I get it. I know. You want to train. Whacking people over the head with a sword is what we do for stress relief. With that taken away, we tend to get sad and cranky… And with Coronavirus being as promiscuous as it is, you know that gathering in groups – or indeed, not staying home – is not something you should do. But worry not! We at Arming Guild have taken upon ourselves the noble, yet weighty burden of giving you ideas to make you a better swordsperson in these trying times! Thus we present to you alternatives to your regular HEMA training:
1.) SOLO & FOOTWORK DRILLS
First, I’d like to make a caveat here: solo drills are awesome if you know what you are doing. If you are a newbie, I recommend a different point from this list. It is very easy to do solo drills where you learn a wrong part of a movement or part of movement if you are not supervised when you’re still in the early stages of motor learning, so please keep that in mind. With that, there are some good resources for solo drills online, for example Martin Fabian’s Lazy Workout or the always-sexy Bjőrn Rűther showing us how it’s done.
And since people keep trying to tell me that HEMA is not just longsword, here’s the elegance of Ilkka Hartikeinen for side-sword, Matt Easton whacking his sabre, and some agility ladder footwork exercises that are basically great for everybody. Don’t have an agility ladder? No problem, use some painter’s tape on the ground to make it!
2.) STUDY YOUR SOURCES AND OTHER LITERATURE
This is super important to really get a grasp on what we are doing. And thanks to the miracle that is the internet, it has never been easier! The standout project here is the Wiktenauer (I encourage you to donate – they truly are an invaluable resource to the community), where you can find nearly anything you heart desires. From Lignitzer through to Meyer, Fiore, Capo Ferro, and many more, you can certainly find something that will bring your understanding to a higher level.
Also on the internet, you have quite a fair number of interesting HEMA blogs & websites. The premier of them is definitely HROARR which has a wealth of great articles by many accomplished and upcoming folks, and is most definitely well worth your time and attention.
Then, there is Keith Farrell’s blog, which I also highly recommend. His blogs cover a wide variety of topics, from sword lengths to advice for shorter fighters, and all are well-written and researched.
And on the topic of research, there’ Sword STEM, a fantastic, science-driven blog that deals with physics in swords and swordfighting, as well as analyzing data from tournaments. Insightful stuff.
If you want primary sources in paper form, there’s so much to choose from. For the German tradition, I recommend Peter von Danzig by Harry R. Straight up Lichtenauer is a bit too cryptic, and while Meyer is great, his book is difficult to get a hold of, so Danzig’s explanation of the Zetel helps a lot. For rapier, there is La Scherma by Alfieri. And, of course, Hutton’s Cold Steel is an absolute classic for sabre. I won’t go into detail here, since if you want to study your primary source, you already know what it is.
Then, there’s also other stuff, such Keith Farrell and Alex Bourdas’ excellent AHA German Longsword Study Guide so you can always have a quality reference that brings most of the sources in one place. The body of work by Luis Preto is also great, though his style needs a bit adapting to, as Luis tries to get you to come to conclusions yourself instead of presenting them. His strong academic and practical background in sport sciences shines through, however, and is something I heartily recommend.
Hopefully, you’re already familiar with the works that pertain to your weapon, and this just served as a reminder for the one that you’ve wanted to look into for a while now. Yeah, you know the one I’m talking about. Go do it.
3.) GIT BUFF & STRETCHY
Some years ago, the prevailing belief was that skill trumps all and you don’t need strength to be the best swordfighter you can be. That is not a very good mentality to have. It’s much better to think of it in terms of RPG stats. Your skill is the base, and your other attributes are multipliers. Let’s put the baseline for skill at 100 (knows basics strikes and stances, but beginner), and the base for attributes at 1.0 (for strength this means doesn’t wrestle with the sword, can hold stances and throw strikes that have threat). Now let’s take two characters of same skill (let’s say 200), but of different strengths. One will be normally fir (1.1 str), while the other is Adonis-like )str 1.4). Overall, that’d make the normally fit guy have 220 imaginary points, whereas the Adonis has 280, putting Adonis in a favorable position. There are many other attributes for which the same logic can apply to varying extents (flexibility, reach, stamina…). The numbers used here are of course arbitrary, but the logic stands. Strength and flexibility are two skill-supporting factors that you can actively influence.
Now the whole point of this article is to give you stuff to do at home – so no going to the gym. But, there are things you probably have at home (or should get) that would help you out immensely. Here are some amazing resources for you to use:
Reddit’s bodyweightfitness has a WEALTH of high-quality information on stuff you can do at home. What you should look into, especially if starting out, is their recommended routine. They offer great, well-explained and broken-down exercises that end up in some really amazing feats of strength and agility.
Then, there’s Scooby’s gym, which also has complete workouts, alongside explanations on how to do exercises, all broken down by muscle groups. Not only that, there is a whole bunch on the other important part of getting buff – which is nutrition.
And lastly, I’d like to bring to your attention the dangerously manly Pavel Tsatsouline and his Enter the Kettlebell. Not only is the info great, it is also presented in a way that just might make you fall in love. “If you don’t know how to, I’ll teach you. If you don’t want to… I’ll make you.” If you didn’t answer with “yes, daddy” you are a straighter man than I.
Keep in mind, these are mainly targeted at newbies. If you already know the difference in weight training for strength, endurance, and hypertrophy, chances are you won’t be surprised at the resources above.
Now, for stretching – this is something that many (I must admit this includes myself) pay much too little attention to. While it is not quite as dramatic as strength, having a good range of motion definitely allows for better technique as well, and is well worth spending time on. First, a disclaimer: yoga is wonderful for stretching. If you know yoga, go and do it!
Otherwise, here’s a website with a collection of really good stretches to start off with. Remember: don’t stretch to the point of pain, but to the point of discomfort. Hold for 30-60s. If you can’t, then repeat for several times unil you reach 60s. If you’re lucky enough to be isolated with someone else, research Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) Stretching, as it can be crazy effective. For another source, here’s NerdFitness’ take on stretching: click.
4.) YOUTUBE RESOURCES
YouTube is an odd best. On one side, it is filled with tons of misinformation. On the other, there are some real gems in there. While most everyone knows Schola Gladiatoria, Martin Fabian, and Illka Hartikainen, there are a tonne of other, smaller channels that are well worth your attention as well. Here’s a selection, and I encourage you to check them out:
Turul HEMA – tactical analysis of some of the best fighters in HEMA.
Federico Malaguti – has a nice beginner’s guide to Longsword.
Michel Rensen – a truly top-tier fighter with a lot to share. His “techniques in the wild” series is a fantastic concept that is very useful to check out.
Sprechfenster blog – while you’ll need to become a Patreon to get the full thing, even the stuff that’s free on YouTube is very useful and thought-provoking.
As for non-HEMA resources, the fitness community has a wealth of channels. Here are a few recommendations:
Athlean X – you know this one. The biggest fitness channel there is, and with good reason.
Jeff Nippard – a scientific approach to building muscle. While he is a body builder, there is a treasure trove of scientifically-backed information for all types of strength training.
PsycheTruth – nevermind the new-agey name, the yoga/stretches in here are awesome, and you should do them. The link goes directly to stretching for the inflexible because hey, we’re the ones that really need it…
There we go! That’s it for now! Once this blows over, I might rearrange this article for simple HEMA at home stuff, but I really do hope you’ll find this useful in these times where isolation is so important.