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Fencing and History Nut Extraordinaire. While I am tending toward 16th century at the moment, I am and have been interested in history for a long time. Hence the fencing focuses more on the Renaissance period than the modern. This explains two out of three of my blogs. The third is a more personal one focusing on fibromyalgia. What I write in these blogs, I hope will be of use to people.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

What is a Feder?


What follows is a small portion of a paper I have written on the subject. There is a link after this portion if you are interested in reading the rest of the paper. I investigated it to find out more about this particular weapon, which I initially did not know very much about. This way I could better approach the subject of this weapon with a more open mind.



The Short Answer

            While a long answer will be forth-coming about the federschwert detailing various arguments about the weapon and discussing what was used for and its history there is also the short answer to consider as well. The short answers cover such things as literal translations of the name of the sword from German to English. The slightly more in-depth discussions of the weapon lead to further investigations which will be presented further along.

The “Feather-sword”

            The first place people go for an interpretation of what a foreign thing is will be to translate the name of the object from the native language into English and interpret this into some idea of what this means thus, "federschwert - a lightweight sword. "Feder" is German for "feather," and "schwert" is German for "sword."" (Shackleford, 2010). This would seem to be a logical progression and explanation of the weapon, but leaves the reader with no real explanation of what the weapon is for.
This is where an explanation from a more use-approach comes in handy, “A Federschwert ("Feather swords") is a foiled practice blade with a large flanged ricasso and a thick but narrow blade used for longsword training.” (Wassom, 2016).

A School Longsword

            Wassom’s (2016) explanation of what a feder is begins to explain not only what a federschwert is but also what it is used for. There is also a physical description which is most useful. Further explanation of the form of the weapon is possible and even a hint as to its use,

“special fencing school longswords called federschwert, with a narrow rapier-like blade and more mass close to the cross, in the area called the schilt or the ricasso.” (Norling, 2011)

            With all this in mind there is the image of a weapon which is relatively light, blunt because it is used for practice in a school-type setting, which has a wide ricasso called a schilt, which brings the mass of the weapon close to the hilt, and a narrow but thick blade. This would seem to cover a reasonably good explanation, but there would seem to be a problem.

What’s in a Name?

“In Sweden we have a saying; "A loved child has many names" and looking at what is today called a federschwert this seems to be true for this type of sword as well, at least if we think of it in general terms as a sword for training.” (Norling, 2013)

            There would seem to be a lack of agreement on what this weapon should be called. Again, much like the rapier, the weapon is trapped in a web of confusion as to some naming nomenclature. For some federschwert or feder, is not a suitable term for this weapon, and another needs to be sought. Other names will be discussed.

Not Historically Used

“we can feel quite safe in assuming that federschwert or feder was not a term historically used for training swords other than as a poetic choice of words.” (Norling, 2013)

            Not an historical term? Nope. This will also be revealed. The question is whether or not this even matters or not. Does the term as it has been implied and used by the community suit the weapon and thus, being informed of its lack of history, does this really impact its use? The lack of history of this term will also be discussed in more detail. Needless to say, there is no short answer.


Norling, R. (2011) “Sparring Swords – Introduction”, HROARR, http://hroarr.com/sparring-swords-introduction/

Norling, R. (2013) “The Whatchamacallit-schwert”, HROARR, http://hroarr.com/the-feder-whatchamacallit/

Shackleford, S. (2010) Spirit of the Sword: A Celebration of Artistry and Craftsmanship, Krause Publications, Iola, USA

Wassom, D. (2016) “Some Historical Swiss Swords Examined”, The Association for Renaissance Martial Arts, http://www.thearma.org/spotlight/swiss-swords.html#.WPge4PmGPIU

Links to complete document:

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Being a Good Training Partner


Well this will seem a little ironic coming after my advice for the solo practitioner previously, but it is a subject which we all need to consider because sooner or later we will all be involved in a partnered drill, or in a partnered situation. This may be at our regular practice or at a convention or at some other sort of gathering. The partner may be someone who you have fenced with for years, or you may have literally just met them. All of the same stuff applies.

1. Don't Hurt Your Partner

Seems pretty obvious that we do not want to hurt the person that we are fencing with, right? Seems not to be the case with some. Some seem that they need to put a little bit more emphasis in on their strikes and other offensive actions. There is no need for it. If you continue to do this, you will simply run out of people who will be your partner and you will run out of people to train and spar with.

2. Follow the Drills

This means that if you are doing a parry and riposte drill and you are attacking, you are going to get hit. The only reason why you should not get hit is if your partner misses, and even then you should assist them so that you do. You need to do your part of the drill as faithfully as possible to ensure that the learning experience is fulfilling for your partner. You should be practicing your actions at the same time to make sure that they are correct. If you don't follow the drill you and your partner will not learn what is supposed to be learnt. If you continually not follow drills people will not want partner with you and you again will run out of people to train with.

3. No Additions

Even if you know what's coming next in the next drill don't make any additions to the drill. Wait until the trainer teaches the additional part of the drill. Your partner may not know about the new part and will be come confused, and will also want to focus on the current part. This also means that you should not really experiment with other options available as you may miss the point of the drill. If added defences so you don't get hit are not part of the drill, so don't add them. If you are supposed to get hit as part of the drill, you get hit. Additions to drills just show you as unwilling to follow instruction or arrogant, and not a good student.

4. Remain in Control

Some drills will be done at slow speed, some drills will be done at faster speeds. This will be determined by your instructor. It is up to you to remain in control of your actions. If you are supposed to be performing a drill at slow speed and your partner speeds up, do not follow them but remain at slow speed. You may even encourage them to slow down. Your instructor will have told you to do the drills at slow speed for a reason. Speeding up so that you can make a hit only cheats yourself.

5. Be Truthful

Cheating in drills and bouts only cheats yourself. Being truthful in drills gives a true evaluation of how your learning is going and whether or not you need more practice at the skills or not. Changing at the last minute or speeding up to hide a mistake that you have made is a cheat, and even if it allows you to strike your target you lose because you have cheated yourself. You have cheated yourself in training and therefore from learning a lesson. By making mistakes we learn. By cheating so mistakes are not made, you cheat yourself of that learning, and also your partner as well.

6. Remove the Ego

Some people feel that when they are struck it is a personal insult and their ego is somehow damaged. This is a very toxic attitude and you should avoid these people. Especially when training you need to remove the ego from the equation. Training is the best time to make mistakes as it is the best time to learn from them. Your instructors do not point out your mistakes to beat you down, but to help you learn. Your partners in learning are the same. If you get hit, ask how it happened so you can correct what you did wrong, not be insulted.

7. Respect for Your Partner

Finally, and this is most important, respect your partner. While a certain amount of training can be done alone and much more can be learnt by crossing swords with another. By respecting your partner you allow both of you to learn and thus both of you to grow as swordsmen. With respect for your partner much of what has already been said already will come into play. Regardless of your partner's skill level, ability, history, age or gender, all of them need to be respected. This is essential.

Being a good training partner is an ability which all swordsmen should train toward. This is something which will enhance your fencing career and also allow you to meet many interesting people in the process. It will also allow you to gain the most out of your learning experience. We have all experienced "that person" who deviates from the drills and will not follow instruction. This person is a nuisance and no one wants to partner them. The best thing is to not be "that person" and you will have a much finer experience.



Saturday, May 13, 2017

Brutal Fencing II: A Question of Calibration


I wrote a previous entry on the subject of brutal fencing and its relation to aggression. This can be accessed here: http://afencersramblings.blogspot.com.au/2009/09/brutal-fencing-discussion-of-aggression.html. This post is aimed at one particular aspect of fencing and indeed brutal fencing and that is how hard one fencer strikes one another, this is sometimes referred to as calibration. Part of this entry goes to the reason why we actually engage in Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA).

What is meant by calibration?

Calibration for the purposes of this post, and indeed in my opinion, is the amount of force sufficient required by one combatant for them to acknowledge a blow as good. This means that the blow would have done them some physical harm if the weapon was sharp, in the case of a sword. Of course this means both combatants have to agree on what one another is assumed to be wearing. The level of calibration will be different if the combatants are assumed to be wearing some sort of armour as compared to if they are assumed to be not.

For the most part, a lot of HEMA, the assumed armour is nil, the combatants are assumed to be wearing no armour at all. This means that they are wearing normal street clothes, no padding, maybe a pair of gloves. This means there is no armour to cut through, or padded jacket to pound through. A couple of layers of fabric and then flesh. The armour, or should it be said, protective gear that is worn is worn for protection against injury not for the simulation of any armour.

Why hit hard?

This is an important question which has not really been answered properly at all, and some of the answers which have come back are quite disturbing. Do you want to injure people? If the answer to this question is "Yes", then I hope that I do not meet you and I hope that you do not turn up to my practice because you re not the sort of student I am looking for. There is no reason to injure people at all. It does not show "martial effectiveness" or anything of this kind, in fact you are borderline from having someone call the police about assault and battery.

Armour and Calibration

Combatants wear extra protective gear to protect themselves where they require it, this should not be a surprise. For some out there, they see this as a challenge, "You wear more armour, I'll just hit harder." The first thing to note here is that the attitude is just wrong. If you find one of these people, report him to your instructor immediately, if he does nothing, leave the school or group.

The problem we face is that as people increase their calibration, so protective gear increases, so calibration increases, so protective gear increases, and so on. One has got to give, mostly it is the bodies under the protective gear, resulting in injuries and people out for months at a time, and people leaving in droves because they can't afford the protective gear and don't like being hit that hard. This is a problem which can be stopped at the beginning by controlling calibration.

"Martial Effectiveness"

Discussing  the question of "martial effectiveness". It does not take as much force to damage flesh as you think. With a thrust it is ridiculously easy. With a cut, it is not much farther off that. We have all seen videos loaded up on YouTube with this sword being applied to that target. The only way to prove this for yourself is to do it yourself.

Test-cutting has a high degree of relevance for HEMA. How can you know what is "martially effective" and how much calibration is required to damage a target in the real world unless you have tested it yourself? This means acquiring the appropriate weapons and the appropriate targets to do a proper simulation, something at least close to a scientific investigation.

Technique versus Strength

There is always the question of technique and strength. Where technique is used, strength is not required. The sword is a tool specifically designed to damage an opponent in a particular way and if the techniques are performed properly the sword will work in this way with very little to no strength required. One of the reasons why swordplay appeals to so many is that, for the most part, as long as you can hold the sword up and do the techniques, strength plays a very small factor in what happens.

When a technique is performed and the body is moved correctly with the feet and hands all in the correct time all the strength that is required is applied. Previously I wrote a post about "The Myth of Speed" (http://afencersramblings.blogspot.com.au/2015/04/the-myth-of-speed.html). Here, again, is a place where strength is not required it comes through the correct application of technique. So, once again, strength is put on the back-burner.


The question really goes, in your performance of HEMA are you using a sword or a long, thin club? A swordsman knows how to apply the correct amount of strength at the correct time to make a particular technique work, he does not simply bash his way through his opponent's defences. A swordsman knows that an excess of strength will actually reduce the amount of speed and precision in his techniques. A swordsman will earn respect from his opponents for striking true but also with an amount of force required to deliver the intent of the blow but with no excess.

The question of calibration is one of safety. It questions how hard we really need to hit one another. There is no real need to hit one another with any more force than is required for the opponent to feel the intent of the blow. The only reason we should have to wear protective gear is for accidental reasons, i.e. if our opponent or we make a mistake, which we can never protect against. What does this mean? This means that the community as a whole needs to look at just how hard we are hitting and ask, "Does this match with what we are re-creating?" and "Do we need to be hitting this hard?" Personally, I think the answer is no to both questions.



Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Changes Made


Yes, I have changed the colours and format of the blog. Hopefully this will make things a little more readable for you my readers. The old style has been the same one which I had been using since I started and I decided it was a time for a change, especially if it made the blog posts easier to read.



Thursday, April 13, 2017

A "Safe" Sword


The concept of a "safe" sword is one which is presented again and again to us when considering which weapons we should buy and which weapons should be allowed in tournaments and so forth. This is a concept which badly needs to be addressed and some of the basic notions which are attached to this also addressed. These are weapons which are being discussed, regardless if they have dull edges and blunt points, and they are being used as simulated weapons as well.

When a weapon is lying on the ground away from anyone touching it is safe. This is when a weapon is safe, as soon as a person is involved there is an element where safety is reduced. The safety is reduced both for the person who is picking up the weapon and also for anyone who is around the person wielding the weapon. This is regardless of whether it is a sword, an axe, a mace, an assault rifle, a handgun or even a missile launcher, the same applies.

The weapon may be dropped on the wielder's toe, or even on a by-stander's toe. The relative safety of a weapon has more to do with the person holding the weapon than the weapon itself. A person who is trained in the safe use of a weapon is generally safer than one who is not. A person who has had more experience with a weapon is generally safer than one who is not. It is the person who determines how safe a weapon is or is not.

The image which I have posted with this post, is one that I really like a lot, and it is very pertinent with regard to this discussion. A sword is a weapon therefore it is not designed to be safe. Its purpose is to strike another person with the intent to do damage (simulated or not) against them. The aspects of selection which are made for particular weapons due to temper, type of hilt arrangement, edge thickness, and point characteristics cannot change the fact that it is still a weapon, and therefore is still not safe. These points are merely risk mitigating factors.

The same can be said for any rules or regulations imposed by organisations and tournaments with regard to particular weapons which are or are not allowed to be used within the organisation or at the particular tournament. These are, again, risk mitigating factors. These are combined with an expected protective equipment standard and an expected standard of play to attempt to create an environment where catastrophic injury is less likely to occur.

What desperately needs to be noted is that with regard to weapons, and especially the weapons chosen by most practitioners of Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA), it is not the weapons which should be the focus of examination, but the individuals who are wielding the weapons. Sure, there may be some weapons which, due to their characteristics, they may be "safer" than other weapons, but it should be noted that this is risk mitigation. The notion of a "safe" sword is false and it is something that as a community we need to get away from and realise the situation for what it is.

Much of what has been said above comes down to respect for the sword as a weapon, regardless if it has a sharp edge or if it has dull edges and a rubber blunt on the end of it. Both need to be respected as both can cause injury if they are not used with care. Treat your weapons and your fellow practitioners with respect and they will do the same for you. Take care and be aware.



Monday, March 13, 2017

Book Review: Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick


Time for another book review...

Farrell, Keith (2014) Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick, Fallen Rook Publishing, Glasgow

First thing that you will notice is that it is by Keith Farrell, an author whom I have reviewed before. Yes. What does this mean? It means that the style of writing is easy to read and ensures that the point which is being made is made in very good fashion without having to resort to overtly complex words.

The book itself presents a great reproduction of Roworth's Arte of Defence on Foot of 1804, this has been transcribed by the author rather than simply presenting a facsimile of the original or referring to it. By doing this he gives a clear print version of the original noting the original page numbers and using the original illustrations. This allows the reader to read what was written by the original author without having to muddle through all of the issues of the original text.

So, many people will just go straight into the treatise and start describing techniques and stances and so forth, this is not the case with this book. There is actually only a relatively small amount of the book which actually deals with "how to", just over a third, that being said, it is the perfect foundation for what is presented. This book is not just a "how to guide" but an educational guide about the weapon systems and this is more important.

What this means is that the book provides the background of the era in which they were set. This background explains how the systems of swordsmanship formed as they did. You will find that systems of fencing, especially modern sport fencing, developed out of the conditions that developed around them. If you understand the background of a weapon system and its background you can understand where this came from.

Further to this, after the treatise is presented, the author presents how the treatise should be studied. This means he gives points about how the lessons presented in the treatise can be used and what the modern swordsman should be considering when taking on this sort of study. These elements are important as the modern physiology is not typically prepared for this.

Needless to say that overall I am very impressed with this book. It is an excellent book for the beginning broadswordsman, and also of great interest to anyone who is interested in the history of Scotland especially in the 17th to 19th centuries. So needless to say, it got me twice.

You can purchase this book at the link below:



Monday, February 13, 2017

Relax and Fence


We all know that muscles need oxygen, so we need to breathe when we are exercising, so this would be the reason why some time ago I wrote a post about the necessity of standing up straight in the on guard position (http://afencersramblings.blogspot.com.au/2010/06/stand-up-straight-and-relax.html). What you will notice about this post is that there is an element of the relaxation point in here as well. This element will be the focus in this post.

First point, when you are tense, your muscles tense unconsciously. This burns energy, so you are burning fuel without even doing anything. Relaxing will increase your endurance when you fence. Further, when your muscles are tense before action they move slower, when they are relaxed before action they move faster.

When people tense up one of the first things they stop doing when they make an action in fencing is breathing. When you relax, you will breathe properly, this means that your muscles will become oxygenated properly this also means that you will have more endurance. When people tense up another thing they stop doing is thinking and this is never good. The physical elements lead to the psychological elements.

Relax, take a breath and just fence. "Well that's easy for you to say." Why? What is so important? Are you going to die if your opponent hits you? Most of the pressures that are built up, we build up ourselves and it is up to us to remove them. It is not easy and it will take time.

Practice is for practice. This means that you are supposed to try new things. This means that you are supposed to make mistakes. The most important thing is that you learn from those mistakes. If you are not getting hit while bouting at practice, then you are not learning, and you are not progressing. If you have just learnt a new action or skill in a lesson, you are supposed to be trying it out in bouting. Talk to your opponent and tell them what you want to practice; maybe they will want to practice something too and then you can help them.

Release the pressure. Find out what is causing the pressure in your fencing. Find a way to release it. Talk to your teacher. Talk to other fencers. Sometimes a little pressure to push us forward is good, but when it restricts what we are doing then it becomes a detriment to our fencing, and can even become a detriment to our character. It is great to be focused on a goal, but not to the exclusion of all of life that goes on around you.

Fencing will improve when you relax. Your actions will become smoother and more natural because you are not forcing them to happen. A relaxed attitude in your fencing relies on your confidence in your skills, this means that you also need to practice what you have learnt. This relaxed attitude and form of fencing can also be passed along to your partners and this will improve your experience.

There is a nice feeling between two fencers when they are both relaxed and are able to perform their skills. This can be seen by those watching. The bout can still be very technical and also very intense, but because the fencers are both relaxed with what they are doing it will also have a good feel to it. This will be different to two fencers who just go at one another, simply trying to be first to strike the other one. The bout will also be intense but for different reasons.

A relaxed attitude and relaxed nature and approach to fencing will lead to better and more comfortable fencing. This takes time. You need to be comfortable with what you are doing. You need too be comfortable with who you are fencing with. You even need to be comfortable with the equipment that you are using to a certain point. The most important part of this process is that it has to start with you. You need to relax and just fence.