In ecological dynamics, the term Attractor or Movement Attractor shows up every now and then. Attractors can be seen as preferred motor pattern solutions in the current activity context. When an action is seen as intuitive or habitual, it might be the attractor at work. Habit and intuition can be nebulous concepts however, so to define it more distinctly, Attractors fit inside the ecological landscape, like trails and roads to navigate among the impassable mountains and rivers of task constraints and affordances. As you change the landscape, new motor solutions become attractive (and in turn, other might become unattractive). I… Read more: Causing Attraction: Non-Dominant Foot Forward in Longsword Fencing
Is there any pair of terms more popular in coaching than “open” and “closed”? Just in common use in my HEMA circles, we have “eyes open” and “eyes closed” (after Zbigniew Czajkowski); “open loop” and “closed loop” (confusingly, “eyes open” == “closed loop”); and “open double” and “closed double” from Longpoint’s rules. And I’m sure I could come up with more by thinking for longer. So obviously the thing to do is introduce a new closed vs open dichotomy. Regardless, I’ve found this is a useful distinction when thinking about using games in training. It’s particularly helpful with class planning,… Read more: Closed and Open Games
This is pretty simple to introduce, I don’t allow Gayszlen in the tournaments I write rules for. The reasons for this are actually pretty multifaceted, including: Before we start, I want to emphasize that any of these reasons alone is probably not enough. These types of one-handed strikes are probably not an egregious enough violation of any of these to ban this family of techniques. But taken together, they make a clear case that this is not something to design around. Lack Of Source Material The term “Gayszlen” is used rather generically to refer to 1h strikes where the upper… Read more: Why I Don’t Allow Gayszlen In My Tournaments
For instructors who are new to teaching with games, it can be challenging to figure out how to build a cohesive class which teaches specific techniques or concepts. So I thought it would be useful to share how I plan and organize my own classes. My classes usually consist of a warm-up, one basic game, 1-2 complex games, and some free fencing. When planning a class I’ll start with a theme or focus, pick games to go with it, and think a little about how I expect the class to progress and problems that might come up along the way.… Read more: Building a Class Out of Games
In “CLA is Not Games“, Stephen Cheney outlined the key differences between the Constraints-Led Approach (a methodology for teaching motor skills) and games (a type of training exercise). This is an important difference to remember when you’re thinking about moving your training over to this methodology. One key advantage of using games as your primary training exercise to implement CLA which he didn’t touch on is their efficiency. In a coached exercise, one participant is learning from the other. In a game, both participants are learning from each other simultaneously. Even if the game is arguably less efficient “per rep”… Read more: The Secret Bonus of Games
Sometimes I will see two people fencing, and either a few exchanges in or after the bout they will say “I didn’t notice you/they were a lefty” or some variation thereof. When I was briefly fencing left-handed due to tennis elbow in my right elbow last year, I sometimes got the same thing. Sometimes people realized right away, and sometimes they did not. I have also been there, earlier in my longsword fencing journey it would take me a while or an entire match to realize that my opponent was left handed. My first tournament comes to mind, fencing in… Read more: Adaptation and Noticing if Your Opponent is Left Handed
A misconception that I see a lot, especially among people who have a passing familiarity with the term but have not looked at it closely, is that the constraints-led approach (CLA) means learning through games. I’m even willing to take partial responsibility for this; after all, this website is called “Game Design for HEMA,” and yet we talk about CLA on it all the time. Though to be fair to us, we also talk about non-game CLA, such as in Nathan’s article on CLA for teaching cutting, and my article on using constraints to teach mechanics for the schillhaw, so… Read more: CLA is Not Games
All models are wrong, but some are useful George Box To say that you can easily classify training games would be a lie. You can probably come up with multiple different taxonomies that are all mostly accurate, and all have different strengths and flaws. The usefulness of such a model isn’t in the fact that it is a complete representation, but in that it can help clarify our thinking and facilitate discussion. So with that out of the way, let’s look at one way of breaking down training games and how we can use them. Type 1: Not A Game I’m… Read more: Types of Training Games
At this point in my longsword career, right-of-way is one of my favorite rulesets to fence under. Before you get disgusted and click away, hear me out – I wasn’t always like this, I used to be a right-of-way hater just like most of the HEMA community. It was a slow transition over the course of several years. In this article I will talk about that transition, where it started, and how it’s going today. Before we start, let’s define a few terms: Priority – A method for deciding which fencer’s valid hit will be awarded, usually in the case… Read more: My Journey to Right-of-Way
I haven’t posted my usual Friday article for the past 2 weeks. Two Fridays ago it was because I was at the AG Open event in Plymouth Michigan to compete, ref, and lecture. Last week I just forgot. But now we’re back, and I’m going to post something related to the event. Something that I have theorized over the past year or so is that awarding more points for a target leads to that target getting hit less overall. I have a huge article about this which I will post at some point, and link here when I do. There… Read more: AG Open 2023 Stats – Point Values vs Targets Hit
In the HEMA world (and on this blog), the Constraints-Led Approach tends to be associated with games, but there are other ways to create constraints. In this article I’ll present some non-game CLA tools which can be used to train cutting. By cutting I specifically mean cutting targets with a sharp sword. Of course there’s a whole debate about the relationship between sharp cutting and fencing, but I’m not going to get into that. Suffice it to say that I think cutting a tatami mat is a different task than landing a cut in sparring, and it’s useful to train… Read more: CLA Tools for Teaching Cutting
A concept that often gets discussed in my HEMA coach circles is “value above sparring” (VAS). The concept is that there should be measurable value added by non-sparring activities in your classes which makes it more useful for fencers than simply sparring for the same amount of time. This is an important measure to gauge the usefulness of your class. Here I am going to talk about sparring itself, why and how it is useful, and how its usefulness can vary. Something that I was reminded of when I started fencing modern sabre last year was that in modern Olympic… Read more: The Flexible Value of Sparring
At Bucks, we go through the Lew Gloss in order on a cycle, which helps inform what we will work on in a particular practice. We recently started the schillhaw (which I will henceforth refer to as “squinter”), and it reminded me of common issues people tend to have with it. One of the most common I call the “flat slap” version. Basically the issue is they start and end in the correct position, but instead of cutting from above with the short edge, they swing their sword around laterally, which results in a hit with the flat. Now generally… Read more: Constraining the Squinter to Fix Cutting Issues
In discussions of how to structure a curriculum, it’s common to see statements like “allowing students to spar early means they’ll build bad habits”. I don’t think this is true – but even if it is, it’s worth pondering this question: If sparring at the end of a class builds habits that are ‘stickier’ than the technical drills which filled the body of the class, what does that tell you about how effective the two types of activity are at teaching motor skills?
A core tenet of the ecological approach states that fencing is mostly defined by a constant interaction loop between the two fencers: the decisions I make are based on my opponent’s behaviour, and these will in turn influence their next action. This obvious claim should not be news to most HEMA fencers (or at least, the ones reading this blog): fencing is often defined as a dialogue between two liars, and such an endeavour is hardly possible if both speakers are deaf. Not only do my actions depend on fairly subtle and ever-changing physical, mental, and tactical cues, but they… Read more: On External Triggers
Originally published on Fechtlehre . When I trained kendo, the two main attacks that we drilled were kote (right forearm strike) and men (head strike). The way we practiced our basic strikes with partners was through single choice cooperative drills, IE one side provides a chosen stimulus, and the other must react to the stimulus and execute the technique. For men, the common stimulus was the opponent’s shinai leaving the center line, which allows you to go straight in and hit the head. For kote, the stimulus was them pushing you slightly to the side, so you could rise above… Read more: The Kendo Kote Dilemma – Why Single Choice Cooperative Drills Don’t Work
Recently the longsword classes at Athena School of Arms have been focusing on footwork, with really good results. Most of our beginner and intermediate students (roughly 6 months-2 years experience) have shown significant improvements. This is a lot better than our past attempts to teach footwork, so I wanted to take a look at what we did differently, and why it worked so well. I designed a warm-up focused on footwork, based on the ideas I talked about in my last article. It includes footwork-focused games (mostly variations on Sock Fighting), drills designed to improve action capacities relevant to footwork… Read more: Action Capacities and Footwork
In the Information Processing Approach (IPA) format of teaching an action, the coach first isolates the action from its context, sometimes breaking it down into its constituent movements, and then has the athlete repeat the simplified action. The hypothesis is that the athlete will gain “muscle memory” through repetition of the action, which they can then keep in mental storage, so when it comes time to use the action in a live setting, the brain can call upon the action and perform it automatically. In the context of longsword fencing, this comes in the form of solo or cooperative partner… Read more: Aliveness – Stepping Stone or Red Herring?
The following are the results of a game design challenge to design games which have the biggest discrepency between their apparent usefulness and their actual ability to teach sills. Sean FranklinGame List: 6 Games for a Complete FencerExplanation (and introduction to the challenge): 6 Bad Games – Lessons From The Rondo Tea KewGame List: 6 Games to Teach Meyer-style FencingExplanation: Breaking the feedback loop to make bad games Adrien PommelletGame List: 6 Games to Clean Up Your FencingExplanation: 6 Games to Shit Up Your Fencing When I heard about Karl Marius’s work on the Soccer Rondo I was intrigued. Games… Read more: 6 Bad Games – Lessons From The Rondo
The following are the results of a game design challenge to design games which have the biggest discrepency between their apparent usefulness and their actual ability to teach sills. Sean FranklinGame List: 6 Games for a Complete FencerExplanation (and introduction to the challenge): 6 Bad Games – Lessons From The Rondo Tea KewGame List: 6 Games to Teach Meyer-style FencingExplanation: Breaking the feedback loop to make bad games Adrien PommelletGame List: 6 Games to Clean Up Your FencingExplanation: 6 Games to Shit Up Your Fencing One of the most powerful things about using games, instead of coached drills or other… Read more: Breaking the feedback loop to make bad games
The following are the results of a game design challenge to design games which have the biggest discrepency between their apparent usefulness and their actual ability to teach sills. Sean FranklinGame List: 6 Games for a Complete FencerExplanation (and introduction to the challenge): 6 Bad Games – Lessons From The Rondo Tea KewGame List: 6 Games to Teach Meyer-style FencingExplanation: Breaking the feedback loop to make bad games Adrien PommelletGame List: 6 Games to Clean Up Your FencingExplanation: 6 Games to Shit Up Your Fencing April fools day? In my HEMA? That would surely never happen. No sir, this is… Read more: 6 Games to Shit Up Your Fencing
The following are the results of a game design challenge to design games which have the biggest discrepency between their apparent usefulness and their actual ability to teach sills. Sean FranklinGame List: 6 Games for a Complete FencerExplanation (and introduction to the challenge): 6 Bad Games – Lessons From The Rondo Tea KewGame List: 6 Games to Teach Meyer-style FencingExplanation: Breaking the feedback loop to make bad games Adrien PommelletGame List: 6 Games to Clean Up Your FencingExplanation: 6 Games to Shit Up Your Fencing If you’ve checked out the HEMA Games Archive you’d have noticed there are a lot… Read more: 6 Games for a Complete Fencer
The following are the results of a game design challenge to design games which have the biggest discrepency between their apparent usefulness and their actual ability to teach sills. Sean FranklinGame List: 6 Games for a Complete FencerExplanation (and introduction to the challenge): 6 Bad Games – Lessons From The Rondo Tea KewGame List: 6 Games to Teach Meyer-style FencingExplanation: Breaking the feedback loop to make bad games Adrien PommelletGame List: 6 Games to Clean Up Your FencingExplanation: 6 Games to Shit Up Your Fencing We’ve decided to try to put together some curated selections of games (some from the… Read more: 6 Games to Teach Meyer-style Fencing
The following are the results of a game design challenge to design games which have the biggest discrepency between their apparent usefulness and their actual ability to teach sills. Sean FranklinGame List: 6 Games for a Complete FencerExplanation (and introduction to the challenge): 6 Bad Games – Lessons From The Rondo Tea KewGame List: 6 Games to Teach Meyer-style FencingExplanation: Breaking the feedback loop to make bad games Adrien PommelletGame List: 6 Games to Clean Up Your FencingExplanation: 6 Games to Shit Up Your Fencing Using games is a great way to help your students quickly assimilate the low hanging… Read more: 6 Games to Clean Up Your Fencing
Over the last year or so, a Ukrainian HEMA Youtube channel called Bent Blades has uploaded several videos showing various experiments and tests they have done to determine the time it takes to execute various attacks. I found this very interesting, because I also have done tests to attempt to measure the speed of attacks in longsword, particularly to compare the ballistic passing step ideas that we were talking about in the HEMA Discord in 2020-2021 to the conventional dominant-foot-forward lunging attack style. It makes me happy to see other people and groups trying similar experiments. Their latest video was… Read more: Reaction Times in HEMA
The Direct Attack drill has been one of my favorite games since we have started doing game-centric classes at Bucks, for several reasons, some of which I have stated in previous articles. However, as I have been thinking about the ideas of specifying and non-specifying information, I think it’s time to revisit this long used game, and see if we can do better. The Direct Attack drill is a very constrained game with very little choice available for each player, and as such it hones in on a few specific things. The first is striking mechanics, your opponent is trying… Read more: Direct Attack Drill and Distance
Defend The Wall, Definition: The defender is standing in a fixed location and cannot move or attack – their only action is to parry the attacker. The attacker, as the name suggests, feeds attacks to the defender. There is no defined end, it goes based on the time or number of attacks specified by the coach. The name comes from the practice of putting the defender’s back to the wall so they can’t back up. Which is a nice touch but not really necessary. (And can be damaging to the wall if they fling their sword behind them.) Ever since… Read more: Where is “Defend the Wall”?
Since I have started digging into the rabbit hole that is the ecological approach, it is interesting to revisit topics and concepts that I had previously learned and known about, and see how they fit into the ecological approach. It’s kind of like when you drink alcohol the first time, and then you want to try everything that you’ve done sober while you’re drunk to see how different the experience is. Today I thought about “flow state,” and decided it would be fun to try that while drunk – I mean through the lens of the ecological approach. In general… Read more: Flow State in the Ecological Approach
Intro and Scope The idea for this prompt was from a post that Michael Chidester made on Facebook, pondering how many three-to-five thousand word explanations of Liechtenauer he could get from people if he asked. I thought this would be a fun idea, so I’m doing it now. I add the disclaimer that this is fairly off-the-cuff, and as such I will probably miss, forget, or not be as clear on some things as I could. The scope of my text will almost entirely be the Lew gloss, though I may reference Ringeck or Danzig at times. My interpretation is… Read more: Five Thousand Words on Lew
Since Summer of 2021, my club Bucks has been using an in-house ruleset that I call “Weighted Right-of-Way” (WRoW), in which all clean hits are worth 2, and a double hit with priority is worth 1. Before I get into it, what is “right-of-way” anyway? Basically it’s a method of resolving double hits (both fencers hit each other at close to the same time) in which the outcome is decided by who was more tactically “correct” based on the ruleset. In general, in our ruleset and almost every other right-of-way ruleset, the attack has priority over the counterattack – what… Read more: Failure to Withdraw – A Game Design Puzzle
Class at Bucks Historical Longsword follows a fairly regular format, we usually do about one “simple” game and one or two “complex” games (simple game being a game with fewer viable paths to success than a complex game, IE direct attack is simple, sabre march is complex), usually based on a passage from the Lew gloss that we are exploring that day. However it has become not uncommon lately to deviate from the regular structure in order to do something special for one reason or another. Sometimes we’ll do all simple drills, sometimes we’ll do an experiment of some kind,… Read more: Exploring Differential Learning (Part 1)
Over the last week or so, we have been going over the zornhaw at my club, and I wanted to go through some of the process of trying to find a game that encourages people to do it without explicitly telling them to do it. By that I mean I’m trying to avoid things like “you must do a zornhaw in order to win,” or “you can only score by doing a zornhaw if you are on defense.” However, I did present the text reading and the technique before we did the games, and said something like “see if you… Read more: CLA Adventures with the Zornhaw
Warmups are an important, but often neglected part of a HEMA class. A good warmup helps prevent injury and prepares you for optimal physical performance. We know that physical capability influences our perception of affordances, so training without warming up could even affect how we learn. But I get why warmups are neglected: they can be boring, and they take up time that could otherwise be devoted to activities with a more direct training benefit. I do include a thorough warmup in all my classes, but lately I’ve been wanting to get more out of that time. So I started… Read more: An Ecological Approach to Warmups
There is an idea primarily in martial arts, that moves need to be “pressure tested” in sparring or competition in order to be effective. This is of course correct, it has been shown time and time again that an action needs to be used in its context in order for it to be effective. The purpose of this article is not to dispute that, rather the opposite; I don’t think it goes far enough. The issue I have with the idea of “pressure testing” techniques is that there is an implication that they exist outside of their given context. The… Read more: Pressure Testing in Sports and Martial Arts
To say that takedowns are a contentious topic in HEMA would be an understatement. For some takedowns make the game too dangerous, for others you are watering down and ruining the sport if you don’t include them, and everything in between. In this article, I’m not going to dig deeply into that debate, or proffer a personal opinion on whether or not takedowns should be included in practice or in tournaments, but I will explore some aspects of takedowns as they relate to longsword fencing. The content of this article relates specifically to longsword since that is what I am… Read more: Longsword Takedowns: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
In Computer Animation and Robotics (but we won’t discuss the latter since I honestly don’t know much about it), there are two ways of controlling kinetic and motor actions in actors, usually referred to as Forward and Inverse Kinematics. The purpose of both of them is to get joints/bones in characters to achieve a certain position, but the way they achieve this is different. Explained briefly, imagine if you have a character’s arm (or your own) with a fixed joint for the shoulder, elbow and wrist. In Forward Kinematics (FK), a motion you design would start from the “parent” joint,… Read more: Cues and Kinematics: Brief analogy of animation and motor skills
This is a brief description of my opinion on the low guard vs point high guard matchup, and how I like to play it. This is based on an RDL background, primarily Lew. A “low guard” will be defined here as any guard where the hands are low and the sword is angled downward. A “point high guard” will be defined as a guard where the sword is chambered for a cut from above, either at a shoulder or overhead. Aside from some specific pieces from Lew, I have intentionally avoided giving names of specific guards or techniques. This is… Read more: Low Guards in Longsword: A Lew-Inspired Perspective
The direct attack drill is a drill that I was first introduced to by Adrien Pommellet, who learned it from a Giovanni Rapisardi video. I later read about it in the book Make the Cut by John Chow, in reference to modern Sabre fencing. Over the last couple of years, we have used this game to great effect at Bucks, and as I understand it, it has become a staple of the repertoire of the other GD4H coaches as well. The drill goes like this: Fencers take the roles of attacker (A) and defender (B). A starts in a point… Read more: The Direct Attack Drill is Special: Self-Scaling Games
I am going to take a break from my usual subject matter of CLA coaching and case studies, and talk about some historical stuff. While I have been most enthusiastic about coaching methods over the past few years, I am still very much into the historical aspect of longsword, and I am dedicated to the study of the Lew glosses. Even though this article is about comparing historical sources, I may still have snuck in some ecological approach related ideas. In the world of early gloss-based Kunst des Fechtens (literally “art of fencing,” essentially fencing material written in German), I… Read more: Top 4 Reasons Lew is My Favorite of RDL
The idea of “buy-in” is something that I think a lot about when designing drills and games, so in this article I’d like to give a clear definition and breakdown of what I mean when I talk about buy-in. I don’t want to create a definition that everyone has to use, but this will be what I mean by “buy-in” when I use it in casual conversation about fencing and/or coaching. Basically, the idea of “buy-in” is how many rules or guidelines the activity has that are not explicitly stated. Explicit rules are not buy-in, they are just rules, and… Read more: Buy-in: Implicit Rules in Games and Drills
Today I finished building a new paper cutting stand which I described in: Alternative Cutting Stand Design For Paper. The details of the cutting stand construction are covered in the other article, as the name suggests. But in the process of testing I needed to do some bad cuts to test the stand. And it led me down a bit of a rabbit hole which highlights the effectiveness of certain focus strategies over the other. So why was I trying to do bad cuts? A bad cut will actually put far more stress on both the test stand and the… Read more: Tip High, Hands Low – External Cue Lessons From Cutting With Synthetic and Foam Swords
For any coach or instructor interested in tuning your sessions to be more based around games, a useful early consideration is how you structure your sessions to keep fencers focused on the task of the game and what they want to achieve with it. When I first started using more game-like sessions it wasn’t initially obvious how the switch in structure caused some confusion, but if you’re coming from the kind of class where it’s more common to work on compliant or cooperative goals and ideal outcomes in drills, there are some things to keep in consideration. Especially if the… Read more: Putting it into games: Keep fencers playing
When talking about using an environmental approach for coaching, one of the first questions which people bring up is typically aIong the lines of “ok so that sounds like it might work well for more advanced fencers, but how would you handle a newbie? Surely you have to teach them techniques first, right?”. Well, no, it turns out you don’t. Instead, if you’re able to spend some time working 1:1 with your new student, you can introduce a bunch of basic fencing ideas very quickly and without ever prescriptively teaching anything. Here’s the framework I use when I’m working with… Read more: Introducing Students to Fencing through a Constraints-Led Approach
This is an interesting case that has come to light over the past several months for me, which involves two games: Soviet Foil Drill (SFD), and Fencer vs Fighter (FvF). SFD: One side has a sword and the other doesn’t, sword side tries to land a hit to the head, if they hit they win, if they miss the non-sword side wins. FvF: Both sides have a sword, the attacking side must land a hit above the belt, if they hit they win and if they miss, the defending side wins. The defending side may also win by touching the… Read more: Fencer vs Fighter: A Case Study on How Adding More Options Can Make You Worse
I’m going to write about street design for a short while, but trust me, I promise I will relate it to fencing. This will be especially relatable for people who grew up in a car-dependent suburban area like I did. If you did, I’m sure you have been on a street that is very straight with wide lanes and ample buffer on each side, maybe even a turning lane in the middle or multiple lanes of traffic on each side, and yet the speed is set uncomfortably low, like 35 or 25 mph (55 or 40 kph). Whether or not… Read more: Fencing and Street Design
In Nick Winkelman’s book The Language of Coaching, he outlines a model known as the “3P Performance Profile“. This is something I’ve found useful as a coach when trying to diagnose a student’s issues with performing a skill, so I want to quickly outline it here and talk a little bit about how it can relate to the Ecological Approach to motor skills learning.
This article is meant to be a brief intro which helps readers get their feet wet in the idea of the ecological approach to motor skill acquisition. There is no way that I can give this subject the proper treatment that it deserves in such a short time, but I think it’s necessary to have something like this to reference since so many of my future articles will relate to it. Sean Franklin has produced a more detailed series of articles on this subject on his SwordSTEM website, which is more comprehensive and gives a different perspective on the topic.… Read more: Ecological Approach Primer
Odd as it is, it also seems the most appropriate to kick this off by declaring a love for games and the design of them. Creating rules to shape outcomes is not alien to us humans, and games are a very approachable way of doing so. They’re great for recreation and entertainment, but also for keeping us entertained while we learn and acquire new skills.
One of the big concerns in a lot of HEMA clubs, tournament discourse, etc is the rate of double hits. However, these discussions normally don’t consider the different ways in which double hits can occur. Recognising which type of double hits are occurring with your students or in your sparring is the first step to fixing the root causes.
Hi, I’m Steve, and I like to do longsword. Sometimes I also have thoughts about longsword, which I write down and store in a Google Drive folder, and maybe share them with a couple people. A couple of them have been featured on Tea Kew (www.fechtlehre.org) and Sean Franklin’s (http://swordstem.com/ , https://swordstuff.blog/ ) websites. That’s fine, but a lot of them either don’t fit in with the content there, or I just don’t want to clutter up other peoples’ blogs. I was going to make my own, but there were complaints of too many disparate resources instead of one place… Read more: Steve’s GD4H Intro
Welcome to Game Design for HEMA, a blog aimed at historical fencing coaches (and other combat sport coaches). This blog is a collective publishing platform for articles about fencing tactics, coaching theory and training methods. We’re particularly interested in ecological approaches to teaching fencing skills, guided by modern sports science research.