Thursday, January 21, 2016

From My Martial Arts Bookshelf

I have, over the past several months, gradually become more interested in weaponed martial arts (other than firearms, of course :)); specifically Historical European Martial Arts, to the degree that this past weekend I purchased a life membership in HEMA Alliance to compliment my NRA membership.  It will be a few more weeks or months before I'm physically ready to take up active training with others.  In the meantime I am using the inexpensive Cold Steel nylon bastard sword, single-hand sword (that's their description - I don't believe the design can be traced to any specific period or style of sword other than possibly "viking" or "crusader", neither of which would be correct in this instance, just convenient examples of broad sword descriptive types), and dagger I purchased to begin practicing the basic stances, steps and grips for those type weapons.  I'm able to do these alone and in front of my apartment, further confusing the neighbors (it's no secret I'm a shooter; over Christmas I constructed a shipping tube out of PVC to send some fishing rods to my son in Oregon - several neighbors apparently thought I was building a potato cannon or rocket launcher).  I can't imagine what they are going to dream up as a result of my latest hobby.  Hopefully it won't require the participation of the local PD.  :)

I've never been a dedicated martial arts student, and I'm much too old to be a serious one these days, but I do have a rather extensive (and fairly eclectic by most standards, I expect) library of books and a few instructional videos on the general topic of human combat.  A fairly recent acquisition is Guy Windsor's VENI VADI VICI.  In the Introduction (page 17 of the paperback edition, for those following along at home), he describes several word translations that are pretty much essential for any student of historical European swordsmanship to know and understand.  One of these stood out for me in particular, Mezo Tempo.  The following may be pushing the bounds of "fair use", but the quote in full is:
This is literally "half time", but refers to the use of blows that stop in the middle of the target, instead of traveling through to the other side.  Tempo in this instance means "completed movement" or something similar.  So the "half time" is the use of "half blows".  
Anyone who has spent any time training in any discipline involving hand strikes (and even kicks) will recognize the technique being described.  One maneuvers an opponent with footwork, of course, but also by means of the type and force of blows delivered.  Boxers, for an easily accessible modern example, are trained to "punch through the head"; that is, to deliver a strike to the head or face that is from sufficiently close range to reach at least the middle of the opponents head at full extension.  By punching only to the surface of the head, you can conserve energy and deceive an opponent while you maneuver in a manner that makes your footwork more effective in setting up a structured attack.

What I take to be Vadi's meaning in Mezo Tempo is that this same category of tactics from the un-weaponed fighting arts also applies more-or-less directly to sword fighting/sparring too.  It has been my belief from the outset of my interest in swords, and western martial arts generally, that this would indeed prove to be the case. That strategy and tactics from one discipline would apply to swords and other historical weapons just as well (accounting for differences in distance and such, of course).

I will take this opportunity to throw this thought out for consideration and (probably separate would be better) discussion as well; History Begins Yesterday.  My cyclical involvement in Krav Maga is what made the observation above so obvious to me; it would be hard to argue that KM is not a direct modification of European historical martial arts forms, as are a number of modern martial arts (Imi Lichtenfeld's book is quite specific on Krav Maga's historical lineage).  Are there organized courses of study within HEMA that connect the modern expressions of western martial arts to the historical forms we practice?

I would value any thoughts of others, particularly critical ones, about my conclusions and observations.

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