Indes, when they wobble


Swords are really strange sometimes. They wobble. And this wobbling is much more than a small violent movement it appears to be on a photo.

While you can see them wobble like this, on a picture, I often feel it differently when actually holding the sword. Arms extended (not locked), the blades collide in a classic Zwerchau vs Oberhau contact, and at first, you feel like there are two diamond rods crashing into each other, not one giving under the force.

Then they bind, not just clash, they reach over each other and for a moment they exist as a singular, homogenous piece of steel, a moment one could call “Indes”. Then you feel the small give, and you push in for a thrust – or the small push, and you unwind to the other Zwerch, or, if the push is to hte side or downwards, to a Schielhau.

And than the world starts moving again.

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Teaching fencing is like fencing

Students... they are the biggest challenge.

Students… they are the biggest challenge.

I hope that during the progress of this text I would make the title more clear. The basic concept came to me in conversation after today’s session.

Some background – I am a junior instructor in the only HEMA school in the country. We are in the capital, but as this is the poorest and one of the smallest states in the EU, there is not much interest in our art. While we have a solid group, new students usually come every few months. We are open the whole year and we do not have beginner classes – our belief is that both the advanced practicioners and the beginners learn better together.

Today, we had two new guys – well, one of them has had one session. Our instructor and the other assistant instructor were working on a hanger for our swords, as we recently moved to a great new training hall. Because of that, I led the training session.

When we have a mixture of beginners and more advanced people, we usually start with simple floryshes – all of us, than I give the advanced people some exercise and leave them be. They are generally good enough to know what to do on their own and they do not need too much attention. Actually, a lot of times it is better to leave them on their own, and discuss their work afterwards.

So, after the initial exercises – wide play basic cuts, I send the advanced guys to do some binden and elastic drills (elastic drills are like sparring in molasses – you go slow, and you explore different situations and options, usually without anything more than gloves. It is a good complementary exercise to regular sparring, and a good transition from drills to free play).

So I was left with two complete beginners. Unusually, I decided to cover the basic guards – something which I usually leave to our instructor to do for the first time.

Of course, they have already done most of the guards in the last 30 minutes – they are all included in our floryshes. So I just defined them and taught them how to build a guard.

How to build a guard, what is that? Well, in the last couple of years, I noticed that postureq guards and cuts are best learned through learning how to “build” one. What does that mean for a guard? Lets take the basic Pflug – it is a guard you have in every european swordsmanship system, in one way or another. There is the Porta di Ferro guards in the Bolognese, the sixth guard in I.33, the Posta Breve in Fiore, the Eber in Leckuchner, the Offensiva perfetta of Viggiani, the terza in Italian rapier, hell, the Seigan no Kamae in Kendo and kenjutsu.

You first set the intention – what do you want to achieve from this guard? What is it purpose? Pflug is thrusting guard, meant both as a good starting position for a thrust, and a threat. So the point of the sword has to point at the opponent – seems pretty simple, but beginners can ignore it, if you do not specifically explain why that is and what can you achieve from it.

All of the basic Haengens – the two Pflugs and the two Ochs – are meant to protect one of the Four Openings. So the sword has to be positioned in such a way as to protect one of the lower openings – of which there are two, so we have two Pflugs – one on the left and one on the right. The flat is weak, so the sword must not be parallel to the ground, but at an angle – and I demonstrate how a flat position cannot take a strike, while an angled one can.

There is also the idea of power generation in the thrust. As the thrust is weak, compared to the cut (remember Silver – the force of a child is enough to drive it aside), the body needs to be behind it, sometimes in ways different than a cut. So you position the pommel in front of your pushing back leg.

And with these three basic fundaments you have “build” the Pflug.

I am explaining this, so I can show what I actually taught. But the point of this post is the method.

After the guards we took a rest, during which they asked me what a perfect balance for a sword would be, and I explained to them why there is no such thing, and why balance depends on the purpose of the sword, comparing a longsword, a classic arming sword – Albion I.33, and a side sword – the Albion Marozzo.

After that, we went through the floryshes again, and this time they didi much better.

With that, I ran two beginners through 1:30 h of training, with a warm up of about 15 minutes, maybe 5 minute rest, and three sets of exercises with 5 minutes rest inbetween. Thus they spend 1:15 h training with just a little rest. And I did not need to force them, nor did I ran a very tiring session, either. They were sweaty at the end, though. But not exhausted.

What I realized at the end, and what I conversed about with some of our advanced guys and some beers after training, was that my choice of exercises was not the key of what turned out to be a good training session. It was my method, which is partially my instructor’s, partially my own. And they looked quite good after just 3 hours for one guy and an hour and a half for the other.

See, teaching fencing is like fencing. You have to use Fuehlen and define when the student is soft and malleable and you can show him and explain more, and when he is hard and there is a wall in his mind, and it is best to leave him alone for a bit. And as beginners are especially fidgetty sometimes – even though that was not an extreme case of it – you have to choose “Indes” to go hard or soft, because there is a small window of opportunity, a small bloss in a half-tempo. Before that, you have to judge how far they are from understanding and feeling the technique, as all things have length and measure. And of course, it is best to keep the initiative – take the Vor – or regain it if you lost it – win the Nach.

I also realized (with some encouragement from the advanced students, as I am not as confident in this subject as I am to, say, my fencing skills) that I may have a chance to become a good teacher. And I was quite happy about it.


I wish all of you, students, assistants, and teachers, a good training session as this one!

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How to make a HEMA video

Be better than them!

Be better than them!

There was a discussion on Reddit a few days ago on one of the teapot’s videos. Grauenwolf, a common sight there, proposed to make a separate topic – on making a HEMA video, presentation and “how to show my Zornhau interpretation”.

I believe this is a valuable discussion to have, so here are my 2 cents:

1. Do not shoot with your girlfriend

Ok, no, this is a bit sexist. If your girlfriend has been training for years, do it. If you are the girlfriend and your boyfriend has decent HEMA skills, fine. But never demonstrate with someone who has no skills at all. No, just hitting with the sword is not a well-placed and executed strike. You need someone with skills. Someone who can deliver it well,  so what you show also works well and looks well.

Also, if you are filming something on wrestling –  it is ridiculous for a 190 pound instructor to show techniques on a scrawny, 110 pound student. I am not sure if the stuff works because it is a good interpretation or because of the weight and strength difference.

2. Show your stuff with protection and without.

I want to see your technique without protection, in case it’s blossfechten, because this is a way to show slow and clear biomechanics. And I want to see it with full protection, because this way you can show it works. A perfect third option would be to show it in full protection during active sparring.

Just imagine how stupid you would look if you say “Imagine I hit him in the hands”

The same goes for wrestling – if you don’t have the pads to throw your partner safely, you cannot show how a technique would really go.

3. Do the shooting right

There is no need for UltraHD quality or a 3000$ camera. A decent smartphone can shoot pretty well. But I often see videos which are ruined by other mistakes – for example, shooting at night with weak lights, shooting against the sun, showing just one side and covering the important action… avoid that. Check out basic video shooting techniques and mistakes to avoid, there are plenty of guides online.

4. Use good HEMA equipment

If you have steel swords, please use steel swords. An interpretation with a simulator that behaves like a noodle has no value at all, except if you are maybe showing some solo form.

Use masks, have protection on your forearms and good gloves, so you can really hit on them. Do not do the “student-mask/teacher-no mask” crap, it is ridiculous. When you show stuff like that, I know the student is not really trying to hit you.

Clean your equipment before shooting, if you have not done it recently – while a small thing, a rusty sword is very ugly to see. Would you trust a teacher who doesn;’t keep his equipment in the best condition possible?

5. Do it in a martial way

None of that McDojo slowmo, I am going to hit you tomorrow in the most obvious way, you are gonna counter the day after with some weird technique kind of shit. Show it slowly, fine, but after that, show it like someone is really coming for your head. This is the only way an interpretation is going to be good.

6. Speak up

Just showing is fine, but if you have something to explain, get your mask of and speak to the camera. I prefer a 10 minute clear video than 2 minutes of white-on-black text and a few exchanges.

Also, if you have alternative interpretations, show them too. If there is a similar technique in another source, show that too. If there is an important concept tying to this, explain it, and show another example of it.

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Ringen syllabus and training – part 2

This is how I want to look like when I am seventy

This is how I want to look like when I am seventy

Well, this is embarassing. In two hours our third session will begin, and I still haven’t described the second! Well, it has been a busy week. I’ll try to write up on a session every time, but it can take a few days. However, I’ll make every attempt not to go over 1 week after.

So, last time we established what ringen was, and we studied some universal wrestling basics. Things did not change too much this time.

A good warm-up is again how we started the session. We will never skip it, as any type of wrestling is dangerous from the beginning. If a sword student who has his first class is in little danger of facing injury while learning footwork and guards, a student of wrestling will face pushing, falling, and a lot of exercises that can lead to bad stuff happening to joints and muscles which are not prepared for it.

After the warm-up, again with the pushing. One girls only this time, but there was also a scrawnier guy, so she managed to face all types of structure, which I think is extremely important. While competitions may and perhaps should have weight categories, training should be all around. Facing someone stronger or someone weaker (and heavier vs lighter) teaches a lot.

We elaborated on the pushing exercises with answering to the question: What happens to the back hand when the forward one is pushing? If one hand is pushing, the other can either struggle to follow it, or pull. If you push with both hands, they both follow the intent, but pushing with one and straining the other leads to bad biomechanics. So the forward pushes and the back pulls, while still keeping control on the opponent.

Pointing out such small details is important. Wrestling is relatively simple – you push, you pull, you turn and twist, you lift and you hit. Actions are natural. But there are always better ways to deliver them, and the devil is especially in those details.

We continued with break fall practice, this time from both lower and knee position. Things are looking good, people are falling more naturally, although some still have problems. It is a long process, learning to fall. It is not a perfect technique in and itself – if someone is throwing you with intent, it is practically impossible for the fall not to hurt. It is also hard psychologically. This is the reason it is easy to learn it when you are younger, as I did.

We spent a lot of time on falling exercises and talking about different options and situations. Sasho, who had has some experience in Aikido, assisted me quite a lot. I could demonstrate on him what a real throw does, and he took some vicious binding with the floor to help me explain the point. It is almost impossible to teach wrestling on your own, without having someone at least capable of breakfalling properly to demonstrate on, so he was a big help.

The last thing for the session was the first Fiore and Auerswald technique. Not the upper jey Fiore shows, or the pulling down lock Auerswald has. No, the first thing is the check – someone has grabbed you, and you use you arm to gauge the bind – to feel if he is weak or strong, soft or hard. I call it a check. Fiore calls it Dente de Chingiare. God knows what Fabian calls it.

The first is that one makes a short wind for the hand, left and right. Thereby you shall see how the opponent will respond to a hold.

The first is that one makes a short wind for the hand, left and right. Thereby you shall see how the opponent will respond to a hold.

Oh, yes, “the short winding”. Still, it is a very basic thing. I demonstrated what could be done from it (both in Fiore, Auerswald, and other options not present, but implied in the MSs), but I urged the students to just use it as a gauge and a basic “control and feel” tool.

We ended or practice with two sparring sessions, 1 minute each. First, it was against Pancho, again on the basic rules – just pushing each other around. It was fun, but I still could not throw him full force – I have seen his breakfalls, they are good, but not perfect… So he has to learn.

The second one was with Sasho. to demonstrate what we do when locks are allowed. Things were much different, as you can imagine, and we have created the second ruleset – locks and keys allowed.

So, what new stuff did we have this time?

  • Breakfalls on medium level – on the knee
  • The first winding, or check
  • The sparring rule set with locks and keys allowed.

Well, time to go to training.

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Ringen syllabus and training – part 1

Pascha_Ringen_26'So, finally to review the training session. As I explained yesterday, our school formed a group specifically for the study of ringen and abrazare.

The purpose of this post is not just to go over a training session (something I’ll do for each one I attend), but also to construct and filter a sort of syllabus through observing what we do, what effects it has on learning the grappling arts of Medieval Europe, and… also just to write down my first steps as an instructor.

As the people in the group are all at least a year in their training in fencing, I often used analogues to what they have already experienced. Also, I want their R&A training to be an addition and supplement to their fencing, not a completely foreign subject. After all, fechten means fighting.

As such, we began with a warm-up which was partially what we do in fencing (stretching arms, hands, fingers, torso) and partially some new things. To be exact – stretching the legs, warming up the hips, knees and the spine. All of these receive much more pressure in wrestling as compared to fencing.

It was fun, because both Dinko and I found out that we had lost some flexibility.

After that followed footwork. Two of our 4 basic steps form fencing were done as normal – with a partner, but instead of just using him as a shadow, we had hand contact. This taught people who already knew the steps what they would feel like when performed with arm contact, instead of blade contact.

Pushing was the first actual wrestling-specific exercise. The point was not to learn a technique, but instead get a feeling of pushing and being pushed. A student just steps in against his partner, and pushes him on the shoulder or breasts. The point is not to push them to the floor, but to just break their static posture and push them back. I did not issue any technical specifics, I only told the opposing party to apply some resistance. I did not want to explain a technique, but rather let them feel it on their own.

It was a lot of pushing. Of course, it was harder on the girls. We were 4 men, weighing between 80 and 110 kg, and with a height range of 1,75 – 1,95 m. We changed partners so everyone could have a try against everyone else.

To my utter joy, even the lighter ones grasped the idea of putting their body weight behind their outstretched arm and sinking almost completely on their own. They quickly figured that the easier way is to use just one arm, if you want to keep your position and not lose your own balance. This way, without knowing it, they learned the Posta Longa in Fiore’s Abrazare.

This one.

After that, we continued with another type of pushing – both hands from both sides on the opponent, near his shoulders, a very basic grab. So as thing to be equal, both students have one arm on the inside and one arm on the outside. They have to push with steps and body behind it, with the outside and inside arms.

Close to this…

… and to this.

Again, this worked fine. Without need for too much explanation people easily felt that when you push with one arm, it is natural for the other to be brought back, and it should still keep its hold one some part of the opponent’s arm.

After some rest, Dinko introduced the next exercise – pushing with hands held together. You hold the partner’s hand in an upper handshake, and you push his own hand to his body, so it bends. It is a very basic way of diminishing the strength of an outstretched arm, and one of the variations of trapping the arms, as per Fiore. Your partner has to bring his own center of mass behind his hand and push back…. And you do this back and forth. This proved to be a bit more problematic, as the point was to not move too much with your feet, and apply a little bit more upper body flexibility. But we quickly felt that this was too much for beginners and we started doing it with footwork too. This eased the exercise, although it lost some of its significance. Maybe in a few more training session I’ll introduce the harder variant again and see what happens.

These exercises also introduced the students to two of R&A’s ranges – which may be looked as analogous to Zufechten and Krieg.

The next thing was one of the most important aspects of grappling training – learning how to fall. Besides its obvious benefits in real life (including non-fighting situations – good falling skills have saved me from a lot of injuries during the years), It is also a very important prerequisite for being able to be a good partner to your wrestling mates.

I have learned my fall in my first martial art, Aikido. By the age of 12 I could easily fall on hard wood and have no injury, so they must have been teaching us right. I also do not remember anyone suffering an injury no matter how brutal the throw (and in the dojo I trained, after I was 15, throws were often as brutal as in Judo).

On the other hand, I have seen many other martial arts teach falling, even if I was excused from participating in the basics after I showed my level of skill. A lot of times instructors rushed people, adults, but nonetheless inexperienced,  and that lead to bad form, injuries, and bad results. Which are often not understood, because many aikido, judo and jujutsu dojos have mats thick enough to not punish a bad fall. Most of these people would probably break or tear something if they were thrown on hard wood, dirt, or cement.

So me and Dinko, who had similar experiences, decided to teach the group as we were taught as children. Which means – backfalls from squatting position, slowly teaching them to roll, and not just prostrate themselves. Front falling started as just kneeling down, putting your hands in front of you correctly, and rolling on the arm to the side. This is the first, most basic level of the forward fall. People, as expected, were having a hard time not falling on a bend elbow, but as they were just a foot or two from the floor, they felt no pain and fear that blocks the mind of many beginners learning to breakfall.

And just like that, we had only 5 minutes left in our training session. I had promised Pancho, the tallest, most physically fit guy, to wrestle him a bit. While his previous experience in martial arts was in taekwondo, I knew he was it enough to not suffer from a bad hit on the floor. So we wrestled for the last 5 minutes, as a sort of a demonstration and a conclusion of the training session. This immediately created our first sparring ruleset – the basic one (the name is a work in progress). Only body throws, no leglocks or wrist and handlocks, just basic pushing and throwing around. The fight restarts when one guy hits the floor with 3 point. This may seem restrictive, but I’ve seen many beginners suffer an injury when they were thrown in sparring which included locks. This is because many beginners do not realize when a lock occurs and when their hand, leg or arm is in real danger of injury. They first need to experience the locks slowly and the pressure gradually.

I intend to introduce more sparring rulesets, of course – ones that allow locks, heavier throws, even ones that continue on the ground to some extent, and also, ones that include strikes and kicks – gradually. This way the students will consume the syllabus step by step, and they will understand what changes each part of R&A brings in the fight.

So, to summarize:

  • Warm-up, centered on legs, knees, spine and back.
  • Pushing with one hand – Posta Longa
  • Pushing with two hands
  • Pushing from upper handshake
  • Low leveled break falls – back and front
  • Basic wrestling rule set sparring

I intend to focus more on breakfalls next time, while also spending some time on footwork and pushing, but not as much as this session. One thing I’ll add is the most basic strike – hammerfist. For one reason or another, I’ll present a version where you grab and target the collarbone. I want to quickly impart into the minds of students that striking was used and it is a danger one might face when fighting, no matter how good a grappler they are. More on it, next time.

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