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.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Some thoughts on free play, and why Boris is fast becoming a killer.

I was thinking about our king-of-the-hill free play session yesterday, and about why Boris, a relatively new student, is getting more and more difficult for a lot of us to handle. Here are some of my thoughts:

Pressure. One of Boris' main strengths is his aggressive spirit. Sure, techniques are not always solid (this isn't meant as an insult, by any means; we're all learning!), but lacking any offensive movement from his opponent, he is typically the one to move in and attack. This does make for quite an intimidating opponent, and I for one certainly feel the pressure of his almost constant forward motion. When Boris is in the ring, he's out for blood and by god he's going to get some. On the flip side of this, when I'm facing him, either I'm not projecting any sort of pressure (more likely), or Boris is not sensing it (less likely, but still possible, since this is alien to all of us on some level—refer to Mike's handgun analogy).

Technique. Let it not be said that Boris doesn't learn from his mistakes. Going back just a few weeks, I could lure him into a particular trap: He'd go into high vom Tag, and I would take Alber. He'd take the bait, and I'd respond with the textbook catch with Kron and Zwerch to the side of his skull. I tried it yesterday, and whether it was a conscious decision or not, he did NOT try to Schietelhau me, opting to try something else instead.

One thing that we all need to do, as a class, is learn from each other's strengths and weaknesses, and be able to see our own. Like the drill we did yesterday to find each others' tells. We all have different skill levels and skill sets, different bodies and varying degrees of skill in using those bodies to affect technique. Watching two other people bout is just as important as being in the ring yourself; as combatants, we need to learn to size up our opponent as quickly as possible, judge their strengths and weaknesses. As students of a combative art, we need to be very aware of our own strengths and weaknesses.

Above all, we need to constantly practice and hone technique, otherwise there is no hope (or no point) in trying to exploit the weakness of others or lure someone into a trap by purposely showing your own weakness. Even Mike has a weakness—I don't know what it is, but even if I did (for example, if I talked to Sang Kim sensei about Mike's free play) my technique is probably no where near solid enough to take advantage of it.

The moral of my meandering post: Free play is an opportunity to learn. Watching free play is also an opportunity to learn. And practice, practice, practice.


In battodo, it is important to maintain composure while doing kata or cutting. A lot of HEMA people I know look at that and say, “That has nothing to do with martial arts, so I think it’s useless.” Oh really?

Today in class we did an exercise I borrowed from Sang Kim sensei designed to identify and eliminate people’s telegraphs, or “tells.” People who dip their point before striking, or who tense up, or move their hands before their point or make other mistakes perform poorly. People who have few or no tells do very well. This translates directly to free fencing, where the same people who do poorly in this exercise are very easy to defend against because you can see their attack coming well in advance, while the people who do really well can sometimes hit you before you have a chance to parry.

What does this have to do with composure? Part of the exercise is to tell your partner what his or her tells are after the exercise is over. It’s a very good way to expose bad habits and bad technique and try to correct them. One of the most common tells is, “His eyes go all wide as he is about to attack.” Another is, “He smiles when he is feinting, but frowns when he attacks.” Or, “I can see it in his face when he is about to strike.”

You know…composure.

There are two lessons that can be learned from this. The first, learn how to control yourself. Not just how you move or cut, but your facial expressions and mannerisms. They can make the difference between victory and defeat.

The second, and please excuse my language, is don’t teach your father how to fuck. When you see someone who is practicing a martial art that is not recreated from books doing something you don’t understand, odds are there's something there worth learning.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Real Swords

If you are a martial artist studying ernstfecthen with the sword, you need to own a sword. A real one. A sharp one. A historically accurate one(should look, handle, cut and thrust like a period sword).

Just owning one isn't enough though. You need to practice with it. Every time you practice solo. In class and at home. Your sharp does not handle like your blunt. It is much more difficult to use, and you need to be able to use it, not the blunt, not the plastic, not the waster. Practicing with a sharp also has mental and emotional aspects not present with any simulator. It brings you closer to the reality of the sword, something we as a civilization have drifted away from.

Can you practice a sword art without a real sword? Sure. Much as you can practice it without a steel blunt, or even without a waster. You can go in the woods and get a stick and use that. Yet each step away from the sharp nets less and less returns on your investment of time, blood and sweat.

We today have the luxury of doing this as half assed as we want. Our lives don't depend on what we do. However, if we want to be true to our art, then we owe it to ourselves and those that came before us to do it right in every way we can. This is but one of those ways, and it is also an area in which corners are frequently cut. How easy would swordsmanship be if you didn't have to cut with all of your techniques? Or if you never had to put your skill to the test in free fencing, or were allowed to free fence without being expected to cut with every move? What a breeze, right? Well not using a sharp for solo practice is another way to make it easier. How great would it be if all of our swords were perfectly balanced and had hilts designed for comfort and were easy to swing around because they had no mass in the cutting portion of the blade?

You don't need a sharp right away. It's okay to wait until you feel you are competent enough to handle one safely. You also don't need one if this is just a casual hobby to you. This is why we have a cutting loaner. But if you're serious, and you want to take it to the next level, get a sharp, and use it. Every day.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Swordfest 2011 Date and Details

The date for Swordfest 2011 is May 14th.

Here is a link to details about the event:

Swordfest 2011