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.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Free play with steel

Aside from the expected scrapes and bruises, bouting was exceedingly fun. I was a bit gun shy at first, so one of my main goals is to keep pushing forward.. or at least not retreat so much. It's a strange phenomenon, where once I found myself in a bouting situation, I was either thinking too much (and getting hit in the rather large tempos I was providing), or not thinking at all, and reacting with ineffective "oh sh!t" parries. Here are some mental notes I took away from the experience:

• Acquire a gambeson. While the fear of pain is good to help self-correct against "suicide attacks" or other stupid actions, too much pain/fear of pain will cause me to hesitate too much, and lose that forward movement.

• According to Mike: "When in doubt, wind to Ochs."

• Moving in is good, but being able to get out again before I get thrown onto the ground is good too.

I do see the value in free play, and how it teaches in a very different way than the highly-controlled intensity drills. However, I think what would be very valuable (and I seem to recall us—or at least the more advanced students—doing this at some point) would be a healthy medium: intensity drills wherein the agent has a limited variety of attacks to use (say, 2 or 3), and the patient must react appropriately.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


A student has many responsibilities, but I want to focus on just one:

Come to class prepared.

We only train once a week, and therefore it is essential that we make the most of that time. There are many things you can do to help make that happen. One of the most important ones is getting a good night's sleep. People don't function well when they're sleep deprived, and in an environment where you are swinging steel swords around, you can be a danger to yourself and others if you're running on a couple of hours of shut eye.

Eat breakfast and lunch. Class starts in the afternoon, so you have plenty of time to grab a bite to eat. If you're thinking about food and your stomach is grumbling, it's hard to concentrate. This not only compromises your training, but that of your training partners.

Come to class on time. If you live far away, and there is traffic, leave early. If you show up late every once in a while, that's no big deal, things happen. But if you're consistently late, then there's a problem. Being late disrupts class and takes time away from other people who did not come late.

So, what do you do if you get up an hour before class, after going to sleep two hours before that, are starving but would never make it on time if you stopped to get a bite to eat? That's easy. Don't come, and do better next week.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Again, and again, and again.

I don't have much to say except that yesterday's class was great, and was very much needed. While I do think that the intensity drills are very good for honing specific techniques and responses, constant repetition of techniques in a lower-intensity mindset like yesterday are wonderful—not only for tweaking technique, seeing what's working (or not) for you, and just committing those actions to muscle memory. I was more [physically] worn out after yesterday's class than I usually am. Felt good, and I hope we have more days like this in the future.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Results vs. Technique

While reading the new Freakonomics book (SuperFreakonomics), I came accross an interesting tidbit on professional athletes and decided to follow up with a little research of the studies behind it.

It seems that the overwhelming majority of the world's most successful athletes have one very important thing in common. They do not rely on their gifts alone (which they have), but train very, very hard. More improtantly, and more relevant to us, is how and what they train.

The world's best atheletes invariably train in a way that stresses both result and technique equally. Meaning, when practicing hitting a ball with a bat, the top athlete will not only practice with the goal of hitting a fast ball very far, he will work on the technique of his swing. Body position, timing, footwork, etc.

Athletes who rely on their gifts alone rarely if ever make it to the top, and neither do athletes who focus only on results.

How is this applicable to us? Many HEMA students show great skill and competence in free play, and perhaps in paired exercises, while showing poor technique in solo practice. If this describes you, considering the above advice, I strongly suggest you step up your game, because statistics don't lie, and while you'll always be good, you'll never be great.

Focus on your performance of individual techniques (cuts, thrusts, guard transitions, solo forms, etc.). Improve your fluidity, balance, coordination and precision. Practice slow and steady until you can do it perfectly.

Results are great, but ironically, it seems you can't achieve them by focusing on them, unless of course you're aiming low.