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HEMA Ratings Beta Released

by Meg Floyd

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Petter Brodin and Markus Koivisto have finally released a much-anticipated beta of their HEMA Rankings system, which ranks fighters globally according to the submitted statistics of several events, dating all the way back to Swordfish 2011.

Fighters are ranked by weapon and tournament. Currently the system has data for the following weapons: steel longsword (open and women’s), rapier and dagger, saber, sword and buckler, and sidesword. If some of the ratings seem a bit off for American fencers, keep in mind the data for Longpoint 2016 and Longpoint South are missing, which will likely bump everyone around some.

Fighters are ranked using a number generated by a Glicko-2 algorithm, a math algorithm for ranking players’ strengths in games of skill, which you can read about in detail here. It’s also used notably for chess rankings and online game servers.

How does it work? The About page says, “The key assumptions here are at work are the following:

The performance of each player in each match is a normally distributed random variable. Although a player might perform significantly better or worse from one game to the next, we assume that the mean value of the performances of any given player changes only slowly over time.

Performance can only be inferred from wins, draws and losses. Therefore, if a player wins a game, he is assumed to have performed at a higher level than his opponent for that game. Conversely if he loses, he is assumed to have performed at a lower level. If the game is a draw, the two players are assumed to have performed at nearly the same level.

Suppose two players, both rated 1700, played a tournament game with the first player defeating the second. Suppose that the first player had just returned to tournament play after many years, while the second player plays every weekend. In this situation, the first player’s rating of 1700 is not a very reliable measure of his strength, while the second player’s rating of 1700 is much more trustworthy. Our intuition tells us that that

– (1) the first player’s rating should increase by a large amount (more than 16 points) because his rating of 1700 is not believable in the first place, and that defeating a player with a fairly precise rating of 1700 is reasonable evidence that his strength is probably much higher than 1700, and

– (2) the second player’s rating should decrease by a small amount because his rating is already precisely measured to be near 1700, and that he loses to a player whose rating cannot be trusted, so that very little information about his own playing strength has been learned.”

Brodin said in a recent Facebook post that there’s plans to add search functionality, as well as profile pages for each fighter, etc.

If you’re a tournament organizer and would like to submit your event, please use the Contact Page. For a full list of events used in the data set, see the Events Page.


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Op/Ed: Winning, And Losing, And Everything In Between: A Coming of Age

by Meg Floyd

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Longpoint 2016 ended last weekend. Social media, expectedly, has exploded in the usual congratulations, navel-gazing, and general hurrahing of such a large event that’s center to many people’s fencing lives, at least here in the U.S. This Longpoint was unlike any other I’ve been to so far for many reasons–and I’ve been to all that were hosted so far, except for 2012. I went with the largest team my club’s ever fielded (six total), and most of my clubmates did really well. Four of the five were the pool winners and advanced to elims in open longsword. One person went on to elims in rapier. We brought home a couple of medals in cutting and one in paired techniques. It was a good year for the club. I won matches in all of my pools in both rapier and longsword, which is better overall than I think I’ve ever done at a tournament (unless you count events where I competed only in women’s longsword, because I’ve medaled in that a few times). I was really happy with how I fought, and for once felt like my competitive results are an accurate reflection of where I am right now in my training, particularly in rapier and dagger, which is what I’ve been focused on this past year.

And Longpoint this year was tough. Not just the usual old guard of instructors who seem to hog the medals, but their students who’ve been around for a few years are all getting much better. Eliminations this year in open longsword were brutal, many matches running down to the last exchange or sudden death. It’s a great place for the community to be, especially when I think back five years ago to the floppy Rawlings I owned and the football pads I wore under an XXXL sweatshirt to compete at Longpoint that year.

But that’s not what’s occupied my thoughts since I’ve gotten home. Late on Saturday night, after finals and the things that we don’t talk about happened, I sat drinking with a few people and listening to them talk about all the fencers they admire and all the great fighting they saw–what you might expect a swordfighter to be occupied with the night after the most prestigious tournament on the eastern seaboard when they’ve gotten into their cups. As I sat listening and trying to finish my wine, I reflected at how boring prodigies and prophets really are. They’re great exemplars, sure, but I have a suspicion they’re mostly the stuff of other people’s imaginations. I’ve never known a good fencer who called it easy or didn’t suffer or hurt for their knowledge. More importantly, the vast majority of fighters, especially in a sport like HEMA which is still grass roots and amateur, are not going to experience it as prophets or prodigies. It’s going to be hard work. It’s going to be a grind. And some fencers, some of the most interesting and best fencers I’ve ever met, are ones that have been shaped by the moments where they’ve lost or been unable to perform for one reason or another.

The prodigal son of historical fencing, Axel Pettersson, is perhaps the most well-known name in (and outside) of our community. When people look at Axel, they probably see and remember gold medals and victories or an intimidating opponent across the ring. When I look at Axel I remember the times over the years when I’ve seen him sidelined by injuries or illness, and whatever tenacity it took to get through that barrier and come back to retrain through the lost time and then become even better. I cannot make any elucidations as to Axel’s feelings or motivations during those moments where he faced the question of What are you willing to do to keep going at this?, but I have a suspicion they perhaps shaped his training more than awards have. Then again, perhaps not. I am not, after all, psychic.

I ran across a great article this afternoon from a UFC fighter musing about a fight he lost. He said:

I go to the shower, the one I’d envisioned coming back to after a win, and rinse the blood….I find myself telling a UFC employee I’m fine, although he hadn’t even asked if I was or not. Maybe it was his reaction when he saw me. The looks are always different after a loss. Perhaps it was me telling myself I was fine. I go back to the hotel, where everyone from the event is reliving the night. Hiding face has never sat well with me after a defeat. I feign my best act of indifference. It is disingenuous, and exhaustingly so. It’s a defense mechanism, but maintaining a “worse things have happened” response to failures can last only so long in the sports world. The sky may not be falling, but that doesn’t make me any less embarrassed…. The better fighter on a night is the one who was victorious. That’s the point of fighting, to figure out who’s better. The whole crux of sports is based on execution, and in no competitive event is it ever about what we could have done, or what we are capable of, but rather what it is we actually do. I wasn’t better that night, and that’s what matters; that night. That’s how I have to look at it because that’s how I grow. Consistency, night in and night out, that’s the only way this works. Mental errors are a tough thing to come to grips with, and it’s best for me to stay positive by refusing to have a fixed mindset when it comes to fight IQ. Instead, I keep one of growth. Physicality can be peaked, athleticism too, but what can never be capped is an ability to learn, if we make an effort to do so.

I’m not a pro UFC fighter, but the words hit home and brought me back to the moment of loss that has most defined my fencing career so far. Swordfish 2013, the only Swordfish I’d ever been to, was a devastating loss for me. I competed in women’s and open longsword and won not a single fight. I remember sitting in the gym lobby after the finals livestream, broken-fingered, covered in black and blue welts, dazed and still exhausted with jet lag, wondering how after an entire year of build up and training and working harder than I ever had in my life, that it had come to this. How could I have lost? I didn’t deserve to lose, after all the work I put in! I almost quit fencing that night, I was so angry and distressed. That moment of complete devastation would come to shape everything about how I make goals and the way I train for many years to come. It many ways, it still defines me internally.

It took a lot of soul-searching and hard thinking to finally come to accept that the beautiful thing about fencing is it’s not on a schedule. If I’m still fencing in ten years, a loss one year will be a learning moment among many moments instead of a soul-crushing defeat. This way a single event becomes both important and unimportant at the same time. I’m going to progress as fast and as far as I’m going to progress, and not any more than that. Some things–like injuries and illness–are out of my control. Some things, like my weight and the amount of effort and time I put in, are. How fast other people progress, how tall or fit or fast or sleek or talented they are, makes no difference to me. I’ll still be here fencing in the years to come, as long as my body lets me.

Three years and a lot of fencing later, I’m still here. I’m finally fencing the way I want to fence, things are finally clicking, and I’m finally figuring out how I need to train to make things work for me. I’m interested in different things now, like helping my students and clubmates, and watching them go through some of the same things I’ve experienced. I hope, at times, I’ve been able to make it easier for them by coaching or sharing my experiences. I’m not sure I have. Maybe writing this will help someone reading it. Things are often easier when you realize you’re not alone in what you’re experiencing.

My point, I suppose, is that the moment of loss will come. It might come sooner or later, and before or after you’ve won something, but it will come. It will force you to really ask yourself what you want from this, and what you’re really willing to give to get it. There’s no morality to the answer, truly. But it’s important to be honest with yourself. Harsh self-honesty has always been the seed to any of the real growth I’ve seen in fighters, myself included.

 


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Op/Ed: Choosing to Fight in the Open

by Meg Floyd

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I’ve been thinking about whether I should write this post for a while, partially because I’m not sure whether I’m interested in other people’s opinions of my thoughts, nor am I sure I have anything uniquely insightful worth sharing. I also needed some time to process everything that went on last weekend, and what, if any, conclusions, I could draw from it in a meaningful fashion.

I was at the Purpleheart Armoury Open last weekend, which is one of the larger North American tournaments, and certainly one of the oldest. (It started as the Hammertertz Forum Gathering in 2010, then became Fechtschule America 2011-2013, and is currently Purpleheart Open.) It was the first big open I competed in in 2013. (I did LP 2011, but that was just 30-odd people, and the Meyer Open in 2012, but that was also pretty tiny.) At that time, women’s tournaments were just starting to be a thing. I didn’t like them. I refused to fight in the women’s tournament at Fechtschule America that year, and only fought in the open. I won one match and broke my thumb and index finger.

I’ve gone back and forth on women’s tournaments in general over the years. After the World Wide Open in 2012 and right up until Swordfish 2013, I refused to fight in them at all. Women’s tournaments in the beginning were tiny, the skill level was markedly lower, and I felt bad about any successes I had in them, like they weren’t “real.” Ask me which medal I feel most ambivalent about, and it’s the bronze I won in Germany in 2012, in a tournament of five people when I still fenced in jeans and hadn’t really trained at all.

However, the years have got along, and a few things became clearer to me with the passage of time. If we want more than one or two women at tournaments, other women have to participate and lead the way. Yeah, women’s tournaments suck in comparison to the open, but that’s because there’s so few and so many of the women fencing are new. The years have passed and it’s gotten markedly better. The first women’s tournament I’ve ever fought in that I would call a legit tournament with really good fencing and a lot of people was Longpoint’s women’s longsword last year, in 2015. Thirty or so fighters, and some of them really excellent. (Please, social media, hush your cries of “the women are more technical”; largely we haven’t been over the past few years at the not insignificant number of tournaments I’ve attended. We’re catching up, but we’re still behind.) But the fact that there were thirty women, not five, says something. The fact that some of them had been training longer than a year or two or three says something too.

Another thing that’s become clear to me is there is a bad part to the success of women’s tournaments: fewer women in the open, especially as events make it an exclusive choice to compete in women’s or the open. Making this is an exclusive choice is something which, as an organizer, I totally understand. But tge one thing that drives me nuts, above all else, is the supposition that women should be fighting in women’s and not the open because it isn’t “safe.” I know one club here in North America that won’t even let their female students compete in the open, ever. (Here I snort at a school telling their students whether or not they’re “allowed” to do anything, being dues-paying adults, but I digress.) It’s a bloody longsword tournament. It’s not supposed to be safe! Safe from likely catastrophic injury or death, yea. Safe from all injury, bumps, and bruises, no. I would not characterize myself as God’s gift to Lichtenauer fencing in any way, and I’ve been competing in opens since 2011 with nothing worse than bad bruises and a couple of broken fingers. Choose to compete where you may, but don’t tell our new female fencers they don’t have a place in the open.  And yet I’ve seen more male coaches, and worse, certain noted female fencers doing just that. And I blame you. Oh yes, I blame you. I blame you for limiting the future of female fencers who don’t even know they have a choice.

I realized another thing about women’s tournaments–that people need different things at different times in their training journeys. Last year, in 2015, after years of competing a lot and working hard and losing a lot, what I needed were goals to succeed at. I needed to win. I competed in four women’s longsword tournaments last year, went to finals in three, and brought home a silver from two. I still feel kind of ambivalent about these medals, considering my performance in the opens over the years. (Read: not well.) If the open was harder, surely that was the “true” test in my mind for how I was doing in my fencing. Winning a match in the open at LP this year was the most proud I’ve ever been of myself in my fencing career. However, the fact that I medaled at these events gave me some much-needed confidence at a time when I sorely needed it. So I take those medals for what they were, a note of progress.

As the years have marched on, more and more events are choosing to make competing in the open or the women’s longsword tournament exclusive options. PHO was one such tournament this year, and so I chose the open. I was the only woman. I think there were 8 or 10 women in the women’s tournament. I can think of at least one who would’ve done well in the open, who bluntly, I think, belonged there. I hope she signs up one day. She’s really good. I hope well-meaning but chauvinistic currents of HEMA culture don’t convince her she shouldn’t, but then again, she’s a grown ass woman who can make her own choices.

The next thing I learned is that while women’s, overall, have been a net good for the community, they are no longer what I need personally. The confidence gained from wins is too overshadowed by the ambivalence of constantly wondering if it’s on some level a hollow victory.

So this past weekend there I was, in the open. I had four matches. Three were narrow losses (within a couple of points.) My pool fights, over all, were fantastic. I fenced better than I’ve ever fenced in technical terms, in any women’s, in any open. The only thing I can credit that for is the 5-6 days a week I’ve been fencing since last winter, and really hitting the manuals to redesign our curriculum, and having a lot of very good people in my club to fight with. I had several people come up to me after the tournament and tell me how much they loved watching me fight, and that they wanted to fight me. This meant more to me than any medal I’ve ever gotten. In the end, I was fine with where I was, and how I did, and felt satisfied that it was as real a piece of feedback as I could get from something like a tournament.

So in a nutshell – set your own standards. Stand by them in your own training. Don’t confuse what’s right with you for automatically being what’s right for the community at large. They may not be the same thing. And always, train hard, keep pushing, keep fencing.


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Review of the New Leon Paul HEMA Mask

by Peter Smallridge

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Leon Paul have a new HEMA mask in prototype production, and we tested it. Not scientifically, because we lack the qualifications, the patience, or the equipment. But with our own skulls inside, in the fires of the European federschwert tournament scene. In the best tradition of Hunter S. Thompson and Gonzo journalism, we took a bunch of drugs with a Samoan attorney threw ourselves into the task wholeheartedly. Three hard fought tournaments, three consecutive weekends, three countries. How did it fare? Is the world of HEMA forever changed? Or is it just another mask, with “HEMA” written on the side?

For any readers living shipwrecked on the rocky shores of Tierra del Fuego, the London-based Leon Paul are a big name in (Olympic) fencing. They’re the preferred suppliers of USFA, Fédération Française d’Escrime (FFE), Australian Fencing Federation, British Fencing and Real Federacion Espanola de Esgrima, and more to the point they equipped James Bond. They’ve recently branched out into actively marketing HEMA gear, rather than merely deigning to let HEMAists purchase their sport fencing ranges. This has included all-new “Titan” jackets and other kit, developed in co-operation with the leading HEMA-specific supplier of such things, SPES. The masks on offer, though, have not been HEMA-customized, being their existing X-Change Coaching Mask (in black, of course).

Now, that’s changing. Except for the defunct That Guy’s masks, no-one has ever made a mask specifically for modern HEMA before, as far as we know. Jacek Bujko, of Leon Paul Poland, has produced a mask based off the existing X-Change masks, but with:

  • Mesh wire 10% thicker
  • Unpainted on the outside
  • Steel rims both front and back
  • New prototype HEMA bib (thicker, longer)
  • Contour Plus strap (absolutely no chance of tearing the mask off the head in combat)

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