Monday, December 28, 2015

Females and Fencing (Part 2)


Welcome to Part 2, this is the second part of my discussion on females and fencing based upon a lesson which I delivered at Swordplay '15 this year. It is designed to highlight the differences between the male and female combatant and bring these into the light so that both the trainer and student may realise that they are differences not problems. The previous part dealt with physical differences this one will start with the psychological ones. I would advise you, dear reader, that if you have not read the first part, that you should as it will give and explanation of my approach to the subjects which follow.


After dealing with the physical differences we need to look deeper and have a look at some more mental differences. This means having a look at the psychological differences between males and females and seeing how this will affect them in training and also in a combative situation. These need to be taken into account as they are deeply embedded in our minds and are not easily dealt with.

To begin the so -called "feminine characteristics" portray the female as passive and shy. I know this not the case for everyone but it is the general outlook and for some it is true. Added on top of this is that from the beginning, for the most part, females are given nurturing roles. This means that they are not supposed to hit people, this idea is, in many cases driven from their make-up.

What is the result of this? It means that the female trainee and combatant will often have difficulty starting and often continuing with training as the idea of striking someone else with an object is foreign to their internal make-up. For the trainer this will take time to encourage them that it is fine for them to do this and it is actually what is expected of them. No trainee should be discouraged, male or female, because this is part of their make-up. More so, it should be emphasised not just by trainers but by other members of the class that it is okay to strike their opponent and partner at the right time and place.

Now we need to discuss the "jitters". That horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach that comes up during training, and especially at tournaments or examinations when the pressure is on. This is the feeling that you do not belong here, that all the training you have done has been a waste of time, that all the other combatants hit harder and are better than you, and that there is nothing you can do about it. First thing that I am going to say is that everyone has had this feeling, and that anyone who denies ever having had this feeling before a tournament or training session is either lying to other people, or lying to themselves which is worse. The question is how to deal with them.

Each person has their own way of dealing with this feeling, and you need to find a way for dealing with your own. I will give some suggestions that may help you, but it is a personal process that you must think through. First we will start with Pre-Tournament, then Tournament, and then Post-Tournament. Each one is slightly different to suit the different situation. In this I will be using the word "tournament" to signify what ever event is being discussed, be it a training session, examination or tournament.


On the way to the location of the tournament I like to listen to music that either puts me in a good mood or music which is appropriate to the tournament. I am a bit of a metal-head but I have found that Iron Maiden's "Flash of the Blade" or "The Duellists" works for me. If you are looking for something a little slower Dire Straits "Brothers in Arms" also works. I have also found that anything classical with some "drive" behind it works, Beethoven, Bach, Tchaikovsky for examples. 

Once I have arrived, I make a point of finding someone I know and saying "Hello." This is to realise that I am not there alone. If you are at an event for the first time, be sure that you are not the only one. Go and find someone to say "Hello" to. This is a great way to release some tension. Following this, go and do all the mundane things, signing in and all that business. Go find the Officials of the event and introduce yourself and thank them for being there, they will be happy about it, trust me on this one.

Unpack. Find a comfortable spot. This may be with others, it may not be. It needs to be comfortable for you. Have a good look at each piece of gear as you take it out. Get it all out and have a good look. Then walk away for a little while. Come back and in a relaxed fashion put your armour (safety gear on). Start internal and work external, start from the ground work up. Start from the body and work out to the arms. Gauntlets last, trust me on this one. Once you are in your armour, move about and get used to being in the armour, without your weapon. Next pick up your weapon and go through some simple solo drills, finally go find someone you know to warm-up with. By this time you should be suitably warm and much more comfortable.


Regardless of the result of a round, examine how you fought and what you did in response to the opponent's actions. Have a look at you did well and be happy with this. Breathe. Next examine where you did not do so well, remember this because you can ask your trainer about it at your next training. Breathe. You should always look at crossing blades with an opponent as a chance to learn something about yourself and your opponent. Do not miss this chance. Breathe. Victories fade the lessons live on.

In between rounds, if you have time, make sure that you take off your gauntlets, mask/helm and gorget. This will let a lot of the heat out. Breathe. Drink liquid. People say drink water, I say liquid as you should also be concerned about your sugar levels dropping too low. Go for a little walk if you need to, but not too far. Breathe Watch the other opponents for what they are doing and learn from what they are and are not doing. This is a prime time to learn. Listen to what other combatants are saying. Breathe. Do not think about the next round until it is announced, and even then do not focus on it unless you have seen the opponent and learnt something useful about the way they fight. Did I mention Breathe? You need to stay analytical about the process, this will help you calm yourself. Remember all the things you did right and celebrate them.


Why? The tournament is over, why would this be the case that you get jitters? This would be the case that you still have a lot of adrenaline running through your system and also probably endorphins as well. Once again it is a matter of settling yourself. Breathe. Take your time. Have a drink. Get rid of the mask/helm, gorget and gauntlets as before. Put the weapons down with your gear. Go for a little walk. Breathe. Have a chat to some of the other combatants. Breathe. The most important thing here is to relax. If there is a presentation made after the tournament and you have placed high enough to be a part of this enjoy the experience, you deserve it.

Well, this has turned out to be a lot longer than I expected it to be. I only planned for this to be two posts at most, but I think that keeping them relatively short is important for better absorbing of the information which I have presented. Once again, if the information presented has continued to interest and inform you, be prepared as there is a third, and final, installment of this subject.



Sunday, December 13, 2015

Females and Fencing (Part 1)


The following post is based on a lesson I delivered this year at a "local" event and I use the word "local" very loosely as it is becoming recognised as a national one. That event was Swordplay '15. Essentially it was designed to get all of the female combatants together and have a chat about Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA), tournaments and the whole gambit of things and the simple thing that they are not alone and that they needed to talk more to one another to share their experiences, more on this later.

While at the event in the position of Safety Marshal I was in a great position to see a lot of fighting at the event and see how everybody was doing. One of the things that I noticed was that the female combatants were attempting to fight like the male ones, with some achievement it has to be said. The obvious problems associated related directly and indirectly to the method and approach to the fighting is what sparked the idea for the lesson.

Before I go into much detail there are a couple of things that I have to say. Firstly, I apologise to those people who have been waiting since the event for this post to come out, part of this has been slackness and part of this is other factors. Secondly, I know that this post is possibly going to cause some issues that I am talking about females in fencing and I am a male, but this is all from my point of view and based upon my training and my experiences training females. I hope that this post will help rather than hinder women in HEMA. Thirdly, I know it is a little arrogant to be speaking on the subject, but please bear with me. Finally, this is probably going to be a pretty hefty sort of post so get ready for a solid sort of a read.

So we have the situation that women most often taught by men and men most often do not know how women work physically and mentally. This is simply because most of the more experienced members of the community are male. This presents problems in training for the women who are participating in the training and, for the most part, these problems are kept to themselves. I would like to highlight these "problems" and demonstrate them not as "problems" but as "differences" and differences which trainers need to take into account. The following will be divided up into various sections so that areas can be highlighted for discussion.


So men and women are different physically. Well done, Captain Obvious! Tell us something we don't know. This simple fact is something we need to take into account when training. It is something which I have indicated before in a previous post ( This post was mostly indicated at different body shapes as in short versus tall, broad versus thin and so forth, for this discussion we need to go more deeply into the discussion and examine how the male and female form differ and how they move differently.

To start with we need to examine hip shape, the hips control the centre of mass and also control the legs which makes them essential for movement. If you do not have free movement through this you are bound to have problems. Well, males and females are markedly different here, especially the way that the legs join up with the hips. The way that the leg joints are positioned in men and women are different and this can be seen in the on guard position. Let us take the generic terza (third) guard.

The right foot is forward the left is to the rear, many guards in HEMA will begin like this. Many will actually be a little more broad with the rear foot a little further outward and a little more forward. This will immediately put the hips in a diagonal position if this position is adopted, which for a male suits them perfectly, due to the way their leg joints are shaped. For the female she will have all sorts of trouble keeping her front foot pointing at the opponent, this is because her hips do not want to do this. So what we need to do here is make a change in position to make it more comfortable and more moveable for the female. It is not radical it is a change in position from diagonal to horizontal, from the male position to the female position.
In the case of the image above it is from the lower image to the upper image. In the first instance you do this you may need to physically move your hip into this position. In the case of a trainer you may need to move the student's hip into the correct position, make sure you ask permission to do so first. The change in position may require a broadening of the stance, and a slight withdrawal of the foot, that is fine. The ease of movement will have its own reward.

While we are on movement, we might as well stay there for a while. The female combatant will also move differently from the male combatant. This you will see in their actions with the weapon, but also in their movement across the ground. The woman can also access a lot more mobility in their hips and waist than the male can for the movement of their body for voiding and other actions than most men will be able to and this is a great advantage, and one that should be used.

As a female, in general, you will simply not be able to compete with the raw power of the male, so you should not try to. However there are different ways to approach the combat through movement and being lighter on your feet. Against the stronger opponent use their strength against them, slip off their attacks, redirect their power to other directions. Use the lightness that you have to simply avoid the power that your opponent possesses, and with the extra movement indicated already, this will be even easier.

Now we come to one final attribute of the female form which most trainers often forget to take into account in their training, the female breast. The Parry of Fourth, the Parry to the High Inside Line, any time your arms have to cross your body close they get in the road, and the trainer often will not take it into account because he doesn't have them.
Parry of 4th
Breast protection just doesn't help the situation, in fact it even often makes it worse. How do I know? First, I listen. Second, I wear a chest plate myself. How do we get around this particular problem? We look at the assets again and see what we can use to our advantage. Once again it comes down to the hips and waist. In the case of the Parry of Fourth, or High Inside Line, turn your body at the same time you make the parry. This will give you some more clearance for the parry and also some more room. In fact, as far as this "problem" goes this is the primary way around it, use the other attributes of mobility to get around it.

So, this is the end of Part 1, if I have not insulted or bored you too much, Part 2 will start with a look at some of the psychological aspects which have to be dealt with and go from there, depending on how things go and how deep it gets will see how long it goes for.