Should You be Training with an Extra Heavy Sword?

by Bill Grandy

Many practitioners of sword arts praise the use of training with a much heavier weapon than their normal one. The general argument is that doing so is good for conditioning as well as to train more explosive speed when switching back to the normal weighted sword. Certainly, this attitude can be historically justified: Vegetius wrote of using heavier weapons to train against targets in 4th century Rome, and even on the other half of the hemisphere the Japanese sometimes used a heavier wooden sword called a suborito for strength training. There is a strong case to be made, however, that this method causes more harm than good. In fact, the data shows that a practitioner may be better off doing the exact opposite and train with a weapon that is lighter than their normal one. Continue reading


Tools of the Trade: Schiavona, Oakeshott Type 2b

“Tools of the Trade” is an ongoing series highlighting antique weapons/equipment pertaining to Western swordsmanship. It will feature hi-res photography and statistics, but also will address the tools from a martial artist’s point of view. Click on each image for the full resolution.

Venetian, mid-17th to early 18th century
by Bill Grandy Continue reading

Attack, Attack, Attack? Understanding “Vor” & “Nach”

by Bill Grandy

meyerVor and Nach. These two terms are constantly referred to in the various Liechtenauer teachings. On the surface the definition seems simple: The person who has seized the Vor (the “Before Timing”) is usually described as the fighter who has made an attack, whereas the person in the Nach (the “After Timing”) is the person who is forced to defend. Time and time again the treatises tell us to seize the Vor, and to not be the person who stays in the Nach. By this logic, it would seem safe to assume that to win, one should attack first and keep attacking at all costs, right? Continue reading

The Art of Translation, Part 2: The Myth of the “Literal Translation”

by Bill Grandy

“The Art of Translation” is an ongoing series of articles covering translation as it pertains to HEMA source material. It will feature tips, resources, original translations and more.

dictionary-1172442An American woman was visiting Italy enjoying her delicious gelato. Her conversational Italian was quite good, and she complimented the store employees on how much she liked her frozen treat, informing them that in America, ice cream is full of preservatives. Everyone in the store turned to look in revulsion. It took a short discussion to figure out why they had reacted so strongly. She had used the Italian word, “preservativo”, which she correctly understood to literally translate into English as “preservative”. The problem, though, is that Italians don’t use that word to mean additives in food… they use it to refer to prophylactics. She had told everyone in the store that Americans put condoms in their ice cream.

This embarrassing story highlights a myth that has become more and more common in the HEMA community: The myth that translations are supposed to be as literal as possible. Continue reading

Summertime Throwback: Historical Swordsmanship on Virginia Time Travel (2011)

by Bill Grandy

Summertime might be a time of beaches and vacations for some, but for the team members of TheHEMAists, it’s the busiest time of the year. Every summer we need a small break, so expect to see a Summer Throwback each year, where we’ll revisit the “olden days” of our HEMA past. Sometimes this will be in the form of articles from publications or sites that any of our authors have written for, or sometimes it will be videos from a time before existed. So enjoy a little blast from the past as our team takes a short break from the site. We promise we’ll have something new for you very soon!

In 2011, a local TV show called Virginia Time Travel contacted us at the Virginia Academy of Fencing. The show focuses on everything dealing with history, from the rebuilding of old landmarks to the reenactment of historical battles, so our Historical Swordsmanship program was a big interest to them. David Rowe and I were invited onto the show to demonstrate some of the various weapon styles that we teach at VAF and also to discuss the world of Historical European Martial Arts. Continue reading

What are we REALLY seeing with the half-sword images of Talhoffer?

by Bill Grandy

It is easy to assume Talhoffer was being literal when showing these men half-swording without armor. But is that what he really intended?
It is easy to assume Talhoffer was being literal when showing these men half-swording without armor. But is that what he really intended?

The works of the master Hans Talhoffer are curious. He authored at least five fencing treatises in the 15th century, and while we know that he himself was a celebrated fencing master, none of his manuscripts are what we in modern times would call a “manual”. Twenty years ago, these works were some of the only treatises available to the modern practitioner (before the age of translators and martial artists working to revive as many treatises as possible), and, unfortunately, due to the incomplete knowledge at the time, many people have come up with bizarre and complicated explanations for what they see in the images. While this was understandable twenty years ago, there is no excuse today, because there are so many other known fencing treatises from the same era that explain many of the same techniques in far greater detail. Despite this, many people still rely on Talhoffer’s works as stand-alone pieces, ignoring the larger context, and this leads to some severe misunderstandings of what Talhoffer was actually illustrating. In particular, one of the many myths that have sprung from supposed students of Talhoffer in the modern world is that half-sword techniques and specialty moves such as the Mordschlag (“murder stroke”, a technique done by grasping the blade with both hands, holding the sword upside down to strike with the hilt) were normal, everyday techniques for unarmored combat, and that they were incorporated as much as possible. This is also usually accompanied by many misguided ideas as to why this must be “true”, such as “Talhoffer clearly was teaching fighting in narrow castle halls…”, “The swords of Talhoffer’s time were not sharp, so using them this way gave more control…”, “Half-sword techniques were just the norm for the time…”, but none of these arguments are based on any kind of logical evidence or critical thinking. It is far more likely that Talhoffer’s images were meant to demonstrated armored combat despite the fact that his models were not wearing armor, and that conclusion is not far fetched when we look at the broader picture of 15th century martial arts. Continue reading

Lethal Combat: Medieval Wrestling from Masters Ott Jud, Sigmund Ringeck and Fabian von Auerswald (video)

A knee-stomp from Fabian von Auerswald.
A technique from Fabian von Auerswald.

by Bill Grandy, Tim Hall and Doug Bahnick

The study of historical Ringen (the German word for “wrestling”) has opened doors to the modern practice of HEMA. The techniques found in the sources range from sport wrestling to vicious strikes against joints and weak points on the opponent. What follows is a video compilation of some of the ultimate fighting techniques from the historical masters Ott Jud, Sigmund Ringeck and Fabian von Auerswald. (edit: Happy April Fool’s Day!) Continue reading