Swords and Swordsmen Mike Loades Pen & Sword Books, 2010 Illustrated, 469 pages.
This book traces the journey of the sword from ancient Egypt to the early 20th century. It is however, as much about the context of the weapons; the societies in which the swords developed and evolved. It discusses the developing technologies that made changes in swords possible whilst sometimes also investigating the personalities of those who wielded them; whether it was the aristocratic warrior, the sword master or the common soldier.
I have known Mike for 37 years, when as young man he knocked at the door of our stables in Sussex. He asked to see my father and said that he wanted to do what he did. Since then his love of the subject has always been apparent, and I am glad to see that love at last transferred to the page. Mike tells the tale of the sword with his usual passion and enthusiasm. Whilst he delivers facts, he also expresses his personal theories and insights based upon his own research both practical and academic.
Whether your interest is in history in general or in swords specifically, this book is a highly worthwhile read.
Having followed a few discussions lately on styles that may go back to the "past", mention was made of whether these might have an unbroken lineage of teaching going back to time "X".
This started me thinking. When we talk about unbroken traditions what do we really mean? Even if a tradition or style has survived with an unbroken line of teachers, generation to generation, perhaps what is more important is whether it is unaltered or unchanged.
Looking at any system that has been survived and been passed down over the years, it will have changed even if only superficially as the people, or rather the mindset, context and goals of those that practice the art change. Once something changes beyond a certain point it is arguably no longer what it was and therefore is something new and different having broken away from the original. At this point is the line broken, changed or both?
In Japan the oldest Bujutsu Ryu have survived many generations in unbroken lines going back to the 15th and 16th Centuries. However some have changed a great deal in that time, things have been added and other thing removed. While others have changed very little or what changes have taken place have not altered the Principles of the whole. In the same time other Ryu have died out.
Any system or method, is primarily a way of passing on information to the next generation. They are a way to gain understanding of the Principles of combat that were viewed as important by the founder of that system. Once the balance of the system shifts to different Principles or goals then the system is changed and flow of the original teaching is broken, even if the actual lineage of teacher to teacher continues.
What does all this mean? That one should consider the way that one asses different sources of information.
Looking at Talhoffer for example we see the images unchanged as they were when first drawn, though of course our interpretation of what they mean is what really matters. Of course interpretation is key in learning any skill, that is as true today as in the past. Of course most of the manuals were record of systems meant for those already initiated in methods of that system, or else were advertisement brochures intended to obtain patronage. However the information we see is itself unaltered.
I could also have a teacher who instructs me in Talhoffer methods who come from an unbroken line of teachers going back 500 years, but how much has the teaching changed in that time? The previously made point, that information changes as it is passed on intentionally or not; rather like in a game of Chinese whispers, comes into play. In this hypothetical situation, we can’t say for sure how much of what is being passed on to me by my teacher is true to what Talhoffer taught.
It should not be forgotten that people like the idea of things that go back a long way into the past. It adds weight and credibility. Of course this is a valid point. However there is also a temptation to misuse it. Consider how many Asian martial arts claim or at least imply lineage going back hundreds of years, even when the actual evidence is only traceable back a century or even less. Or that certain techniques or methods can be traced back to some distant time in the past to give them credibility. Someone I knew who was practising a Chinese art that practised high kicks of various types. They told me that while they recognised that doing these high kicks was not a good idea in a modern context, that they were practised in that system because they had been developed hundreds of years ago; to use against mounted opponents! There are many points this raises which lie outside of this current piece, though it serves as an illustration
None of this is intended to be an answer or suggest what is right and wrong, rather to remember to keep an open and honest mind.
Consider that even where the lineage is real, that does not of itself mean that the system has more worth than something "newer".
For a long time I, like I believe many people, took this to mean that those that were good at doing something did just that, they got on and did it. Those that could not do it made their way by teaching it. It conveyed a sense that those that were teaching were in some way deficient in skill and/or knowledge. Now of course there are people who claim to be teachers of various subjects who should not be teachers, who have neither real skill nor real ability to improve others. However there are many good teachers who themselves are not at the top the game in their chosen field.
Over time and the more I have taught and watched others teach and learn and read and researched, my opinion of this of old piece of advice has changed.
The skills of doing and teaching how to do are different things, they require different skill sets. Just because someone is a skilful martial artist for example, doesn’t mean they are going to be good teacher.
The obvious examples of the difference between those that do and teach are world class sportsmen/women and athletes. Their coaches generally are not world class in the activity themselves, though some are, far more often they have been good but not at the top level. However what they do excel at it is getting others to be the best.
The greatest reason for this is that when one reaches near peak performance of a skill, you become increasingly unaware of the precise details of what and how you are achieving it, this has ceased to be a cognitive thing and is happening on a deeper neurological level. The ability to analyse moves and actions and to put that understanding in to words or to help someone else will not be there. In fact that awareness is there while performing a task is there, it is actually likely to inhibit the highest level of performance.
A personal example is doing and teaching shoulder rolls, I have done…. Well so many I can’t think how to count them. I am not aware of all the details of what I do when I roll anymore. Sometimes when I am teaching rolls or for some reason I think about rolling while doing one, it does not work, it hurts a bit. I end up engaging mentally in the process, or re-investment as it is know in sports training, more than I should, the result, it doesn’t work as it should.
How one does something at a high level may be markedly different from the way one does it while learning, so doing as a master does it may not actually be the best way to do it a lower levels of proficiency. It certainly may not be where you need to be on the journey of acquiring skills. It could in fact be counter-productive to properly acquiring the skill. So another part of being a good teacher is seeing where the student is and ensuring that they are doing things appropriate to their level. This is something that the master practitioner may not be able to do.
Also at some point you have to stop teaching, they have to get on with it and gain understanding through their own experience. Really calling someone a Teacher is a misnomer, a better word is Guide. Teaching implies that you are giving them something that they do not already have or that they can’t get without the Teacher. When really you are guiding them to let the kill out, to get them to find it in themselves. Going back to learning how to roll, once I have shown you what to do, and watched you do some and given advice on those, the next phase lies in you doing it and gaining experience and understanding from that. If it hurt, felt rough and disorganised, then you didn’t do it well. No pain, felt smooth, then you did it well. Of course the value of the guide is that they can see what you did and can observe the things that are off, using their own experience, to help frame your experience. However I can tell you all day long what is wrong or right, but until you can feel the difference and act on it yourself it won’t really mean anything to you.
Often the skill of the teacher is not what they say, but what they don’t say. Someone does not necessarily need to do all the things that were wrong just the one or two key points. The student doesn’t need to know everything that you know they need the one or two things that will help them now. What is important is where they are on their journey now, not where you are on yours.
So if you want to judge a teacher, do not necessarily look at how good they are with the skill, look at how good their students are, and if you really want to judge how good a teacher they are, don’t look at the best students. Look at the average in that group. Its easy to teach people who have lots of ability, but only a good teacher can really raise the levels of everyone. Also don’t judge the teacher on how much they talk, or how much information they can regurgitate, but how simply they pass the appropriate information on to the students.
Perhaps the old saying should be changed to Those that can, do. Those that can teach, teach.
On Friday I attended the launch of a new book, Swords and Swordsmen By Mike Loades. I have know Mike for.... 38 years..... since he turned up to our house stating that he wanted to do what my father did.
In attendance were many names from the fields of research and reconstruction in the use of arms and armour including John Waller and many familiar faces some of whom I had not seen in a long time.
The launch took place at the Cutlers Hall, the of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers who received their first Royal charter in 1416 from Henry V. Their business being the manufactures and distribution of all implements with a cutting edge, including swords and daggers.
Amongst their displayed collection is a sword presented to the Company by Guild Honoured member, the late Ewart Oakeshotte. The sword is believed to be the one which originally hung over the tomb of Edward the Black Prince until it went missing in the 17th Century.
I shall write a full review of the book once I have finished reading it.
I recently got a chance to handle some wooden wasters that someone had bought. The finish was good and they had been nicely put together. Yet I was amazed at how badly they handled in comparison to the thing they were supposed to be replicating, a sword. As is often the case with wasters, in attempting to make the waster look like a sword, they have missed the most import thing any training weapons needs to replicate, weight and balance. Although having said that they try to make them look like a sword, I should point out that they are actually often poor visual replicas of real swords as the proportions of pommel, cross and blades are wrong, so they actually do not really look or feel like a sword. So what one ends up with is a vaguely sword shaped lump of wood, that handles like….. a lump of wood!
It is vital that any training weapon should replicate the handling properties of the weapon it is meant to be. Of all the things it needs, the least important is how much it looks like the actual weapon. For a sword, weight, balance and length are the most important statistics to be reproduced. Ideally the dimensions of the cross and also the pommel should be as accurate to the original as possible as long as at does not effect the handling. It is possible to have a training weapon which weighs more than the real thing, Roman soldiers were recorded as training with weapons made much heavier, to increase the soldiers strength and stamina when in action with the real weapons. It is also advisable in certain situations to use weapons that are lighter. However, in these cases the balance and length should not be compromised. I should also mention that how the waster/training weapon reacts when striking is important so that is behaves in the way that a steel sword wood, often wasters bounce more. Also how they respond in the Bind, when the blades are in contact, should be considered.
I should also note that the handling or heft of a weapon is also largely a personal matter. What feels “right” in the hand to one person can feel awkward to someone else. However, weight balance and length can and must be accurate
Similar problems to those found with wasters are also encountered with the steel swords that people use for training or for re-enactment. To make a weapon that appears to be sword like yet has an edge that is safe and does not take too much damage, the edge is made thicker as is the distal taper of the blade itself. All this changes the weight and balance of the weapon. Or in an attempt to make a better weight and handling weapon the blade length is reduced, which changes fighting distance and how techniques are carried out.
The impossibility of making a training sword that really looks like a sword was recognised by our ancestors as evidenced by the few training swords that survive. These are generally for use in two hands and are now commonly referred to by the historical German name federschwert. These handle almost identically to the real weapon, but when compared look very little alike.
Other materials were and can be used. Aircraft aluminium can be used for blades giving good handling, length, balance and weight while having a thicker edge.
Historically there are references to baleen being used to make the blades of training weapons or those used in tournaments. Baleen, sometimes referred to as whalebone, is actually formed of keratin, the same substance that hair, horn and fingernails are made of. It is found in the filter plates of certain types of whale. It was used historically for making many things that needed flexibility and strength, including the stays in corsets. In modern times many of the items historically made from baleen are now made of plastic or fibreglass.
Many groups use modified Kendo shinai to drill and free-play with, these are made of bamboo. Good for their original purpose they are not ideal when adapted to HEMA, though they can be made more suitable, this requires quite a lot of work.
In recent years various groups and companies have been developing training weapons in various synthetic materials. Some are no better than the worst kind of wooden wasters, but made in plastic. However the latest being produced by Red Dragon Armoury, are very good. They handle well and still manage to look like swords. While obviously a modern material, as mentioned plastic fills the role that baleen did in the past, so the jump to a new material is not too great. Bryan Tunstall, the owner of the company and also a Guild member has invested a great deal of time and money in developing the products so far and is looking to increase the number of different training weapons available in the range. Daggers, sabres, poll axes, spears amongst others are to follow. This can only be a good thing, as the need for effective training weapons of all kinds specifically designed for HEMA is vital for proper training and development of skills.
Of course the popularity of free-play and sparring has added another set of demands on how a weapon has to function. In this situation it is not only important that the weapons handles correctly but that it allows a wide range of attacks to be carried out making contact with an opponent while reducing the risk of injury. In this situation it is probable that the concerns about safety will out weigh considerations of handling. While this is understandable, it is another factor to bear in mind when considering what elements comprise ones training and which parts you compromise by the training you use
If we consider the situation from a historical point of view, a warrior of the past would in all likelihood be far more pragmatic towards the tools they used to train with. After all, the goal was to have the skills to survive in a life or death situation and therefore the need would be to have a weapon that maximised the training as a preparation for using the real weapon when it really mattered. I suspect that often people today want a training sword to look like a real sword because it adds to the escapism they get from training experience.
No one training simulator can fulfil all the varied uses that different practitioners might put them to. As such, consider the type of training that you will do. Remember that how the weapon handles is vital, how it looks is less is far less important. At the end of the day suit the tool to the job at hand. Check with your Teacher and handle weapons to understand how they feel and function in the hand
This was a reply to a comment but developed in to something that I thought was worth posting on the blog.
Paul wrote -It was written by someone on the subject of training...and I paraphrase here "By the age of seven a child should have seen his blood flow, and heard the sound of his bones break"-
I would suggest that any child that has reached the age of 7 without seeing their own blood or been in a situation where they could have broken a bone, are either extremely lucky or they have lived in an overly protective bubble. I know for myself and everyone I know, that by the age of 7, had seen their blood flow and a number had broken bones, I have been lucky enough to not break a bone despite having been some dodgy incidents that could have resulted in it happening. At the end of the of the day it's called growing up. Also that is hopefully something that people have done before they come to me to start training with weapons, it is certainly not something I want them to be doing in my classes. However my experience, people who have not had this kind of experience are far less aware of the dangers in their training.
So I am not saying that that HEMA training should include blood spilling and bone breaking. I've also argued that in the past, though they may have been more accepting of the potential danger involved in training, serious injury was not promoted as part of training, though of course it could happen.
Of course, we can not say for certain what exactly what they did or how exactly how they trained, yet we may find educated possibilities. I am concerned sometimes that some people are desperate to re-invent the wheel.
Neither should new materials and methods be ignored, but neither should the methods of the past. I for one welcome Guild Study Group Leader Bryan Tunstal's new synthetic weapons, as they more accurately replicate a real sword than any of the wooden wasters on the market.
Anything that reduces the risk of injury is of course welcome,yet if the possibility of injury is unacceptable, then it is perhaps time to look for a new thing to do. However should bear in mind that if a tool isn't working it may not be a fault of the tool, it might be a fault in the way we are using the tool. Jonathan
This is a response to a comment left by Hugh on my post on Training methods.
I think that the grey area is where all training takes place, as close to reality as we can get to make it have some value and meaning, while balancing it with safety. In the long term it is all shades of grey, what works and when it does are suggestions not absolute truths. Especially when studying and recreating historical arts, where the process is in many ways the goal. It also depends very much on what actual arts, skill, you want to recreate. Better, more safe weapons, better protective equipment, may be great, especially if your goal is more free-play and competition.
However we are trying to recreate a lost or historical arts. So as well as trying to find out what they did, or how we can go some way toward how they put those skills into practice, should there not also be an equal drive to understand how they learnt it? What methods they used, how their training might of developed? Is this not the other wheel of the cart of understanding what the people of the past did? What they could do and how they actually learnt it. I'm not saying that one has to but its worth considering. Jonathan
There have been suggestions and discussions about a more formalised uniform for Historical European Martial arts training and what that unifrom should be.
A number of groups’ wear clothing more or less closely based upon that worn by fencers. Others wear clothing loosely replicating 14th/15th century clothing and footwear. Others who concentrate on wrestling and grappling wear uniforms based on what surviving traditional systems wear. All suit the needs of the groups that use them or at least they are adequate, otherwise why wear them.
In the Guild we have a uniform of loose black trousers, (I wear heavy-duty martial arts trousers) and a T-shirt of the Chapter colour fitted with the Guild badge. This was a decision based upon the fact it needed to allow movement, be relatively easy to wear, purchase and clean. Also as a group studying more than one period and style the uniform needed to be adaptable. We also suggest that members wear flat soled, un-cushioned shoes with good grips, as these more closely replicate period footwear than modern super sports shoes.
Clothing or uniform needs to be considered in several ways and should address certain points, which I shall address below
How it affects the movements one can carry out. If one works in the clothing of a period, and this includes the appropriate footwear, one understands the how and why of the movements and footwork better, it can also lead provide insight to why certain movements are done in what may seem illogical wearing a different type of clothing
How it affects the technique, this is obviously relates to the above but also specifically certain techniques, in grappling for example, where the clothing is used to secure holds etc. Only by wearing the appropriate clothing will you understand the action, it may also be that you can only properly apply the technique when wearing the right clothing
How practical is it? The clothing should not be another expense that burdens the students unnecessarily. It also needs to be hard wearing enough to put up with the rigours of training with out the need to repair or replace it.
However if we are striving for accuracy or authenticity then there are other things we should insure as well.
One should train in realistic environments, outside, on uneven terrain, or if inside then on surfaces that replicate those of the period understudy. After all the historical techniques were not designed to be used in a modern gym.
The clothes need to reproduce the originals as accurately as possible. If what you are wearing is not fitted or cut like the originals then you aren’t going to get the insight, you are just going to be training in fancy dress. However do you risk slipping in period footwear and injuring yourself or those you train with. Of course if you wear period footwear all the time you will become accustomed to it and should be no less likely to slip than anyone else. However if you only wear the clothes and shoes when training what are you really learning? After all our ancestors wore the clothes all time.
There are the secondary reasons for wearing a uniform. It helps to develop a group identity for the Chapter/organisation. A uniform contributes to develop a more disciplined approach and mind set, in that when you take of your normal clothes and put on your uniform, you are also entering in to a training mind set. It looks better, everyone is uniform and certainly when attending a multi-group event it can help to identify different groups and schools Ultimately these are considerations of less importance than those mentioned above
In conclusion, when possible any scholar should try to work when they can in a good approximation of the clothing and/or armour of the periods they are studying. This should include correct footwear and training while wearing these things outside on appropriate surfaces. However it is the training that is most important, the clothes, footwear and environment when worn can give insight and understanding to certain things, but they have to be appropriate, otherwise one can end up just training in “funny” clothes.
Continuing my examination of how to approach the study of Historical Martial arts. Once we have made decisions about our reasons for training we should consider the ways to achieve that goal. I am going to look briefly at how we can go about training and developing our skills.
It is not my goal to dismiss any form of training. Rather my aim is to take a look at various approaches to training and understand why thy are flawed.
From the standpoint of the Guild as a whole and from a personal preference I will look at training with the goal of recreating/understanding the combative systems of the past.
While doing this one strives to respect the past, that we should be safe, improve our understanding and continue to enjoy the process.
If we are training combative skills we should remember that the main goal is to neutralise the opponent as efficiently as possible while preserving ourselves. As such we are developing skills that are designed to injure, cripple or kill other people. Unfortunately there is no way to accurately replicate cutting, stabbing or breaking people without actually doing so. Therefore the training will have to be modified in some way if we do not want to keep finding new training partners because we hospitalise them and we don’t ourselves want to spend large amounts of time out of training while we have to recover from injuries.
It should be noted that while martial artists of the past were arguably not so concerned with safety issues, minimising the risk of injury through training was important. No training program for warriors could tolerate a continued high rate of injury from training. An injured warrior that can not train or fight is not fulfilling their role
However any modification to the effectiveness of the technique is training a flaw, in effect training the technique to fail.
This paradox has challenged martial artists in all eras and cultures. The need to address it is the search to find, to quote modern combatives instructor Tony Blauer, "the best fake stuff out there".
Unless we recognise these flaws and understand how to compensate for them, we are training ourselves to fail under pressure when things become real. Even if our goal is research, the modifications and the flaws can lead us to draw false conclusions from what we do. We have to be careful that the flaw does not become the "right" way of doing it, if it does the conclusions and solution it will be more and more false.
The important elements that make a technique effective are,
The Target attacked
Therefore at least one of these core elements will have to be modified or changed for the sake of safety in training.
Training can be divided into the following broad categories;
Solo Drills Repetitive co-operative drills Scripted co-operative drills Competitive drills
Solo drilling Solo drills are as the name implies those that are carried out with out interacting with a partner. Solo guard drills, progressions, moving or cutting from one position to another, carrying out solo forms or striking against a pel or punch bag, or test cutting all fall under this type of training.
Here there is no partner to be kept safe, so there is no need for modification of the technique and as such allows the actions to be carried out with proper Power, Speed and Intention. Also by removing the opponent, it allows the scholar to focus only on the technique they are carrying out.
Training this way can also allow for live weapons to be used, which would be too dangerous to use when working with a partner
When correctly trained Solo exercises are very good way to pick up the fundamentals of movements of combat. Because you can attack with proper Power Speed and Intention these drills, unlike others, should do not inherently create bad habits, provided the instructor knows what they are teaching.
The flaws come from what is missing, It is hard to learn proper targeting when attacking thin air. Also hitting something feels very different to hitting nothing. While striking a pel, punch bag or test cutting gives an approximation of hitting an opponent, it is not the same as hitting an active body. The dynamics encouraged when hitting a static test cutting target are different than a dynamic and active human opponent, who is trying to hit you at the same time. To quote Bruce Lee "boards don’t hit back"
It is also hard, especially for less experienced students, to understand what the moves would actually be doing in reality, this is especially true if the student is not balancing the solo training with other partner drills.
A well-executed sequence of solo movements will almost never work the same way against a live opponent. Hitting and being hit by someone, even if you interfere with their strike feels completely different, and things that feel completely different lead to freezing.
These drills involve 2 or more scholars, training within a predetermined structure of movement, attack or defence etc. The goal is training through the exercise, it is not about winning in any way you can.
I would further divided this type of training in to the following;
Drilling and Sequences/Plays.
Drilling is the repetition of specific techniques or simple attack and defence or flow type drills.
Sequences/Plays are scripted patterns of actions, dealing with specific tactical type situations.
The advantages are that you have an opponent/s so you are dealing with a real moving target and real attacks coming at you. However as you are working with another person there will need to be some modification for the sake of safety and so an in-built flaw is being trained
Other flaws that can develop with a set drill, is that "knowing" the drill can lead to the scholars pre-empting and anticipating the next move and not committing to the action they are doing now. Or the scholar wants to win and so cheats because they "know" what the other person is going to do.
Often techniques start or are carried out at too great a distance to simulate a real sudden assault. This is often the case when dealing with grappling or dagger techniques. This is often done to substitute Distance for Time, by starting further away the defender has more time to make the reaction work. This is often why many of the techniques seen in the manuals don’t work in free-play. Free play is more like duelling, where as what we generally see in the manuals is dealing with a sudden unexpected assault. Different contexts call for different techniques.
Another problem one often sees in cooperative drills is people getting fixated or carried away on all the things that they can do after they intercept the attack. They block the dagger arms, and then get carried away with the locks, disarming and the other cool stuff they can do then. What has been forgotten or ignored is that the attacker allowed the block to work, by modifying one of the core elements, usually Distance and/or Power.
A common flaw that one sees is in Timing, the attacker makes the attack badly to allow the reactor to succeed. The attacker does not properly keep their weapon between them and the target, and thereby makes it easy to pull off the reaction. This not normally done consciously, rather it happens because the goal has become to make the defenders technique "work". It also happens when scholars make the attack against a teacher or more senior scholar. The more junior does not want to make the teacher fail, so they subconsciously make their own attack badly! Worse still is when the teacher subtly encourages this attitude in the scholar. The problem is that this becomes the way the technique should be done, in this case the technique will fail against someone who does not play by these unwritten rules.
Probably the best way to make Cooperative drills safe while minimizing the flaws is to do them with slow speed, not unnaturally slow, but so that the scholars can maintain proper power generation and delivery while maintaining enough control to keep the action safe. The actual speed used can vary and can increase as the skill level of the practitioners’ increases. In this way the same attention to detail can be applied while keeping it safe. However one has to be careful when the scholar starts to cheat and exploits the fact that their training partner is going slowly by speeding up or doing things that would not work against a full speed attack, like deflecting a staff strike with their forearm
These include sparring and free play. They have a random or free element in that those involved may choose what techniques they use. This can vary from having two or three choices up to a full no hold bared (with certain restrictions) free play assault.
The danger here is that free-play and sparing are dynamic and we know that combat is dynamic and as such, sparring or free play becomes a reality test of what we have learnt. However it MUST be remembered that free play or sparring is nothing like a real fight for your life.
Also free-play is active, dynamic and fun and therefore habits that are developed in free-play will go deeper and last longer than skills from other less engaging forms of training. Also free-play looks more like what most people expect a "real" fight to look like, most of which expectations are based on fantasy and entertainment, not reality and so will reinforce those untruths and misconceptions
To quote Combative Instructor, practitioner and author Rory Miller "Almost twenty-five years ago, I asked my Karate sensei why we practiced kihon (basics) and kata when the techniques we used in sparring looked nothing like kata. He didn't have a good answer, just some vague nonsense about discipline and muscle development. Twenty years ago, after my first ugly brawl in the casino, I remember sucking wind, shaking, and thinking, "Shit, that wasn't anything like sparring.""
Most of us will not get in to "an ugly brawl" and there is even less likelihood of us using the weapons based elements of our training. So for most people Free-play WILL be as real as it gets. Also free-play is fun. However it must not be forgotten that free-play, sparring, or competition is nothing like real combat.
Free play can become a very sophisticated strategic game, which is a flaw in and of itself. For example people do not attack with a knife the way they spar with one. The reality is fast, close, staccato and overwhelming. The sparring is often a chess match of distance timing and rhythm. The skills are not the same and they don’t transfer.
Wear Protection or modify the weapon?
As Targeting, Timing/Speed, Power, Distance are integral to real combat, one or more of these will have to be messed with to make the training safe. To reduce the need to modify the core elements one can wear armour to allow the better use of power and targeting. Another option is to modify the weapon to make it safer, often a combination of both is done.
Wearing protective armour to allow the replication of un-armoured combat allows people to hit each other in a better approximation of "reality". This can be OK when practising specific techniques or situations However in free play the protection that people wear invariably makes them braver than they would be if they were not wearing the armour and then takes the situation further away from reality again.
If the armour is being worn to replicate armoured combat then the weapons and techniques would change to defeat the protection worn. After all armour is worn to protect the wearer, so defeat it would require more aggressive and therefore more dangers techniques to defeat it. Because of this increased danger it will mean modification in targeting, speed, power or distance or the types of technique used.
For example almost all-combative grappling techniques are by their very nature extremely dangerous and therefore can not be done properly in free-play or competition, so they are either banned or have to be modified to make them safer
If the weapon is made safer then it can reduce the need for armour and allow different level of freedom. However one now has the problem that the less threat/danger the weapon poses the braver the scholars become, and can start to do things that they would not if it were real. Also being hit by a "safe" weapon will produce a very difference result than being hit by a real weapon. Again this is less of a problem in set training than it is in free-play. Also modifying the weapons generally stops it from handling like the real thing and this will also change the way the technique works and lead to false assumptions and conclusions.
So what is the answer? What is the right way to train? Well there isn’t one. As said at the beginning there is no way to replicate real violence without injuring and damaging people. However you train it will be fake in some way. One has to recognise what the deliberate flaws are in the training that you are doing. Minimise those flaws as much as possible to make sure that the skills you are developing are not based upon false assumptions or untruths. If you can, counter act the flaw by adding another type of training to your program where that flaw is not present, just remember that the new drill or exercise will also have a flaw in it!
The Guild website is currently down and Guild emails are not functioning. This is due to a transfer of servers hosting the site and a new site about to go live. The new site shall be easier to update and so we will be offering more information, articles, links and updating current information over the coming weeks.
Also a reminder that there is a Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/group.php?gid=15962131366
I'll notify the groups when the new site goes live.
I previously looked at the reasons why people studied martial arts in the past. I will now look at the reasons or ways of HEMA in the modern world. (Thanks to Rory Miller for voicing a number of these ideas relating to Martial arts in general, they seemed a good fit with some adaptation to HEMA)
Of course there will be some overlap between the past and the present day, but there are some important and major differences that need to be considered.
Again my aim is not to claim that there is any ONE right way, rather we should consider what we want to get from training in HEMA. We can then determine how we focus our studies; which arts are most likely to give us what we are looking for and equally, which modern approach best facilitates it.
Much of what is written here may equally be applied to someone considering which of the more “conventional” martial arts to study and again I make no claim to be presenting anything new. Rather my goal is to, perhaps bring together different trains of thought and to highlight areas that I have observed in the HEMA community at large and in the EHCG specifically.
Many of the subjects I will be discussing below could be explored in much greater detail and in greater depth. For some of the topics I will do just that in later articles.
As I discussed previously, historically people studied martial arts for different reasons.
In the modern world the study of these historical arts can be broken down in to the following five categories:
1 Self-defence/Professional use of force 2 Tradition/Physical art/Self-discipline 3 Spiritual Growth/Health 4 Sport/Tournaments 5 Entertainment/Education/Demonstration
There are now a huge number of historical martial arts being studied and an even greater number of groups studying one or several of them. Each group will be working from the materials of one or more masters, or one or more versions of the works of those masters or the traditions they spawned or evolved from. Other groups, like the Guild will deal with the under lying common Principles found though out the arts.
As such one should consider the goals stated or otherwise of the group that you train with or are thinking of training with and how that relates to which of the five ways you wish to follow.
The following will go some way to defining these areas of focus.
Self-defence/Professional use of force/”Learning how to fight”
Historically this would have been the reason why most people learnt the skill, though was not always. Self-defence here refers to those skills and techniques that one can use when suddenly and unexpectedly attacked, in daily life. Professional use of force here refers to those skills used by members of the armed forces, police and those involved in personal/professional security.
If your goal is to learn self-defence then there are many better ways of doing so than by studying HEMA. I am not saying that there are not valuable lessons in these works for someone who knows what they are doing, or that the skills of the practitioners of the past were not effective, they clearly were. In some ways that is where the problem lies, what was acceptable in a self-defence situation in the 1400s may not be legally or morally acceptable today. Also most of what constitutes self-defence is to do with situational awareness, and about how to avoid the places, people and situations where you are likely to become a target. In most cases by the time you need to be using the physical techniques which we see and are described in the manuals and which it should be pointed out are similar to many techniques seen in different cultures and in different eras, its already too late. Again all of these skills need to be addressed first and foremost in the modern world.
If your interest is in the professional use of force, then you should be someone currently involved in the legitimate professions for whom these skills are necessary. As such you should already be involved in the study of appropriate skills.
Of course one can want to study and learn in these areas from a tradition/historical perspective, though in this case that is better addressed in the next focus
Before moving on. What we must not forget, is that in the historical context, these skills were very much practised with a deadly intent. We should then approach the recreation and development of these skills with the respect and seriousness of intent that such skills warrant.
Tradition/physical art/self-discipline –
Tradition is, I would argue, where most of us stand. We are interested in history, we are interested in developing a skill that was used in the past and in wanting to find out about our past we strive to understand how our ancestors applied martial skills. Recreating these traditions is a worthy and valuable cause.
The physical art that goes along with this recreation is in itself worthy of learning and developing any skill to a high level is a worthy practice. The self-discipline required can allow us to master ourselves in ways that other pursuits may not. If for no other consideration, Tradition, Physical art and self-discipline are reasons to study and train in HEMA. After all, these are some of the main reasons why people study Asian martial arts
The development of the physical and mental discipline required of any martial art, will arguably develop your spiritual growth, and can also arguably make you a better person, though this is not always the case.
Almost all warrior/martial traditions contain aspects that one can label “spiritual”. After all, if such traditions are to function within a larger society, then those that practice them need to know when to kill or harm and when not to. Also, those that make the use of violence part of their lives generally try to come to terms with the act of doing harm or taking the lives of others. They generally also address and attempt to come to terms and accept that serious injury, disability or death are likely results to themselves. At least they should if they want to retain some mental stability. As such, I would argue that this form of “spirituality” is a by-product of the other aspects of the training, rather than a goal in itself.
There are also those who seek to use martial arts to develop both inner peace and harmony that goes beyond the aspects offered by the self-discipline discussed above. This si something that one can see in Japanese martial arts when one looks at Bujutsu and Budo, in Budo the art is used to develop spirtual growth.
As yet this is something that is not really encountered in in those groups studying HEMA, though there are a number of groups, studying arts of dubious genuine historical ancestry that do emphasise spiritual growth as a major goal.
This is a growing aspect of the HEMA community. Some see it as fun addition to their training, some take it more seriously training, preparing, and approaching it as one would for any other sport and seeing in the sporting aspects, a way to popularise HEMA. Yet others try to emphasise rule sets, weapons and protective equipment to come as close as possible to real combat with the skills and weapons that were used. They seek to test their skills in what they see as the closest approximation to real combat that is currently acceptable, because of its un-scripted nature and competitive drive.
None of these approaches are in or of themselves wrong or bad. However it must always be born in mind that sportive and combative are very different one from the other and ability and proficiency in one does not of itself prepare you for the other.
Of course historically tournaments were a major aspect of life for certain parts of the fighting classes, These tournaments in a similar way to their modern counterparts, emphasised protective equipment, safer weapons and rules, all of which moved the action away from real combat to a greater or lesser extent. However there is one major difference between the past and the present. Generally in the historical context, certainly during Middle Ages, such “sporting” events were an adjunct to actual combat. Someone who fought in a tournament could and often did, fight in actual combat, either on the battlefield, in self-defence or duelling in earnest. This balancing of the sportive with the combative, the reality with the game, is something that is, for obvious reasons, missing from the modern practice of HEMA. This should be born in mind when considering and comparing the sporting aspects of HEMA in the past and present.
An understanding of the HEMA can obviously be a great benefit when creating fights for film, theatre and television, whether to make the action more historically accurate or to produce more efficient movements. Understanding how to use entertainment to bridge the gap to education is vital if one wants to attract a wider audience to an understanding of history in general and specifically HEMA.
So a Fight Director, fight performer, Historical interpreter, historical show fighter, can and arguably, should all make use of HEMA. When done well and with proper consideration of the other areas already mentioned above, are all valid aspects of HEMA, which should not be looked down on as inferior or less serious reasons for training.
Everyone interested in studying HEMA should ask themselves questions including;
What aspect/s of the historical martial arts draws their interest?
Which of the modern ways offers the best opportunities to achieve that in the modern world?
One should try to understand what it is they want from their study and training in HEMA.
The different focuses have different goals, and will have different optimal mind and skill sets, and these will be best brought about by different training approaches.
I would maintain that the different ways are not mutually exclusive and that one can address and do well in many or perhaps all of them. However to do so, requires that one properly understands or at least recognises the differences between. One must also not forget that, by spreading ones focus over a wider range of study it is likely that one will not achieve much or gain as great an understanding as if on makes a tighter focus of one area of study.
Been quieter than I intended, such is life on occasion. Been orking and travelling in Italy, have renewed and strengthened friendships, made new friends, seen some amazing places and have had lots of fod for thought. Insights into people and places which are generally stronger when you are away from your comfort zone.
I would like to thank everyone at the Helsingor Chapter for their hard work over the two day seminar. Especially to Mikkel, Thorbjorn and Martin, for arranging and organising the various aspects and for providing me with lifts etc.
Everyone worked hard and applied themselves to the training with good energy and commitment.
We looked at plays from Fiores unarmed, dagger and longsword. Applying the Guild Principles, and also looking at the role, of "winner and loser" in set plays. We also examined keeping set plays truthful yet spontaneous, through the use of variable Speed, Timing, Distance, Intention etc. We also worked on the importance of the correct mind set, when both entering and exiting from a set play. I will be going in to these areas in more detail in a later article. We also looked at the transition between the footwork in Fiore and the Guild. As always the social aspect was enjoyable, and we had great seafood at Mikkels house on Friday night, and some went to Esrum Monastery on Sunday morning, where I gave them some tips on their archery, the Chapter having 3 longbows.
Off to Denmark for the seminar at the Helsingor Chapter. More posts next week. Hope everyone has an enjoyable Bank Holiday weekend, those of you who live in places that celebrate such things as the May Day!
This is part of an ongoing series of pieces about what martial arts are about, what they try to be, and how we as people think about and train them. They will look at how we can find ways to make sure that we are honest in our assumptions and expectations so that we maximise what we get from our training and our interest. All these pieces are short and in no way comprehensive, all encompassing studies. Firstly the subjects are too large and varied to be able to cover in a series of large books let alone a blog or website. Secondly I don’t claim to have the knowledge to go in to the depth that parts of the subject deserve. However I put them here to hopefully start people thinking.
Violence and aggression, two of the things that drive and have driven the development or Martial arts in all it various forms in different cultures and throughout history. Violence and aggression are hugely complex areas to try to understand. They come in many different forms and cover a wide range of situations and levels of intensity and threat.
Although they are often linked there are differences between violence and aggression.
Similarly Martial arts come in many different forms and are and have been used for many different reasons.
Any one studying or considering studying a martial art today should understand what it is they want to get from a martial art, and then consider what the various arts offer so that they get out of their training what they need.
What should those of us who are studying historical martial arts do?
Firstly we should consider what the historical martial arts we are studying were designed to do. We should also consider what we personally want from our study of the past, and then consider how we go about achieving it.
We must be careful that we don’t start trying to fit a round peg in to a square hole and start manipulating what we study or how we study it to achieve the wrong goal and we must be honest so that we do not lead ourselves to artificial conclusions.
Let us look at violence briefly. It can be broadly and perhaps crudely divided in to two categories. There is Inter-species violence. This is the basis of the Fight or flight response, a predator threatens you, or you are the predator. Your options are to get away, to kill or be killed. Commonly know as fight or flight. We then have Intra-species violence; this is violence between members of the same species. This is a far less black and white situation, here violence and aggression is used to achieve a goal, to gain something, generally relating to status. Status in the group, maintaining your status against someone whom has challenged you or your perceived self worth or position in your group or society.
Humans like most animals have in built inhibitions that generally prevent Intra-species violence going too far. This does not always work but generally it does. These inhibitions are there because it is counterproductive to kill off members of your own species, and also because uncontrolled violence, while allowing you to kill a rival, can leave you seriously wounded or maimed. This is why in most species the males use ritualised violence to gain or maintain status, and that generally these contests end before either party is badly injured. It is also why most species do not act violently towards the female of the species, or if they do that the violence is controlled.
Humans have this ritual violence. To quote Rory Miller, who uses the term “Monkey Dance”, because of its in built and instinctive nature from our ape ancestors.
The problem with humans is that we have invented numerous implements and tools to give us an edge and which in effect short-circuit our biological inhibitions. After all one good punch is likely to finish a conflict between two humans but is also likely to leave both relatively uninjured, however, put a club, knife, sword into that swinging hand and the out come is likely to be very different.
We have also, on occasion, managed to control the mindset we can apply to violence in certain situations. We can consciously or otherwise turn on the hunter predatory mind set, that allows us to view opponents not as other humans but as prey, and this allows a different set of rules to be applied. Alongside the above two developments, we have also developed systems to allow us to maximise the physical skills and mind set for the kind of violence we are going to undertake, martial arts, for lack of a more encompassing phrase.
I will not go into an in depth discussion of the physiological and psychological, biological and evolutionary drives and processes that have governed and shaped human aggression and violence, but hopefully this gives a broad outline.
Historically people had a different mindset and attitude to violence than we do today, or at lest some of them did. Yet we must also remember that we are not all that different, the majority of the changes are superficial and are to do with whom we were brought up and the norms of the society we were brought up in.
People used violence and the skills of violence for many reasons and many not that different from how violence is used today.
Self defence –
This is dealing with either stupidity or bad luck. It is primarily about recovery, recovery from the surprise of being on the receiving end of a bad situation that you weren’t expecting. Some manuals deal with this, specifically on occasion, more often in a general way.
This is something that was in general, forced upon the individual, by the expectations and standards of the society to which they belonged or on how they perceived themselves to fit in to that society. In effect this is a type of Monkey dance, in that the goal is to maintain or regain status. Generally governed by rules and expectations of behaviour. Many manuals deal with this, and the teaching of the master’s focuses toward people preparing for this.
Different to a duel in that the participants have chosen to engage in the activity, there are also rules and officials to control how far things go. Again something that was if not explicitly stated in the works of many masters, the preparation for fighting in Tournaments or at the barriers, was a not uncommon feature of the fighting classes.
Here we are referring to battle. Warfare is consciously or subconsciously a ritualised affair. The optimal approach is obedience and teamwork, rather than individual skill. The skills needed, though linked to what is seen in some manuals, are often quite different.
This is a predatory mindset; the aggressor in a self-defence situation is likely to approach the situation in this way. In a modern context this is the approach and mindset of Elite Military units, hostage rescue teams and SWAT. Here the goal is to maximise your advantages and minimise theirs. Here there are generally no rules, other than use force to achieve your goal with as little risk or cost to yourself. Perhaps in a historical context we could look at the Vikings, raiding vulnerable targets and using hit and run tactics to gain advantage and achieve the best result for themselves, when they did engage in combat it was generally when they had the best chances of winning.
Keeping fit, training and learning skills your body and in some ways your mind fit and healthy. Many manuals talk the physical benefits of training in the martial skills
Here the skills are used for the enjoyment and possibly education of others. Show fighters of the past, often berated by “real” fencing masters. Of course a tournmanet could be entertaining, but the goal in the tournament was not the entertainment as such. Of course there as overlaps, but basicallym we are looking at "show" fights
Spiritual growth –
Some people have used and still used martial skills for this. Ultimately this is rather a dead end. Training for an engaging in life and death situations would teach you something about yourself, and one could argue that the “warrior” mind set has a strong spiritual element, for one the acceptance of death and or sever injury. However one perhaps emphasise that this is part of the development, not an end in itself.
These are obviously broad categories. However they do help us to start thinking about the focus of the violence and martial skills of the past. Then we can address where our own field of study, masters work, manual, or tradition of interest lies and then begin to put it in context and think about it appropriately. We of course will find situations where one or more categories apply, or the master of the past was advocating that the skills he taught could be used in a variety of situations.
The important things is that the truth is, that despite what may be thought commonly or suggested on occasion, is that no one martial skill can do everything, each has its on demands, requirements, mindset and skills. Also no training method or framework of interpretation or reconstruction can fully cover all the different demands of the different skills. We need to understand what we want to study and tailor our approach accordingly.
In following pieces I will look at ways we can go about starting to achieve it.
We have always said that regardless of cultural origin and period that there only so many ways that the human body will work. There are only so many ways to swing a weapon and only so many ways to move. However it is always nice when you see something that confirms it.
I came across the bottom picture while looking through a book on Kendo in The Guild Master, John Wallers library. The book was written in the early 1960’s
There are obviously minor structural differences, the Kendoist on the right is further into his attack, his arms are straighter and his hands are higher. His right foot is higher off the ground, but I would say that this is to do with fighting on sand. Otherwise his position is pretty close, to his German cousin.
Both swordsmen on the left are in almost identical positions. The Kendoka is hitting higher to his opponent’s face, but that in my opinion is because his opponent has his hands higher. The only other difference is his back leg, which is not pushing him so far forward. I interpret this as him withdrawing slightly as he counter strikes his advancing opponent. Otherwise the angling of the upper body, front leg, arms and sword is mirrored.
The picture of the Kendo is from a book written in the early 1960s in Japan. So we have two images roughly 500 years and half a world away, unsurprisingly finding the same solution to a similar tactical situation.
I will be in Denmark next weekend doing a seminar for the Helsingor Chapter. It will take place on Friday and Saturday, this is as Denmark has next Friday as a public holiday! The seminar will look at the relation of Fiore and the Guild and its Principles.
Guild Study Group Leader and Knight Shop owner Bryan Tunstall says that the new nylon swords should be in full production from Thursday/Friday this . Fingers crossed
Everyone should take their hats off to Bryan for going to the lengths he has to start a quality yet mass produced and therefore reasonably priced range of nylon weapons. It has been a huge investment in energy, time and finaces which can only benifit the whoel range of WMA groups.
He is planning on expanding the range, and has been talking to me about the development of the daggers, starting with rondel and cross hilt, which like the swords can be assembeled from commponent parts and also Dec du Faucon and Poll axes. both of which there is a demand for.
In much of the training and research in to historical martial arts, the emphasis is placed on landing a hit on the opponent, whether with a weapon or with some part of the body. After all this is where much of the skill lies, being able to hit them without them hitting you. What is generally not spoken about is what that hit would do to the opponent. Perhaps more importantly, when one is considering a life and death situation, is whether that “hit” would be enough to actually stop them, so that they could no longer pose a threat to you, or be able carry on and damage you. One could argue that detailed knowledge of this is not vital to the training of the skill. After all we are not training people to be killers. Equally are not training them to be killed. As such we do need to consider the realities of what they action could and could not do, if we are to be truthful to the true purposes that dictated how they were used in the past
When making an attack, whether with a weapon or not we should consider what that actually means. Fundamentally an attack is designed to incapacitate the opponent, so that they can no longer pose a threat to us. To do this we need not kill the opponent, but we do need to stop them. Stopping them means preventing them from being a threat to us and we need to do that quickly, for if it is not done quickly then they may be able to carry on and injure or kill us.
There are four main ways in which an opponent can be stopped. All four types are distinct but not necessarily isolated, so any one of these, or a combination of any or all of them can stop an opponent. Of course the best way of stopping them is to stop them before the fight has begun so that there is no fight.
1 - Severe Damage to the attackers limbs. If you stop the opponent’s ability to attack you stop the threat. Basically this means that you incapacitate the opponent’s arms and/or legs. In isolation we have to consider that an opponent can keep operating with broken arms and legs if they are highly aroused with adrenaline etc. so short of actually severing the limbs there is no guarantee that it will stop them from still trying to attack you. To optimise the chances of stopping the opponent the joints should be targeted. Of course if they are carrying a weapon, damaging the hands or arms should be enough to make them drop the weapon and there by reduce the threat they pose
1- Blood loss/restriction of oxygen By preventing oxygen getting to the muscles, major organs and brain it will cause unconsciousness and eventually death. To cause such traumatic blood loss means hitting a major artery or the heart or by blocking or damaging the airway or the lungs. Again it will take time for the effects to be felt and is therefore no guarantee of stopping the opponent before they can carry on and damage you. Other ways include blocking the airway to stop oxygen or to apply some kind of sleeper hold that blocks the airway and/or blood supply to the brain.
3) Central Nervous System (CNS) trauma. Causing major trauma to the central nervous system, spine, brain stem or parts of the brain will cause unconsciousness or death. This could be from a knock out to the jaw/body or by damage to the spinal cord or brain stem. Again not particularly easy to do and such not a guarantee to instantly stop the opponent.
4) Psychological reasons. This is the most likely reason for someone to stop fighting or for someone to not start fighting at all. Basically one has given the opponent a good enough reason to decide that it is not worth fighting or that to carry on fighting is counter productive. Their Will to fight or to continue fighting has been overridden by self-preservation, or at least the belief that avoiding the conflict will be more beneficial.
The effects will vary and depend very much on the state of mind of the individual. Pain is relative to the person experiencing it, so what stops someone in one situation may not stop them in another, or what doesn’t register on one person will be more than enough to get another to give up. Mind set affects how people respond to major trauma, people can keep running on smashed legs or bloody stumps. They can carry a severed arm several miles to call an ambulance. People have suffered major brain damage but have continued to fight or have done so having been stabbed through the heart.
If fighting more than one person then group responses come in to play, again this means that a group may decide to run even though they actually have the upper hand and will hold their ground when they really should be beaten, but by doing so they turn the tide.
This is also cultural element, and of course can be affected by body chemicals such as adrenaline and external chemicals such as alcohol and drugs.
Conclusion We should consider the damage that the actions that we are doing could cause both to our opponents but also to ourselves. We also have to consider that there is not guarantee that what ever we do will actually stop the opponent. If damage is being delivered the more ways in which the opponent is affected the greater the chance that it will work through cumulative damage and the greater chance that they will loose the will to carry on. While of course the best way of stopping an opponent would to be to avoid/prevent the fight all together and before it starts
The new synthetic swords developed by Guild Study Group leader and Knight Shop owner, Bryan Tunstal, are nearly ready for sale. The single handers and longsword, while initially aimed at sparring and competition, Something not advocated in the Guild can also be used for training.
The are a little lighter than the original swords but come in at better weight than many steel trainers and other wooden wasters on the market. Most importantly their balance and heft are close to the real thing. On top of this they come at a very reasonable price. They are modular in design and so grips, cross, pommel and blade can be de-assembled for ease of transport and replacing parts or for just get the best configurations. I seems that the will be able to mix the mouldings to get different weight blades.
Talking to Bryan daggers, poll axe heads have been requested and synthetic bucklers are on the way.