Updated: Dec 13, 2020
There he is. Across the bar. Your adversary. Insults get tossed back and forth, patrons clear the way as you close in on one another.
Then he says it…
In a fit of rage, you draw your dagger, and just like that, it's a good ol’ fashioned medieval bar fight.
Ok, ok...this isn’t exactly how it would go down these days, but it’s the historical picture Charles Lin of Capital Kunst Des Fechtens paints in his commentary on Urban Violence in Medieval Germany. In this article, Lin explains that medieval Germany was swimming in young men armed with short tempers, copious amounts of pride, and all manner of pointy things. Toss alcohol into the mix and what you had going on was daily violence on a scale that is unimaginable in our modern landscape.
When training in the combat forms employed in these fights, which were often born out of flaring tempers or bruised egos, we cleanse it of all wrathful passion and focus on the sport, but in doing so, remove the urgency of needing to defend against a sudden attack. How can we infuse our technical training with the twitch response steeped in adrenaline and the survival instinct? Lin suggests the threat that accompanies this scenario alters the very shape of the techniques employed, bringing a new perspective to the training.
Simulating a bar fight...sounds fun, right?! I’m glad you agree, but how you ask!
Lin suggests a system with referees and signals to craft a situation that is a great, big unknown for the person being drawn upon, therefore acting as a catalyst for the transition from unarmed to armed combat without needing the trappings of real disagreement, alcohol, and a disregard for social transgressions.
This sounded like too much fun to not try, so head instructor, Anthony Buonomo, decided to employ Lin’s suggestions, but tweak it for his own version. In the game we played -neither- fighter knew who would attack first as it was predetermined by the judges and in this way put -both- fighters into that fight or flight zone.
The procedure is as follows:
Two students armed with daggers Two judges.
The two judges confer beforehand to discuss which fighter will be the attacker. The dagger wielding students have NO idea who will be given the signal to draw and attack first.
The judges take their places behind each fighter and shove them towards each other. Sometimes a helpful argument prompt is suggested just to fan the flames of unrest.
The two students approach one another, hurling insults and disdain, but all the while keeping an eye on their judge.
BAM! A signal is given and the pre-selected fighter goes for their weapon to attack. A light sparring ensues where there is bound to be much laughter and no lasting ill will.
It may seem a bit ridiculous, but we found it to be an effective step towards the reality of what we study. A controlled situation where that spike of adrenaline for the unknown can be injected into the process. Definitely, one that will be in our rotation of training fun alongside all the repetition of structure, structure, structure because c’mon...how can you defend your mom’s honor when you have a weak arm.
Keep your parries strong and your tempers under control.
If you would like to assault Anthony Buonomo with deeper questions regarding this training scenario or how to incorporate it into your teaching, please feel free to email
HEMA on, Wayne. HEMA on, Garth.
-The Fearless Nymph