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.

Fashion throughout history: wearing clothes “incorrectly”

“Handmade White Chaperon” image from an article by Vicky Binns on the Modern Medievalist blog: http://modernmedievalist.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/profile-in-excellence-vicky-binns.html

It can be all too easy to look at people who wear their clothes incorrectly, to make a disapproving face, and say something like: “kids these days… Back in my day, we wore our trousers properly.” While I don’t mind people wearing their baseball caps in whatever direction (the brim does help to keep the sun from burning skin), some other fashions do annoy me a little.

However, looking back in history, there are examples of people wearing clothes “incorrectly”, and apparently they must have done so often enough to create new fashions. This article will look briefly at a few of these examples.

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Historical Research using Archived Material

Today’s blog article is courtesy of Andy Lawrence, who studies HEMA with us in Glasgow, and who makes frequent research trips to museums, libraries and archives.

It is a common idea that “research” involves going to a dusty library and poring over old documents. However, so much information is available online, why might someone actually need to visit a library? What sort of research tasks can be accomplished by visiting a library, and how might one go about arranging this kind of research visit?

This short article relates to my experience of conducting research using various archives that have digitised documents to make them available on-line, and also how I have used reading rooms at archives and libraries where the information is currently only available offline, on paper.

Significant amounts of time may be saved by knowing before your visit what it is that you would like to find out, rather than searching randomly for information. Searches can then be filtered to try and find any documents or images that may be relevant. In my case, the purpose of the exercise was to try and find a date and location for a particular photograph. The photo in question is that of my great grandfather, Charles Lawrence, who was rumoured to have been photographed in Japan whilst he served in the Royal Navy in the late 19th century.

Charles Lawrence, who was rumoured to have been photographed in Japan whilst he served in the Royal Navy in the late 19th century.

Charles Lawrence, who was rumoured to have been photographed in Japan whilst he served in the Royal Navy in the late 19th century.

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Can a modern person move like a medieval or renaissance fencer?

Codex icon.394a, 1467, folio 113r.

Codex icon.394a, 1467, folio 113r.

The immediate follow-up question to the title of this article would be: “Should a modern person move like a medieval or renaissance fencer?”

Since the origins of the current period of HEMA reconstruction, debates have raged about the correct way to perform footwork and whether or not we should wear historical footwear. Some people believe that using historical footwear holds the key to understanding footwork in HEMA systems, while other people believe that it is largely irrelevant. Other people hold a point of view somewhere in the middle, perhaps thinking that it is a good idea, but just not taking the plunge to begin using historical footwear themselves.

Regardless of one’s point of view on the matter, there is an interesting observation to be made about one of the difficulties inherent in using historical footwear to inform our studies of footwork in HEMA: can we actually make any sense of what historical footwear would tell us?

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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.

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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HEMA myths and fact-checking

Today I want to talk very briefly about the importance of fact checking things you say. It is not uncommon to hear people repeat “facts” that they have heard. They may go on to repeat these anecdotes or pieces of information in a conversation, or in a class. The people that hear these “facts” can then go to repeat them at a later time, and so these statements are continually brought up and told to new people without anyone actually checking if these “facts” actually have any basis in fact.

Three examples of this that spring to mind in particular are that:

– Italian longsword is flashy compared to the straight-forward German longsword system,
– that the messer was a weapon designed to get by through legal loopholes
– and that it was the advent of the gun in Europe that made swordsmanship skills die off.

These “facts” are all old; however I hear them repeated every now and again. It is therefore worth quickly debunking these stories.

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The advantage of lighter swords for training

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

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

You often hear the advice that you should train with a heavier weapon, in order to improve your strength, balance, coordination, stamina, whatever. In fact, this notion is recorded as early as Vegetius, who wrote about Roman training methods. Alex Bourdas has written an article on this blog previously about the advantages and disadvantages of training with heavier weapons.

 

This article will set out my current thoughts to argue that in fact lighter swords are very beneficial for beginners, and that people should not rush into using a heavier sword before they are ready.

 

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Book Review: “Sport and Physical Education in the Middle Ages” by Earle F. Zeigler

“Sport and Physical Education in the Middle Ages” by Earle F. Zeigler.

I have recently finished reading through what promised to be a fascinating book with great relevance to the study of historical fencing: Sport and Physical Education in the Middle Ages, by Dr Earle F. Zeigler.[1] Unfortunately, I have very little positive to say about the book, as it was full of glaring problems and issues. This review is going to explain why the book has been put together poorly, and will attempt to show why proper attention to editing and adherence to reasonably high standards are important, even in self-published works.

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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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