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, November 19, 2010

Posturing does not equal intent

Since no one has yet commented on last Saturday's lesson..

A lot of attention was given to high vom Tag, and how it is to be used (and how not). Although posturing is useless in any guard (by posturing I refer to assuming a guard either for no tactical reason, or worse, without intent) it is extremely dangerous in high vom Tag. Not dangerous in the sense that it leaves you particularly open, although quick hand snipes are certainly possible. Dangerous in the sense that if you are in high vom Tag, the sword must come down: it's an aggressive guard, and must be taken as a serious threat. However, if one simply holds a high vom Tag and doesn't strike, the sense of aggression is completely lost. Your opponent will take advantage of this, and start going for the hand snipes, etc.

In short, take high vom Tag, and mean it. Bring that sword down on your opponent's head; make him aware of the danger they are in.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Training for a Tournament

With Longpoint 2011 just around the corner, preparing for a tournament should be on everyone's mind (don't forget to register here: ). This is part of the reason we've started doing the stations workout in class, and also the reason I have considerably upped the intensity of my personal nightly training regimen.

However, when preparing for a historical fencing tournament, we have to remember that the focus of our training should be...historical fencing. Fitness is extremely important, and a good training regimen will incorporate a lot of endurance and strength boosting exercises, but fitness should not be the focus or goal of your training. Your routine shold focus mostly on building the core skills of swordsmanship: coordination, balance, power generation, reflexes and, most importantly, technique. I've written in the past about what all the best professional athletes have in common, and that is that they train not just for resulsts, but for the refinement of individual techniques. And so you should train in the fashion as well. Solo cutting drills, pell work, forms, etc.

I've outfenced people who were in 100 times better shape than I was, but I've also lost fencing matches because I was too tired from previous matches. You have to find a balance. Skill is number one, but endurance cannot be forgotten. Happy training, and good luck in the tournament!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Scoring Hits in Free Fencing

The other day we were doing some free fencing, and one of the students wanted to challenge me with steel. So we got to fighting. In one particular exchange, his sword made contact with my right arm and “sliced” along the sleeve of my gambeson. The judges called a point. I said, "No." As the teacher, I get to make such decisions. The judges did not understand, but the other fencer did. Don’t get me wrong, I like it when my students hit me, it means I’m doing my job. But this was different.

A sword is not a light saber. It is not enough merely to touch someone with it. You have to cut them. Or stab them, or slice really hard. Even a thrust has to be delivered with force. There are people who think it takes very little effort to put a sword point into someone's body, but those people apparently like to fight naked, and without bones. That's some trick!

There is a clear dividing line between excessive force and a decisive hit. You don't have to hit someone hard, but you have to hit them. Or if you sword happens to make contact with their arm or other part of their body, you have to turn the edge to the target and push/pull hard and slice (no need to worry about holding back for these!). If you thrust, I want to see the blade flex, or it doesn't count, particularly with the plastic swords.

There is a great danger to counting light touches. It leads to massive distortions of free fencing, which already has more than its share of artifacts. This is one of the reasons we practice cutting. You know what it takes (technique wise, not just force wise) to cut a mat. It takes more than that to mortally wound a human being. There are reasons to cut back on force in free fencing, but not technique.

As the months roll on, I will be increasingly strict on what I consider a "point" in free fencing. My ultimate goal is to have you guys deliver each strike cleanly and decisively and avoid small snipy movements. Note that this has nothing to do with hand all means take the hand. But take it decisively.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Cheezy Hand Snipes

Some people don't like to be hit in the hands, wrists or legs. Especially when they are standing in a guard like Vom Tag and someone closes, whacks the hand with a one handed cut and steps back out range before you can blink. Some people consider that a form of cheap shot, or cheating, or cheezy fighting.

Let's examine the scenario objectively. Two swordsmen draw their weapons and prepare to kill each other. One is angry at some slight to his honor and is a strong, powerful man. He wants to split his opponent's skull or cleave him in two. He raises his sword over his head and prepares to attack. All of a sudden, the other man launches a quick strike that hits the big man on the left wrist, severing most of the tendons and biting into the bone. The fight is effectively over.

When this happens in free fencing, people complain. They criticize the other fighter, they call him names like "hand sniper." Well, guess what. He hit you, you didn't hit him, and if he can keep doing it to you over and over while you stand there helpless, he's a better swordsman than you. The hand sniper in the above story saw a weakness in his opponent and exploited it. The other one had a preconceived notion of how the fight would go and got killed for his efforts. Preconceived notions are for ivory tower academics and fools, not martial artists.

Like them or not, such sniping hits are a perfectly valid vorschlaag (the first strike). When you stand in high Vom Tag, your left wrist is the closest target to your opponent, and getting struck there will end the fight without putting dings on your opponent's sword. Why would someone attack a more distant target and put himself in greater danger? Know your vulnerabilites in any position, and know how to react to their exploitation.

As Liechtenauer says, "do not shun the tag hits." So stop whining about cheezy hand sniping and learn how to deal with it.