About Me

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Either an author who fences, or a fencer who tends to write a lot. I found a passion for writing first, then I found fencing. I also found that the pen and the sword work very well together. The pen may be mightier than the sword but together they are much greater.

Friday, May 13, 2022

On the "Double-Hit"

Greetings, 

The following subject is one that I have particular feelings about. Every time the question of tournaments and their rules comes up especially in HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) circles, the question about "doubles" or "double-hits" emerges. The following article will describe my feelings on the matter, and on the matter in general. This is a subject that I have touched on in other articles, but it does require attention of its own.

Definition

The first thing that is required is to define what is meant by a "double", "double-hit", "mutual blow" or whatever other term that would like to be termed for it. There will be a couple of other terms which will be used in this discussion, one will turn out much the same, the other will be different. The simplest definition of a "double-hit" is: "when both fencers strike each other at the same time." This would seem simple enough and would seem to end the question. 

However there are "rules lawyers" out there so it pays to be specific: "when both fencers strike one another in the same tempo of their movement." What does this mean? A tempo in its simplest terms is an action. The double-hit is therefore a blow in which if the blow is started at the same time or before the other's is completed, it remains a double-hit.

The above definition should take care of the "after-blow" as well. The "after-blow" is a concept which is most common to people who study longsword. It has its origins in the tournaments of the Belgian fencing guilds. The sword must fall; so complete its tempo. Any action which is after that is an artifice of a tournament set. The fencer needs to keep themselves covered during and after they have completed their blow.

Simply it is a question of the tempo of the strikes and the difference between the two. If they are the same or close enough to be the same it is a double-hit. If it they are not close enough to be the same then it is not, however the fencer should always ensure they remain covered when they are in guard.

"Revenge" Blows

"Revenge" blows are blows made out of the tempo of a double-hit, and are clearly made after a combatant has been struck. The action is out of tempo of the action of a double-hit and sometimes out of tempo of any encounter. This blow is simply struck out of anger against the fencer who has made the strike, and these are dangerous. Any fencer who makes this sort of blow should be warned a single time and censured severely thereafter. They are unacceptable in any tournament or sparring scenario.

A Failure in the Primary Goal of Fencing

To strike and not be struck should be the goal of all fencing, double-hits fail in the second aspect. Sacrificing some part of your body to strike some other part of the opponent's body would seem to be a silly and somewhat suicidal way of dealing with fighting, especially when a person is dealing with a sword. The swords these days are not sharp, and there is little chance of loss of limb or life, and this knowledge in part is the reason that people will corrupt their art to accept a hit to strike a hit.

The double-hit is a failure in the performance of the art by the individual performing the art not a failure in the art or the tools that are being used. Some leniency may be given for the tools, but not the performance; so the proverb goes, "a bad workman blames their tools." Most often it is the failure to perform a proper defence when performing the offence, or simply the focus on offence rather than defending themselves first, then worrying about attacking the opponent. 

I have heard the excuse, "But I performed the proper technique and still got hit." Clearly not, there is something you did not take into account, like your opponent moving, or countering. Just because you have your plan, doesn't mean that the opponent doesn't have theirs. In fact, it is certain that they will have one. You still have to counter the offensive actions of the opponent to ensure that you don't get hit, while striking the opponent, to prevent a double-hit. You should be considering your defence even in the performance of your offensive actions. If you do this properly, double-hits shouldn't occur, at least with you.

In Training

The culture in schools needs to focus on the essential goal of fencing, striking without being struck. The double, especially in training needs to be an unacceptable result, not re-named, or be in any form of it. The double-hit needs to be something that students are trained to avoid. They need to be trained not to compromise their defence to strike their opponent; to remain defended when they are both seeking to strike and also leaving from striking the opponent; to ensure they are performing proper, clean technique so that they do not get double-hits at all.

Trading one blow for another, say a lower scoring blow for a higher scoring blow, or a less debilitating blow for a more debilitating blow is a sporting, rather than a martial approach to the use of the sword, it does not assume the items being used are weapons. This approach sacrifices much understanding which can be found in the art of swordsmanship which is available and denies the student of the art much understanding of the art. The sporting approach is too often found in tournaments.

Tournaments

The purpose of tournaments, one would hope, is a test of skill. To test the skills of fencers against one another. This means that the rule-sets of the the tournaments should benefit and reward those who perform with skill and not benefit those who do not. The double-hit, and certainly the double-kill, where both combatants strike a vital area, certainly are not demonstrating skill, they are demonstrating a failure to defend themselves; demonstrating a failure to abide by the essence of fencing, "to strike without being struck".

The result is that the "double" in any form should not be rewarded. In the reality of swordplay a double-hit results in both fencers injured in the least and dead as a possibility. Is this something that demonstrates skill? Is this something that should be rewarded? 

Where a double is made by the combatants, in a tournament where the hits are scored, either points should not be scored at all, or points taken off as a penalty for failing to defend themselves. In a tournament where the individuals "die" as a result of vital blows "double-kills" should result as being recorded as a double loss as no one won, both died; they should not be re-fought.

The problem is, that there is too much of a focus, especially in tournaments on winning the bouts, on scoring the point against the opponent, so the importance of proper fencing tends to degrade. This results in people sacrificing targets so they can score against their opponents. Something they certainly would not do if they were not wearing safety gear, and even less so if the weapons were sharp. The competitors in tournaments are too busy focused on whether a blow hit an arm or a body, the points scored, their placing, who wins the tournament, to worry about whether they are fencing properly to gain the points they are scoring. Often sportsmanship also suffers as a result.

Sportsmanship

What's sportsmanship got to do with double-hits? To win a tournament a fencer focuses their attention on the points they are scoring. They hone in on striking at a target. They find the weak point of their opponent and they hammer at this weak point, again and again, until they cover it, or they score sufficient points to win. Sometimes as a result to do this they strike hard, sometimes too hard, but this is what's required to win, so what does it matter?

It matters a lot. This is where injuries can occur, especially if a person is simply attempting to blow through an opponent's defence. If this is with a lunge, and the opponent decides to act, lunging or acting with counter-time, the two fencers can impale one another causing a very hard hit, and unless the technique and angle is correct, a double-hit. The same can happen with a cut, where it is cut at the same time. Both fencers could be quite easily injured, or the power of the blows could simply just keep going up to try to go through the opponent's defence.

On the other hand, if there is consideration for the opponent, and their well-being, a person uses skill to find a way around their defences. Uses skill and tactics to strike the opponent, both combatants have a much more enjoyable bout, and there is much less chance of injury. Also as a consequence of considering defence, and skill, there is likely less chance of double-hits.

There needs to be a greater focus on sportsmanship, on giving your opponent the benefit of the doubt, on the art that is being practised rather than the result of any tournament. This is up to tournament organisers to help make a change, give big prizes to the fencers with the great sportsmanship, rather than some token in comparison to tournament winners. The prizes for those with sportsmanship need to be on par with the tournament winners to demonstrate the importance of sportsmanship, but this will take a radical change in thinking, in some cases.

The Reality of the Double-Hit


From Baron de Bazancourt’s Secrets of the Sword, 1900.


When most people consider the double-hit this is what they think about. Two people who are struck who will walk away quite happily later on, no injuries to worry about. This is not the reality of swordplay. It is not even the reality of the swords for which this sword was practise. The foil being a practise weapon for the epee du combat a weapon that saw duels with sharp weapons even as late as the twentieth-century. The most common weapons for HEMA are the rapier and longsword. Sharp weapons which were designed to defend an individual in a potentially deadly encounter.


Paulus Hector Mair De Arte Athletica, 1567

Here is the reality of the double-kill with the longsword against halberd. Both strikes straight to the skull, neither of these two combatants are likely to be walking away from this fight. The double-hit shows a failure of proper defence and this is the reality of the result, and it is something that should be kept in mind, for when the art becomes divorced too far from its origins it becomes pure sport and its martial aspects are lost. This reality should be something that is kept in mind.

The "Reality" Tournament

I have devised a tournament concept to remind people about the reality of the weapons that are being used in HEMA and other recreational forms of combat, as too often people forget the reality of the weapons that we use. Yes, test-cutting with sharp weapons is one way to remind people about the sharp nature of the weapons and this is a useful tool, especially to remind people just how little force is required to cut or thrust, however the persistence of tournament combats and other forms of combat requires some adjustment to demonstrate the effect of the weapons. This is a basic concept model.

Weapons

  • The tournament can be fought with which ever weapons are chosen, however it is best that weapons are matched, to keep the contest even. It will work with rapier, longsword, or sword and bucker, any weapon a person might choose.
  • Other details for the weapons are as per the tournament organiser's discretion.

Format

  • The tournament is a single-kill, single-elimination tournament. This means that everyone in the tournament gets one life, and bouts are fought to one kill, or until your opponent is "disinclined to continue." Once this occurs you are eliminated. Winner is the last person standing.
  • Individuals are considered to be wearing civilian clothing, a single layer of cloth on their bodies, i.e. no armour.
  • Double-kills eliminate both combatants.

Blows

  • Both cuts and thrusts with all weapons count as valid, so long as they do so with the weapon in reality.
  • Demonstrations of such may be performed on milk bottles filled with water before the tournament, if necessary, or may be determined by agreement, or by determination of the tournament organiser.

Limbs

  • A blow (being a thrust or cut) will disable a hand or arm. If this is the individual's primary arm, they will swap hands or concede the bout.
  • A blow to the foot or leg will cause the individual to stop using that leg. They may: stand on the other and take the weight off that leg; kneel if it is in the lower leg or foot; or sit.
  • Exceptions: A cut or thrust to one hand-span to the inside of the arm or leg is a killing blow, due to arteries located in this area.

Vital Areas

  • The head, throat, entire torso (to point of shoulder, and hips) and groin are lethal zones.
  • Any blow to any of the lethal zones is considered a "killing blow".

Optional

  • For the Ultra-Reality version wounds are carried through the tournament.
  • Blows from bucklers etc may be added along with grappling options at the discretion of the organiser. For the most part, these effects lead on to the killing blow rather than are the killing blow.
This is simply the concept for the tournament. I have run a couple based on this concept and two out of three times the person in third place has one because the two in first and second have doubled out. This eliminated them both leaving the person in third to win. People quite enjoyed the tournament and said it did reveal to them just how it changed their approach to fencing when one slip made a real difference.

In a lot of places it is simply that we have lost our way and that we need to get back to our fundamentals, to remember fencing's goal, that it is the art of defence. A person should always look to their defence before considering striking their opponent, regardless of the style that they are doing. Teachers and trainers should focus on teaching techniques which keep their students safe, and not accepting the double-hit as simply something that occurs, or that needs to be re-named or something else, it needs to be avoided. Ensure your defence in all parts of your fencing and your chances of double-hits with your opponent fall pretty much to zero.

Cheers,

Henry.


Sunday, May 1, 2022

Special Edition: Of Gorgets

 Greetings,

This is one more for all of my SCA readers (and more for my Australian readers), however the principles apply regardless of your rules-set...

The gorget is a piece of armour, rigid in construction which is worn about the neck. It is often taken for granted, often not thought about until either a person's doesn't fit properly, or that first time an opponent strikes it and the fencer realises it just might have saved your life. The gorget needs to be discussed like any other piece of armour, investigated and addressed so it can be understood more deeply and appreciated.

The gorget in fencing is primarily designed to protect your throat and neck, from the crushing damage of the point of the opponent's weapon. A strike from an unprotected larynx could result in a person being suffocated. Should the weapon break then the gorget protects the neck from a piece of steel coming at their neck. It is important that the gorget covers the entire neck because there are nerves, veins and arteries which are all around the neck, and damage to any one of these can cause catastrophic consequences. This is the reason that, like the head, the neck is protected by rigid material. Damage to the neck can result in death, or other permanent consequences.

2.8.3 Neck

1. You must wear a gorget (collar) made from rigid material to protect your entire neck and throat. This should be backed by resilient padding or penetration-resistant material.

2. You must also protect your cervical vertebrae with rigid material. This might be a combination of a gorget, helm or hood insert.

The above is what the current Lochac Rapier Rules say about protecting the neck. The first point is the one which is most important for our discussion here, though the second one is also a factor. The gorget must protect "your entire neck and throat", this means that all of it should be covered, any part of your body which is considered part of the neck or the throat should be covered by the gorget. It is as simple as that, and should remain covered. This includes the obvious throat at the front down to the collar bones, but also includes around the sides as well and includes the back of the neck, and notice the mention of the cervical vertebrae, all must be covered.

Here are some things to look for when you are making or buying a gorget. When you put it on, if you can easily slip your finger up and under the front of your gorget and touch the gap between your collar bones, the gorget is too short in the front. The gorget will tilt back with your head and this part of your neck may be exposed.

When you tilt your head forward, if the underneath of your chin does not touch the top of your gorget, you should be concerned. Put your mask on. If you can put your fingers between the gorget and the bib of your mask, your gorget does not cover your throat, it does not sit high enough.

When you do your gorget up, if the rigid plates of the gorget do not meet, on both sides, then the gorget does not cover your entire neck. The plates of the gorget must meet to give full protection to the neck, and to cover your entire neck.

One of the greatest complaints about gorgets is that they are uncomfortable, they don't fit nicely or other such things. They are no different to any other piece of armour, or clothing. If you buy it "off the shelf", you have to put up with what you are given. If you pay for customisation, then you will get a better fit. The best gorget fit will always be the one which is made with the person actually present so fittings to the individual can be made as it progresses, the same as clothing.

Cheers,

Henry.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The Story of Fencing from a Chair

 Greetings,

Some of my readers know me in person, quite a few do not. This means that you do not know where my information comes from, whether or not I have done any experimentation or research, or if I actually hold any sort of even pseudo-qualifications to be telling you about fencing. To shed a little light on at least one part of this, I present my story of fencing from a chair. This is intended to give a little history, to show where it all came from, and that I did not develop the techniques and ideas that I propose for using this technique overnight.

The two primary articles for fencing from a chair, if you are interested in the concept, are:
No Footwork Fencing Or Fencing From a Chair and Etiquette for Facing a Seated Opponent. I will refer to these articles throughout this article, and if you want an idea of what I am talking about, these are your go-to articles. I have written a couple of other articles on the subject, one which proposed the use of the techniques of Fabris from a chair, and others. This subject is really one of my specialties, and you will see why shortly. 


The Beginning


D.A. Girard Actors On Guard, 1996

The first time I had seen fencers with rapiers sitting down was this picture from Actors On Guard by D.A. Girard, about 1997, a theatrical fencing manual which I had used for research purposes, because it had some quite relevant information about the use of the rapier and dagger. This drill concerns ensures that the two fencers remain out of range but can practise their blade engagement and other blade skills. I did not pay it particularly much attention until something happened.

Life has its little twists and turns, as it would have it, I stepped in a hole and injured my ankle. The doctor's prognosis a badly twisted and sprained ankle. Treatment: strapping and as little pressure on the foot as possible, for six weeks. At the time I was in a small group as the primary trainer and this would mean six weeks of no training, because I could not stand... well, only if I had to stand. My thoughts went back to the image above. 

The next week at training, I turned up hobbled out to the middle of the field with a chair. I parked my butt, in much the same way as in the picture and invited my students to have a go. The learning curve was very sharp...

There was no quick retreat step to get you out of trouble; there was a lot more reliance on your hands and accuracy in your parries. On the other hand, your opponent could easily take a step back or even simply lean back; your timing and Distance with your attacks had to be on point. These were two simple things that I learnt from the first training session. My handwork improved over the period, as did my sense of Distance, at least in regard to my sword- and arm-length, with a little body lean. My parries were also a lot more accurate, but there had to be more. This adventure sparked more interest in the subject...

Research Begins


After I recovered from my injury, I noticed that my hand-work i.e. parries, thrusts and other elements focused on the use of the hand had improved, as had my stationary sense of Distance. I had a very rudimentary idea about how seated fencing could work. I figured there had to be more available about fencing from a chair.

I first turned to sport fencing to see if there were any clues there, any answers to be found. While standard sport fencing held no answers, the Paralympics did. Here I found wheelchair fencing, which is essentially fencing from wheelchairs. If you've never seen this, I recommend that you do; it's a real eye-opener. There are some impressive videos on YouTube.

I examined the rules for wheelchair fencing as possible future alternative for myself. Something that I could use later on should one of my chronic illnesses cause me to be confined to a wheelchair, or similar situation in the future. One of the big things that I noticed was that the wheelchairs were angled. In my initial foray into fencing from a chair my body was placed in the chair in its usual manner, much like the picture above. The angulation of the body on the chair at least would change things, and I would get the opportunity to try it out.

Rowany 2006 (AS XL)


Rowany Festival is the biggest get together for the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) in Australia. In 2006 it was held at the Cross-Roads Campsite which is near Yass, New South Wales. The event is held on the Easter weekend, and is a camping event. I went along to the event and camped, like most of the attendees.

Sleeping in a tent, in the cold (it got down to - 6 degrees Celsius overnight one night), resulted in my fibromyalgia playing up quite severely. The result being that my leg froze up; hip, knee and ankle. I had promised that I would play some Prizes (examinations) the same day, so I suggested I could do them from a chair. This allowed me to put some of my new-found research into practice.

Duncan Bailey and Myself

You will note, while the chair is still mostly facing square to the opponent, my body is somewhat angled to him. The chair is slightly angled but not significantly. There were quite a few revelations made during these Prizes. First, that rapier and dagger is the superior form when fighting from a chair as it gives you both offensive and defensive options at distance and close, while defensive forms are useful, but are hampered a little in close. Second, that fighting with an extended guard while intimidating leaves you exposed should the opponent clear the blade. Third, the Low Line is mostly insignificant and needs little effort to defend. The experience confirmed some previous ideas and gave me more.

The Four Foot Model


Much later on, I went to a seminar about Fiore dei Liberi with Bob Charron. How does this concern fighting from a chair? Just wait and you will find out. In this discussion he discussed "open" feet and "closed" feet, along with "lines of power" in a person's stance. In wrestling, a person was strong where they had two "closed" feet lined up, this made a "line of power"; they were weak where their two "open" feet lined up along the other "line of power". This described a person having four feet. A person was manipulated so the fencer would put their opponent over their "open" foot to destabilise them.

Some years later I was thinking about fencing from a chair and its use, when I realised the blindingly obvious... a chair has four feet. Therefore the chair has four "closed" feet. If the chair can be angled correctly to the opponent, and the fencer sits in the chair correctly, the fencer can also have four "closed" feet and will remain stable in their movement.

The angling of the chair came from the position of the chairs placed for wheelchair fencing. They are bolted in place so they do not move about. I had previously just been angling my body. If the chair was angled too, then there would be more stability, and the possibility of movement of the body. 

So, I sat down on the chair, lined my legs up with the chair legs, then turned my body until I was in profile, relatively to my opponent. More to the point I sat on the chair so I would sit in my guard position with my front toe pointed toward my opponent. If I stood up and the chair was taken away there would be no difference. This is where the true essence of my system of fencing from a chair evolved. 

Angle the chair to the opponent so the front leg lines up with your natural front leg of your stance. Make sure the chair that you are using doesn't have arms, so they won't get in the way. Make sure the chair is stable so you can bend at your middle, should you desire, and remain balanced. Get a chair suitable for your height, so your feet can be flat on the floor. All of these things came with this model.

Revelations


My most recent explorations into fencing from a chair which have appeared in articles on this blog have been the result of experiences, both good and bad of fencing from a chair. There will be time, in the future, where I will, no doubt, write another article about the subject of fencing from a chair explaining my method and how it works, by then I will hope to have some more revelations about fencing from a chair.

I looked at doing Fabris from a chair, because I cannot perform his method standing up. I even wrote a good long article about the subject which appears in my book Un-Blogged: A Fencer's Ramblings. This was more a theoretical exploration rather than a practical one. I have played with it a bit while fencing from a chair, and the on guard position looks intimidating as hell, but I really need to play with it a lot more to get it working properly.

One thing I must put in here, fighting case of rapier from a chair is a little crazy, because once your opponent gets past your points you have a lot of trouble. Fighting case of rapier against another person who is also in a chair with case of rapier, is a little insane, but a hell of a lot of fun. Rotella give you a lot of coverage, but once again, once the opponent gets close you are in trouble, they are also a nuisance to fight around.

The biggest revelations when it comes to fencing from a chair were: the angling of the body and the chair; the use of the body as "footwork" and for voiding; the use of various off-hands, rapier and dagger being the superior form; and finally, the Low Line is minimal, be careful not to hit yourself when you cover it.

What's Next?


Quite frankly, I don't like fencing from a chair. I only do it when I have to, or when I teach it, or when my opponent invites me, because they are fencing from a chair because they have to, or because I have been legged and I don't want to sit on the ground (I don't kneel, it hurts too much). This is a method that I devised so I could continue fencing when my legs decided to pack it in and not work.

The most important thing about fencing from a chair is that it is not a gimmick. It is a real option for those with mobility issues of a permanent or temporary kind. Indeed, when I originally wrote this, one of my students was fencing from a chair; he was a couple of weeks out of hip replacement surgery.
 
Fencing from a chair is also good for training. Concerned that the actions of your hands are not what they used to be? Want to check them out? Fence from a chair and find out. It is also a good way of utilising limited space to a premium. Think of how many fencers you could have fencing from chairs in the same space you have standing. Push that idea further, an indoor tournament, all the fencers fence from chairs in the middle of the hall while people sit around watching. That's a small list field.

I have fenced from a chair in some form or another for about 15 maybe 20 years now, and I have experienced some good and bad from fencing from a chair. I have also seen good and bad as a result of others fencing from chairs, and it is not always a person who is standing who is in the wrong. Everyone can have their effect om the situation for good or for ill.

I have seen standing fencers snipe at their maximum range while the seated fencer cannot reach them; and close to where the seated fencer has no chance of withdrawal. I have also seen seated fencers move from their chairs to gain a little extra Distance, close to launching themselves from their seated position. I have seen standing fencers turn a seated fencer around in their chair to gain advantage over them. I have seen shots land that were claimed to hit the chair, where it actually hit the seated fencer. Both standing and seated fencers can do ill for the game that is played, but they can also do a lot of good as well.

Always consider your opponent, and consider the fencers who will come after you. The trick that you pull today may look cool, but it might ruin things for people after you. Consider whether the act that you perform will earn you renown or notoriety in its performance.

I will keep researching and finding new ways to improve the techniques for fencing from a chair, and hopefully more people will begin to understand this method of fighting. It has taken quite a while to figure things out, and is still a work in progress. I will continue to share my findings as well.

Cheers,

Henry.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Armour is Hot

 Greetings,

There is a certain amount of assumption that is made in regard to gear that is worn, especially when it is made of fabric that it will not affect a person particularly much; only rigid protective equipment, "real" armour is considered when the issue of heat and restriction is considered. This may not be a conscious thing, it may be a sub-conscious thing, I have found myself doing the same thing. Sometimes, especially during the hotter months of the year, we don't bother with the protective equipment during practice, for heat reasons. We get used to not wearing our protective gear and then when we do this is a problem. 

Armour is Hot

Our protective gear (PPE/Armour) needs to be taken into account.

Now, I've already had a discussion about the difference between protective gear or Personal Protective Equipment and armour. I am going to be lazy and bounce between "PPE" and "Armour" knowing the difference between the two. I will use both and "protective gear" assuming that my reader will understand what I am aiming at. 

Back to the subject at hand. This PPE adds extra layers of material and extra weight to what we are used to carrying when we are usually walking around, even usually clothed. It is heavier and warmer than the clothes that we usually wear, thus "armour is hot." We need to get used to this "heat" and the presence of this armour and get to a situation where our movements are not distracted by the presence of this gear, what's called "Armour Fit."

The military gets its trainees used to carrying a pack and their weapons by getting them to run obstacle courses while wearing the gear and carrying the weapons, so the soldiers are used to carrying the gear and using the weapon under all circumstances. This approach to armour fitness has been present in military training since the Romans indeed the tactician Flavius Vegetius Renatus, known more commonly as Vegetius wrote about this in his Concerning Military Matters. Part of it was even plagiarized as the "Poem of the Pel" in the Middle Ages. I am not suggesting that we should do such extreme training, however some of it might be of use to us, especially if we want to get really "Armour Fit".

If nothing else, we need to get used to the heat of the armour. We need to get used to simply wearing the armour as a part of our normal practice. This way, when we have it on for when we are bouting or competing in competitions, there will be substantially less restriction.

Training in Armour

So, am I suggesting that we should do all of our training in our PPE? Yes, mostly. Am I suggesting that we should do the training in all of our PPE? Well, maybe not all of it, all of the time. There will be times when masks are not required and maybe gorgets, however the more armour that you wear during the training, the more that you will get used to it, the quicker you will become used to wearing it.

"But that will tire me out quickly." Really? That certainly says something about your armour fitness if you can't go through a training session wearing the gear that you are supposed to be bouting or competing in, maybe this sort of training is exactly what you need to build up your endurance.

"But the armour is hot and uncomfortable." Then maybe this is your chance to get used to the heat that it supplies, and find the areas where it is uncomfortable so you can make some modifications. This equipment like any form of clothing should be made to fit the wearer, not just taken off the shelf and assumed it is going to fit.

During your first couple of times training in armour as described above you will have to pay close attention to your heat tolerance. Be very aware of any heat stress that you may be suffering and attend to it immediately. If you feel that you are beginning to suffer from heat stress, go sit down, drink water, remove some layers and rest for a while. Do NOT push it until you drop or dehydrate yourself. This will take some time to get used to and build up your tolerance. Besides if you do push until you drop, you are likely going to have to start at all over again as you recover and then build up again.

You will notice some quite interesting differences between being in armour and being out of armour. Maybe this might require re-learning some skills, or modifying them to suit while you are in armour. The armour will change your movements.

Armoured vs Unarmoured

You will notice that movements while wearing armour is different to not wearing it. This will change your actions. Likely one of the reasons you do not perform particular actions during your bouts is simply because you can't, because your PPE will not allow you to execute such actions. There is a significant amount of weight present and it is more bulky in different places this needs to be taken into account. While Musashi was talking about "real" armour, the same, in part, applies.

"You cannot profit from small techniques particularly when full armour is worn." 
Miyamoto Musashi Go Rin No Sho

Certain techniques may not work for you because of the PPE that you are wearing. You need to take this into consideration. What is even more interesting about this situation is that we are supposed to be performing an unarmoured art, yet we are doing it while wearing armour, in a lot of cases. This is going to make a lot of difference to the way that we can and cannot move.

This is especially the case when we look at a lot of HEMA combatants. They can't perform the correct actions because they can't move in the way that they need to because of their protective gear. Questions could be raised as to the reason that they need all the protective gear. It does not take all that much effort to damage an individual, so what is the reason for the hard blows? I think this is a matter for another article, or maybe one I have already discussed previously.

All a learning process...

This is all a learning process, but one that will be well worth your while. You have to learn what it is like to move in your protective gear, and your body has to learn to get used to the heat of the armour that is being worn. This is not a slow process and there will be some times, especially in the beginning, where you will need to slow down, not that this is a bad thing in training, so you can learn to cope with the increased stress.

If the armour gets too hot: stop, take a breather; even take the gear off if it is not required. The point being that the gear is there to protect you from harm, but if it is harming you then there is something that needs to be adjusted. The PPE has been proven to protect the individual, so it is really the individual that needs to change not the gear. The individual needs to get used to the heat and weight of the armour. Practice in the armour, get used to the heat and movement of the gear that you are fighting in so it presents less stress to your body and you will be a lot more comfortable when you fight, and you will be able to fight for longer.

Cheers,

Henry.

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You will notice a lot of Wikipedia links in my posts. This is a great resource of free information which is now reliably researched, as you will note by the references which appear at the bottom of each page. I donate to the Wikimedia Foundation every year to keep this non-profit group operational, and I recommend that everyone do the same, you can do this HERE. Please give, and keep this free source of information alive, there are few of them these days.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

A Fencer's Responsibility

 Greetings,

There is lots of discussion about individuals' rights and what a person is or is not allowed to do, say, wear, or practice. People forget that along with rights come responsibilities. Responsibilities begin with the simple responsibilities we have to our fellow human beings which allow the rights to exist in the first place, but this post is not to discuss such subjects. If you want my discussion of this subject you can read it HERE. The subject at hand is the responsibilities that each fencer has to each other fencer. These responsibilities are intrinsic with the picking up of a weapon, of any kind, simulated or not.

Every time that you fence, or even pick up your weapon you are representing every other fencer as a member of an unofficial, but present worldwide membership, that goes back into history, and crosses national and cultural boundaries. It does not matter if you are a member of the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronisms), a kendoka, a sport fencer or a member of one of the many Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) groups around the world, you have a connection ALL of them, simply because you participate in the art of the sword. You have a responsibility to all of them to represent the art in its best light. This is the first responsibility that you have. Every time a person takes up a sword and strikes another human being in anger or with the intent to injure or kill, it sheds a negative light on everyone else. 

Safety: It's All in Your Hands

Safety in regard to any weapon, it primarily concerns control over that weapon. For a firearm it involves ensuring that the weapon is unloaded whenever it is away from the range; ensuring that it only points toward the target when it is loaded; your finger only goes anywhere near the trigger when you are ready to fire; and ensuring the weapon is again unloaded before leaving the firing area. All of these points are about controlling the mechanical processes which are involved in the operation of the weapon.

It's Still a Weapon

The firearm is obviously a weapon capable of doing damage, but in all cases the swords which are used in fencing should always be treated as weapons. They may be simulated weapons in most cases, except those used for test-cutting, but they are weapons nonetheless, and should be treated with the respect due a weapon as they still have the potential to do damage. This is something that you must appreciate, and thus observe all of the rules in regard to safety.

Rules and Conventions

Some groups, and most of the officially established groups have formalised rules and conventions for the way they perform their combats. If the situation is a more informal situation then some of the rules and conventions may be unwritten and there may be some negotiation required before the combat starts. In either case, ensure that you always stay within the rules and conventions which have been established for the combat. They are there for your safety and the safety of your opponents. If you are unsure about any of these, ask before you start.

There are many reasons to fight within the established rules and conventions. In many instances if you do not  there will be consequences for not doing so. These can be up to and including removing and banning you from participation. There is a better reason to fight within these standards, it will result in a more pleasant fight, and people will more likely want to fight you again. This will give you a better reputation, and this spreads to other groups with which they will have contact. I have already discussed the subject of notoriety and renown in another article previously.

The Excessive Blow

There will be instances where a combatant will be struck too hard. This is inevitable as fencing is, after all, a contact sport. The purpose is to strike the opponent after all. There is an acceptable standard set in groups as to what blow is hard enough and what is too much, the latter being an "excessive blow." This may waver between groups and even within a group.

You should always attempt to strike with sufficient force to transmit your intent, but never to injure your opponent, if there is no standard set. Discuss the standard in a group where you are visiting to ensure that you do not strike too hard. It is your responsibility to ensure that you do not strike too hard.

Now incidents will happen where such blows are unavoidable, colloquially it could be called the, "sh*t happens" situation, but this is the exception more than the rule. Such an incident could occur where both fencers attack simultaneously, mutually striking one another, or even simply one striking the other. One miscalculates what the other is about to do, expecting them to go back instead of forward, and they are struck, the result is an "excessive blow." 

In each instance the responsibility falls to the person holding the weapon which struck the person who received the "excessive blow" not the person who was struck. The blame should not fall on the person who is struck as the individual should have control of their weapon. Again, there will be instances where the individual has thrown themselves on to the weapon, but it is up to them to accept the blame rather than receive it. This is a fine line, but it must be noted.

Know the Rules

Some will state part of safety and what has been said previously is knowing the rules, and in part they are correct. It is important to know the rules, but the following discussion focuses on the rules of the game that is being played, rather than the game and how it is played. There are often long sets of rules which are presented and many participants read part of them, leaving much of them to marshals or referees, depending on what the appointed safety personnel are called. For convenience, I will be calling them "marshals" and the combatants as "fencers".

Fencer's Rules

Many feel it is sufficient for a fencer only to know those rules which particularly pertain to the fencer. In this they feel it is only necessary that the fencer know: the conventions of combat, armour and weapon standards, and how to fight safely. The result is they focus on only those rules which pertain to them as a fencer which either get them on the field or involve them actually fencing. This, unfortunately, leaves a rather large hole in their knowledge, and can cause issues for them, should certain incidents arise.

Know All the Rules

In actual fact, even for fencers it is better to know all of the rules. This is because they give explanation to things in the fencer's rules which are often described in detail in the later parts. A fencer may be involved in an incident on the field of combat. If they have only read the bare minimum, they do not know how to handle the incident, aside from talking with their opponent, and maybe the marshal on the field.

Knowing all the rules allows the fencer to know procedures for following up on incidents which occur on the field, should they occur. On the more positive side, should a fencer find a weapon combination that is not yet covered in the rules, they will, however give direction how they might be able to experiment with permission, rather than simply turning up and simply being not allowed to use it. Other procedures which are presented in the rules include what to do about another fencer if they break a rule, or if the fencer has concerns about the rules.

If the fencer only knows their part of the rules. How do they know when a marshal is acting within the bounds of the rules? How do they know how to do anything about this? All such information is, no doubt, found somewhere within the rules and procedures, beyond the simple rules for fencers. Likewise the reporting procedures, so any of the incidents mentioned above, can be reported correctly is likely present. This way something can be done about the incidents, the first time, rather than a lot of backward and forward as the fencer talks trying to find the right person to talk to.

Rules and Safety

It would be nice to think that every combatant had the safety of every other combatant in mind every time they took the field. It is simply not the case. Once the adrenaline begins to flow, and the desire for victory is present, often concerns for safety tend to blend into the background and things get missed. It is at these times the individual needs to stand firm and be the representative of safety, even if it is only doing their part to keep them and their opponent safe.

One way of keeping people safe is to know the rules under which you are fighting, and knowing all the procedures so you can follow them, should it be required. If you are involved in an incident, it is your responsibility to report it as you were involved. If you expect something to be done about it, then it is likely that you will have to follow it up using the correct procedures. This is your responsibility.

You have a responsibility as a fencer, one that is linked to every other fencer around the world. The safer you can make what you do the more likely that what you do will last for years to come. The greatest threat that fencing of all kinds faces is not from a lack of participants, but from safety issues and thus legal and insurance issues. It is your responsibility to do your part to keep it safe.

Cheers,

Henry.

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You will notice a lot of Wikipedia links in my posts. This is a great resource of free information which is now reliably researched, as you will note by the references which appear at the bottom of each page. I donate to the Wikimedia Foundation every year to keep this non-profit group operational, and I recommend that everyone do the same, you can do this HERE. Please give, and keep this free source of information alive, there are few of them these days.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Nietzsche and the Art of Fence

Greetings,

There is much discussion about the philosophical approach to fencing, mostly from the perspective of how a person should train and approach their "game". Questions are asked about whether fencing is a series of touches against an opponent or a series of questions and answers between two fencers having a conversation, and such like questions. What follows does not discuss these philosophical approaches, it discusses what happens when the fencer becomes broken, or old, and how and why the old and/or broken fencer can and should continue on with a long-term injury or injuries, or chronic illness.

Of Nietzsche

For the Nazi implications in regard to Nietzsche and Nietzsche's work, which are sometimes made, I will simply say that, a person writes, or creates a thing, it is often up to others how they use the thing. This is the same case with Nietzsche's ideas and what the Nazis did with them. The Nazis took Nietzsche's ideas, and like they did with many ideas at the time, perverted them to suit their own ideals. Nietzsche was not even alive at the time of the foundation of the Nazi Party, he had been dead for 20 years. 

With that distasteful piece of discussion out of the way we can talk more about the man and how he could relate to being broken. He suffered through bouts of physical and mental illness throughout his life and it was during these times that he wrote some of his most significant works. He managed himself around these times of illness, something we can learn from.

Nietzchean Philosophy is more common than you might think, Out of life's school of war: What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.[1] Yes, that oft-used quote comes from Nietzsche, and forms the foundation of much of the philosophy which I have found most useful, especially in this discussion of its relation to fencing. For the Stoics in the audience, it was Nietzsche who arrived at the concept of "Amor Fati" - love your fate. By this, he meant if you truly embrace the life that you have and you will find power in it. This is a concept which the modern Stoics have embraced.

Of Fencing and Philosophy

On the one hand, while readers of these articles are likely relatively familiar with fencing and fencing terms, because this is their area of interest, there are distinctively fewer who are familiar with philosophers and philosophy. So when it comes to philosophical terms and individuals concerned with philosophy, somewhat of an introduction is required. Assumptions, especially those broadcast in the main by media or rumour, like the Nazi connections, mentioned above, need to be exposed and removed.

Of all the important concepts which are found within Nietzsche's work, for the fencer with an injury, especially a long-term one, or a chronic illness, the most important one is the "will to power" a concept in which the power is found within the individual so long as they have the will to find it. This concerns not only living life but living life well. Nietzsche states that life gives will, but not just to live, but to power, thus to live well. He extols the reader to live well not just live. This living well is found through defeating the challenges which are put before them. Further, then surmounting the greater challenges that are put before them after those.

Merely the Beginning

This discussion is merely the beginning; a bare scraping of the surface of my thoughts on the subject and the research I have performed on the subject. If you are interested and feel that you have a need to read the document in its complete form, and it is quite long and in-depth, it can be found attached to this Dropbox link, or by contacting the author, the same as this blog, i.e. me.

Cheers,

Henry.

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You will notice a lot of Wikipedia links in my posts. This is a great resource of free information which is now reliably researched, as you will note by the references which appear at the bottom of each page. I donate to the Wikimedia Foundation every year to keep this non-profit group operational, and I recommend that everyone do the same, you can do this HERE. Please give, and keep this free source of information alive, there are few of them these days.


[1] Nietzsche, F (1895) Twilight of the Idols, http://www.handprint.com/SC/NIE/GotDamer.html, para. 8

Monday, December 13, 2021

Of Guard and Ward

 Greetings,

The following came out of a discussion with one of my students, Adam Kaye, who has made a translation of Lovino's treatise into English, by the way. The discussion concerns the differences and similarities between guards and wards. The discussion will examine the concept of the ward and the concept of the guard, then compare and contrast the two. This leads to a discussion finding out where they mean the same thing and where they mean two different things. Within this discussion, there will be an historical consideration of these terms, in the sense of the treatises, as well as actual use of the terms as they have been used throughout the history of the sword, sometimes to mean the same thing, sometimes to mean different things.

Actual versus Potential

The difference as it is taken in the modern sense between the guard and the ward concerning their defensive positions. In simplest terms one, the guard is an actual defensive position while the ward is a potential defensive position. The guard by its nature closes a Line so it provides the fencer with an actual defensive position. The ward does not typically do this, so the fencer must make an action for defence so is a potential defensive position. Of course, there are exceptions to this, as always, which will be discussed below.

Historical Considerations

Historically, we must examine the concepts of "ward" and "guard" to understand how they were used in the periods in which they were used. Earlier on, they were used pretty much indiscriminately, the were used as synonyms, used to mean and describe the same thing. This was much the case for most of the medieval and Renaissance period. 

“lying calm and settled in some form with arms, either in order to offend or defend, that settlement, and that position, and that composition of the body in that guise, in that form, I call “guard”." (Viggiani, A. (1575) Lo Schermo, Translated by W. Jherek Swanger 2002)
  
It was only in the later Renaissance period that the ward, began to turn more toward the guard, where the weapon was used to close areas of the combatant off. This was most presently demonstrated by Fabris' concept of contra-postura in which the fencer adopted a position which was closed to the opponent.

“According to Fabris, a counterguard (or counterposture) is a subtle adjustment of any of the main guards made to ensure that the line between the opponent’s tip and one’s body is completely covered by the forte of the sword.  Counterpostures are to be formed outside the measure in order to ensure good defense once the “danger zone” is entered.” (Leoni, T. (2002) “A Brief Glossary of Italian Rapier Concepts”, The Association for Renaissance Martial Arts, http://www.thearma.org/rapierglossary.htm)


While this was a process made against an opponent and the later forms of rapier positions began to take into account the position of the opponent and began to close off areas to the opponent's attack. This was only the beginnings of what we could call a "true" guard. The guard which is familiar today would have to wait until the advent of the smallsword.

The guards of the smallsword and later modern sport fencing weapons were designed to close off a Line. These were guards in the truest sense. Any attack down the Line of the guard that was closed could be ignored and this forced the opponent to attack a Line that was open. Here we see the conception of what is understood by a guard in the modern sense. But the discussion does not end there.

One is the Other

There are instances where a ward is a guard, where a Line is closed to the opponent because of the position of the weapon or the body, or the combination of the weapon and the body, this article does not claim that this is absent. Indeed these instances are recognised and are notable. One of the prime instances that this occurs, is when a person deliberately adopts a contra-postura to the opponent's position. Other instances occur when the individual is in a such a position in which the weapon is in such an position that the opponent's weapon must be closed out of the Line such as in the hanging guard. These positions are made easier by the addition of an off-hand device which can serve to assist in the closing of a Line. In these cases there are more wards that are like guards. 

Most guards are also wards; they are also positions from which attacks and defences are easily launched. They simply have the added advantage of having one Line which is closed to the opponent so that Line the fencer does not have to worry about during the initial part of the encounter. The guard is a position from which it is also comfortable to launch attacks from, and also defend the other Lines which are not defended by the position of the guard in that position. It is a guard in the sense of one Line, but a ward in the sense of the other Lines which are not already covered.

What is the Purpose?

The necessary thing is that the purpose needs to be examined, the purpose behind the two different types of stances which are present in fencing. The ward starts the fencer relatively open, but expects the fencer to act against all the actions of the opponent, making choices to attack or defend. The guard closes a Line automatically defending a position against the opponent and driving their attacks toward another direction. This, primarily, prepares the fencer to respond to attacks in that other direction. The guard is intended to limit the opponent's options, and also the required actions of the fencer.

Once you can understand the purpose of a thing, like the ward and the guard it is relatively easy to sort out which is which. Further you can sort out how to turn one to the other, how to close a Line that may be open or create an opportunity for an active action, depending what your desire is. Some will prefer to sit and wait for their opponent to make the first action, others will prefer to make the first action themselves. In part this should be a consideration as to whether you choose a ward or a guard, and which one you take against which opponent. While relatively simple, these questions can get quite complex the further you look into them.

Cheers,

Henry.


P.S. You will notice a lot of Wikipedia links in my posts. This is a great resource of free information which is now reliably researched, as you will note by the references which appear at the bottom of each page. I donate to the Wikimedia Foundation every year to keep this non-profit group operational, and I recommend that everyone do the same, you can do this HERE. Please give, and keep this free source of information alive, there are few of them these days.