Making Mutieren work in sparring

The “Mutieren” technique, shown in the Goliath manuscript: MS Germ.Quart.2020, folio 17v.

Following on from my article about how to make techniques work in sparring, I would like to present a case study from my own recent training. Over the last two or three months, I have begun to have more success at applying the Mutieren during sparring with the longsword.

If you are unfamiliar with this technique, it is somewhat similar to the croisé in classical and modern fencing; winding an attack from the upper openings down to thrust into the lower openings, maintaining blade contact with the opponent’s sword for greater safety.[1] With the longsword, because it is so easy for the opponent to lever his sword around to make another strike, it can be quite daunting to try to attempt this technique, and it is often a technique that many longsword fencers struggle to perform successfully.

This is the process through which I have learned to apply the technique more successfully.

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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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Good fencing, bad fencing, and incorrect fencing

Is playing a game of parry/riposte an example of “correct fencing” or “incorrect fencing” for the system that you study? For sabre, it is often an example of “good” and “correct” fencing. What about for longsword?

Can “good fencing” ever be considered “bad fencing” or “incorrect fencing” at the same time?

Sometimes people integrate actions or concepts into their sparring that could be described as “good fencing”. However, sometimes these actions or concepts might also be described as “bad fencing”  or “incorrect fencing” at the same time, and I think this is an interesting paradox that is somewhat unique to historical fencing.

This article will present a few examples, and it is not the intention to say that any one skill or behaviour or idea is “bad” or “incorrect” all the time. Rather, the intention is to suggest circumstances that may lead to certain actions or concepts changing from “good” to “bad”, or vice versa, or perhaps remaining “good” but suffering from being “incorrect” according to the system. If you take from this article the inspiration to think about these notions, then I will have achieved my purpose, and hopefully more people will consider what counts as “correct fencing” in the system that they study.

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Minimal gear sparring and the “Blössfechten” format

Alex fencing with minimal gear with Aäron Faes at Fechtschule Brugge.
Photo by Pjay Peere.

Last weekend I was at the wonderful HEMA event Fechtschule Brugge, run by the Hallebardiers. One of the most interesting things about the event to me was their sparring format, which they referred to as Blössfechten, or just Blöss.

Of course most longsword practitioners aim to practice Blössfechten (as opposed to Harnischfechten, or fencing in armour), but generally this will be done wearing quite a lot of protective equipment, such as a gambeson or fencing jacket, chest protector, gorget, heavy gloves etc. Instead the fencers at the Halleberdiers prefer to fence with a mask, light gloves and nothing else. I sparred a fair amount over the course of the event, and I only wore my sparring gloves and jacket for a single sparring bout. I fought all the rest of my bouts in their Blöss format, and I also competed in their King of the Hill Blöss tournament.

To do this safely, there was a heavy emphasis on control, and the mask was the only valid target as it was the only protected part of the body. Further, as the Hallebardiers are working in the Fechtschule tradition of the 16th century and later, thrusts were not allowed.

The very tight focus of the sparring (cuts to the head only) did mean that you could fight with a relatively high amount of intensity, as long as you had sufficient control of your sword, i.e. you could strike to the head with real intent, but you had to be prepared to abort an attack if the opponent moved in a way you did not expect, such as moving his hands in the way.

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An argument for wrestling

In today’s article, I’m going to be outlining a few reasons to start grappling in HEMA classes, and in longsword classes in particular. Some people just train longsword in isolation, which is strange from a historical point of view, as a medieval fencer would not just have trained in one weapon, they would have trained in many combat arts, including wrestling. Training longsword in isolation like that is not the best way to develop martial skills either I feel. Other HEMAists already include grappling in their training regime, and they should continue to do so; this article is aimed at groups that don’t already do any grappling, and will outline a few reasons why they should.

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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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Caution and fear with the longsword

“…if you fear easily, you should not learn the art of fencing, because a fragile discouraged heart, it does no good when it becomes struck by any art.”
Sigmund ain Ringeck. MS Dresden C487. C.1504-1519. Translated by Christian Trosclair. Folio 16V.


As I’ve pointed out before on this blog, the context of modern HEMA sparring is very different to the sort of fighting (either real fighting or sparring) that might have taken place in the medieval period. One of the big differences is how we might feel during a fight, which will then determine how we act.

During the recent HEMAC Glasgow event, we were having a roundtable discussion on style and HEMA, and the problem of context came up, namely that we are fighting in a radically different context, and that therefore the stylistic elements that we are inclined to show in sparring may be different from the elements that we should be showing if we were remaining completely true to the methods seen in the manuscripts that we work from. One of the suggested solutions to this problem was fencing with no protective equipment. The idea is that because people would not be wearing protective equipment, they would fear the opponent’s sword a lot more, and so would act more cautiously and safely and therefore they would fence in a way that more closely match the manuscripts. Essentially, this argument would cultivate a fencer’s fear in order to keep them fighting in a more stylistically pure fashion.

This idea does sound reasonable, and it may apply to some styles; however it raises an interesting question about how to manage fear within the Liechtenauer tradition, and what exact mental state best matches the mental state that Liechtenauer might have wanted us to have. We could try to encourage a more cautious, fearful approach, but this does not necessarily meet the stylistic elements of early KDF.

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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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Feints with the Longsword, according to Ringeck

A feder in a field, at AHA Loch Lomond 2013.
Photo by Elliot Howie.

A common action in modern fencing is that of “feinting”: setting up a situation so that it looks like you intend to do one thing, when in fact this is a trick, because you actually want to do something else. If the opponent falls for your trick, then he creates an opening that you can exploit. A very common example of feinting is to perform an attack toward one opening, then when the opponent makes to parry your attack, to take your sword away and attack into a different opening instead.

However, is feinting a big part of Liechtenauer’s system of unarmoured fencing with the longsword? It is common to see people utilising feints in sparring, but are these actually part of the system?

This article will examine the advice presented in Ringeck’s gloss of Liechtenauer’s Zettel. Other sources within the tradition may well offer different advice, and I would encourage other practitioners to examine the issue from these other points of view. To make this interesting, I will play Devil’s Advocate, and will argue the stance that feints should not be used as frequently as most people (myself included) use them in the sparring.

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Fight with all your strength

One method of training that is quite popular amongst certain groups is fencing slowly, possibly using minimal safety gear, or even sharp swords, during sparring. The use of minimal gear or sharp swords will of course force the fencers to spar more slowly for reasons of safety. Alternatively, some fencers may spar at higher speeds but at the same time may avoid striking with any force. This is often because fencers may have an idea that striking quickly, with strength and with force is somehow incorrect[1].

Personally, I do believe that sparring with minimal gear, and sparring at slow speeds is very important and useful[2]. However, if this becomes the only or dominant form of training, then this may represent a problem. A fencer who never fences at high speed with force is a fencer who does not know how to deal with an opponent who will fence against them at high speed with force.

Others have outlined the problems of never fencing with speed and strength[3], but I wanted to take a further look at this issue from the perspective of advice given in some of the longsword treatises[4].

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