Tag Archives: principles

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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Go for the legs!

“The advantage of shifting the leg.” Or: what happens when you attack the leg with a stupid strategy. From Angelo’s Hungarian and Highland Broadsword posters.

It is a common piece of advice for shorter fighters who face taller opponents that they should “go for the legs”. I wrote about this unhelpful piece of advice in a previous article, “Myths of the Short Person in Martial Arts“.

However, with the correct tactical set up, the legs can be a very interesting target to attack, and it can be quite safe to do so. The important thing is to ensure that the opportunity is set up properly, and to recognise when it is not safe to pursue the target.

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Review of a Rapier Seminar with Rob Runacres

Rob Runacres demonstrating a technique with Sam Booth.

On the weekend of the 19th and 20th of September this year, the Academy of Historical Arts hosted Rob Runacres for a weekend in Glasgow, to teach a seminar on rapier fencing.

In the last year or so, there have been a growing number of people in the Academy of Historical Arts who have wanted to begin studying the rapier. So a few months ago, we bought in a box of rapiers, in order to provide loaner swords for people to begin studying the art without needing to invest in their own swords immediately. The second part of our efforts to facilitate the study of rapier in our organisation was to invite Rob to teach a weekend seminar, to give people an introduction to the fundamentals of using the rapier effectively and safely.

I asked Rob to focus heavily on the mechanics of using the weapon, to emphasise the proper way to do the basics. Any beginner can pick up a rapier treatise and begin to interpret the pictures – but a healthy study of the discipline would benefit from input on details such as exactly how to hold the sword, how best to form stance and posture in order to achieve an effective lunge – and, of course, how to lunge properly, to achieve success with the action and without hurting yourself!

Rob is a superb teacher. He stuck to the brief and focused on mechanics, fundamentals, and low level details. Not only did he manage to cover these difficult and complicated subjects, he managed to do so in a manner that was engaging and entertaining. One of the things that I appreciated most of all was that over the entire event, Rob spoke loudly and clearly, so that everyone in the room could hear him and understand what he said. Too many instructors possess great information, but cannot express it loudly and clearly enough to be heard by their students; but Rob made sure that every participant could hear him clearly.

We did not look at any single treatise in isolation. Instead, Rob synthesised salient points from different sources to provide a sensible and coherent introduction to the discipline. By giving a reasonably wide basis to the introduction, discussing and comparing some of the Italian ways of doing things and some of the Spanish methods, he was able to show that different masters and schools had different ways to approach the fight, and that each method had its advantages and disadvantages. Rather than teaching us to follow a single treatise, he equipped us to make sensible choices about what sources to go ahead and study, and showed why we might come across seemingly contradictory advice between sources.

The theme that ran through everything Rob taught was that of personal safety. He was not teaching a sporty, point-scoring method, nor was he teaching an overly-theoretical, image-interpreting method. Instead, he taught a safe and secure method of fencing where the focus was on “not being hit”. There was no room for ego. The fundamentals all involved personal safety, and security when acting. This was exactly what some of the participants needed to hear!

I would encourage anyone to get in touch with Rob about arranging a seminar, if you and your club are interested in learning about the rapier. His knowledge is extensive, his teaching skill excellent, and his ability to demonstrate and put into practice what he teaches is admirable. Not only is he a great instructor to have teach at your event, he is also a very friendly fellow and is a delight to have as a guest.

Rob’s club is the Renaissance Sword Club in Reading, Surrey, and you can contact him through their website:


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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Review of Edgebana 2014; including my learning points

Last weekend I participated in the Kaiser Steel longsword competition at Edgebana 2014, in Dundee. In this article, I will give a brief review of the event, and a more detailed look at some of my learning points from the day.

Previously, I wrote an article about “a methodical approach to using tournaments as part of your strategy to improve your fencing skills”, and entering this competition was part of my strategy to improve my fencing.

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“Interpretive” Systems of HEMA (part 3)

Broadsword and targe in use in a melee (or group combat) scenario, along with combat archery.

This article is continued from part 2 posted yesterday. Today the article provides a set of guidelines and suggestions for how one might approach the issue of recreating an interpretive discipline, to gain as many of the advantages as possible, while minimising the risk of falling foul of the negative aspects as described yesterday.

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“Interpretive” Systems of HEMA (part 2)

An example of German longsword; not an interpretive discipline, and certainly not representative of "Scottish longsword"!

This article is continued from part 1 posted yesterday. Today the article focuses upon the negative side of studying an interpretive discipline – not to put people off the idea, nor to put down the whole idea, but to make practitioners aware of the potential pitfalls and disadvantages of undertaking unstructured and poorly thought out interpretive work.

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“Interpretive” Systems of HEMA (part 1)

An interpretation of some broadsword and targe tactics, where the targe allows the user to perform actions that would otherwise be inadvisable without a shield...

The purpose of this article is to discuss “interpretive” systems of HEMA, and to look at what advantages and disadvantages are associated with such study. For the purposes of this article, the working definition will be as follows:

“interpretive” systems of HEMA

- styles and disciplines of any of the many historical European martial arts where we know that a particular weapon or fighting system was used in history, but where there are no (or very few) sources to describe HOW to do the martial art. Due to the lack of sources for a particular system, HEMAists or enthusiasts who try to reconstruct the system need to be much more interpretive and open to ideas, experimentation or alternative sources of information.

Some examples of interpretive systems would be styles such as Highland broadsword and targe (very few sources), warhammer or mace (virtually no sources), pankration (no comprehensive written source to say HOW it was done), and Viking sword and round shield.

Some examples of styles that involve interpretation work but do not meet the definition above for an interpretive style include Liechtenauer’s longsword (difficult to interpret, but lots of material and sources available), sword and buckler (again, difficult to interpret, but there are sources to describe how to do it), Italian or Spanish rapier styles (maybe confusing and difficult to understand, but lots of sources), and 18th/19th century sabre styles (lots of sources, not very difficult to interpret). If a discipline is supported with a lot of source material to explain how to fight in that fashion, then it tends to be accepted as “normal” or “mostly normal” within the HEMA community, and so this article will not discuss these systems further.

The purpose of this article is not to say that interpretive systems cannot be reconstructed, nor is the purpose to say that such systems should not be reconstructed. This article is not an attempt to pass judgement on what counts as “good” HEMA or “correct” HEMA, since these concepts are very personal and subjective. If this article can help people to think about what disciplines they study, and the advantages and disadvantages inherent in such study, then this article will have achieved its purpose.

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The importance of having many interpretations

One of the major troubles in KDF longsword is coming up with workable interpretations, especially of the Five Strikes, that will keep us safe. Often we may develop an interpretation that works extremely well sometimes, but other times that same interpretation may fail and not keep us safe. A while ago, I suggested an interpretation of the Schaitelhaw that revolves around cutting from out of the opponent’s distance. This must be done with enough of a threat behind it to make the opponent raise their sword from Alber, so that you can bind with their sword, or with their hands (via a slice). I suggested that if someone was in certain guards, such as Alber, you had to besiege them to move them out of that guard and into a position that you could take advantage of. For more on the thought process that led to this interpretation, please read Rushing forward and besieging:


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Validating what we do in martial arts

Goliath (MS Germ.Quart.2020), folio 22r

It is important when we study martial arts of any description that what we do has some kind of purpose and that it is meaningful.

If the purpose is to learn self-defence then we must ensure that the self-defence techniques actually work and are not just empty gestures. Furthermore, we must ensure that the attacks used in the self-defence system are performed in a meaningful fashion and that they relate to sensible and real threats; without a real threat, a self-defence technique cannot be tested, and indeed training against empty threats will make it much more difficult to respond to a real threat effectively.

If the purpose is to reconstruct a historical martial art then we need to ensure that we are reconstructing it as authentically and honestly as possible. If the style uses a cutting weapon then we need to ensure that how we perform the strikes will actually cut; if the style involves parries then we need to ensure that the structures and mechanics are in place to form a competent parry against a strong and committed attack. Without the ability to make a competent attack, then the ability to practice forming a competent parry is reduced and compromised.

In the Academy of Historical Arts, we believe that “validation” of techniques is important. This article will seek to examine some of the tests that we use, and will attempt to explain why we believe that validation is important.

Definition of “validate”: To establish the soundness of; corroborate. According to http://www.thefreedictionary.com/validate

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