Showing posts from 2016

Some thoughts around "warm-ups" and the proper order of training

Firstly, I'd like to correct some misconceptions about what a warm-up is:

"a period or act of preparation for a match, performance, or exercise session, involving gentle exercise or practice"

A warm-up is the five minutes you spend at the beginning of a session prepping your limbs for the physical activity that's about to happen. This is important because with a little warm-up your body prepares itself physiologically for the exercise that's about to happen and this keeps injuries to a minimum. A few key points about warm-ups: Your action should closely mimic the action that you're about to doYour body only needs a few reps to get up to speed with what's happening (if we needed 30mins of warm-up we'd all have been eaten by tigers a long time ago...)Stretching is not warming up. You can do a warm-up then a few stretches once warm because you're feeling a little tight, that's cool, but stretches are not substitutes for warm-ups. Cool. Glad we'…

Kit review: Rage Pro Gloves

"Pro Gloves High Grade EVA (Pair). International standard poly-ethylene front, EVA foam padding interior for comfort. The most widely used molding shape."
You can find them here.

Firstly, I should outline what use I'm reviewing these gloves for. For me, I use these gloves as day-to-day instructing / training gloves and as a full intention sparring glove for a single-handed sword with a knuckle-bow. Primarily for use with synthetic weapons. I'm reviewing them on this basis. I wouldn't use them for full intention longsword sparring and I'm not reviewing them on that basis.

I've owned these for four months and have used them at most, if not all, training session.


I ordered these directly from Rage Field Hockey website and at $35 USD plus postage this was a very reasonably priced glove. Ordering through the website was easy enough and they posted the next day. Nothing noteworthy or to complain about here.


Well at $35USD I'm certainly not going…

Great time for quotes at the moment: if you're asking what is HEMA? STFU.

Is it HEMA... Is it HEMA if we use this weapon or that? Is it HEMA if we add to the texts? Is it HEMA we compete in tournaments? Is it HEMA if we train against multiple opponents? Is it HEMA if we grapple? Is it HEMA if we train to the touch? Is it HEMA if we study Japanese sword fighting?
Who care's if it is "HEMA"? You can do whatever you want. Some people will think it is cool. Some people wont. Nobody owns any of this stuff. You can manifest your love of history, swords, martial arts, etc... however the hell you see fit.
The only thing that is important is that *you* know what *you* want from *your*self, and you have a way to measure that. If you want to be the best larp fighter ever, than all you have to do is win all the larp fights. If you want to be an expert on Capo Ferro, than all you need to do is know everything there is to know about Capo Ferro.
If you are looking for approval, acceptance or status in an established community of people who have already decided…

Moral of this story: read the sources, it's not difficult!

"most of my understanding of Hema comes from the sources but I could never tell you where because I rely on people like you to read and relay the techniques. It saves me from having to read the treatises directly myself which I’m more than happy to do because, yes, I’m lazy and more than happy for others to do the hard work if I can still benefit just as much :) ^_^ In the end though it leaves me with little ability to point out or even know which treatise contains the things I’m absorbing and learning." - Shadiversity8
I don't really engage much with people online these days but when I do it tends to be to simply drop a knowledge bomb on them in terms of a direct quote from a source that discusses the topic they are asking for information on. Really, often that's all there is to a discussion.

Perennial classics are: Silver says you should never do "False times"

"If you meet with one that cannot strike from his ward, upon such a one you may both double …

Michael Chidester on "Control"

"Control is not some magical trait that a martial artist automatically develops with experience; contrary to popular belief, the ability to correctly perform an action slow does not automatically impart the ability to do it quickly, and neither does the ability to do it quickly allow a fighter to slow it down. Rather, control is nothing more than choice, the ability to choose in any given moment where to strike, where stop that strike, and how much speed and force to apply. Since you can only fight the way you've trained to fight, if you only train in one way then you have no choice, and therefore no control. Developing control therefore requires mixing many different approaches and training in many different contexts, with different tools and different constraints, and striving to apply the specific lessons from each one across all of the others." - Michael Chidester

Some quibbles on "Transitional" Guards.

"...other sources and fencing masters, particularly later ones, do mention quite a few other secondary guards for longsword. There are some variations and discrepancies between authors of course, as well as different interpretations among contemporary researchers.
Many, if not most of these are considered only transitional guards, so just particular positions while in motion from one to another primary guard or end point of a strike, cut or thrust."
Enjoyed reading this article:

I would disagree with the article in that I think the idea that "secondary" guards are transitional, i.e. point of movement, as this strikes me as received wisdom that has not seriously been thought about by most people.

When you think about it Day, Fool, Plough and Oxs are all highly transitional. Why is this? Think about it: they are absolutely rubbish positions to hold. If you stand in these positions and do no…

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…

Kit Mod: Blacking the Blackfencer

My only criticism in my review of the Blackfencer sythetics was that the unprotected steel easily rusts and that this is a level of care I really would rather not be bothered with in a synthetic weapon.

I investigated several options for steel care and decided upon gun bluing as the best option. Frankly it's been a breeze to put this onto mild-steel like the Blackfencer guards. I went and bought some inexpensive "gun blue" liquid from a hunting shop (Outers Gun Blue). Be careful in your purchase as their is blue for Steel and blue for Aluminium, putting the wrong thing on could be awkward. While it's called "blue" you can select from blue to black and I went with the blackest option. I picked the smallest volume bottle (60ml) and so far I've gone through half a bottle to do four weapons.

It's pretty simple to apply. Firstly you fully de-grease your steel. I used a simple degreasing spray and gave the metal and good once over with some sandpaper to re…

Di Grassi on the exercise and strength of arms

"As touching the weight or heft, which is borne in the hand, be it sword or other weapon, I commend not their opinion anyway, who will for the strengthening of a man's arm that he handle first a heavy weapon, because being first used to them, afterwards, ordinary weapons will seem the lighter unto him, but I think rather the contrary, to wit, that first to the end, he does not over burden and choke his strength, he handle a very light sword, and such a one, that he may most nimbly move. For the end of this art is not to lift up or bear great burdens, but to move swiftly. And there is no doubt but he vanquishes which is most nimble, and this nimbleness is not obtained by handling of great hefts or weights, but by often moving." - Giacomo di Grassi, His True Art of Defence 1594

Kit mod: slimline back of head protector

Back of head protection, it's one of those things (like a box) that you don't need until you really need it. Simply as protection from hooking shots or from instinctively turning your the head.

I should make plain first what purpose this is intended for. This is intended to cover the back of my head during full intention sparring but where back of head blows are rare. From watching international tournaments, where there seems to be a large number of back of heads blows following wild and uncontrolled explosive actions (particularly in Longsword) I would have to say this isn't intended for that environment. In that situation wrapping your head in a full encompassing protector makes sense.

So, I bought a SPES Vectir a while ago but it isn't compatible with Leon Paul masks and when I adapted it still wasn't satisfied with the large gaps left at the top and sides when you are moving around. Unlike "normal" fencing masks Leon Paul masks don't have a large…

Tournament 2016 thoughts

Initial thoughts on tournament:

It definitely appears to work better to have judges call all hits, not because they are good at it but because at least it's a level playing field of incompetence that affects all participants equally. Therefore we had a lot of grumbling about the judges but it didn't progress into outright whining because, well people whos hits weren't called also had hits against them not called. This also, as we thought, tended to favour fighters who gave clean, decisive blows over scrappers and snipers. Having said that, all the training had paid off and the standard of judging was much higher than in previous years.

As per usual, a lot of the outcome was determined by the luck of the draw. Many of the better fighters were paired up and went out early, whereas many of the newer fighters were paired up and went into the later rounds. I think that is part of the charm of a tournament but I think that some kind of experimentation with a seeding process wou…

Tournament fun

"I wish I could say something classy and inspirational, but that just wouldn't be our style. Pain heals. Chicks dig scars. Glory lasts forever." Shane Falco, The Replacements.

So, for my sins, I volunteered to organise our Clubs annual tournament. For the first time, in my experience, we actually have spent the better part of three months preparing for this tournament. Which is why it has been a little quiet on here lately. It's been an interesting learning experience and I'll try and summarise some thoughts here:

1. Format

After experimenting with various formats we decided that we liked a customised ruleset based on the Fechtshule New York rules. This is with:
The bout halts after a single exchangeHits to the core score more than a hit to the extremitiesEach fighter has three livesLine judges call hits I wasn't initially a big fan of this ruleset but I've come around and will admit that the results are pretty good. The single exchange encourages people to…

Command your temper

"Command your Temper and you will do much better, than if you give way to your Passion; and if you do Command it, and are Engaged with a Person who can not, you will have very much the Advantage of him, for his Passion will make him Play wild and wide, and consequently exposes himself to be Hit very often, wheras your thoughts not being in Hurry and Confusion, you may Defend your self with ease and judgement, and take an Advantage readily when ever you have a mind, you are the more capable of doing this, because your Strength, Mind and Spirit are not Spent or Exhausted." Donald McBain, The Expert Swordsman's Companion 1728

John Taylor on footwork for a "real contest"

"Although an extensive lunge is doubtless advantageous to those who can make it easily, yet it will not be found on a real occasion so necessary as a quick recover. For which reason it will be imprudent in gentlemen to accustom themselves to step farther out than their strength or activity naturally admit.

Care must always be taken to place the right foot flat on the ground, and not to make so violent an extension, as to pitch on the heel of that foot.* The proper extent is to bring the left knee
straight, and the right knee perpendicular to the instep.

* It should be considered that in real contest the difference of the ground, and many other circumstances, concur to render any unnecessary extension hazardous ; especially to such persons
as have used themselves to practise on an even floor, perhaps with slippers chalked at the bottom."

Train the "art" not the ruleset

"One of the great benefits of non-standardization of rulesets is that it keeps us training "the art" as the central study rather than constantly working towards gaming a particular tournament ruleset." - Toby Hall, Fechtschule New York 2016 Open Longsword Tournament Rules

John Taylor would not recommend practice with sharps

"I would not however venture to recommend the practice with a friend for the sake of improvement with naked swords; since although not attended with danger in the cavalry exercise, yet as the situation of persons engaged on foot does not confine them to one or two particular cuts at commencing the attack, but admits of more various and complicated movements, an error in regard to the parades might prove fatal."  - Art of Defence on Foot, John Taylor 1800

The path we take

“No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” - Socrates

I, like many other people it seems on Facebook, enjoyed the TEDex talk by Devon Boorman's . It was refreshing to see someone talk about HEMA from a personal development perspective which I think is a very compelling selling point for HEMA in general. It's also something I could watch with my Wife and discuss themes that we could both relate to.
My perspective was/is slightly different from Devon's but similar. I was physically capable of "sports" and on school "field" days I did quite well and spent several years being gently harassed by various Coaches to attend games. Now I was never top shelf material and I'm pretty sure I was only seen as necessary to make up a full squad. But they could just never get me to show up for games. 
This was largely choice thoug…

Marcelli's thoughts on Internet Warriors

"Take care not to be so delicate of spirit, or flighty of will, that at every minimal clash, or trivial occasion, you look to put your hand to your sword; copying the example of the bravoes of our age, who think that by using it often they acquire the reputation of being brave and strong.

The gentleman I deem more gallant than any other, is the one who with the mere presence of his virtue, and credit of his valour, renders himself formidable to enemies, and esteemed by companions; not one who does not pass a day without seeing his brand unsheathed in his hand. He is the most vile, and least regarded of all, since it shows he lacks the virtue to make himself feared, and the qualities to make himself esteemed. Hence he is often given occasion, to have insults to avenge." 
- Francesco Antonio Marcelli (via Piermarco Terminiello)

Why you should not treat armed combat like unarmed combat

"In unarmed fighting, the relative difficulty of accomplishing a single, instantly incapacitating blow means that an aggressive fighter can take a reasonable, calculated gamble in dodging, blocking, absorbing, or riding his opponent’s blows while launching his own strikes. This same level of aggression becomes reckless when faced with e.g. a sharp sword, due to the increased risk of incapacitating injury as well as the additional speed required to traverse the increased effective range of the weapon." - Dakao Do

Some thoughts around running a HEMA club

"How can profit and authenticity be reconciled so that one does not destroy the other?" - Ashley Read, Authentic Profits

I'm currently reading this book which is rather good. It's about how to run a Martial Art club in a way that does not compromise your integrity (and still make money if that is a goal that interests you). I have always been rather skeptical of people who run their HEMA club as a business, the main reason for this is that many appear to automatically fall into the ubiquitous "Mcdojo" approach.

To run such a model leads to most of the pitfalls I see in most Martial Arts and is, from what I can see, an ongoing and emerging issue in HEMA:

1. High quantity, low-quality

The club will never turn away anyone because larger groups equal more money for the business owner. It's all about getting as many people as possible in the door and paying fees. This means heavy marketing and appealing to every possible market: this is "street", &…

Let your opponent do the parrying

"For in combat you cannot easily know or quickly see what kind of device he will execute against you, much less be so quickly able to think how to counter it. Therefore I always hold with one who knows many devices and few counters, and how to execute them judiciously in the Before and After, and allows his opponent to concern himself about the counters" Joachim Meyer 2.27v.1

Kit review: Titan Exchange HEMA mask - Updated #4

"The forces generated by larger swords and the contact nature of the sport demand more than a fencing mask with HEMA written on. The Titan mask uses stainless steel mesh that is 20% stronger than a traditional FIE mask, the bib is bigger and uses the contour plus strap to keep your mask locked onto your head."

Recently I upgraded my old style Leon Paul mask for the new "Titan Range HEMA X-change mask", which I'll assume will just be called the Leon Paul "HEMA Mask" from now on.

I've updated this review following having the mask for a year.


I ordered this from the main Leon Paul site (rather than the Leon Paul Australia site, which doesn't seem to work for me). It was a breeze to order thanks to a well thought out online ordering system. Postage wasn't expensive and it arrived in New Zealand from the UK is less than a week. There were email updates as the order was processed and the courier tracking system worked nicely.


Many pro…

10 simple tips for improving HEMA sparring

Shamelessly inspired by this article:

1. Game

I agree that relaxation is important. Being tense means you're thinking about being tense and not smiting the other guy. One of the simplest ways I've found to do this is to play more. This means treating sword fighting more like a game than a serious life and death situation because the only thing in danger in our pretend sword poking is our egos. Here are a whole bunch of games to help induce a relaxed mindset.

2. Train fast and get faster

Not many sword fighting sources have ponderous complex actions but rather lots of simple actions done at the correct time and measure very, very fast. Want to be fast? Then recognise that what you are doing now is actually slow and do specific drills to improve your explosive speed. Just try this and see what I mean:

Throw a glove in the air and do as many cuts as you can before it falls. Go as fast as you can while maintaining good body mechanics. If you're loosing good mechanics than slow …

Kit mod: fencing mask padding

Recently I've got into thinking I should do something to my mask to beef it up against those forthright downright blows to the head that Silver is so fond of. It seems to be something that my fencing mask is entirely not built to protect me against, which makes sense, as it's constructed to deflect thin poking things from the front of my face not heavy iron bars from the tops and sides of my head.

If I look at my mask all the interior padding is around the front along the chin and forehead. What this means is that if I get smacked directly in the face then the mask is both held away from my face but also I'm somewhat padded. There is also padding around the sides up to my ear level but then above this and to the top has nothing. This means if I get hit here the mask isn't really protecting me as essentially the blow just mashes the mesh into my head and it's like it isn't there.

This is presumably the problem that all these mask overlays look to address.

I see…

Moving quickly

"you need the ability to move quickly. When I speak of moving quickly, I'm not talking about how fast you can run a mile. What we are talking about is how quickly can you hurl your entire body weight in a direction in one all out exertion? That is what will determine how fast you can close with an opponent, how fast you can remove yourself from combat, and how fast you can reposition yourself to open up strikes." - Santa Fe Personal Training

Kit mod: budget club sword rack

Not really a kit mod but it seems the most appropriate place to put it.

Every club needs sword racks right? Otherwise you're just tripping over swords all the time. However making them can be something you'd rather put off as it'll tax your basic carpentry skills. However it need not be so. Following from a chat on my club Facebook page I got to thinking how easy it would be to turn a couple of pallets I've got into racks.

So taking a couple of these small pallets it turned out to be the easiest thing in the word to cut a few panels off and then nail them to the bottom. Hey presto, sword racks.

They're not pretty or clever but do they hold swords off the ground? Yep. Mission accomplished. They're also relatively light and not something that you'd be scared about chucking in the back of an van or leaving in the rain at a show etc.

Incidentally if anyone is wondering reciprocating saws are the tool to use when taking pallets apart. I've made a whole pile o…

Kit mod: ventilators for Axel Pettersson Jacket

I'd like to claim total credit for this idea but I saw this idea first on Facebook and it's genius. Basically put brass eyelets into your gambeson to create little heat vents thus letting the heat out without compromising the defensive aspect.

I live in the North Island of New Zealand which, for those who don't know, has the same kind of weather as the warmer parts of Spain so most of the year it's just to dam hot to wrap myself up in a thickly layered woolen jacket. So anything I can do to improve things is a win.

Thinking about this eyelet vent idea that despite the speed of using brass or steel eyelets I discounted them from my reenactment experience: I know that rivets/eyelets in armour can actually be a pain, literally, as if you get struck on one they can be driven into your skin underneath. Also, they tarnish or rust pretty quickly with all that salty sweat coming out. So instead I resolved to sew eyelets in. This has a few benefits the first being that there'…

First fumble with translating...

So, following from my recent curiosity around the nitty gritty of the meanings in the text I'm studying I've endeavored recently to get off my backside and upskill myself a little bit.

To this end I've determined that I'll pick a short section of a treatise and have a go translating it. In my favour I have High School level German, conversational Swedish, Google translate and I've picked Mair to start with because much of it is translated already and I can hit CTRL-F to reference this if I get stuck.

It took a while to get my eye in, but it was surprisingly fluid once I'd got my head around it. Here's my translation of the first play from Mair's Poleaxe:

"A parrying in the Poleaxe against a Murder Blow
It happens thus in this play: when you come together, go stand with your right foot forward and hold your Poleaxe in both hands high above your head, the point extended against your opponent. He then stands with his left foot against you and strikes a …

A few thoughts around timing

"The second cause is, the lack of the knowledge in due observance of the four actions, the which we shall call bent, spent, lying spent, and drawing back. These actions every man fights upon, whether they are skillful or unskillful, he that observes them is safe, he that observes them not, is in continual danger of every thrust that shall be strongly made against him." - George Silver, Paradoxes of Defense

This is a follow on from this post concerning timing, in which towards the end I highlight some thoughts on the "safe" times to attack your opponent from various manuals.

After studying a range manuals I've come to a broad conclusion that is that this is essentially to do with Active versus Passive movement. With most manuals advocating observing when "passive" movement is taking place and attacking your opponent then. This can be summarized as "any movement your opponent makes which is not offending you is a time to attack" or as Giganti …

A few notes on fitness

So recently I've been having a great deal more success in my basic fitness training. This evolved from changing a few key ways I train that weren't working for me and also from adopting some basics that I should have really been doing from the outset. I'm not sure if any of this will help other people but it was a great help for me:
1. Stop counting reps
Most fitness manuals or resources give you number of reps per exercise per set. I realised that I find it distracting and boring counting out reps while I exercise. So instead I simply give myself a time period (usually 1 or 2 minutes) and set a countdown on my phone. If I can do 2 mins without collapsing in a heap I change the exercise to something harder. If I can't do 2 mins worth of exercise I got to keep pushing myself to get there. The key thing is that even if you have to take breaks you've got to do the time, this means I often push myself way beyond what I could do counting reps. 
2. Stop overreaching 

Kit review: Blackfencer "Like Steel Waster Sidesword V3"

"Early sidesword from s. XVI with side rings, front ricasso ring protector and side hand guard. Best quality construction for hard training, very nice balance and flexibility for a great cut and thrust fencing, maintaining the safety of the nylon material, so we can practice Historical Fencing with full force and intent, with minimal body protection." here

I ordered directly from Blackfencer themselves which was easy via their online ordering service. They were quick to respond to any questions and their customer service was faultless in my experience. 
They make to order and it took them just under 2 months from order to shipping to complete. It's an interesting business model following the model of custom steel weapons manufacturing rather than the mass produced easy availability of Rawlings synthetics. 
Cost wise they are, in my neck of the woods, approximately the same cost ($150) compared to Rawlings synthetics. Though the postage does up the cost somewhat.…

Some thoughts on the Scalp Cut

"You can’t throw any mastercut at any time, at any distance at any version of the guard and expect it to work because the Liechtenauer elf sprinkles his magic indes dust to bless your german fencing superiority." — Christian Trosclar

Following from an interesting discussion on facebook I was thinking about how I would best deliver a Scalp Cut against someone in Fool.

The issue being that if you deliver a Scalp Cut into someone waiting in Fool then a likely outcome is they will deliver a false edge cut to your hands with a step backwards. This doesn't to my mind preclude the Scalp Cut as very useful against Fool but only highlights the general foolishness of attacking a prepared position against a opponent who is trained in the same technique and aware of basic geometry:

1. If you are in Fool expect a Scalp Cut
2. If you aim for his head with a Scalp Cut and he gathers backward then his sword will be in measure to hit your hands and your sword will not be in measure to re…

Giganti - on body mechanics

"It must be kept in mind that all the motions of the sword are a signal to those who know how to decipher them." - Nicoletto Giganti, The School of the Sword.

Capo Ferro - becoming accomplished

"Anyone who wishes to become an accomplished swordsman must, beyond taking lessons from a master, strive to play every day, and with different antagonists, and when possible he must select better fencers than himself, so that by playing with so many practical men, he may see wherein dwells perfect merit" - Ridolfo Capo Ferro

Egerton Castle - The Principles of the Sword

From Schools of Masters of Fencing by Egerton Castle, 1885.

I'm rather impressed with myself that the "principles" I puzzled out for myself from reading 16th century sword play are pretty much identical.

"The 'time', 'distance' and 'proportion' of the early Anglo-Italian masters of the sixteenth century are still as much as ever the first notions to be grasped. They are now called 'time', 'measure' and 'guard."

"The very first principle of all fencing is obviously to keep the proper 'measure,' namely, to keep out of easy reach when on the defensive, and conversely, never to deliver an attack without being within striking distance."

"The next principle is to keep proper 'time,' namely, first, to reduce the motions of weapon and body to the strictly necessary, both in number and extent, so as to employ the least possible time in attack and parry."

"Secondly to balance those motions c…

The True and False Art

"I am constrained to divide this Art into two Arts or Sciences, calling the one the True, the other, the False art" - Giacomo di Grassi

The difference between the False Art and the True Art is interesting. It's quite important to Di Grassi and Silver so it's worth a few notes. It's amusing for me because it reads a lot like an early example of the "real martial arts" v's "sporting martial art" spat that rumbles on to this day.

It's worth noting that it's not as simple as good and bad technique. Certainly I've had it explained to me in the past that they authors when saying "True" this just means "good" technique and conversely that "false" was simply saying "bad" technique. Certainly authors such as di Grassi and Silver think that the "True Art" is superior however much like the modern Sport V's Martial argument it's all about correct context. 

Di Grassi is especially in…