge problem and we can continue to use masks and overlays, as long as the masks themselves of sufficient quality.

The Titan X-Change HEMA mask is part of Leon Paul’s Titan Range, which is mostly based off of SPES’s range of HEMA equipment. The Titan mask is an upgraded version of Leon Paul’s prior X-Change masks, featuring several enhancements.

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