Sword and scabbard of Boabdil (Muhammad XII), Nasrid Granada, c. 1400
I don’t usually engage in HEMA arguments – especially those that occur online – because they’re neither worth my time (I’m a firm believer in “shut the fuck up and train”), nor do I generally consider myself answerable to anyone but my teacher, my students, those few persons in the community for whom I have a deep and inextirpable respect, and ultimately myself. Having said that, since my name was brought up recently in connection with test-cutting and the [apparently still debatable] HEMArtfulness thereof, I want to make a few comments of my own here, just for the record. Note, I’m not trying to start a new argument or rekindle old ones, so my follow-up comments will be quite limited here.
The cutting feats at Longpoint 2014 are just that: feats. They are demonstrations of power-generation (full-body skeletal and muscular coordination), fine-motor control (maintenance of sword edge alignment), accuracy (distance management; targeting; striking along specific albeit arbitrary planes), dynamism (being able to do all this quickly, while moving), etc. As such, they are not combat. The targets, even when moving, are in no way a threat to the competitor. In fact, the only threat to the competitor is themselves, if they lack requisite control (and let’s face it, anyone without requisite control is not making it that far in the competition anyway). While not combat, these skills are all valuable in their own right *in* combat.
Since I think we can all safely agree that test-cutting, in any format, is neither combat nor a simulation thereof, the question remains: why do we do it? Well, that depends entirely on your personal priorities. Why do you do HEMA? If it’s to win [sparring] tournaments, well, then cutting is fairly useless. There is a massive difference between using a sword simulator to make positive contact on another person’s body and using a sharp sword to effect manslaughter. End of story. If, however, you view tournaments as a method of pressure-testing Fechtbuch techniques in a dynamic and chaotic environment, then cutting may have some use to you; yes, there is a mental and physical paradigm-shift that must occur when alternately facing a sparring partner/opponent and a cutting target, but it’s not that big of a shift, in my opinion. If you do HEMA primarily as a scholar – a historian, linguist, sociologist, archaeologist, etc. – that’s fine, and the community has learned and will continue to learn much from you folks. Cutting may be an interesting experiment for you, but if you’re more apt to argue social theory with me, and explain that I would be arrested and jailed for manslaughter for not turning my sword and striking with the flat in this city during such a year, well… my response continues to be that arguing these subtleties is not very much different from those made by the people who spend way too much time between sparring exchanges arguing that “well, your blow would never have landed because my blow would’ve lacerated the tendon in your arm and your sword would’ve flown out of your hand and killed your own mother…” To which I generally say, “right, just shut the fuck up and train.” There is a big difference between being able to kill someone and know when not to (same with responsible gun ownership in this day and age) than deciding that training to kill is unnecessary because the situation is unlikely to arise now or in the historical milieu of your choosing.
Back on track here – No, the cutting feats are not based on specific historical precedent. The argument has been made over and over again that there would not have been much need for “cutting practice” in the high or late Middle Ages because it was a edged-weapon culture. Everyone had and used bladed implements, for hunting, for harvesting, for serving food, for self-defense, for military offense. Cutting practice is for *us,* we 21st-century practitioners who have lost that intimate connection with edged implements. Because of this, I don’t personally believe that it needs to be judged by Fechtbuch-truism standards, because it is just another learning tool (much like the Fechtbücher themselves are). If people are unhappy with how I hold vom Tag in a certain situation, or the orientation of my feet at a particular moment in time, I think they need to step back and look at the bigger picture:
Besides the fact that the Fechtbücher often disagree with one another (and in many cases contradict themselves if their absolutist language isn’t taken with a healthy grain of salt and/or read in a context of pedagogical incrementality) the art of the sword, as with all combat arts, is based on only ONE truth: the human body can only move in so many ways. The Fechtbücher serve as foundations for the Historical and European portions of HEMA – that is, compendia of distance and timing strategies as well as methods for maximizing mechanical advantage with X Y and Z weapons. As for the Martial portion, I am constrained only by two things: that which I can do, and that which I can not. The Art comes when a harmony is achieved in combining the former, and, I daresay, is rather subjective. My Art may not be the same as your Art. That does not mean it is better or worse HEMA.
I’m tired of writing at this point, so I’m just going to shut the fuck up. And train.
P.S. for those who deify the Fechtbücher and their authors, and see any minor deviation as a defilement of the wisdom therein, guess what: there’s a competition for that too. It’s called the Paired Technique Competition. Just sayin’.
- Dated: 1450-1500 (the original)
- Culture: English (the original)
- Measurements: overall length: cca. 42 cm
The original dagger is property of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA.
Source: Copyright © 2014 Arma Bohemia
I love the original dagger, and every time I see it at the Met I think to myself what a wonderful repro someone could make - and someone did!
Here’s a pic of the original, from the Met Collection Online (Accession No. 26.145.7):
Skull, found in France, with a knife still embedded it it. The skull belonged to a Roman solider who died during the Gallic Wars, ca. 52BC. It was on display at the Museo Rocsen in Argentina.
- Dated: circa 15th century
- Place of Origin: North Italy
- Measurements: overall length 97 cm
The sword has a straight, single-edged blade of triangular section, featuring remains of brass inlays at the first part. It has a “S”-shaped quillon and oval quillon-block, plus a large pommel with deep grooves.
Socrates (469 - 399 BC)
..for a two-week span I’ll be competing in no less than 9 tournaments, including various iterations of longsword, langes Messer, sword & buckler, Ringen, and tameshigiri (test-cutting), etc., as well as teaching workshops and coaching
..at two events back-to-back, in two different countries.
I will probably be coming home in a body bag. Gods preserve me.
Tintagel Castle, Cornwall, England
In Cornish, Tintagel (Dintagel) means “fort of the constriction.” The site was probably occupied in the Romano-British period but no structure remains from this time. In the Early Medieval era, the site was the seat of the regional king of Dumnonia. The current castle was built by Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall in the 13th century after Cornwall was subdued by England in part to establish a connection with the Arthurian legends that were associated with the area and because it was seen as the traditional place for Cornish kings. In his 12th century manuscript Historia Regum Britanniae, Geoffrey of Monmouth described Tintagel as the site of Arthur’s conception.
The castle was built in a more old-fashioned style for the time to make it appear more ancient. Richard hoped that in this way he could gain the Cornish people’s trust since they didn’t trust outsiders. The castle itself held no real strategic value. After Richard, the following Earls of Cornwall were not interested in Tintagel and it was left to the county sheriff. Parts of the accommodation were used as a prison and the land was let as pasture. The castle became more dilapidated, and in the 1330s the roof of the Great Hall was removed. Thereafter, the castle fell to ruin.