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Garrett L. Hammonds




Location: Tennessee
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PostPosted: Wed 06 Jun, 2007 4:46 pm    Post subject: Is SCA fighting similar to real fighting?         Reply with quote

I was just thinking on this the other day, i was wondering if there is any actual connection to real Western Martial Arts and SCA fighting or if it is just loosely based, if anyone knows anything about this please tell me!?! Question Question Question
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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Wed 06 Jun, 2007 6:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This is a can of worms. A lot of folks have very strong opinions on this, myself included, but I will indeavor to keep it neutral and polite. It's also a subject that is near and dear to me.

I have been fighting in the SCA for just under three years now. I have enjoyed every minute of it, and I reccomend it to anyone who is martially inclined.

I'm inclined to say that, because it is a sport, and because there are just so many consessions made for safety sake, that much potential for learning usefull historical technique is sadly lost. Some of the rules (in my opinion) go to far. Halfswording, for instance, us practially unknown and may be illegal in many places. Shield bashing, setting pikes, grappling and a host of other useful techniques are proscribed

This is at least partially because the field is open to anyone. Anyone who buys armor, and can memorize a few simple rules can play. There are no weight classes, there are no divisions for experience or skill level. It's very possible for a 120lb, totally green fighter to face off against a 35lb raging beast who has been fighting in the SCA since he turned 17 and his parents signed his waver. The rules, then have been accordingly set to provide the Society with some safety from litigation in the eventuality that Mongo the Crusher actually injures Erkle VonGlassjaw.

Equipment involved is another factor. Because of the restrictive rules on weapon and armor, most fighters on the field are fighting in restrictive, heavy armor (though as most people gain experience they start shedding pauldrons, heavy cuisses, excessive torso protection etc). This limits mobility quite a bit.Most swords are basket hilted fishbats, and they perform accordigly. Anyone wishing to use a polearm or greatsword is obligated to wear full gauntlets, and this has a tremendous impact on how one is able to maniulate the weapon.

Finally, there is the problem of mindset. If I die in battle, I pop right back up and am fighting in minutes, so the tactics and mindset of the participants has moved away from reality. Real armies will break and flee the field if they are hoplessly outnumbered, or at least perform a tactical retreat. In SCA combat, everyone behaves as though they have a deathwish.

If all of this sounds like I'm painting a very negative picture, there are a lot of positives as well. There's nothing like the din of several hundred heavy infantrymen dukeing it out. it's a very visceral experience. While the WMA (that I am aware of, feel free to correct me) focuses exclusive on single combat, the SCA provides the additional, and no less important, dimension of mass melee. I don't know how one can get that same understanding without gathering up hundreds of people and having them go at it.

Last year I invited some friends from the SCA over to a cutting party. Without exception, the experienced fighters immediately an intuitively knew how to cut with live steel, frankly better than I can. I was happily suprised to see that swinging a fishbat translated quite well.

Additionally, there's a lot of exposure to a wide array of weapons. It's very easy to pick up a new weapon and use it. You may not learn all of the correct period techniques, but at least you have a better feel for the strengths of each weapon, and if you like you can stick with it and gain real depth. I don't think there is anywhere else you can fight against a swordsman, spearman, glaiver, and greataxe in one afternoon, all while ducking incoming arrows.

Sorry if I got a bit longwinded, I hope this makes sense.
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Hugh Knight




Location: San Bernardino, CA
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PostPosted: Wed 06 Jun, 2007 6:42 pm    Post subject: Re: Is SCA fighting similar to real fighting?         Reply with quote

Garrett L. Hammonds wrote:
I was just thinking on this the other day, i was wondering if there is any actual connection to real Western Martial Arts and SCA fighting or if it is just loosely based, if anyone knows anything about this please tell me!?! Question Question Question


If you liken SCA fighting to friendly deeds of arms and tweak the rules a bit as many of the more historically-minded individuals within that organization have, then you come to a reasonably close approximation of serious deeds of arms in the SCA. What you don't see is WMA techniques as taught in the Fechtbücher. Why? because they don't really teach fighting for friendly deeds, they teach Kampfechten or serious duels, such as judicial combats. One book that's a bit of an exception is Le Jeu de La Hache; some of the material makes it clear the author intended it to be used for both friendly deeds of arms and for Kampffecthen, but that's the exception that proves the rule.

In Kampffechten, for example, swords weren't swung edge-on by the hilt (as in unarmored sword fighting), they were grasped in a Halfsword grip and used for stabbing. But we know that many "friendly" deeds of arms were fought with swinging blows. Why? Was it because they didn't know how to use a sword as a lethal weapon? Of course not. Rather, it was because they were attempting to make a relatively safe sport. A case in point is the deed of arms at Vannes at the end of the 14th century. We're specifically told they were swinging with the edges of their swords (and broke quite a few doing so). Likewise, when spears were used it's clear they intended to strike armor (rather than the gaps in the armor as you would if you were trying to kill) and were used in pushing contests. Or take the picture I'll attach to this missive--again, clearly the swords were being held by the hilt. So if you eliminate some of the SCAs stupider rules (e.g., dropping to your knees when you are hit in the leg) and go by some of the more authentic SCA rule sets that simply allow for thrusts to what would be open targets and cumulative battering effects, some SCA fighting looks very accurate indeed. Their rule system needs more tweaking, but that will take time.

On the other hand, much of SCA fighting as normally done is ludicrous. So the answer to your question is that you can find some highly-authentic fighting and more ridiculously inauthentic fighting.



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Longsword Tourney smaller.jpg


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Hugh
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Hugh Knight




Location: San Bernardino, CA
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PostPosted: Wed 06 Jun, 2007 6:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gavin Kisebach wrote:
Equipment involved is another factor. Because of the restrictive rules on weapon and armor, most fighters on the field are fighting in restrictive, heavy armor (though as most people gain experience they start shedding pauldrons, heavy cuisses, excessive torso protection etc). This limits mobility quite a bit.Most swords are basket hilted fishbats, and they perform accordigly. Anyone wishing to use a polearm or greatsword is obligated to wear full gauntlets, and this has a tremendous impact on how one is able to maniulate the weapon.


And would not full armor have been common in medieval deeds of arms? Were not full gauntlets worn?

Here is a gentleman fighting in an SCA deed of arms in full 15th-century plate:
http://www.lightlink.com/armory/pas.html
I can tell you that he is famously successful in his harness, too.

Quote:
Finally, there is the problem of mindset. If I die in battle, I pop right back up and am fighting in minutes, so the tactics and mindset of the participants has moved away from reality. Real armies will break and flee the field if they are hoplessly outnumbered, or at least perform a tactical retreat. In SCA combat, everyone behaves as though they have a deathwish.


That is only a valid complaint if you consider what they do to be a recreation of war. It is not and can't be; there are no horses, for example. If, on the other hand, you accept that it represents the kind of deeds of arms fought on foot that were so common in the later middle ages then that kind of behavior is perfectly representative.

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Hugh
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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Wed 06 Jun, 2007 7:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hugh,

You are right on both counts.

Garrett asked about actual connection to real Western Martial Arts , by which I assumed he meant historically based training intended to teach medieval combat skills, so I was basing my statements on my interpretation of his question. SCA combat, if it approximates anything, would be kindasorta close to migration era Saxon warfare, where everyone fought on foot and 50 men was an army. Big Grin

As far as the gauntlets, yes, gauntlets were used, but the gauntlets that allow for a good range of motion and meet Society safety standards are few and far between. Most of the people I meet are using clunky Ashcraft Baker clamshell gauntlets in 14gauge steel, built to withstand the rigors of SCA combat. The people that can afford tempered steel, fully articulated finger gauntlets, I can count on one hand. What is historically correct, and what is fiscally feasable for the average practitioner are worlds apart. As an aside, I find it ironic that people will dump $800 into a cool looking helmet, that does the same job as a $125 helmet, rather than investing in high performance gauntlets that completely change ones performance level.
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Wed 06 Jun, 2007 7:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The short answer is, with regard to SCA heavy combat, "no".

Hugh Knight wrote:
And would not full armor have been common in medieval deeds of arms? Were not full gauntlets worn?

Here is a gentleman fighting in an SCA deed of arms in full 15th-century plate:
http://www.lightlink.com/armory/pas.html
I can tell you that he is famously successful in his harness, too.


I think the issue here is, very few of the SCA people or even re-enactors have armor that fits their body the way the armor of a 15th century knight or man-at-arms would. The fact that this guy apparently does (it certainly looks like it fits him well) probably contributes to why he kicks ass. Historically armor like that was usually custom made for the owner or carefully modified by knowlegable artisans (sometimes the warriors themselves to fit the body of the wearer in such a way as to allow for maximum freedom of movement.

People in the SCA and modern re-enactors tend to buy "off the rack" armor which is sold by commercial retailers or (more often in the SCA) cranked out by SCA or Ren-Faire artisans who, while far more skilled than I, are quite frankly creating for the most part much heavier, much bulkier, and far less efficiently ergonomic armor than existed in period. For example until quite recently almost all of the mail (i.e. "Chainmail") armor used in the SCA was home-made butted mail, which is not historical and tends to be both much heavier and much weaker than the real thing (riveted or welded mail)

Even the "off the rack" munitions armor in the Renaissance was considered vastly inferior to custom made armor. And yet most of the stuff being made today is not even near that standard from what I have seen.

SCA armor and (especially) shields also tend to be made much heavier than actual historical battlefield kit because they have to stand up to the repeated bludgeoning blows of rataan sticks. A real viking shield for example was quite light wood (such as limewood) of rarely more than 3/8" thickness, a typical SCA shield that I have seen is a very heavy, huge, thick plank at least 1/2" -3/4" thick. Thats so you can stand there and beat on each other all day long and still take your shield home with you when the battle is over. Similarly I believe most SCA helmets are 14 - 16 guage or even 12 guage steel, which is much heavier than most period (combat) helmets I'm aware of. Maybe more like a specialized jousting helmet.

I don't know what the rules are now but when i was exposed to them, you couldn't strike below the thigh, (which makes the huge shields much more valuable!) I don't think you could thrust but I'm not sure about that, , IIRC you couldn't "wind-up" strikes with two-handed or longswords or polearms had to be only from about a 45 degree angle or something. They had some word for it I forget what.

It's a combat sport, you can have a lot of fun and learn something about timing and reach, and learn to do real good 'wrap shot' strike. But no in my opinion it's really nothing to do with historical combat techniques.

Of course, I'm talking about SCA heavy combat, there is SCA rapier which is in fact based on real HEMA / WMA fighting. There may be other sub-groups as Hugh seems to be alluding to.

It's probably true though that what is done in the SCA heavy combat probably does resemble many of the tournament battles of the Renaissance and later, except that they were more likely to use steel blunts in most cases rather than rataan sticks. But a tournament is not the same thing as combat or actual fighting technique, especially as the SCA has evolved to conduct it. It can be a way to learn some useful skills for medieval combat, but if you really get into it IMO you are likely to learn a lot of specialized SCA fighting skills which are actually counterpoductive for HEMA, which you would have to unlearn if you wanted to fight a skilled HEMA practitioner.

I know this will infuriate some people, but in my experience a good HEMA fighter can defeat a good SCA fighter when you aren't fighting within all of the restrictings of the SCA rules (like not considering the hands or lower legs a target, or not thrusting IIRC)... that said the SCA has this brutal round-robin competition and some of the regional champions or lords or whatever are some damn good fighters I wouldn't want to tangle with. But I'm not say, Jake Norwood or Guy Windsor either.

hugh wrote:

Quote:
Finally, there is the problem of mindset. If I die in battle, I pop right back up and am fighting in minutes, so the tactics and mindset of the participants has moved away from reality. Real armies will break and flee the field if they are hoplessly outnumbered, or at least perform a tactical retreat. In SCA combat, everyone behaves as though they have a deathwish.


That is only a valid complaint if you consider what they do to be a recreation of war. It is not and can't be; there are no horses, for example. If, on the other hand, you accept that it represents the kind of deeds of arms fought on foot that were so common in the later middle ages then that kind of behavior is perfectly representative.


I think it's a valid 'complaint' in the context of the OP's question. If you watch SCA battles on youtube, they tend to rush forth and kind of accept death passively, seemingly in many cases without really trying to defend themselves. SCA combat is really no more European meideval combat than kendo is japanese medieval combat.

J

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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Wed 06 Jun, 2007 7:46 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

All of the negative aspect I mentioned above used to bother me more, quite a bit actually, until I began ever so slowy to suspect that none of the above can give on the whole picture, if that's what you are seeking. Not reenactment, not WMA-HEMA-HACA-ARMA, not the SCA, not jousting, tilting at rings, and not reading.

All of these are tremedously enjoyable, though, and each provides valuable fragments of the whole. I think if you want to be really well rounded in the historic martial persuits, you would get the most benefit from dabbling in all of them. Specialize in one, if that's the one that really lights a fire in you, but at least give the rest a try. Some of the very best SCA heavy fighters I know have studied fettbuchs, or have spent time behind a raper. One of our households best fighters took fencing in college, but he attributes his footwork, timing, and range control to boffer fighting, believe it or not.

I don't think it would take a skilled heavy long to adjust to WMA, just as a good tennis player will be quicker to learn basketball than a non-athelete.

As far as a good HEMA fighter can defeat a good SCA fighter, I maintain that it's the fighter, not the style.

FYI thrusting is totally legal, I get a lot of kills with the thrust. The "90 degree rule" has been changed, they simply request that you do not swing with excessve force. There is a movement afoot in the SCA to move towards more historical combat, and away from some of the more well intentioned but restrictive rules. I would like to believe that this is a direct result of the growth of WMA, and the tremendous research that has been done to revive lost knowledge.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Wed 06 Jun, 2007 7:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gavin, good post, considering how volatile the subject can be. There's only thing I'd add. While WMA training does tend to focus on duels between two individuals, large battle free play is an important and easily overlooked aspect of training. So too is fighting with dissimilar weapons. The following article covers the subject a bit: http://www.thearma.org/essays/Tactical.htm. There's also an article in the members area about facing more than one opponent at once when you're on your own.
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Robin Smith




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PostPosted: Wed 06 Jun, 2007 8:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gavin Kisebach wrote:
All of the negative aspect I mentioned above used to bother me more, quite a bit actually, until I began ever so slowy to suspect that none of the above can give on the whole picture, if that's what you are seeking. Not reenactment, not WMA-HEMA-HACA-ARMA, not the SCA, not jousting, tilting at rings, and not reading.

Wiser words have not been spoken on the subject. Each has something to teach. So do what you enjoy, and don't let others interpretations define your truth...

A furore Normannorum libera nos, Domine
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Hugh Knight




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PostPosted: Wed 06 Jun, 2007 8:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gavin Kisebach wrote:
As far as the gauntlets, yes, gauntlets were used, but the gauntlets that allow for a good range of motion and meet Society safety standards are few and far between. Most of the people I meet are using clunky Ashcraft Baker clamshell gauntlets in 14gauge steel, built to withstand the rigors of SCA combat. The people that can afford tempered steel, fully articulated finger gauntlets, I can count on one hand. What is historically correct, and what is fiscally feasable for the average practitioner are worlds apart. As an aside, I find it ironic that people will dump $800 into a cool looking helmet, that does the same job as a $125 helmet, rather than investing in high performance gauntlets that completely change ones performance level.


Here are mine:
http://www.lightlink.com/armory/gauntlet.html

I suspect there is a much greater range than you may realize. For example, all my limb armor is hardened spring steel by Robert MacPherson, and I know of no fewer than 15 people among those with whom I associate/practice who have high-quality hardened spring steel armor (not that all medieval armor was hardened, but doing so today allows you to wear armor as thin and light as the real thing without it being banged into unrecognizability).

Take a look at this picture, taken at a major SCA event:
http://home.armourarchive.org/members/flonzy/...upshot.jpg
I suggest that the harnesses shown there are superior to *any* similar US group of WMA folks.

Now don't get me wrong: I detest the SCA most of the time, and I'm not trying to defend their more ridiculous practices. In fact, I no longer participate because I am so focused on teaching WMA. I'm merely suggesting there is far more to it and to some of its members than many realize who only ever run into the pickle-barrel barbarians that are, unfortunately, in the majority.



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DSSSeminar Cover.jpg
My senior student and I--both SCA

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Galleron_1382_front_small.jpg
Another SCAdian (he wears another helm to actually fight, but just as accurate)

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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Wed 06 Jun, 2007 8:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm really very glad to hear that the WMA is looking at mass melee. As I mentioned before, I have had some serious disagreements with SCA combat rules, conventions, and general culture. If I had been exposed to WMA before SCA, i probably would have rejected it without giving it proper consideration, and I think that would be a huge mistake.

It's also important to understand the history of these things as a whole. The SCA was formed in 1966 in Berkley, by a bunch of, well... hippies. At the time, noone outside of a few professors had ever heard of a fettbuch, probably none of them had ever thought to translate one, and still fewer had really considered actually testing the validity of the techniques they contained. In this setting, anyone interested in learning how to swordfight was really "fighting blind". People who tried were basically reinventing the wheel.

The net effect of all of this fumbling was that it opened the door to further study. I can remember when I bought my first (horrible wallhanger) sword in about 1988, my friends were genuinely suprised that swords were still being made. Now there are swordsmiths falling from the sky.
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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Wed 06 Jun, 2007 8:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pickle-barrel barbarians? That would be me. I am improving my harness a bit at a time, but I just don't have the money to get into anything close to what those fine gentlemen have. Does that mean I should refrain from participation?

Here we come to another key factor, accessibility. Is the SCA full of Pickle-barrel barbarians? Yes. But if history is something you love, if cambat calls to you, and if you want more people to be exited about it, explore it, and share it, then that very accessibility is priceless. It is the catalyst for deeper learning.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Wed 06 Jun, 2007 8:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gavin Kisebach wrote:
In this setting, anyone interested in learning how to swordfight was really "fighting blind". People who tried were basically reinventing the wheel.


Just out of curiosity did any of this " blind " reinventing of the wheel get some of it right if right is defined as corresponding to what we now know ( or think we know ) now based on historical texts ?

I would assume that some very poor techniques might have been created but that some would be virtual " clones " of the period ones. But also many basic things missing as well as the least obvious and more complex techniques.

So what did they get right ? ( if anything )

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Hugh Knight




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PostPosted: Wed 06 Jun, 2007 8:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Robin Smith wrote:
Gavin Kisebach wrote:
All of the negative aspect I mentioned above used to bother me more, quite a bit actually, until I began ever so slowy to suspect that none of the above can give on the whole picture, if that's what you are seeking. Not reenactment, not WMA-HEMA-HACA-ARMA, not the SCA, not jousting, tilting at rings, and not reading.

Wiser words have not been spoken on the subject. Each has something to teach. So do what you enjoy, and don't let others interpretations define your truth...


Hear hear!

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Hugh
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Garrett L. Hammonds




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PostPosted: Wed 06 Jun, 2007 8:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

i appreciate all the responses i will definately look into these programs i suppose it all comes down to what you enjoy the most not just for historical accuracy but for what you like to do and what style fighting you would like to learn in thanks again!!!!!!!!!!! Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin
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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Wed 06 Jun, 2007 8:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Oddly enough Jean, I don't know. You'd have to ask someone who has done more of both. I could go on all day about what we do wrong, though Laughing Out Loud . Seriously, though, heavy fighting will teach you in a big hurry what doesn't work.

I built a "long sword" this spring and brought it to a war. I thought it would be great, as it was much faster than a greatsword, but still had some range. I found out that in a shieldwall it was practically useless. I was hopelessly out ranged by opposing spears, but lacked the passive defense of a sword and shield. My friend let me use his greatsword, and i found that I could use it like a short spear, or use it to disrupt spears by sweeping them out of line. Lesson learned.
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Jean Henri Chandler




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PostPosted: Wed 06 Jun, 2007 8:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gavin Kisebach wrote:
As far as a good HEMA fighter can defeat a good SCA fighter, I maintain that it's the fighter, not the style.


The problem isn't the style, or the fighters, people in the SCA are just as physically coordinated and strong as people in HEMA, (they can be the same people, as in the case of Hugh)

The problem is the rules, if you spend ten years learning to fight in a sport -rule system where hits to your hands don't count and your lower legs are off- limits, etc., then you are going to have a rude awakening when you fight someone who is A) not using any rules, and B) trained in the ancient killing techniques. It's the same with Kendoko or Olympic style saber / epee / foil fencers to my experience. Now once they 'unlearn' some of these bad habits of course, and pick up a few of the basic guards and counters in HEMA (particularly a bit more emphasis on the false -edge cuts) this can change very quickly. Again, same with kendo people, escrima people, etc. How quick they can adapt depends a lot on the individual.

But I agree with the friendly tone in this discussion, I was kind of expecting a hail of rocks.

it's a good point that SCA has in many cases led to a lot of the other research being opened up. Many translations of the fechtbuchs (or fragments therof) were floating around in photocopy and later text file format which were provided by the SCA.

SCA shares a spirit of wanting to explore ancient times which most HEMA people certainly share, and had the imagination and frankly the balls to go out, put on a suit of armor (accurate or otherwise) and go and have fun fighting like knights. I certainly admire that and it has been a major inspiration to me since I first saw a Renaissance faire when I was something like 8 years old.

My response was only technical, and in the context of the original posters question (which was pretty specific) and the followup on armor . I'm glad to see Hugh that such very nice looking armor is being used in the SCA and that the hardened plate allows for thinner pieces to be used. As for HEMA fencers armor, I'm not sure i agree with you 100%, only because some HEMA groups are also re-enactment groups. I saw some guys in Czech Republic which had a whole bunch of guys in some really amazing armor.

But most US HEMA groups study mostly blossfechten i.e. unarmored (or lightly armored) combat so far and there are vastly more people in the SCA than in any HEMA group so you are probably right about that to a large extent.

J

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Robin Smith




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PostPosted: Wed 06 Jun, 2007 9:03 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
I'm not sure i agree with you 100%, only because some HEMA groups are also re-enactment groups. I saw some guys in Czech Republic which had a whole bunch of guys in some really amazing armor.

Jean, aren't most of the Czech groups primarily reenactors, who by extension may study HEMA, but still primarily reenactors?

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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Wed 06 Jun, 2007 9:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Henri,

What about the differnce in tempo? I've seen videos of ARMA fighters moving at 75% speed, do they ever fight at full speed? I assume you would have to own full plate to participate. Fighting at full speed and full force is a definite advantage.

As a weak corrilary, I have an old friend who is a blackbelt in Tae Kwon Do. I was into Kenpo for a few years, but he had at least ten years of experience on me. We sparred once, but he was totally unprepared to take a full force punch. His technique was beautiful, but he had a really hard time in the full contact setting. Could this apply to our theoretical bout, or do you fight at full speed as well?

I'm in the dark about some of this, so any new info is appreciated.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Wed 06 Jun, 2007 9:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Garrett L. Hammonds wrote:
i appreciate all the responses i will definately look into these programs i suppose it all comes down to what you enjoy the most not just for historical accuracy but for what you like to do and what style fighting you would like to learn in thanks again!!!!!!!!!!! Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin


Garrett,

One other thing that I'd like to add. It sounds to me like you might be looking into pursuing one or the other. The choice is yours of course, but I think you might find the general lack of rules restrictions in good HEMA groups a lot more "fun" for lack of a better word. Though I was never a member of the SCA, I was first introduced to "SCA style" fighting, and gradually, as I learned about WMA online, my friends and I discarded the rules which create artificiality in the SCA. I'm not claiming that simply discarding SCA rules makes you a good fighter; far from it, there was still a lot that I had and have to learn. But I find the general lack of rules and restrictions to be much more satisfying, especially because I know that what I do is a reasonable reconstruction of historical techniques that were actually used by knights and other warriors.
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