Studying historical combat techniques with heavy weapons is rewarding and fun, but, like most other martial arts, inherently risky. We all have proper jobs to go back to, families to look after, bills to pay; things that are difficult enough without the added burden of trips to A&E, bandages, splints, crutches and the long-lasting effects of concussion (genuinely no laughing matter). We are not 24/7 Medieval or Renaissance warriors. This is a hobby more than a lifestyle choice. …
Posts about Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA)
West Devon Swords will be at Okhampton Sports and Fitness Festival’s Super Sporting Funday on July 16th at Simmons Park. We’ll be there with plastic fencing for the juniors and the chance to try some historical swordplay with longsword and rapier.
“Great chances to take part in archery, fitness sessions , swims, tennis, putting, fencing, runs or walks, badminton, table tennis, putting, trampolining and even a climbing wall- all at Parklands or with us at OCRA .
There’s also lots for children and adults of all ages to do also, so people can come along on their own and with family and friends. Refreshments are available.”
by Victoria Pritchard:
If someone insulted your family, what would you do? Cast a glove at their feet and challenge them to a duel? Probably not. Yet, for gentlemen living between the eleventh and nineteenth centuries, duelling was the only way to defend your family’s honour. Men who didn’t ‘throw down the gauntlet’ were seen as cowards. …
HEMA is the acronym for Historical European Martial Arts, also known as Western Martial Arts (WMA), or, less accurately, as Historical Fencing, which doesn’t cover the breadth of disciplines. …
by Robin Catling:
Duelling became the preoccupation of many swordsmen in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Fencing masters of the many academies published complex manuals of fencing technique, most hinting vaguely at the master’s knowledge of a “botte secrète”, or secret thrust a special attack which could not be parried, guaranteed of absolute success every time.
In the 1997 movie Le Bossu (“the Hunchback”), the secret thrust becomes a central plot device. In the movie, Danielle Auteuil plays an ambitious chancer and man servant to an arrogant nobleman – the Duke of Nevers. The Duke’s skill with a sword saves him from ongoing assassination attempts by his villainous half-brother. After one such attempt, the Duke teaches Auteuil the secret thrust. It is a complex disarming move which relies on the element of surprise and on the opponent being completely predictable.
When the Duke is killed, Auteuil rescues his baby daughter and goes into hiding for sixteen years.
Attacked by brigands, Auteuil teaches the girl the Nevers secret thrust, which exposes her identity when she kills a corrupt nobleman. The hunt resumes, Auteuil strikes back, disguised as the hunchback of the title, despatching each of the assassins using the Nevers secret thrust.
As a signature move it is bold, complex and outrageous. Against a straight thrust:
- parry in seventh (expect a riposte from seventh)
- envelope in quarte
- beat to forearm (which forces the opponent to withdraw their bent arm)
- take the blade as you change guard
- close in with a passing step
- disarm the opponent
- thrust to the forehead
In real life, however, things are rarely so predictable. The physical style of fencing, the technique of a particular school and the conditions of the fight – each can dramatically alter the reactions of the opponent so as to render the secret thrust a dangerous liability.
Michael York almost gets himself killed using the D’Artangnan family’s secret thrust in the 1974 Three Musketeers. This is why a keen beginner can score hits against an international ranking fencer and why actual duels could quickly degenerate into brawls when each fencer’s carefully drilled tactical plan fell apart at the first exchange.
Of course, no secret thrust ever stayed secret for long as fencing masters devised countermeasures.
As always, there is no substitute for hard work, sound technique and practice!
Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) is a serious extension of historical research outside of the regular re-enactment scene, covering all manner of weapons and combat systems from the early Medieval to late Victorian eras (see our post What is HEMA?). …
Different people mean different things by “real” fencing.
For some, “real” fencing is a duel with sharp swords and lives on the line. Other than the fear/courage factor, the primary technical difference here is that with live blades you only need to hit your opponent once, and therefore only require one good move (which explains the prevalence of “secret thrusts” in the bad old days). The sport fencer, by comparison, has to hit his opponent as many as 15 times (even more if the officiating is poor!), and so requires considerably more depth than the duellist. On the other hand, the sport fencer takes many more defensive risks, since he has up to 15 lives to work with.
Some purists will equate “real” fencing with classical fencing, i.e. the prevalent styles of the traditional French and Italian schools of fencing that predominated before electric fencing was popularized. By comparison, modern fencing is more mobile and athletic, while classical fencers were known for their more sophisticated phrasing and bladework.
A few fans of heavy metal think real fencing is only done with big, strong swords, and that light duelling-style weapons are toys. Historically, however, lighter thrusting swords evolved because they were considerably more deadly than heavy cutting weapons. Many masters of the 17th century disliked the new schools of fencing precisely because they were too murderous. However, the light duelling sabres that arose near the end of the 19th Century did lack offensive punch on the cut compared with their more military antecedents. Military sabre fencing required more arm strength, and the use of moulinets.
Lastly, it just seems apparent to some that sport fencing has evolved away from its bloody origins. Technically, this is untrue, at least for the thrusting weapons; the theory, methods, and techniques of fencing have not seen significant innovation since at least the last century. The modern fencer remains well-equipped, skill-wise, to fight a duel. Tactically and psychologically, however, the sport is a vastly different world from the duel. Obviously there is no real danger to getting hit, and with up to 15 hits needed to secure victory, there often isn’t even much figurative danger. In addition, since the quality of a hit (eg. fatal vs. serious wound vs. minor scratch) is immaterial, fencers will naturally prefer an easy “wounding” hit over a difficult “fatal” one, and glancing hits will often win out over strong thrusts.