Archive for Swordplay

10 Questions with Samantha Swords

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

samanthaswords

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What is your favorite fictional character and why?

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

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

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10 Questions with 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.

BONUS QUESTION:

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

SwordFightLondon

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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10 Questions With Ramon Martinez

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

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

How did young Ramon get interested with fencing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In contrast to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Making Your Mark : Get There First

Posted in Day's Lesson, Fencing, Teaching Topic, Training, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2011 by chencenter

Not Just For Fencers!

One thing that should be stamped in the mind of every fencer (and martial artists) worried about reaching your target is to understand two important points:

The first is that the hand, arm or even weapon is superfluous.  Your opponent, your “test of skill” is the man or woman in front of you, nothing more.  So much confusion begins when the student feels that every engagement must be “beat” or “pressured.”  When the space opens, the mind-body-(sword/fist/etc) should fly swiftly towards his or her area of weakness.  “Parrying/Blocking” are sometimes counterproductive.  In fencing there are rules governing where our point should land.  However, as martial artists we should all learn control.  Remember, “Mastery of anything does not come out of chaos.”*

The second is that (even as a beginner) we must learn to understand our opponent’s intention, and move where his/her conscious energy is not.  In fencing we all seek “Sentiment du fer” (Feeling of the Blade) and it is this that’s one of the most important qualities in a masterful fencer.  Understand the Yin and Yang of the blade…  that when your opponent presses hard on your blade, the most efficient and quickest way to jump back into the offensive is to be “soft/yin.”  On the other side of the coin, if your opponent is weak or is too relaxed on the piste, consider overcoming your opponent with an increase in “hard/yang” energy.

Remember, that it’s the successful marriage of soft and hard that creates sentiment du fer.  Mastery of this comes back to desire, patience and practice.

MORE FENCING ARTICLES HERE:

PROPER GRIP OF THE FOIL

FENCING LANGUAGE IN “I LOVE YOU, MAN”

FENCING LANGUAGE IN “THE PRINCESS BRIDE”

*Master Quote, by Nick Evangelista.

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10 Questions with Julia Richey

Posted in 10 Questions, Fencing, Martial Arts, Videos, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2011 by Combative Corner
Julia Richey is the head coach and owner of the Royal Arts Fencing Academy in Columbus, Ohio.  She also expanded youth fencing in the United States by putting together the Arnold (as in “Schwarzenegger”) Fencing Classic.  The next to be held March 2-4, 2012 (click here for more details).  Recently, Richey was featured in a short film by partner and fellow fencing coach, Tim Mills called “American Fencer” about Richey’s life as a young fencer and later, a successful teacher and promoter.  Watch the video here (click).
 
Now… It is our privilege to give you the next in a long line of amazing interviews… Fencer/Teacher extraordinaire, Julia Richey.
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Fencing should be an easy sport to promote. What is the best way (in you and Tim’s opinion) to “turn on” kids to the sport of fencing?
Julia: Each club has to make a huge effort to promote itself using every opportunity to connect to the public like shows, shopping centers, big events, etc. More than that, the opportunity has to be there to try it not watch it. Watching experienced fencers fence at a demo is great, but picking up the sword yourself will make you want to do it.
We need to celebrate our stars. Students have to be raised with knowledge and respect of the fencing stars. We don’t have a  future without a past.
Tim: And our stars have to promote and be visible.
It all relates to visibility. Every kid has made something become a sword and fought in the backyard. They imitate Star Wars, Captain Jack Sparrow or the Princess Bride. When we do events people walk by all the time getting into an en garde and pretending with their friends. We are blessed with the fact that Hollywood still loves a sword fight and new movies come out every year with them. This year alone we’ve had Pirates 4 and the upcoming Three Musketeers and Puss in Boots. They just need to know it is available.
There is a lot of discussion about how to change fencing to make it more TV friendly or understandable by the public. There are certainly some things we have to do in this regard, but we put too much emphasis there. That won’t fix it. There are a great many sports that have complicated rules. If it is exciting and engaging the audience will learn the rules.
At the Arnold ( and all of our events ) we set up an area to “Try Fencing At the Arnold.” The kids are watching the fencers on 25 strips and think it looks cool, but just outside those rooms is an area where they can put on gear with their family or friends and try it out. This is a hugely successful thing that helps to get people fencing. In the case of the Arnold, they travel from around the world, so it benefits other clubs more than ours.
Really, you should come to the Arnold next March and see all the little things we’re doing to try and engage the public and get fencing in the minds of the world.
Who are some of the athletes competing today that you admire and what is it about them that sets them apart?
Mariel Zagunis, she is the first and only american fencer that one all Olympic games that existed in her weapon.
Stanislav Podzniakov ( recently retired ), did the same for russia, won it all and was a model fencer for many even here.  He will continue that role in his current position.
Tim Morehouse, besides being the best male sabrist in the country and Olympic silver medalist, he is the best promoter of our sport. He is one of a handful of people in this country that have made great efforts at bringing fencing to the public attention.
There is a longer list of competitors that I admire their fencing in all weapons.
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.  

Who were your mentors in fencing? And what was something important that you learned from them?
I had a lot of them, actually. My first coach Victor Knyazev who brought me into the art of fencing and gave me more than he had to get me to the national level at the time. Through my fencing career since 1984 till now I have met and met had great experience from learning from many amazing, worldwide personalities that fenced, taught fencing or just wrote about it.
Fencing is a great sport that provides great coaches and athletes that are accessible to all of us. I just read a great article from one of our parents that Tim is about to post to our newsletter website about how awesome our sport is that his kids have trained with, fenced with and met Olympians and elite fencers from several generations. There aren’t many sports that provide opportunities like that.

In your movie, American Fencer, it showed that you suffered from a severe back problem. How did you back problems come about?… and how did you renew yourself?

My back problems started with an injury that did not occur because of fencing, but because of my fanaticism about fencing I was told by my doctors not to fence. But that was not acceptable. I just kept working at it and fought through constant pain. It reached the point that it snapped shown in in the movie. Thankfully with my knowledge and trinaing in reformer pilates and personal training, I was able to recover myself to the best back condition I’ve ever had in no time. Now, most of my pilates clients come to me to recover their backs, knees, hips after accident or surgery. Or to improve their golf swing.

Has Katya decided to fence like her mom?
She did when she was younger. She was also helping with classes and traveled a lot with me. When she became a teenager she wanted to go her own way. She fell in love with rowing. Then she shifted to artistic routes and never came back to sports ( yet ). Certainly, the fact that her mom is very competitive with almost everything surrounding fencing contributed to her needing to find her own way outside my sport.
What are the biggest obstacles in running a fencing academy?
Do you want the short list or long one?
It’s a delicate balancing act to keep clubs open that don’t have many decades of stability and a city where fencing is recognized and know. For us it is always an issue of balancing the need to get out to various locations and expand our offerings against the available resources.
We consider our fencing club our family.  We do a lot to support each other.  We offer opportunities outside the norm like lock-ins and making our short films, which the kids love to do.  That, too is a balancing act.  We have to grow in size in order to survive, but at the same time we can’t grow so big that the personal touch and connection isn’t there from us.  Fencing is all about relationships, whether it is our opponent on the strip, the referee or your coaches.  Like any relationship, they require a lot of work and fine tuning.  The hectic “real” world often challenges what we would like to do.
Continuing our theme, visibility is the hardest thing to do.  There are still a lot of misconceptions about fencing.  Breaking those barriers and getting the media to see fencing as a viable story is often difficult.  We’re fortunate that we have a huge event with Arnold Schwarzenegger to help us.  But again, that may help other clubs more than us.  It is difficult to take the limited resources a club generates and get advertising and visibility on almost no budget.
We do anything and everything to get in front of people.  And then we let them try it.  The nice thing about fencing is that even if someone comes through and doesn’t like it or thinks it’s more work than they thought it would be, they’re still going to tell their friends they got to fence.  So it works in our favor.  We could actually write an endless list of things about running clubs.
(Combative Corner…  I wish you would)
What are you future goals, for this year or for the next 5?
Like in preparation for Olympic games I have big goals and small ones that serve the big ones. TIm and I working every day on creating different tools, structures and doing research on ways to reach the public to make fencing more popular. My personal crazy goal as a citizen of Columbus, Ohio ( OSU Buckeyes ) I want to make fencing more popular than football in this country. It is very hard to raise champions in the middle of the country when they don’t have competitions to overcome to become the best. We need a strong base to build off of.
Have you come to a point where you’ve decided that the saber is your favorite weapon, or are you still a foilist?
I’m always a foilist. But, as I said, they all relate. I just found ways to use my foil ability to make sabre fun, exciting and useful for me.  If I had a choice when I was starting fencing, I probably would have chosen sabre.
When Julia is not fencing or teaching or helping run a fencing academy, what does she enjoy to do in her free time?
Free time?  The parents of our fencers encourage Tim and I not to take vacations because any time we have down time we come back with more ideas and thus more work.
Sculpture. Art. That’s how I ended up running the Arnold Fencing classic.  I love music. I taught myself guitar when 16. I love to dance, which relates to next movie we’re editing now. Equestrian. I love jumping horses. I like to drive fast. Books and movies.  Good food. And my main favorite I love people and like to have experience of meeting and discovering different personalities.
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Fencing 101 : Proper Grip (Foil)

Posted in Fencing, Swordsmanship, Training, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , , on April 5, 2011 by chencenter

Proper grip/hand position on the sword is perhaps the most basic element when it comes to sword mastery.  What many fencers forget (mostly of today’s time) is that fencing is “with the fingers” – the deathly edge at one’s control just as a brush is to an artist.

To achieve a fitting start in swordplay, one must take special care in how they hold the sword.  In classical fencing, the practitioner must remember the words of the swordmaster Doutreval*, (Scaramouche, 1952) who said to student Andre Moreau,

The sword is like a bird.  If you clutch it too tightly, you choke it… to lightly, and it flies away.

When positioning your hand onto the sword for the first time, notice the curve (of the french foil, poigneé) as the inward curve of the grip, should mold to the contour of the base of the thumb.

(as shown in this picture) Both the thumb and the first two joints of the index finger, also called “manipulators”, should be flush against the “petite cussion” around the two widest sides and the remaining fingers should fold, relaxingly, around the grip.  Keep the pommel along the center of the wrist.  This is to reduce “heavy handedness” and overuse of the arm.  It also helps to promote a straight and solid wrist, whereby any action on your blade is reinforced by the streamline structures of the hand-wrist-forearm.

What becomes of this finger-blade arrangement is, over time, a feeling of connectivity to the weapon.  Therefore, with time and correct intention through practice and bouting, your level of sensitivity (the feeling of the blade) known as “sentiment du fer” will produce the feeling of “the weapon and wielder are one.”

As tedious an exercise as this may seem – with many fencers rushing off to purchase pistol-grip/anatomical-grip swords – it would be wise to stay true to French foil.  As “cozy” as an anatomical grip foil can be, it’s my opinion that hopes of developing “sentiment du fer” would be near impossible.  Remember, “anything worth doing is worth doing right.”

*It wasn’t the charactor/actor of Doutreval that first came up with this saying (obviously!), but 19th century French fencer Louis Justin Lafaugere.

Michael Joyce

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Fencing Language in “The Princess Bride”

Posted in Fencing, Swordsmanship, Techniques, Videos, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 11, 2010 by chencenter

The Princess Bride Duel 001

If you’re anything like me, you found the movie The Princess Bride (1987) by Rob Reiner, to be a very entertaining film.  In all honesty, this was the film that poured gasoline on my desire to wield a sword, and quote the lines (with accent), “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die.”  For others it may have been Errol Flynn or Douglas Fairbanks; but for me, it was the sword fight on “The Cliffs of Insanity” that sparked my early fascination with fencing.

Watch here:

In this particular scene, while dueling (then, a life-or-death affair), while at the same time showing overwhelming sportsmanship, Inigo Montoya and the Man-In-Black (Westley) casually (and most humorously) discuss complex fencing tactics.  It was this friendly exchange of historical references that I found completely intriguing.  For years, I would quote the lines, but it wasn’t until my first years of fencing (and quite a bit of research & inquiring) that I understood what they were talking about.

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Inigo Montoya: You are using Bonetti’s Defense against me, ah?
Man in Black: I thought it fitting considering the rocky terrain.
Inigo: Naturally, you must suspect me to attack with Capa Ferro?
Man in Black: Naturally, but I find that Thibault cancels out Capa Ferro. Don’t you?
Inigo: Unless the enemy has studied his Agrippa… which I have.

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The quotation begins with Inigo, pushing Wesley (The Man in Black) back in retreat with his consistent attacks.  “Bonetti’s Defense” refers to the Italian swordmaster Rocco Bonetti, who established a “School of Arms” in London in 1576.  An unusual reference, as Bonetti was much hated by English fencing masters of the time (i.e. critically bashed by George Silver in his Paradoxes of Defence [1599]) and was killed in a duel against a man named Austen Bagger (who, during the duel, was “quite drunk” and “easily defeated” Bonetti*).

[*Source: The Encyclopedia of the Sword. Evangelista, Nick.]

Unfortunately we have no idea how Bonetti fenced.  What is of popular opinion (as to the reference in the film) is that “Waterman’s Story” whereby Bonetti once drew his sword and was quickly belted with the oar of the waterman (per: Guy Windsor’s demonstration in the video below) and lost the fight.  By cautiously stepping back and relying on defense, it helps to ensure that he doesn’t make a fatal blunder by attacking from an uneven, unpredictable surface (ie. “rocky terrain”).

Capo Ferro drawingInigo’s second question to Wesley is, “…You must suspect me to attack with Capa Ferro?”  This, is a misspelling first off.  Both the International Movie Database (IMDB.Com) and the movie’s subtitles say “Capa Ferro”, when instead, it’s actually “Capo Ferro.”  In this instance, “Capa (Capo) Ferro” is a term given to the powerful attack known as “The Lunge,” obviously after Italian swordmaster, Ridolfo Capo Ferro, who taught a linear style of fencing.  (a good analysis of Capo Ferro can be located (here: click)

Thibault drawingWesley’s retort was of, “…but I find that Thibault cancels out Capa Ferro. Don’t you?”  This speaks of Gérard (Girard) Thibault d’Anvers (1574-1627), a Dutch fencing master and author of the rapier manual, Academie de l’Espée (1630).  Thibault brilliantly utilized both logic and geometry to aid in his swordfighting defense.  Therefore, Wesley felt that his Thibaultian studies in using such tactics as (for example) “higher ground” and angulation on attack, gave him added measure when defending against linear thrusts such as “The Lunge.”

Camillo AgrippaTo this, Inigo concludes, “Unless the enemy has studied his Agrippa…”  – a term named after Italian short sword master, Camillo Agrippa who wrote, Treatise on the Science of Arms with Philosophical Dialogue (1553).  Historically, Agrippa simplified fencing techniques (i.e. Shortened Marozzo’s eleven guards, to a “fundamental four”), emphasizing defensive tactics,  & logic above techniques that he deemed over-stylized.  One can imagine that since he was a master of the short sword, he would be quite knowledgeable in “closing distance” (because in closer proximity, the short sword rules!).  In the picture to the left, the drawing shows a fencer as he raises his primary weapon arm in a prime-like position, which is effective counter to the mid & low-line of the body on high-line thrusts.

And there you have it…a breakdown of the famous movie duel from The Princess Bride.

Continue to study, practice and duel… in a valiant attempt at making a victory over you, “Inconceivable!”

Coach Michael Joyce

[CombativeCorner Profile]

ADDITIONAL VIDEO: GUY WINDSOR

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

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Joyce’s Fencing Page -Click-

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