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: 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" ( 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.



Did you enjoy this post? Would you like to buy it in a book format? I have put a selection of my blogs into a book entitled Un-blogged: A Fencer's Ramblings, along with some extra articles. If you are interested in purchasing it you can buy it here: among other distributors.

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.