I am often asked for equipment recommendations, and people seem to be interested in the sort of equipment professionals use. So this is the first of a series of blog posts about the tools I use at work. As I spend most of my time teaching Fiore's Art of Arms, let's start there. In the photo you can see four longswords, a mask, a stopwatch, and a stick.
The longsword on the left is an Arms and Armor fechterspiele, which is my most-used sword. Light, very durable, handles beautifully. I've been using it now for about 8 years, have replaced the handle leather once or twice, and it's still going strong. Note the rapier blunt on the point.
Then the stick. It is a really useful teaching tool, that I use for “the stick game”:
Once the static forms of the footwork are comfortable, it is a good idea to develop your ability to apply it unconsciously. In practice, I introduce this kind of playful exercise before most students have mastered the static forms, then point out that the steps they just did naturally were the same as the ones they were learning as as static drill. Feel free to do likewise. For this we have several exercises, my favorite of which is the stick game. Played in pairs, it looks like this:
- One player (A) has a stick, the other (B) doesn’t. B stands on guard;
- A gently swings the stick at him;
- B steps as necessary to avoid the stick and get behind A, tapping him on the back;
- A moves away, and strikes again.You can also add penalties for getting hit, such as 3 push-ups.
Played in class, one student or the teacher has the stick, and charges about trying to tap people, who have to get out of the way and touch his back. This works best if everyone is obliged (on pain of push-ups) to keep moving (we usually start with everyone practicing the step and three passes drill before bringing out the stick), and the stick wielder is careful to only hit people who are making mistakes, like flinching or losing their guard positions. With a bit of practice, this is a good workout for everyone, and teaches the most important lesson of footwork: Footwork is how you get to the right place at the right time to strike safely.
(Quote is from my book The Medieval Longsword)
I also use the stick for non-verbal correction. No, not savage beatings: when a student knows what they need to fix, but don't know when to fix it, a tap on the relevant body part is sufficient to let them know, and does not interfere by engaging their language centres.
The stopwatch is brilliant for telling the truth; it cannot lie. We use it for the Syllabus Form Applications Drill, the Stability Drill, and for all sorts of conditioning, such as; how many push-ups can you do in 60 seconds? or worse: can you do one push up that lasts for 60 seconds? in each direction? None of my students fear the stick. I think most tremble at the sight of the stopwatch.
The mask is from Terry Tindill, with the optional-but-you-must-buy-it-it-makes-all-the-difference suspension system. It also has a removable back plate. These are the absolute best solution for unarmoured longsword training that money can buy. Light, but very good protection. You only have one head (I assume), so look after it! I get hit in the head a lot at work; when coaching a student, if they get the thing we are training right enough, they strike. It's my job to keep them working in the zone where they are struggling, but succeeding, to get it right. So I might get a couple of hundred hits to the head in a single lesson. This explains much, I hear you say: Yes, not least why I think these masks are well worth the price!
The pair-drill sharps are both from Angus Trim, and they are reasonably priced and easy to maintain (these are not the Christian Fletcher pimped-up versions!), so while they work just fine as test-cutting weapons or similar, I have tasked these two for pair-drills work. This means that they get badly beaten up and have to be sharpened often, and reground every now and then. Yes folks, sharps wear out. For more on pair drills with sharps, see my guest post on CFAA: Why you should train with sharp swords, and how to go about it without killing anyone.
Finally, my JT Pälikkö longsword of DOOM. This thing of beauty, this poem in steel, is his idea of a joke. Yes chaps, a witty remark. Prepare to roll on the floor laughing. It is a medieval style longsword, based on an original in the Wallace Collection: but it has a pattern welded blade like a Viking sword! hahahahahahaha! See! Funniest thing you ever heard, right? Five bars of layered and twisted steel, the outer two of which form the cutting edges and come together at the point. This sword cuts like a lightsaber, and is one scary beast to handle. For further examples of JT's sense of humour, see The Sword of Windsor.
Next up in this series: either freeplay kit, or rapier training tools. What would you like to see?