“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 end. These three parts must each be held in mind in every single device that you undertake to execute: namely that you should know with what cuts you will lay on against your opponent from the guards; then when you have laid on against him, how you shall further work in the middle with the Handwork, flying readily to the openings to keep the initiative when you have rushed on him in the Onset; and finally, how you may well and properly withdraw from him, if not with harm to him, then at least without injury to yourself.”
-Joachim Meyer 1570
Translated by Jeff Forgeng Art of Combat
With these words Joachim Meyer lays out the path to skill wielding a sword in 16th century Strassburg a free city bordering the Holy Roman Empire. Master Meyer signed his name as Freyfechter and led his school in Strassburg and led at least four Fechtschule events from 1561 to 1568 in Strassburg. Strassburg was one of the greatest of the free cities and artists of many forms went there to test themselves and to earn a name and learn. These four Fechtschule events were petitions to the city council for the right to hold the Fechtschule event and these events usually involved a public posting of the event as well as an open challenge to all local guilded fencers and free fencers to come test yourselves and us at this event. These events were rough and tumble events with bouts held wet or dry (first blood or not) using rebated swords, Fechtschule swords and wooden dusacks, staffs, halberds and pikes. They were a major source of entertainment of the time and stirred up much controversy as well with their violent activities. In Meyer’s 1560 private manual we can see a depiction of what is presumably a Fechtschule event.
In Joachim Meyer’s 1570 we also see a similar depiction on his front piece
How did they do it?
What do we make of this now, here in the 21st century as we attempt to reconstruct these arts? Most of us look at these events and descriptions of them and shake our heads in wonder at the risks these men assumed in these training halls and especially in the Fechtschule events which were by nature chaotic and dangerous with open challenges to all fighters in the city with the win being determined by first blood. But given their reality entering into the Protestant wars and (as Meyer himself remarks), the need for men to fight in the coming wars, these events were a repackaging of the knightly arts of war to prepare men for the battlefield needs of their nations and city states. But how did they do it? How did they not destroy each other’s ability to work in crafts and trades and even war? How did they learn these arts so earnestly and so safely as to be able to actually use these skills in life or death situations? They did not use any padding or gloves that we know of until much later, they certainly show no padding, masks, helmets or gloves in any of the Fechtschule depictions until later into the 18th century. this can be supposed to be an intentional deception but i would have to wonder why they would not show gloves or masks/helmets if they were used. We do see certain fechtbucher like paulus Hector Mair show finely wrought metallic gauntlets in use in some plates and many many more without. Meyer’s material shows no gloves whatsoever. Given the price to be paid for lazy training I am inclined to think the preparation was intentionally tough and exposed you to danger so that later when you actually needed it you were properly prepared. If they had gloves and did not use them that tells us something about how they view danger and risk when attempting to prepare for even more dangerous pursuits like war, duelling and personal defense.
Today we are not willing to risk our hands and heads but that is because we do not have the all important motivation to learn that they did. When the price of a lack of skill was death the need to gain that skill was magnified. It stands to reason that exposing yourself to the danger you will face as closely as possible would best prepare you for that danger.
I believe the answer to that question is in Meyer’s quote at the beginning of this article, specifically this part
“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.”
How do you swing a sword at your training partner in a martial way that actually feels like you might really be doing it but that does not injure that training partner? After all training partners are hard to come by in HEMA, why waste them? What did they know that we do not know today? Why did they not develop padding, they had gloves and helmets. Why would they expose themselves to such danger? And why did they later begin to adopt more safety conscious methods?
Let’s start with why. Why did they risk their eyes and fingers and livelihoods?
I think the answer to that question is RISK. The significant risks they were sure to face warranted preparation of such significant measure as to give them comfort and skill when facing the endeavors they prepared for. In other words, preparation for war requires a much harsher preparation than we are usually willing to engage in, but we know without it we are liable to pay a heavy price later. The Fechtschule events were used to develop skills that were critical on the battlefield of the day, in fact at that time the Central European methods of war had come to the forefront of the European battlefield and these weapons were in vigorous use in the Fechtschule events of the day. The Halberd and Pike formations of the day ruled the battlefield. The Fechtschule events and the guilds and schools that supported them, prepared men for these hardships and helped form up militias. The skills learned in these duelling bouts would serve as a fine base for the transition to the battlefield by developing the physical and mental attributes required to become skilled soldiers, this provided a good base of skills that could be then transformed into battlefield skills with proper adjustments. Granted halberd and pike in a duelling art is far different than battlefield use, but a person skilled in the duelling art will be transformed into a battlefield tool much more easily than an unskilled person.
Christoph Roesener, a Marxbruder Master of the Longsword wrote a little poem which we will show a little portion of here to show the extent of the fighting intent between these guilds.
“If the noble Lion swings his Curly Hair
Observe the Griffin
Who with his Proud courage and splendor
condemns the Courted Marxbrueder all
Then should you strike him down
and tear out all his plumage
that he must be carried away by his comrades
That whom we will also strike on their Heads”
There are other poems telling of men getting eyes poked out with the staffs and of terrible injuries and even deaths at these events, where no doubt, due to the prize monies involved and the prestige, competitive emotions ran high.
As time went on and this need subsided, the methods of the Fechtschule developed more safety conscious methods which reflected that lack of a need for high level training in these arts. As the real need diminished so did the need to push the training to the extent previously needed.
So now let’s talk about how?
How did they train this hard in an unprotected way and not ruin each other on a regular basis?
We go again to Meyer’s quote from the beginning of this article.
“Now combat with the sword is in essence a practice in which two opponents strive against each other with the sword with the intent that one will outmaneuver and overcome the other with intelligence and nimbleness, artfully, finely, and manfully, with cuts and other handwork; so that if it were necessary in earnest cases, through such practice one may be more quick and skillful, and more judicious for the protection of his body.”
Note that it doesn’t say smack the living shit out of each other? That is because anyone can hit hard with a longsword or halberd. The German art of war is all about that power and the weapons show this, every move, every guard projects power and using the whole of one’s body to strike. But the German fencers also had a lesser level of respect for the Buffel – er We call them Buffalos today, back then Buffel meant to whack, and so the Buffel-ers were the whackers. Zornhau is also called the Peasants strike because anyone can strike without thought to his own safety or without any thought after that strike. But what does that mean? Striking without thought for ones own safety is seen as lesser in the mind of fencers because it does not take advantage of the depth of the art. Just as offense is important , defense is just as much a part of fighting, without it its simply a race of speed and strength, with the art its a chess match. learning this art is much more than learning to hit hard and fast, the descriptions we find in the fechtbucher show a great depth of technique, development over many generations of fighting men.
If we see plates full of students doing freeplay with steel and wooden weapons, presumably on a frequent basis. Should we not assume they actually did this? and if they did how did they avoid what we think would have been an unimaginable cost through injury and accident? I see nothing to suggest they would be any less inclined to be taken out of work for months or lose ones vision or lose fingers. We must assume they knew something we do not. Perhaps they placed much more emphasis on the art aspect rather than the athletic power and speed aspects of fencing, or perhaps they developed a much higher level of skill in handling these weapons than we posess today. Judging from the attention to detail and the development of the deceptive elements of fencing in Meyer’s works I would feel comfortable saying that the ability to stop or redirect your weapon was just as valuable as being able to throw it out towards the opponent as fast as possible. The attention to the details in drilling and footwork, timing, distance, balance and all the other elements of fencing requires precision and control that can only be developed with countless hours of hard training.
Lets examine a some of the things Meyer has to say in his work.
Here is a list of Meyer’s Longsword handworks (which also apply to Dusack)
Binding, remaining, chasing, slicing, striking around, running off, deceiving, flitting, setting off, parrying, pulling, doubling, reversing, snapping, failing, circling, looping, winding, winding through, changing, changing through, slicing off, pressing hands, sliding, hanging, wrenching, barring, blocking, gripping over, running in etc. What do most of these handworks have in common? They are not simple straight strikes at the opponent, they involved binding, deceiving, pulling , running off or some other method of deception in the delivery of the attacks or the defense depending on when used. Meyer says quite specifically that Zucken or Pulling is the beginning of all deception. In fact if you look most of what we would call the Art of Longsword or Dusack fencing is not direct attacks but artful usages that draw the opponent out of his defense or over power his defenses in some way other than simply out powering them. If you look at the weapons in the plates of the Meyer manuals it is no wonder they avoided blasting each other. But there were many other reasons not to do so. These guilds were social organizations, offending or injuring other members was frowned upon and quite liable to elicit a violent response in reaction. Simply challenging someone’s honor in 16th century Central Europe would inevitably result in some form of payment usually of the violent kind.
In another of the poems of Christoph Roesener goes on to describe how students are taught among other things to:
“Behave modestly on the teaching ground, not to recklessly destroy any weapon
And should not mock anyone else at all,
In exercise, it is forbidden.
And you should not beat anyone bloody
who is just beginning to fence.”
A clear reference to respect similar to the code of conduct expected of anyone at modern martial arts studios, a breach of which is sure to get you a few helpings of a your own medicine at the hands of more advanced students than yourself in sparring.
Here is the poem in its entirety from Ehren Tittel und Lobspruch by Rösener. Special thanks to Kevin Maurer of the MFFG for the translation.
“When you would go to be taught
Thus greet the Master and the Students
And when you arrive at the school
Show that no strangers came with you
He can then be a good Schoolright
With the Master three courses are going
Soon you your fencing is accepted
No Nest should you be attached to
Also, wear no Dagger on your side
and don’t wear anything on the head
Take no ones weapon from their hand
Ask permission first of the Master
Hold firmly the Weapon, never drop it
Also dont fold yourself, be mindful of all
Also with Violence batter no weapon
With Honorable Manner conclude your work
You should also throughout make fun of no one
In the practice it is forbidden
Also should you bloody no one
The first to fight you must be.”
And here, later where he says:
“if you conduct yourself according to teaching
you will then have honor in fencing
As I have just now finely reported to you
You will also learn My Master’s name
So I will be known as an honorable Student
I will make no displeasure to you all”
Control is valuable in both offense and defense and indeed if we look at the classic depiction of the Buffel-er “he who strikes without thought for his own safety” we find that the control necessary to strike and defend was exactly what is missing. Ignoring the realities of what happens after you try to hit someone with a weapon is “having no thought for your own safety”.
But why spend so much effort on control?
This is a frequent reaction to this discussion for me from non-martial artists. “how do you learn to fight by learning not to hit?”. Well firstly its not learning not to hit, its learning to hit precisely, with exactly the amount of force necessary to get your job done, whether that job is cutting someone down for real or freeplaying with intent. Both require the same levels of control despite our notions of power today in modern HEMA. The many deceptive practices available in Meyers art of longsword absolutely require control of a kind only attainable with long hours or drilling and training. Striking with a Zornhau is easy but being able to recover after failing at that Zornhau or being able to adapt mid strike (INDES) requires pinpoint accuracy of both distance and power application. Zucken (Pulling) for example is itself the very art of not striking through a target with uncontrolled force and power. This skill is needed to force the opponent into errors of form and defense by drawing him out with attacks to openings designed to leave one open for the final or ending attack. Without control this will not work. Zucken is just one of the Handworks or concepts of longsword combat listed above, that require a developed control skill set to use effectively.
Lets put it into a bit of perspective with some modern applications of control, lets examine 3 modern combat sports. MMA, Boxing and Stickfighting
MMA is pretty pervasive these days and draws heavily from other combat sports. if you pay attention to the training regimens of professional fighters you will see that its not all slam bang knock down drag out fights in every training session, even when focused exclusively on striking this is true. You will find training camps focusing on easy sparring as much as heavy bag work or padwork, the risks of injury swinging for the fences is not desirable from a economic standpoint but also from a preparation standpoint. there is as much attribute development available at slower paced or less power focused work outs. That is not to say one should ignore the heavy hand training, that is of course important but not to an exclusive extent. Like wise we do not need to smash each other down in every fencing match and force ourselves into having to pad up for safety (that in itself is an illusion of safety anyways).
Boxing too does not simply focus on power punching all the time, there are training sessions which focus on speed, accuracy, defense, power, footwork etc. All these attributes put together increase your power, not simply hitting hard, your form is often the best element of your training that will help benefit power. Using your body parts and positioning to maximize power as well as heavy bag work and heavy handed sparring.
Stickfighting (Filipino Kali/Escrima)
Kali/Escrima is a South East Asian combat sport developed from the root fencing art and applied to stickfighting. FMA probably spends more time than most arts working through an increasingly complex set of drills designed to teach precision footwork, timing, distance and other important attributes. Through the skillsets developed that allow them to play very hard and fast with each other even while they maintain very safe control levels, they prepare the mind and body for the challenges of combat and build an impressive list of attributes which apply directly to the chaos of combat. They divide the types of strikes up in much the same manner that Meyer does in his various works on combat.
No one method captures it all though for any of these combat sports, it could almost be said that one of the defining aspects of a combat sport is its connection to a martial art but also a varied approach to developing attributes complimentary to that martial art and by extension its combat sport. It is especially true of weapon based combat sports and martial arts that there is not definitive method for conducting the simulated combat that accuratly reflects the realities of combat with said weapon. But this is pretty much true of even unarmed martial arts, MMA for all its realism is still not a street fight and so even though it is a wonderful combat sport to transfer skill from the sporting event to the reality of the street requires some adjustment and training specific to that reality. One of the ways to get closer ot your weapon art is having freeplay as close to the reality of its use as possible, this is only possible by mimicing how they did it back in the Renaissance. They clearly had connection to their living art and to its use as a battlefield tool and prepared for it with this sort of sporting event.
But before we all run off and have “control” t-Shirts made lets consider some research evidence from our decade of combat sport interpretation.
Our research and experience with this subject.
Our experience doing freeplay using minimal protection or better yet , no protection, has taught us that until you are forced to use you tool (the sword) to solve your problems of defense and offense you will alter the art to fit your reality. When we first used steel weapons with no gloves or masks is the week we truly learned how to keep ourselves safe. In the end the safety of masks and padding was an illusion and was not real safety only the true art was safety.
We spent almost 8 years in ARMA using first padded swords exclusively and then transitioning to wooden waisters for freeplay. Our purchase of Albion Meyer training weapons really opened up the reality of the sword to us, suddenly alot of the stuff we had learned began to click. We transitioned from Paddeds into wooden waisters and then with prompting from John Clements we were one of the few ARMA groups to embrace his notion that you could freeplay without any protection whatsoever and do it safely if you prepared for it and had faith in your skills, , but you had to train hard to get the control. To the credit of John Clements he was dead right about its effect on your art of fencing. Having to use only the sword to defend yourself under pressure really brought out the root of the art and propelled you into true use of the sword as they were doing in the plates Meyer shows in his books. Now that we have gained more knowledge about the art Meyer wrote about and researched the tools and other important elements of the Fechtschule events and the school that supported it, we have come to see the plates as the reality we are seeking. Its the only piece of the art that can be fully reconstructed.
Now it is part of our curriclum to at some point take off the gloves and the masks and freeplay with control. This introduces the appropriate amount of respect for the weapon that should apply to the fechtschule method of fencing. This is not the dangerous event some suppose it to be, fechtschule events were held wet or dry but in both cases this was appropriate to the situation on both ends of the spectrum of safety. It was appropriately dangerous to engender an healthy respect for what you are doing and appropriately safe to allow people to do it with control and not destroy their day job. Now there is a statistical reality to playing this close to the edge of the cliff and it must be used as an attribute building activity just like all other methods of learning fencing. I believe the reality to be somwhere around 20 – 15 % of your freeplay time should be spent in this naked form of fencing. Not at first of course, much time must be spent in drilling and training to give you the control to slowly enter into this naked fencing and then to slowly ratchet up the speed and intent to extend the attribute building. The rest of our time should be spent with solid protected fencing with the lessons learned in naked fencing fitting squarely into our method. I think that under most circumstances you will see better use of your cross, sword and footwork or body positioning to defend yourself. this is the sort of skills necessary in the days of real fencing application. As long as we aspire to the skills of the fechtschule fencers we should respect and attend earnestly to the lessons they leave us in history step into their world. It is not the safety madness some think it to be.
If you take your average nylon weapon fencing tournament there is usually a few broken fingers despite over attention to padding and supposed safety measures. This does not tend to drastically change when the tournament method switches to steel. Steel commands an appropriate amount of respect on both ends of the art of striking, the faster out you throw your hands the harder they can get hit. Respect is naturally more heightened but not enough due to the iullusion of padding as safety. Furthermore I think the art of control is as much a part of the art as any specific handwork or technique. Without control we cannot execute many of the deceptions taught in the German fechtschule art of combat where they accepted significantly more danger than we do today to get close to the art. This is because they had much more at stake in failure than we do, they played that much harder and used this play to prepare for war and duel.
So enough of the excuses for it what about its actual application, how do we qualify bad and good control?
Good control is roughly 80 – 90 % speed and broken power Below 50% power that is broken by contact with the opponent (wrist break). Not the same way you would fight with a steel feder against a well protected individual (like say swordfish), that is much more power than would be used for a good blunt bout with no protection.
For example if you use federschwerts and only allow flat strikes suddenly you can ramp up the speed and even power of the strikes significantly. The flex in the end of the blades makes striking a lot faster safer due to the time allowed by the flex of the blade to respond to the fact you just hit someone.
This sort of strike is not only used for safety but is the root of the Zucken or pulling handwork and is as Meyer says “the beginning of all deception”. We have captured this essence of control in this drill designed by Curt Dunham
Bad control is anything driving through the target in any significant manner with force , most serious martial artists have control its just the mental decision to use it that must be trained. Obviously the target and opportunity have a significant effect on the level of control needed. Hands tend to be the more delicate to hit with control and pinpoint accuracy and measure is required to safely do it. remembering the greatest danger comes from the chaos of two opposing forces meetings in the middle. We do not know what the opponent will do so consideration must be given to the chaos of combat. care for the opponent is control, having no care for the opponent’s well being when entering into the dance of fence with you is bad control.
Consider your partner, just as you evaluate and opponent when you prepare a strategy to defeat them , you should evaluate your training partner and not act out of balance with their skills. Typically the higher skilled person is able to control the fight enough to allow the less skilled person more freedom in the fight.
Now lets talk about Blossen or wet and dry play in the fechtschule.
This is seen as a savage activity by most modern HEMA enthusiasts but is it really as dangerous as we percieve it to be. Considering that it has taken most of HEMA around a decade to get into using steel blunts, perhaps we are not exactly the best ones to be evaluating the dangerous natures of the fechtschule. My own personal opinion on this is that a Blossen fight, or fight to the red bloom (first blood at the temple) would hardly be a caveman like affair and would in all probability be a snipping, slicing sliding and binding affair ending with a quick slice rather than a thunk of metal into flesh. My bet is that once a sharp edge is introduced, the need for slamming away with power will diminish as the need to slice at the crown becomes paramount.
The first casualty of fighting with steel blunts and not masks , helmets or gloves is EGO. We must toss out the need to win at all costs, the need to hit first and give as much credence to our own safety as we do to winning. This is what the art is, anyone can hit with a sword but fencing is so much more and as with most arts which are much more complex than we first see at the surface, you must enter into it to learn it, you will not learn it watching it, nor will you talk about it or change the reality of danger to avoid it. Danger and fear are part of the elements of fencing that we learn from and they must not be removed entirely from the process.
Yes we live in a litigious society and people have unreasonably low expectations of safety while learning combat sports. This is because society is stupid and we cannot allow its stupidity to infect our art else we risk it being watered down again as it already once was. We have to be willing to accept risks for our art if we choose just as any art allows for risk. Proper common sense will determine what is safe not the fears of the inexperienced.
Thats right you heard me, the end result of this article is simple. let me bold it out and give it an underline so you make no mistake of my point here.
The future of HEMA is in Fechtschule events with no protection whatsoever, naked fencing to the same levels our ancestors did.
Nothing less is acceptable fif wee seek the art, now how far that will go in mainstream HEMA is another matter but maybe thats why its called mainstream. Because that stream is a stream of pee running down all our backs and i will not have anyone pee down my back and tell me its raining. If the sum total of HEMA was commercial success then it will work in direct opposition to those of us seeking the art. In that case there needs to be a division out the world of HEMA that is not concerned with making money. because if the art lies outside the mainstreams understanding we will only cast what we have down into the terrible depths of uselessness. i didn’t get into HEMA to make money, sell books, make a chain of schools or work in the movies. I came to this because I saw a chance to resurrect our cultural heritage through the art of fencing a long dead but incredible science left to us by our ancestors. It is alive and we can be part of it if we are willing to pay the price of the ferryboat ride.
I want what i see in the plates and I will not apologize for that, but make no mistake , we are not ready for it yet, i see noone yet able to handle what they did, that’s going to take possibly years more training and drilling and fighting. But we must begin to think towards this reality and not settled for a padded , sterilized version of what our ancestors were able to do. We are not less than them unless we make ourselves so through fear.
Our goal as a guild is to put together our 2 ranked positions of Fechter and Freyfechter until we have enough of a base of the 30 Freyfechters rank to begin to prepare for a rank of Kunst Fechter . This rank will have to fight naked (unprotected) for his prize against 30 Freyfechters and possibly 50 fechters. Then we can begin to consider ourselves to be walking the same path Master Joachim Meyer tread upon, even if we are only getting one Toe on the road its not sitting by the side of the road looking at the path with no method to get there. We see this as our future and hope to see others walk upon this path with us. I believe time will prove our faith in our arts correct if we are mindful of what we are doing and hold the proper skills paramount. Control, respect, hardwork , research and discipline.
Blah Blah Blah so what’s the solution?
That is the hardest part, we need to realize just how little we actually know. But until we hold ourselves up[ to what we know of them we are not measuring shit. What they did is plainly there in the imagery of the manuals, we have no reason to doubt this other than our own fears and mental constructs we have built around this art to excuse our inability to go where it actually resided. I am saying we need to measure the art by at the very least, the fechtschule, its a demonstrably effective and historical method for the learning the art of combat. By that I mean fencing naked (unprotected) in tournaments. IMHO When we can do this we are practising the art.
What holds us back is a double sided discrimination against the fechtschule method of fencing, on the one hand “battle field Elitists” with the idea of it being a gutted and useless fencing method because they won’t just kill each other. Meanwhile on the other hand we have the “thats insane” crowd who see everything but Michelin man type preparation as unsafe. Well both are wrong and as usual the truth lies in the middle of extremes. We can play safe at these levels and this is the art. We cannot ignore that fact that the fechtschule came right after the battlefield usage of the longsword, its art was still well known amongst those who used it. They adapted the art to the sport somewhat as is usual in combat sports but it still retained the art in there. All the techniques and handworks we learn today were taught in the fechtschule method fencing.
We let ourselves get into a mindeset that accepts kendo-like adaptation of the combat sport either so that it comes to hardly represent the art anymore, we have a marvelous history of relatively safe fighting events with supporting schools to draw from. Our ancestors did not use fencing masks or gloves to fence, not at the time of the great fencing schools. Even in a more elaborate art infused like Paulus Hector Mair only a few of the images contain gloved participants and none contain masks. Why?
One of the things we tend to do with knowledge in the modern world is cycle it always forwards, as if mere survival means righteousness. We do not know how they did this art, we are not even playing in the same way as they did how would we even begin to measure their art against ours. We need to have a vision of HEMA that matches that of our ancestors. Everything we have done up to now is great, the tournaments are great, the schools eveywhere is great, the books are great, but is the art great? We must keep pushing towards where they stood, we have a general desire to disallow what we consider unsafe as a society even when we are ignorant of the issues at hand. But is this sort of event any less safe than a football match at high school, a MMA, Boxing, Kickboxing, wrestling, Judo, Kendo, fencing match? Each one has a small ratio of risk that’s acceptable to the participants. If we can demonstrate acceptable safety equipment (Safety Goggles) and rationally developed control through extensive hours of training then we can do this safely. Remember the safety is only as good as the control though so it cannot be done in the same way as a regular tournament. Ego would be the most dangerous element in the tournament environment, this cannot be acceptable under any circumstances. This is the reason for the strict disciplines of the Ritterlich arts, long hard hours in service to the art, much much longer than anyone is doing today, much greater character discipline to the art and one’s fellows through that art. Competitivenes is a great thing but unchecked it degrades the general environment into a simple “me me me” environment. We must have as much care for the other fighter as we have for ourselves and this is why we train, not just to be faster and stronger but also more precision and control. We must meet in the middle of all out striking and all out defense, we must have the control to do either at a slight intention in the mind. This takes far more training i think than any of us today can do. Without the motivational force of imminent death and/or dismemberment we are not as focused on it. Perhaps if a Zombie Apocalypse comes we will all get a chance to use our arts more effectively and realistically, although Zombies don’t really fence.
We can develop this art in exactly the same way they did, but doing what they did. A good start is to begin to trust in your weapon more, shed the gloves once in a while, shed the mask once in a while. Shed everything once in a while and fence like they did. You can start with absolute minimum gloves and work your way to it.
The fear you have now for your face, head and hands is the real fear of danger to them from what you are engaging in, use that fear to make you a better fencer both by overcoming it and by adapting it into motivation for your defense. Suddenly hitting alone is not as important anymore, suddenly all the teachings about buffeling makes sense. Why they did this makes sense, this is about as close to fighting with a sword as you can get, our ancestors got there and left us a treasure map to get there also. Unfortunately we are all dazzled with the pretty pictures and filled with modern concepts of this and that. We think that our magnificent fencing arts were lost to us and that the preserved lineages of the East gave them life but i say both East and West lost their arts to time and lineage. Our ancestors however left us a map to get the art back to us if we choose to take it. That same map also exists in the East but in a less developed form. In both cases we learn more from studying the past than we do playing around in the present under present days notions of what fighting is.
Special thanks to Mike Chidester for his editing help and advice and to my guild brothers Kevin Maurer and Jayson May for sharing their hard work with me to make this article possible. Also thanks to Roger Norling and to everyone out there working on researching and reconstructing the fechtschule, you know who you are 🙂