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Thread: The differences between HES and other styles of swordsmanship?

  1. #1

    The differences between HES and other styles of swordsmanship?

    So I've been wondering this: What exactly are the comparative advantages and disadvantages that the European style of swordsmanship has in comparison to other national styles, like the Japanese or Chinese styles?

    Now, I'd like to stress that this isn't some childish "Knight vs Samarai, lulz!" thread I'd like to think myself above that sort of debate, and I think this forum is above it as well.

    Rather, I would like to hear about what the differences between the styles are. I mean, there's only so many ways to move a sword, yet there are definite differences between how a European martial artist and a Japanese martial artist would do so. And there are definitely differences between how a European swordsman and an Asian swordsman would approach a sword duel. I don't know all that much about swordsmanship, since I'm really just starting my own education in HES, but I would find it very interesting to see what you experts' opinions on this are

  2. #2
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    But an expert in HES is not necessarily an expert in JSA or CSA, so I don't really think that is an answer that folks can just give you out of hand. People *will*, of course, but really, unless they have spent some time training in both, it is still an outsider viewpoint.

    I think the best thing for you is going to be to read on the different arts, see what is in your area, and arrange school/dojo visits to draw your own conclusions.
    Greg Mele
    Chicago Swordplay Guild

    Freelance Academy Press: Books on Western Martial Arts and Historical Swordsmanship

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    "If the tongue could cut
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  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Eric G. Dalshaug View Post
    So I've been wondering this: What exactly are the comparative advantages and disadvantages that the European style of swordsmanship has in comparison to other national styles, like the Japanese or Chinese styles?
    One you want to do, and the other you don't. That is about it.
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  4. #4
    Well, for a start you might try this article:

    Title: "Kindred Spirits, The Art of the Sword in Germany & Japan"
    Author: S. Matthew Galas, Esq.
    Publisher/Journal: Journal of Asian Martial Arts, Vol. 6, No. 3 - 1997
    Posted: September 29, 1999
    Abstract: Historians and anthropologists have long recognized the many similarities between the cultures of feudal Japan and medieval Europe. The government by a feudal hierarchy based on military service, the domination of the battlefield by an elite warrior class with a strict code of conduct, the cultivation of arts and letters alongside the use of weapons-all of these subjects have been noted and discussed at length. Less attention, however, has been paid to the close parallels between the fighting arts of the European knight and the samurai of feudal Japan.

    This article will examine the art of the sword in medieval Germany, comparing and contrasting it with the classical Japanese martial traditions (ryuha). The period covered by this inquiry will reach from approximately 1350 until 1600. For the sake of brevity, the focus will be on general principles and combat philosophy rather than on specific techniques.

  5. #5
    I train both, and have for some time, so I can answer from my point of view.

    DISCLAIMER: when I say HEMA I am talking about the 15th century Liechtenauer material as *I* interpret, practice and teach it, and when I say JSA, I am talking mostly about Toyama Ryu, and particularly the style I study, which you can learn more about in the link in my signature, and to a VERY limited extent other styles I have studied in the past, such as Yagyu Shinkage Ryu.

    One of the biggest practical differences is the measure. In JSA we fight at a closer measure, which changes the timing and workable actions considerably. When I first started doing gekken (free fencing) in JSA the close measure was quite uncomfortable for me, but I've gotten over it and it's made me a better fighter in HEMA.

    Because of the shorter measure (mostly having to do with the length of the sword) actions tend to be tighter and reactions need to be quicker.

    The lack of a cross guard on the katana also changes how the sword is used (this, I think, is the single greatest tactical difference), and of course the lack of a back edge eliminates back edge strikes. If I were to fight longsword vs. katana I think my greatest advantage would be the crossguard, followed by the back edge, and then by length (which is not as much of an advantage as you would think, because there are pluses and minuses to length). The katana would be quicker and, in my experience, enters the bind with more authority. Its curvature is also advantageous, as that can be used to direct your opponent's sword away from the centerline. The winner would, as always, be the better swordsman. I think the advantages and disadvantages cancel each other out. The biggest danger would be double kills, as it is not easy to recognize threat when the swordsmen are not familiar with each other's weapons.

    The techniques themselves are very similar, save for the back edge stuff and lack of curvature on the longsword, and in many cases almost interchangeable, adjusted for measure and consequently timing.

    Hope this helps.
    Last edited by Michael Edelson; 12-04-2010 at 09:08 PM.

  6. In addition to my primary practice of Highland broadsword, I cross-train in Chinese swordsmanship. On paper, these are very different arts:

    - the broadsword parries directly on the forte with hard force-on-force blocks designed to stop the opposing sword in mid-air; the jian absorbs/deflects the force of the attack with a ceding parry on the flat.

    - the broadsword chops and (to a lesser extent) thrusts; the jian thrusts and slices.

    - the broadsword cut can be made with a simple rotation of the wrist or elbow, or it can be made with a step that powers the cut; the jian uses a turn of the waist.

    - the structure of the arts is also different, as Highland broadsword distinguishes cuts from parries as distinct actions, while jian treats them as the same actions. For instance, if your enemy cuts at your left cheek, a broadsword guy would think of this as an occasion to parry and riposte with (for instance) an inside guard followed by a cut 4, while a Chinese stylist doing essentially the same sequence would speak only of countering with a "liao" cut (the first motion of which also serves as the defense).

    These are pretty significant differences in theory, but the funny thing is that in bouting the two arts don't look as different as you would expect. The main tactical difference in bouting is that the hand is a target with the jian while it is protected with a broadsword.

    Of course, for the broadsword guy, that's a pretty nifty difference.
    "Am fear a thug buaidh air fhein, thug e buaidh air namhaid."

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    I try and cross-bout with other styles of swordsmanship whenever I ca. I agree with Chris - no matter how different things might seem on paper, they tend to feel quite familiar in action. Here's some vids if you're interested:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwG1jVMn2TM

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdzvQOngd90

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=op7MyIFvAMk

    Paul

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    I'm in the second video with Paul.

    I want to have a second "crack" at him with a curved blade but it's been hard to tee up.

    The main problem I had was dealing with the cross-guard. Not having one on a Japanese blade, I kept getting caught up!

    Also, a lot of the blocks/parries with Katana take advantage of the curve of the blade to keep your hands safe. As you can see, I kept getting pinged with a straight sword.

    That was my first sparring session, we generally don't do it in my Ryu. As Paul states, it's a great training exercise - certainly no Knight Vs Samurai!
    Bartender and Brewmeister for the Pub


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  9. Actually, that raises an interesting point. Sword styles are developed under specific local/historical conditions, which generally means they're optimized to deal with those specific conditions. Every now and then you find that something another style does presents a problem that your own style seemingly has no answer for- presumably because that problem was not faced by your own style historically. For instance, short weapons like butterfly knives were basically designed and intended for use in gang-type fights in narrow alleyways- if you try to use them against a broadsword or sabre in a wide-open space, the guy with the butterfly knives doesn't really stand a chance. If you restrict the fight to a small area, then things start to go much better for him. We have to remember that most of the cross-style match ups we come up with could never happened before modern times. That's one of the things that makes them interesting in terms of fencing strategy, because you have to assess this unfamiliar style and try to figure out how to deal with it on the fly.
    "Am fear a thug buaidh air fhein, thug e buaidh air namhaid."

  10. #10
    This question fueled the first chapter of the Mongoliad, an interactive online serial novel produced by professional writers who also happen to be HES enthusiasts:

    http://mongoliad.com/contents/29

    The "choreography" of this fight was worked out swords-in-hand, with input from experts in both historical European and Japanese swordsmanship.

    I believe that a later chapter describes the same fight from the samurai's point of view.

    Tony

  11. #11
    Differences between sword (or any weapon for that matter) styles exist for several reasons.

    First, there are differences based on the weapon itself. A sword with a curved blade is more optimized for slashing than for chopping or thrusting, though many curved blades and do both. Another example has been pointed out, swords with guards effectively remove the hand as a target; so all those cuts to the kote in Kenjutsu/Kendo are far less meaningful in Broadsword. These differences may also extend to source materials factors. Shortages in steels or metals with different properties will influence the design of the weapon. For example, during the Bronze age, "swords" tended to be quite short, more of what we would today consider to be "short swords" or even "long, broad daggers." When metal working technology improved to the point of the production of quality steels, sword length grew.

    Second, there are differences in the "environment." In this case, "environment" can be taken to mean "what environment is it likely to be used in." One of the (many) reasons that a European Longsword is designed differently from a Smallsword is that a Smallsword wasn't intended to be able to "deal" with an opponent wearing armour. The same holds true for the differences between Rondel daggers, parrying daggers, and a Filipino Kerambit. Rondels had to pierce maille or heavy clothing, parrying daggers had to be able to parry while protecting the hand, and kerambits are concerned with near-grappling hooking and dragging cuts. Nor are there very many two-handed cavalry swords.

    Third, there are difference based on social conventions. For example, important to the development of Court Swords was that they were part of the "fashion" of French Court. This (among other factors) influence their length and eventual divestment of edges. Duelling, for instance, had an effect on the swords used. Duelling Sabers bear remarkable distinctions to their Military Saber brothers. "First Blood" rules, lack of armour, &tc. were elements of these differences. I'm told that the Jian was considered the "Scholar's Sword" (iow, the self defense tool of a traveling educated man or upper class) and the Dao the sword of a "common soldier."

    Of course, this glosses over a lot (and scholars could, and have, write volumes about the evolution of any particular sword), but, in general, most differences between swords and styles and be attributed to one or all of these factors.

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    Peace favor your sword,
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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Wagner View Post
    I try and cross-bout with other styles of swordsmanship whenever I ca. I agree with Chris - no matter how different things might seem on paper, they tend to feel quite familiar in action. Here's some vids if you're interested:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwG1jVMn2TM

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdzvQOngd90

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=op7MyIFvAMk

    Paul
    Out of curiosity, what is the training background of the gentleman with the katana simulator? Based on his stances, footwork, manner of gripping with the right hand, and actions with the blade, I don't think he has much experience with a JSA system. (I could be wrong, there may be a system that looks like that, but it's not one I've seen or practiced.)

    Respectfully,
    Mark Kruger

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    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Edelson View Post
    If I were to fight longsword vs. katana I think my greatest advantage would be . . . and then by length (which is not as much of an advantage as you would think, because there are pluses and minuses to length).
    I'm curious about this part. My own personal experience is that extra reach is very useful. And I believe that history tends to support this idea i.e. most swords are made as long as possible given the limitations of materials and one or two handed use. Shorter swords than that seem to be a response social/cultural rules rather than a choice about efficacy.

    So, what do you see as the minuses to a longer sword? I suspect you'll think the same way, but just to be clear, I consider being able to play a close-in game with a longer weapon is a basic part of actual competence with that weapon.

    Cheers,
    Steven
    Athena School of Arms - Longsword & Highland Broadsword
    Fight with All Your Strength
    Swords of Chivalry - Youth Swordsmanship in Acton, MA

  14. #14
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    My sword background:

    European:
    I'm a student of Sean Hayes. Between 2-3 years of training under his tutelage, Fiore 600, and a seminar taught by Guy Windsor, I am most familiar with the Fiore's material. I have had the pleasure of taking a class from Christian Tobler at 4W and a brief lesson with Eric Slyter on the German tradition.

    Japanese:
    I've been studying Shinto Ryu Iai-batto-jutsu since '95. I am a student of Robby Pellet and have trained under his teacher, Mochizuke Takashi as well. Since '02, I've studied Muso Shinden Ryu with Stephen Thoms, a student of Kazuo Chiba. I've participated in a weekend seminar taught by the soke of Muso Jikiden Eshin Ryu (Yamauchi Ha), Sekiguchi Konmei. I've dabbled in kendo when I've had the chance as well.

    So, how's that for an a appeal to authority?

    Michael Edelson's analysis is spot on. In addition, I'd like to add:

    The Kamae (stances) in JSA are typically don't stray from the center line. There are direct analogs of them in Fiore's system (jodan -> falcone (okay, that's from Vadi), chudan -> breve, gedan -> porta di ferro mezana, haso -> di donna or vom tag, waki -> coda longa. However, there are posta for which there are no analog kamae that I know of and most of them have the sword off the center line: dente cenghiaro and porta di ferro come to mind.

    There is very little half swording in the JSA schools and where you do see it, it is a palm on the spine of the blade instead of a full grip.

    Fiore never actually shows a draw, though there is a play that I know of that implies a draw. Sheathing technique is not covered as far as I know. In iaido schools, the draw cut and sheathing are an integral part of practice.

    These are technical details. There are other, more subtle, differences.

    The training methods are different. Most of the time is the JSA schools I have trained in is spent on solo form work. Cutting, paired forms, and sparring are emphasized less. On the Italian side, paired drills predominate with occasional solo form and sparring rounding out the training schedule.

    Also, in a way that I have yet to fully articulate there is a difference in attitude. The JSA systems are more... aggressive? Once mai-ai is broken, one person, at the least, is going to be dead (it it bloody well is going to be the other guy). The Italians seem to be more measured in their aggression, with quite a bit of attention paid to defense and being able to open measure after the initial engagement. Again, I need to think about this some more to see if my impressions are borne out by facts.

    Respectfully,
    Mark Kruger

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Kruger View Post
    Out of curiosity, what is the training background of the gentleman with the katana simulator?
    I believe Bujinkan, which he's been doing for a long time (as well as WMA rapier, and SCA heavy, so he's no slouch). He did say he was reasonably happy as he was using actual techniques in the bout, but the broadsword really flumoxed him - I didn't even notice he went one-handed for a while in that fight, but I think he was just trying do deal with something he found wierd

    Paul
    Last edited by Paul Wagner; 12-08-2010 at 01:46 PM.

  16. #16
    Mark,

    Good stuff. I can't believe I forgot nukitsuke and half swording.

    Others,

    Seizan Kai gekken and Liechtenauer free fencing (the things I'm familiar with) do indeed look very different from one another, at least to me. Quite distinct, in fact. I'm not going to conjecture on why some people's free fencing looks similar regardless of style, but obviously you will get different results depending on what particular style you are fencing and other factors like who is doing the fighting and how skilled they are in their respective arts (are they well matched, etc), simulators used, and so on.
    Last edited by Michael Edelson; 12-08-2010 at 01:56 PM.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Kruger View Post
    Also, in a way that I have yet to fully articulate there is a difference in attitude. The JSA systems are more... aggressive? ... The Italians seem to be more measured in their aggression
    That's my impression as well, though I'd say the thing JSA tends to ...um, "be missing" shall we say... is the "recovery". I do English, not Italian (though it's close enough), and there is a great emphasis on "flying out" - that is, once and attack has been made (and esp. parried), being able to retreat safely out of distance again in such a way that the other guy can't hit you, and if he does chase you, is likely to walk onto your sword. As long as I can keep bouncing in and out of distance, I feel quite confident in being able to attack the other guy safely and escape, and as long as I can keep my distance, deal with overly-aggressive opponents who just want to keep coming.

    Interestingly, the Chinese sword styles I've come across are tactically much more in tune with what I'm used to, and of course the German arts tend to keep coming where the English (and Italians) would retreat, so it's not a WMA/EMA thing, it's a tactical choice specific to individual traditions (or even masters)

    Paul

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Wagner View Post
    That's my impression as well, though I'd say the thing JSA tends to ...um, "be missing" shall we say... is the "recovery".
    Paul, I would suggest that you not make all encompassing statements like that, particularly since you have not trained in any form of JSA. If people you've fenced with lack "recovery," that's cool, but a different sort of comment altogether and one few people would take issue with.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mat Rous View Post
    I want to have a second "crack" at him with a curved blade but it's been hard to tee up.
    C'mon Matt, you live like 5 minutes away

    Seriously, I'd love to, esp try a broadsword vs Kat - gimme a call anytime you're free.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mat Rous View Post
    Also, a lot of the blocks/parries with Katana take advantage of the curve of the blade to keep your hands safe. As you can see, I kept getting pinged with a straight sword.
    I actually thought you protected your hands remarkably well.

    Paul

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    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Edelson View Post
    Paul, I would suggest that you not make all encompassing statements like that, particularly since you have not trained in any form of JSA. If people you've fenced with lack "recovery," that's cool, but a different sort of comment altogether and one few people would take issue with.
    No slight intended Mike, just trying to articulate the difference in "aggression" Mark was talking about - I think (ok from my limited experience, but we do have a couple of JSA-trained guys in the club as well) it's more about the tactical choice to follow an attack with another attack (which may protect you in some way as well, but is basically trying to hit the other guy), rather than cover up under a defensive guard (which may allow you to hit the other guy, but is basically trying to protect yourself) and run away. That is bound to be a gross generalisation, granted, but I think it's there is that tendency in both JSA and GLS that contrasts with English (and prob Italian and Chinese) that gives the former the impression of being more "aggressive".

    Paul

  21. #21
    I know that's what you meant, and I took no offense whatsover, but I feared your choice of words may be misinterpreted by others.

    A lot of us are trying to build bridges between the JSA and HEMA communities, so I might be a tad sensitive on the subject.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Edelson View Post
    I know that's what you meant, and I took no offense whatsover, but I feared your choice of words may be misinterpreted by others.

    A lot of us are trying to build bridges between the JSA and HEMA communities, so I might be a tad sensitive on the subject.
    Michael, there is no need to be sensitive.

    I got comprehensively "Schooled" by Paul. Having said that, it was my first ever bout - Not used to the shinai, cross-guard, Mask etc.

    I wouldn't expect to win.

    It is interesting that my only decent point came at the end where I went for "Aggression"

    Paul - definitely, I have a lot on work wise this month, but the new year beckons.
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  23. #23
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    I did Shinkendo/Toyama Ryu and recently started Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu, and have tried many others, both JSA and HEMA. In the first few years of training, I was very prone to make generalizations: "This is JSA, how can it be anything else than what my sensei teaches?" Which I found is a common mindset with beginners.

    But as I progressed, I found other ways, some making sense, others not. And even after a 100 years doing JSA, one would have to be really good to make general statements about koryu.

    There is very little half swording in the JSA schools and where you do see it, it is a palm on the spine of the blade instead of a full grip.
    I would disagree:http://ejmas.com/tin/2009tin/broderick04/taikai14.jpg
    Many styles do not only rest the hand but grab with the palm, closing the fingers is the only thing keeping them from having a full grip, like the one below. But in doing so you cannot rapidly move your hand on the blade to change the leverage, which I think is a distinct advantage to having a single edge. Closing your hand on a dulled blade on the battlefield would have been a distinct possibility in my mind.

    The truth is we can find a counter example to nearly any general statement about JSA, there are a hundred different schools, and those are only the ones that are left of the thousands which existed to one point.

    A lot of us are trying to build bridges between the JSA and HEMA communities, so I might be a tad sensitive on the subject.
    And I think things are getting better and better, compared to ten years ago when there was just no talking about JSA on a WMA forum, and permanently running "Knight Vs. Samurai" thread on every forum.

  24. #24
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    And I think things are getting better and better, compared to ten years ago when there was just no talking about JSA on a WMA forum, and permanently running "Knight Vs. Samurai" thread on every forum.
    Amen, Maxime!
    Greg Mele
    Chicago Swordplay Guild

    Freelance Academy Press: Books on Western Martial Arts and Historical Swordsmanship

    Chivalric Fighting Arts Association

    "If the tongue could cut
    as the sword can do,
    the dead would be infinite."

    Filippo Vadi, "Arte Dimicandi Gladiatoria" (c.1482 - 87)

  25. An interesting thread, and I will have to go back and read several posts at more length. There's lots to think about here.

    One point I would add, though, is to be careful of generalizing from scant data. If I fence a student of a given JSA, that probably tells us more about the two of us as fighters than it does about the systems we use. But if each of 10 long-term students of Armizare fence each of 10 long-term students of Shinto Ryu Iai-batto-jutsu, and there is rough parity in terms of training levels, and the conditions of the bouts are controlled and the results analyzed and weighted by the training goals of each system, then that probably gives us a much more meaningful understanding of the similarities and differences of the system when under pressure of a fight.

    You can't really tell much about a fighting system under pressure from seeing one person employ it, unless that person is a known high-level practitioner paired against someone of similar skill. In our community, honestly, I don't think any of us quite that person yet. We're working on it, though.

    Cheers,

    Sean
    Sean Hayes, Maestro d'armi
    Northwest Fencing Academy

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    One should never confuse the rules of a competition with the rules of an art.

    People talk a lot about speed, but not very much about control, safety, tactics, and trying to get close to the reality of sharps. When simulating sharp fights, how fast one charges in depends on how quickly one would like to die.


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