Sunday, May 18, 2014

Safe Training for a Lethal Game

Here is a good article regarding the use of safety gear in sword training:

Sonny always believed that training weapons should look as close to the real thing as possible, and also have the right balance in the hand (even if the weight was slightly off). He reasoned that one shouldn't build in bad habits with trainers that would be hurt you if transferred to the real thing. Same thing could be said for safety gear - whilst it keeps you safe in training, it should not build in bad habits that will hurt you when it is removed from the game.

We worked mostly with aluminum training blades, the positive outcome of which was to make us very accurate and precise in our targeting ... however, the down side was that we still had to train safely, so we avoided pokes to the face and hard strikes ... which are not uncommon in a 'real' fight, and certainly not something that should be left out of the toolbox ... So we also had padded trainers (though still all hand fabricated by Sonny to resemble swords in that they had an edge side and a flat side, and the balance was still in the right place) with which we could worry less about hurting our training partners.

These padded weapons meant that we could go harder and actually really tag targets ... though we still tended to avoid the face as we did not wear head gear as a rule - safety glasses, yes, but not masks. So an upside again ... but still a safety artifact, and the downside being that once these were in our hands for a while, we started getting careless and taking too many hit .... So back to the metal blades.

We also used sharps to get an even better motivation to evade and control our strikes, though the obvious down side to training with sharps is that we needed to be extra, super, careful .. which is good in one sense, but again, bad in another because now we are practicing to miss, essentially, and probably not fighting as aggressively as we should for fear of injuring our training partner .. or having them panic and injure us.

It's a tough balance to get rid of all the bad behaviors each type of training weapon brings ...  but needs to be done to complete the picture.

Make sure to check out the comments, a guy called Tom Outwin wrote a really good one.

The guy who wrote the article is Ilkka Hartikainen, a fellow Finn, and if I ever make it back to my 'homeland' I will definitely go seek him out. The Marozzo system looks fascinating and Ilkka looks like a fun guy to free spar and play with.


The European Historical Combat Guild said...

It's an ongoing discussion in HEMA lately, as people have moved from increasing amounts of protection and padding, especially for the increasing number and levels of competition, where one can understand the need.
The thing that concerns me, and something I keep coming back to on my blog is, that people see the protection as the default way to train, that training that isn't protected is is some how lesser or down right irresponsible, and that when people go from the power and intensity and speed of protected free play, to wearing non protected, that the sudden emergence of caution etc. is a downside, is unrealistic and is the fault not of wearing protection but for then not! Bearing in mind that this is all for training which is supposed to be replicating real life unprotected fencing styles!

Maija said...

It's amazing to me how people can twist logic to justify their preferences!
Like I said in the comments on the original post - Swords are lethal, and that drives the reason why you do things as you do, but perhaps it feels more 'real' when it's fast and intense, and less exciting and thus less satisfying when done with more sense.
I actually think protection also makes you lazy - less precise for sure.
I would have no issue with safety gear if it did not change peoples' behavior ... but it does, and not for the better in my experience.

considerphlebas said...

There are some things you just can't learn safely without protective gear- like the timing of a stop-thrust against a committed attack.

and then on the flip side of the historical context, if you have actual battles with swords happening in the world (not just duels), the best killers that will emerge from those are the ones with a fast, strong attack, with nothing held back, backed by fast reflexes. Stopping those guys requires tools like the stop-thrust and experience in just how fast they will attack. Sensible, cautious practice will not get you that experience.

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

I know that people tend to have more accidents when they use protection, people wearing gloves get hot more often on the hands etc. Which increases the likelihood of injury, on top of which people have less awareness when attacking against protection. Various research has shown that increases in safety equipment has increase risk taking and people act more dangerously toward people in protection, car drivers over take closer to cyclists who are wearing helmets than they do with those that do not wear them, for example.
It is natural that it should be, otherwise why would people have developed and worn armours to allow them to do things that they would not otherwise, be able to,

Maija said...

@cp - Whilst I agree that the stop thrust is of huge value, and I have no issue with using gear to train the more 'hectic' of situations, I still think it is important to make sure that those that are choosing to attack fast and strong are also learning when it is advantageous to them and when they are going to die in the attempt.
A few sharp thrusts to the mask might be a sufficient deterrent to making stupid decisions, but if it is not, then the mask is not helping.

Strong fast attacks work best on the unprepared, so the attacker needs to understand the difference between this, and the opponent who is waiting for them to impale themselves on their blade.

As to the battlefield example you posed ... Though I can believe that decisive force and intent were big parts of what defined success, I am hesitant to say that this was the whole picture. Again, if you can get the jump on your opponent through intimidation or taking your them by surprise (get them to freeze in other words) then sure, but I think Leo Giron's quote that I posted a long time back regarding fighting the Japanese in WW2 also holds true:

"At night we don't shoot, we use (our) Bolo knife. When the crazy Japanese start charging without concern for their health, they are easy to chop down. Because they are not concerned about death".

In the end I think you have to play with precision, power, AND speed, and not neglect one over the others. And most importantly take all the mistakes and hits you RECEIVE as a motivator for not having them happen to you again.

considerphlebas said...

Totally true, I was not advocating strong fast committed attacks. What I was trying to get at is that battle situations act as a selection process, and would appear to reward the strong fast attacker. It's not a good tactic, but it rewards those who are bigger and stronger.

and so 9 out of 10 of those who attacked foolishly are dead, but the one left standing, selected out, killed 10 enemies in the battle and led a heroic charge, while those using sensible tactics simply did not die.

so the problem arises after the fact that listening to the one "hero" who was selected out about what he did is not great for the majority of people. It does work for him, because of whatever natural attributes he has. but following his example is how you get a school of thought like the aforementioned Japanese.

and but so if you want a school of tactics that will work for most people, for credibility and for their survival, you will need to have students who can reliably defeat strong fast committed attacks, and hopefully have a means to expose them to this without killing them.

Maija said...

And this is why I wrote my book ... :-)

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

Agreed Maja,
CP Never said there wasn't a place for the gear, but it should not tbe the default or starting place and it's use must be considered as much as not using it. Much of the reason for using it in HEMA, is because people want to do sword tag... and do it hard and fast, the only way to do that is with protection.

Also battles in the historical context, in this case European, swords are not really a primary battlefield weapon and in that case, team work, it is a very different style and in a battle context, people are wearing protection, and so the style requires adaptation to that, defeating the protection, so again it becomes to train because the very object is to defeat the very stuff being worn.