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, October 2, 2011

Top Shot

You can learn a lot about the martial approach to KDF from watching History Channel’s Top Shot. I started watching season 2 and wondered about the generally lackluster performance from competition champions (with a few notable exceptions, JJ, Cliff, etc.). Even someone like JJ Racaza (world champion pistol shooter) doesn’t perform nearly as well as you would expect when you watch him shoot in competitions. You would expect him to completely dominate by a wide, wide margin, but he doesn’t, his skill is only marginally better than that of others unless the competition is his specialty, and even then the gap is not as wide as you'd think. I wondered why that was, until I saw the episode in season 2 when they brought JJ and Blake (another champion pistol shooter) back as experts to show off a particular competition skill. They were using tricked out competition guns, and their performance was amazing. That’s when it hit me. Tricked out competition guns.

Now, of course, it all makes sense. Many of the competition shooters on the show get eliminated early on because they shoot like crap. Some of them have a harder time hitting targets than military shooters or hunters who have never competed. Seeing JJ and Blake blaze away with their tricked out guns explained it all. Competition shooters train with specialty weapons made for competitions, that’s what they’re used to competing with. Red dot sights, compensators, balance weights, special barrels, etc. Their skill is calibrated for this weapon, and for most of them, when you give them a real weapon, their skills don’t shine through (the very best like JJ are always the exception, with the above mentioned caveats).

What does this have to do with KDF? Training with your ultra light plastic sword, or even your specialty made steel blunt, has about as much in common with training with a real sword as training with a tricked out biathlon rifle has in common with learning to use an M4 carbine. This is why so many seasoned KDF practitioners who take my cutting class have more difficulty cutting tatami than people who have never used a sword before. Yes, that’s right…I have an easier time teaching people off the street to cut than experienced KDF fighters (and women tend to be easier to teach than men). Why? Because they have spent so much time training to use plastic wasters and steel blunts with no real world feedback other than “I hit my opponent” that simulator oriented body mechanics and simulator oriented weapon control become deeply ingrained. Of course the best of the best do well, talent is talent, but think of how much better they’d be with actual training in the use of a real sword.

So what can we learn from Top Shot? Aside from all the lessons learned about performance in competition, which apply the same way to us as they do to them, there is the lesson of what to practice with. Hopefully by now you all know the value of solo practice. What you need to understand is the value of solo practice with the weapon you’re actually training to use. In NYHFA’s case, that is not the plastic sword, nor the padded one, nor the steel blunt. That is the real sword. If you don’t own one and you don’t practice with it, your technique is going to suffer for it...your real sword technique. In competition shooting, practicing with normal weapons is of little benefit since everyone else competes with specialty guns. The same is true for us. It’s hard to focus on an obsolete weapon when most others train to use light weight simulators in competitions, but that’s what we do in NYHFA. We train as true to the original intent of the art as we can. That means we compete, but we don’t train for competition. Learn from Top Shot, and don’t develop a skill that has little application to the martial art we practice.

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