Category Archives: Training resource

Arlington Community Learning

We are pleased to announce that ACMA will be hosting a three hour lecture/seminar “Historical European Martial Arts” with Arlington County Public Schools Community Learning.  We will be discussing and presenting historical techniques and weapon systems and the texts upon which our practice is based.  Students will also get a chance to handle some of the practice equipment and learn about how they can get started training in the chivalric martial arts.

The class will be held Tuesday, September 26, from 7-10pm at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia.

You can register online:

https://registration.arlingtonadulted.org/CourseStatus.awp?&course=17FGI187

or by phone:

(703)228-7200

Watch this space!

ACMA will be presenting a lecture class “From Text to Practice” for Arlington County Public Schools Continuing Education.  We will post registration information here as soon as the fall course catalog becomes available.  Mark your calendars!

Historical European Martial Arts

The martial arts of medieval Europe were sophisticated systems of combat, in armor and without. Two opponents might engage with spear, sword, sword and buckler, dagger, or even unarmed.  This unique workshop will focus on the martial arts system of medieval Europe.  In addition to the weaponry and skills of the time, students will learn about the surviving documents from which these techniques are based.

 

Details:                 1 class of 2 hours

Time:                     7pm to 9pm

Date:                     Tuesday, September 26th

Location:              Washington Lee High School, 1301 N. Stafford Street, Arlington Va. 22201

Practicing without a partner

All by myself, don’t want to be all by myself…

But sometimes it is inevitable.  For whatever reason, you find yourself without a practice partner.  What to do?  Solo drills.  But solo drills are boring!  Yes, they can be.  But any training practice can be boring on occasion.  Remember why you started training in the first place.  Going solo can serve you well.

One nice thing about solo drills, minimal equipment is required.  You can certainly go without a mask and gambeson.  Gloves are only needed if you are prone to blisters.  If available, a full length mirror (or a glass sliding door at night) provides excellent feedback.  You can also record yourself for immediate feedback.

How should you structure a solo practice?  Any way you want. It is all about you.  Some people prefer to keep it completely freeform and spontaneous, moving from one drill to the next without necessarily planning ahead.  I prefer to set up my solo practice the same way that I would teach a lesson, first identifying a training goal or concept on which to focus.  The practice itself starts with a warmup exercise, transitioning into a technically oriented drill, followed by more spontaneous freeplay.

For a warmup, you can perform any sort of aerobic or conditioning exercise.  Most often I practice specific footwork associated with that day’s goal and save jogging or toning for off days.  I find footwork to be an important part of my solo practice.  When I am having difficulty making a technique work with a partner, the majority of the time it turns out that the fault was in my footwork and not the bladework.  Employing footwork as an integral part of my solo training has a positive effect on my partner training.

The warmup is probably the hardest part of my solo practice, I am trying to get motivated and overcome inertia.  Once I have started moving around, I am eager to pick up my sword and move into cutting drills.  Easy to construct and of definite value for improving technique are drills involving performing the same cuts over and over.  Examples include following the Meyer cutting diagram, repetitions of the Meisterhaue, or simply performing basic cuts from above or below over and over again.  Feedback is a little more important for bladework drills than for footwork so employing that reflective surface or camera is invaluable.  Another method for feedback is to use a target or pell.  Thrust into an old throw pillow hung on a wall.  Get creative finding something around the house which you can hit repeatedly without damage to it or your sword.

Now that you have those creative juices flowing, it is time to move on to shadow fencing.  So I lied when I said the warmup was the hardest part of my solo practice.  I find fencing an imaginary partner is akin to playing rock, paper, scissors against yourself.  As a result, my shadow fencing is not perfectly freeform.  I tend to script both my imaginary partner and myself, though not beyond the first movement or two.   Those scripted initial moves target that practice session’s training goal.  After that, it becomes somewhat easier to let the sword take me where it wants to go.  Visualization is important.  I have to ask myself why I would respond or act in that fashion.

Though being able to play with a buddy is inherently more fun, once you have finished your solo practice session, your body should be comfortably tired and your brain comfortably full.

Vor und Nach: Breaking guards, feints, provocations, and invitations

by Pamela Muir

Vor, Nach and Indes are translated and interpreted as timing in the fight.  When you strike first, you are in the Vor, the before timing.  If you are reacting to your opponent, you are in the Nach, the after timing.  Indes is the instantaneous moment in which you have to react in the bind.1  These can also be viewed as describing initiative or who has control of the fight.  In the Vor, you are fighting offensively, in the Nach, defensively.  We are explicitly told in the texts that we should fight in the Vor, and if we should find ourselves in the Nach, we should work to regain the Vor.

Being in the Vor means to make the first strike.

“With the word before [Vor] as has been told before, he [Liechtenauer] means that you with a good first strike [Vorschlag] shall close in without fear or hesitation and strike at the openings [Blossen], to the head and to the body, regardless whether you hit or miss you will confuse the opponent and put fear into him, so that the he does not know what to do against you”2

This leads us into the concept of breaking guards.  We know making the first strike is a good idea, but how to do it safely and effectively? Most likely your opponent will be standing in one of the four primary guards, so launching the appropriate one of the four Versetzen, strikes which counter the primary guards, is the logical choice.  Either your opponent will get hit or they must perform a defensive action.  You are in the Vor and your opponent is forced into the Nach.

Breaking their guard with one of the four Versetzen is not your only choice in the Vor.  You could also perform a feint.  A feint puts your opponent on the defensive, in the Nach, and it opens up another line for you to attack.  An example of a feint in the Lichtenauer system is the Veler, the Failer.  Start a cut towards your opponent’s open high line to draw out their parry.  As they parry, change your attack to a Zwerchau to their low line, on either the right or left side.  Both your feint and your follow up to the low line have you in the Vor.  Your opponent must remain on the defensive and is stuck in the Nach.

When breaking a guard or performing a feint, Vor and Nach are easy to identify.  It starts to get a little hazier as we move into provocations.  Let us take a look at the Sprechfenster, the Speaking Window, which is a provocative use of the guard Langenort, or Longpoint.

“Do Thus From the Speaking Window
When you come to him in the Zufechten, whether with an Unterhau or an Oberhau, always let your point shoot long from the stroke to his face or chest.  In this way you will force him to either parry or bind against your sword.  And when he has bound, then remain strongly on his sword with your long edge and stand calmly and see what he will execute against you.”3

The text goes on to explain your next step according to your opponent’s actions.  If they do nothing, you work from the bind.  If they pull away, you attack to an opening.  In these two cases, you are still the one who has the Vor.  However, they may also strike around to your other side in which case you are instructed to bind against their sword.  It appears that you have given up the Vor and must therefore act in the Nach.  That is not exactly the case, the initial action belonged to you and you set up your opponent in such a way that you know all of his possible reactions and are prepared to take advantage of whatever they do.  You have the initiative.

What about fighting from an invitational guard such as Alber, or the over the head version of Vom Tag?  Which fighter has the initiative?  The one inviting the attack, or the one who attacks?  That was a trick question. Though you may be standing in an invitational guard, you should not simply lie in wait for your opponent to take the bait.  If you do, you are most definitely fighting from the Nach.  You will be forced to defend before you can re-seize the Vor.

In the case of Vom Tag, we are fairly certain that our opponent will attack with a Zwerchau if we wait.  So we are instructed to strike first and provoke that Zwerchau.  “Note:  when you stand against him in the guard Vom Tag, then strike bravely to his head.”4  We are then given instructions on how to respond to the Zwerchau that our opponent uses in the Nach.

Even if you take the guard Alber, the advice given seems to indicate that it is better if you strike first.  “When you…stand against him in the guard called Alber, and he falls upon you with his sword before you come up, then remain thus with your sword beneath his and lift upwards.”5  The assumption is that you still intended to strike first, and you are instructed how to act if that plan fails and you were forced into the Nach.

As stated above, we know that all guards can be broken.  If we simply wait for the attack, even if we know what form it is likely to take, we have lost the initiative. “Therefore Liechtenauer does not hold the guards in such a high esteem; he is more interested in that you try to win the first strike [Vorschlag].”6  Assuming an invitational guard without intending to strike first leaves you in the Nach.

Which brings us back to the beginning of this post.  In order to control the fight, you must be fighting in the Vor and you accomplish that by making the first strike.  That first strike should be carefully planned as a feint, a provocation, or a breaking of a guard, so that you can limit and predict your opponent’s reactions in the Nach.

 


1 I would argue that Indes is a point in space and time, but that is fuel for another post.

2 Lindholm, David, trans. Cod.HS.3227a (n.d.): n. pag. Web. <http://www.hroarr.com/manuals/liechtenauer/Dobringer_A5_sidebyside.pdf&gt;. 21r.

3 Tobler, Christian Henry. In Saint George’s Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts. Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2010. Print. p. 129.

4 Tobler, Christian Henry. In Saint George’s Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts. Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2010. Print. p. 117.

5 Tobler, Christian Henry. In Saint George’s Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts. Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2010. Print. p. 124.

6 Lindholm, David, trans. Cod.HS.3227a (n.d.): n. pag. Web. <http://www.hroarr.com/manuals/liechtenauer/Dobringer_A5_sidebyside.pdf&gt;. 32r.

Additional resource:

Tobler, Christian Henry. Fighting with the German Longsword. Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2015. Print.

Should women fencers wear chest protectors?

by Pamela Muir

Yes, unequivocally yes. Chest protectors should be worn for practice drills, free fencing and tournaments. Yet quite a few women participating in western martial arts do not. How come? Well, those plastic Barbie chests are unattractive. Men’s chest protectors don’t look any better and any plastic chest protector is uncomfortable and can restrict your movement. Even those that are separate shells inserted into a sports bra can be uncomfortable. Besides all that, a woman fencer may feel that she needs to appear tougher and so she forgoes the obvious piece of safety gear that highlights her difference from the men. I used variations of those excuses for years until another coach bluntly explained to me the long term damage that I could be doing to myself. I put aside my wrongly placed pride and began to wear one.

The potential for long term damage is the primary reason women should wear chest protectors. What could initially be ignored as just a bruise, may actually result in a more serious condition called fat necrosis. When the fatty breast tissue is subjected to trauma it can die or form scar tissue. Symptoms of breast fat necrosis may include lumps, deformation, and/or drainage. Though fat necrosis is a benign condition, it’s symptoms can mimic breast cancer even on a mammogram, leading to more imaging with a sonogram or MRI, or even a biopsy. Besides the potential cancer scare, breast fat necrosis can be a painful and disfiguring condition.

Though not as serious as breast fat necrosis, injury to the breast can also cause calcifications, small calcium deposits in the breast tissue. Calcifications are not painful and they do not have any other physical symptoms that you would notice. However, the aftermath of a localized blow to the breast tissue, months or years later, may appear as as white specks on your mammogram. These may form a pattern similar to that caused by some types of breast cancer, sending you once again for more images and/or a biopsy. Microcalcifications may not be painful or disfiguring by themselves, but the follow up procedures, once the specks appear on your mammogram, are painful, scary, and potentially resulting in permanent scars. I can tell you from personal experience, if you are in a high risk category for breast cancer, these microcalcifications from old bruises will be a recurring cause of worry for you and your radiologist.

There is a less obvious reason why a woman should wear a chest protector when working with a partner. It is simply considerate. Imagine fencing a man who was not wearing an athletic cup. Would you deliberately aim for the groin or would you try to avoid hitting him there, if possible? I will make the generalization that most people prefer to not deliberately hit a woman on an unprotected breast. As the chest and torso is a prime target area, if you are a woman who is not wearing a chest protector, you are putting your partner at an unfair disadvantage. In a drill situation, when your partner is required to hit you in the torso, wear a chest protector. Don’t place your partner in that uncomfortable situation and compromise his or her training in the process.

Oh, and one more reason to wear a chest protector. That one blow, or worse, repeated blows, in just the right spot… it hurts!

Most of what I have said has been aimed at women, however men need to be aware of these issues as well. Whether you are a man or woman, in an instructor role or working as a training partner, ask, or nag, the women you are training with to wear a chest protector. It’s healthier for them and a better training situation for you.

The fine, but important, print: Women, if you do notice anything unusual about your breasts, see your doctor.

Book review

Fighting with the German Longsword by Christian Henry Tobler, the revised and expanded edition.

Book review by Pamela Muir

Back when I started teaching historical swordsmanship the first edition of Fighting with the German Longsword by Christian Henry Tobler was still a new book.  A fellow instructor advised me that if I was ever stuck for a class, I could just open the book at random and that could be my lesson.  While choosing random lessons didn’t fit with my teaching style, as I prefer cohesive units of study spread over several class periods, it wasn’t far from the truth.  Mr. Tobler’s book was the teaching resource.  Now we have the revised and expanded edition available.  As a reader for this edition, I had a preview of the text, but it wasn’t until I had the hardback color copy in my hands that I was able to marvel how fantastic the new book really is for both instructors and students alike.

The first thing that I noticed was the gorgeous layout and design by Mr. Robert N. Charrette. It is bright and crisp as a modern textbook, yet there are subtle nods to the medieval tradition.  The chapters and subsections are clearly marked and corresponding photos are easily found near the technique they illustrate.  Drills and flowcharts are precisely outlined.  Each page of a chapter has the chapter name faintly written in a medieval-esque text in the background.  Besides being an aesthetic touch, it is a useful feature when looking up a specific topic.  The first page of each chapter includes an illustration from one of the medieval swordsmanship treatises, an attractive reminder of what the book is all about.

The second obvious standout of the new edition is the photography by Messrs. Christopher Valli and Janusz Michael Saba.  The photos showing a specific position such as the guards, depicted from both front and side, are clear and well lit, but it is the ones illustrating the dynamics of techniques that stand out.  As Mr. Tobler and his senior students demonstrated they were photographed using a burst setting for the camera.  Thus each movement is captured “live,” resulting in a fluid feel as well as a more realistic image of the correct way to perform the action.

Besides the stunning presentation, it is its use as a curriculum guide that makes it of value to the historical European martial arts practitioner.  Like its predecessor, the first edition, it begins with the basics, presenting the footwork and guards. The footwork has accompanying movement diagrams using a medieval style footprint, a nice detail.  From there the book goes into depth on the core principles of the Liechtenauer tradition.  Those that have read the first edition will notice that some of the interpretations have been updated and the text has been greatly expanded.  Concepts are explained in greater detail and new material has been added, such as fleshing out Indes and Überlaufen and giving Nebenhut its own chapter.

As a curriculum guide, the dozens of drills are invaluable. A student could spend considerable time with the solo drills covering guard transitions and cutting patterns.  Partners can find drills to develop Fühlen,  or work on the master strokes, provocations, counterattacks, etc.  The list goes on.  And, speaking of lists, there is a pretty handy list of drills at the back of the book as well.

Another useful feature are the flowcharts/decision trees.  At the end of each of the master strokes chapters is a flowchart depicting the possible actions associated with that strike.  Though these were also included in the first edition, the ones in this addition are clearer and easier to read.  The text is larger and bolder and the question boxes are octagonal to differentiate them from the action boxes.

I have used the first edition as a training and instructing tool for a long time and it shows.  My copy is dog-eared and littered with scrap paper bookmarks and penciled notes.  Though I intend to make just as much, likely even more, use out of the second edition, I predict that my color hardback version will stay pristine much longer.  During practice sessions I will be able to use the ebook version.  While the hardback version is great for planning out a practice session in advance, the ebook will come in handy in the midst of a session.  The ebook features make it easy to use for a quick lookup of a topic.  The table of contents is linked so that you can easily jump to a chapter.  I can bookmark pages as well as highlight text and add notes.  Though the lovely layout is not as well preserved in the electronic version, the graphics, flowcharts, footwork diagrams, and color photographs, are still available.

So, though I am not inclined to open the book to a random page and proceed in a practice session from there, it certainly is possible.  The revised and expanded edition of Fighting with the German Longsword should be a useful resource in any practitioner’s library, whether beginner, following the curriculum in order, or advanced, using it as a lesson plan on specific topics.

Freelance Academy Press offers the book as a black and white paperback, a color ebook (Kindle), or a limited special edition.  The color hardback special edition is worth the cost.  Not only does it come with the ebook, but it is signed by the author.  Now, how cool is that?

Relax! It’s only fencing.

by Pamela Muir

Intellectually, we know that being able to relax during drilling or free play will improve our performance. However, that concept falls into the category of things easier said than done. For some of us, the concentration and determination we employ in a drill sets us up to tense our muscles. Are you the type of person that clenches your jaw while problem solving or hunches your shoulders while performing a task that requires fine motor skills? Chances are you are tensing your muscles when you drill as well. Free fencing or competition not only stress tests your skills, but may also put stress on your attitude or mind set and be reflected in the tensing of your body.

I have been through all of that. From the very beginning, as I was starting to learn the arts, my personal determination to do it right resulted in a constant tensing of the muscles, usually reflected in hunched shoulders. My instructor would repeatedly need to admonish me, “Relax! Put your shoulders down!” This would result in my determinedly holding my shoulders down, so that now my muscles were still tense, but in a different position.

So my shoulders are down, but my muscles are still tense. Why isn’t this an improvement? Because, physiologically, tense muscles are going to slow and impair your ability to correctly perform a technique with the correct timing. Let us look at the timing issue first. Say you are standing in a guard, and you are concentrating hard on keeping your guard absolutely correct. You are creating a tension that results in your muscles being engaged. For whatever it is you need to do next, you are going to have first disengage, or relax, your muscles so that you may move from your guard and then reengage them to perform your action, whether it is a cut, thrust, parry, or a guard change. You are essentially turning a single tempo action into a two tempo action. It is going to take longer to disengage your muscles and then perform the action than it would to perform the action from a relaxed guard position

That brings us to the second issue, it is difficult to correctly perform the technique with your muscles pre-tensed. As an example, try the following experiment. Stand in guard with weapon in hand and deliberately tense up your muscles as much as possible. Holding that tension in place, slowly perform one of those actions mentioned above, cut, thrust, parry or change guard. Did you feel the resistance? If you did it slowly, did you notice a point where, if you had done it quickly, you would have caused yourself pain? Instead of fighting your opponent, you were fighting your own body.

Try another experiment, from as relaxed a guard position as possible, thrust into a target. Repeat this a few times so that you get consistent results. Now from a tensed guard, while keeping the tension, thrust into the target again. How did the tension change your results? It is easier to achieve accuracy with a relaxed starting position.

So now that we have established that relaxing contributes to better fencing, here is the hard part. How do we relax? As I have found from personal experience, simply telling yourself to relax is not enough to achieve it. “Relax!” and “Don’t worry!” are commands, that no matter how well intentioned, do not work with only the issuing, even to yourself. Techniques that have helped me relax in fencing include tension transfer, visualization and self confidence.

Tension transfer allows you to give yourself permission to be uptight, but you store the tension in a smaller muscle group. Most of us tense up in the shoulders, which raises them up, or in the jaw, notice how clenching your teeth still applies tension to your neck and shoulder muscles. Instead of clenching up a large muscle group, find a small set of muscles that are not directly involved in your art and deliberately keep them engaged. I have found by curling up one of my pinkies as tightly as I can, neither myself, nor my instructor, will notice tension elsewhere in my body. This deliberate tensing in a small muscle group forces a relaxation in others. Furrowing the brow also works, but that is best left for solo drills.

Rather than storing your tension, perhaps you would prefer to visualize yourself somewhere that holds no stress, such as a lying on a warm, sandy beach, smelling the flowers in a rose garden, strolling through the autumn woods, or sitting by the fire on a cold, snowy evening. Taking your mind elsewhere, but leaving your body behind to handle the drill or the fight is not as hazard prone as it may sound. It is very similar to driving and discovering after traveling for a ways that you do not remember the last few minutes of the road, yet you trust that you have not left a wake of destruction behind. (Please note: I am not recommending you daydream while driving.) Of course, just as in the driving example, you cannot completely take your brain away, but you can trust your body to respond as needed. This works best for free fencing or a familiar drill.

The best relaxation technique is self confidence. If you have complete faith in yourself that you will be able to perform the action, if not the first time, then within a finite number of repetitions, there will be no tension to dismiss. It is true for any fine motor skill that you have developed, whether it is needlework, touch typing, or handwriting a grocery list. If you know you can do it on a level that you no longer need to actively think about it, you can perform the action without conscious thought, your muscles will not clench.

As an instructor there are ways of helping your students to be able to de-stress and thus to become better fencers. You can advise them by giving them specific relaxation techniques: tension transfer, visualization or others that work for you personally. What absolutely positively does not work is to tell the student “Relax!” The surest way for you to help the student achieve relaxation is to boost his or her self confidence. Try sincerely delivered praise. “You did that well!” “You internalized this technique quickly.” “I know you will enjoy this.” “Excellent, have you done this before?” An even better method is to demonstrate your own confidence in the student. Use him or her to help you demo or drill. Engage the student’s help in instructing a new student or reviewing a technique for a returning student. On my personal journey, it is the show of confidence by my instructors that helped me to have confidence in myself.

It is along the personal journey that the most important point of all is found, the simple joy of the expression of the art. Find that within you and express that to your students, that is where you will find it nearly impossible to hold onto stress and tension. Release that tightening feeling and delight in the flow of your art.