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.



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