Saturday, 29 July 2017

Hope’s Vindication, Annotated

I’ve finished transcribing and annotating Sir William Hope’s final book, the Vindication of the True Art of Defence. The original plates are available online, but the pdf below is fully searchable (though I’ve stuck to Hope’s inconsistent spelling). The annotations include 12 lessons that should reflect the content. The file also includes plates from The Scheme presented in Hope’s New, Short and Easy Method of Fencing which are referenced in the Vindication.

The lessons are a first pass interpretation and may be changed later as further lesson plans develop.

The Annotated Vindication

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Martial Truths: Two Weapon Fighting

I don’t have a lot of experience of two-weapon fighting, in fact I have just enough experience that fighting with a weapon in your off-hand is actually a distraction rather than useful.

What Silver Said

George Silver wrote in Paradoxes of Defence about a hierarchy of weapons. George Silver was also biased, and in almost every case the English Short Sword (“short” by comparison with the Long Sword, not actually that short) would be better than its continental counterpoint, the Rapier.

This is the hierarchy Silver talks about (Paradoxes, p30 of Mathey’s text):

the single sword hath the vantage against the single rapier the sword and dagger hath the vantage against the rapier and poniard the sword and target hath the vantage against the sword and dagger or rapier and poniard the sword and buckler hath the vantage against the sword and target, sword and dagger or rapier and poniard the two-hand sword hath the vantage against the sword and buckler, sword and target, sword and dagger or rapier and poniard

And so on, into polearms.

This makes a lot of assumptions — for example the assumption that the pike, short staff or similar polearm is universally better than a sword single is true in an open fight where there’s enough room to use them. The other assumption is that the rapier will always be worse than the English single handed cut-and-thrust sword for reasons of length, balance, cutting ability and so forth. I happen to think this is true (with exercises to demonstrate it) but (a) it’s arrogant and daft to think that just because the weapon is “better” the fencer is too and (b) Joseph Swetnam takes a contrary view, and while I think his technical argument can be challenged no doubt he had experience of dispatching the English sword with his rapier.

Setting aside the rapier, Silver states that the buckler is superior to target, which is superior to dagger as an off-hand weapon. Note that he does not state that a sword and dagger is superior to a sword single. Is it implied? Maybe.

What Daggers Are Good For

Daggers are foremost good for getting in close and stabbing people.

This means that if you engage in a lot of close fighting — that is transitioning from the “first distance” at sword length to something much closer — it’s probably better to have a much shorter weapon in your off-hand than not. I say probably, because if your hand’s occupied there’s some stuff you can’t do when inside the point of your opponent’s sword — you can’t grip, immobilize or throw as effectively. But if you’re that close with a dagger you can stab.

Of the dagger, Silver says it has no wards, with this argument (Paradoxes, p36):

Now is the hand in his owne course more swifter than the foot or eye, therefore within distance the eye is deceived, & judgement is lost; and that is another cause that the warder with the dagger, although he has perfect eyes, is still within distance deceived.

By “no wards” we mean that there is no way you can carry your dagger that will reliably shut down an avenue of an opponent’s attack — which is the whole point of a ward or guard. Once in very close distance, the time of the hand is the fastest of all and the dagger can strike in “many diverse places”. A dagger is also not good in the first distance, simply because it’s not big enough to be a ward in itself. In all such cases the opponent’s blow would be parried by the sword; after that, the dagger might be employed to trap or put aside the blade, but taking the full force of the blow with a dagger alone will be tough.

(this is not so the case with your rapier and main gauche against the like weapon, because the attacks are primarily thrusts and much easier put aside. This is why rapier and poniard against the like weapon works fine)

Dagger vs. Buckler

The argument above is part of a discussion on how the buckler is way better than the dagger as an off-hand weapon; and a fair proportion is against an anecdotal “bloke down the pub” who holds a contrary view to Silver. Silver reckons the buckler is better than the dagger because it’s much more effective at warding. To understand how a buckler works in some systems we can go back to I.33, the oldest known sword manual:

I.33 / 01-00033 Manuscript illustration of two men fencing  with sword and buckler. From the 'Tower Fechtbuch'. German, late 13th century Copyright: The Board of Trustees of the Armouries Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds LS10 1LT Digital Photograph Di 2005-296 Hasselblad 555ELD / Imacon digital back
I.33 / 01-00033
Manuscript illustration of two men fencing with sword and buckler. From the ‘Tower Fechtbuch’. German, late 13th century
Copyright: The Board of Trustees of the Armouries
Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds LS10 1LT
Digital Photograph Di 2005-296
Hasselblad 555ELD / Imacon digital back

(source also see Wikipedia page Royal Armouries Ms. I.33)

I.33 predates the Longsword as a common weapon; in place there is the arming sword and a buckler held very close to the hand at all times, such that the buckler is an extension of the sword that protects hand and forearm. As I understand I.33 play, one of the objectives is to force your opponent’s hands apart (by cunning binds, etc.) thus weakening their defence.

I’m not sure how close this is to Silver’s use of the buckler. Achille Marozzo’s side-sword and buckler illustrations, from the 1536 Opera Nova place the hand with buckler well apart from the sword-hand; the sword and buckler depicted in Paulus Hector Mair is much more I.33 like (see here, translated by Keith P. Myers on the Luegisland Scholars site). These are centuries after I.33 and maybe 60 years before Silver (and of course Italian and German respectively). The only other useful comment is that you can either regard Silver as a very early Renaissance martial scholar, or a very late Medieval one (and opinions tend to go to the latter).

Bucker vs. Targe

Silver’s argument of the Buckler being better than the Targe is pretty simple — the buckler lets you use the “four fights” (again see here)) but the targe, being much bigger restricts the number of positions you can hold your arm, so fighting guardant or close is difficult.

This illustrates the most important point — Silver’s context is (a) human scale fighting and (b) specifically the warfare around 1600. While Silver’s roots are medieval and the principles behind his treatise are timeless, the context of which weapon is better is at least biased by both fashion and technology of the time.

Which is the best shield?

So, for human vs. human fights a buckler is very useful, if you’re using a sword. But since human cultures have used shields of all sizes this can’t be the whole story. Intuitively the bigger the shield the better — except the bigger the shield the harder it is to strike around it, and the more it slows you down.

Big shields are really good for defending the person next to you in a formation. They still get in the way of cutting weapons by limiting how you can swing your sword, but if you’ve got a spear — or a friend with a spear — jolly good.

Once you get split up and it’s more of a skirmish, it’s touch and go as to which is the better arrangement. Say you have one person with a buckler and arming sword, and another with a scutum and a gladius (a historical mismatch, but possible if you’re playing RuneQuest, right?). My guess is all things being equal the big shield becomes an obstacle for both sides — although the person with the scutum may be slower, they only need to move a little bit to keep the shield between them and their opponent, who has to move a lot to try to get around the shield. Then it’s down to tactics and other factors (like fatigue). If I were the one with the big shield and I were strong enough I’d try to bash them with it in a charge, then sit on them and stab under the shield with my short sword. If I had the buckler I’d try to kick the shield so my opponent fell down, then cut at wrists and ankles while they were down.

I quite like this blog post for talking about a range of shields (as an alternative to full plate). I would expand by adding some conditional modifiers, e.g.

  • the bigger the shield, the more it hinders an attack
  • smaller shields are penalised less confined spaces than big shields
  • smaller shields may be better for fighting humanoid opponents; larger ones for fighting big opponents
  • when fighting in formation, someone next to you benefits slightly from your shield.

Do I get an extra attack?

The main benefit of carrying an off-hand weapon in, say, D&D is an extra attack (at penalty). This is fine with me, because there’s no real discussion of changing distance — everything is subsumed into the attack vs. AC roll.

But if you want to discuss it technically, you need to consider these things:

  1. Swordfights happen at particular distances; and the “first distance” is close enough to strike with the first 3rd of a sword blade, but anything shorter cannot be employed thus. So you don’t get an extra attack.
  2. Where a dagger is useful is in enclosing. You could, for example, adopt a Guardant ward, cross your opponent’s weapon and step within distance. At this point you can stab them with your dagger, and they are at a big disadvantage to ward against it (q.v.). But, because you’re now too close to employ your sword, you also don’t get an extra attack.
  3. If you’re using two swords of equal length against a sword single, you might think you can strike twice as often. But biomechanically speaking, when you throw your right shoulder towards your opponent to strike with your right hand, you draw your left away. So you don’t get an extra attack, because the weapon is too far away. Then, when you try to follow up with your left, it’s a motion in at least the time of the hand and body, and probably hand, body and foot (see here). So it’s not two simultaneous attacks, it’s one attack followed by a second, and the time between is enough for the opponent to respond defensively.

So in summary, you do not get an extra attack in any real-world sense. But that’s by the by. The way D&D and RuneQuest do it is just fine for a game.


If two-weapon fighting isn’t all that for steel blades, why does it work so well in LARP? A couple of reasons:

  1. In general, people stand too close. If you stand too close with your single sword, someone can easily envelop your sword with one of their swords, and hit you with the other one.
  2. People get to stand too close because they’re not afraid of being hit in certain places (like the head), so those two-weapon techniques work.
  3. LARP weapons are light, springly and the latex makes them sticky. It’s easier to envelop an opponent’s sword, it’s faster to attack with two swords, etc.

Because of this distortion of distance, latex bucklers don’t work so well, latex daggers in the off-hand are no good and the bigger your shield, the better. If I were LARPing again I would totally choose a pair of swords and get stuck in.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

No, YOU get off MY lawn

This post is so familiar and alien at the same time. Familiar because it describes the make-do of roleplaying in the 80s, but not the scene I remember since as a Brit I hardly played D&D. And thanks to that I can wax lyrical about old-school Stormbringer or WFRP or Fighting Fantasy and there’s just not enough interest to create any kind of argument. No-one’s invested in being right about that particular “Old School”.

It’s the comments to Rick Stump’s rant that are illuminating. “This kid who wasn’t even born in the 80s had the temerity to tell me about the Old School”. Etc. Which is fair enough, but let’s unpack that a bit.

First, this veneration of the Old School… it’s not cool. The Old School is frequently reactionary, outdated, and harmful — how about “old school” industrial health and safety? Or gender roles or family units? Or methods of disciplining children? Or attitudes to women in engineering roles? Or punitive teaching by rote? There are a lot of instances of Old School that can just piss off, as far as I’m concerned.

Second, since roleplaying was so localised and cobbled-together, there really never was any “school” or single coherent body of thought and practice back in the 80s.

Third, it’s ironic that the normally reactionary older generation is admonishing millennials for being so prescriptive and inflexible in defining “the Old School”.

But fourth, it’s not really Old School, it’s the OSR. And all the OSR really is, is an evolving collective of modern ideas which uses the one component of “the original roleplaying game”, the system, as a basis — because that’s the one part of the Old School that actually doesn’t need updating, because it’s still functional 40 years on.

What the OSR is doing is more like what we do in HEMA — we take historical treatises, some of which are incomplete, and turn them into functional modern systems that can be taught and used. As such, the age and experience of people in the OSR is irrelevant, it’s their output and participation that matters; but just like the MA world, there’s an expectation that the most senior members will be able to wear their 20, 30 or 40 years long-service badge and hold court over their juniors forever.

Of course I’m lucky because no-one is going to come back from the 18th century and tell me I’m doing it wrong. But then if they did I could just stab them because they’d be undead.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Martial Truths: It’s Not A Sport

Yesterday I was talking about the HEMA scene to a layperson and they referred to what we did as “your sport”. This is wrong for these reasons:

  1. There’s no sport. Yes, there are competitions when groups meet up, and certainly some people view these as competitive events where the goal is dominance; but most gatherings are foremost about a technical exchange, so the competition places that technique in practice.
  2. More importantly, there’s no you. Unlike the vairous governing bodies like the Kung Fu council and FIE there isn’t a single governing body for HEMA. That hasn’t stopped some people from trying to impose one, but in the end groups like HEMAC and BFHS are groups of affiliated but diverse interest groups.

To explain the problem with calling it “sport” I need to reference J. Christoph Amberger’s Secret History of the Sword, where the author talks about two kinds of conflict. Of those two Antagonistic conflict is further divided between:

  • Combat for Dominion or Survival (“war”)
  • Comment combat (“duel”)

Amberger breaks these down by scenario (battlefield, affairs of honour, etc.), Motivation, and crucially by

  • Projected Intent (i.e. what threat does the opposition appear to present)
  • Awareness of risk (high for both cases)
  • Fear level, and Stress level.

Similarly agonistic combat is sub-divided between

  • Competitive combat (“sport”)
  • Theatrical combat (“stage”)

Unsurprisingly the perception of risk, stress and fear levels are lower in agonistic conflict, where the intent is not to cause lasting harm because you want everyone to come back to the next class. And it would seem that our end-of-class sparring or assaulting fits the model of competitive combat. So, why not call that “sport”?

The problem with that term is it fixates on the wrong goal. Modern three-weapon fencing, whilst being great for fitness and form is a country mile away from defensive arts practiced in the long 18th century. It is a sport because it’s goal oriented; and the fact is, two fencers may contre-temps with one another and exchange what would be fatal thrusts, and one side will still be awarded a point on quite arbitrary grounds (because they straightened their arm first and had priority).

Fixation on winning points leads to thuggery, especially in the inexperienced. And artless thuggery benefits greatly from physical advantage (through brawling, intimidating behaviour, etc.). And while you can train someone in art well enough to overcome the thugs, a new student with promise may well be put off and quit long before they achieve those lessons, because all they see are artless thugs intent on dominating and winning, with no intent on improving their actual skill.

It should be clear why this problem can exist in the first place: there is no threat, no perception of risk, and this modifies behaviour. Hope was well aware of the difference between salle-play (agonistic) and a lethal attack at sharps (antagonistic) and how it modified behaviour, and he prepared his students thus — fancy tricks for the salle, but keep it simple and stick to what you know in a fight for your life, and think to your own defence first.

The modern fencing salle should be a safe place to train in, so factors of fear (and to an extent, stress) are massively diminished. Instead we have other ways to modify behaviour in combat. Free-play is collaborative rather than competitive, so more like Theatrical exchange; and for assaulting, changing the conditions of victory massively changes behaviour away from thuggery towards art (for example, only allowing scoring off the riposte).

I despise the word sport in conjunction with martial arts, because it legitimises winning as a be-all and end-all; and this leads to a callous, sink-or-swim culture, normalised in a particular demographic. Ours isn’t a sport, it’s a science.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Valmont and Danceny

Watch this bout between Valmont and Danceny from 1988’s Dangerous Liaisons:

“Dangerous Liaisons” (1988): Duel Scene and de Tourvel’s Death from August Martin on Vimeo.

(fun fact, Malkovich’s baseball slide at 1:40 was apparently his suggestion to fight coordinator William Hobbs)

The Vicomte at least turns up to the fight sober, unlike this scene from 1989’s Valmont.

In both versions Valmont and Danceny are probably evenly matched, Valmont having more experience but the Chevalier having youth, vigor and a lot of technical skill (as shown in Danceny’s bout with Gercourt in Valmont at about 1h00).

What’s interesting is how the positions are reversed between the films. Reeves’ Danceny attacks with uncontrolled and dogmatic fury while Malkovich’s Valmont has a calm and irritable aloofness. But in Valmont, Colin Firth’s character is the one to initiate the exchange, forward and angry while Henry Thomas’ Chevalier remains calm throughout, always giving ground until Valmont’s fury is spent before delivering a single, fatal thrust (we assume, as this happens off-camera).

The encounter in Valmont is more credible, both for length and position of the protagonists. Dangerous Liaisons’ duel looks dramatic with Reeves and Malkovich running all over the place, panting with exhaustion, etc. Note that the affair is not settled at first blood, which is probably period correct, as Amberger notes in The Secret History of the Sword:

in Central Europe the First Blood principle was held in low esteem — which meant a debilitating injury was required to terminate the duel.

What’s going through these characters’ minds?

Malkovich’s Valmont

malkovich valmont

Valmont does not want to kill Danceny. He has control of the fight throughout — he chooses when to retreat and when to advance, displaying great calmness, vigor and judgement, sparing Danceny when he could kill or wound him, non-verbally halting the duel to change swords, ignoring his opponent even when on his knees, and ultimately choosing to die.

To him the whole affair is a tragic waste of time. But, did he intend to die from the outset? It would seem so given that he is carrying around Merteuil’s letters, and he is psychologically hamstrung by the fallout from his affair with Tourvel; but it’s uncertain whether he decides to die out of despair, or because he must be punished, or just as an alternative to inevitably killing Danceny.

Reeves’ Danceny

reeves danceny

Danceny doesn’t know what he wants. All he knows is that he is unable to concede, and he lets this drive him throughout the exchange to one end or another.

After his temper has cooled Capaldi’s Azolan tells him “it’s all very well for you to feel sorry now”. While this seems a bit harsh given all we know of Valmont’s mind, still Danceny is an immature character who didn’t realise the stakes until too late.

Firth’s Valmont

firth valmont

Steinmetz notes in The Romance of Duelling “he who makes free with the bottle seldom rises with a steady hand”. Valmont’s judgement is fatally clouded by drink.

This Valmont is every bit as aggrieved as Danceny; while we can put his drinking the previous night down to fatalism, at the point of the duel he is practically enraged. Was there time enough for Valmont to think? Consciously or not, in the end he forces the same decision onto the Chevalier that Malkovich makes for Reeves.

Thomas’ Danceny

thomas danceny

Danceny would have been satisfied by an apology, and probably first blood if the opportunity had arisen. The earlier bout with Gercourt shows exactly how much control the Chevalier has with the sword; but the fury of Valmont’s advance probably left him with little option.

Probably. After all, the Chevalier doesn’t seem too cut up at Cecile’s wedding to Gercourt. Perhaps he’s a sociopath after all.

Plus, we know he could probably have Gercourt on a good day. Watch Dangerous Liaisons II: Doubly Dangerous and see Cecile and Danceny conspire to arrange a duel, dispense with Gercourt and live happily ever after.

DL duel


Bonus! Spot the high octave:

octave 2

octave 1

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Martial Truths: Can Art Overcome Strength?

This is sort of an addendum to the female-only tournament discussion — however I didn’t want it to overshadow the main point in that post which is if you want more diversity in WMA, safe spaces for minorities can help because they address feelings of inclusivity, self-esteem, etc. That goes double for instructors who are female, persons of colour, trans, etc.

Anyway… in the female-only tournament debate the “Art vs. Strength” discussion has been used a few times. The WMA canon is in love with the idea that Art will always overcome Strength. Strength certainly much less important than Art — as this recent article by Claire Ryan argues.

The physiological differences between men and women have been used as a talking point in the female-only tournament debate. Here two slightly different points are being conflated:

  1. Whether being bigger and stronger is an advantage (i.e. the sword is “an equaliser”)
  2. Whether people of widely different size, strength etc. should train and bout together.

In the second point, I would say of course they should train together. To do otherwise isn’t “martial”, as Guy Windsor puts it:

our tournaments are not segregated in any way. If you are smaller or weaker, or taller, or stronger, you are expected to deal with it as best you can and learn from the experience. That’s it. Weapons do not discriminate and neither should we.

But what is strength, and is it an advantage? Part of the problem is what we mean by “strength” and the way it’s conflated with other attributes like being physically big. Strength is context dependent: a dancer is strong, a rock-climber is strong, a long-jumper is strong.

Fewtrell writes about the constituents of a complete boxer in his 1790 treatise Boxing Reviewed:

I have given first place in the list to Strength, not because it is superior to Art, but because it is impossible to display Art in a proper manner without Strength.

Of course the context of boxing is not the same as for fencing. Still, developing the correct strength matters, and more strength never hurts — as long as it isn’t a crutch for poor practice.

This quote from Liechtenauer was used by Herbert to refute the idea that strength matters at all:

Because when it is strong against strong, the stronger one will always win. That is why Liechtenauer’s swordsmanship is a true art that the weaker wins more easily by use of his art than the stronger by using his strength. Otherwise what use would the art be?

However I don’t think this is what Liechtenauer means. This is not an absolute, art-trumps-strength argument — it’s just a vindication of the science of defence that it can be used to succeed where there’s a deficit of strength.

Silver talks at length about how the “tall man hath the vantage against men of mean stature” in cap. 45 of his Paradoxes of Defence.


At first glance it seems the master is saying no matter what, someone who is taller than you will have the advantage. But there are caveats:

  1. The advantage of the taller man is only preserved if their fight is perfect. If the man of mean stature has a perfect fight and the taller man is imperfect, all bets are off.
  2. The defender (“patient agent”) may still preserve their life by virtue of their true actions in defence being faster to execute than the motions needed for the Tall Man to come to the Place. Or as an instructor once told us, “your first step back will be faster than their first step forward”.
  3. When the “man of mean stature” wishes to offend their taller adversary they are always obliged to “come guarded under his wards” in offence.

The sub-text of the last point is this: while coming in may present a risk for a smaller agent against taller one, there are strategies and techniques which may be developed to mitigate those risks. Again, art may be devised to overcome strength (just as tactics may be employed to overcome a disadvantage, &c).

This is what a decent coach does. They recognise the strengths and weaknesses of their students, train out the weaknesses that can be trained out and offer alternative ways to overcome those that cannot. If, for example, the student cannot resist the furious battery of their huge opponent on their weapon, the instructor can offer alternatives involving slipping, traversing, or even stop-hits (in the case of egregious false times from large opponents).

Final Remarks

I’m not keen on examples such as Inigo Montoya vs The Mountain that proclaim victory for Inigo every time (q.v. Claire Ryan’s article). Not because I don’t want Inigo to win (as is right), and not because they’re implausible, but because they require very specific circumstances to be true. The Mountain is almost certainly as accomplished an artist as Inigo, and Inigo will lose if he plays the game according to The Mountain’s rules. But then part of Inigo’s expertise comes from knowing how not to play the opponent’s game.

What a student needs to learn is how to create those circumstances where they have advantage and minimise disadvantage, and that’s what a true art does. But the “art” isn’t just blade action, swiftness of feet or accuracy; it’s tactical reasoning and judgement. These things may be trained, regardless of size and strength. And to be honest this is where a diversity of instructors benefits everyone, because we’re not reliant on a particular body type or mindset to accomplish the art as written by our forebears.

Swords and Diversity

So, I attended the Diversity in LARP panel at Nine Worlds, and it was great.

After the panel I started thinking about diversity and inclusiveness in Western Martial Arts (cross-fertilisation of geek streams is one of many great things about Nine Worlds). How are we really doing in being inclusive, respectful and sensitive to students in WMA?

Maybe not so well. By coincidence, a discussion on the value of women-only tournaments in WMA (aka HEMA) has been doing the rounds recently. Guy Windsor’s post Swords do not discriminate. Neither should swordsmen. (sic) was written after one of his own students was denied entry to a women’s tournament in the USA. That incident was also covered by Devon Boorman of Academie Duello. Devon’s article runs through the arguments for and against women-only tournaments, but at the same time he’s also fully aware he’s a white dude with all the bias and blind spots that come along with that.

I should say at this point that my examples are about gender diversity. I am sure the same comments apply re: safe spaces for persons of colour, and particularly diversity of instructors as visible champions of HEMA.

The comments on Guy’s post from several women are essential reading here. Maura Hausfrau mentions physiological realities of being trans, Khalila Redbird talks about the effect of introducing women sabreurs into a male-only competition environment, and Kristen Argyle talks generally about the benefits of mixed vs female-only tournaments:

I don’t see it as a physiological needs kind of separation, which is why any sort of trans discrimination is ridiculous. It’s primarily cultural and psychological, and ultimately comes down to a quasi-marketing scheme to get more women invested and involved in these events.

There are opponents — like “Herbert” in this Schola Forum thread that responds to Devon’s article. Herbert’s position is that weapons are a great equaliser, women and men are treated with equal respect in training, and there is no imbalance between men and women in our community or in the west in general (because he hasn’t seen any evidence of it…).

I’m absolutely certain Herbert means well. But Herbert, like Devon, like Guy and like myself, is a white bloke. And it’s counter-intuitive to say that a segregated space can lead to better inclusion, because we don’t value those spaces in the same way.

There’s also the concern that segregation for one minority group would lead to a need to segregate others. I’m with Devon Boorman here:

“How about small men? Or gay men? Or any other group that feels they are affected by a social power imbalance? We can’t give everyone a special event!” Why not? If our goal is to be inclusive and expand the practice of our arts in the world (certainly my goal) any group that can support a tournament in numbers should certainly be welcome to have one if they feel it will better include that group. More groups and more people would only benefit all of us.


Being a cis-het-white-bloke I can’t claim much more than my good intentions — but I’ll state those anyway:

  1. The school is open to anyone who is serious about wanting to train.
  2. All students get the full support of the instructors and fellow students, with as much encouragement and time as they need to develop their skills.
  3. Students should feel safe and welcome in the training environment.

What is it to feel “safe and welcome”? I’m not sure, because I don’t think I know what it’s like to feel unwelcome. I fit the image of a martial artist pretty well (tall, strong, male — I even have a shaved head). I’ve never really been other in that environment.

I always hope that this is a non-issue for our schools — like Herbert, I imagine an ideal world where every student is treated equally, there is no gender imbalance, everyone is accepting of how a person identifies themselves, etc.

But I’m sad to say I have personally witnessed bias and even transphobia (and I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t call it out as vocally as I should have). And for me it’s only been a couple of times — so it’s highly likely that most of the cases of e.g. sexism are invisible to me, being in the majority.


This article by the Black Boar Swordsmanship School tackles “shame” in the fencing salle. Really it’s talking about feelings of self-worth, and how people react when their self-esteem is challenged by failure.

Of course this is a general case for all students; but building self-esteem and confidence is a big part of training. The low point of a student’s self-esteem will probably happen at the “conscious incompetence” phase of their training (discussed here). If they can’t get over that “difficult minimum” they may well quit.

Managing these negative feelings (I hesitate to call it “shame” in this context) requires the instructor to have a dialogue with the student — recognising the source of the issue, helping them accept it, and supporting their moments of self-doubt.

More Female Instructors

So, if there’s value in a female-only training space, it’s this: managing the early periods where a student is pushing through that early stage of learning where their self-esteem is so important. This is the main reason for a female-only “safe space”.

It goes without saying that to develop these spaces, the best way is to have more female instructors. We don’t have enough of those; but I’m sure we can do better by raising the profile of women by asking them to present classes and seminars, etc.

And I guess one reason we don’t have more female instructors is because training environments don’t support their development. If you’re a big strong bloke in a “sink or swim” type martial arts environment that doesn’t manage these crises of self-worth, you can build your self-esteem by winning fights because you’re strong. As a result you need less support when you hit that minimum, you can push through and maybe even become an instructor yourself (and you can visualise yourself as an instructor — because a lot of instructors look like you).

It’s possible this article will provoke a negative response from some male instructors. All I can say is… dude, it’s not about you. It doesn’t mean you’re not doing the best you can to be sensitive to your students’ needs. But sometimes, doing the best thing means stepping aside and letting someone else lead.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Martial Truths: Sword vs Staff (The Full Length, part II)

Last post I discussed the relative lengths of Elizabethan rapiers and swords, and the tactics one would use to defeat another.

To follow up, I’d like to discuss a greater mismatch: single sword against a quarterstaff. Mostly it’s in response to Matt Easton’s video:

Matt’s video is partly challenging the idea that the quarterstaff is superior to the sword — a point he makes very well in the follow up video where he notes that we romanticise the “simple staffman” and actually the martial context of the two is very different.

So here are the assumptions:

  • Staves don’t do much damage compared to swords
  • Polearms are better than staves because they have a metal bit on the end
  • Once you’re past the end of a staff the sword fencer has freedom to dispatch the staff-weilder.

Staves Don’t Do Much Damage

Oz replies to Matt’s video here, regarding how much hurt staves can do:

This debate goes down a predictable path, comparing the effectiveness of cutting and bludgeoning weapons against clothing, etc.

My main issue with the whole debate, and something Oz mentions in the end of his video, is that we can’t train with a quarterstaff or a sword at full power and lethality. Anecdotally we do have Terry Brown’s account of battering a fully-armoured reenactor (referenced in this post) and accounts of real and serious training injuries — I am in no doubt that a gambeson would be little use against a staff-thrust.

Polearms Are Better

Oz also refutes this one on account of the greater mass of the Bill’s head causing it to lie spent for a longer time. Silver notes (Paradox 29) that

whereby as the Bill has advantage in his wards in the head, so therefor has the staff the like defence, or rather more, to play upon the head of the bill, not only to make a perfect good ward, but thereby, the rather to cast the Bill out of the right line, whereby the staff man may thrust safe, and endanger the Bill-man

To paraphrase: the Bill and similar polearms have a nice big head to ward against attacks, but at the same time the staff can move that head aside at offend the Bill-man in time.

It’s not clear-cut. The advantages of the different pole weapons in terms of wards and offence (in the context of one-on-one and many-on-many in the wars) and discussed in some depth in Paradoxes.


As Oz says, Silver tells us explicitly how long a quarterstaff is — and it’s much longer than the 6 foot staff Matt holds in his own video.

The most contentious thing Matt says is around 7min 30s, where he describes a technique of blocking a staff blow with one’s forearm and enclosing thereafter. I want to pick this one because it makes the same tactical assumptions as Silver in his play against the long rapier, in that if you can cross your opponent’s weapon and get inside its compass, you may seize this opportunity to win the place. This is the “I’d just get inside his staff” notion that’s a sort of urban legend amongst armchair martial artists.

The problem is this: the difference in length between staff and sword is so great that for the sword-man to enclose involves a time of the hand, body and feet, whereas the staff-man may reposition their weapon in the time of the hand only. Thus the staff may be repositioned to strike at head, hands, knees etc. all in the time of the hand, with little offence offered from the sword. This likely how one Richard Peeke was able to offend three Spaniards armed with rapiers (assuming it’s a true story; accounts can be read here and in Terry Brown’s English Martial Arts).

So back to Matt’s technique: assuming he were prepared to take a broken arm in order to enclose, his main problem is that as he advances forward in the time of his feet, so may the staff-man retreat with his feet. And should the staff-man be caught unawares and allow his adversary too close, he may even shorten his staff in the time of his hand, and play at the half-staff to cause offence.

This advantage does not apply for a shorter staff, where the sword-man may play such that he attacks the hands of the staff bearer in a more equal time, and thus a staff below 6 feet is an entirely different case — and a cause for a much more cautious attitude.


Martial Truths: Getting the Full Length

Sword (and rapier) length — does it matter?

Some fencers obsess over the “correct” length of their chosen weapon. In this essay I’ll attempt to discuss relative lengths of Short Sword and Long Rapier from the Elizabethan era (and later).

The Proper Length

In the 1562 Statues of Apparel Queen Elizabeth I put a stop to excessive sword length:

her Majesty’s pleasure is that no man shall, after ten days next following this proclamation, wear any sword, rapier, or any weapon in their stead passing the length of one yard and half a quarter of blade at the uttermost, neither any dagger above the length of twelve inches in blade, neither any buckler with a sharp point or with any point above two inches in length, upon pain of forfeiting the sword or dagger passing the said length

The restriction was more likely to do with fashion than anything else — the Queen was probably fed up with her courtiers tripping each other up with trailing blades. Ruff sizes were out of control too:

ruffs shall not be worn otherwise than single, and the singleness to be used in a due and mean sort, as was orderly and comely used before the coming in of the outrageous double ruffs which now of late are crept in

(“mean” as in average or typical; q.v. Silver’s “man of mean stature”)


Anyway… a yard and half a quarter is just over 40 inches, and that’s not unusual for a period weapon, but there were longer examples, too. I don’t know how much this restriction affected rapier practice; blades seem to range between 40 and 45 inches long, and despite quite a few online sources there are few articles that actually pin down the length. This article considers 40-42 inches common for Fabris.

There’s also this 1650 example in the NY Met collection with a 45 inch blade:


That’s not quite a fair comparison, though. The Elizabethan rapier of 1562 probably overlapped a fair bit with the spada da lato and the espada ropera for civilian defence in the early part of the 1500s; quite different from the mid-17th century weapon that later morphed into the smallsword.

Long Rapiers and Short Swords

Let’s consider two contemporary sources, then. Joseph Swetnam’s Schoole of the Noble and Worthy Science of Defence of 1617 recommends:

 Let thy rapier be of a reasonable length, rather too long then too short, foure foote at the least

If that’s four feet for the whole weapon it would be around 40 inches, or 1 1/8 yards. A 48 inch blade… that’s crazy, but then Swetnam’s illustrations show some very long blades indeed:


Now let’s consider what Silver has to say about “perfect lengths”. In Paradox 19 he says you should

Stand with your sword and dagger drawn as you see in this picture, keeping out straight your dagger arm, drawing back your sword as far as you conveniently can, not opening the elbow joint of your sword arm

If I do as Silver says I get a length not far from the length of my synthetic waster. That’s around 34 inches in the blade, and I’m tall (6’1”) by modern and Elizabethan standards. Alex Bourdas has a different interpretation, though, reckoning around 39 inches of blade; that’s easy to achieve if you open your elbow even slightly, which is what the illustration appears to be doing:


It doesn’t help that Silver further muddies the waters in Paradox 15:

The blade to be a yard and an inch for men of mean statures, and for men of tall statures, a yard and three or four inches, and no more.

That would be… 40 inches. Really? Really? A “long rapier” and a “short sword” are exactly the same length?

If true that means the technical objections Silver raises, and the advantages Swetnam cites in considering long rapier against short sword have nothing to do with relative length, and more to do with other technical concerns — namely the execution of Guardant Fight against Variable, etc.

And certainly those considerations of technique are far more important than mere length; but on the other hand — since we’ve taken historical examples of the rapier — there seems to be a general consensus that the blade is around 31 to 34 inches, and this is common in modern reproductions (which I assume were based on originals). Perhaps Silver meant blade to be the whole weapon — 31 inches blade + 6 for the hilt makes a yard and an inch, job done. Who knows?

Silver vs Swetnam: Technical Discussion

Reading Silver and Swetnam it’s likely that there were differences in lengths, as both men base technical arguments on relative lengths and distance. Silver notes the advantage of the shorter weapon in its ability to cross and uncross faster than the longer — here he’s referring to a two-handed sword against the like:

These weapons are to be used in fight as the short staf, yf both play upon dubble & syngle hand, at the two hand sword, the long sword hath the advantage if the weight thereof be not too heavy for his strength that has it, but if both play only upon dubble hand, then his blade which is of convenient length agreeing with his stature that hath it, which is according with the length of the measure of his single swordblade, hath the advantage of the sword that is too long for the stature of the contrary party, because he can cross & uncross, strike & thrust, close & grip in shorter time than the other can.

But there are a couple of caveats as always — Silver here is talking about a very specific sort of play where both parties are using a double-handed stance only; furthermore the inference is that this is some kind of close fight.

Swetnam: A Critique of the Short Sword’s Distance

Speaking of the close fight, this is Swetnam’s reasoning for preferring one weapon over the other:

my reason is the distance is so narrow that a man can hardly observe it, except thy have been both practioners a long time before hand, for if a man practice continually long sword or long Rapier, yet upon such a Challenge goeth into the field with a short sword, then the daunger is greatest of all

Swetnam seems to argue that the correct play of the backsword is so near to the opponent that it’s difficult to maintain without (in Silver’s terms) giving the opponent the place, i.e. coming so close that one can be struck in the time of the hand.

The Four Fights

I think Swetnam is characterising the whole of Silver’s play as the close fight only — at least for the Short Sword against the like. If so that’s a fairly superficial reading of Silver who is fairly explicit (if cryptic) about the four fights in his “military riddle”:

  • Gardant fight stayeth, putteth back or beateth gardant fight
  • Open fight stayeth, putteth back or beateth open fight
  • Variable fight answereth variable fight in the first distance and not otherwise, except it be with the perfect length against the imperfect
  • Close fight is beaten by gardant fight
  • Variable close and gardant fight, beateth gardant fight, open fight, close fight, and variable fight
  • Gardant fight in the imperfection of the Agent or Patient winneth the half sword, and preventeth the close, and whosoever first ventureth the close looseth it, and is in great danger of death, and not possible to escape or get out again without great hurt.

All very confusing, but Silver helps us out in Brief Instructions.

Open Fight:

Open fight is to Carry your hand & hilt aloft above your head, either with point upright, or point backwards which is best, yet use that which you shall find most apt, to strike, thrust, or ward.

i.e. stand with your sword up high and use downright blows. It’s a battlefield stance that Terry Brown contends should be used only when “fighting double” with a shield (English Martial Arts, p100).

Guardant fight:

Guardant fight in general is of 2 sorts, the first is true guardant fight, which is either perfect or Imperfect. The perfect is to carry your hand & hilt above your head with your point down towards your left knee, with your sword blade somewhat near your body…

Silver goes into detail about Perfect and Imperfect hanging guards — basically it’s perfect if you’re upright, and imperfect if you’re inclined forward (because you can’t ward a blow on the left side or thrust on the right in time), or if the point is far out or advanced (because it can be knocked aside). He also mentions “bastard gardant” where the hand is lower than the head, but that’s not for a general fighting position, just for transient motions, crossing blades and attempting grips, etc.

Close Fight:

Close fight is when you Cros at the half sword either above at forehand ward that is with point high, & hand & hilt low, or at true or bastard guardant ward with both your points down. Close is all manner of fights wherein you have made a true Crose at the half sword with your space very narrow & not Crost, is also close fight.

Basically this is fighting at a distance where the opponents’ swords cross at half their length, either up (a “forehand ward”) or down as the gardant. In the latter case this sounds like Hope’s hanging guard, and so in Silver’s own terms this is “imperfect” — but it works assuming both parties are engaging “with their space narrow”.

Variable Fight:

This is “all other manner of lying not here before spoken of, where of these 4 that follow are the chiefest of them”. Silver goes on to talk about various guards used by the rapier etc; Cyril Matthey contends that Silver has misconstrued much of the terminology used by the Italian masters, but the intent is clear: the rapier fight is “variable”.

Gardant vs Variable

Looking at Silver’s Military Riddle the fight of the Short Sword against the Long Rapier can be characterised as Gardant against Variable.

The Riddle gives a clue at to exactly how Gardant Fight answers Variable:

  1. A fight that is Gardant, Close and Variable may be used to overcome Variable fight, and
  2. Gardant will win the close in the imperfection of patient or agent, and
  3. Variable only answers variable in the first distance.

The strategy presents thus: the short sword in gardant will attempt to cross the long rapier in variable, at which point the shorter length of the short sword will be at an advantage to uncross faster within distance than the long rapier is able to be repositioned in defence; the short sword has “won the place” where it can be used to offend in the time of the hand only, whereas the rapier to defend must use a slower time involving the feet.

Swetnam is clearly aware of this strategy, and refutes it thus:

those which weare short swords, depend onely upon the taking of the enemies point, which is not to bee done if they meete with with one that is skilfull: I have heard many say in talking familiarly concerning this weapon, if I take the point of your long Rapier, then you are gone, but that is not to be done if thou meete with one that is skilfull except thou canst take thy enemies point in thy teeth, otherwise thou canst never make seasure upon his point, if hee bee skilfull as aforesaid

In other words Swetnam is saying “yes, you could do that, but if you are able to do so, you clearly haven’t met a skillful fencer”.

Silver makes mention many times of “the number of his feet being too many”, for example Of the Imperfection and Insufficiency of Rapiers in general…. The length of rapiers contributes to their inability to answer each other in anything but the first (longest?) distance — in other words, they’re fine with two fencers circling and jabbing, but once it comes to passing within distance it’s easy for both sides to fall within the length of the other’s blade — so neither weapon is able to offend or defend, and both combatants end up at grappling distance — or if they have poiniards, close enough to stab one another in the time of the hand.

I saw exactly this happening in a rapier class years ago. Two fencers went at one another and ended up at grappling distance. The instructor was pretty cross, stating that “if this happens, you have already lost”. Which is true to an extent — the rapier is wholly reliant for its play on maintaining this first distance, and becomes useless otherwise.

Observations on Small Sword against Rapier (and Epee)

At this stage the debate rapidly becomes biased in favour of one fencer’s preferences — Swetnam for longer distance, Silver for shorter. And clearly Silver acknowledges that variable fight can answer variable fight, as long as the rapier-man can keep the distance of the fight he prefers.

This raises a very important point — if the fencer with the backsword allows her opponent with the rapier to fence at the distance he prefers, she will find it difficult to gain the place.

Hope notes that there are three “measures” one may fight at. The chief problem with the third “measure” (note — Hope’s terminology is different from Silver’s) is that when the fencer is too far from their adversary they are disordered by stepping within distance.

Therefore if you fence between rapier (a 40 inch blade) and smallsword (perhaps 32 inches), the one with the rapier will naturally prefer a longer distance; and if the smallsword fencer allows the play to happen at this distance, they will forever be at a disadvantage to offend the one with the rapier.

The flip-side of this story is that when rapier meets small-sword the former will tend to make very long lunges from a longer distance, and assuming the small-sword fencer can cross these thrusts she will then be at a great advantage to uncross and answer with a riposte, or even better a command and a kick in the coddes. This is also true of fencers with a sport background who typically fight at a greater distance. This is not to say the smallsword has an inherent advantage, but more that it lends itself to the same gardant, close and variable fight that may be used to overcome the solely variable fight of the rapier.

Acknowledgements and Further Reading

I’d like to acknowledge the following sources:

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Martial Truths: Back To School (part 1)

Let’s talk about martial arts schools.

This Is Your Brain On Martial Arts

Remember this?


(from this post)

This is the modern combatives “tactical pyramid”. It shows the priority of attributes in a martial artist needed to win fights. Natural advantage aside, all of these aspects may be trained (or in the case of Kit, purchased with gold pieces).

Let’s break it down:

  • Mindset is readiness to pay the cost of winning (harming others, coming to harm, etc.)
  • Tactics are your
    • holistic view of the fight
    • ability to see changes in your opponent’s behaviour and adapt
    • ability to plan the engagement to retain advantage (proactive)
  • Techniques are
    • executing moves with maximum efficiency (speed, power, safety, etc.)
    • a component toolkit for constructing tactical moves
    • establish the autonomic behaviours of the artist when placed in a stress situation (reactive)
  • Kit
    • Weapons, armour, that kind of thing

Understand that this triangle comes from a modern combatives source, where “kit” includes concealed guns and knives. Clearly if the weapons on one side were disproportionately better — say you were openly carrying a big gun and the other side wasn’t — you’d have a kit advantage that might trump technique. You’d still need the mindset to do harm, though.

Another comment about modern combatives: the tactics for street defence involve never being in a risky situation in the first place. A lot of the focus in combatives I’ve attended is on hazard spotting or avoiding being surprised, knowing when to flee, etc.

That context aside — I really like the triangle. It’s a good illustration of the priorities the instructor should have when training students.

Over-Focus On Technique

If tactics and mindset are so important, then why are we obsessed with teaching techniques in MA classes? Here are a few reasons:

  • It’s gratifying. For the student who knows very little, being able to learn techniques piecemeal and execute them will give them positive feedback about the learning process.
  • It’s easier for the instructor. Ideas like tactics and mindset are high-level, “soft” concepts. Techniques are well defined, “hard” procedures — as in if you do X correctly, the result will be Y.
  • They are effective for base conditioning. Being able to execute basic moves shifts the student from a state of conscious to unconscious competence; in other words they have less cognitive load associated with executing moves, and so can develop higher level tactics. More about that in a minute.

Those are all positives. There is one negative, which is cool technique is what Hollywood has taught us to expect. When we visualise ourselves fighting — either as martial artists or in RPG combat — we think about looking good. A lot of MA mastery is about getting over one’s own narcissism.

Learning Curve

You’ve probably seen this diagram before, too:

4 stages linear

Learning to drive is the example often used, although I’ve also seen it in corporate seminars — usually while trying to make the audience feel good about culture change or something similarly nebulous.

But actually the curve is more like this:

4 stages curved

If someone told you you’re going to actually get worse at the activity before you get better, would you even start?

It should come as no surprise that the point at which the student becomes consciously incompetent is when they’re most likely to quit.

Let’s say the student has attended classes for a few months. They’ve won a few fights, mainly on natural talent (agression, vigor, speed) rather than finesse. This is because while they’re great at doing the techniques in a controlled environment, it all goes out the window when their blood is up.

Now say they’re a conscientious student — they want to believe in their new hobby and for them, winning doesn’t count without good form. Unfortunately putting the techniques into place is a cognitive load. While they’re thinking about doing the technique right they have less space for tactical reasoning, and… they start losing fights to less experienced students.

This is the point where they start to have doubts — doubts about their own ability, and doubts about how well they fit into the school. Obviously this is where a coach comes in, to hold a mirror up and help the student realise that they are improving.

Ultimately whether the student remains in or leaves the school will come down to the school culture, of which the Instructor is a major element.

School Culture

When a new student comes to a school, they may well think they’re getting the same experience as they would in the school down the road. And for a lot of students who only ever study at one school they’ll probably never know the difference.

However, martial arts schools don’t come from a mold — not even the ones that ascribe to an identifiable sub-form (say, Wado Ryu). The form has to be interpreted by the instructor and then passed on to her students.

This is all part of the school culture — something that will influence whether a student joins, stays with or leaves the school. I’ve considered a four-fold diagram:

School Culture

  • The History and Philosophy of the art will probably be the first thing that the student sees and what attracts her to the art. It will set an expectation in her mind for behaviours, her development, and the rules of engagement.
  • Instructor Ethos and Competence should reflect the philosophy of the art, but does it? This is all about the group leader — do they care about their students? Do they push and if so, how hard? Do they get results? How do their personal beliefs filter down to the school?
  • Rules of Engagement are all about how students behave in the competitive environment, typified by how hard students will hit one another and still consider it “part of the game”. This will be directly influenced by the Instructor’s Ethos, and obviously affects how welcoming the school is to outsiders.
  • The behaviour of Other Students will be influenced by the Rules of Engagement which will be set according to the Instructor’s Ethos. However knowing other students is sometimes a reason for a student to stay, even if she doesn’t like the rest of the school culture. Additionally the other students will be who the student is tested against — so it matters how the other students interpret the Rules of Engagement, how rough they are, and how sporting.

While the school culture may be rooted in tradition, it’s really the Instructor who personifies that tradition and is the real source of the school’s identity.

Instructors can have both a one-to-many relationship with the student body, and many one-to-one relationships with individual students. It’s the latter that the Instructor uses to coach and mentor individuals to reach their potential. At the same time the Instructor may convey expectations on the students through this relationship — including demands for loyalty.

It’s a Tribe Thing

Martial Arts schools are tribal. That’s not intended to be pejorative, just a statement of fact. The fact that schools can have their own culture is an indicator of this.

This means that when two schools come together they with interact positively or negatively based on the same cultural markers above. Furthermore the similarity of some aspects is no guarantee that the two tribes will get along, and differences don’t automatically mean disharmony either.

Disagreements and common ground can be found in both the Philosophy of the school, and the People who practice it; and they can happen at both high and low levels. Let’s consider the four markers in a slightly different way:


At the high level the master will influence the form taught, and the form will influence the master. At the low level, the character of the student body will affect their conduct toward one another, and their conduct will affect character. Influence between high and low levels will be generally one-way, however.

Now consider how another school might view this tribe. If the masters tend to agree then it may be because their views on form align. If they continue to agree with one another, they may end up influencing one another’s thoughts on form, training and technical art. On the contrary if they disagree, these are the areas where they will find fault with one another.

At the student level the interactions will be predicated on training and competing with one another. If the students like each other they may be prepared to change the Rules of Engagement, even if this isn’t what they would normally do in the gym at home. If they dislike one another then the Rules of Engagement become contentious, with potential appeals to authority to tighten or relax those rules. This escalates tension from the student body into the domain of the masters.

Remarks on MA in RPGs

One of the aims of this series is to talk about Martial Arts in a RPG (and fiction) context. How does knowledge of school cultures help us?

First, remember that a martial art isn’t just a skill, it involves practice and experience. While this is the case for all skills, practicing MA is unique in that gaining experience involves deliberate competition with others where the stakes are high: there’s the potential for injury in training, or even death.

This coupled with the tribal nature of martial schools means a great potential for forming positive and negative relationships. The fact that those martial artists fight is possibly the least interesting thing about them. If you want to simulate martial arts in a game, forget the Fu powers of Feng Shui or the charms in Exalted, what about Strings from Monsterhearts or Hx from Apocalypse World?

Now that you know that, consider the effect of emotion on the competitive arena. Judgement, Vigor and Calmness are the three pillars of Hope’s teachings, but Calmness is easily upset if there are bad feelings — I know firsthand the feeling of adrenaline that comes when facing down an opponent who you have a beef with outside the ring, and it’s not an advantage. What would happen in a fight if one combatant used a String on another?

In summary, martial arts are cool, but the coolest thing about martial arts isn’t martial arts — it’s the dynamic relationship between master and student, between student and student, and between schools.

Afterword: Living Tradition

Living tradition in martial arts has always been important, and the Western MA movement is often criticised for its lack of direct master-to-student lineage. Instead most WMA are based on masters from Eastern traditions picking up the manuals and interpreting the contents according to the ethos of their favoured school. This is why some WMA will look decidely like kenjutsu or modern sport sabre or theatrical stage fighting. But it’s not as much of a mess as it sounds; WMA is also practiced competitively and studied academically, and those conflicts will tease out inconsistencies and weak behaviours.

The WMA instructor’s biggest problem is developing her own ethos in the absence of a mentor. Beyond that they are no different from their counterparts practicing popular eastern MA — and both need enough self belief and introspection to judge when the source they have learned from is not 100% correct.