Tag Archives: instructing

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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Why we shouldn’t accept injuries

Two weeks ago I wrote a post on Getting Used to Protective Gear. One of the reasons that it is important to get used to protective gear is so that we can wear the appropriate protection and thereby reduce our risk of injury. It is important that we do what we can to reduce the risk of injury, whether that is through wearing high quality protective gear, restricting target areas, deliberately controlling the intensity of the fight or any combination of the above.

Sometimes HEMAists dismiss the risk of injury, but there are several reasons why we should take injuries seriously, and make attempts to prevent them if our practices are unsafe.

It is worth bearing in mind that HEMA is a contact sport, and so of course, injuries will happen, and that when they do, we should simply move on with life. If we couldn’t accept any risk of injury at all, then we would never leave the house. I have had several patellar dislocations, and every time after I recovered, I went straight back to HEMA, but I’ve also done everything I can to prevent that happening to me in future. Fundamentally I believe that all HEMAist must make concerted actions to prevent injuries, for yourself, your training partners, and your students.

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Learning how to learn from play

Keith Farrell (left) fencing with Federico Malagutti (right). Not much protective gear, but suitable gear for the type of sparring and to achieve the purpose of the exercise.

Keith Farrell (left) fencing with Federico Malagutti (right). Not much protective gear, but suitable gear for the type of sparring and to achieve the purpose of the exercise.

In martial arts, broadly speaking, there are two types of training exercise: those where you have a specific goal to accomplish, and those where you do not.

It is my belief that exercises without a specific and achievable goal are only useful for experienced practitioners who have already learned how to learn during play. For beginners who have not yet learned this skill, all exercises must have a well-defined goal to strive towards.

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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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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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Doing it right, or just doing it

Keith demonstrating a technique with John during a training session.

Keith demonstrating a technique with John during a training session.

One of the ideas that causes problems for a lot of people across the world is the idea that whatever you want to do has to be right, or perfect, before you begin.

People delay opening a business until the “perfect” moment, and then never quite manage to open up. People keep planning their novel, adding more and more detail to their world, but never quite end up writing the story. People decide that they don’t want to put themselves forward as an instructor of HEMA until they understand it properly – and so clubs never quite take off.

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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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Trusting your Training

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

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

People often train a technique in a certain fashion during the drills and exercises of their weekly training session, but then modify the technique when placed under the stress of sparring. Indeed, people who have trained a technique rigorously, when confronted with a test cutting exercise for the first time, will often abandon their training and modify the technique to work better as they believe it must.

Naturally, this often results in failures, in sparring and in cutting, because the student abandons his or her training and begins to make it up on the spot. This occurs when a student does not trust his training, or does not trust his skill at the technique to keep him safe, or does not trust that his sword will protect him.

Therefore, a large part of the instructor’s job is to instill a level of trust in his students: trust in the training they have performed, trust in the mechanics of their strike, and trust in the weapon itself.

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