Michael Adams
Michael Adams

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  In martial arts we deal with many types. Especially in such a new movement like HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts). Everything from the fanboy, to the grizzled veteran of combat pursuits and everyone in between. This means we get people at all levels of base capacity and skill, fitness levels, and overall potential. Our challenge as instructors and the leaders of the community is to help all these people develop into the fighter they want to be. That could be a tournament champion or just a part-timer who shows up when they can, maybe someone who loves the art but hates competitions, all types. This article is going to focus on one thing though, and this holds true for all sports and physical pursuits, but as HEMA is my greatest familiarity, I will write it in context to that. That one thing, one truth, is the difference between the raven (the sport skill development, the art of the sport) and the wolf (the body used to perform the sport, the athleticism of the body)

  The raven is the most import part of the equation when it comes to excellence in any sport. No matter how much time is spent in the gym training, if you never practice your sport skills, none of it matters. I don’t care how strong you are, how far you can run, none of it makes you better at the techniques required to be a true master in HEMA.

  The wolf is a powerful creature. He is fast, strong, has endurance. Natural body awareness. However, the wolf is undervalued. Skill rules over strength right? Techniques are meant to remove strength from the equation right? The resounding answer is no. Does this mean that athletes always win? Not at all, but if you take two skilled fighters, the more athletic one stands the greater chance of victory. We see this across many modern sports, a more skilled person being bested by a stronger person. It is not to say that skill cannot beat power, but rather any gap to large in skill or power can override the other to an extent. Anyone who has fought long enough knows that sometimes athleticism matters, sometimes it matters so much that you cannot overcome it. An example of this is a man who has trained for 25 years, he knows his techniques, knows his timing and measure, can perform the techniques under pressure. However, he is overweight, finds it hard to move fast or suddenly change direction of movement. He wins lots of fights because of his skill. One day he meets a young man, who has only been doing HEMA for a few years. However, the young man was a hockey player growing up, has a strong athletic background and works out regularly. His skill and knowledge is less, but his strength and speed are greater, he knows this and increases the tempo of the fight, brings the intensity up to a point where the body of the older man can no longer react fast enough. He has moved the fight outside of skill, and into a battle of athleticism. A battle he will win. The wolf defeats the raven. Technique might close the gap, and this may lead to victory, but it is not a gamble the raven should take. So what is the raven to do? The answer is simple. The raven must become a wolf as well.

  The funny thing is, athlete’s tend to learn HEMA faster than others. This is due to an effect of skill transfer from other sports. They already understand how their body moves, and thus develop skill easier. Having this person walk into your club is rare. Usually, we get the more average people joining. This is where the artist first comes from. They learn the art before they learn their body. We don’t grow up wrestling and fighting anymore. Most of us never get into sport. As such we have not developed the other half of equation yet. This sets us back in our long-term development as fighters. We need both, the athlete, the artist. Two beasts one in our head, the other in our body. As HEMA grows we will see more examples of people who have beasts growing. We have seen some (Axel Petterson for example). There are hints of a new wave starting to show. We have yet to see what happens when the truly gifted athletes pick up the sword, however. I for one am excited to see it, as I work with professional athletes, and see first-hand what they can do. Though as a combatant the idea is perhaps a bit terrifying. The youth will be where this comes from. So as instructors let’s promote our students to embrace both beasts. Teach what you, send your students out to those who know the other side. (In the grand scheme HEMA instructors are teachers to the raven, not the wolf, that’s what strength coaches are for. Reach out to one in your area and see if you can get them involved).