We discussed last week a few reasons why someone would want to carry a weapon. Mostly I left out the self defence aspect. There is evidence, much of it anecdotal, that having a weapon is a beneficial in a self defence situation. I have met people who have told me that simply drawing a knife or firearm was enough to deter the attacker. There is a danger to this, though. It is not enough to have the weapon. It is not enough to be able to draw it quickly and without exposing yourself to attack as you do. The most important part of carrying a weapon is the willingness to use it. Continue reading
I came across something that frightened me the other day. A certain Western Martial Arts school was offering a workshop on Fiore’s dagger plays. That isn’t the worrisome part. No, the part that gave me pause was that they were advertising it as being conducive to modern knife defence. Now don’t get me wrong, the grappling system as taught by Fiore d’ei Liberi in the 14th century is an excellent art. If taught in the right way it is an invaluable tool for self defence. However, there are a lot of traps you can easily fall into that makes teaching irresponsible. Continue reading
It’s not often these days that you’ll see me practicing Italian Rapier. Lately, though, I find myself drawn to it and feeling the need to study my Capoferro once again. A big part of that is that I have been giving much thought to the ideal sword to first pick up. I often consider what sword style is the best to teach someone who has no previous training and for a multitude of reasons I keep turning to Capoferro’s Rapier. I have no doubt that there as many opinions on this subject as there are instructors, but I thought I would lay out my reasons for starting new students on this particular brand of swordplay. Continue reading
There is a funny thing that happens in martial arts. At beginning levels all students seem to want to learn new techniques. New techniques, all the time. As an instructor, it’s sometimes a challenge to restrain yourself from indulging them. There is that niggling insecurity (at least with me) that by showing new students things too slowly you’ll lose their attention. This is a problem for more than a few reasons, the most immediate of which is that those students who get bored by the basics are probably not worth training unless they can be convinced to change their mind. Continue reading
It’s often and not without merit said that the point is the most dangerous part of the sword. Especially with European swords we see a great emphasis put on thrusting attacks. Now since people had armour as well as swords, attacks could be deflected fairly effectively whether the point or edge were used. Naturally the knights of old had a solution to this. They figured out that if you hit the person with the pommel of your sword, the extra force provided by the weight of it would destabilize your heavily armoured opponent enough to win you the fight.
I had a conversation with someone a while back about Game of Thrones. They were pointing out to me the “incorrect” way they wore their swords, saying that they were being worn too high on the waist. I had another problem with how the swords were being worn around the castle, namely that they were being worn at all. It seems that the main characters in particular wear a sword all the damn time. Although this is a minor gripe with an excellent series, let me tell you that swords are (in general) uncomfortable. Historically there were of course situations where you would want to have a sword close at hand, but in your own house was probably not one of them.
“Ah,” I hear you say, “but what about assassination? Surely you would be worried about your enemies cutting you down while you were unarmed.” Well, that’s certainly a good point, but the fact of the matter is a sword is a terrible assassin’s weapon. First, it’s all but impossible to conceal. Second, you have to be able to draw it and strike without anybody noticing. So no, I don’t think people would have been terribly worried about being assassinated via sword. I’m sure it happened, mind you, I just don’t think it was that common. Even in times where a sword was considered part of a gentleman’s dress (mostly after the 16th century) most accounts tell of sword fights and not sword “drive by stabbings.” Having said that, important to remember that there was a time that everyone carried a knife.
The modern idea of honour s a funny thing. The thought in these times is that knifing an enemy is a low thing to do. Something an honourable knight wouldn’t have to worry about. Back in the sword days this may not have been the case. From some of the tales of the time that have survived we can see that if someone wronged you, revenge was inevitable and the exact means was left to your own devices. Combine that with a culture that virtually demands that any adult male carry a knife and you have a recipe for violence. Knives of the time were tools as much as weapons and always by your side. In fact the Saxons share a name with their ever present blade, the Saex, as seen here in Hanweii’s replica:
Knives as an ever present companion are a staple of European society and enough people carry knives today to be considered a still living tradition. In a way we owe it to ourselves to be proficient in knife fighting if we plan on carrying a knife. A weapon we don’t know how to use belongs to our opponent. But let’s look again at the knives in olden days. We’ve mentioned the saex. In Fiore’s time the rondel was the dagger of choice. There was also the ballock knife which later e
volved into the Scottish dirk. From the surviving manuals we can see that these all had a similar shape and were used in a similar way. The sword and knife company Cold Steel makes some good rubber training knives and a training dagger that works really well so long as you take off the large and slightly goofy looking cross guard. It’s worth noting that from my research almost every dagger in history didn’t have a cross guard at all. Some did, but by and large knives are most useful without one.
Dagger play is a tricky thing. An easy trap to fall into, that I’ve seen happen many times is teaching new students that Renaissance dagger is exactly the same as modern knife. I’m not going to waste any more time talking about this except to say “don’t, unless you know exactly what you are doing.” Make it clear to students that there is a difference and warn them off real world confrontations. One of the biggest things to keep in mind is that knives now are far sharper than they were. Thus, almost all attacks were delivered with the point. Daggers are also much bigger than a standard pocket knife. This totally changes the game. It’s just such a shame that knives are too often seen as weapons to be feared these days. In Scottish society carrying a dirk was a sign of adulthood, and I don’t think this is without merit. I prefer people carrying knives to guns, after all. I have heard far too many accounts of people for whom there is no intermediate step between “I feel threatened in this situation” and pulling a weapon. At least with a knife there is a chance for defend yourself. So, as always, stay safe and don’t get in any knife fights.
I tell people I am a fencer. This to them summons the image of those guys in the white suits poking at each other with what looks like car antennae. So in order to combat this I thought I would provide a brief history of the sword as well as explaining exactly what it is I do. Continue reading
There’s something that’s been bothering me about historical fencing for a while. I’ve been having a lot of problems with the term “guard.” In theory a guard is any position your body and sword take to defend yourself. There are complexities within that definition and some people have their own different definitions. For example, one interpreter of the medieval I.33 system stated that there were no guards present in the style, because you were never supposed to stand stationary to protect yourself in any particular position. One of my own instructors once made the ridiculous claim that any position you can hold your sword in is a guard, but it is only a “good guard” if it serves to protect you. Ignoring the fact that if every position is a guard then the entire concept of guard becomes useless, some refining to the term is clearly needed. Continue reading
This is a special request I received: “Will you do one about katanas and how they can cut through tanks, rocks and telephone poles?” The request was made by one of my students, so you can be assured that there may have been a hint of sarcasm in that comment. At any rate, it’s still something that deserves to be talked about. First take a minute or six to watch the following video. Seriously this guy is brilliant.:
I was recently privileged to be invited to teach a couple of classes at the Cascadia North Accolade Tournament (CNAT) at Camp Jubilee. This is an annual tournament and workshop for Western Martial Arts. I taught two classes, the first was a combat knife class, the second was highland broadsword. I had originally written a post about the broadsword, but after re-reading it I decided that it needs work. So we’ll start with the knife. I take my knife classes very seriously. Which is not to say I don’t also take sword training seriously as well, but I don’t lie awake at night worrying that if I poorly explain a longsword technique one of my students will get in over their head at the bar. Continue reading