Tag Archives: timing

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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Attacking the Hands in Sparring


Every so often, I come across a discussion (online and in person, in roughly equal quantities) where people debate the merits and problems of including hands as a valid target area when fencing. Usually this is with regard to longsword, but sometimes with other weapons as well.


It is my firm belief that the hands are important targets when learning how to fence, and this article will set out my thoughts on the matter.

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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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The Emergence of Historical Technique in Modern Tournaments

Edgbana 100

One of the criticisms that is often leveled at modern competitions for historical fencing is that the fighting seen in the bouts does not look like what is described or illustrated in the Fechtbücher, and that the style of fighting is more like “sport fencing” or “playing tag” than “proper fencing”.


Many people bemoan the state of the current HEMA movement, especially with regard to the medieval weapons such as longsword, messer, and sword and buckler. However, I believe that we can see something more interesting, and much more hopeful in the general trends.


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Sparring: not always the best training method to become better at sparring

This article marks the 150th post on Encased in Steel! We have been posting at least once a week since February 2011 without a break. If you appreciate our work, please share the blog with your friends and club mates, and help even more people to access and read our articles.

Keith and Ben facing off with sabres on the banks of Loch Lomond.

I have often come into contact with the idea that the best way to become good at sparring is to practice lots of sparring. This does have some kind of logic behind it: after all, the saying is: “practice makes perfect.” However, in my opinion, there are much better ways to become better at fighting than just sparring a lot. Certainly, plenty of sparring is important to the development of a martial artist, but training cleverly is better than training hard – as long as you work hard at training cleverly!

This article will seek to illustrate some of my thoughts about the issue.

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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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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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Myths of the Short Person in Martial Arts

As a relatively short person (5 feet 6 inches, or roughly 168 centimetres in height), I have heard all kinds of “advice” and platitudes in my decade and a half of involvement with martial arts. People have lots of very strange ideas about how short people should fight, and produce some very dangerous and ill-conceived advice!

This article will seek to address some of the myths and advice that I have heard given to short fencers, and will hopefully put to rest the silliest of the ideas!

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Keith Farrell’s workshop in Toulouse – some reviews

This week’s article is a set of reviews from members of L’Ost du Griffon Noir, a HEMA club that practices in Toulouse in the south of France. At the end of January, they invited Keith Farrell from the Academy of Historical Arts to run a weekend workshop about Liechtenauer’s longsword. The overarching principles of the workshop were the “five words” of Liechtenauer’s art:

“the five words: Before [Vor], After [Nach], Weak [Weich], Strong [Hart] and Instantly [Indes]. On these words are built the whole art of Liechtenauer, and they are the foundation and core of all fencing on foot or on horseback, with armour or without.”

William Bouillez and some of the other members of L’Ost du Griffon Noir have been kind enough to write some short reviews about the workshop from their points of view.

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“Aggressive” vs “Assertive” for Martial Arts

Apologies for the late update. There was supposed to be a guest article this week, but it didn’t arrive in time, and I have been at the Dreynevent in Vienna over the weekend. I hope this article will be an interesting and valuable substitute, and that the guest article will follow in the very near future!

Should a combatant be “aggressive” or “assertive” when fighting? Is an instructor helping his (or her) students by telling them to be more aggressive when sparring, or is this advice flawed? Is there a difference between fighting aggressively and fighting assertively?

I believe that combatants should always strive to fight assertively, and the word “aggressive” should only ever be given negative connotations – it should never be encouraged or taught!

In almost a decade and a half of karate practice, and several years of practicing historical European martial arts, I have heard the word “aggressive” used in a positive fashion very often – far too often. I know many people who have been encouraged by an instructor to be more aggressive in their fighting, and indeed I know people who ask for help with becoming more aggressive when fighting. In my opinion, this whole point of view is flawed at a very basic level, and I would like to explain in this article why I believe martial artists need to make a fundamental shift in their point of view with regards to “aggressiveness” and “assertiveness”.

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