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, May 23, 2010

The purpose of intensity drills

It is important to remember the purpose of intensity drills. That purpose is to come as close as possible to real combat with a sword. An intensity drill simulates a single exchange that ends in someone's death. It is true in the body in every way--you advance, attack and defend the same way you would in earnest. Or at lest that is how you should do it.

The only way in which an intensity drill is not real, aside from the fact that real swords are not used (yet) and you are wearing protection, is in the mind. You know what's coming, and you know what you're going to do. Therefore, your mindset during such a drill is extremely important.

Clear your mind. Put aside thoughts of the day. Forget that you are tired, or hot, or thirsty, because a real adversary is not going to care about any of those things. Whether you are in the box doing the technique or you're the one being killed, forget about that. It hasn't happened yet. Know your role, know what to do, if you have to be weak, be weak, if you have to make a mistake so your training partner can do his technique, then make a mistake. But know all this in the back of your head. In the moment, it is real, and your life should flash before your eyes.

If you find that you are not in the right mindset and can't get there, let me know. To proceed under such circumstances would deprive both you and your training partner of a beneficial experience.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Winden across all the armory

It has been two days and I am still stunned by the glimpse of the unifying principle behind the Liechtenauer system. Conceptually, it is a very elegant choice of design (and also astonishingly practical): the idea is that the physics of action-reaction behind strike, bind and wind is independent of the weapon at hand. Longsword, staff, poleaxe, sword-and-buckler: no matter whether the hands move from hilt to handle, the very same physical principles apply. I found it enlightening. There can be few modifications to the posture, few tricks to exploit the absence of blades on poleaxes, or the symmetry of staffs, but the mechanics are identical. Ideally, with enough exercise, any object of adequate shape could fit into Liechtenauer's verses.
Often I find myself stuck on a wrong posture, a lack of support from the hips, or a bad trajectory of the sword-tip. Cycling through different weapons helped. Some required more focus on the posture, other on the movement of the feet, or the arms, and others just feel so natural that the whole action folds inside the muscles and it fixes there, in the memory.

"Strike, slowly. Feel the bind. Wind!"
Together with intensity drills, the bind-wind-free-play has, at its first attempt, been a very instructive activity. The duelists have to enter in a bind and from there find the way to thrust the opponent. It felt like a game of planning and quick thinking, probably pointing at the fact that I need to practice more the different winden. Yet, eliminating all the adrenaline-clogged introductory tagging dance helped and the following free-play was closer, faster and felt more natural. I'll be looking forward to more bind-wind-free-play.

P.S. a brief comment on bucklers: I dislike them. Besides my skin-feeling for such a wimpish option, I am not even sure they are of any practical advantage. They protect the left hand, fine enough, so that we can be sure to have one for the final handshake: at what cost? Still I am not completely convinced that a longsword, driven by two hands can't be as fast as a single-handed short sword. In addition, the choice of buckler may imply a different strategy when facing a longsword, a strategy of compromise between a weak attack, a weak bind, a sword with less inertia and a well protected left-hand: is it worth it? As of now, I think it is not.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"Seminaring" first impressions

Seminaring involves our instructor plowing through a very broad repetoire of techniques with all students, regardless of their level. At first I wasn't too keen on the idea, since I much prefer working on a very few techniques (new or not) and practicing them over and over at length to internalize them—and this is typically how we practice. Seminaring does, however, provide a sort of "coming attractions" (at least this is how I explained it to one of my classmates) in the more advanced curricula. It also got some of the students thinking about why some of the "basic" techniques are done the way they are; and some students were able to anticipate counter-counter-techniques, etc. Also, it illustrated how the Master Cuts really do make up the bread and butter of the art; most of the counters to the advanced techniques (as far as I can remember) didn't involve any weird techniques.. mainly just the Master Cuts applied in different situations.

Overall, I'm still not a fan of doing so many techniques without many (if any) pauses for correction or explanation. Having said that... Yes, we as students need to be exposed to these techniques no matter what our level (see again the bread & butter comment above). Yes, maybe one or two might have gotten stuck in our memory and could be tried out in free play. Yes, it was probably good for our instructor to get a break from only ever doing the basic curriculum over and over :-)