Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ten Bad Sparring Practices in the Art of Swordsmanship

Here is a short list of pathetic and loathsome practices I have personally witnessed in sparring matches. Those guilty, knowingly or unknowingly; hang thy heads in shame, correct, and/or kill yourselves. If you’re offended, you’re guilty.

1. Touch-taggers. Yeah, you know who you are. Unless you don’t. Which you really might not. You’re the kind of guy who thinks you’d be shearing the limbs off of your opponent when in reality you’d be lucky if you were brushing off the flies with the kind of horrid technique you display. You must have been a boffer fighter in a previous life, and I’m sure you’ll add it to your resume as a “martial pursuit” when you become a “martial artist” and form an acronym. Queef-bucket.1

2. Edge-smearers. You’re a touch-tagger, but up close. You think you’re giving an exemplary display of binding, winding and slicing technique, but you’re really just demonstrating a deplorable lack of skill and knowledge of both technique, and the capabilities of real swords as you touch the other guy with your edge and/or flat and rub the sword about. It is more a display of homo-eroticism than swordsmanship. I’ve seen men feeding their girlfriends hotdogs in a more martially sound manner. Pube-nugget.1

3. Hand-hunters. See your twin brother in #6. With the exception that you deliberately choose a fragile target. Bitch. You may also often be a #5, and you will solely attempt to defend by striking the hands, which results in simultaneous hits, which you then proceed to argue about as said #5.

4. Show-boaters. You suck and you know it, so you pass yourself off as not really trying, when in fact if you did try, you would get your ass kicked just as badly, but in such an event you’d be without an excuse. You think you’re flaunting yourself in the ideal Castiglionian fashion, but everyone with two brain cells to rub together can tell you’re just a douche nozzle. Yet somehow you still think you’re God’s gift to “historical fencing.” And here’s a hint: Yes, you can do sprezzatura wrong, beef-jockey.1

5. The debater. You have no concept of what the real purpose of sparring is. You’re also very insecure about your abilities. Any time the unfortunate incident of you and your opponent striking each other near the same moment occurs, you stop the bout to discuss who’s blow landed first; usually –like a little bitch- insisting that it was yours. As if a real martial artist would give a flying pommel in such an instance. It’s sparring! As if, in such a close circumstance, one strike would negate the other. The only people who should argue about such insignificant crap are sport fencers in a tournament, or jockeys when a photo-finish should be involved. Tampon-sniffer.1

6. The one-trick pony. You pretty much suck, so you constantly deliver the same attack. Again and again. And again. Etc. It’s just sparring. Try something new. If you try something else long enough, who knows? Maybe you can be a two-trick pony, you sorry sack-jacket.1

7. The quitter. You completely lack any skill whatsoever in a given range of the fight, so if your opponent gets there, you stop. That’s all. You just stop and cede the fight. What a lack of audacity and desire. Diaper-bandit.1

8. A lack of control. Your physical skills suck to the point that you will trade a little speed to get in a hit for any incidental injury your opponent may sustain due to your inability to pull the strike. That, or you simply lack any real regard for your training partner. In any case, you’re an asshole who lacks the ability to exert proper control over the weapon. Slow down if you have to. Jackass.2

9. The ground-cutter. This one is just annoying. Your form is so poor that when you are getting relatively intense in a sparring bout, you constantly strike the ground with your missed, flailing cuts. If your weapon was real, you’d need to replace it rather often. Is that how you flourish? If you were a modern soldier, would you also jab the barrel of your rifle into the dirt between each shot? You must be who Doebringer had in mind when he called what we generally know as alber, the “plow.” It also goes to show that in the event that you had any real sense of range, you also have no intention of controlling your strike. Granny-plug.1

10. The water-winger. Either you started your days of “fighting” with blunt objects in the SCA, or you just have no idea what you’re doing. You wear a mask with a hood or a steel helmet, gorget, fluffy gambeson, external cod-piece and padded gloves. Isn’t that what they did in the old days? Don’t forget your inner-tube, life-preserver, mouth-piece, water-wings, self-deploying airbag and prophylactic. Did I miss anything? Because that edge-smearing with aluminum blades can be crippling were it to push around on you without such protective measures. After all, you guys just go at it with such intensity with those clean, crisp techniques. Clown-fondler.1


1. Most profanity in this article is the product of Creative Cursing: A Mix and Match Profanity Generator, by Sarah Royal & Jillian Panarese. It’s not my fault.
2. Really, you’re just a jackass.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

On Sparring

I have two general rules for sparring: 1. Never spar anyone you don’t know, and 2. Never spar anyone with a lack of control.

In either case, it can be inferred that I do not spar anyone I do not trust. Additionally, these rules have double-weight for me when weapon simulators are involved due to the increased potential for injury. These are rules that I have both learned as-is from those greater than I, and from personal experience in my martial career.

These are rules that -for various reasons- I have often broken in the past.

The primary reason for this is the “sparring culture” of the current revival of the Renaissance martial arts, which I will presently discuss.

In my experience, in regard to sparring, there are three types of martial arts, or perhaps more accurately, three types of martial arts schools. In no particular order, there are those that train to spar; those that spar to train; and finally, those that do not spar.

In the RMA there exist all three, but by and large most of them seem to be those that train to spar. This is that “sparring culture” that seems so prominent which I previously mentioned. By “train to spar,” I mean groups or schools whose focal point for the art is the act of sparring itself. It composes a major part of their curricula and class time. They often enough train in rote techniques and other aspects, but it is generally for the purpose of improving their performance during said act. And just the same, they spar to further improve their sparring ability. However martial such groups or schools may be, it is an easy argument to be made that they sportify the Art simply for the reason that the epitome and focus of their niche culture and methodology is the act of friendly sparring itself. It is the ultimate test within their groups, all else being relatively unimportant by comparison. Such is not only the case with many an RMA school/group, but also with tournament oriented Asian fighting arts. Such are the limits of sparring compared to combat. In addition, as all sports, if they are not held in strict check they invite concepts truly applicable only to sparring.

Myself having been a long-time member of such an organization is what inescapably led me to do most of the breaking of my personal rules on the matter, outlined above.

Secondly however, we have those that spar to train. By “spar to train,” I mean those that include sparring as an aspect of their curriculum, but do not regard it as the end-all be-all of their purpose or of the Art itself. This is the case with most modern self-defense schools. Sparring is regarded as one of many tools at the school’s disposal that are used on occasion to facilitate a higher purpose in the practitioner; i.e. self-defense skills. Sparring in such schools does not generally encompass a major part of the daily regimen, and when it is used, it is used as a tool rather than in a recreant fashion; it is used for a specific, designated purpose; to work on a given problem, technique, drill or aspect of the Art. The majority of the curricula of such schools involves training in exercises, drills, and rote, repetitive practice. Sparring is a facet of a practitioner’s abilities, but one of many. I believe this is also the historical perspective of most schools of the Art in Europe, as it is so borne out in modern self-defense practices because of its very efficacy in contrast to the former type of school and the environment in which it was used, but this belief is arguable.

Since I personally no longer have any obligation toward said sparring culture, I am once again bringing things into such an alignment within my own school by shifting the focus off of sparring, yet retaining it as an important tool (one of many), but a tool none-the-less, and by applying it for specific purpose.

However, it could be said that sparring is in fact the epitome of the art in this day and age for the simple fact that so many parts of it no longer apply to real life. Obviously, you will not fight with a sword against someone with a sword, so sparring is the apex of one’s training as it is the closest one will get to such a combat.

I say this is not so. It is a shift of focus away from what the Art really is. If you have followed my writings on the art for any length of time, you will know that the art is a genuine and applicable Art of Defense, here and now, despite the fact that it is a traditional art. Even if one will not fight with a sword in this age, one should train as if one would. Such a statement makes an attempt to separate the art both physically and philosophically, and one should not train in the same art with a duality of focus. Whether armed or unarmed, the Art is one in the same, and one cannot train with a mind to violent reality with his natural weapons, and then with a mind to sport or exercise when he finds a weapon of artifice in his hands. The Art should not be diametrically opposed to itself.

Finally, to continue; last and least are those schools and groups that do not spar. Are they worth mentioning? Such groups generally do not spar for one of two reasons: because they are not martial, or because they are philosophically opposed to the practice. Those in the RMA who fit into this category do so because of some particular philosophical opposition (i.e. I’m morbidly obese and can’t, so I’m going to pretend it never happened historically; I’m insecure about my skills, etc.). Those outside the RMA that are often classified as “martial arts” yet are not martial are arts such as Tai Chi, for example. The tool of sparring serves no purpose to such a practice.


Copyright Dec. 2009, Casper Bradak

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The True Fencer? The Buffel versus the Klopffechter.

Bring me to a fencer. I will bring him out of his fence tricks with good, downright blows!
-George Silver, Paradoxes of Defence.

Hello, dear readers.

It's the Voice from the Wilderness again.

The Cacophony persists in their straining endeavor to find clever new ways to reduce the Art to a single locus - or if they please - force it to dance on the head of a pin. Or the point of a sword? In their efforts, one has come across what he seems to consider a clever, novel, and irrefutable point: the "wide" cut is the mark of the buffel, or "buffalo." That is to say, a swordsman without finesse or art, without craft or cunning, who relies upon brute force alone.

Sadly, it is neither clever, nor novel, nor irrefutable. I've heard it before. These are the kinds of arguments bandied about by the likes of the "Meister" of Die Schlachtschule and his ilk. Things are obviously worse than I thought. The act of induction without all relevant data makes fools of the best of us, it seems. Futhermore, reduction has but one course: In its ebb and flow, it diminishes.

But, is there a case to be made for this claim?


To begin with, they have the term buffel confused with leychmeister, "game/dance master":

Many Leychmeistere say that they...have thought out a new art of fencing...all out of their own heads, and think up wide-reaching fencing and parries, and often make two or three [cuts] when one would be enough...with their bad parries and wide fencing they attempt to look dangerous, with wide and long strikes that are slow; and with these they...miss and create openings in themselves. They do not have proper reach in their fencing...But real fencing goes straight...just as if a string had been tied [to the intended target]...
- Hanko Döbringer*

This certainly would seem to support what the Cacophony is advocating. That is, if one didn't know better. Notice the strong emphasis on the "bad parries." You've seen these in films: The pseudo-fencers attack one anothers' swords in over-wide, sweeping motions, rather than going for exposed targets. It's all about the show , and hearing the delicious clang of steel on steel. Throw in some flying sparks, and you've got yourself some entertainment. As to the "wide and long strikes," a better term might be exaggerated.

There is a difference.

If a fencer is in a high guard (Point A), and wishes to attack his opponent's upper left arm (Point C) with a cut, then he has two options: He can do an over-wide, sweeping cut - bringing his sword ferociously to bear in a motion akin to an arc (and thus passing through Point B, ala Hollywood); or, he can bypass Point B and cut directly from Point A to Point C. A swordsman can do this with a half cut, or even a full cut, bringing the shoulders into the blow, without making the cut an exaggerated, sweeping stroke. "Just as if a string had been tied" from Point A to Point C. It is the difference between a powerful descending punch to the gut (from a stance where the fist had been pulled back, or "primed"; i.e., a normal stance for fist fighting, as opposed to one where the hands are tucked in at the chest, the elbows sticking out) versus the clumsy swing of a haymaker to the face. There is no need whatsoever to resort to thrusting wrist cuts, or rakes, alone.


There are places and times for broad, sweeping strokes, however. Such as a long cutting spring at a distance. Just one example.

The "buffalo" cut is therefore not a "buffalo" cut at all; it is the leychmeister cut, and it's not even what they think it is. "Buffaloes" simply brought brute force to bear because they had nothing else. This didn't necessarily involve exaggerated cuts.

The "buffalo" has no art.

The "dance master" perverts the Art.

However, it should be remembered that the Döbringer text warns us that even skilled fencers can fall against "buffaloes." Clearly, then, despite their modern conflation, they were far more dangerous than "game masters."

So, what does that make a fencer who reduces the art to a single cut?

You tell me.


*translation by David Lindholm. Minor alterations for readability.

Friday, December 4, 2009

What Defines a Warrior?

This is a question I have often heard asked in my martial career. I have also heard many, many answers and debates. But they often have difficulty and disagreement defining such a term and setting it apart from other terms. Still, many people have an innate feeling that they are set apart from the crowd, and they feel this term is suiting, yet they have trouble defining it. The term is spiritually grounded in our cultural ethos, yet the dictionary definition does not match the common sentiment. We know it means something special, but what? The answer is simple yet complex.

When I was writing this piece, I happened to stumble upon this piece by one Dr. Bohdi Sanders, and I must say that it says what I was going to say, in one way or another, and I recommend it highly.

In light of that, I will be brief.

I believe what I have to say does not so much differ from what Dr. Sanders has to say, but compliments it.

I had never quite defined the term for myself, despite all I had heard, but I had of late been pondering the question. Recently, my instructor presented me with a certificate for attending a seminar of his “on Basic Principles and Concepts: Knife Against Knife (A Warrior’s Guide to Knife Fighting).” So I posed the question to him. He answered quickly and succinctly. To paraphrase him, being a warrior is a way of being, a lifestyle, such as being a martial artist, as opposed to doing martial arts. A warrior is someone who practices a warrior art, and does so on their own; someone who strives to perfect their warrior skills; someone who seeks to perfect the art. By way of comparison, say, a soldier or policeman who is not a warrior is someone who performs a warrior practice as a job, for pay, and perhaps never trains without direction to do so, not on his own.

A warrior takes his art seriously and personally. The “soldier” is detached. A warrior is dedicated. Someone who “does” martial arts does so only in class. A martial artist trains on his own, often. The soldier does what he must. The warrior is driven to do what he must. Being a warrior is entirely independent of, yet complimentary to any “warrior” profession.

Martial arts (in the sense of personal combatives) connect us most firmly to the term of warrior. This is especially true of the traditional and ancient warrior arts. They give us a direct connection to a time when warriorhood and soldiery were far more deeply connected than they are today. People did not only join soldierly professions, but were born into warrior lifestyles. If one were a member of the part of society who’s duty and profession it was to fight, it was in his best interests to become a the warrior. One had to be skilled in the martial arts to survive. Studying the art of handling a weapon, a sword in particular, leaves no doubt, no room for a disconnection in one’s mind and spirit that one is studying a warrior art of life and death.

Some would say that it is necessary for a warrior to subscribe to a certain model of ethics. I do not believe this is the case. To be a warrior is to live a warrior lifestyle, and warrior lifestyles often have an attached ethos to them, good or evil. But many warriors have no such thing. An ethos is an asset to a warrior and common, but not necessary. It is an epiphemeral phenomenon; a “side effect.” However, a universal trait of warriors is that they have purpose. They esteem and strive for something that makes them warriors, and it may or may not include an ethos. Warriorhood is epiphemeral to that purpose, and a warrior ethos is epiphemeral to warriorhood. The purpose, the drive, is what creates the warrior. It is what they live and breathe for.

The life of a warrior is simply a life of very special preparation.


Copyright Dec. 4, 2009, Benjamin “Casper” Bradak