Monday, 26 December 2011

Armizare book and 1.33 video from Agilitas

With my rekindled enthusiasm for fencing I decided to treat myself to a swordy book and a how to video. I purchased Robert Charrette's book "Armizare" and the Agilitas video on 1.33 sword and buckler.

First impressions. Both are excellently produced and quite slick. I have not heard of Mr. Charrette previously but he has put together a concise book on Fiore, which runs through the plays of the various sections and includes black and white photos to accompany the descriptions. While some of his interpretations of the plays differ somewhat from what I'm used to, they do make sense. One of the best features of his book for me are the pages which show the various plays in nequence on a single page. I always have trouble remembering the order of the crossing of the swords at giocco largo/stretto with the sword in two hands, let alone the sword in one. With "Armizare" you can have just that page open in front of you and work through the plays in order. Also, each individual play is named and  numbered at the edge of each page. Very handy! Particularly fetching are the pictures of fighting in harness! Lastly, with this book, I remembered how to do the sword disarms "tor di spada" using the sword hilt. I had been shown ages ago and could only remember the first and third, but not the second. All in all, a very useful book and one I would recommend getting.

The Agilitas DVD was put together by Hammaborg members and sword and buckler afficionados Roland Warzecha and Tobias "Toke" Wenzel. I've had the pleasure to take classes with Roland at previous Swordfish events and have seen both gentlemen spar vigorously with each other and others in this the oldest treatise-based sword system in Europe. The DVD is clear and gives some very good tips as to how to approach the system. I was particularly impressed by the clear repetitions of actions and attentiuon to small details I had previously overlooked when practicing 1.33. In particular, the extension of the cut/thrust using an extra hip rotation rather than an over extion of the arm. I liked this so much I will incorporate it into longsword also. I guess I should be doing it already but the hip extension gives at least 5 cm (if not more) reach on a cut/thrust. Combined with other modifications of cutting this should snap the sword tip out at high speed and land from a farther distance than i could previously get. So, although this is a basic thing, I will need to work on this to maximise the effiiciency of my cuts. Also, the Hammaborg interpretation of the Stichslag is very interesting. I had previously just thought that it was simply a thrust. Instead, they see it more as a push-cut. If the point is on line, thrust, but if slightly off, thrust anyway cutting with a pushing motion of the sword. Nice! Although the DVD includes some plays and tactics, i.e. what to do when in the first ward and you are beset by habschilt, etc. it does not deal ward by ward with the various besetments/obsessio shown in the manual. Instead it gives you a basic intro and some exercises to do in both solo and pairs. As such I believe it gives a superb foundation for further work in this fascinating fighting style.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Training update and random ramblings

I've been really enjoying training of late. I've been taking a (for me) pretty laid back approach to it. I train fairly hard and really enjoy looking at the details of what we do. I'll probably head to the syllabus day next weekend and although I may not learn anything new, I'm pretty sure I will get new insights into the material. As one of the more senior students, I have no doubt that we'll be pushed a bit mentally and physically, perhaps even do some freeplay. I used to not enjoy this type of stress and always performed pretty badly at freeplay prep and freeplay itself. My poor performance led to me worrying about it, which somehow turned the whole business into something a bit negative. This isn't a reflection on the excellent training we were given, more a view on how my own mental process goes. If things don't go well, in my mind, everything just goes to shit. I guess I am competitive after all.

However, I think I've finally got my head around not trying to be the "best" in this hobby. By this I don't mean trying to be the "best of the best" and other crap that sounds like US Marines-speak. Frankly, while possibly achievable, it's realistically improbable. I think I'll settle instead for being more competent and less competitive. Is this a cop out? Some might think so, particularly in light of the increasing interest in tournaments within the HEMA world, where despite claims that people take part to test their skills and improve their fencing, there is a clear desire, even need for some to win, win, WIN! Nothing wrong with this per se because hell, it's nice to take part and win things occasionally, but is someone who wins a longsword tournament really a representative of the "best" for that weapon? It may be so, but could it also be that they had trained specifically to be very good at tournaments, as well as being an all-round swordsman? There seems to be quite a lot of prestige and kudos for tournament winners. This is nothing new and is true for every type of competition ever held. After watching the tournaments at Swordfish for the past few years, I just sometimes wonder....Is the increase in interest in tournaments (with the attendant arguments about how different rule sets promote realism or reward buffalo-style fighters) less about being an acid test for one's skillset and really about gaining kudos from one's peers? I realise of course, that you do need to have some competitive spirit, or indeed "fighting" spirit to effectively compete against another, be it at the club level in free sparring or at a tournament. Ths is a necessary requirement. But is there a limit? Do we need to win at all costs? If the answer is yes, does this still encompass using proper historic technique, meisterhau, control and respect for the other competitior? If not, then IMO, someone who wins a tournament like this is not the best swordsman and ultimately, a poor representative for HEMA.

Just my two sents.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Swordfish 2011 review

It took me a while to recover but yet again the effort of getting to and from Gothenburg was well worth it. I enjoyed most of the classes I attended and had chats and beers with some very interesting people.

Friday morning-Parrying with the Longsword by Matt Galas

On the first morning, I attended Matt Galas' class on parrying with the longsword. His premise is that although due tempi actions are found in the German schools, the single time action is considered (quite rightly) to be the pinnacle of the art. However, in his opinion, KDF exponents focus too much on the single time action, when a parry riposte is safer, albeit slower. As a Fiorist, this wasn't really news. Two things bugged me about the clclass though. First off, very few people bothered to put on masks. If I'm drilling with someone I know well, then ok, but in such a situation, I have no idea who I might end up training with. Hence, the mask. Not very cool perhaps, but I like my eyes. Me and another chap from Hammaborg had a look around during the class and we were among the only ones wearing head protection. The second thing I found a tad annoying was that even though I said I was a Fiorista, Mr. Galas, when he came to inspect us in pairs, still maintained that I should do absetzen as a parry, rather than a rebatt. Ok, as the vast majority of the class are KDF heads, this was understandable and actually, it was fun to do stuff other than what I'm used to. It was just that, as far as I'm concerned, there are lots of ways to parry, and one is as good as the other. Still, the class was very  interesting with some nice drills to practice. I crossed swords with some nice people and had fun. The 3 hours went by really quickly and that's always a good sign that it was absorbing.

Friday afternoon-Halbe Stange: The quarterstaff of Joachim Meyer by Roger Norrling

This was a super interesting class. Mr. Norrling is a very dedicated teacher and began the class with an intro to the art and supplemented the experience with a short bio of the German master, presented by Mr. Kevin Maurer, another Meyer expert. The staff is a formidable weapon whose striking power alone is pretty scary, let alone a staff weapon with an axe head and spike (halberd). The footwork was interesting, more reminiscent of kung fu than what I'm used to in Fiore. Mr. Norrling showed us some solo drills that can be used to progress through the guards and practice the footwork. We moved onto pair drills and I was struck (figuratively!) by the similarities to jogo do pau. I think I may have to have a closer look at this master, it is very intriguing stuff!

Friday evening saw the usual gathering in the pub and there was a very tasty locally produced dark beer on offer this year. The Dugges beer was more expensive than usual but was well worth the cost. I took my slings and tennis balls down to one of the halls and soon had about 10 or so people coming to learn. I think they had fun although people were a bit more reserved this year, compared to last year.

Saturday morning-Ringen by (Polish chap-Gregor Medvesek)
This class had the potential to be very useful for me. I don't do nearly enough wrestling or even pummelling stuff that i should. The warm up though was (for me) a little on the tough side and although I got through it ok (I sweated buckets), I was already having doubts about lasting the full three hours. The teacher was super fit and was clear and precise in what he showed and what he wanted us to do. He also wanted to keep us moving the whole time, so it was obvious he comes from a well-disciplined group. Then I got a shoulder in the gob, split my upper lip and bled a bit. By the time it stopped I was cold and so didn't feel like jumping back into the class, so I went to watch some of the competitions instead. To be honest, although the ringen stuff was interesting, it was a good excuse to duck the rest of the class. A lot of the people there were well fit, which I'm clearly not, and had more wrestling experience to boot.

Saturday afternoon-Marozzo unarmed by Mr. Roberto Gotti
This class was a blast! As we entered the training space we were greeted by large plates from the manual by Bolognese master marrozzo, depicting blocks, breaks and throws against an opponent armed with a sharp dagger. It was very like the images found in Fiore and a lot of the techniques were very similar. Mr Gotti is very animated in his delivery and clearly loves teaching this material. Again the class went very quickly and i couldn't believe the 3 hours was up. This class was a highlight of Swordfish 2011.

The Tournament finals
In a nutshell, there was good fencing and terrible fencing. The guys were super determined and more than willing to stand toe to toe and bash the shite out of each other. That's fine I suppose, not my cup of tea though. After four years watching tournaments in Swordfish, some of the guys are still hammering, and I mean HAMMERING the snot out of each other. I just cannot understand the desire or even need to hit as hard as you possibly can. This is somehow deemed a good thing yet the claim is that these blows are still controlled. My opinion: Bollocks! Even more irksome is the macho bullshit idea that if you are afraid to get hurt, you shouldn't step into the ring, i.e. you're a pussy. If I'm in a tournament am I trying to kill my opponent? No. So I use as much control as I have so as to score hits and not unduly hurt my opponent. If he wants to hit me as hard as he can and doesn't really give a fuck about my welfare either way as long as he wins, who has the psychological advantage in the match? Look, I expect to get bruises and sprains and light injuries when doing HEMA. It's normal and acceptable and I'm fine with that. Having my fingers broken or worse, is not. I also understand that controlled aggression may be a good thing while fencing. Flicking a switch and going into "kill mode" though is just ridiculous. In the longsword final, which showed some fine and exciting fencing and grappling, unfortunately also IMO devolved at one point into a brawl on the floor and the combatants completely ignored the order to break and kept on trying to mash the other into the mat. The referee had to dive in and use a rear choke hold to pull one of the chaps off the other. Hallo people! Ummm, control? I thought that this was an embarrassing spectacle, particularly as the finals were streamed live online. Of course a lot of the crowd lapped up the argy-bargy, but last time I checked the finals were supposed to highlight HEMA not the sodding UFC.
Thankfully, there were also moments of fencing glory. The longsword match for third place was better imo than the finals. The sabre final was beautiful. The rapier and dagger finals were superb, and the now much talked about sword and buckler finals was nothing short of inspiring. Here we witnessed simple but precise technique beat the buffalo-type fencer. Despite getting two heavy afterblows to the sword arm and ribs, the s&b champion, Christine Konsmo, continued to dominate her larger and heavier opponent, going on to win in a very convincing manner.

Saturday evening saw us slinging again, with fewer number as many people attended the now traditional Midnight Brawlers club. One fun slinging innovation this year was the Mexican standoff where we had two teams of 3 or 4 on each side of the hall slinging tennis balls at each other. My thanks to the Hammaborg folks from Swordfish 2010 for inspiring this. My one regret though is that although I took my video camera along to capture the atmosphere, in the fun I completely forgot. Oh well, perhaps next year.

Sunday morning- Bolognese sword by Ilkka Hartikkainen
This was a very interesting class and Ilkka was very nice not to give us a horrible warm up. We went through footwork, single and paired drills and pedagogic techniques to help our training partners learn proper form. Ilkka kindly used me as his demo partner so although sometimes winded and a bit confused, he generously offered me some very valuable one on one instruction in front of the rest of the class. I think I'll have to visit his group  Espoo Historiallisen Miekkailun Seura at some time in the future.

Overall impressions? Superb! The Gothenburg Historical Fencing School excelled as per usual and pushed the envelope even further with technical innovation, such as the live streaming tournament finals. The venue is ideally located and set up for the event and in its way is also a "star". Negatives? Just a little niggle. Swordfish is getting big, lots more people. It used to be that everyone knew and spoke with everyone else. This year people seemed to be just a tad serious about everything. I had the impression that groups didn't seem to mix much outside their own and at least I felt like there was some sort of hierarchy thing happening. Sometimes it felt a little like being in school, where the cool kids and jocks are the centre of the universe and only associate with their own kind, and some people came off as a bit smug. Weird. The Midnight Brawlers affair was much more serious than it has been, with much longer brawls and a real focus on winning the bouts. Used to be you had to have at least a few beers in you before you could compete. Then again maybe its boring to watch and more fun to do.
To finishing on a positive: It was great to see first timers to Swordfish come away inspired to continue their HEMA training. It was also great craic drinking beers and slinging with sword-meet veterans likeNigel Plum and Kit (surname?), both of which took part in everything with obvious great enjoyment. I look forward to perhaps visiting Dijon or maybe even Fightcamp in 2012.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Swordfish 2011

Well, it's just around the corner. I'm getting all my gear ready for the greatest sword meet in the Nordic countries. This year the good folks at Gothenburg Historical Fencing School ( have yet again organised a pretty eclectic event with LOADS of opportunities for sparring, steel sword competitions, as well as interesting workshops and lectures. At first glance, I thought the schedule looked rather German-centric, although a closer inspection also shows some Bolognese fencing, stuff from Marozzo, rapier from Fabris, and loads more! The steel tournaments should be interesting to watch and to see if the quality will differ from previous years using plastic weapons. I expect so, simply because the skill levels have anyway risen since I first attended Swordfish 4 years ago. So, it's less about  the weapon and more about the wielders. Again, kudos to the Swordfish crew for being open to this sort of thing, especially as I'm really sick of hearing how dangerous steel is. I wonder if certain members of GHFS have had changes of heart about steel since visiting different groups in Poland and elsewhere? More information non the workshops on offer, as well as the instructors, can be found here.

I think I'll have to make more of an effort this year to engage in some friendly sparring, not least as there will be blocks of coached sparring during the weekend. I have to admit that I have a bit of a mental block about sparring. I don't like to lose, I don't mind it so much, I guess I'm most afraid of looking stupid and making stupid mistakes. I haven't trained sparring for ages and this only adds to my reluctance to take part in what I see as an essential component of fencing training. So, time to bite the bullet and jump in with both feet! I'm also loking forward to a class on staff fighting. It's based on a German MS, but a staff is a staff so it shouldn't be that drastically different.

At last count I've got something like 20 slings and 3 fustibals (staff slings) ready to go for another  fringe event of slinging this year. Slingfish 2011, here I come!  I bought a load of new tennis balls and washed my older ones so there should be plenty zipping about on Thursday and Friday night, perhaps Saturday night also, if there is interest. I'll take my video camera along and try to get some footage of the slinging and anything else I can. I think I'd also like to use the evenings to do a little extra friendly sparring as well as have dinner and a few beers with old friends and hopefully, some new ones too!

All in all, I think it will be very interesting!

Monday, 17 October 2011

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Staff sling

Here's a youtube vid. Pretty self explanatory really.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Cutting class video

Doesn't need much description. Cutting tatami omote with a sharp hand and a half Lutel longsword. Thanks to Emil Lindfors for sharpening it. Several things to work on:
1.Relax, relax, relax-my shoulders are too tight. This led to me missing the tatami completely on a combo strike
2.Less power. I'm trying to bash as opposed to letting the sword cut through
3.Perhaps overthinking things?

Oh well, it was a alot of fun anyway! :-)

Monday, 19 September 2011

He's back!

A while back I posted some indian club swinging links from an aging hippie-looking character called zenkahuna, who had posted several videos on Youtube. For some reason his videos disappeared and I feared for the worst. Thankfully, the gentleman is in tip-top condition and has revamped his own channel on Youtube with high-def videos of what he calls Primal Play. This involves things like club and kettlebell swinging and also using other assorted heavy objects. I really like this chap's attitude and energy, which is super-positive and not as heavy as some of the other more gym-oriented vids available. Zenkahuna is clearly having a lot of fun and this is his driving force for doing what he does. There is no talk of "feeling the burn" or how ripped you'll get or how big your biceps are or "no pain no gain". Instead it's "Make it fun!".

A refreshing approach to getting fit, strong and healthy and for me rather inspiring. Here is one of his vids, which I liked a lot and have tried some of the club bell exercises shown. I'm now thinking of getting a bigger club so I can try some other moves.

Here's a link to one of his vids.

Make it Fun!

Sling gallery

I've finally gotten around to taking photos of my current slings made from coloured leather/nylon and Paracord. For want of a better name, I call them the Generation 2 slings. Most are pouch slings but there are also split slings as well. Because of their dubious resemblance to female body parts, one friend of mine refers to it as a "vagina" sling. Nice! I prefer kinky sling, it has a better ring to it. The last sling is made in five minutes using cables ties instead of the usual nylon binding. I called it the QAD or "quick and dirty" sling. It works fine but the cable ties do slip somewhat. This can be fixed in a trice!

The full collection can be viewed here:

Friday, 9 September 2011


Hi all,

well it's been a while. I've had a long spring and summer season working and haven't seemed to have had a lot of time for fencing stuff. By comparison, the slinging training and progress has proceeded apace, something at least that I'm very happy about.

Some reasons for this? Well, lack of visible progress in swording for a pretty long time. Too long just doing the same old stuff, very little sparring or freeplay and the constant changing of drills and interpretations from Helsinki have taken their toll on my enthusiasm for this hobby. I pretty much stopped going to seminars in Helsinki also because I feel like I'm so far behind, I'll just be mentally and physically swamped. It seemed just easier not to go.

Ok, this is silly. After another summer of practically no sword training, I went to the first session last week and had a blast. It was really fun! Now I'm signed up for a day of Fiore in October and Swordfish 2011is just around the corner. I also took the plunge and got a couple of nylon swords from the Rawlings Range. These are the basic models. Luckily a local company Rauttaportti  has them in stock. I could have got the pro-line swords but I figured the cheaper ones were ok as a starting point. We tried them out at the club and most reckoned they were too light and a bit floppy. Still for the beginners they will feel more like a sword than the wooden wasters the club has currently. Let's see what kind of feedback we get with continued use.

I've become a sling factory since my last post. I don't have photos of the newer slings but I managed to get some nice leather offcuts at the viking festival and I've been making quite nice looking models since. It's a lot of fun and quite therapeutic to sit in the evening and make them. My accuracy has also improved a lot since the last post. I'm shooting a lot with the Balearic style and a sidearm release. However, I'm still using Greek, Byzantine and occasionally underhand also. I like doing the figure 8, but only for distance and for fun, accuracy and consistency are much harder with this cast.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Waiting for the snow to melt...

The poxy weather has started to get on my wick. The thermometer is slowly creeping into the positive yet can still drop below zero some days and at night. The snow is starting to dissipate and brown dead grasses and months-old frozen dogshit begin to emerge.

I cycled to town last week for the first time since November, reminding me that we've had heavy snow since then. Four bloody months! I must also admit that having a car has made me lazy and so giving up the bike didn't feel like too much of a sacrifice. Still, cycling on a fragile half-melted snow crust, through large and deep puddles and dodging deep frozen ruts was not a pleasureable experience. My tyres have zero grip and the entire trip was a struggle to keep either the front or back wheel from sliding out underneath me. Still, I managed to work up a good sweat, got my heart rate up and now I'm looking forward to getting back on the saddle.

To pass the time in the evenings I've been making slings from Paracord, which I managed to order from a quirky Finnish army surplus store called varusteleka ( It's the genuine US army paracord and cost 12 euros for 30 metres. Best of all, it's available in various colours so it's nice to make dual coloured slings. I've been concentrating on two different designs, the tried and tested closed pouch sling, and the open pouch version.

As can be seen from the pictures, these slings are primarily designed for slinging tennis balls. However, while the split pouch, also named the vagina sling by my Italian friend, is specifically designed for a tennis ball; the closed pouch will also readily cast golf balls and stones. I think I might call the former a kinky sling. I've given a few of these away already and am still in two minds as to whether I might start to ask for some money, if only to pay for the Paracord. Let's see if people are still interested in having one.

I was also interested in making a super cheap and nasty band-sling. I made these from some cloth bands I got in a hardware shop. I cut 2 pieces 15 cm in length and punched holes at each end in each. The holes were reinforced with brass grommets and Paracord used as the tether and anchor strings. The trick to making a pouch is to twist one of the bands before attaching it at the other end. This sling works pretty well but the bands really need to be fixed so they cannot twist open. I found another much better design on in which the bands are sewn together by a slinger whose user name is "OwthatsmyEye" and looks like this:

Isn't it gorgeous???

So, I have plenty to be going on with while I'm waiting for this seemingly perpetual winter to end.