You’re a great talker, babe! Galina Kokhvakko about swords, fencing and HMB

01 Mar 2016 14:30

Well, to be honest, for quite a while I had certain doubts whether I should go through the hassle of writing a new analytical article or not. I’ve been thinking over the issue for a long time and asked several experienced fighters and judges for advice. To cut a long story short, do you remember a popular demotivator depicting a cat with round eyes being asked an unexpected question? ‘Do you know that a longsword can be used not only for attacking hips and knees?’. I guess it’s one of the burning issues.
«Take care of your pince nez glasses, Kisa, it’s gonna start right now!»*

*(a quote from the classic satirical novel ‘The Twelve Chairs’ (1928) written by Ilf and Petrov)
For those who have already set their heart on joining our lively community of Swords and Ploughshares, I’ll introduce the issue and try my best to make it clear.

Along with a boring life of office plankton there’s a fascinating parallel reality which is not that easy to see. There’s neither online world nor joyful powder there, neither murders nor self-mutilation. Oh, hold on! I have to admit, self-mutilation might take place at some point, but so far we haven’t killed anyone, that’s for sure! This parallel reality is called Historical Medieval Battle (HMB). To put it simply, it’s full contact fighting with the use of offensive and defensive weapons characteristic of the Middle Ages. All these cute medieval killing tools including swords have to be blunt. As you can see, the sport is kind of extreme, involving risk, adrenalin and an exciting chance to become the best in the world among the same particularly brave and a bit crazy guys and girls.

There’re quite a lot of categories, and all of them can be divided into mass and single ones. Let’s focus on the last one as it’s the most technical and fast-moving. So, imagine that two fighters enter the ring and compete with each other. A fighter has to deliver as many blows as possible to his opponent. There’re three rounds with different weapons: the first one — “longsword”, the second one – “sword-buckler”, the third one — “shield-sword”. The first one is the coolest — and nowadays the most senseless and ruthless. That’s what we’re gonna speak about.
«Take a deep breath – you seem to be anxious!»*

Obviously, fencing involves both defense and attack. Too bad that not everyone thinks so. According to rules, the main thing is to gain the maximum number of points. That’s the reason why instead of beautiful and technical fight the audience has to admire swelling round shapes of doubled up fighters who meanwhile are trying to interpret Morse code of a series of blows that their opponent is delivering to their hips or knees. Well, perhaps he’s a blacksmith, or street cleaner, or a radio operator indeed, you never know!

At the same time the fighters who prefer such a convulsive style of fencing and tend to attack hips too much are extremely patient. Their opponents keep hitting their neck and all other parts of the body but they bravely bear everything and bow like cherubs. If Ivan The Terrible, one of the most cruel rulers in the Russian history, had seen such scene, he would have definitely said, ‘Behead them and that’s that. To hell with them!’
‘This role’s abusive, and I’d rather you didn’t apply it to me!’**

**(a quote from the Soviet comic science fiction film ‘Ivan Vasilievich Changes Profession’ (1973) directed by Leonid Gaidai)
I believe dear fighters remember the name of an outstanding master of the longsword called Hans Talhoffer (those who’re not aware of this name may just take my word for it — this man was a fantastic fighter of the 15th century). I don’t think he’d be delighted to see such a miserable scene of two doubled up fighters hunting for each other’s hips and knees.
It goes without saying that these days in the 21st century we don’t sharpen our swords, and our armors provide excellent protection, but let’s recall original traditions of fencing, shall we? It’d also reduce the number of weird injuries. At one of the World Championships because of such series of attacks a Polish fighter Marcin Waszkielis ended up being hit on the crotch with a sword’s guard. Can you imagine that? Martin wrote me that his opponent seemed to ‘stop thinking at all’ at that moment, so he didn’t even try to parry the blows and just kept attacking his hip. I personally also became a victim of this convulsive style of fencing a couple of years ago. Because of the wrong angle of attack, the blows my opponent was delivering to the hip, actually hit my foot. Yeah, I’ve nearly forgotten to clarify this point: according to the rules, we aren’t allowed to hit certain parts of our opponent’s body, including feet and groin. We’re still humans, not beasts.
«Well, Kisa,» Ostap said, «we’re not invitated to this celebration of life!»*

The judges are the ones who have to go through all the trouble. Nobody else but they should count all these raps of the mocking birds that have gone wild! The Honourable Talhoffer would have turned in his grave if he had known the score: 116-130 or, for example, 128 – 142.

And now we’ve eventually reached the point where I feel the need to say: Dear fighters, isn’t it high time we started fencing again? So many of us got injured. There’s neither beauty nor historicity here. In addition to this, the judges have no fingers left to count the points. So let’s give it careful thought.
«Hell knows how things will eventually turns out, but at least it’s already started!»***

***(a quote from ‘Baptism of Fire’ (1996) which is the third novel in the ‘Witcher Saga’ written by Polish fantasy writer Andrzej Sapkowski)
Below there’re several opinions of inquiring minds of professional fighters and experienced marshals who suggest some solutions.

Vitaly Makaryan, marshal of Battle of the Nations World Championship in HMB (Ukraine):
In general the idea sounds nice, as we focus on original fencing techniques. However, there’s a certain downside: the number of moot points will definitely increase, as in the case of double blows. In my opinion, if we introduce the system of three rounds until one of the fighters gains 5 points in each, then victory should be awarded when the difference is more than one blow, for example, 6-4. As for how spectacular the fight is, it cuts both ways, I suppose. On the one hand, such fight will be much similar to classical fencing which is more appealing to sophisticated audience. On the other hand, there’ll be less action but it’s gonna be more about position and tactics. If we don’t count series of more than 2 blows to one zone, it might also change things for the better.

Sergey Yakushev, marshal of Battle of the Nations World Championship in HMB(Russia):
I fully agree that we need to review rules for longsword. I’ve been saying the same to the members of the organization group of the Championship for quite a while now. I’d suggest holding this category in the format of three rounds, like buckler, with the only difference that the fighters have to gain 7 or 10 points to win.

Mikhail Tereshchenko, marshal of Battle of the Nations World Championship in HMB (Moldova):
I raised this question from the very beginning, I kept telling the judges that we just can’t apply the same approach to the categories that are so different. However, at that time nobody really wanted to go through the hassle of reviewing the rules. The fact that the rules for halberd are totally different from the rules for triathlon and in general are similar to half professional fight, proves that each category needs to have its own spirit. “Shield-sword” and “longsword” categories are brought under one roof, and the second one is obviously affected. What’s more, European fighters don’t agree with that as well, as they have different fighting rules back at their schools in Europe. The current unified regulations related to longsword bring to zero the chance that they can show all their skills. If we review the rules, the category is highly likely to become much more spectacular and gripping.

Yevgeniy Baranov, captain of National Team of Belarus:
In brief:
1 – rounds continue until one of the fighters gains 5 points;
2 – introduction of the rules for professional fights for longsword in particular;
3 – series of more than 2 blows to one zone are not counted;
4 – replacement of triathlon with the rules for professional fights

Michael Morgulis, captain of National Team of Israel:
I’m against counting blows in such series. Only the first one or the first and the second, but no more. I’d rather we didn’t divide the fight into several rounds — the period of 1.5 min should remain the same, I think.

Vladimir Maksimenko, captain of National Team of Latvia:
There’s an easy solution to the problem of such series: let’s just stop counting more than 2 blows to one zone, except head. It’ll definitely make fighters think more. People will start fencing again! I do believe such measures are important in order to diversify the attack techniques and provide the development of the “longsword” category in general.
Sergey Glubokin, marshal of Battle of the Nations World Championship in HMB (Russia):
I had a chat with colleagues, and we discussed this issue. I personally think that we shouldn’t apply to the longsword the same rules we have for buckler, but what we certainly need to do is diversify the permitted effective techniques. IMCF rules set a good example here.

Maxim Plaksin, professional fighter (Russia):
Longsword has become a very tough category. These days fencing skills are far outweighed by aggressiveness and physical strengh of fighters, and I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do if the current rules remain unchanged. Now this category is regarded as a prelude to meticulous “buckler” and “shield-sword” in “triathlon” or just as a spectacular fight of one particular category. However, when it comes to making certain changes to the techniques, we should make changes to the rules at first. For example, it might be a good idea not to count more than 2 blows to one zone. Or we can introduce several rounds that continue till one of the fighters gain 5 points and apply the same rule there.

Valentin Zerr, marshal of Battle of the Nations World Championship in HMB (Germany):
Nowadays it’s by giving points to the fighters that we encourage the development of their physical and speed characteristics. If we stop the fights too often, we’ll benefit in terms of technical skills, but they’re likely to become less entertaining for the audience. If we leave everything as it is, technical skills will stay in the background, and it won’t make the fight more appealing either — there isn’t much fun to watch two threshers chasing each other around the ring! If we allow wrestling, the risk of injuries will increase and we’ll have to introduce weight categories. Meanwhile, in many countries finding the fighters who are truly good at fencing is still a huge problem!

«The trial continues! The ice has cracked, gentlemen of the jury!»*
The opinions above do give some food for thought, don’t they? I believe these ideas should be taken into account when we eventually decide it’s high time to make changes to the existing rules for the “longsword” category. On a personal note, I’d warn you against applying absolutely the same rules we have for the professional fights. Well, you know, «cutlets are separately, flies are separately». And please note, dear sirs and madams, the existing rules encourage fighters whose opponents have started sending them numerous call signs to use Morse code themselves. At such moments even the brightest ideas of great minds are powerless against narrow-mindedness of those who overdid it with Narzan mineral water… Fencing and thinking at the same time is really challenging, isn’t it?
Let’s think it all over, dear fighters. Being smart is sexually attractive nowadays…

The author of the original text: Galina Kokhvakko
Literary translation: Alexandra Bykova

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Oradea Fortress, Romania