Archive for Classical Fencing

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 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!

FOR MORE INFO ON KEITH FARRELL, VISIT HIS WEBSITE

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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 Michael Joyce

Posted in 10 Questions, Fencing, Kungfu, Self-Defense, Taijiquan, Women's Self-Defense with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2015 by Combative Corner

Michael Joyce CombativeCornerMichael Joyce is the creator and chief writer at CombativeCorner.Com.  He is also a teacher, martial artist and movement aficionado with a passion for taijiquan, fencing and self-defense.  He is also a massage therapist who has been in practice since 2006.  In 2011, he self-published a concise, straight-to-the-point book titled The Golden Thread – Essential Principles of Self-Defense, that was heralded, not only by his peers but also by some of the best in the field.  Continuing his pursuit to create, teach and empower, “Coach Joyce” as he prefers to be called, is hard at work on various projects, many of which will be mentioned in this interview.  So, without further ado…

“It’s a communication thing.  And if we don’t have this communication with ourselves, if we can’t bring joy into practice, we’ll eventually leave it.  Some people even get injured by it. My answer is communicate more, add joy and seek to dive deep into what Bruce called ‘the honest expression of the human self.'”

What prompted you to begin your studies of the martial arts?

big-brawl-movie-poster-1980-1020203414My first experience was when I was 10 (or so) and my mom put me in a Karate class (trial basis).  The teacher had me doing the basic punches and blocks, but it bored me to tears.  I must admit that I was caught up in “what I looked like”…and not what I was necessarily “doing.”  I wanted to move like Jackie Chan, not Chuck Norris.  And it was Jackie (strangely, not Bruce) that led me back to the martial arts – after seeing a film called “The Big Brawl” (which Jackie thought was going to be his big break into Hollywood; but wasn’t).  It was an amazing film (in my opinion) that showcased Jackie’s talents brilliantly.  I would have to say that it was Jackie’s moves, and later, Bruce’s philosophy that kept me fascinated for a long time to come.  Then, as a freshman in middle school, my friend handed me a flyer for a local Kungfu class.

It was here, in this Kungfu class that I began to understand… that it was only through the dent of hard work that I would achieve anything great; anything of value.  And luckily for me, my teachers Jim Holoman and Jack Heineman were fantastic, giving and open to helping me further myself as a martial artist.  Also, it was through this class that I was able to get a taste of what some of these other art forms were about: like Tai Chi, Xingyi and Bagua.  Little did I know that I would later find Taijiquan (Tai Chi) to be the biggest and deepest ocean of them all… and I was more than happy to take a swim.

What is one thing that you have found through the martial arts that you wish others would find?

One thing I wish more martial artists would embrace would be that once you have solid footing in your martial art (and this works for hobbies and jobs too), that is to say, once you’ve found and understood the principles and have a strong foundation in the basics, “follow your bliss.”  This statement was made famous by mythologist, lecturer and author Joseph Campbell – and it’s such an important statement and life philosophy that I feel that too few people bring it into their life as a martial artist (at least as much as it should be).

This is not to say that if you’re in a formal class you “do what you want.” I’m not saying that. But when you’re engaged in solo practice, add as much joy into practice as you can muster.  This bliss will help motivate you, feed you with long-lasting energy and keep you eager to continue practicing.  It’s a communication thing.  And if we don’t have this communication with ourselves, if we can’t bring joy into practice, we’ll eventually leave it.  Some people even get injured by it.  My answer is communicate more, add joy and seek to dive deep into what Bruce called “the honest expression of the human self.”

Being such a “Jack of all trades” (taijiquan, fencing and self-defense)…what gives you the most joy?

When I hear that question, I never immediately have an answer.  It really depends on the day.  Let’s tackle each of these individually, shall we?

Fencing

Fencing and sword-fighting became a fun past-time as soon as I saw movies like The Sword In the Stone, The Princess Bride and Willow.  So needless-to-say, I was pretty young and impressionable.  Like most youngsters, I grew up with the image of the sword as being a noble and gentlemanly art.  Therefore, even to this day, I feel a sense of nostalgia and childhood energy every time I pick up a weapon (a sword particularly).

Tai Chi

Taijiquan came to me at a very important time in my life.  Because of the intensity of my kungfu training (namely, what I put myself through), and my lack of understanding (at that point) in how to exercise properly, I developed low back pain in my late teens and early twenties.  I wish someone had come around and told me that I shouldn’t be doing all the exercises and stunts that they showed in kungfu movie training montages.  I digress.  When I went to college, I came in contact with a superb teacher through a class he did at St. Louis University; Mr./Sifu Herb Parran.  He was the first to show me the beauty of Hunyuan Taijiquan, which I later found to a wonderful form of low back pain therapy.  Therefore, to answer the question – When I feel that the world is moving a bit too fast, I enjoy taijiquan.  When I walk outside, and the weather is beautiful, I really enjoy taijiquan.  Taijiquan is just another form of play to me and it connects many of the things that I love: movement, physics, meditation, nature, finding that “inner calm”, and artistry.

Self-Defense

As much as I am a nature-loving taijiquan/yoga/movement junkie, I am also a safety-minded, social and combative scientist.  We are all shaped by our past.  Luckily, my past is pretty great, but that doesn’t stop one from thinking, “how might all of this go away?”  The people in my life, just like the people in everyone’s life (close people), really help make Life worth living.  Violence is scary and ugly and requires a survival mindset that includes: detection, avoidance, communication skills and fighting skills (sometimes running skills also).  Self-defense training was a necessity to change myself from an uneasy, unsure, skeptical martial artist, to a confident one.  With women being the highest victimized of any population, I reached out (very early on) to women.  I put together a system of self-defense called Outfoxxed and it quickly became and still remains what I feel as “Priority 1” of my Life’s goals – teaching and empowering women.  Speaking of this… my wife and I just re-vamped our website and recently uploaded our first YouTube video.  Please check it out! [website] [YouTube video]

Jiu-Jitsu

Perhaps the easiest and most enriching endeavor one can do for themselves is to learn and play jiujitsu.  Like taijiquan (and even fencing), some small details seem to swing doors of understanding wide open, and I love that.  With jiujitsu, the movement-lover, the social and physical scientist is let out to play – all you need are mats (or sometimes a carpeted floor).  As a student of Rener and Ryron Gracie (GracieUniversity.Com), I know I can watch their videos, feed off their high-energy and also know that I am being taught correctly.  The only downside to this (especially since I do so many things), is being able to properly invest the time.  Currently I am able to squeeze in only 3 hours a week – which is only a quarter of what I wish I could invest.  The one thing I know about myself though and because jiujitsu and I mesh so well together is that I’m never, ever going to give it up.  To add… I’ve got one heck of a training partner; Brad Vaughn (his CombativeCorner interview is next!).

What teachers in your past have really made an impact on you?

207559_502968047582_8028_nThere have been so many teachers that it’s hard to count; plus, I already spoke of three.  (lol).  With that said, and in order to keep this answer a bit shorter, I am going to go with the teacher that was the most impactful.  That person is my taijiquan teacher, Master Chen Zhonghua.  I first met him at a Kennesaw State University workshop in the 2002 or 2003.  What struck me most was that he was a teacher that not only wanted you to learn the form well, but to actually feel what the body needed to do in order to produce the desired result.  I still had what he called “that wushu hardness.”

 We started to do some push hands, and not the choreographed press, stick and flow exercises – real pushing!  He was able to find a point of leverage from anywhere and that greatly impressed me.  After each off-balancing he would say a word in Mandarin that I instantly understood to mean a combination of “Look at this!” and/or “Do you see/understand?”  I know this because he would point and show either what he did to create the result, what I did wrong or both.  “This is the Practical Method,” he would say.  He was the first taijiquan teacher that did it all – showed me, allowed me to see the inner-workings, and blow my mind (all at the same time).  It wasn’t too late after that workshop that I decided to sell my car and journey to the Edmonton, Alberta to become his full-time student and gain my certification to teach Hunyuan & Practical Method Taijiquan.

What is it about Tai Chi (taijiquan) that you enjoy?  And is there anything that you don’t like about it?

To do taijiquan is to physically feel freedom.  To get good at taijiquan to reach heaven.  Is that too dramatic?  Well, I ask anyone who has maintained a consistent practice of taijiquan for at least a few years to speak differently.  How you feel this, is difficult (if not impossible) to put into words.  You must feel it for yourself.

As for anything “I don’t like” about taijiquan… I would have to say the near-sighted, our-system-is-superior, zealots.  I especially despise the fact that these people exist in every martial art system.  People can really take the fun out of things sometimes.  I remember another teacher of mine Dr. Yang Yang telling me a story about the late Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang and how he never had anything bad to say about another person or martial art.  He would never say that they were doing something wrong, he’d just smile and simply say, “I don’t understand it.”  Because, in my view, a technique either works or it doesn’t work.  The same technique may work in theory, but not work when under stress.  It’s your job as a student to find what works and doesn’t work for yourself.  It’s the teacher’s job to help steer you to the best of his or her ability.

What brought you into fencing?

As you might have been able to tell from a previous answer – fencing seemed to find me.  He-Man had a sword, Voltron had a sword, Lion-O from Thundercats had a sword.  There was Conan the Barbarian, Dar The Beastmaster and even those Jedi Knights from a galaxy far, far away.  Everyone who would seek to vanquish evil had a sword.  Seeing as there wasn’t a fencing club, or fencing salle in my area I never had a chance to study formally until I got to college.  I started with an extraordinary teacher at St.Louis University named David Achilleus (Trovare di Spada).  At that time he was associated with a group called The Baited Blade and taught a very passionate and fun foil fencing class.  Today, he is one of my favorite “fencing purists;” a fencer who stays true to the history and principles of the weapon he chooses to wield.

Would you tell us a little about your passion for movement?

Michael Joyce Lizard CrawlThe art of movement is something that is slowly becoming more of a mainstream sort-of-thing, thanks primarily to people like Erwin Le Corre (movnat) and Ido Portal.  We are essentially intelligent apes – animals that spend far too much time sitting, laying, watching and typing – and not enough climbing, hanging, crawling and dancing.  When we are young, we explore movement, but at a certain point we get to a point where we feel like we know it all.  Slowly, as time passes, we get more accustomed to not moving, no longer exploring, and no longer growing.  Understanding not just movement but the way YOU move is very very important.

When you bring more (conscious) movement into your life, you will likely find a great treasure – a way to improve function (which carries over to your daily activities), increased energy (which relates to productivity and is linked to happiness), and very importantly staves off injury, pain and illness.  What started as a child, one that loved to climb trees, explore the woods, build forts- became ME; a man that didn’t want to give that up.  Instead of building forts, I do yard work and remodel my home. (lol)

What got you into teaching Women’s Self-Defense?

When I transferred to UNC-Greensboro, a more close-knit community, I would hear horrible stories of rape, shootings, and other forms of violence on the regular.  If one was to set aside gang violence, and the Monkey Dance (nod to ‘Rory Miller’) that most men end up doing to prove who’s in charge… it (for the most part) leaves women and children.  Children obviously need to be taught something at an early age, but that is more of a parental responsibility.  Women, on the other hand, are the most victimized member of any society and typically find themselves without any training whatsoever.  With my love for women and to see them taken care for, came a brutal realization… that many men will not take care of them, and worse, choose to harm them.

Lauren BurkIn 2007, I decided to write a concise, to-the-point book on self-defense.  I had never written anything longer than a college essay before, and before long, I was in a bit of a writer’s rut.  I wanted to produce something that could supplement my workshops and give my students some important and potentially life-saving reading material, but the motivation wasn’t quite there.  Then in 2008, there were two senseless murders of two lovely young women, Eve Carson of Chapel Hill and Lauren Burk of Auburn.  I had never met either of them before, but reading about them and speaking with the Burk family, I knew that they were smart, fun and caring young ladies that, doing nothing wrong, met with a violent end.  With this event in my mind, I knew exactly who I wanted to dedicate the book to, and that I needed to get this information out – I needed to do what I could – as soon as I could.  With renewed vigor, I finished the book within weeks and self-published it on Lulu.com (The Golden Thread).

Today, my wife and I conduct classes, lectures and workshops on women’s self-defense known as the Outfoxxed Program.  We are currently working hard at producing a series of YouTube videos, blogs and other materials to help prepare women for what they may (but hopefully may not) come across.  It will certainly take more than my wife and me (Outfoxxed.Com)…but we are determined to make a big impact.  If you want to help us help others, please visit our YT Channel and subscribe (and share!).  We are also here, always, if you have any questions, suggestions, or concerns.

Beyond just the subject matter, what do you hope your student’s understand?

Beyond the message to “Follow your Bliss”? Not very much (in the realm of martial arts).

However, if speaking to my self-defense students, I’d like to make sure they understand to go beyond the palm-heel strikes and knees to the groin.  The bulk of the “attacks” in your life will likely start off insidiously, and unfortunately by someone you know (and trust).  If you don’t communicate and/or take action when someone crosses a personal barrier then it will be harder and harder to get out of that situation.  Your intuition is what will kick things off.  Learn to trust it.  Communication may be an avenue to persuade your aggressor to “take a hike.” Learn to use the voice (insert nerdy ‘Dune’ reference here*).  I say “the” because there most certainly is a voice, an inflection that produces results. Most husbands know what I’m talking about! lol.  This is seldom talked about in self-defense, but might be enough to deter a possible attack before it gets physical.  There is also a way of using your body effectively that produces results.  Some of these movements are very simple, but without the practice will never become reflexive.  Learn to use your body.

What are some of your future goals?

My wife Jenny and I are hard at work creating material for our Outfoxxed YouTube Channel.  We are looking forward to engaging with more women and help to bring a change.  Viva la revolution! I am currently working on two books: my first fiction novel (which I won’t reveal quite yet), and another book on self-defense.  But this won’t just be any ol’ book on self-defense, this is going to be very comprehensive and quite special.  With the success of these venture, Jenny and I will hopefully be traveling more, teaching more and enjoying all that we can out of this great Life.

BONUS QUESTION (via T.J. Kennedy)

If you had only one hour to teach a complete beginner self-defense class, knowing they’d have to use it to fight off imminent multiple attackers, what would you teach them?

I can always count on T.J. to ask the hard-hitting questions!

I would break the lesson-plan into quarters.  The first 15 minutes will be spent on effective movement, and positioning/obstacle-creating.  The second 15 minutes will be on the Trinity Block (love it!), striking and breaking contact/not getting trapped.  The third 15 will be (because I will assume that none have been in a single fight before) stress inoculation drills whereby there will be a lot of pushing, cursing and posturing (one-on-one). In this drill, they will have to utilize what they learned from first and second quarter to move, check your surrounding for a possible weapon and finding the right time to preemptively strike (if available at all).  The last 15 will be 3 students against 1 (depending on the number of students) and will consist of 3 minutes of mayhem.  Momentary evasion, wrestling, and “bad-guys” pinning the “good guy” will likely occur.  At the instructor’s command the “bad guys” will jump off and the “good guy” will have to perform push-ups (or at least maintain a plank).  Then back into the fray!  [Lee Morrison style] The good guy will go through about 3 rounds of this punishment.  Without fail… they will understand physically and mentally how difficult it will be to survive the real thing and at the same time feel more prepared.

Thank you all for reading!

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Exceptionally Answered Questions : on Fencing

Posted in 10 Questions, Swordsmanship, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 7, 2015 by Combative Corner

Over the years we’ve had the privilege to interview countless athletes, fighters and teachers.  At the CombativeCorner we love to not just ask the about “the story” (what got them to where they are), but the probing questions that will more likely resonate with the student looking to find a method/style/philosophy/etc that can bring their game or area of expertise to the next level.  To read the full interview from whence the question was pulled, click on their hyper-linked name.

The Princess Bride Duel 001Regarding the art of FENCING (Sport, Classical, or Combative) here are some of the exceptional answers from our 10 Question Interviews.

What was your biggest challenge when you first started?

My first semester of fencing I actually got a C! I had a hard time focusing and paying attention for long periods of time when I was younger so fencing really helped me to improve my focus an discipline, but focusing was also my biggest challenge at the start.

Tim Morehouse

What goes through your mind before you begin a bout?

I’m thinking about what action I’m about to execute and also telling myself to “come to my baseline” mental place. I always want to be fencing from a familiar and strong mental place. Never get too high and never get too low.

Tim Morehouse

In teaching students, what are some of the core principles that you try to instill?

Firstly control. With weapons you need control before you can progress. Control is mostly about mind-set I think – learning to respect the weapon, your capabilities and be respectful of the training partners. Next is how to move – the students generally don’t realise they are being taught this, because they think they are learning techniques of attack and defence. For the first few months though what they are really learning is a new way of moving their bodies. In everyday life we just don’t move our bodies in these ways. At first even strong and fit students exhaust themselves in an hour class because they just aren’t moving right. Learning to move is all about efficiency of course and once a person knows how to move with a given weapon then they only use a fraction of the energy to do things that used to exhaust them. Once a person has learned control and how to move, then they really effectively start to learn about attack and defence, time, distance, judgement, line and the other basic themes of fencing.

Matt Easton

What is your current view on the way they teach (modern/sport) fencing today?

I actually have a lot of respect for modern sport fencing and I think it has some very well-established and effective teaching methods. Some of how we train historical fencing is taken directly from sport fencing. What I have criticised about sport fencing are some of the rules and some of the equipment – I think it has led to a sport that is further and further removed from swordsmanship and therefore is less and less like what most people actually want to do when they start fencing. A huge proportion of historical fencers are former sport-fencers who started because they wanted to learn how to use a sword – some people do both historical and sport fencing, and the two need not be exclusive. I myself did sport fencing for many years and would recommend any child to do it as a basis for historical fencing. In the future I expect that historical fencing will become more like sport fencing in its attitudes to professionalism, teaching and athletic excellence. I certainly hope that historical fencing will learn from some of the mistakes of sport fencing though and not repeat them.

Matt Easton

What weapon appeals to you the most and why?
Foil, sabre then epee in that order. It’s like watching three different movies. They’re all exciting but each brings different feelings to you. The structure of the foil fencing allows you to set up and have resolution in the most powerful way.  Sabre feels like playing cat and mouse with me being the cat.  Epee is like dancing: structured with only three rules that, if you follow them,  you can win the Olympics.  Of course when I was young in the Soviet Union, girls only had the choice of foil.

Julia Richey

Students often have a hard time understanding the difference (besides the grip being used).   If we are talking about aspects (other than the gripping of the weapon) what philosophical, strategic or postural differences does the foil fencer exhibit?

I think that the definition of the classical fencer by Maître Louis Rondelle answers this question the best;

“The Classical Fencer. –  A classical fencer is supposed to be one who observes a fine position, whose attacks are fully developed, whose hits are marvelously accurate, his parries firm and ripostes executed with precision.

One must not forget that this regularity is not possible unless the adversary is a party to it. It is then a conventional bout, which consists of parries, attacks, and returns, all rhyming together.”

In contrast to:

“The Blunderer. – Is a fencer who strives to hit his adversary by all means, fair or foul, without preparation or opposition. His arm drawn back of its position, he advances or retreats without necessity, effects a tension on any attack, attempts to execute time-thrusts on simple attacks, beats the blade and changes the engagement without motive.”

The prime directive in fencing is always defense. If there is no defense it is not fencing. Some may repeat the tired old adage “The best defense is a good offense” but that is not necessarily true. This is because the mentality of the real fencer is centered on self-preservation. The premise in all fencing is to touch without being touched. It does a fencer no good to theoretically kill his adversary as he himself is killed in the process.

Maestro Ramon Martinez

As a masterful fencer yourself, is it hard to contend against a student or challenger (in a bout) using their natural gifts (i.e. athleticism, speed) or even scoring touches in a wild, uncalculating manner?

My obligation as a teacher is to guide the student; not to contend with them. When students are first introduced to the assault in our school, they are only allowed to fence against the master or provost. This is to ensure that the student is given precise responses that he recognizes. These academic assaults have specific rules. The student is the designated attacker. This allows them to use any of the various attacks they have learned. If they are successful, then the master will attack and the fencer cannot step back until he has parried and reposted. As a teacher my job is to give the students tools to overcome their weakness and to build upon their natural attributes. I use the assault as another means by which I polish the skills of my students. As they build their confidence and become more skillful they are allowed to fence with others.

Maestro Jeannette Acosta-Martinez

Why are pronated attacks (such as those from tierce, seconde and quinte) and parries so prevalent in the French Small-sword? As Evangelista once wrote “Pronation will invariably generate muscular parries. That’s why the French style, by and large, avoids pronation in its delivery?

The French small-sword fencer seeks to control the adversary’s blade by proper placement and leverage, not muscular strength. The pronated positions allow for strong beats, froissements, croises as one is using the same edge as one uses for the same techniques in quarte. That said, there are actually more supinated attacks and parries used in French small-sword. The use of sixte instead of tierce did not become common until the second half of the 19th century. Even then, most masters did not discard tierce. Correct training will allow the student to develop proper parries without generating a lot of force. In fact to develop sentiment du fer (tactile sensitivity with the blade) one cannot be heavy handed.

Maestro Jeannette Acosta-Martinez

LOOKING FORWARD

10 QUESTIONS WITH SAMIR “THE SANDMAN” SEIF

AS WELL AS…(A RETURN TO)

ROUND-TABLE DISCUSSIONS

 

10 Questions With Ramon Martinez

Posted in 10 Questions, Fencing with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2013 by Combative Corner

Maestro Ramon Martinez CCRamón Martínez is a traditional master of arms, teaching classical and historical fencing. He studied with the late Maître d’Armes Frederick Rohdes in New York City for ten years. Maître Rohdes was one of the last fencing masters to teach fencing as a martial art.  He is the world’s preeminent authority on the Spanish school of fencing La Verdadera Destreza and is the director of the Martinez Academy of Arms in New York City.  It is with great joy and honor that we have Mastro Martínez here at the CombativeCorner for an exclusive interview. For more information on Maestro Martínez please visit his website by click on his picture above.

How did young Ramon get interested with fencing?

As a child I was already interested in fencing at an early age. I knew then that it was something that I could do and felt that it would always be a part of my life. I was fascinated with the sword by viewing the old Disney Zorro television series starring the late Guy Williams. This was an inspiration for me.  Consequently I continued to view any television program or movie that had “sword fights” in them. Later, I would also read novels, history books or any story I could find that contained any aspect of swordsmanship.

You were able to study with  Maître d’Armes Frederick Rohdes in NY for 10 years.   What are some of the things that stood out about him as a teacher?

What stood out to me was his old world manner and strictness. He was absolutely uncompromising in his adherence to a martial tradition that encompassed mind, body and spirit. He gave his profession one hundred percent of himself and expected no less from his students.

His character was demanding, tough, fair but never personally abusive. He was truly an old world 19th century master living in the 20th century. Entering his academy was like taking a step back in time. It was a place of truth and not of games. Anything less was not tolerated. It was attended by some of the toughest fencers I have ever seen or faced. I will always be grateful that I was privileged to have such a person be part of my life. Without him I would not be where I am today. There is not a day that goes by when I do not think of him.

Thinking back on your beginning years as a fencer, what part(s) of fencing came “easy” and what part(s) “hard.”

I am fortunate in that the technical aspect of fencing came relatively easy for me.  It was the perfecting of it that was the most difficult. I have learned that the quest for perfection is the journey and not the destination. I am still on that journey. What was and still is the greatest challenge for me is controlling my fiery temper. Maître Rohdes would always tell me that my greatest adversary is the person I see in the mirror every morning. He would always say to me; “He who the gods would destroy they first make mad.” As I have grown older it has been proven to me time and time again that he was right. In my research I have read countless numbers of fencing texts from the 16th – 19th century and most masters will make a point of saying that you must learn to control yourself. 17th century Spanish master Don Luis Pacheco de Narvaez said; “It is easier to put out a fire than to mitigate an ire.”

I’ve read that you hold no allegiance to any particular school of fencing – however, when comparing yourself with other fencers, how does your style/approach differ?

I follow the way of my master and his masters. Period!
I am a traditional swordsman and master. For me modernism and sport are not in my consciousness. I will not compromise in any aspect of the art & science as a martial discipline. My personal style of fencing is strictly classical and my method of teaching traditional.

I had the rare privilege of learning both the French and the Italian schools of fencing and much more from a master that knew both. This is the reason that I am not politically nor culturally biased toward any school of fencing. Each school of fencing has its strong and weak aspects. Either can be devastatingly effective when utilized correctly by an expert.

I want to make it clear that I do not mix apples and oranges. I keep everything that I teach in its own place. When I teach French fencing I strictly adhere to the tenets of the French school. Furthermore, I follow the doctrine of that school in accord with the period of the weapon that I am teaching. I do the same with Italian and Spanish fencing.  For example, French foil fencing of the late 19th century is not the same as late 17th century French small-sword, Classical Italian foil is not at all the same as 17th century Italian rapier. Finally, the Spanish school (La Vedadera Destreza) is totally different in its application of theory, its mind set, structure and form.
Each school has it own form, that form facilitates the biomechanics within that school, so that it can be utilized efficiently and effectively. The technical aspect of each school relies on the expression of the form for efficacy. For me form does not follow function as some people say and believe. On the contrary I always say that form and function can never be separate as the form was created to insure that the function is efficient.  Form is not just an after thought used solely for decorative purpose to ornament what you are doing.

Fencing must be a balance of self-mastery, total comprehension of fencing theory and scientific application. I tell all of my students that they cannot even hope to control a person or a situation before they can control themselves.

Students often have a hard time understanding the difference (besides the grip being used).   If we are talking about aspects (other than the gripping of the weapon) what philosophical, strategic or postural differences does the foil fencer exhibit?

I think that the definition of the classical fencer by Maître Louis Rondelle answers this question the best;

“The Classical Fencer. –  A classical fencer is supposed to be one who observes a fine position, whose attacks are fully developed, whose hits are marvelously accurate, his parries firm and ripostes executed with precision.

One must not forget that this regularity is not possible unless the adversary is a party to it. It is then a conventional bout, which consists of parries, attacks, and returns, all rhyming together.”

In contrast to:

“The Blunderer. – Is a fencer who strives to hit his adversary by all means, fair or foul, without preparation or opposition. His arm drawn back of its position, he advances or retreats without necessity, effects a tension on any attack, attempts to execute time-thrusts on simple attacks, beats the blade and changes the engagement without motive.”

The prime directive in fencing is always defense. If there is no defense it is not fencing. Some may repeat the tired old adage “The best defense is a good offense” but that is not necessarily true. This is because the mentality of the real fencer is centered on self-preservation. The premise in all fencing is to touch without being touched. It does a fencer no good to theoretically kill his adversary as he himself is killed in the process.

For years, I’d been taught a standard grip (fr. foil) whereby your index finger and thumb are up against the cushion (as shown in nearly all modern fencing texts. i.e. Evangelista), but later was corrected by my former fencing instructor that the thumb placement should be approx. 2 inches back on the grip to promote greater sensitivity and point control (I call this grip the “classical”).   Is one grip right, and the other wrong? (if so, why?)

The fact of the matter is that there are two ways of griping the French foil.

The first manner in which to grip the French foil is so that there is approximately one finger’s width between the thumb and the guard. This can be seen in the French treatises of the 19th century. Furthermore, all of the fingers must be in contact with the grip, especially the small finger of the sword hand. This will provide fine point control, and facilitate the development of blade sensitivity.

The second way to grip the French foil is so that the grip rests flat between the first and second joint of the index finger and the thumb flat so that it is just behind the guard but not touching the inside of the guard (cushion).  As previously stated the other fingers must be in contact with the grip, especially the small finger of the sword hand. This type of grip will also provide for point control and blade sensitivity.

Of course fencers must be properly educated in the use of either grip so that they do not rely on the strength of the hand to secure it, as this would be contraindicated in the proper use of the French weapon.

What’s one (or two) things that you consider to be a “highlight” in your career?

There are several highlights in my career but there are two that I hold the most significant. The first is when my master named me as his successor. The second is when I presented for the first time in a public forum my reconstruction and resurrection of the Spanish school of rapier (La Verdadera Destreza). This took place when I was a Fellow in Residence at Rutgers University for the Aston Magna Academy in 1995.

What, in your opinion, is the best film available that demonstrates skill with the blade? (you may of course separate this into historical accuracy vs. entertainment)

I will say right off that there is no film that portrays fencing historically accurate.  However, there is one film that comes close and that is a 1953 movie titled “The Mississippi Gambler” starring Tyrone Power. There is a very entertaining scene that takes place in a fencing school in 19th century New Orleans that has an interesting depiction of Classical French foil fencing.

In my opinion the best film both for entertainment and in demonstrating skill with the blade is the 1940 film The Mark of Zorro.
The antagonists portrayed by actors Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone engage with sabres in the climax of the film. Both of these gentlemen possessed considerable fencing skill for actors.  Mr. Rathbone (At the time known to be the best swordsman in Hollywood) performed the sequences himself.  Mr. Power although an excellent screen swordsman was doubled by Fencing Master Albert Cavens who was himself the son of Maître Fred Cavens.

The fencing technique used for this choreography was of the Italian school of dueling sabre. One can see in the movie that the emphases of the cutting actions were centered on the rotation of the weapon coming from the elbow. This is a characteristic of the Northern Italian School of sabre fencing.  However, this was historically inaccurate because the story takes place circa 1830s and the type of weapon used in the movie and its method was not fully developed until the last half of the 19th century. Although these representations of swordsmanship are spectacular and entertaining their purpose is to tell a story and express a situation within a dramatic context.

Are there any mental exercises or meditations you would recommend to strengthen the mind for strategy and creativity in fencing?

What you are asking me about is very personal for each fencer. Every fencer must find his own way. The advise I can give is listen to your master, do not rely on books, do not rely on speed and strength as these fade with age, never anticipate, deal with what is happening; not on what you think will happen, do not attempt to memorize formulaic answers, seek the truth.

Besides fencing, how does Maestro Martinez like to spend his free time?
When I am not teaching, in a library or in my office, I am just like anyone else. I like to spend time with my family and friends enjoying simple things. I am also a movie buff and a fan of Spaghetti Westerns.  My hobbies are reading about the history of the Old West and riding horses when I get the chance.

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Fencing 101: Classical Salute & En Garde [video]

Posted in Fencing, Swordsmanship, Training, Videos with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2013 by chencenter

In this age of modern fencing, we have fewer and fewer students adopting the classical form of First Position, Salute and En Garde.  These 3 actions help to give the fencer a connection to the history and style of fencing, an exercise in proper form/body posturing, and to give proper acknowledgement and respect to the opponent (audience & director, if present).  The latter, is an essential show of respect that is sorely missed when a fencer automatically drops to the “Ready/En Garde” position.

In this short video clip, we see Maestro Giorgio Santelli with his student Robert Nielson (student and 1950 Collegiate Foils Champion).

*video provided by John Santelli to schlager7 (D’Artagnon’s Retreat)

Michael Joyce - Fencing PhotoCoach Michael Joyce teaches classical foil fencing in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  Mr. Joyce got his training at both the St. Louis University (1998, 1999) and University of NC-Greensboro (1999-2002) Fencing Clubs.  He has been teaching (fencing) professionally since 2005 – Our Fencing Page – WSfencing.info

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