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.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Triumvirate of Training Types

Michael Chidester from True Edge Academy recently asked me to explain my idea of the "triumvirate" of training types...cutting, free fencing and drills. First, it's not my idea, it belongs to Sang Kim Sensei, and though I've been training that way almost since I first picked up a sword, it was Sang who put the idea into words for me and crystalized the importance of each of these forms and how they relate to each other. Our dojo mon (I say ours because I am, proudly, a member) is three dragonfly in a circle, each one representing a form of training, which is slightly different on the Japanese side--kata, gekken (free fencing) and cutting.

The reason for this post is that I made some effort to explain this concept to Michael and I want to share that post with you here:

"I grew up in Brooklyn, then served in the military, so I saw (but fortunately did not participate in) a good deal of violence. I’ve seen people who want to kill each other with a bat or a knife or a crowbar (or whatever) stand a few meters away and hop on their feet, taking cautious swipes, probing, but that is just the preamble, and is not the norm. If a man wants to kill another with a crowbar, he comes at him with everything he's got, fully committed (even if, on occasion, he hops around a bit first to get up his nerve). The other man either dies or gets one chance to do something, and usually only one combatant realizes that the fight has begun.

So if you look at a description of a play in a fechtbuch..."when he strikes A at you, you do B," it's basically a description of this type of violence. The drill that evolves from that, when done with full power and intensity, is therefore the closest you can actually come, in my opinion, to a real confrontation with a sword. It is artificial because you know it beforehand, but it is artificial only in the mind, not the body. So performance in drills, to me, is therefore extremely important. We do what I call "intensity drills" where the drills are done with 100% of what you've got. It's a bit dangerous, but worth it.

However, even with drills you have to ask yourself, what am I doing? What is the point of swinging this plastic or wooden or metal stick around? That's where cutting comes in. Cutting is the element of fighting missing from both drills and free play. By itself, it is imperfect, because the target does not move, is not armed, and does not fight back. However, it is only a piece of the puzzle. They are all a pieces of the drills, the target is cooperative, in free play, you just have to tag someone who is acting unrealistically (not coming straight in intent on bloody murder). Keep in mind we're focusing on the worst possible scenario, not all combat is uniform.

So what cutting does is it shows you what you're actually trying to accomplish when you swing your sword, and teaches how you have to move to accomplish it. Free fencing quickly separates the bullshitter from the fighter, cutting, the way I see it, separates the sport fighter from the martial artist. Approaching a target, timing your strike, getting your measure right, coordinating your body, keeping your center, maintaining your balance, composure, awareness, etc. etc. etc., and most importantly, that subtle motion of the sword along the target that is so hard to explain and teach but just comes to you naturally when you've been cutitng a while.

So after you learn to cut, you apply that same criteria to your drills, you strike at your opponent the way you would a cutting target. Now you have two pieces of the puzzle combined, and you practice both to maintain them. Finally, when you free fence, you come in fully committed, striking as you would a target, reacting as though a sharp sword is about to get you. This gives you all three pieces of the puzzle, if you can pull it off (I am still struggling).

I hope that answers your questions."

Friday, April 9, 2010

Test Cutting

As some of you know, test cutting is a regular part of our curriculum. Now that we're firmly in our outdoor training season, we are going to start cutting again. The first batch of mats has been ordered.

Cutting works like this:

You can buy your own mats, roll and soak them, and bring them to class on days when we do cutting. This is the cheapest option. Alternatively, you can pay me $10 per mat. This includes me rolling and soaking it. This is more expensive (mats cost about 7 bucks each), but more convenient for you.

Every NYHFA student is encouraged to own a sharp longsword made by Albion or Arms and Armor. There are other alternatives. The Tinker sharp longsword for CAS Hanwei is a good inexpensive cutting tool (at around $200 it's the best deal out there).

We use two kinds of mats. The first kind is Bugei Wara, the second is Mugen Dachi tatami. Wara are not easier to cut than tatami in terms of technique, but they do require less force and they are less likely to bend your sword. New students will always start learning on wara, and then proceed to tatami. Although many cuts in the system, such as zwerchhau, krumphau and schielhau will usually be done on wara regardless of skill.

Cutting is important for several reasons. Nakamura Taizaburo, founder of Nakamura Ryu battodo, said, "unless you experience cutting with a real sword, you will never begin to taste true sword technique." Truer words have never been spoken. You can't learn to shoot without firing a gun, and you can't learn to drive a car without getting behind the wheel. When you swing a sword, what are you actually doing? How do you know if you're doing it right, if your cut will actually have its desired effect? There are many kinds of cutting besides severing a mat, and we will practice many of them, but severing a target is the most fundamental, and the easiest to both learn and teach correct cutting technique.

Happy cutting.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Thoughts on Absetzen

During the intensity drills on Saturday, I found myself catching my partners' thrusts (or cuts) successfully, but I was aware that almost every time (except when there was a blatant tell before an attack) I was almost too late in the winding. Something was slowing me up. On Sunday while I was practicing at home, I re-read our notes, and saw that the von Danzig gloss tells that the step should come after the winding. I then practiced the winding from right Plug to left without moving my feet much at all: simply twisting my hips and sort of punching my right hand to the side. This seemed to be much faster than winding with a step, and also didn't change my measure (meaning it should be easier to catch my strong on the opponent's weak, because I'm not moving into them). Then, as per the gloss, I thrust while stepping with my right foot. My only concern here is the slightly less stable stance provided by the short-lived "backwards" footwork, but as the Absetzen shouldn't be occurring in grappling range, it might not be so serious. Not as much of a concern as, say, not winding in time. The left Plug does feel like it should be strong regardless, whether against a thrust or a low Oberhau. I would like to do some more Absetzen intensity drills next class to work on this; I'd also like to try it with the opponent counter-winding as per Mike's curriculum comments.