The European Historical Combat Guild

Investigating Europe's Historical combative methods and behaviours

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Happy Yuletide

Hoping that everyone is enjoying their Yule festivities!

Monday, 28 November 2011

Re-emergence of aspects of bare knuckle Pugilism in MMA

An interesting piece on how aspects of Pre Marquis of Queensbury rules boxing are reappearing in modern MMA can be found here; The Pugilist: Nick Diaz, Daniel Mendoza, and the Sweet Science of Bruising


Sunday, 13 November 2011

Another entry to the training sword market

Again no idea of how these will actually handle, the idea seems good, if it works.
From the same people who are making the "Swing" trainers.

Training at home

For those of you who want to do solo practice at home and indoors and don't have high ceilings or much space, these may be the things for you.
Visit the website Swing blades.
I have no personal experience of them but the reports seem favourable.....

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Rory Miller on the benefit of weapons training to improving both armed and unarmed.

The second is by Rory Miller, author of Meditations on Violence and Facing Violence, both highly recommended.

Edge of the Blade
Rory Miller
Saturday, September 03, 2011

On one level, there are few things as obsolete as medieval sidearms. Whether kobudo or iai or fencing, sword attacks, much less sword fights have become pretty damn rare. Which might make it seem a pretty silly thing to study? Combined with my general attitude about dueling training being applied to self-defense, you might expect an automatic rejection.

Can't do it. There are some things you can learn from the edge of the blade that get sloppy and take too long any other way. Also, especially in Western weapons, there are centuries of people working out very carefully efficient ways to kill and not be killed.

Maija (and Jake and Mac) got me thinking about this. What follows is a mix-- big things and little things. Don't waste time looking for a theme. And a caveat: I've trained and played with swords and other weapons extensively. I've even slaughtered livestock with swords... but I've never been in a sword fight. Take everything that follows with the appropriate amount of salt.

Margin of error:
Dealing with a sword, there really isn't a margin of error. Unarmed you can afford to make far more mistakes, give yourself more time. You take a glancing blow to the head or someone tags your upper arm with a fist and it's not a big deal. Bladed weapons force you to think in a more demanding way.

Weapons teach distancing faster and better than unarmed:
You need to be able, at a glance to tell from build, grip, foot position and weapon if the threat can reach you. Exactly how his range changes with shifts of footing, grip or center of gravity. You can predict the 'tells' you need to watch for when and if the threat decides to develop range. It's a critical skill with weapons and the cool thing is that it translates. After getting ranging with weapons down, unarmed range assessment is even easier.

You learn not to waste time or motion:
Related to 'no margin of error.' A sword fight is won or lost in fractions of seconds and fractions of inches. If the person is going to miss you by the tiniest of margins, you don't waste effort or time in motion. You never parry even an inch more than you absolutely have to. Unarmed fighting allows for a lot more slop.

It requires (and thus develops) commitment:
There's no way you can hit someone without being close enough to be hit back. Or maybe hit first. But we've all been hit enough to know it really isn't a big deal. With a blade? Any decisive action means you are close enough to be killed or maimed. Every time you engage you are betting your life on your skill, your speed and your ability to read what is truly happening.

This is specialized, maybe, but by truly limiting the weapon, strategy comes to the fore. Unarmed we can get by forever on tricks. Given just hand strikes, foot strikes, take-downs, locks, gouges, strangles, head-butts and slamming I can keep shifting between the options and force you to play catch-up, or find the one that you haven't experienced before. Limit it to just one class of tool (hand strikes in boxing, for instance) and it forces the skill to go up another level. t changes from tricks to tactics and then, maybe even strategy. Dealing with just a point (foil or epee) and limiting offense and defense to the same tool in the same hand pushed a deeper understanding of all the elements of strategy: timing and distancing and psychology and...

All of these things, and there are more, inform and improve your unarmed skill. They change the way you see and think.

The original can be found on his blog at the following link;
Rory Millers Blog.

Two interesting pieces from modern Instructors

Two pieces by highly respected modern instructors, Marc MacYoung and Rory Miller. They deal with both weapons and historical combat and their applicability to modern and unarmed arts. Actually as Marc's is quite long I will post it on its own and I'll post Rory's seperately.

First up Marc MacYoungs  post.

Self-Defense: Deadman's 10, Hollywood BS, Fence and Not Getting Killed
by Marc MacYoung on Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 9:47pm
I hate moral dilemmas.

On one hand the guy had just kicked me in the balls, and I really wanted to gouge out his eye and skull fuck him to death.

On the other hand, the radio I was carrying was my own personal handheld and had cost me a lot of money. Throwing it down so I could use both hands to create a occipital vagina would break it. Being in my heart of hearts a cheap Scottish bastard, I handed the radio to someone I vaguely knew, who was standing there.

During the momentary delay -- and due to the fact that I had called in the situation before I stepped in -- instead of going to town on the dude, I saw Harvey rear up behind the guy. I say rear up because not only was Harvey seven feet tall, he was a weight lifter. The dude was big in all kinds of ways.

He also was a member of our 'Goon Squad.'

Harvey reached down, encircled the guy's neck with his arm and lifted him off his feet. The guy's little legs were kicking and flailing.  In the spirit of teamwork and communication, he told me, "I got him, Animal."

It was about that time that "Fat Jimmy," another Goon, arrived. Jimmy grabbed the guy's legs and pulled saying, "I got him." There ensued a tug of war between the two Goons, each claiming they 'had him.' (It was kind of cute, the way his eyes were bugging out, and he was gurgling.) I, in the meantime, was calmly telling my co-workers to put him down because "he's mine." This resulted in Harvey playing tug of war with one arm and holding me back with the other.  With me, at 5 foot, 8, was probably a funny scene, but I had homicide on my mind and was otherwise occupied.

Around that time, a supervisor arrived and said it was time to turn the nice gentleman over to law enforcement for assaulting me. I wasn't going to get to play show and tell with his vital organs, no matter how much I wanted to. I gathered up my radio, and we all went to security headquarters where I made a statement, and the nice man got a free ride in the sheriff's car. As I was standing there watching him be driven away, I remembered something.

I walked up to the security boss and said, "I just realized something."
"I got kicked in the balls."
"I was wondering when you'd remember that."
"I'm going to go off somewhere and cry now."
"You're on a break. Take as long as you want."

Basically, I was so amped up on adrenaline and rage that it took me about 15  to 20 minutes to remember that I'd taken one to the 'nads. When I did remember, it didn't suck, it chewed. It wasn't that there wasn't pain, it was that I was able to defer payment until the situation was resolved.

Once resolved, I still had to pay the piper. But it didn't matter to the karate guy who'd kicked me in the nuts.It mattered a lot to me.

To this day, I clearly remember seeing King Karate's expression as he realized his front snap kick to my family jewels was not having the expected result, and there was nothing between him and me but air. Air that I was going to come through after my radio was secured.

How many times had his instructor told him and had he told himself that a kick to the groin would work to stop an opponent?  And there I was, more concerned about saving my radio after he'd nailed me a good one. Then I was going to very calmly rip his lungs out for drilling me in the nuts.

Although there's debate over who said it first, there's an sage and humorous quip, "It ain't that people are ignorant. It's just they know so much that isn't so."

This is especially true in:
A) this day and age of media, marketing and Internet
B) when it comes to violence.

Hollywood, the martial arts, sporting events and Internet warriors on forums, who have done a great disservice when it comes to getting accurate information regarding violence out to those who need it.

By making such sturm und drang about 'real' fighting and ultimate, killer commando, combative systems, they've eclipsed the actual problems and provided tons of 'isn't so' ideas about  personal safety and what it takes to handle violence.

The absolutely worst one is that the best defense is a good offense -- especially at close quarters.

I was told that there is an Old West gunfighter term called "the Deadman's 10."  Whether or not it is an actual historical term means absolutely squat. What is important is the concept. A concept that you're not going to hear too often in your uber-aggressive combative system or deadly martial arts training. Yet, it becomes critical the closer you are.

Basically Deadman's 10 is after you've fatally shot someone it's the 10 seconds that person has has to return the favor and kill you, too. This before the damage you caused overwhelms him. Truth is, even with wounds deemed 'immediately fatal,' this so-called 10 can last between 10 and 120 seconds. Marshall and Sanow in their book, "Handgun Stopping Power," read reports of it lasting up to 90 seconds.

But I know of other situations where the aggressor kept on going longer. (I recently heard an interesting number that the fatality rate of single gunshot wounds treated in the first two hours is roughly 4 percent. That is someone who is shot, might break away and head to the hospital. Or they could finish the job of killing you before they go to the hospital.)

I tell you this because, no matter how much you think you 'know better,' Hollywood has messed you up for understanding what you have to do to stay safe in close range. Worse, it's also screwed up what your teacher thinks he knows about the subject. As in, he can't teach you what he doesn't know or understand himself. Even if an instructor would admit to not knowing something, he can't tell you what he doesn't know he doesn't know. (Called Unk Unks, for unknown, unknowns: )

Here are some ways where you might have gained various misconceptions. If you've ever seen a movie where someone is shot, and they are blown backward, that's BS. It defies Newton's Third Law of 'for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.' In other words, if there was enough force to blow the shootee backwards, it would also blow the shooter backwards.

If you've ever seen a movie where a thrown knife stops someone in their tracks before they shoot, that's also BS.

Equally unrealistic is an enraged and attacking person collapsing immediately upon being shot with a pistol. While a rifle bullet has the force to potentially create a shock wave to cause a 'brown out' or temporary black out of the nervous system's (reticular activating system) handguns seldom do. (Unless there has been specific targeting to destroy structure, but that is a structural 'collapse' rather than 'shock.')

People, when they are shot, don't get blown back. If anything, they collapse because the power is temporarily shut off. When it comes back, if the damage isn't too great, they start moving again. (Think of what happens when you shoot a deer during hunting season. It often staggers and gets up to run)

So why am I focusing on shooting? Well, to give you a basic idea about an important issue that has been lost from most systems selling themselves as combatives and self-defense. An issue that, unless you address it yourself, if you ever find yourself in a dangerous situation, you'll be another corpse next to the guy you killed in 'self-defense.' Namely yours.

Basically with a rifle, you are relying on distance (range), time and damage to protect you. THAT is your defense. If you shoot someone out at a distance, the space between you and the damage are HOPEFULLY great enough that he will not be able to rally an effective counter attack during the Deadman's 10 (time). At this range, there is very little you can actively do defensively. (Sure, you can shoot from cover, or you can keep moving to make a harder target, but that really is pretty minimal stuff.) Your defense is nothing but air and hoping the damage you did to him is enough that he can't effectively shoot you, too. This is the ONLY situation where being entirely offensive serves as your defense.

Up close, the Deadman's 10 is an enormous issue, even with guns. With less effective methodologies (like punching and kicking) it's even more critical -- especially when it comes to you unarmed against an armed attacker. You have to actively take steps to take away your attacker's ability to inflict damage on you before, during and AFTER you've delivered force into him

This flies in the face of all kinds of training. Training that presupposes that if you lay into your opponent with your killer kung fu, deadly combatives, ultimate mixed martial art system, the guy is just going to fall down and curl up.

And I'm talking about all kinds of variations of flawed training.

Back when we had to do kata hopping from one foot to the other because the earth's crust was still cooling, the myth was the 'one punch kill.' You didn't have to worry about defense because after you drilled the guy with your ultimate punch, he was going to be lying unconscious and broken on the floor.

Now, the new, 'better educated,' smarter-than-that superstuds know that's wrong and doesn't work. Nope, they're so much smarter than the old guys because now they know they have to keep a continuous barrage of lethal punches to make it work.

Except for one thing, barrages work until the other side returns the favor. When that happens, it becomes a matter of trading punishment until one or the other falls down. A barrage works on the same principle of zero defense and relying on your offense to keep you safe.

After attending what was then Denver's premier martial arts 'challenge,' I quipped that apparently the 'winning' strategy was to stand there and let your opponent muay Thai kick you in the leg until he suffered a heart attack and fell over. This is, in essence, what these new, scientific and ultimate fighting systems are promoting as their 'better answer.'

Beat the shit out of him until he collapses; this before you collapse because he's beating the shit out of you.

In the safety of the ring and dojo, this theory sort of holds up. It does so because, as much as you may think you're being all powerful with these blows, sports-allowed moves  seldom cause injury. In fact, the parts that could cause injury have been intentionally edited out. This allows you to hit with full force and not break your opponent.

Reread that last sentence, it's important.

Yeah, yeah, I get all kinds of "well, in the art I study..."   Let's take Krav Maga as an example. In the late '80s, I had a chance to play hands-on with an ex-Israeli commando. Putting it mildly, the guy made me squeak. He twisted and torqued me in ways that, had he finished the move, I would have shattered. It really was combat application stuff. It reflected key elements that I'd seen in WW II, Vietnam Era and other systems that had been used to fold, spindle and mutilate human beings. Namely that I couldn't effectively counterattack while he was doing bad things to me.

Now before anybody's dick swells so big they feel you can cut them off at the knees and call them a tripod, let me tell you something else.

When I walk into the Krav/Crossfit schools, what I am seeing taught as Krav Maga doesn't look ANYTHING like what made me squeak. What I am seeing is sports-based mixed martial arts with a cool sounding name. Not something that could cause damage like what that guy was doing way back when. And especially not something that is going to save you from the Deadman's 10.

In short, either I am a total retard, who doesn't know jack about shit, OR someone sold you mixed martial arts combined with physical fitness AS a deadly esoteric combat system.

One that, if someone is seriously coming in to kill you, might just allow him success -- even if you DO manage to hit him hard.*

I'll close this section and segue into the next by paraphrasing George Silver, a late 16th and early 17th century swordsman. Basically it's: "These newfangled schools of sword pay no attention to defense and, therefore, they die like flies. Then they point to these deaths as proof of how dangerous their art is." (I highly recommend reading his "Paradoxes of Defence" [published 1599] and "Brief Instructions Upon My..." [published 1898, actual writing date unknown] to see how much of the same behavior is still going on regarding flawed instruction being sold as 'ultimate.')

It's important to note the British spelling of 'defence.' That's because the root of the word fencing is derived from it. The "Art of Fence" is the art of both offence and defence -- at the same time. I call a single action or multiple concurrent actions that both deliver force into your opponent (attacks) and protect you by disrupting his ability to attack 'fence.'

If you look back in the old 'manuals' about sword and other types of fighting, you'll notice something interesting. Although often drawn from the 'wrong' position (ma-ai for you purists) about two-thirds to three-fourths of the actual attacks are NOT with the sword. Ankle locks, leg traps/pushes, disrupting his structure, punches, elbow strikes, head butts, twisting your opponent's limbs and body ... they are ALL there. More than that, they are all happening at the exact same time. In fact, the sword is only killing the guy while all the other actions are destroying his ability to counter attack during the Deadman's 10.

Wow, what a concept. Bind the guy up in such a way that he can't stick his blade into you after you've stuck your blade into him. Who'd have thought that a bunch of medieval knuckledraggers could have figured this out on their own? I mean without the guiding light of scientific process, elite military origins or ancient oriental wisdom?

I make this snarky comment because -- while those are marketed as 'the superior sources' when it comes to 'ultimate' fighting systems -- they usually lack this fundamental element that a bunch of dirty, smelly westerners not only knew and used, but were writing about and illustrating 600 years ago.*

Fence becomes a REALLY important idea up close. Because there are very few things you can do that will work 'immediately' like you see in the movies. As such, you have to be doing something about staying safe during the Deadman's 10. And that is assuming you've actually done something effective enough to qualify. Otherwise, you're just in a trading-blows-fest, hoping the guy will squeal 'uncle' before you do.

Wanna guess how well that works when the other dude has a knife in his hand? Or when there are five of them?

There are several ways to create fence and going into the details of those ways are beyond the scope of this article. But I can give you a standard. Every MOVE, not every technique, but every move within a technique should meet three criteria:

1) It secures your perimeter.

This means it protects you, keeps him from delivering force into you and allows you to control what happens in your space. In short, if the purpose of a block is 'don't get hit' and you're getting hit,  you need to fix something in what you're doing. (I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts it's not getting off line from the attack.)

2) It disrupts your opponents ability to attack you (e.g., you move to a different place; you move him; you disrupt his structure, balance, orientation, body mechanics; you get out of the way of his charge; etc).

Four things about this. First, there are thousands of ways to do this. The biggest and best is getting off line (again, whether you move yourself or you move him doesn't matter). Second, this makes it so he has to do something else before he can attack you again. Like get his balance back. Third, the more things you pile on to him all at once, the harder it will be for him to figure out how to fix the problem (get his legs back under him and attack again). Fourth, don't limit yourself to just thinking about inflicting pain. Simply dodging, grabbing his limb and jerking him off balance IS AN OFFENSIVE MOVE! It also protects you. Of course, smacking him on the back of the head as you pull him past you makes it work all that much better. But the pull itself isn't painful.

3) It sets up your next, more powerful move.

By sets up, I mean the move is RIGHT THERE! For example, that dodge-the-attack -pull-the-arm -open-hand-smack - to -the-back-of-his-head move blends nicely into that smack turning into a pushing/pulling movement. A movement that keeps his head and body moving forward and past you. The 'previously' pulling hand lets go of his arm and your same arm rolls up into an elbow to his face. If you've done your range right (and are on outside gate) you shouldn't have to worry about his hands because they are reaching past you. But what if he tries to turn? Well, your body is blocking his arms and keeping him from turning back toward you ...and all of this as the elbow is smashing him.

If he's still standing, don't let go with that hand on the back of his head. Turn it into a grab -- whether hair, shirt or shoulder. Then turn your body and step to drag him over backward ... with a little push from your elbow. An elbow that is also now heading in a different direction. If he isn't down after the elbow, odds are damned good he'll fall down after you step -- especially if you drop down as you step (semi-kneel).

Each step of the way, you are creating fence to keep you safe because he has other problems than attacking you. Problems that are unique and different enough that he just can't soak up the punishment and keep on coming. He can't just charge through to get you because you are dragging him off balance and throwing him around -- AS you impact. Then he has the problem of slamming into the ground.

Take a good hard look at what you are being taught. Is it relying on the awesomeness of your all powerful blows to keep you safe? Are you overly relying on the pain you are inflicting to stop the guy? Or are you going to be like that karate guy looking on in shock when your 'never fail move' suddenly and dramatically fails?

What are you doing to make sure you aren't the second body following the Deadman's 10?

In closing, I'll tell you something to consider. Fence isn't that important in sports fighting. In fact, since nobody is trying to cripple or kill each other, it's pretty much a non-issue. Yeah, it's there in a chicken wire fence sort of way. But a key component of sports fighting is to allow you to get pounded.  The entertainment is "Which person is going to go down?" You're fighting in a way that it could be either.

That's why YOU have to start looking about developing fence yourself -- especially if you're talking about applying your training in live fire situations. In those circumstances, it's the other guy you want going down.  If you're teacher isn't teaching you about fence, but claims that he's teaching you 'self-defense,' that sucker has some explaining to do because sports fighting WILL get you into deep, deep trouble if you try to apply it in a situation where someone is seriously trying to injure you.


 * Maybe you do have it in your training, but don't just assume it's there. And sure'n hell don't just say 'we have it' and keep on teaching stuff that will get your students killed because of your comfort zone.

**Speaking as someone who has seen versions of martial arts that haven't been watered down for sports and commercialized, I can tell you that the idea of being both defensive and offensive in the exact same movement WAS once known to these systems.  It's just been lost in most modern interpretations. You're not likely to be taught a version that still has fence in a school or gym located in a strip mall. In fact, the more someone markets something as self-defense ready or combat proven, the more likely it is to lack fence and rely on physical conditioning and raw aggressiveness.

For those of you on Facebook you can find the piece here and also his page.
and if you want pictures go to it on his website.

The Notion of a “Real Fight” By Matt Galas

Matt makes some similar points to those I have expressed here and comes to similar conclusions. Enjoy

The Notion of a “Real Fight”
By Matt Galas, Copyright 2010

Considering the value placed by many in the HEMA community on the notion of simulating a real fight with sharp weapons, it is a useful exercise to list the differences between sportive bouts of fencing (whether in a training environment or in competition) and an earnest encounter with sharp weapons. The following categories summarize the most obvious differences between the two.

Fair Fight
As a general rule, human beings abhor the idea of a fair fight when fighting for real. Whenever push comes to shove, it is human nature to seek an unfair advantage over the enemy, in terms of greater numbers, surprise, or superior weaponry. Thus, the very premise of a competitive bout (two opponents, squared off, beginning out of distance, armed with identical weapons) is a situation that seldom occurs in reality. Far more likely in a "real fight" is exactly the opposite: Multiple opponents; attacking with the element of surprise; beginning the fight from within striking distance; and attacking when the victim is unarmed, before he can draw his weapon, or with vastly superior weaponry.

To list the key differences:
- Identical Weapons vs. Advantage Through Superior Weaponry
- Equal Numbers vs. Superiority in Numbers
- Both Sides Know Bout Will Begin vs. Surprise Attack
- Bout Begins Out of Distance vs. Attack from Within Striking Range

Artificial Environment
Sparring and tournament bouts typically take place on neutral, pre-selected ground. There is an even surface which is equal for both parties and free from obstructions, obstacles, and barriers to free movement. In contrast, the random nature of real fights mean that this type of neutral playing field is seldom encountered. Far more likely is a restricted area, the presence of obstacles, unsure footing, differences in level (such as steps or sloping terrain), and even interference from bystanders who happen to be present. These factors have a huge impact on the kind of movement that a fighter can practically employ, the most obvious example being the danger this poses for the long, backwards retreat commonly employed by sportive fencers on the defensive.

To list the key differences:
- Pre-Selected Arena vs. Random Environment
- Clear Playing Field vs. Natural Obstacles & Obstructions
- Solid Surface vs. Uncertain Footing
- Flat Surface vs. Uneven / Differences in Level
- Empty Arena vs. Possible Bystanders

Limited Expectation of Harm
A key difference in terms of human psychology (and corresponding physiological effects) is the knowledge that there are limits on the degree of harm that can be expected during a tournament bout. As intense as the fighting may be, the competitors know that there are limits imposed on the degree of harm that is allowed to be inflicted on them. The presence of protective gear; the use of blunt weapons; the imposition of rules limiting the actions of the opponent; and the presence of neutral third parties who will interfere to stop the action in case of injury: All of these factors create a level of confidence and security in the competitor that are completely lacking in a real fight. The end result is that a tournament competitor can rest secure that the chances of serious injury are negligible, whereas a combatant in a real fight knows that serious injury is a probable outcome.

This is probably the most important factor of all, considering the data that has accumulated over the past two decades on the psychological and physiological effects of combat stress. Effects such as reduced motor coordination; exaggerated reaction to stimuli; tunnel vision; and slowed-down (or speeded-up) perception of time are but a few of the effects documented by experts in this growing field of research. The implications for performance of fencing technique should be obvious.

To list the key differences:
- "Friendly" Opponent vs. Enemy Who Intends to Injure
- Small Likelihood of Injury vs. High Likelihood of Injury
- Psycho-Physiological Effects of Combat Stress: Minimal vs. Extreme
- Limits on Targets & Technique vs. No Limits
- Blunt Weapons vs. Sharp Weapons
- Protective Gear vs. Street Clothes
- Action Stops Upon Injury vs. Attack Intensifies Upon Injury
- Referee Will Interfere If Required vs. No One There to Help
- Presence of Rules and Limitations vs. No Rules

Different Consequences
A final factor is the different nature of the consequences faced by a sportive competitor and a combatant engaged in a real fight. In a tournament, the consequences are based on fear of violating the tournament rules, and hence on the chances for winning. Likewise, there is a fear of social repercussions from violating the rules and hurting a fellow competitor. These consequences add up to create a strong incentive to care about the opponent's safety. The consequences in a real fight are entirely different, and naturally lead to very different behaviours. The primary concern is for one's own safety, making concerns about legal liability, revenge, and other factors fade into the background. The end result is that the combatant has little or no concern for his enemy's safety. On the contrary, his intent is typically to do him as much harm as necessary to end the encounter.

To list the different consequences:
- Breach of Rules/Law: Penalty/Disqualification vs. Prosecution/Lawsuit
- Incentive to Breach Rules/Law: Low (Little to Gain) vs. High (Personal Safety At Stake)
- Social Consequences of Injuring Foe: High (bystanders are watching, friendly opponent) vs. Low (Safety At Stake)
- Nature of Social Consequences: Criticism, Ostracism vs. Revenge

Nuances of the Above
Of course, the distinctions above are not purely black and white, but are more a matter of degree. Societal notions of a "fair fight" can and did often influence the behaviour of earnest combatants, whether in a modern street fight or in an historical encounter with sharps. Some "real fights" do indeed take place at a pre-selected place, under more or less equal conditions, as in a modern after-school fight or an 18th century duel. Even when responding to a sudden attack in the street, due regard for social and legal consequences may lurk behind the overwhelming, immediate concern for one's personal safety.

Another difficulty in discussing this question is the matter of consistency. In sportive encounters, the competitors generally know what to expect. In the real world, however, violence comes in many forms. What do we mean by a "real fight"? It may consist of a challenge by a barroom drunk, a pre-arranged fight after school, a sudden assault by a mugger on a side street, a mob attack during a riot, or a friendly sparring match which suddenly turns serious. This variety was equally valid in historical times; the equivalents of the above scenarios can be found in legal documents and chronicles from medieval and renaissance times. Comparing a tournament bout with a "real fight" can have a different flavor if the comparison is made to a judicial duel (which included rules, equal conditions, and equal weapons) as opposed to an attack in the street (which was likely to be an intentional mismatch).

To some extent, the differences between sportive contests and earnest encounters could be placed on a continuum, ranging from casual sparring sessions with a regular training partner; to an intense, hard-fought tournament bout; to an earnest encounter with carefully prescribed limitations, such as an early 20th century duel with sharpened epees; to the extreme violence of an armed assault by a felon with no concern whatsoever but to injure or kill.

These are just a few of the considerations that make the comparison between sportive encounters and a "real fight" at best a tricky proposition, and at worst, a comparison between apples and oranges.

Understanding the differences between a sportive encounter and a "real fight" is important for the HEMA community. A due appreciation for the distinction between the two can inform discussions on issues such as training philosophy, choice of training curriculum, sparring practices, and tournament rule-sets. It can also help to defuse some of the underlying tension that appears in online threads on sparring and tournaments, where the participants often appear to have radically different assumptions on this subject.

For a more thorough discussion of this topic, see the following works:

Sgt. Rory Miller, Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence (YMAA Publication Center, Boston, 2008)

Christoph Amberger, The Secret History of the Sword: Adventures in Ancient Martial Arts, pp. 121-27 (Unique Publications, Burbank, 1998)

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Training at Towton

On Monday 1ST August The Leeds Chapters Training will be taking place at
The Crooked Billet Pub In Saxton, near to the battlefield of Towton as part of the Medieval Yorkshire Evening. This is to take place between 7pm – 9pm.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Help to get a high quality publication of the works of Fiore

Passing this information on for a couple of reasons. Firstly it looks interesting and well produced, and secondly as they mention the success of this book will influence the Getty Museum as to whether they publish all four editions of Fiore's work.
I have already pre-ordered a copy for myself.


The Getty MS of Fiore dei Liberi as you’ve never seen it before! Featuring all-new digital photography that lets you see detail down to the texture of the parchment, together with a detailed explanation of the manuscript by Dr. Ken Mondschein, Research Fellow at the Higgins Armory Museum, noted expert on historical fencing, and discoverer of the Paris manuscript of Fiore dei Liberi. Even if you already have digital images of the MS, you will find the new photography even sharper and more detailed.

Now available for preorder! Enter coupon code GPMON11 to receive this book for only $12!

Good sales of this book are critical to the medieval martial arts community, since the Getty’s decision to proceed with an edition of all four of Fiore dei Liberi’s manuscripts (by Ken Mondschein and Tom Leoni with Greg Mele) will be based on how many copies we move. Please support our work!


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Introduction to Fiore’s life and work
Background information on weapons and armor in Fiore’s life and times
Detailed views of all the masters and poste featuring all-new digital photography
Detailed sequences of plays shown in sequence
Sections on Wrestling, Dagger Defense, Sword, Fighting in Armor, Polearms, Equestrian Combat, and Improvised Weapons and Dirty Tricks


Sunday, 26 June 2011

Some interesting source information

Back after a prolonged absence, partly caused by tech' problems and partly to do with teaching and getting students ready for combat exam, the first involving 72 students the second 85.
 I now have improved access and so the posts should be coming on a more regular basis, also updates to the main website will be happening more regularly.

Below are two period sources on the training of Lords sons, giving an idea of what was considered to be of importance in the training of the fighting classes. I will go in to a more detailed analysis later.

On a related note, my researches have shed some light on one of the more obscure terms that are made use of in the few earlier English sources. I still need to do some more work on this, but it starts to clear some thing up in terms of understanding the texts, and makes a lot of sense.

Now on to the pieces on training.

From John Hardyng’s, Chronicle, 1457

And as lordes sonnes bene sette, at four yere age,
To scole to lerne the doctryne of letture,
And after at sex to have thaym in language,
And sitte at mete semely in alle nurture;
At ten and twelve to revelle in thair cure,
To daunse and synge, and speke of gentelnesse;
At fourtene yere they shalle to felde I sure,
At hunte the dere, and catch an hardynesse.

For dere to hunte and slea, and se them blede,
Ane hardyment gyffith to his corage,
And also in his wytte he takyth hede
Ymagynynge to take thaym at avauntage.
At sextene yere to werray and to wage,
To juste and ryde, and castels to assayle,
To scarmyse als, and make sykyr courage,
And sette his wache for perile nocturnayle;

And every day his armure to assay
In fete of armes with some of his meyne,
His might to preve, and what that he do may
Iff that he were in suche a jupertee
Of werre by falle, that by necessite
He might algates with wapyns hym defende:
Thus should he lerne in his priorite
His wapyns alle in armes to dispende.

…and from William Worcestre twenty years later.
And also moreover for the grettir defens of youre roiaumes and saufe garde of youre contreis in tyme of necessite, also to the avauncement and encrece of chevalrie and worship in armes, comaunde and doo founde establisshe, and ordeyne that the sonnes of princes, of lordis, and for the most part of alle tho that ben comen and descendid of noble bloode, as of auncien knightis, esquiers, and other auncient gentille men, that while they ben of grene age ben drawen forthe, norisshed, and excersised in disciplines, doctrine, and usage of scole of armes, as using justis [jousts], to can renne withe speer, handle withe ax, sworde, dagger, and alle othir defensible wepyn, to wrestling, to skeping, leping, and rennyng, to make them hardie, deliver and wele brethed, so as when ye and youre roiaume in such tyme of nede to have theire service in enterprises of dedis of armes, they may of experience be apt and more enabled to doo you service honourable in what region they become, and not to be unkonnyng, abashed, ne astonied, forto take enterprises, to answere or deliver a gentilman that desire in worship to doo armes in liestis to the utterance, or to certein pointis, or in a quarelle rightfulle to fight...

...But now of late daies, the grettir pite is, many one that ben descendid of noble bloode and borne to armes, as knightis sonnes, esquiers, and of othir gentille bloode, set hem silfe to singuler practik, straunge from that fet, as to lerne the practique of law or custom of lande, or of civile matier, and so wastyn gretlie theire tyme in suche nedlese besinesse, as to occupie courtis halding, to kepe and beare out a proude countenaunce at sessions and shiris halding, also there to embrace and rule among youre pore and simple comyns of bestialle contenaunce that lust to lyve in rest.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Natural and Normal

These terms often get used in teaching or learning WMA or martial arts in general.
They are often used in a confusing way, as if they mean the same thing. Though in common usage they do get used interchangeably, there is however an important difference, all be it at times a subtle one.

Much is made of moving naturally and normally, that how one moves should be based upon what you would do naturally or normally. They do sound similar but do they really mean the same thing? Of course we should all be aiming to make certain natural movements and behaviours normal, though this is often hard in a combative environment, which is after all neither natural or normal for most people most of the time.

If one understands the significant differences between Normal and Natural, it can help improve both how ideas and actions are conveyed in training and how the activity is experienced. By addressing each in an appropriate way, we can eventually make what we do both Natural and Normal.

Now I should make clear my definition of the terms. I use Natural to refer to how you and your body have evolved to function and/or how it can be used and operates most efficiently and appropriately. On the physical level, its what we in the Guild define as Body Mechanics.
Normal here refers to individuals habitual behaviour and movement patterns. Those ways that one moves and behaves on a daily basis and of which we generally have little or no awareness or conscious control.

Of course nothing is completely black or white. Not all Natural behaviours are appropriate, and in many cases things we do Normally, we are also doing Naturally, and appropriately.

OK try this. Fold your arms, quite normal and natural? Now fold your arms the other way. Does it Feel strange?! Probably. One might say that it does not feel “Natural” to fold your arms the other way. However in the context of this discussion that’s not true, there is no Natural reason that you can’t fold your arms either way, baring injury. So what you are really experiencing is it doesn’t feel Normal. Why? Because most of us have developed the habit of folding our arms only one way and it has become such a strong habit that to do anything else feels strange. Now does it really matter that you only fold your arms one way and that to do it differently feels strange enough that you'll choose not to do it? Well not really, it does however serve as an illustration of how deep habits can become rooted and how what we do is dictated in large part by habits. Of course not all habits are negative one can have good habits as well as bad. However one has to recognise that they are patterns of behaviour or movement of which we have little or no awareness, that happen automatically and consistently. As such we have also become so accustomed and conditioned to these habits that should we be asked or need to do anything else it does not feel “right”. There is a danger that under pressure we will only do something that feels “right” even if it is not appropriate, we will fall back on to doing what we do normally. Ask yourself do you want to be the Master of your habits or let your habits master you?

In teaching and training problems can arise when someone dismisses, rejects or refuses to do something, using the argument “it doesn’t feel natural”, when what they actually mean is “it feels different to what I normally do”.

Someone new to WMA with no other experience or terms of reference for Body Feel, may initially find it harder to tell the difference between Natural or Appropriate and Normal. Or someone who has trained in particular systems which have different ways of handling body mechanics and the Principles in general, may now have developed Normal movement and behaviour patterns, which will make the new training, Feel very different. Here of course the instructor has a vital role insuring that the scholar feels the difference in definition between the Normal and Natural/Appropriate.

Let me be clear that Feeling or Body Feel is vital to understanding, learning and doing. If you think you have done a movement correctly, make sure that you are Feeling it. If it does not Feel comfortable, then it probably is not right. Think and Feel are another two words that need to be clearly defined and considered in teaching and learning. Thinking is what we imagine something to be. Feeling is the experience of what it is. One could reword “I think therefore I am”, to “I feel, therefore I am”. However, to get back on track for this post, proper Body Feel, interpreting the difference if any, between Normal and Natural, is vital.

By feeling the actions and the movements, you are gaining experience of them and it is only through experience that you can truly gain understanding. Its another problem I encounter when people are learning, they want to understand before they do it or try it, where as real understanding may only be achieved by doing. Another problem can be they have heard an explanation of what they should do and because they Think they have followed those instructions, that they have done it Right, where as when you ask them to actually Feel what they are doing they realise what is different. However that’s another topic and post.

Habits and patterns can be made and they can be changed. Awareness can be improved and developed by using patterns so that habits are appropriate to the situation. Eventually you should be able to operate naturally, normally and perhaps most important, appropriately to the situation you are in.


Sunday, 9 January 2011

To armour or not to armour

This is an involved and complicated subject. My primary goal is to briefly look at the use of armour/protection in training historical arts in the modern. However I will first briefly look at the use of armour in the combative environment.

-Armour in real combat – Protection versus Mobility plus other considerations
The decision to wear armour and what forms that armour may take has always been dictated by a number of factors. Of course the armour offers protection against attacks, However this advantage has to be weighed against other considerations. Firstly by wearing protection, ones mobility will be reduced, both in the range of movements possible and the speed at which movement can be carried out. The distribution of the weight of the armour will affect balance. The weight of the armour will increase exertion and its coverage of the body will also have detrimental effects on the bodies’ ability to loose heat contributing to the speed at which one will become fatigued.
Weather and environment factors will increase and exacerbate all the detrimental effects already mentioned.
The cost of armour, either in monetary terms or in the time taken to manufacture it contributes to restrict the use of and types of armour. These factors are linked to considerations of status. Armour re-enforces the distinction between the warrior and the civilian. The quality and craftsmanship of the armour, serves to help separate the high status warrior from the low. Such display of status could lead to individual being singled out in combat by enemies. However if you happened to be on the loosing side in the aftermath of an engagement, the display of your high status may lead you to being taken prisoner for ransom while your lower status followers are shown no mercy.
The likelihood of being hit and what you might actually be hit by and the effectiveness of the armour against those attacks has also to be considered.

Despite the negative aspects when we look through history, armour of one form or another is a reoccurring constant within in the context of combat. Someone wearing armour will be generally far more prepared and willing to aggressively engage the enemy than an unarmoured person will. This effect on the perception of risk can have both positive and negative affects in real combat and in training

-Not getting hit versus reducing the damage taken when you are when you are
A point that needs to be made is that armour is generally worn to protect the areas of the body, which are deemed most vulnerable, or those that will cause the greatest damage if hit. Generally the most vulnerable targets will be given priority when armour is chosen or issued. The Armour worn may redirect the impact or reduce damage taken from a hit, though no armour makes you completely safe. There is the paradox that as one wears more armour the potential for being hit increases as it reduces mobility.

Here I am defining Mobility, as the ability to move as freely as possible with the intention of not getting hit, versus protection, reducing the effects once hit has happened.
The less armour you wear the more of your mobility you maintain, arguably making it harder for you to be hit in the first place. Of course if hit, less armour will mean that you take proportionately more damage.
One has to strike a balance between mobility and protection. While arguably mobility is more important, In certain situations ones ability to move may be restricted by other factors, for example in a tightly packed formation on a battlefield, in which case protection, becomes more desirable.

Finding the right balance may be a personal choice, such as a 15th Century man at arms choosing between and Italian armour for its protection or a Gothic harness with its mobility. Or the decision may be imposed on you by someone else, for example the armour issued to a Roman legionary or modern soldier in Afghanistan.

-Armour in training - Replicating reality or reducing pain/injury
Armour in training follows two basic types. Firstly armour that replicates the armour that will be used in real combat. Secondly is armour that is used solely in training, it is used to reduce pain or injury.

If you are replicating armoured combat, then you should wear facsimile armour of the type worn in the combat you are recreating on a regular basis. While this may not be possible or even necessary all the time appropriate armour should be worn when possible and when training out of the armour, how the armour affects the movements and techniques must not be forgotten. In Japan a number of the oldest Bujutsu Ryu, regularly train their armoured combat techniques out of armour. In Europe it seems we see a similar situation in some of the manuals. The un-armoured half-swording and pollaxe techniques illustrated in Talhoffer for example, show what would generally be considered armoured fighting styles being practised in normal clothes. Fiore’s dagger plays are also illustrated with combatants in civilian clothes, a not uncommon situation when illustrating dagger. However text states that certain techniques would be better done in armour, while others work both in and out of armour.

What must be remembered is that when training for fighting against an armoured opponent the objective is to defeat or neutralise the armour worn. When attacking an armoured opponent one does not primarily attacked the armour. One has to learn to attack targets where there is less or no armour, or by making use of the opponents’ armour to help defeat them. The goal is to utilise and maximise the advantages offered by ones own armour, while reducing the advantages and to use and to do the opposite to your opponent.

Amongst those who favour sparing and freeplay as training methods, in the modern reconstruction of un-armoured historical combat, protective armour of some form is used as matter of course as a way to reduce the inherent risks. However many people who train in a more formal and structured way also use varying amounts of protective gear.

In this context the form protective armour takes and the function it really serves is an important consideration. In much the same way that a soldier needs to balance protection and mobility, a modern practitioner wearing protective gear needs to balance the desire to reduce injury with how that will affect ones mindset as well as the way the movements are carried out. Serious consideration should be made of what constitutes appropriate armour and when or if it should be used at all. It should be remembered that these effects on training would be both positive and negative, conscious and unconscious.

As mentioned above, for real combat the most vulnerable targets generally are armoured first. The same is seen in the protective equipment worn for unarmoured combat training. However this cause the problem, that by doing so, one has transformed unarmoured fighting in to armoured and this risks counter intuitive responses being conditioned in both attack and defence.

-Not getting hit and reducing the damage once you are
The rational of not getting hit at all, as opposed to reducing the damage once you are hit applies equally to training as it does to real combat. Arguably it is more important in training, as how you perform in reality will be dictated by how you have trained.

Two theories come in to play here Operant conditioning and Risk Compensation. By the rules of operant conditioning, learning takes place through positive and negative re-enforcement. In this context positive means that something is added and negative means something is taken away. As a basic illustration, a child learns that fire burns by touching the candle flame, it hurts and is unpleasant and positively re-enforces the parents warning not to stick ones hand in the flame. In terms of operant conditioning the gloves negatively reward me for getting hit by taking away the pain. In the terms of risk compensation the gloves make me feel safer which can encourage me to take greater risks.
The danger of this is that rather than training me to not get hit it is actually encouraging and rewards getting hit.

If not wearing armour one can not afford to be hit and one learns to deal with the opponents attacks by avoiding them through movement and/or by controlling them with your available tools, in this context being your offensive/defensive weapons.

By feeling exposed to the threat posed by your opponent an appreciation of why it is better to not get hit is encouraged stimulates the desire to perfect ways of not getting hit.

We should not forget that even if your armour does take the hit, the armour is not infallible and might fail. Energy can still be transferred through the armour into you, and damaging you anyway. The hit might disrupt or take your balance, which will already be affected by the armour. Or it may damage your armour, further reducing your mobility. All of which allows your opponent to keep attacking and hitting you and this will increase the likelihood of you taking more damage and in the long run, loosing.

-Increased safety increases risk taking
I mentioned above the theory of Risk Compensation. It stems originally from research in to road and traffic safety. Basically the theory states that in general people will take risks based upon their perception of danger or upon their perceived ability to deal with that danger. This has shown that the improvement in anti locking brakes and seat belts as has actually increased the risks that drivers take when driving and not improved road safety. It has also be found that where stretches of road have been made “safer” by improving visibility etc., that it has actually increased dangerous driving.

In a training context there is an important other side to the equation, the more protection my partner wears the less awareness of their danger I have. It can encourage poor control, “if i hit too hard or my targeting is a bit sloppy it doesn’t matter because my partners gloves etc. will take care of it”. Not only are we encouraging poor training for and application of the skill, we are also increasing the likelihood of having an accident.

Research found increasing numbers of cyclists wearing cycle helmets and other protective gear has not improved cyclist safety, partly because the cyclists take more risks because they feel safer but also because car drivers drive more aggressively around cyclists who wear protective gear.

A combative analogy is boxing. Here, hand and wrist injuries occur despite or arguably more often, because of hand and wrist strapping and the design, size and weight of boxing gloves which has lead to an altering of punching technique away from what is practical or effective with an un-gloved hand. This is also a reason why quite often when boxers get in to fights not wearing their gloves, they often do more damage to their hands than those who are less skilled. Bigger and heavier gloves is also the likeliest cause of brain damage in boxers, largely due to the fact that the gloves encourage hitting the head, while their weight and size turns hits into heavy concussive pushes rather than snappy punches.

-Awareness of danger increases safety
Understanding your own vulnerability and that of your opponent and by avoiding protective equipment you increase truer intuitive awareness, this ultimately increases safety in a far more sustainable way. However this requires a different approach to training, different parameters than training with protection does. Having more appreciation for the danger develops more control of your actions, position and distance. Your safety becomes your responsibility, not that of your armour.

-If you are worried about getting hit or have been, look at how you are training rather than adding more protection.

I have seen a tendency that people who fear getting hit or injured or who have been hit or injured in training jump to the decision to start wearing more protective gear. However it should be considered what may be wrong with the actual training methods employed or how and why certain techniques are carried out that could lead to the accident happening.

Misunderstood or poor training methods and/or poorly applied principles generally lie at the heart of almost all accidents. Adding protective gear does not address the core issue behind the accident, all it does is reduce the pain etc. once it has already gone wrong. If anything adding protective equipment, as we have seen with Risk Compensation, will actually increase the chances of accidents happening in the first place

However there may be times when wearing some protection is helpful. A strike delivered to target with force may help both attacker and receiver understand the dynamics of an action better. In such a case protection would be needed.
For example in some of the older Bujutsu use is made of padded protective gear to allow strikes to specific targets in certain kata. Others make use of armour and weapons similar to that used in modern Kendo so they can incorporate aspects of freeplay in their training. It should be noted however that this is by no means a universal practice. Though carried out by some classical Ryu, they are ones that trace their lineage to the peaceful period of the Tokugawa shogunate, many of the oldest Ryu make no use of protective equipment at all but rather rely on the physical aspects of training to minimise risk in training

Armour and protection are by their nature designed to alter how those engaged in combat can operate. There are pros and cons to it use and combatants throughout the ages have taken these in to consideration.

If one decides to use training methods that require the use of armour and protection then one should take time to consider the implications of its use. The effects of the protection, Operant conditioning and Risk Compensation will have on what and how you train and in the long term how it will affect your ability to actually practice the skills you have been training. It may actually increase risk taking and therefore not improve safety. Protection can be used, but such use should be context specific and appropriate to the situation being trained.

None of this is to say that those organisations that wear protective equipment while training are wrong. Rather it covers some of the reasons why the Guild does not use protective equipment in regular training.

Always remember that the best way to avoid pain and injury is by not getting hit. One should achieve this either through movement, by dealing with the opponent’s attack with your own weapons or through a combination of both.