The New York Historical Fencing Association is a school of Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA). Our studies are based on the teachings of the 14th century German fencing master Johannes Liechtenauer. Although we focus primarily on the longsword, our curriculum includes wrestling, dagger, sword and buckler, spear and poleaxe. NYHFA is a member of the HEMA Alliance.

New Location!

NYHFA Longsword Curriculum is now being offered in Manhattan, through Sword Class NYC, taught by NYHFA Instructor Tristan Zukowski. Please visit for all information pertaining to class schedule, class fees, etc.

Friday, January 29, 2010


As some of you know, I’m a writer, and there’s something we hear a lot of in the writer community—you’re not a writer if you don’t write. It’s not enough to visit writing forums, or attend weekly writer’s workshops, or call yourself a writer in your facebook profile. Well, the same is true in martial arts. You're not a martial artist if you don't train.

Everyone should, ideally, practice for half an hour to an hour a day at least three times a week, not including class on Saturdays. All of you have the space, time and equipment to practice, whether you know it or not. A few weeks ago I brought a fish griller into class as an example of what to use in a cramped space. You can also use it in place of a weight bar—put something heavy in the grill and tape it with duct tape.

You need a pell. If you don’t have a pell, make one. Those of you who live in private homes can dig a hole, fill it with cement and stick in a treated 4x4. If you rent, or live in an apartment, get a small car tire and make a ceiling mount with a chain so you can take it off when you’re not using it. If neither of those things work, buy an inflatable karate target, or one with a water filled base. Where there is a will, there is away.

Everyone should be doing the drills, both guard transition and striking drill, repeatedly, every time you practice. In addition to that, do twenty or more of each cut from each side—all the meisterhau, unterhau and mittlehau. Then do twenty or more thrusts from each side from Pflug, Ochs, with and without steps. Novices should practice solo drill forms of each item in their curriculums that they have been taught. Remember, never cut air, never counter air. Always see an opponent in front of you. Half of your workout should be pell work. Use a waster for this, steel will break (as recently proven). They are called wasters for a reason.

Strength/endurance training is great, but it doesn’t count as practice, or we would be going to marathon runners to learn how to use a sword. That said, you should definitely do it, and the more the better. Running and weight lifting are the easiest and least useful, which is not to say not useful. Speed rope is fantastic (and does count as part of practice), as it makes you lively on your feet and enhances your hand/foot coordination which is crucial in swordsmanship. I highly recommend everyone get a speed rope. I’ve previously asked everyone to buy a 6lb weight bar and use it as a sword for a portion of your workout. This is a great way to not only build strength but to teach you to use your body instead of your arms.

One aspect of intense training people often forget is endorphin release. Training hard feels good. Really, really good. Aside from that, don’t hesitate to use music or anything else that gets you motivated. Remember, if you want to be a martial artist, you have to train. There is no way around that.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Personally, I love questions. I love to answer them, I love the look of "oh!" on people's faces when they understand the answer. The problem is, we have limited time in class, and I have limited mental energy to give you. So please stop asking questions during class.

Let me rephrase--ask questions about what you need to do at that given moment, as briefly as possible. These are necessary, because if you don't know, you can't proceed. However, general questions, such as why we train a certain way, why I do things a certain way, etc., these have to go away. They need to go away to a place called "after class" or the NYHFA blog. Breaks are not a good time for these questions, becuase breaks are limited, and as I have proven in the last class, my love of questions makes me easily distracted and I am prone to rambling on well past the end of the break.

The more important factor that comes into this, however, is trust. I know how to do something that you don't know, and so you come to me to learn. Good, that's why I'm here. Now shut up and let me teach you. You will come to understand everything if you let the knoweldge be absorbed at the right time. You cannot rush knowledge. I can tell you everything I know in an hour. Will that mean you will know it all too? Knowledge must be earned.

As my friend and colleague Jessica Finely said recently, "When was the last time you sat down with a child and explained to them how to ride a bicycle?" I replied, "Never, I just set them on the bike and yell at them 'till they get it." She said, "Exactly."

Our new training model is train more, talk less. This is for your benefit, not mine. As I said, I love questions, and I am going to miss them.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Implications of missing class

As I teach the Novice Basic curriculum to prepare some of you for the test that will open the doors to the Novice Advanced curriculum, I will teach you to not only execute the techniques correctly as some of you have in the past, but to meet very high standards of technical competence, conceptual understanding and intent/awareness.

To do so, I will rotate through the curriculum, covering and reinforcing the material. However, I will make no allowances in this plan--zero, zip, zilch--for people who miss class. Therefore, if you come twice a month, it will take you twice as long to get the same material than it will for someone who comes to every class.

I understand that some people cannot attend every class for various reasons, most of them good, but I cannot punish those who attend every week by reviewing things for the benefit of those who do not. I am telling you this because I want you to be fully aware of what he implications of missing class are. To a certain extent, you can make up for missing class by practicing on your own at home, but that will only take you so far.


The point of our "intensity" drills, those done with full intent and constant awareness, is to simulate, as closely as possible, a life or death struggle with weapons. As such, some of you are expected to strike with all the speed and power you can muster. Some, but not all.

The safety of these drills lies in two things, the first being that your attack is a known quantity--your drill partner knows exactly where you will strike and vice versa. The second is skill, both your partner's and your own. It is partly for this reason that those who have not taken the novice test may not participate fully in these drills but are limited to the roles involving a simple attack or a simple defense. Yet even these can pose great danger, as a mistake at full power can cause grievous injury.

If you're unsure whether you should be holding back or giving it all you've got, ask me. The simple rule is, if you're new, tone it down. Keep it intense in your mind, but focus more on proper technique and being relaxed than putting power or speed into your attacks. You will soon realize that it is this, being relaxed and precise, that is the key to a fast and powerful attack.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

mental notes

- When guard transition drill gets boring, do it backwards (starting in left vom Tag).

- While working on Krumphau, I noticed something about my weight distribution; how I had been doing the step before seemed a little cumbersome, and today by accident I noticed that the whole action was smoother when I don't transfer as much weight to what becomes my leading leg. I have to practice and think about this some more, and then I'll want to test it against a full-intent Oberhau. My concern is I may be sacrificing some of the stopping-power of the Krumphau if this new weight distribution is going to upset my structure.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Not an epiphany but..

It had occurred to me that I didn't leave class with my normal array of cuts and bruises on my hands. Now, I'm going to chalk this up to luck (or probability) but it did get me thinking about the movement towards "full-intensity" training, and how it may actually lead to less injuries during practice. [Back me up on this one... or maybe I'm just injury-prone?]

By being in the fighting frame of mind from way out of measure, I would wager that at least incidental damage would go down significantly due to the simple fact that we - both agent and patient - are focused only on performing a single action (or small series of actions). We already know that these techniques work, it's just a matter of letting them play out to the correct end.. which involves getting rid of the mental background noise.

This is only a theory though :-) One which I will be testing every class, however.