Starting with HEMA: A Personal View

An artistic “still life” collection of HEMA gear!

Today’s blog article is courtesy of Alex Davis, who is relatively new to the study of HEMA, and who wanted to share some of his thoughts on beginning in this activity. He attends lessons with Schola Gladiatoria, in the safe hands of Lucy and Matt Easton, and makes occasional visits to the English Martial Arts Academy with Martin “Oz” Austwick.

Are you new to HEMA, or to any martial art? Here are some of my experiences and my reactions to HEMA, touching on different aspects of the activity that a beginner may experience. I think of them Challenges, along with one Requirement, not necessarily to overcome them but to meet and react to them, and to show how rich and varied HEMA appears to be. I could think of them facets or principles, but the word Challenges seem fine, because they call for me to achieve something and change or improve myself. It seems that with each class, something develops that raises further questions for assessment and refinement. It is probable that I may want to change some of below in another six months time.

These experiences are my own. I do not suggest they are shared by everyone, though I am hoping they may create some thought or discussion. I expect some things may strike a chord and some things may not. We are all different.

I am very grateful to all the instructors and fellow students who guide and share as I learn and practice HEMA. Without them I would not feel able or willing to contribute.

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What skills do you need to make your interpretation work?

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.

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Quality, not Quantity

Today I want to talk about a very simple concept: there’s not much point doing something wrong, if you could be doing it right. This is a problem I see particularly in PT and exercise programs. The PT program used in my group has students perform very few reps of any given exercise. When running people through a PT program, I prefer to think about the quality of the reps rather than the quantity. As far as I’m concerned, the quality of the reps is the most important thing to consider, and everything else comes secondary (with the exception of health & safety concerns, however focusing on quality not quantity should reduce H&S concerns anyway).

I frequently get asked questions along the lines of “what do you think about this 100 push ups a day program?” My first two thoughts about questions like this are always: 1) what relevance does being able to do a 100 push ups have to HEMA, and 2) if you’re doing 100 reps in a row, what’s the chance that those reps will actually be good?

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Scapular protraction and fighting

Last time I posted, I talked about Upper Crossed Syndrome, which basically means a slouched posture. Upper Crossed Syndrome typically will involve some level of scapular protraction, i.e. the shoulder blades are rounded forward, and this is what I’m going to focus on today. If you’ve not read my previous article, please read it before reading this.

What I want to suggest today is that scapular retraction, i.e. pulling back the shoulder blades, is not only extremely important for everyday posture and long term health, but also very important in terms of fighting correctly with the longsword.

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Upper Crossed Syndrome

This week, I’m going to be discussing another common set of muscular imbalances, upper crossed syndrome. Upper crossed syndrome is a term invented by Vladimir Janda and it refers to a slouched posture.  Postural problems associated with UCS are anterior head carriage (i.e. holding the head in front of its base of support), cervical lordosis (i.e. excess curvature in the neck), thoracic kyphosis (i.e. excess curvature in the upper back), and anterior rotation of the shoulders and scapulae (i.e. having shoulders be rounded forward).

This all basically describes very common every day posture. As I said in my first post about posture, we typically spend much of the day sitting, and this negatively affects our posture. If you’re sitting at a computer, or behind the wheel of a car, you probably will need to round your shoulders forward in order to comfortably reach the keyboard or wheel. Some sports can make this problem worse, such as boxing or MMA for example, where a kyphotic posture will be held for defensive reasons.

Another potential problem may be that the back muscles may not properly develop because they don’t need to support the back if you are slouching in a chair, so they may be underdeveloped. If your upper back and shoulders round forward, then the head will naturally crane forward so it is in a more comfortable position.

This anterior head carriage will mean that the muscles in the back of the neck will become chronically tight, and the muscles in the front of the neck will become chronically stretched and weakened. The rounding of the upper back will mean that the muscles in the back, and in the back of the shoulders become chronically stretched, while the muscles in the chest and front of the shoulders become chronically tight.

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“Interpretive” Systems of HEMA (part 3)

Broadsword and targe in use in a melee (or group combat) scenario, along with combat archery.

This article is continued from part 2 posted yesterday. Today the article provides a set of guidelines and suggestions for how one might approach the issue of recreating an interpretive discipline, to gain as many of the advantages as possible, while minimising the risk of falling foul of the negative aspects as described yesterday.

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Muscular imbalances in the hip, part 2

Last week I posted a basic introduction to muscular imbalances, focusing specifically on the hips:

As promised, I will now be looking at a few different exercises, as well as a few guidelines for thinking about exercises, that you can use to help correct anterior pelvic tilt.

Core strength

Core strength is something I’ve talked about before in a blog post:

As I mentioned in that article, the rectus abdominis (the so called six pack) is not the only muscle in the abdominal cavity. Far more important for our purposes here is the transversus abdominis. The transversus abdominis’ role is to provide inwards pressure on the abdominal cavity. When you suck your stomach in to fit into a tight pair of trousers, you’re using the transverses abdominis. Why is this relevant to anterior pelvic tilt?

If the pelvis is tilted forwards, the lumbar spine will curve excessively, but vice versa, if the lumbar spine is curved excessively, then the pelvis will tilt forward, so if we reduce curvature of the lumbar spine, we will also reduce anterior pelvic tilt. If you imagine someone pushing hard on your stomach, that would force your spine to straighten a bit, so if we have a strong and constantly active transversus abdominis, we will have the same effect. We will help to fix excessive lumbar lordosis, and with it, anterior pelvic tilt.

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Muscular imbalances in the hip, part 1

This week, I want to talk briefly about muscular imbalances within the hips. Muscular imbalances are an important topic, because many of the people reading this, as well as many of their students if they have any, will likely have some muscular imbalances. At best, imbalances may make our movement patterns less efficient, at worst they can put as at greater risk of injury or chronic pain. Many of my new students have done very little before starting HEMA in the way of sports, and are typically rather sedentary, with all the muscular imbalances and failings that a sedentary lifestyle brings. I know I was just as guilty of this as they are. As a HEMA teacher, I need both to work to correct my own muscular imbalances so that I can fight better, and I need to help my students to overcome their own muscular imbalances, both for the sake of their fighting ability and their long term health. I’ll be concentrating on the hip for this post because addressing all possible muscular imbalances across the body would take far too long, and in my experience many physiological problems seem to originate from imbalances within the hips.

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Insights into teaching sports from the point of view of an asthma-sufferer

This article today was written by Colin Farrell, a member of the Academy of Historical Arts, to help address what he perceives as a serious gap in provision in the current teaching of historical fencing. He hopes that this article will be beneficial for many teachers in the hobby.

Starting from the age of 4 or 5 I have taken part in a variety of sports, as a new learner, as an experienced learner and as an instructor. What has struck me over the years is a noticeable lack of knowledge about asthma, which I have thought peculiar given that nearly 5.5 million people in the UK suffer from it to some degree and the number is steadily increasing, especially amongst children. That’s just under 1 in every 10 people in the UK. That means that any sports class you’ve been in will almost certainly have had an asthmatic or two present. And yet most instructors have at best minimal knowledge of how to deal with asthmatics, and at worst have complete misperceptions of how to deal with them. I hope to be able to provide a basic level of accurate knowledge to you all here, to let you deal better with the situation should it arise.

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1st Year Anniversary for Encased in Steel

Two authors of Encased in Steel, actually encased in steel!

Hello everyone! Today is a rather special day as it marks one full year since the first post on this blog. Encased in Steel has been running for a full year as of today.

We have seen an ever-increased amount of traffic coming through the blog: in January 2011, before the blog went online, we had 176 unique visitors make a total of 245 visits to the domain name. With the blog coming online in February 2011, this rose to 369 unique people making 584 visits. Every month thereafter saw growth:

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