Hi Samantha, I would like to ask for a method of practising more on reading the opponent and being slower. I feel like my skill in this is very unstable and escapes me sometimes. I feel like rushing is what I do most of the time, which usually ends up with me being dead.
Thanks for asking! This is a big subject. It is the result of what happens when people wear protective gear and lose fear of the blade, which makes it easy to become reckless when fighting. It is extremely hard to defend against an opponent who is reckless because they don’t hold back, but if you are smart in a real fight, then you will preserve some caution- especially with sharp blades. I don’t think that it’s your skill that varies, just the circumstances that you are learning in.
I think that you need a partner who wants to learn the same way, who is trying to develop the feeling in the blade. If one opponent moves faster then the other will follow so you really need to have someone who can agree to not try to “win” or try to be the fastest during a drill. You have to agree to move at the same speed, keep the bind until you have manipulated the other to a place that is safer for you. The goal is for you to learn together and not by taking advantage of the other in the relative safety of the drill.
This is all in aid of developing ‘fühlen’, or ‘feeling’ in the fight.
Below: Half of the page from manuscript i:33 folio 20v, showing two fencers bound.
What I demonstrate when I teach is all centred on fencing from the bind. The historical treatises largely recommend binding and control, rather than rushing in. However the way that most of the modern sword-combat sports world* are fighting is the opposite, unfortunately. There is very little binding, even though it’s shown all the time in the fight books.
*Just what I mean: the wider international community of medieval sword-centred combat sports fighters, which comes in over a dozen forms and identities.
When fighting, if a person’s goal is to strike the other, they will rush in and be reckless. If their goal is to defend themselves from attack, they will be more conservative and efficient.
I think that part of the problem causing “rushing in” is that in modern competitive sword combat, we generally seek to score points in a hurry to win a bout.
If we changed the rules to be that we started with hit points and had to preserve them, it would make for more careful fencing. There would still need to be motivation for both parties to fight, but the focus would shift and reflect the more cautious approach seen in historical swordsmanship. The key is to still have a healthy fear of the other person’s blade. Then you learn how to be safe against the danger.
It’s the same as working with any hazardous equipment. In my industry, there are so many of these that we use all the time. For example, the table saw is a pretty devastating tool but you don’t replace it with a blunted or plastic version, or wear a lot of protection to work with it. Bulky clothes or thick gloves actually get in the way, and create more of a hazard than working with just a pair of earmuffs and safety glasses.
Instead, you just accept the potentially-fatal dangers of the tool and learn to work with it carefully, in a controlled, precise and mindful way.
Below: Carving polystyrene-foam into organic stone steps as a scenic sculptor for the film industry. I’m wearing chaps because the chainsaw can potentially kick-back, although since this is fine-detail work, the material is much softer than what I usually work with and less of a hazard. Note the fencing stance for stability, and the rotation of my body to agree with the angle of the cut.
I am not advocating an irresponsible approach to training with swords, rather to appreciate the full hazard they present and then learn to handle it.
What I’m talking about refers to historical swordsmanship in the context of self-defence, but there are many, many modern sword combat sports that exist that have already put safety factors in place to protect their athletes.
Not everyone can be good at sword sports. But anyone can be good at at fencing for self-defence.
I have experienced this kind of approach in more than a few sword clubs around the world. To see video examples of it in action you can check out Roland Warzecha/DIMICATOR’s YouTube channel,
showing the active practice of swordsmanship using sharp steel and
shields that as closely as possibly follow the specifications of museum
Lastly, a philosophy that may help prevent rushing in:
You have to control your space, the circle (or sphere) around your body. This is the distance around you that you or your weapon can reach. Anything that is inside it is your space.
So when your opponent comes into that space, they can be in your control. You are allowing them in. It’s the same for them- they are allowing you into their space. You just need to help them to make a mistake. Then once they make a mistake you can control them. Unless you also make a mistake, then you are both equal again. The best thing is to be efficient and make fewer mistakes than your opponent.
You can let someone into your space to trick them, or if you already have a better angle and they will struggle to defend. But it needs to be a clear decision to allow them that close to you.
If you practice understanding your circle (with and without a
sword), and think about what you allow to come into it, it will give you
an advantage when you practice with a partner. However, there is a lot you can do to improve your reflexes and self control for combat, explained in length by many other martial arts practitioners.
Adventures in Swordplay #2: The Powerful Potential of Pummeling People with Pommels
I’ve being going to HEMA class more frequently lately; about twice a week, and practicing on my own whenever I can find the time. Thus, our instructor decided it was time to teach us how to use all parts of our swords, and not just the sharp bits.
When “Stick Them With the Pointy End” Isn’t Enough
Today I learned that when one is in a bind, it is often more advantageous to strike with the blunt end of the sword rather than to disengage. Also, if one were to face an armored opponent, a blunt strike will cause much more damage with than a cut, since you can’t cut armor, no matter how many anime series tell you otherwise.
Thus, we conducted the pommel-bashing drill several times. I, as always, was voluntold for the demonstration. And on the fourth repetition of eating a delicious pommel, the loaner helmet caved in, slamming parts of the grill and gorget against my forehead and throat respectively. OUCH.
My brain is somehow still intact, despite the blunt-force trauma. I certainly hope my new helmet (which I’m still waiting to get delivered) provides a better defense in future sessions.
I guess I’m a glutton for punishment, because you bet your ass I’m still going to the next class.
European military sword forged by Italian sword makers Del Tin. The term “Schiavona” may refer to a slavic woman in Venetian dialect. This reflects on the soldier’s preference to refer to their weapons as a “she”.
The double-edged sword is well tempered with chrome-vanadium steel and consists of a full length tang peened to the pommel. It’s overall length is 102cm with the point of balance at 13cm from the pommel.
The basket guard offers full protection for the hand, however it’s shear size may have intervened with the motion and twisting range of the wrist when swinging the sword.
It was a great joy to model at premier concept design school Syn Studio today, demonstrating I:33’s 14th century European martial arts for artists who are training to go into Montréal’s vast video game industry.
Thanks so much to Salgood Sam for inviting me again!
This work is by the following artists (I’m not 100% sure of the order), Salgood Sam, Lydia Wong, Tatiana Tung Gerencer, Renée-Claude Dostie, and Dany DiSalvo.
What makes a sword a sword? Is it its shape? No, this can’t be, because sword shapes - cruciform, crescent, etc - lengths, and styles vary greatly, by both time and space. Is it based on lack of projectiles? Maces, clubs, axes, and spears don’t shoot projectiles, but no one would call them a sword. What does a 17th century rapier have in common with a Roman gladius? What does an Iberian montante have in common with the arming sword featured in the I.33 manuscript?
What do they all have in common? Swords, quite simply are long, bladed weapons, often (though not always) with a point, designed to kill. There are a few ways swords can do this in the hands of their wielders, but the two most common ways are via cutting - using the sword to hew - and thrusting. The medieval longsword, used in Europe from about 1300-1500, has the best of both worlds in that it is a weapon designed to be able to both optimally cut and thrust an opponent.
In Cutting with the Medieval Sword, Mike Edelson pulls off the remarkable feat of getting at the very heart of what makes using a sword an art (as opposed to a sport), and does so in a way that is accessible to everyone - from those who have never picked up a sword in their life, to practitioners with years of experience.
Make no mistake - this is not a book for sport fencers; this is a book for those who wish to start or continue learning how to use a sword as it was used historically and martially - to maim or kill your opponent.
Assuming that your interest in HEMA and swordsmanship is at least partly martial, however, you will find this book an invaluable resource. The information is presented in a straight-forward, easy-to-understand manner, with copious illustrations and analogies that can be absorbed by everyone - even me, and I’m a notoriously slow learner when it comes to swords. There’s no need to be familiar with middle-high German, Italian, or Latin; when excerpts from manuals are included here, they have been translated (via the wonderfully talented Cory Winslow).
The book is divided into theoretical, practice, and calibration sections, which I will address individually:
Theoretical — This part can (and perhaps should) be a textbook used in all HEMA classes. It addresses all the concepts one should know when it comes to cutting with a sword (and there’s also a bit about thrusting, as well), and the appropriate body mechanics to make it work. Although the section is intended as a reference and does not have to be read chronologically, I’d still recommend everyone read it and then, for newer students especially, come back to it as terms and ideas become more familiar.
Personally, I was surprised to lear about the importance of regulating one’s breathing - I don’t usually remember to breathe when fencing or cutting, but here Edelson has explained in detail why exhaling with the strike is extremely important.
In fact, with all concepts here, Edelson has found a way to explain not just why a certain concept is important, but how it relates to cutting as a whole - for example things such as grip and stopping the sword may seem to be minor details, but a poor grip or inability to stop the sword at the appropriate point can be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful cut.
Practice — Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a sharp sword to practice (although you certainly can), but a blunt or feder capable of producing good sword wind can often get the job done - details as to how to choose a good blunt are in the text. Cutting practice doesn’t refer to cutting tatami or water bottles (that’s calibration), but to the thousands and thousands of cuts one should practice in the air at home. The tl;dr here is that you want to make sure you’re training to cut through your target, and if you only ever practice against a calibration medium, you’ll just train yourself to cut and only cut that medium.
There are a wealth of drills in the practice section, many familiar to me as I train with the NYC branch of Edelson’s club, but some entirely new, and they are divided into foundational and core drills. Foundational drills are designed to get you the basic movements and skill sets; core drills further refine these and should become a regular part of your practice. Some the drills need a partner, but may can be performed solo, and some need only a wooden dowel to be performed.
Those new to HEMA or longsword instruction will likely find many of these drills helpful to do with their class, adjusting as appropriate to the experience level of their students.
Calibration - This is the section that deals with sharps and feedback materials.
First, Edelson goes into detail as to how to choose an appropriate sharp sword for one’s size - personally, I use an Albion Count and have just received an Albion Crecy - as well as what manufacturers to choose from. The adage “you get what you pay for” is especially true here; your Renaissance fair wall hanger is probably not going to get the job done.
Edelson then goes on to describe how to properly sharpen your sword; although instructional videos exist (the links are provided), this is an activity that should absolutely be done under supervision for newer students, and practice on kitchen knives or other swords you don’t care about first is recommended. That said, more experienced students will delight in the interview with Peter Johnsson provided here, which was a pleasant surprise for myself.
As for feedback materials, tatami is the best material currently available for test cutting based on factors of cost, weight, and diagnostic ability (ie, the ability to understand what you did right or wrong when you cut it). Edelson also addresses the positives and negatives of cutting clay, water bottles, pool noodles, and newspapers - tl;dr, if you can’t get tatami, clay is probably your next best cutting medium but there are some serious drawbacks.
Edelson goes into great detail explaining how to prepare tatami, including where to order it, what tatami to get (new vs old), how to roll and soak it, and what your cutting stand should look like. For newer students, learning how to spike tatami is also an important skill - mats spiked incorrectly can be artificially hard to cut. This is followed by suggestion patterns and diagnostics, so that you will be able to see what you did wrong.
This ends with a section on cleaning and repairing your sword; the short version is that except for routine cleaning and the most superficial nicks, repairs should be handled by professionals - which is one reason vendors such as Albion are so highly rated, as they provide this service.
While many of us participate in the competitive side of HEMA as a sport, it behoves us to always remember that ultimately what we are studying is a martial art. As a community, we have come a long way in the last ten years - from having a surfeit of feders and sharps to choose from, to having multiple vendors offering HEMA-specific protective gear - and this book should be included in the lexicon of game-changers.
HEMA is awash in primary sources, which is amazing, but there has been a gap in texts concerned with cutting, as opposed to set plays and techniques, and appropriate sword care. This fills that gap, and should be a recommended text for those in the community for years to come.
Cutting with the Medieval Sword can be purchased here.
Okay. So because it has been specifically requested, an examination of Lotor’s sword. I’m sorry to anyone who was excited for this because it just… isn’t.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s a nice solid sword with smooth lines, good visual flow, not gaudy – actually it’s quite plain and practical. Almost militaristically utilitarian.
Which in and of itself is interesting given all the fandom expectations for Lotor to be a something of a lavish, exceedingly vain, and impractical sort. That sword suggests a personality that runs quite the opposite, unlike the extremely detailed and fanciful swords his father conjures with a bayard. The Blades of Marmora have more detailing going on than Lotor does.
Aside from that though, there’s not much I can glean historically based on the sword. A backswept thick crossguard like that isn’t a terribly common sword design, and is seen more often in animation and video games than reality.
Indian Khandas and Patissas have backswept crossguards a little similar that, but this sword lacks the telltale markers of the Kanda’s wide, flat-ended blade shape, single edged blade, the arching hook on the pommel butt, or the one-sided basket-hilt-inspired finger guard. The pre-17th century (pre-European influence) Patissas are closer with thier lack of finger guards and often a lack of hook with a short thick backswept crossguard, but it’s only a single point of similarity, and not a strong one since Lotor’s crossguard sweeps back with thick and heavy finger guards on both sides – which would restrict movement strangely on a double edged blade and is why this just isn’t a design that happens in real swords. Lotor’s sword also lacks the distinctive triangular hilt extension running up the center of the blade. It just doesn’t match too many vital key markers.
Similarly, some Chinese Jian/Longsword designs have backswept hilts, but that is the extent of the similarity, again, nothing else about it from blade shape on seems to match.
The apparent two-handed hilt grip also makes it a bad match for most east Asian swords. They’re usually one-handed, sometimes a hand and a half, but Lotor could clearly comfortably fit both hands on it.
In fact, if you ignore the odd crossguard entirely, the sword becomes a very basic, very nice-but-boring-and-generic European Longsword. The large hit and length puts it towards the “bastard” and “great” sword size, as is also suggested by the long ricasso (unsharpened section just above the hilt). The blade cross section seems to be a mix of a diamond and hexagonal form, and the hilt a standard diamond shaped pommel.
By no means a bad sword design, it’s just, largely uninteresting from a historical and meta commentary perspective.