The European Historical Combat Guild

Investigating Europe's Historical combative methods and behaviours

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Interpretation... or making stuff up?

A short last post for 2013.
This is one of a number of pieces that have been sitting in the Drafts folder, that I intend to get published as we enter the new year.
I hope that  you have all had a good 2013 and will have a better 2014...

I have seen some videos recently, and have again been reminded of the issue that comes back to the interpretation of sources...
When a video is posted claiming to be an interpretation  of some images from a MS. and then the live action shown. looks nothing like the images shown.

While I understand the idea extrapolating concepts, principles, tactics etc from techniques. However if one is going to show specific illustrations, I believe it holds that the moving interpretation you shown should contain moments where the illustrations are reflected.

For example is the MS shows the technique being done from behind someone who has been turned in the set up, then the "interpretation" shows a technique being done from the front of the opponent, then it really is not an interpretation but an extrapolation. The same thing with hand and foot positions, either do the action as illustrated and then explain why you can or may need to do it differently, or don't show the illustration.

Otherwise all I am seeing is stuff that has been made up claiming to be something it is not.

Of course once you have done a faithful interpretation of the technique etc. then show how it may be applied in different ways and under varying circumstances, but show it being done the original way first

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Nature, influence, lineage

The image below was shared on Facebook
It has obvious connections to positions seen in the Works of Fiore dei Liberi, if you are familiar with them, you can see it.

Various comments arose, going over the areas of the universal nature of certain actions and positions due to the morphology of the human body, the nature of influence and transmission in the form of lineage or teaching and the concept of a pan European combat "style".

I find it interesting that when similarities between actions in different cultures, for example medieval Japan and Medieval Europe are observed and highlighted the general response is... well because the human body is basically the same the world over... so it's not surprising that we will encounter things that look and/or operate the same way. However if someone suggests that their may be some connection via lineage or direct transmission...we consider then to be a bit strange.

Yet when the same thing is observed in a similar culture or time frame and where despite cultural differences there is over lap and similarities, the attitude often flips. Now people look for and suggest, linear transmission, direct influence... Now... if one is suggesting that the similarities could be down to morphology, and facing the same problems and having the same tools to solve them often producing similar results, is treated as a little strange!

I am not holding with any faction or view point, just airing an observation on the workings of the human mind.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Learning while you sleep....

I have known for some time that the process of acquiring a new skill is a process of mapping it in to your nervous system, forming and strengthening the connections between the nerves, in the brain and to the muscles that make the action happen. I also knew that part of the efficiency of the nerves function is based upon the proteins that form the "insulation" to the nerves that insure that the signals the signals through the nerves are stronger and faster.
What I had not realised or thoroughly considered was the importance of sleep to this process. Research has shown that it is during sleep that this mapping takes place and when the proteins are produced.

From Stages of Motor learning (2005) Andreas R. Luft and  Manueel M. Buitrago
Successful learning of motor skill requires repetitive training... This article covers the growing evidence that motor skill learning advances through stages, in which different storage mechanisms predominate. the acquisitions phase is characterised by fast (within session) and slow learning (between sessions). For a short period following the initial training sessions, the skill is liable to interference by other skills and by protein synthesis inhibition, indicating that consolidation processes occur during rest periods between training sessions.

When you are practising a skill to acquire it your brain will be trying out different things to ascertain the best way to do them. As it finds things that work it then refines them. However to make lasting changes takes time and happens through a process know as Consolidation. Consolidation is taking place at all time, but appears to be most effective during sleep.

It's Practice, with Sleep, That Makes Perfect: Implications of Sleep-Depnedant Learning and Plasticity for Skill Performance. (2005) Matthew P. Walker and Robert Strickgold
Practice is often believed to be the only determinate of improvement. Although repeatedly performing a new task often results in learning benefits, leading to the adage "practice makes perfect", a collection of studies over the past decade has begun to change this concept, Instead, these reports suggest that after initial training, the brain continues to learn in the absence of further practice, and that this delayed improvement develops during sleep.

The study concludes;

Although the functions of the sleeping brain remain uncertain, rapidly increasing literature now supports the role of sleep in modifying and improving memory  These reports provide an abundance of converging evidence indicating that sleep dependant mechanisms of neural plasticity lead to skill memory consolidation and consequently to delayed performance improvements. Different forms of simple and complex skill memory appear to require subtly different types of sleep for overnight memory enhancement, and several studies indicate that within the first 24 hours following initial practice is essential for consolidation to develop.

More recent research suggests that for greatest effect one should sleep, even just a power nap, within four hours of practice, otherwise the body/brains ability to consolidate is impaired. It would seem in light of this that evening training sessions, if you then get to bed within four hours of finishing, is actually a good idea! ;)

Interference occurs when one doesn't sleep properly or within the suggested time, and the consolidation is inhibited has the brain is having to deal with more present issues, also as noted the production of the proteins involved takes place during sleep. Also if you practice or use another similar but conflicting skill soon after training it causes Interference of the consolidation process. It seems that four hours is the boundary line after which such practice won't cause Interference. If you can wait four hours until using the conflicting skill, then interference doesn't occur and if you can get a nap as well..... so much the better! ;)
It should also be noted that once a skill has been acquired then both skills can used and practised with less or no effect

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Staying engaged or switch on and off.

I was just watching some video of HEMA practitioner, one whose skills and understanding I respect, engaged in some free play with two practitioners of  a Japanese Weapon Art (JWA) in this case Kendo. It was as always interesting to see the differences techniques being applied against each other.
However the main thing I was remaindered of was something I have been aware of now for years when I observe JWA and HEMA. That is the marked difference between how JWA and HEMA consider the Approach and Exit to the engagement and the Approach to the next engagement.
The text below is a direct copy of the post I made on Facebook below the video. I plan to expand on this at a later date, however having written quite a lot I thought it was a reasonable starting point.

An observation of a generally major difference in the practice HEMA and JWA which I have noticed over a long period.  HEMA Practitioners whether in set plays or free play, at the end, win or loose, "switch out" and turn their backs most of the time and often spend a long time looking away from the "threat" Where as JMA practitioners tend to stay oriented on the opponent, or when the final action leaves them off target they turn to face and stay facing the opponent whether they win or loose and then stay orientated on the opponent until the next bout/exchange.

Again, these are not 100% occurrences, however there is a clear divide in methodologies/application. I do also think that it is significant. I know that many of the older Ryu in Japan emphasise dealing with the aftermath of an encounter as much as the build up and the actual exchange. That being aware that the threat may not be finished so to stay oriented or at least aware of them is vital.

Also to be aware of other possible threats beyond the technique. One can also note that in modern "combative" firearms training that it is now generally drilled that after shooting a target etc that the shooter scans  around and only then chooses to holster/lower the weapon once there are no threats. Rather than older practice methods where this was not done and which generally lead to people to be conditioned on the range to just holster the weapon automatically with out awareness of the environment and other threats. This was found to be leading to negative situations in actual use, where conditioned rather then appropriate responses took over and people would automatically lower/holster the weapon once an immediate threat was neutralised and not check for more threats and then being shot by someone else.

Also training/learning research indicates that staying focused beyond the completion of an immediate task or exercise leads to better/faster retention of skills and actually helped in the correction of mistakes.

This is something we ingrain into students and  have seen an over all improvement with its application.

I find that this is a very "Western" approach, we as a culture tend to be more goal rather than process orientated. And even when we think we are focused on the process, we still tend to focus on the immediate frame of the specific thing we are in the process of doing, rather than on the whole process including how we come to the place where the "thing" happens and how we leave it.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Shared spaces

Before reading this post, read these other posts first.
Open mind 1
Open mind 2
Continuing the theme of the mind sets of those that provide guidance to developing a skill and those that come to receive it. It will also relate to an aspect that has wider application to what we study.

That is space. Both Personal spaces and Shared spaces.
Personal space being your body, your thoughts and places where that are exclusively your own, Your room if you live with someone, your house if you live alone.

As soon as two people are in a space and at least one of them is aware of the other/s it becomes shared

When we enter a shared space we generally modify our behaviour from that we apply to out personal space. This will  some form of implicit or explicit compromise and negotiation.

A class, seminar a group club etc. are shared spaces. Whether there explicitly expressed rules for how to behave, there will be far more that are implicit. They should be for the mutual benefit of all those that share it.
All involved should be winning, everyone should be gaining something though in some situations the exchange may be unequal and really the benefits should be shared equally. If they are not then something is wrong and you have the right and should renegotiate and and find a compromise so that so those benefits are in play.

However, once you have agree to those standard you are responsible to uphold them.

 When someone isn't willing to compromise or negotiate, then you have the absolute right to ask them to leave or if a student to go. Find where your needs met. People who are not willing to compromise to function in the shared space then they should not benefit by your presence or of those that are willing to work.
The previous posts addressed the more "hard line" closed minded students, but one also encounters the passive participant. These are those people that turn up and take part but really don't commit to the training, if you run a regular class, they probably turn up every week. However they do the bare minimum, do not really give anything to those that work are unwilling to work with every one and generally spend most of their time talking.

Personally I find these people just as bad as the more actively resistant.  They are just as unwilling to learn and are as negative an influence on whomever they work with. Though as mentioned they often work with someone else like them, normally a family member or partner they come with. However their very passivity leads to them being ignored or put up with as "they are not doing any harm". However I would argue that they are and as they have broken the or are not engaging in the mutual contract, and should be told to not take part and dealt with in the same way as any other closed minded person.

Finally I will say that in my experience that the concept of a shared space is one reason why rigid hierarchies are open to misuse and abuse and therefore are a poor model for what we study. The mutual contract is too easily manipulated to perpetuate the hierarchy rather than the learning and with an unbalanced set of benefits for those at the top. Also where the titles and stratification of hierarchy of the shared learning space carries over into interaction beyond. Rather the goal for which the group was formed to serve, which is to educate and improve all those involved.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Open or Closed Part 2

This is a follow on, based upon some discussion that the last post provoked on Facebook.
If you haven't read the first part please do, this will make more sense it you have! ;)
One discussion took a route that these people don't want to push themselves and that people "these days" don't like to push themselves. I would suggest that some people have always avoided pushing themselves.

There are those that don't want to push themselves and don't like to push. Though they are not the ones I am talking about in the blog.

While the closed minded don't push themselves, in their case it is because they don't see the need, as they believe that they are already as good as they need to be, or that anyone outside their way of doing things can't push them.

It was also suggested that people these days don't like or understand hierarchies.

I tend to find that majority that have this closed mind attitude come from groups with rigid or strict Hierarchies, where they have allowed themselves to be brainwashed and believe that what they have been taught and how it was taught is "the only way" and as such they fight against anything that doesn't is outside.
Others come from a background where they are the "big fish in a small pond", they have been the top of there hierarchy and they have become to used to calling the shots, or when they swim in another pond they are reminded that they aren't as good as the have told themselves they were.
Others have such a stubborn and over inflated sense of their own skills and knowledge. This has meant that they have bounced from on group to another. Either because none of the groups could put up with them. Or because no group has given them the power and respect the "know" they deserve. They now travel around as the top instructor of their own group, which is normally only them. On occasion they may one or perhaps two, devoted followers who have brainwashed themselves in to deifying their teacher, others have come put could put up with the BS and have left. The Teacher  sees this devotion as validation of their own skills. In fact they normally see the fact that so few understand them or stick  to training with them as further proof of its truth and how special it is, as the "common herd" just don't get it.

Personally I don't like strict hierarchies, I have seen too many that may have started with the right intention, striving to be the best you can be, that have then become rigid and locked and really serve to only maintain those people at the top levels of the hierarchy.

Of course the teacher is the teacher, they should be given respect, and they should return it. However the teachers job is to make the student their equal or preferably superior in skills and understanding. To me you can't do that in a rigid hierarchy, though is does have to be carried out with acknowledgement and respect.

Follow on Piece on personal and Shared spaces

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Open or closed?

Come with an open mind or don't bother coming at all.

We will have all encountered those people that come to a class, seminar etc. with a closed mind. They don't come to learn, they come to show you and prove to themselves their own superiority to you and what it is you are teaching. They resist the training. They ignore and don't follow instructions. They start doing their own thing. They will start teaching other students telling them how things should be done or telling them to ignore what  you have told them. When they do follow some of what you are teaching they will do things to break it, following other options so they can win, or tell you why they would do something else because their way would be better. They will continue to hold their position in the face of reasoned arguments, polite requests and even when you show them in practice why their way is not working.  Constantly countering what they try in practice, They will respond with "Well I would do blah blah" You them let them try it and they still can not make their part work, they continue to come up with more excuses. "If it was free sparing", "If he had masks", "wore more protection or less", "went faster/harder", "the weapons were sharp" and so on. I have encountered this attitude from beginners to those considered "respected" instructors. I should note that people can change, that someone who displays this closed minded attitude and can open up, normally at later date,  but I would also be aware that the change may not be firmly established

If you are one of those people, then please don't go to study with people you disagree with, don't waste your time or theirs. Going to someone else without an open mind will not change anything, turning up and telling someone that what they are doing is wrong has consistently proven to be a highly unsuccessful way of converting people or making them receptive to change.

Now I hope that if you are reading this blog that you are not one of those people.

However in this case you might well have these people turn up to "train" with you. In which case I would suggest that as soon as you realise that they are one of those people, you politely tell them that you would like them to leave the session or not attend if you realise before the time, as it is not for them and they won't get anything from it. If they have paid for the training, give then a full refund, if they haven't paid then they have no reason to stay once you ask them to go.

We have all had the situation where we haven't asked these people to leave. Perhaps because we are afraid that if they tell them to leave that the people will go away and talk badly about what you do to others. Trust me, these kinds of people will talk badly about you whatever you do. Even if you had a sudden conversion to their way of doing things they would walk about how you were an idiot for training the old system for so long and taking so long to realise and that you are useless at their way.
 Remember for this type, it is not about learning, it not even about improving within what they do, it is about them validating their own self image, and that validation it based upon their superiority and the inferiority of everyone else.

Consider again, when you teach, why are you doing it, what are you doing? You are giving people, open minded people who want to learn/train, your time and access to your knowledge. If you are wasting your time in a pointless discussion with someone who is not interested in changing and will not, then you are not giving your time to those that are those who are with an open mind, and those open minded peoples time, and money.

Do it with an open Mind or don't do it at all.

Jump to Part 2
Related pieced on Shared and Personal spaces

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Leeds Chapter Open Training Day - Near the Battlefield of Towton

This is becoming something of annual tradition.
Follow this Link for details on Face Book

Friday, 21 June 2013

Some observations on historical dagger interpretations

There are a number of video on the net of people interpreting historical dagger techniques.
Generally they start ready with weapon/s drawn and out of distance  Both facing each other. Then an attack is made, most occasions with a wind up of preparing the dagger for use, and there by signalling the attack to the patient. The agent then generally closes distance with their body leading and make the "attack" with the arm rather than the weapon presented to the patient who then niftily pulls of the technique from the fight book.
Or we see two people in mask sparring with daggers, try to score hits on each other, occasionally getting in to grappling/infighting range and generally we don't see anything that looks like a historical technique

It could be said that these are training constructs, that this is a way to begin learning the techniques or other concepts through the use of the dagger. This may be true in some case and it is one use.

However much of we see is intended as interpretations of what is seen in the sources, not as training methods

What we need to remember how and when a dagger is intended to be used.  The reality is that the dagger is the weapon of last resort, when other weapons have failed or have become a hindrance because of the distance one is engaged. As such one would not be "ready", would not be out of distance and would be unlikely to be facing your opponent.

Granted there were aspect of formal challenges etc. where the combatants would make a certain number of passes armed with daggers alone. In this case however they would be armoured, which would make the need to to close to grappling infighting range essential.

If one is to training/interpreting historical dagger techniques, one needs to consider the factors that would influence their use in the historical context, it seems this something that many overlook.

Words are a shorthand...

Language is tricky, the same word can mean different things to different people or the same thing but in different contexts. This is more true when it comes to teaching, especially teaching something physical or movement based.

 A word or the words are what use to try to describe a context etc. is a short hand, the problem is that to truly understand the short hand you have to have seen the picture or felt and understood it to get it.

It's why students will eventually turn around and say something like... "You know.... I should do such and such" with a slight sound of accusation in their voice. Of course what they are telling you is something that you have told them time and again since their first lesson. The difference now though is that they have finally gotten it, it has clicked inside them and the concept has been revealed. The first thing they then need to do is tell someone about it. In this case it's the teacher who has been telling them all along.

I have also noted with people how have physical skills but who are new to teaching, that they use too many words when they start teaching and try to explain too many things at once. They have had their aha! moments and are keen to pass their revelations on, and think that if only someone could have revealed all this stuff to them they would have gotten it much quicker. They have not yet realising or remembering how long it took them to get there. They haven’t understood that it’s about saying the right things at the right time, speaking at the right time and doing things at the right time.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Normal is an Illusion

 "Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly."
It is human nature, know as Illusory Superiority, to judge what we do as the right way and what others do as being some how "wrong" or that we are better at things than others.
I recently read some comments about pictures of a group that free play with rapiers and wear only masks and gloves, otherwise only wearing t-shirts and normal movement gear. One of the women was only wearing a cropped sports top.
The responses first of all suggested that they were "mad" to be training like this, as it hurts enough when wearing more protection. I'll come back to this shortly...
Then the comments went on to the fact that the school may have used models for the photos (!?) and then not thought it through enough to put them in plastrons etc....(!?)

These might have been jokes.... though I do not believe they were... and I could not but read a slight air of something in the nature of their remarks. Ultimately though what is wrong with doing free-play like this? They are in no greater danger than someone padded up like the Michellin Man. I would argue that two valuable lessons are learn't from this kind of work. 

One... Don't get hit, yes it will be more uncomfortable when you get hit and you feel more vulnerable, both with will encourage them to not get hit. 

Two... attackers will hit less hard partly because they don't need to as hit will be felt easier and because they won't won't over do the hits on their unprotected training partners. At the end of the day how hard would you need to drive a thrust with a sharp rapier point into someone?

More, it suggested an issue with those that made the comments, they could not look beyond what they saw as the "way", they were secure in what they did and could not look beyond it, questioning the mindset of those that did things differently.

We all need to be aware of how we view what others do when we compare it to ourselves. I try to look at others training and understand what I do or don't like about it. If I find it to be not to my taste or ideas then I try to rationally understand why, not just rely on my first emotional response and then use try to justify it.
At the end of it all however, if it works for you that's fine, it doesn't affect me and it doesn't make your way better or worse and it does not make you good or bad, right or wrong. Where it does matter is if one claims to be doing something particular when you aren't but otherwise the choice is yours.

We need to be careful that we don't allow our preconceptions to make our judgements for us and then end up using our intellect to justify a decision we have already made. Keeping an open mind to the new and the different.

Remember what is normal to you is an illusion.


Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Overwhelmed but not crushed

Real learning takes place when what you can already do is overwhelmed yet you still succeed, or at least not crushed. You find the your comfort zone by constantly going beyond it.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Introducing Intention of Movement in to your training

You might read the title and be a little confused... After all isn't movement a key Principle.... everyone is moving in training, aren't they?

Well yes they are however what I often see in training or clips of demonstration is people is that they stop moving when they make their attack or when they are in place for the technique to applied. A Point of Contact is reach and the action stops.
Of course at the early stages of learning and developing a new action or techniques you need to allow people to understand how their body produces the action and that can be harder if you are moving so to do it "stopped" makes sense or is necessary. However as soon as they have laid down the action a few times, it must be done with and against movement. There are also those actions that can only be done with movement.... You can not learn to do a yielding response to a forced action in a static way, though you don't have to give full pressure.

What I see and have realised I have done is that even as the skill increases the stop, the micro pause, is still there and people are not aware they are doing, as I say, I wasn't aware that I was doing it, it is a subconscious thing that gets ingrained in training.

One sees it when people free play, they often stop or crash in to each other, get locked up and don't seem to have any solutions.
They do have solutions however they have conditioned  the subconscious  stop, the movement has stopped in training, while they work the technique. However in free play, especially against some one from another group, who has stops, but not in the same places, there is a disconnect. As they now they feel movement, where they have been accustomed to there being none, their body has no response. Because of the change and the adrenaline, they lock up and freeze or crash.

This is not always the case, those who make a more vigorous training toward free play or competition often have dealt with the situation, consciously or not. However what I often see there is something that is being done in the context, the free play bout, the competition round, not something that would "work" in reality.
I know, I can't know, no one can what will work in reality, no one fights with swords for real any more. Competition etc. is held to be the highest pressure testing we have. All that is true, however context dictates and allows things, change the context and things change.

 Look at how you are training, look for the pause or the stop that may be there. If you aren't aware of it and it is happening, you are conditioning it and conditioning has a far stronger on how you perform under pressure than what you have been training does..