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Fencing and History Nut Extraordinaire. While I am tending toward 16th century at the moment, I am and have been interested in history for a long time. Hence the fencing focuses more on the Renaissance period than the modern. This explains two out of three of my blogs. The third is a more personal one focusing on fibromyalgia. What I write in these blogs, I hope will be of use to people.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

When is it Too Much: Over-Training


The following subject is one which I personally know a lot about as I have been there quite a few times. This is about pushing yourself hard for a long time, or indeed just pushing yourself too hard. We all push ourselves for our own reasons, but there is a breaking point and we need to be aware of it as it can lead to a real problem if we don't notice it.


There are at least two different names for this condition, one is Over-Training the other, more common name is Burn-Out. This is when your mind and often the body have had enough. You feel lethargic about going to training, and will make any excuse in the world to skip it. If you find yourself making excuses more than a couple of times a month for not going to training, put yourself on a "watch list" for this condition.

Who is Susceptible?

We are all susceptible to it, indeed all athletes are susceptible to it. The older ones of us are more susceptible to the condition because they feel that they have to push harder to keep up with the younger members of our clubs. This pushing harder, if not maintained by ourselves and our friends can lead to Burn-Out and some real negative effects.

Warning Signs

The warning signs for Over-Training are sometimes subtle and sometimes a little more overt. One of the warning signs has already been described above.

1. Giving excuses for not going to training. This has to happen more than a couple of times a month for it to be a worry. These excuses come in the form of, "I don't feel like it." or "I am not in the mood." or "I would rather do [something else].". These kind of excuses show a problem forming.

2. There are constant clashes between your personal and training schedules, which are stressful.

3. The thought of going to training does not interest you, or fill you at least with a level of interest.

4. At training the drills are not interesting for you or your attention regularly slips.

5. You feel there is no improvement in your level of skill.

If Warning Signs are Ignored...

If you ignore the warning signs and continue to train at the same rate and allow these warning signs to go unheeded you can find yourself in real trouble. Here are some of the results which can happen if you ignore the warning signs.

1. Your excuses take priority over finding reasons to go to training, so you miss more and more. This means you fall further and further behind in your class.

2. The clashes between your training and personal schedules will increase which will only increase your level of stress which will only distract you more at training. This will result in a poor performance at training leading to a feeling of lack of skill.

3. Your lack of interest and attention slips will result in a poor performance at training which will result in you missing vital information about skills. It will also result in a poor performance in drills which will mean people will be less likely to partner with you to train with meaning it is harder to find people to train with.

5. The feeling of a lack of improvement in your skill will affect your performance, which will lead to a plateau and a decrease in skill and then more negativity resulting in a downward spiral of effects.

What should be noted here is there is a distinct downward spiral to the effects of ignoring the warning signs. So in short, don't. Take note of these warning signs as there is something that you can do about it.

What to do?

1. Prevention. Prevention is the best way to deal with this. Recognise the warning signs early and think about what you can do to change what's happening. Change your perspective.
2. Talk to someone. In your class the best person to talk to is your instructor. They should be able to help you with what's going on with you. Even just talking about what's going on will help you. Your instructor should have some good advice as to how to combat your problem, or even prevent it from getting any worse.

3. Find activities outside the interest of a physical kind to relax. Find cross-training activities that will still assist you but are not directly related. Walking is a good example of one of these.

4. Rather than focussing on the physical aspects, change focus and explore other facets. The martial arts regardless of what form always has a wide mind game. Read books about the subject. Investigate the social background to the martial art.

5. Find the social experience behind the physical one. Engage with your classmates on a social level, broaden your knowledge of them and you will find that there are many interesting people out there.

Burn-Out can be more dangerous to a person and their martial arts career and their health than people often give it credit. Through this condition a person can push themselves in to severe bouts of depression and also take a severe toll on their bodies in physical ways as well. Through Over-Training people have destroyed their own martial arts careers simply because they did not know when to step back and have a break, or take a breath. Watch for the signs, get help, take care of yourself.



Sunday, August 13, 2017

"Armour" in HEMA


The following discussion will be about armour and "armour" as it stands within the HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) community. The thing is that there seems to be some funny ideas floating around about what armour is and what it does and how it relates to what we do. Hopefully this discussion will clear up some of these issues and clear up some of the confusing terms which have been used.

The image to the left is the full Titan range which is made by Leon Paul in London (Yes, I have noted the lack of shoes on this model). It is designed for the protection of various parts of the body for people who participate in HEMA. This is not armour.

The image to the right is an armour of 1585 for Lord Clifford. This suit is ostensibly for the sport of tilting due to the helm which is fitted to it, and the decoration which is on it, but it could have also seen battle and protected its owner very well. This is armour.

There are differences which need to be pointed out between the two. Firstly, the one on the left is made for a sport in which blunt weapons are used and the opponent has no desire to actually do the wearer of the armour harm, whereas the one on the right is made for battle in which the opponent wanted to either kill or at least maim the individual wearing it. Secondly, the style of combat used when fighting in the one on the left is different to that which would be used to that which would be used to that when fighting in the one on the right. Finally, while the one on the left has some rigid plates in its construction, the one on the right is primarily made of rigid plates. This results in a different style of combat, but not necessarily movement (a question for a different author).

Most of the combat which is being reconstructed by the HEMA community is based upon combat which is focused on unarmoured combat, thus not dealing with armour. When a person discusses "armour" on a forum when discussing their protective equipment, implications in the word can be made. Implications that they are taking their equipment to being like the picture on the right, which it is not. Does this mean that they are also assuming the same of others? This brings up the question of what level of strikes should be accepted.

The idea of unarmoured combat means that a much lower level should be accepted while "armour" gives the automatic idea of a much higher level of strike. The question of calibration or what level of striking has already been brought up in a previous post. This idea of the use of the word "armour" puts an idea in people's heads about what they are using and what they are using it against, even if it is not true. Somewhere in the back-brain "armour" gives automatic idea a harder hit is required. Simply put armour is not being worn.

If armour is not being worn then the name should change when discussing the subject. Some expression to cause less confusion and to prevent the idea that the harder strike is required so that the opponent can feel it through the "armour". A suggestion is that the name be changed from "armour" to "protective equipment" as this is a description of what it is.

The extra padding and certain rigid materials are designed to protect the individual from damage, not to prevent them from feeling the blow. Examine where the heaviest armour is placed in HEMA protective equipment and you will find that it is designed to prevent the wearer from getting permanently injured. Sundry areas are protected by padding.

A change from the use of the word "armour" to the more accurate "protective equipment" will be better in the long-run as it more accurately reflects the state of play, and will be a reminder as to what the equipment is for.



Thursday, July 13, 2017

What is a Feder?


What follows is a small portion of a paper I have written on the subject. There is a link after this portion if you are interested in reading the rest of the paper. I investigated it to find out more about this particular weapon, which I initially did not know very much about. This way I could better approach the subject of this weapon with a more open mind.



The Short Answer

            While a long answer will be forth-coming about the federschwert detailing various arguments about the weapon and discussing what was used for and its history there is also the short answer to consider as well. The short answers cover such things as literal translations of the name of the sword from German to English. The slightly more in-depth discussions of the weapon lead to further investigations which will be presented further along.

The “Feather-sword”

            The first place people go for an interpretation of what a foreign thing is will be to translate the name of the object from the native language into English and interpret this into some idea of what this means thus, "federschwert - a lightweight sword. "Feder" is German for "feather," and "schwert" is German for "sword."" (Shackleford, 2010). This would seem to be a logical progression and explanation of the weapon, but leaves the reader with no real explanation of what the weapon is for.
This is where an explanation from a more use-approach comes in handy, “A Federschwert ("Feather swords") is a foiled practice blade with a large flanged ricasso and a thick but narrow blade used for longsword training.” (Wassom, 2016).

A School Longsword

            Wassom’s (2016) explanation of what a feder is begins to explain not only what a federschwert is but also what it is used for. There is also a physical description which is most useful. Further explanation of the form of the weapon is possible and even a hint as to its use,

“special fencing school longswords called federschwert, with a narrow rapier-like blade and more mass close to the cross, in the area called the schilt or the ricasso.” (Norling, 2011)

            With all this in mind there is the image of a weapon which is relatively light, blunt because it is used for practice in a school-type setting, which has a wide ricasso called a schilt, which brings the mass of the weapon close to the hilt, and a narrow but thick blade. This would seem to cover a reasonably good explanation, but there would seem to be a problem.

What’s in a Name?

“In Sweden we have a saying; "A loved child has many names" and looking at what is today called a federschwert this seems to be true for this type of sword as well, at least if we think of it in general terms as a sword for training.” (Norling, 2013)

            There would seem to be a lack of agreement on what this weapon should be called. Again, much like the rapier, the weapon is trapped in a web of confusion as to some naming nomenclature. For some federschwert or feder, is not a suitable term for this weapon, and another needs to be sought. Other names will be discussed.

Not Historically Used

“we can feel quite safe in assuming that federschwert or feder was not a term historically used for training swords other than as a poetic choice of words.” (Norling, 2013)

            Not an historical term? Nope. This will also be revealed. The question is whether or not this even matters or not. Does the term as it has been implied and used by the community suit the weapon and thus, being informed of its lack of history, does this really impact its use? The lack of history of this term will also be discussed in more detail. Needless to say, there is no short answer.


Norling, R. (2011) “Sparring Swords – Introduction”, HROARR, http://hroarr.com/sparring-swords-introduction/

Norling, R. (2013) “The Whatchamacallit-schwert”, HROARR, http://hroarr.com/the-feder-whatchamacallit/

Shackleford, S. (2010) Spirit of the Sword: A Celebration of Artistry and Craftsmanship, Krause Publications, Iola, USA

Wassom, D. (2016) “Some Historical Swiss Swords Examined”, The Association for Renaissance Martial Arts, http://www.thearma.org/spotlight/swiss-swords.html#.WPge4PmGPIU

Links to complete document:

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Being a Good Training Partner


Well this will seem a little ironic coming after my advice for the solo practitioner previously, but it is a subject which we all need to consider because sooner or later we will all be involved in a partnered drill, or in a partnered situation. This may be at our regular practice or at a convention or at some other sort of gathering. The partner may be someone who you have fenced with for years, or you may have literally just met them. All of the same stuff applies.

1. Don't Hurt Your Partner

Seems pretty obvious that we do not want to hurt the person that we are fencing with, right? Seems not to be the case with some. Some seem that they need to put a little bit more emphasis in on their strikes and other offensive actions. There is no need for it. If you continue to do this, you will simply run out of people who will be your partner and you will run out of people to train and spar with.

2. Follow the Drills

This means that if you are doing a parry and riposte drill and you are attacking, you are going to get hit. The only reason why you should not get hit is if your partner misses, and even then you should assist them so that you do. You need to do your part of the drill as faithfully as possible to ensure that the learning experience is fulfilling for your partner. You should be practicing your actions at the same time to make sure that they are correct. If you don't follow the drill you and your partner will not learn what is supposed to be learnt. If you continually not follow drills people will not want partner with you and you again will run out of people to train with.

3. No Additions

Even if you know what's coming next in the next drill don't make any additions to the drill. Wait until the trainer teaches the additional part of the drill. Your partner may not know about the new part and will be come confused, and will also want to focus on the current part. This also means that you should not really experiment with other options available as you may miss the point of the drill. If added defences so you don't get hit are not part of the drill, so don't add them. If you are supposed to get hit as part of the drill, you get hit. Additions to drills just show you as unwilling to follow instruction or arrogant, and not a good student.

4. Remain in Control

Some drills will be done at slow speed, some drills will be done at faster speeds. This will be determined by your instructor. It is up to you to remain in control of your actions. If you are supposed to be performing a drill at slow speed and your partner speeds up, do not follow them but remain at slow speed. You may even encourage them to slow down. Your instructor will have told you to do the drills at slow speed for a reason. Speeding up so that you can make a hit only cheats yourself.

5. Be Truthful

Cheating in drills and bouts only cheats yourself. Being truthful in drills gives a true evaluation of how your learning is going and whether or not you need more practice at the skills or not. Changing at the last minute or speeding up to hide a mistake that you have made is a cheat, and even if it allows you to strike your target you lose because you have cheated yourself. You have cheated yourself in training and therefore from learning a lesson. By making mistakes we learn. By cheating so mistakes are not made, you cheat yourself of that learning, and also your partner as well.

6. Remove the Ego

Some people feel that when they are struck it is a personal insult and their ego is somehow damaged. This is a very toxic attitude and you should avoid these people. Especially when training you need to remove the ego from the equation. Training is the best time to make mistakes as it is the best time to learn from them. Your instructors do not point out your mistakes to beat you down, but to help you learn. Your partners in learning are the same. If you get hit, ask how it happened so you can correct what you did wrong, not be insulted.

7. Respect for Your Partner

Finally, and this is most important, respect your partner. While a certain amount of training can be done alone and much more can be learnt by crossing swords with another. By respecting your partner you allow both of you to learn and thus both of you to grow as swordsmen. With respect for your partner much of what has already been said already will come into play. Regardless of your partner's skill level, ability, history, age or gender, all of them need to be respected. This is essential.

Being a good training partner is an ability which all swordsmen should train toward. This is something which will enhance your fencing career and also allow you to meet many interesting people in the process. It will also allow you to gain the most out of your learning experience. We have all experienced "that person" who deviates from the drills and will not follow instruction. This person is a nuisance and no one wants to partner them. The best thing is to not be "that person" and you will have a much finer experience.



Saturday, May 13, 2017

Brutal Fencing II: A Question of Calibration


I wrote a previous entry on the subject of brutal fencing and its relation to aggression. This can be accessed here: http://afencersramblings.blogspot.com.au/2009/09/brutal-fencing-discussion-of-aggression.html. This post is aimed at one particular aspect of fencing and indeed brutal fencing and that is how hard one fencer strikes one another, this is sometimes referred to as calibration. Part of this entry goes to the reason why we actually engage in Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA).

What is meant by calibration?

Calibration for the purposes of this post, and indeed in my opinion, is the amount of force sufficient required by one combatant for them to acknowledge a blow as good. This means that the blow would have done them some physical harm if the weapon was sharp, in the case of a sword. Of course this means both combatants have to agree on what one another is assumed to be wearing. The level of calibration will be different if the combatants are assumed to be wearing some sort of armour as compared to if they are assumed to be not.

For the most part, a lot of HEMA, the assumed armour is nil, the combatants are assumed to be wearing no armour at all. This means that they are wearing normal street clothes, no padding, maybe a pair of gloves. This means there is no armour to cut through, or padded jacket to pound through. A couple of layers of fabric and then flesh. The armour, or should it be said, protective gear that is worn is worn for protection against injury not for the simulation of any armour.

Why hit hard?

This is an important question which has not really been answered properly at all, and some of the answers which have come back are quite disturbing. Do you want to injure people? If the answer to this question is "Yes", then I hope that I do not meet you and I hope that you do not turn up to my practice because you re not the sort of student I am looking for. There is no reason to injure people at all. It does not show "martial effectiveness" or anything of this kind, in fact you are borderline from having someone call the police about assault and battery.

Armour and Calibration

Combatants wear extra protective gear to protect themselves where they require it, this should not be a surprise. For some out there, they see this as a challenge, "You wear more armour, I'll just hit harder." The first thing to note here is that the attitude is just wrong. If you find one of these people, report him to your instructor immediately, if he does nothing, leave the school or group.

The problem we face is that as people increase their calibration, so protective gear increases, so calibration increases, so protective gear increases, and so on. One has got to give, mostly it is the bodies under the protective gear, resulting in injuries and people out for months at a time, and people leaving in droves because they can't afford the protective gear and don't like being hit that hard. This is a problem which can be stopped at the beginning by controlling calibration.

"Martial Effectiveness"

Discussing  the question of "martial effectiveness". It does not take as much force to damage flesh as you think. With a thrust it is ridiculously easy. With a cut, it is not much farther off that. We have all seen videos loaded up on YouTube with this sword being applied to that target. The only way to prove this for yourself is to do it yourself.

Test-cutting has a high degree of relevance for HEMA. How can you know what is "martially effective" and how much calibration is required to damage a target in the real world unless you have tested it yourself? This means acquiring the appropriate weapons and the appropriate targets to do a proper simulation, something at least close to a scientific investigation.

Technique versus Strength

There is always the question of technique and strength. Where technique is used, strength is not required. The sword is a tool specifically designed to damage an opponent in a particular way and if the techniques are performed properly the sword will work in this way with very little to no strength required. One of the reasons why swordplay appeals to so many is that, for the most part, as long as you can hold the sword up and do the techniques, strength plays a very small factor in what happens.

When a technique is performed and the body is moved correctly with the feet and hands all in the correct time all the strength that is required is applied. Previously I wrote a post about "The Myth of Speed" (http://afencersramblings.blogspot.com.au/2015/04/the-myth-of-speed.html). Here, again, is a place where strength is not required it comes through the correct application of technique. So, once again, strength is put on the back-burner.


The question really goes, in your performance of HEMA are you using a sword or a long, thin club? A swordsman knows how to apply the correct amount of strength at the correct time to make a particular technique work, he does not simply bash his way through his opponent's defences. A swordsman knows that an excess of strength will actually reduce the amount of speed and precision in his techniques. A swordsman will earn respect from his opponents for striking true but also with an amount of force required to deliver the intent of the blow but with no excess.

The question of calibration is one of safety. It questions how hard we really need to hit one another. There is no real need to hit one another with any more force than is required for the opponent to feel the intent of the blow. The only reason we should have to wear protective gear is for accidental reasons, i.e. if our opponent or we make a mistake, which we can never protect against. What does this mean? This means that the community as a whole needs to look at just how hard we are hitting and ask, "Does this match with what we are re-creating?" and "Do we need to be hitting this hard?" Personally, I think the answer is no to both questions.



Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Changes Made


Yes, I have changed the colours and format of the blog. Hopefully this will make things a little more readable for you my readers. The old style has been the same one which I had been using since I started and I decided it was a time for a change, especially if it made the blog posts easier to read.



Thursday, April 13, 2017

A "Safe" Sword


The concept of a "safe" sword is one which is presented again and again to us when considering which weapons we should buy and which weapons should be allowed in tournaments and so forth. This is a concept which badly needs to be addressed and some of the basic notions which are attached to this also addressed. These are weapons which are being discussed, regardless if they have dull edges and blunt points, and they are being used as simulated weapons as well.

When a weapon is lying on the ground away from anyone touching it is safe. This is when a weapon is safe, as soon as a person is involved there is an element where safety is reduced. The safety is reduced both for the person who is picking up the weapon and also for anyone who is around the person wielding the weapon. This is regardless of whether it is a sword, an axe, a mace, an assault rifle, a handgun or even a missile launcher, the same applies.

The weapon may be dropped on the wielder's toe, or even on a by-stander's toe. The relative safety of a weapon has more to do with the person holding the weapon than the weapon itself. A person who is trained in the safe use of a weapon is generally safer than one who is not. A person who has had more experience with a weapon is generally safer than one who is not. It is the person who determines how safe a weapon is or is not.

The image which I have posted with this post, is one that I really like a lot, and it is very pertinent with regard to this discussion. A sword is a weapon therefore it is not designed to be safe. Its purpose is to strike another person with the intent to do damage (simulated or not) against them. The aspects of selection which are made for particular weapons due to temper, type of hilt arrangement, edge thickness, and point characteristics cannot change the fact that it is still a weapon, and therefore is still not safe. These points are merely risk mitigating factors.

The same can be said for any rules or regulations imposed by organisations and tournaments with regard to particular weapons which are or are not allowed to be used within the organisation or at the particular tournament. These are, again, risk mitigating factors. These are combined with an expected protective equipment standard and an expected standard of play to attempt to create an environment where catastrophic injury is less likely to occur.

What desperately needs to be noted is that with regard to weapons, and especially the weapons chosen by most practitioners of Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA), it is not the weapons which should be the focus of examination, but the individuals who are wielding the weapons. Sure, there may be some weapons which, due to their characteristics, they may be "safer" than other weapons, but it should be noted that this is risk mitigation. The notion of a "safe" sword is false and it is something that as a community we need to get away from and realise the situation for what it is.

Much of what has been said above comes down to respect for the sword as a weapon, regardless if it has a sharp edge or if it has dull edges and a rubber blunt on the end of it. Both need to be respected as both can cause injury if they are not used with care. Treat your weapons and your fellow practitioners with respect and they will do the same for you. Take care and be aware.