Cutting In Perspective: 2016 Qualifier Round

In my previous article in this series, I talked about the dangers of sportification as they apply to cutting in HEMA, and mentioned that I would alter the Longpoint 2016 tournament to better serve the community in addressing the issues I see cropping up. I will now explain some of the changes and goals as they apply to the Longpoint 2016 cutting tournament qualifier round (post qualifier rounds will be explained in later articles). This will allow you to begin preparing for the tournament now, when there is plenty of time left, and more importantly, allow you to understand why you are training in a specific way and how that applies to cutting as part of a martial art rather than a competition.

This article will discuss the Advanced Tournament’s qualifying round only. The elimination rounds and the finals will be introduced in later articles. Keep in mind that the scoring described below also only applies to the qualifying round.

The pattern for the advanced qualifier if very simple. Four oberhau—two from the left, and two from the right, alternating sides. The pattern itself is a lot simpler and more basic than the pattern for either the Basic Tournament or the Intermediate Tournament. What has changed are the standards for the cuts.

There will be two types of penalties. The first type is a standard or full penalty. In terms of severity, think of this as the penalty you would have received for a complete failure to cut in 2015 (sword not getting through the mat). However, this year, they will be applied to cuts that would have received no penalties at all under last year’s scoring system.

The second type is the major penalty. Think of this as a catastrophic penalty, the sort you would have received for striking the stand, or cutting off your own leg.

The full/standard penalty will be reserved for only one type of failure. When you cut the mat, the severed piece must fall cleanly to the floor and not go flying. If it does go flying, it means that your energy/structure/follow-through is not directed along the trajectory of the cut. Instead of all of your force and support being behind the sword, pushing it along its path, some of your energy is misdirected. That misdirected energy manifests as a lateral force that acts on the severed piece and sends it flying. In a cut against your intended target (clothed human being), such a misdirection of force would rob your cut of significant energy and may cause it to stop in the target rather than passing through the target, which will result in a weaker cut and possibly a stuck sword.

We will allow severed pieces that fly along the trajectory of the cut. Anything more will result in a full penalty similar to a complete failure in 2016. Judging the cut in this manner a simple way to evaluate a trajectory beyond the confines of a single mat, though it is not as effective as the multi-mat targets that you can expect in later rounds (more on that in future articles).

Anything that does not result in a perfect cut, for example a scooped cut, an angle deviation, a mountain, spraying debris, severed piece launched into orbit, stand knocked over and so on, will receive a major (catastrophic) penalty. The justification for this is as follows. Tatami is not representative of any sort of realistic target. It is not like an arm or a leg or anything else. Think of tatami as a calibration gauge that, if you know how to use it, will tell you how your cut would have performed against your intended target (a clothed human being). A bad angle means you can’t control your trajectory. A mountain means your aim is bad. A scooped/scalloped cut means that your trajectory isn’t straight and would fail against the intended target and may even result in a stuck and/or bent sword. And so on. I am giving you a very simple task, and I expect you to be good enough to carry out that task flawlessly and consistently. If you cannot do so, you should instead compete in the Basic or Intermediate tournaments.

There are two additional actions/failures which will lead to major (catastrophic) penalties. The first of these has to do with stopping the sword after every cut. Some people like to cut by allowing the sword to stay in motion, come around, up and back down. This is a martially valid way to cut under many circumstances and later rounds of the Advanced Tournament will require such motions. However, it is also critical for a fencer to be able to stop the sword after every cut with the point forward (or at least mostly forward). In the qualifying round, I am stipulating that you must stop your sword in an Alber/Wechsel position after every cut. If you do not do this, it can only be assumed that you cannot do this, and so you will be penalized accordingly.

Finally, and this is very important, any sort of preparatory motions, be they shuffling of feet, shifting of weight (there and back), hesitation, cocking back, moulinet, and so on will result in a catastrophic penalty. The aim here is to completely eliminate such actions from cutting in HEMA.

If you do not shuffle your feet before striking your opponent in a fencing match, don’t do it when cutting. If you do not walk up to your opponent, take a breath, shift your weight around a bit, then strike at your leisure, then don’t do this when cutting. Part of what we hope to accomplish with Longpoint’s Triathlon is the triangulation of training. Cutting, fighting and historical techniques, with each informing the others to create a holistic and balanced training regimen. If you move in completely different ways when cutting and fighting, then your cutting is not informing your fighting and vice versa. With regards to the moulinet, whether you consider it a valid action or not, you should be able to cut without it. Thus, once again, failure to comply will result in the assumption of inability to comply.

In my previous article, I talked about the sportification of cutting in HEMA. Part of that is the fixation on a single tatami mat as a demonstration of cutting ability. Cutting through a single mat is not an accomplishment. Cutting through it in a very specific way, a way that meets standards that map directly to the historical context of fighting in earnest (i.e. killing), is an accomplishment. The trend in tournaments so far has been to add dimensions of challenge to the cutting of a single mat. But if everyone who participates in such a tournament does not cut that single mat in a way that maps to earnest fighting, then they are cutting poorly. And asking people to cut poorly in a fancier and more challenging way is the opposite of what we should be trying to accomplish in HEMA. My goal with the Longpoint 2016 tournament is to move away from fixating on a single mat and to demonstrate how to measure and achieve historically relevant cutting performance.

All the information in this article is subject to change, and I will provide notice of any changes as early as I can. As I mentioned in the previous article, I will release a series of videos showing each round and explaining some of the failure types and penalties. Until then, if you have any questions about the qualifying round, feel free to contact me. Please do not ask about the later rounds, as I have not finalized them at this time.

Mike Edelson
New York Historical Fencing Association
Longpoint Director