Archive for Historical Fencing

10 Questions with Benjamin Bowles

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


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.
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.
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.
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.
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:

10 Questions with Keith Farrell

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


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) – 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!



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!

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.”

8 “IGX 2015 Lecture: Training Fundamentals, by Keith Farrell.”

9 Keith Farrell. “What is HEMA to me?” Encased in Steel, 10th June 2016.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


Phoenix Society of Historical Swordsmanship







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






10 Questions with Matt Easton

Posted in 10 Questions, Fencing, Swordsmanship, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2015 by Combative Corner

Matt Easton ScholaGladiatoria CC Interview 2015

Matt Easton is fencer, weapons historian and researcher and runs Schola Gladiatoria in Ealing, West London.  We’ve been following his Youtube channel (which to this date has nearly 50K subscribers) for a few years now and we’ve always been impressed with Mr. Easton’s knowledge, enthusiasm and scientific approach.  Now, for your reading pleasure you can hear the top 10 questions posed to Mr. Easton from you (the reader), us (the Combative Crew) and from myself (the fencer).  Enjoy!

How did you get into sword-play?

As far as I can remember, I was born interested in swordplay; I can’t remember an age at which I was not obsessed with swords and everything to do with them. Like most kids I played with wooden swords, but in my teenage years I started modern sport fencing at school and also started trying to work out how real swords might have been used. I got a weekend job and saved up for my first real sword (a replica longsword), which I then used for lots of solo practice, just working out what could be done with it and how such a weapon should move. I also managed to find an instructional video by Mike Loades on renaissance swordsmanship for stage and screen and while I was at university I heard about Terry Brown’s English Martial Arts classes. I became a student of his for a couple of years and that was my proper initiation into historical fencing, from which I branched out to work on various other historical swordsmanship sources and eventually to become a teacher.

How would you mark your evolution as a martial artist?

I think that when I started studying various different martial arts, be it kung fu and kendo, or different Western historical swordsmanship treatises, I was first struck by all the similarities across different systems. Then as I started to focus more on specific systems and teach them I was struck by how some things are done so differently from one system to another. Some people talk about doing ‘German longsword’, or ‘Italian longsword’, for example, but actually there are a lot of significant differences between sources like Fiore dei Liberi, Filippo Vadi and Achille Marozzo – despite the fact that they all teach the longsword and are all Italian. Even more notable are the differences between a German source like Paulus Kal and an Italian source like Fiore dei Liberi – whilst there is a lot of common ground, the differences are really significant as well. There are some quite basic things that they did differently, despite both being in Europe in the same century and using the same weapon. Now I have been studying these systems for over 15 years I start to look beyond similarities and differences and I feel like I’m starting to understand the reasons for the differences more. Not the simple principles – anybody who has been fencing for a couple of years understands the basic universal principles of time, distance, line and so on. Rather I feel like I’m starting to see more complex patterns across various martial arts. So I would say that I mark my progress in martial arts through depth of understanding, but I’m sure that in ten or twenty years I’ll look back and realise I didn’t understand much at all. I think that the main purpose for depth of understanding is to enable more acute transfer of knowledge to students. Someone can become a competent fighter in quite a short period of time, but most competent fighters are not able to transfer their skills without a long period of teaching experience.

As a collector of various weapons, what 3 are closest to your heart?

That is a very difficult question for me, as I own a rather large number now, of which I have probably 15 swords which I am very attached to, for various reasons. I’ll give the first three that come to mind: A non-regulation infantry officer’s sword, by Wilkinson and dating to 1858, which has a special extra-long wedge-section blade and steel hilt covered in gilding to make it look like a brass regulation guard. This was owned by the adjutant of the 61st regiment of foot, who survived the siege and fall of Delhi during the Indian Mutiny – I also have his diaries. Secondly a non-regulation steel-hilted Royal Engineers officer’s sword, by Wilkinson and dating to the 1860s, which was owned by an officer who was a sort of Victorian James Bond. Officially an Army officer, he used to travel to areas which the British government had interests in and act as a spy, reporting back details of geography and defences, also trying to broker alliances. He was eventually killed in the Egyptian desert whilst trying to secure the alliance of the Bedouin prior to a British invasion. Lastly a current favourite of mine is a ‘Lead Cutter’ made by Robert Mole of Birmingham in around 1890. Lead cutters were over-sized, over-weight cutlasses, made specifically for sword feats, whereby various objects such as a lead bar or whole sheep carcass would be cut through with one blow. Sword feats were designed to improve cutting skill and also for fun and exercise. This example weighs 3.5lbs and is great for training with – it’s also in fantastic condition and still sharp.

When did you start putting videos on YouTube and how has the process been?

I started putting HEMA-related videos on YouTube several years ago to represent my club to a HEMA audience and potential new students, but around 2 years ago I decided that there was an un-filled niche for information videos about historical fencing, arms and armour. Most other people making HEMA videos were doing it for a HEMA audience, but I saw that there were a couple of popular multi-topic YouTube channels that had started to branch into HEMA. I saw them making some basic errors and realised that YouTube really needed a HEMA person to talk about HEMA – we shouldn’t be leaving it up to other people to represent us and nobody else in the HEMA scene was really doing it, at least not with regular videos. So I got a camcorder and started filming – I never had even the slightest sense that they would become anywhere near as popular as they are now. I genuinely wanted to do the videos to get the information out there and at first I wasn’t thinking about how to make them popular. Now I have nearly fifty thousand subscribers I’ve started thinking about it a bit more as a job and thinking about scaling it up – I’ve actually started editing my videos slightly now! The process has been very rewarding and I have been really amazed at how large the response has been, but also how positive it has been. We have had a really tiny number of negative responses and having run a discussion forum for many years I can say without doubt that there has been a lot more peaceful and civil discourse on the YouTube comments than there is on an average forum. As well as really positive input from the viewers I have also received a lot of positive feedback from other HEMA instructors and I know that many groups have now got more students thanks directly to my channel, which is hugely satisfying. YouTube really is an incredibly powerful medium for spreading information – more so than TV documentaries, publicity events, newspapers or any of the other mediums I have worked with over the years. And that is really what the channel is about – spreading the word of HEMA and getting more people into it.

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.

We know you as having a fondness for the saber/sabre. Why do you think you’ve developed such a fondness for this weapon above others?

My love of the sabre comes essentially from three motivations; firstly that I like the way it is used and systematised in manuals. It is a very developed fencing system, with everything named, numbered and codified. It works very well as a system against any other and is scientific and logical – so much so that as a system you can apply the terms to other systems (for example numbering the cuts and thrusts for ease of teaching). Secondly, I love that antique sabres are still numerous and therefore cheap enough to be easily collected and handled. Nobody except the super-rich can afford to collect medieval longswords, which in good condition go for £20,000 and more. Even 17th century rapiers start at around £1,500, so 19th century sabres at £150 upwards are much more accessible. Lastly, I am really interested in the period that sabres mostly relate to – particularly the British and French colonial wars, which saw very diversely-equipped opponents and far more hand-to-hand fighting that was usual in the 19th century. I find the written experiences, written in basically modern English, by men who fought in India, China, the Crimea, Afghanistan, Persia, New Zealand and elsewhere fascinating. These men only lived 4 or 5 generations ago and were photographed, yet they faced hand-to-hand conflicts every bit as brutal and sometimes more bloody, than medieval warriors.

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.

From when you first started till today, what does your family think of your love for the sword (and fighting arts)?

Growing up I suppose that my parents were fairly supportive of my hobbies, though it was not an interest they shared and it was something I pursued avidly under my own drive. I met my wife through HEMA and she is a co-instructor of another HEMA club, so of course she is very supportive and I hope I am of her also. My brother-in-law runs the club that my wife trains and teaches at.

What advice would you have for a student who wants to learn historical fencing?

Join a HEMA club as soon as you can and go regularly. If you can only get there once a month, or a couple of times a year, then do. If you can’t get to any club then try to travel to HEMA events – they always have classes catered for beginners. Contact with an experienced teacher and other students is invaluable – you learn so much quicker from other experienced people than you will from books or DVDs. If there are no HEMA clubs near you then starting a related activity such as sport fencing or jujitsu is good. It will help you progress if you are trying to learn HEMA from books or DVDs. Lastly, don’t be afraid to start a study group. Be clear with people that you are learning as well and that you can all learn together – this is how most HEMA clubs started, mine included. Once you have one or two other interested people then you can look at pooling resources and maybe having an instructor visit for a weekend, or all travel to an event together to learn.

What does Matt like to do when he is not teaching, training, or making YouTube videos?

Outside of working, HEMA, antique collecting, filming videos and other sword-related things, I like going to pretty historical places with my wife and daughter, I play computer games a little, I shoot black powder firearms and I spend far too much time browsing the internet. I also cycle on a daily basis and intend to get back into mountain biking at some point.


It’s the Zombie Apocalypse and you have only one type of sword to choose from – what specific type would wield?

In the Zombie Apocalypse I would choose a cutlass out of all swords, as it is better in confined spaces due to the length, it’s easy to carry, has a good hand guard, but also packs a lot of punch.

Interviewed by: Michael Joyce

For more information on Matt, check out:

Youtube Channel


And from all of us at the CombativeCorner, thank you Matt and to our readers, we sincerely hope you enjoyed the read!


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