Post-Olympic Sword Press: News for August 2016

“But it must be remembered always that the early masters, professional or amateur, did not regard their art primarily as an exercise, but as a serious preparation for the difficulties their pupils were bound to meet with in after life.” — Aylward, J.D. The English Master at Arms, 1712 [1].

Wes Fencing PosterThe Olympics are over, as are the various fencing competitions. While interesting at times to watch, I could not help but notice that the HEMA student observing the swordplay of these truly accomplished athletes would not have much to take away from the experience to aid in their understanding and practice of medieval or renaissance swordplay. I can admire the obvious fitness of the fighters, be respectful of their clear technical and — let’s say it — gymnastic expertise in their sporting techniques… but Olympic Fencing no longer resembles the martial art from which it developed. It is now a game (a fiercely contested one) of one-handed touches — and no longer a fight or duel in which the contest’s intent is to make a disabling blow and then back up protected (or otherwise recover) out of harm’s way.

For instance, what we saw on television was far from this illustration, which shows the profiling of the body to reduce targets as well as defensive use of the offhand to initiate a grapple by the figure on the left, and the defensive use of the offhand to cover the high line by the partially profiled (but slightly more squared up) figure on the right:

Wes Behind the Back Johann Schmidt 1713
Behind the Back from Johann Schmidt’s “Leib-beschirmende und Feinden Trotz-bietende Fecht-Kunst.” (1713.)

Or this sort of advice, which takes multiple opponents and coverage of targets on one’s own body into account:

“Twenty-seven years later, when Sir William wrote his New Method of Fencing, he had come to the conclusion that “the best Defence in a Crowd or in Battel” is a hanging guard, which he claims as a “sure Protection with the Small-Sword against all Weapons”. He admits that it is not graceful, but he is convinced that it is effective. This is really a Prime guard, he admits, with the point sloped outwards, but “in an Age wherein Rencounters and Drunken Scuffles are so frequent”, it has an important advantage, for the head is protected by the raised right arm.” [2].

From both the illustration and quotation above, you can see that one need only look at a fight book or read a martial arts manual and then compare that advice to the movement in an Olympic match on television to come to the conclusion that the desired result from sport fencing versus martial fencing is different. The change in intent between the Olympic style and HEMA becomes self-evident.

That said, the inordinate amount of hooting and shouting that we witnessed and the leaping-lunging-flying attempts to score a hit on hand or heel notwithstanding, our Olympian swordplay peers are not in any way — as some might say — “Gauklers” (jugglers) or “Leichmeisters” (dance masters). Olympic Fencing is a legitimate and demanding sport passionately and professionally practiced by thousands internationally… and some sport fencers are HEMA practitioners as well.  But Olympic Fencing is not a martial art… anymore.

The month of August 2016, however, produced a number of news items that seem to demonstrate the resurgence of European martial arts is still going strong, on an international scale. Soon, perhaps, the difference between HEMA and Olympic fencing will be common knowledge, instead of just a topic of conversation for the select few.

School’s Back in Session

RHEINISCHE-POST. (Düsseldorf, Germany.) 09 August 16. “Sie kämpfen wie im Mittelalter.”

Clemens Mayer is busy in a Düsseldorf University running classes for 22 students within the “Historical Swordsmanship” training group. Working with medieval German longsword (what else?), Mayer acknowledges that within the community there are different interpretations of the longsword art. This can partly be attributed to the fact that there is no culture of continuous HEMA instruction — and that the community has to rebuild traditional swordplay from books — old books. Old books… with amended versions.

Of note, Natali Panic-Cidic, one of Mayer’s students, comes to our art not from being motivated by Game of Thrones, nor by Lord of the Rings. In fact, she was not inspired by any movie. Instead, she cites Assassin’s Creed… a computer game!

Taiwan’s Talhoffers in Training?

TAIPEI TIMES. (Taiwan.) 05 August 16. “In honor of ancient swords masters.”

A Taipei-based Historical European Martial Arts club will be holding a public training session outside of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall tomorrow.

The Lionheart Historical European Swordsmanship club is helping to bring HEMA to a culture already rich in their own, long-lived swordplay tradition. Under the guidance of Huang Chun-yi (黃郡儀), the Lionhearts are studying a variety of HEMA techniques, ably assisted by Prague’s own salle Ars Dimicatoria.

Of note, I was intrigued by Chun-yi’s opinion that HEMA is less competitive than Olympic-style fencing. If you have ever watched a Swordfish bout, I don’t think you can argue that HEMA practitioners are any less competitive than their sports peers when the blades actually cross in a free-style, full contact exchange.

Battle Books at Bachritterburg

SCHWÄBISCHE ZEITUNG. (Ravensburg, Germany.) 18 August 16. “Hieb und Stich auf der Bachritterburg – Historisches Fechten trifft lebendige Geschichte.”

The Bachritterburg medieval centre hosted its “cut and thrust” symposium featuring four HEMA scholars presenting their unique interpretations of period Fechtbuchs. And supporting the academic effort were are variety of swordplay events and period recreations. The rural venue appears to lend itself more to appealing to the converted than drawing in new recruits — but with that said, one must applaud real HEMA work being done in period ambiance. I so envy our European peers!

Columbia’s Canes are not for Codgers

BALTIMORE SUN. (Maryland.) 03 August 16. “Canne de combat classes in Columbia teach locals how to duel.”

Steve Savoie of Maryland Savate and La Canne is working hard in Maryland and Virginia to ensure that the traditional French cane-fighting art will continue to grow outside of Europe. He’s apparently been teaching the martial art for near a decade, and at least one of his students has made an impressive showing at a past international competition.

I’m not sure that La Canne falls under the strict definition of HEMA, but we have to admire the drive and professionalism of these peers that, like us, are pushing forward with studying and practicing a unique part of historical European martial culture.

Tassie Tenan?

THE MERCURY. (Hobart, Australia.) 11 August 16. “Amanda Massie seeks like-minded souls for modern-day muster of medieval skills.”

Amanda Massie is the driving force behind efforts being made to bring medieval, mounted “skill at arms” to her island. While the article neither goes into detail as to Ms. Massie’s skill at arms nor reveal if she participates in jousting “on the mainland”, we welcome this horse-borne HEMA initiative… and from a non-traditional source as well!

Kievien ‘Druzhinnik’ of the 10th C. Artist: Oleg Fyodorov
Kievien “Druzhinnik” of the 10th c.
Artist: Oleg Fyodorov

Honing HEMA Harmonics

Новости Восточного Округа. (Moscow, Russia.) 16 August 16. “Необычное хобби увлекло жителя Перова: он создаёт средневековые шпаги.”

A short story on one man’s path from role-play and sport-fencing, to serious HEMA… to forging HEMA-appropriate swords. A “doer” became a “maker”!

Of interest is our subject’s intent to make workable, realistic swords that are safe for full contact HEMA bouts… and that “sound real”.


Works Cited

1. Aylward, J.D. The English Master at Arms from the 12th Century to the Twentieth Century. London UK: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1956. p.155

2. Aylward.  p.155