Category: Teaching & training methods

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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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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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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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 conceive...

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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 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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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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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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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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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...

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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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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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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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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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Rope drill for HEMA.

<span data-mce-type=”bookmark” style=”display: inline-block; width: 0px; overflow: hidden; line-height: 0;” class=”mce_SELRES_start”></span> This is a very interesting exercise. The exercise is based on a boxing drill and can be expanded upon in different ways and looks worth exploring. Good and creative...

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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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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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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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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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