Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Spring goes out, footwork's in!

In my reply to Ben's comment on my last post I mentioned that one of the problems we have is that Ledall's use of language isn't consistent. For us trying to interpret his works today this is a major problem, not least when we are trying to explain our interpretations to others. It's also a bit of nightmare in class, and so I have standardised some of the terminology following what I believe to be Ledall's general use of the terms.

As I've stated previously, I see the term set[ing] to mean moving forward with the feet. If we're stood left foot forward and we 'set' with the right we make a right pass, if we 'set' right again, then we make a gather step with the right. I use these terms in the loosest possible way, which is much the same way as I see most of Ledall's terms. If I've already engaged my opponent (still left foot forward) and move to set in my right leg, but it would bring too close to make the strike, then I will ensure that the setting takes me further off-line so I maintain proper striking distance, a traverse if you will. To me, and I hope Ledall, it's a matter of the right foot passing the left and bringing one closer in, precisely where the right foot finishes is dictated by the dynamics of the fight, not the static script of a play.

The same applies to the 'voiding' footwork, with one major exception. Ledall doesn't always use the term "void" to mean moving backwards. He generally uses the term to mean finding space, enough to avoid being hit, or to make the strike work properly, but he also uses it to mean a form of faint. To keep things simple I use the term 'void[ing]' to relate to distance, and 'empty' to refer to fainting swings. I'll come to the 'empty' strikes in later posts.

So Ledall's basic footwork "translates" 'set' as; a full pass forward, a gather step forward, or a forward passing traverse. The 'void' as; a full pass back, a gather back or a backward passing traverse.

In addition to 'sets' and 'voids' we also have a 'spring'. Ledall directly mentions; a 'short spring', a 'spring' and a a 'full spring'. However, being the man he is, he doesn't always differentiate between these, so a 'spring' may be a 'short' or 'full' spring depending on the situation and to get the answer we have to look at each instance separately. On top of this Ledall will also tell us to make "a spring with a quarter" or "a spring with a quarter" and so we have to look at the footwork through the each play to decide whether the quarter is made on the spring, or is a separate quarter made after the spring, and I'll wait until we get to those plays before I try and describe the differences and how I came to my conclusions.

So, back to the 'springs'!

I suppose the easiest way to describe them is as a large traversing move, it's over simplifying matters but it's the best place to start.

The 'short spring' is made by the lead leg, invariably done when the blades are 'crossed' in close range, and is used to bring one to the opponent's lateral aspect while maintaining the same measure. It is in essence a leaping, or 'springing', gather step outward with the left leg trailing so that a new line of attack is created with shoulders, hips and feet square to your opponent. The 'short spring' is used to create a second attack to the same side. So, starting from a left leg lead; we set in the right foot with a quarter, we then make a 'short spring' to take us further forwards, to our right, making a second right quarter. The feet being square to the opponent facilitates the attack following the spring. "Setting in" either foot (with a half pass) allows quick, pressing, attacks to respective sides and "voiding back" either foot facilitates quarter voids or secure defences.

The un-prefixed 'spring' incorporates a full pass and is used in much the same way as the short spring. However, it is designed to strike to the other side of the opponent and is predominantly used to strike to the left. Again, starting with the left foot lead, we set in with the right foot and make a right quarter, we meet with crossed swords and then set in with a 'spring' to the left side, allowing the right foot to trail, and make a left quarter. Where the 'short spring' kept us at the same, close measure, the 'spring' is more versatile. It can keep us at the same measure or it can stretch that measure so that we can release the right hand and strike with the left holding the pommel (and I'll come back to this when we talk about the appropriate plays). If we keep the same measure our feet are square, like with the 'short spring'. However, if we 'spring' to the stretched measure our right foot is forward, facilitating and immediate right quarter, or we can 'void back the right' with another left quarter.

The 'full spring' in turn uses the full passing step of the 'spring', however, in stead of trailing the lead leg it sweeps, or arcs, the lead leg to rear. So, starting with the left foot forward, we set in the right with a quarter, then 'spring' out to the left with the left pass and the sweeping right leg moves to the rear to create a wide measure where we must release the right hand to strike with the left fully extended, holding the pommel. At this point we are two far away to be able to make repeated attacks from our left side, we can pass in with the right to close distance with a powerful attack or we can void back with the left should our opponent try to rush us.

Tactically one of the big issues is whether we will 'spring' or make a 'full spring'. Our opponent will be unable to tell which we go for until we are almost at the end of our timing. If he believes we are going for the 'spring' he may try to wind or rush us, however, if we've gone for 'full spring' his charge will be absorbed by our greater measure or his windings will fall short of their mark. If he believes we will make the 'full spring' he may attempt to void away and create distance, but if he has judge incorrectly, and we make the 'spring' we will be able to bombard him with attacks from either side.

To summarise; 'set' in, 'void' back, 'short spring' out with the leading leg, 'spring' out with the leading leg trailing, and 'full spring' out with the leading leg sweeping.

Remember! This is my standardisation of Ledall's terms, and hopefully it will all make sense in the end.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Hands and Feet.

Okay, so I've told you about me and how I got into HEMA and as a reward for reading my self indulgent ramblings I thought you deserved something about Ledall's system.

Now, any of you who have actually tried reading Ledall's work will know that he doesn't give us much detail on individual techniques. All of the words he uses are still in use today and then, like now, those words have some quite generic meanings. We only have to look at the masses of sterling work Terry Brown has done to realise how much scope there is for interpreting any given technique and how other period references to combat use these terms with the expectation that the reader knows exactly what the author is talking about. There's probably a paper in it for someone who wants to look at how wide spread "fencing" knowledge was in England for the period, but that's not what we're here for.

We're here to try and understanding what Ledall was telling us about fight with the hand-and-a-half sword, and I'm going to tell you what I think he was doing. I'd like to be able to tell that I've done just as much research as Terry Brown, but the simple fact is, I haven't. What I have done is grown up reading transcriptions of medieval documents, they've long littered the homes of my parents and Grand parents, and I picked them up and scanned through them as and when I wanted. I never knew I was going to have to explain myself to others later, and so made no notes. I didn't copy out sections relating to combat, thinking they'd be relevant to my later life, I just read them because that's what the grown-ups around me did.

That's not to say I  haven't done research into the meanings of these words. I've looked through all sorts of papers and online dictionaries, but all I found is that no-one describes the individual technqiues and my general understanding of the words was just the same. Terry Brown, or someone else, may discover some previously unknow text a kin to Ringeck or Fiore, but I doubt it. It's simply not the English way. The English dance manuals from the C15th tell the names of steps and squences, but don't describe the movements, recipies tell the ingrediants, but rarely mentions real quantities.

While Ledall may have been trying to teach those who already knew the techniques how to fight, we don't know the technqiues and have to start at the very beginning and from my experiences of teaching that means foot work. And that's where I'll start.

So, Ledall gives us a few clues and terms, but it's not as simple as one may hope. Ledall mentions "setting", "voiding", "springs", "forwards" and "backwards" and the question is; do they all relate to footwork? The simple answer is 'no'. I could tell exactly how and why, but it would take an age, and this is my blog, so I'm going to give you a really short explanation, and hopefully it will make enough sense for you to keep reading, where you'll see everything fall into place.

The most simple explanation is that "sets", "voids" and "springs" related to the feet and "forwards" and "backwards" related to the hands.

If we look through the manuscript we find that all direct references to the feet/legs are made using the terms "sett[ing]" or "void[ing]", sometimes these are accompanied by "forth"/ "forward" or "back", but never are the terms forward or backward used without "sets" or "voids" in reference to the feet or legs. We get "set the right leg forward" and "setting in with the right leg", we get "voiding back the left foot" and "voiding the left foot", but we don't get "bring forth the right foot" or "bring back the left foot". And it makes sense; "setting in" brings one into the fight, "voiding" creates space between the fighters, a 'void' being an empty space.

In addition to this we never see the terms "set" or "void" used in conjunction with terms used to describe a technique. We may be told to "set in the right leg with a quarter" or "voiding back the left leg with a downright stroke", but Ledall doesn't tell us to "strike a right quarter forwards" or a "downright stroke backwards". The one exception to this rule is the "quarter void", and here it comes as part of a sequence that we have already been taught. In his first counter Ledall tells us to make;

"A profur at hys face standyng styll then sett in ye ryght legge with a rake and a quarter, voydyng bake ye same legge with an other quarter, then voyd bake yore lyffte legge and stande at youre stoppe."

His very next play condenses this into "A profer, a rake with a quarter an other voyde", until later we get the short hand of "quarter void".

If we get a "set" followed by a "set", we have a pass followed by a gather step forwards, a "void" followed by a "void" is a pass back and a gather step back.

I'll leave "springs" for another day, but basically they are a form of traversing step.
t's worth noting that Ledall talks of "double rounds", "double rounds forward" and "double rounds backward"

So, onto "forwards" and "backwards".

These terms are mainly used in conjunction with "double rounds" and the 'double round' provides the easiest technique to explain the theory that "forwards" and "backwards" relates to the hands.

The "double round" appears pretty early on in Ledall's teachings and introduces the concept of the 'bind'. The "double" section simply refers to striking to the other side, the "round" being more of a descriptive than a technical term. So, we end up with a technique that involves striking to one side, then 'doubling' 'around' to the other side.

The "double round forwards" means that we make our strike and meet the opponents blade at the bind, as we 'double' to the other side we move our hands 'forwards', working behind the opponents blade, to facilitate the strike. This works well if the opponent is weak at the bind. If he is strong at the bind we pull off, moving the hands and blade 'backwards', to strike to the other side.

Both techniques generally involve "setting in" with each strike, though Ledall does not tell us such directly. The clue to this is in his "tumbling chase" where he advises us to make "two double rounds forward, and as many backward, all upon the left foot lithely delivered".

Ignoring the fact that he strikes from the right side with a left leg lead, which is a device he uses for his own ends, we must consider how one can possibly move forwards and backwards without passing footwork, if that was his intent. We could use half passes, but in other plays he tells us to "set the right leg as far forward as the left", so why not mention it here? And if he had then the "double round backwards" would be more accurately describe as being 'on the right foot', as it would be the right's movement that would facilitate the attacks correctly.

It seems relatively obvious to me that his intention was that forwards and backwards are used primarily as terms relating to the direction of the hands/sword after ecountering the bind, with 'set' and 'void' refering to the motion of ones body through the movement of the feet.

HEMA and Re-enactment, or not.

This was going to be a post about HEMA as a form of re-enactment until I realised that the whole debate is old and irrelevant. Why an individual chooses to spend their time practising HEMA is for them, it's got absolutely nothing to do with me or anyone else.

For me personally they are intertwined.

I was born in '76 and by 1980 my parents where ferrying me across the UK Folk scene doing "Medieval Street Theatre" and mumming plays. They were pretty good and were billed names at big festivals like Kendal and Edinburgh, and they had swords. Lots of swords, and axes and spears and shields. They'd even tried using historical techniques from Harley and Silver, though I doubt any of the modern HEMAists would recognise what they were doing.

As time went on they moved away from street theatre and started doing more combat based presentations; Tournaments of Foot and battle re-enactment. It was all still very theatrical but, it's what got me into swords. There were wall hangers based on historical pieces, machetes and a lot of stuff they made themselves. We're still talking the mid 80's so there weren't many medieval sword makers out there, and the big iron bars with gaffa tape handles they made were better than nothing.

My Dad made me wooden wasters and started teaching me what he could at home. When my friends went off to their judo classes I spent hours in the garden swinging a sword and learning the 'clock' system used by most re-enactors. At 15 I started to train with steel with the rest of the group, 3 hours every Sunday, mainly fighting Chris McReynolds, a few months older than me he is now a fully qualified instructor in some form of Eastern Martial Arts.

It was at about the same time that Dick Featherstone returned to the group after leaving to join the English Civil War Society where he had studied historical rapier techniques. I took what I could from his experiences and incorporated them into my fight. In all honesty there's not a lot one can take from historical Rapier and apply to theatrical fighting with the clumsy weapons we used, but I learnt a lot about point work, and those of us who were free-fighting regularly started to develop a less theatrical, more competitive, style.

At the same time my group moved away from tournaments and started doing 'living history'. In 1990 we started working for English Heritage and attended more and more battle re-enactments. Many of the older members stopped fighting at displays and so our fighting moved further away from telegraphed crowed pleasing demos. At the time we thought we were being realistic, and we'd certainly developed some techniques that can be seen in historical manuals, but we lacked the finesse and understanding of a martial art.

When I was 18 I was given a Baliff Forge longsword, a beast of weapon way too heavy for my slender 9 1/2 stone, so I used it with two hands. I got a fare amount of ribbing for it and our lack of footwork meant I was restricted when using it. I muddled on as best I could until Dick turned up one week with some photocopies of an original fencing manual, and they showed guys fighting with true longswords. At the time we didn't have a clue as to what the manual was called, and a lot of the pictures showed techniques we thought would never work. I now know it was Hans Talhoffer's 1467 manual, and they guy did actually know what he was talking about. Again I picked what I liked from the illustrations and added it to my fighting, but I didn't really 'study' the MS.

Despite the lack of study it had sparked an interest, not just with me but with others in the group, and some went off and found other sources, written in proper English, to learn from. The most significant person for me was Martin 'Oz' Austwick. Oz had found Silver's work and while he studied these obscure ramblings he encouraged me to pursue my interest in Talhoffer.

Not speaking medieval Swabian I was very limited in my interpretation, basically looking at the pictures and trying to understand them from my own experiences of swordplay. Looking back, I didn't do too badly. Oz was more up on the whole HEMA community thing, but there were so few people practising at the time that OZ and I had to test our theories out on each other. Silver v's Talhoffer provides a unique learning environment, and Oz was far more studious than myself and became a more active member of the community. He introduced me to Rob Lovett from the Exiles at The Battle Tewksbury one year, which may even have been where I first met Dave Rawlings and Matt Easton.

In 2000 I started reading Archaeology at the University of Bradford and lodged with Oz. I started to study  Silver under Oz's instruction and became truly baptised into the world of HEMA.

I still do re-enactment and HEMA is another thread in the tapestry I create, and although all the members of my club have an interest in history, for the most part they are not re-enactors. I do my best to run my class as a "Martial Arts" class and when at re-enactments I explain that there is a community who study HEMA as a Martial Art.

I believe in some ways HEMA is re-enactment as much of what we do in HEMA is no longer "martial" as it is no longer pertains to war, or any realistic combat situation. If what we are doing is re-creating an out-moded way of behaving in combat I struggle to see how it's significantly different to re-enactment and 'living history'.

However, langauge is fluid and 'Martial Arts' as a term no longer means "arts of war" but seems to refer to the art of one-to-one fighting, in both civilian and martial settings. It's relevance to war, or fighting for ones life, is no longer it's primary focus. It's seems that today it's more about fitness and a healthy way to express a competitive nature, and I'm happy with that, it's probably my main driver in studying what I do.

So, while they are not the same, they're not mutally exclusive either and it seems rather sad that some feel the need to constantly distance themselves from others who have similar interests.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Ledall, HEMA and me.

Well, here it is! Another story in my life, an attempt to express the journey I've taken in personal growth through Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) and my research and practice of those Arts as taught by J. Ledall.

For those who have no idea what HEMA is; it is essentially the re-enactment of historical methods of combat based upon surviving historical papers. For many HEMAists this involves a narrow scope that focuses purely on techniques that no one has even tried for many generations. For others, it incorporates fancy dress and stylised concepts of "knightly behaviour", and everything in between.

'J. Ledall' is a signature found on one such document. The British Library's 'Additional Manuscript 39564' which dates to c.1540 AD. It describes the use of a hand-and-a-half sword, a sword that is used primarily in two hands.

For those who know all this, this blog is about me. My introduction to HEMA and why I chose Ledall. How HEMA, and it's community, has helped me grow as an individual. And along the way I'll explain Ledall's methods and techniques, and why I use the interpretations I do.