Western Sword Training
So, if one were interested in learning western style swordsmanship, where to start?
The usual advice for martial arts is "find a school."
Olympic fencing schools seems to be fairly common, but from what I understand, has moved far enough from the source material to be considered only tangentially related to good swordsmanship.
Classical fencing schools are rare. There are none in many areas, including mine.
Good historical fencing schools are even rarer. From looking through videos and the like, it seems like maybe one in three train with sufficient aliveness. There are also none of these, even the bad ones, in many areas, including mine.
On the other hand, I can't remember the number of times self/solo study has been frowned upon on this bullshido.
So, how does one get started?
First, define what you mean by "Western style swordsmanship."
Western swords go from two-handed longswords through light point-only court swords with everything from choppers to slashers in one hand and two with no guard to complex hilts lying in between.
So the first advice really is, "what do you want to study?"
Peace favor your sword,
I have been training in Krabi Krabong. Mostly with sticks but it is applicable to swords. I know it is different than what you are wanting, but I just figured I would let you know how we are doing it. A friend of mine has family in California. So he has attended Krabi Krabong seminars with the dog brothers. I also bought their video and joined their forum. So we have been training techniques with each other. When we have questions, I contact the dog brothers and ask them, and they help out. They have some really well trained and experienced KK guys, so it has been pretty easy getting help. I have another friend that trained in kendo for years. He throws his experience into the mix as well.
Otherwise, we train and try to work out the bs through contact.
Where are you? That might help. There are a lot of WMA groups out there, and more all the time. Most the WMA organizations have group location maps on their websites.
Originally Posted by DBlue
First, go here:
Second, go here here and here:
Note - ON ALL THREE FORUMS, YOU MUST REGISTER WITH YOUR REAL NAME. Screennames will just irritate people.
These are the three largest 'federations' of WMA schools focusing on the medieval and renaissance era martial arts, particularly swordsmanship.
Each has advantages and disadvantages, and different areas of focus.
My strongest advice is to look at the training partner finder for your area, and identify the groups nearest you. Go to the websites mentioned and ask questions, and make arrangements to visit said groups.
A word on ARMA - ARMA is very 'closed shop' in their approach. They encourage a principle called 'integrity of scholarship,' which in practice means they would request you to give up practicing other martial arts while studying within their organization. However, they were one of the first HEMA (historical european martial arts) organizations to encourage alive training (which they call training with intent), so you are very likely to be exposed to high intensity, high energy sparring on a regular basis with a group of ARMA students.
The HEMA Alliance and WMAC on the other hand are much more open shop, basically serving as umbrella-clubs lite. They organize tournaments, promote cross-training, and visit eachother's events regularly. Their approach is more eclectic, so you end up with groups ranging from ARMA style 'this is a serious martial art and we study it as such' teams to groups that are more 'practice in period costume, etc' types.
The advantage to the HEMA Alliance is that 52 dollars a year gets you a full year of liability insurance for qualified practices (ie, ones you have announced and are using proper safety gear for), and 75 dollars a year lets you buy a five-pack of insurance as long as one person in your school has an individual membership. (full disclosure - I write a blog for the HEMA Alliance and am a proud individual member thereof).
Good luck with your fencing.
With HEMA there are no living lineages, so you’re either reinventing the wheel yourself, or study with slightly more experienced people who reinvented the wheel. All of the dangers & pitfalls of self training are there, but because most HEMA people know that they can be compensated for & avoided to some degree.
My advice, if you can’t find a study group is to start one. Find at least 1 friend who’s interested & willing to take it seriously. Buy some manuals or read some online & be very strict in your training methods. Try to use an alive training model, try to focus on what’s explicit in the text of the manuals (at least to start) focus on the basics, not the flashy stuff.
1 thing to keep in mind about HEMA is that the costs tend to be a little different from other martial arts. In Jiu-jitsu, for example, you pay for a gi & to attend seminars & to compete in tournaments, but your main expense will be gym dues. In contrast many HEMA clubs are cheap or free, but equipment costs a lot. The equipment costs of HEMA are closer to those of snowboarding or mountain biking than to the costs people associate with martial arts.
If you want to do sword work than (at minimum) you’ll need a 3 weapon fencing mask, a wood or plastic waster & a training partner with the same gear. I know people who train with no more than that. A much better (read safer & more conducive to actually learning swordsmanship) list would include a groin cup, a pair of gloves (leather fencing gloves as a minimum, but lacrosse or motocross gloves are recommended) & some hard shell elbow pads. If you’re serious about things then at some point you’ll end up getting steel blunts to train with & steel sharps for test cutting at which point your wallet will just float away, light as a balloon. I trained with a wooden waster for a couple of years before buying plastic & I trained with plastic for a year or two before buying blunt steel. Given the benefit of hindsight I think the best option is a combination of steel (provided you & your training partners use it responsibly) & the newer plastics (which tend to be too whippy, but quite safe).
That kinda depends on whether or not you include Renaissance martial arts or just limit it to Medieval. And even then there are some folk wrestling styles (such as Glima or Schwingen) which might be able to claim lineage dating to pre-Renaissance (though they are, admittedly, rare and hard to find and their pre-Renaissance lineage is often open to debate).
Originally Posted by SBG-ape
But if, by HEMA, you want to specifically limit to "Weapon arts of the Medieval period and/or arts specifically related to Knightly fighting skills," then, yeah, no confirmed living lineages (though there is a certain isolated eastern european group...).
Peace favor your sword,
Do not simply dismiss Olympic fencing. I have no idea what "source material" you are referring to but it is legit. While I am sure things like HEMA is fun and interesting, do not think fencing is not real or deadly enough until you have tried it.
Originally Posted by DBlue
Olympic fencing has some of the best swordsmen and women on the planet. What ever you decide to practice, they deserve the highest respect in the sword arts community.
Ok, I'll bite.
Originally Posted by evilstan
First off the fact that you're willing to comment on this matter without knowing the source material is interesting. What does it mean to be "legit"? Are you saying that sport fencing can be legitimate despite having little resemblance to its ancestors and suffering from a ridiculous rule set?
Secondly I think we should all respect each other in the community regardless of style, but I'm not sure that this means we should put sport fencers on some untouchable tier. They deserve respect like everyone else and they also deserve honesty as well. I'm not sure you can honestly say that sport fencing is as nearly complete a martial art when compared to the rapier fencing that long preceded it, considering all of the artificial constraints put upon it for "good sport" or whatever.
This is slightly silly. One reason, as briefly pointed out by Mordschlag, is that you admit up front that you don’t know what you are talking about. (Do you even know what Mordschlag’s username refers to? It’s a classical technique of the German school for armored combat: I doubt most Olympic fencers would be very comfortable with it…) While the OP was vague, common and important source materials include (in no particular order) I.33, Silver, Marozzo, Fiore, Capoferro, Lichtenauer, Fabris…
Originally Posted by evilstan
Another reason why that post was a bit silly was already pointed out by Kirk Lawson above:
Keep in mind that the modern fencing epée is essentially a smallsword simulator, that is, a very short and very light weapon whose sole offensive action is the thrust—the epée, meanwhile, is a much shorter, lighter derivative of the rapier (which was also useful for cutting). I expect that if the OP’s “Western style swordsmanship” means smallsword, then Olympic fencing has as great deal of value for simulation, and I’m sure some of it carries over to rapier.
Originally Posted by lklawson
It’s much harder to see how a 100g (!) fencing ‘sabre’ is anything like a real (~2 lbs?) cavalry sabre, say. As for archetypal forms of swordsmanship, such as sidesword and shield, or two-handed longsword, there really isn’t much carryover to (or from) Olympic fencing that I can see: Not only are the weapons and techniques radically different, but there exist large and important areas of swordfighting that Olympic fencing has no notion of whatsoever, such as grappling from the bind.
(This is not to say there aren’t important principles that hold true with all of these weapons; I am not really familiar with sidesword or longsword, having had only a handful of classes, but I expect that the principles of finding and gaining the sword remain important.)
There are also some quirks of ruleset that make Olympic fencing very dubious as true swordsmanship, notably the “playing tag” aspect that whoever hits first, wins, e.g. in epée, if you hit your opponent in the foot and are yourself hit in the face 0.2 seconds later, you win. If you want a more faithful reconstruction of a real swordfight, well, this sort of thing could reinforce very bad habits.
(The Capoferro tradition of rapier fencing, by contrast, emphasises to the point of obsession the importance of striking with control of your opponent’s sword so that he cannot strike you in return.)
That said, I haven’t the slightest doubt that fencing (due to its competitive nature compared to hobbyist HEMA groups) builds some very very strong skills within its ruleset, nor that skilled fencers have a great deal of transferrable skills if they choose to pick up real swords, although there may be some new skills to pick up and some bad habits to drop. Those people I’ve sparried with a rapier who have Olympic-style fencing backgrounds tended to be very fast and good at feinting. I’m tempted to, only half facetiously, compare it to Machida’s excellent point fighting skills leading to great success once combined with solid sparring and such…
Still, keeping in mind that this is explicitly about objections to Olympic fencing being in any way equivalent to classical Western swordsmanship,
- although fencing, by being a competitive sport, fosters a high degree of excellence among its practitioners within the ruleset,
- it is significantly removed from real combat in its ruleset,
- its weapons are at best significantly different from real swords, and at worst completely dissimilar; and
- Olympic fencing is missing entire areas of skill important in some forms of Western swordsmanship.