Watch this space!

ACMA will be presenting a lecture class “From Text to Practice” for Arlington County Public Schools Continuing Education.  We will post registration information here as soon as the fall course catalog becomes available.  Mark your calendars!

Historical European Martial Arts

The martial arts of medieval Europe were sophisticated systems of combat, in armor and without. Two opponents might engage with spear, sword, sword and buckler, dagger, or even unarmed.  This unique workshop will focus on the martial arts system of medieval Europe.  In addition to the weaponry and skills of the time, students will learn about the surviving documents from which these techniques are based.

 

Details:                 1 class of 2 hours

Time:                     7pm to 9pm

Date:                     Tuesday, September 26th

Location:              Washington Lee High School, 1301 N. Stafford Street, Arlington Va. 22201

Practicing without a partner

All by myself, don’t want to be all by myself…

But sometimes it is inevitable.  For whatever reason, you find yourself without a practice partner.  What to do?  Solo drills.  But solo drills are boring!  Yes, they can be.  But any training practice can be boring on occasion.  Remember why you started training in the first place.  Going solo can serve you well.

One nice thing about solo drills, minimal equipment is required.  You can certainly go without a mask and gambeson.  Gloves are only needed if you are prone to blisters.  If available, a full length mirror (or a glass sliding door at night) provides excellent feedback.  You can also record yourself for immediate feedback.

How should you structure a solo practice?  Any way you want. It is all about you.  Some people prefer to keep it completely freeform and spontaneous, moving from one drill to the next without necessarily planning ahead.  I prefer to set up my solo practice the same way that I would teach a lesson, first identifying a training goal or concept on which to focus.  The practice itself starts with a warmup exercise, transitioning into a technically oriented drill, followed by more spontaneous freeplay.

For a warmup, you can perform any sort of aerobic or conditioning exercise.  Most often I practice specific footwork associated with that day’s goal and save jogging or toning for off days.  I find footwork to be an important part of my solo practice.  When I am having difficulty making a technique work with a partner, the majority of the time it turns out that the fault was in my footwork and not the bladework.  Employing footwork as an integral part of my solo training has a positive effect on my partner training.

The warmup is probably the hardest part of my solo practice, I am trying to get motivated and overcome inertia.  Once I have started moving around, I am eager to pick up my sword and move into cutting drills.  Easy to construct and of definite value for improving technique are drills involving performing the same cuts over and over.  Examples include following the Meyer cutting diagram, repetitions of the Meisterhaue, or simply performing basic cuts from above or below over and over again.  Feedback is a little more important for bladework drills than for footwork so employing that reflective surface or camera is invaluable.  Another method for feedback is to use a target or pell.  Thrust into an old throw pillow hung on a wall.  Get creative finding something around the house which you can hit repeatedly without damage to it or your sword.

Now that you have those creative juices flowing, it is time to move on to shadow fencing.  So I lied when I said the warmup was the hardest part of my solo practice.  I find fencing an imaginary partner is akin to playing rock, paper, scissors against yourself.  As a result, my shadow fencing is not perfectly freeform.  I tend to script both my imaginary partner and myself, though not beyond the first movement or two.   Those scripted initial moves target that practice session’s training goal.  After that, it becomes somewhat easier to let the sword take me where it wants to go.  Visualization is important.  I have to ask myself why I would respond or act in that fashion.

Though being able to play with a buddy is inherently more fun, once you have finished your solo practice session, your body should be comfortably tired and your brain comfortably full.

Practice, practice, practice!

I am back from a fantastic event, the Vancouver International Swordplay Symposium 2017, and feeling rejuvenated.  Practices will be resuming!  As it appears the weather seems to be on a warming trend we will be training at our outdoor venue.  For now, practice will take place during daylight hours on Saturdays and/or Sundays.  Newcomers are always welcome.  Use our contact page or send an email to AcademyChivalricMA@gmail.com for details.

All I Need to Know in Life I Learned from Master Liechtenauer

“Practice knighthood and learn
the Art that dignifies you.”
Be chivalrous. Be studious.

“Be a good grappler in wrestling;
lance, spear, sword and messer
handle manfully,
and foil them in your opponent’s hands.”
Find the right tool for the job, there’s plenty to choose from.  Learn to use them all.

“He who follows the strokes,
should rejoice little in his art.”
Don’t simply follow.  Be proactive.

“Do not fight above on the left if you are right-handed;
and if you are left-handed,
on the right you limp was well.”
Work from the areas where you are the most capable.  Always start from a position of strength.

“Before and After, these two things,
are to all skill a well-spring.”
Timing is everything.

“Four openings know,
aim:  so you hit certainly.”
Watch for and take advantage of opportunities.

“And test the attacks
if they are soft or hard.”
Never fight force with force.  Go around, yield, find another way.

“Learn the feeling.
The word Instantly slices sharply.”
Don’t take too long to make a decision, but make sure you have all the data before you act.

“Whoever conducts the Failer
from below he hits at his will.”
Even if you know your first attempt will likely not succeed, attempt it anyway, but have a fall back plan in mind.

“The Squinter breaks into
whatever a buffalo strikes or thrusts.”
Bullies need to be stopped.  Sometimes all it takes is a dirty look.


Verse credit:  Christian Tobler’s translation of the Van Danzig Fechtbuch as published in his book In Saint George’s Name available from Freelance Academy Press.

Musings by Pamela Muir

Vor und Nach: Breaking guards, feints, provocations, and invitations

by Pamela Muir

Vor, Nach and Indes are translated and interpreted as timing in the fight.  When you strike first, you are in the Vor, the before timing.  If you are reacting to your opponent, you are in the Nach, the after timing.  Indes is the instantaneous moment in which you have to react in the bind.1  These can also be viewed as describing initiative or who has control of the fight.  In the Vor, you are fighting offensively, in the Nach, defensively.  We are explicitly told in the texts that we should fight in the Vor, and if we should find ourselves in the Nach, we should work to regain the Vor.

Being in the Vor means to make the first strike.

“With the word before [Vor] as has been told before, he [Liechtenauer] means that you with a good first strike [Vorschlag] shall close in without fear or hesitation and strike at the openings [Blossen], to the head and to the body, regardless whether you hit or miss you will confuse the opponent and put fear into him, so that the he does not know what to do against you”2

This leads us into the concept of breaking guards.  We know making the first strike is a good idea, but how to do it safely and effectively? Most likely your opponent will be standing in one of the four primary guards, so launching the appropriate one of the four Versetzen, strikes which counter the primary guards, is the logical choice.  Either your opponent will get hit or they must perform a defensive action.  You are in the Vor and your opponent is forced into the Nach.

Breaking their guard with one of the four Versetzen is not your only choice in the Vor.  You could also perform a feint.  A feint puts your opponent on the defensive, in the Nach, and it opens up another line for you to attack.  An example of a feint in the Lichtenauer system is the Veler, the Failer.  Start a cut towards your opponent’s open high line to draw out their parry.  As they parry, change your attack to a Zwerchau to their low line, on either the right or left side.  Both your feint and your follow up to the low line have you in the Vor.  Your opponent must remain on the defensive and is stuck in the Nach.

When breaking a guard or performing a feint, Vor and Nach are easy to identify.  It starts to get a little hazier as we move into provocations.  Let us take a look at the Sprechfenster, the Speaking Window, which is a provocative use of the guard Langenort, or Longpoint.

“Do Thus From the Speaking Window
When you come to him in the Zufechten, whether with an Unterhau or an Oberhau, always let your point shoot long from the stroke to his face or chest.  In this way you will force him to either parry or bind against your sword.  And when he has bound, then remain strongly on his sword with your long edge and stand calmly and see what he will execute against you.”3

The text goes on to explain your next step according to your opponent’s actions.  If they do nothing, you work from the bind.  If they pull away, you attack to an opening.  In these two cases, you are still the one who has the Vor.  However, they may also strike around to your other side in which case you are instructed to bind against their sword.  It appears that you have given up the Vor and must therefore act in the Nach.  That is not exactly the case, the initial action belonged to you and you set up your opponent in such a way that you know all of his possible reactions and are prepared to take advantage of whatever they do.  You have the initiative.

What about fighting from an invitational guard such as Alber, or the over the head version of Vom Tag?  Which fighter has the initiative?  The one inviting the attack, or the one who attacks?  That was a trick question. Though you may be standing in an invitational guard, you should not simply lie in wait for your opponent to take the bait.  If you do, you are most definitely fighting from the Nach.  You will be forced to defend before you can re-seize the Vor.

In the case of Vom Tag, we are fairly certain that our opponent will attack with a Zwerchau if we wait.  So we are instructed to strike first and provoke that Zwerchau.  “Note:  when you stand against him in the guard Vom Tag, then strike bravely to his head.”4  We are then given instructions on how to respond to the Zwerchau that our opponent uses in the Nach.

Even if you take the guard Alber, the advice given seems to indicate that it is better if you strike first.  “When you…stand against him in the guard called Alber, and he falls upon you with his sword before you come up, then remain thus with your sword beneath his and lift upwards.”5  The assumption is that you still intended to strike first, and you are instructed how to act if that plan fails and you were forced into the Nach.

As stated above, we know that all guards can be broken.  If we simply wait for the attack, even if we know what form it is likely to take, we have lost the initiative. “Therefore Liechtenauer does not hold the guards in such a high esteem; he is more interested in that you try to win the first strike [Vorschlag].”6  Assuming an invitational guard without intending to strike first leaves you in the Nach.

Which brings us back to the beginning of this post.  In order to control the fight, you must be fighting in the Vor and you accomplish that by making the first strike.  That first strike should be carefully planned as a feint, a provocation, or a breaking of a guard, so that you can limit and predict your opponent’s reactions in the Nach.

 


1 I would argue that Indes is a point in space and time, but that is fuel for another post.

2 Lindholm, David, trans. Cod.HS.3227a (n.d.): n. pag. Web. <http://www.hroarr.com/manuals/liechtenauer/Dobringer_A5_sidebyside.pdf&gt;. 21r.

3 Tobler, Christian Henry. In Saint George’s Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts. Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2010. Print. p. 129.

4 Tobler, Christian Henry. In Saint George’s Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts. Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2010. Print. p. 117.

5 Tobler, Christian Henry. In Saint George’s Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts. Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2010. Print. p. 124.

6 Lindholm, David, trans. Cod.HS.3227a (n.d.): n. pag. Web. <http://www.hroarr.com/manuals/liechtenauer/Dobringer_A5_sidebyside.pdf&gt;. 32r.

Additional resource:

Tobler, Christian Henry. Fighting with the German Longsword. Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2015. Print.

Should women fencers wear chest protectors?

by Pamela Muir

Yes, unequivocally yes. Chest protectors should be worn for practice drills, free fencing and tournaments. Yet quite a few women participating in western martial arts do not. How come? Well, those plastic Barbie chests are unattractive. Men’s chest protectors don’t look any better and any plastic chest protector is uncomfortable and can restrict your movement. Even those that are separate shells inserted into a sports bra can be uncomfortable. Besides all that, a woman fencer may feel that she needs to appear tougher and so she forgoes the obvious piece of safety gear that highlights her difference from the men. I used variations of those excuses for years until another coach bluntly explained to me the long term damage that I could be doing to myself. I put aside my wrongly placed pride and began to wear one.

The potential for long term damage is the primary reason women should wear chest protectors. What could initially be ignored as just a bruise, may actually result in a more serious condition called fat necrosis. When the fatty breast tissue is subjected to trauma it can die or form scar tissue. Symptoms of breast fat necrosis may include lumps, deformation, and/or drainage. Though fat necrosis is a benign condition, it’s symptoms can mimic breast cancer even on a mammogram, leading to more imaging with a sonogram or MRI, or even a biopsy. Besides the potential cancer scare, breast fat necrosis can be a painful and disfiguring condition.

Though not as serious as breast fat necrosis, injury to the breast can also cause calcifications, small calcium deposits in the breast tissue. Calcifications are not painful and they do not have any other physical symptoms that you would notice. However, the aftermath of a localized blow to the breast tissue, months or years later, may appear as as white specks on your mammogram. These may form a pattern similar to that caused by some types of breast cancer, sending you once again for more images and/or a biopsy. Microcalcifications may not be painful or disfiguring by themselves, but the follow up procedures, once the specks appear on your mammogram, are painful, scary, and potentially resulting in permanent scars. I can tell you from personal experience, if you are in a high risk category for breast cancer, these microcalcifications from old bruises will be a recurring cause of worry for you and your radiologist.

There is a less obvious reason why a woman should wear a chest protector when working with a partner. It is simply considerate. Imagine fencing a man who was not wearing an athletic cup. Would you deliberately aim for the groin or would you try to avoid hitting him there, if possible? I will make the generalization that most people prefer to not deliberately hit a woman on an unprotected breast. As the chest and torso is a prime target area, if you are a woman who is not wearing a chest protector, you are putting your partner at an unfair disadvantage. In a drill situation, when your partner is required to hit you in the torso, wear a chest protector. Don’t place your partner in that uncomfortable situation and compromise his or her training in the process.

Oh, and one more reason to wear a chest protector. That one blow, or worse, repeated blows, in just the right spot… it hurts!

Most of what I have said has been aimed at women, however men need to be aware of these issues as well. Whether you are a man or woman, in an instructor role or working as a training partner, ask, or nag, the women you are training with to wear a chest protector. It’s healthier for them and a better training situation for you.

The fine, but important, print: Women, if you do notice anything unusual about your breasts, see your doctor.

Book review

Fighting with the German Longsword by Christian Henry Tobler, the revised and expanded edition.

Book review by Pamela Muir

Back when I started teaching historical swordsmanship the first edition of Fighting with the German Longsword by Christian Henry Tobler was still a new book.  A fellow instructor advised me that if I was ever stuck for a class, I could just open the book at random and that could be my lesson.  While choosing random lessons didn’t fit with my teaching style, as I prefer cohesive units of study spread over several class periods, it wasn’t far from the truth.  Mr. Tobler’s book was the teaching resource.  Now we have the revised and expanded edition available.  As a reader for this edition, I had a preview of the text, but it wasn’t until I had the hardback color copy in my hands that I was able to marvel how fantastic the new book really is for both instructors and students alike.

The first thing that I noticed was the gorgeous layout and design by Mr. Robert N. Charrette. It is bright and crisp as a modern textbook, yet there are subtle nods to the medieval tradition.  The chapters and subsections are clearly marked and corresponding photos are easily found near the technique they illustrate.  Drills and flowcharts are precisely outlined.  Each page of a chapter has the chapter name faintly written in a medieval-esque text in the background.  Besides being an aesthetic touch, it is a useful feature when looking up a specific topic.  The first page of each chapter includes an illustration from one of the medieval swordsmanship treatises, an attractive reminder of what the book is all about.

The second obvious standout of the new edition is the photography by Messrs. Christopher Valli and Janusz Michael Saba.  The photos showing a specific position such as the guards, depicted from both front and side, are clear and well lit, but it is the ones illustrating the dynamics of techniques that stand out.  As Mr. Tobler and his senior students demonstrated they were photographed using a burst setting for the camera.  Thus each movement is captured “live,” resulting in a fluid feel as well as a more realistic image of the correct way to perform the action.

Besides the stunning presentation, it is its use as a curriculum guide that makes it of value to the historical European martial arts practitioner.  Like its predecessor, the first edition, it begins with the basics, presenting the footwork and guards. The footwork has accompanying movement diagrams using a medieval style footprint, a nice detail.  From there the book goes into depth on the core principles of the Liechtenauer tradition.  Those that have read the first edition will notice that some of the interpretations have been updated and the text has been greatly expanded.  Concepts are explained in greater detail and new material has been added, such as fleshing out Indes and Überlaufen and giving Nebenhut its own chapter.

As a curriculum guide, the dozens of drills are invaluable. A student could spend considerable time with the solo drills covering guard transitions and cutting patterns.  Partners can find drills to develop Fühlen,  or work on the master strokes, provocations, counterattacks, etc.  The list goes on.  And, speaking of lists, there is a pretty handy list of drills at the back of the book as well.

Another useful feature are the flowcharts/decision trees.  At the end of each of the master strokes chapters is a flowchart depicting the possible actions associated with that strike.  Though these were also included in the first edition, the ones in this addition are clearer and easier to read.  The text is larger and bolder and the question boxes are octagonal to differentiate them from the action boxes.

I have used the first edition as a training and instructing tool for a long time and it shows.  My copy is dog-eared and littered with scrap paper bookmarks and penciled notes.  Though I intend to make just as much, likely even more, use out of the second edition, I predict that my color hardback version will stay pristine much longer.  During practice sessions I will be able to use the ebook version.  While the hardback version is great for planning out a practice session in advance, the ebook will come in handy in the midst of a session.  The ebook features make it easy to use for a quick lookup of a topic.  The table of contents is linked so that you can easily jump to a chapter.  I can bookmark pages as well as highlight text and add notes.  Though the lovely layout is not as well preserved in the electronic version, the graphics, flowcharts, footwork diagrams, and color photographs, are still available.

So, though I am not inclined to open the book to a random page and proceed in a practice session from there, it certainly is possible.  The revised and expanded edition of Fighting with the German Longsword should be a useful resource in any practitioner’s library, whether beginner, following the curriculum in order, or advanced, using it as a lesson plan on specific topics.

Freelance Academy Press offers the book as a black and white paperback, a color ebook (Kindle), or a limited special edition.  The color hardback special edition is worth the cost.  Not only does it come with the ebook, but it is signed by the author.  Now, how cool is that?

Modern students practicing the knightly arts