Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Replacing Free Play

EDITED:  Please note that I no longer use the free-form style of drill discussed in this post.  There's nothing wrong with this approach, except that newer people don't understand what goes together correctly well enough, and usually end up with unrealistic drills.  Instead, I have developed a set of 12 structure drills which teach almost every kind of situation that a student should know and understand.  Look for my upcoming training book for more.

I’ve received a lot of criticism from readers of this blog recently regarding my essay that argues that Bloßfechten (i.e., unarmored) free play not only has no place in what we do, it’s actually detrimental. While most of these criticisms have been of the uninformed sort and thus not worthy of rebuttal, some raise issues that are at least confusing to some readers and should therefore be fairly addressed.

Before I do so, however, I’d like to clear up one point: Most of my detractors simply say that I don’t believe in free play, which isn’t true. I don’t believe we should practice Bloßfechten free play because of the Kendo Syndrome I wrote about in my essay, but I am a great fan of Harnischfechten (i.e., armored combat—and that doesn’t mean unarmored techniques done in armor; I’m talking about spear, pollaxe and halfsword techniques designed for armored combat) free play in the right circumstances. Unfortunately, my detractors don’t seem to consider Harnischfechten a viable martial study so they just say I don’t believe in free play at all, which I consider unfortunate.

The majority of those who want to do free play argue that there’s no other way to really learn their art; that to merely practice “moves” is sterile and empty, and there is a degree of truth in this. If you’re not doing it for real you don’t know if you can do it, right? Let’s start to answer this first by considering what it is we are trying to do.

Why do we study historical martial arts? I can think of only three possible reasons: First, because it’s fun and interesting; second, because we want to be able to use medieval martial arts today; and third, because we want to resurrect a lost art as part of understanding a historical culture. For the purposes of this discussion we can actually eliminate the first reason because either of the other two approaches can be fun and interesting, so the only reasons for practicing historical martial arts is either to use it as a modern martial discipline or to resurrect a lost art (and of course, there is bound to be a great deal of overlap in most people!).

Now, looking at those two options, what do we see? Practicing for martial purposes alone is worthy, but the simple fact is that we won’t ever have a sword or pollaxe (etc.) fight on the streets today. Thus, any attempts to “improve” the historical arts in order to make them better for today are simply invalid; there’s no reason to do so. I’ll grant that the grappling arts have a lot of value for modern combatives applications, but the longsword et. al. don’t. Thus, there’s no justification for changing our art from its historical context and form. So practicing historical combat as a form of pure martial art is fine, but there’s no justification for changing it in any way.

Here we come to the crux of the problem: All attempts at practicing Bloßfechten free play (in any art) automatically change that art. Look at Kendo, as I did in my original essay: Kendo no longer bears any close relation to the combat swordsmanship of the art from which it came, Kenjutsu. They took an unarmored form (yes, Kenjutsu includes armored techniques, but we’re just talking about unarmored combat here) and found it too dangerous to practice safely, so they replaced the steel sword with a safe simulator; they still needed protection from the simulator so they added armor; and they needed to make the art easier to see and judge so they added rules about what you can do (e.g., you aren’t allowed to strike someone’s left wrist unless it’s raised up—seriously). But all of these changes changed the art completely. The armor limits your freedom of motion, the practice sword doesn’t behave like a real sword (e.g., the blade isn’t curved, yet several Kenjutsu techniques rely on that curve), and the rule changes drastically impact the art (e.g., there are no slicing techniques in Kendo, so why guard against someone doing them?).

Or go to any Karate tournament today. Watch them do kata; if you have a modicum of knowledge about fistic arts you should easily be able to distinguish between the Shotokan Karate-ka, the Taekwondo people and the Kung-fu people (just to pick random, disparate examples). Now watch those same people compete in the sparring competition and you'll see something horrifying: All of the uniqueness they displayed in kata is lost. They all fight from a modified side horse stance and their primary techniques are mid- and high-level side and roundhouse kicks with very few hand techniques. Why? Because in their game, those techniques work best. Don't tell me it's better that way, the game was made up with no concern for historical accuracy or combat effectiveness and the real arts have been lost.

This is true with European combat as well. It happened in period; the art was divided into Schulfechten (“school fighting”) and Ernstfechten (“fighting in earnest”). In Schulfechten thrusting was forbidden, as were many of the more dangerous techniques (joint locks, etc.). And it happens today: We need hand protection because we can’t afford to miss work with a broken hand, so we wear gauntlets that prevent us from doing unarmored techniques correctly. Just as one example, consider the Winden; I have never seen anyone who can perform this technique in a free play situation while wearing gauntlets because the gauntlets, no matter how good, make the hands too slow and clumsy.

Some might argue that all of this means we should be practicing Schulfechten instead of Ernstfechten, and there’s some truth in this (but that’s for another essay), but the simple fact is that even medieval Schulfechten is far too dangerous for today’s practitioners without serious protective gear; medieval surgeons made a lot of money sewing up scalps and setting broken bones after a Schulfechten event, so we’d need protective gear, rule changes, etc., and we’re back to the same problem.

So the bottom line is that any attempt to do Bloßfechten free play *inevitably* changes the art being practiced, and there’s no justification for changing the art. At the same time, however, my detractors are correct when they say that you can’t really learn the art perfectly without doing free play. How do we reconcile this?

One way is to accept it. The truth is we’re never going to have to defend our lives with a sword, so it makes sense to give up a little understanding in exchange for not ruining the art we’re trying so very hard to resurrect. After all, why go to all the trouble to understand the art if you’re only going to throw away that understanding so you can play at swordsmanship in free play? When you do free play you’re not learning our art, you’re making up a new one, so claims that you need to do free play to learn our art are wrong to begin with anyway.

There is, however, another way: You can learn to use a form of drills that lead you from just understanding the motions of a given technique to truly mastering it in a semi-free play environment. This process is actually better than free play (given our constraints; it’s not better than real life-or-death combats, but then, they were often so… final) because even at its highest level there is a rigid control of what you can do, so students are prevented from “gaming” the exercise or from making up new techniques not part of the curriculum.

The way this works is to do your material in set drills that start in a slow, controlled manner and progress to a more natural way of practicing. In our Schule we do this in five stages:
1.) The teacher announces what he’s going to do and tells the student exactly how to respond. This is continued until the student can do the technique perfectly, and speed and power gradually increase.
2.) The student attacks with a specific attack and the teacher counters with a specified counter, then the student counters the counter.
3.) The teacher attacks with an announced attack, the student counters with a specified counter, then the teacher responds with an *unannounced* counter, and the student must counter that.
4.) The teacher attacks with an unannounced attack and the student must counter that.
5.) The same as (4.) except the teacher will counter the counter and the student must counter that.

As the student works through each level the speed and intensity increase; by level 5 the drill is as close to free play as it’s possible to be, including full speed, full power hits. The advantage, however, is that it’s all rigidly controlled as to what the student may do; if the student tries to use a trick that’s not part of the system to “score a point” the teacher simply stops and corrects him and they start over.

But if all this is true, you say, how is it any different from free play? Don’t you still need gauntlets, etc.—all the things you said would change the art? No! not if you do it correctly. You can limit targets as necessary so they don’t get hit or wear such protection as won’t interfere with a certain kind of technique (e.g., a heavy fencing mask). For example, if the teacher knows he’s not going to respond with a Winden he can wear a gauntlet to encourage the student to attack his hand with a Krumphau, or you can make it a ground rule that if you use the Krumphau in a given practice you’ll aim at the blade ahead of the cross instead of the hands. This is a little bit complicated, but it really just comes down to how creative and inventive the teacher is. You can’t make these choices in free play because then it isn’t free play, right?

The biggest advantage of this approach is that you reward only what is accurate. If someone is doing free play and he takes advantage of a loophole in the rules to score a point he gets rewarded for denigrating his art. If someone using this drill approach uses gamesmanship the drill just makes no sense; you stop, correct him, and start over. Thus we get most of the benefit of all-out free play with none of the harm.

14 comments:

Arne said...

samantics. IN what you describe there is a distinct 'your go, my go' that is detracting from the art. :)

IN essence all sparring should be is an excercise, not an ego boost, and copetativeness gets in the way of technique, not freedom.

I do much of what you describe in free play. force is enough to cut to the bone with a properly sharpened sword, but when using a blunted, properly balanced steel sword does not cause much more than the occasional bruise. I wear NO protection for this. NO PROBLEMS

control is good to learn, and if you have control you can do this.

I agree that one should guard for losing the techniques, but it can be done and is done.

to each their own, but the critiscism that you have to others is like they do to you. Leave us be! we're not sh*t, just like you're not sh*t. we have different approaches and differnt risks we are prepared to take.

understanding how to approach (phisically, distance, guards etc) a fight is critical, that bit is not in what you describe above.

Isn't the distinction of schulfechten and ernstfechten a meyer thing, or at least post medieval?

I don't mean offence, but these writings sometimes read like a 'John Clements rant against the world', no wonder people get annoyed.

Hugh Knight said...

Hi Arne,

How is the "you go, I go" approach detracting from the art? That's how a fight goes, after all. The point here is to control the fight so that only KdF techniques get used; none of the gaming for points that happens in free play, and none of the "made up" moves that happen in free play, either.

If you're not wearing gear then you're not doing real free play; control is fine, but you have to learn to stop the hard shots, and that means you have to go up against them.

I don't understand your comment that there's nothing in these drills about how to approach the fight; such things are inherent in the techniques themselves. In these drills you do everything as you would in a real fight: You approach correctly, use the right distance, use the correct timing, etc., just as you would in a real fight. I didn't think I'd have to say that here, this was just about how to *structure* the drills.

No, the Ernstfechten/Schulfechten thing is not post medieval--Döbringer (or whomever wrote Ms 3227a) talked about it in 1389. Shulfechten existed alongside Ernstfechten all along, it's just that no one (except Ms 3227a) talks about it that we've found so far until Meyer.

And sorry if this sounds like JC against the world, but when reasonable (I don't say correct) issues are raised they should be addressed, as I did here. And the fact is that the ARMAteers are abusive in their attacks, so they have to expect to get slapped back.

Reasonable people, like you, who address things in a positive manner will get a positive response; as you say, you're not shit, I'm not shit. We can agree to disagree reasonably. That doesn't mean I'm going to say that free play is a good thing--it's not, and that's just obvious from all the examples we can look at and from the historical examples I've given, and it's not necessary, as this essay shows--but we can disagree amicably.

Arne said...

yes i disagree amicably. one very important idea in German swordplay is to saty on the offensive, keep attacking, hau, winden or duplieren,etc 'he will not come to blows'. the idea is to not let your opponent ever attack or properly counter. you should flow through completely regardless of how quick your opponent is.

there is no parry-reposte, even in a clever way.

the decision to use a starting position is VERY important. Also working to enter the distance. Your videos all start too close, the fight starts much further apart. I know everything about camera angles and how restrictive they can be, but still!

The long and short of it is: there is a lot of SCA and ARMA boffer crap around, which has no bearing on reality. force is a lot less important than you suppose. (you would know this if you'd do testcutting, or had been in a real life blade fight, like i have :)

Even when you want to bind particularly hard, you can in an unprotected fight, but usually the only thing it does is burr the swords a bit more.

the fact that you've never managed to get a good sparring sessiomn going, doesn't mean this goes for everyone. I've learnt a lot through sparring and I know it makes me a better fighter.

Also, compare the school to the tournament or battle, say jaques de lalaing: one trains perfection, but in a real fight things get scruffy! and this is often described. So if the wrestling is a bit scruffy, that is probably not wrong.

learning tactical thinking at speed is vital, understanding stucture and footwork means you can control power at the last moment, it also means power is not that big a deal. A sword cuts, like you say, so medium power is quite enough! Doing this kind of sparring is a skill in itself, I appreciate not everybody wants to put the time and effort in to get there, or wants to take the risk.

It is a very phisical game. It is what is think is indispensable to learn the art.

I wish i'd filmed my session last week. I'd love you to critique it. I think there is always room for improvement, but it is valid and usefull.

Hugh Knight said...

Hello Arne,

I must disagree about our distance. You start at a distance at which you can strike in one step--that only makes sense, and thee's nothing in any Fechtbücher to dispute that, and that's the distance I show in the videos.

And I agree no great force is called for; but that doesn't mean you don't have to be able to handle an opponent who uses it. Moreover, speed creates its own force: If you're playing at free play but moving slowly enough that your blows wont' cause serious damage without protective gear, then you're not moving fast enough for a real fight. Most people who've never been in a serious fight wouldn't know that, but it's true.

And my criticism of free play doesn't come from me not being able to get a good session going, as you say, it comes from the fact that I've never seen *anyone* do it and I've seen how every art that's ever tried it fails. Everyone says "Oh, we're different!", but when I see it, they're not at all different. Every single group changes the art so they can do free play, but we're not going to.

If you want to do free play, do Harnischfechten.

Josh said...

Your argument is poorly thought through... considering the fact that Harnischfechten is designed to defeat armor and kill the man inside, you cannot use it without "changing the art". You are doing exactly what you jump on everyone else for doing, but say "Oh, we're different! [because we fight in armor which *no one* else does.]"

Hugh Knight said...

Sorry, Josh, but you're mistaken. Let's take a look at a pollaxe blow to the head: If I use a steel pollaxe head and hit at someone wearing a helmet with a medieval-style helmet lining (which were very thin and often stuffed with things like cow or horse hair or dried grass) I can possibly stun him. But by replacing the steel head with a rubber head and by using modern closed-cell foam that's a bit thicker than a medieval lining I can make it easily possible to strike a full-powered blow to his head without doing any real injury, and yet I'm still using exactly correct technique as I do so.

Likewise, in armor I can act without fear of having my hands smashed because I'm wearing gauntlets, but doing so in Bloßfechten means you can't use your hands correctly because they make you too clumsy for some things (especially Winden.)

I can also make a spear with a wooden shaft and a foam head (greatly reducing the felt impact of the blow) that handles almost exactly the same way as a real spear but which doesn't cause any real damage.

But to make it safe to hit someone's hands with a Krumphau in Bloßfechten (just to use one example) I must either use a safer sword (e.g., one built from a shinai) or add hand protection (which significantly limits your ability to use a sword in Bloßfechten techniques--and don't claim it doesn't, I watch folks trying to do this on You-tube videos all the time) or both--which is the most likely thing. Thus, to make it safe to perform techniques in Bloßfechten you must do things that prevent you from doing the techniques correctly; not so with Harnischfechten.

And, by the way, where did I say no one else does Harnischfechten? Or are you laboring under the mistaken belief that we're the only group that does? I couldn't tell which way you meant that comment from the way you wrote it.

I will say, however, that far too many people do Bloßfechten in harness and think they're doing Harnischfechten, and that's a sad shame.

So, based on this, anyone should be able to see that we *can* do Harnischfechten safely. Can you cite specific techniques we can't use, or are you just quoting someone else? And, by the way, have you ever done Harnischfechten competitively in accurately-made reproduction armor? If not, how did you arrive at your conclusion without having tried it?

Hemaboy said...

You said "Just as one example, consider the Winden; I have never seen anyone who can perform this technique in a free play situation while wearing gauntlets "

I have.

Come to any of the major European events and you will too.

Hugh Knight said...

Hi "hemaboy",

You know, it's a funny thing: I've been told that before, but when I look at all the myriad of videos floating around the web from major European freeplay events I don't see a single example of a decent Winden in full gauntlets; not one. I wonder why that is?

When I've talked to people in person who claim to be able to do things like the Winden at full speed in gauntlets, not one has been able to do so. One person who at least made a fair attempt wasn't wearing safe gauntlets; when I asked if it was all right for me to Krumphau his hands through his gauntlets he vehemently declined.

Many KdF techniques require a certain finger and hand dexterity that simply isn't possible to do at full speed in a competitive situation (not just in freeplay--drills can be done to test this, too if they're done with the right attitude) while wearing gauntlets that are sufficiently protective for freeplay. Perhaps against a really bad opponent who doesn't respond correctly you might pull it off, but not against someone skilled; the gauntlets just make you too clumsy.

DitraTron said...

The point, mr Knight, is that as soon as you do XVI century fencing in the XXI century you are already "changing the art", because:
-text and images are a limited way to convey such a practical knowlegde as fencing. As you arrive at a valid interpretation of a given action, you can't say that that is exactly the way they should did it that way; you only can say that it seems that it works in our current environtment.
-our mindset and practical environtment is not the same than the mindset and environtment of a XV century fencer.
The problem, as I see it, is not with free play, but with competitive free play. If you play in a competitive framework, you should define rules to tell the winner from the looser; then the fencers will tend to adapt themselves to these rules, and from these adaptations come the "contamination" of the art. If you practice free play in a framework devoid of competitive pressures, except those, let's say, "self-competitive", and practice it not as an end by itself, but as a tool to further your understanding of fencing, you will keep those distorsions of the art at a reasonable level. As I have hinted, it's all a matter of mindset.

Regards.

Hugh Knight said...

While you're correct that we can't ever master our art with perfect surety because of the inherent difficulties of interpretation, we can't let that stop us from trying to do so as best we can. That means we can't just throw up our hands and say that since we can't do a thing perfectly it's all right to do things that will make our interpretations even less perfect, and Bloßfechten free play is clearly falls in that category.

And while your argument about uncompetitive free play might *sound* reasonable, it is actually specious as we know from looking at other attempts to do it that way. Kendo was developed by people trying to create a way to continue to practice a martial art effectively, they weren’t trying to create a competitive sport and would likely have been horrified had they known where their efforts would lead. They had the best of motives and intentions, and yet a sport or, at best, a spiritual art devoid of any combat relevancy was what they created. The greatest swordsmen of our time, men like Otake Risuke sensei of Katori Shinto-ryu and Sasamori Takemi sensei of On-ha Itto-ryu, have managed to retain the purity of their art by eschewing free play and by relying on drills to do so. We can do no better than to follow their lead.

Nor is eliminating the ego from free play the only problem factor, as you suggest: The equipment and safety issues, as I clearly point out in my writings on this subject, have as much to do with the problem as do the aspects of ego to which you refer. We can practice these techniques with drills designed to minimize the problems created by equipment issues and safety concerns and which are executed with all the real intent necessary for realism, and that’s how they should be practiced.

The flaws in Bloßfechten free play are *inherent*, not practitioner-dependent and thus can’t be corrected just by trying to do it some specific way. If you’re really so fixated on free play then take up Harnischfechten; I’ve never understood why people are so rabidly fixated upon unarmored longsword when armored combat is so much more interesting and noble anyway, but that’s a purely personal observation.

DitraTron said...

When I said that we can't do XV century fencing and what we do is XXI century fencing based on XV knowledge, I don't mean we should use careless or sloopy approaches. As you say, we should try to be as rigorous as we can in our study/practice of fencing. The point I was trying to make is that disregarding something because it taints the purity of fencing should be made carefully, as we really don't know (and we won't be able to know) what was exactly that purity.

Of course that free play has its drawbacks, even if practiced the way we in our group use to do. Equipment and safety is really an issue, but an issue that could be somewhat lessened, for instance using safer but still sound simulators (I don't mean shinais, obviously) like federschwerten or specialy designed blunts. But even with the best simulators, free play keeps having its drawbacks.

So? Your "demi-free drill" approach has also its advantages and drawbacks, and they more or less balance those of free play;for example, while the drills you use minimize the interference of the safety issues on the practice, it puts the fencer on a rather predictable situation; on the other hand, free play puts you against an uncooperative oppontent, but in a safety-restricted environtment; so I think that free play and "demi-free drills" are complementary, not exclusive.

It isn't a matter of "fixation", it is that some aspects of fencing, like, for example, the tactical ones, can only be developed via free play. Also, fencing is chaotic (in a mathematical sense: small variations in the inputs can cause huge variations in the output), and the fencer, rather than learning an action-counteraction scheme (that is really a good initial approach), should end up being able to cope with that chaotic environtment, and a good way to hone this ability is free play.

So I don't see why not use both "demi-free drills" and free play as tools to improbe your fencing skills as long as you keep in mind the drawbacks of each tool.

Regading your observation that "...I.ve never understood why people are so rabidly fixated upon unarmored longsword when armored combat is so much more interesting and noble anyway.". Well, as you know, armoured combat is quite different from longsword unarmoured combat; so if the practicioner's aim is merely to fight with swords, your advice is rather sound; but if the aim is to try to understand how unarmoured longsword fighting was done, practicing Harnischfechten won't help a lot.

Regards.

Hugh Knight said...

You wrote:
*****When I said that we can't do XV century fencing and what we do is XXI century fencing based on XV knowledge, I don't mean we should use careless or sloopy approaches. As you say, we should try to be as rigorous as we can in our study/practice of fencing. The point I was trying to make is that disregarding something because it taints the purity of fencing should be made carefully, as we really don't know (and we won't be able to know) what was exactly that purity.*****

I know you didn’t mean we should *intentionally* use sloppy approaches, but none the less, as I have shown, free play *inherently* leads to bad technique (bad in this case defined as “inauthentic”). Thus, by using free play, regardless of the purity of your motives and intentions, you will *always* change the art, just as happened in Kendo; that’s why I call it the Kendo Syndrome. If you do Bloßfechten free play you will ruin the art. Period. It doesn’t matter how you approach it nor how careful you try to be, it will *always* happen.

You wrote:
*****So? Your "demi-free drill" approach has also its advantages and drawbacks, and they more or less balance those of free play;for example, while the drills you use minimize the interference of the safety issues on the practice, it puts the fencer on a rather predictable situation; on the other hand, free play puts you against an uncooperative oppontent, but in a safety-restricted environtment; so I think that free play and "demi-free drills" are complementary, not exclusive.*****

Actually, if you will re-read my essay you will see that even the scripted material is eventually done as though the opponent were uncooperative and that the unannounced drills are done just as in a real fight, at least in terms of cooperative/uncooperative is concerned. For example, in drill five the teacher attacks with an unannounced attack and the student counters, then the teacher counters that and the student must respond. That is not a cooperative opponent! He’s actively trying to prevent the student from succeeding just as in a real fight. The difference is that he’s controlling the action, too; he can stop the student if he uses any technique or action not taught by the Fechtbücher. Also, the shorter engagements are both more realistic in terms of showing what a real fight would most likely be like in terms of duration and they prevent the sloppy actions that *always* happen in free play.

You wrote:
*****It isn't a matter of "fixation", it is that some aspects of fencing, like, for example, the tactical ones, can only be developed via free play. Also, fencing is chaotic (in a mathematical sense: small variations in the inputs can cause huge variations in the output), and the fencer, rather than learning an action-counteraction scheme (that is really a good initial approach), should end up being able to cope with that chaotic environtment, and a good way to hone this ability is free play.

So I don't see why not use both "demi-free drills" and free play as tools to improbe your fencing skills as long as you keep in mind the drawbacks of each tool.*****

Because as good as that sounds, experience has shown it doesn’t work that way. People *inevitably* start gaming the rules, techniques are modified to “win” points (consciously or unconsciously), and the gear you use always changes the way you should be fighting. Yes, you will lose the chance to learn some of the knowledge of the complex movement interactions that happen in a real fight, but since none of us will ever be in a life-or-death swordfight that’s not a great loss compared with the fact that we’d also be changing the art we’ve worked so hard to rediscover.

You wrote:
*****Regading your observation that "...I.ve never understood why people are so rabidly fixated upon unarmored longsword when armored combat is so much more interesting and noble anyway.". Well, as you know, armoured combat is quite different from longsword unarmoured combat; so if the practicioner's aim is merely to fight with swords, your advice is rather sound; but if the aim is to try to understand how unarmoured longsword fighting was done, practicing Harnischfechten won't help a lot.*****

That last part I wrote was tongue in cheek. Still, I think there’s kernel of validity in my humor: Most people don’t want to study boring old swordsmanship, they just want to fight. You and I both know that’s true if you’ve done any teaching at all (as I gather you have?). If we channel that desire to Harnischfechten and teach people that swords aren’t the be all and end all of knightly combat perhaps we could solve some of the problems we’ve been debating. After all, you have to know that the reason so many people have written such angry, hateful messages to me over this issue is that they just want to do free play and they hate the fact that reasoned study has shown they’re wrong to do so. They get angry because they just want to fight, so let’s show them there’s a better, more interesting kind of fighting for them to learn and wean them off of a Hollywood-inspired focus on swords.

DitraTron said...

Well, instead of going point by point, I'm going to address the core of our disagreement, that is:
People *inevitably* start gaming the rules, techniques are modified to “win” points (consciously or unconsciously), and the gear you use always changes the way you should be fighting.
Well, in my experience that's not so inevitable. Once that you shift your focus (your personal focus) in free play from scoring hits to get the things done properly, and once that you don't have fixed rules but common sense to set the quality of hits, you get rid of much of the interference you speak of.
Yes, you will lose the chance to learn some of the knowledge of the complex movement interactions that happen in a real fight, but since none of us will ever be in a life-or-death swordfight that’s not a great loss compared with the fact that we’d also be changing the art we’ve worked so hard to rediscover.
Again, in my opinion, it is really a great loss not to explore that complex movement interaction you (and I) speak of, because I believe that's exactly what fecing is about: treatises explain discrete actions, but that is, to a great extend, because of the practical impossiblility of conveying that complex interaction knowledge. So we are left to choose between:
-to practice only that is shown in the treatises, being aware that that will never be a practical (I mean "complete", "full") combat system.
-to practice fencing based on the treatises, but filling the gaps with our personal, instructor and group's experience, gained in drills and free play. That will never be XV century fencing, but XXI fencing based on XV century knowledge with XXI century replicas of XV century originals.

I think that both approaches are fine, provided that they are followed honestly; neither of them will lead us to fight like it was done in XV century: the first one, because we won't be fighting, but drilling; the second way, because we will be fighting in a XXI century environtment (environtment that we'll try to make as close as the original environtment as posible, but fully aware that it'll never be the original environtment)

That's about the core of the question, but i'll add a pair of sidenotes:
For example, in drill five the teacher attacks with an unannounced attack and the student counters, then the teacher counters that and the student must respond. That is not a cooperative opponent!
Well, in some way, it really is: I mean, that's a stimulus-reaction framework, and I believe that fecing fits better with a "environtment-action" one. That is, you have your opponent waiting for you to start an action, when, if unrestricted, he might choose to start an action by himself that it would happen simultaneusly with yours.
That last part I wrote was tongue in cheek. Still, I think there’s kernel of validity in my humor: Most people don’t want to study boring old swordsmanship, they just want to fight.
Sorry for not getting the pun; perhaps it was because I'm one of those who wants to study "boring old swordsmanship" :-) (and that's also the mainstream of the group I belong to)
By the way, by my really scant knowlegde of Harnischfechten I don't see it safer: I mean, as far as I known, armoured fighting is all about halfswording, thrusting at the holes, leverage actions with sword (or pollaxe) and arms, locks, joint twisting and throwings. That is, less hitting involved but a lot of dislocations' danger, it seems to me. How to you address that issue, in your practice? Or I'm simply wrong with my view of Harnischfechten?

(IMO, the real barrier of Harnischfechten is money: a good suit of armour to practice with it isn't exactly what I would call cheap)

Regards

Hugh Knight said...

Hello,

*****Well, instead of going point by point, I'm going to address the core of our disagreement, that is:
People *inevitably* start gaming the rules, techniques are modified to “win” points (consciously or unconsciously), and the gear you use always changes the way you should be fighting.
Well, in my experience that's not so inevitable. Once that you shift your focus (your personal focus) in free play from scoring hits to get the things done properly, and once that you don't have fixed rules but common sense to set the quality of hits, you get rid of much of the interference you speak of.*****

We’re just going to have to disagree about the inevitability of this. I’ve looked at this for more than 30 years and it always happens. Always. I wish you luck with your approach, but read the essay that spawned these comments (especially the parts about Kendo and Karate) and you’ll see that this will always happen because people are lazy and undisciplined and all they want to do is to play at a sport, not dig in and really study a martial art. Just because you start out trying to do things right (not that I concede your approach works) doesn't mean any of your students will.

*****Again, in my opinion, it is really a great loss not to explore that complex movement interaction you (and I) speak of, because I believe that's exactly what fecing is about: treatises explain discrete actions, but that is, to a great extend, because of the practical impossiblility of conveying that complex interaction knowledge. So we are left to choose between:
-to practice only that is shown in the treatises, being aware that that will never be a practical (I mean "complete", "full") combat system.
-to practice fencing based on the treatises, but filling the gaps with our personal, instructor and group's experience, gained in drills and free play. That will never be XV century fencing, but XXI fencing based on XV century knowledge with XXI century replicas of XV century originals.*****

Sorry, but I don’t agree with your generalizations. Yes, practicing Bloßfechten with drills alone will mean you’ll lose some of the edge that you get in free play, but that’s a difference of degree, not one of kind. You can learn a lot of that in properly-conducted drills which are almost like free play. And what you can’t get from Bloßfechten drills you can learn in Harnischfechten free play because those parts of fighting (distance, timing, acting during action, etc.) are universal to all kinds of fighting, so you’re really not losing anything. Contrariwise, by doing free play you’re making up a new system and so that *is* a difference of kind, not of degree: You’re losing the whole art you worked so hard to rediscover.

*****I think that both approaches are fine, provided that they are followed honestly; neither of them will lead us to fight like it was done in XV century: the first one, because we won't be fighting, but drilling; the second way, because we will be fighting in a XXI century environtment (environtment that we'll try to make as close as the original environtment as posible, but fully aware that it'll never be the original environtment)*****

But my way keeps the 15th-century *art* and techniques alive, while the free play approach makes up a new one. There’s no point in going to all this trouble to rediscover an art only to throw it away just so people can play at a sport.

******Well, in some way, it really is: I mean, that's a stimulus-reaction framework, and I believe that fecing fits better with a "environtment-action" one. That is, you have your opponent waiting for you to start an action, when, if unrestricted, he might choose to start an action by himself that it would happen simultaneusly with yours.*****

You learn that in Harnischfechten free play, but you get some of it in the right kinds of drills, too. Look at the fifth level drills: The student doesn’t know if the teacher is going to displace the student’s counter or not so he has to be ready for anything. With respect, I think you may not have studied the drill approach I wrote about enough to see all the things in it.

*****By the way, by my really scant knowlegde of Harnischfechten I don't see it safer: I mean, as far as I known, armoured fighting is all about halfswording, thrusting at the holes, leverage actions with sword (or pollaxe) and arms, locks, joint twisting and throwings. That is, less hitting involved but a lot of dislocations' danger, it seems to me. How to you address that issue, in your practice? Or I'm simply wrong with my view of Harnischfechten?*****

You’re right about Harnischfechten, but what you don’t understand is how you can change the equipment of Harnischfechten without changing the art much if at all. For example, by using a wooden sword with a bit of foam at the end I can safely stab into my opponent’s armpit without doing any damage at all, and because halfswording doesn’t have all the subtle sword-on-sword winding, etc., that unarmored longsword does that wooden simulator doesn’t change the art at all. And many of the grappling techniques of Harnischfechten are quite safe to do, especially the arm rips at the halfsword and the pollaxe disarms.

You are quite correct about the dangerous grappling techniques, however: In our Schule we solve that problem by starting the technique and then yelling out when it’s set but before the real damage is done, and the person it was used upon shouts out to admit that he feels it. It is a small weakness in our approach, but only a small one, and our system does a pretty good job of accounting for it.

*****(IMO, the real barrier of Harnischfechten is money: a good suit of armour to practice with it isn't exactly what I would call cheap)*****

True enough, but that’s beside the point. That’s like saying I want to practice sailing a boat but since I can’t afford one I’ll make a fake boat on the land and pretend to be sailing then ignore the real sailors who tell me I’m doing it wrong. If you can’t afford it, don’t do it, but don’t say it’s the wrong approach because you can’t afford it. Besides, just drive down the street where you live and I’ll bet you find lots of people who have expensive toys in their yards, from boats to motorcycles (for fun, I mean, as opposed to simple transport) to jet skis to whatever. Hell, even golf can cost almost as much as an acceptable harness. It all comes down to what’s important to you. There are a lot of hobbies I’d like to do but I can’t because I spend all my money on weapons and armor: it’s a choice I’ve made. Hell, the average young stud spends a couple of hundred dollars on every date; if he cancelled some of those he’d be amazed at how fast the armor money piled up.

Having said that, you’re right, armor is a problem. Hell, some of my students can’t afford a decent practice sword, let alone a harness; I’ve been working very hard to find minimally-acceptable gear for around $1,000.00 USD and it’s tough to do (my gauntlets alone cost me twice that). Still, someone can only do what he can afford, and there’s no justification in changing our art just so he can participate. Students do what they can with what they can afford and someday hope to do more.

By the way, this is getting a bit long for this forum. If you wish to continue this discusswion may I suggest e-mailing me? I'm at hughk1066 at juno dot com