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.
Penicuik drawing 14. 1746. Image taken from Wikimedia Commons.
One of the weapon combinations that is used within the AHA is the Scottish broadsword and targe. This combination is of course quite iconic of the Scottish highlander, and so generates a lot of interest. There are few sword and targe sources however; so while we do not have to theorise an entire system from no evidence, we still run into all the problems identified by Keith in his “Interpretive” HEMA Systems article.
The three sources we have are the anonymous Penicuik sketches, Thomas Page’s The Use of the Broadsword, and Donald McBane’s The Expert Sword-man’s Companion. None of these sources are particularly detailed, and there isn’t as close a relationship in what they show as we might like.
Penicuik drawing 3. 1746. Image taken from Wikimedia Commons.
If we look at the Penicuik sketches, one of the notable features we can see is that the targe side is almost always held forward. The two exceptions are a depiction of a right leg forward fencer in a low, invitational guard, and a drawing of two Highlanders fencing, one of whom has his right leg forward. All other images show the Highlanders with the targe side forward (i.e. normally left leg forward, unless they are right handed, in which case they are right leg forward). This means that if we were basing a system off the Penicuik sketches, we would need to start in predominantly targe side forward guards. We could pass forward during a fight and be in a sword side forward position while we are actively fencing, but when in starting guard, we should rarely be sword side forward.
Penicuik Drawing 23 (4). 1746. Image taken from Wikimedia Commons.
A Scottish basket-hilted broadsword, beside a pile of the book “Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick” by Keith Farrell.
If you spend time working on your skills in between your regular weekly sessions, your skill will develop more swiftly, and you will find yourself better able to learn from your regular lessons.
Here are five solo practice drills that you can do at home to help improve your basic skills.
Keith Farrell with a Polish hussar sabre. The shoulders are set properly, the back muscles are engaged, the head is upright, and this position is well-structured. Photo by Miroslav Zaruba, 2013.
I am currently 28 years old. I have been practising HEMA for around 6 years, although I also have 14 years of experience in karate. As I approach my 30s, I feel that I can no longer rely on my body and my physical attributes in quite the same fashion as I could when I was 18; I can’t just push myself to my limits and then expect to be without aches the following day, nor can I shrug off injuries in the knowledge that I will heal within a week. I have been lucky enough to have spent a total of 18 years practising martial arts without taking any long term injuries, but I’m aware that they could be just around the corner if I don’t pay attention to what I am doing.
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
AHA fencers judging at the recent Broadsword Tournament Trial Run
One of the skills that is very important for a HEMA practitioner is judging. The overall quality of a tournament will be affected by poor quality judging, and fencers will enjoy an event far less if they feel the judging was inaccurate, especially if they feel that they, or another fencer, should have won a fight which they lost, and vice versa.
It should be said that judging is difficult, and very often under-appreciated. Judges are more likely to be criticised for poor judging calls than they are to be thanked or congratulated. Additionally judges are often sacrificing their own ability to take part in tournaments by judging.
I believe therefore that criticism of judges should always be moderate, and that any criticism given directly to them should be constructive. However, this is not to say that criticisms about judging don’t have merit, as there are often valid criticisms to make. This means that all judges should try to improve their judging skills.
Even a HEMA practitioner who has never been a judge, and may not be plan on being a judge, should work on their judging skills. Some events ask fencers to act as judges, such as FightCamp, where tournament pools are entirely self judging, or the upcoming AHA Glasgow Broadsword Tournament, where the fighters will rotate through as junior referees under a consistent senior referee. Additionally, fighters should practice judging as that will help them to understand the judging process, hopefully making them more understanding of judges when they might want to give harsh criticism.
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?
Today I wanted to offer a brief set of recomendations for HEMA clothing and safety gear aesthetics. Safety gear should of course be protective, and this should be the prime concern, but we should also wear safety gear that looks professional, gives a good impression of HEMA, and also fits into the established HEMA aesthetic. We want people to take us seriously, whether they are students, potential training partners, or members of the public, we want to give HEMA a good image, and I think we should attempt to look good while doing HEMA to show respect for the discipline of HEMA itself.
Someone with a clean professional look will give off a much better impression on behalf of themselves, their club and HEMA generally. This means that we should try to present a look like this, rather than, for example, wear a mismash of badly maintained psuedo-historical gear and motocross gear. Even those wearing HEMA gear could often do something to improve their look, e.g. replacing a painted mask design with a more professional one, or replace some black items with something a little more distinctive.
Me in my current set of HEMA gear. Photo copyright of Lindsey McMahon.
As a comparison, this was my previous set of gear, which was less distinctive and recognisable in terms of national and club colours, and also had a less professional mask design.
Photo coyright of Keith Farrell.
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.
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.