Starting with the Wrong Ideas

corby's picture

I had the chance to attend most of Duchess Elina's formal class at Pennsic in 2003. One of the most crucial things that I noticed in this class is that generally, the generic examples of "the way men fight" were correct in one primary and unfortunate way: they showed an example of bad style, bad technique, bad form that is all too typical in the SCA.  The generic style used by almost everyone (though that "almost everyone" may be 60% or so) is an example of bad technique all the way around, and is quite exactly the sort of style you need to be physically talented with in order to have success. No wonder that most women who start fighting have problems, when they probably get shown a terrible stance if they get shown one at all.

What was that style? Much to my shock, a duke demonstrated it as if it were his own. (He was a duke from an earlier era, and I didn't catch his name. It was not Duke Stephen of Beckenham--more on his style later.) Mystery duke stood with his feet not quite square, his shield almost flat, his shoulders almost square to his opponent and his sword foot's heel completely off the ground. It didn't look terribly different from the stance any person off the street would take if you asked them to put on a shield, hold a sword and look like they wanted to hit someone. Terrible.

No wonder that anyone attempting this would have a problem, not just the women. Here comes the chorus:

To fight successfully (these days at least) with such poor form, a fighter has to be big or strong or fast or thick.

So what? After all, I'm supposed to be talking about how sword leg forward is wrong for women. Right. Here we go. When you justify sword leg forward style as better than "the way men fight" you aren't saying much when what you mean by "the way men fight" is badly and with little or no style or technique.

All right then, you ask, If that generic style is so bad, then why not teach sword leg forward to women? Because sword leg forward style relies even more on strength, size or speed for success. It may provide some of the same benefits that any style does: planning on how to do things for example. But it does not offer an easy block, a powerful shot or any of the other benefits that, for example, Bellatrix or Oldcastle style offer. See the next section for a breakdown.

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Hm. I've been to Elina's class a couple of times, and read the book a bunch, and I don't use most of what she teaches, but it never occurred to me why! Her ManStyle isn't anything like any of the ManStyles I've been taught, so I don't have most of the problems she's attempting to compensate for. (I have my own set, of course, but I think you're right about starting from false assumptions).
Now I have to find the book so I can follow along on your analysis....