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, June 24, 2011

Double Hits

“No one can defend himself without danger.”

I’ve recently been considering revising my view on double hits. To the HEMA community, double hits are an anathema. They are severely punished in tournaments, maligned in discussions and criticized mercilessly. To be fair, a double hit is obviously bad. You got hit. That’s never good.

But you know what I think is worse than a double hit? You getting hit cleanly and your opponent walking away unscratched.

I don’t want to train people who are so focused on their own defense that they can be manipulated easily by a fighter who understands how to use pressure. Don’t get me wrong. The objective remains the same. Kill your opponent without getting killed or injured yourself. This should be what everyone strives for. But the secondary objective should NOT be to get killed and leave your opponent unharmed!

I don’t think for a minute that a fighter should ever strive for double hits. That would be suicidal and stupid. What I am contemplating at the moment is a strategy for the fight that is more aggressive, and, oddly enough, more in line with Liechtenauer’s teachings. Don’t just defend, cut into the attack. Go for the kill. Don’t back up, go forward.

If two equally skilled fighters fight and the resulst is 10 clean hits and 2 double hits, then each fighter got 5 clean hits on his opponent. Yay! Conversely, each fighter let his opponent hit him 5 times without doing a damn thing about it. Not so yay. Let’s also not forget that double hit does NOT equal double kill. It may not even equal double injury. Some people train hard to make sure that each of their hits is a kill. Some people don’t. This is true today, and it was probably true in period.

In our fencing in NYHFA, double hits are very rare. Particularly for me. I think this should change. Even if the change is simply a transition to a more aggressive, more zettel-correct means of fencing that is free of double hits.

What do I mean by that? Let me put it plainly. I think we fight wrong most of the time. Just look at how people cut vs how they swing in a fencing match. Two completely different animals, at leats for most people. I think we're too fast. Too imprecise. You disagree? Show me a video of yourself moving with the exact speed and the same strikes you use in a tournament or fencing match with a real, historically accurate sword, and I want to hear the swoosh of proper edge alignment and velocity with each movement. Or you can take it one step further and set up some mats (mats ain't people, they're easier, but they'll do). Let me save you the trouble...unless you're amazing, you can't do it, and I don't know too many people who are amazing.

I don't think we should fight in such a way that would cause double hits in a real fight. But I think we're overly concerned about double hits in fake fights. Adjusting how we fight to super fast plastic and steel swords that are used with zero consideration for cutting and wounding is a sure way to distort Liechtenauer's system and the realities of combat.

So I think I'm going to start trying to do the right thing, even if my opponent does the wrong thing, and if that leads to a double hit, so what. Call me sloppy. I won't lose any sleep over it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

After the cut

OK and now for the post I had originally planned on writing before the rant came out instead.

In practicing cuts—whether through air, against a pell, or through tatami—we focus on all the mechanical stuff: grip, hip, casting the tip, stopping the cut at an appropriate juncture, etc. We also focus on mental preparedness to perform a follow-up action (this is part of composure: not just "hit it and quit it" so to speak), however I've noticed that until today my own personal practice has lacked any sort of physical preparedness to follow-up.

Let me explain, and I'll use a particular Krumphau (throwing the point to the hands against someone in longpoint) as an example:

Practicing in the air, I'll either perform the cut with my "step" already taken—to work on engaging the hips—or I'll step and cut, recovering to the same spot. Similar with tameshigiri, although I'm much more likely to advance on the mat, cut, pause-and-reflect, and then retreat. What this has fostered in me as far as free fencing is maybe I'm relatively good at striking Krump, but I might unbalance myself shortly thereafter because I've stepped too deep on an oblique line.. and I've never actually practiced anything from this new position I've found myself in.

What I started doing today, against the pell first surprisingly, was advance, strike a Krumphau, and then advance past the pell, or rotate from where I was after the oblique step and assume longpoint, facing the pell, from my new position. I intend to do this more with test-cutting as well. The idea being that yes, I will approach and strike with intent & good composure, but I will also teach myself to be physically as well as mentally prepared for "whatever comes next." Fluidity of motion. At least this is the theory, but it's one I'll certainly be working on for a while.

And the fight goes on..

After the free fencing done last weekend with our friends at the Kunstbruder Fechtschule, and teaching class today at NYHFA's Poughkeepsie branch, I started thinking about how to deal with reconciling the sport-fencing mentality and the Ernstfechten mentality that we at NYHFA try to cultivate.

What are some of the pitfalls* of sport fencing?
* Assuming of course one's goal isn't to become the best tournament fighter in the world, ever. If that's your goal, then ignore all this.

1] Little or nonexistent cutting intent: sacrificing cutting ability (since it's "irrelevant") for an artificially increased speed in hitting, recovering, etc.

2] No fear of the weapon: because it's not a weapon, it's a flattened stick and no matter how hard anyone tries, it's not going to cut you. Adding masks, gloves, gambesons, etc., there's less of a chance that it will even hurt you.

3] Rapid-fire attack mode: because it doesn't matter if you get hit incidentally (see #2), and you're not actually trying to cut through anyone (see #1), you can attack in a frenzied, "suicidal" manner. Or, you can continue the fight even after receiving a blow that, with a real sword, would have incapacitated you and ended the altercation.

I'm sure there are plenty of others, even without getting into issues inherent with particular sword simulators.

Now, what can we do about it? Sure, one can get into an academic pissing-match in the salle or on the forums: "But he would've been dead if blah blah.." Or, one can be a little more Zen about it, "I'm fighting myself, there is no other opponent" (i.e. I'll fight as purely as I can, even though it probably appears that I'm slow, that I'm constantly losing, etc.) One can always just cross over and play their game.. but that'll probably end up degrading into a sloppy slug-fest. There is a synthesis to be found though, it's one that Mike and I have discussed a bit, which is fencing to punish bad fencing: They keep rushing in? Pommel strike to the face hard. Leading cuts with their forearms? Snipe their hands hard. This seems kind of vindictive—and let's be honest, it kind of is—but hopefully it will instill at least a healthy respect for the weapon in your hands and thereby force them to think twice about what it is they're doing.