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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.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Re-Inventing the Wheel


There are questions which are going to be asked about this particular post, like what is he on about? That is simple. There is the propensity for the Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) community for re-inventing the wheel rather than taking perfectly good examples of things and either just using them or modifying them slightly to suit their purposes. This post will give three examples which seem to keep coming up as issues for the community which have been dealt with elsewhere before.


Why is it that in HEMA people seem to need to keep re-inventing the wheel? It is almost like that what has come before is just not good enough, or because it comes from another sport, or similar area and they do not want to be like them that they cannot use anything which is anything like them. There are three topics which have histories which are established which could be used as they are, or modified to purpose, yet they are not. This is, of course, causing people issues and in some cases injuries as a result because people are doing the hard work that has been done before all over again.


Armour has been around for literally thousands of years, yet when it comes to HEMA rather than looking at existing examples of armour and simply copying it or modifying the armour to suit, new armour has to be invented. The great saga of the gauntlet is the greatest example of this one that can be put up as a prime example. There were fully-articulate gauntlets manufactured and used in the medieval and Renaissance period. Why are they not just copied? Or at least the principles of their designs not copied? Its not like they did not work.

What I find really amusing about this one is that people in HEMA have been cobbling together protective gear from other sports or designing it based on other sports, and then realising that it has holes in it, which are not covered. Then these holes are being covered by examples which are found on medieval and Renaissance armours. Knee protection first just covered the front of the knee for HEMA, now it seems that fans are being added to protect the sides and give some protection to the back of the knee, which are, of course, found on medieval and Renaissance knee cops. Why go through the effort of having to find out what does not work when we already know what does?

Armour Standards

When it comes to the question of protective gear, each club or organisation will have their own ideas about what will be required for their own people. Obviously it will be dependent on the weapon that is being used, i.e. more will be required for doing longsword than smallsword. What is a little silly is that for the most part these standards are created on the spot from what the individuals think is reasonable. There is in existence an armour standard, for rapier at least, which has been around since at least the late 1990s which is an international standard, that being used by the Society for Creative Anachronisms (SCA).

Why not start with this and then add on to it? Obviously it is effective, and all of the hard work has already been done. Seems that some would rather not want to be in anyway associated with the group than use a standard which is known and works, which is ridiculous. Instead these people would rather go through the trials and issues of finding out what works and what doesn't, which puts their members at risk.


There has been a lot of discussion about how tournaments should be judged, whether one referee should be used and four linesmen, or one senior referee and one junior and two linesmen, or some other combination. My particular preference is to teach the combatants to call their own blows, I mean they are the ones receiving them so they would know the best if they have been hit or not. Some of this has started to filter into competitions and gradually it is beginning to hold some sway.

Again what we see is the HEMA community trying to re-invent the wheel when there is a system already available for them to use. This system is found in non-electric sport fencing. There is a presiding judge and one for each fencer. The presiding watches both competitors the others only watch their one fencer for a hit and indicate when theirs has been hit. Again, it is a recognised method with a recognised standard. It also results in using only three people and not four or five people to staff it, which has advantages when the staff are primarily volunteers.


Three different areas have been examined where standards or examples are have already been established, and yet in all three cases the HEMA community is trying to invent their own. The question has to be at this point in time, why? Is it an ego thing? Not willing to accept that maybe it has been done before? Or not willing to borrow from another group and thus admit that they may have some good ideas? Both of these are ridiculous reasons not to use ideas or standards used by another group and modify them to suit what is required. In most instances in the HEMA community, there is probably already an answer out there to the question which has been posed, it is a matter of finding the answer, and accepting that it is the answer. For some, it is the last bit that is the most difficult.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Sword and Shield: Norse Tradition


A previous post discussed the subject with regard to treatises and the use of the sword and shield. In this discussion it mentioned the Norse sagas. The following is a discussion about the Norse sagas and the information which can be found within them which is potentially useful when reconstructing the use of the sword and shield in the Norse fashion. It should be noted that this indicates some directions which are presented by the evidence, but does not make any wholesale claims about how a sword and shield should or should not be used. These are preliminary findings from a documentary discussion.

Norse Tradition – From the Sagas

          The first thing that should be noted is that the Norse warriors should not be thought of as mere brutes who used mere strength to bash their way to their opponents, skill was evidently present, “Grettir struck down between him and the shield, cutting off both his hands at the wrist.” (Palmer, 1999:15). Such a blow performed shows skill with the sword and demonstrates that the art of war as practiced by the Norse needs a closer look before sweeping claims are made.

Shield Construction

Norse shields evidently had shoulder straps on them, enabling the shield to be swung on to the back enabling the sword to be gripped with two hands, “When he had said this, he gripped his hilt with both hands, and, fearless of peril, swung his shield upon his back and slew many.” (Clements, 1999)
The idea that the shields of this period were weak in some fashion, even though there is evidence of them being destroyed in the same saga, should not be over-stated, the shield was still used as the prime defence, “but, distrusting his sword, parried the blows of both with his shield,” (Clements, 1999). This clearly tells us that the shields were well-made and there are quite a few mentions of shield bosses made of metal.
Further to this idea Palmer (1999) mentions a shield which was evidently passed along, “with the round target that once had belonged to Thorveig.” (Palmer, 1999:4). This means that the shield had been through one user and then proceeded to be used by another; again this disputes the weak nature of shields of this period. There is also evidence from the same source that they were bordered with iron, “his sword stuck fast in the iron border of Steinar’s shield.” (Palmer, 1999:4), a factor which would have extended the life of the shield quite a lot and made it not a disposable item.

Shield struck and damaged

          While it is true there is evidence from both Clements and Palmer of shields being destroyed by blows and also cut through, it would seem that the blows which did this were extraordinary rather than the regular blows the shield would take. Further a shield which a sword would bite into could be used to the user’s advantage, “the blow fell on his shield. Gunnar gave the shield a twist as the sword pierced it, and broke it short off at the hilt.” (Palmer, 1999:17). Thus in this case while the shield was penetrated the occurrence was used to its owner’s advantage by breaking the opponent’s sword while it was stuck. Swords sticking into a shield are evident in more than one place in these sagas.

Use of shield

          There is also evidence of swords not sticking into the edge of a shield, “Kari caught the blow sideways on his shield, and the sword would not bite;” (Palmer, 1999:22), clearly the angle at which Kari parried his opponent’s blade was not correct to catch the opponent’s weapon in the edge of it. The use of the shield to defend a warrior is evident in many places throughout the sagas, “where he defended himself, holding his shield before him, and hewing with his sword. They made little way against him.” (Palmer, 1999:15). In some cases it was holding ground, and in other cases it was merely defending, “He held his shield before him and retreated” (Palmer, 1999:15). In either case, the shield was the key to the warrior’s defence.
          Of course there is also evidence of what would happen if the warrior could not use his shield in time to block a blow of an opponent, “so he could not throw his shield before the blow,” and so was struck (Palmer, 1999:19). In this case “throwing” the shield before the blow is extending it toward the opponent. This gives evidence that the shield of the Norse warrior was not used in a passive way, but in an active one.
          The shield was not held back, but extended toward the opponent, “Thorbjorn took his shield, and held it before him, drew his sword” (Palmer, 1999:15). This would enable the warrior to have room to move, or draw their sword and presents the shield in a more active position rather than a more passive one. In most instances where the shield is used it is in an active position rather than a more passive situation, “Then Thorbjorn rushed upon Grettir and struck at him, but he parried it with the buckler [shield] in his left hand and struck with his sword” (Palmer, 1999:16). This idea of the active use of the shield culminates in the shield strike where it is used against the opponent, “Thoralf thrust his shield so hard against Eyvind that he tottered with the shock.” (Palmer, 1999:24). This shield strike could be made against the shield or directly against the opponent, either way it demonstrates a very active method of using the shield rather than a passive one as often has been assumed.


Clements, J. (1999) “Selected Anecdotes and Accounts of Epic Combat from Saxo Grammaticus”, http://www.thearma.org/essays/Saxo.htm#.WW2B44SGPIU

Palmer, T. (1999) “Viking Fighting Notes from 23 Sagas”, http://www.thearma.org/essays/vikingfight.htm#.WW2BgISGPIU

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Advertising: "Un-Blogged: A Fencer's Ramblings"


Well, after some writing, collating, and quite a bit of editing I have created a book version of several of the posts which have been made here. Some people asked me to do this as they found that the articles were quite useful and they would be even more useful in a book format. Well, you got your wish. The book will be published on 15 March 2019, you may have seen the advertisements at the bottom of some of the posts for my GoFundMe to raise money to get the book published. These will give you an idea of some of the articles which appear in this book. If you have enjoyed reading my posts you will enjoy reading my book. It includes a Foreword by Keith Farrell.
"“A Fencer’s Ramblings” is a blog which was started in May 2010 to spread knowledge about the subject of Historical European Martial Arts, and indeed fencing in general. While there is a definite bend toward particular areas, nationalities, and forms, this blog has covered many differing subjects. What is contained within this book is a selection of the articles which appear on this blog, along with some extra articles of interest by the author. These have been updated and slightly re-written to suit their normal format, but they still retain their original purpose, to inform and educate the reader about various elements of the subject of fencing, which in and of itself must be taken from a broad point of view. Some of them are conversational others are written from a more academic point of view, this selection contains something of relevance for anyone who is interested in swords or swordplay."

The print version of the book is AU$28 (+P&H) while the eBook version (PDF) is $AU16. If you are interested in pre-ordering a copy, then your pre-ordered print copy will be signed. Pre-orders should be sent to swordandbookcontact@gmail.com.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Some Points of Fencing Etiquette


There is a certain flavour to swordplay, and an expected code of conduct which is seen. This is one of the things that differentiates it from just two combatants beating the snot out of one another with swords. Many of these elements of etiquette are common knowledge, but some, it would seem, are not so common and need to be brought into the light. I have previously written a rather long discussion about fencing etiquette if you're interested, it can be found here. Needless to say this is a big thing for me.

At the beginning of a bout the two combatants salute one another, this is a sign of respect and thanks for their presence. Any officiating staff or an official table can be saluted as well, this is also a sign of respect and thanks. Once the bout has concluded the two combatants should handshake at the end of the bout to thank each other for the bout, all this is usual stuff. None of these actions should display any attitude toward the opponent or how well the fencer did during the bout. More to the point, these actions should be done regardless if the officiating staff directs the fencers to do so or not. It is just being polite and keeps the bout civil. This is all expected sort of stuff, which most fencers who have been about for a while would know.

Before all of this happens, there are some important steps that need to happen. Firstly, if this is the first time that you are meeting this particular opponent. It is good fencing etiquette to go up and introduce yourself to them. This is a good way to get the measure of your opponent and also break some of the tension. Even when the tournament stakes a relatively high, they are not to the death, and when they were the two combatants knew one another by name. It also means that you will know who you are fencing next time that their name is called, and it is also more likely that you will be able to discuss the bout afterward in a friendly manner. Friendships can be made by such a simple introduction.

With regard to introductions there is another step that needs to be made. When you arrive you should go and introduce yourself to the tournament officials and thank them for running the event. This will instantly put you on their radar in a positive way. When another school is running the tournament, you should also go and find their head instructor and introduce yourself to them, this is simply being  polite.

If you are a head instructor of another school then this is even more important so that the other head instructor knows who you are. This way they know who to contact about disciplinary actions and also commendable actions performed by your students. If you merely just hang around with your students and other school members no one will know who you are, and if you then start giving instructions, offence may be given. This is an element of fencing etiquette which ensures smooth communication between participating schools at tournaments and builds a community spirit among them. It is vital to remember that fencing etiquette applies to all and that students will learn the keys of this from their teachers and thus they need to be examples for their students to follow.

There are designated safety officials at events, sometimes they are called Safety Marshals, sometimes just plain Marshals, either way, these individuals are the individuals who take the official burden of the safety of the event upon their shoulders, and it is not an easy task. What is even more important is that safety is everyone's concern, thus by default everyone is a safety official. If you see something which is of a safety concern, you are expected to call it. No one is going to complain if a bout is briefly halted due to someone being concerned about safety. Don't wait until it becomes a real issue stop it early. What is this doing in a discussion about etiquette? A person who does not assist where it is required in this area and leaves an incident to happen, which they could have stopped, breaches etiquette by their silence. There are times when staying silent is worse than standing up and saying something, and this is one of them.