Archive for Fencing

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

benjamin-bowles-pic

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 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.

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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.

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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!

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 Jeannette Acosta-Martinez

Posted in 10 Questions, Fencing, Swordsmanship, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , on April 21, 2015 by chencenter

Jeannette Acosta-Martinez FencingMaestro Jeannette Acosta-Martínez is a traditional master of arms, teaching classical and historical fencing. Maestro Acosta-Martínez is on the Board of Directors of the Association for Historical Fencing, was one of the original founding members of the International Masters at Arms Federation and is married to fencing master Ramón Martínez. In 2009 she created a three-volume instructional DVD on the French school of small-sword, L’École Française: A Practical and Combative Guide to the French Small-sword (Palpable Hit Productions).  For more information on the Martinez Academy, please visit their website by clicking on the above image.

10 Questions

How did you get your start in Fencing (& how did you gravitate to the small-sword in particular)?

I moved to New York City to apprentice as an antique restorer in the late seventies. As part of my training I often went to auctions to learn to evaluate the authenticity of antique furniture. In the 1980’s Sotheby’s and Christies often had antique arms and armour auctions. I became interested in all the swords I saw and decided I needed to learn more about them. I gravitated to the small-sword early on because at that time they were frankly less expensive than rapiers. In 1982 I decided I should learn a little fencing to help me understand the usage of these elegant swords. I felt that learning to fence would help me to better understand why they are constructed as they are. I therefore looked in the yellow pages (as one did in those days) and found several schools of fencing. I decided to visit all of them and decide which one I preferred. I made my appointments and went to the Rohdes Academy first as it was by location closer to where I worked. The old world atmosphere of the salle and Maître Rohdes’s demeanor appealed to me and I knew immediately that I did not need to look any further. I liked the traditional approach in the teaching and the strict etiquette of the school.

What are your thoughts regarding sport fencing and do they have any merit when it comes to being considered a “martial art”?

When I began I did not know there was a difference between sport fencing and classical fencing. I just understood that I was learning fencing. In a rare stroke of luck I was able to study for a year and a half with Maître Rohdes before he passed away. He instilled in me the love of classical fencing, but more importantly for me the love of learning about the art and science. The first time I saw sport fencing was in the Los Angles Olympics in 1984 and it was then that I understood I was learning something very different. I don’t have any thoughts regarding sport fencing, as it is a completely different entity. More importantly I don’t like to speak about subjects I know nothing about.

If smallsword fencing is considered “combative,” why are the deep targets of the torso (like that in foil) emphasized? It would seem that L’Ecole Francaise would focus on hits to any open target (i.e. wrist/forearm, knee, etc).

Fencing is the art of defense. The primary consideration in an assault, a duel or street self-defense is to prevent the adversary from hitting you. In order to accomplish that you may have to attack. In the attack you must make choices that prevent the adversary from attacking you at the same time or attacking you at all. As the weapons move with relative ease, the best way to be safe is to control the adversary’s blade with opposition. Hence French small-sword fencing is an opposition system. The foil was the training tool for the small-sword, so practicing targeting the most lethal areas helps to develop the necessary skills required in fencing, for example: knowing your exact lunge distance (determined by the rear foot without sliding in), control of the adversary’s blade in opposition, proper placement of the hand in the thrust to provide cover, sentiment du fer (tactile sensitivity with the blade), yielding parries, etc. Also, one is learning from the beginning that this is a lethal art. Striking someone in the wrist or arm may not stop the adversary; a thrust to the body may not stop them either, but the probability is greater because of shock to the nervous system and its demoralizing effect.

Here is a quote that addresses that from: The art of Fencing or, the Use of the Small Sword by Monsieur L’Abbat, 1743, translated from the French by Andrew Mahon:

Many people say that with sword in hand the rules of the school are not observed, and that tis sufficient to have a good heart. It is certain the people who are subject to this error, are not capable of following the rules which are to be acquired only by putting a good theory in practice; which, by frequent use, disposes the eye and the parts of executing so well, that it is almost impossible to act other wise: And as to the practice of schools and of the sword, tis the same; for no one ought to do anything with the foil, but what he knows by experience to be without risk, according to his rules. In some cases, it is true, what is esteemed good in one, is not in the other. For example: thrusts with the foil are good only on the body, and with the sword they are good everywhere; and that in an assault with the foil, the joining is reckoned as nothing, whereas in battle tis the seal of victory: but except in that, it should be alike in everything.

Sport fencing has a parry quinte that defects the blade to the inside and downward, whereas in small-sword fencing it’s a “sweeping” (supinated) parry that deflects the opponent’s blade to the outside (or inside). Why are there such differences in how parries are represented in sport, Italian (referencing Gaugler’s The Science of Fencing) and French Small-sword?

Different schools of fencing (the 19th century French school, the 19th century Italian schools, the 18th century French school of small-sword) view theory differently. Therefore classifications of parries are different and changed over time.

For example:

In the 19th century southern Italian school, the parries are classified by the hand position and correspond with the positions of the grip in the engagement: prima, seconda, terza, quarta, mezzocerchio

In the 19th century northern Italian school, the parries are designated numerically. However not all masters agree on what they are. Some use: prima, seconda, terza, quarta, quinta, sesta, settima, ottava. Other masters use: prima, seconda, terza, quarta, quinta (which is mezzocerchio) and or quarta bassa. These parry positions are not necessarily the same as the Southern school.

In small-sword the parries are designated both by hand position and wrist position (supination and pronation). They are also designated by their relation to the adversaries blade (to the outside, to the inside, above or below) and in the case of demi-circle; the semi-circular movement from high outside to low inside.

In the French school during the 19th century the thrusts, the parries and the engagements all have the same numbering designations. i. e. prime, seconde, tierce, quarte, quinte, sixte, septime and octave.

Follow-up… why is there no parry of sixte, but instead it is called “carte to the outside.”

The parry position of “carte outside” is exactly the same position of the parry of sixte. In the 19th century the term sixte replaces carte outside. The term carte outside was used to designate that the hand is in supination and that it is parrying the blade to the outside.

In Small-sword fencing, opposition is created in carte and tierce. Why is tierce a starting position when a hand position of carte is so much stronger?

(I ask this question because the realities of combat would have an adversary beat and change lines quickly [and often] and tierce doesn’t seem like the strongest of hand positions)

The small-sword is a sidearm and could be used for self-defense against another small-sword, rapier, or against a spadroon or other cutting weapons. Small-swords typically have knuckle bows to protect the hand. As any tool, you want to use it optimally, hence tierce on the outside and quarte on the inside orientates the knuckle bow to offer more protection to the hand.

If by “starting position” you mean the en garde, then tierce was not always the default position. Some masters recommend a middle position where the hand is not in quarte or tierce. From this position they believe you can quickly close either line. Also the fencer can go en garde in quarte. Domenico Angelo states: “The guard in quarte is the most advantageous, and the most elegant position in fencing.”

Also, there should be no difference between how one trains and how one uses the small-sword in earnest. Hence dexterity in the use of both of these positions is a necessity. Fencing masters in the 18th century understood the realities of combat and the French school in the 18th century addresses that.

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.

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.

Follow-up… how do you deal with a student like this? (to those that say “Well, it wasn’t pretty, but it worked!”)

Form and function go hand in hand. If a student is just interested in hitting at any cost, they don’t belong in our school. As a traditional school, we also work on cultivating the proper mindset. That is to say, the fencer should have a respect for what the weapon can do; the fencer should strive to defend as if the weapons were sharp.

I’ve noticed that you and your students use a back-weighted en garde “ready” position. Other classical schools, even those that I’ve seen that do small-sword use more of a 50-50 balance. Is this just to be respectful of the time period or does it come down to personal preference? What are your thoughts on this issue.

The balance of the position of the body when en garde is determined by the weapon and school that one is practicing. In our classical French system we use en garde position that is weighted more towards the back leg. In our small-sword system we have our weight supported on the back leg. In our Italian systems we use a 50-50 balance. The balance point affects how we move and is an intrinsic aspect of each system. That said, we also work with each individual and we will modify the stance to suit their particular physique if needed.

As an avid follower of yours on Pinterest, I noticed that you pin lots of pictures of historical weapons. Besides the small-sword, what other two swords (if you had to choose) hold a fascination/fondness to you (and why)?

I have a particular fondness for rapiers and falchions. I am fascinated by the variety of styles and the decoration that was applied to these swords. The craftsmanship in combination with their functionality astounds me. As an antique restorer I have the utmost respect for craftsmen/artists of the past.

Finally, are there any difference between smallswords? French, English, Scottish, etc?

Yes. However, this is a highly complex and lengthy question to answer. I highly recommend The Rapier and Small-sword 1460 -1820 by A. V. Norman.

BONUS QUESTION

Besides teaching and fencing, what else is Jeannette Acosta-Martinez passionate about or enjoy doing with her Life?

I suppose I am most passionate about antique restoration. While over the years I have developed allergies that prevent me from doing a lot of the restoration work I used to do, there is still nothing better than bringing a piece of fine furniture back to its former glory. I also enjoy traveling to other countries and visiting museums, churches, castles, etc. I can never get enough of seeing antique arms & armour, furniture, paintings, sculpture, architecture, textiles, etc.

FIN.

We at the CombativeCorner would like to thank Maestro Jeannette for her time and for answering these probing questions.  If you have any further questions for the Martinez Academy, please comment in the section below and we’ll do our best to get an answer.  For others that are intent on learning all they can of the small-sword, visit and request to join the Facebook Group Smallsword Symposium.

Also, don’t forget to re-visit the 10 questions with did with her husband, Maestro Ramón Martínez.

RELATED ARTICLES

10 QUESTIONS WITH MAESTRO RAMON MARTINEZ

A SHORT STUDY OF THE SMALLSWORD

Interviewed by: Coach Michael Joyce

@wsfencers / Winston-Salem Fencing Club

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