Five reasons to study Judo

This guest article has been provided by Tea Kew, of the Cambridge HEMA club. 

It’s very common for historical fencers to cross-train in other martial arts. Sport fencing and various other forms of swordsmanship are perhaps the most common, because of their obvious application for the use of swords. The value of training in wrestling is often overlooked. However, most of our early longsword manuals are clear about the importance of wrestling for fencing, and so dedicating some time to studying a form of wrestling can be extremely valuable (see an argument for wrestling on this blog). Judo is one of the most widely accessible forms of wrestling, and therefore is a particularly good candidate for cross-training.

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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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Come to an Understanding with your Fear

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

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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Review of Edgebana 2016

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.

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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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Is it acceptable to teach non-HEMA techniques in a HEMA lesson?

Image of Kendo c.1920. The fencer on the right is in chudan-no-kamae. Image taken from Wikipedia.
Is it useful to take a similar position or technique from another martial art, adopt into our HEMA practice?

This is a question that does come up every so often when someone with non-HEMA experience discusses the idea of setting up a HEMA club. Of course it seems like quite a reasonable idea to continue teaching the non-HEMA material with which you are familiar, and there are probably techniques from your previous training that would be useful in various situations in HEMA sparring.

I worked through this process myself, several years ago, when I started looking at HEMA after spending around fourteen years studying karate. I had achieved my 3rd dan black belt in karate, and I thought that importing some karate techniques and concepts would help to shore up any of the many deficiencies I perceived in the HEMA systems I was trying to learn.

However, with more experience of HEMA now, I can see quite clearly that the biggest and most important deficiency was my own lack of skill at the systems I was trying to learn! Now I know that these systems can deal with almost any problem (within the appropriate context) if I apply the techniques and concepts properly – and if I need to solve a problem in a different context, I just use a different (and more appropriate) system.

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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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