Can you learn to fight from a book?

Can you learn how to fight from a book?

A bedraggled man holding up a manuscript.


Join me next month for my next ground breaking post…

Okay, seriously. Trying to learn to fight from a book cannot be done. So, what’s the point in studying them? This was the subject of a conversation I had online with Mike Edelson, author of Cutting with a Medieval Sword: Theory ad Application.

He had posted a status update about some of the plays/devices that are taught in HEMA and how they are absolutely useless in a fight. As such, he would not be teaching them and went on to thumb his nose at a lot of the source material used as the basis for a lot of schools syllabi. Mike Edelson will no longer be teaching KDF (Kunst des Fechtens (arts of fighting)).

Now, before we get into this: I agree with him on a good number of his points. I’m currently studying the work of Achille Marozzo and the sequences we go through in defence of one attack or another are insane! There are about twenty steps. If you’re opponent does A, then you should do B. He will no doubt respond with C, in which case you will obviously do D. And so on and so forth all the way the Z. Only one or two of these techniques may come into play when we’re sparring, so is the rest of it a waste of time?

Now, this is something I find in a lot of martial arts. There are exercises which are interesting and which can teach you to improve on certain aspect of a fight such as balance or speed, but should never be taken into a fight. There are just about NO techniques that I would take from Tai Chi into a fight. If I went up to someone trying to do pushing hands, I’d get the shit kicked out of me. One of my favourite things to watch on YouTube at the moment is Wing Chun or Kiai “Masters” getting their arses handed to them by MMA fighters when they try to bring their fantasy nonsense to a bout.

So, should we abandon these texts?

Hell, no!

Firstly, these treatises are cool as hell. When I’m reading them, I feel like Giles from Buffy…

Giles fencing while reading a book.

Okay, so maybe cool isn’t the right word.

Secondly, Context is King. Understanding the history behind the character who wrote these treatises gives us greater understanding of the world they inhabited and how a duel, judicial or mortal, may have been fought.

Thirdly and most importantly, they can teach us important mechanics and how to improve and adopt appropriate structure. Reaction can be taught. Practice something long enough and it becomes natural.

These reactions can then be brought into a fight.

While no book in the world can teach you how to deal with the pain or a sudden surge of adrenaline that you might get while fighting, they can teach you how not to do something that might be harmful to yourself.

Studying these things is important. There are those techniques that you’re never going to employ in a fight and which should probably be shed from training. I’ve always viewed the sequences in Fiore’s plays as: “If your opponent does X, you could respond with Y.” Rather than: “You MUST respond with Y.”

There are of course purists who would disagree with me, but I’ll happily fight them.

I think it would be good to make a catalogue of the plays that I think would actually be effectual in a fight and treat the other as a means of developing balance, speed or a sense of sensitivity to the bind (Fuhlen) rather the means of winning a fight.

What is your favourite move and how practicable is it during free play?

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