Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Heavy and Fence: Two Gauntlets of the SCA - More Adventures in Cross-Training


The following is primarily aimed at my SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) readership, but the tenets upon which it is based apply just as much to all forms of martial arts. Sometimes we are a little closed-minded about what some other method can offer us and thus it is dismissed as irrelevant or simply unrelated to what we are doing. It is simply not the case. There are elements in all sword movement arts which can be used to your benefit to improve what you do.


First I will deal with a little bit of nomenclature for those who are not members of the SCA. "Heavy Combat" or "heavy" refers to the fully armoured combatants who engage in combat with rattan weapons. "Fencing" or "Rapier" refers to those who engage in unarmoured combat, thus using rapiers, primarily, and wearing attire more attuned to civilian wear. I have given the most common terms here for reference just to make sure that people know what I am referring to as this discussion proceeds.


From my own particular perspective I have trained in both and would have continued in both except that my body just was not going to continue playing the game in heavy. This gave me a unique perspective from the point of view that I could understand what was going on from each point of view and thus learn from each perspective. It is perspective which makes a hell of a lot of difference.

For many people in the SCA they see heavy and they see fencing and they think that there can be no connection between the two. Indeed there are even practitioners of both who think that there is no connection between the two. The important thing to note is that there are connections between the two and that these connections can be an asset to any person who can grasp these connections and use them to their advantage. There are a lot of skills which can cross over from one to the other and thus gain the user a great advantage, not only doing one, but both.

When an "outsider", SCA or not, sees heavy they often see two people in armour attempting to simply beat the snot out of one another. From this perspective it is difficult to see what is actually happening. It looks like a lot of swinging and thumping with little skill.

When an "outsider", SCA or not, sees fencing they often see two people with long thing swords attempting to skewer one another. Often the actions are so quick that it is difficult to see what's happening. It looks like they just are stabbing at one another randomly until one hits.

Needless to say, sometimes it is, but in most cases it is not the case in either case.

Trained Actions

In both cases the offensive blows are not just thrown wildly or randomly. They are targeted to locations. They are practiced so that the actions are performed with skill so that the blow will land at the target at the appropriate time. The body is also taught how to move properly so it is efficient in motion. All of these things take training, and both styles of combat have them within them, it is just a matter of finding them and using the training to your advantage.

For the Fencer: 

1. Cutting

Heavy will teach cutting actions and their most efficient method. Most fencers are point-orientated, thus cutting actions from heavy are a great asset to them as it will teach them alternate ways to move the sword around and to their targets.

2. Body Movement

Heavy will teach body movement which is essential for movement in armour. While this is not necessary for fencers as they wear clothing rather than armour, it teaches the fencer to be grounded in their movements, thus teaching them where their centre of mass is and how to move their body around to stay balanced while executing actions.

3. Power Generation

Heavy will teach power generation as related to body movement. This is not necessary at the point of a rapier, or for the purposes of throwing a cut, but it is useful for the movement of the body in an efficient manner. Such power generation can be translated to the movement of the feet and the movement of other parts of the body for the purposes of speed rather than power.

For the Heavy:

1. Footwork

Fencing will teach footwork and efficient control of distance. This is one of the primary elements of all forms of combat. The footwork taught in fencing is efficient and controlled, thus will teach how to move from one position to another in the most efficient manner possible. Even the principles of fencing footwork applied to heavy will improve movement.

2. Point Control

Fencing will teach point control. Fencers are well-known to be artists with the point and this can be translated not only to the use of the sword in heavy but also pike, glaive and other arms. Additionally, extensions of the thrust such as the lunge can be effective with the use of the point, especially with the use of low-profile thrusting tips.

3. Technical Use of Weapons

Fencing will teach the technical use of weapons. Fencing has a long, documented history with period documentation to back up the actions which are performed. These techniques in many situations can be transferred, along with their technical reasoning, to weapons used in heavy combat. Experienced fencers especially will have already had access to the treatises and would be more than willing to discuss them and how they may be applied.

Just the Beginning...

You will find that the more that you open your eyes to different perspectives the more that you will find. Do not be closed to different opportunities which may be so close that you cannot see them. Just because someone is doing something which is different to you, because they are doing things with a sword and you are as well, you should pay attention. You might find something useful in what they are saying.

Three different skills have been presented for each heavy and fencing, but there are more which I have not presented here. These are the primary three which will strike you as soon as your learning process begins. There is no need to even complete the training and engage in the form of combat, merely to attend training and see what is said and investigate to see what you can use. Talk to those who do the other form of combat and see what they are up to. Give your point of view and see what they think. Hopefully you will get some useful feedback that you can use. The worst thing that can happen is that by taking up another method of sword-use is that you learn another method of using a sword, and that can never be a bad thing.