Lecture At Longpoint: “HEMA As A Martial Art” by Mike Edelson

The above link will take you to an excellent lecture which covers the limitations of sport activities in martial arts, and potential methods for overcoming those “training scars” if you’re aim in your practice is combative realism. A great meditation for a martial artist of any tradition.

Some takeaways:

“Train like you would fight, or you will fight like you train.”

Martial Training Summary Questionnaire [Edited for broader context]:

  1. Do you own the real versions of the weapons you are learning to use?
  2. Do you drill with your sharp swords [live weapons]?
  3. Do you practice using your live weapons against targets that provide feedback?
  4. Do you understand the feedback?
  5. Do you train realistic techniques (e.g.: pulling a sword out after thrusting?)
  6. Do you have a scabbard/holster/carry device for your the weapons you train? (Is it wearable for the potential combative environment?)
  7. Do you train secondary/backup weapons (e.g.: dagger with sword)?
  8. Do you train weapon deployment (e.g.: cutting from the draw, parrying from the draw, etc)?
  9. Do you train situational awareness?
  10. Do you train use and escalation of force?
  11. Do you train rules of engagement?
  12. Do you train non-lethal response?
  13. Do you train dealing with multiple attackers?
  14. Do you train dealing with multiple team members?
  15. Do you train dealing with noncombatants/hostages etc?
  16. Do you train for scenarios of assault AND defense?
  17. Do you train mixed weapons?
  18. Do you train scenarios?
  19. Do you train fighting from transportation, fortification, and open ground? (e.g. horseback, vehicle, house, castle, woodlands, swamp, etc)
  20. Do you study anatomy?

Why does any of this matter? Well that depends on you and your purposes for engaging in this activity. The problem is that too many people assume that if they simply sign up for a martial arts class, then they are learning to fight like the creators of said art. It is too easy to confuse technical skill for combative prowess, and too little is appreciated about the aspects of martial arts that extend beyond combative skills.

The question you need to ask yourself is “how important is it that I gain realistic combative skill in what I’m training?” If you’re simply interested in the game, then don’t worry about any of the above questions. They have nothing to do with winning metals or trophies. If if you do care about having some martial ability, then the question is “how much?” and this is a very personal question that will vary depending on your life situation. A Navy Seal needs more training than a rodeo clown. A rodeo clown living in Manila needs more training than a rodeo clown in Minneapolis (probably…)

But what about martial skill with weapons/techniques that are unlikely to have direct use in a modern altercation? Do you really need to train realistically with a longsword? Or nunchucks? Or the trident? Well, one answer here is that there are indirect applications from such training. The motions of a longsword will have some cross-over with that of a mop handle. Another answer is that there are somewhat illusive qualities of any rich tradition that are difficult to extrapolate from an art without immersing oneself in it. Learning things like measure and tempo in longsword is much more difficult to appreciate in learning the pocket knife. Another reason to train with martial realism has little to do with you and more to do with understanding the people from which the art came. With any of these reasons for martial training, the target audience would be perhaps the professional soldier or the historian to train in such a nuanced way. For others- the mere joy of doing so will be character building and enriching, if nothing else.

So don’t train martially if you just wan’t to win trophies. Train like an athlete. Don’t train archaic systems of combat martially, unless violence and its historical participants have an emphasized place in your life. Train for fun. And don’t train in any martial arts class if your sole purpose is to simply be a martially responsible citizen, meeting the minimal requirements of such. Take a self-defense class. A black belt symbolizes more than just combat ability- and sometimes it simply symbolizes things other than combat ability.