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.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Learning by teaching

I like the little opportunities I get now and again to teach during class—even when I'm slightly unsure of myself (e.g. during Kampfringen). Teaching forces me to think more about what's going on, which also helps me internalize it. I recognize that there are plenty of things I need to practice just in the way of teaching (e.g. occasionally over-explaining), but I do like doing it, and I think it's very good for me to do it.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The morality of martial arts

When you study deadly arts in a group with others, every single time you do this, you place these people in your hands; their safety, their progress, their future and their lives. The teacher guides the class, but the students are responsible for learning, but not only for their own learning, for that of their fellow students.

Students must learn to cooperate in paired exercises and other activities, and not try to win all the time, or they compromise their own learning and that of everyone they are paired up with. To do this, students must have respect for the art, for the learning process, for their teacher, for themselves and for their fellow students.

Students must understand the danger of what they practice and limit themselves accordingly so as not to injure their fellow students. Swordsmanship is a dangerous art to study, and the more vehemently one studies it the more dangerous it becomes. One must find the balance between effective training and safety, and to do this students will need to develop a sense of responsibility towards their fellows.

Students must obey school rules. Rules and rituals exist to help people get in the proper mindset, to keep them safe, and to remind them of what is important when studying. A particular student may not need these rules, or may not understand why they are needed, but he or she must still obey them for the benefit of others. To do this, students must have respect for and trust in the teacher who creates these rules, and a sense of responsibility to their fellow students, for even if one student doesn't need them, others do.

Students must give everything they have to the art, to train hard and to practice hard and to make the art their own. To do less would be to leech the time and energy of their teacher and fellow students, because if a student doesn’t take the art seriously, then he or she shouldn’t be studying it. This also takes responsibility and respect, most importantly respect for one self, but tempered by humility. A student does not deserve attention just because of who he or she is. A student must realize that he or she gives back to the teacher and other students by giving of oneself to the art, and by learning the skills and values (as discussed here), so that this person’s presence in a school is a benefit to everyone, and not a detriment.

This, to me, is what it means to be a martial artist, rather than just a fighter or thug. The martial artist learns and teaches, and that is not something that can be done solo. Anything that takes a group to do requires cooperation, responsibility, trust, respect and humility.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

We are celebrities... Korea.

Our two cutting videos now have over 10,000 hits. Apparently, people in Korea are very interested in Medieval martial arts and test cutting. I think this is great. These arts are European in origin, but they do not belong solely to Europeans. They are a collective cultural treasure that belong to everyone in the world, and I am honored to share these arts with our friends overseas.

The Asian people have shared their martial arts with us for a long time, and I'm glad that we now have something to give back to them.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Working on my Zornhau: getting worse before getting better

As I've mentioned before, I regard myself as having an adequate technical knowledge of the Zornhau [Oberhau from right shoulder] and understand what aspect of it I'm trying to improve: maximum arm extension (without locking the elbows) to give the cut just a little more range. So, over the last few days I've been working on just that. Or so I thought. Yesterday I was very frustrated because it seemed as though my Zornhau was getting considerably worse: beyond the fact that I was lacking that satisfying fsst as the blade sweeps through the air (probably a sign that my edge alignment sucked), the tip of the weapon was travelling in a distressingly wobbly line. This wasn't only happening during fast cuts, but also when I cut slowly.

The only thing to do was go back to the basics: forget full extension, forget adjusting my grip on the hilt (which I realized I was also giving a little too much thought to, after being reprimanded by my teacher to stop opening & closing my hands while in vom Tag), and just cut. "Punch" with the right arm, "kick" with the right foot to swing the hip. I simplified it further, by using a one-handed grip on the sword to eliminate any possible interference from my left hand. After a while, I began to notice a slight improvement. Satisfied that at least I wasn't getting worse any more, I moved on with the rest of my practice. This morning, I practiced it the same way, stripping the cut down to just the things that make it a cut. We'll see where my cut is next week; maybe I'll still need to extend a bit more, or make some other small adjustments, but for now, I'm letting that stuff go.

EDIT: After some discussion with the teacher, apparently the "punch" mechanic is obsolete for our purposes. Back to the drawing board with this one. I'm just looking for consistently good results here.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Effective immediately, stop doing Scheitelhau from on-the-shoulder Vom Tag. Never, ever, ever do it again.

Do it from over-the-head Vom Tag only.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Practice felt good this morning. I'm finally getting to the point where I have a decent repertoire to go through. I can see myself a month ago practicing one thing, then standing around scratching my head, looking at notes, and then deciding what do practice next. Now, there are enough things that I know on a good enough technical level to practice without second-guessing myself with Am I doing this right?.. I can just get right to making it better than yesterday. For example, I know my Zornhau is more or less correct; now it's time to work on getting that extension of the arms.

I (re-)started pell work this morning; my back yard is almost defrosted enough (there are still some icy patches on the ground that refuse to go away). Mike's taught us to use the pell not only for striking, but also for the approach: smooth steps, on the balls of the feet, coming into measure. This is something I'd never even considered when I originally made my pell, and now it's twice as useful as a practice tool.

Both Monday and Tuesday mornings I got a good 30 minutes of solid practice in, but even now I'm remembering things I left out, or could've done differently. My personal goal for now is to get up to 45 min a day.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Every fight...

There is a saying I've picked up along the way: "Step into every fight as if it were your last." The point of the proverb is to engender caution, since you never know if you will die in the conflict to come. Always treat your every opponent as if they can kill you and his every blow bearing such intent.

If you always train with that in your mind, then when it finally comes to blows, it will feel like you are training rather than feeling like an alien situation. Unfamiliarity breeds fear, and fear is the mindkiller. It has no place in your heart when you fight, and thus no place in your being when you train.

On a similar note, you must make your opponent believe that fighting you is a big, if not grievous mistake. The subtleties of this psychological warfare begin in your body language. Express the strength of your stance out of measure, make known the confidence of your stride as you come into measure, and strike with cold, calculated efficiency in krieg.

I believe this element of combat should be noted often, since I've noticed a significant enough lack of confidence in the actions of some of the students.