Grappling and Swords
Crossposted from HEMA Alliance and SG forums, because I think BS might have another angle on this.
Crediting: This is inspired in no small part by a discussion on the Armour Archives in which why SCA combat didn't allow grappling and the writing's of William Cain, both on the Audacity columnand his Judo, Swords and Me blog, and this post on the HEMA blog written by Michael Smallridge (disclaimer: my brother) about HEMA and combat sports. I also apologise for the formal structure of the post and the length. I'm in the middle of law school exams, and this is how writing's flowing. :D
I think we can all agree that unarmed combat was very important in HEMA. Whether Fiore, Lichtenauer, or Silver, almost every historical manual dealing with armed combat also devoted space to considering unarmed combat, or at least techniques for armed combat where the weapon was not the offensive mechanism (e.g. durchlauffen to hip throw). For the sake of this post I'll refer to Lichtenauer's "tradition" in the 14th and 15th centuries and Fiore dei Liberi when talking about HEMA in general, as the two systems I'm most familiar with. In each you find both unarmed and armed-yet-unarmed combat techniques, and in both the focus is on grappling rather than striking. There are significant differences between the systems, along with a number of common techniques, but it's clear that grappling was not just expected to be in the repertoire of a master of the relevant art, but was considered an integral part of a "sword fight".
Looking at material from HEMA groups at the moment, whether training information or footage of freeplay, it's clear that grappling is not given the same priority. Most groups do cover at least some of the material, but based on personal observation they do so with less time, intensity and effort devoted compared to "purer" weapons training. If you don't consider this applies to your group, congratulations, and if you're in the south London/Surrey area PM me and I'll come if I can afford to. In my experience, unarmed techniques are taught as peripheral/secondary, not taught with alive drills or (generally) great depth of understanding of the technique and principles, and discouraged in freeplay.
The most obvious reason for doing so is that they don't know how! There's a cycle of not studying and training in the techniques enough, and so not wanting to teach or train them enough. This synergises with the problem of comparative incompetence. It's easy to feel qualified to teach historical sword techniques if the local alternatives are Chinese sword dancing and LARPing. It's harder when you look across at the local Judo school and realise you're entering into competition with them. Grappling, in almost any form, is a huge and difficult skill set to master, and most HEMA teachers are honest and self aware enough to know they can't hold a candle to a BJJ black belt, and don't try.
There is also the issue of deliberate focus. The main appeal of most HEMA schools is "be a medieval bad ass", and most people imagine this means swords. So it's pretty understandable to give the people what they want. This is compounded by a legacy of 19th and 20th century weapon based combat sports, like Olympic fencing and kendo, which have removed any grappling element to better focus on a smaller part of the simulated "sword fight". This lets them better assess skills in that part, and is safer. It's perfectly logical to do so, and I admit there is a place in HEMA for no-grappling matches or freeplay. I just feel that a huge part of the body of historical works cannot be neglected. But look at this old Kendo footage, when trips were allowed. Isn't it awesome?
There's also the problem of student's focus. Not all HEMA students are happy with the idea of training for, say BJJ. They may disagree with the intensity, the physicality of it, or they find clinging to another man disturbingly appealing to something in themselves. I'd dismiss it as their problem, but this is probably quite a valid objection if you like your current group and don't want to spark a mass exodus of people.
Finally, there's ability issues beyond the instructor. As well as learning how to grapple yourself, or teaching people to fall safely (and learning how yourself), you may feel your training facilities lack the mats, space, or absence of fonts (Happened while training in church once. The accident was pretty much how you're imagining it right now) to allow you to do alive throws or whatever. This can also be a very valid problem!
As mentioned in the introduction, this whole... brain splurge... was inspired partly by cross training. I've been taking MMA classes (including BJJ and freestyle wrestling) for a little over 9 months now. Historical unarmed and ringen-am-schwert techniques are making a whole lot more sense with a greater understanding of the dynamics and theory of grappling, and I'm chomping at the bit to get to do HEMA unterhalten/groundfighting. I think that's all understanding, and ability to execute) that I would have struggled to get doing HEMA training with my current or past groups.
So crosstrain, and apply. Go to Bullshido or some other disreputable but not un-knowledgeable centre of martial arts know-how and find a nearby alive combat sport group that is similar. Train in it, and work out how it applies to your preferred manual.
Also, train in HEMA. At whatever events you make, find the grappling ones and learn the techniques from someone with (presumably) more of a clue than you. This especially applies to wrestling at the sword techniques which you weren't going to find in, say, Olympic freestyle wrestling, for shockingly obvious reasons.
Then apply it. Do more training for ringen, ringen-am-schwert, or your non-German equivalent. Do it more intensely, more alive, and with a better understanding of the techniques and the principles. Then make sure you integrate it into the rest of your training. Being able to throw a good Zwerchau is good. Being able to transform that into a hanging cover and from that to an arm wrap and pommel-wrench disarm is really great. Being able to abandon that instantly as it fails, drop your sword and go to the second Ringen for a takedown is awesome. Being able to do it all in freeplay is more than awesome. It's the point of all our training. It's competence.
Objection! and how to deal with it
Selling this to students can be helped by a few things. Emphasise the role of technique as well as athleticism. I'm 6 foot 3ish, 200lbs, and for some reason not everyone in my HEMA group feels it's entirely fair to grapple against me. While I feel that
I'm impressed by how effectively smaller guys with a little training and the incentive of alive, non-cooperative drilling can up their game and pull off grappling techniques. Not to mention all the lightweights bullying me in BJJ classes. :oops: Point out everything I've mentioned about how this is the historical way and the benefits of having another whole bundle of techniques in your repetoire of freeplay.
Finally, just make them do it and it should grow on them. It's fun, dammit.
Whenever possible I ask to include grappling in my Singlestick and Broadsword League bouts and, for that matter with all the weapons that I teach.
Here's me teaching Grappling with the Tomahawk at the Recreational Violence WMA seminar:
Here's me and Josh Little in a Broadsword League match. I love this one in particular. I was trying to do a snap-down on him and couldn't, for the life of me, figure out why it wasn't working. He ended up with a nice bruise from his singlestick. I'm still a bit surprised it didn't break.
If memory servers, he ended up ejecting his own singlestick and snagging me with a double.
Oh, and note my .sig line. :)
Peace favor your sword,
This was also discussed in some depth on SFI a few years ago - http://www.swordforum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=87752 .
As far as I'm concerned, anything that will get the modern historical fencing community more comfortable with grappling, locking and throwing is a good thing. I'm tired of watching expertly-fought bouts under rules that discourage or outright ban what was obviously a major part of the historical systems that they purport to represent.
I've noticed that there is a great resurgence of interest in long-stick methods such as Jogo du Pau, le Grande Baton, and Hutton's Great Stick. I think that those long-stick methods which do not include a lot of grappling (such as Hutton's) could benefit greatly from studying and incorporating portions of the "Grappling at the Sword" elements of Longsword work.
Peace favor your sword,
I mostly agree with you here, GenericUnique. Grappling, as in Ringen, is vital for anyone seeking to be effective in this field. Once you know the principles of Ringen you can apply them to any weapon and employ them successfully. I don't claim to be any kind of UBER RINGEN MEISTER or anything like that, but since dedicating more of my practice to Ringen I've noticed that I've been better at holding my own when it comes to free-play. I've employed Ringen for single-stick, longsword, dagger, and quarterstaff all to good degree. Any group not employing Ringen really should do so if they seek skill in this field.
What I would disagree with you about is the value of BJJ. I don't think it is the most effective form of Asian grappling for the fencer and I disagree with its focus on ground-work. I would sooner recommend someone take Judo or Wrestling more than anything.
It's almost as though BJJ and Freestyle Wrestling are what's on offer at my gym, and therefore what came to mind :P
Haha, fair enough my good man. I figured I'd add that part to further shun the idea of a focus on ground-fighting instead of ground-stabbing. Good writing overall though.
I really lack experience with this stuff (as my fencing experience is largely limited to rapier, thus far), but I often wonder what a judoka with good ashiwaza could accomplish from the bind. In theory, it seems like an awfully good fit. In practice—who knows?
Originally Posted by Mordschlag
I don't know judo (!) but I understand ashiwaza to mean foot sweeps. Assuming that's correct, then the problem is that in the bind, for the longsword styles I'm familiar with, the opponent is unlikely to be significantly off balance. Without a grip to break his balance, attacking his footing is unlikely to be successful. All the throws from the bind I can think of involve securing such a grip to his upper body or arm before throwing him.
Originally Posted by Petter
I don't know anything about sword fighting outside of a few fencing lessons at school and a dabble in Kendo. However, I know a little bit about Judo. It is entirely possible to foot sweep someone without a grip, it is especially easy to foot sweep someone who's not a grappler without a grip. I have thrown Thai boxers several times with De ashi barai with no grip in MMA sparring and once was talked into a public wrestling match with the winner of the University strongman competition and I threw him with a no grip De ashi barai. Do he dynamics of sword fighting make this more difficult quite possibly, I don't know enough about sword fighting to say definitively.
Originally Posted by GenericUnique
However, given a sufficient skill disparity/ unpreparedness between attacker and receiver there is quite a big scope for no grip foot sweeps. If not to throw the opponent for ippon at the very least off balance them to facilitate a finishing blow with the sword.
I should add that in Judo a 'harai' technique is much easier performed with no grips than a 'kari' technique as a harai technique relies upon accelerating the weighting or unweighting of uke's foot movement. This can be done from a static position without a grip as the thrower senses an unweighting or weighting on behalf of the receiver and reacts to it.
A grip to off balance is not 100% necessary to a Judo footsweep and indeed with a sufficient skill differential any Judo throw can theoretically be performed without a grip.
Last edited by judoka_uk; 3/06/2011 9:15pm at .
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