Making Mutieren work in sparring

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

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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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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Unusual techniques 2: building on common techniques is an effective strategy

Mark Wilkie and Keith Farrell sparring at the AHA Loch Lomond 2012 training camp.

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

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

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.

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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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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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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