Guy's Blog

Guy frequently keeps this blog updated with thoughts, challenges, interviews and more!

Tag: sharp swords

Last week I ran a survey to find out what I should be working on next. This generated a very clear ‘get on with the “systems from sources” online course' response. I am following orders, and hope to have the first couple of modules up for beta-testers next week. I will set it up so that a small number of people can sign up at a big discount, on the understanding that they will let me know what needs to be improved before I roll it out to the public. I'll send an email to my mailing list when it's ready for preview.

The survey also generated some interesting questions and comments, which I have answered below.

1. Your Syballus for level 4 is a bit confusing when you name the drills but give no clue on how they are done.

My response: Yes. The level 4 drills are all on video, which shows you what they are, but they are not instructional videos. This is deliberate: my syllabus wiki is free, and intended as a reference resource for everyone who is following my syllabus. It is not designed as an online course.

2. I live in a small province on the east coast of Canada and have just started taking longsword instruction at the new and only school in the province. The instructors are basing their instruction on Liechtenauer's work. I know you have an add-on for Audatia based on Liechtenauer, but does any of your work focus on comparing his approaches to the ones you use?

My response: Not really. I actually think that the Liechtenauer material is not a complete system; it is part of a system (as Fiore's Longsword material is too). It seems to me that it assumes a lot of basic training on the part of the user; basics that we find in all other sword styles are simply missing from Liechtenauer. I think that the basic material is shown with the messer, with Liechtenauer's merkeverse being, if you like, the advanced course. I don't find it terribly useful to compare and contrast except with students that have an in-depth knowledge of both.

3. I think a book about building participation on a local level including marketing, weapon and and armour procurement and financing, finding a location and course structure and design would be just jolly. Most new students have a difficult time building momentum, and finding practices. This book should be a ground up treatise on how it was done historically, and how to do it today. Just saying…. I have been at it a few years now and have faced several challenges including being ‘Dear John” ed and the ebb and flow of new faces. Might even want to throw in some info about building a facebook group and how social websites can help(I assume that a social website historically was a pub) TY
The online training course sounds intriguing also…

My response: A book on how to start and run a study group or school… hmm, interesting. I might, but there are already some good books on the subject out there, such as Starting and Running your own Martial Arts School by Karen Levitz Vactor and Susan Lynn Peterson. I don't know anything about how schools were started and run in the past (I have an idea, and there are stories and legends, but hard data not so much). Leaving history aside for a moment, a booklet on how to start and run your own HEMA group might make a good instalment of The Swordsman's Quick Guide. Let me know if you agree!

Too many damn choices: 1. Breathing is my top pick because no one has really spoken on it. 2. The community needs a review of how to create training systems when pulling from historical treasties. 3. Really, your next book should be something fun, why I chose other: contact Mark Ferrari who did the art for Monkey Island, add in what you know of historical come backs, and then make a book!  Just a thought…

My response: I think I'd better get the course up and running and Breathing published, and Sent, before I think about a comedy project… but I'll take that under advisement!

Hi! I love you books and videos! Great work! I am an AEMMA (Canada) club member (Fiore Scholar) working towards my Free Scholar challenge in a few years, so gathering my armour and learning to move, train and fight in armour. Any future material (books, blog entries, videos, seminars) on all things Fiore would be very helpful for me and our club's students – but especially any insights to help with armoured plays/ drilling and sparring would be excellent. Thank you very much, Aaron Beatty (Scholler, instructor AEMMA Guelph, Ontario, Canada).

My response: Thank you Aaron, glad you like my work. Armoured plays and such are a tricky problem for me, now that I'm in Ipswich and not surrounded by armour-wearing thugs. I think this is one area where the guys who run the IAS might be able to help: Sean Hayes, Greg Mele, Jason Smith, Christian Cameron etc all have a lot more time in harness than I do.

I really need the training systems one as it is basically the only thing preventing me from teaching a class.

My response: OK, so the course would be useful for you; but in the meantime have you read this?

Hello, My name is Wiktor Grzelecki, and I'm a long-time reader of your blog. I also bought some of your books and Audatia game. While I disagree with some of your opinions, I greatly value your materials and input. I like the project about online course, but I would also like to ask you about something different. You are a father, I will be a father in a couple of months. I would like to ask you, how do you keep children safe, how do you keep sharp weapons knowing that your children are near them? Would it be enough to just keep them high enough, that they can't reach them? Or would it be better to have a key-closed chest or closet? Similar to those required for firearms? Or simply to show them wooden weapons, and metal ones with you so they lose the “forbidden fruit” taste for children (What I mean is, could kids be less interested in touching weapons if they got used to them? Something like teaching kids to use bb gun so they don't see actual firearm as appealing.). I understand that this is a complex matter, that would also require lots of time to spend with a child to explain what weapons are and how to use them, but I would like to know what do you think?

My response: Congratulations on your impending fatherhood! Kids and weapons.. This is a tricky matter, as it makes people very nervous. I'll explain how I've dealt with it with my kids in my home, but this is “reportage” not “advice”.

Guns: My guns (two revolvers and a semi-automatic) were always in the safe. The kids could ask to see them any time, though they very rarely did, and I would get them out (hiding the 10 digit combination from them), check they were safe, treat them as if they were loaded, and closely supervise how they were handled. They could play all they liked with rubber band guns and cap guns, but the real thing was (obviously) very strictly controlled. Now we live in the UK my guns are at a gunsmith's in Finland, so the issue is moot. If they had wanted to, I would have allowed them to shoot at the range, under very close supervision, starting with a .22 or something similar, when they were strong enough to handle the weapon.

Blades: Blades are easier, as they are less dangerous (it's harder to kill someone by accident with a knife than a gun), and they are everywhere; scissors, penknives, kitchen knives, eating knives… The kids have been helping to cook since they were so little that that meant sitting on the floor and banging on a saucepan with a wooden spoon. They have been cutting and peeling vegetables since before they can remember. Cutting began with them standing with their left hand round my waist and their right hand holding the knife, with my hand on top. I'd hold the vegetable and do all the actual work. That progressed to their hand under mine on the vegetable, and so on. The only person who could get cut was me (though I never was). Now they can chop stuff without supervision, using my proper kitchen knives (they are 7 and 9).

Until a couple of weeks ago, all my swords were at the salle (I didn't keep any in the house, except for a sabre for champagne). I'd take the kids to the salle quite often, and we would fight with wooden swords, lightsabres, or any other weapon. They could ask to see anything they wanted, even sharp swords, and I would get them off the rack and they could touch them, heft them, that sort of thing, but under careful supervision.

In summary then, nothing is forbidden, but some tools/weapons/things can only be handled under supervision. When my kids were very little, I kept everything dangerous out of reach. Since they have been old enough to understand that some things are dangerous, and also old enough to get a chair to stand on when they want to reach something that is ‘out of reach', we have taught them what needs supervision and what doesn't. Kids are curious, so I've always let mine have a go at anything they want to, while I control the situation to maintain the necessary safety. The idea is to teach them to use things properly, so their skill keeps them safe, not their ignorance. I even let them drive my car. They have never been injured or injured anyone else with any weapon or tool. They will eventually cut themselves with a kitchen knife or chisel, but that's ok; it's part of life.

Now, I'd better get on with that course material!

 

Yesterday I went to visit my friend Peter Mustonen. He’s an arms dealer; but our kind of arms dealer: gorgeous antique swords, knives, guns, armour, shields; you name it, he has a delicious example. I spent some time playing with swords, you know, as one does.

A Stantler sword, from 1580-1600. Original grip, original everything, beautiful specimen. You could stab it through anything.

While I was there he mentioned finding a book I might have an interest in. Nothing special, just a book.

Just a copy of the 1902 Novati edition of Il Fior di fucking Battaglia.

Let me put this in some perspective for you. My first encounter with Fiore was through fifth generation photocopies of the facsimile section of this book. This was the book that introduced Fiore to the modern world, and lead us to find the Getty, the Morgan, and eventually the Paris copies of the manuscript.

It contains a lengthy scholarly introduction to the work,

From Novati's introduction; a picture of Liechtenauer!

And a complete facsimile of the Pisani-Dossi manuscript (to date the only copy of that manuscript that we know of; the original is yet to re-surface), with a complete transcription.

The facsimile itself.

From a HEMA perspective, this is the book that launched a thousand scholari.

Now it belongs to me.

This means that as soon as I reasonably can, I’ll produce high quality photos or scans and distribute them. I might also produce a paperback reproduction of the whole thing, if there’s a market for it.

Just a short post today, because I have to go change my trousers. And, I have a book to read…

Tell your friends, tell everyone working on Fiore; this book is now OURS!!

Disclaimer: this post should be read as a completely personal, utterly unscientific, non-practical, emotional, historical fundamentalist tirade against something I find offensive. On this matter I am unapologetically fanatical. You have been warned.

About eight years ago I was appalled to find, at a WMA event in America, the majority of practitioners using aluminium swords.  When I returned home I drew a line in the sand, by posting this on SFI, under the heading Aluminium Wasters: NO!

Aluminium wasters are becoming more and more popular as longsword training tools. Two main reasons are put forward for their use:

1) Price: at about $120–$150 they are half the price of steel blunts.

2) Safety: given their thicker edge and lower mass, they impart less energy to the target on impact, so are safer to fence with at high speed.

I find this development alarming, and not in the best interests of the Art of Swordsmanship. Here are my reasons:

1) Aluminium wasters are unhistorical. There is abundant record of the use of wooden wasters, and some extant examples of blunt steel training longswords, but (obviously) no aluminium swords were used in period. That said, I use protective equipment like fencing masks and hockey pads, which are equally unhistorical, but in my view have far less negative impact on how techniques may be executed.

2) They do not behave like steel swords. Their handling characteristics are totally different, they weigh less, the heft is just wrong. You can spot an aluminium sword being used from across the room, simply by the way it moves. Aluminium planks resonate quite differently to tempered steel blades (blunt or sharp), so when the weapons collide, they behave totally differently (this is true for all wasters, wooden, aluminium, padded, bamboo, or whatever). Many of the more sophisticated techniques rely on the feeling of the blade contact in your hands (often called sentimento di ferro); think of mutieren or duplieren in the German school (see page 184 of Tobler’s excellent ‘Fighting with the German Longsword’); think of the difference between yielding through frontale to get to the outside, or holding your opponent in frontale for an instant while you grasp his blade and kick him in the kneecap (as one sees in Fior Battaglia). You simply do not get the same level of information coming through aluminium.

In addition, steel swords spring away from each other, or stick, depending on how they meet. This is a vital consideration when working on deflections; aluminium wasters just do not behave the same, so do not adequately prepare you for the conditions of a real fight. (Though none of us intend to fight for real, all our training, to be valid, must work as preparation for the real thing. Otherwise we can give up our pretensions to Western Martial Arts, and start developing western combat sports. Nothing wrong with that, so long as the terms are not confused. The sporting approach is death to the Art, as the history of fencing clearly demonstrates.)

3) Safety in free sparring is an illusion. Your equipment cannot keep you safe. Granted, it is less easy to hurt someone with an aluminium waster than with a steel blunt, but the risk is there. This is a wasteful shortcut to learning control, and symptomatic of the “I wanna be a knight, NOW” attitude that infects a lamentable minority of practitioners. It takes thousands of hours of hard training to learn to control a steel sword so that one may freeplay with an acceptable degree of safety. Any compromise that gets people sparring too soon is inappropriate.

4) My students all buy steel swords, and relatively soon after they start training. If they can afford it, you can. If you need a very cheap starter weapon, a wooden waster is the way to go. Historically accurate, and very cheap. Aluminium wasters are three or four times the price of a wooden waster, and half the price of a blunt. As such, they form an economic barrier to purchasing a steel sword, which wooden wasters do not. Save up a bit longer while training with a wooden waster, and you can have a proper sword.

I have discussed this issue at length with many of my colleagues in the United States, and so far have only heard one valid argument for the use of aluminium. In a litigious culture, where horrendous punitive damages may apply, a school or teacher must be seen to be making every possible safety concession, just in case there is an accident. Living in a country where any judge would say “you swing swords at people’s heads and then come crying to me when you get hurt? Get out of my courtroom!” I have no good answer to that, except education of the jury-forming general public.

This is a particularly difficult topic as many equipment manufacturers, particularly the small-time producers, have no facilities for making steel blunts, but can churn out aluminium wasters with ease. I hate to undermine their business, as these are decent people doing the community a good service; but if they turn their talented hands to wooden wasters and to safety equipment, they will hopefully not lose by it.

It is up to us as a community to seek always the best way, the highest way, not just the most convenient way, to pursue our Art. Aluminium wasters are a convenience, a compromise, and a step on the slippery slope towards sporting interpretations. They have no place in my Salle, and I wish they had never been invented.

I look forward to hearing your opinions….

This generated something of a storm, and the whole six pages of wild opinion can be found here.

Going back across the pond as I do once or twice a year I have seen a steady diminution of aluminium- by WMAW 2011, I think there was one or two knocking around, and everyone had steel. My primary goal at that event was to introduce students to the difference between blunt steel and sharp- just as aluminium behaves differently to steel, so blunt steel does to sharp. Sharp swords stick, and an awful lot of period technique becomes a lot easier and more natural to do when the blades are sharp. As I said a hundred times that weekend alone: “if you haven’t done it with sharps, you haven’t done it at all”.

While this general improvement (as I would see it) has been going on in the part of our WMA community that I spend most of my time in, there has been a simultaneous shift in the opposite direction, mostly amongst those elements of the community who are most interested in creating tournaments. This has lead to the development and widespread adoption of the only training tool that is more aesthetically offensive to me than an aluminium sword: plastic swordlike objects. Are we children that we want to play with toy swords?

Other than simple disgust, my objections are the following:

1) they in no way simulate the behaviour of steel swords when they meet.

2) they in no way encourage students to treat the swords as if they were sharp

3) they in no way reproduce the handling characteristics of steel swords (they tend to be too light)

4) they encourage foolish freeplay.

It is of course possible for two experts to use these things like swords, but they are generally used by beginners who are then lulled into a totally false sense of security, and a delusion of competence, that can only do them harm.

If you cannot afford a steel training sword, and want something a bit better than a stick to practice with, there is always the wooden waster, widely available and about the same price as the plastic monstrosity. To take those offered by Purpleheart armory as an example: Their plastic “longsword” costs $73, is 124cm, 48.5” long, and weighs 785g, 1.73lb (according to their website. I don’t have any of these things in my possession. You can pay 125 dollars for their type III also). Their (excellent) wooden wasters are $70, and are 120cm (48”) long and weigh about 950g (2.1lb). In terms of mass and dimensions, there is not a lot to choose between them, but in terms of usefulness as a training tool, one has millenia of pedigree, the other has not. One has been used by many of the greatest swordsmen in history, at some stage in their training; the other only by a few modern practitioners.

I am well aware that serious living-history buffs may find my plastic-soled training shoes, modern-pattern mask, and t-shirt-based training uniform equally appalling. I wear historical clothing and footwear for research purposes, but it is not practical for class or teaching when on any given night I may teach five different systems from five different centuries. I apologise for their suffering, and I understand it. But at the end of the day, I care about the swords, I just don’t care about the clothes.

What the argument for plastic boils down to, in the end, is lowering the short-term barriers to entry, especially to freeplay entry. They are an apparent short-cut: but as my grandma used to say, “Short cuts make long delays!”. Proponents of the plastic sword argue along the lines of cost, durability, safety, etc. But there is nothing inherently practical about the Art of Swordsmanship today. If you want self-defence, go train with Rory Miller, Marc MacYoung or someone of that ilk. Neither will recommend studying medieval combat treatises to learn modern self defence. If you want a practical battlefield art, join the army. The art and practice of historical swordsmanship should not be confused with any kind of modern combat, nor should it ever be reduced to simply playing with swords. It is not easy. It is not for everyone. And it certainly demands a much higher standard of aesthetics and risk management that you can possibly attain to by following the tupperware path. Blunt steel is already a huge compromise, which is why I test all interpretations and most drills with sharps. Plastic is just lazy, offensive, and disgusting.

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