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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On cleaving hits

Something I’ve been working on recently with my students is making sure their cuts are cleaving hits. What I mean by this is that I’m encouraging them to use mechanics that would ensure their cuts would cleave through an opponent. At first, this can seem like the mechanics are being exaggerated to the students, the end result though is that they produce more forceful strikes and achieve positions and binds that seem to match the sources more closely.

A few years ago, I wrote a pair of articles called Cutting with the German Longsword, parts 1 & 2, which may be seen in an updated and revised form in the Encased in Steel Anthology[1]. In these articles, I argued that a hit did not always need to have good cutting potential to be tactically useful. The arguments I made then are I believe still somewhat sound, however I am increasingly focusing on getting my students to perform more of their strikes as cleaving motions, rather than making use of strikes that would cause less damage but would set up further attacks.

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Triangulation for Martial Arts

Keith Farrell cutting a cardboard mailing tube with an Oberhaw.

When studying any martial art, there tends to be a preferred or traditional manner of practising the techniques and sequences. Sometimes it is an issue of convenience, sometimes of tradition (“we have always done it that way, so why change?”), and sometimes a matter of stagnation or lack of learning (“what is this ‘sport science’ of which you speak?”).

Whatever the preferred method for communicating and training the system, the chosen method tends to lead to an emphasis on one style of practice over another. Without addressing this imbalance, the overall practice of the martial art can become one-sided, and perspective can be skewed.

This article suggests that “triangulating” your approach to training any martial art can only be beneficial.

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Trusting your Training

Keith Farrell and Mark Wilkie sparring with sabres at Edgebana 2015.

People often train a technique in a certain fashion during the drills and exercises of their weekly training session, but then modify the technique when placed under the stress of sparring. Indeed, people who have trained a technique rigorously, when confronted with a test cutting exercise for the first time, will often abandon their training and modify the technique to work better as they believe it must.

Naturally, this often results in failures, in sparring and in cutting, because the student abandons his or her training and begins to make it up on the spot. This occurs when a student does not trust his training, or does not trust his skill at the technique to keep him safe, or does not trust that his sword will protect him.

Therefore, a large part of the instructor’s job is to instill a level of trust in his students: trust in the training they have performed, trust in the mechanics of their strike, and trust in the weapon itself.

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Longpoint 2015 Review

A review of Longpoint 2015 from Benjamin Hawkins.


Over four sunny July days in Maryland, Longpoint 2015 was held. This year it was the largest HEMA event in North America with over two hundred registered attendees; the open longsword alone had over one hundred sign ups. Nine tournaments including open longsword, women’s longsword, rapier, sword and buckler, ringen, cutting, harnischfechten, pair techniques, a rookie training event and the meta tournament triathlon that took scores from longsword, cutting and either ringen or pair techniques for an aggregate score. As great as the sheer scale of the event was, it made it hard, if not impossible, for any one person to get more than a glimpse of each event. I myself only caught a few fights of rapier, sword and buckler and harnischfechten, while completely missing women’s longsword and paired techniques. Fortunately, I was able to see quite a bit of the open longsword, cutting and ringen.

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Review of Edgebana 2015

Keith Farrell and Mark Wilkie sparring with sabres at Edgebana 2015. Photo by Thomas Naylor.

Last weekend, I participated in the Edgebana 2015 event at the IHA in Dundee. The event contained five competitions: synthetic and steel sabre, synthetic and steel longsword, and cutting. I decided to participate in all five competitions as a challenge for myself. This article will cover my thoughts and the goals I set for myself for the event.

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Sharp Blades and Lightsabers, Part 2

Back in January I wrote an article called Sharp Blades and Lightsabers: Not Every Hit Should Count as a Cut, in which I pointed out that not every attack with a sword would actually cut effectively, and that an attack that would not have had the potential to end a fight should not be point worthy.

My opinion on this hasn’t changed, but I thought it would be worth revisiting this idea with references to original treatises, as obviously evidence from a primary source should hold greater value than a modern opinion.

To start simply, halfswording, i.e. holding onto the blade of your own sword, can be seen being used in an unarmoured context in several treatises. There are several examples of unarmoured halfswording, for example as seen in this folio from Falkner’s treatise. Hopefully, most HEMAists will recognise this.

Ms. KK5012, 11v

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Longpoint 2014 Review by Ben Hawkins

Over the last weekend I had the great fortune to attend Longpoint 2014 at Turf Valley resort in Ellicott City, Maryland. While there I participated in the singlestick and cutting tournaments while getting to watch the synthetic, women’s, counted blows and open longsword, messser, wrestling and paired forms competition. Before I go any further I must say that the event was great over all and heartily suggest everyone able attend. Let me also give thanks to all those who hosted and ran the event.


Turf Valley is a wonderful location for the hosting of Longpoint with a range of facilities to make both the event and the time around it a wonderful experience. The award dinner in particular was fantastic, with delicious food and the dinning room was truly beautiful. I have seen some complain about the food at the hotel and other choices being a car trip away, but I only partook of the hotel’s breakfast, which was quite nice, and had a free enough schedule to go out and get food.


Longpoint this year had a truly astounding number of tournaments. With singlestick, messer, cutting, open longsword, synthetic longsword, women’s longsword, paired forms competition, counted blows and four weight classes for ringen, the total stood at 12. In addition there was the triathlon, a combination of open longsword, cutting and paired techniques where scores from all three were added up, and a team competition where the best “team,” participants from the same school/club, had their scores from each tournament added up. Read more

Review of Ringeck Triathlon at AHA Loch Lomond 2014

Cutting at AHA Loch Lomond 2013; photo by Elliot Howie.

At the AHA Loch Lomond 2014 camping event, I organised and ran a triathlon style longsword competition. My intention was to create a new and unusual style of tournament, where competitors had to display a varied skill set with respect to the historical sources that we study, and I believe that the competition was very much a success, with some interesting learning points.

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Qualities of a cutting sword

Today’s post has been written by Ben Hawkins. Hawkins has had great success in cutting tournaments, having placed 2nd at the Iron Gate Exhibition (2013), Boston Sword Gathering (2012), and Longpoint (2012), and is going to teach a cutting class at the AHA’s upcoming HEMAC Glasgow (2014).

A sword is a weapon. It is a weapon that wounds using either the thrust or cut. When learning how to use a sword as a weapon, it is important to learn what qualities of the blade allow it to perform in these tasks. Today, I will focus on what qualities of the sword allow it to cut. I have divided the six qualities I will talk about into two groups. The primary qualities, those attributes that make a sword cut regardless of other factors, and secondary qualities, those attributes that are much more tailored to the specific circumstance of the blade’s use.

The three primary qualities of a good cutting sword are edge sharpness, blade stiffness and blade thickness. A blade that can achieve these three qualities will be able to cut.

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