Tag Archives: martial arts

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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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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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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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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A Chronology of Books by D.A. Kinsley (Feb 2016 update)

Cover of “Swordsmen of Britannia” by D.A. Kinsley.

D.A. Kinsley is a researcher and author who has been of tremendous service to the HEMA community. His area of interest is that of first-hand accounts of British military engagements and civilian encounters during the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, and his published works have compiled thousands of these first-hand accounts.

These compilations are immensely valuable for researchers and practitioners of historical fencing, as they provide primary sources to describe the use and effects of the swords that we study, along with significant amounts of context and supporting information to guide our study and understanding of our subject.

Kinsley has been extremely industrious in collecting and publishing these accounts, and this has led to a rather confusing chronology of his books as they come into print and then go out of print, becoming available or unavailable at the drop of a hat.

Personally, I am interested in how all of Kinsley’s books fit together in sequence, since the edition and version numbers appear to be somewhat arbitrary and are not straight-forward. Since in my own work I will doubtless be citing the book by Kinsley that is on my shelf (and probably others in the future!), I wanted to be able to provide a correct bibliographic information for it – but because it is the first book with that particular name, yet supposedly third in a series, that poses a problem that is not easy to solve!

At least if the chronology of his works could be set out in a blog article somewhere, then it would be possible to look at that article and timeline and work out exactly how best to cite any of his books in a bibliography. My intention is to do exactly this task in this blog article, and to suggest a possible bibliographic reference for each of the books mentioned.

My was published through Encased in Steel on the 9th of October 2016. This current article is the first update, since D.A. Kinsley has recently published some new work since the previous article went live on the blog.

Note: this article has been updated on 20th February 2016 to correct some errors, based on further information most kindly provided by L. Braden.

 

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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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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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A Chronology of Books by D.A. Kinsley

Cover of “Swordsmen of Britannia” by D.A. Kinsley.

 

D.A. Kinsley is a researcher and author who has been of tremendous service to the HEMA community. His area of interest is that of first-hand accounts of British military engagements during the 18th and 19th centuries, and his published works have compiled thousands of these first-hand accounts.

 

These compilations are immensely valuable for researchers and practitioners of historical fencing, as they provide primary sources to describe the use and effects of the swords that we study, along with significant amounts of context and supporting information to guide our study and understanding of our subject.

 

Kinsley has been extremely industrious in collecting and publishing these accounts, and this has led to a rather confusing chronology of his books as they come into print and then go out of print, becoming available or unavailable at the drop of a hat.

 

Personally, I am interested in how all of Kinsley’s books fit together in sequence, since the edition and version numbers appear to be somewhat arbitrary and are not straight-forward. Since in my own work I will doubtless be citing the book by Kinsley that is on my shelf (and probably others in the future!), I wanted to be able to provide a correct bibliographic information for it – but because it is the first book with that particular name, yet supposedly third in a series, that poses a problem that is not easy to solve!

 

At least if the chronology of his works could be set out in a blog article somewhere, then it would be possible to look at that article and timeline and work out exactly how best to cite any of his books in a bibliography. My intention is to do exactly this task in this blog article, and to suggest a possible bibliographic reference for each of the books mentioned.

 

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Five reasons to learn foil fencing

Maksim and Ben fencing with foils in the cloisters at the University of Glasgow.

Maksim and Ben fencing with foils in the cloisters at the University of Glasgow.

Many practitioners of historical fencing have little interest in the modern fencing disciplines, preferring the historical disciplines for a variety of reasons. However, every so often, the question arises: “is it worth learning modern fencing?”

My advice is that if you have the opportunity, it is worth spending some time learning foil fencing. There are some quite tangible benefits that come with this practice, and you cannot go far wrong by giving yourself this experience, even for a short while.

You do not need to learn foil fencing to be able to learn one of the historical disciplines. In fact trying to retrofit foil concepts into historical systems such as those for the longsword can actually hold back your development and throw up red herrings as you work with the older treatises. If you do take up foil fencing, treat it a what it is: its own self-contained discipline, that may have some similarities to other fencing systems, along with many key differences.

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