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 www.keithfarrell.net 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.

Musing on “doing HEMA”

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A question that came to my mind recently, after watching a fairly cringeworthy piece on historical fencing by the BBC, was this: is it better to do HEMA badly, or not to do it at all? Phrased differently: is it better just not to do HEMA if you cannot do it well?

My current answer is that it is still worth doing HEMA even if it is not being done well, and we should be encouraging more people to start doing HEMA and to keep doing HEMA, even if the performance is not great in the beginning.

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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.

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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Come to an Understanding with your Fear

Keith Farrell fencing with Joshua Stocks at Edgebana 2016.

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

Review of Edgebana 2016

Medals and prizes from the Edgebana 2016 competitive event.

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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Buying HEMA Gear

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This week’s guest article is courtesy of Tea Kew, from the Cambridge HEMA club.

One of the most common questions on HEMA forums and Facebook groups, perhaps the most common after “Where’s my nearest club?” and “What sword should I get?”, is some variation of “What protective gear should I get?” or “Is this piece of equipment worthwhile?”. Normally this is asked by new fencers, who are looking for the best balance of cost and effectiveness to equip themselves for safe training.

The general answer is always basically the same: buy the de-facto standard HEMA gear, from reputable HEMA-specific manufacturers.

In this article, we’ll look at some general principles to use when buying gear, that help explain why to buy the standard kit instead of alternatives. Depending on your local situation, some of this standard equipment might be difficult to obtain, but understanding these principles means you can make much more informed decisions about how to select replacements if necessary.

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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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How should a new club set its attendance fee?

A photograph of a group exercise about range and distance, taken at one of the practices at RMAS in Dundee.

A photograph of a group exercise about range and distance, taken at one of the practices at RMAS in Dundee.

One of the most difficult decisions you have to make when setting up a new club is to decide how much to charge for participation in your training sessions. If you set the rate too low, then you will have difficulty paying for hall hire and meeting your financial obligations. If you set it too high, then people might not be willing to pay that much, and you will have difficulty finding and retaining members.

Nonetheless, it is my opinion (based on significant experience teaching at both an amateur and professional level) that it is better to set a higher price than a lower price.

Rather than picking a number out of thin air, it is important to consider the matter carefully, and to choose a number that works for you and your club. It is not necessarily helpful to base your choice on what other clubs in the area may charge for sessions, since they may have advantages (or disadvantages) that you do not have.

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Triangulation for Martial Arts

Keith Farrell cutting a cardboard mailing tube with an Oberhaw.

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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