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Jack Savante





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PostPosted: Tue 20 Nov, 2012 1:59 am    Post subject: The role of fitness in swordsmanship         Reply with quote

In my opinion much overlooked in modern scholarship of swordsmanship is the importance of fitness in relation to the swordsman. I have found from my own personal experience that my levels of strength and fitness play a key role in how a sword handles when I brandish it.

Furthermore I have found that the type of exercises I engage in regularly play a critical role in how well I can wield a sword. I found firstly that lifting weights was a great help, but then graduated onto gym machines, though ultimately I have found strengthening my grip by using 'spring hand grip' exercise devices and slow and deliberate chin ups to be the ultimate in regards to developing relevant strength for a swordsman, and it goes without saying that aerobic fitness is critical to stamina.

I find that as I maintain a high levels of fitness in this way that have a greater appreciation for sword types that are on the heavier side, and do not feel encumbered by them but rather that they simply require being used in a different way and are just as capable and versatile as light weapons.

I'm interested to here from other members of the myArmoury community on exercises that they find useful and why.
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Sam Gordon Campbell




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PostPosted: Tue 20 Nov, 2012 5:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Exercises I can't say specifically but doing gymnastics, wrestling, and boxing with maybe some athletics thrown in for fun every now and then works for me.
I'd say go through moves slowly and as fast as you can with perfect form with a heavy stick works. It's also free to do! Big Grin

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Matthew P. Adams




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PostPosted: Tue 20 Nov, 2012 9:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here is an ARMA article you may find enjoyable.

http://www.thearma.org/essays/fit/RennFit.htm

I think cardio is most important, specifically quick bursts of exertion and sustained activity in between. Run a few miles, but sprint a few times while doing it. that kind of thing.

"We do not rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training" Archilochus, Greek Soldier, Poet, c. 650 BC
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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Tue 20 Nov, 2012 9:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Fitness is *absolutely critical* to proper swordsmanship, or for that matter, any martial art. You can learn the raw mechanics of any art with a low level of fitness, but in order to excel you will need endurance, flexibility, agility and strength.

I personally would recommend staying away from weight machines. In addition to the many studies that have shown they can do more harm than good, they also isolate muscles to the point where they are not terribly useful for martial arts. Excercises forcing more dynamic movement are much more effective.

-Short range sprints for warm ups are excellent, where you run at your absolute top speed for a short distance, then walk back, then run, then walk, etc. Don't simply jog for this; push yourself to run as fast as you possibly can, and you'll really feel it the next day. Combine this with holding a weight like a stuffed duffel bag or a punching bag (which is a modern alternative to the historical method of running with logs). For martial arts, this is better than long distance running because it builds muscle strength in the legs in a way long distance does not, and it also develops explosive speed and endurance.

-Medicine ball drills are excellent for developing core strength and flexibility. There are a million and a half great excercises that can be found on the internet, but the ones that I've found best are the types that involve rotating the upper body while keeping the lower body still (to engage the core muscles) and even simple throwing exercises (which is another modern alternative to the historical method: They did rock lifting and throwing).

-Push ups and squats are some of the best strength building excercises you can do, and they don't require anything other than willpower. Guy Windsor wrote a fun ebook that can be downloaded from Freelance Academy Press called "The Little Book of Push-ups". It's a fun little primer to using push-ups for general fitness, and it's a nice one for the person who wishes they could do more excercise but feels they aren't fit enough yet, or don't have enough time.

The above can easily be added to one's warm up routines before a class session, and they can also be as easy or as hard as a person needs them to be depending on his or her current fitness level. For example, in my classes I have a wide range of students with differing physical abilities, so these types of excercises are easy to adjust to an individual.

Other fun excercises that are more sword-related:
-Sword burpees. Have students perform a simple sword form (such two strikes from above and two from below) and then drop to do a push up, spring up to the feet and jump as high as possible, then continue. Have them do this for a specific time limit, such as 60 seconds non-stop, with a slight pause, and then do it again.

-Sword tabatas. A typical tabata drill is where you do an excercise as hard and fast as you can (such as squats) for 20 seconds, then have a 10 second break, then repeat, until you've done 8 cycles. You can download a free tabata timer on most smart phones now, or you can just use a watch. To combine this with sword training, take a wooden waster and a pell and set your timer, then start attacking the pell with proper footwork and full force as hard and fast as you can. Move around and use every ounce of energy you have. In fact, when I do this, I specifically try to break my waster each time (I have good wasters, so it doesn't usually happen). If you aren't exhausted by the time the timer is up, you haven't pushed yourself hard enough.

-Focus mitt drills. Focus mitts are the pads used in boxing that a trainer wears for the boxer to punch. Like in boxing drills, the trainer needs to move around and randomly lift the targets for the partner to attack. These can held up high or low to develop accuracy; The trainer can hold up one for one specific attack, or he can hold up both in two different areas for the person to make two quick attacks. The trainer should try to really exhaust the partner, and can even add elements such as forcing the partner to do push ups if he messes up.

There are a ton of other excercises that are incredibly useful, but it's too much to type up. Happy Most of these are more easily shown than typed about. But addressing your first point that it is "much overlooked in modern scholarship of swordsmanship", I'd agree with a slight caveat. I think 10 years ago it was very much overlooked because people were still reconstructing the basics of what the historical treatises said. The focus was on the art in isolation because otherwise we didn't have anything. I think there's a much higher standard today in terms of physical fitness, and I think you'll find that the majority of the major schools have a strong focus on physical fitness.

Virginia Academy of Fencing Historical Swordsmanship
--German Longsword & Italian Rapier in the DC Area--


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T. Arndt




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PostPosted: Tue 20 Nov, 2012 10:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Everything Bill said is great!

But I don't think weight machines are evil if used "right". Using them one day a week to intentionally isolate muscles you are trying to improve is useful. Also, if you do not have a spotter when you work out most of the time, machines provide a safe environment to try to push yourself (I do most of my bench press work at home alone).

I think people who over use machines tend to make themselves vulnerable to injury because they massively increase the strength of the isolated muscles without increasing the strength of the smaller stabilization muscles. But as a part of a balanced fitness program I don't think they are evil.

I also think vigorous pell work and flourishing for long consecutive periods are under-rated as a personal workout. I have added at least an inch to my forearms when flexed since getting into HEMA. Happy

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Scott Hanson




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PostPosted: Tue 20 Nov, 2012 11:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I agree, fitness is critical. I think that is true of any martial or athletic activity.

That said, I know my own fitness level is incredibly lacking, and I think there are probably quite a few others in HEMA in the same boat.

I would encourage anyone thinking of getting into HEMA to just do it. If your school has a good fitness component, like Bill's, then the fitness will come. If it doesn't, you probably want to look for a different school.

Proverbs 27:17 "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another"

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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Tue 20 Nov, 2012 11:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

T. Arndt wrote:
Everything Bill said is great!

But I don't think weight machines are evil if used "right". Using them one day a week to intentionally isolate muscles you are trying to improve is useful. Also, if you do not have a spotter when you work out most of the time, machines provide a safe environment to try to push yourself (I do most of my bench press work at home alone).

I think people who over use machines tend to make themselves vulnerable to injury because they massively increase the strength of the isolated muscles without increasing the strength of the smaller stabilization muscles. But as a part of a balanced fitness program I don't think they are evil.


Weight training doesn't always mean machines: Free weights have the advantages of stimulating a lot of other muscles to control and balance the weights that machine don't because they may restrict you motions to a limited track.

For training alone I also agree that machines can be safer without a spotter if something goes wrong with a heavy bench press: It's also possible to chose free weight exercises in a way to keep solo training safe like doing dumbbell presses or dumbbell squats instead of using a barbell.

I disagree with the myth that being strong or having big muscles slows you down and are bad for you !
What I would agree with is that strength is just one aspect or kind of training and may not be the most important thing to spend one's time on if training specifically for swordsmanship.

Being out of aerobic shape myself I can say that being out of shape is a big disadvantage in a bout, or a real fight in period, if one doesn't win in the first 30 seconds or so as one gets winded. ( I do neglect the aerobic exercises too much because they bore the hell out of me, but I enjoy weight training maybe too much. Wink Razz Laughing Out Loud )

I also agree with what Bill wrote for about 99%. Big Grin Cool

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Kalle Kylmänen





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PostPosted: Tue 20 Nov, 2012 11:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Some more excercices:
http://www.hroarr.com/strengthening-exercises/
and an article on what's very much on my mind
http://marozzo.com/2012/09/09/training-footwork/

One fun thing about Ilkka's training session's is that he keeps inventing all kinds of new physical excercices, so I can never be sure what he's going to make us do next.
Anton Kohutovic has significantly inspired our longsword training, especially our physical training. Nowadays we do a lot of different steps from a squat, sometimes combined with low jumps while squattingt. A bit like this, but not as extreme: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ixdspvGnMc8
Anton demonstrated a great and simple excercice at his seminar in swordfish. One person holds a sock/hat/etc in his hand, arm extended to the side facing the trainign partner, who stands one step away from the sock/hat/etc. The sock should be dropped without warning, and the other should try to catch it with a single passing step ending in an upright and stable posture. So no desperate reaching and leaning forward.
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Marko Susimetsa




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PostPosted: Tue 20 Nov, 2012 8:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Thibodeau wrote:
( I do neglect the aerobic exercises too much because they bore the hell out of me, but I enjoy weight training maybe too much. Wink Razz Laughing Out Loud )

That's been my problem as well and I finally solved it by placing my exercise bike in front of my computer so that I can watch movies while I pedal. Actually, movies and TV episodes also make dumbbell exercises more tolerable for me.
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Christopher Treichel




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PostPosted: Wed 21 Nov, 2012 12:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Not that I suggest jumping arround on buildings... but take a look on youtube at some of the parkour/ free running training videos. These folks seem to be developing some all arround insane physical fittness/agility combined with mental agility that should be most in tune with martial arts. http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=MGzep...ature=fvwp
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Ian S LaSpina




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PostPosted: Wed 21 Nov, 2012 5:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I find a routine of intense free-weight training, cardio conditioning, and a clean diet are really all you can ask for with regard to virtually any athletic activity and healthy lifestyle. Understand that without proper nutrition you can exercise all day every day and it's all for nought. I think that fact is even more overlooked than exercise in and of itself.

You can safely supplement your free weight training with machines to work on lagging body parts, but it would be foolish to only use machines that isolate large muscle groups. I find pure calisthenics with no added resistance to be far too limiting. Could you imagine if professional MMA fighters and traditional athletes shied away from weights? As for the myth that increasing strength as result of weight training makes you slower, they've obviously never done any weight training before in their lives. Pro running backs don't get so fast by shying away from 350lb squats to build that explosive power in their legs, and boxers don't shy away from bench press and instense core training to biuld explosive punching power. In period a non-athletic, poorly conditioned swordsman was most likely a dead swordsman. Fitness is a hugely important part of my lifestyle, and I'll be perfectly honest, I'm quite embarassed by modern 'practicioners' who are grossly out of shape and think they do the sport justice. No sport can be taken seriously at face value if its athletes aren't in shape. It's a fundamental base requirement before being involved in ANY sport.

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Alen L




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PostPosted: Wed 21 Nov, 2012 12:35 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Absolutely agree, strength and physical conditioning are overlooked. They are so much more important because most clubs don't have the option of 4-5 training per week. I also find that swordsmanship is not often trained in a "sporty" way. By sporty i mean also focusing on strength and physical conditioning. Also, not enough emphasis on repetitions.

So, here are two of my favourite exercises:

No. 1:

Work in pairs. The opponent stands in the pflug, you break the pflug with the schielhauw. BUT the opponent counts for every strike, so as to get you out of your comfort zone. You start with the opponent offering no resistance to your schiel, then switch roles quickly. Switch roles again, this time the opponent provides 50% resistanc, switch and you do the same. The last switch is with 100% resistance. This builds muscle memory as well as the cardio-vascular system. Happy

no. 2:

This one is performed solo

10s low skipping in a stance (vom tag, let's say)
10s stabs with recovery (left pflug-stab-recovery, right pflug-stab-recovery)
10s sword burpees
10s Meyer's first diagram (you can also just put a wide stance and doing oberhauws as fast as you can here)

Repeat 3x without a break in between.

If all goes well, I'll be having a workshop with this kind of stuff soon. Happy
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Robin Smith




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PostPosted: Wed 21 Nov, 2012 12:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Let me just put it this way... I think fitness is more important than technique. Its not as glamorous or fun, but if you are out of shape you'd be better served getting healthy and exercising than you would working on swordsmanship.
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T. Arndt




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PostPosted: Wed 21 Nov, 2012 1:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Robin Smith wrote:
Let me just put it this way... I think fitness is more important than technique. Its not as glamorous or fun, but if you are out of shape you'd be better served getting healthy and exercising than you would working on swordsmanship.


I think it is more complicated than this, if you are "in shape enough" and your technique "that much better", the fight will be over as soon as it starts. But- the longer the sword fight goes on, the more apparent it becomes that one of the people is not "that much better" and the more important physicality becomes. I think the closer the skill levels of the combatants are the more important physical conditioning becomes.

It is always a balance of both. Being the most fit guy in the world will not help if you are an idiot and run into my blade- likewise, knowing all the technique and strategy will not help you if you cannot pickup the sword. But both of these are extreme examples. As you get closer the the middle ground it goes back to "in shape enough" vs "that much better".

This is not en endorsement to be out of shape- you want every advantage you can get! (not to mention live longer and be happier)

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PostPosted: Wed 21 Nov, 2012 1:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

T. Arndt wrote:
Robin Smith wrote:
Let me just put it this way... I think fitness is more important than technique. Its not as glamorous or fun, but if you are out of shape you'd be better served getting healthy and exercising than you would working on swordsmanship.


It is always a balance of both. Being the most fit guy in the world will not help if you are an idiot and run into my blade- likewise, knowing all the technique and strategy will not help you if you cannot pickup the sword. But both of these are extreme examples. As you get closer the the middle ground it goes back to "in shape enough" vs "that much better".



Just stay away from the fat guy with the sword until he's tired Happy Then his skill counts for nothing. (this is meant to be lighthearted, but there's an element of truth to it).

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Sam Gordon Campbell




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PostPosted: Wed 21 Nov, 2012 3:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Actually, something that might be worth a look in to is Georges Hébert's Méthode Naturelle. Pretty old school, but cool.
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Colt Reeves





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PostPosted: Wed 21 Nov, 2012 7:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sam Gordon Campbell wrote:
Actually, something that might be worth a look in to is Georges Hébert's Méthode Naturelle. Pretty old school, but cool.


Considering that we're talking about fitness in relation to a several hundred year old martial art, I don't consider "Georges Hébert's Méthode Naturelle" to be all that old school. Wink

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Robin Smith




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PostPosted: Wed 21 Nov, 2012 8:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

T. Arndt wrote:
Robin Smith wrote:
Let me just put it this way... I think fitness is more important than technique. Its not as glamorous or fun, but if you are out of shape you'd be better served getting healthy and exercising than you would working on swordsmanship.


I think it is more complicated than this, if you are "in shape enough" and your technique "that much better", the fight will be over as soon as it starts. But- the longer the sword fight goes on, the more apparent it becomes that one of the people is not "that much better" and the more important physicality becomes. I think the closer the skill levels of the combatants are the more important physical conditioning becomes.

It is always a balance of both. Being the most fit guy in the world will not help if you are an idiot and run into my blade- likewise, knowing all the technique and strategy will not help you if you cannot pickup the sword. But both of these are extreme examples. As you get closer the the middle ground it goes back to "in shape enough" vs "that much better".

This is not en endorsement to be out of shape- you want every advantage you can get! (not to mention live longer and be happier)
On the flip side, it doesn't matter how much knowledge of technique you have, if your body is too out of shape to do it effectively it doesn't do you much good...

In various different martial arts, I've seen some guys that were naturally athletic walk all over guys with years of experience on them simply by virtue of being faster and more athletic.

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T. Arndt




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PostPosted: Wed 21 Nov, 2012 8:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Robin Smith wrote:
On the flip side, it doesn't matter how much knowledge of technique you have, if your body is too out of shape to do it effectively it doesn't do you much good...

What flip side? I just stated this is the case. We are in agreement here, I just stated that saying only this is true is a gross oversimplification. I went on to attempt to address the issue with more nuance. Perhaps you should re-read what I actually said.

Robin Smith wrote:
In various different martial arts, I've seen some guys that were naturally athletic walk all over guys with years of experience on them simply by virtue of being faster and more athletic.

I would agree this is the case when the guys with experience are not "good enough" or/and the new guys are "extremely fit".
But I would watch out for two common traps:
  • Assuming years of experience = skill/mastery. Unfortunately this is not always the case.
  • Assuming recently invented things like SCA/re-reactors improvised combat are a martial art, as opposed to true historical and multi-generational arts such EMA/WMA/HEMA etc. (To restate this, the longer an art has been around the more likely it is to give its students the skill edge over raw physicality edge)

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Robin Smith




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PostPosted: Wed 21 Nov, 2012 8:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

T. Arndt wrote:
Robin Smith wrote:
In various different martial arts, I've seen some guys that were naturally athletic walk all over guys with years of experience on them simply by virtue of being faster and more athletic.

I would agree this is the case when the guys with experience are not "good enough" or/and the new guys are "extremely fit".
But I would watch out for two common traps:
  • Assuming years of experience = skill/mastery. Unfortunately this is not always the case.
  • Assuming recently invented things like SCA/re-reactors improvised combat are a martial art, as opposed to true historical and multi-generational arts such EMA/WMA/HEMA etc. (To restate this, the longer an art has been around the more likely it is to give its students the skill edge over raw physicality edge)

I'm actually talking about seeing the phenomena in almost every actual martial arts context I've witnessed, whether it be HEMA, SCA, BJJ, Wrestling, Boxing... etc (as well as sports like Football and Soccer) From my experience with all of them, the single most important determining factor when it comes to a physical encounter between two people is who is more athletic or in better overall physically. Sure there are other factors at play, but that is the most important one. There are some guys who just have "it", and virtually any physical endevour they undertake the excel in. And guys that don't have "it" always seem to struggle against those who do, even if they have more experience.

Of course skill in a broad sense is a combination of "it" and experience. I'm not saying technique doesn't matter. It clearly does, and becomes much more important when the two people are physically closer. But if I had to choose one, technique or being in shape, I think being in shape would serve a person better. Not just in HEMA, but in life in general

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