Saturday, May 6, 2017

Abrazare Positions and Ground Fighting

While practicing some grappling today, I had a moment when I considered the cross-over between Abrazare positions and the movements of grip fighting when one pulls you to the ground. Abrazare, in its original context, typically refers to the combative grappling that occurs whilst standing. This is obviously because ground fighting is almost wholly absent in the corpus we have at our disposal. As an aside, one must wonder if this is due to the nature of the fighting or due to the absence of manuals that discuss it. But one must ask himself: how much of my Abrazare will work on a man who has pulled me to the ground and is attempting to choke me with me with his legs? In answering this question, one must not be too quick to rely on tricks and death-blows; they are a minority of techniques presented in the manuals, not your bread and butter movements, and are better suited to set up other techniques rather than ends in themselves.

This is where the fundamentals come into play. Abrazare, when practiced consistently, should give one solid training in position, posture, and proximity, and how to control each of those factors. One learns position through the guards and footwork. One learns posture through practicing the techniques and experimentally learning how posture alters throws. One learns proximity through both drilled techniques and alive sparring. In Ringen, the German cousin of Abrazare, similar principles are described as strength, measure, and agility. Strength refers to both physical power and the ability to go low properly. Measure is knowing how to move both the arms and the legs in a coordinated fashion regardless of guard. Agility is a combination of factors involving knowing techniques, knowing how to position yourself around and behind someone, knowing tricks and death-blows, and in general applying the right action at the right time for a desired result.

Abrazare also has the benefit of giving us a decision-making matrix in the form of a decision tree. This decision tree is observable when one lays out the various abrazare (and la daga) techniques and sees the branch structure first-hand (something ARMA members have access to). One very important decision-making matrix, a separate one from the decision tree discussed here, is found in the Codex Wallerstein, which I have presented visually here:

One would do well to remember the advice of the Codex Wallerstein when deciding how to attack his zugadore. Once one decides how to attack, he must use his measure to attack from the appropriate guard. These guards, for the sake of review, are:

Long Guard

Boar's Tooth

Iron Gate

Doubled Iron Gate

Crown Guard

Now so far all of this has been presented in regards to standing combat, as per the context of Abrazare. But all of this holds true for ground fighting as well. When one is in the guard of a stronger opponent, it is wise to let him act and then attack him based on the opening he just gave you. When you're fighting an equal, you use a combination of strength and measure to interrupt his attacks. When you are fighting a weaker person, then you smash him with power and force him to respond to your wrath. When one is, let's say, in another's closed guard, then one will have to grip fight with his zugadore to make sure that he is not attacked from below. This is a moment where one will notice that all the arm positions of the Long Guard, the Boar's Tooth, the Iron Gate, and the Crown Guard all come into play. You use a straight-posting of the arm to grab him or pin him, you use the bent arm to break grips and secure arms, you use the withdrawn arms to prevent him from grabbing you, and you use the offensive outward arms to force him to respond. There is nothing esoteric about this; these are principles of standing combatives applied to ground combatives.

This may be difficult to visualize as abstract principles, so instead imagine yourself in the closed guard of another. You may begin by grabbing his collar with your right, outstretched arm (Long Guard). He responds by taking a very tight grip on your sleeve and you cannot seem to get out of it through swimming motions. You use the bent arm with one hand (Boar's Tooth) or both hands (Double Iron Door) to induce him to let go by pulling him in and attacking his wrist. He lets go and then you regain your posture with both arms low (Iron Gate). He sits up to grab you again, so you aggressively grab his skull with both arms (Crown Guard) and put him in the can-opener. 

One aside before concluding. The Boar's Tooth is extremely effective when it comes to destroying people's grips when they grab upon your clothing. If you are cross-training with a ground fighter (let's say a BJJ guy), you will notice that they train to grab your collar and your sleeves a lot. Many of these fighters are quite strong and you may not be able to pop off the grip off easily. So instead of playing his game, you should play yours as a practitioner of Abrazare. Remember your training:

Breaking the Grip (Auerswald)

Breaking the Grip (Pascha)

You already know how to break a grip while standing because you've trained the techniques in the manuals. So go with what you know and apply the Boar's Tooth. If he grabs onto your collar with strength, use the Double Iron Door grip to shove his hand into your chest and then jam his wrist until he lets go due to pain compliance. If he grabs onto you less strongly, your Boar's Tooth will pull him until you break his grip. Rest assured, the principle of movement (bending his arm with downward force via your arm) will work regardless of a standing or sitting posture.

My desire in writing down my meditation on this matter is to help Abrazare practitioners connect the dots in their training. When we practice combative grappling, we aren't really practicing a set of techniques. Rather, we are practicing and experiencing a set of principles that are depicted in idealized throws and take-downs. The images, while static, must be understood as one moment of a film. This film depicts a model of taking a person down, through breaks and\or throws, in response to their movements. All movements, breaks, and throws obey a set series of physical principles based on geometry, motion, and human physiology. If one can understand and apply these principles when they train Abrazare, regardless of the style of their zugadore, then will preserve himself.  

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Ruminations Upon Dagger Training

Returning From Training Hiatus

In early 2015, I threw my back out during fencing practice. I did not know it at the time, but evidently I strained a muscle or muscle groups in my lower back which caused me intense nerve-related pain. Hundreds of dollars and more than a year later, I have recovered sufficiently to enable me to end my combative training hiatus. During this time off, I've had a great deal of time to read, research, and ponder. Due to considerations of time and place, I have decided to get back into the swing of things by focusing on staff and dagger training. Here are some of the thoughts I've been mulling over during said time off, specifically in regards to the dagger and the manner in which one trains with that weapon.

Two Forms of Combat

It seems clear to me that there must be a theoretical division between types of combat. By this, I mean that we must have a theory of combat that separates different forms of combat. In my mind, there are two primary divisions (with numerous sub-divisions). These two divisions are Ritual Combat and Non-Ritual Combat. Ritual Combat includes tournaments, sparring, judicial dueling, extra-judicial dueling, culturally-based ceremonial combat, and combat drills. Non-Ritual Combat includes any situation where one or all combatants find themselves in combat without prior mutual agreement, without specific perimeters, and without outside entity governing the combative incident itself. The difference, more plainly put, is the difference between sparring in your study group and having someone sucker punch you at a bus stop.

This is not to rehash the "street vs dojo" debate or anything of that nature. I say this because in watching a number of training videos (and videos of knife-related crime), reading numerous texts, and seeing how other people train, it seems as though this point is not being sufficiently taken to heart. In this day and age, where people with machetes and axes are attacking people in the streets, we must have some kind of theoretical understanding to base our training upon, and this theory must represent the kind of criminality we see in our societies. This is especially relevant for people who train using Renaissance manuals, considering that we have a resource from a past world where people with large edged weapons routinely engaged in combat and penned their thoughts on those experiences.

To summarize: we must decide why we're training, why we choose the tools we do, and what the end goal of our training is, and how the answers to these queries relate to safety in our everyday lives.


In my time of thought and research, a number of problems arise in my mind. I have touched upon these problems in previous writings, but if I sound repetitive it is because they are important.

  • Movement. If we are training for Ritual Combat, how does that relate to the way we move? If we are training for Non-Ritual Combat, how does that change things? If we all know that we should be moving and dynamic in dagger combat, why do so many people freeze up or act like a praying mantis? Is this biologically based? If this is an artifact of training, how can it be deprogrammed and substituted for aggressive movement?
  • Aggression. Ritual Combat doesn't provoke the fight\flight\freeze response in the brain. How can we trigger that response? Are there options, aside from a Shock Knife, to make this occur? How can we train aggression in people who may not otherwise possess it?
  • Closing the distance. We know from the Art of Defence that we need to close in and fight body-to-body. Masters like di Grassi have shown that weapons have a minimum and maximum safety radius; we must fight up and personal to safety get past their most dangerous distances. If this is so, why don't we see more people closing the distance in sparring? How can we train people to get over the fear that a weapon produces, so that they can get in there and perform take-downs? 
  • Injuries and Mindsets. People seem too engaged in a mindset where they train with so much gear that they resemble astronauts. And yet, when they need their skills most, they will not have that gear. How can we move people away from astronaut fighting? When we do wear gear in sparring, what does that gear represent in Non-Ritual Combat? Furthermore, people have this fencing method of sparring where they hit once and then disengage. They seem too willing to stop and give up. What does this mentality mean for Non-Ritual Combat?
  • Sizes. Bowie Knives and Rondel Daggers are much larger than the pocket knives we are likely to carry everyday. How can we modify our techniques to fit those smaller blades? Can it be done at all?

On the Rondel Dagger

  • Cuts. Rondel daggers are not cutting blades; they are thrust oriented. In training, cuts should be used to set up thrusts and cause pain to our opponents. This is particularly true of rondels with 3-4 edges on them, which I suspect would cause even more pain (due to thickness and morphology) if struck upon the knuckles or the face of another person. We see little cutting with rondels in the manuals, so why do we train as if they are Langes Messers? We need our training to correlate to the actual performance of the blades themselves.
  • Harm-Arm Stabs. Are your thrusts fully committed? Do they have body weight behind them? Are you stabbing with murderous intent? These questions must be examined in sparring. If our thrusts wouldn't penetrate woolen clothing, then we cannot rely on them. Sparring partners must hold each other (and themselves accountable).
  • Whole-Body Stabs. When you stab a man, are you putting your body into the blow? Does it hurt your sparring partner when you stab him? Maybe it should. Consider the Back-Hand attack, which Fiore claims to be quite deadly. When you perform that blow, would it actually penetrate the organs of a human being? If not, how can you claim that you're performing the technique accurately? 

On the Bowie Knife

  • Wrist Cuts. Cuts with the wrist should not be considered fight-ending cuts. They should be trained to set up combinations. A wrist cut to the arm, followed by an elbow cut to the face and then a thrust, for instance, is better than just going for a few wrist cuts at whatever target is closest. We should be taking advantage of the heft of the blade with our methodologies. 
  • Elbow Cuts. Cuts with the elbow appear to be quite damaging to flesh with the Bowie. Still, a single cut cannot be counted on. We should be training ourselves to throw at least three cuts in row. One may not stop due to a cut hand; one will stop if he has become beheaded. 
  • Shoulder Cuts. Cuts from the shoulder appear to be devastating, limb-removing cuts. This could be mitigated by thick clothing, though I have not seen evidence one way or the other with the Bowie in this regard. Shoulder cuts, while slower and bigger, should be trained a great deal, preferably with passing steps to power them. We should be trying to incapacitate as quickly as possible. 
  • Thrusts. Cuts with the typical Bowie are large and deep. They too should be trained a great deal. A spatula-shaped hole in someone's chest is better than sniping at knees and fingers. 

Closing Thoughts

Two final thoughts come to mind. First, I'd like to experiment with smaller knifes and see what kind of overlap historical fighting methods (like in the manuals) have with the use of these smaller EDC blades. Second, I'd like to train more use of doubled-handed techniques with both style blades. In the manuals we see two hands being used with one-handed daggers. We need to incorporate more of this into sparring, both offensively and defensively. Every one-handed weapon can become two-handed, if we train it so. I hope that, in the coming months, I have answers to the problems I have discussed here. In the meantime, I invite the reader to check out some videos that I think are very illustrative of the problems we face as historical martial artists training in an unsafe, tyrannical world.

Regarding Theory and Practice:

Compare and Contrast:

Monday, June 30, 2014

Renaissance Method for the Bowie

This is meant to be a follow up post to my last Bowie piece, which can be found here:

After continued contemplation, solo drilling, and experimentation, I have decided to flesh out some of the ideas only previously touched upon before. I intend on keeping as brief and to the point as possible, so that the reader gains practical knowledge rather than airy theory. In essence, this writing will discuss the use of the Bowie knife in the manner other Renaissance one handed weapons. To this end I've examined various plates detailing the rondel dagger, the arming sword, dussack, and the langes messer. What follows constitutes my experiences and thoughts on this beautiful weapon. 


As I've discussed in my previous piece, there are really only a few basic guards needed for a Bowie knife. You have a point ward (Pflug, Boar's Tooth, Guardant Fight), a double handed ward (Middle Iron Door Doubled), and a reverse ward (so-called "slasher"). The wards themselves are useful guides to chambering the weapon, sure, but their main value is in the ideas that they hold. You don't hold a ward; you move through them. A great failure of the modern martial artist is the thought that one "holds" a position or "sits in" a ward. Instead we must think of the wards as postures that we move through in order to kill our enemy. We begin, move through, and end in these wards, but we never "stay" in them. Connected to this idea is keeping the weapon out of range of your enemy until you decide to attack with initiative, and yet not keeping it too far out either. This latter reason is why I do not advise any form of Zornhut or Posta de Donna with the Bowie; your compass will be too large and easily run under by your foe. And yet, we do not want the Bowie too far out from the body. It will be too easy for your foe to snipe at your hand and there is too little weapon to trust your safety to a simple parry. So with the wards I advise here, one keeps the Bowie somewhere close to the hip. And by that, I mean the Bowie does not stray too far from the vertical axis or the horizontal axis that run through the hips. A little chambered back or forward does no harm, but one cannot allow the enemy to too easily bind or take command of your weapon. We can see this idea in Meyer's plates below:

The most forward man on the right keeps his dagger high and yet still in line with his hips.

The man in Stier his weapon in line too.

In short, the Bowie fighter must be dynamic and not waiting in a ward. He must defend his weapon hand and obscure the ability of the enemy to find correct measure, which is done by keeping the Bowie closer to the body. 

Targeting and Striking 

The point of discussing wards first is to bring us to targeting. This refers to both your targeting of the enemy and his targeting of you. Now, let us assume that you and your foe are standing with your right foot forward and your daggers are in Pflug. This is perhaps the most seen beginning of a dagger fight, for many fight with the right foot forward in a middle point guard. This gives quite a bit of reach, though it really doesn't matter what leg you have forward as long as you move aggressively and transverse. Now visualize this as your foe:

This rather crude illustration is meant to describe the idea of "barricading" off your body. We see this in I.33 and other sword manuals, and the principle applies to the Bowie too. Each black circle can represent a beginning ward or position of the dagger. Pflug would be in his bottom right opening. The shaded triangle represents the areas barricaded off by the Bowie. Any attack within that shaded area would very easily be thwarted. The whole point of understanding the idea of warding is to understand that you are consciously, dynamically depriving your enemy of openings in which to attack your person.  You have no choice but to either provoke an attack to disrupt his barricade, attack to the undefended left, or attack a lower opening. By constantly moving, being aggressively, and moving through wards, you limit his options and dictate where he can attack. 

Cutting with the Bowie, then, ought to be easily grasped by any student of the sword. The use of the Dussack teaches the angles of attack. In German, they can be understood as the Zornhau, the Unterhau, and the Mittelhau. We already know that based on how well our enemy barricades himself we will be limited in our cutting targets. However let us revisit our options: Provoke, Attack the Left, and Attack Below. We know from use of the Dussack that we can provoke a cautious enemy into attacking. In that same way, we provoke with the Bowie. If you need an opening, make one! So throw your three Dussack cuts: the Provoker, the Taker, and the Hitter. Your provoking attack forces him to act. You take his attack with your second cut. Your third cut hits him. Not that we are limited to that order but that is an easy way to think of it. Attacking the left is simple enough. His left upper opening will be easiest to hit. But perhaps he is out of range. If he leans back or stands side-on you can provoke him so that he moves, and then cut his left when it becomes open. Attacking below works best with a thrust. Don't trust a cut to the stomach or thigh to end the fight with any knife; trust your point for that instead.

A closing point to wrap it up. Keep your dagger moving and dynamic to keep your right side barricaded. Don't stay in any ward too long, especially since it may telegraph your next cut or combination. Cut aggressively in the way of the Dussack and always through a combination of attacks to get the job done.

Defence is Composed of Offence 

Defending oneself with the Bowie is simple. Perhaps it is so simple that many feel a need to make it complex. Let us quote the following Masters of Defence for clarity:

"A proper fencer parries not; as his opponent strikes so he too strikes" - Liechtenauer
"Make all your parries downward blows" - Fiore
"Defense is comprised by Offense" - Francesco Altoni
"Offense is defense" - Capo Ferro

This is the way to understand defence with a Bowie. Some authors, who I won't name, have said that the Bowie ought to be used similarly to a sabre. This is a false method. The Bowie is not a dui tempo weapon, which was the point of my previous piece; it can be used quite well mezzo tempo. Another erroneous idea is to use the Bowie exactly like a langes messer. Much can be gained from training messer material with the Bowie but they cannot be used interchangeably. The principle reason is design: the Bowie generally lacks a substantial cross-guard and it lacks a nagel (hooking nail). We cannot, then, expect the turned-hand (gewenter hand) setting aside of the messer or arming sword to be very effective, for the Bowie lacks the design features to properly execute this motion. Very likely, it will result in the blade of your enemy skipping off your strong and raking across your fingers, if you even time it right at all. 

Instead of fighting with a dui tempo method or a turned-hand setting aside, we need to understand the concept described by the Masters. When your enemy attacks, you do too. What this means for us is that we must aggressively counter-cut whenever possible. Equally important is to become the aggressor yourself. If you are constantly offending your foe, he will only be concerned with his own safety and cannot clearly think of regaining initiative; he is always one moment behind. By counter-cutting, we don't need to rely on parries of any kind. Combinations of cuts and thrusts will aid in this, especially since you have an open hand to aid in your mezzo tempo movements. Consider the following words on the mezzo tempo from Master Vadi:

"I cannot show you in writing
The theory and method of the half tempo
Because it remains in a knot
The shortness of the tempo of his strike.
The half time is just one turn
Of the knot: quick and immediately striking,
It can rarely fail
When it is done in good measure."

If done skillfully, the mezzo tempo counter attacking of a foe will protect you. It may not always successfully wound him, but it will at least defend you better than the parry. If your Bowie has a D-Guard and a large choil, then all the better: these protect the hand while counter-cutting not unlike a nagel. As such, it absolutely crucial that one does NOT finger the choil when fighting unless they want that index finger gone. Unlike the nagel, however, these features won't actually stop a blade from skipping down, since they are found along the side of the long-edge side weapon as opposed to jutting out from the side of the guard. 

Choil depicted above (below Spanish notch).

D-Guard Bowie Knives (left also has a defined choil)

In short, defence with the Bowie is comprised of offence. Attack often and in combinations. Be the initiator and work Indes if you cannot be. When he attacks, so do you. Move through your wards to wound, provoke, and cover your flying out. Step with aggression, transverse, and trust in your Guardant Fight. 

False Methods 

Now that I've discussed a method of using the Bowie that is in line with Renaissance concepts, we can briefly define the opposite. Or that is to say, we can discuss what makes up false defence with the Bowie. If you want to lose a Bowie fight, then please feel free to do any of the following:
  • Be fearful and walk up to your foe like a mantis.
  • Only throw weak snap cuts from Posta Breve. 
  • Don't keep your body in motion.
  • Don't keep your dagger in motion.
  • Only throw a single attack at a time. 
  • Depend on Open Fight and shoulder cuts.
  • Move in false time.
  • Rely on parries and dui tempo methods. 
  • Approach fighting with the Bowie as social club activity. 

Concluding Thoughts

To conclude, we can see that the Bowie is a unique weapon. It's not a langes messer, it's not an arming sword, and it's not a Dussack. But it is not so dissimilar to any of these that we can't learn important concepts from them. As such, we don't need to look to Orientalists for ideas on how it use it. We have a large corpus to study in the West and we can benefit greatly from such study. The problem lies in making it too complex, too esoteric, and too elaborate. It's a dagger: stick the pointy end in the other guy.  

General Rules of Thumb  
  •  Utilize constant motion.
  • Be earnest and aggressive. There is no such as overkill.
  • Train to cut and thrust, but know that the thrust is a more sure way of ending things. 
  • Attack continually and with combinations of good, downright blows.
  • Be serious in your sparring: keep in mind violent intent. 
  • Keep things simple and remember the basic Segno cuts.
  • Understand true time and the tempo that accompanies fighting in narrow space.
  • Guardant Fight is not only a ward to begin in but it can be used to rush under an enemy's compass.
  • Always transverse when possible and force your enemy to move.
  • Regardless of whether or not you incapacitate your enemy, fly out after your combinations. 

Counter-Cutting in Action 

More Counter-Cutting

Bowie-like daggers (esp. top right) depicted in Wound-Man images.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Thoughts on Gada and Odd Object Training

Thoughts on Gada and Odd Object Training
                This post is meant to be a follow up to a conversation the ARMA Austin group had regarding the use of the Indian Mace (aka the Gada). The Art of Manliness recently posted about the use of the Gada in physical culture, which can be found here ( I figured that I’d expand a little on the topic for the sake of ARMA members who are interested in it.

                I think a martial artist can get a great work out just using a Gada and a few odd objects. Exponents of Dinosaur Training know this already, though it is less understood by people who are prone to only using common gym devices like cable machines and what not. So for people interested in the Gada, there are two easy ways to get started on it. The first way is buy a sledgehammer. The second way is make your own Gada. Of course one may simply buy a Gada as well, but you may not want to drop over $100 on something that you may not be fully invested in training with. Here are both options in more detail.

Using the Sledgehammer

                The main advantage of the sledgehammer is that it is robust and easily acquired.  As it meant to be struck against other objects, you don’t have to worry about replacing it any time soon. This is true of specially made Gadas but the sledgehammer has the advantage of only costing you about $30 at a home improvement store. The robustness of the hammer means that you can use it hit sand bags, tree stumps, piles of rocks, and of course tires. A good bit of circuit training can be devised with just a tire and a hammer; you can swing the hammer above your head describing circles, hit the tire with both arms, and then flip the tire afterwards. 

Swinging the sledgehammer as if it were a mace:

Flipping the tire:

                The only downside to the hammer is that is generally shorter than a proper Gada. The Gada is often around five feet long, plus or minus a foot. The average sledgehammer is around 4 feet long at the most. This makes the swinging movement easier compared to a longer, properly sized mace. A 10lb mace that is 5 feet long is harder to control than a 15lb hammer that is 4 feet long. It’s also less neat looking than a big ass mace.

Using a Homemade Gada

The Gada may be constructed at home for a fraction of the cost of a professionally made Gada. All you’d need is a 5 foot hardwood dowel, some concrete, and a soccer ball. You fill the ball with concrete and then mount the dowel into it.  One could also dig a globular hole in dirt and pour the concrete into the hole, and then mount a pole in that. This makes a more oddly shaped mace head but then you wouldn’t need to buy a soccer ball. 

A homemade Gada made with a steel pipe:

The downside to making a Gada in this fashion is that you can’t go around hitting things with it in your training program. At the least, you could make a Gada at home to see how much you like training with it and then use disposable income to invest in a professionally made Gada.

To wrap this all up, a very effective training program can be made using these simple odd objects. Cheaply acquired objects like a sledge hammer, sand bags or stones, homemade mace, and tire can strengthen the body much better than the equipment you’ll find in a mirror and machine club like Planet Fitness. Swords and other weapons will feel much lighter in the hands after training with these objects, and you’ll continue the fine tradition of physical culture used by strongmen and wrestlers of the golden age.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Simple Method of Single Time Defence with the Bowie

Simple Method of Single Time Defence with the Bowie

The Why

I've been obsessed with the Bowie knife for as long as I can remember. My first exposure to knife fighting was not with the Bowie, but with the KA-BAR during basic training in the Marine Corps. After the Marines I started researching dagger fighting with the pivotal 20th century works of Biddle, Applegate, Fairbairn, and Sykes. Eventually I put that research on the backburner and began studying the longsword as a member of the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts (ARMA). A year ago I started getting interested in the big Bowie once more, and wondered how I could apply Renaissance Martial Arts (RMA) to that iconic weapon. Generally the response I received from other ARMA members is that the Bowie is basically a Langes Messer, so it ought to be used as such. While this has validity, I thought to myself: "Why not incorporate Rondell Dagger material?" and "Is the Bowie not a small Sabre?" So I began looking through Renaissance dagger and military sabre materials. 

The striking difference between the older fight books and the newer fencing treatises is the timing of the attacks. The RMA generally focus on single\middle time (mezzo tempo) defences that only resort to double time movements (dui tempo) when moving into a grappling technique. Indeed, even the dui tempo defences are meant to be done as close to mezzo tempo as possible. The fencing treatises of the 19th century and the early 20th century almost entirely focuse on dui tempo, parry and riposte defences. Furthermore, this is shared by late 20th century knife fighting books as well. When thinking on this trend, I wondered if I couldn't compile an assortment of mezzo tempo defences appropriate for the Bowie. 

That is what has prompted me to work on this writing today. I've taken techniques from Renaissance manuals, sabre manuals from the 19th century and early 20th century, and more recent writings of the 20th century. I've listed some of the referenced works below (too lazy to list all the books and PDFs), so that interested entities may further read on the subject.

The What

This writing assumes a few things right off the bat. First, this assumes that you already have a basic understanding of general historical fencing. These ideas, like angles and wards, won't be explained in much detail for sake of brevity. Second, this assumes that you're using a sizable Bowie knife. I've seen Bowies range from 8 inches long up to over 20 inches long. I'd recommend a Bowie that is at least 12 inches long, though generally bigger is better. Lastly, the experienced historical fencer and\or knife fighter will recognize many or all of these techniques. It must be clear that I'm not claiming to have invented this; I have merely put this together to aid other interested Bowie fighters. If you have friends who you think may enjoy this or someone asks you about some ways to use the Bowie, feel free to pass this along to them. This is by no means exhaustive, but I hope that it is a start.

Further Reading
Codex Wallerstein
Hutton, Alfred - Cold Steel, Old Sword Play
Liberi, Fiore de'i - Flower of Battle
Loriega, James - Manual of the Baratero
McLemore, Dwight C. - Advanced Bowie Techniques, Bowie and Big-Knife Fighting System
Meyer, Joachim - Thorough Descriptions of the Art of Fencing
Styers, John - Cold Steel

The How

Note: This is not organized by ward or attack. I've purposely left a number of things vague in the following techniques. This is to echo the often vaguely written Renaissance manuals of defence, and because I didn't feel a need to cover every possible aspect of combat. For example: I've not mentioned true or false edge, hatchet grip or sabre grip, or every possible ward usable for each movement. If I say to cut, it ought to be in the way you see fit and allowable by grip (cut with the back if you want or if it is quickest, like if you are using the hatchet grip). If you thrust but it is preceded by a back edge cutting motion, that is fine. I also only mention a few grip styles: Middle (tierce or pflug), Hanging (Hangen or Ochs), Boar's Tooth or Middle Reverse, and Middle Iron Door Doubled with Dagger. I don't list all possible wards usable, so that one basically will use one of three grips: point forward (sabre, hatchet, foil), reverse (slasher), and blade forward with two hands. The specific wards emanating from those three types are entirely up to the operator and are meant to generally describe a possible beginning ward (use seconde if you don't like tierce or hanging).


Ward: Middle Guard or Reverse
Attack: Thrust to upper openings
Counter: Go with left arm to his dagger arm and thrust to his upper openings.

Ward: Middle Guard or Hanging
Attack: Thrust to upper openings or torso
Counter: When you perceive his weapon arm moving towards you, thrust the dagger forward and hack down on his weapon arm. Do this with a lunge and recover back into hanging.

Ward: Middle Iron Door Doubled with Dagger
Attack: Thrust to upper openings
Counter: Take it on your dagger and wind with the pommel above his right arm, so that his point is pushed into his upper openings.

Ward: Middle Guard or Reverse
Attack: Thrust to upper openings
Middle Counter: Volta to his weak side and thrust with the nails up (punta reversa) to upper openings.
Reverse Counter: Volta to his weak side and change from Oberhut to Unterhut so that you thrust to his groin.

Ward: Middle Guard or Reverse
Attack: Thrust to upper openings
Counter: If he is using the reverse grip, hit his right hand with your left so that he thrusts into his own groin. If he is using a Sabre (or any non-reverse) grip, volta on your left leg while hitting his right hand past your torso. In both cases, follow it up with a thrust of your own however you find best.

Ward: Middle Iron Door Doubled with Dagger
Attack: Thrust from below
Counter: Hit the dagger from above with your dagger. Take his right hand with your left and then stab him however you find best.
Optional Counter: Hit the dagger from above with your dagger. Take his right hand with your left and then perform either a flying mare or break the arm on your shoulder.

Ward: Middle Guard or Reverse
Attack: Thrust to upper openings
Counter: Break his thrust with your left hand. Drop down and stab him in a lower opening.

Ward: Middle Guard or Reverse
Attack: He cuts an angle one cut
Middle Counter: Deflect it with your flat in quarte. Quickly pass the left foot forward and hit the right hand with your left and then wind the pommel so that you cut an angle two cut to his face.
Optional Middle Counter: Deflect it with your flat in quarte. Quickly pass the left foot forward and hit the right hand with your left, so that you pull his arm down. Cut him in his head.
Reverse Counter: Deflect it with your dagger (e.g. Meyer’s “Transverse Dagger”). Quickly pass the left foot forward and hit the right hand with your left, and then stab him from above on his strong side.

Ward: Middle Guard or Reverse
Attack: He cuts an angle one cut or thrusts at you.
Middle Counter: Break the attack by deflecting (e.g. high prime, high quarte, or Fiddle as needed). Run at him with your left arm high and catch his right arm under your left.  Hit him however you see fit.
Reverse Counter: Deflect it with your dagger (ala Meyer’s “Transverse Dagger”). Run at him with your left arm high and catch his right arm under your left, and then stab a riverso to his strong side.

Ward: Middle Guard
Attack: He cuts or thrusts at you from above.
Counter: When you perceive his weapon arm moving towards you, cut an unterhau so that you chop his arm off. Clearly you would use the appropriate angle (three, four, or seven) depending on his opening.

Ward: Middle Iron Door Doubled with Dagger
Attack: He cuts or thrusts at you from above
Counter: Take it on your blade and thrust to his upper openings.
Optional Counter: Stop thrust to his hand at his weapon hand comes within distance.

Ward: Middle Guard or Hanging
Attack: He rushes in to thrust at you at an upper opening
Counter: Slip the lead leg back and thrust to his immediately closest opening (e.g. the slipping stop thrust or the “floretazo” or the “matador thrust”).
Optional Counter: Thrust the back leg to the rear and grab the deck with your left hand, and thrust at his torso (e.g. the passato sotto).

Ward: Middle Guard or Hanging
Attack: He rushes in to thrust at you at a lower opening
Counter: Slip the lead leg back and cut him in the head.

Ward: Fiore’s Boar’s Tooth or Meyer’s Unterhau
Attack: He rushes in to thrust at you from above
Counter: Deflect it down to your right side with a Transverse Dagger. Secure the arm with your left arm while passing forward with your left leg, and strike him at whatever opening you find.

Ward: Middle Guard or Hanging
Attack: He strongly cuts an oberhau at you.
Counter: Transversely step and counter-cut to his hand. Use the appropriate angle of attack, as with counter-cutting using the longsword.



Monday, June 18, 2012

Introduction to London Prize Ring Boxing

It’s been a while since I posted on this blog, on account of my being in a Third World country and all of that jazz. I’ve been slowly but surely getting back on the horse of training, though I’ve primarily focused on my unarmed skills; London Prize Ring era boxing specifically. This afternoon I was looking for a solid introduction on the topic of London Prize Ring (LPR) era boxing, so that I may pass it along to a friend, but I wasn’t able to find anything that laid things out to my satisfaction. With that in mind, I decided to write something of my own. This is by no means a fully comprehensive or final syllabus on LPR boxing but I think it can help clear things up at least a bit.  


                The footwork of LPR boxing is generally the same as in modern boxing, thus I shall only mention the more uncommon movements. One such movement is “shift-punching”, which is a series of passing steps in conjunction with blows. For example one could throw a straight left while stepping forward with the lead leg and then make a passing step with the rear leg while throwing a right cross, and this could be followed up with a passing step with the left leg in tandem with a left uppercut. This is not unlike the so-called boxing burst seen in modern MMA. Slipping, common in modern boxing, was present in LPR boxing as well but was sometimes done with a passing step. As you can perhaps already gather, the passing step was used to a greater degree than in modern boxing. Likewise, another forgotten movement is the ability to spin or about-face. This rotating motion is required if you want to throw a spinning back-fist (which I’ll bring up again) or if you grab your opponents head and wheel around to his side (so that you then face in the same direction as him) allowing you to better punch his face at your leisure.
                Potentially the most uncommon movement in LPR boxing is that of the lunging or dropping step. This is something you’ll be hard pressed to see performed in the average boxing gym, as it is no longer very required in today’s boxing ring. The lunging step allows a boxer to rapidly shift his body-weight into a strong left straight, while taking him into and then back out of striking range. We must remember that bare-knuckle boxing was generally all out-fighting, with boxers keeping each other away with extended guards and a larger approaching distance. If the two boxers were to get within in-fighting distance, as in with their bodies close enough to touch, then they would generally commence to grapple instead of stand in front of each other trading bent-arm blows. In a boxing match that prohibits grappling, there is less need for a boxer to quickly lunge in and out of striking distance, hence the disappearance of the lunging step and the so-called “power jab” with it.


                Hence follows a short listing of the strikes one would likely see in a LPR boxing match. Bear in mind this is simply a list of possible blows; it is neither a how-to guide nor is it a final list of all possible punches.
                Punches can be categorized, for the sake of ease, into three types: straight blows, bent-arm blows, and unconventional blows. Straight blows tend to be straight-travelling, vertical-fisted blows to the face or to the “mark” (solar plexus). The straight right can be delivered palm upwards with a slight upward angle, which according to Edwin Shaw (a boxing instructor of Harvard), is quite the knock out blow.
                Bent-arm blows tend to be tighter than a “haymaker” (a wide swing) and they usually hit upon the neck, the temple, the ribs, the kidneys, or the chin. These blows, as the name suggests, are done with a bent arm and generally either travel vertically (like an uppercut) or horizontally (like a right-cross counter),so really you can hit any target applicable to those planes of travel as long as you preserve your hands in the process.
                The unconventional blows include the following: the pivot blow, the corkscrew, the chop, and the chopper. The pivot blow is essentially a spinning back-fist with the palm facing downwards and it is the blow that defeated Dempsey. The corkscrew is a blow that, at the last moment, is flicked or turned downwards. The chop blow is a hammer fist; a handy alternative to a back-fist if one so desires such an alternative. Lastly there is the chopper, a blow made famous by Mendoza.  One generally executes this by placing the hand upon the nape of the neck or by putting it near its opposing shoulder, and then firing the back-fist upon the face of the opponent in a piston-like manner. The placement of the fist depends upon the guard used to “arm” it, which I’ll bring up soon enough.


                A few of the parries for the aforementioned blows follows here. One may blow all straight and bent arm blows to the face by deflection with the forearm. This is not a static blow but a dynamic deflection that forces the offending blow away from its intended target. This is best done with an open knife-hand, so that one can have more grappling options if he so chooses that course of action and to reduce undue fatigue by making a prolonged fist. This method preserves your muscles, as it is not a dead block, and allows you to more easily capitalize on your opponent’s blow as you have now opened up that side of him for trapping or striking.
                 One can also block straight and bent-arm blows to the face with the upper-arm, by pointing the elbow up with the hand touching the nape of the neck. Likewise, one can do a so-called “vampire guard” by blocking straight blows to the face with the elbow in front of the face and the hand towards the opposing shoulder. These bent-elbow blocks are not only painful to the knuckles of the puncher, but also allow the person blocker to give a counter-blow with the chopper or even a palm-down chop.
                Blows to the body with a straight arm or a bent-arm can be blocked with the forearm deflection, but one can also block these by simply placing a braced forearm in front of the intended target. While these more static blocks are inferior to the more active deflection, they are useful in a pinch and are often faster when the opponent is “rallying” (throwing blows consecutively with each side) while closing upon you. The unconventional blows can be defended against by either deflecting with the forearm or by simply getting out of reach. One notable method of blocking the chopper is to take the blow on the thickest part of your skull, thus wrecking the bare-knuckled fist of the would-be chopper.

Milling and Grappling

                No introduction to the boxing of the LPR era could be complete without a brief mentioning of fistic milling and stand-up grappling. As such I will now discuss them here, beginning with the former. Milling is the action of moving the fists to and fro, while on guard. Indeed this is the quintessential movement in the popular mind when it thinks of bare-knuckle boxing! This fistic motion is performed for two main reasons. Firstly it prevents undue fatigue in the arms, which can present itself when one merely keeps the arms static. Secondly the circular motion of the arms throws off your opponent’s ability to gage when you intend to throw a blow at him; it prevents telegraphing your punches. While the value of milling is debatable in modern boxing, I don’t think it to be a wasted movement. If it were, I suspect the boxers in the days of yore wouldn’t have taught it in the first place.

                When a person hears the words “grappling” and “boxing” in the same sentence, it certainly produces great hubbub. But as we can see below, the rules of the London Prize Ring (as copied from Scientific Boxing Together with Hints on Training and the Official Rules by James Corbett) make no mention of prohibiting wrestling:

                14. – That butting with the head shall be deemed foul, and the party resorting to this practice shall be deemed to have lost the battle.
                15. – That a blow stuck when a man is thrown or down shall be deemed foul. That a man with one knee and one hand on the ground, or with both knees on the ground, shall be considered foul, providing always that, when in such a position, the man so down shall not himself strike or attempt to strike.
                16. – That a blow struck below the waistband shall be deemed foul, and that, in a close, seizing an antagonist below the waist, by the thigh or otherwise shall be deemed foul.
                17. – That all attempts to inflict injury by gouging, or tearing the flesh with the fingers or nails, and biting, shall be deemed foul.
                18. – That kicking, or deliberately falling on an antagonist with the knees or otherwise when down shall be deemed foul.

                 In fact, quite a bit of leeway is given to the boxer of this era. While I won’t list all the wrestling techniques here, I will list a few of the common ones. I recommend that if the reader wants a thorough examination of these wrestling techniques, one should purchase Banned from Boxing by Kirk Lawson, which does all that and more. One often reads about tripping, hip-throws, shoulder-throws, and back-heel throws. Just as common was “one handed hitting”, where a person’s head or arm is pinioned or otherwise locked to allow for more convenient blows. Even the guillotine-choke, a form of “chancery”, was utilized. These throws, locks, and chokes were all useful since they allowed the boxer to slowly wear down the opponent in a boxing match without time-dictated rounds. Indeed, the rounds of a LPR battle were dictated by falls, so that a round could only end when a boxer hit the canvas. 

               As I’ve stated previously, this is by no means a final word on everything practiced by the old time boxers of yore. Indeed this writing barely covers the basics. I hope, however, that it is of some use to people trying to get a rough idea of what boxing was like when it was considered the Science of Self Defense.     

Friday, November 25, 2011

Physical Culture Club – November 2011

Physical Culture Club – November 2011

Presently, I have only taken a single young person for my so-called Physical Culture Club. His name is Freddy and he is about 15 years old. Currently we are working on only two subjects: Boxing and Stick Fighting. For boxing I am using two books: Shaw’s “Teacher of Sparring” and Hutchison‘s “Boxing”. I have other pugilistic material but I’m only going to break those two out for now, and go into the older material once we do the basic (and more modern) material. For stick fighting I’m using Lang’s “Walking Stick Method of Self-Defense”. While my own stick fighting method is a hodge-podge of longsword, single-stick, and historical La Canne in general (Vigny\Bartitsu), I feel like Lang’s method is systematic and easily grasped (and very effective). Additionally I worked with Lang’s method for some time before leaving the United States, so I am familiar with the material and some of the challenges it presents.

After some more practice I’m going to introduce wrestling days using a mixture of the following: Auerswald’s Ringen, Percy Longhurst’s “Jiu-Jitsu and other Methods of Self Defense”, “Complete Science of Wrestling” by George Hackenschmidt, and material from the Bartitsu Compendium. Although I have completed a couple of five foot staves for Hutton’s “Great Stick”, I think it will be better to wait off for a bit until I feel that Freddy is skilled enough with the walking stick before moving onto that beast-of-a-stick.

So that’s the material I’m working with for now. Here are some notations regarding the training itself. There have certainly been some unusual challenges and the usual ones as well.

The unusual challenges are as follows. First it seems that close-handed striking is not apart of the Zambian culture. I say this because even untrained Americans often know how to throw a punch with a closed-hand, even if that punch is a sloppy haymaker. Zambians, from what I observe, simply don’t have a tradition of pugilism. This probably exists due to the nature of Zambian history, especially when compared with Anglo-American history. Anyway, a large part of training right now is teaching Freddy to throw a proper punch, focusing on technique and speed rather than anything else. He seems to be improving rapidly, throwing straighter blows rather than pawing or slapping with a closed-hand (as he did previously). Another challenge is time\consistency in rural Zambia. Unfortunately “ hrs” doesn’t mean “ hrs” in the American sense, so practicing consistently is an issue. Even when we do meet at an agreed-upon time and day, freak rainstorms are frequent and have prematurely ended our training sessions. The issue of body-size is quite an annoyance also. I am usually a foot taller and at least 30 pounds heavier than most of the people in my village. This makes drilling difficult because of my greater reach and height (teaching the right cross-counter is especially hard in this case).

The usual challenges arise in the following ways. Footwork is an issue, since Zambians don’t always have the greatest coordination outside of playing football (American Soccer). This makes it hard for Freddy to accurately punch and step at the same time. He also has a sort-of “Arms Akimbo” guard, despite my efforts to have him adopt the London Prize Ring era guard or even the tighter, modern boxing guard. These two issues, in addition to the common “Keep those arms up!” problem, are the most frequent. But of course these are quite common when someone just learns how to scrap.

I’ve since devised one method of training, since sparring-proper is out of the question this early on. After we finish an hour of focus-mitt work (with my hands being the mitts) we do a mock-assault. We put on 10 oz. gloves and do three rounds at three minutes each. I let him strike at me to his hearts content but I do not hit him back much at all. When I do hit him, I only hit him fast without much force behind the blow and only in instances where I think he is getting sloppy or dropping his guard too much. It would be quite unfair for me to hit him hard or anything, since he is still very new. But a couple soft punches never hurt, especially when those hits teach him the importance of blocking properly. The goal of this method of training, of course, is to build his muscles and technique in a more Alive manner than punching drills. His endurance is building quickly and I’m proud of the great effort he has been making.

Now regarding the walking stick training. Freddy is progressing much faster with the stick than with his fists. Language barrier aside, he doesn’t have much trouble with the guards or strikes. At least, that is, he only has the same issues that everyone first does when learning Lang’s method. The front guard, being so high, takes a lot of practice before the muscles adapt to it. The strikes similarly require great practice until the wrist stops complaining. Regardless of these things, however, I have little doubt he will be well versed with the walking stick method soon enough.

So that is where I am at with Freddy at the Club. In a larger scope, I am working on different angles with the potential of Physical Culture in the district as a whole. I’m in talks with the headmaster at the school I teach at and he is interested in making a boxing club at the school, for both sexes and for the older pupils and teachers alike. Someone there has also expressed the desire for some type of female self-defense class for the local woman’s club that I also teach at. If this works out I think I will use the section on this type of self-defense from Percy Longhurst’s material. Wife-beating is a serious issue in Zambia and the women are much hardier than the men, so a well-trained woman would utterly crush the average Zambian male. This latter observation stems from the fact that women are the backbone of Zambian society and are generally much more muscular (and taller) than the men. This is where I stand currently. Considering the fact that I live in mud-hut in the Zambian rainforest, I am happy with the progress of this month’s work.

Observation on African hardwoods 

I’ve been refining my wood-working skills and I must say I’m awfully impressed by the hardwoods here in Zambia. I’ve made two walking sticks and both are holding up beautifully so far. One is 7/8in diameter with a tapering curve at the end, giving it something like a sabre-edge. The other stick is 1in diameter ball-headed stick. Both are about 42in in length. I’ve been using saplings and tree stumps as pells, and these sticks just carve into them like knives and even cut the saplings apart like paper. These sticks must be as hard as any oak or ash sticks from the States. If only I knew how to identify the tress themselves!

Observation on the stick and raincoat combination

I’ve been ironing out my coat and stick-play quite a bit, and I’m convinced it is a potent combination. Barton-Wright discusses how to use a coat offensively, so I won’t need to repeat his instructions here. These are my personal impressions on the matter. The walking stick should be held parallel and next to the right leg while initially confronted by your foe. This is to prevent the coat from being caught on the coat and it makes the stick appear “out of play”, so to speak. The coat is, of course, worn as a cloak and unfastened prior to being tossed upon your foe. You greet him with your left hand, either as to clam him down with apparent submissiveness or even a friendly wave. You could even reach to your right hip pocket while stating that you shall give him your money, as if you were reaching for your wallet. The left arm being out of the coat allows it to leave your body with greater speed than if the left shoulder was still in the coat. Once you are in range, you then grab near the right sleeve or collar and entangle him with it. The rest of this play is discussed by Barton-Wright, once more. But let’s say you miss him! Maybe he backs up and out of range! No matter. Take a step back as the coat misses and pull your stick up into Front Guard with your right leg forward. Your left arm is simultaneously spiraling about three times in either direction. This makes the coat become drawn around the arm with some of the material hanging down. You are now prepared to fight in the same manner as cloak and rapier, just as detailed by Hutton in his work “Old Sword Play” and those various Renaissance Fight-Books. This is quite simple and elegant to perform, and comes quick with practice. This seems so simple that I’m not sure why I didn’t happen upon this combination and trick before!

Observation on a Zambian "street-fight" at Shop-Rite in Solwezi

I recall seeing a really unusual street-fight (if you can even call it that) in Solwezi about a month and a half ago. It was as curious as it was humorous. It seems that two men had a disagreement over something and things got violent quickly, but in a way that I never saw before. They basically got into a really big slap-fight, by American standards. What made it so odd and funny was that these two men were large by Zambian standards, at least six feet tall. But instead of throwing punches they were pawing and slapping at each other for a solid 20-30 seconds straight. After that amount of time a seemingly random bystander kicked one of them from behind and this confused them so much that they both ran off in differing directions. Overall it left a really bizarre impression on me and only reinforced the notion that most Zambians are not prone to throwing close-handed blows at all.
Keep on fighting!

“Go near, strike with a long spear or a sword at close range, and kill a man. Set foot against foot, press shield against shield, fling crest against crest, helmet against helmet, and chest against chest.” Tyrtaeus

PS: Photos from my village, including those taken of boxing practice, can be found here!