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Resources for the Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) student, with a particular focus on the ars gladiatoris of Paulus Hector Mair.

Monday, February 1, 2010

HEMA Groundfighting: Mair

For years, a debate has raged over the role of groundfighting in HEMA, from whether it had any place on the battlefield (answer: yes, it did; see Gladiatoria!) to whether it should be restricted in, or even eliminated from, Ringen tournaments (answer: no, and here's why).

While the majority of Ringen techniques depicted in the manuals are standing throws, strikes and submissions, there is also clear pictorial evidence in Mair, Codex Wallerstein and Gladiatoria proving that groundfighting was an integral part of both armed and unarmed Ringen.

I plan to catalogue all such images on this site, beginning, of course, with those in Mair's manuals.

1. This image depicts a neck crank from a kneeling variation of back mount. Note how dominant figure's left leg is positioned crosswise, as if he slid across the opponent's body from his right to his left side; this is a common feature of the mounts shown in the German manuals. This same neck crank appears in Codex Wallerstein, but from a slightly different back mount.


2. Mair shows a hammer-fist to the face from a seated cross-body mount. Note how dominant figure traps both of his opponent's arms while also pinning his hips. This sort of "3-point tie" is ubiquitous in historical Pankration, a primarily "ground and pound" art, and is also seen in the Gladiatoria unterhalten plates.


3. Here, the bearded figure is in his opponent's half-guard. I desperately need to translate this plate because it does not depict any sort of finishing move; in fact, neither figure is in a particularly dominant position. Bearded figure has control of his opponent's arms, but the beardless figure can use his legs to keep his opponent from posturing up for hammer-fists or moving into a truly dominant position. If the beardless figure can free his arms (see description of next image), then he is in position to sweep the bearded figure and gain mount. Either way, this plate depicts what will likely be a protracted struggle on the ground, not the sort of quick dagger pins we see in Gladiatoria.


4. In this very similar image from the Shortstaff chapter, Mair shows dominant figure in a seated variation of mount after a successful takedown. Mair instructs dominant figure to "seize either his hands or his throat," which suggests that dominant figure's object is to control his opponent until he can secure a choke.


This plate is particularly interesting because Mair also describes the escape! He instructs bottom figure to "make sure from the start that your hands are not captured, quickly seize his face with one hand (hooking your thumb under his chin and pressing the other fingers into his eyes, gripping firmly), forcefully strike his groin with the other hand, kick out whichever leg is freer, and quickly draw it back, thus kneeing him in the groin." Cod. Vinob. 10825 162v (translation from Polearms of Paulus Hector Mair).

It is undeniable that, like #3, this image depicts what could easily be a prolonged struggle on the ground. Opponents don't just lay back and let you choke them. You have to work for it. Sometimes you get the choke immediately, sometimes you don't. But either way, it is a struggle, and that takes time.

The bottom line is that, given the realities of grappling and the evidence of actual groundfighting we see in the manuals, it is clear that imposing any sort of time limits or restrictions on the ground game would corrupt the art. More on this later.

Next, I shall catalogue groundfighting images from Codex Wallerstein.

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