Saturday, July 28, 2007

En Garde!

In my last post I wrote about the Fight Camp I attended a couple of weeks ago and some people asked some questions so I thought I would explain a bit more about my interest in Western Martial Arts. WMA or Historical Fencing or Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) as it is also known is a distinctly different from Eastern Martial Arts, having originated in Europe and having it's own styles and techniques. It is the practice of armed, and sometimes unarmed combat using a variety of weapons. In very simple terms, it is learning how to fight and defend yourself using swords, daggers, shields, sticks and other weapons.


As I said before, I have been training now for about 18 months and am still very much a novice. I heard about a group of like-minded people who were setting up a club and jumped at the chance when I was asked it I wanted to join. WMA is not easy to learn. It takes a lot of dedicated practise and study of historical texts to learn and then master the techniques. Part of the difficulty is that many of the techniques fell out of use in the West with the invention of the firearm. Traditionally, each school of swordsmanship taught their techniques through word of mouth so much of what was common knowledge has been lost. Luckily, many of the masters recorded their fighting systems and these are used by various WMA groups.



The club I belong to is called the Academy of Historical Fencing. We train in many schools of historical fencing and use a variety of weaponry such as rapier, broadsword, longsword, sword and dagger, sword and shield and bow staffs. We almost exclusively use steel weapons to train with which are blunted, although the 'newbies' use Shinai (bamboo swords) at first until they get enough armour (padded jackets and leather gauntlets as well as fencing masks) to train safely. The pic above is of one of my first swords and is of a 17th Century Hangar which is a particular type of single handed sword. It is mostly used with a companion weapon such as dagger or buckler ( a small shield). The pic below is of a sword I have recently purchased which is a Pappenheimer Rapier (named after a great swordsman) and is the style of swordsmanship most akin to modern day sport fencing which has it's origins in these schools of swordsmanship.


People who join the club are from a huge variety of backgrounds and there are a few clubs in the UK and a number in Europe and the US. Some people have backgrounds in Eastern Martial Arts and some people who join have done re-enacting. This differs from WMA in that re-enactors recreate battles, usually for the entertainment of spectators and will often also recreate the historical living conditions through researching the period. Although they practise some aspects of WMA, the battles they recreate are sometimes staged and based on a known outcome (i.e. who is going to win). Students of WMA however, study the fighting techniques as an historical competitive martial art.

The next picture is of my first longsword which is a two handed sword and is currently the system I am learning (specifically, from the German school of Longsword). This is also a blunted sword (like all the ones we train with). Sharp swords are only ever used for cutting competitions, like the one using bottles of water in the video on my last post of fight camp. Fight Camp is an annual event where different WMA clubs get together to train. It is a great experience!

I hope that explains a bit more about it and I suspect you might have two more questions. The answers are: yes I do get bruises and yes I probably am a little bit crazy. You can blame my old junior school teacher who introduced me to The Hobbit when I was 9 years old. Ever since then I wanted to learn to use a sword and yes, one of my swords is called 'Sting' :) The video below is of two of our members sparring. I hope you enjoy watching it!

20 comments:

belle said...

Gosh, what a lot I have learnt about WMA.

I'm interested to know - given that 20 - 21C physiques must be different to 15 - 16C ones, does that make the swordsmanship easier or harder?

Michele told me to ask!

Goofy Girl said...

Wow that's very cool! People in movies always look so graceful! :)

Hope you're doing well! :)

kenju said...

Your implements are quite handsome. I like especially the P. Rapier you bought!

Jean-Luc Picard said...

That's a super post; those swords could do a lot of damage!

Michele sent me.

'B' said...

Are they heavy, or do you have muscles???

I am glad that they are blunt, cause they STILL look dangerous!!!

Here (with a very full tummy after Christmas feast) from Michele's tonight...

carli said...

Those would be cool for playing Star Wars. Or Princess Bride. Or any cool movie with swords or sword-like objects.
Please be careful. Here from M.

Bob-kat said...

Hi Belle. Thanks for your question.

Swordsmanship is actually harder with current physiques, mainly due to the fact that the people who used to use these techniques would train for many hours a day, from an early age and so their physique would be very lean and almost shaped by their training.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

I must say this all looks horribly dangerous to me...I don't think I would have survived in the period of time that these 'arts' were used....! (lol)

I'm still trying to understand why in your first post about WMA the people are decapitating water bottles? And those swords must be terribly sharp...yes? It occurs to me I am not sure what time period in hustory WMA;s were used? If you said it, I missed it, my dear.

Bob-kat said...

Hi Naomi, WMA techniques date back to before the Dark Ages. Basically it encompasses the combat techniques employed in Europe. Our group practice the techniques employed from the Dark age, through the medieval period (14th centuary) until the 17th century, but Sabre techniques are as late as the 19th century.

The reason they were using water bottles to cut in the first video is because it was a cutting competition and these are a cheap and effective way of employing a target. This is when a sharp sword would be used as the aim is to use a good technique to get a clean cut. A poorly employed technique would simply knock the bottle over :) Training is always done with blunt weapons as safety is paramount!

Nikki-ann said...

Those are some beautiful but dangerous weapons :)

Sara said...

Hello, Michelle sent me...and I love the sword with all the beautiful filigree one it...thanks for an interesting post....

Carmi said...

I am fascinated by the combination of mental and physical training required to excel at this. You've piqued my curiosity: I wonder if there's anything like that locally. Now, I set off to find out.

Maybe Michele knows...

'B' said...

I hope that the training is going well, but how many hours a day/week do you do?

Here from Michele's (again) this morning...

Bob-kat said...

Hi 'b',

The club trains together twice a week for a 2 hour and 1 hour session. In between people often train doing drills which take you through the techniques.

The Turmanators said...

Way cool, especially that I think of this as traditionally a male sport/hobby. Are there many other females?
Glad Michelle sent me today.

Sarch said...

What a hoot! Bobkat you are endlessly facinating to me :)

I have played with the idea learning "fencing" (I'm sure this is different than what you are learning) but from what I can tell it is a VERY expensive sport to play / learn.

Your swords are works of art.

Bob-kat said...

Hi Turmanators,

There are a few more women that do WMA but they are definitely in the minority. I am the only woman in our club.

Hey Sarch,

The only thing that is really expensive are the swords themselves which are between £120 - £300 for a decent one. Of course there are more expensive ones!

JAM said...

Amazing. I'm glad you got involved in something like that. I think everyone needs to have hobbies and interests and this one seems to be a great mix of exercise as well as learning something few others know how to do.

You and your group can have a secret handshake and passwords, "My name is Inigo Montoya. You keeled my Father, prepare to die."

Beckie said...

That is facinating! It looks very difficult to learn.

diyadear said...

phew.. learning it is soo far away. the very thought makes me feel scary ;) bravo bob!! :)