Tuesday, March 11, 2014


My mind spins from pole hammers to swords of every shape and size to maces and war hammers to spears to daggers and back to pole hammers.  The mind only pauses for a moment before the circle begins again.

Round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mine or His?

It's like an episode of "The Walking Dead" - I'm back!

For now.

Thing is I am in the middle of graduate school - getting my Master of Art in Teaching and it is swallowing all of my time.

But that doesn't mean I am ignoring HEMA and Armizare.  It just means that I am not being as active as I used to be.

Today, however, I decided to post about something that is a question that has been buzzing around in my brain for some time now.

Who decides whether or not I use armoured fighting techniques - me or my opponent?

Let me explain.  I see the armoured fighting techniques displayed in Fiore (halfswording, etc.) are clearly designed to beat your opponent's armour.  That's why you grasp the blade of the sword - so you can use the sword as a level, use the sword as a short spear, etc.  There are a number of videos, including a documentary a few years back featuring a famous, if controversial, man in full harness fighting an unarmoured opponent.  The problem was - he was halfswording and his opponent wasn't.  This is where I got confused.  In my mind, the man in full harness should have using the longsword like "normal" and the unarmoured guy should have been halfswording.

But that leads to the question again.  Armoured techniques are designed to defeat armour, so why would I use them if my opponent is not wearing armour?


Thursday, September 5, 2013

DVD Review: German Medieval Martial Arts, Volume 2: Sword, Buckler, & Messer

"German Medieval Martial Arts, Volume 2: Sword, Buckler, & Messer" is the second offering from Speaking Window Productions (Christopher Valli's production company), featuring Selohaar Fechtschule.

It covers the German tradition's techniques with the single-hand sword. This single-hand sword can either be a classic arming sword or the messer, a weapon that seemed particular to German (Holy Roman Empire) lands. It is very similar in appearance to the falchion. There are numerous theories regarding the messer, falchion, dussack, and sabre - none of which I want to get into at this point because in the terms of this DVD, it doesn't really matter. I'll explain later.

The DVD explains all the techniques in the context of a system - any technique you can do with the arming sword can be done with the messer. The buckler can be added in and is the icing on the cake. Just like their Poleax DVD, all techniques are presented in a very clear manner, including the partner drills and Litzinger's Six plays with sword and buckler. Interviews with Christian Tobler and Dr. Jeffery Forgeng round out what is, just like the axe DVD, an essential must for those practicing German medieval martial arts, those interested in sword & buckler, and even those just generally interested in Historical European Martial Arts. Two thumbs way up!

By the way Christopher - I loved the Easter Egg ;)

Friday, April 19, 2013

After Action Report: Bob Charrette's Armoured Combat Workshop

  "That's okay, I'm in armour." - Bob Charrette

  On April 16th, 2013 the Northwest Fencing Academy hosted the esteemed Bob Charrette for a one day workshop on fighting in armour. While the focus was on Armizare (I mean, he wrote a book on it after all) I believe that the lessons taught could be easily assimilated by a practitioner of the German systems (There was a KdF practitioner there, alone amongst 20 "Italians", poor guy haha). I was happy to be able to make it over to Eugene as I haven't had the opportunity to train as much as I'd like.

   The day began with the armouring process - there were at least 4 separate armouring areas with everyone helping squire for each other. We warmed up by Bob introducing us to his personal friend, Mr. Stick. Mr. Stick is a lovely gentleman, approximately 3.5 feet in length and about 1.5 inches in diameter (Bob - please feel free to correct me). As I was being reminded that "head student = head squire" I was still getting my own armour on during the initial warmup I don't know exactly what was going on, but it looked like a mini-relay involving running across the salle, spinning 2 or 3 times with Mr. Stick planted on the ground & your forehead on Mr. Stick, and then running back. Then we were split into size-matched pairs and we each took a grip on Mr. Stick, palms down & hands approximately shoulder's width apart. Then we worked on giving and experiencing pressure in different ways, each student taking turns to lead the other, without footwork and making sure to keep our Center of Gravity solid - we're in (or pretending to be in) armour after all; not too much bending at the waist. After this we did the same exercise, but utilizing footwork as well - which was not easy because we were packed in pretty tight.  Another key to this exercise is that it taught us to use both ends of our "weapon".

  In all honesty, some of the concrete timeline is, well, less than concrete in my head, so I will simply talk about each weapon and leave it to someone else to put all into proper timing.
  Abrazare/Dagger - A good part of the discussion on Abrazare & Dagger plays was on the effect armour has on the plays. For instance, armour gives you all sorts of lovely hand holds as well as allowing you to be less precise in plays like the 3rd Master of Daggers arm-bar because the arm harness itself helps you to lock out the elbow. As one of only 3 participants with full(ish) arm harness, I got to be on the receiving end of a lot of arm-bars. Also discussed was proper targeting with the dagger, the defense and plays of the 2nd Master of Dagger and the 6th Master of Dagger.
  Spear - After a brief discussion about what kind of spear we were dealing with, we ran through Posta Finestra with the spear, becoming accustomed to the unwinding motion & clearing your pedale past your body in response to a thrust.
  Sword - This was the primary weapon of instruction (begging Mr. Stick's pardon) for the seminar. We learned the guards of the sword in armour, their purposes & attacks, and began playing from Breve la Serpentina, Vera Croce, Serpentino lo Soprano, and Bastarda Croce (Short Snake, True Cross, High Snake & Bastard Cross). Drills were very simple - one basic attack from each guard, a basic defense from each, and a play, depending on pressure, from the defense. The basic attacks being thrusts, either with point or pommel. The defense was a crossing: From the Snakes (Short and High) it involved using the angle of your gauntlet/arm harness and point to catch their blade, from the Crosses (True and Bastard) the crossing happens more at the mid-blade. As with all fighting in armour, the completion of these plays focused on A) placing your point in an unarmoured location (elbow, palm, armpit, etc.) or B) unbalancing your opponent. After running paired drills, we split into four groups of 5 students and performed a King of the Hill type drill - each King was to stay in Bastard Cross, each attacker could take Short Snake, High Snake, or True Cross and attack accordingly. The emphasis was on controlled movements (didn't always wind up that way) and skill over power. If the King made it through their entire line, then they retired to the back of the line & the next person became the King.
  Axe -Ahhhh! After a short discussion about what the pollaxe is and how it was used (and why even our best simulators don't quite cut it) we learned the guards of the axe: Short Snake, Woman's Guard, Bastard Cross, Boar's Tooth, Window, and Long Tail. We started with the same drill we did with the sword (Short Snake vs Short Snake) just to see how the axe would play differently than the sword. We quickly saw that the head of the axe causes quite a bit more "confusion" at that crossing. We were then allowed to play around with the same play - experimenting with hooking, pulling & pushing actions with the axe head. Personally I could have spent the entire day playing with the axe (and by understanding the nature of Armizare, we actually did!) but that shouldn't surprise anyone! I took notes especially about how Bob presented the axe and his purposeful lack of instruction at the beginning to allow us to discover the axe's differences on our own.
  Slow Free Play -The final work of the day was slow, coached free play. Due to gear restrictions, unfortunately not all the participants could participate. Before any crossing of swords, however, Bob and Sean Hayes explained the culture of the Deed of Arms: That is not about winning, it is about gaining renown, which is done through the application of skill & chivalry. While some may disagree with this approach, I find it refreshing from the typical American "Win it All or It didn't Count". I was lucky enough to fence Mike Cherba first and Joann Socash for my second bout - who, by the way, caught me right in the armpit with a wonderfully deceptive attack from High Snake that caught me anticipating. It was great! The honor of First Among Equals (the person who, in the eyes of the judges [or a field vote] showed the most renown & skill) went to Kimberleigh Roseblade (better known as Master Roseblade) from Academie Duello - and it was well deserved!

  Armour Discussion - After de-harnessing ourselves, we all sat and listened as Bob explained how to go about getting proper armour, including what to prioritize in purchasing armour. It was incredibly informative and a great way to wind down after a great day of training. A big "Thank You!" to Sean Hayes of the Northwest Fencing Academy and Bob Charrette  for providing this opportunity. It was great to meet lots of new faces and, as Tyler put it, it was also great to put the band back together.

  TL;DR : Bob Charrette is awesome & knowledgeable. If you ever have the chance to study with him, do so. Armour rocks but pollaxes rock more ;)

* Any errors in descriptions of itinerary or drills are mine and are in no way reflections of Bob's teaching.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Somewhat Cathartic Ramblings

My most common response when someone inquires about a skill-set of mine is:

"Kinda sorta"

I have always been a Jack-of-All-Trades personality. It probably started with Boy Scouts. When I turned 18 I had 30 some-odd merit badges, ranging in everything from emergency lifesaving to weaving baskets out of reeds. The idea behind merit badges is to promote the maxim of "Be Prepared" - this is done through shallow to mid knowledge across a broad spectrum of skill-sets. It also is there to give boys a teaser for a skill-set, allowing them to delve deeper on their own. Somehow I guess I never out-grew the broad-range knowledge set.

Can I juggle? Kinda sorta (I can do 3 balls at a time for a short period)
Can I do card tricks? Kinda sorta (I know one that I can do off-hand)
Can I play the harmonica? Kinda sorta
Can I fight with a rapier? Kinda sorta

This "Kinda sorta" has, unfortunately, become a mantra in my life - to the point that my wife never believes I'm actually interested in something unless I am still interested in it 3 months from now. To be fair I come by this honestly, my father is the same way. This self-assessment as a Jack-of-All-Trades is what I believe causes me so much discomfort over the idea of beginning to learn a new sword art. Because I know myself, and my tendencies, I fear that it will be very easy for me to then "give-up" on Armizare and embrace this new art, only to find something else new and shiny in a few months or years. Most of the people in WMA that I've talked to about this do not seem to share my concerns. They have what I honestly consider the healthier mindset - that all the arts are worth studying and there should be no worry about learning more. I love learning. I mean, I LOVE learning new arts. I am just trying my best to stay dedicated.

The other cause of my "Kinda sorta" response is who I compare myself to. So the above question about skill with a rapier - can I fight with a rapier? Yes, but not as well as Sean Hayes, Puck Curtis, Tom Leoni, Steve Reich, Bill Grandy, John Sullins, Pamela Muir, and many, many others. Therefore my response is "kinda sorta". Can I draw? Sure, but not nearly as well as my friends who are professional artists. "Kinda sorta". I need to be more willing to focus on myself and gauge my skills based on how I did yesterday vs. how well other people are doing.

Some of these feelings also come, I think, from ego. I am not really an ambitious person. In most areas of life I want to be one of the best, but I don't need to be the best. For some reason, WMA is different. It's not that I need to be the best, but I desire to become one of those names that gets connected with a certain style, manuscript, or weapon.

"Oh, you're interested in ________? You should talk to Alex."

I think I have somewhat succeeded in this as most folks in WMA know of my love for the poleaxe. So what if I decide in a few years that I no longer really want to study the pollaxe?

At the end of all this is the last bit that bounces up in my mind - that it is stupid of me to worry about this stuff. I should just just up and train.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Unarmoured Poleaxe

It's been awhile since I posted anything here but I just have a quick poll type question:

How likely do you think it was for poleaxes to have been used while unarmoured? That is, in gambeson, gloves, etc. No real armour to speak of.

I know that we see some illustrations of unarmoured fighters in Talhoffer (I think) but I've always been told that these were simply the artist not wanting to have to draw all that freaking armour in all the images.

I personally don't see why you couldn't use an axe while unarmoured - I wouldn't consider it the most ideal weapon for unarmoured combat - then again I do enjoy smashing things so that could just be it.

Anyways, what are your thoughts on this?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year

Happy New Year everyone!

After having not really updated this blog since September that is going to be one of my focuses this new year - to be better at this blogging thing. It might not always be insightful because of grad school (starting this summer and going straight through to next summer) but hopefully it will at least keep me thinking about WMA.

My WMA related goals for 2013:

1) Be better about solo practice to prevent skill drop-off
2) Find time to start training somebody here in town.
3) Keep working on re-examining Le Jeu, Armizare axe and the Anonimo