Archive for the Swordsmanship Category

10 Questions with Nick Evangelista

Posted in 10 Questions, Fencing, Martial Arts, Swordsmanship, Training, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 23, 2017 by Combative Corner

Everyone in the fencing world should know who this guy is.  I came across him when I first took up fencing and although I’ve never had the opportunity to be taught by him, his teachings, description of fencing history and theory, and vision of what fencing is and should be have stayed with me through his books; The Art and Science of Fencing, The Inner Game of FencingThe Encyclopedia of the Sword and others.  For his more recent writings and for more information on the man and his thoughts, visit his fencing school’s blog; EvangelistaFencing.com.  Now, without further ado…

How did you initially get drawn into fencing?

When I was growing up in the 1950s, fencing always seemed to be in front of me. In movies and on TV, and in books. When I was around 14 years old, The Three Musketeers was my favorite story. Any and everything with swords got my attention. Fencing seemed so exotic and otherworldly. I thought it was the most amazing thing in the world, and I wanted to learn how to do it. I didn’t have any idea how this would come about—I didn’t know any fencers, or where there were any fencing schools–but somewhere in the back of my brain, I had a feeling I would one day fence. In the end, many things conspired to lead me to fencing. Actually, I sometimes think fencing chose me rather than the other way around. I should add, though, that it was not an easy union. I had to work hard for everything I’ve accomplished.

People don’t often talk about injuries in fencing, but have you sustained many injuries and if so, how have you dealt with them? 

I’ve been fencing for 47 years, and I have never had a serious injury. Nothing beyond the normal bruises, welts and scrapes. When I was learning to fence, I was taught balance, timing, and distance. Basically, I was taught to control my actions. My background is a traditional fencing game. Falcon Studios was peppered with former champions. No one gave an inch. Everyone fenced hard. It was very competitive. But it was fencing, not the running, poking school of bipedal joisting. The fencing I learned is the same fencing I teach my students, and in 43 years of transforming everyday people into fencers, I have never had a student injured beyond the aforementioned bruises, welts, and scrapes.

I have been injured by everyday life, though. Broken body parts, and the like. And I have most certainly had to adapt my fencing to these hurdles. One of my most challenging injuries was having my right hand—my fencing hand—crushed in a car door ten or so years ago. I remember the sound of crunching celery as my metacarpals were being reduced to puzzle pieces. How did I deal with this intrusion to my fencing? Actually, I just kept teaching, because my fingers weren’t broken, and that’s all I needed to maneuver my foil. With every personal injury I’ve had, I just keep teaching, adapting to the situation, until I heal up. Fencing is what I do. Of course, I do not recommend this regimen to anyone else. Today, for me, old injuries regularly suggest impending bad weather.

     Side-question: what are the most common injuries that you’ve seen fencers come across?

Outside my own fencing sphere of influence, the injuries I see most in modern fencing are to the knees and ankles. To me, whatever the level of the fencer injured, these problems imply poor training, a fencer lacking proper balance. For all outcries to the contrary, there is something to be said for good, old-fashioned fencing form: an attack with a straight arm, measured foot work, timing flowing from the fingers, the free arm being employed for balance. No silly leaping, no over-extended lunges, no toe-to-toe jabbing, no feet going in ten directions at once. It doesn’t surprise me that so many fencers are being injured in the modern fencing world. The only place where chaos turns into order is on page one of the Bible. Everywhere else, it leads to serious problems.

Your books are a staple to any fencing library… however, it has been a while since you’ve published.  Will we see you authoring more?  Or are you switching to articles and blogs?

I published my last book in 2001. At the same time, I was the Fencing History editor for Encyclopedia Britannica. I also published Fencers Quarterly Magazine. Since that time, I have gone to college, earned a BA in History, and am now in the process of finishing my Master’s in History. Lots of writing there, but on topics dictated by educational requirements. More fencing books? I have at least five in my head. Plus, I have my website, where I can pursue short term fencing ideas that interest me. I have a number of options, but I need to get my Master’s Degree out of the way first.

I’ve read that you’ve always been against the pistol grip, however, in looking at pictures of your personal foils, I’ve noticed that your grip is heavily taped. What is the purpose behind it?

Since you mentioned pistol grips, no, I don’t like them, and I don’t let my students use them. They are incompatible with the requirements of the traditional French School of Fencing. Also, I should mention, for those who are too young to remember the 1980s, that the FIE medical board recommended in 1982 that pistol grips be banned from fencing as dangerous. But that is neither here nor there, so I will now jump off my soap box, and return to the subject of binding French grips.

When I was l learning to fence, French grips were wider than most of the French grips I see today. Hence, they were easier to hold onto. So, I build mine out with three or four winds of sports tape. I would not call this “heavily taped.” It does not change the shape of the French grip in any way, nor does it change its intended usage. It merely makes the grip wider and, hence, as I said, easier to grasp. This, in turn, substantially improves the fingering potential (doighte), which has always been the hallmark of French weapons. The sports tape also provides a superior gripping surface than plastic, rubber, or even leather. Some fencers do not like having their leather-bound grips covered with cloth tape, but I believe that function always, always, always takes precedence over esthetics on the fencing strip. Just the same, I do not force this onto my students.

Do you still compete?  If not, do you still fence “hard?”

No, I have not competed since the 70s. My business is teaching. My fencing master once said to me, “You can be a great teacher or a great fencer, but you can’t do both at the same time. I teach because that is what I enjoy the most. But I do fence with all my students who have graduated to bouting. I fence with students who come to me from other salles, as well. I do not hold myself aloof from the world. And, yes, I fence hard. You never let anyone win. Acting as a brick wall is the only way to pull the best out of a student. Anything less than that is a lie, and gives the student a false sense of confidence. They have to earn their touches. Mastery is forged in opposition. Skill is earned under fire. I learned this at Falcon Studios more years ago than I care to think about.

What training aides and/or specific exercises have helped you or your students best?

I think what helps my students the most is continual one-on-one lessons with me, which includes mechanical lesson and regular bouting. There is always a continual dialogue that runs through these sessions, which allows the student to apply critical thinking to their situation. My ultimate goal is to produce creative, independent fencers, who can easily function in any fencing situation without my assistance.

I also employ aspects of Behavioral Psychology in my teaching. Let’s face it, when you teach someone to fence, you are obviously attempting to modify their behavior. If you know specific techniques, this can make the procedure much easier. When I was an undergrad in college, and minoring in Psych, I wrote a 56 page study on the use of behavioral techniques in training fencing students. By the way, they work well.

When picking a weapon… how do you know which weapon is for you?

My recipe for knowing which weapon is for you: Start with foil, and fence it for a year. Foil will teach you the fundamentals of fencing thought and behavior, which are embedded in its conventions. Year two: add epee, which will hone your timing, point control, and judgement. During this time, shift between epee and foil. Year three: Add sabre. Sabre always comes last. It is the most divergent from the other two weapons. But, here, you can easily integrate the point control of foil and epee into sabre. In this third year, fence all three weapons. At the end of the third year, you will not only have a solid grounding in each discipline, but you will also know which weapon speaks the loudest to you. Unfortunately, many students coming to fencing want instant gratification, and immediately pick the weapon that seems the coolest to them, and many coaches will let them do this. I say, “Oh, well…!”

There has been a lot of talk between French vs. Italian methods.  What (in your opinion) are they talking about and is there any advantages or disadvantages choosing one over the other?

The two traditional schools of fencing are the Italian and French. The Italians began developing systematic fencing systems first during the early 16th century. This, to take the place of armor that was being abandoned in the wake of firearms. The French became serious about establishing their own approach to fencing during the 17th century, chiefly because they liked neither Italian fencing masters, nor their theories of swordplay.

Although there are today structural similarities between the two fighting systems–the Italians having borrowed from the French at the end of the 19th century to establish a more cohesive method of operation–the philosophies of the two remain widely separated by temperament. The Italian system primarily stresses the dynamics of strength, speed, and aggressive manipulation. To physically dominate opposition is its goal. The French approach, on the other hand, is built on finesse, economy of motion, and strategy. The well-versed French fencer looks for ways around his opponent’s strengths, rather than meeting them head-on. To my way of thinking, this makes the French school more flexible and creative than the Italian, which tends to be more dogmatic. I might also add that the French school, with its non-confrontational approach, easily fits a wider range of physical types and demeanors. This means, you do not have to be the strongest, or the fastest, or the most aggressive fencer in town to win.

In order to bring hits back to a more realistic place, some classical schools have used point d’arrets.  What are the pros and cons of using these? And are these something you’d ever recommend for your students?

When you have the proper spirit and training, fencing is fencing. The best fencing is an internal expression. As far as I’m concerned, the point d’arret is a “classical” affectation. Period.

If you had a moment to recollect your favorite on-screen sword fight (of all-time!) what would it be and why?

This is an easy question to answer. My favorite movie duel of all time is from the 1940 Mark of Zorro, between Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone. To me, it is the most balanced and cleanly executed sword fight ever produced. Also, it is carried out without any background music, something of a rarity in filmed action. But you don’t really notice this lack, because the sharp ring and changing tempo of the clashing blades more than fills the gap. It is a wonderful sword fight.

Runner up: The final duel between Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). If the Zorro duel didn’t exist, I would pick this one. In all other aspects, I think Robin Hood is the superior film.

One more plug: I also recommend the fencing in the French movie, On Guard. It is one of the best modern swashbuckler films I know of. All the sword fights are superior, the story, based on an 1858 French novel, is interesting, and it even has a wonderful, though anatomically flawed, secret thrust. A good movie to own a copy of.

Bonus question

If you had the chance to train with one Maestro, living or deceased (besides ones you’ve previously trained with), whom would you choose and is there any particular reason why you’d choose him/her?

Maybe Madonna as the fencing master in the James Bond movie Die Another Day? Why? She dressed well.

Actually, I’d choose Domenico Angelo. I would just love to pick his brain, and find out what made him tick.

Harry Angelo, Domenico’s son, would be my second choice. Same reason.

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10 Questions with Benjamin Bowles

Posted in 10 Questions, Fencing, Swordsmanship, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 1, 2017 by Combative Corner

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What got you interested in swords and fencing?

I’ve been interested in swords and weapons since childhood. It was fascinating to me to see swords, which are clearly implements of harm, sit only a room away from fine art in museums. I couldn’t have told you back then but my fascination with weapons is because they represent the half of the emotions we wrestle with and suppress. They represented the physical aggression, conflict, and violence my upbringing was fortunate to be without, but emotions I was familiar with. That made them foreign yet familiar, and always stirred my interest.
I began fencing in college on a whim. I looked for a physical education class to fill some credits and saw “beginning fencing”. Having played with toy swords growing up, I thought I should try learning how to use them. I developed a lifelong passion since.
What were your main obstacles in building Benjamin Arms?
Manufacturing 19th century weapons in the 21st century was more difficult than I imagined. Mainly, the industrial processes common then are now rare, artisanal, and expensive (i.e. forging, casting, leather working, etc). Many of the processes have been lost to time, too: The steel recipes and heat treating techniques for blades were closely-guarded guild secrets in Solingen and never published; The species selection, curing technique, and drying process for fish leather is a mystery.
Through arduous research I’ve been able to finding the artisans, manufacturers, engineers, and materials for my weaponry, though it sometimes takes years.
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What part of your business do you enjoy the most and why?
Resurrecting weapons! For instance, I’ve spend the last 2 years studying Italian epee design, construction, function, and materials and just finished a few weeks ago. After so much work sourcing materials & prototyping I got to resurrect a weapon detailed by a fencing master from over 100 years ago. I had his book on my desk and my reproduction in hand. The work gives me pride, and gives honor to the masters of the past.  www.BenjaminArms.com
What part of the artistry do you enjoy the most and why?
I enjoy working with Italian weapons the most because they require more skill to build. I feel Italian foils and epees are really demonstrative of my expertise and unparalleled craftsmanship in classical weapons.
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Your niche requires you to know a lot about fencing history. What resources and travels have helped you the most?
I could not have built this business without my apprenticeship under Maestro Ramon Martinez and Maestro Jeannette Acosta Martinez. They provided the constant stream of weapon specifications and construction techniques I needed to make sound weaponry. More than that, though, they taught (and continue to teach me) how to fence. Fencing systems will explain the purpose for each weapon’s design, and I could not make them without knowing how to fence.
Secondly, to continue improving I’ve been researching traditional construction techniques since the beginning. Sword construction is not a widely written about topic, and most highly specific questions remain unanswered: what are the period techniques for ornately etching sword blades? How were 19th century fencing blades heat treated? How do you produce sharkskin leather for grips? This led me to amass a library of reference books and articles, but also to travel to some of the major knife and swordmaking capitols of Europe. I traveled to Solingen, Klingenthal, and Thiers last year to collect and document as much information as I can. You can read more about the visits to those cities and my research on my website.
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How have you been able to model your business from others?
You’ll find parallels of my business in many niche markets, though I’ve modeled my business from fencing equipment suppliers of the past. Castello Fencing Equipment Co., Joseph Vince, Souzy Paris, and Serafino Gnutti all sold a variety of fencing swords and accouterments. Its always been my intention to provide the same diversity and quality as these past manufacturers.
Why do fencing blades have a cant, and when was that implemented into the weapon? (part 2) Many sport blades are also angled inward, is this too, a modern invention and why?
It depends on the system of fencing, as French weapons are canted and Italian are not. The answer lies in the purpose of these “weapons.” Foils (in the French school) were not designed as exact, yet blunted replicas of the sword but rather tools to teach the principles, dexterity, and movements required to use the sword. For example, French figure 8 guards teach the student to sufficiently turn their weapon and place the guard against their opponent’s blade when defending or attacking (in accordance with French fencing theory). The fencer must learn to manipulate the figure 8 guard to be successful fencing with it (that is to say they learn the system by using the correct weapon). That learned manipulation is the goal of a foil’s construction.
The cant on a French foil serves the same goal. When given a straight canted foil, a beginner will not be inclined to widen the lateral positions of sixte and quarte. They will instead fence with their hand towards the center because a straight cant encourages that. A straight-canted foil also won’t point toward their adversary when properly executing French hand positions; they will fight against the foil to do the technique properly! If a student develops the ability to use a canted figure 8-guarded foil, then they’ve learned the principles of offense and defense needed to use a French dueling sword or French smallsword properly. It’s been this way for a long, long time.
In short, French weapons are canted because French fencing technique requires it. Learning any system of fencing requires the tool designed for the task.

You’ve recently switched from selling complete weapons and parts, to just complete weapons. Why the change?

On the business side It was quite expensive to stock the parts and materials to make such highly customizable weapons. For each single sword I had to stock all the possible guards, leather colors, blades from various producers and at various lengths, pommels, and much more.
Concurrently, I noticed disturbing market trends which reminded me how quickly, without vigilance, classical fencing can turn into sport fencing, and customization may have been helping. Customization in part allowed for individual interpretation of (and deviation away from) 19th and early 20th century fencing technique. Because the tool and the application are dependent on each other, I determined it best to no longer customize as the survival of historically accurate technique depends on historically accurate weapons.
We know that fencing plays a big role in your life and businesses. How do you incorporate your personal training in such a busy life? 
The work-life balance is always difficult for business owners. Assembling the swords takes no time compared to web-design, product design, client communication, part re-orders, bill pay, business licenses, sales taxes, etc. I’m very lucky, though, that I also run a fencing school in San Francisco called the Golden Gate School of Arms. This means I still get to fence regularly and know exactly where I need to improve.

What does your typical day look like?

It starts with lots of coffee. My coffee maker is the most important tool I have. Sometimes morning coffee is the only reason I’m excited to go to sleep. The day proceeds with clerical work before heading to my workshop in the afternoon. There I saw wood, polish metal, and advance my order log forward. On the best evenings I button up the shop and head to my class, where I teach a great batch of students with weapons I built and put in their hand.
Bonus Question –
As someone who makes (and likely collects swords), what are 3 of your personal favorites in your possession and why? (these can be swords you’ve made yourself or bought/acquired)
I actually only have seven swords! Three of which are mementos or gifts from retiring fencers. Of the four I use, my favorite is the Meriginac foil I teach with – a little heavy on the point, but handles just the way I want it to. My truly prized possessions are in my library: a copy of “La Manufacture d’Armes Blanches du Klingenthal” which I had to go to Klingenthal to buy, and a signed copy of “The Code Duello”, by A. W. Paterson which was surprisingly and very generously given to me as a gift.
For more information on Benjamin Bowles and his company Benjamin Arms visit the following links:
BenjaminArms.Com
GoldenGateArms.Com
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10 Questions with Samantha Swords

Posted in 10 Questions, Fencing, Swordsmanship, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2017 by Combative Corner

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What got you into swords and sword fighting in the first place? And how did you become “Samantha Swords?”

I’ve always loved European swords, from a really young age. I wasn’t interested in other culture’s weapons, or satisfied with what I saw in movies or the reenactment world. When I discovered in 2006 that there was a rich martial tradition around medieval swordsmanship, I felt it was confirmation of something I had always known deep down, and I could focus my passion into research and training.

In 2012, I had a big break after we wrapped on ‘The Hobbit’ and I decided to prioritise my work as an artist. I started new social media accounts for sharing my illustration and my activities, and used the nickname I’d sometimes been called when people were saving my number in their phones- it was how some of my friends thought of me. So when I started to get noticed the next year, everyone used the name I had on my accounts. It stuck! I’ve always been clear that it’s a nom-de-plume, but it’s easy to remember, and a great description of what I do.

What was it like and what was your role in the famous Weta Workshop?

It was wonderful working with the team at Weta. The workshop gathers such amazing, world-class artisans, and the level of skill and creative potential under one roof is phenomenal. It’s full of contrasts though, because you have the boundless creativity of the people and resources, but it’s all constrained by the limitations of a practical film production. No project is ever the same, and the team have to adapt constantly to new challenges. It’s not exactly restful! I think that’s what makes it so truly great, though, is being able to thrive under that constant pressure.

My role was ever-changing. Weta have dozens of fabrication departments and when I first got started, I didn’t have a particular specialised background. So I went wherever there was need for a technician. Over the years I got to work with props, costumes, armour, prosthetics, metal, wood-work, the leather room, sculpting and 3D modelling, the miniatures department, painting, molding… I can’t quickly name all the jobs I did, but I had exposure to most of the areas of Weta. Learning under all those top artists in their fields was an extraordinary experience.

Also, being in an environment of shared excellence teaches you that once you hand over what you make to someone else, it’s no longer yours. That’s a really important lesson to learn as an artist, to value the skill over the object, and to not take what happens to your work personally.

From the looks of your social media, you engage yourself in many different martial art experiences. Some people fear “jack of all trades, master of none.” What’s your opinion?

Well, I’m definitely a Jack! I think there’s no problem with increasing your knowledge and skills in all areas as long as you know what is most important and can commit to doing it professionally when that skill is needed. As a freelancer working in a competitive, highly-creative and also punishing industry, being able to adapt and upskill fast is vital in order to thrive. That behaviour might be damaging in a more stable career, and I can see how the idea of being a Jack could be threatening to many people. It’s uncertain and risky, and requires a lot of energy to be able to constantly adjust to new challenges. Ultimately, if you are a Jack, I think it’s important to be able to know yourself and to be aware of whether the kind of growth you’re doing is about avoidance of a difficult challenge, or exploration of an exciting new area that could bring knowledge and perspective to what you do.

In 2013, you entered and won the Longsword division in the Harcourt Park Jousting Tournament. What was that tournament like? And was that different from any of the other events you’ve done in the past?

The tournament was part of a much larger, established sports event which centred around jousting, and brought competitors from maybe ten different countries. In previous years the longsword and other ground martial arts had drawn a large pool of fighters, but for several different reasons it was much smaller in 2013. I wasn’t thinking about winning at all, just wanted an opportunity to test my training and so I was very relaxed about the whole thing. It was very different from my other competitions, which had felt much more stressful, and each time I’d really cared about the results. My tension always worked against me, of course, so not fretting about the event was the best thing I could do.

The judges running the 2013 event were testing a new rule set as well. It favoured defensive fighting to avoid the constant mutual strikes that plague many weapons-based tournaments. In my year, we all started with hit points and had to defend them, rather than the usual method of claiming points from an uncooperative opponant. It emphasised caution, self-defense and was completely suited to how I had been training.

The story of me winning that event has really got a life of its own. Even though I’m proud of how I fought that day, it’s been extremely odd to have so many people focus on only that, especially when there is so much more going on in my life and in the HEMA community.

Since that winning the longsword tournament, have you ever considered continuing and competing in HEMA competitions? If not, how come?

I’m not huge into competition at the moment. When I was actively competing, I was much younger as a martial artist and all I wanted to do was fight! That was fun for a few years, but once I understood how hard it is to actually judge competitions, my interest shifted into learning good self-defense rather than being good in the ring. They’re quite different ways of fighting and training. Much of the dominant HEMA scene is centred around large, impressive competitions, which is terrific for expanding the community! It’s so exciting to see how large we have grown in such a short time. I feel bad that I’m not interested in going to them right now, but even before I’d gotten well-known, I’d decided to take a break and focus on other areas of improvement. Currently I really enjoy smaller events where people can share their training and spar informally, and test things out. There’s so much I want to learn.

What style/method of longsword do you study (or have you studied)? What made you gravitate to this style and/or stick with this style?

I love Fiore Dei Liberi’s tradition, and the Getty Manuscript. The wealth of anatomical information that ‘The Flower of Battle’s artist included is extraordinary, and I feel it’s still largely untapped. Also, it shows an efficient and practical system that’s more about the fighter than the weapon they’re using. That approach really appeals to me now. That’s such a turnaround from when I was young, where all I wanted was to learn about the sword. Now, I want to understand everything around the sword as well.

Being in the film industry as well, what parts have you played and what part was your favorite so far?

In the film industry, for every movie that gets made, there are at least five that don’t. Most of my favourite acting parts have been for productions that have fallen over. And, because of the high level of confidentiality, you can never talk about them or take photos or anything. Not including theatre, all my favourite roles have been for films that were put on the shelf. Sorry! All I can say is that they have been action-adventure characters who have a bit of depth to them, and I loved that.

How do you juggle your life – with acting, sword-making, writing, traveling and instructing?

Juggle is a good description! Some times of my year are busier than others, and I have to work very hard to stay on top of different commitments. I put a lot of hours into everything, and cut out the things I think are a waste of my time so I can focus more on what’s important. Sometimes I don’t mean to cut things out, but they just drop off the side anyway. For the most part, my work is project-based so I have a clear start and end, and can fit my different activities around that in block periods. Having seasonal interruptions does get frustrating when I want to build on something over a long period, though. And it makes it really hard to train. I have to be flexible about how and where I practice, and be disciplined enough to keep it up when I’m away from traditional training places. It’s not easy, but I love that I get to do so many things.

For anyone wanting to get into historical fencing for the first time, what would be your advice?

Find someone or something to get you started, and make time in your week to practice. Having a clear inspiration is important, as well as a space you can go to learn. You don’t need a club, but it does help. Most swordsmanship clubs are warm and welcoming, but if you feel like it’s not a good fit it’s okay to look elsewhere. If you’re nowhere near a club, you’re in good HEMA company: so many groups begin really modestly, with a few people figuring out how to fence together in the middle of nowhere. As long as you have clear safety practices, there’s no reason you can’t set something up yourself. There is so much support online- the HEMA Alliance will guide you to good resources.

Get the best tools and equipment you can, within reason. You can always sell it if you find you don’t want to commit to swordsmanship long-term. Having good tools will help your education more than anything other than a good teacher. If it’s your first time using weapons, practice control and coordination before applying speed and power. Accuracy is much more subtle in sword arts, and an inch of contact with a sword is much more lethal than the same with a kick or a punch! As much as you can, always reevaluate and test what you’re learning. HEMA grows from individuals taking on research and challenging what they find. That’s part of the excitement, too- we all have a chance to contribute to genuine exploration of something nearly lost in the past.

Apart from your profession, what else does Samantha like to do in her free time?

Anyone following my Instagram knows that I have a great love of animals, as well as getting out and about. When I’m at home I’ll read or draw or play video games or watch Netflix, often covered with several of my rats. They’re really loving and intelligent and bring me a lot of joy. I like fixing things, or making new things from broken ones. I also adore going hiking or snowboarding, and when I can I go into the mountains for a week. My responsibilities make that hard at the moment, though.

 

What is your favorite fictional character and why?

My favourite character of literature is Lisbeth Salander, from the Millennium trilogy. She’s extremely strong, fierce, wildly intelligent, free of doing what people expect of her, and wants to be left alone. She’s an androgenous anti-hero and I never get tired of reading those books, even though they cover very difficult subject matter. I don’t feel as attached to the movies, although I like the casting choices in both the Swedish and American versions. My next favourite character is Hobbes, of Calvin and Hobbes. I feel I don’t need to explain him, though.

We’d like to thank Samantha for providing answers to these questions and if you have any additional questions, please comment below and perhaps we can have her answer them in the near future.  If you want to learn more about her, you can find her on Facebook and Tumbler. 

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10 Questions with Keith Farrell

Posted in 10 Questions, Fencing, HEMA, History, Swordsmanship, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 17, 2017 by Combative Corner

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How did you get drawn into fencing and why classical/historic over modern/sport?

As a child, I was interested in history, and enjoyed watching historical battle reenactment shows. At around the age of 10, I joined a local karate club, and began to enjoy martial arts. At around the age of 16, I joined a historical battle reenactment society, mainly as an excuse to play with swords. However, after a little while, I lost interest in the show fighting aspect of it, and wanted a more ”correct” way of using the sword.

Then, when I was in my second year at Glasgow University, I found a club that was teaching historical European martial arts, according to historical source material. Initially, due to my previous martial arts training, I didn’t enjoy it very much: the club was still very young as a study group, and the instructors did their best to understand the source material, but I didn’t enjoy learning a random assortment of tricks that tended not to work, mainly because the interpretations were still in their infancy and were not supported by effective body mechanics.

Eventually, in 2010, I decided to start studying the longsword again, with different source material, and I was lucky enough that my first choice of source was one that described principles and how techniques fit together into a system. As a result, I could see that there WAS a system to follow, there WERE a set of guiding principles; even though I didn’t understand how to go any of the techniques, I knew that I could at least work on the gist of the system and fill in the specifics later.

That journey of research, testing, and exploration is still ongoing!

What brought you to become such a prolific author and how did you choose your projects?

Since I was trying to wrap my head around the historical source material anyway, and was taking copious notes, I thought that other people might find this work to be useful. So, once my colleague (Alex Bourdas) and I finished our initial longsword research project, we began to arrange our notes into a cohesive document, and this culminated in our first publication: the AHA German Longsword Study Guide.

By the time this was published, I had begun to enjoy the practice of a variety of other HEMA disciplines, including the Scottish basket-hilted broadsword. I decided to make another study guide, this time for the broadsword. I thought it would be useful for my students to have a published text with history and context, our principal source material, and some salient points for study. I also decided to include my research about singlestick, as this was something that I wanted to know more about myself, yet at the time, there was little by way of modern research published on the subject. And so I came to publish my second book, Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick.

All of my books have come about because I found researching a subject to be of particularly great interest. My intention with all of my books is to make available the research and information that I wish I could have had access to myself when I began my HEMA studies. This desire and intent has kept me going and has given me the motivation to publish several books, with more in the works!

Do you have a passion for one particular weapon over all the others and if so, why?

The medieval longsword is a wonderful, wonderful kind of sword. It can be found in so many shapes and sizes; and there are also so many different treatises on the use of the longsword that I simply cannot envisage a time when I will no longer have anything to learn about it.

The way of working with the longsword, of holding it and performing techniques, of moving from one action to the next, just speaks to me in a way that no other physical activity has in the past. It allows me to move and to express myself in a way that is deeply meaningful and that is impossible to achieve otherwise. It is just so much FUN to move and to fence with the longsword!

What does your sword training entail and how long do you train?

My typical weekly training involves giving two to three hours of private tuition to students, two to three times a week, and probably half an hour to an hour of assorted solo exercises on a daily basis. For the private tuition, I work on whatever skills are requested by my students, which may sometimes involve some sparring. However, I tend not to do very much sparring on a regular basis, and it’s even more rare that I have an opportunity to use sparring selfishly for my own development, instead of for coaching another person.

For my solo practice, it could be simple repetitions of cuts; it could be simple physical exercises such as push ups or squats, to build or maintain strength; it could be using my MBlades Swing1 with Indian club exercises, to develop musculature around the elbow and shoulder; or it could be stretching in various fashions, to maintain or improve flexibility, but mainly to undo the damage of spending so much time sitting at my computer!

I use my solo practice time each day to keep myself in good and healthy condition. If I begin in good condition, then I will use the time to practise fencing techniques. If I’m not in such great condition, because I have been travelling or sitting too much, then I’ll use the time to deal with these problems and bring myself closer to my usual standard of health.

On quite a regular basis, on average at least once a month, I attend and teach at a national or international HEMA event. This gives me the opportunity to meet and fence with people outwith my usual circles, which is a fantastic opportunity to learn and to increase my skills. It also gives me the chance to chat and discuss ideas with some very knowledgeable people; so many of my significant developments in understanding have come in the bar, after hours, armed with a few pints and engaged in deep discussion! These events tend to be where I receive most input from other people to improve my own fencing skills, so I believe they are a critical part of my own training and development.

I don’t tend to worry too much about competing in tournaments at these events. If I have something I want to test and validate, then sure, I’ll give it a go. But I’m not a very competitive person, and I would much rather talk with people or do some friendly sparring than participate in a tournament. Still, I know that competitions are good for me, and force me to up my game, and I also believe that I owe it to my students to test my skills and interpretations regularly, so that I’m not teaching them any ineffective nonsense. So I do participate in a few tournaments a year, but I will almost never go to an event purely to compete.

Have there been any personal changes to your method/techniques that do not “jive” with what’s written by the masters of the past? If so, can you give us an example?

Over the years, I have found myself doing things a little differently to the instructions in the historical source material. Invariably, this has led to joint pains, muscle pains, injuries, and a lower rate of success in sparring and competition.

Leading to pains and injuries have been concepts such as striking mechanics. For example, in Roworth’s broadsword treatise,2 he describes exactly how to perform a cut. I found myself not quite doing it the way he described; and sure enough, after a few months of this incorrect practice, I developed wrist pains that took the better part of six months to go away. What made the wrist pains go away? The solution was to change my striking mechanics to be exactly what Roworth described, and not to do it “wrong” anymore. That fixed the problem.

A common error with the longsword is either to overcomplicate or to oversimplify an action. The source material tends to describe techniques, principles and sequences in a relatively straightforward fashion, and it tends to make perfect sense if you just do what the book says. If you start adding extra actions, because you find it helps in slow and somewhat cooperative drills, then inevitably it will not work properly in sparring because you have made it too slow and too complicated.

By the same token, if the source says: “do this; do this other thing; then finally, do this third thing”, then there is probably a good reason for that. If you choose to simplify that series of instructions down to just: “do this thing that vaguely resembles the motion of those three instructions”, then you lose some of the important elements of the technique, and it probably won’t work anymore.

So I have found that buckling down and just doing what the sources describe, paying attention to details, but not adding anything of my own, is the best way to achieve success without compromising my joints and health.

For those people interested in learning more about historical sword fighting arts what are the top 3 books (besides your own) would you’d recommend and why?

Tough question. I have quite an extensive library, and I have read many excellent books, so there so many titles I could choose to answer this question. If someone were interested in learning just about any of the medieval or renaissance martial arts, then I would recommend the following resources:

1) B. Ann Tlusty: The Martial Ethic in Early Modern Germany.3 This is not a HEMA book, as such, but it sets the scene and lays out the context for the historical fencing arts in the Holy Roman Empire in the 15th to 17th centuries. I would go as far as to say that it is impossible to understand 16th century fencing systems (such as that of Joachim Meyer) without first having read this book. There are few books about which I wax lyrical, but this is one of them, and it easily earns first place on this list!

2) D.A. Kinsley: Swordsmen of the British Empire.4 Again, this book sets the scene and provides lots of valuable context, although it is not intended as a HEMA book. It is also not a book that covers medieval or renaissance martial arts; as the title suggests, it is a collection of primary sources and first hand accounts of close quarters combat experienced by men and officers in the service of (and opposed to) the British Empire, in conflicts across the world.

Since so few people today have any real or meaningful experience of violence (which is a good thing), we can fall into traps of imagining a Hollywood style of response of victims to sword actions, and we can very easily build a fantasy world of how effective techniques will be. The reality, as shown in so many of these accounts, is that people can survive the most horrendous wounds (sometimes several at one time), or they can die from the littlest wound. If we want to learn how to fight with swords, I think it is valuable to learn what swords are actually capable of doing, but also what they are not necessarily capable of doing.

3) http://www.wiktenauer.com – I know this is a website and not a book, but it is probably the most valuable resource available to anyone interested in historical European martial arts. It is a crowdsourced, collaborative research project, making available scans, transcriptions, and translations, of hundreds of historical martial arts treatises. It is hosted and sponsored by the HEMA Alliance, an umbrella organisation based in the USA, and it has managed to run some successful crowdfunding campaigns to raise money for purchasing high quality scans from museums and libraries around the world.

Again, I could wax lyrical about the Wiktenauer and how valuable it is, but I think the greatest joy would be visiting the site yourself, finding a treatise that sounds interesting, and seeing what the website has to offer!

What would be your advice to kid, teen or young adult who’s interested in historical fencing but doesn’t have a fencing salle or club nearby?

That is a remarkably common question. My advice would be to decide what it is you want to learn and why you want to learn it.

Do you want to learn to use a specific type of sword, because that kind of sword is really cool and inspires you in some fashion? Then get a book or DVD that will give you a basic understanding of that weapon and system, and start working on it in your back garden! Go through the guards of the system, attempt the cuts and thrusts, and generally just move with the sword in hand. Reach out to your local community and see if anyone would like to practise with you. You don’t need to be a master fencer, or a master teacher; you just have to have a book, arrange meetings, get people to show up, and be one lesson ahead of them so that you can keep everything moving forward.

Or do you want to learn to use a sword (any kind of sword) in general? Then see if there is a local club that does kendo, iaido, or modern fencing, and sign up to that. It might not be HEMA, but it will teach you some useful skills nonetheless. Then, when you feel a little more confident about handling a sword, follow the advice above and reach out to your local community to try and set up a HEMA club.

Another option, if you have money to spend, is to find an established HEMA school with an instructor who has an excellent reputation, and see if you can travel to that school for a week to take some deep and immersive lessons. There is a growing number of professional schools and instructors to be found in North America and Europe, so if you have the money to spend, this course of action will both support a professional HEMA person and will give you a solid grounding in the system that you would like to learn. Thereafter, once you return home, you will know what to practise, what to avoid doing because of risk of injury, and you will have someone to whom you can reach out with questions.

You can also find a Facebook discussion group such as the HEMA Alliance group, the UK HEMA group, or the HEMA International Discussion group, where you can ask questions, or post videos of your practice to ask for feedback. However, bear in mind that Facebook is what it is: a platform where people are encouraged to make fast, throwaway comments; that is not designed for finding archived material or reading discussions that have taken place previously. Although joining a Facebook discussion group can be useful, it is by no means as useful as developing a real friendship or working relationship with a well-respected professional instructor.

Who is your favorite swordsman of history and why?

My favourite swordsman from history would probably be either Donald McBane or Donald Macleod. They were both soldiers in Highland regiments of the British army, on the cusp of the 17th and 18th centuries, and they both left memoirs.

McBane wrote The Expert Sword-Man’s Companion in 1728, including his story, a treatise on artillery and gunnery, and various short treatises on fencing with a variety of weapons.5 If ever there was to be a Hollywood film made about HEMA, it should be a film about McBane’s life! He was a soldier, a thief, a pimp, a gambler, and a fencing master. He fought in several duels, in many brawls, and in a variety of pitched battles and sieges; he took many wounds, was blown up a few times, and still kept going. At the age of 63, he fought his final duel: a prizefight against a young Irish gladiator. Needless to say, McBane won this fight, and returned happily to his retirement.

William Thompson was Macleod’s biographer (as far as we can determine); and in 1791, he recorded Macleod’s reminiscences in a book with the rather long title: Memoirs of the Life and Gallant Exploits of the Old Highlander, Serjeant Donald Macleod, who, Having returned, Wounded, with the Corpse of General Wolfe, from Quebec, was Admitted an Out-Pensioner of Chelsea Hospital, in 1759; and is now in the CIII.d Year of His Age.6 Macleod was a stonemason’s apprentice, and then he ran away to become a soldier. He fought across Europe and North America. His exploits are quite fantastic, and while it is entirely possible that some of the stories are embellished, there is evidence to suggest that he was a real person, that he did indeed serve in the army, and therefore that he probably did fight in the battles in which he claims to have fought – or at least, some of them. Once Hollywood has finished making a film about McBane, I think Macleod would be an excellent choice for their second foray into the life of HEMA characters.

If you had the chance to be trained by 3 masters of the past, who would you choose and why?

I would probably choose Sigmund Ringeck, Hans Talhoffer, and either Johannes Lecküchner or Andre Lignitzer.

Ringeck was a member of the “Society of Liechtenauer”, and wrote glosses for Liechtenauer’s Zettel, the somewhat-cryptic verses that set out and recorded Liechtenauer’s system for fighting. He clearly understood Liechtenauer’s method, and was also able to add some of his own material to the system in a fashion that fits quite well and does not seem foreign or out of place at all. He was the fencing master to the Dukes of Bavaria, so clearly he was a skilled and valued instructor. He would be able to teach me about the core Liechtenauer method of fencing with the longsword, which is my principal area of study.

Talhoffer was a shady figure. He was a fencing master who taught people how to fight in preparation for judicial duels, and also provided training to some noble families. He authored several manuscripts on the subject of fighting with a variety of weapons. He was also an assassin and had more than one run-in with the law.7 He was clearly no academic studying just the theory of fighting: he dealt with the gritty details and fallouts on a day-to-day basis, and I think it would be fascinating to see the difference in his approach to fencing and violence compared with the approach (and health and safety consciousness) of modern practitioners.

Lecküchner was a priest who authored several manuscripts on fencing with the messer, the long knife that was often worn as a sidearm by civilians. Lignitzer was a fencing master who authored several treatises on wrestling, sword and buckler, fighting in armour, and fighting with the dagger. Both of these masters would be able to teach me valuable lessons about fencing with these weapons, and either would be an excellent complement to the team made up by Ringeck and Talhoffer.

We are now in the New Year. What resolutions do you have and/or goals for the year?

I spent most of the last two years not working particularly closely with the longsword source material. Instead, I tried to improve my fundamental skills, so that I would be able to perform the techniques and sequences described in these treatises. I had realised that while I knew a lot of theory, I couldn’t apply enough of it effectively when I was sparring. So instead of continuing to work on complicated things that I couldn’t make work, I decided to step back and work on the basics by improving myself as a fencer. I gave a presentation about this approach at the Iron Gate Exhibition event in 2015.8

This plan has worked well, and I am now considerably more competent than I was previously. I can apply more techniques in sparring, and I understand better what I need to do in order to make things work.

Therefore, my plan for 2017 is to return to the sources and spend more time involved with the books. I feel it is important to “touch base” with the sources, again and again, to ensure that we stay in the realm of recreating a martial art as accurately as possible, so that we do not stray into the realm of making stuff up. While some people enjoy making stuff up, in my opinion HEMA relies on source material.9 As I answered in question 5 above, disregarding the advice in the sources has led to pains and injuries, and to less effective performance in sparring and tournaments. So, why would I disregard source material and accept pain and injuries, and willingly choose a weaker and less effective performance of technical skills, if I can just follow what the sources say and avoid the pain and injury, and achieve better results in my fencing?

So, a return to the source material, spending a bit more time with the books again, letting new ideas and information percolate and then become part of my overall understanding; this would be my plan for the coming year.

Bonus Question

If you were a video game or fantasy character what weapon, magic and special skill would you possess?

I would have a sword, probably a longsword. It’s just too much fun not to have it in this sort of setting! I would have the special skill of finding enough trouble to make the story dramatic, but of not getting myself into inextricable or irretrievable situations. That would keep my life interesting without being too worried about dying. I think that sounds pretty good, on the whole!

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1 A sword with an extremely short blade, yet weighted to give the correct feeling of weight and balance of a real sword – very useful for training indoors with low ceilings! http://www.mblades.com/swing/

2 Charles Roworth; Ben Kerr and Keith Farrell (eds.). The Art of Defence on Foot, 1798. Glasgow: Fallen Rook Publishing, October 2014.

3 B. Ann Tlusty. The Martial Ethic in Early Modern Germany: Civic Duty and the Right of Arms. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

4 D.A. Kinsley. Swordsmen of the British Empire. 1st ed. British Sword Fighters series, part 3. Lulu, April 2013.

5 Donald McBane; Ben Kerr (ed.). The Expert Sword-Man’s Companion, 1728. Glasgow: Fallen Rook Publishing, January 2015.

6 Keith Farrell (ed.). Memoirs of Serjeant Donald Macleod, 1791. Glasgow: Fallen Rook Publishing, May 2016.

7 “Hans Talhoffer: A Historical Martial Arts Blog by Jens P. Kleinau.” https://talhoffer.wordpress.com/category/a-life-like-that-of-talhoffer/

8 “IGX 2015 Lecture: Training Fundamentals, by Keith Farrell.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voc_Txu7fYM

9 Keith Farrell. “What is HEMA to me?” Encased in Steel, 10th June 2016. http://www.encasedinsteel.co.uk/2016/06/10/what-is-hema-to-me/

10 Questions with Richard Marsden

Posted in 10 Questions, Fencing, Swordsmanship, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2016 by Combative Corner

Richard Marsden

Richard Marsden is a teacher, writer, and historical fencing instructor from Phoenix, Arizona.  I became familiar with his work early this year when I was searching for information on Polish military history.  His book, The Polish Saber caught my eye and was immediately dropped into my Amazon wish list.  So… dear loyal readers, due expect a review (which many Amazonian’s have listed as a 5-star book) by the end of the year.  As I got to know Richard from his Phoenix Society, Facebook page and website, I was certain that he belonged on our list of CombativeCorner interviewees.  Without further ado…. 10 Questions with swordsman-extraordinaire, Richard Marsden.

What brought you to the world of historical fencing?

At 15, in the 1990s I was dragged by a self-proclaimed Hawaiian Prince, Nick Kalanawani Makai Among to Central Phoenix where the SCA, Adria and other groups met. I was put in Adria and quickly latched onto Greg Hinchcliff who had zero interest in dress up and a huge interest in swordsmanship. We had no manuals, nor did we appreciate them, but we had sideswords and rapiers and learned through fighting. Greg created his own organization, the Loyal Order of the Sword and we fought among ourselves for around 15 years. The group did not die so much as age out, and some of them are in HEMAA today. I even have a tattoo on my right shoulder with the group’s symbol and a custom ring or two. Greg is alive and well and is still the best fighter I have ever known. After the group dispersed I started one at the High School I teach at, and decided to focus on manuals. This was in 2006 or so. As the years ticked by I discovered more and more historical treatises and came across Jim Barrows who taught Italian Longsword at his house. For two years I worked with Jim and around 2011 John Phoenix and I decided to create our own group, the Phoenix Society of Historical Swordsmanship. Today, my group is the largest HEMA group in Arizona, and I have a host of students and instructors, including Jim Barrows, Kyle Cimerian, John Phoenix, Adam Simmons and up and coming Chris Phoenix. My students are many, but my longest is Randy Reyes, who I trust will be a HEMAA certified instructor in no time!

What is it about teaching swordsmanship that gives you the most joy?

I am a teacher by trade, so I must have a passion for it. My greatest joy is in seeing my students be successful, and better than that, my students’ students. This is now happening, and I feel I have done my job in passing on HEMA to others. Reviving a dead art means we need more people involved, more teachers, more students, and so forth. Small cults, led by a single irreplaceable sensei like figure, do not survive the sensei. I am hoping my cult lives beyond me. I am on a mission to spread HEMA, which is why I ran a High School club, run a large club, attend events, have served for years in the HEMA Alliance to expand services for HEMA, wrote a book, and plan to write more.

What principle/concept/exercise do you wish for your students to best understand/practice/embody?

All of them in the end. However to start with the simplest.

Hit and do not be hit.

Read treatises.

Make others better when you are better.

What is your favorite technique to use in sword fighting? Can you describe how it is executed?

There are no favorites, because every opponent is different and I have a host of techniques. However, for effective and or crowd-pleasing…

Inquartata. In rapier stand with your chest slightly presented as a target. When the opponent lunges, intercept in 4th, while your rear foot swings to the right and your hand flings back. You will then void, intercept and thrust your opponent in a showy display.

300px-Capo_Ferro_19

Agrippa, Capo Ferro, Giganti, Fabris all have variations of it.

When it comes to longsword I enjoy using Boar’s Tooth. Fiore spends a great deal of time explaining how to work from Boar’s Tooth and one I like is the deflection.

From Boar’s Tooth, have a wide stance, wait for the opponent to strike (make sure they are in measure). As the opponent strikes, the front foot moves a bit left and forward, but does not cross the rear. It’s like going from a wide stance to a narrow. Deflect with the false edge of the sword, batting the opponent’s sword to your right. Pass and cut them. I get fancy and do this from Boar’s Tooth but also Left Woman’s Guard and Left Window.

300px-MS_Ludwig_XV_13_31r-b

When it comes to Polish saber a cut to the opponent’s right with power, so they parry or get hit. If they parry, then pass while performing a reverse moulinet , where the blade spins backwards, and deliver the tip of the false edge into the opponent’s right wrist.

Invitations. Out of measure, or just barely in, strike any pose you want. The Lee Smith vs Richard Marsden saber fight on you-tube shows a couple of those.

Should all fencers with a love for historical fencing do HEMA? Why or why not?

That is for them to decide. I wave a flag and people come to me, I do not try to push people into HEMA.

How important or unimportant do you consider competition? Why or why not?

Sparring is important, which is a form of competition. Sparring strangers is important. One teaches application, the other teaches application against the truly unwilling. People who never spar are missing out on a valuable teaching tool. Sparring has its faults, but so do static drills.

Competition, such as tournaments are another matter. I have a host of medals, my club has buckets of them. We like tournaments, but we are well aware that they have faults. Tournaments are a good way to showcase one’s skill, meet new people, but also understand that there is a game element to it. There are rules, there are judges, there is a ring, and so forth. Again, like sparring, I think it is a good teaching tool.

You wrote a book on the Polish Saber. What brought you to this weapon in particular?

The introduction to the book explains! Go buy it…

Ok, so I watched a dueling scene set in 17th century Poland and asked myself, “Wonder what the system is really like?”

No set system.

Spotty research.

Not much in English.

How can I fix that?

Two years later, with international help, the book was made on what we think the Polish saber system of the 17th century on foot looked like.

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Many instructors feel “A Jack of all trades, a master of none.” What do you feel about this as someone interested in many different weapons?

I have enough wins or placements in tournaments in different weapon systems to be a pretty good Jack of All trades, and some of the top performers today are the same. I find that you can’t focus on too much, so I have two or three I work on hard for a time, but I also find that by working with many different weapon systems, even if some for only a few weeks, gives me a greater understanding of HEMA as a whole.

Besides, Fiore for example was meant for wrestling, dagger, sword in one or two hands, spear, pole-axe, mounted and more!

Rapier treatises show single rapier, but also rapier and cloak, or dagger and so forth.

Even inside our systems there are nuances.

My suggestion for most is that they consider, longsword, rapier, single-stick/saber/ or sword and buckler at the same time. Each compliments the other, each teaches a specific set of skills. It’s ok to focus heavily on one, but delving into the others may be beneficial.

What goals do you have for the near future?

Ohhhh you know. Things. A podcast (history), HEMA-centric books, maybe put my Sci-fi novels up as a podcast, possibly another RPG with John Phoenix. More successful students and more HEMAA certifications within the Phoenix Society so one day they can go off and make their own clubs. I have spent a few years on working for others, so I may try to do some catch-up for myself. I need to up my stock portfolio so I can one day pull in a 1000 a month through dividends. I want to visit some places with my family. I’ll be at events for sure, and I’m in hot demand to teach abroad or give seminars, so I’ll work some of those in as well. I’d also like to see the HEMA Alliance continue to grow and support more members and affiliates and certify more people.

Maybe I will sit on the dunes of Arrakis and wonder when the sword-messiah will come from the outer worlds.

Spend time with the wife!

What does Richard like to do with his spare time outside of teaching and fencing?

I am a writer, and I do like video games, especially those with immersive stories like the Witcher 3 and GTA V. Here are my publications.

http://www.worksofrichardmarsden.com/publicationlist.htm

BONUS QUESTION

You die and come back to life as a fencer from the past (real or fictional)…who is it and why?

Interesting one. I am often asked, “What time period would you like to live in?” My answer is, “This one, or 50 years from now is probably pretty awesome. I love A/C, good food, drink and video games and housing….”

But your question says if I had to be a real or fictional fencing person who?

Stilgar of Dune has a fancy knife, rides worms and gets to be in a long, confusing film, but with great imagery.

Syrio Forel from Game of Thrones would be divine justice of a sorts. Teaching… again.

Drizzt do Urden has twin scimitars, but… how would I pick anything up, and all that family drama.

The Emperor does know how to fight, he is a Master, and I get to rule the galaxy for a bit but then get thrown down a shaft that does not have proper OSHA safety precautions.

Solomon Kane, sure I’m dour, but… fighting evil.

Fiore lives in a rather violent time and had to kill/wound five men because he wouldn’t share his secrets. I’m not much into really killing or hurting people.

George Silver seems bitter.

Rapier masters all come across as prima-donas and chasing work.

Jan Pasek, a cool 17th century Polish noble and swordsman, but a life too filled with drama.  So, not for me as much as I love the guy.

Alfred Hutton…hmmm, good lifestyle, modern era, interested in HEMA, and seemed happy enough. Maybe him.

Maybe a highwayman?
Maybe a drop of rain?

RICHARD MARSDEN

Phoenix Society of Historical Swordsmanship

HIS LINKS

WEBSITE

THE POLISH SABER (BOOK)

PHOENIX SOCIETY FB PAGE

THE WORKS OF RICHARD MARSDEN

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10 Questions with Richard Kruse

Posted in 10 Questions, Fencing, Swordsmanship with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2016 by Combative Corner

Richard Kruse Interview CC

I was able to catch up with Richard this Dec/Jan throughout his hectic training, touting and traveling schedule.  As a fencer myself, and a great fan of sport fencing, I instantly gravitated and quickly grew to appreciate Kruse’s style and patience on the piste.  Looking over the internet, I saw that there wasn’t enough information on this guy and many of his previous interviews were short and out-dated.  Myself, and all of us at CombativeCorner.Com is glad to have had this chance to catch up with Richard and get a deeper look.  

(quick look)  Richard Kruse (32) is a British fencer specializing in the foil.  He has represented Great Britain at the Summer Olympics three times.  In 2015, he was part of the Great Britain team that shocked Olympic champions Italy to win the first European Games in team foil – the first British gold medal in a team fencing event at World or European level for fifty years. (wikipedia.org)

photo credits:   Marie-Lan Tay Pamart

photo credit (profile): wikimedia.org

How did you get into fencing?

I got into fencing through a local club in my neighbourhood in north London way back in 1994. I was trying a lot of sports at the time like karate, football, tennis etc. By sheer coincidence my local club was run by the national Olympic foil coach Ziemek Wojciechowski. As I result I was able to get world class coaching from the very beginning which I attribute a large amount of my success to. Twenty-two years on and my coach and I are still working together.

 

What has been your biggest challenge as a competitive fencer?

I can’t say what the biggest challenge of being a professional fencer has been to date. Throughout the years I have encountered many challenges, all of which were problematic in their own right ranging from chronic injuries, to funding, to finding motivation to continue after not qualifying for various championships. All of these issues were difficult in themselves but all managed to get resolved.

 

I’ve always admired your technical style. How have you been able to remain so methodical and “classical” in your approach without fully adopting a “sportive” style?

On the issue of my style, I did initially fence in a “sporty style”. Up until 2004 the game was very different due to the more lenient box timings that allowed all flick hits to register. I did actually enjoy that type of fencing a lot but it was fair to say that the game had lost its roots as a sword fighting art. For this reason the FIE made the decision to alter the box timings to allow less flicks and hence restore the character of the foil. This brought about the initial changes to my style. As I’ve got older I am not able to be as physical on the piste as when I was 21 and therefore have to focus more on the technical and tactical side of fencing rather than the athletic side.

It should be noted that there were some successful classical fencers back in the late 90s and early 00s at a period when the flick hits dominated the game. The most notable was Piotr Kielpikowski from Poland who retired at in 2002 at the age of 40 after winning a bronze medal at the world championships in Lisbon. In an era when fencers used to run down the piste in foil with their arms back it was refreshing to see someone using the point so neatly. Of course this style does require a lot of skill to function at the highest level so I can see why it’s overlooked by a lot of fencers.

 

As a tall (6’3), right-handed fencer; do you think that those qualities help or hamper you? Why or why not? (Seems like many other top level fencers are short, lefties. i.e. Joppich, Baldini)

Do I think being a tall right hander disadvantages me? Fencing is a bit of a Cinderella style because our competitions are not done in height or weight categories – unlike all other combat sports in the Olympics. This is because you are not actually hitting people with a part of your body and are never supposed to allow your body to come into contact with that of your opponents’. One year you would see an Olympic or World Champion like Lei or Chamley Watson at around 6’5’’ and then next you would get a champion such as Baldini or Joppich that are both well under 6’. Height is no excuse for losing you just have to fence at a distance that is suitable for your body type. The taller fencers will want to keep shorter ones at bay and the shorter fencers will want to fight at a closer range.

Being left or right handed is more of an interesting debate in fencing. Clearly there are far more left handed champions than are proportional for the amount of left handers in the population. I’ve heard many theories as to why this is the case, all of which are interesting but the mathematics of the situation is clear. When starting to fence it is likely that a left-hander will practise more against right-handers than vice versa. As a result left-handers will be more accustomed to fencing right-handers than the other way around and therefore they have an advantage. Left-handers at first won’t be so confident against other left-handers but that doesn’t matter because when they both fence you’ll inevitably have a left-handed winner and a left-handed loser. That applies for younger fencers, at the top level you can’t blame a defeat on the handedness of a fencer.

 

You have a tremendous coach in Ziemowit Wojciechowski. How has he helped your game improve?

My coach Ziemek Wojciechowski has been of tremendous influence. He has not only produced me but has worked with almost all of the top British Men’s Foilists of this generation. He has single handedly elevated Britain above a third world country in this sport and is a bit of a “John Connor” character of fencing in our country. His enthusiasm for the game is unparalleled and that certainly has rubbed off on me over the years.

 

What specific fencing drills do you enjoy doing and are there ones that you dislike (but need to do)?

Specific fencing drills that you do that you like or don’t like. My training mainly consists of a warm up, a half hour lesson and then a few hours of sparring followed by a good stretch-off afterwards. I’m not really too big these days on all the footwork drills that I used to do as a younger fencer. I concentrate more on the technical and tactical game nowadays.

 

Could you explain the most thrilling moment/victory you’ve experienced?

My most thrilling victory had to be qualifying for the 2012 Olympics. For a long time it looked like I’d be able to qualify directly off of the world ranking but in the last world cup of the season I was leapfrogged by one world ranking point by Hertsyk from the Ukraine. I thought that was it but it turned out there was a satellite event in Copenhagen the following weekend which would count for Olympic selection.

It turned out that if I were to win this tournament then I’d finish just above Hertsyk in the world ranking and get an automatic place in the London Olympics. It was a hard task but I managed to scrape my way through six matches and win the competition. A lot of people asked me why I was so keen to qualify legitimately when Britain had eight “host nation” spots to use in 2012. The truth is that I was told that if I didn’t qualify properly then I wouldn’t be given a “host nation” place. As a result it was crucial to qualify legitimately.

 

What do you feel was your biggest loss, and what did you learn from it?

My biggest loss was finishing 4th in the European Zonal event before Beijing. The top three were to qualify for the Olympics and I missed out by the smallest of margins. It was very difficult to find any motivation to finish the season at that point but my coach Ziemek persuaded me to do so. In hindsight I’m pleased he did because about a month before the Beijing Games I was told I’d been given a wild card to compete. As a result of training through the darker times it was possible to go to Beijing and put in a respectable performance.

 

What do you think is important for young fencers to know when they first begin to fence?

It is important for young fencers to really enjoy the game. Train as hard as possible and have some achievable goals but at the same time keep other options open for the future. Of course, if you are one of the lucky ones that can be a professional fencer for a living then I’d advise you to take that opportunity! You’ll get to learn a lot about yourself, meet a lot of people and get to travel to all corners of the globe.

 

What does Richard Kruse like to do for fun (besides kicking arse on the piste)?

When I’m not fencing I still have a lot of things to keep me busy. I coach twice a week at a local fencing club. I enjoy learning foreign languages which also come in handy with all the travelling we do. Plus I teach the bagpipes once a week at the local scout group. I have a very privileged life as a professional fencer, it has certainly given me the time to explore many hobbies!

Interview by: Michael Joyce

RELATED LINKS

The Telegraph; London 2012 Olympics. by: Jessica Winch

BEAZLEY interview w/ Richard Kruse

10 Questions with Tim Morehouse – Olympic Saber Fencer

Fencing Language in The Princess Bride

Exceptionally Answered Questions : On Fencing

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Becoming a Duellist

Posted in Fencing, Fighters, History, Martial Arts, Swordsmanship, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2015 by chencenter

Duel Basil Rathbone Zorro

In his book, famous fencing master Aldo Nadi realistically describes the tension, obstacles and high-stake nature of the duel – one that he experienced first-hand in1924. Only 24 years old, but an undefeated champion in 3 weapons, Aldo remained confident and eager to prove himself against a live point.  Aldo squared off against Adolfo Cotronei, an Italian newspaper editor, over a story Contronei printed saying that Italian champion Candido Sassone beat French champion Lucien Gaudin 9-to-7.  Honor at stake, they met a secluded place   [read more at “The Duel”]

Aldo Nadi DuelHe writes:

In competition, the good fencer leisurely watches his opponent for a few seconds before starting the slightest motion. Here you are by no means allowed to do so because your adversary immediately puts into execution a plan evidently well thought out in advance: surprise the youngster at the very beginning; take advantage of his lack of dueling and bear upon his nerves and morale.”

THE NATURE OF THE DUEL

The Duellist movie Duel 2No film has picked up on the atmosphere and realism of the duel quite like Ridley Scott’s 1977 epic film, The Duellists. Choreographed by the famous William Hobbs (Excaliber, Willow, & The Count of Monte Cristo) it remains one of the best examples of sword-fighting – especially in this period, (Napoleonic era).

What you notice right away by viewing these fight scenes, is that the intention and awareness is focused on his opponent (remember, your life is on the line). Two, each fighter is hesitant on making a non-calculated action until there is a need to react to something – something that you possibly did not expect. And third, the fight scene is extremely short. Many duels started and finished in the time it took to read this paragraph.* Cutting with a sabre often produced gaping wounds, but it was the thrust (often w/ dueling sword, smallsword or rapier) that was fatal.

*Keep in mind that once the actual sword-fighting starts, depending on the skill, fighting area, luck, etc., duels could last anywhere from seconds to several minutes.  Most duels didn’t last more than 10 minutes.  But think of the amount of stamina that that would require! Needless-to-say, if you are serious about sword-fighting, be ready for anything.  

TECHNIQUES FOR DUELING

epee5It is of my opinion that if you can’t fight well against one person, you can’t and won’t perform well in a skirmish/battle. It is very important that you first learn your weapon (or weapon set) & build your skill. This includes Guard positions, techniques and movement tactics (learning first solo, then one-on-one and then (perhaps) multiple opponents).

>Bruce Lee once said, “One does not accumulate but eliminate. It is not daily increase but daily decrease. The height of cultivation always runs in simplicity.” This quote can easily be understood by the experienced martial artist – but is often hard for the beginner. Learn your techniques, various ways of movements…be a scientist of the martial sciences and put your skill and techniques to the test in competition.

What techniques serve you the best?

Which ones keep you safe or make you harder to hit/counter? Keep them.

Discard those techniques that put you in a bad position, are too flashy or complicated.

Find your personal “Go-To” techniques.

MINDSET

The mindset, especially in training and mock-dueling is essential. It must be centered around one thing – never allow a single touch. And if a touch is received, never allow a second. Always make it hard for your opponent to attack, find steady footing, or catch a breath. Use your environment, training and your intelligence in sword-fighting to be victorious. Victory favors the skillful!

FIGHTING FAIR

I tell my young students, “Imagine you stepped back in time… You encounter a villainous foe, and he corners you into a fight; a fight to the death!” In an act of self-preservation you grab firmly your weapon of choice and ready yourself for any oncoming attack.  In all matters of self-defense, I think it is fair to say “Anything goes.” This may include acquiring another weapon, kicking sand, or dirtying your point (in hopes that the doctor or director halts the bout, thus giving you a needed breather).  However, under normal circumstances and in hopes of winning honorably… I find it best to train using solid (go-to) techniques and spar using great sportsmanship.  Ultimately, if one had the liberty of choice (in dying), most would choose the honorable over the cowardly.  At least one would hope.

MICHAEL JOYCE

WSFENCING.INFO

I know there are many fencers and historians out there that might have some a different idea or opinion towards duels and/or what I have written.  If you would like to offer any comments, critiques, or possible revisions/errors, please let me know by leaving a comment and I will review and take them under heavy consideration.  Thank you!

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