Sunday, December 22, 2013

HEMA: Arte Dimicatoria: Montreal, QC

Background: Weapons have always been an interest of mine; however, I have lacked suitable practice partners in the past. The fault belongs to me for not adequately seeking them out and only dabbling in edged weapons. It was an easy excuse and I was talented enough to be one of the better fighters when we did practice them. However, it is easy to be among the best when you look no further than your own walls and this didn't satisfy me.

I first met Pascal and Katia in Ottawa at the Borealis Sword Symposium over the summer. Another friend of mine, Chris Ouellet, invited me to the tournament and I couldn't help myself. I registered to fight and had a marvellous introduction to the world of Historical European Martial Arts or HEMA for short. In talking with Pascal I found that they trained in Montreal and was invited to join them. Since I maintain a partial residence there this was a great match for me.

 Katia and I exchange with the nylon simulation swords. 
She is being nice since I lacked a gambeson and not using blunted steel.

Over the past three months I have trained with Arte Dimicatoria whenever I had the good fortune of being in Montreal. They are fantastic fencers and taught me a lot about how to handle a sword. I found myself immersed in a school that sends fighters to tournaments and are training to compete. My previous experience with weapons didn't hold a candle to the training these guys did.

What did I learn: The lessons I took from Arte Dimicatoria were many and varied. First, I learned that swinging a longsword or a sidesword is tough work. The swords themselves don’t weight much, only about 3 – 5 pounds and you wouldn’t think that they would be hard to swing. However, once the blade is in motion it can be quite taxing. By the end of an evening of training you will have had a great workout.
Pascal and I cross blades. It is like a deadly game of push hands.

Combat also happens much faster than it does in boxing or MMA. Normally you have the option to feel an opponent out and get a sense of their rhythm. This luxury is completely removed in sword fighting. You have to treat every attack as though it could end the fight. There are no little mistakes to brush aside since you have steel buried in you (Figuratively speaking of course). This makes the three minute rounds that we were fighting far more intense than hand sparring.

What was similar to my previous training: Many of the principles of keeping control of your centerline could be taken from the Northern Mantis Kung Fu I have trained in. Once you get the hang of that than the defenses become much easier execute. The idea of not letting yourself be drawn out and get over extended while defending blended perfectly with the striking that I have done.

Pascal reminds me that dropping my guard to attack his legs
can lead to a better slash across my face.

Arguably the strangest piece was the footwork as it was both the most similar and the most different to use. In many of the striking arts we turn our feet inwards to protect the groin. However, HEMA fighters will turn their knees out leaving the groin opened. When I asked about it the folks at Arte Dimicatoria showed me that with a knee pad when you turn the leg out it always presents armour to the sword. Suddenly that stance made much more sense. Protect the easiest to hit targets as a sword to the knee will end a fight as quickly as to the groin.

Once I got the basic stances down the footwork came reasonably naturally. Many of the steps were remarkably similar to the Northern Mantis foot work. Although, at 6’6 (2m) I had to be lighter on my feet than I normally am and move much faster. Some points reminded me of the dance lessons which I have taken and drove home why dancing used to be such an integral part of warrior culture.

The only thing can truly phase Arte Dimicatoria. 
A bright flash in a dark bar after a great night of training. 

Conclusion: In the end when I had to say goodbye I had met a great group of friends and learned enormously. Even with my spotty attendance I noted a marked increase in my skills with weapons and coordination which I believe will translate into better sparring all around. 

Best regards and keep training,

Martin "Travelling Ronin" Fransham

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