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 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.

Historical Research using Archived Material

Today’s blog article is courtesy of Andy Lawrence, who studies HEMA with us in Glasgow, and who makes frequent research trips to museums, libraries and archives.

It is a common idea that “research” involves going to a dusty library and poring over old documents. However, so much information is available online, why might someone actually need to visit a library? What sort of research tasks can be accomplished by visiting a library, and how might one go about arranging this kind of research visit?

This short article relates to my experience of conducting research using various archives that have digitised documents to make them available on-line, and also how I have used reading rooms at archives and libraries where the information is currently only available offline, on paper.

Significant amounts of time may be saved by knowing before your visit what it is that you would like to find out, rather than searching randomly for information. Searches can then be filtered to try and find any documents or images that may be relevant. In my case, the purpose of the exercise was to try and find a date and location for a particular photograph. The photo in question is that of my great grandfather, Charles Lawrence, who was rumoured to have been photographed in Japan whilst he served in the Royal Navy in the late 19th century.

Charles Lawrence, who was rumoured to have been photographed in Japan whilst he served in the Royal Navy in the late 19th century.

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The perspective of a tournament organiser

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.

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A Review of HEMAC Glasgow 2016

This week’s blog article is a review of the HEMAC Glasgow 2016 event, written by Tea Kew, an instructor in the Cambridge HEMA group.

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to be one of about 50 fencers gathered in Glasgow for an exploration of Style in Longsword Fencing. We were treated to an excellent event, with a generous programme of classes, sparring time, and local bars.

We began on Friday, meeting at the Vanguard Centre (the AHA’s new dedicated training facility in central Glasgow) for sparring and discussion, followed by a short presentation on linguistics in HEMA by Dr Daria Izdebska (AHA). This was a very interesting opening to the event, and helped remind us of the twin aims of the weekend: to fence with new people, and to learn new things.

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Five Years of Encased in Steel

Encased in Steel began in February 2011, meaning that this blog has now been active for 5 years. Our first ever post (Welcome to Encased in Steel) was published on February 17th 2011, although our first substantial post, a review of a joint event we ran with the Glasgow Company of Duellists, was posted the following day on February 18th.

In these 5 years, we have posted 272 posts to the blog (this being the 273rd), with 22 authors having contributed to the blog. When we first started the blog, we could not have imagined that it would run for this long, or that it would be this successful.

Going back through the archives really reminded me of how much Encased in Steel, and the Academy of Historical Arts, have accomplished in that time. As mentioned before, one of our first ever posts was a review of an event we ran with the GCoD, the first ever inter-group event we ran. The following week I posted a review of SWASH 2011, my first ever international event. On May 20th 2011, I wrote another review, this time of an event we ran with the Renaissance Martial Arts Society, or RMAS, based in Dundee. RMAS would later go on to affiliate to the AHA, and become a very important branch of our organisation, as well as having provided us with some truly excellent instructors, sparring partners and friends.

Another major landmark in the history of Encased in Steel was the publication of the Encased in Steel Anthology I, which we published in March 2015. If you have been a follower of the blog, and have enjoyed our posts, then I would urge you to support the blog further and pick up a copy of the anthology, as sales like this are what help to keep the blog running. The anthology contains many of our best articles from the earlier years of the blog, albeit with significant editing and in some cases expansion to improve the printed versions of the articles over the versions posted online. The anthology also contains several new articles written especially for the book, which are not available online.

In time we will of course be publishing an Encased in Steel Anthology II, but in the meantime, I thought it would be worth celebrating our fifth anniversary by looking at some of the posts that were written too late for inclusion in the Anthology, or were written after its publication entirely. This is not necessarily a “best of Encased in Steel” post (although I do believe the posts singled out are among our best), but rather I wanted to highlight the variety of topics on which we have posted.

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Review of a Rapier Seminar with Rob Runacres

Rob Runacres demonstrating a technique with Sam Booth.

On the weekend of the 19th and 20th of September this year, the Academy of Historical Arts hosted Rob Runacres for a weekend in Glasgow, to teach a seminar on rapier fencing.

In the last year or so, there have been a growing number of people in the Academy of Historical Arts who have wanted to begin studying the rapier. So a few months ago, we bought in a box of rapiers, in order to provide loaner swords for people to begin studying the art without needing to invest in their own swords immediately. The second part of our efforts to facilitate the study of rapier in our organisation was to invite Rob to teach a weekend seminar, to give people an introduction to the fundamentals of using the rapier effectively and safely.

I asked Rob to focus heavily on the mechanics of using the weapon, to emphasise the proper way to do the basics. Any beginner can pick up a rapier treatise and begin to interpret the pictures – but a healthy study of the discipline would benefit from input on details such as exactly how to hold the sword, how best to form stance and posture in order to achieve an effective lunge – and, of course, how to lunge properly, to achieve success with the action and without hurting yourself!

Rob is a superb teacher. He stuck to the brief and focused on mechanics, fundamentals, and low level details. Not only did he manage to cover these difficult and complicated subjects, he managed to do so in a manner that was engaging and entertaining. One of the things that I appreciated most of all was that over the entire event, Rob spoke loudly and clearly, so that everyone in the room could hear him and understand what he said. Too many instructors possess great information, but cannot express it loudly and clearly enough to be heard by their students; but Rob made sure that every participant could hear him clearly.

We did not look at any single treatise in isolation. Instead, Rob synthesised salient points from different sources to provide a sensible and coherent introduction to the discipline. By giving a reasonably wide basis to the introduction, discussing and comparing some of the Italian ways of doing things and some of the Spanish methods, he was able to show that different masters and schools had different ways to approach the fight, and that each method had its advantages and disadvantages. Rather than teaching us to follow a single treatise, he equipped us to make sensible choices about what sources to go ahead and study, and showed why we might come across seemingly contradictory advice between sources.

The theme that ran through everything Rob taught was that of personal safety. He was not teaching a sporty, point-scoring method, nor was he teaching an overly-theoretical, image-interpreting method. Instead, he taught a safe and secure method of fencing where the focus was on “not being hit”. There was no room for ego. The fundamentals all involved personal safety, and security when acting. This was exactly what some of the participants needed to hear!

I would encourage anyone to get in touch with Rob about arranging a seminar, if you and your club are interested in learning about the rapier. His knowledge is extensive, his teaching skill excellent, and his ability to demonstrate and put into practice what he teaches is admirable. Not only is he a great instructor to have teach at your event, he is also a very friendly fellow and is a delight to have as a guest.

Rob’s club is the Renaissance Sword Club in Reading, Surrey, and you can contact him through their website:

6 Fears for Starting a new HEMA Club

This week I would like to present a short post answering some of the fears people have about starting a HEMA club. As I am moving house at the moment I have recently come across many of my documents from when I started my first club in 2007. Amongst the documents I found a pros and cons list regarding my feelings towards starting a club. Eight years on I would like to answer those cons and hopefully in doing so I will be able to give encouragement to some of you who are considering taking the leap into founding a club.

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15 “must read” books for German longsword

This list will set out a basic bibliography of 15 book that are a “must have” for the personal library of every serious practitioner of German longsword. The list is my personal opinion, based on several years of experience searching for and reading all kinds of books on the subject. It contains translations and scholarly works, but also contextual pieces of scholarship about arms and armour of the period, sword typologies and a study of the medieval concept of chivalry.

If you have read all of these books, then you will be well educated on the subject of German longsword, and will be able to hold your own in discussions about the history and context of the discipline!

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10 pieces of advice for new HEMA clubs!

This week I am going to continue on my series of posts about starting a new HEMA club. I will do my best to keep it generic with suggestions that are non-geographical but please keep in mind every country is different and my experience is with Scotland.

Seven years ago I started the GUCDS, the club from which the Academy of Historical Arts grew. At the time it was not a HEMA club specifically, and over the years much about it has changed and developed as it transitioned through different stages. The other day I was looking through some old paperwork and came across my initial plans for the club and how I was going to set it up. I realised just how naive most of these were, but I fumbled along and with some help from friends the club was started, and went on to become an extremely successful organisation.

With HEMA growing at an incredible rate and getting more and more media attention, I felt there may be some people who really want to start a HEMA club but are afraid to take that first step. This post is for you.

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The Importance of the Gorget

I have only been wearing a gorget or any form of separate throat protection for historical fencing practice since February 2014, although I have been training for a few years before that. I never used to think a gorget was important, and that my jacket’s collar or the hard plate in the throat of my Trinity overlay would be enough to keep my neck safe. However, over the course of a few months in the second half of 2013, I suffered a few “near misses” that could have gone horribly wrong, and now I would like to explain why I think wearing a gorget is very important for historical fencers.

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