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, December 8, 2010

Now that's more like it...

To address the problem discussed in my previous post, I brought in an Albion Earl longsword. Not only is this a sharp, but it is a realistic representation of a 15th century sword, not an ultralight designed to appeal to modern sensibilities.

The first thing I did was to have the students show me how they fought with a plastic simulator. I asked them to do the kind of moves they normally do in free fencing. Then I gave them the real sword and had them try to do the same thing. They quickly realized two things. One, they were considerably slower with the real sword than with the plastic, and two, a good percentage of their cuts were ineffective. The Earl is a very good longsword to test this out, because it is very, very loud (when you cut with proper edge alignment and velocity). So if you swing it and you hear nothing, you're wrong.

Imagine that...swinging a real sword and actually getting it to work right is really hard. Hmmmm...

After they took turns doing solo cutting drills with the real sword, we did some free fencing with a twist. The idea was to be honest, to yourself and your training partner, and only do things with the plastic sword that you could actually do with the real sword. Not only do, but do successfully.

The fencing was fantastic. Boris and Vlad participated, and both were able to keep it honest the vast majority of the time. I fought each of them, and they fought each other, and the fighting was really good, and really clean. The things they did were things they could actually do with a sword. The disconnect between cutting and fighting was, if not eliminated, greatly reduced.

Way to go, guys. Really well done. Now to try it on the rest of you and see if works just as well.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Stop playing games

I've been paying close attention lately to how you fight and cut, and your free fencing is writing checks your cutting can't cash.

When you fight, some of you are hopping demons, lashing out sword punishment like boxers dish out jabs. When you cut, you approach your target carefully, take some breaths, get ready and swing, knowing that if you screw up your angles or your velocity, you'll just knock the mat off the stand. This is good...for the cutting.

So let me ask you a question...what do you think you're doing in free fencing? How does a person who can only cut through a mat (which is easier than inflicting a critical injury to a human body) with careful preparation and with only a Zornhau and sometimes an Unterhau justify flinging their sword around like Bob Anderson? How many of your cuts would actually do any real harm to your opponent?

Look at the following image:

A represents correct edge alignment. The sword is perfectly aligned with the direction of movement. As you all know, this is what you need to cut successfully. Mats, people, anything. Nothing less will work.

B represents how most of you cut in free fencing. I've been watching you carefully and with few exceptions, about 70-95% (depending on who you are) of your cuts are like B (with the exception of the Zornhau, which is mostly okay). Do you know what happens when B strikes a person? Nothing. No matter how hard you hit, all you're going to do is really, really piss someone off, and then you will die.

The other issue is small motions, quick motions, the kind of stuff you see a lot on Youtube bouting vids. Sword jabs, if you will. You'll often see me making quick and small motions such as these in free fencing, but that's because I can cut with those motions. If you can't, then you don't get to use them.

Why are you doing all this? It varies for each individual. Some of you are so eager to score a hit that you swing wildly, even in winding drills. Some of you move faster than your brains can follow--you act without thinking. Some of you take advantage of the light weight of the plastic simulators and pay no attention to the realities of a much heavier steel sword.

I often tell you that cutting must inform your free fencing and your drills, yet so far this is not happening. You cut carefully and deliberately, but fight like rabid monkeys. For example, I see a lot of you leaving the bind to launch a quick cut to someone's side or stomach horizontally. That's fine, many of you can cut a tatami mat horizontally that way? Well if you can't, what exactly do think you're doing using that cut in free fencing?

I want you all to stop playing games. Stop treating free fencing like a competition in which the object is to score points by touching your opponent with your sword or whacking them with it as though it were a club. If this is what you really want to do, there are Jedi lightsaber classes offered all over the city. No edge alignment or power generation or tip velocity is necessary, because light sabers are plasma weapons and kill on contact. Real swords, however, take a lot of skill, and a lot of patience.

What's that you say? Lightsabers aren't real? It's all fantasy? Well, so is your free fencing if you don't try really hard to use your fencing simulator like a real sword, with all the limitations inherent in the weapon and in yourselves.

Why am I suddenly being such a hard ass about this? Because when you fight like you have a lightsaber instead of a sword, you're forcing your opponent to react to you as though you were a much better fencer than you really are, except that you're not acting like a good fencer, you're acting like a wild man, and that compromises his or her ability to learn from free fencing. And that is, after all, the point of free fencing, even tournaments. To learn. Not to cheat and win. Respect for your fellow student is of the utmost importance. Your job is not just to learn to be a badass sword ninja killer. Your job is to help your fellow students learn, and theirs is to help you. We all support each other. Keep that in mind next time you flick your wrist for that fight winning point or charge in like a screaming barbarian with no concern for edge alignment or any of the other aspects of proper cutting.