Wood and Steel

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Wood breaks. Steel bends. In martial arts training there are obviously two types of proper training tools. Steel and Wood. It is best to have both, used depending on the occasion. Please do not use plastic or aluminum, based upon principle.

The most beneficial is a steel blunt. Created to immediately mimic the use of a sharp one. Never shy away from training using sharps in solo practice, never fear your own blade. There are few drawbacks of steel. It is wonderful when training in dual, mutual technique. When sparring, it demands one to wear proper protective equipment. Which can be a nuisance when you are switching between various things and simply wish to train shirtless, or unarmoured. The draw back is pell work. The steel bends. Steel swords are expensive, if this is not a problem, train with steel on the pell. Steel bends easily. Understand the old strong man techniques of bending such things, and then the sword seems less impressive. My albion training sword pent at the pommel at some unknown point, I apply a lot of pressure at the pommel. Only slightly, perceivable when spun upon it’s tip, yet perceivable enough to be annoying for 500 dollars. Needless to say, I will never buy another training steel. My own way of making such things will be finalized in the near future.

Wood has many benefits as well. Firstly, yes, even a well made wooden tool feels as a graceful club in comparison to steel. Yet this can be a good thing as well. Hickory and Oak are most recommended. I always use oak, just because. I have purchased training swords of wood (hickory) in the past. My true opinion is they were made too gracefully. Causing their weight to be too light. Also causing weakness of instrument. Needless to say there have been repairs, fortunately wood glue is very strong when used properly. A quarter inch here and there makes a profound difference in strength and weight. I will never buy another’s tools again. My own are simply too easy to make. Also allowing to make tools slightly above average height, as my proportions are a little above average. I am 6’2”. Wooden tools allow for vigorous pell training (wood pell, punching bag wrapped in tape, etc.) Always let the pell be of a “light wood” to protect your tools, steel or not. I have gone thru 3 pells in the past 2 months, yet breakage is due to elbow strikes on taped pads. Wood also allows for unarmored dual technique, while still allowing force, as well as sparring without protection to a degree. Always wear gloves, hands and fingers are constantly plowed through.

Something to pursue is obtaining the tools and ability to make your own training instruments. It is well worth it, the weapon feels as you. One can immediately make Exactly what they wish, not just find something close enough. Matched to your proportions or a particular historic original. Or something completely new, such as extremely heavy, well balanced training tools. Do not believe the skill is beyond you, it is not. Both in steel and wood. The skill set is basic once defined. Simply follow the process and pursue effort. If someone asks to use your weapons, simply say no if the two are not intimate and you do not wish to share energy. Another’s touch taints a weapon. “No” is easily spoken and enforced, in all things.

The High Master

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‘There is only one art of the sword.’

When studying the art of the longsword, one must begin and end with the one High Master. Johannes Liechtenauer, as recorded by ‘Hanko Döbringer’. The words attributed to this man hold the upmost importance. As the art builds through time, one can argue that the tower has been built too high to stand firm. As later masters within the tradition compile new material, new forms, techniques and so forth. We are immediately attracted to this for it seems exclusive, complicated knowledge, these multitudes of guards, strikes, etc. This must be seen through. Just as the modern, and very old, curse of “fencing around”, another aspect to be touched upon that is a bane of the true art, that has flooded the internet and the fallacy of solo video drills. While the videos of worth reveal too much to those who should not freely learn. Words allow purposeful misunderstandings, something to understand when learning from the old masters. Only flesh to flesh dealings hold any worth, in all things. The internet is a strange thing, many strengths, many weaknesses.

Approaching combat from an advanced perspective, basics bound within body, there are many things to do away with in your mind. This will be a focus of the guards, for it is moving through such that all attacks present themselves, and all protection is guaranteed. The strikes are important, yet as water. As the Sword Saint stated, combat is simply striking your opponent down. While at the same time he continues to speak of complexities that have little substance save the sake of art and artful writing. The aspects of Before, After, Feeling, Just As (reading intent before ones action), this is the heart of combat, everything else aside. Only bound within free form. Writing of this is redundant and encircling… Striking is striking, learning to separate the four openings, with both edges and knowing which opening opens the next. The “twitch hit” is the beginning of all… With the basics embedded you will strike as you must. Most importantly master the guards, that offer strikes and defense, the forms in which your body moves through. Most importantly the guards mean little when compared to the other principles. This is the beauty of Liechtenauer, there are only four “main” stances. Ox, Plough, Fool and Roof. Ox, you find yourself in often when one displaces the opponents blade, at the same time attacking, this should happen often. Roof is were the majority of all strikes come from, once again upon displaced sword. Fool, you are a fool if you believe killing blows do not come from here. This snaps to barrier in less than an eye blink. Fool techniques are anything you find yourself in when point is downward of the horizontal line, while not in a movement weakening side position. One should recover in offense. Plough is open to interpretation. Meyers plough? I say not. The original seems to be the one true opening stance, arms ‘extended’ and high, point towards one enemy. The beginning of any other form you may find yourself in. Later traditions do not give a name to this stance, and plough becomes this strange low thing. An enigma that makes sense. While other stances exist, one moves through them very rapidly and less often, or are small variants of one of the four, thus these four are the core.

A curse of swordsmanship is as the High master calls: “Fencing Around”. That is when ones sword makes circular movements. This is just silly. Imagine a boxer who performs circular punches, a comedy. The High master instructs that one should fight as if there is a string attached to the tip of your sword and your opponent. For literal sake, actually do this and understand. When ones sword begins to circle, it often appears more as a fishing pole pulling in a catch. The string immediately shows that nearly everything is a thrust and cut combo. For when fencing a skilled man, a thrust is often displaced, thus becoming a small strike/cut. A strike is often impossible, being intercepted and becoming a thrust. An intercepted thrust towards empty space followed by cutting is a beautiful thing… You will only see such movements in some, some, sparring demonstrations. When both opponents understand. ‘Fencing around’ is a curse. Yet it is attractive to those who do not understand, students of the art and outsiders. One believes he is watching fluidity and skill, when in fact he is watching theatrics, and saddles with no strap. This is written of for centuries, from Döbringer, onward. Yet even many “masters” stand guilty when put on trial. Certainly this day of internet videos stand of guilt, for it is truly the only thing attractive to look at. Watching one actually train solo for true combat is not as pretty. All martial arts stand guilty. While one may still train in “fencing around”, as it increases handling ability, the masters agree, one should never fight this way, or claim the art appears this way. Thus every Way has misdirection. Not ‘fencing around’ means one must have complete control. One must be able to stop his strike on a dime, and begin again with no need for momentum. This is why I train so heavily with the greatsword. The longsword teaches one to wield anything properly, the greatsword takes this to the extreme. ‘Fencing around’ the greatsword is the only thing you see done, a great shortcoming to pigeon hole this weapon, yet understandable if the opponents weapon has less length. Or the opponent is obviously limp of guard, or strong of guard depending, for this weapon will break guards. Combat against formations is something else to be touched upon entirely. For I write of the duel. Once again control on the dime, this amount of control causes the longsword to feel as if it floating in front of you, with a breath changing path, truly a feather. The greatsword causes all weapons to feel this controllable. While fighting with the great sword is simply a very long path to push into, a very long blade, eager to cut. The cross of any sword acting as a “round shield”. Swordsmanship is a vortex, not a sphere.

The rest of combat: footwork, moving, crossing, the fundamentals of what immediately happens, are more important then the multitude of mid range techniques. Pulsation in and out, never be “jousting knights” with long razor blades and no armour, this is stupid. Stay away from mimicking these men who act modernly without fear for their life. Cuts are extremely bad to experience, your body flays open with nothing but a gentle caress. The blood loss, the immediate effect of causing inability, etc. Stay away from the men who care more about how hard they strike as opposed to how easily they cut, because everyone is padded and using blunt swords. The fallacy of sports combat. Metaphorically, all combative sports included.

Thus the High Master is the beginning and end. Beginning with the basics, learning the complications, and ending with the basics. When you train in martial arts daily, never look at daily progress, there is no such thing. I choose three month intervals of a specific weapon, and overload on it. With some variation, and always maintaining unarmed combat preparation. Day in and day out is extremely repetitive. Yet at the end of three months you truly realize how tall you have grown. Not daily, not weekly, even monthly can be difficult to tell. Feel the burn of the shoulders and thighs. Guard always up, never around…

Artwork: Portrait of Liechtenauer 2012, inspired by a medieval manuscript.

Goliath

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The Goliath Fightbook is the Germanic foundation source for fighting with the Greatsword. Although a Longsword is a “Two-hander”, it can be easily used as a single handed sword. The True Two-Hander can not. Although one should train with it in a single hand for strength and balance purposes, fighting this way is not recommended. Thus, this is the “Two Hander”. There are a few things to point out when studying Goliath:

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First, Goliath is simply one of the greatest fight books given to us. Both in the quality of art and the uniqueness of it. The swords are undoubtedly True-Twohanders, measuring the height of men. When speaking of Greatswords there are two types the swords will fall in to. Those with lugs and those without lugs. Goliath embodies fighting using those without lugs. Thus dictating the style within the book. When studying historical artifacts, those made of a masterful quality, one must study the point of balance the sword carries. This is of upmost importance. As this dictates the bind. Your binding point, the lugs or cross, must be below the balance point. A “perfectly balanced” sword is not so. Perfect swords are made with perfect geometrical proportions. Creating a balance point a few inches above the cross. When binding you want the pivot point/ balance point above the “bottom-line” bind point for fluid motion. Thus two types of great swords. I will refer to two specific examples as generalization. Two specific examples created by master blade smiths.

A German example measuring 68” in length, a 17” handle, with a balance point of 8.5 inches, weighing 6.9 pounds. Slightly above the lugs, this balance point is purposefully put there. A Scottish example, although most likely a German made blade, measure 75”, a 22” handle, with a balance point of 4” weighing 9 pounds, with no lugs. Designed to use the cross. While both swords are masterfully created. The Scottish example is the more perfect weapon. The greatest balance. It will handle with great ease. Weight is not in issue in this category as one must train. It is simply created with greater geometry. Yet, are the lack of lugs a weakness or strength? This is up to the personal style of the wielder.

The swords used within Goliath are closer to the Scottish example. This is were the Goliath fight book comes into play. For one will may still desire the distance lugs create. This comes to grip placement. Many grip techniques place the cross hand a few inches below the cross, thus creating the distance of lugs, also placing balance point higher, yet still maintaining the ability to wield a sword with perfect balance by a quick shift of grip. Something a sword with lugs will lack. The grip varies within this book. From as written above, The pommel hand upon the pommel, sometimes above. The cross hand firmly placed under cross, etc. When wielding a great sword, you must be able to clear underneath your arms with ease, this can become somewhat awkward when the arms cross. In my understanding, it is the length of your forearm that is the ideal length when clearing under your arm. Although this is not necessary, especially when arms do not cross and proper extension maintained. Therefore upon placing attacks at your opponent, a grip inches below the guard will give you proper clearing room, maintaining distance as lugs, allowing quick shift of forward grip for superior sword balance, a luged sword lacks this, as you may never grip with perfect balance. A luged sword with “perfect” balance will lead to many an awkward bind, this is why you do not often find these. Yet personal preference may create such an artifact. There are many benefits of having a handle longer than your forearms, just as there are weaknesses, yet this is fluid and such a sword allows change. One must keep arms high and solid.

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Within Goliath always view the height of the arms, the extension of the arms. This must be maintained. This must be trained. Only changing upon the bind, as is natural with leverage and distance. As pictured above. It takes great endurance. Yet in any form a fighter who drops guard, drops dead. Of the upmost importance within Goliath, notice the tips of the swords. They nearly Never leave the forward direction. In nearly every technique the point is placed between self and opponent. This leads back to the hoop training I wrote of. This is the most important aspect of great sword fighting. You will see many experienced practitioners swirling their great swords around fluidly. I cannot express the silliness of this. It is not attractive nor martially sound. I ask how this differentiates from a baton twirler, simply twirling around with flash? These are the “show” fighters the masters warn of. In a sword fight, fluidity is often a bad thing. Movements should torc and jerk about, traveling paths that are not traceable. Else you simply leave a trail to your defeat. Sometimes it is best to simply train inside with the great sword, under normal ceiling height. Forcing small movements. These forced small movements are typically the only thing you will desire in actual combat. Force, force, force. The “1 inch” strike is of all importance. Strike the pell thousands times. The vortex, back and forth. Long edge and short edge are not static, they typically alternate as you reset grip and guard. Forearms and hands are to be disabled, in equal importance to torso and head.

Thus, the most important aspects of Greatswords are to master the changes of grip. Always maintain proper arm height and extension, Always! Never allow your point to travel far. Never be predictable.

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Abstract Ringen III

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The word Ringen, technically speaking, refers to Germanic unarmed combat. Kampfringen more directly the war form. I use the term Ringen as a blanket term for all Hema unarmed combat, and some dagger combat. As I seek the wholeness or the art. There are forms from various regions of Renaissance Europe. Most notably the Italian. The reason one can combine nationalities as one form is the simple aspect of technology. The technological tools, swords, armour, etc. are basically the exact same tool regardless of were in Europe you travel, at least in Western Europe. Thus form equals function. There are four combat masters I currently gravitate towards in the study of “Ringen”. Ringeck, Meyer, Auerswald, and Liberi. Each one brings a special aspect to the art. There are many masters and all should be studied. Many will show the same techniques, and here and there something “different” that is extremely effective. As the compass of Hema unarmed combat spins endlessly, I will abstractly point out variations within books, as well as various foreign martial arts styles that are similar. Due to other martial arts having unarmed masters that can be viewed. Within sword fighting the Hema compass points North. The skill level is well established. I speak of the foreign arts very generally, looking at specific aspects that apply to specific aspects of Hema. Although I speak of the foreign forms regarding different masters, they apply to all masters. Just as each master should be viewed as a whole to form an understanding of Ringen. The human body is only capable of moving soundly in certain ways. The styles will have aspects similar in movement and body mechanics, yet of course these styles are not Hema. As Hema stands alone.

The teachings of Ringeck are almost “barbaric”, in a very good way. He travels straight into maiming. His techniques are simple, combative and visceral. Eye gouges, stomps, finger breaks, testical destruction, knee breaks, ripping ears off (maybe I added that one). On and on, you can make a huge list of all the maiming dirty things one can do in combat, it becomes redundant. While a form of grappling, his is extremely “combative” in approach, to the extent he puts modern combatives to shame. As these modern styles are disconnected because of technology when you compare them to the understanding of such a man living during such times. These modern styles grasping straws from martial arts and sports that are weakening to combatives. He should be deeply studied my the men seeking to form such training crurriculims. The important aspect of Ringeck is he speaks how to kill quickly.

Meyer is interesting. His form offers many interesting throws. Once again grappling, yet not wrestling. Often using only the foot to obstruct anothers legs/feet, and force one off balance. Some of the throws will simply break your neck as executed, you will be dead before you hit the ground, his form is not sport. He offers precision, obstruction of limbs and throws in a way were there is no room for contestation when technique is done. A somewhat similar appearance can be found viewed in Muay Boran. Muay Boran displaying the leg sweeps using arms, with extremely harsh castings of ones opponents to the ground. Calling it an art of “striking” is a narrow approach. It is truly refereed to as an art of binding, understand this. Muay Boran I took up thirteen years ago. My intent to always keep “striking” strong in body far into old age (60+), God willing. Through diet, fitness and training. It is important to view techniques used against forceful and capable opponents in motion…Again, Ringen, it is unique to Hema and neither of these styles.

Auerswald, as said before is the beginning of sportification, what one would call renaissance wrestling. Modern wrestling has no place in Hema, stay away from this. While many of his techniques are not deadly, they offer you the position to quickly become so. The scope of his work offers many options and body mechanics that are important to understand. Arts that stands out in similarity are Sumo and Jujutsu. Yes, Sumo. Forget about the large men who have low levels of true fitness, were weight makes one greater only under rules. The Art of Sumo. There are practitioners of fit and “normal” physiques. Watch these men. Watch the flurry of open palm strikes as one seeks dominance of the arms. The “strikes” can quickly become deadly in approach if rules are lifted. Watch the mechanics, and men who are vastly outweighed gain control and dominance.

Liberi, the Beautiful Flower, is of excessive importance. His art is the most precise. He often maintains as much distance as possible from his opponent during techniques. In an abstract way, it is almost similar to many Bujutsu techniques. Budo is something I am very friendly with, yet keep to myself. The style of dislocations, the distance maintained, the erect form, etc. He offers a variety of joint dislocations, especially to the arms. The simple illustrations are extremely clear. Easily understood. It is one of the most important perspectives handed down to us from the old masters.

The unification of these four masters offers a large scope in the perspective of combat. While there are others, all of which are to be studied. These are four that stand out to me. The ones I currently study most. In the entirety, unarmed Hema is both unique and deadly.