All Swords All The Time – Updates Tuesdays and Fridays

Leave a comment

Letters to the Community: James Clark

The HEMA community has exploded in the last four years, especially after the widely-publicized and well-received coverage of Longpoint by The New York Times. Since then, the number of HEMA students and clubs has exploded. This has come with its good and bad parts–the fruition of a dream that many people worked tirelessly for for years. However, it’s also led to a breakdown of communication between the community at large and the people who built it.

This article series is a chance for members within the community to hear from some of the people who built it–where HEMA comes from, what it’s intended for, and why some things are done the way they are, as well as ideas for tackling problems our community currently faces.

This is the first of those letters, from an instructor in the northeastern U.S. named James Clark. James has been studying HEMA for 16 years, and is currently affiliated with Capital KdF and MEMAG Luray. His current focus is montante.


Letter to the community, from James Clark: 

Throughout my competitive HEMA career, I have received many, many, injuries. I’ve had my ankle broken by being intentionally crushed by a friend at one event, each of my wrists has been broken twice (two triple-fractures on one, and one double and one triple on the other), my left shoulder’s been dislocated in ringen at another, three fingers broken (my left thumb twice), five concussions, and too many bruises and face-waffles to count. I know that I have also myself dealt out at least two concussions to others I care about.

One thing I’ve learned through this, is that face-to-face voicing of force concerns is something that’s always lacked in HEMA. When it does happen face to face, it’s enough of a shock that feels personal. A friend from Maryland bringing mine up to me face to face one Longpoint followed by a thinly-veiled passive aggressive post after [Longpoint South], is what caused me to take a serious, then more serious, look at my buffalo-ish fencing, as while I was fast, I didn’t think I was hitting terribly strong (I was wrong).

It also got me started paying attention to others complaining about similar things at my home club and other events. Complaints are very rarely directed at the offender, always complaining behind the back after the fact to others, or scowling off on the sideline or to another spar. This was when we in HEMA were still in the knowing-everyone category.

Cultures of excessive force, irreverence, and harm-to-win, form in the school when people choose to save face with someone by not complaining. The harmer learns either that their excess let them win, that taking a hit to give a hit is a good idea, or that someone beating them should be punished. Then that goes into an event, where these new competitive souls can turn off their “this is my school” inhibition button and “let loose” even more for the sake of competition. Someone who has not learned the boundaries of harm is not going to be able to feel when they cross it, and pose a danger to others.

Nowadays in HEMA, this same withdrawn attitude has gone online, with more people who have never met each other and have even less of a reason to care about each other than in years past. On top of that, the faces of HEMA as well as most event organizers and school leaders have a laissez faire attitude of “ignore it and it’ll take care of itself” or “well, others will take care of it, we don’t need to punish anything ourselves” when they see or hear about it in other schools or events.

The internet community of practitioners meanwhile does what it does best, which is get threateningly angry for a week or two, then completely forget about the problem and move on. Rather than the approach of willful, hopeful, ignorance or that of petulant anger, we need to learn to enforce ourselves against both willful and neglectful harm. We need to remove intentional irreverent harm as a possible, redeemable, action for winning a bout or tournament, which unfortunately does mean unintentional breaks of discipline need to be handled similarly to intentional violations.

At events, individuals that who perform actions intentionally harmful, or seemingly intentionally harmful, need punishment at that point of infraction. This operant conditioning is intended to give a visceral response to someone pumping with adrenaline, who can now no longer use it. People remember they didn’t get their reward, people remember when they did something bad in front of their peers. Whether that punishment is a penalty, or forfeiture from the tournament, or expulsion from the event would depend on the infraction.

People with empathy will strive for more discipline after receiving an eye-opener. Someone without empathy will continuously be kicked out, and schools will learn to teach which behaviors are unacceptable, or stop bringing undisciplined people for competition before they’re ready. Groups have very small attention spans, an individual person learns and remembers. When a person is punished, they will take that to their group, and that group will learn and remember from that person more easily. This allows the groups to more easily, readily, and quickly change their internal cultures to self-select people who are too forceful or spiteful and train that out of them.

People will speak out, people will pay more attention to themselves, and the culture of “harm-to-win” will diminish in that club. Without both event culture and school cultures cracking down together, this will probably just steadily worsen.


1 Comment

Interview with Luis Preto, JdP instructor

by Peter Smallridge

Luis Preto is a practitioner and coach of Jogo do Pau, a traditional baton and staff fighting art from Portugal. He is author of many books about this martial art as well as a new DVD, FROM BATTLEFIELDS TO DUELLING: THE EVOLUTION OF JOGO DO PAU, all of which are available from his website the http://www.pretomartialarts.com/


PS: Hi Luis, thanks for doing this. To start off, would you mind explaining your background in sports coaching and in Jogo do Pau?


LP: Hi Peter, like all coaches, I guess, began this journey by being an athlete throughout my teens and twenties. Parallel to this, I completed:
– A 5 year undergrad in Physical Education (yes, the whole course was 5 years, since things were different before the Bologna restructuring of universities),
– A first masters course in sports teaching methodologies,
– More recently, a second masters course, this time in Vancouver, Canada (UBC) in coaching sciences.

I began by coaching karate for several years, then team and individual sports as a PE teacher and, during this more recent life experience in Vancouver, I coached basketball a high school level and JdP / Historical Fencing at Blood & Iron MA.

As for my experience in JdP, I began practicing it 18 years ago and have been teaching since 2000. At a National level, I was the technical director of the Portuguese Federation for 6 years and, on an international level, I have taught this art at several HEMA events, Dijon, Swordfish, WWOC, Houston and at a few others, thanks to the kindness of each event’s organizers.

  Continue reading

1 Comment

Introducing Ask An Instructor: Your HEMA Questions Answered!

by Keith Cotter-Reilly

This is the first of HEMA News new monthly spot where we ask Instructors and Researchers their thoughts on various aspects that hopefully encompasses all that HEMA has to offer. We have attempted to reach out to those who practice different styles, weapons, and have different focuses to their training and their teaching/research.

Hopefully, you will find this as helpful as we do.

The first question posed to them this month is: What is your favorite footwork drill?

 From Ilkka Hartakainen, instructor at EHMS in Espoo, Finland:

Footwork is an inseparable part of swordsmanship. Coming from a background of Bolognese swordsmanship I am lucky to have source material with names for different steps and relatively well-documented instructions for how to step while executing various attacks and defenses.

Still really internalizing and learning to apply these steps while fencing takes a lot of practice, and I don’t believe there is a single exercise that would suffice. Learning the various steps used in a given style is the first part, but after that the way of movement needs to be driven in with multiple repetitions and free-form exercises where the individual movements are used in surprising situations and unfamiliar angles. To be able to practice this way, it is essential to build strength and endurance as well as explosiveness in the feet through various exercises such as squats, lunges and jumps.

I always tie footwork practice into natural walking, which is the basis for all footwork. For a more fencing oriented practice my favorite exercise is to pair up with a partner and move freely – sometimes keeping measure, sometimes advancing or retreating or trying to maneuver my training partner to a corner. This exercise allows me to focus on whatever aspect of footwork I believe I need to work on while maintaining focus on my partner and the surroundings. Finally this free movement can be used as a template where various games of trying to slap and block with hands or doing drills with swords can be tied to, offering a dynamic starting-point for any exercise.

From Alen Lovrič  of Academia Artis Dimicatoriae in Slovenia:

Footwork, while one of the basics of any martial art, is rather tedious to teach, especially in the beginning.. The reason being, it requires that every student gets the proper amount of input, as it’s very difficult to make an exercise which would allow a beginner to correct themselves. Thus, it can get either boring or too fast-paced for the students to follow. So this is one exercise that I’ve recently started employing and find both effective and fun: The students hop on one leg, which would normally be their forward leg in a stance. They lean their body forward and hop so as not to lose their balance. At one point, they perform a strike (oberhau or scheitelhau) and let the strike pull them into the step. The point of the exercise is getting the students to start the strike with the point of the sword, not their body. Plus, it’s fun to do!

From Martin Fabian of Bratislavský šermiarsky spolok (Bratislavský Fencing School) in Slovakia:

In the course of the years we developed and learned dozens of various footwork exercises. If I should pick one which I really like and prefer it would be the so-called “Pizzaman.” Pizzaman is a dynamic flow of quick lunges on both sides with the hand delivering “pizzas” to customer’s tables. The “customer’s tables” are quite far away so the practitioner has to really stretch his arms and legs to reach them. Practically speaking: wide step on the side followed by a deep lunge (arm pointing forward with the palm upwards), return to balanced position and quickly step on the other side, followed by a lunge etc. In the end it looks like a really fast and dynamic way of getting to the other side of the gym doing deep lunges, stretching and warming up the whole body. We chose the silly name and the funny instructions to serve as a mnemotechnic device thus everyone could easily remember the exercise.

From Christian Trosclair of SDA NOLA in Louisiana, USA: 

This is a two man drill that comes in two variations. It teaches strength, endurance, spring and agility. Have one partner lie flat, feet lifted together off the ground with the other partner standing next to their ankles. The supine person begins to wave their feet side to side, parallel to the ground while the standing partner leaps over their ankles. Do this for a minute and switch. The other variation has the same setup, save that the supine person’s legs are outstretched in a `V` with the standing partner’s legs in between. The person on the ground then opens and closes their legs while the standing partner leaps straddling the closed legs and leaps bringing their feet together between their partners widened ankles.

From Roberto Martinez-Loyo of Elite Fencing Club in Mexico:

In regards to footwork, for me it is a great deal, I’ve always said that trees don’t grow from the leaves down, they always groq from the roots up, and if you have lousy roots, the rest of your technique is flawed. Recently a footwork drill we’ve been working with at EFC is what we call the triangle step, where you start in your basic onset guard and basically move your feet in triangle patterns, starting with a right/left foot forward, you take and angled step with your rear foot as you adjust your guard, thus completing the three sides of a triangle. Another favorite at our club is starting from a neutral position (feet shoulder with apart) you take a step forward with just one foot, come back to neutral, a step back, back to neutral, a step to te side, back to neutral, and so on following an eight point star (forward, back, sides and diagonals). However, my all time personal favorite is walking, yes it sounds weird, but that is my favorite drill, I usually have people walk in straight lines to make them aware of the natural body alignment of their bodies as they walk and how their hips are always squared forward (I have seen a lot of people take their guard with a longsword and have their body twist in every direction, so I emphasis keeping their hips as squared forward as possible). Just last week we began walking with a sword in our hand, no guard, nor anything, just holding it next to our body, then we started incorporating different guards while we walked (Von Tag, Alber, Wechsell, Nebenhut, Pflug, Ochs, etc), it really seemed to work as the guys had a very clean footwork the rest of the day. One last drill we like is standing in guard and having a partner come and trying to push us off balance, this has helped us to find our point of balance and a proper stance.

From Devon Boorman of Academie Duello in British Columbia, Canada:

Footwork is an essential and often overlooked part of sword training yet it is the base upon which all sword technique rests. We work footwork training into every class at Academie Duello in a number of ways. One of my favorite ways to practice movement is medicine ball exercises. In these exercises students move around the floor in proper posture while throwing and catching a heavy ball. The ball requires that you have good structure to catch it and that you move in cooperation with its weight and inertia, very much like a sword. While catching and throwing this ball I will challenge students by having them high five each other as they pass or avoid another student who is swinging a synthetic sword through the training space. Students who lose their posture have to do pushups, or in the sword version of the drill the sword wielder pursues students who lose form, if they’re touched by the sword they’re required to do pushups. By combining these elements both your mind and body are challenged without adding the distraction of sword work and allowing students to focus on their base. This type of exercise then feeds well into more integrated footwork drills done later with swords in hand.

From Piermarco Terminiello of School of the Sword in England:

Speed comes through good body mechanics. In rapier you cannot avoid lunges, but preferably having someone critique your form: the position of your feet, your knees, your hips, and your lean. Alfieri (1640) recommends you perform fifty or sixty lunges a day, aiming at a small target with a heavy sword, and marking how much further you can lunge each day.

But footwork itself is secondary to judgement and appreciation of measure, and when it is safe to perform an attack. Gaiani (1619) and Alfieri (1640) state that your practice lunge will be longer than the lunge executed in the salle, which in turn is longer than the lunge used in a duel in earnest.

Alfieri has a drill to test this, which is then plated in Pallavicini’s second book (1673). Your partner is armed with just a dagger, with their off-hand behind the back of their head, and has to parry your attacks. This is a good parrying drill for them, but it also shows from what measure blows are unreliable, and from where they are unstoppable.

Alternatively, if you are armed with equal weapons, it highlights how much your footwork counts against a static but determined opponent.

1 Comment

Review of SoCal Swordfight 2013

by Richard Marsden, Instructor at the Phoenix Society of Historical Swordsmanship


This is the second SOCAL event the Phoenix Society has attended.

Short Version – This event was good. When they host another one, you should come.

Long Version-

The last time, myself, John Patterson, and Randy Reyes descended upon SOCAL we enjoyed the experience. We took first in rapier and longsword, second in longsword, and third in rapier. The event was a grand time! We were excited to show up again, and this time do things a a bit different. I decided not to participate in the tournament and instead unleashed my minions. This felt more appropriately villainous. This was the fist time I’d get to sit back and watch how my boys would do while I could engage in free sparring and teaching which are things I enjoy. I brought, myself, Kyle the Cimmerian, Randy Reyes, Tomas (one of my High School kids) and Chris Nelson. Adam Simmons is an adoptee who also came. He is from many groups and we like to call him ours when he wears red socks and black pants and deserves special mention.

This event was just so much BIGGER than the one before. More classes, more instructors, more space, more people – including those from outside of California. The Phoenix Society of Historical Swordsmanship (Arizona), Seven Swords (Washington), Blood and Iron (Canada), and the Noble Science Academy (Nevada) were all from outside of California and attended the event. And many locals, from Tattershall to Chivalry Today to organizations I had just met.

Friday – Kron hosted a beach-party and photo-shoot. I finally was able to meet many people I had not met face to face. Ken D, Tracy Mellow, Lee Smith (My first words to him, “Aren’t you kind of short for a storm-trooper?”) Nicole Smith, Michael-Forest Meservy, and many familiar faces as well. One of my students had never seen the sea, and it was great to let him experience it. Some attempts were made to marry off a Kron-ite to Randy and thus solidify our strong bonds. This attempt failed, but we’ll keep meddling in the lives of others and try to revive marriage contracts.

I too enjoyed the sight of the great, gray, beyond.

Saturday – I had only one class to teach and so I spent that day free-sparring till then. My students took classes or, if you’re Kyle, sat brooding and awaited any challengers. Much sparring occurred! Everyone has different desires at these events. I like free-sparring and teaching. So this was a great! What was a little unnerving however was how Kron members were fighting much, much better than before. (More on that later)

Lee Smith asked to see how the Polish sabers handled. When he picked one up, I instantly attacked him. He was able to back-flip, and his wife threw his protective gear in the air. Which he merged with. We fought through the event-space, up a stairwell, atop a roof, and went crashing through a glass ceiling, rolled out into the mud and fought in the rain. Needless to say it was good fun and we hope we can throw up some video. Lee and Nicole are great people and meeting face to face allowed us to discuss HEMA philosophy, trade stories, and so forth. Lee assisted in training with Kyle the Cimmerian, and Randy Reyes, while Nicole gave personal attention to Randy, Chris and Tomas. This was all constructive criticism. Chris, with only 2 months experience with us- was very appreciative.

More than a few others wanted to try their hand with the sabers I brought and I hope they enjoyed the experience.

Jeff Jacobson had a class of what had to be an army of people! The event had to switch locations (not the planner’s fault) at the last moment and the new venue was large, but a bit noisy. Jacobson and Chelak worked the masses, and I mean masses, like the old pro’s they are, and the class had rave reviews from one of my minions.

Did I mention my name-tag said ‘cult leader’ on it? Funny enough for the people at the event- but when we bought water for everyone, the convenience-store clerk saw all these guys in the same black t-shirts buying water. And my name-tag said ‘cult leader’. I assume he thinks we are all dead now, having poisoned ourselves in the name of Eric Wiggin’s Beard.

I forget at times that our community is so tight-knit and that among the HEMA crowd I am mildly famous. However- one cannot control their fame. I shall give some quotes.

“You’re that guy.” Emphasis on ‘that’.

“Oh no.” (No kidding)

“The super-villain!”

And a Kron-ite introduced me as, “Yeah, this is Mr. Marsden, he’s a Hema-slut with all those videos.” He did not hesitate with the word ‘slut’, meaning he’s been using it to describe me for some time.

And a surprise, “I’ve read your writings.” Wow- finally. Someone read my stuff and knew me for it! In this case, my personal economic musings. Thank you Joerg van Corva. The last thing I expected to discuss with anyone were my thoughts on investing and how my portfolio is doing!

The Polish PDF, which we are working on becoming a book, was able to tap into resources! Eric Atikson brought fabrics and other materials we wish to use. He also was amused by my mild color-blindness in trying to pick out colors of fabrics.

My class that day was Fiore and the Left hand. I was blessed. How I teach is dynamic, because it’s what I do for a living. My class had those who knew little of Fiore, but I also had Kyle the Cimmerian, Tracy Mellow, Jesse Easton, and a member from Schola san Marco. These guys already knew their-stuff, so I handed out the paperwork, modeled a few techniques, asked if the experienced guys knew what to do, and they said yes. Thus, my class had around five instructors and each group of students had much more personal attention. One dragooned instructor said he does things differently than I, was it ok for him to teach it that way? I said yes. So long as they do the technique as you, a qualified guy, understands it and it accomplishes what the text and picture says- you’re golden. Merrily he went off to teach others. When teaching in a HEMA crowd, some people already know stuff- I say use them! Then monitor and adjust. Be flexible for interpretation. It’s just one class. Thanks to all of my dragooned instructors.

Dinner that night consisted of talking with President Mayshar, and listening to stories of times of old with Lee, Nicole, Myles, and Ken D. It was nice seeing the large community together in a social environment. Sitting at the far end of the table, draped in shadows, it seemed fitting!

Sunday – I awoke in poor health. These things happen and after a bit, aspirin solves lots. Thanks to Mayshar and Chelak for noting that I wasn’t functioning properly and ensuring I stayed watered. I sometimes forget these things. Also thanks to Gary and Jeff for giving me insight on Giganti!

Polish saber class. Lee, the others, and myself sparring helped get more people to my class and it went great! This time I was on my own, so we went through the basics, and after that, sparred. Amazing! Film-later. The students all learned rapidly and with some minor coaching, used more and more of the techniques I taught. One fellow had NEVER sparred before. He looked much better. Everyone behaved as well. I had some guys in my class who were just combat-gifted and figured out how the saber works, and fast. They did not demolish those new to sparring and scaled as only professionals can. Thanks Tattershall fellows who were in my class.

After my class, we ate, and then it was tournament time. I had no more time to spar, because I had to watch my lads. My apologies to those I could not fence. I did direct you to my minions, who I know, made you work. I was also a touch ill, so the lesson is- catch me on the first day when I’m far more lively.

Rapier Tournament- Like last year! Same judges, same rules. Everyone did fine. However- Kron’s game was much better. Brian Frick, whom I specifically trained Randy Reyes to fight against- came on wayyyyyyyyyyy better and different than before. He defeated my lad, but he did it right and clean. Brian deserves high praise, because its rare I see a person change that dramatically. We came close to getting in the finals, but Brian thwarted us and took second. I’ll admit, the vile part of me wanted to have the Phoenix Society run away with the SOCAL tournaments again. Not to be. Highlights? Kyle the Cimmerian using a custom German rapier like a beast. We DID warn the judges ahead of time to make sure there would be no surprises and understanding. Another highlight was Nicole from Blood and Iron taking third, bouncing back after a year or so from active sparring. It’s hard not to get mushy to watch her fence while Lee is on his haunches off to the side with that hopeful look on his face the entire time.

Longsword Tournament – There were more competitors this time, but not a lot of time in the open longsword tournament. Things had to move fast. Mayshar warned the participants to manage their expectations, since the SOCAL event was still- very much new. It was to be single-elimination and go-go-go time. The fencing was good. The rules awarded points for targets and some techniques, while removing specific hand-strikes, geislings and light hits. A similar system that LongPoint used and I liked.The judges did their best, and I saw plenty of light strikes that were not counted, but confused the fencers who though it should count, some strikes that did hit and weren’t counted, and some tangling whose action the judges couldn’t follow. This is normal from every tournament I’ve been to in my time with the HEMAA and before during my mysterious past. No judge was malicious, or willfully blind, and the rule-set in of itself was just fine. The judges were hard pressed and it is part of what happens when in a tournament and not a freeplay. The tournament did not allow fencers to debate blows or hits- judges made the call, and that was that. This kept the fights moving. I had three minions in the tournament. Easton of Kron ate Randy, fair, quick and clean. Tomas was 17 and in his first tournament. RJ of Kron introduced him to the higher intensity of such things. The boy bounced back in the end and tried grapples and what-not, but was too far behind, and RJ is clearly no slouch. Out- clean and fair. Kyle the Cimmerian had to face Gary. Gary’s game had very-much improved from last time. He went toe to toe with the Cimmerian and though Kyle moved on- this wasn’t a sure thing. Gary then sat next to me and we watched later as Kyle danced with Jesse Easton. This was a very fast, in and out, match where measure mattered and every point as well. I had a heart-attack just watching it. Kyle came out on top. The final match came and Joerg and Kyle fought as only two men of clearly barbaric stock can.

Kyle came out ahead again. So intense was the Cimmerian that when I went to pat him on the back, I could tell he was still in ‘all must die mode’. The crowd parted and I did not get too close, I told him, “Crom gave you strength and ice-cream.” Which is all Kyle can expect. For me, its wonderful seeing people I started on the path- get somewhere. It’s why I teach High School and it comes out in HEMA as well. I am unabashedly delighted for Kyle and happy with the performance of the Phoenix Society. We like to spar, we like tournaments, and most of us like teaching- which is part of our philosophy of making students grow beyond their cult-leader.

We rolled in later to dinner and in my suit and formal attire President Mayshar demanded a match with me, spear and shield- of which neither of us had much experience. I pretended I was Achilles- and the crowd was amused. Thank you, Mayshar.

Kron – You are all better. The challenge was much harder and that was clear to see. We hope to see you all again soon.

Ok that said! Any bad things? Some of the issues I knew ahead of time were going to happen. The change in venue meant things had to juggle a bit. The Freesparring area had to keep moving, for example, and steel/aluminum was only allowed in some places.

There were too many instructors. I know, it sounds strange, but there really were so many of them and so many unique classes that people had to pick and choose painfully. These instructors are ALL valuable, but they could be managed differently.

Lack of water. Before going off and buying a case of our own, we had to either spend 2 dollars, or , drink out of the restroom faucet. Beyond all that- it was a nice pair of days and I think most of the people were happy most of the time.

Beyond that, our experience was positive and we hope to come back and in particular spend more time with Kron and they with us.