Logic, Argument and HEMA

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Richard Marsden
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Logic, Argument and HEMA

Postby Richard Marsden » Mon Sep 05, 2016 10:33 am

Logic, Argument and HEMA


Logic when making a case, or argument can apply to HEMA. While building a strong case in of itself is important when proposing an interpretation, it is equally important to recognize logical fallacies.

What follows is not an exhaustive course on logic, nor every possible fallacy, but it's a start.

What is an argument?

An argument is composed of premises each which can be tested and determined to be valid or invalid. Once an argument's parts are arranged, the conclusion of the argument is either sound or unsound.


Italian longsword uses thrusts.

Three premises leading to a conclusion

Italian longsword uses thrusts.
German longsword does not use thrusts.
Thrusts are usually more fatal than cuts.
Therefore, the Italian longsword system was more deadly than the German.

To determine if the argument is sound or unsound, we test each statement to see if it is valid or invalid.

Italian longsword uses thrusts. (First, what is Italian longsword? Second, If referring to Fiore, then yes, thrusts are used. Valid.)
German longsword does not use thrusts. (First, what is German longsword? Second, plenty of German sources show thrusts. Invalid.)
Thrusts are usually more fatal than cuts. (Evidence in the form of medical reports, present day and historical confirm this. Valid.)
Therefore, the Italian longsword system was more deadly than the German. (Unsound because the argument has invalid parts.)

Each premise can be tested and in the example above, questions arise that may alter the argument entirely. This can lengthen an argument.

Italian longsword includes Fiore, because he was from Northern Italy and some of his treatises are written in Italian.
Fiore's longsword uses thrusts.
German longsword includes Meyer, because he was from the Holy Roman Empire and his treatises are written in German.
Meyer's longsword does not use thrusts.
Thrusts are usually more fatal than cuts.
Therefore, the Fiore longsword system was more deadly than the Meyer one.

And true pedants can demand even more terms to be defined. Very quickly an argument can become quite large, with a multitude of premises and terms- which can also be argued.

This is why online arguments can become muddled. An example I found was the above argument, not phrased in a series of premises, but buried in a larger bit of text that asked a question at the end. The person was trying to ask if Fiore was somehow more deadly than Meyer, then assumed, incorrectly, that Meyer doesn't thrust.

Someone then posted a long article on thrusts and Meyer using his own words.

http://artofthesword.blogspot.com/2013/ ... sword.html
(If you don't like what he has to say, go argue with him, not me)

The person asking the question made one too many assumptions and didn't seek to test them with the available evidence.

Ok, you now know, or were reminded, about the parts of an argument. When reading posts, remember there is often an argument buried in there and that parts of it can be tested.

When I wrote my book on the Polish saber, we used what sources we had available and based off that came up with an interpretation which I called plausible, rather than sound. Why? Because we lack evidence, I cannot say I am 100% correct in all of my interpretations. I do the same for almost everything I teach in HEMA because, even with detailed sources, there is always room for debate on interpretation. I know what works, I have sources to support it, but I am centuries removed from the skills I am teaching.

Polish Saber Book Plug

On to the fun part!

Fallacies and HEMA


Hasty Generalization
When someone takes an occurrence and assumes it is a trend.

"We need better protection in HEMA because there was an incident in which someone was stabbed in the lung."

The person in question was wearing a t-shirt. We have better protection, that person was not wearing it.

When someone sets up your argument for you and forces you to defend it.

"HEMA is a dying and on a downward trend."

The person offering this statement had no evidence that this was the case in terms of numbers of people who claim to be practicing HEMA.

However, the statement was made and people found themselves, myself included, providing examples and hard numbers as to why this is not the case. My response should have been, "What numbers are you dealing with there?" Perhaps, in his local town it was declining, while elsewhere it was not.

Appeal to Authority
Assuming an authority is correct on a given subject.

"In rapier, always lunge with the rear foot firmly planted. This is specifically called out by Bruchius, who reminds us not to roll the back foot."

Other contemporary sources disagree with Bruchius, such as La Touche.

The more sources we have on a given subject, the more likely the sources will disagree with one another. Rapier, in particular, has examples of this. A way to work around the appeal to authority is to simply say you are following a certain master's advice. The above statement then becomes.

"In rapier, I prefer to lunge with the rear foot planted. Bruchius suggests this because he saw dangers in rolling the back foot."

Authority is not without merit, and this fallacy should not be seen as a means of ignoring our source material, or those who are alive today in our HEMA community who are competent and successful, but rather a reminder that the authority's statements can be tested.

Dunning Kruger Effect
Such severe incompetence on a subject that the person in question assumes themselves competent.

"I've used swords all my life, and I'm telling you, that most people don't know how to use them even if they train. You need to know how to fight and that's not something a book teaches you."

The person in question is not citing sources other than themselves. They may indeed know how to fight and know how to use a sword, but they do not know HEMA, which is knowing how to do something using source material.

An easy way to handle this is to defer to the sources. Remind people that is what we use as our core foundation and without it there is no HEMA and if someone wants to work without sources, then they are doing something different than HEMA.

"Thought Terminating Cliche"
Ending an argument with a comment that bars further debate. Sort of like when Martin Luther said,

"Here I stand and I can do no other."

This closes a debate before it begins. Which may be the point!

In HEMA, the most common ones I see tacked onto an opinion are, "Now shut up and train!" or, "Now I'm off to train!" or, "I'm just say'n". These statements indicate the opinion given are not up for debate. Which is fine- do the person a favor and do not comment since you were asked not to. Not everything is up for debate. (See what I did there?)

Moving the Goal Posts
Changing the argument to prevent the other person from winning it.

"There are no sources for Polish saber."

"There are plenty, I have first hand accounts, other treatises that mention it, I have art, I have-"

"There are no treatises."

"There is one."

"There are no period treatises."

The argument cannot be won because it changes repeatedly, moving the 'goal post' farther away.

This one I've gone through several times. The person has an argument to make, then does not concede they made an error and instead changes the argument, and will continue to do so to avoid conceding a point.

Assuming something correct about the whole applies to some or all of its parts.

"The argument at the start of this article is all wrong!"

The argument is unsound because it has invalid parts. However, it also has valid parts. Just because an argument is not sound, does not mean its components can be ignored or assumed to be incorrect.

In Conclusion

The above is just a crash course into logic, argument, fallacies and how they relate to HEMA. The purpose of argument should be to get to the truth, but not everything is an argument. This will spare you making enemies wherever you go. Furthermore, if you argue too much, then no debate is had, and a stalling technique is to question the definition of everything so as to avoid an issue. Don't be that guy.

Also, knowing a bit of logic and fallacies always makes a Harry Potter Wizard out of someone, where they scream out a Latin phrase like "Dicto Simpliciter" assuming the person they are communicating with will disappear. This is not the case. Logic helps you form better arguments and ideas. Use it on yourself. Fallacies are there for you to test your own ideas and, when dealing with others, learning how to respond correctly. Trust me, I've been a teacher for years, and President of HEMAA, and wrote a book and run a club- I know what I'm doing.

Use your powers wisely to better yourself, not tear down others!

(Find the fallacies used in the conclusion)

And last but not least- careful with what you have learned.
(20 minute movie, Love is a Fallacy)

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Richard Marsden
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Re: Logic, Argument and HEMA

Postby Richard Marsden » Mon Sep 05, 2016 4:51 pm


Marsden, I know more about logic arguments and what about inferences and true and false and...

I've had two of you politely bring this up to me in private. My best advice is to clarify below if you want to go deeper in. I'm out of character space above. I can't get more in than what I have and it's a little beyond my scope. But have at it below. Use color and I think it helps bring the parts out easier.

Meyer pic.

It didn't work, so I swapped for an article, but did not write said article. Thanks for catching it. Fixed.

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Sean Karp
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Re: Logic, Argument and HEMA

Postby Sean Karp » Sun Sep 11, 2016 3:00 pm

Good article.

How would you deal with someone that says I'm wrong about martial thing X, so I asked if he would be willing to spar to put his assertion to the test, and he said yes. His claim was shown to not only be wrong but very wrong. He then claimed that I was still wrong becasue "In a real fight then he would be right" because of Y reason. So we sparred again allowing for said thing to be "in". He was still proven wrong. He then claimed again about how he was still right because of some reason.

What then should one do?
"If you're a guy full of sh** without the gold medal...when you get the gold medal, you're still a guy full of sh**"- Didier Berthod, First Ascent

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Richard Marsden
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Re: Logic, Argument and HEMA

Postby Richard Marsden » Mon Sep 12, 2016 5:58 pm

So, your method is flawed.

Just because you can prevent his technique or get yours to work means it is right.

What if he sucks?
What if you're very good?
What if you do something that works but is not a part of the source, just something you made up?

Sources first. Then application. If your opponent has no sources, then it is not HEMA and is not a part of this discussion it would be part of some generic martial arts discussion.

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