Winnipeg Knightly Arts

Historical European Martial Arts School

Winnipeg HEMA swordsmanship school focused on the Lichtenauer school of combat.

We study Historical European Martial Arts and currently focus on German Longsword. In the future we plan to expand into Langes Messer, Dagger, Wrestling, and Pollaxe.

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Hey guys, it's been a while

Hey all, I apologize for my lack of activity in the past several months, but I should be posting more regularly again.

For anyone who's wondering we are still training, and didn't stop. However we have changed up out training methods to help students learn more quickly and easily.

The main difference is that instead of extensive solo drilling we have begun using partner drills to teach even the basic movements. This means that instead of cutting the air repeatedly, we get students to cut against a semi resisting opponent in order to fine tune the technique.

We've also taken a more experimental approach to teaching how to use the techniques. So instead of having a prearranged action from your partner, they are to attack with enough speed to challenge the student to figure out the best solutions based on the concepts and movements they know.

Then finally we are regularly dedicating the latter parts of the class to freeplay sessions so that they can learn to recognize when to use what they have been working on against a fully resisting opponent. This phase is usually supplemented with coaching from other members as well.

This approach is designed to help students get a much more practical understanding of the key ideas and solve problems against a semi-resistant partner working up to full resistance.

Here are a couple freeplay videos from this summer (Warning, the wind is quite noisy in some parts).

Exciting Messer News

Another draft completed

I just finished another draft of the Messer curriculum based on Leckuchner's massive treatise. This time around I really worked on making the lessons more practical and accessible.

  • Using clear and consistent terms
  • Focusing on when and why to use techniques
  • Implementing actions into drills and freeplay
  • Organizing content for clear understanding
  • Teaching practice that leads to better performance

New free content coming soon

If you can't wait to learn about the art of Messer fencing, I've got a special treat for you. 

I will be making free videos and posting them on my youtube channel going through the core of the curriculum.

So if you've wanted to learn Leckuchner's art of Langes Messer, you will have access to the videos so you can see the lesson, and later will be able to buy a copy of the book for reference in your training.

How to use Deflections

Deflections are used to stop an opponent action, but they must be done properly.

Any action that deflects an opponent's action from hitting you is a deflection, or displacement and they come in two general flavors:

  • Empty displacements

This is what happens anytime you stop an opponent's cut without threatening them at the same time.

These are usually done as a 'parry then repost' form of fencing. The main issue with this style is the gap between the deflection and attack, creating an opening for the opponent to deflect your blade, or perform a single time counter and steal the initiative from you.

  • Single time counters

Ideally a single time counter is done as an attack that intercepts the opponent's blade on your weak as you drive your own weak to their body. 

These are arguably the defining aspect of the German school of swordsmanship and the majority of actions in the Fechtbucher focus on this type of counter.

Displacements are done as counter actions

This means that they are always done in response to an opponent's action. In other words they have acted first and taken the initiative, which you will now need to take back from them.

Alternatively to using displacements you can work to take the initiative from the Zufecthen, the opening of the fight, and maintain control over it through distance, and attacking with good form.

Against a bad opponent this will provoke them into using empty displacements, creating openings for you to attack, i.e. a Nachreisen, Abschneiden, Schnappen, etc. 

In other words if you seize the initiative, there are several options for defeating empty displacements.

 

 

Hangings, why and how to use them.

Hangings are an essential part to good swordsmanship, and mastering them is fundamental.

Hangings, or Hengen in German are an integral part of Historical European Swordsmanship, and have some equivalent in nearly every other style of armed combat I've seen.

To use a Hengen, rather than cutting directly to your opponent with maximum reach, or into what we call Langenort or longpoint, you cut into a position with the strong of you blade off to a diagonal with your point aimed at the opponent's face or throat. You should do this initial cut or Vorschlag from thrusting distance as well.

Cutting this way is counter intuitive at first, since the natural tendency is to cut directly at the opponent, but a dedicated initial attack is dangerous since an opponent who recognizes what you are doing will quickly counter you.

There are two main advantages to using the Hengen:

  • Cutting into a Hengen controls your opponent as you attack.

If you cut into a Hengen from thrusting range, an opponent cannot simply displace your cut and hit you, since you should by definition be out of cutting range.

Since your strong will already be off to the side and high or low, they cannot cut you successfully from that diagonal, and allows you to quickly adapt high or low to intercept their weak while you maintain your point on the centerline. 

This give you the initiate and allows you to control the pace of the fight, which is essential to good swordsmanship. 

This also means that they are prevented from rushing in until they deal with your point. This advantage will usually either lead to a fight from the bind, a Krieg, or they will attempt to strike your point which leads to an empty displacement and an opening for you to attack if you are prepared for it.

  • You can strike suddenly from a Hengen.

The real hidden power of the Hengen is that it threatens an attack done in the time of the hand. By that I mean you can straighten your arm without stepping, reaching your point into Langenort and thrusting your opponent to the face or throat.

This requires that you control the distance of your cut in a disciplined manner, and will require practice until you know the spacing instinctively.

If the opponent deflects your point before this thrust is possible, you are still in a good position to adapt to them as well. From here you can easily do Winden, or other cuts or slices against them that would be too slow from Langenort. Another problem is that from a full reach most would require drawing your blade back, causing an opening for a Nachreisen.

Practicing Guards

I was recently asked about how to practice guards for longsword, which brings up a series of related questions to answer the first one fully.

The most important part of training is to remember what your goals are, and how your actions help you accomplish those goals. Our goals in swordsmanship should always be 1) avoid death, and 2) eliminate the immediate threat to your safety. These two goals usually combine into the advice that is most generally useful; get your strong on their weak, and your weak aimed at their body.

A guard helps you to accomplish this by eliminating some potential opening attacks in the Zufechten, the opening phase of the fight, without creating additional openings. In other words they eliminate some of  your opponent's options and do a little bit to simplify what you can expect.

There are two main ways that a guard will help close an angle of attack, the first is through creating a physical barrier such as in Ochs or Pflug. Your blade is aligned along one of the four diagonals such that any cut against you to that Peak (quarter of your body) will be funneled onto your strong, the part of your blade with the most amount of leverage, allowing you to trap their weak while keeping your own point free to attack them, thus accomplishing your goal.

The  Second way that a guard helps you control your opponent's actions is through the threat of counter attack. The guards of Vom Tag and Alber use this by keeping your blade free of any contact until you opponent decides to move against you. In Vom Tag the essential aspects include keeping your hands close enough to the body that they do not become an easy target for a long ranged cut, and the point be back enough that you do not cock back before a cut. I cannot stress how important it is that you do not create unintentional openings for your opponent, especially during the early phases of training. Alber allows you to keep your point nearly fully extended and out of contact so that it cannot be knocked aside, allowing for you to aim your point at them in the time of the hand alone, while they will have to move in time of hand body and foot if you are keeping proper distance.

Now to address the original question: how do you practice the guards? Quite simply other than returning to them after a cut and experimenting to see what kinds of options you have from them, all you can really do is learn their names and make sure that you do them correctly each time you adopt one.

I don't especially advise changing guards a lot in the Zufechten unless you are well out of range of your opponent, as each time you change while within striking distance you create an opening for your opponent since it does nothing to threaten them or create a useful physical barrier.
 

The point of competition

Competition is fun and exciting, but you have to have the right mentality for it to be useful.

When new students get a chance to do freeplay they are often surprised to find it isn't what they expected. The nice clean techniques we drill in class suddenly disappear into wild thrashing just to fend off the opponent, and no matter what they do they can't seem to hit the other guy.

This is normal. As soon as you get even a moderate amount of stress in a fight most people break down back to instinctual fighting, which is easy for a calm opponent to pick apart. 

The stress is usually amplified by the fact that no matter what you do your opponent seems to hit you constantly but you can't land anything on them.

And that is the heart of the problem.

 Instead of trying to win, use freeplay as a test to figure out where you need to improve.

In this day and age we aren't about to fight a duel to the death with swords, so losing doesn't mean death. Calm down and pay attention to what you opponent is doing, look for the openings you recognize and stick to a basic game plan.

A good place to start is the plays. Pick one and try to stick to it. Intentionally confine yourself to a small set of actions until you learn it inside and out. You need to master those moves until you can instantly judge range, timing and what your opponent is likely to do without thinking.

And when you notice you mess something up regularly, go back and drill it until you get it right. There's no shame in going back to the basics to fix a problem. Then work on incorporating that action into freeplay again, and keep fighting until you find the next problem.

The point of freeplay isn't who wins, it's about testing yourself and improving. If you just focus on making your art better, eventually you will end up winning as your skill improves, but let it happen naturally. Freeplay is a valuable tool if used properly, but otherwise is a waste of time that will degrade your technique and frustrate you. 

Studying Your Opponent

Information gathering is crucial in every form of competition, from distance running and chess to business and martial art. Ignoring your opponent is in fact the height of arrogance and stupidity, and demonstrates a poor attitude towards your practice and sportsmanship in general.

Some argue that it's a shady practice, however those people are wrong. If simply knowing what an opponent can do gives you an unfair advantage, then they are relying on gimmick, and after a short period of time this will show. Studying their style however shows a respect for both their practice, and their ability leading to better competition on both sides. It is your ethical duty in a competitive setting to find the flaws in your opponents game and attack them until they are forced to improve. This demonstrates skill on your end, and forces them to elevate their own practice.

When two parties interact, they both have equal opportunity to learn and improve from their experience. It is your responsibility to adapt based on these exchanges and leads towards better art overall. If you share what you have gathered from these with your peers, then again, it only serves to elevate your art, and you can be certain that if your opponent is competent then they will certainly be sharing their experience with their group.

The other side of the argument is to say that you shouldn't adapt to your opponent, essentially learning nothing and changing nothing from any experience. This is ridiculous, especially because we as humans are incapable of doing this since it occurs on a subconscious level. It also follows that you must keep silent about anything that you have encountered, and allow others to continuously repeat the same set of mistakes without warning or preparation. If your are a coach or instructor this is doubly unethical, considering that this is your explicit duty.

We live in an age where the idea of 'secret tactics' are becoming laughably outdated, and relying purely on something novel can't cut it for more than a couple months. If the new tactic is sound, then it will continue working beyond that. Otherwise it will spread across the internet, and people will be able to watch videos or talk about it, and form counter measures to defeat it. This is the natural way that competition and conflict weed out ineffective methods. This is why every coach who is even half competent watches videos of their opponents before hand. It isn't underhanded, it is in fact the only sensible and respectable approach to competition, demonstrating dedication and respect for the spirit of your art and sportsmanship alike.

Why Practice Swordsmanship?

Why should we bother to study the art of swordsmanship today?

In short, because it teaches lessons that are becoming more and more rare in modern society. There is an ethical aspect to martial training that naturally arises when learning any combat art, and they help to make better, more civilized people.

It helps to look at a warrior's role in society. On the most basic level, we all need to feel safe to pursue our goals in life. Without people dedicated to helping create this situation society breaks down as everyone works to secure their own survival by any means. In a group where there are no protective warriors, the strongest and most ruthless take whatever they want, and nobody can stop them.

To prevent this collapse, we need people who have the skill, and the motivation to stop these tyrants from taking over. Thus we have organizations such as the military and police who were created to protect us from external and internal threats.

This however can lead to a situation where only those groups learn how to deal with intense situations, and unfortunately, they aren't able to be everywhere at once. Not to mention that I find government institutions to be inefficient at best, and self serving at worst.

Relying entirely on others to keep you safe is like telling kids that the only way to deal with a schoolyard bully is to tell the teacher. If the teacher is around, maybe the bully acts in a civilized way, but as soon as they aren't around the bullying will often get worse.

Studying martial arts in general represents an alternative approach. Instead of relying on someone else to protect you, it teaches you the skills and confidence to protect yourself. When you are able to stand up to a bully, or a tyrant they are forced to behave. 

When you are able to actually defend yourself, and you have been taught proper ethics, you become a civilizing force. Bullies and tyrants look for those who are weaker than them, who won't stand up or fight back. Just by standing up for yourself you greatly mitigate the need for actual violence, since they often will look to find an easier target.

If they do resort to violence, then they were going to at some point anyway, and having the proper skill to stop the immediate threat to your own safety, and the safety of others becomes critical. When you know what the appropriate amount of force is, you can use less and keep more people safe.

As you train, you begin to realize that you may get respect for your ability. Without proper teaching, this can create terrible people, which is why an ethical code naturally arises alongside any respectable martial school. The student must be taught that when they see violence happening, that they must work take action to protect those around them, or they become nothing more than a thug.

The reason why learning swordsmanship is timeless is because it teaches the courage, discipline and mentality needed to ensure the safety of the people around them. This is the basis for civilization and freedom. If every person was capable and willing to help others in need it would benefit society as a whole.

The reason I teach this art is because I believe in building strong people, and strong communities who care about each other. This just happens to be my way of doing that.

More videos of the steel league

Great job to everyone who participated in the Steel League on Oct 3 2015. Here are the first two rounds of the 3 round, round robin style tournament. The third will follow shortly.

I'm extremely happy with how everyone performed in our first Winniupeg HEMA competition, and how you represented Winnipeg Knightly Arts and our approach to HEMA training in general.

Making Good Decisions In Tough Situations

We never have enough information to fully understand our situations, and often we have to make good decisions under these circumstances. Here is an approach to making the best decision you can even when you don't have much to go on. 

First we have to recognize that we make up models that simplify our experiences, taking in only what we have learned to be the most important information.

 When we see a series of dots we imagine a line. When we smell smoke we imagine a fire

When we see a series of dots we imagine a line. When we smell smoke we imagine a fire

Because we are using these simplified models we need to measure them by their effectiveness in the situation rather than their absolute accuracy to reality.

 If you believe your house is on fire, it is likely you will try to escape, but in some instances smoke doesn't mean your house is on fire.

If you believe your house is on fire, it is likely you will try to escape, but in some instances smoke doesn't mean your house is on fire.

To make your models better, it is important to start out with the most direct path towards your goal.

 If you believe your house is on fire, the best course of action is to evacuate it quickly.

If you believe your house is on fire, the best course of action is to evacuate it quickly.

As you gain more experience, you will begin to recognize more important information and formulate patterns. As this occurs your model will begin to become more complex. You shouldn't try to skip steps and rush this though, instead focus on getting the best information you can and then act on that.

 After realizing that your house isn't on fire multiple times, you'll remember that you just left the stove on, and that you should turn it off before a real fire starts.

After realizing that your house isn't on fire multiple times, you'll remember that you just left the stove on, and that you should turn it off before a real fire starts.

The important thing is that you don't confuse your models with reality itself, and that you treat them as flexible. Since the model doesn't need to conform perfectly to reality,  you can change it to help you make useful choices faster and more quickly. This is extremely applicable to martial arts training as well.

Historical Combat League Tournament teaser

The Historical Combat League tournament video is out after much hard work. This is the first HEMA tournament we held in Winnipeg. Thanks to everyone who fought, or showed their support, you helped make the event a huge success.

If you're interested in participating, you can look up the Historical Combat League on facebook.

Understanding Art

We call ourselves martial artists when we study swordsmanship. Often without thinking about what this means, it's even hidden in HEMA. Historical European Martial Arts. But what does the art part of this all really mean.

From a technical perspective you could say in our case it is the ability to do what we want to others without having it done to ourselves. However I find it more useful to understand art as a whole. If you understand the whole the specific is obvious. This also helps answer the question of why I study swordsmanship.

A work of art is not simply the transmission of meaning through symbols.

 A perfect transmission doesn't exist

A perfect transmission doesn't exist

The art itself occurs in the interpretation of something with a flexible meaning, or no specific meaning at all.

 Ambiguous symbols can be seen as many different things

Ambiguous symbols can be seen as many different things

The artist creates, selects (or in some cases a combination of both) some symbol to represent the idea they have, or a feeling they want to convey, and people interpret it differently depending on their own personal experience.

Sometimes they repurpose existing symbols or objects and present them in a way that opens them up to new interpretations. Our brains are pattern recognition machines, so adding additional information, even if that's only the context, sets our brains on a hunt for meaning.

 This image has no meaning other than that which you assign to it

This image has no meaning other than that which you assign to it

Sometimes entirely new symbols are created out of bits of other symbols combined together, sometimes by happy accident.

 It's not always exact execution of a vision, sometimes it's seeing something takes shape and improvising. We recognize patterns better than anything after all.

It's not always exact execution of a vision, sometimes it's seeing something takes shape and improvising. We recognize patterns better than anything after all.

So if meaning is flexible, and interpretation itself is the artistic act, then where do art interpreters and critics fit in?

 The important thing is that no single interpretation is correct, it's the layers of meaning combined and overlapped that give a piece it's depth.

The important thing is that no single interpretation is correct, it's the layers of meaning combined and overlapped that give a piece it's depth.

Interpreters and critics help us navigate the different terrains of meaning. They don't tell us the only valid interpretation just as a map doesn't tell you the only way through a territory. But they do help us to find our own way and explore the meanings for ourselves.

I've chosen to represent art as a picture here, but looking at art in this light allows for the interpretation of dance, martial arts, painting, music... really anything that you choose to see as a symbol for something other than the utilitarian purpose it may serve.

So I encourage you, go out and create art.

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