Category: Articles

On Individual Lessons in HEMA

Ours are fighting systems that are under (re)construction. Those of us who consider themselves researchers ponder their brains out in order to understand martial instruction from the past – often several hundred years old– preserved in old books and pictures. This may sound a daunting task, but the last decades show that it is not hopeless. In the case of some fighting systems with a broad source base, such as the medieval German Kunst des Fechtens or the modern era Scottish broadsword, we have been able to reach a level of understanding in which controversies revolve around tactical and...

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Brief notes on fencing, from the military treatise of Giovanni Alberto Cassani (1603)

Giovanni Alberto Cassani published a military treatise in Naples in 1603.1 In this work he indicates that he was born in the town of Frassinello Monferrato in Piedmont, and that he served in the Spanish army, but little more is known about his life. Most military treatises of the time contain almost no advice on hand to hand combat. Cassani’s is somewhat of an exception. The bulk of the work is dedicated to organising troop formations, relying heavily on mathematical formulae, however on pages 5 to 8 he briefly includes notes on fencing. These notes are succinct and somewhat...

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Johann Georg Paschen’s Rapier Lessons: Developing a curriculum for teaching rapier fencing

This article will present an analysis of Johann Georg Paschen’s (1628-1678) Kurtze iedoch Deutliche Beschreibung handlend von Fechten auff den Stosz und Hieb (Short though clear description treating of fencing on the thrust and cut) published in 1661 in Sachsen. Paschen was a prolific author: in addition to treatises on fencing, he also published books on wrestling, spears, flags, gymnastics, military fortifications, and cooking (Conan 1). Despite his wide-ranging interests, his fencing text gives little direct information about him and his pedagogical background.  In what follows, I will explore how Paschen converges with and diverges with the Italian rapier tradition...

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Concerning the Reliability of the Waggle Test

Dynamic parameters define a rigid body’s reaction to external forces. While their importance for a sword’s behaviour is known since the 19th century, many data sets of original swords, replicas and training weapons include mass and the centre of mass, but lack a third parameter such as moment of inertia, radius of gyration, or corresponding centres of oscillation/percussion. A third parameter, however, is required to calculate a rigid object’s response.

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The Dutch Experiment – De Hollandsche Methode, Christiaan Siebenhaar, and fencing in the Netherlands in the 19th Century

In the mid-19th century, not that long after the Belgian war of independence, an experiment was taking place in fencing in the Netherlands. The main proponent of this experiment was Christiaan Siebenhaar (1824-1885), fencing master in the Dutch army.[1] In his own words, the purpose of his experiment was to “introduce the Dutch language in the Art of Fencing” so that “soon nobody is found in the Netherlands anymore who teaches this art in a foreign language”.[2] However, the real purpose of this experiment appears to have been more ambitious than that: to create a Dutch School of Fencing...

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How to read minds and the value of tournaments

Some month ago a nearby group decided to run a small longsword tournament as part of some local festivities, that also included a separate beginners bracket. As this sounded less threatening than the bigger events, three of our rookies decided to participate. We prepared them with judged sparring and the likes, provided the missing gear and finally let them go do their fencing. They had a great time and did very well, taking home the first, second and third place in beginners. What we weren’t told before was that the fighting ground would be filled with sand, which was...

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Riddled in Ink – A Stylistic Comparison of Artwork in MS M.383 and the Novati Facsimile

Proposition This article proposes that Francesco Novati’s 1902 facsimile reproduction of Flos Duellatorum contains clear stylistic discrepancies that can both elucidate its connection to the original Pisani-Dossi manuscript, and identify connections between the Pisani-Dossi and other manuscripts of The Flower of Battle. These inconsistencies surface in the bottom two images of Novati Carta 13A, and in all four images of Novati Carta 13B.[1] This article seeks to illustrate that all six of these images not only differ stylistically from the rest of the artwork in the Novati facsimile, but indeed share strong stylistic similarities with the artwork of the...

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Awards for Technical Excellence in HEMA Tournaments

Over the past five years, an increasing number of HEMA tournaments have added a new kind of award, aimed at rewarding fighters who display extraordinary technical fencing skills. The key motivation for this kind of award has been a desire to encourage HEMA competitors to fence in a more technical manner, rather than focusing entirely on those simple yet effective techniques which offer the easiest path to victory in tournaments. This trend also reflects the desire of many in the HEMA community to recognize those fighters who demonstrate grace, skill, and a command of their martial art, independently of...

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Fighting with a monkey ghost on your back

In our studies and practice of HEMA many of us do it to get a bit of a refuge from other things, from worries and concerns, to get away and narrow reality down to a tight focus on just the fun and excitement of fighting. However, for some of us reality tends to still make its presence felt quite clearly, forcing us to act in ways that can easily be misunderstood by our training partners and students. This is made all the more difficult when those issues are something we do not like to, or even can, speak openly...

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The Flower of Battle of Master Fiore Friulano de’i Liberi

Last week, in the same spirit of information freedom that inspired Wiktenauer’s creation, I released a free ebook version of The Recital of the Chivalric Art of Fencing of the Grand Master Johannes Liechtenauer, one of the two books produced as part of the 2015 Wiktenauer Fundraising Drive. Today, I give you the second: The Flower of Battle of Master Fiore Friulano de’i Liberi. As before, the translations have been updated with changes made by my translators since the book went to print, various typos and formatting errors have been corrected, and the images have been compressed to reduce...

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Fighting as a communicative skill

Since the elements described and explained up to now are properly just a beginning and primer from which all combat devices with the sword can be learned, it is necessary that before I derive some devices from them, first I should show in what way this shall take place. For if you wish to write a full proper word, you must hold in your mind and memory all the letters, and also know thoroughly what the nature and property of each one is, so that the useful and appropriate letters will fly into the pen one after another in order; so likewise in combat you shall hold and...

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The Recital of the Chivalric Art of Fencing of the Grand Master Johannes Liechtenauer

Though long delayed, this book represents the most complete picture possible of the Liechtenauer tradition of foot combat as it was recorded in the mid 15th century. It’s the text I wanted for my students when I was leading a study group, and I’m happy to finally offer it in print. I hope it serves in some small way to advance the study of Johannes Liechtenauer’s art.

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The point of sparring

While sounding like a simple thing to define, sparring can have quite a few and very different goals and purposes that are sometimes hard to keep in sight in the heat of the sparring session. With experience this becomes easier to separate as you get accustomed to the intense situation and learn to handle it, but especially in the beginning it is easy to forget what you are actually doing, or mistaking it for or even wanting, it to be something else. So what are these different goals and purposes of sparring then? Let’s have a look at some of...

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“Take great pains in your knightly practices” – A brief review of Medieval and Renaissance training methodologies

Few men are born brave; many become so through care and force of discipline. – Flavius Vegetius Renatus Many pages have been written on the subject of medieval and renaissance combat treatises, every year new translations, books, essays and blogs are added to the bibliography of weapons and combat during the Medieval Ages and the Renaissance. However, the subject on how knights and period fencers trained, especially as related to physical conditioning and strength remains nearly unexplored. There is a mildly generalized understanding that these groups trained their bodies swinging heavy weapons, moving large and heavy objects and throwing...

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Basic Meyer Quarterstaff Techniques 02: Schnappen & Zucken

This video was recorded by the MFFG at the 4th Meyer Symposium in Iowa, USA, 2016 and is yet another small sidetrack from the series.  It shows two basic techniques with Meyer’s quarterstaff; Schnappen and Zucken. Both these techniques absolutely require that you provoke the opponent into moving his staff to the right, exposing his left side. You can do this with a strike, a push or a thrust. Stepping in aggressively also protects you from a counterthrust, and in the case of Schnappen you are also somewhat covered by your own staff. The techniques need to be performed fast and decisively using the...

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Basic Meyer Quarterstaff Techniques 01: Ruck & Truck

This video was recorded by the MFFG at the 4th Meyer Symposium in Iowa, USA, 2016. It is a small sidetrack from the series and shows two basic techniques with Meyer’s quarterstaff; Ruck and Truck. Ruck requires a soft or medium bind to work and just won’t work with a hard bind. Truck on the other hand works with any bind, and is even better in a medium to hard bind. With Ruck you first extend the back end of your staff to the side and then quickly pull it back while you move forward, making a spiralling movement with your...

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King and Fool – The Vier Leger of Liechtenauer’s Tradition

King and Fool – The Vier Leger of Liechtenauer’s Tradition and their relationship with common medieval German archetypes. Exposition includes three things: The letter, the sense, and the inner meaning. (1) “Vier leger allain da von halt und fleuch dye gemain ochβ pflueg alber vom tag sey dir nicht unmär. (2)” “Four guards alone hold; and disdain the common. Ox, Plow, Fool, From the Roof should not be unknown to you. (3)” “Four lays hold to and flee these alike. Ox, plow, foolish, clear as day, let these not be unwelcome to you. (4)” I have pondered the translation of...

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Basic Meyer Quarterstaff 02: Long & short edge

This second video in the Basic Meyer Quarterstaff series brings up a few topics: First of all the stance and angles of the legs, which has been debated a bit with different arguments concerning whether one really should stand and move in such low stances. My firm opinion is that yes, we should. Other martial arts certainly do it with comfort and I absolutely believe it is essential to get the body mechanics of Meyer’s combat art correct. Second, the mechanics for transitioning from one side to another with strikes has been debated a bit and while I can see...

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Basic Meyer Quarterstaff series

For the last seven years I have dedicated myself to the study of Joachim Meyer’s combat arts, and his quarterstaff in particular. In this I have had some very good friends accompanying me over the years in my club, and also some in other parts of the world. While the handling of lighter weapons like rapier or longsword can be reminiscent of solo dancing, handling heavier weapons like the quarterstaff, halberd or Zweihänder is more like partnered dancing or figure skating, where your weapon is your partner, both moving in perfect synchronicity. The need for proper mechanics and timing is...

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The Last Duel, Part 2: Death by Sodomy

Part One of this article examined the famous judicial duel between Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris, which was held in Paris in 1386. As it turns out, the description of the event in Eric Jager’s book The Last Duel is rather different from the five surviving medieval accounts of the fight. Part Two will use the medieval sources to reconstruct what really happened in the combat, using HEMA knowledge to interpret the texts. Anatomy of a Duel The final showdown between Carrouges and Le Gris was preceded by lengthy ceremonies, which were themselves preceded by months of...

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What Really Happened at the Last Duel? Part1

According to the website Deadline Hollywood, Studio 8 has hired a screenwriter to turn Eric Jager’s book The Last Duel into a script for a Hollywood movie (Fleming, 2015). This tale, published as nonfiction, is an account of the judicial duel in 1386 between Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris over the accusation that Le Gris raped Carrouges’ wife. For most critics and viewers, the film’s relevance to our own time will come from its story of a woman whose rape is hushed up until a man advocates for her. However, the Historical European Martial Arts community will...

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Troublesome Student -The Winner, the Solver, the Heretic

As a teacher, you prepare to show a student a technique from the treatise of your choice. You have art, text, and experience, you’re qualified, you know what you’re doing. Everything is set as you prepare to share your hard-earned wisdom. Besides! Said student came to learn from you- so that’s something! And yet, as you demonstrate the technique, slowly, the student decides to thwart it. – And now I have your arm behind your back, from here…. – I’d totally just grab your nuts or wriggle out of it like this. – That’s great. I suppose the only way...

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All is Not Lost; Or HEMA on the Cheap

My first contact with what I know now as HEMA took place in the spring of 2009. I was attending a military re-enactment event at Jamestown Settlement in Williamsburg, Virginia. One of the re-enactors gave a demonstration on Fiore de Libre’s Armizare. I was intrigued by the combination of unarmed and armed fighting techniques as well as the fact that these methods had been preserved in medieval manuscripts. There were a couple problems with trying to learn from these manuscripts.  I was put off by the lack of good translations available and lack of clubs to practice these martial...

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Florius de Arte Luctandi: Challenges and Discoveries in a Contemporary Latin Translation of Fiore dei Liberi

Florius de Arte Luctandi is formally designated Ms. Latin 11269 by the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris. Based on the content and style of the illustrations, the style of the handwriting, and its probable relation to better-known texts, it was likely created between 1410 and 1430. Little of its history is known, although it was re-bound around 1635 and entered the Pontchartrain library in the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century. Its acquisition by the Bibliothèque nationale de France was recorded on March 10, 1756.1 Florius alongside Fiore Perhaps the most certain thing about Florius is that its...

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How computer based systems can help improve our fencing skills.

Prolog: Epic Meaning The goal of every HEMA-fighter is to “survive” a duel – fought with protective equipment and as little rules as possible – achieved through years of training, practice and research. Certainly not an easy task as each group, club and organization emphasise different core areas in the art of fencing. Some want to fight as realistically as possible, others want to establish a tournament system, while still others have their focus on entertaining spectators. Our association pursues a clear goal: Focus on the human being, while observing individual and human capacities and encouraging continuous development. This...

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“The Use of Weapons”, René François (1621)

The entry on fencing in René François’ 1621 encyclopedia is a rich source of terminology and practices common in the fencing salles of this period in which France was developing its own native fencing style as well as trying to rid itself of foreign cultural influences. René François was the pseudonym of Etienne Binet, who held the position of Predicateur du roi [King’s Preacher] to Louis XIII. He published several other books, mainly works of hagiography and religious philosophy. His encyclopedia, Essay on Nature’s Marvels and the Most Noble Inventions,1 had considerable success as the raw material of conversation in a world where the currency of elite...

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Adolphe Corthey: A French 19th Century HEMA Pioneer

In the introduction to “The Sword and the Centuries” (1901), Alfred Hutton mentions a curious incident. His fencing group in the London Rifle Brigade were invited to Belgium to put on a display of historical fencing. What can we discover about this Belgian event? What follows is an overview some literary detective work that reveals Adolphe Corthey, a man in every way Hutton’s equal and the powerhouse behind late nineteenth century HEMA in France.

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Meyer Pilgrimage Part 2 – Basel

Almost exactly a year ago I was lucky enough to be taken on a small journey that has been a long time dream of mine; walking in the footsteps of 16th cent fencing master Joachim Meyer, visiting the city where he spent many years teaching as Fechtmeister; Straßburg. I shared some of the things we believe we know about his life then, in an article entitled ‘Meyer Pilgrimage Part 1 – Straßburg‘. This year I was very happy to be invited to take on leg 2 of that pilgrimage, to visit the city where Joachim Meyer was born; Basel, and...

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The Ringen of Joachim Meyer

This article shall group Joachim Meyer’s Ringen into collections of similar throws. Hopefully this will better aid the modern student in learning Meyer’s Ringen. All of the throws have been rewritten into a modern step-by-step method from Dr. Forgeng’s translation along with some interpretation of my own. In Joachim Meyer’s Ringen section we find an amalgamation of several different techniques. In the Ringen section Meyer gives us seventeen different techniques. These techniques appear to be more of a haphazard collection of throws, holds, and general advice. However, while they are scattered over the various plays, these throws can be...

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Hack & Slash in the Age of Reason: Italian Rapier Against Multiple Opponents

“Finding yourself assailed by enemies, and supposing there are many of them, the situation demands nothing less than attacks like those of a desperate man, that is to say you must enter liberally into the fray” Giuseppe Colombani (1711) The scarcity of advice for multiple opponent combat, within the rich literature of several hundred European fightbooks, has often been noted.1 Moreover period masters are often quick to admit that fighting more than one assailant can be particularly difficult and dangerous. The German master Michael Hundt in 1611,2 suggests carrying a bag of stones to throw at your opponents, or...

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The use of the saber in the army of Napoleon: Part IV – Wounds caused by the saber

  Continuing with his four part series on The use of the saber in the army of Napoleon, Dr. Bert Gevaert now presents the fourth part: Wounds caused by the saber Introduction Soldiers and officers in the army of Napoleon led a life full of risks and sometimes the list of injuries a soldier could receive in his career was absolutely impressive. Marshall Nicolas-Charles Oudinot (1767-1847) was injured about 25 times in his military career (Haythornthwaite, 2002a, p.47): 1793: ball in the head (Haguenau) 1794: leg broken by ball (Trèves) 1795: five saber cuts, one ball (Neckarau) 1796: four saber cuts,...

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The use of the saber in the army of Napoleon: Part III

  Continuing with his four part series on The use of the saber in the army of Napoleon, Dr. Bert Gevaert now presents the third part: Individual martial prowess on the battlefield Stories about individual swordsmen are the most fascinating ones and in this chapter I will briefly present some spectacular stories of individual sword or saber wielding bravery on the battlefield. The power of cavalry lied in a mass force of thousands of armed men, augmented by the speed and weight of their horses, which made them into a huge and heavy hammer to smash the enemy, as...

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The use of the saber in the army of Napoleon: Part II

Continuing with his series on The use of the saber in the army of Napoleon, Dr. Bert Gevaert now presents the second part: Antoine Fortuné de Brack: Avant-postes de cavalerie légère (1831) De Brack was a French officer who participated in several military campaigns of Napoleon and who obtained the Legion of Honor for his conduct in the battle of Wagram (5-6 July 1809). From 1807 till 1812 he was member of the 7th Hussars and from 1812 till 1815 he served in the 2nd Lancers of the Guard (the famous Red Lancers). After the defeat of Napoleon he went...

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A key to Meyer’s mechanics & footwork – part 1

Here is a rough diagram that tries to explain the core mechanics that go through all of Meyers fencing and which are the foundation for the footwork and weapon mechanics, regardless of weapon. These mechanics apply to pretty much all of Meyer’s teachings, with somewhat different emphasis for especially rappier and dagger. They unlock certain things in regards to moving & coordination as well as extension & reach. It also makes it easier to fight multiple opponents as you can change direction easily by just looking in the opposite direction, already prepared in stance. Somewhat unusual to some, this also includes moving the body...

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The use of the saber in the army of Napoleon: Part I

“The sword is the weapon in which you should have most confidence, because it rarely fails you by breaking in your hands. Its blows are the more certain, accordingly as you direct them coolly; and hold it properly.” – Antoine Fortuné de Brack ([1831], 1876, p. 51) Though Napoleon (1769-1821) started his own military career as an artillery officer and achieved several victories by clever use of cannons, edged weapons still played an important role on the Napoleonic battlefield. Swords and sabers could dominate battles and this was certainly the case in the hands of experienced cavalrymen. The general...

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Chivalry East of the Elbe, Part I

Introduction: So what happened to the Second Estate? Most of my own HEMA-related historical research in the last ten years has been focused on the Free Cities and City States which are the origin of so many of the known fencing manuals. But that doesn’t mean one ought to ignore the obvious links of the Second Estate of the warrior aristocracy to the legacy of historical fencing. Knights were a real thing and were definitely involved in the development and practice of fencing in the medieval period. Unfortunately for a variety of reasons, knights are not easy to precisely define or understand as a phenomenon. Nor is...

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From WHAT to teach to HOW to teach: A coaching contribution for the HEMA of the XXI century

Tactical intelligence tends to be made out to be more complex than it actually is, by being seen as weapon specific. Furthermore, it also tends to lack specific and straight forward training guidelines … which has tactical skill being frequently cast aside as a natural ability that one either has or hasn’t. As you can easily get, I don’t share this view. I view tactical training as mostly non weapon specific (through universal combat concepts such as distance, reaction time, strikes’ angles, reach, etc) and, additionally, as something that can be systematically trained in an effective manner by relying on very specific guidelines. Ultimately, this might be seen as a body of knowledge that embodies a kind of fencing mixed martial arts approach if you will. This is my stance, and the latest DVD I’ve released focuses on just that, presenting many guidelines geared towards shedding a better understanding of the: Nuts and bolts of combatants’ tactical tools, Decision making process that oversees their usage.   This overall summary mostly suffices for pragmatic sparring (output) oriented trainees and instructors who are looking for a short-cut to 15 plus years of brainstorming on my part, meant to provide an informational edge in training so as to achieve improved sparring skill. However, if you are interested in learning more concerning what brought about this project, its historical ties with HEMA and its contents, do continue reading. JdP & HEMA: A difference in focus...

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Presenting for Education

The Phoenix Society went to the Arizona Knife Collector Association’s big knife-show and we didn’t go to recruit. The demographic was mostly older men, including knife-makers and knife-collectors. There were few, if any, potential recruits at this event. So why go? Part of the Phoenix Society’s mission, and that of the HEMA Alliance, is to educate people about HEMA. All the myths, inaccuracies, and movies that HEMA-folk tend to rail against, can be handled through education. Furthermore, people have questions and they want to see and learn about HEMA. So long as you present it well, you’ll find that...

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The importance of tactics in duel & sport

A couple of weeks ago when I was reading the excellent manuscript  “La Scherma” by the maestro Francesco Ferdinando Alfieri (1640, translated and edited by Caroline Stewart, Phil Marshall, Piermarco Terminielo), I was highly impressed by the chapter: “ How to proceed against a timid, reckless, phlegmatic or choleric opponent”. The maestro presents four different types of opponents (or four different temperaments) which you can face in a duel. As a general rule he writes: “If we conduct our attacks against these opponents in the same manner, without distinction, then we give clear notice of having little knowledge or...

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Bored Students

The most knowledgeable of instructors can also be some of the least effective teachers. There are many reasons for this, but today’s article will focus on alleviating boredom in students. First, what is boredom? It is when a student is no longer actively engaged. What does actively engaged mean? It means a student is actively using one or more of their senses when taking in information from the lesson. Why does a student cease being actively engaged? Let’s look at the senses of Hearing, Sight and Touch, to answer that. Hearing One of the easiest ways for an instructor...

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Making a wooden dummy for swordsmanship practice

The wooden dummies we use for sword practice are to us what the boxing bag is for a boxer. They are a great tool for practising basic techniques such as cuts and thrusts, and improving precision. Construction These wooden dummies consist of a stick that is suspended in such a way that it moves easily when you chop at it, but still returns quickly to it’s original position. The stick should be slightly thicker and heavier than a regular broomstick to give sufficient feedback when you hit it. Drill a hole in both ends so it can be suspended between the floor and the ceiling. The upper hole should be big enough for two cords so there is something to catch the wooden dummy if the main cord wears down and snaps (which will happen sooner or later). The stick is tied up to the ceiling with a cord through the upper part. The lower part is secured to the floor or a heavy weight by another cord. Adjust the cords so that there is a suitable amount of flexibility to the dummy. When you hit it you want it to move easily without too much resistance, but you should still get a decent amount of feedback. Do not use a cord that is too thick – I use a 3 mm polyester cord which works well. This design...

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HEMA Pedagogics Part 3: How to create a good learning environment

This is the third part of my brief article series on HEMA and pedagogics. Starting with the first HEMA Pedagogics article where we looked at the gymnastics and pedagogics pioneers that laid the foundation for modern teaching we then looked closer at the implications of the 15 points listed at the end of that text. With this small foundation on some different modern pedagogics, here is a fairly pragmatic list of some of the things I think are important to strive for, based on what has already been discussed. Create a joy filled and relaxing mental environment If it is the first time, then welcome the students properly and...

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The nature of the work ahead of us

Our personal goals in studying HEMA are varied, complex and individually quite different. For myself, I try to understand how and why it is designed the way it is as a martial art. That means it is not enough mimicking the movements described in the manuals, since just doing that, in my opinion, is an empty gesture without real meaning. And not understanding the why means we can’t really understand the how either, given that the sources are always incomplete and inferior to receiving direct instruction such as the authors and fencers of old themselves had. Issues that can...

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Resources on Medieval Literacy Part III

The 14th Century: Famine, war, plague and demographic collapse.  The rise of the vernacular and vernacular literature.  The paper mill spreads north of the Alps.  Secular schools.  Precursors of the printing press.  The Three Fountains of Italy.  The Brethren of the Common Life, Devotio Moderna, and the lay scriptoria.  Maeren and the Pratica della mercatura.  Books of Hours, the Commonplace book.  Books of Adventure and Romance.  The Humanists and the new Universities. This is the third in a series of articles about literacy in medieval Europe, intended as a resource for historical fencers, researchers in the HEMA and WMA...

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Checkmate! A workshop guide

Back in the end of May this year we had the honor to be invited to the internationally renowned event and tournament of SKUNKS, which is organized annually in Rybnik, Poland. SKUNKS is primary a tournament but there are workshops that precede the main fighting part. We were told by the organizers that they’d like the instructors not to have their workshops in a classical event-ish manner, but rather as a demonstration of an ordinary training session at their respective clubs. That made me very happy since I always try to lead my workshops in such way. We presumed...

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Meyerozzo: The influences of the Bolognese method in German Rappier

There are many reasons why I devote much of my time and my energies on what Joachim Meyer has exhibited in his treatises. But the main reason I decided to get closer to the Freifechter of Basel was the desire to learn his method of two-handed sword, and possibly the influence of the Bolognese school, which was my best reference point some years ago. But what was my desire really born from? The answer can be found in a very popular figure in historical fencing, at least here in Italy. Of course, I am referring to Jacopo Gelli. Over the years, with...

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HEMA Pedagogics Part 2: The implications

Continuing from what we examined in the first HEMA Pedagogics article where we looked at the gymnastics and pedagogics pioneers that laid the foundation for modern teaching we will now look closer at the implications of the 15 points listed at the end of that text. Again, while this article is more aimed at instructors of HEMA, it is also quite important for practitioners, as it also describes the needs,  roles and responsibilities of the practitioner. So, without further ado, here are the key elements. People have a natural desire to learn  Our desire to understand our surroundings is an integral part of...

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Polish Hussar Saber

Could one find a more Polish weapon than the Hussar szabla? Literally, when someone thinks of a saber from Poland, he probably thinks of this very specific weapon, that is (not fully accurately) attributed to the famous winged hussars. It is the katana of the eastern Europe, often considered by many modern users to be one of the most efficient battle weapons of all. It is largely a belief based on pop culture, yet there are no doubts that the weapon was, and still is, very magnificent. Although, contrarily to many weapons of other countries, we have no direct accounts about its use. Specific design, unspecific system? Would people design such a complicated type of weapon and never use all of its constructional feats to their advantage? The answer is quite obvious. Yet to find out the exact method is not so easy. This article is created to analyze the possible sources and methods that will allow the reader to solve that problem. Anatomy First and easiest step is to look at the structure of the weapon itself. As you can see in the picture below , the typical hussar szabla consists of a blade, a specific almost straight handle, closed knuckle-guard and a heart shaped thumb ring. For the sake of analysis we must note, that the blades were often taken from many other sabers both earlier and foreign, so we...

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Introduction to Joachim Meyer’s quarterstaff

Long overdue I’ve finally posted my booklet on the Meyer quarterstaff, a weapon also used to train spear and halberd. It is tied to the workshops I have been travelling teaching and contains both the core concepts including footwork and body & weapon mechanics as well as almost all of the techniques using a defined terminology. This 31 page booklet is entitled Meyer Quarterstaff – Catch him in his own techniques and can be downloaded through the embedded link...

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Fencing and Modernity

What is a Fencer? Part II The sword is one of the most powerful symbols of our culture. But how does the sword and fencing fit into our modern world? And what defines modernity? Today, we take a deeper look at what it means to be a fencer. We dive into the soul of men to get a glimpse of the ancient battle between good and evil. Let there be light!    His education had been neither scientific nor classical – merely “Modern.” The severities both of abstraction and of high human tradition had passed him by: and he...

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HEMA Pedagogics Part 1: The Pedagogics Pioneers & The Role of a HEMA teacher

This three-piece article, while aimed more at teachers of HEMA is also relevant to students of HEMA, since we are all students and the difference between learning and teaching can be a fine one. Furthermore, the article speaks just as much about learning as it does about teaching and how we learn is important to understand for all of us on a personal level. Finally, the future of HEMA depends on all of us, on how much and how well we study and are willing to share ideas, debate and fight. *** Few instructors in HEMA actually have a formal teaching background with education...

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HEMA, Figueiredo (Montante) and … outnumbered combat

I have always fully understood HEMA researchers’ reasons for staying mostly away from the topic of outnumbered combat, an issue rarely approached by authors and, when talked about, done so in a vague manner. At the same time, however, I thought that this situation was unfortunate and always hoped that it would eventually change, for Jogo do Pau’s preservation of both outnumbered and duelling has enabled:  The preservation of a martial heritage in its whole, A more complete understanding of the tactics, in the form of the tactical purpose for which each technique was developed. Recently though, I have been extremely pleased to witness a growing interest in the Montante, a long sword of the same length of the commonly used walking and combat staff. On this topic, and for starters, as the following clip looks to demonstrate, the tactical constraints brought about by the need to confront multiple foes force these different weapons, staff & sword, to be used in the same manner. [jwplayer mediaid=”14479″] Still, within outnumbered combat, the similarities do not stop here, as showcased by the following explanation of how to adapt to narrow locations. (please note that the clip was put together for demonstration purposes, and that the intended hand strikes were pulled back for obvious safety reasons) [jwplayer mediaid=”14480″] The staff and the sword may not be brothers, but they are probably cousins at the very least, and close cousins...

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Concerning the Dynamics of Swords

There are two major models that specify the point at which a sword should ideally hit its target. One model focusses on the sword’s vibration, particularly the nodes of the fundamental flexural vibration; the node which is closer to the sword’s point is often called centre of percussion. [1, 2] The other model, which is the subject of this work, considers translation and rotation as the components of a rigid body’s motion [3] upon impact. Several comprehensive articles on the rigid-body dynamics of swords exist, such as by Turner [4], Denny [5] and Le Chevalier [6]; those articles are highly recommended for a further reading on the consequences and possible applications of a sword’s analysis on the basis of rigid-body dynamics. The physical principles have been known since the 17th century. [7] Rigid-body dynamics were already applied in some historical sources on fencing [8, 9] to describe the point where a cutting weapon should ideally hit its target. This article is meant as a brief introduction of the subject for those who are not yet aware of the physics of fencing. Additionally, this article emphasises the importance of the moment of inertia for the behaviour of a sword, and encourages sword researchers and makers to determine and include this fundamental measure from which other parameters can be calculated. Motion of a Sword At any given time, a sword’s motion can be described as rotation about an axis, translation...

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An open-hearted letter about why I rarely fight in tournaments

Every now and then I get the question why I don’t take part in tournaments. The answer to that question is both very personal and complex and I always feel that it is difficult to properly explain the reasons eye-to-eye, especially to people who do take part in and enjoy them. Futhermore the public debate between those who take part in tournaments and those who don’t oftentimes gets very simplistic and heated with lots of misunderstandings on both sides. For that reason, and since I know others also feel a certain pressure that they have to and are expected...

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System vs Syllabus: Meyer’s 1560 and 1570 sidesword texts

As a professional educator as well as a long-time amateur martial arts instructor, one of the issues that fascinates me about the historical fighting manuscripts is their approach to teaching. Broadly speaking, there are two types of texts: a)      “Reference” texts which attempt to preserve a system of fighting b)      “Teaching” texts which attempt to sequence the teaching of a weapon or style Reference texts aim to list everything of importance or to present memory cues for techniques learnt through physical instruction. For instance, the early German corpus revolves around the Lichtenauer verses, which are mnemonic in nature[1]. Terms in the verses are not explained, and the verses can be broken down into sections which do not necessarily link to ideas previously mentioned. Each subsequent author added a commentary or “glossa” to the verses, but retained the sequence of verses. Such a reference text works well for a reader already submerged in the art illustrated, but is not necessarily the ideal vehicle for teaching a raw beginner. A teaching text, on the other hand, aims to present material in a sequence to facilitate learning. Ideas are introduced in order from simple to complex, each building on the previous work. Many works of the 16th and later centuries are built on this model, potentially/possibly reflecting a change in mind-set by the writers from preserving an art, to transmitting an art....

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Skalastet – Sami quarterstaff & spear fighting tradition in Northern Sweden

Little is known of any indigenous martial arts traditions of Scandinavia, and while the Icelandic tales, Konungs Skuggsjá and Olaus Magnus give us some clues and Glima still remains both in its modern sport form and, to a lesser degree, in its older combat form, very little else can be found that doesn’t find its roots in Germanic, Italian, French or Asian traditions. However, just going back about 180 years we find a still living staff fighting tradition in the North of Sweden, among the Sami, called “Skalastet“. Below are two stories told by the priest Petrus Laestadius who served as a missionary  in...

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The Onion – Basics of European Longsword: Part 10

For practitioners of German longsword it is fairly commonly known that with some stances and cuts we should put our thumb against the flat of the blade. For example Meyer tells us “From there deliver a Thwart … so that your thumb always remains below on your shield…“(1). However, looking to the sources, several of them show a lot more complex variation in their gripping of the sword. This we shall now examine a bit closer. Shifting Grips While some masters seemingly do not show any variation in gripping at all, we see more complex gripping starting in the middle of the 1400s,...

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Extensive article on basic Meyer dusack added

I have just added a 28 page article based on my dusack workshop. It is entitled Meyer dusack – the dusack in motion. It is a simple introduction to some of the most basic principles underlying Joachim Meyer’s dusack fencing. It contains brief texts on background, theoretical reasoning, exercises, quotes and illustrations. You can find it...

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Concerning the Rules of Tournaments

This article is to some extent a reply to Γιώργος Ζαχαρόπουλος’s article in which he points out the conflicting requirements that tournament rules have to address. Ζαχαρόπουλος examines tournaments under three aspects: safety, scoring and spectacle. Safety certainly is a crucial aspect as we want to simulate a process of mutual harming and killing while avoiding actual injuries. Regarding the set of rules, the question arises if possibly restricting or unrealistic equipment should be prescribed and if dangerous attacks such as targeting the hands or other insufficiently protected areas should be banned. Safety is a matter of discretion and...

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The Onion – Basics of European Longsword: Part 9

This time I will speak rather briefly about stances and the ideas behind them. This does not just apply to the longsword, but is applicable to all weapons. So, without further ado, let’s dig into it. Joachim Meyer describes stances in relation to the first attack in the following words: Now the guards or postures are a graceful but also necessary positioning and comportment of the whole body with the sword, in which the combatant places and positions himself when he is the first to come to his opponent in the place of encounter, as often happens, so that he will not be unexpectedly rushed up...

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Fabrice Cognot – Bladesmith & Scholar

Today we are introducing Dr. Fabrice Cognot, Burgundian swordsman, polearms specialist and bladesmith. Many of you already know him well, but perhaps not his excellent work on knives as much. The article is split into part interview and part commentary on the actual knives that I have kindly been given access to. All three knives are up for sale. So Dr. Cognot, can you tell me… …a bit about yourself, and your own relationship to swords and knives? I am Dr. Fabrice Cognot and I’ve been living in Dijon, France for over 20 years, originally from southern Burgundy and moved here for my studies. I...

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Choreographing HEMA for film

A director who was filming a documentary about a historical battle on a ship recently approached me. So, this is an attempt to share experiences so that we can learn and develop our methods. I know that there are quite a few people within the HEMA community working with film at the moment. The reason is of course that HEMA is becoming more well known, and also that we have something to offer since we train actual fighting from history, have an abundance of highly skilled people. My preparations for the documentary were brief. I got the call about...

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Fechtordnung of the City of Solothurn

Below are three versions of the Fencing Ordinance of the Swiss town of Solothurn, first the original, then the English translation, then a German re-statement.  All translations are mine. At the time, Solothurn was a full member of the Swiss Confederacy and a very important supplier of mercenaries, especially to the French court. 239. Fechtordnung Ordnunge des fåchtens halb 23. Juli 1546 frytage vor Jacobj appostoli fechtschuel             Es ist vor Schultheß und Rat erschinen der ersam Hans Tågenscher der kürsiner unnd angezoygt, wie er willens ein fåchttschule zehalltten unnd mencklich umb sin gelltte in nachfolgender gestalltte zeleren: [1]           4sh...

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Historical overview of the Vadi family

Historical overview of the Vadi family Chronology from the X to the XIX centuries House on which the Prestige of Aristocracy was bestowed, raised the banner of Nobility Editor’s note: Philippo di Vadi Pisano was a 15th century Italian fencing master famous for, among other things, having some time after 1470 written a fencing treatise entitled ‘De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi’.  The teachings were probably inspired by the teachings of Fiore de’i Liberi. In Primis Before the first millennium some Ilvati, Liguri coming from Vada Sabatia, called in the ancient essays and in the maritime itineraries Vada Sabatium – Vadis Portus  – de Vadis (today Vado Ligure, city of the Vadi [1]), settled in the North of Etruria and in the South of Pedemontium (Piedmont). The Ilvati started spreading in the nearby areas. Moved by the entrepreneurial spirit and the commercial skills typical of Ligurian people, they made deals and agreements with the political class local Signorie, especially with the Papal States and, later on, with the Savoia. Year 1059: Florence, Papal States Gherardo dei Conti di Borgogna ruled. He became Pope on 9th December 1058 and remained in office till his death under the name of Niccoló II (he was the 155th Pontifex of the Catholic Church). He appointed Valentino Vadi of Pietro Vadi, feudatory and Gran Dominante of Vada and Populonia, as Chief of the Roman Armies.     Year 1077: Corsica, Republic of Pisa In 1077...

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Is it possible to be a full-time HEMA coach? Part 1

At first I wanted to write only one article that would cover some frequent questions about how to start your own HEMA club and turning it into a job. As I researched the topic more, I noticed that there is no way to put it all together as there is so much useful information that needs to be said but does not fit into the article structure. So, I shall make a two parter of this topic. The first part will cover some general ideas on starting a business. The second part will give an insight into the lives of HEMA coaches through an interview.  I wouldn’t consider myself to be very knowledgeable of the HEMA community or how to run a business. However, I’m sure that I’m not the only one who hadn’t, at some point of his training, thought „Hey, what if swordsmanship was my job?“. Still, let’s back away from the dream and try to analyze the possibility of maintaining such a business. Take note that these are just my thoughts and the possibility of missing some steps in business development is high. But what kind of writer would I be if I hadn’t consulted with people that actually do HEMA as a full time job. These people are Guy Windsor and Keith Farrell. I would like to thank them in advance for their time and...

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The use of the sword in the Great War: Faded glory or deadly efficiency?

 “Now’s your change, Charles – after them with the sword!’  With a thunder of hooves, Hornby led 1st Troop in hot pursuit of the Germans, followed a short while later by 4th Troop.  The Dragoon Guards caught up with the Germans – from the 4th Cuirassier Regiment – in the village of Casteau, but as well as the patrol they were also confronted by a large group of enemy cavalry.  Undaunted, Horby drew his sword and charged.”  With these words, Adrian Gilbert (2014, p. 16) describes the very first moment of the first major battle the British fought in the...

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Gaited horses in Fiore’s manuals?

I was originally researching technical aspects of Fiore’s mounted combat, staring at the illustrations, when I suddenly noticed the horses’ legs. The position of the feet does not depict a walk. I quickly went through all four of the extant Fiore manuscripts, and found the same thing. Most scholars seem to think that Fiore’s mounted techniques are done at either a canter or a walk. For example, Ken Mondschein’s “The Knightly Art of Battle” shows a lance illustration: “The artist’s keen eye for detail extends to the horse’s gait; it is easy to see that this technique is being...

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On Tournament rules

Well I guess this is the “hot potato” of the HEMA community! I am sure that a lot of other people before me and surely a lot of others after me will deal with the subject. First of all I have to let you know that I never participated in any tournament due to restrictions of the previous association I was member of (you know who!) . Still I am planning to do it if my finances and my 44 year old bones will allow me. I have sparred with dozens of people all these years of various size and ability in order to learn and enjoy our art. The reason for dealing with this issue now is because we are planning to organize international HEMA events in Greece in the near future. Furthermore the spark which ignited my thoughts was LONGPOINT 2014. I read comments on FB about how dissatisfied were some people with tournament rules this year but I also read the organizer’s reply on it: that rules have to be tested in order to be abolished. I completely agree with this statement: no matter if the rules of LONGPOINT were good or bad, they were ideas tested and partially proved. HEMA as a community is very young to this “sport tournament” thing therefore mistakes are allowed. If you do not try things you will never understand...

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Resources on Medieval Literacy, Part II

The 13th Century: Commercial numeracy and literacy. Lay literacy and the first public schools. The Beguines of Flanders. The second life of the translation school of Toledo. Writing in the vernacular. Eyeglasses. The commonplace book. The Universities. The Fourth Crusade   The towns rise to power. The end of the 12th Century saw a convergence of several systemic changes which accelerated economic activity dramatically in certain parts of Europe. In Part I, we’ve already seen the dawn of the water wheel and its cousins which added the considerable horsepower of water powered mechanization to the European economy. This device and its...

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Meyer Pilgrimage Part 1 – Straßburg

We all share the same love for our personal and shared discoveries of a forgotten European martial arts tradition and studying it we all learn to know some important and commonly known names like Liechtenauer, Fiore, Ringeck, Talhoffer, Kal, Vadi, Marozzo, Fabris and Silver etc. Most of us study their texts and the numerous anonymous ones somewhat generically but as we continue on or journey many of us also end up choosing to go down a more narrow street, focusing on one master only. As many know, for me, that street is the Joachim Meyer street, and while certainly studying other sources,...

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Resources on Medieval Literacy, Part I

Resources on Medieval Literacy, Part 1 When we talk about Historical European Martial Arts we obviously tend to focus on the martial first and foremost. Most HEMA research emphasizes the content of the manuals themselves, parsing and reparsing the author’s words and comparing them line by line to other fencing manuals, crafting competing interpretations to test out in the gym and on the tournament floor. This has proven very useful for figuring out specific techniques and has helped elevate the current HEMA revival to the level it has reached today. But the approach also has built-in limitations, and when...

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An open letter to members of the HEMA Alliance and some other organizations.

You may believe certain conversations you have on public social media are somehow private or not seen by others. This is not the case. You may also have certain past grievances with a particular well known historical fencing instructor and researcher. Those particular disagreements are your own issue and are best kept between involved parties. There are a number of you who I maintain friendships with who are former members of the ARMA. I wish to maintain these friendships in spite of whatever conflicts which occurred between yourselves and the ARMA director. I understand that many of these disputes may not have been settled or that there are still personal issues between yourself and the director of our organization. However, it does little for the benefit of any of our collective organizations or to our efforts in reconstructing forgotten fighting arts to encourage an environment of hostility between our organization and other organizations or individuals. There are members of the HEMA Alliance or other organizations, who have had no past affiliation with the ARMA or its members who I maintain contact with in a spirit of mutual advancement of these forgotten arts. I frequently encounter conversations on social media and various forums in which people who, as far as I am aware, have never had any affiliations with the ARMA, nor to my knowledge have ever met Mr. Clements...

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The Onion – Basics of European Longsword: Part 8

Although not originally planned to be included in this series, I decided to add an article on a topic that deserves special treatment, since to best understand several of the core teachings of this whole article series it is vital to understand this particular topic. That topic is “deception“. Mess with the mind first, then with the body Fighting is like sex1. First you try to seduce and woo your opponent trying to stir emotions and ideas, using any means at your disposal; physical features, moving confidently, display of skills, your voice and your wit. In your exchange you give off an impression of courage &...

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Jogo do Pau as a window to historical fencing’s past: Understanding the effect of combat context on technique

Techniques and tactics in martial arts evolved over the centuries in response to, either prevalent strategies used by the majority of foes, or to a significant change in those strategies. This model for interpreting the development of martial skill according to the specificity of combat environment is called “meta game”. Consequently, the context centered approach of focusing on creating solutions to existing or new threats is called “meta gaming” . Jogo do Pau The historical root of Jogo do Pau originates in a meta game of being outnumbered by multiple opponents, such as fighting on a battlefield or being in...

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Brief description on training weapons in history

A very brief description on training weapons in history, mostly based on a short email to a sports fencer who is researching the topic, although focusing on the “foil”. Figured it might interest others too and maybe even inspire someone to write a proper article on the topic. The currently earliest known European sword made specifically for training is the two-handed fechtschwert1 , although regular swords were likely blunted and used even earlier, not to mention sticks. The fechtschwert profile for swords was in use already around mid 1400s, probably earlier too, but provably so in one of the Gladiatoria Fechtbuch”...

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The KA-BAR and the Fairbairn-Sykes: two fighting children of different philosophies

  The knife is a silent and deadly weapon that is easily concealed and against which, in the hands of an expert, there is no sure defence, except firearms or running like hell. -From the declassified Special Operations Executive Syllabus When it comes to modern combat knives, the two most iconic knives of the Western world are undoubtedly the American “KA-BAR” and the British Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife. These two knives represent completely different philosophies with the KA-BAR being a very strong and sturdy fighting knife of utilitarian design, and the Fairbairn-Sykes representing a more elegant design for more delicate use in clandestine operations. To really understand these knives, however,...

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Florentines Doing “Florentine”: Combat with Two Swords According to Altoni and Docciolini

The sixteenth century saw a proliferation of fencing treatises written and published in the Italian peninsula. Some masters and styles have long been well known to fencing historians and modern historical fencers. Other masters, although perhaps influential in their time, remain less well studied. This is the case for two Florentine authors: Francesco di Sandro Altoni, whose manuscript is dated to circa 1540, and Marco Docciolini, whose work was published in 1601. Altoni’s dedication indicates he was fencing master to the Second Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I de’Medici, from the latter’s boyhood. Docciolini’s patronage is less clear, but records of a portrait by the prominent painter Santi di Tito, suggest that he too enjoyed a degree of status and success. Despite the sixty years between these treatises, a clear continuity of style and structure supports the existence of a putative “Florentine” school, no less illustrious than the better-known contemporary school of Bologna. With this article, we hope to increase awareness of an important but rarely studied school of fencing, ahead of the future publication of Docciolini’s treatise in full English translation. The article itself addresses combat with two swords, another topic that is under-explored, and about which there are often misconceptions. In actuality, combat with two swords holds a relatively privileged position in the systems of Altoni and Docciolini, as the first discipline to be taught after the sword...

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Selling the Fencing “Master” – On Georg Hager’s Vers, or: Earning Honours and Social Advancement in the Early Modern Age

In the early 1550s, the Nuremberg Meistersinger Georg Hager wrote: Wer brauchen wil die löblich kunst, von einem meister sol ers leren, Nicht von einem winckel[1] fechter; sunst hatt er die kunst nicht mit eren[2]. Which translates as: Who wants to use the praised art shall learn it from a master, Not from a bazaar fencer, else he has the art without honours. Andre Paurnfeyndt in the first printed Fechtbuch of 1516 had written: So du von ainem maiſter ſchwercz oder von ainem vermerten[3] freifechter lerñſt, vnd nit von den winckel fechterñ als wan ain plinter den anderñ furt vnd fallen ped in graben. Which translates as: May you learn from a sword master or from a sworn Freifechter, And not from one of those bazaar fencers as if one blind man leads another and they both fall into the ditch The first obvious difference is that Paurnfeyndt straight out says that a Winkel­fechter will not teach you well; Hager’s approach is different – he acknowledges you may learn the art, but there is another quality that the student will lack. Noble Honour To translate the final phrase “sunst hatt er die kunst nicht mit eren” with the meaning of “else he has the art dishonourably” or “else he has the art but [the art is] without honour” in my view misses an essential element of “eren” (which is,...

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The use of sword behind the shield wall and phalanx

‘…With this, he drew the sharp blade at his side, a powerful longsword, and gathering his limbs together swooped like a high-soaring eagle that falls to earth from the dark clouds to seize a sick lamb or a cowering hare. So Hector swooped, brandishing his keen blade. Achilles ran to meet him heart filled with savage power, covering his chest with his great, skilfully worked shield, while above his gleaming helm with its four ridges waved the golden plumes Hephaestus placed thickly at its crest. Bright as the Evening Star that floats among the midnight constellations, set there the...

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Sword staff: The sword of the poor!

Original article by Eytichios Tzirtilakis. Translation into English by George E. Georgas Once upon a time in the Byzantine Empire, the wooden swords were commonly used as weapons. From the time of the legendary Byzantine hero Basilios Digenis Acritas up until present day, this tradition was kept alive. I here present the weapon of the poor people of Crete; a medieval tradition that is quickly fading away at the dawn of the 21st century. The sword staff or sword stick is a staff with the shape of a curved sword; i.e a wooden sword. This wooden sword is not a training sword such as bokken, instead it is a strong wooden construction made from a thick and hard type of wood.  This brilliant symbol of a world fading away, the sword staff, hides all the power of Crete and all the ignorance of our age. In a few short decades the most popular weapon of the rebels of Crete has been forgotten even as memory. And the sadest part of all of this is that this weapon has its roots all the way back in the medieval empire of Greeks. The Eastern Roman Empire! The sword staff is exactly what its name says. It is a staff, in the shape of sword. It is a wooden sword. But it is not a replica of sword or a training weapon or even a game...

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Meyer quarterstaff workshop in Florence, Italy

Here’s the workshop on Joachim Meyer’s quarterstaff held by me and my fellow GHFS member Mattias Moberg at the HEMAC Florentia event in March, in Florence, Italy. It has been edited down from a 3 hour workshop into a 1 hour movie. Thank you so much for filming, editing and sharing this guys! It truly was a memory for life and a great honour being invited! Thank you also to Mattias for being such a great help and training partner! Adding to this, for those interested, here are two videos of free fencing as described in this article: Free Fencing Exercises...

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Concerning the Sharpness of Blades

A high level of sharpness of cutting tools is preferable, just as it is for edged weapons. While tools are generally used in well defined situations for which they are optimised, edged weapons, particularly those with longer blades, have to meet conflicting requirements. Within the scope of this work, influences on the sharpness of blades and their further effects as well as the necessary design trade-offs are evaluated. Factors of Sharpness While sharpness is an everyday concept, there is no uniform definition. It would, however, stand to reason to regard a blade as sharper, the less force it requires to cut a certain material or the deeper the cut becomes with a given force. Concurrently, the blade should not only be sharp, but should also retain its edge, i. e. the edge should withstand many cutting processes without a significant decrease in sharpness. Moreover, it is preferable to use a blade that withstands stress not only from ideal cutting processes – particularly when fencing. Depending on the respective application, an optimum compromise of sharpness and robustness has to be found. [1, 2] Several factors determine the sharpness of a blade, among them the properties of the steel, the relative motion of blade and target, the curvature of the blade, the edge angle, grinding and finish. Edge Radius and Finish McCarthy et al. [3] determined the dependence of the force \(F\) required for cut formation...

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The secret, dangerous military life of medieval superstars,

Anglophones are taught from an early age to believe firmly in the notion of the inevitability of progress, which is one of our strongest, albeit secular, religious tenets. We all know that life before the era of the car and the jet was ‘nasty, brutish, and short’, and even worse for Americans, frequently inconvenient. Therefore it follows quite reasonably that we, as a people, know very little about the Middle Ages, and even less about anyone who wasn’t either English or a King or preferably, both. Even these people are known to us primarily from 1970’s Monty Python films, comic books...

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Free Fencing exercises

In our Meyer staff class we have been forced to develop methods that meet the simple fact that in staff fencing you are actually training with the actual sharp weapon and no protective gear will keep you safe from potentially crippling harm. Consequently we have needed to find ways of coming as close as possible to full contact sparring, using all available techniques, without too high a risk of actually injuring each other permanently. For this I have defined two methods that are close, but distinctly different in nature; sparring and free fencing. Both are quite easily applicable to whatever weapon...

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Difference and similarities between “German” and “Italian” traditions – Roundtable review

This small review intends to share some of the outcome and to highlight some of the  interesting discussions from the round tables held during the recent event in Saint-Cergue (10-12 January 2014, “Differences and similarities between the teachings of Fiore dei Liberi and Johannes Liechtenauer”) organized by Gagschola.  Panellists were Fabrice Cognot [De Taille et d’Estoc] (Fiore dei Liberi and his followers), Keith Farrell [Academy of Historical Arts] (Johannes Liechtenauer’s glossators and followers), Roman Vucajnk [Academia Artis Dimicatoriae] (late german tradition, especially Joachim Meyer), Rob Runacres [Commilitium Historical Fencing] (late Italian tradition, especially the Bolognese school) and Daniel Jaquet...

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Vibration of the blade and how to use it

Everyone is aware of the fact that a sword blade vibrates, at least anyone with a basic level of knowledge of swords. This is especially true for medieval European swords. Pages upon pages have been written about the properties of swords and how to interpret the vibration nodes of the sword. While this is all very interesting and certainly leads to a deeper understanding of the sword, it is only half of the story. As a swordsman I am interested in the practical side, the applicability of these vibration and its nodes and amplitudes if I may use this term...

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Rare illustrations of Byzantine warriors in the Renaissance book Erotokritos

The Renaissance book Erotokritos is a unique preserved manuscript with colour illustrations belonging to the library of the Romanian Academy. The book is translated from Greek to Romanian. The photos below and the text are taken from the ΑΔΑΜ publication in Greek. The book was originally written by Vitsentzo Kornaro in the city of Citia in Crete in the year of 1645 but created by unknown calligrapher and illustrator. The illustrations however, were made by Petraki in 1787 (code Β.R.A. 3514), and the calligraphy was done by Ionitza. Both of them used the older book of Erotokritos for their work. In the illustrations...

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Teaching progressions in Meyer’s longsword 1: the attacking skill tree

Over the last five years, I’ve given several workshops in both South Africa and Europe focused on sequencing the teaching of techniques from Joachim Meyer’s “Gründtliche Beschreibung… der Kunst des Fechtens”[i]. In my view, each section in Meyer’s 1570 text contains two or more of the following elements- a glossary of terms, a training programme (the “Stucke” or “devices”) and an advanced commentary. This progression is best shown in Meyer’s longsword and rapier sections, but the teaching programme is a core element of every section. In the teaching section (“second part”) of each weapon section, Meyer lays out a sequence of drills which I argue escalate in complexity, in which different techniques are introduced to the student in order. This series of articles will explore some of these ideas in more detail, and is written primarily for my own students, but will hopefully be of interest to many other practitioners. This particular article forms the basis for a class I gave at WWOC 2012. The attacking skill tree In a fight, attack and defence are the two sides of the fight. An attack must foil the attempted defence; the defence must foil the attempted attack. Some defensive techniques only work against certain attacks; some attacking stratagems are designed to defeat certain defensive techniques. However, many students have a limited repertoire of attacks, and often fail to sequence them particularly...

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The Onion – Basics of European Longsword: Part 7

This week we will be taking advantage of one of the greatest benefits from reading somewhat later masters, like Joachim Meyer and George Silver, by looking closer at a subject that most early treatises speak little of; tactics. We will here only focus on the former master though, and take a look at what tactical advice he gives on combat. However, before we actually do that, we should perhaps look at the definition of that very word; tactics, as it is often confused with strategy. Here is one definition of the two: Tactics are the actual means used to gain an objective, while strategy is the overall campaign plan. So, strategy is the long-term plan that uses different shorter-term tactics to achieve the objective. In combat the objective is commonly to hit the opponent, although it can also be to dominate the opponent or just flee unscathed. To do this, different strategies are used, like e.g. confusing and overwhelming the opponent, which can be done using different tactics, like moving constantly, taking the initiative first, provoking, fenting etc. Looking to the strategies Meyer is close to the earlier masters, but tactically he expands on the older art by also using for the time modern concepts from many sources, not least the Bolognese tradition. Holistic reading and general or particular advice? To understand Meyer’s Art of combat one needs to consider his...

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Towards a new approach in HEMA-tournaments: Let’s fence naked!

The end of a new year and the beginning of a new year is for many people the ultimate occasion to launch new resolutions: losing weight, stop smoking, not spending too much money on certain things etc., etc.  Some of us even have specific HEMA-resolutions: train more, daily swinging of the kettle bell, running once a week or why not… saving money for that beautiful sword you saw?  With this text, we want to propose a new resolution: get rid of your protection and let’s fight naked! In December 2011 Mike Cartier of the Meyer Freifechter Guild wrote a splendid article in which he enthusiastically – and for some of us even controversially – proposed to lay down our protection and to start fighting as our ancestors did in the Fechtschule.[1]  This means we have to take away all our protection when we fight or better… only rely on our own skills and sword by means of protection. Mike Cartier’s text was for some members of the Hallebardiers (Brugge, Belgium) a revelation. One of our main reasons to start with this way of fencing was our growing unhappiness about the present tournaments in the HEMA-world.  We don’t criticize the great talented fighters today and the enormous efforts certain clubs dedicate to organize world famous tournaments.  The problem is different, because we see several things which are in our opinion not...

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Follow some Lessons with Dagger and Rapier

In a previous article, a detailed introduction to manuscript Cod. 264.23 was presented along with an English translation of the first two sections, dealing with the single rapier. In this contribution, a translation is presented of the third part (pages 61-83), dealing with fencing with rapier and dagger. While the first two parts of Cod. 264.231 appeared to have been written directly by the unknown author, this third part is a partial copy containing 44 pieces from Hans Wilhelm Schöffer von Dietz’s treatise “Gründtliche vn eigentliche Beschreibung der freyen Adelichen vnd Ritterlichen Fechtkunst”, published in Marburg in 16202, and two pieces (33 and 46) for which corresponding lessons were not found in that treatise. There are however some minor changes in the copy presented here, mainly in the spelling of certain words and the use of commas rather than slashes. Additionally, the illustrations from the original are missing in this manuscript, and the references to the plates have not been included in the copy. For comparison, with all lessons here, the numbers of the corresponding lessons from the printed edition are included between braces: […]. New considerations about the identity of the Fencing master “Hans Wilhelm” On page 5 of the manuscript, the anonymous author mentions the name of his fencing master “Hans Wilhelm”. In the previous article3, it was theorised that this “Hans Wilhelm” might be Hans Wilhelm...

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HEMA and politics

Looking at the recent “sexistic HEMA banner debate” I really feel a concern about how quickly these women and men who object have been disregarded as rabid feminists by some. For some reason that happens quite often with feminism. Feminists are regarded as overly angry women that need to calm down and are treated as somewhat ignorant and single-minded, like children, instead of people who strive to create equality for more than half of our population and for that reason deserve our respect. No, there wasn’t any ill-will, intentional sexism etc on the behalf on any of the involved. However that...

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The Art of Control – Fechtschule Manifesto 2

Fencing with the Sword is nothing other than a discipline, wherein your force strives together with your sword  in placement so that one with the other, using care and agility, artfulness, delicacy and manliness, are at need the same both in strikes and in other handwork one is obliged to, excepting when one is not in a serious situation, thus by such discipline one will be more dangerous and more skillful, and when needing to protect one’s body be more effective. -Joachim Meyer 1570 The  words above are what first drove me to write the original article, I believe what we need to know about how to conduct out art is right there in that quote for us to follow if we choose to. That is really what it boils down to, the desire and will to do it. Without a conscious decision to use control it is not going to be evident. It is a skill we must decide we want as a beginning, the first few steps on a path towards a goal we can see clearly in the books and we desire to emulate. Now that we have established this goal of seeking to experience the art the way our ancestors did in the Fechtschule, or if not that at least the method with which they trained for the Fechtschule events. Clearly they were able to...

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Art of Control (Fechtschule Manifesto) Part 1

“Fencing with the Sword is nothing other than a discipline, wherein your force strives together with your sword in placement so that one with the other, using care and agility, artfulness, delicacy and manlyness, are at need the same both in strikes and in other handwork one is obliged to, excepting when one is not in a serious situation, thus by such discipline one will be more dangerous and more skillful, and when needing to protect one’s body be more effective. This can well and properly be divided into three main parts, namely the beginning, the middle, and the...

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Some Fencing Rules

The following translation of the manuscript Cod. Guelf. 264.23 contains the notes of an unknown German speaking student about his fencing lessons at the knight academy at Sorø (Ritterakademie Sorø). It was most likely written over the period of several months to years, though all title pages are dated to the 10th of July 1657. This manuscript is of particular interest due to the perspective that it provides. Most Fechtbücher were written by experienced teachers with the purpose of conveying their prowess. In contrast to this Cod. Guelf. 264.23 was only written for personal use. The author directly wrote down the lessons that he received on the fencing floor, using the diction and methods of his teacher, and brought in his own views and thoughts while doing so. The concept of a student who is sitting at a table in his room at the knight academy in the evening, to once more reflect upon the fencing lessons of the day by the flickering light of a candle flame to make notes, which are then collected in his own notebook, is fascinating. Description of the manuscript Cod. Guelf. 264.23 Extrav. of the Herzog-August Library in Wolfenbüttel consists of 47 leaves of 20 x 16 cm and was created around 1657 at the knight academy in Sorø1. It was written in German in a cursive hand. However, certain technical terms were...

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Creativity, stress, and a stiff upper lip

Why is creativity important in fencing, and how come it shuts down when we are stressed? And what has that got to do with making sure you have waxed your moustache before facing mortal danger on the battlefield? Creativity is what we call the ability to create something new. Some time ago I watched a lecture by Dr. Örjan de Manzano(1). Dr. Manzano’s research shows that highly creative people who do well on divergent tests have a lower density of dopamine D2 receptors in the thalamus compared with less creative people. This means that they don’t filter as much information...

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The Onion – Basics of European Longsword: Part 6

Throughout history going all the way back from at least medieval times up until modern military bayonet training a diagram typically depicting four crossing lines with seven or eight directions of cutting or striking have been used. The fact that it has changed little is of course not very surprising as it is tied to human physiology, both that of our opponent and in how we are capable of using our weapons in striking. This week we will look briefly at this and how we can categorize the various types of cuts and reflect a bit on their forms...

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From Treatise to Exercise- a model for turning text into action

An often overlooked aspect of historical fencing is how to go about turning all the information contained in a fencing text into a structured means of teaching and learning. At first it seems as if this would be pretty obvious- do what the text tells you and mimic what you see in the pictures. However this can often lead to incomplete understanding and poorly honed skills with a lack of the fundamentals. What if you want something more? This is where you need to develop your analytical skills and read between the lines in a text or treatise in...

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Translation of an Essay on Saint Didier’s Fencing Treatise

…  Published in 1573, by George Dubois, Master-of-Arms. Examining the nature of the works by ancient masters of fencing always surprises me. They are often criticised as being baser than modern works which are the apogee of the art and that the ancients are little but rungs on the ladder towards a pinnacle. By tradition among fencing salles Saint Didier and his works are portrayed as pale imitations of Italian techniques of the era, and his work has a certain childishness. This is not my opinion. The perfection of paintings and sculptures of the Renaissance exceed the sad quality of...

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The Onion – Basics of European Longsword: Part 5

This week’s article will be talking about the topic of various ways of counterstriking against an attack. Different masters and traditions handle this differently, depending on their core tactics and views on what distances and timing to use as the basis for the general fighting. Some even mix different solutions in varying proportions, combining different and sometimes disparate styles into their own personal style, with Joachim Meyer being a prime example of this. Kinetic energy, opposing strikes, leverage, Versetzen and distance Basically there are three different methods (1) for handling the opponent’s strikes with a counterstrike: 1. Opposing kinetic...

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The Onion – Basics of European Longsword: Part 4

This time we will start moving into somewhat more unexplored and unmapped territory, working with various clues gathered from different places, to help us guide the way through the (wide) distance. The working theory is that there is a certain distance that many of us need to learn to fight at and utilize more intently and not just pass through or end up in – a distance that is little discussed in the “German” treatises, as it just didn’t need as much explaining for our predecessors since it was common practice to utilize it and thus the authors chose to focus on the...

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Longswords and their data

For the past year or so, I have been gathering data on longswords. These come from a wide range of different source, from the dark nooks of the foreboding internet to dusty tomes found in libraries. The quest has yielded around 60 longswords dated from the 13th to the 16th century. Of course, these swords were chosen according to certain criteria. These criteria are as follows: a)    they have at least the weight, length and total length listed b)    they are not so corroded as to change their handling properties majorly c)    they do not seem to have been...

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The Onion – Basics of European Longsword: Part 3

Time for part 3 in the Onion Article Series, this time taking a closer look at the parts of the weapon and how it relates to handling of distance and tactics. Simply put there are two ways of approaching the issue of controlling the opponent; either physically or mentally. But more on that later. 3. The Schweche, the Mittel and the Stercke Physically controlling your opponent and his/her weapon can be done either with your body, or with your weapon and its features. To better understand this we need to look at how a regular longsword is divided into...

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A tear in our beer for Sir Richard Burton

With no little shame, and for lack of time, I would today just very briefly like to suggest a toast for one of the more colourful, and bad-ass looking HEMA pioneers of the British Empire, Captain Sir Richard Burton, explorer, translator, soldier, fencer, orientalist, ethnologist, spy, diplomat, poet and rebel “sexologist”, who died on this very day 1890, with a life time experience enough for ten men. Sir Richard Burton studied fencing under Professor Charles Pons (1793-1885), Maitre d’Armes in Paris, and he was also a member of the infamous Kernoozer’s Club, alongside of men like Baron de Cosson, Egerton Castle...

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The Onion – Basics of European Longsword: Part 2

Continuing with part 2 in the Onion series of articles we will now focus on the topic of controlling the fight, or lack thereof and regaining it. In German terms these concepts are called Vor, Nach and Nachreissen. These concepts are hugely important, but at the same time very hard for a beginner to sense and utilise, but they can be trained with the right set of exercises, while they build the correct mentality for both parties. So, what do these concepts really mean? 2. Vor, Nach, Gleich & Nachreissen explained Before we begin, I would like to remind you...

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Unfolding the cape

Neither a real weapon, nor a simple cloth: the cape in Italian martial arts. The cape is an item of clothing, subject to the rules of fashion and climate, and cannot be described appropriately by measures and rules, therefore it may have various shapes, lengths and widths, it may have a hood, or not. It is typically made of  rather thick and heavy cloth, in order to protect from rain and bad weather, but in milder periods it could just be a short cape attached to a shoulder. However, this is usually a garment worn by the men-at-arms, or fencers, commanders and mercenaries. The famous adventurer and goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571), brought in front of the Eight of Florence as a result of another stunt, repents “giving me a great reproof and yelled, so to see me with the cape and the others in civilian hood” ”dandomi una grande riprensione e sgridato, sí per vedermi in cappa e quelli in mantello e cappuccio alla civile;” (“La Vita” 1558 – autobiography). As he realizes that, having to discuss their demeanor, he showed up very badly with the cape on him, while his opponent wears “a civilian hood” “mantello e cappuccio alla civile”. In a comment to the same passage from “La Vita” in the edition of 1926, the essayist Enrico Carrara says “the cloak was worn by bad people, unless...

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The Onion: Basics of European Longsword: Part 1

For the last year or so I have been working on a group of primarily longsword exercises based on studying fechtmeister Joachim Meyer‘s holistic system for training and fighting, focusing on the dussack, longsword and staff in combination with some additional mostly untutored practice of Portuguese Jogo do Pau. Some of the core questions have revolved around how to become more dynamic in fencing while also learning to fence in a more safe way that leads to fewer double kills. A good friend recently compared this group of exercises to an onion that has many, many layers of sublime understandings that you...

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French fencing guilds

French fencing guilds of Paris, Lille, and Amiens in the 16th and 17th century Translated by Pierre Pichon Edited by Jean Chandler, SDA NOLA, New Orleans & Roger Norling, GHFS/MFFG Finally we have here English translations of French fencing guild documents from the 16th and 17th centuries. These documents contain a wealth of information concerning the practices of the fencing guilds and our hope is that the publishing of these will spur further research and sharing of material within the international HEMA community. Much more is to be found out there so keep digging and remember to spread it. Background These documents were provided to me by Roger Norling who got them from the French historical fencing website at http://jfgilles.perso.sfr.fr Terminology For convenience and ease of comprehension for an English-speaking reader I have substituted some English words for specific terms. The term ‘Serment’ means sworn  (via the Latin word serere, which means ‘to join together’, similar to the English legal phrase ‘sworn-in’), and is used throughout these documents to refer to a group of people joined by an oath.  Frequently the term ‘sermon confrere’ is used to refer to a sworn guild.  I’m substituting the relatively familiar term confraternity though the more archaic term ‘conjuration’ is probably a closer match. Confrérie (‘brotherhood’), seems to usually refer to the larger organization, and is translated as guild.  It could also mean sodality....

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“Contenders ready!” The Gladiator Revival of Belle Epoque France

During the Belle Epoque of France gladiators were held up as the very model of physical perfection due to their athletic ability, aesthetic form and stoicism in the face of duress so it is no surprise that they caught the imagination of Georges Dubois, the noted Olympian, fencer, writer, martial artist, fight director and sculptor. In a series of articles in the La Culture Physique magazine in late 1907 and early 1908 he describes his interest, research and the results of his study. He started by searching the National Library of France for original gladiator treatises without success, he then...

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In memory of Lt. Egerton Castle

On this day Sep 16 1920 one of our greatest HEMA Pioneers, Egerton Castle died. Together with men like Cpt Alfred Hutton, Baron de Cosson, Archibald Corble and Kpt Emil Fick and some 50 more men around Europe, he struggled to learn and understand the martial arts systems of medieval and Renaissance Europe in the late 1800s and early 1900s. His most well-known book on the topic is Schools and Masters of Fencing, but he also authored several novels together with his wife, Agnes, which commonly included scenes of fencing based on his understanding of European martial arts. He was also a member of the Kernoozer’s club, a small British gentlemen’s club focused on the study of medieval arms and armour, and to some degree the use of them. One of the members was Baron de Cosson, who owned the two antique fechtschwerter that was used as a template for the replicas used by Cpt Alfred Hutton, Egerton Castle and others. Much more can be said about this great man, but time is short so I will just suggest a toast in his memory today. And as a freaky coincidence there may be more reason for a toast, although again for a rather sad reason. On this day in Marchdorf, Swabia, a man called Johannes Liechtnouw was murdered although the year is unclear. The only notes of this mention...

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Regarding the USFCA HEMA instructors program.

With all due respect to those who have opposing views regarding the new USFCA Master title, and to Ken Mondschein, Jerry Benson, Walter Green of  of Salle Green and Jeff Lord, Tom and John Farmer of the Knoxville Academy of the Blade, and Mark Logan of Salle Green  – and feel free to correct any errors or misunderstandings. I sincerely believe the USFCA program for certifying instructors for historical fencing has been a very badly managed affair which could have ended up much more positively and constructively through a reasonable degree of transparency and inclusiveness and with some other vital decisions made in the process. Our “community” may be split into many smaller subcommunities, but we are united by ultimately having similar goals, despite us using different methods and approaches and focusing on different aspects of HEMA. Handled wisely, we could have seen a great collaboration between the USFCA and HEMA. As it is, we now run serious risk of having this blocking any such future attempts for quite some time. This has been discussed for about a year and a half, although not in any official capacity, and was seemingly only reluctantly presented on a few forums, then as something quite different than what we now see. Now we are presented with something that to us is even more controversial than when first described. The originally suggested first level of “Initiateur d’Escrime...

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15th and 16th century Italian wrestling analogies

  Wrestling, in any era, culture and geographic era, is an archaic aspect of man, as a game, during the growth, and also as a ritual and sport activity. At the same time it is a fundamental and essential part in a warrior’s martial preparation. German fencing treatises from the XV and XVI century clearly show how much attention was paid to wrestling, at least in Central Europe: just bear in mind the essays by Ott Jud, or by Fabian von Auerswald, or the Das Buch von Füßringen, or the Kunstlicher stuck Kämpffens Ringens und Werffens. Only a little...

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Fencing Culture, Duelling and Violence

Armed civilian conflict was a reality of early modern life, both arranged duels and spontaneous violence. Many masters speak lucidly of deadly combat, or claim direct experience of it, which should not surprise given their violent trade. Nonetheless many young men learned to fence, and relatively few perished by the sword. Examining sixteenth and seventeenth-century Italy (contrasted with France)1 evidence suggests that despite a vibrant fencing culture, and a generally more violent society, death by the sword in civilian duels was not inordinately common. Most violence fell outside of duels, and stopped short of killing, while most fencers would never need to apply their skills to lethal effect. Comparing the emphasis of the manuals, with the actual form and incidence of civilian violence, we must question the extent to which these arts were conventional, rather than purely pragmatic self-defence systems. This is not to disparage the traditions we study, or deny their value as a preparation for combat. But rather to acknowledge, celebrate, and understand the entirety of historical fencing practice: when it was used with lethal intent, and when not. The French Exception Carroll argues that few duels were recorded in France before the 1520s, the popularity of duelling spreading from Italy, and that: Unlike the tourney, judicial combat was a rare event and widely despised. Olivier de la Marche … witnessed thirty major jousts and tournaments in his...

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Exercises for the Cloak and Rapier

  The following are partnered drills for the cloak and rapier. It is vital that the attacker providing the techniques you are working against makes the techniques properly. If a thrust finishes too soon or is not committed, it is not realistic and of no help. The attacker must work at a speed that tests the defender but the aim is not to score points or catch the defender out. However, the attacker must work you hard! Finally, if this is done too fast, then you will not be provided with the opportunity to teach your body how it...

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The chronology of fencing books

At various points discussions have surfaced again and again, which question the chronology of the fencing styles and schools of late medieval and renaissance times. The question, who could have been the first fencing master and who “invented” a certain kind of fencing, leads often to a discussion on the chronology of fencing books. This ignores a simple fact: all fencing books are more or less products of compilation and/or plagiarism. The percentage of innovation and invention in such a book is vanishingly low. This is due the fact that the art of fighting is older than the art of writing. Thus the claim of uniqueness is always in question regarding the contemporary work of the said authors and masters. Most fencing books were created in the high age of the masters where the art – if successful – had been spread already. For us today the books and the art within is unique, but only because it is not part of our everyday life. So we seek out to find a chronology of unique works where in fact there had been only an evolution of common ground with some extraordinary peeks. The task to create a chronology is more than difficult. A lot of effort has been done to find dates and places of origin. But the accuracy of these dates is more than questionable for at least two reasons: 1....

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Smallsword… for we are many.

“Draw not your Sword but to serve the King, preserve your Honour, or defend your Life.” “Art of Fencing”, Monsieur L’Abbat, 1696 (Andrew Mahon, 1735) To begin examining this weapon we can start off with the famous quote from the Biblical parable: “And He (Jesus) asked him (the man), “What is thy name?” And he answered, saying, “My name is Legion: for we are many.” Alfred Hutton in 1901 in his work The Sword Through the Centuries wrote: “The large handsome rapier of the Mignons and the Musketeers dissappeared, and its place was taken by a decidedly short weapon, the early from...

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Brief Notes on Using the Cloak with the Rapier

The following are some suggestions for using the cloak with the rapier. Please note, the techniques will vary from those which can be used with a sidesword, so this should not be taken as a definitive form for all sword types. The notes are not exhaustive and are best used as an aide memoire to a workshop, rather than a complete introduction. Size and make of the cloak The cloak should be wide enough to be grip in the fist at one corner and still cover the forearm and half of the upper arm. It should be long enough that, when in guard, it will drop to the shin, having been wrapped around the arm once or twice. However, it should not be so low that it can be stepped on. It should be of rough linen or similar cloth; nothing synthetic. Warning: the cloak will be heavy! For exchanging, a thick glove (like a hockey glove) and forearm armour is advised. Holding the cloak Grip the cloak at the top corner and hang the rest along your out-stretched arm. Only a little of the cloak should hang to the inside of your arm, the rest should hand to the floor. Wrap the cap once or twice around the arm by swinging the arm around in large circles. This will take practice and space! The cloak should now be...

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Physical conditioning, health & sport readiness

Humans attempt to make sense of their environment results, quite often, in the systematization of knowledge into boxes commonly (and quite wrongly) made out to be independent, as is the case with the existence of sport specific coaches, physical conditioning trainers, etc. However, by looking closely at physical conditioning, one must question him or herself about its purpose. In this regard, and as clearly pointed out by Kurz, sports training should be very objective and, thus, only include drills that either: Improve sport specific performance Help prevent the chances of each sport’s most common injuries. As such, these should be physical conditioning’s overall goals which, translated into actual training goals, entail gearing physical conditioning so as to maximize sport specific motor skills … which, some years ago, brought about the concept of functional training. Additionally, it is crucial for folks to start realizing that the myth of sports technique being, at the same time, the most effective and efficient motor patterns available is quite false. Instead, time constrained techniques mostly focus on effectiveness and they do so to a point that they actually entail a greater physical exertion which, in turn, requires a greater development of performers’ physical abilities. In the absence of such crucial supporting pillars trainees who only focus on sport specific training without adapting their technique so as to match their movement potential actually incur in...

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Joachim Meyer’s dagger system

Note: This is a working document and will continuously be updated as we work with our interpretations of Joachim Meyer’s dagger teachings. Similarly to how I worked with his staff teachings I will attempt at systemizing the principles and techniques taught and described both in his writings and his illustrations. Analysis will also be done with comparative work on the teachings of Marozzo as there are an unusual percentage of strong similarities in the illustrations and it is yet not clear if this extends to the text as well. Some comparison to the works of Hans Talhoffer will also be made as there are distinct similarities to it also.   If you are interested in learning more about how we approach the fencing treatises, then these two articles will help you: Tools for research Basic questions for research, text analysis and academic writing.  How to approach the material Important questions to keep in mind while reading What is the personal history of the author? – Born in Basel, 1537. Becomes a burgher of Straßburg in 1560, as a cuttler, where he also becomes a Fechtmeister sometime in the 1560s, and arranges five fechtschulen. Possibly has military experience and likely served in the town militia at one point. Wrote three or four fencing treatises and received employment as master-at-arms at the Duke of Mecklinburg in Schwerin, but dies in 1571, on his way to...

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A short note on strengeren, or “gaining the blade”.

What’s our problem? The main purpose of any fencing art is to keep the fencer safe from the hostile intentions of his opponent(s), i.e. defense. However, in all of these arts it is recognized that through defense alone, a fencer will eventually lose, because as his opponent continues throwing attacks, inevitably some attacks will pass through the fencer’s defenses. Therefore, the fencer is taught to attack his opponent, in order to prevent them from continuing their offense. Such an attack, however, can only be made if the fencer can safely come into range, execute his attack, and then move...

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What is a fencer?

I know I am not the only one who feels fencing is more than training, research, techniques, sparring, and competitions. Being a fencer means something—but what, exactly? Some of the best people I know are fencers, and their personalities are a part of their fencing. Their greatness as humans carries over to their fencing and vice versa. I have witnessed students and teachers grow and better themselves as a result of their commitment to these arts. I certainly feel that I have made a positive personal journey over the last decade. Much of it can be attributed to this art. I do not mean ‘good’ here as in someone who altruistically makes the world a better place, but rather, ‘good’ as in personal growth. That distinction is counter-intuitive for the modern man because the ideal historical swordsman is a far more violent creature than what is acceptable today. He would use his sword to defend even minor infractions on his honour, which seems rather excessive by today’s standards. Likewise, practising HEMA raises a few eyebrows once people understand the level of contact that we allow. “Why on earth would anyone want to do that?“ But there is no way around it. Fencing is anachronistic. Regardless of the fact that having a propensity for lethal violence or training for it is considered bad in today’s civilian world, I still think...

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Lady Fencers – transcript of an article in The Harmsworth Magazine, issue July 1899

I sought this article out of simple curiosity and was intrigued and surprised by the content. At face-value it seems a charming snapshot of Victorian society, the Facebook of its time. On reading, however, I was struck by the attitudes it contained, and how they compare with those facing women in fencing today. Just four short sides of print, with eight accompanying illustrations, it depicts the changing nature of women’s roles in society at the time, at least of the upper classes. Women are referenced only in relation to their father or husband, but I dug a little deeper...

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Simple Staff Method and Drills

I first learned staff in the late eighties, and although I was not that interested in the provenance, as I recall my master learned it in Scouts as a child. I never had any documentation for it, but it was a simple system consistent with what I have subsequently seen of the Boy Scout staff and manuals such as the McCarthy staff. It is more or less what naturally happens if you pick up a longish stick and use to defend yourself in children’s games, and, I suspect, that many of the actual staff fighting techniques that we have, assumed that something like this was just understood from playing as children. On the other hand that could just be because I twist what the body knows into the practice of other staff techniques. The techniques themselves are simple, and what makes them interesting is more what you can do with them as a training tool, to learn about power and relaxation, rhythm and tempo, pattern and timing, fear and control. Arguably the pattern drills are a form of transition between movement drills and actual combat, not unlike some of the sticky hands concepts in some eastern arts. The system is simple, with six to eight strikes with corresponding blocks, two thrusts, a change grip (or moulinet or compass) and a slide. The Staff The staff should be a little...

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A mentality of fear – and its importance to fighting

“If you want to learn how to fight properly and effectively with the long sword, so that you may, without gloves and without all armour, guard your hands and your entire body against all kinds of weapons, against sword, against spear, against halberd, against long knife and also against other weapons, then firstly mark that you know well the strikes and the steps, and mark that you always turn your hands upward with the hilt, and always hide behind the sword, and hold the head close to the hilt…” -Hugo Wittenwiler, ca 1493 The starting point This time I will...

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Die Vorpal-Klinge!

This short movie shows a glimpse of the world of the Collegiate Fencing, the still living child of the Fechtschule tradition. For more reading, look at the excellent article An overview of German collegiate fencing traditions by Jörg Bellinghausen. Also the article Academic Fencing might be of interest. And finally, the blog of Christoph Amberger has a lot of great articles relating to this topic and...

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Meyer freeflow exercises

To begin with, just for clarification, this is not a typical article per se, but rather a text sorted under the Meyer Research Project, thus a more reasoning and speculative piece of text, posted for the sake of discussion and sharing of ideas concerning Meyer’s teachings. I am developing a series of exercises derived both from Meyer’s well-known Kreutz diagram as shown above, and from things I think are similar in other historical fencing traditions like various forms of Bolognese, sabre and Jogo do Pau. The reason for choosing these three are that I think they in some aspects...

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The Saber’s Many Travels (The Origins of the Cross-Cutting Art)

Before you engage in combat, mind this: the blade of your saber is nothing else – and cannot be anything else – but an extension of your own arm, and equally: your entire arm, from the armpit right to the hand which is grasping the hilt, is nothing else but an extended grip of the saber. (Michał Starzewski, of the Ostoja coat of arms) The curved saber first emerged on the steppes of Central Asia amongst the nomadic peoples. It reached the Middle East in 7th century AD via Arab traders, who had good trade relations with the nomads....

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Dynamic gripping of swords

Here’s a good clip from John Clements focusing on an often forgotten aspect of swordfighting; the dynamic gripping of swords. Some time ago I wrote an article about this and although I find it lacking today, I still think it has some good images, even if I really should add more to them. This topic is important for our understanding of the historical fencing, I believe, and I suggest you take a look at both the clip, the article and the images. However, keep in mind that both the clip and my old article brings together a lot of unrelated sources...

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Meyer’s masters

On this day, 443 years ago, Fechtmeister Joachim Meyer published his magnificent fencing treatise ‘Gründliche Beschreibung der Freyen Ritterlichen und Adeligen Kunst des Fechtens’. Exactly one year later, on February 24th 1571, he died from sudden illness, while travelling to take up his position as Fechtmeister at the court of the Duke of Mecklenburg in Schwerin. Currently, I am writing on a couple of books about the Polearms of Joachim Meyer, and to commemorate both Meyer’s legacy and his far too early death, I am here sharing a rough draft for one of the chapters, as a small ‘teaser’. Please...

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Save the wrestling! A short history of wrestling

In a somewhat surprising decision the Olympic Committee has now decided to exclude both Freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling from the Olympic Games, while still retaining other considerably less traditional sports and opening up for adding a more modern sport. To us Historical European martial artists, this should be quite upsetting, as Freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling are one of the few remaining historical European martial sports still being practiced in Europe, outside of some rare and regional folk wrestling, boxing and sports fencing. Greco-Roman wrestling has been a part of the modern Olympic Games right from its start in 1896 and it has been...

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Napoleonic Flame-War ‘Cut vs Thrust’

  During the late 18th and early 19th century the definition of a proper sword varied from nation to nation. Initially, nations sought to choose the ‘best’ sword for their light and heavy cavalry units so that on the battlefield they would be more effective. Tests and studies were done, data collected and proposals put forth. Somewhere along the line, however, the matter of the cutting sword or thrusting sword became more than one of facts and figures- it became one of national pride. HUZZAH! The gallant war-cry “huzzah” of the light cavalry and their colorful uniforms inspired the very definition...

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The Plagiarism by Nicolleto Giganti.

A few years ago I translated the first book of Mr. Nicolleto Giganti into Castilian. The book I used for the translation was printed in 1644 by Zetter in Frankfurt with the text translated into German and French. I must confess that this fencing felt quite lively and fresh, although I noted the lack of nomenclature of the guards, already seated among the masters of his time. Apart from that the book doubtless contained some innovations, passes, contra-passes both inside and outside (as the long points for example) in its 42 beautiful prints. In short, the treaty left me impressed. I know Mr. Salvatore Fabris very well. I’ve worked two years translating his two books into Castilian. Personally, I consider him the greatest master of the rapier. His art, science, system… And its only objective throughout the pages of his books is to teach and do it methodically and thoroughly. The books used for these translations were the originals printed in Copenhagen in 1606 by Henrico Waltkirch. So my impression of the work of Mr. Nicolleto was very friendly and although I considered the allegations made by Mr. Salvatore to be caused by potential jealousy and envy among masters. As for my opinion about Mr. Salvatore and his work I retain my deepest admiration. This year I began to carefully study the second book of Mr. Nicolleto, the Zetter version, printed in...

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Giovanni Battista Gaiani (1619) – An Italian Perspective on Competitive Fencing

  The relative benefit and importance of competition in modern HEMA is a frequent subject of debate. Despite differences in context, it is arguable that historical perspectives might usefully inform present discussions. This article reviews some examples of competitive fencing, primarily from Italian sources, and in particular Giovanni Battista Gaiani’s Arte di maneggiar la spada a piedi et a cavallo from 1619.1 There is a long, well-documented history of public contests at arms in Italy, both plebeian2 and patrician.3 Throughout this history, the boundaries between performative and purely practical fighting were often permeable. During knightly exhibitions of arms, combats...

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The genealogy of the Glima masters recognized by the Viking Glima Federation

Lars Magnar Enoksen (b. 1960) is president of the Viking Glima Federation and its master instructor. The following text is a short presentation of the grand masters who are Lars Magnar’s most influential instructors in the art of Glima. Lars Magnar began his apprenticeship in the late 1980s when he was tutored by experienced masters of Glima in Iceland which was the only place at the time where this art was still practiced in unbroken traditions since the Viking age. It should be mentioned that in the late 1980s there was almost nobody who knew of Glima in Scandinavia...

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A theory-based approach to teaching HEMA

HEMA, it can be said, is only in its second generation by now, though some claim to be in the fourth already. This makes us a very young Art, and even younger than other modern martial arts, since we have no precedent on which to base our knowledge. Judo, BJJ, regular ju jitsu, boxing etc. all have precedents. Ironically, the precedent of sports fencing is also HEMA, though it has become so specialized it is of limited use to HEMA as is. This means we have no traditional or theoretical backing on which to base our trainings except for the often vague manuscripts, our interpretation of which may or may not be correct. While this is a handicap to some extent, at least for current practitioners, it also allows us to build up on everything that sports science has achieved so far; and it has achieved a lot. Theories on motor learning and strength training can help us achieve mastery of HEMA much faster and more efficiently. What follows is a simple proposition that might make teaching more efficient and lessen the burden of instructors. There is only one way in which we may test the correctness of our interpretations, and that is their efficiency in non-controlled instances performed by expert swordsmen. Below are the results of my research gained from academic articles on the field of motor learning,...

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The WhatChaMaCallit-Schwert

In Sweden we have a saying; “A loved child has many names” and looking at what is today called a federschwert this seems to be true for this type of sword as well, at least if we think of it in general terms as a sword for training. Historically, the simplest choice of word was of course schwert, and it was certainly the most commonly used alongside of the less used langen schwert, but terms like paratschwert and fechtschwert have also been used historically, at least in non-fechtbucher sources, although it is hard to tell what the words actually mean. This...

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In memory of Cpt. Alfred Hutton

  Today we raise our glasses to the memory of the 19th cent. HEMA-pioneer Cpt. Alfred Hutton who died on this very day, at the age of 71, on Dec 18 1910, 102 years ago. Cpt. Hutton was an officer of the King’s 1st Dragoon Guards as well as an antiquarian and renowned fencing master and swordsman. He is without doubt one of the most important men in the first wave of HEMA-pioneers, alongside of men like Carl Thimm, Lt. Egerton Castle, Gustav Hergsell, Sir Richard Burton, Josef Schmied-Kowarzik, Hans Kufahl, Pehr Henrik Ling, and Emil Fick, men whose importance to our current research simply can’t be overestimated...

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Remember Mair

On this day, December 10, 433 years ago, Paul Hektor Mair was hung at the age of 62, convicted of embezzlement of the city of Augsburg’s funds. He had spent the money on a lavish lifestyle, often throwing big parties with important people, likely in order to build good connections with the most influential people of the city. To maintain this lifestyle, he abused his position as the City Treasurer of Augsburg to steal money from the city. He managed to uphold this for several decades and his abuse of his position was only discovered after a disgruntled assistant reported him in 1579. Sentence came quickly and he was summarily hanged, not allowed the more noble beheading. However, about 30-40 years earlier he had initiated what can only be described as an amazing but slightly insane project. At a time where the book printing has been available for three generations and books could be made in large numbers of cheap copies with good return of investment, he decides to invest in a project where three hand written and lavishly painted manuscripts encompassing all known European martial arts are to be created. Consequently, he sets out to create the most magnificent work on European martial arts ever made. For this purpose, and for his own passion of the Arts, he also invested in collecting older books on martial arts, like...

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Skill training vs. strength training

This is a debate that has been heard by all of us one time or another, I believe: Should strength training be incorporated into HEMA, and how much of it should there be? The extreme usually goes towards having a minimum of strength training, focusing on form and technique instead. Well, I believe it’s time we take a bit more theoretical approach to the issue. Thus, I’ve conducted a short research, and here are the results: Learning strikes, techniques, footwork and the like is achieved through the phenomenon of motor muscle memory, the basic premise of which is this: the more you repeat a certain action, the better you get at it. A premise accepted widely enough. However, even this seems to have two stages: one happening mainly in the brain, called memory encoding; this term is also generally used for non-physical encoding. This means the brain is actively connecting the actions needed to make the strike or technique, it is effectively re-mapping our neural pathways so that we are able to perform the action we wish to most effectively. Of course, this is also strengthening over time, as our understanding of strikes and techniques grows better through repetition. This part can be done rather slowly, and should be done so with beginners, so that they do not encode any big mistakes. Once the basic movement has been mastered,...

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The Dussack – a weapon of war

In my opinion the dussack doesn’t quite get the recognition it deserves in the historical fencing community, despite the fact that it was a highly important weapon in the old fencing guilds. It is not really studied properly, probably due to many commonly believing that the wooden/leather waster is all that the dussack is, not realizing that it in reality was a complex-hilt steel sabre that became more common in the first quarter of the 1500s and was used well into the mid 1600s, after which it more and more transformed into the proper sabre. Interestingly though, in its wooden training...

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Why Fight? The Objectives of Liechtenauer’s Fencing

When we hear how people describe the art of fencing in the Middle Ages, we often hear them say that it was all about fighting to the death, or at least to harm the opponent in a way that he couldn’t continue fighting. Preferably as quickly as possible. Kill him before he kills you, that’s the way to survive. In fact, I personally think that this notion is utter nonsense. There may have been individual duels like that, no doubt, but in my opinion that was not the prime intention of the masters. So let me invite you to dig a bit deeper and explore why people fight and what that might tell us about the arts we practice. Most HEMA practitioners today can explain quite clearly, why they fight. It is challenging, it is demanding, it is fun. But what was it like back in the day when Liechtenauer’s teachings were written down? What was the actual purpose of a duel in the times of Peter von Danzig or Jude Lew? Why did the duellists risk their physical integrity and what was their aim? I’m convinced that many discussions we have in modern HEMA are actually linked to these questions, and the answers may be controversial. First of all, let us make no mistake about one crucial thing: humans are social beings and most have a strong sense...

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Russian test cutting practices

One of the great things about online HEMA research is that you often end up finding interesting material that you weren’t really looking for. I was recently doing research on test-cutting practices in British-ruled India, and by happen-stance came across a fair amount of material from Russia. Apparently Russian cavalrymen, especially the Cossacks, had a long tradition of cutting mannekins made of clay and straw. They also engaged in other cutting practices as well: Potatoes, bundles of sticks soaked in water, cones of clay, live animals, and even streams of running water all featured in Russian cutting practice. These...

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The Wreath or the Cash? On Tournament fighting

“Ey fåår Fächtare Krantz förn ändas Manlige Strijden. The Fighter shall not receive the wreath until the manly battle is ended (according to the rules).” -2 Tim 2:5. I sincerely consider tournament fighting to be vital to our efforts in recreating the historical European martial arts, but I also believe that tournaments can be quite damaging to the fencing and HEMA when done incorrectly, too early and for the wrong reasons. This is a controversial topic, as the tournaments are very popular, but this is not an attack on individual fighters or tournament organizers. We are all to varying degrees guilty of the sins...

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The Rose and the Pentagram

This article is written to accompany the recent article about the mysticist, and possibly even fencer and a Freyfechter, Heinrich Agrippa. If you haven’t read the article, it is suggested you do so, before reading this article. Die Rose (the Rose) is a longsword, dussack, rappier and quarterstaff technique described by fencing masters starting from about 1516AD. This striking sequence, as used by several masters including, Andre Paurnfeindt, Paul Hektor Mair [1] and Joachim Meyer [2], and several later derivative works [3], has confused some of us as we try to understand the relationship between the name and the application of the technique. To be able to understand Die Rose I believe we need to understand what connotations the renaissance man had to the word rose and with that understanding we can apply it to our interpretations of the technique. The following article might seem like a novel by Dan Brown, but explores some of the ideas the men and women of the Renaissance shared, sometimes in more or less secret societies. Symbolism regarding the human body and strength & weakness, geometrics, angles and actions all tie together in the various illustrations of many fencing treatises of the Renaissance and we need to examine this topic both broadly and deeply. Here, the relationship between the Rose, the Pentagon and the Pentagram are crucial to our interpretations. Having studied the topic for some time, I would suggest that...

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Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, a fine student, black magician – and a Freyfechter?

Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (15 September 1486 – 18 February 1535) was a German knight, an ambassador, magician, occult writer, theologian, astrologer, and alchemist, and as it appears a soldier and possibly even an independent Freyfechter. Agrippa’s history is fascinating in many ways, full of drama, war, free-thinking, controversy, magic, desperate poverty, several jail sentences and the deaths of two dearly loved and deeply mourned wifes and several children. He was born in the Free Imperial City of Cologne on 15 September 1486, almost exactly a month after the Duke of Austria, Kaiser Frederick III had given the Marxbrüder their first priveleges. The name Agrippa is uncommon at the time and it has been suggested to have been added to his name as a result of him being born feet first, as this was how the Romans were thought to have used the name. However, the city of Cologne is also founded on the remains of the Roman colony Aggripina and his name might therefore refer to his family’s origin in Cologne. Cologne is associated with the House of Austria, the Habsburgers, and Agrippa’s family was of minor nobility who had served the royalty of Austria for many generations. His father directly assisted Emperor Frederick III. Agrippa remained a Catholic throughout his life, but he was also openly sympathetic to the protestant reformist Martin Luther. With this in mind it is interesting to note that another early and contemporary Freyfechter;...

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The OODA Loop & HEMA

“Knowledge is not power. Power alone is power. What knowledge does is provide the means to determine where to focus that power, for maximum effect.”  – Carl von Clausewitz [3] The gears of war turn throughout the Ages as combat perpetually evolves. This evolution of weapons and tactics does not include a change in the process, the intent or the results. Combat is violence and a constant series of decision (making) cycles regardless of the scale in which it is conducted. To be ever more proficient physically and mentally is the goal, and few things outside of (historical) study and sweat bear such fruit. In search of this goal, as martialists we know the need to harness and improve our Fingerspitzengefühl [4], as it is an improvable skill (Richards, 2010), not some kind of third eye or an equally unattainable sixth sense. More topically specific, we also know not to go into the fight with plans to utilize particular techniques since, no plan survives first contact [5]. A self created catalogue of pre-conceived or pre-constructed tactics or maneuvers clutters the mind and slows or stalls not only the mental processing of the battlefield environment [6] but the physical application of violence as well. As such, it (a busy mind) effectively shortens the Reactionary Gap [7] and degrades combat effectiveness. One of those areas outside of sweat and historical study...

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Meyer and Marozzo dagger comparison

  It has been debated regarding to what extent Meyer was inspired by the Italians, the Napolitans and the Bolognese fighting systems and although there appears to be ties to this, exactly what they are and how they came about is still unclear. However, comparing Marozzo’s and Meyer’s dagger images I think there is an unusual amount of similarities between the two, enough to lead me to believe that Meyer is the closest to Marozzo’s treatise, when comparing also to other treatises, both “German” and Italian”. Examining the illustrations in both treatises we find that Marozzo shows 17 dagger fighting...

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About the flat parry

In the world of historical fencing, and particularly the fascinating field of research, we sometimes face scholars who express less well-founded hypotheses on certain topics. The question of parrying with the flat instead of the edge, for example, is a recurring topic that causes somewhat curious and, at the same time, interesting debates. Our  thoughts can be summarized as follows: the parry “par excellence”, as an action seeking to stop the opponent’s blow, done in a way that does not lead to uncertainties in the control of the blade and the point, must necessarily be made with the edge. The flat...

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Travel diary from visiting Sint Michielsgilde /Hallebardiers – the oldest European Fencing School in Brugge, Belgium

Last week I visited the Hallebardiers/Sint Michielsgilde in Brugge, Belgium having been invited to assist the excellent Kevin Maurer of the Meyer Frei Fechter Guild by teaching the Halbenstangen (quarterstaff) of Joachim Meyer. Here is a short travel diary from that visit. Friday 27/4 Up at 04:00 after a night without sleep due to a certain tension before the trip and due to the battery of my alarm clock almost being completely drained… Flight leaves Gothenburg at 06:55 and I arrive in Brussels at 12:50 where the super-friendly Krist Martens picks me up. We go straight to the University Library of Leuven...

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Doing what we are told or what we are taught?

Here’s an old but still always relevant question for us HEMA practitioners to ask ourselves: When we read the old fencing treatises, should we only practice what we are told to do in the treatises or should we try to continue with the next step of playing with it and even do things that we are not explicitly shown or suggested to do in the various stücke? To be able to explore this question; here’s a specific topic that constantly keeps returning in various debates: Meyer is said to not be teaching thrusting with the longsword. Yet, we know for...

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Learning may be tough, extremely tough… Time to wise up!!!

Throughout my years involved with martial arts I have seen, time and time again, instructors in the most varied arts who spar effectively but do not know how they do it. The reason I say this has to do with the fact that: I came to diagnose that these instructors teach certain contents but yet they perform them differently when sparring; However, knowing these instructors well and therefore knowing that they truly teach according to their most honest convictions, they simply teach the way they honestly think they perform, though that is not the case. Relatively recently I came across yet another example of this. As I was observing two senior instructors performing a flow drill, I noticed that their visual strategies differed. While one looked straight at his opponent’s weapon / upper limbs, the other looked straight at the opponent’s face, even when parrying. Funny enough, of these two senior instructors, the one who directed his eyesight towards his opponent’s weapon / upper limbs does not recognise that he does so (and therefore does not teach it that way) and, in live sparring, is the better performer of the two. For me, the main things to take from this are: The principles regarding defensive visual strategies which I describe in my book on developing parrying skill have one more empirical element to support them; When taking classes, do...

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Didrik von Porat

For some time now I have searched and collected information about the Swedish fencing  Master Didrik von Porat. This is what I have found out. According to his Letter of Nobility, which he got when he was knighted, Didrik von Porat was tutored during his youth. In 1662 he travelled with a Swedish embassy to Russia. It’s unclear what kind of role he had during this trip. But after the return to Sweden he went to Germany to study the art of fencing. And he continued to France to keep studying “…for the most excellent fencing masters until he won...

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Teaching martial arts

Quite recently, while exchanging all sorts of points of view with everyone’s good friend Roger Norling of GHFS, and upon stating that Jogo do Pau’s footwork does not entail any deliberate positioning of one’s feet, but simply managing one’s body in order to manage distance with proper balance, Roger presented me with his different view on this topic: “… you move in a sometimes rather particular way that I don’t think is just a matter of stepping back/forth or to the sides to be able to hit at a specific distance, but also to hit/parry in a special way...

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The history of Joachim Meyer’s fencing treatise to Otto von Solms.

The Joachim Meyer fechtbuch named MS A.4°.2, a beautiful hand-written and watercolour-illustrated fencing treatise dedicated to Herrn Otto von Solms-Sonnewalde is currently held at the University Library of Lund, but how did it end up there after having been given to the young Count Otto von Solms some time in the 1560s? As it was a personal gift to Otto von Solms we can fairly safely assume that he was given the book sometime during either his studies or his early travels. As it happens, Otto traveled to Strassburg both in 1560 and in 1568, two years before Joachim Meyer’s death, where...

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A journey through a technique: the Durchlauffen

The “running through” is mentioned already in the pseudo-Hanko Döbringer (on folio 23), and is universally transposed throughout the so-called German martial literature. Durchlauffen, in fact, is a blanket term for a body of techniques, and many instances are characterized by various differing nuances according to the treatise in which they are found. If we take a look at the Fechtkunst Glossary redacted by Dr. Jeffrey Forgengin 2004, we can pinpoint when this term or one of its iterations are used: Durchlauffen: Gladiatoria 50v ; Ringeck 30r, 42r ff.; Starhemberg 22r, 32r ff., 37r; Lecküchner (M) 72v ff.; Egenolff 8v, 23r;...

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The tools for the job

To understand the body mechanics involved in a technique we not only have to train our bodies so we are strong and agile enough, we also need to use tools that work together with our bodies in the appropriate manner. This may seem obvious but is really not and it can become quite apparent when interpreting the sources with tools that have very different characteristics. One such example is how you can train Joachim Meyer’s Halben Stangen Techniques with a regular staff and build your understanding solely on that. However, since Meyer is actually preparing us for the use of the Halberd, we really need to have that in mind and even practice the body mechanics that are required for a considerably more “forward-heavy” weapon, like a proper halberd. Then, it becomes apparent how you need to move to be able to do the Kreutzhauw, where you cross-cut without crossing your arms, like with the Montante. Another such example that I am currently very curious about, as I am exploring the body mechanics of Meyer’s longsword, is what the characteristics really are for his longsword? We know that they were quite long, at least in his treatise of 1570, reaching well into the armpit and with a hilt the length of your forearm. Judging from the pommel size and tapering of the blades shown in the illustrations they do not seem to be...

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Joachim Meÿer Halben Stangen techniques

The Guards Here are the main guards of Joachim Meÿer’s Halben Stangen: 1. Oberhut (left) 2. Gerader Versatzung (or Mittelhut) 3. Unterhut 4. Wechselhut (Not really a “main” guard, but a key stance) 5. Oberhut (right) 6. Steurhut 7. Nebenhut (left) All these can be tied together in a cross-cutting exercise called the “Kreutzhauw“. __________________________________________________________ The Kreutzhauw This is the Kreutzhauw practice using the main guards of Joachim Meÿer’s Halben Stangen: 1. Oberhut (left) 2. Gerader Versatzung (or Mittelhut) 3. Unterhut 4. Wechselhut (Not really a “main” guard, but a key stance) 5. Oberhut (right) 6. Steurhut 7. Nebenhut (left) __________________________________________________________ Parrying from Oberhut This is a simple parrying exercise where you start from the two Oberhut, somewhat corresponding to the longsword guards Tag and Ochs. The exercise means that you start in one of the two guards and can parry with a strike into any other guard. Note: This clip should be replaced since it didn’t quite turn out as I wanted to. I should have restricted myself more clearly to the two Oberhut and more tightly to using Zwerch-like parries. __________________________________________________________ Parrying from Unterhut & Steürhut This is a simple parrying exercise where you start from Unterhut and Steürhut. The exercise means that you start in one of the two guards and can parry with a strike into any other guard. __________________________________________________________ Parrying from Left Nebenhut and...

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Strengthening exercises

Here are some very crude video clips we shot today of the strengthening exercises we have begun working with in the Meÿer Halben Stangen class at Gothenburg Historical Fencing School. Since they are relevant to longsword practice, the article is cross-post into both the Halben Stangen and the Longsword project. As you can see we are still not performing some of them properly as we are still building enough strength and balance to be able to do that. But, it will give you some ideas on what you can do. Our focus is currently on building leg strength and balance, combined with the body mechanics and footwork of Meÿer. We will record these again and replace these raw clips as we get better. Oh, and sorry for the heavy breathing! Wish I could mute all clips, but YT does not allow that. Pole Yoga Make sure your feet, hips and shoulders extend and twist properly. This is basically done to stretch your joints and muscles, but also to train your balance and get you used to the body mechanics of Meyer’s Halben Stangen techniques. Skipping rope or the “Tom Cruise” (not shown.) To get some cardio and to strengthen your calves. Kreutzhauw with weighted staff The staff has 4kg of weight attached at the end. Make sure to extend properly by passing through the stances Left Oberhut (Tag) – Gerader...

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The Rules of the Fight and Effective Training

The Rules of Martial Arts There are rules in martial arts. The rules in modern martial arts are many and varied. These arts are often oriented towards sporting applications or may be practiced for fitness or spiritual development rather than as fighting techniques with an application in the real world. Their rules are oriented towards safety and limiting liability. These are not the rules that I am writing about today. I am writing to discuss rules that are derived primarily from historic sources and involve the basic principles of fighting in earnest combat. In my experience the ‘rules’ listed below are as applicable to modern arts as they are to ancient ones. Some of these occurred to me in the course of my own study and then I found that they were well known in one form or another to the medieval and renaissance masters. Others were told to me and personal experience has shown them to be valid. In the work of recreating the techniques shown in Fiore’s texts these rules have provided a valuable yardstick to judge our interpretations and sometimes to understand what we are seeing in the text. We have generally found that keeping these rules in mind when attempting to reproduce a technique has led to more elegant and effective interpretations that we feel are likely to be accurate than some of our earlier...

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Chronicon Helvetiae

Just some brief reflections on  images from Chronicon Helvetiae by Christoph Silberysen, dated to 1576, currently kept in the Aargauer Kantonsbibliothek in Aarau, Switzerland. Christoph Silbereysen (* 1541 in Baden AG; † 1608 in Wettingen)  was  abbot of the Cistercian Monastery of Wettingen. The chronicle was illustrated by Jacob Hoffmann and it is part of the Swiss Chronicles. It is currently kept in  the Aargau Cantonal library. The two parts from which these images are taken describe the early history of Switzerland, the founding of the cantons and amongst many other interesting battles, the Battle of Morgarten against the German King Rudolf I in 1315 and...

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Meyer quarterstaff – A lesson plan

I thought it might interest some to see how a typical lesson plan for our Meÿer staff class in GHFS looks like. This is of course too much for a single 2 hour class and most of it will be practiced repeatedly through various exercises and the more technical parts will be broken down over the next few months. But this class aims to freshen up on the whole concept of Meÿer’s teachings. ____________________________________________________________ Warm-up 1. Footwork exercises 2. Strengthening circuit. 50sec/station.  a. Kreutzhauw with weighted staff – Foot, shoulder & hip twist.  b. Sideways squats with club.  c. Diagonal Heel lift / jumping rope  d. Jumping squats or splits – high up.  e. Sexy pole dancing  f. The clock  g. Squat jacks   3. Parries: Longsword, Dussack or JdP. Free choice.   Discussion Why practice the Kreutzhauw?   Exercises 1. Precision thrusts with steps. 2. Distances and entering the bind from different guards” ii. Forward-most part of the staff and longest range. 1. Schlagen / Umbschlagen 2. Bleiben a. Schnappen / Zucken b. Rucken c. Dürchwechseln   iii. Mid-forward part of the staff and somewhat closer range OR in between the hands and close range. 1. Absetzen 2. Winden 3. Überschiessen stoss 4. Trücken   iv. Close range 1. Überschiessen + Streich/ Ringen 2. Stangen nehmen 3. Ringen am Stangen   Sparring  ...

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The Secret Fechtbuch of the Little Fuggers.

The famous Augsburg family Fuggers are still considered to have been one of the wealthiest families in the world of all times, and since they were based in Augsburg, and also lived in Nuremberg and other well-known centres of fencing, it would only seem natural that at least some members of this family trained fencing in the Liechtenauer tradition. Here are some clues that might just reinforce this thought. The images below are taken from the book Das Ehrenbuch der Fugger (BSB Cgm.9460) from 1545-48. It depicts various members of the family and was probably commissioned by Anton Fugger,...

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Fechtschwert or a blunt longsword?

What kind of steel longsword should one choose for sparring? There are of course many aspects to consider. However, many instinctively discount the so called fechtschwert, since they look too weak and commonly are associated with sports fencing in late 16th century fechtschulen, rather than proper training for combat and duelling. They are simply not seen as “real” swords. Is this really a fair assumption? With this in mind, we can look to the fencing manuals and see what was used by our predecessors. After all, they ought to have had a good grasp on what tools one should...

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Deutsche Fechtkunst im 16. Jahrhundert.

What was it like in a German 16th Century Fechtboden? Here is a glimpse written by Prof. Dr. G Panconcelli-Calzia in 1926, based on his studies of the manuscript entitled “Codex Guelf 83.4 August 8°, which still resides in the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel. Prof. Dr. G Panconcelli-Calzia is a notable author of several books on experimental phonetics and was an early researcher of the Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA). Preceeded by the more famous Alfred Hutton, Egerton Castle, Sir Richard Burton, and other early fencers in the late 19th century, he tried reviving HEMA in the mid 1920’s, when he was in his 40s. As such he is quite interesting, since he belongs to a second generation of early HEMA recreationists. However, little is known about how his ambitions actually turned out. And of course, the decades following his publications on Kunst des Fechtens (KDF) saw chaos and turmoil of never before seen proportions, with the rise of the fascist movement in large parts of Europe and the coming WWII, which may explain why we see no more articles on the topic after the 1920s. But, during the years of 1922-48 Panconcelli-Calzia was a professor at the University of Hamburg and during his first  years he wrote several extensive articles on the topic of fencing, both modern and historical. Here is a list of the known articles:...

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Spinning around Hollywood Style?

Never ever turn your back against your opponent sounds like a good, solid advice, but is it always so? What do you do for instance, when you face multiple opponents? This article will give a few examples of Renaissance sources that touch upon this topic. In almost every movie fight involving swords there is a certain sequence that involves a pirouette, where the hero spins around, temporarily turning his back on his adversary, before striking in. It looks cool and flashy, but is commonly disregarded by HEMA fencers as being “unmartial” and ridiculous. It is something Kung Fu monks...

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Knightly Arts: A true-hearted letter of warning of the sad state of current Christianity.

How did one train soldiers and horses for war in the 17th century? These images give a small glimpse of how this was done in Germany, quite possibly in the city of Siegen, somewhere around the first quarter of the 1600s. These illustrations are taken from Johann Jacobi von Wallhausen’s “Ritter kunst : Darinnen begriffen, I. Ein trewhertziges Warnung- schreiben wegen deß Betrübten Zustands jetziger Christenheit. II. Undersicht aller Handgriffen so ein jeder Cauallirer hochnötig zu wissen bedarff.“ of 1614, and show various forms of practice for war, both for man and horse. In my opinion they are especially...

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Is there really a Left Vom Tag?

Well there is a right Vom Tag, and a middle one… so there has to be a left Vom Tag as well, hasn’t there? We make all master cuts cut from both sides, so it is simple logic, right? Looking through the manuscripts and manuals of the 15th and 16th century, it is obvious that the guard Vom Tag can be done in numerous variations, as described in this article: How do you do the Vom Tag? However, one vital question has received fairly little attention; the question if there really is a proper left Vom Tag for right-handed...

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How do you do the Vom Tag?

No, it’s not the hottest, new move on the dance floor. It’s just the old High Guard as it is taught by Master Liechtenauer and his disciples, may God rest their souls. But how should it be done, really? The guard Vom Tag is a simple thing when you look at it super- ficially. However, when you examine the often ambiguous advise given in the manuscripts and reflect on the possible translations of words and sentences, while comparing with the illustrations, you soon realize that the term Vom Tag contains a very broad spectra of possible stances. Basically there...

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How long should a longsword be?

A simple reply would be long enough to reach your opponent. Stupid answer, I know… But the question is also stupid… sort of. Let me explain. Real longswords from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance can range from about 110cm – 150cm with a medium probably about a 120-125cm, which is the “standard” length of most sparring swords today as well, give or take a couple of centimetres. However, when we look at illustrations in the fechtbuchen, we soon discover that the swords shown usually reaches from well into the armpit all the way up to the forehead. We...

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How do you grip a sword?

Gripping a sword may sound like the easiest part of fencing; I mean it is just a matter of grabbing a sword and holding on to it. However, as we will briefly examine below, at least with some fencing masters like Hans Talhoffer, things are just a little bit more complicated than that. In fact, the practice of gripping the arming and longsword in different ways may well have been a strong factor in the development of swords with complex hilts. These are various images showing variations in grip and wrist angles with different types of sword. The earliest...

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Sparring swords – Introduction

What defines a good sparring weapon? A common notion is that it should be as close as possible to the real, sharp weapon it simulates, but be designed with safety in mind, thus lowering the risk of permanent injury. However, since a sharp weapon is designed to injure, this is an inbuilt contradiction. Due to this simple fact, safer weapons always have drawbacks since they just aren’t supposed to perform the same way as real weapons. This has lead to various forms of solutions by different makers, both historically and in modern times. Traditionally, there have been a few...

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