Looking at some of the tournaments which are all the rage these days in HEMA it got me to thinking about several things. Buffalos in Freeplay and Tournaments, and the meaning of the word Hau. 2 distinct topics really that diverge at the critical point which makes them worth performing a join on. The purpose of this discussion is to clearly outline several critical components of HEMA and how they relate to tournaments and freeplay in general.
Lets start with the words and what they mean Buffalo and Hau. Buffalo is the buffeler, buffel is to whack so they are the whackers. I forget which master describes them but the content of the description was “a buffalo strikes without care for their own defense” and they can be dangerous (hell even in later Rapier focused times it was known amongst fencing masters to be careful of wild young crazies who could stab even a master through their wild ways). So a buffalo is a person who whacks strongly without thought to their own safety, in other words they have no defense, they just charge in and strike, often times this works but all of the fencing we learn in this Kunst Fechten is not about how to whack hard really, that’s the easy part, it’s a chopping weapon for cleaving opponents. So given the attention by the manuals to this term and the way we are warned to not be like them it begs the question. How do we avoid being buffalos in this modern HEMA world? See I think it was frowned upon for obvious reasons to whack people hard without control, it shows a lack of drilling time and effort put into being able to maneuver your sword deftly. This control BTW is absolutely critical to the development of a sophisticated fencing system like the Kunst Fechten. Take a look at the content of the manuals, how much time is given to everything but cutting, Meyer himself says that “Zucken (Pulling) is the beginning of all deception” Zucken is damned close to the concept of control by using the half cut. If you cant strike fast and hard at a target and pull it sufficiently with control to not injure then you have no chance of applying a list of many handworks which require that control. So I am saying that control IS the art, without it there is just buffaloing and pure athleticism applied without any real science to it. Now I am not trying to say its across the board here. Guys like Axel Patterson and the other Swedes show a lot of the art in their fighting. I am talking about a trend I am seeing that I would like to think through enough to try to reverse in some manner in our attempts at a tournament.
To further deepen that problem I am seeing a trend in tournament fights that’s disconcerting to me. After all the idea is for Tournaments to serve as a tool of the learning of the art not as something that should transform the art. I think these tournaments are not close enough to what they did back in the 16th century for us to let that happen without some thought on it.
So I think the hitting in the tournaments is out of line with some of the skill levels, some folks should clearly not be moving the sword that fast and hard if they can’t control it. Now that means perhaps some form of a qualifying bar of control to get into a tournament i think. I dunno maybe I am being a wuss about it. i like to think we play pretty hard around here but the only way to get to safe hard play is through the crucible of learning control through hard work drilling and training.
This is contributing to another factor of concern in the tournaments, lack of actual Lichtenauer –esque technique in the form of guards, cuts and handworks. Why is it that we see maybe 2 types of guard in your average longsword bouts? The arts clearly have more, so what’s the deal? Why is that happening? I think the power element is a factor in forcing people down into only the safest most comfortable elements of the art. Again a lack of actual experience in training the art over years may contribute to this.
Warping the art this way is unwise IMHO. Tournaments must be bent to the task of bettering the art or at least allowing for a full expression of the art not subtly altering the art by how people train for it.
What if that very act is what was called buffaloing. If it were not buffaloing we would see far more defensive actions after the attacks, but it seems to have evolved down into a pure speed and athleticism competition, which BTW is not bad. Natural increases in the speed and power are highly desirable for us, but not in the place of technique which we are told makes the real difference. The two must come to the party as one to keep the whole show on target. At least that is how I am seeing it and a few people seem to think likewise.
Not sure I have an answer to this tournament issue, honestly it may have to be fixed on an event by event basis, we will certainly try to address it in some manner for our Oct Dixie Krieg event. This discussion is part of the preparation.
Take for example the Dusack tournaments, they seems to be even worse as examples of visible aspects of the art, this is probably due to less familiarization but still I expect some gleaming of what we see in the books to come out more. But we see very few guards and precious few other easily identifiable techniques that could be used to point at a particular fechtbuch or master.
Now maybe I am just being a big baby about this and the art might get applied slightly differently from how its taught, or maybe it skims itself down to the essentials when directly applied. This can be seen in modern Filipino arts BTW, the art taught in somewhat of a vacuum and once implanted over here the Dog Brothers began pressure testing what they had learned and found a lot of the stuff just fell by the way side as hardly ever used once push came to shove. I dunno, that was more about transition from a sword art to a stick art I think (takes more effort to kill with a stick )
Which brings me to my other issue of related interest. HAU.
The meaning of the which is in English Hew. The proto-Germanic origin of the word Hew from old English Hewe, old German Hauw . The meaning of this word in English is to cut through or cleave an with a heavy cutting instrument. Mostly usually used in connection with the Axe but also applying to other heavy cutting instruments. The implication of the word is IMHO filled with hidden meaning to our practice of HEMA.
For example we have Meyer’s Zornahau the Wrath Hew, this can be done exactly as Meyer describes by going from Zornhut to Langeort to Wechsel or what we generally call a Full Cut. That is a cut which goes through the target. Different from a Half Cut Zornhau which would be a hew to the center of the target. Still devastatingly effective if not blocked but not of the hew variety of strike in that it seeks to cleave into 2 parts the object at hand. A half cut is really akin to a Zucken or pulling which is the beginning of all deceptions (Meyer). The opposition cut of Meyer being the combination of the two cuts into one. A hew is a very particular kind of cut, one cut with a knife but you cannot hew with a knife. This to me means this was a full bodied art seeking to gain maximum power when into strikes when needed, the instructions behind this initial aspect of the art is all the handworks, devices and other techniques which teach redirection, pulling, changing, rounding, looping etc etc. All which arrest the cut at the target to send it to another target. Another reason why buffaloing alone is not the art, the art is the other stuff that sits on top of that basic ability to cleave or thrust, all the many facets that make up the art of fencing.
So there it is, in a nutshell I am saying I think there is not enough control in the longsword tournament bouts, not enough of the art visible and relied upon as it should be perhaps these things are related to one another or not. And I also think we need to see the art of cleaving or the Hew as a full bodied, everything you have got type of cut. But not necessarily in freeplay or tournament, some folks can get mighty close to doing it with great control though and they should use it. That’s why the federschwerts were created I think, to allow us to go faster and harder and thereby that much closer to the real art. But pushing your weapon through the target (full cutting) is a dangerous thing to do in freeplay unless you break it somehow or use control.
I am mulling over the idea of perhaps a control calibration test to enter into the steel tournament, if you cannot Zucken well you really have very little business swinging steel at that level. BTW this also applies to plastic , wood and even padded, there is really no part of the Kunst Fechten where freeplay and technique does not require control. I think the safest tools are the lighter feders which allow a greater degree of speed and athleticism in the freeplay but there is no tool available that does not also require control to weild safely.
So there it is, hope I havent offended anyone forgive me if I have it was not intended.
So I am open to some ideas on how to counter these trends in a tournament or freeplay in general for our purposes.