This guest article has been provided by Tea Kew, of the Cambridge HEMA club.
It’s very common for historical fencers to cross-train in other martial arts. Sport fencing and various other forms of swordsmanship are perhaps the most common, because of their obvious application for the use of swords. The value of training in wrestling is often overlooked. However, most of our early longsword manuals are clear about the importance of wrestling for fencing, and so dedicating some time to studying a form of wrestling can be extremely valuable (see an argument for wrestling on this blog). Judo is one of the most widely accessible forms of wrestling, and therefore is a particularly good candidate for cross-training.
Keith Farrell and Robert Schwartz (Zander) sparring with longswords at Edgebana 2015.
The “afterblow” can be one of the most contentious issues in the HEMA community, depending on the person or people with whom you speak. I used to disapprove of the concept myself, but over the last few years, I have recognised it to be a valuable training method with genuinely important outcomes. I would like to share a few of my recent thoughts on the matter.
Keith Farrell with a Polish hussar sabre. The shoulders are set properly, the back muscles are engaged, the head is upright, and this position is well-structured. Photo by Miroslav Zaruba, 2013.
I am currently 28 years old. I have been practising HEMA for around 6 years, although I also have 14 years of experience in karate. As I approach my 30s, I feel that I can no longer rely on my body and my physical attributes in quite the same fashion as I could when I was 18; I can’t just push myself to my limits and then expect to be without aches the following day, nor can I shrug off injuries in the knowledge that I will heal within a week. I have been lucky enough to have spent a total of 18 years practising martial arts without taking any long term injuries, but I’m aware that they could be just around the corner if I don’t pay attention to what I am doing.
Keith Farrell fencing with Joshua Stocks at Edgebana 2016.
Fear is an interesting emotion. It can be a distinctly negative and problematic emotion, crippling you with anxiety when you need clarity of thought, rooting you to the floor when you really need to move, and preventing you from seizing the opportunities that you need to take.
However, it can also be a beneficial emotion, by warning you that an idea is likely to go wrong, or that a course of action will lead to negative outcomes. Fear can keep you in line and force you to pay attention to defending yourself, which is not necessarily a bad thing! Read more
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?
This week’s guest article is courtesy of Tea Kew, from the Cambridge HEMA club.
One of the most common questions on HEMA forums and Facebook groups, perhaps the most common after “Where’s my nearest club?” and “What sword should I get?”, is some variation of “What protective gear should I get?” or “Is this piece of equipment worthwhile?”. Normally this is asked by new fencers, who are looking for the best balance of cost and effectiveness to equip themselves for safe training.
The general answer is always basically the same: buy the de-facto standard HEMA gear, from reputable HEMA-specific manufacturers.
In this article, we’ll look at some general principles to use when buying gear, that help explain why to buy the standard kit instead of alternatives. Depending on your local situation, some of this standard equipment might be difficult to obtain, but understanding these principles means you can make much more informed decisions about how to select replacements if necessary.
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.
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.
Protective gear is obviously of vital importance to HEMA practitioners, as it serves a key purpose: it makes practicing HEMA safer. The downsides of wearing protective gear sometimes get raised, and typically people identify three main problems that they believe protective gear causes: people acting recklessly from feeling over protected, a lack of mobility, and a build up of heat. All of these can present problems; however, these problems can be overcome, and unless you are practicing in a specific and controlled context, then wearing insufficient protective gear can be an even bigger problem.
To start with the issue of people acting rashly because of protection, it is often argued that people wearing too much protective gear will simply start acting foolishly, simply because they no longer feel threatened. The idea is that if someone is wearing someone so much protective equipment they don’t feel hits at all, then they won’t try to defend themselves. This makes sense in some contexts, and less sense in others, as the amount of safety protection that is required and is reasonable depends on the levels of force being used. Making a blanket statement like “wearing lots of protective gear means that people won’t feel hits” doesn’t make much sense. If someone is wearing a lot of protection, but they are in an international tournament, and are fencing against opponents who use a lot of force, then they will probably still feel some level of threat. If they were to wear that exact same amount of protection in a far slower environment with lower levels of power being used, then they might less threatened. The problem isn’t just if people are wearing too much protection, the question is: are they wearing the right amount of protection for the environment they are in? Some environments simply require more protective gear than others, and if someone is wearing a fair amount of protective gear, but that amount of protective gear is what their context calls for, then it is not useful to say that protective gear makes people act unsafely, or that it distorts the art.
The Titan X-Change HEMA Mask
One of the most important pieces of safety equipment that we can own is our fencing mask, and for this reason it is often worth spending more money on the fencing mask compared to other items of safety equipment. A head injury is simply more likely to present a serious problem than an injury than to many other parts of the body.
We are now seeing more masks being developed specifically for HEMA, such as the masks by Gajardoni, or the Titan X-Change HEMA mask by Leon Paul which I’ll be reviewing today. I would argue that there is no true, mass-produced mask built for purpose. In an ideal world, a mask built for HEMA would have integrated back of head protection and an overlay above the mesh, or using solid plates instead of just wire mesh around the top and sides of the head. This would prevent us needing separate masks and overlays; in the mean time however, this isn’t a huge problem and we can continue to use masks and overlays, as long as the masks themselves of sufficient quality.
The Titan X-Change HEMA mask is part of Leon Paul’s Titan Range, which is mostly based off of SPES’s range of HEMA equipment. The Titan mask is an upgraded version of Leon Paul’s prior X-Change masks, featuring several enhancements.