Beginner’s Combat Course

There is a bit of interest in the Beginners Combat Course that we are developing here in Canberra so I thought I would give an overview of what it all entails.

Firstly I need to acknowledge the work of Syr Gemini. It is his system and training methods I have basically copied wholesale and I cannot thank him enough.


The Idea

The Combat Beginners Course is a eight week program that aims to introduce the basic principles and techniques of tournament combat, construction of swords and shields along with some of the etiquette and culture of SCA tournaments.

At the end of the eight weeks we put students in armour and give them a run at full speed sparring. If they then decide that they want to continue with their combat training we move them though to the Intermediate Course and then authorisation.

Two beginner’s courses are held annually, commencing at the start of each semester in February and July. We currently are using a park next to a small scout hall. I think it would run much better if we had a suitable indoor venue.

In 2012 we will be charging people $20 each to take the course. I think it should be more, but small steps at this stage. I think this is a necessary thing to be doing. It says to new people that you are being serious, people will be more inclined to turn up if they have paid. It also gives the Beginners Course a revenue source for for equipment, printing etc.

Classes run for an hour at first and then get a little longer towards the end.

It is VERY important that we stay to the curriculum and not try to introduce too many new ideas in the one session. There is a poor tendency in the SCA to try to impart too many new lessons at the one time and this just frustrates or confuses students.


We supply all the equipment that is needed. We made up about 20 training swords. These were made from dead sticks that people were not using. We retaped them, carved proper grips and gave them cross guards made from hose and tape. It is important to take some time a care in making this gear, again it is about looking professional and organised. It was also important to make the practice swords look as much like a real sword as possible as we are teaching people about swordsmanship not stick fighting.

We have two types of shield, small hand bucklers and round shields.

The hand buckles are just made of plywood about 10 inches in diameter with two D-shaped holes cut out so you have a centre grip. These are good to start with as they are light, so students can hold them in position correctly without their arms getting tired and they are easy to transport and store.

We also have about 10 round shields (I need to make more). These are 24 inches in diameter, strapped but with no edging. These are also painted with a cross indicating the strong and weak points of the shield. We use the rounds as they are a reasonable shield to start with, you must learn to move and block correctly without the benefit of corners, it tends not to get in the way of the students attacks, gives us a standard shield to use/teach and can be used both right and left handed.

Currently there is only have one pell available. I would like to have about five (or more for the larger classes). This has resulted in us having to use the more experienced combatants as ‘live pells’, not always the ideal situation.

I would also like to get some of the ‘soft swords’ (sort of boffers) so we can do some drills at a medium pace without armour, but this will have to wait for now.

We advise students that they do not need to get their own kit just yet. We run a shield and sword making workshop as part of the Intermediate Course and start working on getting their harness together after that.

The group here has provided $1,500 to enable us to start getting some loner kits together. This together with stuff we have unused around the workshop means there are two full harnesses and other gear to fit people of various size and build. I would like to build the loner collection to at least four complete kits. The loner gear is stored together and is all packed away at the end of the session.


The Class

We always try to start on time. This means I have to turn up at least 1/2 hour to an hour to get the gear organised and get ready. It is just as important to finish on time as well.

I have written a few notes about the role of the teacher here.

I try to make the classes as formal as possible. This enables me to control the group, as we have had an average of 20 students at a time, and to instill a sense of focus and professionalism to what we are doing. An example of this is the start of any drills. The instructor calls the drill, “ear-to-ear to 6. Find your range and call ready”. The students then get into stance/guard/range and call “ready”. The instructor then calls the time of the drill, “ear-to-ear 6. Cut! Cut! Cut!”

We sometimes need to divide the class into two or more groups due to numbers. What happens here is we rotate the groups though different drills. This needs several assistant instructors, and we could not run our classes with out the assistance of some of the regular combatants.

The lesson plans are out lined in the course handout. I have a print ready version here.

Again, it is important to present the lessons step by step. Each new technique should be building or developing from the previous lessons.

This is something that I have found Gemini’s Oplomachia ideal, as the techniques are straight forward to explain and form a coherent combat system. Some of the terms we use are here.

You can use what ever school of fighting you are happy with teaching, just ensure that you are presenting the material in a sensible fashion.



This year we are looking at doing some additional marketing for the Course. Last year we mainly focused on the university O-Week. I am hoping to get posters up in the local comic book and gaming stores. There is also the possibility of us doing some marketing with the university sporting clubs.

As a part of the Beginners Course I am setting up a section of the group’s website to provide additional resources, reading and links. Politarchopolis Combat Pages.

I also use a Facebook Group to send out messages and class times reminders.



So there are some of the basics of what the Beginners Course is and does. I think it is critical that we start to get a lot more organised about how we (the SCA) market ourselves and promote the tournament arts. We have a lot of competition. Internally from the fencing community and externally from the metal weapons, WMA and LARP groups. We are no longer the only folks playing with swords out there.

If anyone wants anymore information or details then please feel free to drop me a line.



Wax on, wax off.

Someone asked me last night if my kendo training has had any benefits for my tournament combat. The off the cuff answer was ‘yes’, but then I took a bit more time and started to think, ‘OK, what exactly were the benefits?

Many people talk about the advantages of cross-training in other sports/combat forms/whatever. While I do recognise that there are some definite benefits to this I question what they are.

I am in no doubt that doing other activities give you the benefits of being more active overall. This alone is worth the time and effort involved. Other activities also give you a break from only doing the one thing; they can also be useful in providing a general fitness and conditioning. So things like riding and team sports give you better cardio etc. Again while these are good (we probably all could do with being fitter) and your general fitness will improve your combat ability I am not sure it directly improves your skills and technique.

Some recommend things such as SCA dance to improve your foot work. Really? There are very few dance folk who I would see as being graceful, always balanced and well grounded. How much dance practice does one have to do to see any improvements exactly?

Another one is taking up SCA fencing to improve footwork, control of measure, timing etc. Again, I am not convinced. I think the best way to improve in armoured combat is to train and practice in armoured combat. Perhaps the perception that dance and fencing can assist is because you are not focusing on these things in your regular training?

A side note, in my experience, most SCA fencers are very bad at thrust in armoured combat. This is to a point that if I am training a fencer I do not give them a sword with the thrusting tip for several months to get them out of inappropriate habits.

So I would maintain the best training for a given activity is to train in that activity.

Ok, so why train in other activities at all?

I think that cross training is a good thing but we need to be honest about what we are getting out of it. I have already mentioned the general fitness and activity benefits. It is also important to do things because they are enjoyable by themselves.

Sometimes you are able to gain insights into your tournament combat. An example of this is in kendo we have been working on controlling our distance and preparedness to strike. This caused me to think about how I apply control of measure in a tournament encounter. Did the kendo training directly assist my SCA combat? No, but it helped me think about certain parts of what I do.

For those who cross train in martial activities, there is also the benefit of just getting in more combat time. If I turn up to our Sunday trainings at 2pm I can spend an hour playing with the fencers and get in some extra time before the armoured training starts, although I think my time would be better spent doing an extra hour of pell drills.

Back to the original question – does my kendo help my armoured combat? Yes to a degree, as a fitness session it is a bit hardcore, it has made me think about how some of the focus and control aspects can be used in all combat forms. As a separate activity to get me out of a comfort zone and meet new people it has been excellent. Finding extra time in the week for more training sessions is sometimes difficult. It has shown me the importance and ability to calm the mind and maintain focus, but I now teach this within armoured combat. The skills and techniques are different enough that there is little cross over.

One big thing I have taken from kendo is how to run training sessions and I have basically copied our armoured combat beginner’s course on the kendo one. It is also nice to go to kendo tournaments were everyone is on time…

So, it is always a good idea to be well rounded in what we do. Just remember to focus on what we are doing in the moment and be reasonable of our expectations on cross training.

Arise a Knight

This is a copy of a short letter to my old Knight and two of his squires on what it is to be a Knight. I am not absoluty sure what it is to be a Knight, but I think the conversation is always valuable.  

Greetings to you both, my brothers in arms.

Sir Kane has put forward that most important question, what is it to be a Knight? I can only answer in my own small way.

We are all striving to discover the secrets of swordsmanship. We practice and train to develop that which does not come easily to all. You have already experienced many of the joys and disappointments this path entails. The exultant joy of the perfectly timed attack striking home, the bitterness of clumsy defeat. We daily set out to hone our skills and our minds to gain that extra moment of speed, that quick and graceful power and the calm of the true warrior in the midst of battle.

This, however is the easy part of the journey and the road is well charted. Becoming a skilled combatant is only a matter of training, practice and commitment. Becoming a Knight is a sometimes much more confusing undertaking.

What then is a Knight? I am sure if you ask four people you would get six different answers. Herein lies the confusion. We can look at our historical precedents, some of them great and noble and others brutish and small. There is those who speak of Arthur’s Knights, some good, some lacking. And then there are those who we know in this moment, bestowed with belt, chain and spurs buy the hand of the King. Like the others, some are great warriors, some are leaders, some are proud, some are humble. All of them bring something different to what it is to be a Knight in our game. Some do it well and others are still looking for their place.

So a Knight really does not fit a single definition, but I can say that they must be more than just a good martial artist. I will leave aside for a moment the meaning of the Chain and the relationship to the Crown (for that is another conversation) and look at what aprt from martial prowess is nessesary.

It is important that you seek your own way to Knighthood. We each have different strengths and passions. What are those things we can master simply? What things take work and dedication?

What is a perfect Knight in your eyes? What are their accomplishments, what do they bring to our game both on the tournament field and in the hall? What are you doing to emulate those who inspire you?

You you must find joy in everything you do. Pass that joy on to those around you in all you do. This sometimes means hard work and dedication to a single outcome, sometimes it means childlike fun.

Our martial training tempers the body and will. We strive to best our opponents by grace and skill, but we also must master those accomplishments that makes us welcome when the banners and trumpets of war are put away and more gentle pursuits are to be had. What we do out of armour can be as important as what we do sword in hand.

This I believe is at least one difference between the barbarian and the knight.


Duke Cornelius Von Becke

It’s a trap!

Last time I chatted about some of the fundamental guards and stances. A guard is largely a position that you can launch an attack from. Guards are also something that you change either in response to an opponent or to elicit a countermove in turn.

An important thing to consider is how to enable a more active use of guards and position.

Imagine that you are standing out of measure, facing an opponent. How are they holding their weapon? What is the fastest effective attack they can make from that position?

This bit is important. While we all talk about being able to make a cut to any target, this is not always possible. Sometimes the attack is going to take extra time to develop. Sometimes you simply cannot power an effective attack to a spot without additional body movement. We need to think about what the fastest attack will be. This then is where the immediate threat is.

An example, assume someone has their weapon resting on their shoulder. What is the fastest attack they have from here (right handed with a shield)? It is probably going to be the cut to one (head ‘snap’). They probably also have a fast cut to three (leg). Their offside attacks will be a bit slower as the attack does not have a straight line to the target and is tricky to power from that starting position. So the immediate threat is to 1 and 3. Stepping into measure without having these targets covered is just inviting the attack.

To cover this offensive posture you then move into fore guard so sword now protects the high line of attack (head) and drop your shield to protect the low line (leg and body).

By covering the immediate threat you have now effectively shut down your opponents opening attack. They must either shift to a different offensive posture or commit to a futile initial attack.

Now this is where the fun starts.

What happens if they throw their first cut straight to your (protected) head? You have this covered already. The opponent will probably now continue to their next best/fastest attack. Take a guess what this will be? Yes, in all likelihood they will now reverse the motion and make a cut to six (off-side head). This is now the immediate threat and you can move to cover this, probably before they have even committed to the attack.

Do not worry if they try to do something tricky or complex. This will slow down their attack and give you time to adjust accordingly.

Back to our example. Your opponent has now made the cut to six and you have blocked that with relative ease. Where will they go now? Again, it is likely that they will make the cut back to the other side to one or three. Remember; always think about what their fastest option is. They have now made three attacks, all of which you can reasonably predict from just understanding what the opening guard was.

But we do not win bouts by just being defensive. Think about what the opportunities for your attack are in this schema. As your opponent continues their attacks, they are probably getting more and more out of position and their defence is eroding. Where do you need to be in this to cut them effectively? What is the timing of this attack?

Sometimes you may want to make your opponent launch an attack to a specific target so you are then able to lead then down a sequence of moves to their own demise. Assume they are in a guard threatening your head and you want them to make that attack. Instead of covering that line of attack you can leave it open deliberately or you could cover the attacking line and then open it as you move to encourage them to accept the invitation…

On your marks!

A curious thing I see is many combatants who always approach an encounter in the same guard regardless of what is facing them. Depending on the style they use, people will take a stance and guard and it almost never changes. Or they adopt a particular guard and then change it the second they move.

It important that you have several different guard positions available to you. But it is also as important that you know what guard is appropriate for the situation. The German masters talk about particular guards that ‘break’ other guards. Doing this is not always straight forward in a sword and shield encounter but it is possible to apply pressure to your opponent to make them shift their own guard in response.

I should now take a pause and clarify some terms. When I talk about guard I normally mean the position of the sword. The DeGredelus School uses three principle guards, being High, Forward (or Fore) and Split Guards. I am sometimes lazy and use ‘guard’ to also include your stance as well. The main two stances being Bladed and Box Stance. Each of these guards and stances have their advantages and disadvantages.

It is the understanding of the pluses and minuses that is important. You must understand the reasons for what is you are doing as much as you must be able to execute a technique perfectly.

High Guard is when the sword is held behind the head at a 45degree angel. It is an attacking position, were you are able to quickly deliver decisive cuts to almost any target. It enables to threaten your opponent, even when you are out of measure. High Guard however does not allow the sword to be used in defence.

Fore Guard the sword is held in front of you at head level. This is a very defensive guard but lacks the ability to make strong attacks out of. This is a useful guard for when you are in measure.

Split Guard is when the sword is held to the weapon side. Again this is sometimes a good defensive position but does limit your offensive options.

Another important aspect of knowing what guard to utilise is your understanding of measure. If you are at the edge of, or out of, measure it seems silly to be holding an overly defensive guard. If they cannot hit you then there is probably no reason to be on the defence. Conversely, if you are closing with your opponent then being able to add to your defence may be decisive.

While I have described the main guards we teach, they are only general principles at best. You must be able to alter your position constantly during an encounter. Moving from one position to the next and those in between, in response to your opponent’s moves and to elicit a response from them. Each change in guard has a deadly purpose; close off your own openings while threatening theirs in a fluid deliberate manner.

So the next time you are at practice, think about how you are positioned. How are they holding there weapon? What attacks can they make quickly? What you need to cover or be wary of?

Where is your weapon? Are you a threat? Can you make a strong cut or are you just being defensive, waiting to die?