Are HEMA walking the same path as modern fencing?

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Are HEMA walking the same path as modern fencing?

Postby Lidsman » 01 Dec 2016 10:03

First of all, I mean no disrespect to the finalist of Open Longsword at Swordfish 2016. They are excellent swordsmen and fight according to the rules. I write this with the only intention to learn and to start a discussion.

Matt posted a video where he came to the conclusion that modern fencing is more like playing tag than a martial art. I agree with him but when watching the Open Longsword final at Swordfish 2016 ...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBbBI5mEvQc&t=2052s

... I saw two fighters with what looked more like whips than swords doing Zwerchhau at each other until one of them won. I saw the resemblance with what Matt criticized with modern fencing where both fighter went all in and hoped to be the one that scored a hit. I admit I have not the experience nor the knowledge to draw any conclusion about this but I wonder if not HEMA are beginning to walk the same path as modern fencing.

It would be interesting to read the thoughts of more experienced men and women.
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Re: Are HEMA walking the same path as modern fencing?

Postby knirirr » 01 Dec 2016 13:03

I would not be at all surprised to see a lot of HEMA longsword go in a similar direction to modern sport fencing. One of my favourite articles (http://www.nononsenseselfdefense.com/four_focuses.html) discusses the various focuses of studying martial arts and if one's primary goal is to win at competition then it is inevitable that tactics, techniques and training methods will adapt to that goal.

As the article says:

Each focus is real and valid, but it may not emphasize what you want to learn or what you need.


So, I would not be particularly bothered by this as long as I can still find what I want. Given that Judo is an Olympic sport and yet one can still find Jiu-jitsu classes with focuses on tradition then I think it likely that HEMA may well end up similarly, i.e. one will be able to find classes catering to one's preference from a wide spectrum of focuses and intensities.

By the way, I had a student enquire recently saying that he had a reenactment background and now wished to move into competitive longsword, when we don't do longsword and only dabble in competition (it's a bit of fun now and then). I explained the above to him and directed him to another HEMA school which would better meet his goals.
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Re: Are HEMA walking the same path as modern fencing?

Postby Sabs » 01 Dec 2016 13:23

I haven't been doing HEMA very long either, but I have also felt the same way about many tournaments that I watch. I guess with regards to the power of blows there isn't much that can be done, as our current equipment can't really handle "full power", but even then I see a lot of points being scored for very light contact and blows with poor edge alignment. These two things can be improved over time by better training of referees and such, but there is another issue that I feel could really halt the "sportification" we see, and that's the afterblow.

In many rulesets, whether or not there was an afterblow scored against a competitor, they generally receive the full amount of points for the blow they struck, whilst the person that got in the afterblow will also be rewarded with a less amount of points. The problem with this is that the person that got the first blow will often disregard their safety in order to get their hit in. This often leads to one fencer just rushing in to score the point and hitting wildly, or performing a great big lunge that is difficult to recover from, things like that which leave them in a poor position to defend themselves after getting in the hit.

I think that punishing the fencer that receives an afterblow more harshly in some way should be considered more in future rulesets. Even though it's competition, the fencer's #1 rule should still be DON'T GET HIT.
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Re: Are HEMA walking the same path as modern fencing?

Postby Lidsman » 01 Dec 2016 13:29

knirirr wrote:... As the article says:

Each focus is real and valid, but it may not emphasize what you want to learn or what you need.


So, I would not be particularly bothered by this as long as I can still find what I want. Given that Judo is an Olympic sport and yet one can still find Jiu-jitsu classes with focuses on tradition then I think it likely that HEMA may well end up similarly, i.e. one will be able to find classes catering to one's preference from a wide spectrum of focuses and intensities.



Thanks for the article and input. It was interesting to read and quite hopeful. There are many paths to wander...
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Re: Are HEMA walking the same path as modern fencing?

Postby Lidsman » 01 Dec 2016 13:31

Sabs wrote:... I think that punishing the fencer that receives an afterblow more harshly in some way should be considered more in future rulesets. Even though it's competition, the fencer's #1 rule should still be DON'T GET HIT.


Interesting point. And you're right of course, you should be able attack your opponent and parry his afterblow.
Last edited by Lidsman on 01 Dec 2016 16:50, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Are HEMA walking the same path as modern fencing?

Postby Sabs » 01 Dec 2016 14:21

The ruleset used at Fechtschule New York this year I found to be a good experiment in this, as it seemed to do a good job at punishing the fencers for getting hit, therefore making them play more defensively, but not defensively in the bad sense.

Of course not all rulesets should become this (as eventually people will find ways to game it), but I think it's a step in the right direction at least.

Are there any competitions that people feel have gotten something right? Or at least aspects of a ruleset that you think encourage good martial behaviour.
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Re: Are HEMA walking the same path as modern fencing?

Postby knirirr » 01 Dec 2016 14:39

Sabs wrote:Are there any competitions that people feel have gotten something right? Or at least aspects of a ruleset that you think encourage good martial behaviour.



The Smallsword Symposium tournament has sometimes used the following simple rules which I often employ in my classes:

- A fencer who scores a clean hit on their opponent without receiving an afterblow or exchanged thrust is said to have the advantage.
- Anyone who scores a hit such as that mentioned above whilst they have the advantage wins the bout.
- An exchanged thrust or an afterblow resets the advantage.
- After three exchanges or afterblows the bout ends in a double defeat.
- A successful disarm, grapple &c. (if allowed) counts as delivering a clean hit.

It seems to have worked well at that event.
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Re: Are HEMA walking the same path as modern fencing?

Postby Sabs » 01 Dec 2016 14:58

knirirr wrote:The Smallsword Symposium tournament has sometimes used the following simple rules which I often employ in my classes:

- A fencer who scores a clean hit on their opponent without receiving an afterblow or exchanged thrust is said to have the advantage.
- Anyone who scores a hit such as that mentioned above whilst they have the advantage wins the bout.
- An exchanged thrust or an afterblow resets the advantage.
- After three exchanges or afterblows the bout ends in a double defeat.
- A successful disarm, grapple &c. (if allowed) counts as delivering a clean hit.

It seems to have worked well at that event.


Those rules sound very interesting, almost like tennis but with swords! I can imagine that would discourage reckless behaviour, but in a different way to what FNY did. We should definitely see more of this.
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Re: Are HEMA walking the same path as modern fencing?

Postby tea » 01 Dec 2016 19:24

I fundamentally disagree with the premise - if anything, I think the bouts at Swordfish showed in general that strong defensive skills and self-protection were extremely useful. Both fencers in the final were trying to execute difficult techniques at high speed, but they were taking into account what their opponent did, not simply ignoring it.

To the specific point that fencers were too eager to go for the hit, since the hit is better than the afterblow, that's not true in the rules that were used. All hits, whether first, after, or double, are scored by the same metric. If you frantically lunge to hit first, without covering yourself, then you won't get any points. There are unfortunate behaviours you see produced by the Nordic League style rules (ochs and the zwerhaw are both particularly good, so they get used a lot), but the charge of encouraging hitting without cover is not one they can be blamed for.

This plays into the single biggest defence that we have against the path of modern fencing: no standardisation. Some tournaments are BYOS, some provide weapons. Some use afterblow rules, some use priority, some use other options entirely. Some weight points by target, some weight them by technique, some use flat scoring. Some require fencers to demonstrate other skills as well, such as cutting or technique interpretation. The Longpoint League in the US has made it a league rule that there must be at least two rulesets used across the league tournaments.

In Olympic fencing, a fencer trains to play a single game. That game is absolutely standard, and will be the same wherever in the world they go to play it. So learning to play the rules of that game as well as possible makes perfect sense. In HEMA - even in competitive longsword - that won't get you very far. If you really want to build a reputation as an awesome competition fencer, you need to be able to win under a huge range of rules - and by far the easiest way to do that is to become a good martial fencer.
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Re: Are HEMA walking the same path as modern fencing?

Postby Lidsman » 01 Dec 2016 19:27

The most simple rule would be that you get one point if you score a hit without beeing hit. Where you hit your opponent should not matter since I belevie that a hit from a Longsword means that the duel is over.
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Re: Are HEMA walking the same path as modern fencing?

Postby knirirr » 01 Dec 2016 19:34

tea wrote:In Olympic fencing, a fencer trains to play a single game. That game is absolutely standard, and will be the same wherever in the world they go to play it. So learning to play the rules of that game as well as possible makes perfect sense. In HEMA - even in competitive longsword - that won't get you very far. If you really want to build a reputation as an awesome competition fencer, you need to be able to win under a huge range of rules - and by far the easiest way to do that is to become a good martial fencer.


I still disagree with this premise - to see why, take a look at the article I posted in my first comment. Whatever the rules, the focus is the same.
Having said that it doesn't really bother me whether longsword becomes more sportified or not, or whether that is to its detriment or not, since it's not something I do and affects me only peripherally. Nor does it affect me should anyone hold a contrary opinion.
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Re: Are HEMA walking the same path as modern fencing?

Postby tea » 02 Dec 2016 15:20

Lidsman wrote:The most simple rule would be that you get one point if you score a hit without beeing hit. Where you hit your opponent should not matter since I belevie that a hit from a Longsword means that the duel is over.


Now, put on your gaming hat.

If I get a lead over my opponent, should I just double them out to preserve my lead and win?

Why should I take the risk of attacking a deeper target, instead of just sniping at fingers?

All rules have flaws. Flat scoring tends to lead to hand sniping instead of committed attacks to deep targets. Afterblows cancelling the initial strike tends to lead to deliberately doubling out when you're in the lead. Of course, the alternative choices also have flaws - one reason for the popularity of ochs and the zwerhaw at Swordfish is that hand hits score less than head hits.

There is some very insightful commentary by the Longpoint rules designers here: all rules provide an incentive to pick some options over others. People who focus on winning will follow those incentives. So try and make the rules you use reward the fencing you want to see.

Given they've created an environment where people use disarms and so on even in the finals, instead of just sniping at hands, it seems to be working quite well.

This is why diversity is generally more important than ruleset. People who play to any rules will play to the flaws in yours. Making them perform well under a range of rulesets means they can't build a strategy around exploiting any single set.
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Re: Are HEMA walking the same path as modern fencing?

Postby Sabs » 03 Dec 2016 04:08

tea wrote:Now, put on your gaming hat.

If I get a lead over my opponent, should I just double them out to preserve my lead and win?

Why should I take the risk of attacking a deeper target, instead of just sniping at fingers?

All rules have flaws. Flat scoring tends to lead to hand sniping instead of committed attacks to deep targets. Afterblows cancelling the initial strike tends to lead to deliberately doubling out when you're in the lead. Of course, the alternative choices also have flaws - one reason for the popularity of ochs and the zwerhaw at Swordfish is that hand hits score less than head hits.

There is some very insightful commentary by the Longpoint rules designers here: all rules provide an incentive to pick some options over others. People who focus on winning will follow those incentives. So try and make the rules you use reward the fencing you want to see.

Given they've created an environment where people use disarms and so on even in the finals, instead of just sniping at hands, it seems to be working quite well.

This is why diversity is generally more important than ruleset. People who play to any rules will play to the flaws in yours. Making them perform well under a range of rulesets means they can't build a strategy around exploiting any single set.


So what about modifying those rules slightly to what I think FightCamp has done at some point which is disqualifying the fencers after a certain amount of double hits?

Also, I understand the desire to encourage a greater range of moves in competition, but is the problem of "hand-sniping" really that large, especially considering the fact that there's no much wrong with doing so historically speaking?
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Re: Are HEMA walking the same path as modern fencing?

Postby Lidsman » 03 Dec 2016 08:29

Sabs wrote:... Also, I understand the desire to encourage a greater range of moves in competition, but is the problem of "hand-sniping" really that large, especially considering the fact that there's no much wrong with doing so historically speaking?


I agree with you. I have read somewhere that hits at hands or feet were rewarded with higher points than hits on the body in some manual.
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Re: Are HEMA walking the same path as modern fencing?

Postby Sabs » 03 Dec 2016 09:14

Lidsman wrote:I agree with you. I have read somewhere that hits at hands or feet were rewarded with higher points than hits on the body in some manual.


Not to mention that many duels in Italy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were to first blood, with the aim generally to draw blood on the opponent's sword arm.
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Re: Are HEMA walking the same path as modern fencing?

Postby tea » 04 Dec 2016 19:19

Sabs wrote:So what about modifying those rules slightly to what I think FightCamp has done at some point which is disqualifying the fencers after a certain amount of double hits?


This also has problems (for example, it can discourage fencers from attempting techniques like the five hews, which have a higher risk of a double-hit if incorrectly executed).

Sabs wrote:Also, I understand the desire to encourage a greater range of moves in competition, but is the problem of "hand-sniping" really that large, especially considering the fact that there's no much wrong with doing so historically speaking?


Anecdotally, what happens is that people who want to complain about competitions then complain about how they're only about hand-sniping and people don't do other techniques from the manuals.

More directly, it depends on what you want your competition bout to try and show. Very few are attempting to be an accurate simulation of a 'real duel' - instead, the goal is generally to provide an environment in which people can test and demonstrate their studies of historical sources.

When you look at something like the early Liechtenauer glosses, the basic assumption made throughout is that the opponent is attacking a deep target - there are dozens of plays that start "when he cuts at your head" or "when he thrusts at your body". If your opponent never attacks to those deep targets, you don't have the right situations to actually use the material you've been training.

So far, tournaments which reward deep targets by some method generally show a lot more use of historical techniques and counter-techniques, because they're giving both fencers an incentive to try them.

Lidsman wrote:I agree with you. I have read somewhere that hits at hands or feet were rewarded with higher points than hits on the body in some manual.


Manciolino 1531: 3 points for the head, 2 points for the foot, 1 point for everywhere else, hands off target. It seems to have been a recognition of the fact that safely attacking the foot is very difficult, so a good display of skill.

This actually plays into a wider thing - most of the historical rules we do have indicate that hand hits were forbidden in play/tournaments, not encouraged. They weren't trying to simulate fights, just like we don't. Instead they were creating an environment to reward displaying techniques and skill that were considered praiseworthy.

There's nothing wrong with a ruleset of "clean hits only, no weighted scoring". But it is important to recognise what that encourages, and think about whether that is the kind of fencing you want to see people in your tournament try to display.
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Re: Are HEMA walking the same path as modern fencing?

Postby swordflasher » 04 Dec 2016 22:39

tea wrote:
More directly, it depends on what you want your competition bout to try and show. Very few are attempting to be an accurate simulation of a 'real duel' - instead, the goal is generally to provide an environment in which people can test and demonstrate their studies of historical sources.


and

tea wrote: They weren't trying to simulate fights, just like we don't[my italics]. Instead they were creating an environment to reward displaying techniques and skill that were considered praiseworthy.



I'm not sure those statements sit comfortably with my understanding of Hema. I don't see a distinction between 'displaying techniques and skill that were considered praiseworthy' and 'attempting to be an accurate simulation of a 'real duel' '.
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Re: Are HEMA walking the same path as modern fencing?

Postby knirirr » 06 Dec 2016 09:35

tea wrote:There's nothing wrong with a ruleset of "clean hits only, no weighted scoring". But it is important to recognise what that encourages, and think about whether that is the kind of fencing you want to see people in your tournament try to display.


Hand sniping?
The type of weapon and the nature of the tournament will have some bearing as well; in the case I mentioned they worked very well where used (some pools used different rules, and I know of no problems there) and the fencing seen was generally good. However, I get the impression that this event is still firmly in focus no. 2 with the tournament being viewed as a bit of entertainment rather than the main focus of the event, which is one reason I like it. If we were to shift to focus no. 4, with the tournament being the main draw and the associated classes being of secondary importance, then I would expect the "gaming hat" to which you referred earlier to be worn and changes of rules and structure to be needed.

I recall being hit on the hand once in the semi-final last time, but generally thrusts were delivered to the torso. Hand hits are certainly possible but they are often more difficult than thrusting to the body, although the nature of modern jackets and tips may well have an effect on this.

Historically:

Sir William Hope (Sword Man's Vade Mecum) wrote:Rule V:

With Calmness, Vigour, and Judgement, Thrust at his Sword-hand, Wrest, or Arm, or at his nearest advanced Thigh, &c.

The Reasons upon which this Rule is Grounded are.

Because I find the more home a Man playeth his Thrusts, the more he exposeth himself and is lyable to Thrusts from the Rispostes, and albeit, a Man in Playing for the Life and Death, is necessitat sometimes to play home part of his Thrusts fully to the Body: yet when he doth not design the Life of his Adversary, there is not that necessity for giving them so fully home, and so he needeth not to expose himself.

Now if he intends not to expose himself,and yet designs to disable his Adversary, What better Method can there be, then for him to Thrust at those parts of his Adversaries Body which lie nearest to him, and which he can reach without almost any kind of Hazard, or stretch of his Body, such as are the Arm, Wrest, Sword-hand, and Thighs, and which if hit, do as soon disable a Man, as any wounded Member of the Body, by reason of the many Veins, Arteries, Muscles, Sinews, which are contained in them.

This is also an excellent Rule to be observed by Little, and Short Men against those who are Tall and Vigorous, and whose great Design is alwayes to Contre-temps, when a Man playeth fully home any Thrust to their Body, by reason of the Advantage they have of their long Reach or Elonge. It is also excellent to play much from the Respost upon such kind of Persons; But I think I need say mo more for proving of this, the Rule it self being so clear that it needeth no Commentary.
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