Of Robots and Nerds ….


b039bcb38ae4638becf2d1da1beca751Everyone has a plan for zombies….

….but how do you fight a horde of harvesting robots with nothing but some cool HEMA skills and a duck-handled umbrella?

These are the questions a writer has to answer. Well, she does if that’s a scene in your new middle fiction book Random Girl and the Underpants Gnome.

I need to establish: What cool HEMA skills are we talking about here?

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You’re Doing it All Wrong, or The Weekend Where Everything Went Right

Last weekend Stoccata, Australia’s oldest HEMA school, hosted a fantastic conference bringing together many of the country’s finest instructors and fencers. It was a privilege to have been a part of it, so here is our (somewhat tongue in cheek) tribute to the event.


Stuart McDermid shares some of his insights into Meyer rappier.

Sporting Equipment

‘What’s in the bag?’

A Federschwert, a rapier, a broadsword, two dussacks and a parrying dagger, all of which are restricted items in Melbourne and the knife is questionable in Sydney.

I smile at the lady at the baggage counter. ‘Sporting equipment,’ I tell her and she send me down to the oversize baggage station.

Where I run into another ‘sporting type’ off to the same event though as Andrew Kenner is teaching I- 33 not longsword his bag’s a little shorter than mine. Not much though because he’s got a rapier or two in that bag as well. Doesn’t everyone take a case of sharp pointy things to a conference?

Well, everyone I know does. And standing on the Baden Powell parade ground surrounded by bush, surprisingly luxurious cabins and a dozen people with nine-foot long quarterstaves I have a moment’s sympathy for those ‘ordinary’ folks whose idea of a conference is power-point, lecture halls and men in suits. Because if you’re a HEMA nut then your conference is sticks and swords and throwing each other on the ground and the closest thing you’ll get to a graph is Steve Hand and Andrew Kenner  arguing over a funny looking picture of two monks with swords and shields.


A friendly and welcoming gathering of enthusiasts

AWMACs II (Australasian Western Martial Arts Convention) gets underway Friday night with an in depth discussion (over Pizza) of such important HEMA issues as:

  • If Callum and Colin have unearthed the secrets of all marital arts why can they not afford better pyjamas? (or Music?)
  • Is Paul Wagner right about the protective powers of air or has he seen too many kung fu movies and now believes that taking off your shirt will give you extra hit points?
  • Is Melbourne (where you can now get a deconstructed cappuccino and be formally introduced to your cheeses) still weirder than Sydney which really has a temperance bar?
  • Will Darkwood ever produce a good sword again?
  • Gauntlets. More gantlets. Why don’t Red Dragon produce mittens? Do the SPES heavy’s wear in well? (answer yes) Has anyone heard any more about the pro-gantlet? (answer no, hell will freeze over before we can buy one).
  • And the old timer discussion of ‘back in my day (i.e. five years ago) we didn’t have this stuff and if we wanted protection we had to make it ourselves.

Really when you consider that the conversation also included references to Doctor Who, medieval marginalia and manuscripts, and an extra order of pizza the only surprising fact was that Paul didn’t once tell us that we were doing it all wrong.

But it’s early days yet.


Allonya Cullinan displaying focus with the rapier

Swords and Fire

Does it get any better? The weather is amazing. Last week Sydney was literally underwater, and the floods meant that the bonfires built for the girl guide camp couldn’t be lit. The perfect weather all this weekend has meant that we can. Oh, apart from the fact that the afore-mentioned floods have soaked the wood. But we have pizza boxes, matches and beer to drink while Fire-Dan (a much cooler moniker than MunDan) and friends create an actual air tunnel, find some dry leaves and soon we have fire to go with the swords, beer and great conversation.

HEMA discussion can get pretty heated. Just look at the latest flame war over the failure of a gambeson to protect a rock melon. 😉  Mind you, a conversation that starts with the statement ‘You’re doing it all wrong’ rarely ends with peaceful agreement (unless you happen to be talking to Bill Carew, The Reasonable Man).

But around the bonfire this weekend the only flames came from the fire as Stoccata, Adelaide Sword Academy, Collegium in Armis, Fechtschule Victoria, The School of Historical Fencing, Victorian Historical Combat Academy, and Fitzroy College of Arms, not to mention re-enactors, SCA and HEMA (don’t those elements explode when you put them together?) talked about everything from tourney rules to Silver’s true name, fire construction to dealing with epilepsy,  Meyer’s rapier to the best way to fight with a lightsaber (complete with people on the sidelines throwing boxes to simulate force powers). And if I found it pretty awesome that (according to Mr Physicist/Evil Scientist/Gareth) even if we can’t yet create a lightsaber the sums suggest it’s theoretically possible,  it’s the sight of different groups working together that was the advance HEMA in Australia actually needs.


Enthusiastic sparring after dark

A furious agreement.

Which is not to say there weren’t some fireworks when four different experts got together for a round table discussion on I-33. Now ‘round table discussion’ makes one think of an old Star Trek episode while people in silly costumes sit around a long oval table and ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HAPPENS.

It wasn’t like that.


The likely culprits

Lots happened. And there were swords, and bucklers, and no table. And Paul and Michael Brown bonding on the strategy of ‘just hit the buggers’. While Steve Hand agreed that medieval monks don’t stand still to be stabbed, it was Andrew who provided the highlight of the evening when he announced Paul and Steve’s interpretation of falling under the sword was ‘shit’ and ‘that doesn’t work.’

‘So get up off the seat and show us,’ is Paul’s response.

As these are clearly fighting words, Andrew picks up his sword and shows them.


Bam! Andrew convincingly displays his interpretation.

‘You’re using too much distance,’ is his criticism, followed by a discussion of how to angle the sword and whether it’s long point brought back. And after about five minutes of practical—aka sword clashing—discussion Steve announces he can live with that interpretation.       And that it’s similar to something Tim Hendry often does. Though Tim (who has left his top-hat but not his sartorial arrogance at the door) is quick to point out that though Paul might be right, his own parry is of course, far more sophisticated.

Perhaps, but sophistication does not seem the order of the day. With phrases like: ‘over-bind and hit them’, ‘if they do nothing stab them in the face’, ‘cut under the shield though it may be a bit wussy’ (‘It wasn’t a wussy cut, Paul, I had bruises’ – Steve), and ‘try a spike on your shield, it’s a bit nasty but it does make your binds more effective’; what we are “discussing” is definitely pragmatic swordplay. And as Michael said (though Andrew might fairly argue the point) our I-33 experts were often in furious agreement.

Doing It All Wrong.

But in case you wondered in between wrestling (“Just lift your leg like a dog taking a piss”- Terry Williams), Quarterstaff 101 (“Into his kidney’s—that’s it!”), longsword (“Oh shit I’m in the nach”), Meyer Rapier (“Yeah, like he says, ‘in the manner of the slice’ yada yada yada”) and a list of workshops I didn’t manage to get to Paul did announce that there will be a new hi-res set of Angelo’s plates available soon. And that apparently they’ll show us WE’RE DOING IT ALL WRONG!


“That’s the way you do it!”

Told you we’d get there in the end.


AWMACs 2016



Kids with Swords

“What do you want to be a knight for, Fitz?”

“So I can slay dragons,’ I tell her. ‘Or maybe not actual dragons,’ I qualify. ‘Cause actual dragons would be awesome but fantasy dragons.”

Eliots eyebrows scrunch together. “Fantasy dragons?


“Dragons that don’t exist.”


“You want to be a knight to slay dragons that don’t exist.”


“You’re crazy Fitz.”

Are we crazy? Grown adults playing with swords and daggers and yes, it’s a sport but is that the only reason we’re doing it? Aren’t we also enjoying the fact that we can finally be that kick-arse dragon-slayer, 20th level fighter or Jedi knight for real. (Speaking of which could someone please teach the Jedi academy some handworks and point out that there are other guards apart from plough.) Almost all HEMA people I know would love the opportunity to fight a dragon—or maybe an ogre or a troll or a Sith lord, but I think you get the point—and have done so since they were a kid.

So here’s a group of our kids, with swords, slaying monsters in the forest.


The quest about to begin

The plague has struck, the village is dying, the witch will grant you the antidote but only if you complete the quest and bring back the gold. Four groups of adventurers set out; their ages ranging from 8 to 15, their weapons include a flaming sword, a hammer/sickle, swords, daggers, axes, an invisibility cloak (because otherwise I don’t see how Thorin could have got that close to the dragon) and a willingness to bribe the monsters with cake. The adventure has begun.

Across the path and through the gate

Where the logs do fall

But remember cub it is your fate

To run with the wolves for a spell

Not that way, this way, yes I know it says through the gate but we moved the wolves after we wrote the poem and can’t you hear then howling? Kids crouched amongst the logs learning the lore of the wolf and then running through the forest, it sure beats a regular PE lesson.

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The path runs clear

Or it did in the past

Now the knight holds the gate

And none shall pass

We have squires. They know something about longsword. They don’t know nearly as much about armoured fighting. So of course they want to be the Black Knight. Or the Dark Knight, or the Knight of Doom or ‘just put the mail on and get over to the gate will you, we can discuss the name later’. Just be prepared to fight, kill, die and be bribed with cake.

In the pens far away lie monsters

In the power of Wizard Wurst

Fight with courage and honour

But beware the wizards curse

Where you have kids dressing up and fighting with swords you have Dads who would really like to dress up and fight witch swords too. The great wizard orchestrated true D&D style fighting as adventures battled a minotaur, a giant spider and an evil bird before being caught by the wizard and turned into goblins.

Guess that’s worth a few XP.

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Close to your home

Do the ogres call

United they stand

But divided they fall

That’s a clue guys. You’re supposed to get the ogres to turn on each other (and come on it’s James and Rhys, they’ll fight each other because it’s Tuesday) not just attack them together. But adventurers are not known for their wisdom and CHARGE!!!

Are you sure we have to stop hitting them when they go down?


Follow the sun across the ditch

And the find three huts all made of string

The goblins have coin to pay the witch

But Beware the Goblin King

Actually it’s only one hut as we spent most of the morning making weapons (does that poleaxe really have three axe-blades?) so we only had an hour to make a hut. But it’s a good sized enclose and the goblins have missile weapons and ‘what do you mean no one in the group has a shield?’ and the goblin king is Hamish and he’s got a spear so RUN!!!

Across the path and through the woods

Lies treasure beyond your dreams

But sneak don’t fight, if you hurt his babe

Daddy dragon will hear your screams

Or, at least your pitiful human excuses as Daddy Dragon Mordred lectures another set of adventurers on why—or how—he’s going to kill them if they steal his gold. Cunning was in order but smash and grab appeared to be most adventuring parties style. Only one group managed distraction and true theft and were sure they used an invisibility cloak.

However, I am pleased to say that NO Dragons were killed in this adventure.

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Which finished with zombie parents (a result of the plague) a cure of Mentos (the coloured variety which are obviously more magical) and a great battle. No parents, children or squires were killed in this adventure but hey, you can’t have everything. Now just give me a minute to calculate my XP because I’m sure I levelled up and next time I am totally going to kick that Black Knights arse.


Final series of pictures we had to share:

Dad (Kristian) attacks Hanne. But Hanne knows half sword. And Dad dies.

Go kids with swords!



Sword Compensation, or, The Curious Case of Really Big Swords

13267537_617676405063141_2052306494_nBig, heavy, and slow. Needing two hands to lift off the ground and then you swing it like a slow action remake of Lord of the Rings. We all know the tropes and misapprehensions about longsword. And though no one would deny that the fast, light, clever, and lethal longsword is a beautiful weapon, sometimes there’s a guilty longing for a really big sword.

Like a spadone.

Spadone (spadonii?) vary in height but at their smallest they come up to your chest. Perfect for leaning on a Game of Thrones manner, though a little tricky to fit in your sword bag and, as Gindi Wauchope found when he flew over to teach the class, a sword nearly as tall as a man is not considered appropriate hand luggage.


Gindi (on the right) winning his Guildmaster’s prize with a Spadone

Which meant we had to make up wasters for up to 10 people. Wasters that would be large and heavy enough to be a good representation and light enough that we wouldn’t kill each other. For while blood and brains spattered over the ground are a good look in a fantasy movie they are less attractive on the training floor—where they increase insurance premiums and guilt and lessen the chance of the owner of the aforementioned blood and brains coming back next week.

Joking aside making a Spadone suitable for sparring isn’t easy. But then, hitting each other with large swords, using techniques that are designed to kill people and therefore do not meet modern OH&S guidelines, without causing serious injury is not easy either. And while we now have masks and mask overlays and high tech gambesons and gauntlets and specially designed wasters there’s still a sense (at least in Australia) that we’re figuring out what we need, talking to our mates, dropping into the hardware store and solving the damn gear problems so we can get back to hitting each other.

In this case thanks for Stoccata for their waster making plan. Check it out in more detail here.

Take one Shinai (doesn’t need to be new) put 60 cm of poly pipe on the end and then slide some dowel (a piece of thick broomstick handle from Bunnings works) along it for strength and attach it all with screws.  Put a poly-pipe stopper on the end and attach with tape. You can then bolt on steel quillons but we found it easier to use four pieces of garden hose attached with cable ties and more tape. Once you’ve covered the plastic with more tape (black is good because it covers a multitude if sins and most people think it looks cool) you have a Spadone waster.


Do this eight times and the problem is solved. Use the shinai you have at home, the one George dropped off and six more bought from the martial arts store and the problem is solved. Go into the martial arts store and find they are all out of shinai and aren’t expecting any more until next week AFTER the workshop and the problem is NOT SOLVED. Sound familiar anyone?

Fortunately we had half a dozen old Rawling wasters sitting around (sound familiar anyone?). This time we used 2 strips of metal bar (75 cm each also from Bunnings) strapped down each side with tape (fibre tape to start with for strength) and attached the swords old pommels onto the end with more tape (ended up a bit wobbly so we’re still working on that bit —please comment with any suggestions). The same garden hose quillons as before and lots of black tape.  With the flexibility of the old wasters (annoying in longsword, a useful safety feature inn the big sword) and the weight of the metal at the end you have a surprisingly well-balanced waster.


Yes, we finally found something Rawlings wasters are good for!

And a problem solved. Now on to the hitting each other. With the really big swords.

Which meant Gindi started with a warm up because unless you want to stuff up your shoulder (sound familiar anyone?) then moving a spadone around is a full body work out. And that includes your feet. No, point your toe on this angle not that, this step is to large, too small and while we’re grudgingly fussing with our position something clicks and the class, beginner and experienced alike start to look like they know what they’re doing. Perhaps there is something in the Italian fencer’s insistence on the importance of style.


Though some German/Italian confusion arises when Gindi starts on the techniques. Falso manco? What’s that? Oh you mean a short edge underhau. Why didn’t you say so? Having spent nearly a year trying to learn the German/ Italian words I’m surprised it’s not more of a problem. Mark wanders round translating but most people are watching the sword. After all we’re not here to sit a vocab test and Gindi’s demonstrations are crystal clear in any language. Particularly good is the fact he not only does the technique with a partner but also with his back to us so we can see the blows from the angle we will be doing them ourselves.

And pretty sword we’re all swinging swords like something out of an old fashioned movie or the imagination of an eight-year-old off to fight a dragon.


James, with his short hair and solid stance, looking perfectly comfortable: a hobbit who’s left the shire and is making his home on the battle field.

Ben, in bright blue, intense and focussed: the young hero who’s going to learn this no matter what.

Fay is graceful with a sword almost as tall as she is.


Rhys is in green and blue striped pants (not a look many can pull off) and the sword doesn’t look too big as he moves it with the confidence of 6’4’’ in height.

Mordred is concentrating and always willing to help, Gareth is grinning, Adam is resting a shoulder strained by too much racquet sport (keep it for the swords!) but it’s Rhys P (fuzzy Rhys 😉 ) who encapsulates the experience when Gindi shows us a half tramazzoni that falls behind the opponent’s blade.


‘Fuck yeah,’ says Rhys as the rest of the group grin and nod their heads. It’s Friday night and we’re learning how to fight with really big swords. ‘Fuck, yeah’ – it really sums it up.


Gindi and Mark – the Mayors of HEMA town

Geekfest (Festival of the Sword, Episode 1: A New Geekery)


Ingulf, Pete, and the Footwork class

Three days of workshops, tournaments, social free-play and a chance to talk, fight, connect, argue, agree and simply geek-out about swords. And not only do we have Ingulf Kohlweiss from INDES Salzburg in Austria and Peter Smallridge from KDF in England but even the formally reclusive Stoccata have come out to play. When you add three fighters from Queensland and seven from Adelaide, a re-enactor from Canberra and representatives from all four—or is it five?—of the Melbourne HEMA groups it’s no wonder that James Buchanan’s arms are waving like a small excited dragon about to take off as he welcomes us all to the hall.

To both halls’ in fact, the Hall of Learning where workshops are already being set up and the Hall of War, with one arena marked out for tourneys and another clear space for free-play. It’s a great idea but it won’t end up being used as those who can drag themselves away from the workshops will find themselves too caught up in the drama of the tourney fights.


Dan Pope’s Handwork class

But first there are over twenty HEMA fighters running around the hall. No they’re not frantically looking for a misplaced right gauntlet or the mask cover they swear they packed (at least most of them aren’t) they’re warming up for Peter’s first workshop.

Running, lunging, an awesome game of dagger-tag that Ingulf gave us and that Mark is planning to teach his eight year-olds, the Europeans are showing us that the fitness expectations of international HEMA are high. And though some of us Australians—like GLECA and Denby (love the vid Chris)—have been prioritizing work-outs for the rest us it’s an exhausting reminder. ‘I’ve been trying to get them working on fitness for ages,’ Gavin says, and though I think swordplay has some other vital components—like, say the swords!—it’s a good point that you can’t do the technique if your body’s not up to it.

And there are techniques aplenty being taught. With twenty-four workshops ranging from coaching to pugilism, from George Silver’s ‘True Fight’ to Sherlock Holmes’s Bartitsu  if you’re not bouncing with enthusiasm and cursing the fact you can’t do all the workshops plus all the tourney’s then please hand in your HEMA geek card on the way out. Because though the organisers might have rejected the name Swordfest for the event (like it was a total swordfest man) there’s no doubt that a total geekfest is happening in the learning hall.


Stu McDermid’s pugilism class

That’s a geekfest HEMA style with swords and masks and fighters lined up on mats learning how to roll and cartwheel and take a guy down—without using their arms! Not to mention box and wrestle and hit people with sword techniques ranging I33 to 19th century short sword. And side-sword, and rapier and sabre and longsword and more longsword and daggers and more sabre and broadsword and yes, even more longsword. And if that’s not enough we have Ingulf’s mixed weapons class with staffs, poleaxes, great swords, daggers and a sickle in case you want to mix it up even more.

If you love Swords you’d love this.

With so many classes it’s impossible to mention them all but I’d like to throw a few impressions out there.


Pete Smallridge’s Wrestling Foundations – fear the HEMA turtle!

Three-person leap-frog and a turtle hip thrust that looks really weird but is surprisingly effective. (Peter Smallridge – Foundations for Grappling) The last time I saw people have that much fun on a mat with their clothes on we were 10 years old.

Enormous enthusiasm for slapping people with the flat (pity we saw a bit too much of that in the tourneys, but that’s another story). And a demonstration that though all a beginner might need to know is that ‘the pointy end goes in the other guy’ it’s also true that short, long or flat; strong or weak; point or pommel; there isn’t a part of the sword you can’t hit with effectively. (Mark Holgate – The long the short and the flat of it)


A simple and TRAINABLE way to decide what to do when the swords cross using the Versetzen, using four of the five master strikes. Sorry Zornhau you don’t get a look in here but you’re getting plenty of stage time next door as a high Vom Tag and Zornhau opening is proving very popular in the longsword. (James Buchanan -The Vier Versetzen in Krieg)

Ingulf’s footwork plenary and his dagger game. ‘If you tell people to do twenty lunges they complain but if you make it a game they’ll do it all day’. Fighters lunging and laughing and noting down the idea for their next class.

Fighters (from 14 to 60), running, lunging, rolling, hitting, complaining that they are exhausted and then coming back for more. Kimito driving all Monday night because he’s got work on Tuesday and he isn’t going to miss Sean Reichmann’s Destreza class. International presenters (anything with Sydney in it is international right? 😉 ) and the chance to learn from Peter (England), Ingulf (Austria) and ten different Australian schools. It’s HEMA learning at its best.


So thanks to James and Courtney and the team at FSV. You promised a Festival of the Sword and for three days in the hall of learning that’s just what you delivered. A HEMA geekfest with all the feels.

And the swords and the daggers and the wrestling and the focus on the fight and the arguments about the techniques and the swords and…

Like I said a total HEMA geekfest.

Next week a look at the tournament side of Festival of the Sword.

Four thou shalt not count …

“Therefore I should also say something here about the qualities of people, who in this art of combat can naturally be divided into four categories, and thus four kinds of combatants are to be found based on diligent observation …” – J. Meyer, 1570


Where Oliver gets some last minute advice from Master Raske …

Pants do not maketh the man—however cool they look—such is the wisdom Master Raske has just taught me. That’s in between laughing and face palming and what’s wrong with the suggestion that Red Dragon or Spes bring out some Iron Man gauntlets anyway. I’m sure lots of people would go for them and they don’t have to have the cool energy stream/knock-the-other-guy-on-his-arse feature which even I can see would be an unfair advantage.

Speaking of unfair advantage the second pools is starting in ten, and I’m up first which means I’m fighting in ten and AHHHHHHH!!!!

‘Any last minute advice?’

‘Know your opponent. Remember the four types out of Meyer.’


‘I gave it to you last week. Did you read it?’

‘Oh yes.’ Reading. That’s something I can get right. ‘Of course, I read it.’

‘That’s good.’ Master Raske has the same very patient look on his face the Marshal had when I went up for the gear check without my mask. ‘Do you remember it?’

‘Yes. No. Maybe.’ I tug at my gorget. ‘I don’t know. I did read it and you said Eliot’s a one and I’m a three, on a good day—which this isn’t—and two’s okay but don’t be a four and five is right out but I think that was Josh quoting Monty Python and the Holy Grail and now it’s mixed up with killer rabbits in my head, which is just what I feel like without the killer bit and I know I’m not ready for this and…’


I stop.


I breathe, which I’ve sort of forgotten to do in the last minute. ‘But what about…?’

‘Just breathe, Oliver. You know how to do that.’

This is true. I’m an asthmatic so breathing when I’m stressed is something I do know how to do. In, out, in, out and I’ve been worse than this and managed to breathe.

‘Pick up your sword and give me the first warm up pattern.’

I can do that too. Ox to Plough, keep working the hangers until the sword is light in your hand.

‘Now the second, Oliver. With the handworks.’

This one’s trickier, but I have been practising and Josh’s competition feder, which he lent me for the novice tourney, is moving quickly and precisely.

… And the first are those who, as soon as they can reach the opponent in the Onset, at once cut and thrust in with violence. The second are somewhat more moderate, and do not attack too crudely, but when an opponent has fully extended with a cut, fallen low with his weapon, or else has bungled in changing, they chase and pursue rapidly toward the nearest offered opening. The third will only cut to the opening when they not only have it for certain, but have also taken heed whether they can also recover from the extension of the cut back into a secure parrying, or to the Defense Strokes; I also mostly hold with these, although it depends on what my opponent is like. Now the fourth position themselves in a guard and wait thus for their opponent’s device; they must be either fools or especially sharp, for whoever will wait for another person’s device must be very adept and also trained and experienced, or else he will not accomplish much …

You can do this, Oliver. Now tell me, what is the first fighter like.

‘Eliot,’ I instinctively take a defensive pose and I think about fighting my best friend. ‘Violent, stupid and cultivating frenzy.’



‘But a surprisingly effective strategy with a longsword,’ Master Raske says. ‘Since they always ready to strike for the openings they will often defeat an opponent who is also worrying about attacking safely.’

‘Don’t think, just zwerchau,’ I say quoting my friend.

‘Precisely, says Master Raske. ‘So if you’re facing that, don’t just stand there and take it. If you respond with passive parries you’ll lose the initiative and get hammered. Get off line. Use the schielhau. Out range your opponent. Counter cut. Counter thrust to the face or chest (while stepping off line of course!) And JUST DON’T STOP UNTIL YOU’RE OUT OF MEASURE OR UNTIL THE MARSHALL CALLS HOLD- because sure as eggs, they won’t.’

‘Or you can use the second type of fight against them.’

two_ps‘That’s chasing to the openings, isn’t it? Meyer said they were artful and sharp. And you said they use a lot of counter techniques.’

‘Yes.’ He watches me move my sword in a warm up pattern. ‘It’s a workable strategy against anyone who is ready to take a swing at you.’

‘Which is a lot of fencers.’

‘Yes, but not all. And it can come unstuck if your opponent doesn’t obligingly stop after you’ve hit them.’

Won’t the Marshall see that?

‘It depends how fast it is, and how clear and what side of the arena they’re on. Marshalls aren’t superheroes. If you’re just voiding and not defending your first shot and then they attack back it can be very unclear who’s hit who. So redouble your attacks WITHOUT over extending yourself.’

Anything else?’

Try to set them up. You’re a bit inexperienced for that but if you see an opportunity you can offer opening that you have the counter for prepared. I’ve seen you and Eliot do that to each other. Fake them out. Look for the predictable patttern’s of response, and use them against them.

‘What about three?’

He grins. ‘They can be tricky. I love fighting a three because they don’t stop thinking.’


‘Judicious and deceitful,’ I quote. ‘You said that was my strength.’

‘It is, Oliver, when you keep your head. That’s when you’re capable of responding in different ways to the same stimulus, so you’re not easy to figure out.’

‘You figure me out.’

‘I’m your instructor, they’d be something wrong if I couldn’t figure you out.’

‘Mmmm. Suppose so.’ My agreement is not what you’d call whole hearted. ‘One day I’ll figure you out Master Raske.’

‘Perhaps you will.’ He sounds a lot more gracious about it than me. ‘Threes do watch carefully so be careful not to give yourself away by tells or preparations. You’ll l need unexpected rhythms and combinations against them. Techniques will rarely work multiple times. And don’t be provoked, or allow your-self to become overextended with an attack.’

‘So what works against them?’ I thinking this being a three sounds pretty good.

‘Hitting them,’ Master Raske says. ‘If you get the upper hand you can keep the pressure up. Provoke and beat them aside from low guards to spur them into action, and pounce on them when they do. They’re thinking and that’s their advantage so you have to push them where they won’t have a space to think.’

‘Into four.’

In your case, yes. Four is trying to provoke and failing because they’re too defensive or simply to silly.’


‘Yes, foolish with the guards and attacks they are choosing. And timid or foolish in their attacks, relying too much on defences dependent on speed or skills they may not have.’


Don’t be a four.

‘And so you hit them?’

‘Yes, you hit them- zwerchau till it hurts. Their responses are highly predictable, so you play into that. You can authenticate yourself by strong attacks, and then fake them out. Get them chasing your sword. Mix up your attacks – different lines, cuts and thrusts – pretty basic stuff. Just watch out doubles if they startle into a panic response.’ He looks down at me. ‘Which is not the way I want you to score points.’


‘So three not four.’

‘That’s right,’ Master Raske hands me my mask. ‘You can do this Oliver.’

‘I can?’

‘Sure you can.’ Josh gives me a grin and a slap on the back for luck. ‘But remember, kid. Four thou shalt not count,’

I pick up my sword as they call Oliver Fitzgerald to the blue arena and grin back. ‘And five is right out,’ I say, as I walk towards the ring.

“… Now as the first ones are violent and somewhat stupid, and as they say, cultivate frenzy; the second artful and sharp; the third judicious and deceitful; the fourth like fools; so you must assume and adopt all four of them, so that you can deceive the opponent sometimes with violence, sometimes with cunning, sometimes with judicious observation, or else use foolish comportment to incite him, deceive him, and thus not only betray him concerning his intended device, but also make yourself room and space for the opening, so that you can hit him that much more surely.”


… and five is right out!

HEMA: it’s not about the pants …


“Fencing pants do not give you extra hit points. They are not a magic item that help you level up.”

A return to our fictional blog series about Oliver Fitzgerald and his HEMA adventures …

My gambeson’s too hot, my gorget’s too tight, and my mask is cutting off my air supply; not to mention the fact that my sword has gained at least two kilos in weight and my gauntlets are flopping on the end of my fingers like clown shoes. There’s no way I can fight with this stuff.

And it all seemed fine when I used it yesterday.

But yesterday I wasn’t warming up for my first ever interclub tournament.

‘I’m not ready.’


our sartorially challenged squire in his terrifying tracky daks

‘Yes, you are.’ Master Raske sounds bored but then we’ve had this conversation about a million times already. “I wouldn’t be allowing you to compete if I didn’t think you were ready.’

‘They’re older than me.’ I look over to the guys in their cool spez jackets and fencing breeches. ‘And you can tell they know what they’re doing.’

Master Raske follows my eyes to the group in the corner discussing, by the sound of the snippets of conversation, the latest superhero movie and precisely what was wrong with it. ‘How?’

‘Well, look at them.’

Master Raske does so. ‘I’m looking.’

It’s not like Master Raske to be so obtuse. ‘They’ve got the pants,’ I explain. ‘The awesome fencing pants and all I’ve got is some old trackie daks. Why are you laughing?’

He’s more than laughing, he’s completely breaking up. ‘News flash, Oliver,’ he says when he can speak again. ‘This is a tournament not a fashion parade. Clothes do not maketh the man.’


the cool guy in their pants. these chaps do know what they’re doing, but these skills are not dependent on their pants. some pants help, though. don’t fight without pants.


‘Fencing pants do not give you extra hit points.’ He’s still chortling. ‘They are not a magic item that help you level up to the next grade.’

‘I know that.’ I’d get offended only don’t think it would work. ‘I know it’s not a role playing game. It’s just that, isn’t it only good fencers who have all the gear?’


‘But? What do they have then?’

‘Skill, experience. Focus on what’s important.’

I’d roll my eyes except that always makes me feel like they’re about to drop out of my head. ‘I mean, what gear do they have?’

‘Mask, gauntlets, box, gorget, gambeson, elbows…’

‘Not that.’ He isn’t getting what I mean but at least it’s taking my mind off the fact that the pools are going up soon. ‘Everyone has that. What do the really good fencers have?’



‘Lots of swords.’ He looks down at the bag at his feet. ‘More swords than they should be able to use. Good gauntlets.’ There’s a pause while he considers that. ‘That still need repairing or breaking in or that they need to get back off a student they’ve just lent them to. A gambeson that qualifies as a biological hazard because they didn’t air it out after the last tournament.’


You came here to fight? Weird, I just came here for the cool pants

This last point is unfortunately very true. ‘What about a mask?’ I say. ‘You told me the first piece of gear I should buy is a mask.’

‘After a training sword, yes, that’s right.’

‘So I can paint it like Ironman.’ I fiddle with the plain school mask I’m wearing. ‘I’m sure I’d fight heaps better if this was painted like Ironman.’

Master Raske face palms. I don’t think we’re on the same wave length here. ‘I didn’t suggest you buy a mask so you could paint it like Ironman. Were you planning to put gold highlights on your fencing pants?’

This is an awesome idea. ‘Can you get them in red?’ I ask. ‘That would really work if you could get them in red.’

Master Raske double face palms. ‘I’m not sure I can take much more of this. How about you go and see what pool you are in.’

It’s the second. Instant relaxation as I realise this means I’m not fighting for another hour. And I now can take my—unfortunately not painted like Ironman—mask off. ‘But what do I do now?’

‘Now,’ says Master Raske, taking my mask and sword and sitting me down on a bench. ‘We are going to discuss what’s important, and not important, about your first HEMA gear.’


Now THESE are some cool fightin’ pants. All fighting pants should have a silk embellished codpiece


HEMA gear: some first steps …

So what are you here for? To learn a martial art? Fitness? Competition? This advice really isn’t going to be useful unless we know what you want to do. My HEMA is not your HEMA. So one size fits all advice isn’t likely to be any more use than a stinky oversized gambeson.

You don’t know yet? Fair enough. You’re just getting started – you don’t know exactly what you want to get out of HEMA, all you know is that swords are cool. Which they are. But immediately after you get a basic training sword/waster/simulator (depending on your budget), you’re going to need some basic protective gear so you’re not borrowing someone else’s stuff all the time.

Key risk areas in HEMA are head, hands and joints – in that order. Those parts of our bodies are fragile – treat them with care! So you’ll need a mask, some decent gauntlets, and a gorget. Because you don’t want to be injured; it really cuts down on training time.

Mask, Gloves, Gorget

Any three-weapon fencing mask should be fine for HEMA. Newton rating is irrelevant – that only refers to the bib. Level 2 mesh however, is good if you can get it. Don’t buy something super cheap, it’ll get chewed up. Just make sure it fits well. Most online sources now have excellent resources to determine your fit.

Gauntlets are a big area. Most HEMA people have far too many gauntlets, and for good reason. Hands are super fragile and get hit a lot. But dexterity is very important in unarmoured styles – hence the constant search for something that combines dexterity and protection. Don’t even start talking to me about the Progauntlet – I prefer unicorns, they’re less mythical.

One thing that we have a lot of experience in HEMA so far is what sucks to use and will get you hurt. Here are a list of BAD ideas for hand protection, and their accompanying injuries:

The HEMA Hall of Shame

*Motocross gloves: many nasty injuries associated with these, they offer almost no protection.
*Mail gauntlets (that’s “chainmail” to the uneducated): Just say no! I had a finger opened to the bone through them.
*lacrosse gloves: kinda OK for plastics, and they last well. They’re made for large sticks, not narrow blades, so they are often bulky and have openings wth little or no protection. Be prepared to mod them to make them safe. You often have pay more for the good versions than they are worth in the end. Many, many HEMA people have had hand breaks using these. I know I’ve been responsible for one (sorry Alex!). Much less good than you think. Check out this link if you’re thinking of going with them.
*Re-enactment style leather gauntlets: almost never have appropriate thumb protection, so awful thumb breaks and bruises here. Often have poor dexterity as well. Only use them as a stop-gap and be ready to mod. Also, will generally degrade quickly compared to other designs.
*Steel gauntlets: The high end ones are OK, but there are better solutions out there. But what is bad about them is that they fall apart and many low end ones have major vulnerabilities. Add that people will hit your hands hard because they think you’re really well protected, and when they fail it’s spectacular (again, sorry James!). They’re also heavy, and that affects your sword work significantly (think 1 kg dumbbells on your hands). Even the good ones tend to require a lot of maintenance.

ar7004.jpgTo start off with you only need something like the Red Dragon gauntlets. These may not be competition grade (especially for longsword) but they’ll work to begin with for drilling and in house freeplay. DO NOT use them in steel tourneys without major mods or leather covers for the fingers!!!

Now I know you may be going “But I want gauntlets that I can use for everything.” So do I. And as soon as you find them, let me know, we’ll make a killing on them. If you have anxiety about hurting your hands (maybe you’re a musician or someone who works with them) then you’ll need to wait until part two of this post, where we’ll look at broader options. Or check out this link.


buy or make a decent rigid gorget like the one shown here. Or risk Master Raske’s wrath. Seriously, he will stab you. Just not in the neck, he’s good like that.

Finally, you’ll need a gorget. A solid rigid one. Beware a lot of stuff on the market at the moment – they are not rigid and they are very unsafe. Yes, they can be uncomfortable and take some getting used to, but yes, you absolutely need one. You know what’s uncomfortable? A crushed trachea or burst blood vessel in your neck. There has been at least one recorded death in the SCA from use of poor neck protection. Your mask bib WILL NOT DO, even if it is reinforced. The point of a sword can easily ride up under the bib.

Destroyer Modz do a great looking gorget, and Winter Tree Crafts do nice simple steel ones. Or just talk to your local SCA group – they’ll have someone who can knock one up. Or you could make one yourself – they’re a simple project, and there are heaps of patterns available on the net. Like here or here.

That’s about it to get started for training, drilling and light freeplay in a controlled manner. You may need a few more bits and bits and pieces of sports PPE for elbows, knees, forearms, and so forth dependent on your style, but you’ll find these easy to source at sports stores, 2nd hand stores, online classified sales sites and bunch of other places. But don’t forget your box (i.e. cup) boys!

But you know what’s no on this list? Fencing pants. They look cool, but don’t make your HEMA about the pants.


this guy loves his pants

FINAL NOTE: Oliver says he still wants Iron man pants—and who doesn’t—but get the gauntlets, mask and gorget first.

Not a Review of Not a Longsword Tournament


“He only put his point in my face a little bit.”

Tournaments get a lot of internet time, results are posted, fights uploaded, and there’s a buzz online as between ten and sixty people talk about how much they’ve enjoyed the experience of beating the crap out of each other with swords. Not to mention the HEMA bling of a spectacular bruise or a broken sword. And the open discussion—again—of how to build a better gauntlet and the slightly less open discussion—again— of what was wrong with the rule set.

This blog isn’t going to talk about that.

Because a tournament isn’t just the fights, the results, the bruises and the rules. It’s also the chivalry, the humour, the box (cup) that has to be taped on and the fighter who goes for a gear check without their gear. It’s the salute to a winning shot against you and the applause to a well fought bout. It’s the smell of leather and sweat and sudden clear breaths as you lift the mask up. It’s computer failure and gear failure and a ring that’s mostly yellow with grey corners because we ran out of tape.  And it’s an experience not to be missed.


It’s an hour before the start and the hall isn’t open. Fighters gather outside, gear bags over their shoulders mugging for the camera. Jay’s face drops with distress: does this mean he won’t be able to play. But it’s only a few minutes later that the first of the organisers arrive. No, they don’t have the answer to the obscure question about the ruleset —what does Gindi mean by penalised for being too boring?—but they do have the door code. We can get in and start hitting each other—aka warming up— in a safe and chivalric manner to the sound of ‘How do you come over the top?’ ‘Nice one to the arm’ and ‘Rhys, I told you to put a mask on.’

While the organisers set up the table, Harrison’s on the doorstep, filing down the edges on his sword discussing points and spears and the relative merits of rolling an edge. There’s a slap of leather as James and Mordred hit each other with dusaks and the blur of movement in the corner of my eye is Jay warming up with a mollinello. Conversations are random and somehow typical.

‘Have you seen my belt?’

‘Can I borrow your buckler?’

‘Oh look, I left my water bottle here last Friday.’

And while old swords are discussed, new gear is checked. ‘I Just put the inner glove in last night,’ one man explains handing over a gauntlet. ‘It’s stiff as hell but…’

The recipient doesn’t mind. ‘My wrist feels better instantly,’ he says with a smile.

Meanwhile, battle wounds are compared. ‘Well I’ve got a scar from last time,’ Harrison comments.

‘That’ll be the burr,’ his friend says and there’s a nod of agreement as Harrison continues to sand his sword.


Then Gindi rushes in; as tourney organiser he’s unlikely to have had much sleep and now he needs to sort the photographer, check with the line judges, grab himself some breakfast before the hordes descend. I can see him poised on the edge of the table, one hand extended. Is he demonstrating a sword blow? No, the posture is too static. He’s outlining the ring. A perfect square in yellow and…. We seem to have run out of tape. Does anyone have a roll?

The gear check is announced. Most fighters are busy but two eager souls respond. It’s just a pity neither of them bring their gear with them. One of them appears clad in a t-shirt and trousers and though he might be wearing a box (not having x-ray vision I can only speculate about such things) I can’t see any other gear. The second has a gambeson with inbuilt elbows and forearms and a nice set of knees.


‘Do you have a gorget?’ Gindi asks

Oh, yeah,’ Rhys replies.

There’s a pause while Gindi studies the bare neck in front of him. ‘Can I see it?’ he finally asks.

‘Oh.’ There’s an embarrassed pause while this sinks in.  Yeah. I’ll just put it on.’

‘You do that.’

But at least they’ve made the effort, it takes a few more calls before the rest of the fighters bring up their gear. There’s no measuring tape but the rule is simple, if it’s longer than the marshal’s sword it’s a rapier, if it’s shorter it’s a sword. And Mark’s odd shaped buckler is put to the vote.

‘Anyone have a problem with this?’ Gindi asks.

‘Don’t hit me in the face with it,’ is the only response and the elliptical shield is passed.

It mightn’t be the way they do it elsewhere but it’s fair, fast and friendly and there’s no complaints.


The fighting starts only twenty minutes late after the obligatory change to the announced pools. There’s the usual panic

‘You’re up first.’

‘Oh my God, against who?’

And the usual apprehension.

‘I have to fight who? First? No way.’

And the not so usual arm-band colours of yellow and red to match the ping pong bats in the line marshals’ hands.


But, though judging with poster-painted bats might be a far cry from formal flags there’s nothing clown-like about the line-judge’s focus. For the next five hours they will watch the fight, calling shots and providing the extra sets of eyes that make marshalling possible. And the marshal himself stands ready, head tilted forward to focus, his staff not just a prop but a potential weapon, prepared to intervene if the fighters don’t respond to the call of hold. (Yes, Jay, even if it has just got exciting.)

This is the moment when tension normally spikes but the atmosphere is still relaxed. Fighters salute and take their guards

shannon.jpg‘I said take your guard,’ Gindi says.

‘But he’s all the way over there,’ Shannon protests.

‘And fence!’

The Not a Longsword Tournament is officially underway.


This blog isn’t about the individual fights (checks out the video’s and pictures on The School of Historical Fencing‘s page, photos here) but there are some magic moments that are worth mentioning.


‘Well, that was embarrassing, Mr Harris.’

Perhaps the most appropriate comment as two experienced fighters impale each other.


‘Hold! I said Hold! I did not say deliver a flurry of blows.’

‘But it was just getting exciting.’

And at the next pass a buckler goes flying.


Sparks from the swords in the sword and buckler final.


A perfect disarm in the rapier final …


Not to mention:

James ending up on his arse (twice).

Mark doing a double flourish and stab after the call of ‘too boring’ to his last three touches,

Woody practically running into combat,

Rhys (6’ 4”) crouching down to half his height and bouncing like a monoped.

Rosamunde shrugging off a hard hit to the shoulder and delivering some beautifully timed stabs.

Harrison’s puzzled tilt of his bumblebee mask after he’s been hit (WTF?).

P1020286.JPGEveryone’s support when an irate member of the public came in to hassle Eva.

And the fact that in over 60 fights there were no serious injuries.

It was a great day.

Now, I hear we’re meeting in the pub for drinks afterwards. Are you coming?


Photos by Nikolai. Check out his FB page.


Reality, fantasy, and the story of HEMA



When we dream, we put together bits and pieces from our lives, our hopes and our fears and we jumble them together in a kaleidoscope of images that often bear no relation to reality. And when we wake that kaleidoscope comes into our conscious mind and affects the way we feel and even the way we act and the line between reality and a dream is always fluid and never fixed.

And that is the case with fiction. A writer takes bits and pieces from her life, from other’s lives, a student who’s got a good head and good measure and a problem with standing firm becomes a nerd growing into a knight. An old episode with a neighbour and a baseball bat becomes a flash-point. And techniques like the noble sheep grip and vom tag become solutions and comic by-play.

But then the dream comes into the waking world and the story changes. And Oliver starts effecting Joseph not just the other way around and that’s a tale I have to share. So this is the first of what I hope will be a new series of stories.

Stories about not just Oliver, but Joseph, the fencer who inspired him. Stories of fact as well as fiction. Stories of courage and chivalry, gentleness and prowess, scholarly debate and childish boasting, the story of the hundreds of nerds out there who have picked up a sword and become a knight.

The story of HEMA.

But first let me share with you the first time I noticed Oliver influencing Joseph.

Continue reading

Poleaxes are Awesome

“Strike in and hasten forth;
rush to, let it hit, or go by.”


All the poleaxing!

And it is not surprising that they are the other weapon (as well as longsword) that you see knights use. And though I refuse to budge from my allegiance to the sword I have to admit that poleaxes are seriously kick-arse and if I was facing a dragon of any significant size I would probably like to have a poleaxe as well as a sword.

And although this post is normally about me (Oliver) and my study of German longsword today I am going to talk about Mark and ASA and poleaxes.


Mark (the one in the burgundy hat) with two of his Pages at the Fair.

11164797_10205675272576076_5860532793811636005_nMark is the head of Adelaide Sword Academy and he often poses for Master Raske in the videos. ASA is the group that trained Joseph and Kai and the other people that have appeared in this blog.  It’s a lot like St George’s Fechtschule except that Mark trains people from age 7 up and they do armoured fighting as well as HEMA longsword and rapier.

I think we should do this too but when I mentioned it to Master Raske he said:

  1. We need to learn to use our first weapon properly before we move on to our second
    1. But IF we pass our squires test he will start us on half sword which is the first stage in armoured combat.
  2. BUT we need to learn to control ourselves before he is letting us loose with a poleaxe.
  3. Since large dragons are not common in suburbia he thinks this decision will not endanger our lives (OR MORE IMPORTANTLY ANYONE ELSE’S!!!)
  4. He will consider starting a Juniors class.

FYI, this is what “smiting”looks like 🙂

So though our conversation could have benefits for the next generation—who will learn swordplay early and avoid nerd loserdom and probably repay us by kicking our arses—it did not achieve its desired effect of turning Eliot and me into poleaxe wielding maniacs. (Though once I start thinking of the trouble I’ve gotten in to with a baseball bat and what Eliot would do to me with a poleaxe I can see that Master Raske may have a point)

 But here are some of the cool things ASA did at the last medieval fair.

Killed their parents: which must be awesome fun though I do not think hitting my mum with a sword (even a boffer sword) would change her mind about not trusting HEMA practitioners.


Parents lining up to be slaughtered. They know not the fury of the Pages… (mwahahaha!)


The Pages close in on a pesky Ogre

Fought with steel (AT AGE 10!) Talk about unfair to us non sword-fighting infants who had to make do with poor quality lightsabers and imagination.

Page Bianca fighting Mezzin the Squire

Page Bianca fighting Mezzin the Squire

Had some great longsword battles: This one here is Joseph (in red) vs Hamish (in leather). Hamish wins this one but Joseph got his revenge the next day.

Fought in armour with poleaxes:  Which is epic brutal because you have to hit a knight in armour multiple times before they go down. Master Raske says this is because, despite what you see in the movies, armour actually works.

If you liked that, here’s a compilation of ALL of the armoured fights. 🙂