The IHFL is done for 2017. The last event has been reviewed, the results are all in and the winner has been announced. Now it’s time for what we have all been waiting for, a roundup of the year. I’ll be comparing all four events and what it was like to fence in each one. My main reason for taking part has been to improve as a fencer so I will also take a look at how the League has served me as a training tool. That isn’t to say I did get lots of other things out of the IHFL but that will do for now.
So, onto a side by side comparison. I have to remind you all that I present my opinions here as just that; good or bad this is simply what I think of the events. I don’t want any of the organisers of any of the events to take this in anything other than the constructive way it is intended. I apologise up front if anybody feels personally criticised by what follows. My aim is to see what we can learn from them and have my analysis thrown into the big pot of understanding we are all collaborating on as HEMA event organisers. I was only involved in organising one event this year and it went pretty well, but still, there was room for improvement. It is hard to learn from our own mistakes but we would be damn fools not to learn from other peoples (my own included)
I will take them in chronological order, which is unfortunate from a plot development point of view because I would like to finish with my favourite and that turns out to have been the first event of the season.
The Cork Blademaster’s Cup was the best all-around event. As opposed to later events the scoring and pools systems seemed almost intuitive and vanished when the fencing began. It may be that the organisers just took an easy way out by using the system everyone was expecting. By doing so they certainly missed a chance to push the envelope.
So what if they did, one way to assess a more outlandish system is to compare it to the obvious one and see how it stacks up. We all need a basis for comparison. For me, the Blademaster’s Cup was just that reference point. I felt like I was on home ground and that influenced my results. The fact I did well definitely puts a shine on the day; I won every qualifying bout and am still extremely proud of myself for that. The logistics around the event were seamless and as far as I know, everybody enjoyed themselves immensely.
At the time I didn’t think the Wexford, Goat’s Head Historical Fencing event was the best; its scoring system seemed overcomplicated and poorly understood by the judging corp. The ring was very small with very little room to manoeuvre or to size up an opponent before you were engaged. I don’t feel that the competitors took to the system very well and it was unclear for many players what they should be doing in order to perform well. Now at the other end of the season, I look back on the event with some affection.
The small ring made for very fast-paced action; when there wasn’t a committee meeting over the score, that is. The lack of clarity in the minds of the players resulted in what looked like some quite experimental approaches to the fencing. After all, if you aren’t sure what will work why not try out all those things you usually reserve for exploratory sparring at you home club? The fighters seemed to come together, mentally speaking, and really went all out. There were a couple of visiting fighters at the event which added a bit of extra something to proceedings as we got to try out our stuff on strangers.
The Medieval Combat Group’s ‘Belfast Bladeworks’ is the long-haul for us down here. I still haven’t decided if I think of it as an ‘international’ event as I did have to cross a border but I was born in the UK. Basically for matters of historical and cultural sensitivity I am sitting solidly on the fence there. The event was almost on a par with Cork. It was impeccably run, professionally judged and an all-around joy to attend. The scoring system made sense, it was well implemented and it allowed me to fight my way and be successful doing it. Compared to the other IHFL events it did seem a bit stiff and formal but that was no price to pay when judged in light of the quality of the delivery.
For me, the Sword of the West’s Galway HEMA Open rates the lowest overall. “Sour Grapes”, you may say and it is true that this event saw by far my worst fencing and result but that has little to do with my rating, honest. I dealt with the ins-and-outs of the event in last week’s post and don’t want to rehash it all here. Suffice to say that the event somehow didn’t seem to have the same atmosphere as the previous ones, there were minor oversights in the organisation (no water ‘til after lunch, no bins) but they weren’t the main cause of my dissatisfaction.
Unlike Wexford, the overcomplicated, defensive focused scoring system led people to fight more cautiously. It was as if everyone was tired from the season and didn’t want to try anything too risky. There seemed to be an edge of tension between the fighters, outside the ring, that was quite unique to the event and not in a positive way. Maybe this has something to do with the division of the entrants into ‘red’ and ‘blue’ teams or maybe I was over-sensitive to it due to my own frustrations. I don’t know for sure. The end result was the same for me, I didn’t feel as happy with the event as I had the previous year. I did learn some valuable lessons and have become more conscious of my own short-comings, and I hope to address them before too long.
Variety in rules systems is one of the things that sets HEMA events apart from lots of other martial arts; that and the preponderance for everyone wearing the same colour. We have this tradition built in at this point and it serves to avoid the downside of training and technique specialisation that our cousins in the ‘sports/Olympic’ fencing world are stuck with. We, however, are stuck with the fact that vastly divergent and innovative systems may well not work as well on the day as they seem to on paper. As a culture, we have to remember that the benefits of our tradition outweigh the potential for individual failures as they can always be built upon and hopefully not repeated too often.
That’s the events dealt with and now onto the reflexive turn. What did I learn about my own practice of the art by taking part in a year-long league?
Firstly, as mentioned above, there is huge scope for improvement in my technique. I need to be able to deliver a greater variety of techniques as effectively as the few I have drilled into myself over the last couple of years. My repertoire is limited and my confidence outside my repertoire is considerably lower than I would like it to be.
Secondly, I have some very specific failings within those ‘go-to’ techniques that need to be addressed; such as keeping my toe pointed at my opponent during absetzen type blocks so that I can get a better extension during my follow-up thrusts, but maybe that’s a bit specific for this blog.
To deal with my technical problems I first need to become more aware of them and then do my best to change them. I’m indebted to my fellow competitors who took the time to notice and explain my mistakes to me. They usually did so after beating me but, hey, I would have done the same. I hope that the advice I’ve offered has been as useful and was as well received. My lack of variety is something that I feel has come out of sparring in very small groups, not making the effort to do more independent study and failing to bring the meagre fruits of such study to the ring. I’ve gotten a little lazy of late and I hope to reverse this trend from now on. After a formal tabling of proposals in the pub last week we are going to be bringing back drilling to our weekly sessions. One hour a week I’ll be presenting and leading a drill based on a ‘new’ technique (although most of them will be in the order of 600 years old…).
After a formal tabling of proposals in the pub last week we are going to be bringing back drilling to our weekly sessions. One hour a week I’ll be presenting and leading drills based on a ‘new’ technique (although most of them will be in the order of 600 years old…). I am just not benefitting as much as I had hoped from all sparring, all the time. Others seem better able to improvise and maintain unpredictability than I am. I need to take a step back and consciously inject varied moves as I have this, newly realised, tendency to stagnate
Finally, I just don’t seem to be able to fight very well outside my comfort zone and I am easily distracted by confusing variety in rules systems and especially when I feel the judges are nearly as lost as me. I want my judges to be Dredd like in their confidence and willingness to enforce The Law. I need to make it a part of my mental preparation for an event to consider the logical implications of a particular rule-set. For example, as I recently learnt, if I want to do well there is no point being so aggressive when the system rewards defensive play. I can’t change a system nor the judges’ understanding of it; what I am in control of is my reaction to it.
There we go, a look back at the 2017 IHFL; the highs, the lows and everything in between. There are still events coming up such as Tempest, with Dave Rawlings at the start of November and then there is the whole of 2018 to look forward to! I have heard rumours about stuff happening in the very new year but can say too much. It’s all very hush-hush and the walls have ears, don’ you know. I will share all as soon as I can.
As always, thanks for taking the time to read my posts, I hope you enjoy them and get as much if not more out of them than I do. If you know anyone who might like to read about HEMA in Ireland then please share the post with them. If you want to get in touch you can use the comments form or the Wrathful Peasants facebook page.