Skip to main content

Does "gentlemanly conduct" bias your practice?

"They utterly ignore the rules and customs of gentlemanly fencing, and betake themselves to mere fighting of a nature scarcely creditable to a Whitechapel rough" - Alfred Hutton, Cold Steel pg 43

The rules and customs of "Gentlemanly" fencing as outlined in Hutton and presumably ubiquitous in later fencing treatises has been hugely influential for setting HEMA custom. The format of entering measure, touching blades/saluting, then taking one step back and adopting a guard before starting an exercise or bout is deeply ingrained in many fencers practice and is clearly visible in historical fencing culture, particularly at tournaments. 

"To ENGAGE. Having performed the salute, cross the blades, and tap them smartly together twice; then draw back the left foot so as to be out of distance, and come to guard." - Alfred Hutton, Cold Steel pg 42

However I wonder if many people consciously consider the impact this is having on their practice? When you consider the era and system of combat from which this was born, it's often completely inappropriate practice for the system you are studying. 

For example using this practice for technique from Meyer's or I.33 results in outcomes that look little like the treatise. That's because systems, like Meyer, require an assertive opening phase of combat that doesn't work within a passive "gentlemanly" paradigm. From a Meyer perspective specifically (and from the perspective of more aggressive systems in general) there are big problems with:

1. Starting bouts and exercises within what is relatively close measure
2. Starting within static "settled" guard positions

If your system is largely defensive, i.e. involves waiting in a particular guard position or cautiously entering measure with half steps until you can bind, then Hutton's system makes great sense. However if you're trying to enact assertive attacking philosophies driving through dynamic "covering" guard positions they do not work well from this start position.

"When you want to fence with someone on the fencing not place yourself in your guard immediately, so that the adversary does not see right away what kind of guard you have, but go at him with several steps, until you are almost upon him, and then you can set yourself in a guard, which pleases you." - Halle in Saxony, Short though Clear Description treating of Fencing on the Thrust and Cut (1661)

The solution is simple: rather than starting within measure ensure that your default is to start all your exercises and bouts from completely out of measure and without an initial guard position. If your system is assertive this allows you to launch an aggressive attack, if it is defensive you can plod to within measure and adopt your static guard.


Popular posts from this blog

Kit mod: heavy sparring glove 2

This is a follow on to heavy sparring gloves and SPES arm protectors.

Finally: a pretty good HEMA glove.

Essentially I've created this final stage by removing the cuff from the gauntlet and attaching Velcro so the SPES arm & elbow protection attaches to the gauntlet. The Velcro attaches under the lip of the arm protection providing a solid join between the pieces.

My photography is lame but I hope you get the idea:

Good protection.

I would say that this setup has good protection from injury from sparring blows from fingers to elbow. Against full force blows it takes it down from injury to some mild discomfort and possibly light bruising, against moderate blows you feel some pressure with no discomfort. The fingers are where I've invested the heaviest protection but there is still some room for improvement.

Light weight

Because the weight is distributed along the length of the arm rather than at the wrist/hands end and because they can fit quite tightly to your body they seem…

Halberd Waster

Several times through my historical martial arts career I've got it into my head that I'd like to do halberd. However, the issues with a suitable waster have tended to put me off, specifically creating anything that can be used at something approaching full intention. The issue is that if you make the head from the usual materials (steel, aluminium, wood, leather etc) you have to exercise extreme caution at very slow speed because all you've made is a giant heavy mace on the end of a 6ft lever.

Recently I was working on making foam swords for another side project and while doing this it occurred to me that foam was the obvious solution to the halberd head issue. Pretty quickly I developed this simple waster.

The head is cut from EVA foam matting. This material is importantly both ultra light and pretty robust. To get a good strength I cut two head shapes out and stuck them together. The bracket to attach the head to the pole is just PVC piping with a slot cut into it for th…

Absolutely no absolutes

The more I study and learn of historical fighting, and the more I teach, the more I become careful in throwing around "absolutes" in terms of technique. I find that to say that something is "wrong" is a sub-optimal way of thinking about fencing that hinders development. Rather I like to highlight that everything is situational, i.e. with a proper understanding of the principles of fencing that there is often a time and a place where a particular technique is optimal and that you should not completely discount anything.

For example:

(and I'd like to make it clear that I'm not being negative on these examples, I liked and remembered both these videos I'm just using them to illustrate a pedagogical mindset.)

In this interesting video, the view is put forward that you should cut and step at the same pace to ensure that your hand and body land together. This is so that you cut with maximum strength and for reasons of balance.  The idea of not stepping and cu…