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!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Essential Fechtbücher for the LongSwordsMan

Like many of my writings, the genius that possessed me to write this entry happened begin enough. I think I was fumbling with and cursing at my new coffee pot for lacking a permanent filter. And then, like all daemonic moments, I was hit with the lightning bolt of inspiration and decided to write. I thought to myself, what resources could I utilize to discuss the fundamentals of using the longsword for the Arte of Defence? If I could choose just a few Fechtbücher to help someone learn the Noble longsword without breaking the bank, which ones would I choose and why?

Well now I can wonder no more and go back to the important task of yelling at coffee makers. If I were to help someone learn the Noble longsword, it would be these three Fechtbücher: the Codex Wallerstein, the Kinghtly Arts of Combat by Sigmund Ringeck, and the Flos Duellatorum by Fiore dei Liberi. I am choosing these three Fechtbücher both because they satisfy general requirements and very specific ones pertaining to their contents.

The general requirements of a great Fechtbüch for the longsword, as far as I am concerned, are the following:
  1. Does it cover fighting without harness (Bloßfechten)?
  2. Does it cover fighting with armor (Kampffecthen)?
  3. Does it cover grappling (Kamfringen)?
  4. Does it cover fighting with the dagger?
  5. Is it fairly easy to acquire these manuals?

These four requirements are vital for someone wanting to know the longsword. Though fighting without armor is probably going to be the primary method of fighting for the fencer, you never know when it could be useful to understanding fighting with armor. And, of course, when it comes to close-quarters fighting it is very useful to know how to throw a man and stab him to death (regardless of time period). Additionally, the ease of acquisition is something overlooked by many. I personally see no point in telling people nowadays to learn something by reading a manual in a language they don't understand and that is nearly impossible to get a copy of. I will post links to places you can get these manuals shortly. Presently I will go into the specific features of each manual that make them stand out to me from other Fechtbücher.

The Codex Wallerstein
  • Aside from satisfying the above requirements, the Codex Wallerstein has a lot to offer the longsword fencer. It shows how to wind well, half-sword, strike safely from the bind, tricky ways of hitting people and taking their weapon, and how to wrestle with the sword. The main thing that stands out in my mind, however, is the vast amount of grappling material this manual contains. The Codex Wallerstein possesses over 95 plates involving grappling, with or without weapons. Fencing with the longsword requires a strong understanding of wrestling, due to the proximity of the fighting and the size of the weapons involved. If you cross swords with another fencer, be prepared to close the distance and engage in grappling to put him down on the ground with certainty.

  • Bonus: besides offering a lot of great throws the Codex Wallerstein also discusses the fundamental principles of grappling (reach, speed, etc.) as well as when to apply a Mortstöss (Murder Strike), how to defend yourself against someone who offends you with his fists or his dirty mouth, and how to rob a peasant. All good things to know, I suppose.

  • Downside: while this may be a very good manual all-around, it does have one big flaw for new fencers: it doesn't discuss wards or specific strikes. This manual assumes you know how to throw strikes and from what wards to throw them, though this doesn't strike me as being the fault of the composer. If you are new to the longsword, this probably shouldn't be your only manual on the Arte.

The Knightly Arts of Combat

  • Did you buy a copy of the Codex Wallerstein and suddenly discover that it doesn't discuss the raw basics of striking with a longsword? Well fear not my knightly fighter, for there is the Knightly Arts of Combat! This is possibly the best manual for learning the longsword in the German tradition. It covers the main strikes, footwork, advice for fighting in a manly fashion, the wards in which you throw your strikes, what strikes defeat what wards, and other vital areas of combative greatness. These no-nonsense strikes hit hard, fast, and without mercy. When practiced faithfully, the teachings in this manual will allow you to trample, bludgeon, and hew apart everyone you cross weapons with.  

  • Bonus: our Knightly Meister has some fantastic advice on wrestling that is very important for the longsword fencer. He discusses what the Mortstössen are and how to use them when wrestling, how to wrestle people without giving them chances to protect themselves, and even a section on how to stop someone from pinning you on the ground. These are not only good for the fencer but they are useful in modern times as well, so they are doubly of value to me.

  • Downside: unfortunately this manual has been printed in two separate pieces, meaning you need two books for something that really only needs to be one book. The money is worth it but this is a big annoyance for someone on a budget.

Flos Duellatorum
  • This one has it all! Strikes, wards, techniques, amusing commentary; what else could you need? This Italian manual is an all-around excellent resource for the longsword fencer. It boasts an impressive list of varied techniques for nearly all forms of combat presented in a streamlined, straight-forward manner. Fiore does a great job of telling you what to do and how to defend yourself from harm, and all of the techniques fit in nicely with the German tradition so you don't need to worry about any wild divergences. I don't think you will find another manual with the same number of sword-grapples and disarms, and they will certainly come in handy against people unfamiliar with this work.

  • Bonus: apparently the person drawing this manuscript is a genius, since he devised something that I haven't seen in any other manuscript. On each of the plates the artist has put a golden crown or band around the person executing the technique, which dispels a lot of the confusion that arises from attempting to read these Fechtbücher without said illustration method.

  • Downside: hard copies of this work are more difficult to acquire than the other two works I have discussed previously. Due to copyright issues you basically have to buy a translation of the text and then print out the manuscript's images from online sources, or use some other online transcription of the work...or you could drop a large deal of money and get the Getty's finely printed copy of the manuscript, which is vastly problematic and unnecessary. 

With these manuals and a group of fellows, you will be on the path of kicking ass medieval style (literally) in no time at all. Fight earnestly, fight with power, and remember that pain is an excellent teacher.

Robbing a peasant - gotta get that monies

Resources for these Fechtbücher:

Monday, June 27, 2011

Tips for Unterhalten

Ground Fighting - Medieval Style
I love Unterhalten! If you are going to practice some form of grappling on the ground, it might as well be this. Unterhalten can be transcribed as "Hold Under" or as we would translate it in modern English, it refers to the methods of pinning someone down for whatever reason you choose in combat. If in friendly combat, then you pin to score points or to show your friends how much they suck. If in serious combat, then you pin them so you can stab them to death or hold them for eventual ransoming. I'll really only be the discussing the latter usages (murder primarily).

Unterhalten is very similar to wrestling on your feet, in that the more points of control you have the better your pin will be. A problem I use to have with Unterhalten was that my natural inclination was to simply jump on top of the person's stomach and try to stab my opponent that way, which seems like a good idea until you get into a strength-match with the person under you. Now I'm not saying this pin is bad (the so-called high mount or also the low mount) but it is certainly not the most effective. So I began to look into the manuals for more Unterhalten pins and eventually I worked out some interesting recurrences.

  • The pinning person is just as often standing or crouching as he is entirely sitting or laying on top of the other person.
  • Strangles\chokes do not appear at all to the best of my knowledge.
  • The legs and knees are used for pinning just as much as the hands.
  • Arm-locks and full nelsons (with variations) appear frequently.
  • Side-control appears only when the pinning person already has the dagger drawn and\or when the pinning person is crouching.
  • North-South position occurs but only with daggers and only when crouching.

These recurring themes struck as me as very interesting for a couple different reasons. First they illustrate a method of ground-fighting very different from what we see in Jiu-Jitsu or other Asian ground-fighting methods.  Second they are very reminiscent of the ways you see police officers cuff or pepper-spray people on the ground. Lastly they all seem to be very efficient, no-nonsense ways of making sure someone doesn't move while you attempt to draw your side-arm and finish them off on the deck. So I decided to work some of these   tricks into my training and I found some interesting results that I will share here.

  1. Knees are very effective for controlling people's arms and body. At first I was worried about their arms slipping out from under my knees, but with body weight on top of the offending limb people generally won't free the limb in time. For example, securing the left arm with your right knee works very well as you secure the other arm with your free hand. Placing the knee on the person's neck, testicles, or solar plexus work very well as well. If the person is face down then you put your knee on the person's lower back as you grab his hair or fencing mask with your free hand and stab with the other hand. The knee is especially good for securing someone because you upright yourself as you push them down, which is very useful for buying you distance and time in order to grab your weapon.

  2. The full nelson works really well on someone wearing headgear, which will most likely be the case if you are fencing with someone. You can do it the standard way, around the neck, but that is not the only way you can do it. If the person's mask falls off you can do the same full nelson grip on his nose and eyes or his chin, all of which can be pretty painful and can buy you a moment if you need to grab his knife from his belt. This is also a good way of buying yourself a second or two to grab your own knife with your right hand.

  3. There are risks to consider when jumping on top of the other person instead of simply crouching down. One risk is that you can try to stab the person and he can wrench the knife from your hand. Another risk is that he can shove your knife into the ground as you try to stab him, which can buy him a second or two to grab his own knife. A more prevalent risk in today's MA world is that you can be arm-barred if you aren't careful. You can avoid these risks by going down on one knee to pin him instead of jumping on him. You can more easily secure the person's free hand so he cannot defend himself. You can create distance to avoid arm-bars and disarms. You can defeat a person's speed or skill by simply putting your other hand over his nose and eyes, or by putting your knee upon his neck or chest.
  4. Choking a man is a good way to get him to tap out. Stabbing him to death with a dagger is a good way to make sure he never offends you again.

There you go, I hope this wets your appetite for fighting on the ground with daggers!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Quotes on Self-Defense from Percy Longhurst

Writing that last article wetted my appetite for blunt-object fighting and I decided to browse some of my various manuals for more stick fighting goodness. Sure enough, I found myself with my copy of Jiu-Jitsu and Other Methods of Self-Defence by Percy Longhurst. While this gem from 1906 is mainly concerned with Jiu-Jitsu, it does have good tips and tricks for people who don’t do JJ. Check this and other historical manuals out here here. While I did not find anything that was specifically related to the stick techniques used by Fiore, I did find some utterly fantastic quotes that I want to share.

A good knowledge of boxing, of wrestling, or of fencing is of inestimable use to a man in any chance encounter. It will invariably give him the advantage over a single opponent, even if the latter be much bigger and stronger than himself, and will even enable one successfully to contend against several; for, if one assailant be badly hurt, knocked senseless by a well-directed blow on the point of the jaw, or thrown hard on the pavement by a clever stroke, the moral effect on his companions is immense. This moral effect is a point which must not be overlooked : it is not always the actual damage inflicted which makes the greatest impression; it is the instilling into the minds of one’s opponents a disagreeable fear of what you may do to them which is to be reckoned on.

Not only this, but the consciousness of being able to take care of himself will give him an increased confidence and courage, a display of which will frequently carry a man unarmed through what might otherwise prove a serious matter. Courage invariably produces a demoralizing effect upon cowards, and many cases might be quoted wherein a defiant attitude and courageous demeanour have saved a man from great danger.

“The best defence is to attack,” and the man who hits first, hits hard, and keeps on hitting, will demoralise his assailants far more than he who simply defends himself, with no thought of retaliation. There are two ways of meeting an enemy, says Sir Francis Drake in “Westward Ho!” “One is to hit him first and say ‘You touch me and I’ll do that again’; the other is to wait until he hits you, and then say, ‘If you do that again I’ll hit you’”; and the man who is suddenly accosted in a threatening manner by one or more individuals will do well to bear this advice in mind.

And there you are. Even 100+ years ago, an Englishman knew that audacity was vital for any martial artist. If you don't have audacity, what the hell is your excuse?!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Off-Hand Stick

I came across an interesting website while Googling information about Zambia this morning:

Zulu Stick Fighting: A Socio-Historical Overview

One thing that really stood out to me was the idea of using a long stick in the off-hand to ward off blows. It kept reminding me of something that I couldn't place my finger on until just now...Fiore! Fiore has two techniques that involve a stick in the off-hand and he pairs the stick with the dagger instead of a club.

Using a long stick or spear to block a strike while attacking with the dagger. (

Warding with a club while attacking with a dagger, after having cast the other club. (

There are two items of interest worth noting:
  1. Compare the image of the Zulu fighters with the fighters in the first Fiore image. You'll observe that the Zulu blocking stick is used in conjunction with a small, buckler-like shield whereas the long stick from Fiore is done bare-handed. You'll also notice that the long stick is, in fact, lacking a spearhead. This could either be because it is just a stick or the artist got lazy about drawing the spearhead on it. Assuming the former is the true answer, this seems to imply that the long stick is an impromptu weapon rather than a weapon built specifically for warfare. This could be a walking stick or some random stick he was carrying around at the time, for example.

  2.  The other interesting item is in the second Fiore image, which is the usage of a dagger instead of using both sticks simultaneously. I find this very interesting because of the implied mindset of the person throwing the club. If you have two large clubs in your hands, why not just bum rush the person attacking you with the spear with the two clubs? Why use a dagger instead of the club already in your hand? I believe this implies a preference for an edged weapon rather than a blunt one. This makes sense because even though blows from a blunt weapon can do a lot of damage to a human body, it is the blade that most quickly ends another person's life. Why take a risk by being merciful to your attacker?

So all things considering, knowing how to defend yourself with blunt weapons (sticks\clubs) in your off-hand does seem useful. I can see using the long stick in the off-hand would be very useful for people who fight with staffs and for people who have big walking sticks when they go hiking. While just out-right stabbing someone to death with your other hand is probably not the best action legally, it can at least save your life. In fact I think I will try this method of blocking the next time I do sparring with my staff.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Protecting your hands

After being approached by a friend who wants to learn stick fighting, I sat down and started to think about the most common problems for a beginner. A couple pints and some Ladytron later, I began to remember how much I used to get hit in the fingers and how often others got hit in the hands as well. The problem of protecting your hands is an issue for all fencers and it can plague people regardless of weapon. Of course, some weapons protect your hands better than others but no amount of protection can substitute skill. If hand-hitting is a well known foe to you, try some of these tips for protecting your hands.

  1. Be aggressive. One of the most natural and prevalent problems in defense is the lack of aggression in its operators. For this post, let's go ahead and say that aggression is synonymous with violent intent. Violent intent is a vital, yet overlooked or even demonized by some martial artists. Why is violent intent important for your hands? There are two reasons. First if you are aggressive you will extend your arms while you strike. An extended strike is a safe strike. Extending your arms when striking is what puts the blade\stick of your enemy aside, it gives you reach, and it allows you to properly utilize your hilt. The second reason is simple: if you hit your enemy before he hits your hands, your hands will be safe. Don't wait for him to attack you! Remember, offense IS defense.
  2. Be smooth and graceful in the bind. This is something that can only be learned through sparring. It is easy for you to exaggerate your motions if you only do drills or solo work, and you won't even realize it until you get your fingers cut in sparring. If you exaggerate your winding in the bind, you won't properly use the hilt. Be smooth and have the grace to only do the minimum required to use your hilt while winding. Move simply and you won't get nicked while winding!
  3. Be rapid. Don't linger around in the approach distance and don't do unnecessary stalking. A fight with weapons shouldn't take very long; weapons are force multipliers for a reason. Size up the situation rapidly and gain the initiative! Don't muck about and give your foe additional time to make plans. This is especially important because lingering in the approach distance leads to chicken scratching from a "safe" distance, and as chicken scratching increases so does the likelihood of a random hand hit. Close the distance and take your foe down, don't dance!
  4. Be aware of your hands. This is going to be an unpopular opinion in this age of padding, but here it goes. Don't train with gloves and spar with the absolute minimum of hand protection. BUT OH NOES HOW ELSE CAN YOU FIGHT IF YOU DONT HAVE STEEL MITTENS ON?!?! This isn't field hockey and gloves don't replace skill. You will never learn to be aware of your hands if you always wrap them up in protective gear. Train without gloves and you will learn to protect them; what hurts teaches.
  5. Be aware of your weapon. Being aware of your weapon means that you utilize all parts of the weapon for offense and defense. Aside from using the hilt and the flat, you do have another part of the weapon to defend yourself with: the handle. Blocking with the handle is seen in fencing with the longsword and quarterstaff, and in stick fighting with krabi krabong sticks and Irish sticks (which you can see a bit of in the video below). 

If all else fails, train with the quarterstaff for a while. It will teach you to be aware of your hands, your grip, and blocking strong blows between your hands. Fighting with the quarterstaff will teach you how to keep your digits safe, even if only through perpetually aching hands.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

I can haz der Mordschlag?

After having an interesting conversation with a friend on das Gesichtsbuch, I thought it would be a useful endeavor to talk about der Mordschlag a little bit. The Mordschlag is basically my favorite technique for the longsword, if only because of how brutal it is in name and usage. Essentially the Mordschlag is a technique where a swordsman reverses his grip on the sword so that he is holding the blade instead of the handle and then strikes his opponent with the cross-guard, handle, and pommel in one blow. One translation of der Mordschlag is “Murderous Beating”, which is a very appropriate name. However I decided that I want to do this post in a sort of Q&A style, since the conversation that manifested this post was on Facebook.

Q: Why would you hold the sharp end of a sword? Won’t it hurt your hands?

A: The Mordschlag is a way of defeating someone wearing plate armor in Medieval Europe, though it is even more effective against someone who is unarmored. During this time period it was quite common to half your sword like this, both for offense and defense, and while wearing no armor or while in harness. This is simply another way to half your weapon and use it effectively.

Half-swording, in all of its varieties, is common in Medieval swordsmanship. Since every part of the weapon was to be used in combat, there were no rules prohibiting you from hitting your opponent in this manner. Half-swording was done with the longsword, messer (langes oder krieg), daggers, and obviously all poll-weapons (though not with voting machines). As long as you don’t let the weapon slip or slide you can grab your own weapon or the weapon of your foe, and no harm would come to your hands. 

Q: If your opponent was wearing a helmet why wouldn’t you just hit him with the flat of your sword?

A: You could hit someone in the head with it but it really only works on unarmored people. A flat-side strike would be almost entirely ineffective against plate armor. Maybe you could perform a flat-side strike (called a “Bounce Strike”), but only to set him up for some half-swording or wrestling. Even then, I’d probably say it is safer to just move in for the wrestling and forget about the Bounce Strike all together in armored combat.

Q: I notice the point of the sword is towards your stomach when you do this. Couldn’t your opponent easily reverse your weapon or otherwise stab you with your own sword?

A: You could try to reverse it but realistically it probably won’t go well for you. When the Mordschlag is properly performed it can be used a single-time parry against strikes and thrusts, and it will smash whatever bones are in its way (like your hands). It is also pretty difficult to drop your sword and try to reverse his sword, considering you have it careening towards your hands\arms\head\whatever and he can very easily reverse it himself, which drives the point of the sword into your chest instead of his. Not to mention the fact that someone can easily pommel thrust or hook the hilt around your neck when you try to close the distance after dropping your weapon.

If you were to attempt to wrestle your Mordschlagging foe, there is an easier way than attempting to reverse his weapon. Simply drop your weapon and run at him, side step at the last moment as it goes by you, and then do a single leg (or double leg) takedown. You can thank Talhoffer for that one.

Q: Won’t this just piss off a guy in armor anyway? Shouldn’t you just run away or just kill him?

A: When done correctly the Mordschlag should, as per the name, produce murderous results. If the first strike doesn’t kill him, it should at least knock him over or stun him for a few seconds. Then you simply keep smashing his head in until he does die. This is a pretty straight-forward method of dispatching someone. It isn’t called the Murderous Beating for nothing.

Now you could run away, but cowardice in combat tends to be heavily frowned upon in the military (to put it lightly). You could try to wear him out, but that takes a while considering the athleticism of the person inside of it (and plate armor is actually less bulky than most suspect). It becomes especially hard to run away from someone if you are stuck in the middle of a battle formation or within a fenced off dueling area. Better to know how to stand your ground and defend yourself like a man anyway. 

That does it with the Q&A. I would end it here but then I got to thinking…why don’t you see Asian swordsmen smashing each other with some equivalent of the Mordschlag? A couple cans of Rockstar later, this is my theory on the matter: the katana simply isn’t designed with the same versatility as the longsword. The design of the katana makes it illogical to use it in the same fashion as a longsword. Think about it kind of like this:

  • Do we see half-swording with the longsword? Yes. Why? Every part of the weapon is useful for causing serious injury to your opponent.
  • Do we see half-swording with the Messer? Yes. Why? Even though the Messer is not quite as robust as the longsword, it has enough of a pronounced hilt and pommel to cause serious injury to someone’s face.
  • Do we see half-swording with poll-weapons and regular staves? Yes. Every part of a stave can be used to inflict serious injury, not because of protuberances but simply due to mass.
  • Do we see half-swording with daggers? Yes…but only to block attacks, regain point control during grappling, and as an aide in takedowns and disarms. I have yet to see half-swording done with a dagger for the purpose of hitting someone with the handle.

So where does this leave the katana? We can use a process of elimination in this regard:

  • Does it have strong protuberances? Not really. It has a very modest hilt and a negligible pommel.
  • Does it have great mass? No. It is nowhere close to the mass of a stave or a poll-weapon.
  • Could you half-sword it for defensive and leverage advantages? Sure, why not.

There you go. There really is no logical, rational reason for wanting to half a katana with the aim of Mordschlagging someone. I think we can only deduce the fact that you could half-sword a katana like you would half-sword a dagger, but that is a very different thing from the Mordschlag.

For your protein fix

Just as a quick follow-up to my weight-lifting posting, this is probably one of my favorite ways of preparing a protein shake:

I’ve been mixing protein and coffee for a while now after I saw that video, and I have nothing but love for the pre-work out coffee shake. It's also pretty good for times when you skip breakfast and you're on the go. But chances are that if you are like me you might also want something a bit more…potent for your post-work out shake. If you don’t want to come down from your adrenaline high but you know you need some form of protein, then try this out.

Make at least half a pot of dark coffee. Mix it with a cup of milk (or vegan whatever), some ginseng, maca powder, and a couple scoops of protein powder (chocolate seems to work best). Pound it as fast as you can and enjoy your ensuing state of berserk energy.

Listen to this too while you’re at it.

If that doesn't get your blood pumping then you might be a corpse.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Three Lifts for Martial Training

I often find myself modifying and experimenting with new forms of physical exercise, not only for martial training but for physical well-being in general. So far I’ve been especially fond of joint exercises, parkour, Indian club exercises, and weight lifting. In this post I’ll just briefly discuss three of my favorite lifts for building explosive strength, which is always useful for martial applications.

The One Hand Military Press

This is a good exercise for testing and building strength in the upper portions of the arms, and refining your sense of balance by working a bit on your core. This should always be done standing to get the maximum benefits of the lift.

The One Hand Snatch

Another one handed goody. I really enjoy this one because you use your whole body to lift and keep the weight aloft. It’s great on its own or with a slightly reduced weight in a circuit.

Arthur Saxon doing the one hand snatch courtesy of


You should be doing some form of squats in your exercise routine. Body weight squats, kettlebell squats, barbell squats, etc. they are all vital for your legs. Strong arms without strong legs are useless, so be sure to get some squats in as much as possible. To mix things up, consider doing a good amount of body weight squats and then hit a leg press machine immediately afterwards.

Now these are obviously not all of the lifts I do but I tend to think very highly of them and they are pretty easy for new lifters to learn. But why are they good? Simply put, they build functional strength. Are these lifts going to make you look really cut at the beach? Probably not. Are they going to give you strength you can use on a day to day basis? Hell yes. These lifts all contain the same motions you go through for lifting boxes or people, they strengthen your forearms and even wrist tendons, and as I’ve said before they will give you the skill to move explosively. All of these qualities are very important for weapon fighters, wrestlers, and strikers alike.

Want more proof? Check out this video of some folks doing some of these old-school lifts and try to tell me they lack functional strength.

As for some of the naysayers out there who would argue that strength isn’t required or important for martial arts: why are you even reading this? Shouldn’t you be doing Tai Chi or some other “internal” martial art that makes you shoot magical balls of energy at people? To those people I would remind them that strength is a skill, not merely an innate gift or something only huge people possess. I’ll let the anonymous author of the 16th century fechtbuch Codex Wallerstein speak for me on this matter:

“Although a weak fighter in a serious combat can be equal to a strong opponent, if he has previously learned agility, reach, fighting tricks, and killing tricks, in a friendly combat strength has always the advantage; in spite of this, the art of fighting is praised by knights and squires above all other things”.

Friday, June 3, 2011

My Experiences against a Kendo Fencer

About a week ago I got the opportunity to fence against a Kendo practitioner, though it was largely on casual terms and less than full contact. It was a very interesting experience and I recommend it to all fencers. I’ve only fenced against three practitioners of Asian swordsmanship; two about two years ago and this last weekend. I’ll briefly gloss over my sparring experiences here to the best of my memory as examples to other fencers who wonder how such bouts transpire.

Two years ago:

I. This fellow did Wing Chun primarily but also did some weapon fighting. I believe he did some Kendo but I didn’t ask much of his training in it, so perhaps his swordsmanship came from Wing Chun. I recall lots of cuts from above and middle cuts along a horizontal plane, but not much else…lots of chasing him around until I could grapple him. By the end of it all I took his sword from him and that was that.  

II. This fellow did Akido and Filipino martial arts. We did sparring with both swords and sticks, though both did not last long. He had good foot-work and awareness of what was around him, but I was unimpressed by his cuts. Most of the sparring consisted of me chasing him around the fighting area, until I pinned him against a tree and finished it there. The Filipino sticks are good against other sticks but they are poor choices against the sword. We only had four exchanges; I came out on top three of the four times. The time he came out on top was when he closed the distance faster than I could hit him and he pinioned my sword under his armpit. Goes to show you, even simple weapons can best a greater one if the user uses audacity.  

Last  week:

III. I am not sure what martial arts this individual did; I believe MMA and Kendo (I’m certain of this at least). This was a very interesting encounter. I was a bit saddened that we couldn’t use wooden or steel weapons, but padded bokens had to do. I noticed right off the bat that these semi-floppy bokens are too short and light to use with two hands, and I think that was an advantage later on. We went for quite a bit of time and I noted some curious trends.

A. The entirety of his strikes were limited to above the belt and lacked thrusts entirely. He seemed to use the roof ward (holding the sword above his head) a huge amount, which in my experience is a good way to telegraph all of your strikes to your opponent. More on telegraphing in a moment. His strikes were easy to deflect because he kept attacking from the same angles repeatedly without really mixing them at all. I sort of switched into stick fighting mode and blocked a great deal of his strikes using the St. George’s ward, and did plenty of fast ripostes to his arms and head from that ward.

B. As in my previous sparring experiences against Asian swordsmen, there was a large amount of chasing involved. I was very impressed by this guy’s cardio! Sometimes I feel like I’m not actually fighting people when I have to chase them down, but you can’t expect everyone to want to close the distance with you. I threw him twice using a horizontal hip throw, something he was not expecting, and pinned him against a wall by chasing him with a half-sword grip.

C. Something I was really surprised by was my opponent’s vocalizations as he struck. They weren’t frightening or off-putting, so much as unusual and ritualistic. Let me explain what I mean by ritualistic. Every time he would raise his sword to strike at me he would make something of a shout first and then execute the intended strike. He would also make a shout every time he wanted me to approach him. It took me a minute or so to figure out this ritual-pattern, but once I did I used it to my advantage. Every time he telegraphed his intention to hit me I moved forward before the strike to get into a better blocking position and then delivered a fast riposte to punish the telegraphing. I also managed to throw in a couple feints when he wanted me to approach, which was quite effective.

Mordschlag - The true way of ground-fighting

What would be some good tips for going against a Kendo fencer? Attack the lower angles whenever possible, since they often cannot defend well against them. Use unconventional attacks like the Mordschlag (hit them with the other side of the sword), since they won’t understand what you are doing. Consider half-swording as much as possible, both as an offense and a defense. Don’t be afraid to mix things up with your more tricky maneuvers, like Passata Sotto. Most importantly you should always seek to close the distance and wrestle them to the ground strongly.

Well there you. What are you waiting for? Get out and go get some!

 Alfred Hutton - The Original Victorian Badass

PS: for more information about half-swording, sword disarms, mordschlags, and more, see the website for the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Stick and The Sword - An Experiment in a Bind

Sometime ago I contemplated some of the real life scenarios where longsword fencing skills may prove to be useful, despite the fact that the majority of us no longer carry such weapons on our persons during the day-to-day bustle. My mind eventually took me to the humble walking stick, a companion for many fancy lads and lasses alike regardless of health status. Surely such a tool could be utilized like a sword with proper translation of techniques, right? I decided to test this theory out by buying a couple rattan sticks and using them with techniques from the Codex Wallerstein, and this what I eventually came to understand as a result. 

Unfortunately the stick and the sword are two very different animals, both in design features and basic geometry. Swords have distinctive blade cross-sections which vary from sword type to sword type, but they are never spherical. A spherical sword would be, essentially, an edgeless (and pointless) metal baton. Fighting sticks, on the other hand, almost always have a spherical cross-section or sometimes one that is a semi-oval shape. Design-wise swords generally have hilts (of greater or lesser prominence) or ricossa that afford protection to the hand. This is not the case for sticks, except perhaps for the sticks used by the English for their broadsword practice ("single-stick"). These geometrical and design differences play a large role in utilizing the walking stick as you would a sword, and I will now explain why.    

The stick cannot be used in the same way as you would use a longsword or messer (langes oder krieg) for a very straightforward reason: you will get your hand smashed without wounding your opponent. With so much of Medieval and Renassiance fencing utilizing single-time parries, the stick simply lacks the hand protection and geometry to be used in the same fashion. To illustrate this point I have chosen four plates from the Codex Wallerstein*, all of which work great with swords but are absolutely useless with sticks.

In this plate we see two swordsmen in the bind, probably from doing zornhaus at the same time. What we see is that one swordsman, I believe the individual on the right side, is using his reach (from being balanced and extending his arms) to threaten his opponent from the bind while protecting himself from the sword of his opponent. This is a single-time parry. 

In this plate we see the swordsman on the left offending his opponent from the bind by winding and thrusting into the neck. This should be done nearly single-time.

In this plate the swordsman on the right has attacked the lower opening of his opponent from the bind, after both had wound up at each other from the bind.  

In this plate there is some good messer work being done. The swordsman on the left has deflected a blow on his flat and hilt, and hit his foe on the arm with his pommel causing a cut to the neck. 

Why do these techniques not work with stick fighting? There are three factors that I have observed: displacement on the blade, the bind, and blade geometry.

When fencing with swords, a blow can be displaced using the weak or the strong of the blade. A blow to the weak can displace the blow but it will generally not stop the blow in its tracks. A blow to the strong can displace the blow and stop it from touching you. Therefore, as some Masters have said, the weak is for attacking and the strong is for defending. With this in mind, you will only get your hand smashed from displacing a stick blow in the same way you would a sword. If you stop the blow with the weak of the stick, the foe's stick will slide or bump off your stick and continue onto your person. If you stop the blow with the strong of the stick, you may stop the blow but you also might just end up stopping the blow with your hand (as you lack a hilt of any kind).

But let us assume you parry a blow using the strong of your stick and it stops the stick dead, and you find yourself in the bind. What can you do from here using your stick? There are some useful techniques to be used here (which I will go over in a moment) but a large amount of your sword techniques cannot be used. To make things more bothersome, your stick fighting foe will most likely be fighting in a dui tempo manner. That is to say, your foe will seek to hit you once and then rapidly leave the bind to "chamber" his stick for another attack. This means that unlike in the pictorial examples before, your opponent has no desire to stay in the bind with you for any amount of time. With a sword this would be dangerous for him but with a stick it is not, and this is due to blade geometry.

The geometry of a blade can allow you to cut and thrust from the bind (without having to re-chamber it in a striking ward) so when two swordsmen get into the bind they usually do not retreat or maneuver to re-chamber their weapons and strike a riposte (which is what stick fighters almost always do). Attacking with a cut or thrust from the bind with a stick, however, is almost entirely useless. These attacks will lack serious power from the bind and won't stop someone who is either retreating, side-stepping, or moving in to grapple. 

Though many single-time parries and attacks from the bind are useless with a stick, not all of them are. Here are four examples of techniques from the bind that are useful for a stick.

In this plate we see a double leg takedown being performed. The grappling swordsman has wound up at the opponent, as if to offend him, while using this feint to set up the takedown.

In this plate we see the swordsman on the left taking command of his opponent's arm and striking without fear at his opponent's upper opening. 

In this plate the swordsman on the right has displaced a blow from his opponent, enticing the foe to strike a second time with better luck, so that he may cut off his foe's hand at the wrist.   

One fighter performs a trick that seems to be a combination of an arm-bar and disarm. 

What makes these four techniques better than the previous four? Simply put, they are operating on different principles. Instead of operating on the principle of thrusting or cutting from the bind, these techniques are essentially using the bind as a set up for grappling. Even if your opponent does not want to remain in the bind with you, you can cox him to do so by maintaining constant pressure (swarming him) and forcing him to continually riposte at you until you grab a hold of him. You can also do this by using the environment to your advantage, in that by controlling his movement (backwards or wherever) you can push him into a wall or a large object and forcing him into the bind and into your hands. 

If you are to take anything from this posting it is the following. Due to inherent differences in geometry and construction, the stick is an inferior weapon to the longsword or basically any sword really. You cannot use a stick to learn how to fight with a sword because of these differences and anyone who claims otherwise has probably not done any full contact sparring with a blunt steel sword. They are simply different animals. But a stick can be used as a sword as long as you control the engagement by closing the distance, commanding your opponent's weapon, and initiating strong wrestling. Either that or you can take a hint from Fiore and just use your stick as the means to an end for stabbing your opponent with a dagger! 

*Please don't nab these images, I host them myself and I use these photographs for my own scholarly purposes. Thanks.