Belfast Bladeworks 2016 Review

Me fencing against Andrzej Rozycki. Photo copyright of Michael Barbour/2nd Shooter, 2016.

Me fencing against Andrzej Rozycki. Photo copyright of Michael Barbour/2nd Shooter, 2016.

 

On the 3rd and 4th of December, I participated in Belfast Bladeworks 2016, which was, as the locals would have said, good craic. Belfast Bladeworks was an open longsword tournament, and was the fourth tournament of the Irish Historical Fencing League 2016.

I hadn’t been to any of the previous league events, so I didn’t have the chance to rank high in the league, but I’ve always enjoyed my interactions so far with the Irish HEMA community, and wanted to get a chance to fence with some of them again.

The original plan for the event didn’t quite work, as numbers were lower than expected, possibly due to how close the event was to Christmas. The Saturday had meant to be taken up by the tournament, to be followed by a Fechtschule on the Sunday, although the lower turnout meant these activities didn’t take as long as the time allotted to them.

There were 14 people participating in the tournament, and I understand the previous events in the I.H.F.L.  had a much higher turnout. The venue was on the smaller side though, so I think the number of participants was about right for the amount of space available.

The quality of the fencing was high through-out. In several of the pool fights I had to remind myself after the first exchange to keep focussed and not to under-estimate my opponents. I was very proud of my fencing overall though and ultimately won all but one of my pool fights, and so advanced to the eliminations stage.

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Some thoughts about the “afterblow”

Keith Farrell and Robert Schwartz (Zander) sparring with longswords at Edgebana 2015.

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.

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The perspective of a tournament organiser

Keith Farrell receiving a hit from Gordon Love at the AHA Glasgow Broadsword Tournament 2016. Photo by Andy Lawrence.

Keith Farrell receiving a hit from Gordon Love at the AHA Glasgow Broadsword Tournament 2016. Photo by Andy Lawrence.

About a month ago, the Academy of Historical Arts ran a broadsword competition in Glasgow, with a new rule set that was quite a significant departure from other rules we have used in the past.

In this article, I would like to share my thoughts as the tournament organiser, to discuss what I was trying to achieve with the event, and what some of the results and learning points were at the end of the event.

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Training for the future

 

Keith Farrell with a Polish hussar sabre. Photo by Miroslav Zaruba, 2013.

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.

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Come to an Understanding with your Fear

Keith Farrell fencing with Joshua Stocks at Edgebana 2016.

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

Developing judging skills

AHA fencers judging at the recent Broadsword Tournament Trial Run

AHA fencers judging at the recent Broadsword Tournament Trial Run

One of the skills that is very important for a HEMA practitioner is judging. The overall quality of a tournament will be affected by poor quality judging, and fencers will enjoy an event far less if they feel the judging was inaccurate, especially if they feel that they, or another fencer, should have won a fight which they lost, and vice versa.

It should be said that judging is difficult, and very often under-appreciated. Judges are more likely to be criticised for poor judging calls than they are to be thanked or congratulated. Additionally judges are often sacrificing their own ability to take part in tournaments by judging.

I believe therefore that criticism of judges should always be moderate, and that any criticism given directly to them should be constructive. However, this is not to say that criticisms about judging don’t have merit, as there are often valid criticisms to make. This means that all judges should try to improve their judging skills.

Even a HEMA practitioner who has never been a judge, and may not be plan on being a judge, should work on their judging skills. Some events ask fencers to act as judges, such as FightCamp, where tournament pools are entirely self judging, or the upcoming AHA Glasgow Broadsword Tournament, where the fighters will rotate through as junior referees under a consistent senior referee. Additionally, fighters should practice judging as that will help them to understand the judging process, hopefully making them more understanding of judges when they might want to give harsh criticism.

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Review of Edgebana 2016

Medals and prizes from the Edgebana 2016 competitive event.

Medals and prizes from the Edgebana 2016 competitive event.

Last weekend, I attended the Edgebana 2016 competitive event, the fourth such event in Dundee. This will be a brief review of the event and my own learning points from the competitions.

There were three tournaments over the course of the weekend: open synthetic longsword, invitational Franco-Belgian, and open steel longsword. I entered all of these tournaments, and will give some brief thoughts on each.

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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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Using unusual techniques

One bit of feedback that I have heard being given quite a few times, and sometimes said myself, is that an opponent did lots of unexpected things in a fight. For example I’ve often heard one fighter say to another that the blows coming in against them were at unusual angles, and so were difficult to deal with. At first, this clearly seems like a good thing. If your attacks are unusual or different in some way, this can often make it much harder for the opponent to parry them, so you therefore should be able to hit the opponent more.

While this article will be focusing on unusual attacks, the same applies to footwork, defences or any other element of fighting. There are many unusual things a fencer could do in a fight: they might try to duck under an incoming strike rather than parry or step back, a broadsworder may use short edge attacks instead of the normal cuts 1 through 6, a longsworder may decide to switch hands mid-fight. There are many other possible examples, and to the fencers making use of them, they may seem useful and valid.

However, doing the unexpected in sparring is not always a good thing, especially for beginning or intermediate fencers. This may sound like a bizarre thing to say, as fighters are normally encouraged not to be predictable, but using unusual techniques is often more of a hindrance than a help. In this article I’ll be outlining a few reasons why this might be the case.

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