longsword fencing

Interview with Majken Roelfszema

From April onwards we will be posting an interview with one of our members on our website monthly. In this way, we hope to show the world what is happening in the Dutch world of H.E.M.A.

Majken Roelfszema is our first candidate. This 22 year old longsword fencer won a silver medal in the ladies competition in Helsinki, making her the first Dutch woman to win a medal in a Nordic League Competition. Having become curious about what motivates her as a fencer, we decided to ask her a few questions.

How did you end up in H.E.M.A.?

In my second study year a friend of mine wanted to go to sword fighting training, but didn’t know anybody there. Very scary of course. So, he asked if I wanted to join him and I did. I stayed because of the great group of people. Only later did I learn what H.E.M.A. is all about and did I realize it’s fantastic.

Where do you train and what do you train?

I mostly train in longsword with a focus on Ringeck at MARS in northern Netherlands. Sometimes we also train with dagger and ringen. In the past year we have trained a lot with dussack in our free hour, and we also organized a dussack tournament when one of our oldest members left.

What do you like about your club/school/organization?

MARS has very friendly atmosphere but also trains hard. The shared fascination for this sport, love for pushups and the great group dynamic make MARS the best sports club that exists, to me.

What do you train for?

I train because I want to be a better swordfighter. That includes wanting to be physically fit, have good control and balance and wanting to be able to use the right technique at the right moment. Tournaments, to me, are an important way to test if I have mastered techniques under pressure, and to see how fast I can make choices.

Do you also study manuscripts?

I bought my first book about swordfighting not too long ago, which I am currently studying. I’ve also studied the zettel. I wouldn’t say that I’ve studied a lot of manuscripts, but I expect to be spending more time doing so.

What are your ambitions?

I’d like to win a tournament, but above all I think it’s important to fight, according to my own definitions, technically. That means, amongst other things, trying to take the vor only when I can (and when I have it) and not by simply trying to be faster.

What are your expectations for the future of H.E.M.A.?

H.E.M.A. will continue to grow. I think H.E.M.A. will come to be seen as a real sport more and more, partially because instructors are becoming more official and structured. However, I do hope that we will keep plenty of room for discussion about manuscripts and about what specific movement is used by what specific bit of text. Apart from that, I hope that there will never be an official European or World Championship, because the tournament structure as it is now has its charm, but also because it’s very difficult to determine what makes a good swordfighter.

What are you proud of?

A while ago, I had a lot of difficulty getting the hang of swordfighting, and I thought about quitting. I didn’t. Besides that, I started off thinking pushups were horrible, but by now I enjoy them and wouldn’t want to miss them. Burpees, on the other hand, haven’t won me over yet.

What is your dream?

It’s my dream to be a serious contender at Swordfish in a couple of years. I’d like to be able to see the big names like Kristian Ruokonen and Carl Ryrberg as rivals.

We thank Majken for her time and wish her a lot of luck!

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A fine example of how choreographed longsword combat with historical techniques can be entertaining while still remaining grounded in reality.

Reminder: Check your gear regurlarly!

Tuesday this week I went to training. I know I held my new mask in one hand and my old, dented one, in my other. The thought of taking my new one to training crossed my mind but I didn’t: “No.. It will only get dents and then I will not be able to compete with that mask.”

I put my old mask in the bag, the bag on my back together with Bengt (my sword, that is) and went to training on my bicycle. Just like any Tuesday I and Carl held our training for kids. It went pretty well, the kids being more focused then they use to be.

After the kids training I realized that our training would be full of people. More than it has been in quite a while. Of course I love when our trainings are crowded with people. But, I don’t like too many human beings in a restricted area. I’m not saying that our training hall is small, it’s just not really large either. Anyhow, I wasn’t in the mood for all that people that day. I sighed, tried to get that feeling of me and started to warmup along with the others. We went through some basic thrusting techniques. Carl adjusted my hip movement and told me how to thrust together with my hip. This was a real eye-opener, in a moment it was so much easier for me to thrust! Cool. I repeated a couple of times. Then Carl said: Put your gear on!

I didn’t really felt like it to be honest. It was one of those days when everything was a big “Meeeeeh”. I went over for my gear anyway. Put everything on, pointed out a sparring partner and began at Carl’s command. The first round went ok. I wasn’t frustrated and quite relaxed, despite my lack of motivation. After the first round we had like 30 seconds pause to find a new partner to spar with. Said and done. The bell rang again. If I remember it correctly I won the first exchange, but to be honest I don’t really know. I went to my corner, turned around for the second exchange and faced my opponent. I went in, trying to find a hole in his defense. It didn’t take long at all, BLAM. A hard oberhau against the top of my head. I know I said: OUCH. Something didn’t feel alright. He looked at me and asked: Are you okay?
I thought I were, that the hit was only a bit harder than I expected.

I went back to the wall. Feeling something warm dripping in my face. I looked down and saw some blood drops on the floor, dripping slowly from my mask. I thought to myself: Well, it’s just a scratch. Not so bad, maybe I need a plaster. I thought it would take off. It didn’t.

My mask with the blood inside

The blood started to pour down with increasing speed. I realized this was bad. First I stood alone turned against the wall. Others came next to me, looking at my face. Someone yelled: CALL AN AMBULANCE repeatedly. I saw a big pool of blood on the floor, but at the moment I was pretty calm in the situation. Someone told me to lay down, I did. I saw Carl who looked at me and said: That needs to be sewn. Then he went after the first aid kit. At that moment I had very hard to realize what actually happened. I said something like: COOOL. Now I will get a badass jacket, with blood on it! Just like Carl’s! And a nice scar to, like Harry Potter. But the words stitches rang in my head: Nooo it can’t be that bad.

My bloody jacket.

One guy held my legs high and the guy who hit me try to stop the blood pouring out of my forehead. Someone put a bandage on my forehead with the help of my sparring partner who asked me how many fingers and noses he held up. I almost started to laugh, thinking he was silly. Had to tell him that: It’s ok. I can see! By this time they also made the decision that an ambulance wasn’t needed and that someone could drive me to the emergency center.

Someone helped me out of my fencing jacket, my new white jacket, while I was laying down.

They collected my training stuff as I was laying there. I went up, saw the blood on the floor that had been pouring out while I was laying down. It looked like a lot.

Before we went I wanted to have Bengt with me. Carl looked at me and said: No, he can stay here this time.

Unwillingly I gave Bengt to Jesper. Jesper looked at Bengt in a somewhat distasteful manner. I looked at Bengt and understood why, it was blood on him as well. Everything happened fast, but still very slow. Like everything were moving in slow-motion.

Carl drove me there.

Me at the emergency center

They took a look on me after like, 30 minutes or so. Took the bandage off and gave it a look, put some new bandage on and showed us to the waiting room. We sat there for 2-3 hours before it was my turn to get stitched up. We were supervised to a treatment room, the doctor came in and asked me what had happened. I explained. She looked at me like I was some kind of lunatic. “But you had a mask, right?”

Me after they put on some new bandages.

Of course I had!
She were still a bit skeptic. “Aren’t they supposed to take this kind of hits`?”
Carl explained that these kind of injuries never occurred in our club before, and maybe just 1-2 times during competitions. The doctor explained she had to check if I got a concussion by checking out my nerve system. Had to follow her finger with my eyes and things like that.
Luckily I was fine, I just had a big hole in my head. Now it was the time to stitch me up.

They started to talk about which needle to use. Shit just got real.
I started to feel sick and began to sweat. I told them that, and they put a bag next to me if I needed to throw up. They took a needle up to give me some anesthesia straight to my forehead. This was very uncomfortable, I felt the needle all the way through. It was like something try to rip the skin of my forehead away. Euck. Until it worked, then I didn’t feel a shit. It was just nasty and a very bizarre situation. Especially when they both stick their finger in my wound to see if my bone was crushed. Then they started to sew. I just wanted to go home now. It took forever. And I was certain that it would be like 2 stitches. I ended up with five. Carl told me in beforehand that the wound was like his thumb, 5 cm or so, in beforehand. But I still didn’t think that it would end up with five stitches.
I felt like I was going to faint or something while they were sewing, but I didn’t. When they were done they gave me some lemonade and I could get home.

The stitches will be removed on Monday. I’m ok and most of all: I’m happy that it didn’t got worse.

With this story in mind I want to tell you all:
Check your gear. Take care of each other and always wear a mask. Don’t ever take things for granted. Ok? 

My mask after the accident. It had massive dents in beforehand and I will never, ever train with a dented mask again. Neither should you. 

You know how @junck-ritter makes all those amazing pieces of art about the mechanics of HEMA systems?

This is the shitty version. An attempt to illustrate two important points in simple cuts - keeping the arms in line with the plane of the cut, and projecting the sword. Not flaring the elbows, and not trying to turn it around the middle of the grip. Much isn’t covered here, of course, but I’ve always admired a good explanatory drawing.

Embracing the Suck

The title of this post was appropriated from one of my instructors and good friend Ken, whose writing I unfortunately can’t redirect you to since it doesn’t exist. Sorry!

I have been thinking a lot lately about the psychological side of fencing and specifically about self-improvement. There are a couple of skills I’ve managed to get quite good at. Fencing isn’t one of them, yet - but I am definitely a lot better than I was one year ago, applying similar strategies to skills I’ve learned in the past. There has always been a prevalent commonality in the way I approach the task mentally. 

This is a really long post, so if you are short on time, just skim to the bold parts.

The first thing to do is define your objective. You want to get good at something, simple enough, but useless bullshit as far as a real goal with a tangible measurable result goes. What’s getting good actually mean? Will you know when you’ve reached it? It’s something you kind of have to define for yourself, but a useful one for me has always been asking myself: “Can I actualise my will using this skill?” For example, I know I am alright at programming, because most of the time if I set out to do something using that skill I manage to do it. I know I am quite effective at painting and drawing because I can imagine how I want something to look and then execute it to a standard I am satisfied with - the gap between what I wanted to do and what I did is narrow, if existent at all. This is how I view self-improvement at fencing. I decide I want to reduce the gap between my will to carry out an action, and the actualisation of it. So far, it has served me well enough.

Something which has been very important for me in everything I’ve ever improved at is to let go of any desires to be better than others.
There are two reasons it’s shit to advance your skill just to be better than others: First, once you achieve that goal you will stagnate. This is a big problem in fencing as we often have limited access to skilled opponents. If you are satisfied with your progress when you win a bout against a local someone who seems good, you’re lazy and people with a good mindset will continuously overtake you in ability.
Second, it makes you an asshole. Peers are the single most valuable resource in improving yourself in a skill, and the more of them you alienate, the less of a buff you get from their friendship, collaboration, and general investment in your improvement. We often get newbies or pedestrian fencers who don’t show up much. If they are friendly I will always tell them exactly what I find difficult to counter and how they can kick my ass next time after sparring. If they’re a dick, to me or to others (espescially newbies), I basically don’t care if they ever show up again, so I ignore them. I am sure plenty of others feel the same way, or at least, I am sure nobody goes out of their way to help assholes improve. Don’t underestimate the importance of social buy-in. Do what you can to encourage your friends and prefer positive interactions with peers in your chosen skill.

While in various forms of art you perform solo it’s quite obvious the detriment being over-competitive can be, it’s not so obvious in fencing. I mean, it’s a competitive sport, so there has to be some level of rivalry. But it can be framed very positively. Your aim is to be better than yourself. The good thing about this is the road leads to perpetual improvement - it’s always possible to get better. It’s also optimistic, measurable, and very achievable. It’s also possible to measure your own improvement by whether or not you’re capable of “not getting hit by that guy” or “covering against that chick’s unterhau” or whatever. You can re-frame what would be a negative comparison with a peer to something focused on self reflection.

Be realistic about how badly you want to achieve this. I would think for most people it’s easy to tell when you’re driven towards something. You think about it all the time and get anxious if you aren’t doing enough of it. Analyse your feelings about your goals and make a realistic assessment: What do you actually want? How serious are you about trying to achieve it? Does your dedication match your goal? If not, change your goal or your level of dedication. Special hint if you are wondering how to assess your level of dedication: If you walk away from the task cause you suck at it, you weren’t dedicated: you walked away.

Last and maybe most important is to learn to embrace the suck. Any skill worth learning will not give you instant gratification. You will suck at it and have a shit time probably for years, and even then, if you really really love it, you will never be satisfied. As an artist I do pretty well - well enough to pay bills and create mostly anything I like - but it’s still a path of gruelling pessimistic dissatisfaction, and a desire for more. If you are really on this path, all the things that suck about it will be a treasure to you. You’ll embrace it with open arms, as another step on the way. It’s normal and perfectly functional to kind-of sort-of hate the activity you love.

See also: Hema Sucks

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Here mark the break against the Twerhau:
Mark, when you stand against him in the guard vom Tag, then hew him boldly above to the head. If he then springs from the hew and he means to come Before with the Twerhau and strike you therewith to your left side to the head, then fall in with the long edge on his sword. If he then strikes with the Twer around to your other side, then come Meanwhile before, also with the Twer, in front under his sword on his neck. So he strikes himself with your sword.

alaeevolare  asked:

Hello! I was wondering, what are the differences between modern HEMA and how it was used in actual combat? Mainly in how it is/was taught, the way that techniques are/were used, small battles/skirmishes and fully fledged battles. I'm currently drawing from my own experiences with HEMA (longsword) and I know it's different but I'm not sure what all of those differences are, much less how to write them. Thank you!

Honestly, the best advice I have for that is slogging through the treatises from the masters on Wikitenaur or other sites/books that let you get it direct from the horse’s mouth (as it were). If you’re not a trained scholar or used to going through language from a century ago, much less several, I can see how parsing that might be a little difficult.

The second thing to do is study the historical period in which you want to write your fiction or, if writing fantasy, whatever is adjacent. When you want to write any kind of combat scenario, studying the culture is necessary. Whether that’s one you created yourself or history itself.

You’ve got better access to the HEMA community than Starke or I do and that springboard will make it easier to find what you’re looking for. It’s important to remember that what you’re practicing right now is what we conventionally term a “dead martial art”. Like aikido and several other martial arts now enjoying a popular resurgence, the current version did not really exist in the last century. Combat in Europe moved very quickly, rapid advancement lead to many old weapons being discarded that were no longer usable. German fencing was the only form of longsword fencing to survive, and it too is weighed down by rules unnecessary to the time when the longsword was a battlefield choice. Luckily for you, because HEMA itself is so new in its reconstruction, you’re actually far closer to the source material used to revive it than you might suspect.

If you haven’t broached this subject with your instructor, you should. They might know, or know somebody who knows something that can point you in a better direction. They work with the people who work with the people who are theorizing on the past and how to bring this piece of history back to life.

The other thing you need to do is study history. One of the things we do have a lot of surviving records of are historical battles. Lots, and lots, and lots of records.

Pick your medieval historical figure. Pick a period in history. And get to work.

Also, read Sun Tzu. If there is one great historical text for understanding warfare, it’s Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

Battles are really broken down by three groups:

Culture.

Technology.

Terrain.

I’d throw in strategy and tactics but those are under the culture header. To write battles, you need both an understanding of historical warfare and the ability to contextualize those decisions so you can have your characters make new ones. This means figuring out not just the thought processes of the people of history (theorized by gaining a better grasp of their circumstances), but also how your own characters think in relation to the world’s they live in.

Unless you’re writing historical fiction, you can’t just copy the battles from history wholesale. You have to learn how the decisions were made. This is why I recommend looking at the above groups.

Culture

Who they are as a people, their history, who they are descended from, how they see themselves, their commander’s experience with warfare, what kind of armies do they possess (if any at all), how does that work, how do they form supply lines, how do they pay for it, all that annoying bureaucratic minutia which will kill your brain but must be figured out. War is about troop movements. You’ve got to get them from Point A to Point B somehow, you’ve got ensure their fed, and if they’ve got mounts or armor all that has to come from somewhere. War is an expensive endeavor. Someone is paying for it. Where does the money come from, where does it go, and who is getting paid?

This is why strategy and tactics land under the cultural header, the more you dig into history the more you’ll find different cultures through different eras approached these problems differently. They also had different tools at their disposal which brings us to…

Technology

Technology encompasses your weapons, your armor, and, well, everything else that came to mind. Much as you need to know where your soldiers come from, you also need to know what tools they have at their disposal. If they haven’t mastered metalwork and smithing then they can’t have armor and the type of metal they work with defines what kind of armor they create. If they haven’t developed saddles then they don’t have mounted cavalry, if they haven’t figured out how to use horses to pull things then chances are they don’t have cavalry in the form of chariots either.

The same is true of the bow and every other kind of weapon available. Your tools define crucial parts of your tactics and strategy. They define what is available to use and what is available instructs us on how we fight. As the options narrow and you find your historical period, the tools will be easier to come by. Then, you’ll be able to envisage the battles better.

Warfare is complicated, but at its base is the element of rock, paper, scissors. You develop B, so I come up with X, to counter B, and then you develop Y to counter X. It is all about trying to develop new ways to counter the available options.

You brought foot soldiers to the battle, I guess this is what you’ll choose so I array my soldiers at your front and position cavalry behind to break your lines from the side or rear. You use pikes, position your soldiers in columns in order to break my cavalry’s charge or bring a cavalry of your own (or both). I position archers to bombard your lines with a barrage, and so on.

If you really have trouble with the concept then I recommend trying some good war games like Mount and Blade or the Total War series that help you see the battlefield visually and get some practice in arranging your troops.

However, in order to sell your tactics, you need…

Terrain

What kind of environment are you fighting in? What is your target? What natural impediments are in the way? You can study Hannibal’s battle tactics against the Romans all you like, but if you ignore the fact that most of his elephants died on the march through the mountains then you’ll miss a crucial element to why he lost.

Woodland?

Marshland?

Flatland?

Valley?

Mountains?

Desert?

Jungle?

Summer?

Winter?

Spring?

Fall?

Snowstorm?

Rainstorm?

Heatwave?

The conditions you fight in can make or break. Terrain defines how the troops are arranged. If you’re fighting on foreign soil then it can be the difference as to whether your tools will be of any use to you.

Some of it is flat out just luck.

The best way to learn to write battles is learning to think like a commander, and then follow that up with every other member of the army.

When it comes to historical fiction, I always recommend Sharon Kay Penman’s novels. They’re well regarded and well researched, providing some human context to what will inevitably be the dry reading of historical texts.

-Michi

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Ask Why

Different people learn in different ways. Some people can watch a technique, and grasp what’s going on. I am not so lucky. Even if I am shown, by having it done to me, or by being lead through the motions, I don’t tend to retain the movements well.

For me, a lot of learning martial arts (which are complex systems for winning Open Games) is about a simple question:
“WHY?”

I’m so lazy that if I don’t have a reason to do something, I won’t do it. I need a reason to do things. Tell me to come up on my toes while round kicking? It’ll last for a few minutes until I get lazy. Teach me that coming on my toes allows me to pivot, so I can throw the hip through and kick with more power and less risk to my standing knee? I’ll probably keep doing that.

Beyond that, though, it’s a powerful tool to work out the system.

Why do we have the vier leger (four guards) in Liechtenauer longsword?

Because there’s four basic ways to attack with a sword - thrust above or below, cut above or below. This lets us focus on what kind of threat is immediate, not on further games of subcategorisation. In the middle? Relative to you, or just pick one to treat it as, as Norwood advises us.

Often, the source is nice enough to tell use why. Cut our Vorschlag with a passing step, so that we don’t cut short. Cut them with our hands together, so the pommel can counter-balance.

I don’t ever want to be doing something “because Liechtenauer says so”. I want to be doing it because it makes sense to, because it’s the best way to fence… and Liechtenauer says so and hopefully says why.

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Axel Pettersson and Robert Molin working their longsword skills.

Alot of winden techniques in this one. and alot of other stuff as well.

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Interesting analysis of a longsword sparring bout, with a written description of the actions and counters before each exchange is shown in slow motion.