Interview with me by Gaetan Marain of FFAMHE (The French HEMA Federation)

A few months ago Gaetan made this interview with me for the FFAMHE bulletin. The questions are focused on tournaments mostly sa per Gaetans request, but you can also find some of my thoughts on fencing in general and what value it has for your development as a person.

The interview in French can be found here: http://www.ffamhe.fr/archivesNL/Bulletin_des_AMHE_05_2013.html

An English version can be found here: http://www.ghfs.se/smf/index.php?topic=23599.0

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Flowdrill

The flowdrill conept was introduced to me by Scott Brown around 2008, I guess he brought it with him from his Filipino Martial Arts background. In either case it is a great platform for HEMA training, it removes the problem of static technique drills (too far removed from actual bouting) and works as an adaptive toolt that can be modified after your needs. Ramp up the intensity and it functions as a form of sparring where you know exactly what you and your opponent will do, and so helps you focus on the particular movement you are working on.

Here is a basic flowdrill I was taught by Scott, and that me and Robert added an auswinden ending to, “breaking” the flow. The drill consists of pretty simple movements, but in by working them through a flowdrill you increase the number of repetitions  you are able to perform within a certain amount of time (no time wasted on stopping and resetting, you just continuously move!). Another benefit is that your brain never shuts of (again, no stopping and resetting, neither for brain nor body), so you also work on your ability to stay sharp and focused through longer excanges.

In this drill we use simply diagonaly cuts aswell as the German technique “Absetzen” (setting aside) and “Abnehmen” (cutting around) but we could easily have done a Krumphau followed by a wind instead, or something else, showing how versatile these drills are:

Goals for 2013

Since more or less all of 2012 was marred by injuries and I only got back to training properly after Swordfish, 2013 will have to act as a springboard for me to get back into fighting shape.
Goals for this year:

Fitness:
Benchpress: 3×5 110kg
Squats: 3×5 160kg
Deadlift: 3×5 180kg
continue to improve my lunges and explosive leg strength

Fencing:

Maintain 3x2h longsword practice/week
Regular practice with Meyers rappier + dagger
Regular wrestling practice
Participate in atleast 3 international tournaments and perform to my satisfaction
Improve my workshops and market them better.

What this means is basically the ability to juggle ordinary life and work in a way that allows me to train this much, and maintain my training on a level where I avoid injuries from sparring or over training.

Community:
-get my HEMA company up and running
-blog regularly (already failed on that one)
-finish the instructor course for the Swedish HEMA Federation
-finish the judging course for the Swedish HEMA Federation

To Rory van Noort

The HEMA community is like a worldwide tribe, I know it sounds like a cliché but I have never found this to be more true than amongst the people bringing back Historical European Martial Arts to the world. We might not have the chance to get to know all the other members aswell as we would like, but in the end we truly consider them all as family. We have a common passion and a common cause, and that ties us together far more than any differences can split us apart. Rory was a brother to us, loved by hundreds, admired by thousands, and known by all.

To those left behind: when my mother commited suicide three years ago right before Christmas, I felt some guilt because I often found myself not feeling anything about it. I thought I would be torn apart by grief, rage and despair but just as much I was living an ordinary life with ordinary feelings and concerns.

I learnt over time that grief comes to all of us eventually, the process can take years and is not something we should force upon ourselves. Each and everyone of us will mourn Rory after hisown fashion, there is not a right or wrong way of doing this. If you find yourself not even thinking about it, and enjoying yourself, don’t feel guilty, you will have both the ups and the downs, and we will be here for you even if you don’t want to talk about it until several years have passed.

Rory van Noort, for me you were a good friend that I took a strong liking to from the first moment we met, and I was happy to get to know you over the last two years. You were also a role model for me, not only in your amazing fencing but even more in your character and sportsmanship, I could not find an ounce of evil in you, I never saw you gloat in victory, never hate in defeat, and I admire and love you for that.

You will continue to be a shining example to all of us, and in Anders Linnards words:

“He still stands so living to us that death only got a draw”

In loving memory,

/Axel

longsword seminar in Espoo, Finland, with EHMS

Im slowly starting to get back to writing on this blog again, and while Im pieceing together new posts, I’ll finish up some old drafts and post them. This one is from 2011 and a seminar I did for Ilkka hartikainens group in Finland (I was there again in 2012 but will have to write more on that later). Enjoy:

“In september of 2011 I was invited over to Espoo, Finland by Ilkka Hartikainen of EHMS, to teach a class on German longsword. Although it is a neighbouring country, and one with very close ties to Sweden (we were the same country for 500 years, not on suggestion by the Finns though), I have never been there before. I do know several Finns from the HEMA community, and I have met Ilkka at various seminars and events since 2006.

The classes were focused on very basic aspects of German longsword, mainly drawn from the “Doebringer” manuscript, and tied into a problem I think is widespread in the community, and pretty well acknowledged (and thankfully, more and more corrected), namely, the fact that most manuscripts are not intended to be used as training manuals, but instead are often focused on advanced techniques and concepts, and not on the things that the authors considered basic, self evident or thought they could explain in very few words.

As an example, most practitioners using the different various German manuscripts are familiar with the term “vor”, that is, when the fightern has chosen to take the fight to the enemy and is directing the development of the fight, rather than responding to what the opponent is doing. having “initiative” might be a good translation, though not completely accurate (as vor and its opposite, “nach” is not something that is self evident but something you choose to position yourself in).

The manuscripts, especially the earlier ones, don’t spend much time on explaining vor, often they use sentences like “take the vor”, or “don’t forget the “vor” or similar, and then go on to spend more words explaining the details of the krumphau or other techniqeus that demand more words. Modern practitioners have correspondingly spent more time on the technical details of the krumpahu than actually learning to take the vor, basing this choice mostly on the fact that since there are more things said on the krumphau (or other similar techniques), they should be practiced more. This is of course a faulty perspective on how to learn how to fight, starting from the top and working down instead of the opposite, and needs adressing.

The Doebringer manuscript says a few things that are often overlooked, that I choose to include in my seminar in Espoo, namely (paraphrasing):

-all cuts are either oberhaus or unterhaus

-motion is the foundation of the Art

– all fighting comes from the four hanging guards

-take the “vor”, and be prepared with follow up strikes, “nachschlags” after the vorschlag, “regardless if you hit or miss”.

These concepts are easy to understand and pretty easy to write down, consequently they are often neglected in  modern practice (up until recently in many places). Consequently, they represent skills the community has been lacking, and i try to focus my own seminar on these weak spots in the general ability of our fencers.

In all honestly, unless it is a presentation of new material, I find that offering a seminar where you simply go through the plays from a manuscript is little more than reenacting a source, it is not offering the students any new skills nor does it display the ideas of the instructor. It has value, sure, but more often the seminar becomes just an opportunity to get some quantity training in, instead of an opportunity to learn something new. Without an underlying message that the instructor wants to convey, his class looses value.

You can find a video of the seminar here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nf3ouujEhU4

Video as a tool for fencing evaluation

Our video wiz Mattias Ryrlen made a slow motion test at yesterdays practice using a GoPro camera:

Slow motion video has great value  as a fencing evaluation tool, you see many small things that you’d otherwise miss. For example:

1. my duplieren at 0:8 actuallt connects with Hugo’s mask, during the bouting I did not realize this, and it can also be hard to see on regular video.

2. My sword grab right afterwards felt correct during the execution, but when looking at it in slow motion, we can see that Hugo is actually striking with his sword towards my arm. Hugos cut can also be considered a small slicing motion, and Im not sure i would have continued the sword grab has sword been sharp, or if my body would have reacted by withdrawing the hand (the thickness of my clothes would have mattered aswell). The force in Hugos cut is not great, and he is striking with the strong part of the weapon, meaning less power and also a potentially dull blade, but this still makes my sword grap a borderline case, usually most HEMA practitioners only grab a blad when it is still or barely moving (for example in a binding situation) or when your opponent thrusts.

As so often is the case when dealing with a weapon that is supposed to simulate a sharp sword, what you can and cannot do is hard to know for certain in some situations. Would the resulting cut to my arm in this case have been disabling (consider for example the Hende drucken technique from Ringeck) or would the injury have been negligible (as in Meyers advice for an unarmed man to block a cut from a single hand sword with crossed arms against the strong of the sword blade, with the argument that this will cause som injury but not disable you)?

Here is another useful camera angle for fencing evaluation, Point of View, with the camera attached to the fencing mask of one of the fencers:

This is a good help for both fencers, for example the fencer with the PoV sees his ability to cover lines, and the opposing fencer can see all his telegraphings, aswell as how well he covers lines and wether he goes sword first or hands first.

Dussack seminar in Harlem

Over the weekend of august 6-7 I went down to Harlem, Holland to visit my good friend Mishael Lopes Cardozo, who runs AMEK, the largest Historical European Martial Arts organization in the Netherlands, with clubs in several cities. Lopes had invited Lee Smith of Blood and Iron Martial Arts (Ca) to teach a weekend seminar on the Dussack. Since dussack is somewhat dear to me, and since both Lee and Lopes are good friends and pretty funny guys to be around, I found a cheap flight to Holland to join in. Also present was Alwin Goethals, instructor in SWARTA of Belgium and a great guy, quick as a viper with a weapon in hand. Sadly missing was the elusive Matt Galas ;).

Now, as to dussack, it is a fairly recent addition to the modern HEMA scene. Even though a few clubs here and there have studied it for years, it has only reached its current popularity in the last two or so years, alot of it thanks to exposure through international dussack competitions at Fechtschule America and Swordfish. As with most things HEMA, a proper tool is needed in order to train and the dussack trainer produced by Purpleheart armory has also done alot to introduce the dussack to a wider audience. Many clubs have quickly realized the dussacks potential as a teaching tool, not only in its own right but also as a help to train skills vital to other weapons, such as fluidity of movement, proper use of guard change, the importance of power generation, the use of the “three stances” och paulus hector mair (high, medium, low) and  to use dynamic and powerful footwork, something alot of longsword fighters forget. The dussack is also a cheap and safe weapon, making it ideal for introducing beginners to fencing and sparring.

The dussack being so new leaves alot of room for research, interpretation and development of drills and skillsets. Most people who use the dussack today have little or no formal training with it ( illustrated for example by the fact that I won the dussack tournament at Fechtschule America 2010 without more than a few days of sparring and drilling with the weapon behind me). This fact, together with the huge potential for the dussack to be a staple weapon in many HEMA schools, to go to Harlem and see Lee, who is one of the few who is actively researching and teaching dussack on a regular basis, was an opportunity I did not want to miss.

Lee ran two full days of dussack drilling, together with some 20 of Lopes students. We went through some basic cuts and guards, aswell as some flowdrills. There were also sessions of coached sparring and evaluation, where each student stepped up to fight all the other students in turn to a “first to one hit” bout, while Lee observed and afterwards handed out a scorecard with scores for “technical skill”, “Agressiveness”, “timing” etc, together with immidiate feedback.  Below you can see one of my evaluation rounds:

One of the thing I found very interesting was that Lee has come up with several drills that are almost identical to my own in order to learn different skills. Some of them are pretty standard for most HEMA training, such as slow motion sparring, “hengen-oberhau”-flows and different variations thereof, others were more dussack specific. In some ways we also differ, which is just as interesting. I favour to use one of Meyers advices in his Rappier section in my dussack game, to keep your shoulder at the same level as your intended target, resulting in a pretty athletic dussack style when you for example target the knee or shin of your opponent. Lee in his turn as large focus on specifics in cutting mechanics, something I have omitted.

When interpreting dussack there is (as always) also the context factor to take into account. We today when we spar and also in most tournaments, tend to see the whole body as a legitimate target. This would seem reasonable but it is not necessarily the whole story. Meyer for example introduces the dussack as a tool that teaches you to fight with all kinds of single hand weapons, which would indicate its use both as a tournament tool which might indicate a limited target are, and also to teach self defense and duelling, where the whole body would likely be a target. As it is I have no good answer.  There are many references to tournaments being fought to the “red rose”, that is, until one of the fighters score a bleeding headwound on the opponent.

Today HEMA fighters in general also tend to halt the action after a hit and an afterblow and reset the fight. If the fighters of old did the same we don’t know, but if they only targeted the head that might indicate that they did not halt the action for hits on any other part of the body (sometimes i get the idea Meyer is talking about this sort of fight in his book, though Im not sure). Modern practitioners, as always, have to make their own descision on how much they want to adopt to either old or modern conditions.  It would be interesting to see dussack tournaments using the historical “Franco/Belgian” rulesets that exists for longsword.

When we were not fighting, Lopes and his guys were excellent hosts, showing me, Alwin and Lee around Amsterdam and Harlem, and treating us to some of the best beer I’ve had. Usually the nights ended up at Lopes HUGE house, an ancient three story building. The upper two floors are left empty by Lopes, and we ran around up there long into the night waging wars and training room clearing (led by SWARTA instructor Alwin Goethals who is also a police officer) using nerf guns.

I also had some very rewarding discussions with both Lee, Lopes, Alwin and Ties during the weekend, about fencing and life in general. This, that i get to meet so many interesting people from all over the world, and become friends with them, is probably one of the biggest reasons I love HEMA so much. Having access to so many interesting persons with various backgrounds, skills and ideas, is invaluable, and extremely enriching for me as a person.

Lopes students deserve special a special recognition, I have met several of them at earlier larger events and tournaments, and I already knew that Ties Kool, Sverre, Rory and Arnault were very competent fighters, and they did not dissapoint, but Lopes other students who i had not met earlier also showed a very high skill level  across the board, giving good credits to their teacher and his method.

Hopefully I will be able to get down to Holland again this fall, if I do I’ll type down a more detailed description of AMEK aswell.

/Axel

Warriors and poets

Why “warriors and poets”? Well, it is a nod to the duality of practitioners of indiginous European martial arts, both of old and of  today. The fighters of the medieval and later period used martial arts texts to help them further understand their art (if they were lucky enough to own a book in fighting, something Fiore dei Liberi claims was very rare amongst his students), or, in the case of professional teachers, to promote their skills using the books as advertisement. Today, thanks to these surviving texts, martial arts enthusiasts can pick up where the old masters left off and reclaim Historical European Martial Arts both as a valid and unique martial arts family and as a fascinating and important part of our European heritage. Without these texts, there would be no modern revival av these arts.

Further, having been training and teaching these arts for about 8 years now, I have noticed one common theme amongst my students; those who progress in skill the fastest and those who display the deepest understanding of the arts (and a sa consequence, find the most enjoyment in it), are those that are not content to only take in what their instructor is teaching them, but who are also going to the source material themselves, studying the old fighting texts themselves and forming their own conclusions and ideas about the arts.

To practice Historical European Martial Arts therefore, we today as they did yesterday have to be both fencers and scholars. “Warriors and poets” however, is suitingly pretentious for a blog name and simply sounds better.

/Axel

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