And therefore I have sailed the seas and come To the holy city of Byzantium.

So gentle reader, the time has come to put an end to things. You may have noticed (though probably not noticed due to lack of anything…) that my posts here have become sparse indeed.

After so long and so much time, sweat (and there was a lot of that) and resources, I am not going to be posting stuff here for the foreseeable future.

The SCA is still there and many of my friends are still very passionate about following that particular path of the sword. I sill have all my harness and will be there from time to time to hit people over the head with sticks.

I am always happy to chat about tournament fighting and armour but my focus will now be on the German school of  historical arms and combat.

If you want to know about this new direction, there will be a new blog here.


Take care and have fun.



More on Drills

Hi folks.

A few people have been requesting a list of various training drills that I have. So Instead of emailing stuff out I will put it all here. I wrote another post about drills and that can be found HERE. Anyway – let me know if you have any questions or would like to share your own drills. I may do a quick post about how to design useful drills for your own training.

So to start off with some strength exercises.

Strengthening/physical (armoured combat specific) You may want to google these to get the form right.

Pell Squats (core, legs, arms)- Throw two shots to the pell do a squat. Variation – side squats/lunges.

Helm sit ups (core, arms)- Start in a sit up position, holding a helm above your head. Do a sit up keeping the helm in the air (you will need to push the helm towards your knees as you come up. Do not secure your feet).

Turkish get ups (core, legs, arms)- Lie on your back, holding a weight (your sword) up with a straight arm. Stand up and then lie down again keeping your arm held straight up.

Mower pulls (core, legs, arms) –Stand with legs wider than shoulders. Hold a lightish (your helm) weight in one hand. Reach down to your opposite foot. Now come back up and quickly reach the arm diagonally up and out to were you are reaching up at 45 degrees.

Kettlebell swings (core, legs, arms) – Hold a helm (or heavy weight) in front of you. Now let the weight drop down between your legs, bending your knees. Let it then swing back up over your head and then let it drop back down. Keep the weight moving.

Helm rotations (core) – Sit on the ground with your legs in front. Hold your helm on the ground next to your hip. Move it to the other side, touching the ground.

Wind ups (wrist strength) – Using a strong cord tie it to your helm and to your sword. Hold the sword in front of you in both hands. Now ‘wind up’ the sword to lift the helm up to the sword and the unwind it. You can always make this up with a bit of dowel and a half brick.


And now fighting drills

1-6 Pell Drill – From Duke Jade of Starfall – strike the pell in two cut combinations (1-1, 1-2, 1-3 etc)


4-5 Drill – Squire cuts 1,6,1,6 stepping forward at each cut. (4 steps) Knight maintains distance by stepping back and correctly blocking each cut. Squire then cuts 1-6-1-6-1 moving backwards (5 steps) with the Knight following and blocking.

-Variation. Change the cuts eg 1-4 or 3-6.


The Tower (this can hurt, so pull the power down) – Squire holds the field and must defend. Knights line up and in turn attack with a set number of attacks. Squire works on defence and Knights work on continuous attacks (they must not let their from go to crap). Number of attacks should be between 6-10.

Openings – Stand on the edge of measure. Knight moves shield to provide opening. Squire must cut to that opening.

This is about seeing opportunities to attack and acting on it. The Knight should close the opening if the Squire takes too long. The time here depends on the experience of the Squire. Limit the possible openings dependant on experience. Openings (keep it simple)-lower shield cut 1, lift shield cut 3, open shield cut 5, cross shield wrap.

Response Drill –Squire holds the field. Knights form a line. Nominate a standard opening attack. The knights will step in and throw that attack and the squire must deal with it in some way of their own choosing (parry, dodge or displace) and counter. Keep the line moving through. For newer people you may want to nominate the response.

Progressions – Start with the Squire making a single attack from the edge of measure. Do this several times to get the footwork and technique working. The Knight can block this. Next, the Squire adds a second attack – hopefully exploiting an opening due to the Knight defending the first attack. Work this though a few time and then add a third attack. You can build up counters from the Knight if you want. The idea is to build up a short attacking sequence for the quire. The Knight is working on defending and looking for opportunities to make a counter.


The main thing to remember is to keep things reasonably simple. Chose one or two techniques and work on them. Start slow and build up the pace. When you form starts to go, slow it down and rebuild.

I am going to admit drills can be boring, free fighting is more fun. But you MUST spend the time working on the basics. You need to do things 1,000s of times, not just a few times every now and again…

What are we doing here?

As part of a discussion the other day some asked what would I remove from SCA combat to make it ‘better’.

Better is a very subjective idea. A lot of  it depends on what it is you are trying to do. Some people will describe SCA combat as an attempt to recreate knightly tournament combat, others will say that it is live action roleplaying with a lot more bruises.

So here is an attempt to have a think about how SCA combat rules effect what it is and how it works and what may not work.


SCA combat has evolved over 50 years mostly by trial and error. It started as an attempt to stage armoured combat of the middle ages. When they started they did not have access to armour, equipment or any understanding of what historical European martial arts looked like. Indeed I suspect that no one had herd of Fiore or Talhoffer at this point.

What then evolved was a rule system that allowed people to put on various levels of armour and go out and have competitions, massed combat and other things. It is a rule set that allows a reasonably simple level of entry. The equipment requirements are also very accessible. The SCA has certainly grown but is not the only game in town. It now exists along with HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts), HMB (aka Battle of Nations), Metal Weapons, LARP, Jugger and probably stuff I have not yet heard of.

So to create a system in order to replicate combat we introduce rules to make sure people do not get badly injured. This is where we start to get compromises in EVERY system. Even MMA has rules of what you can and cannot do, there is a list of attacks that are not allowed. HMB does not allow thrusts and side strikes to the knees etc.

The more rules to put in place to minimise the risks the further you move from anything approximating a real duel or contest.

An extreme example of this would be some LARP games. No protective gear is needed (apart from eyes) and the weapons are very light and padded and you cannot strike the head. Having some armour gives you extra ‘hits’, all you need to do to score is touch your opponent with a weapon. LARP combat is a matter of just tapping your opponent multiple times, there is no need to take weapon type into account. This all leads to fights that have people leaping about, flailing madly in all sorts of weird ways. Yes this is a lot of crazy fun, a even passable facsimile of historical combat, no. (To be fair, LARP players are under no belief what they are doing is in anyway realistic.)

So what about SCA combat? Let’s look at some of the compromises.

No hand to hand. SCA rules do not allow the very wide range of kicks, punches, elbows, take downs, leg sweeps etc that are an intrinsic part of fighting. Looking at many of the fechtbooks I would argue that many armoured fights would end up with some level of take down or ground fighting.

Taking out hand to hand stuff means we lose a very important component of any martial system. It also means that combatants can stand toe to toe and slug it out with no fear of a kick or disarm. Watch any great weapon duel where the two combatants get in close and you can see how odd this can be. It also means that being able to step and move are not as important as they would be historically.

Effects of weapons. SCA combat has an ‘assumed armour’ standard. It is basically mail body armour and nasal helm. Sort of 10-12th century. It also assumes that a single strike from handed sword can put someone in this armour down. I am not totally convinced this is the case. There are plenty of literary examples of knights trading blows to little or no effect. Yes there are also some examples of people being cut in two from a single blow, but I would argue this is grand story telling. I would also refer to a lot of test cutting people have done with weapons trying to cause damage to something (poor pig carcasses) covered in padding and mail. Armour works. Watching the HMB people is also interesting. Ok their gear is mostly 14th century (a lot more plate) and the weapons are blunted. But you can see that repeated strikes with even two handed axes does little to slow down an armoured man. So the SCA rules makes single handed weapons way more effective than they probably are.

Armour. The SCA has a minimum set of armour standards. It is for protection against rattan sticks. It is in no way encouraging historical armour. You are able to get away with a helm, some basic covering of the joints and that is about it. This means that SCA combatants (and yes I am one of these) can largely compete in what is effectively no armour. No weight of gear restricting your movement or slowing you down. The SCA likes to think of itself as a game of armoured combat, yet many of it’s top competitors can go onto the field with little armour at all.

Target areas. In the SCA you cannot strike below the knee and the hands are basically invulnerable. The no below the knee thing means that graves are not a requirement (see note above) and also means that low leg sweeps with pole weapons are not going to happen. The invulnerable hand thing, alongside the almost universal use of protective basket hilts (not at all a medieval item) means that weapon blocking is common place. The targeting of the hands was a common technique in many of the historical texts. Indeed in many manuals the main purpose of the buckler was to prevent the hands from being struck. Again these things mean that staying in measure and trying to block attacks with your weapon is a viable tactic, after all, your hand will not get ‘hit’.

Limb hits. Ok getting hit in the leg and then being able to fight on while kneeling and being able to change arms if your arm is hit. I am sure we do not have to talk about this one.

Indestructible super light shields. SCA shields are basically Indestructible. That two handed axe, well you can keep statically blocking that all day long…Historically shields broke. Weapons could get stuck in them. Shields were made to be reasonably light and manoeuvrable but this also meant that they could be smashed. The commonality of the big aluminium SCA means you can wave around a big blocking thing that weighs little and is never going to break. Again this feeds into the primacy of SCA combatants standing toe to toe trying to score a hit around a big ultra light shield.

Judging of hits. The SCA rules stipulate that the person getting hit calls the effect of the strike. The obvious problem here is that it is very easy to cheat the system. This system also leads to very inconsistent levels of what can be judged a scoring hit. One persons kill may be someone else’s ‘not good’. What looks good from the sidelines may have been a very glancing strike. I could also mention edges here but I have ranted about that previously. Also the level of ‘power’ that is needed to score is totally arbitrary; it varies from group to group and changes over time. So it is no wonder that this is the main area were disagreements and conflict arise.


So going through this list it is obvious that the SCA does a poor job of recreating medieval armoured combat. I think it can be a fun game and lots of people enjoy running around trying to hit other people. However I think it is important to understand what it is and what it is not. A fun game that can be played with a minimal of gear and training? Yes. A reasonable facsimile of historical combat? Absolutely not.

Training needs less Ego and more Leggo…

I have been in a number of discussions about how to teach/couch people to develop a range of skills.

I have been doing some reading around various sport and martial arts pedagogy and there has been one very important thing that stands out. The key to advancing in any activity is ‘simple practice’ or practice that focuses on gradually building higher level skills through constant practice and refinement of the fundaments.

One of the biggest challenges I face as a trainer of the tournament arts is how do I get a student to develop a range of necessary skills to succeed in armoured combat. It is one thing to get someone to be able to strike the pell correctly or to run through a pad drill but get them to be able to move and cut to an opening in an opponent’s defence while moving the shield into a good position is another.

What should be obvious at this point is that any time you run into a problem teaching a high level skill to someone there is a problem with one of the fundamental skills that supports it.

If all of the fundamental movement skills are there it shouldn’t take much coaching from me to get someone doing a pretty good version of what I want them to do. If it takes me more than five minutes to get someone to start grasping what I’m asking them to do then I start to think there may be something more than “bad technique” at play.

Here are a couple of examples to illustrate my point. On the right are High Level Skills we all want to do and on the left are Fundamental Level Skills that are often lacking when someone runs into problems with them…

High Level Skill Fundamental Level Skill
Throwing a pendulum Warm up motion
Striking with power Body movement and position
Flourishes (combination attacks) Body Position and foot work
Thrusts Returns and grip

So this list is just by way of an example but you should get the idea. You could even have another column to the right of the fundamental level skills of Foundation or Body Movement Skills such as body weight squats, lunges and Kettle Bell swings, but that is another post.

Now the problem many people run into is that we all want to focus on the left hand column but it is right hand column that holds the keys to real progress.

This means that often when we want to improve a high level skill you don’t want to look to a higher level skill or technique, you want to look back at the fundamental skills and techniques and improve on them.

Again, this gets tough when the Ego tells us that we’re too advanced to go back and work on the basics or, worse yet, that we’ve gotten this far without mastering them so they can’t hold the key to going even further.

This mindset comes from protecting the image we have of ourselves as a “good” combatant and not from a sincere desire to master our art at a higher level.

The funny thing is that by focusing on your fundamental level skills you’ll improve your high level skills without really trying.

“If you continue in this simple practice every day you can attain something wonderful.” – Shunryu Suzuki

The key is a “simple practice”, one that focuses on gently nudging our high level skills up through a constant study and refinement of the fundamentals.



Standards for the Laurel

I was doing some cleaning out of the computer files and found some old item. This is a letter I wrote back in 2009 to the Lochac Order of the Laurel (the SCA’s award for top level arts and crafts practitioners). At the time I was the only dedicated armourer in that group and they were trying to determine what the standards should be. Being a bit focused on providing some objective criteria, I attempted to get my ideas written down.

I give you here the first part, which is the general standards. I wrote a full rundown of what various other people were doing and what their skills and abilities were. That bit will remain unpublished.


Some notes about standards and assumptions for the laurel.


Ok this might be a bit long but bear with me.  I think I need to get some of my thoughts and assumptions expressed for general comment and consideration. It is better that we look at what the order is looking for as far as standards go before we apply that to particular candidates.

Sorry if I drop too far into jargon – I can answer any technical question if anyone wants me to.

What are we looking for in a laurel level armourer?

Think of this as costume as it makes a good comparison (but this does have its limits).

The art of armouring has advanced massively in the past few years. Some of this advance is due to the internet with the ability to share information and resources but also with the publication of Techniques of Medieval Armour Reproduction (TOMAR).


It can be said that there is now a ‘TOMAR standard’ The TOMAR standard has in effect raised the bar on what we can expect from people working in the armour field.  If someone is capable of executing the projects in TOMAR then we would recognise them as being a reasonable journeyman standard, about were a Kingdom level award would sit. The TOMAR projects walk you though all the major bits of harness and is mostly 14thC transitional gear with basic embellishments.

Before TOMAR, we had to make a lot up by trial and error and experimentation. Now the basic skills and techniques are clearly set out and explained.  When I was admitted to the order, techniques like raising were considered only for the very advanced, but have now become part of the basic skill set.

The general body of armouring skills and knowledge has progressed significantly.

So the skill set I would be looking for in peerage level armour would be:


Common use of appropriate techniques.

Sinking, ridging planishing and fluting form the backbone of working techniques.

Raising should be well understood and be used.

I would expect the candidate to be using cut and weld only were appropriate (this will be a bit of a discussion topic).

I would expect the person to be able to use these techniques with reasonable speed and accuracy.

A well developed understanding and application of heat processes (annealing, hot work, shrinking and tempering).



Ability to capture the right shapes and line of the original forms.

This can be really hard to define. The example would be like some of the costuming. One outfit may look fine to a casual observer but to someone who knows what to look for, the seams are in the wrong place, the waist is too low, etc.

Attention to using the appropriate materials is important.

Many period pieces display a subtlety of line and shape that can be hard to pick unless to are looking for it, but contribute to the overall look.

Work needs to look like a period example on close examination?



They must finish the pieces to the appropriate level. This does not mean how high can you get the polish. I would be looking at the cleanliness of the ridges flutes and rolls, the accuracy of the general hammer work and the crispness of the planishing and sanding.

The edges need to be finished – there are several different common edge treatments from the period.

They should be making the catches, hinges and other add-ons.

Should be able to make buckles (and plates) and does so.

Strapping and leather work should be of high standard

Should be able to produce historically correct liners and suspension.



All the pieces should work well together and function to both protect the wearer and allow appropriate range of movement.

The candidate needs to have an excellent understanding of fitting and attaching the components of harness.


Does it all work?

I do not expect the person to be able to create the foundation garments, but they do need an understanding on how they affect/support the harness.



The candidate has a very good understanding of the historical record.

The candidate is able to reproduce a given primary example or be able to work in the style of a given school/centre.

The person understands the differences between the dominant styles and forms.

As a side note we no longer recommend laurels in ‘costuming’ we recommend them for making, understanding and being able to explain the clothes and accessories for one or more particular times and places. So are we looking for an area/component of specialisation?



The candidate can draft their own patterns and understand how to alter templates to achieve various form changes.


Body of work

I would look at the consumers for a guide on this. There will need to be a reasonable body of pieces out there at an appropriate level.  I would suggest that we would not consider many of the SCA sport armours (mostly cut and weld constructions, made to meet a price point) as being ‘at level’. We would not think about giving a Laurel to a costumer who made lots of basic T-tunics…


Advancing the Art

The candidate must be bringing something new to the field or excelling and pushing the levels in well-trodden ground.


Effect on the Kingdom

I would be looking at the candidate’s effect on their own group and the Kingdom as a whole.  They should be encouraging the adoption of more period harness and field presentation?

Teaching and promoting the arts also come in here.


I will not go into the general Peerage criteria, as it is part of a more generalist conversation that everyone can join in on.


No Buts But the But

 I thought I would share some comments from a serious coach, Dave Nixon. I have done a small edit to put this into the realm of swordsmanship.

The power of linguistics is amazing. You can literally swing the mood of a conversation with one single word.

There are a few words we should remove from our vocabulary straight away. One of these words is the word: But.

Whenever providing feedback refrain from using this word at all costs. But takes away. It’s the middle of a poop sandwich. And nobody wants to eat one of those.

Simply sub it for the word ‘and’. This subtle little change makes a massive difference on the back end. ‘And’ adds to your point. Rather than taking away.

Example… “That was a good cut, but next time keep your stance lower and it will be even better.” “That was a good cut and next time think about a lower stance to make it even better.” A simple example that makes a massive difference on the back end.

Next training session, pay attention to just how often you said the word but.

-Dave Nixon.

Death and Taxes


Time for a little bit of a soapbox moment.

Many of us got into the combat arts because it was something that was cool, playing around with sword just sung to us or we had a love of history/martial arts/whatever. In sort most of us got involved in whatever art we study because it was fun.

Then something happened. People started talking about safety, liability, insurance and risk mitigation. What we started doing because we loved the idea of Knights became a game of bureaucrats.

Yes, I understand the need to comply with the modern world of insurance and liability but at what point do we go too far in a contagion of compliance?

Lets us grab a few friends and do some practice in a local park. Do I really need to seek council permission? Do we really have to set up a roped off area?

At what point do we stop having fun with doing ‘medieval stuff’ because it just takes too much paperwork?

I can go to the park and kick a ball around and no one thinks twice about. I can take my bike out to plummet down a mountain side without signing a thing.

I understand that for formal sponsored events we need to do the minimum of compliance, but why is it that to participate in an SCA tournament I need to go though several levels of cards, sign in and checks (often by officials who’s knowledge of the requirements are haphazard at best). At a kendo tournament I only need to put in an entry form and in mountain biking, pay my entry and sign a simple waiver (with no one breathing over my neck)?

Perhaps we need to step back and ask what is it we are trying to achieve. What are the minimum hoops we need to jump through? Let’s focus on doing medieval stuff rather than trying to be all important with rules and procedures.


Going without GPS

So here we are again, writing on this little blog.

Back at Easter I was in Melbourne for the National Kendo Championship and grading. The main aim of this was to go for my first Dan grading.

I had been preparing for this exam for some time. I was attending every training session I could. I spent time at home revising kata. I was going to ace this with flying colours.

I failed.

The study of any martial art or combat sport will always have its ups and downs. There will be time were we have a crap training session. There are time that, despite all our training and efforts we get knocked out of a competition a lot sooner than we would have wished. We have bad days were nothing goes right.

Now I could give you some nice hippy stuff about ‘we all have bad days’ and ‘setbacks build character’. I won’t. These times suck. Sometimes they suck total ass, and there is nothing you can do about it. Life can be like this. Not everyone can be a winner.

It was a long drive back from Melbourne.

So what can we do when we have failed at our goals or not reached our expectation?

I am not sure I can answer this. Sometimes we only need to wait until a new day and things will be different. Sometimes we need to take a deep breath and go again. Each of us will have our own share of disappointments and failures. I suppose that is just the nature of things.

What is important is that we do pick ourselves up again. Maybe we will walk away; maybe we will look at what we need to do next time. Each of us has to answer this stuff in their own minds and hearts. It is because we hazard the chance of failure that makes the pursuit of success something worthwhile.

So after the bitter disappointment of the Melbourne exam I took a bit of time out of the dojo. I got some feedback from my teachers, all of whom told me of their exam failures. Some perspective was gained and maybe some humility learnt. Training began anew.

So after a very short time I was able to test again, this time in Sydney in June. I passed. So here I am, kendo first Dan. This is a big thing for me. I have had support form a bunch of wonderful people to get here. But this is just another step. In time the disappointments will be forgotten except as some dim memory as will the successes. There will be new thing to do, new challenges. I will both fail and win through. This is just the way of things.