All posts by gregm

Giraffes with Swords: Join Us at Buccaneer Blast – March 7th

Arrgh and Avast!

The Guild has been asked to present demonstrations of Renaissance Swordsmanship at Brookfield Zoo’s “Buccaneer Blast at the Brig” on March 7th!

We will be doing a series of late afternoon and evening demos at what looks to be a lighthearted, fun event aimed at everyone. The 3:00-6:00 PM scheduling is primarily child-centric, and admission is FREE.  The adult action gets rolling after six with the 21+ Swashbuckler Soiree.

So join us for the clash of rapier and dagger, the clang of sword and buckler and a little of that old-fashioned longsword fightin’ .

 

Dekoeven School of Arms Date Change

 

28

Mark your calendars for September 2014!

The Chicago Swordplay Guild and the DeKoven Foundation – the same team that have brought you WMAW for over a decade – are please to present an event for students in the Noble Art and Science of Defense: The DeKoven School of Arms. After years of attendees decrying a two-year wait between WMAW’s, in 2009 we hosted The 600: Prepare for Fiore – a celebration of the 600th anniversary of the Flower of Battle. This was followed by last year’s Armizare Academy.

In 2014, we turn to the Mediterranean Renaissance and the art of the duel! This full, three day event will feature:

  • A roster of leading instructors and experts in Renaissance Swordplay, including Devon Boorman, Puck Curtis, Tom Leoni, John O’Meara and Tim Rivera
  • Introductory and in-depth classes in early 16th century swordplay, including Iberian “Esgrima Comun” and Bolognese swordsmanship;
  • Expert instruction in the jewel in the crown of Renaissance Italian swordplay: the elegant rapier;
  • A chance for extensive training in the mysteries of LaVerdadera Destreza;
  • Lectures and demonstrations;
  • A Contest of Arms with sword, rapier and their trusted companions, the buckler and dagger.

Located at the picturesque DeKoven Center, home to the Western Martial Arts Workshop, the conference is a retreat with attendance limited to the 60 students that DeKoven can host. Your registration fee  includes entry, lodging and all nine, hot meals.

This is a unique event and a unique opportunity to train in a private environment with some of the finest modern teachers of the Art of Defense. Act now, because spaces will go fast. We look forward to crossing swords with you!

DETAILS:

Dates: September 5 – 7, 2014

Location:

The DeKoven Center
600 21st Street
Racine, WI 53403

(Details for getting to Racine can be found on the WMAW website)

Accommodations:

On campus; all rooms have two single beds. You will be able to request the roommate of your choice when you register, and we will make every effort to accommodate you. Lodging is from Thurs to Sat.

Nine hot meals.

Costs:

$300.00 inclusive before March 1st; $375 thereafter. (Almost a 25% savings for early registration!) No cancellation refunds after July 1st, 2014

Registration Contact Info:

Please note that the Dekoeven School of Arms event has moved two weeks earlier to September 5 – 7, 2014. Watch this space for event details!

Western Martial Arts Workshop 2013 – After Action Review

28

Mark your calendars for September 2014!

The Chicago Swordplay Guild and the DeKoven Foundation – the same team that have brought you WMAW for over a decade – are please to present an event for students in the Noble Art and Science of Defense: The DeKoven School of Arms. After years of attendees decrying a two-year wait between WMAW’s, in 2009 we hosted The 600: Prepare for Fiore – a celebration of the 600th anniversary of the Flower of Battle. This was followed by last year’s Armizare Academy.

In 2014, we turn to the Mediterranean Renaissance and the art of the duel! This full, three day event will feature:

  • A roster of leading instructors and experts in Renaissance Swordplay, including Devon Boorman, Puck Curtis, Tom Leoni, John O’Meara and Tim Rivera
  • Introductory and in-depth classes in early 16th century swordplay, including Iberian “Esgrima Comun” and Bolognese swordsmanship;
  • Expert instruction in the jewel in the crown of Renaissance Italian swordplay: the elegant rapier;
  • A chance for extensive training in the mysteries of LaVerdadera Destreza;
  • Lectures and demonstrations;
  • A Contest of Arms with sword, rapier and their trusted companions, the buckler and dagger.

Located at the picturesque DeKoven Center, home to the Western Martial Arts Workshop, the conference is a retreat with attendance limited to the 60 students that DeKoven can host. Your registration fee  includes entry, lodging and all nine, hot meals.

This is a unique event and a unique opportunity to train in a private environment with some of the finest modern teachers of the Art of Defense. Act now, because spaces will go fast. We look forward to crossing swords with you!

DETAILS:

Dates: September 19 – 21, 2014

Location:

The DeKoven Center
600 21st Street
Racine, WI 53403

(Details for getting to Racine can be found on the WMAW website)

Accommodations:

On campus; all rooms have two single beds. You will be able to request the roommate of your choice when you register, and we will make every effort to accommodate you. Lodging is from Thurs to Sat.

Nine hot meals.

Costs:

$300.00 inclusive before March 1st; $375 thereafter. (Almost a 25% savings for early registration!) No cancellation refunds after July 1st, 2014

Registration Contact Info:

 

The Dulelists at Dawn. A few were surprised to find out that we really meant dawn....
The Dulelists at Dawn. A few were surprised to find out that we really meant dawn….

Whew! As is a decade-old tradition, eight days after it began, Sean Hayes was the last to board the plane, officially turning out the lights and locking the door on the Western Martial Arts Workshop.

WMAW 2013 was our most packed event ever, not just in terms of classes, but with an armoured Deed of Arms (actually, a Deed within a Deed – more on that later), an on-going Challenge Tournament, an early-morning Duel at Dawn and more lectures than we have ever had before. Based on early feedback, I think it all worked, or mostly worked, but the downside was that many of the special events required special planning meetings on site, so as part of the event staff, I saw less of the actual classes than I normally do.

 

NEW INSTRUCTORS

Roger Norling teaching Meyer's longsword. (c) Ed Toton
Roger Norling teaching Meyer’s longsword. (c) Ed Toton

We try to change out about 1/5 of the instructor roster each WMAW, bringing in new folks from both the US and abroad. This year our new faces included Tim Rivera (Esgrima Comun, USA), Roger Norling (All-Meyer-All-the-Time, Sweden), Mishael Lopes Cordoza (German longsword, Holland) and Roberto Laura (Traditional Italian Stick and Knife, Germany).

Despite by best efforts, it proved impossible for me to get to Tim’s Spada e Rodella (sword and round shield) class, although it received rave reviews from my students, as did Lopes’ Dutch dagger fighting class, which one my students dubbed: just like Fiore, only meaner and more vindictive. Fortunately, I *was* able to take most of Lopes’ longsword cutting patterns class and to audit Roger’s short staff class.  Neither disappointed. “Techno-Viking” moniker aside, Lopes is an articulate instructor with fantastic body-mechanics who was able to relate why the patterns he was teaching were not just mechanically efficient, but tactically preferable in terms of tempo and line. It was a great class, even if I got pulled out to go deal with some administrative issues about 2/3 of the way through.

Roger Norling and I share a love of polearms, so when I invited him to come, I of course insisted he teach a class on Meyer’s staff. This three hour workshop was a real highlight, not just because I think Meyer has left us a brilliant, elegant and powerful system of staff-fighting, but because Roger’s pedagogy was equally brilliant. Ably assisted by new friend, fellow Illinoisan and brother-at-arms Chris Vanslambrouk of the Meyer Freifechter, from the moment he began his warm-up, everything Roger taught was designed to initiate students in the body mechanics and broad motions of the art. The Gothenburg Historical Fencing Society is known for its physicality and conditioning, and Roger brought this to his teaching: the first hour of the class would have been a fantastic stand-alone class in relating warm-ups and conditioning to your martial arts practice. Fortunately, there was two more hours of solo and paired work and people got a great work out, exposure to an art most of them had never seen before and I suspect an eye-opener as to the power of the humble staff….

Speaking of sticks and staves, I have already talked at length about my teacher Roberto Laura’s dedication and mastery of the traditional staff and knife arts of Italy, but I was eager to share his knowledge with the larger HEMA community. For those who do not know Roberto Laura, after many years in traditional Asian arts, he has spent the last twelve years traveling back and forth from Germany to Italy to research, document and train in traditional Italian arts. At WMAW, he presented a class on the shepherd’s staff from the Scuola Fiorata of Sicily, and a 3 hr workshop on the dueling knife both the Fiorata and Calvieri d’Umilita schools. These were some of the first classes to fill up in registration, and I don’t think anyone was disappointed. I think they also learned what I mean when I say that Roberto demonstrates what “sprezzatura” looks like in action. I suspect these old folk arts may gain some new students here, thousands of miles from their home…

As a side note, I will add that my good friend Jorg Bellinghausen has told me to invite three people to WMAW over the years: Roland Warzecha, Christian Eckert and Roberto Laura, and his recommendations have always become event favorites. Moral of the story – listen to Jorg. Well, maybe not after hours, after a few beers and smokes, but otherwise…

 

THE USUAL SUSPECTS

CSG's John O'Meara teaching Italian rapier in the style of Salvatore Fabris
CSG’s John O’Meara teaching Italian rapier in the style of Salvatore Fabris

Speaking of Jorg, he also taught a brilliant class toward the end of the weekend (what the instructors named “the Graveyard Shift”) called “The Sword Comes from the Messer”, that demonstrated adaptations of messer play to longsword, rather than the other way around. This became was one of tidiest, most concise lessons I have seen, equally useful for experienced practitioners as well as a short immersion course for newcomers to the German tradition.

Dr. Les Moore has become synonymous at WMAW with American Catch Wrestling (the colonial inheritor of English Catch-as-Catch Can), and he did not disappoint this year. But he also told me early on that he wanted to focus on beautifully illustrated, but slender self-defense work by Nicholas Petter. I confess I was a bit skeptical – not in Dr. Les, but in whether or not there was enough there for the class he was proposing, but since I hadn’t looked at the text either seriously or in over a decade, I said OK. Apparently, that was a good move! I could. I could tell you my thoughts on the class, but I’ll instead quote Jesscia Finley, herself no stranger to grappling: “I think I am in love with Dr. Les. Holy Crap that was good!” There you have it.

Jessica herself taught both a class on how to “spar” with historical wrestling and a 3-hour workshop on the work of Ott and Von Auserwald which also included a significant component on how to actually enter into wrestling: an area that many HEMA folks without prior knowledge of grappling, judo, etc are usually fairly weak. I only got to audit about half of the class, but I loved what I saw and my selfish solution will be to have her here for a private workshop.

Roland Warzecha has long been an advocate of slow-motion, free-form training, and this year he refrained from participating in coached fencing to instead teach an evening mini-class in his methods and principles. I cannot express how much the attendees loved this: I was cornered by almost every attendee and told “why can’t we have him do an entire 3-hr workshop on this?” OK, OK, I get it – I’ll talk to Roland… or at least, his alter-ego, The Dimicator.

"I'm not Tom Leoni, but I can still stick you in the head with a spear!" (c) Ed Toton
“I’m not Tom Leoni, but I can still stick you in the head with a spear!” (c) Ed Toton

Unfortunately, my dear friend Tom Leoni took ill and had to drop out of the event, and combined with Devon Boorman’s induction into the Dolorous Order of the Dislocated Digit (see below), I suddenly found myself picking up an extra 4.5 hours of teaching duty. I certainly didn’t mind – it meant an excuse to play with polearms! – but it did sadly happen to coincide with exactly the remaining class slots I had left myself the freedom to attend. Damn! It also means that I was suddenly teaching first period Sunday morning – double damn! But I went to bed early(ish) like a good boy, and I hope that everyone enjoyed the workshop, which built off a pair of classes on Italian spear, and sword vs spear that I had co-taught with Devon One-Arm the day before. (How does a one-armed man teach spear? Through a body-double, of course, in this case Roland Cooper.)

I know there were other classes, and I know a lot of them were great: “Wow, Sons of Hauptgames was even better than the first! That was a really great rapier mechanics class! The Sneaky Stuff class really was…sneaky.” But I didn’t get to see them. (How *does* one get to be a guest at his own event?) I *did*get to see some of the lectures, from Elizabethan Sea Dogs to Spada da Popolo (the history of the Italian knife arts) and an intriguing lecture by Ben Roberts on the English longsword tradition. Mark Lancaster began the event with a lecture on A Hidden Tradition – a rumination of the “common art” of the Middle Ages which the various masters were improving upon or countering; essentially “what did most combatants know”? It was well-received and Mark is still working on the topic, so hopefully I’ll see version 2.0 someday.

 

THE CHALLENGE TOURNAMENT

That's gotta hurt! A near-miss by Roland Cooper ends in his beheading by Mishael Lopes Cordoza during the longsword finals.
That’s gotta hurt! A near-miss by Roland Cooper ends in his beheading by Mishael Lopes Cordoza during the longsword finals.

There has long been a great deal of discussion, interest and debate in the virtues and methods of competition in refining and testing martial arts skill, and a strong divide between traditional martial arts and combat sports. In recent years, this same interest, debate and specialization has become a part of  the Historical European Martial Arts community, with various sub-communities ascribing different levels of importance, emphasis and virtue to formalized competition.

My own views on the subject are similar to those eloquently expressed by new WMAW instructor Roger Norling in “The Wreath or the Cash” at his HROARR website: http://www.hroarr.com/the-wreath-or-the-cash-on-tournament-fighting/  and the WMAW Challenge Tournament, derived from a proposal by Maryland KdF member Ben Michels, was an attempt to put some of these ideas in practice. The tournament has  been developed with the following precepts in mind:

  1. Competition should be a good test of physical skill as well as character; If combatants don’t have a chance to fail both physically and personally in a match, you do not have a martial arts competition, you have a sports competition.
  2. Judged combat can lead to awarding technically better fencing, but it also reduces the character test on combatants, as they are absolved from calling hits and learn to “sell” points. Fencing is the Art of Defense, and we see far too many double-hits in sparring;
  3. The current emphasis on the After Blow in all fights, rather than the original “king of the hill format” has actually encouraged double-hits as people game the After Blow to negate an attack.
  4. No one likes to be eliminated in “sudden death”, one-hit fits, but that is the reality of a lethal fight with sharp swords. As Fiore dei Liberi wrote: “in one missed parry lies death”.
  5. Most fencing tends to be like vs like weapons, whereas the various masters all assert that their art works in all manners of combat, against all weapons.
  6. No set of rules can accurately reflect real combat, only reward realistic tactics and deemphasize unrealistic ones.

With these rules in mind, Ben and I conceived the WMAW Challenge Tournament.  Here is how it worked.

The tournament was fought in two rounds – an open Challenge and invitational Finals. The Challenge Round was open to all attendees with the requisite equipment, began during Thursday night free-fencing and ran all through Friday classes, concluding with Friday night free fencing. Fights were conducted privately and judged on the honor system, based on the stated Scoring Conventions (see below).

  • Overall Victor received 2 pts;
  • The person who scored the first blow received 1 pt;
  • If there were any double hits during the match, both parties lost 1 pt.
  • Therefore, in any match a combatant could score between 3  and -1 points.

These rules were not meant to be “realistic”, simply to prioritize drawing first blood and avoiding double-hits. No matter how many double hits, for the sake of simplicity, only 1 pt was lost.

Finally, Combatants could choose to fight in any of the following categories (and could participate in as many as they like): Longsword, Cut and Thrust Sword (inclusive of sword alone, sword and buckler, or sword and dagger), Thrusting Sword (Inclusive of rapier, rapier and dagger, rapier and cloak or smallsword). What defined which category you were fighting in is what you are armed with, not your opponent. Thus, if two combatants wish to meet in the field with longsword vs. rapier and dagger, they are welcome to do so – with one person receiving a score in the Longsword category and the other in the Thrusting Sword category.

After the Challenge Round ended, total scores for each combatant in each Weapon Category were totaled, and the top two combatants for each round moved to the finals, to be fought as an exhibition during Sunday’ s lunch period. The Finals were a formally judged match, based on the rules designed by Sean Hayes for VISS. You can find those rules at http://chivalricfighting.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/tournament-rules/

The finalists in each round were:

  • Longsword: Mishael Lopes Cordosa and Roland Cooper (victory to Lopes)
  • Cut & Thrust: Bill Grandy and Doug Bahnick  (victory to Bill)
  • Thrusting Sword: Kathleen Gormanshaw and Nat Ward (victory to Kathleen)

So Did it Work?
Good question! The answer is: parts did and parts didn’t.

The scoring conventions and open format of the Challenge round worked very well, not least of which because combatants were sometimes annoyed or frustrated by the results. “What do you mean I got zero points? I WON!” Yes, but you got hit first and double-hit. Look at it this way, your opponent got nothing, too! What was interesting was that in some cases, he who fought most and won most clearly dominated – Lopes had more points in longsword than the second and third place finish combined – at other times the two finalists had not fought that many bouts, but had managed to win, score first blood and avoid double-hits, as happened in the Cut & Thrust round.

The honor system worked just fine, but in part because we put in a caveat: if you couldn’t agree on the results of the bout you went to the recorder and were forced to play Rock, Paper, Scissors. The victor in the Rock, Paper, Scissors was to be announced at Saturday’s dinner. Act like a child, get treated like one. The RPS Solution was never invoked.

Now, a few people gamed round one – both parties scored poorly and decided not to report their results – and that’s probably no better or worse than any other problem in tournaments, from poor or biased judging to gaming the After Blow. In this case it really didn’t matter, because there was no prize to be won – as we made clear at the start, this was just an experiment to try various scoring and judging conventions with a heterogeneous audience.

The finals, IMO, and even within my own school it seems I was a minority, were a mixed bag. I appreciate what both the Longpoint rules and Sean Hayes’ modifications to them seek to achieve, and I think they work well to train fighters, but within a tournament I think they take too long to score, make the action too staccato and make it hard for the audience to understand what they are seeing. I think that the idea of the system, including priority, which worked well, is good and can be refined and perhaps slimmed down for actual competition. In any event, you can see the system at work here, in the well-fought messer finals:

The major flaw with the tournament was that participation was lighter than anticipated and as I asked people why they weren’t trying their luck, I heard a common refrain, even from those who like to compete: it was hard to move back and forth from a competitive mindset to a free-play mindset, from focusing on trying new things or being highly-technical to relying on “what worked”. I hadn’t really considered that, but in retrospect it makes good sense. I *was* happy to see that a number of folks did try mixed weapons, and that added some diversity and variety to the fighting.

At its core, WMAW is a teaching, research and networking event, not a tournament event, of which there are a growing number. I don’t know that we’ll do much with refining the model at WMAW itself, but those lessons will plug in to what we do with our off-year events. I will say that if I were to carry the experiment further forward, I would make phase one of the tournament focused on a single, three-hour evening block, probably advance the top four to the second phase, and perhaps have the two highest-scoring finalists of whatever weapon bout for the overall victory. But it was fun to try and it did reinforce my feeling that if your goal is to use competition as an adjunct to training, rather as a focus for a particular event, the rules can be quite minimalistic, and a lot is gained by not placing all responsibility in the hands of the judges. I look forward to chatting more with Ben, Jake and Sean about refinements in the days to come.

 

THE ARMOURED DEED OF ARMS

Our numbers grow...the 2013 combatants in the Armoured Deed of Arms
Our numbers grow…the 2013 combatants in the Armoured Deed of Arms

In the last few years a reconstruction of an Armoured Deed of Arms has become one part martial exercise, one part extended exhibition match. It is not meant to be a “reenactment” (although I certainly caught a few snickers about that), but rather an homage: if you are going to go the trouble of wearing $3 – 10K of armour and reconstruct armoured combat the best way to pressure test that is the same way as the people who did so originally. My model for this has been the modern jousting movement, where the competitors are in historical kit, using a modernized set of historical rules (generally for safety), with a ground crew in historical kit, but with no pretensions by the competitors or announcers that it is an historical event, anymore than dressage, fox hunt or rodeo riders pretend it is the 19th century, despite wearing a traditional ‘costume’.

We must be doing something right, because from a meager handful of guys at the first Deed, there were nearly combatants this year, most in full, homogenous harness! Among the new faces were Christian Cameron, Marc Auger and Dr. Ken Mondschein.

Nicole Allen has long been the sole representative of the “armoured ladies who kick ass” contingent in these Deeds, but this year she was joined by Jessica Finley of the Old Dominion Fechtschule.  In fact, Jessica was chosen First Among Equals and invited to join the Companions of the Seven Swords. You can watch Jessica hand me my ass here:

Although I was disappointed with some of this year’s Free Fencing (including the handful of pick-up bouts I managed to get in myself), I think we saw some of our best armoured combat matches, with everything from dagger to poleaxe. Judging of a good kit was a bit uneven – I generally required a more solid blow than Devon did – but we’ll work that out, and I believe that all of the combatants felt “well-satisfied”.

The Deed also had a second Deed with in! Last year, Bob Charrette, a founding member of the Seven Swords and a participant in all of the Deed we have hosted, asked if there might be a time and place to allow him to do a feat of arms in honor of his 60th birthday: to fight in harness for one minute for each year of his life. How could we possibly say no to that?

So in between each bout, Bob met a challenger with their their choice of dagger, sword, axe, short spear and long spear. Bob fulfilled his Deed and could have stood a few challenges more (although I suspect he was content not to have to do so) – an inspiring model for all of us to emulate! At the end of the Deed, he awarded each person he fought with a token: a figurine of the Master of the Segno, carved by his own hand. In turn, and to his great embarrassment, the Companions of the Seven Swords awarded him with a token of our own: a tournament sword in the style of Rene d’Anjou, made by Companion Scott Wilson of Darkwood Armoury, and inscribed with both Fiore’s four virtues and a crowned 60. A fine end, to a fine deed!

The day could not have come to completion with the Dawn Stiers and her “squire team” who where indispensable in the running of the deed. Dawn is a master of organization who stepped in last year with my student Cooper Braun-Enos to whip the flow of the event into shape. This year, she and her crew made things move so smoothly that we finished half an hour early! A huge thanks to all of the team, especially Erin Fitzgerald, who was always on hand to help me with my armour, hand me water and make sure I knew where I was going and what I was doing.

 

SATURDAY NIGHT FIGHTS

Welcome to the Party! A rogues gallery, courtesy of Ed Toton.
Welcome to the Party! A rogues gallery, courtesy of Ed Toton.


Saturday night’s feast – an old-school pig roast – has become a tradition at WMAW. Every year we’ve had a different theme. One year was a costume party “celebrating 600 years of Western martial arts”, another year was medieval, and last year was Victorian, in keeping with the entertainment: a reconstruction of a 19th c Assault of Arms, such as might have been seen at the Bartitsu Club. This year was modern formal.  Every year, Dr. Bill Ernoehazy, as master of ceremonies, takes on the persona of the theme and weaves that into his presentation style. But what do you do with modern formal?

Why, you do a 1940s-style Night at the Fights, of course! There might not have been quite enough sweat or cigarette smoke, but we did have a bell! (Some remarked that it looked suspiciously like the dinner bell Dekoven rings. I can only say that while it did have a certain resemblance, all I know is that I told Spark that “we need a bell” and a) a bell appeared and b) the dinner bell was in place at breakfast the next morning. What happened in between is a mystery.) We also had what was, beyond a doubt, some of the best demo bouts we have ever hosted, of which the one that must take special note was the messer bout, wearing only mensur-style googles and gloves, fought by Roland Warzecha and Jake Norwood:

This was one of the cleanest and finest martial displays I have *ever* had the privilege to watch. It also revealed Roland and Jake’s alter-egos, as can also be seen from the photo at the bottom of this article…..

Standing in for both an injured Devon Boorman and John O’Meara, CSG’s Rob Rutherfoord met Bill Grandy in an Italian rapier bout that was, bar none, the most technically clean we’ve ever had, while also being quite athletic. I don’t think Rob needs to ever worry about being the “stand in” again!

Finally, the Demo Bouts have always featured swords, but this year we also had knives. Roberto Laura opened the demonstration with one of the elegant solo forms of the Italian knife schools, and there was a bout with American Bowie knives; a spirited display by Keith Jennings (CSG) and Thayne Alexander (RMSG). I think next time we need to chalk their blades….

All-in-all it was a great night of food, fencing and merriment, and a great capstone to the event.

 

THE DOLOROUS ORDER OF DISLOCATED DIGIT
Every event has its flaws. Although there were notable, and inspired exceptions (Jake Norwood and Keith Jennings, I am thinking of part two of your bout!), the freeplay quality was lower this year than at last WMAW. But the decided downside was an increased number of injuries, particularly to thumbs and fingers.  The two worst injuries were Sean Hayes’s little fingers, broken by a pollaxe during the armoured Deed of Arms, and Mishael Lopes Cordoza’s thumb, which we thought suffered a bad jam during the Challenge Tournament, but which in reality has a complex fracture (damn, damn and triple damn).

We’ve tried to look at the injuries that were recorded, what the combatants were fighting with and what, if anything could have been done to prevent the injury. Here’s a little after action review:

Injury
Sean’s finger was broken in a pollaxe bout with a new pollaxe  design. The weapon behaves really nicely – indeed, just like a pollaxe, which was the problem. The axe head was likely too narrow to distribute force, particularly against someone wearing finger gauntlets.

Solution
The solution is two-fold: 1) the weapons need to be redesigned and 2)combatants can consider wearing mitten gauntlets or additional finger bucklers when fighting  with the axe. Other than this, there isn’t much to be done – the weapon is a mass weapon and the hands will always be vulnerable; just as was discussed historically;

Injury
Devon Boorman shoulder was injured during a throw, also during the Deed of Arms, which rendered him out of combat for the weekend and a lefty for teaching purposes for the next two days. At first I thought he might have dislocated the shoulder, but it proved to be just deep tissue bruising.

Solution
There really isn’t one.  Grappling is inherently dangerous, and in harness the higher center-of gravity and lack of sensitivity often takes both people to the ground. In reviewing video, no one really did anything wrong, nor was the throw particularly dangerous – one combatant simply landed hard on the other. This injury probably falls into the realm of “things will happen in full-contact sports”.

Injury
Lopes’s thumb was broken at the middle joint during the first round of the Challenge Tournament. Of course, Lopes being Lopes, this in no way stopped him from fighting and winning the longsword finals, so I doubt most people realized how complete the fracture was until he got home and posted x-rays to Facebook.

Solution
During the particular bout where the injury happened, Lopes had complained about his opponent hacking needlessly hard. This may have been a matter of too much blow force (it is a sword, not a mace, people), and in a judged tournament the judges might have been there to step in, but in addition to this, I think this sort of injury is in turn a combination of training and culture issues and combatants being willing to say “Dude, quit hitting so damn hard.”

Injury
We had three other notable hand injuries that I know about: a thumb that had its nail pulled back, a severely jammed thumb, a dislocated finger and a broken thumb. In talking to the combatants about how they happened, when, what they were fighting with, etc, here is what we were able to determine:

  • All of the injuries happened in longsword bouting;
  • All of the injuries noted above happened to practitioners of German longsword;
  • None of the combatants were wearing plate gauntlets, but what they *were* wearing varied from the custom gloves at Sparringglove.com, the cheap Absolute Force knock-offs and lacrosse gloves.
  • There was no consistency in the swords used in the injuries, but they included an Atrim I-beam sword, a Regenyei  feder, and an Albion Meyer.

Solution
We discussed this a lot with the instructors who stayed afterwards at the event, and I don’t        really have one, in part because I don’t think the injuries were because of a singular issue, but         rather a “perfect storm” of a variety of issues.

  • Swords – I can’t say anything for certain, but I will note that each of our last three events someone has gotten a part of their hand mashed by the Atrim I-beam swords. I love Gus, but I really think he’s recreated a crowbar, not a sword, with these weapons, and I think the use of this weapon in inter-group fencing and competition needs to be evaluated.
  • Blow force – I will say that I saw people hitting harder and relying on far more safety gear than in previous years. This was particularly true of those who come from a tournament-focus. More gear, more force, and while higher level combatants were good at modulating their power, lower level fighters emulating them clearly were relying on the armour to get the job done. The end result was that I saw a lot of what was familiar from my SCA days – a reliance on safety gear over control, and a lot of *hitting* with swords, as opposed to cutting – with the same sorts of injuries.
  • Safety-Gear: the problem clearly went beyond safety gear, but I do think that in some cases that exacerbated the problem. As I said in my review when the Absolute Force gloves came out, they do not have the shaping, dexterity or strength of the Fechtschule Gdansk gloves they knocked off. I particularly noted that the thumbs were flimsy, particularly at the joint, and the way they fold over the glove, instead of to tucking in (as seen in historical mitten gauntlets) made thumb injuries likely. I was told by the manufacturer “oh, everyone loves them”.  Maybe so (although I think what they love is the price-point), but between WMAW and Armizare Academy I have now seen five significant thumb injuries to people wearing these gloves, and as blow force goes up, I suspect more will follow. If you have $120 hands, by all means wear $120 gloves, I guess.
  • Style: All of the thumb injuries happened to people who practice German arts. I don’t think that is a critique of the style, but I do think that since it uses slipping in and out of the thumb grip, it is worth investigating how people are using that grip under adrenaline pressure, and with different sorts of hand protection, to determine if they are over extending or hyper-flexing their thumbs, making them more susceptible to being hit.

Shameless Personal Editorial: When the debates over historical gear vs. non-historical gear went through the community, one complaint was that the gambeson, gauntlets and helmets that some of us favored were “too bulky and too heavy” for unarmoured combat.  Indeed, that was the rationale behind many of the nylon swords, such as the Rawlings line. That argument may or may not be true, but the overall amount of kit that I saw the modernists wearing – full shin, knee and instep guards,  full arm guards over an Axel Petterson jacket (a gambeson by any other name), reinforcing gear *under* the jacket, sometimes black, plastic reinforcing gear (shaped, I might add, like medieval armour) the arms of the jacket, compression pants with protective plates, and so forth, was astounding. It also actually weighs notably more (and in the case of the hand protection, clearly protects less) then what I was told was too heavy to simulate “unarmoured combat”. I think the virtue is it’s modern and black. In any case, I think too much armour + blunt swords comes to less fear of closing and more percussive use of the weapon, making it more like stick-fighting than swordfighting. YMMV.

 

IN CLOSING
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This was our most ambitious WMAW and I think our most successful; not just because the event was sold-out, but because attendees had a vast choice of activities, there was plenty of friendly blade-crossing, and I think the overall spirit and nature of the event was the most upbeat, warm and positive I have seen. WMAW was designed as a way to showcase research, try new things and build bridges, and I hope that was achieved with some of this year’s new faces.

Of course the event only happens because of the tireless work of the WMAW event staff: Nicole Allen, John O’Meara, Jacques  Marcotte and Christina Bailey, and the hair-pulling efforts at ride coordination and equipment transportation by Davis Vader, whose job I would not do at gun-point.  Our staff’s efforts only get us to the day of the event; after that it is the legion of Blue Shirt volunteers and drivers who make us pull the event off. Thank you, each and every one. And thanks to all of the students who make this worth doing time and again.

You can find additional WMAW reviews from Jake Norwood on the HEMA Alliance forum and a variety of instructors and attendees at the WMAW Facebook page.

Here is a rare collector's post card from the early days of HEMA superhero geekdom, showing the Dimicator and Captain America. At the time, critics were still undecided if the Dimicator was to become a superhero or supervillain.
Here is a rare collector’s post card from the early days of HEMA superhero geekdom, showing the Dimicator and Captain America. At the time, critics were still holding out hope that the Dimicator would become a superhero.

The DeKoven School of Arms: A Weekend of Renaissance Swordsmanship

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Mark your calendars for September 2014!

The Chicago Swordplay Guild and the DeKoven Foundation – the same team that have brought you WMAW for over a decade – are please to present an event for students in the Noble Art and Science of Defense: The DeKoven School of Arms. After years of attendees decrying a two-year wait between WMAW’s, in 2009 we hosted The 600: Prepare for Fiore – a celebration of the 600th anniversary of the Flower of Battle. This was followed by last year’s Armizare Academy.

In 2014, we turn to the Mediterranean Renaissance and the art of the duel! This full, three day event will feature:

  • A roster of leading instructors and experts in Renaissance Swordplay, including Devon Boorman, Puck Curtis, Tom Leoni, John O’Meara and Tim Rivera
  • Introductory and in-depth classes in early 16th century swordplay, including Iberian “Esgrima Comun” and Bolognese swordsmanship;
  • Expert instruction in the jewel in the crown of Renaissance Italian swordplay: the elegant rapier;
  • A chance for extensive training in the mysteries of LaVerdadera Destreza;
  • Lectures and demonstrations;
  • A Contest of Arms with sword, rapier and their trusted companions, the buckler and dagger.

Located at the picturesque DeKoven Center, home to the Western Martial Arts Workshop, the conference is a retreat with attendance limited to the 60 students that DeKoven can host. Your registration fee  includes entry, lodging and all nine, hot meals.

This is a unique event and a unique opportunity to train in a private environment with some of the finest modern teachers of the Art of Defense. Act now, because spaces will go fast. We look forward to crossing swords with you!

DETAILS:

Dates: September 5 – 7, 2014

Class Roster:
Download the  Class Roster

Location:
The DeKoven Center
600 21st Street
Racine, WI 53403

(Details for getting to Racine can be found on the WMAW website)

Accommodations:
On campus; all rooms have two single beds. You will be able to request the roommate of your choice when you register, and we will make every effort to accommodate you. Lodging is from Thurs to Sat.

Nine hot meals.

Costs:
$300.00 inclusive before March 1st; $375 thereafter. (Almost a 25% savings for early registration!) No cancellation refunds after July 1st, 2014

Registration Form:

DKSoA registration form

Contact Info:

How Do You Tell a Friend Their Baby is Ugly – The Problem with the USFCA Program

by Gregory Mele,

In the 14 years since the Chicago Swordplay Guild was founded, I’ve sought to keep martial arts politics off of its website, even when I’ve been in the thick of things myself. When we redesigned the website to include a blog, we’ve focused on event notifications, reviews, demos and training material. But the broo-ha-ha in the last two weeks over the creation of an Historical Fencing Master program by the United States Fencing Association (USFCA) is sadly killing that 14 year streak.

The short strokes are simple: after an on-again, off-again attempt by the USFCA to create a program for certifying teachers of historical swordsmanship, led by Maitres des Escrime Walter Green (for those not in the know, MdE is the title given to modern fencing masters), Dr. Ken Mondschein approached the USFCA about joining the project.  Ken has explained his rationale in an open letter, best summarized as:

It has long been my belief that to grow and flourish, the study of Historical European Martial Arts needs both greater professionalism and recognition from established organizations. Being an academic, I live in a world where credentials are very necessary. Many others have seen how such recognition would be beneficial to their own efforts.

Now, before I say one more word – I personally think that while Ken’s role was a well-intentioned, but misguided effort, I don’t think the program was viable, I don’t think the USFCA were the people to do this, and I don’t think their motives are particularly pure. Further, at this point, the likelihood of anything good coming from it is probably somewhat less likely than using an alembic to turn lead into gold.

OTOH, if the USFCA was going to attempt this, Ken’s qualifications were good ones:

  • He has been a student of classical and modern fencing for about 20 years, having already achieved both a moniteur (instructor) and prevôt (senior instructor) license from the USFCA;
  • He is a student of la canne and grand batôn, one of the other surviving weapon arts of Europe;
  • He has been a student of French smallsword, Italian rapier and Italian longsword for nearly as long as he has fenced, trains and fights in armour and is learning to joust.
  • He is a PhD in Medieval studies and Fulbright Scholar, who discovered the fourth Fiore text and paid with own grant money to have it photographed;
  • He reads French, Latin and Italian in their modern and medieval forms;
  • He has published three works on historical swordsmanship and has two more in the works;
  • He has organized and presented papers and sessions on HEMA at the premier medievalist conference in the United States.
  • He has taught classes on applying classical fencing pedagogy and interpretive classes on rapier, smallsword and longsword at various HEMA events in the United States.

In short, he’s not a hack, this isn’t a passing fad with him, and there is very, very little reason to suspect his agenda was anything more than what he claims it was. I can add that he approached a number of HEMA folks in the US to participate in the program, and was soundly refused. (I will explain why in a later post.) Last year, several American and European swordsmen found out about the program and decide to launch a series of accusations on that most serious of academic fora – Facebook – upset that they weren’t consulted. All I can say to that is “Boys, get your knickers out of a twist and consider that in some cases a) you aren’t in the US – so the USFCA frankly wasn’t interested in what you had to say, anymore than the FIS in Italy or AAI in France cares what I have to say, b)maybe Ken doesn’t know you, or maybe your street cred isn’t as good as you thought, c) he was one triad of a committee and the junior member at that.”

HOW TO DESTROY A CERTIFICATION PROGRAM IN TWO EASY LESSONS

Regardless of how it got there, now the program is live, and as the USFCA usually does things, they made a hash of it. Besides Ken, the other two members on the committee are not well-known in HEMA circles. One is Jerry Benson, a fencing coach of some reputation who has students deeply involved in HEMA practice – I do not know if he saw this as a way to work with his students to create something better or if they approached him, but he does not deserve to be called “Jerry the Salesman” because he had the gall to give a lecture on how to develop successful fencing programs; anyone who has to pay rent to keep a studio open for a large club, rather than train with four buddies in the park gets that reality.

Sadly, the third member is more problematic – another sport-fencing master who has a “pedigree” of credentials that set off every Bad Budo warning buzzer, from mail-order ninjutsu, to an 8th dan in a system of his own devising. I am sure he got his USFCA credentials legitimately, but his centrality to the program at least shows the organization’s lack of understanding of martial arts, and martial arts politics. (Go figure, they train teachers in an Olympic sport.)

To have had any hope of legitimacy with the “community” they were hoping to attract, the program’s first candidates should have had to publicly go through all three certification stages themselves, publicly. Instead, the USFCA chose to promote the three members of the committee directly to Maitres des Escrimes Historiques, thereby giving them the authority to run the program. Their choice, but an incredibly stupid one.

So in the end, Ken’s idea was laudable but dead-on-arrival in my opinion (I will explain why in a separate post) even before politics got involved, but once they emerged there was no hope whatsoever.

THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARILY CATTY FENCERS
And so we have the digital gnashing of teeth, the tearing of breasts, and the prophesized end of civilization as we know it, as legions of electric foil-wielding fencers line up in order of their tournment seeding to plug in their longswords and lead us down the brimstone path to martial arts hell….

(Sorry, I got lost in my own hyperbole for a moment there – the discussions about tournament seeding and electric longswords came from within the HEMA community! )

But you would think that was precisely what would happen as various corners of the HEMA world exploded in rage over a certification by the Sideshow Bob of American Fencing, calling Ken Mondschein the self-crowned Napoleon of historical fencing, a liar and all sorts of the charming things oft cited by emboldened, digital warriors. I am not sure that a debate about gay marriage between Bill Mahr and Rush Limbaugh on Pierce Morgan’s show could have more shamelessly played for the low blow. (Sigh… sure, I got my licks in there, too. The flesh is weak.)

While Jerry is now the traveling snake-oil peddler,  Ken is the traitorous cuckoo in the nest, and apparently, all good Dead Fechtmeister-Fearing Men must roast him and tear his flesh, because he “was warned” – by no less than the Godfather of HEMA himself, who said “thou shalt have false Masters before Me “. He also vowed to never adopt such a title himself, which seems noble and bold, until you realize that as it is a teaching title, and he has neither a school nor students, that isn’t saying much.

(About this point you might be wondering why it is morally wrong to try and create a certification program that no one is compelled to join, but OK to personally attack someone because they defied your wishes , when you are not their teacher, nor the head of any certifying body, nor even a researcher with a substantial published body of work. If you are wondering that, it is probably because your parents probably raised you right. But I digress.)

What is fascinating, and disheartening, to me, is that while these men in their 40s and 50s engage in what is little more than internet hazing and bullying they seem to ignore the obvious:

  • some of these same folks were victimized by rumor-mongering, innuendo outright lies and similar attacks by John Clements, the ARMA director, directly leading to the formation of their own clubs and organizations;
  • another subset of these folks have thought it in poor taste to call out those problems with the ARMA director, and felt that as Europeans “that is the Americans’ problem”;
  • some of these same folks criticized myself and others when we revealed that Andrea Lupo, the founder of both the Federazione Italiana Scherma Antiqa e Storica (FISAS) and the International Master at Arms Federation (IMAF) was a fraud who had made up his entire martial pedigree,  and most of his personal background, inventing the name of one master and claimed false credentials from another, because it was “no one’s business but the Italians” – even though Mr. Lupo had been trading on those credentials at seminars in the USA, Canada and UK as well.
  • some of these same folks thought it was shameful and “bad for the art” to “publicly air dirty laundry” when it was revealed that the owner of the now-defunct Chivalry Bookshelf had defrauded his authors of their intellectual property and their royalties to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, now see no problem in spending hours publicly ridiculing, personally attacking and mocking a man who never did them a lick of personal harm – and whom they never once tried to talk to privately.
  • at the same time that they were lambasting the USFCA for appointing its first masters with a lack of transparency, some of them were instituting a certification program in which the first instructor was certified out of the public eye.

STRAWMEN OR DOMINOES?
Now, so as not to paint with too broad a brush, there are also legitimate concerns being raised with measured thought, polite language and an honest attempt to present the position without crucifying anyone. The best summary of this is Roger Norling’s blog post. If you’ve cared enough about this subject to read my post, you should read his for counterpoint.

At the center of the more reasoned arguments is a fear of the size of the USFCA and its creating an immediate cadre of “sport historical fencers” who will outnumber the rest of us. I have heard the argument, and I encourage you to read Roger’s concerns, rather than my paraphrase. All I can say is that I think these concerns are born from a misunderstanding of what a genderless, toothless entity the USFCA really is. It’s not going to happen, and the reasons are simple:

  •  Most fencers could care less about martial arts of any stripe – they are engaged in a sport;
  • The USFCA has no authority over the USFA and little influence;
  • The USFCA failed to even take over classical fencing in America, which at least ostensibly is related to modern fencing;
  • The certification, even if successful, has no unilateral curriculum attached to it, and thus still does not impact what people teach;
  • There are hosts of fencing coaches – modern fencing coaches – today who are not certified by the USFCA, and the USFCA has had no ability to prevent them doing what they do.

“I’M (MAESTRO) SPARTACUS!”
Beyond the fear of a domino effect, the other problem is apparently using the tile of “Master”, probably the most over-discussed and over-valued word in our community. We know that this was a title used by trade guilds to mean someone qualified to teach his art to others, under his own auspices and no more. We even have the qualifications used in Germany, England, Spain and the New World, and frankly, at least the German qualifications to that vaunted titled are not all that impressive once you read them. Yet the idea persists that somehow the Master at Arms profession degenerated in the 18th and 19th century, whereas their 15th and 16th century counterparts were living engines of death and destruction. As such, certainly no one would ever use that term today….

Or maybe, as most HEMA folks seem to have become involved in the activity in the last decade, they just don’t know their history. You see, we have plenty of modern masters of HEMA:

  • Terry Brown reconstituted in the Company of Maisters of Defence in the 1990s, teaching a strictly English curriculum of martial arts, and requiring his students to go through the traditional grades of Scholar, Free Scholar, Provost and Master, with the required years spent in each.  Terry has long said that you can’t create a provost without a master, so when recreating the Guild, he listed his research and accomplishments and played the prize against all of his other students, stating that this was done “for want of other Masters to play against”;
  • Alberto Bomprezzi received instruction from a variety of sources, including the aforementioned Andrea Lupo, but adopted the title based on his accomplishments in establishing the Asociación Española de Esgrima Antigua, a federation of schools throughout Spain teaching a single, unified curriculum and including some of the leading lights of research into Iberian swordplay. He is a regular teacher at British and continental European HEMA events;
  • Although he does not use it externally, Devon Boorman’s title with Academie Duello is Maestro d’Arme. Devon runs the largest HEMA school in the world, with a comprehensive curriculum, an weekly video lessons for students who are training alone or with one or two friends, and has traveled around the world teaching and fighting.
  • Maestro Francesco Loda also was taught by Andrea Lupo, before going his own way, developing his own curriculum and heading the well-regarded Academia Romana d’Armi, which has since become affiliated with the Italian Fencing Federation (FIS). Maestro Loda is also apparently welcome at European historical fencing events.
  • Maestro Massimo Malipiero was made a Magistro Re and Maestro di Scherma Antiqa by the Italian Accademia Nazionale di Scherma in 1999, as was Giovanni Rapisardi, and the program has gone one to create several other masters or submasters – “Magistri”.

I only have met the first three men on this list in person, but what all of them have in common is that:

  • they use the title because that is what they do: they are teachers of martial arts, trained fighters, and teachers who have developed a method to teach other teachers;
  • none of them seem neurotic or even particularly concerned about the title, usually going by their first names;
  • all of them can do in practice what they show in class, and research, fight and teach at a high level of effectiveness.

Consequently, to my mind, they are welcome to call themselves Masters at Arms, because they fulfill that function and they have proven their abilities to fight and to teach – even when self-taught or when some of their own teachers were dicey. But they are still using the sacrosanct title of Master at Arms, so why aren’t swordsmen gathering in the streets, longsword feders and torches in hand? Why do those most upset about the USFCA also seem to grant them a pass? This has been explained to me that the USFCA case is “different”, because the USFCA is a major sports body (one might ask, major relative to what) and therefore could easily “appropriate HEMA” in the USA and create a chain reaction

IF A TREE FALLS IN A FOREST, AND YOU LIVE ON THE PLAINS, DOES IT REALLY MATTER?
Unfortunately, global warming is real and will probably alter life on this planet radically in the next century. Fortunately, whether or not there is credible Historical European Martial Arts still on the planet when that happens will probably have less to do with the USFCA then it does climate change. You see, fencing in the USA is not governed by the USFCA, but by the United States Fencing Association (USFA) – the actual American branch of the Federation International Escrime (FIE). The USFCA can’t dictate what the USFA does and the two organizations don’t get along terribly well. OK, I am being kind: remember I said that the USFCA was toothless and neutered? Well, most sport fencers who are even aware that it exists consider it something of a joke. On the other hand, the Accademia Nazionale di Scherma is the Italian equivalent to the Coache’s Association and much more closely aligned with the Federazione Italiana Scherma (FIS)which  is the Italian USFA equivalent.

And guess what?

No, they aren’t going to follow the USFCA’s lead and create an historical fencing program, because they already have a Maestro di Scherma Antiqa program, with multiple ranks –  founded under Giovanni Rapisardi and Massimo Malipiero in the 1990s. And just like the USFCA program, you pay for certification and certification training, with set course books and specific required reading, which just happen to be editions of the core texts (Fiore, Marozzo, Capoferro, Scorza e Grisetti and Parise) created by Rapisardi and Malipiero.

The first Maestro rank was granted in 1999 and I lived through the hue and cry. “Oh no, the Naples Fencing Academy is now licensing historical fencing, and they are part of the FIE – this is the end of historical martial arts in Italy. Then France will follow, and Germany, and …”. I would point out that somehow the Accademia Nazionale now  also licenses kendo in Italy, so if anyone was going to make a power grab, this would have been the guys to do it. And yet, fourteen years later,while there are probably far more people licensed by FIS’s historical fencing program then the USFCA will ever see, FIS isn’t even close to owning historical fencing in Italy. Sala d’Arme Achille Marozzo is clearly larger, so is Nova Scrimia, and ironically, so is FISAS – an organization founded by Andrea Lupo – the man who made up a mythical master and his entire martial arts biography, which is far beyond any of Walter Green’s mail-in certificates.

Where’s the outrage? There is none, because a) this all happened 15 years ago, when most of those so upset didn’t know about HEMA and b) it has had zero influence on anything – HEMA has grown vigorously and in a variety of directions, including in Italy itself. In fact, some of the folks in Europe most terrified and outraged by the USFCA program on Facebook have those FIS salles listed on their “likes” page.

So perhaps the problem is that Ken and Jerry have the wrong friends, or perhaps the real issue is that all of these other masters have been engaged in Italian, Iberian or English swordsmanship, whereas the bulk of the HEMA community crowds around the Liechtenauer tradition. But since the USFCA program is tradition agnostic and separated from Europe by 5000 miles, now someone might get that diploma and call themselves a….Fechtmeister!  Quick, save the Fatherland…er…even though we’re American, Belgian, Dutch, English, Swedish, French, or…

Maybe that is why I don’t care about this – there have been people claiming the title of master at arms in my given focus for over a decade and a half – some rightly so, at least in my opinion, and some laughably so. But neither good nor bad has had a lick of impact on what I do, how I do it, or who I do it with. Fiore dei Liberi wrote:

I, Fiore, know how to read, write and draw, and have books on our subject, a subject that I have studied for over forty years. Yet, I don’t consider myself to be a perfect Master of it, although I am held to be such by some of the great lords whom I taught. Let me just say that if I had spent the same forty years studying law, jurisprudence or medicine as assiduously as I have studied the art of arms, I would be a Doctor in each of these three disciplines. And I have undergone great pain, labor and expenses in being a good student.

That’s the most I can do, and accept that the path to mastering an art is just that – a path – that was never mean to end with a title, merely acknowledge that you could initiate others on that journey.

Despite my honest disgust at how Ken has been treated, and despite my ribbing here of some of my friends who study German martial arts, I cannot recommend, endorse or anyway accept the qualification or the program offered by the USFCA, and I truly wish that my friend Ken had not wasted his time, efforts or own hard-won credentials on a program that really could never do what it needs to do, even in a perfect world. Respect is earned, so someone being a USFCA “Master of Historical Fencing” means as much or as little to me as how they behave on the mat, and what they bring to the classroom. Ken’s motives were honest, his behavior consistent, and while I declined to be involved and continue to believe the effort was misplaced, he is a friend, a fellow-worker in the mines, and an honest member of the community. I cannot say the same about some of his most vocal critics, who have accomplished less, produced less and yelled the loudest, using personal attack, mockery and invective as a diversion from the obvious question of “and your authority to speak ex cathedra or sit in judgment comes from….?”

By their fruits shall ye know them. A lot of plants have been planted in the last few weeks and we’ll be seeing some misshapen bulbs for some time to come. But I know this much, when Ken wrote:

First, it has been my hope that the USFCA certification could establish both an impartial credential and an invitation into a collegial community outside the politics and divisions that so plague HEMA.

The last two weeks have just shown him what a charming delusion that was.

FURTHER READING
As the tempest swirls in its teapot, the curious might want to see a few other points of view:

Guy Windsor’s blog discusses both the controversy and why the program was flawed from the onset.

In an effort to create something good out of the madness, Jens Kligman has created the Marxbruder Facebook group to humorously – and yet seriously – discuss the old German fencing guild, its testing requirements and to debate how the Guild could be recreated in the modern day.

As the lightning rod for the debate, Ken Mondschein has tried to explain his position in an open letter.

While most of the debate has swirled about Facebook and other social media, as I said Roger Norling has tried to present the other side’s arguments sans diatribe or personal attack on his blog. He and I agree about the program’s flaws, not the threat it represents, but his positions are worth reading and considering.
Answer: Sometimes you just say it.

My last post was about the hullabaloo regarding the recently instituted Historical Fencing certification program being developed and promulgated by the United States Fencing Coaches’ Association (USFCA). I focused on a need to separate the character assassination of the members involved from a critique of the program itself (as was also done in counter-point here), and to express why I disagree with the idea that the program is a “threat” to other folks studying and teaching HEMA in the USA.

At the end of that post, while defending Ken’s motives in being involved, I also stated: “I cannot recommend, endorse or anyway accept the qualification or the program offered by the USFCA, and I truly wish that my friend Ken had not wasted his time, efforts or own hard-won credentials on a program that really could never do what it needs to do, even in a perfect world.”

Ken knows I don’t like the program, and he knows I don’t support it, so that wasn’t a surprise, although probably a disappointment. I didn’t expect that just a few hours after posting, I’d be getting a ton of private emails about why I think the USFCA program is a non-starter, but fortunately, I was already preparing a post to explain just that. Add a little insomnia and you get your follow-on post.

Full disclosure: Ken approached myself and several others to participate in this program, or at least provide insights and feedback, and we turned him down. So I can’t claim that we didn’t have a chance to participate. I won’t speak for others’ motivations, but my personal reasons for not being involved were simple, and fall upon three basic rationales:

1. I don’t Believe in Generic Certifications.
Creating a Master of Historical Swordsmanship license is like creating a Master of Kali or a Master of Kenjutsu license.  Which tradition of those arts? Under whose authority? With what weapons? But in some ways it is even worse, as Western arts cover centuries of development and innovation in which not only the weapons, but the culture,  mindset and combat context radically changed. Yes, duels were fought in the 15th century and the 18th, but they were fought with radically different tools, radically different rules, and often for radically different objectives. Mastery of one weapon does not convey mastery of the other, before we even begin to discuss the particulars of tradition.

Further, when we do move into the realm of pedagogy, we still have some problems. Although we can argue that at a very real level an attack is an attack, a parry-riposte is a parry-riposte, etc., that does not mean that the tactics of those techniques are the same, era to era or tradition to tradition. The French tradition, from which modern fencing primarily derives, for example, favored the parry-ripsote as the foundation of good fencing, while the contemporary tradition continued to make stronger use of counterattacks, as had been used with the old rapier. Take a walk backwards four centuries and cross into Germany and you have five key blows, the so called Meisterhau, of which at least four are indisputably counterattacks and a teaching paradigm that builds on what happens when the opposition has been successful, but the attack did not land. Nevertheless, the intention is to immediately take the initiative with an action in-tempo, forcing the attacker onto defense. Is such a thing unknown in modern fencing? No, of course not! But it is given different priority. Change the emphasis and you change the art.

Simply put, just because it is a sword doesn’t mean it is used the same way every other sword is, or even the exact same way that the same sword is used in every tradition. The devil is in the details, and saying that “using a longsword is using a longsword” is like saying that using a katana is using a katana, and since it and a longsword are both two-handed swords, they must be precisely alike it is only true at the broadest level.

Now, there is an obvious work around to this – a USFCA “generic” historical longsword, rapier, etc curriculum, meant to be used as a modern lingua franca for students. Honestly, if I have to explain why that is a phenomenally bad idea, or why it directly plays into the concerns of the programs harshest critics, you can probably stop reading this post now – we’re talkin’ different languages. But try this: find a nice old-school Kyukushin Karate dojo and ask them what they would think of a pan-karate teaching certification, that included not only Okinawan Karate of all styles, but Japanese styles and Tae Kwon Do (which originally derives from Karate). If you are worried about getting kicked in the head for your troubles, try it with something safe like Aikido or Tai Chi and just suggest the certification apply equally to all flavors of that one art.

(Hey you OK, buddy? Need an ice pack? Oh, you thought I was serious when I said that was a safe idea? Yeah, people are kinda proprietary about their art – funny that. Good thing you didn’t talk to the guys with the bolos….)

2. The USFCA isn’t Qualified to Create a Certification in Medieval or Renaissance Swordsmanship
I will let those who study 18th c backsword, broadsword, smallsword and sabre determine how well a coaching program for Olympic fencing can be applied to their arts, which are the direct antecedents of classical fencing, which in turn is the antecedent of the modern sport, and speak to the arts I study. Simply put, although the famed Lugi Barbasetti was correct when he compared the martial art of Fiore dei Liberi to “Japanese wrestling or Roman pancration”, his inability to also recognize the relationship of those arts to fencing speaks directly to our point. Barbasetti was a true fencing master, learning and teaching in an era where the sword was still being used in the duel, in highly-watched, high-stakes exhibitions, and occasionally, on the battlefield. Even so, he could see little in pre-rapier fencing that was fencing and not just wrestling and bashing – something with which he had no experience.

Now imagine his modern descendents, trained to view fencing as an Olympic sport, fought for points, assessing the longsword – a weapon used with extensive disarms, grapples and hilt-strikes, all built around a foundation in grappling and dagger-combat. How can the USFCA possibly ascertain the quality of that wrestling or its instruction? How can they assess it for being taught safely? Short answer – they can’t; it is well beyond their skill set. So any certification for a Maitres des Escrime Historique would need to either a) be done in conjunction with a second organization, such as one of the state Collegiate Wrestling associations or b) restrain itself to looking at only simple wrestling techniques made at or on the blade, such as hilt grabs, disarms and envelopments of the blade with the arm.

Of course, the former solution won’t happen – it was probably hard enough to engage one Olympic/collegiate sports association, good luck engaging a coordinated program with a second, especially when they are currently more focused on not being phased out of the Olympics, not to mention an increasing number of American high schools. That leaves the second option; just keep the wrestling to actions done against the blade. Problem is, the moment you do that, you just neutered the “H” in your Historical European Martial Arts (granted, large parts of the modern HEMA “community” do that, too, but that is another can of worms).

So we already have a major disconnect before we ever consider that, prior to the 1650s, there was an assumption that a swordsman would be well-versed with not only the sword, but the dagger, basic unarmed defense and possibly a polearm or two. Meanwhile, before the 1550s, the art was incomplete without at least a working knowledge of the sword, dagger, wrestling, some form of staff weapon and armoured combat – all of which are well beyond the USFCA’s expertise or qualifications to judge.

You simply can’t study 15th c swordsmanship and understand it at a teaching level without include wrestling, dagger, polearms and at least some understanding of armoured combat. Likewise, you can’t study 16th c German martial arts and ignore the staff, dussack or messer or rappir, or train in Bolognese fencing without moving beyond sword and buckler. That is not how the arts were designed and not how they were meant to be understood or taught. Put another way, you can study whatever you want, but you can’t master these arts without doing that and you certainly can’t certify someone to teach it.

3. You Can Certify “Good Teaching” Without Knowing About the Particulars of Someone’s Art
The pushback to the first two points I have raised is that “we are developing good pedagogy and using the exemplar weapon as a way to promulgate that pedagogy”. This seems almost as reasonable as the “non-denominational” certifications for instructors given out by HEMA organizations such as the British Federation of Historical Swordplay or the HEMA Alliance. While I have good friends in both of these organizations, in many ways I find their certifications even worse than the USFCAs. Consider this: the USFCA at least does have a standard, professional system for developing instructors, pan-HEMA groups are associations of clubs, many led by home-grown instructors who may or may not have had a lick of formal martial, sports or pedagogical training, and whose member bodies usually cover a diverse array of arts. The British Federation seems to have gotten around this by “a fixed set of criteria that are in line with the UK Coaching Certificate “. I have no idea what that means, exactly, and not living in Britain, it really doesn’t matter much to me, but like the HEMA Alliance program, you still have the idea that you don’t have to teach a particular art or have an accepted interpretation (how egalitarian!); you just need to publicly present your curriculum, teach it, answer some tough questions, and meet some sort of agreed upon “standard”. (I presume this is where being in line with a Coaching Certificate comes in.)

This sounds brilliant – the guys who care about the art are certifying the people teaching the art! Woo-hoo, we’ve done it!

Too bad in reality you are right back to the problem of point one, only now, with potentially a new problem: the self-trained certifying the untrained in arts they know nothing about. This falls under a fallacy of “I know good teaching when I see it”, which is true on the surface, but the problem is, good at teaching of what? And that is the next place where any pan-tradition certification goes directly to hell, minus its handbasket.

Example One: contrary to what everyone things, the Italian rapier really did grow out of classical Italian fencing. Now, add the community’s love with Capoferro, a man with pretty pictures but in want of a pedagogy, lesson plan or frankly, anything resembling coherence, and if you are trained in the Italian tradition, how hard is it to swap out swords, work in a few of Capoferro’s plates to your epee curriculum, adapt for the heavier sword and – voila! – Italian rapier ala Capoferro!

Example Two: there are many similarities between the German Messer and Filipino Kali, how hard is it for a kali instructor to repackage his art with the German guards and terminology, drop the double stick or stick/knife work and convince a board of English backsworders, Bolognese sword and buckler fighters and Spanish rapier students that what he is doing is “authentic German Messer *as I interpret it*”?

Seeing as I have seen both of these very things done, the answer is: not very hard at all. After all, the instructor moves well, runs a class well, has good mechanics and seems to know what he’s talking about. Plus, he’s your buddy, who’s a loyal part of your federation, has helped it grow and well, you don’t really know that much about that art, and everyone seems to think it is accurate, and he’s very good at it, so maybe you are just being pedantic….

At least it will probably be good martial arts; I have also seen charismatic, dynamic and physically gifted instructors give presentations in armizare that fly in the face of not only the direct words of Fiore dei Liberi himself, but immediately fail against a non-compliant partner. So, we have a good teacher, teaching, as the renowned founder of Ameri-Do-Te might say: Bullsh!t!!!!

So the USFCA program fails my particular sniff-test on all three points. Like the dubious *cough, cough* IMAF program before it, it places importance in the sword in isolation and across the centuries, creating some sort of curriculum in which one learns “longsword” or “rapier” and so forth, at least as a moniteur. Since we know that the top rank is Maitres des Armes Historiques, not  period specific, not tradition specific, we can only assume that the later degrees will follow the modern fencing weapon and just add weapons. So perhaps longsword and rapier for provost, and Lord knows what for master.  Even where this not true, no one in the USFCA, or in the masters they have appointed to oversee the program, have the depth of knowledge in one tradition to certify in a single tradition, nor the experience in close-quarter combat or polearms to create any credible “Master” of early English, Italian or German martial arts.

COULD THIS IDEA HAVE WORKED?
Where such a program could have had merit for those looking to refine their teaching would have been to simply run workshops for now on how to apply modern fencing pedagogy, sports coaching and training to historical swordsmanship – which is essentially what the upcoming Moniteur d’Escrime Historique clinics purport to do.  Problem is, these clinics, supposedly designed to “prepare fencing coaches interested in taking the historical moniteur examination of the United States Fencing Coaches Association” are two-day workshops. You take several of these and then take your test.

I guess if this was just to be approved as a teacher, that might be OK (OK, I am not convinced at all, but I am trying to be open-minded – work with me), but seeing as a number of the people coming in the  door may have zero to no training in the art, what exactly are they learning? How can you teach what you do not already know? And if the program is non-denominational, how could the USFCA possibly provide pre-instructor training.

In contrast, it takes about 1 – 2 years for an Armizare student in the CSG to play their Prize for the rank of Scholar, which is not any sort of teaching rank at all. And yet, my students would read a question like:

Distance is generally recognized in Medieval, Renaissance, and Enlightenment fencing as  falling into:

a. 5 areas – out of distance, long distance, medium distance, short distance, and infighting distance

b. 4 areas – out of distance, two step distance, lunge distance, and stabbing distance

c. 3 areas – footwork distance, arm distance, and grappling or disarming distance

And ask me “um…according to whom”, because when we discuss distance and time they learn that there are related but different ways of conceptualizing it just within the 16th century.  (Based on the options, let’s hope the answer was “c”.)

WHAT SHOULD A CERTIFICATION PROGRAM INCLUDE?
Well, that is the 10 million florin question, isn’t it? (Don’t worry, I was being currency non-denominational:  florins were used as a standard measure of currency in various parts of Europe throughout the 14th – 16th centuries.) By now, you probably know that I just love lists, so here is one more.

1. Tradition Specific
I have some knowledge of English and German martial arts, but I have spent most of the last 15 years with me head buried in 14th – early 16th century Italian traditions. That is what I know. I have no business telling someone how to certify a master of English martial arts or Spanish Destreza, nor do they have any business telling me what makes “good Armizare”. In short, any certification, to have any real intellectual and traditional legitimacy need to be “by xyz tradition, for xyz tradition”.

2. Historical
As I said in my last post, we have the details for a number of different fencing guilds from multiple countries, the weapons they required, the number of grades, the amount of time spent in each and in some cases, the specific curriculum of what a provost or master was expected to know. It seems to  me that if our goal is HISTORICAL European Martial Arts, then our model must begin and be deeply rooted in those models are we’ve already fallen off the map. By all means, let’s make good use of modern sports psychology and methodology, knowledge of kinesiology and so forth, but in the end, you want to study Old School, then you need to test Old School.

3. Multi-Disciplinary
I am not talking about weapons types,  but rather diversity in instructor skills. Being good at hitting someone in the head is a great skill for a swordsman, only one of several skills for a good swordsmanship instructor. Even so, while good instructors are not always the best fighters, they must be good fighters. They need to be able to teach, to develop lesson plans, and to adjust to different types of classes and different types of students. But they also need to be scholars, possessing a strong knowledge of the source material and fidelity to it, with enough scholarly ability to research on their own and refine their own understanding of the art.

4. Transparent
Whatever standards a group establishes, whether that is internal to their school, across schools or within an accrediting body of some sort, their requirements should be clearly detailed, easily explained, verifiable by the stated source-material, and without mysterious “backroom promotions”. The idea of combined public and private examinations, public contests of arms and approval by a committee, rather than a simple “laying on of hands” by one’s Master has been the way Western instructors at arms have been made for at least 600 years – it is supposed to be the part of the tradition that modern fencing bodies have diligently maintained. In any case, the best path to legitimacy is through a high quality of work, and an open and transparent process, whatever that process might be.

This is just a general outline of what I would consider the four foundation stones for building any certification program; they are what I have tried to use internal to the CSG, but they are also what I would encourage folks to look to more globally, much as is going on with Jens Kleinau’s Marxbruder thought exercise.

Whatever the case, the respect any certification program garners, and how much its coin will be worth, can only be measured by the quality of the product it produces. Right now the USFCA program has created its de facto board to mint its own coins, we’ll see what comes out of it, but the metal seems fairly debased, no matter how good the intentions of those involved.

Bad Ideas and Worse Responses: Regarding the USFCA “Master of Historical Fencing” Program

by Gregory Mele, CSG Founder and Curriculum Director

In the 14 years since the Chicago Swordplay Guild was founded, I’ve sought to keep martial arts politics off of its website, even when I’ve been in the thick of things myself. When we redesigned the website to include a blog, we’ve focused on event notifications, reviews, demos and training material. But the broo-ha-ha in the last two weeks over the creation of an Historical Fencing Master program by the United States Fencing Association (USFCA) is sadly killing that 14 year streak.

The short strokes are simple: after an on-again, off-again attempt by the USFCA to create a program for certifying teachers of historical swordsmanship, led by Maitres des Escrime Walter Green (for those not in the know, MdE is the title given to modern fencing masters), Dr. Ken Mondschein approached the USFCA about joining the project.  Ken has explained his rationale in an open letter, best summarized as:

It has long been my belief that to grow and flourish, the study of Historical European Martial Arts needs both greater professionalism and recognition from established organizations. Being an academic, I live in a world where credentials are very necessary. Many others have seen how such recognition would be beneficial to their own efforts.

Now, before I say one more word – I personally think that while Ken’s role was a well-intentioned, but misguided effort, I don’t think the program was viable, I don’t think the USFCA were the people to do this, and I don’t think their motives are particularly pure. Further, at this point, the likelihood of anything good coming from it is probably somewhat less likely than using an alembic to turn lead into gold.

OTOH, if the USFCA was going to attempt this, Ken’s qualifications were good ones:

  • He has been a student of classical and modern fencing for about 20 years, having already achieved both a moniteur (instructor) and prevôt (senior instructor) license from the USFCA;
  • He is a student of la canne and grand batôn, one of the other surviving weapon arts of Europe;
  • He has been a student of French smallsword, Italian rapier and Italian longsword for nearly as long as he has fenced, trains and fights in armour and is learning to joust.
  • He is a PhD in Medieval studies and Fulbright Scholar, who discovered the fourth Fiore text and paid with own grant money to have it photographed;
  • He reads French, Latin and Italian in their modern and medieval forms;
  • He has published three works on historical swordsmanship and has two more in the works;
  • He has organized and presented papers and sessions on HEMA at the premier medievalist conference in the United States.
  • He has taught classes on applying classical fencing pedagogy and interpretive classes on rapier, smallsword and longsword at various HEMA events in the United States.

In short, he’s not a hack, this isn’t a passing fad with him, and there is very, very little reason to suspect his agenda was anything more than what he claims it was. I can add that he approached a number of HEMA folks in the US to participate in the program, and was soundly refused. (I will explain why in a later post.) Last year, several American and European swordsmen found out about the program and decide to launch a series of accusations on that most serious of academic fora – Facebook – upset that they weren’t consulted. All I can say to that is “Boys, get your knickers out of a twist and consider that in some cases a) you aren’t in the US – so the USFCA frankly wasn’t interested in what you had to say, anymore than the FIS in Italy or AAI in France cares what I have to say, b)maybe Ken doesn’t know you, or maybe your street cred isn’t as good as you thought, c) he was one triad of a committee and the junior member at that.”

HOW TO DESTROY A CERTIFICATION PROGRAM IN TWO EASY LESSONS

Regardless of how it got there, now the program is live, and as the USFCA usually does things, they made a hash of it. Besides Ken, the other two members on the committee are not well-known in HEMA circles. One is Jerry Benson, a fencing coach of some reputation who has students deeply involved in HEMA practice – I do not know if he saw this as a way to work with his students to create something better or if they approached him, but he does not deserve to be called “Jerry the Salesman” because he had the gall to give a lecture on how to develop successful fencing programs; anyone who has to pay rent to keep a studio open for a large club, rather than train with four buddies in the park gets that reality.

Sadly, the third member is more problematic – another sport-fencing master who has a “pedigree” of credentials that set off every Bad Budo warning buzzer, from mail-order ninjutsu, to an 8th dan in a system of his own devising. I am sure he got his USFCA credentials legitimately, but his centrality to the program at least shows the organization’s lack of understanding of martial arts, and martial arts politics. (Go figure, they train teachers in an Olympic sport.)

To have had any hope of legitimacy with the “community” they were hoping to attract, the program’s first candidates should have had to publicly go through all three certification stages themselves, publicly. Instead, the USFCA chose to promote the three members of the committee directly to Maitres des Escrimes Historiques, thereby giving them the authority to run the program. Their choice, but an incredibly stupid one.

So in the end, Ken’s idea was laudable but dead-on-arrival in my opinion (I will explain why in a separate post) even before politics got involved, but once they emerged there was no hope whatsoever.

THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARILY CATTY FENCERS
And so we have the digital gnashing of teeth, the tearing of breasts, and the prophesized end of civilization as we know it, as legions of electric foil-wielding fencers line up in order of their tournment seeding to plug in their longswords and lead us down the brimstone path to martial arts hell….

(Sorry, I got lost in my own hyperbole for a moment there – the discussions about tournament seeding and electric longswords came from within the HEMA community! )

But you would think that was precisely what would happen as various corners of the HEMA world exploded in rage over a certification by the Sideshow Bob of American Fencing, calling Ken Mondschein the self-crowned Napoleon of historical fencing, a liar and all sorts of the charming things oft cited by emboldened, digital warriors. I am not sure that a debate about gay marriage between Bill Mahr and Rush Limbaugh on Pierce Morgan’s show could have more shamelessly played for the low blow. (Sigh… sure, I got my licks in there, too. The flesh is weak.)

While Jerry is now the traveling snake-oil peddler,  Ken is the traitorous cuckoo in the nest, and apparently, all good Dead Fechtmeister-Fearing Men must roast him and tear his flesh, because he “was warned” – by no less than the Godfather of HEMA himself, who said “thou shalt have false Masters before Me “. He also vowed to never adopt such a title himself, which seems noble and bold, until you realize that as it is a teaching title, and he has neither a school nor students, that isn’t saying much.

(About this point you might be wondering why it is morally wrong to try and create a certification program that no one is compelled to join, but OK to personally attack someone because they defied your wishes , when you are not their teacher, nor the head of any certifying body, nor even a researcher with a substantial published body of work. If you are wondering that, it is probably because your parents probably raised you right. But I digress.)

What is fascinating, and disheartening, to me, is that while these men in their 40s and 50s engage in what is little more than internet hazing and bullying they seem to ignore the obvious:

  • some of these same folks were victimized by rumor-mongering, innuendo outright lies and similar attacks by John Clements, the ARMA director, directly leading to the formation of their own clubs and organizations;
  • another subset of these folks have thought it in poor taste to call out those problems with the ARMA director, and felt that as Europeans “that is the Americans’ problem”;
  • some of these same folks criticized myself and others when we revealed that Andrea Lupo, the founder of both the Federazione Italiana Scherma Antiqa e Storica (FISAS) and the International Master at Arms Federation (IMAF) was a fraud who had made up his entire martial pedigree,  and most of his personal background, inventing the name of one master and claimed false credentials from another, because it was “no one’s business but the Italians” – even though Mr. Lupo had been trading on those credentials at seminars in the USA, Canada and UK as well.
  • some of these same folks thought it was shameful and “bad for the art” to “publicly air dirty laundry” when it was revealed that the owner of the now-defunct Chivalry Bookshelf had defrauded his authors of their intellectual property and their royalties to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, now see no problem in spending hours publicly ridiculing, personally attacking and mocking a man who never did them a lick of personal harm – and whom they never once tried to talk to privately.
  • at the same time that they were lambasting the USFCA for appointing its first masters with a lack of transparency, some of them were instituting a certification program in which the first instructor was certified out of the public eye.

STRAWMEN OR DOMINOES?
Now, so as not to paint with too broad a brush, there are also legitimate concerns being raised with measured thought, polite language and an honest attempt to present the position without crucifying anyone. The best summary of this is Roger Norling’s blog post. If you’ve cared enough about this subject to read my post, you should read his for counterpoint.

At the center of the more reasoned arguments is a fear of the size of the USFCA and its creating an immediate cadre of “sport historical fencers” who will outnumber the rest of us. I have heard the argument, and I encourage you to read Roger’s concerns, rather than my paraphrase. All I can say is that I think these concerns are born from a misunderstanding of what a genderless, toothless entity the USFCA really is. It’s not going to happen, and the reasons are simple:

  •  Most fencers could care less about martial arts of any stripe – they are engaged in a sport;
  • The USFCA has no authority over the USFA and little influence;
  • The USFCA failed to even take over classical fencing in America, which at least ostensibly is related to modern fencing;
  • The certification, even if successful, has no unilateral curriculum attached to it, and thus still does not impact what people teach;
  • There are hosts of fencing coaches – modern fencing coaches – today who are not certified by the USFCA, and the USFCA has had no ability to prevent them doing what they do.

“I’M (MAESTRO) SPARTACUS!”
Beyond the fear of a domino effect, the other problem is apparently using the tile of “Master”, probably the most over-discussed and over-valued word in our community. We know that this was a title used by trade guilds to mean someone qualified to teach his art to others, under his own auspices and no more. We even have the qualifications used in Germany, England, Spain and the New World, and frankly, at least the German qualifications to that vaunted titled are not all that impressive once you read them. Yet the idea persists that somehow the Master at Arms profession degenerated in the 18th and 19th century, whereas their 15th and 16th century counterparts were living engines of death and destruction. As such, certainly no one would ever use that term today….

Or maybe, as most HEMA folks seem to have become involved in the activity in the last decade, they just don’t know their history. You see, we have plenty of modern masters of HEMA:

  • Terry Brown reconstituted in the Company of Maisters of Defence in the 1990s, teaching a strictly English curriculum of martial arts, and requiring his students to go through the traditional grades of Scholar, Free Scholar, Provost and Master, with the required years spent in each.  Terry has long said that you can’t create a provost without a master, so when recreating the Guild, he listed his research and accomplishments and played the prize against all of his other students, stating that this was done “for want of other Masters to play against”;
  • Alberto Bomprezzi received instruction from a variety of sources, including the aforementioned Andrea Lupo, but adopted the title based on his accomplishments in establishing the Asociación Española de Esgrima Antigua, a federation of schools throughout Spain teaching a single, unified curriculum and including some of the leading lights of research into Iberian swordplay. He is a regular teacher at British and continental European HEMA events;
  • Although he does not use it externally, Devon Boorman’s title with Academie Duello is Maestro d’Arme. Devon runs the largest HEMA school in the world, with a comprehensive curriculum, an weekly video lessons for students who are training alone or with one or two friends, and has traveled around the world teaching and fighting.
  • Maestro Francesco Loda also was taught by Andrea Lupo, before going his own way, developing his own curriculum and heading the well-regarded Academia Romana d’Armi, which has since become affiliated with the Italian Fencing Federation (FIS). Maestro Loda is also apparently welcome at European historical fencing events.
  • Maestro Massimo Malipiero was made a Magistro Re and Maestro di Scherma Antiqa by the Italian Accademia Nazionale di Scherma in 1999, as was Giovanni Rapisardi, and the program has gone one to create several other masters or submasters – “Magistri”.

I only have met the first three men on this list in person, but what all of them have in common is that:

  • they use the title because that is what they do: they are teachers of martial arts, trained fighters, and teachers who have developed a method to teach other teachers;
  • none of them seem neurotic or even particularly concerned about the title, usually going by their first names;
  • all of them can do in practice what they show in class, and research, fight and teach at a high level of effectiveness.

Consequently, to my mind, they are welcome to call themselves Masters at Arms, because they fulfill that function and they have proven their abilities to fight and to teach – even when self-taught or when some of their own teachers were dicey. But they are still using the sacrosanct title of Master at Arms, so why aren’t swordsmen gathering in the streets, longsword feders and torches in hand? Why do those most upset about the USFCA also seem to grant them a pass? This has been explained to me that the USFCA case is “different”, because the USFCA is a major sports body (one might ask, major relative to what) and therefore could easily “appropriate HEMA” in the USA and create a chain reaction

IF A TREE FALLS IN A FOREST, AND YOU LIVE ON THE PLAINS, DOES IT REALLY MATTER?
Unfortunately, global warming is real and will probably alter life on this planet radically in the next century. Fortunately, whether or not there is credible Historical European Martial Arts still on the planet when that happens will probably have less to do with the USFCA then it does climate change. You see, fencing in the USA is not governed by the USFCA, but by the United States Fencing Association (USFA) – the actual American branch of the Federation International Escrime (FIE). The USFCA can’t dictate what the USFA does and the two organizations don’t get along terribly well. OK, I am being kind: remember I said that the USFCA was toothless and neutered? Well, most sport fencers who are even aware that it exists consider it something of a joke. On the other hand, the Accademia Nazionale di Scherma is the Italian equivalent to the Coache’s Association and much more closely aligned with the Federazione Italiana Scherma (FIS)which  is the Italian USFA equivalent.

And guess what?

No, they aren’t going to follow the USFCA’s lead and create an historical fencing program, because they already have a Maestro di Scherma Antiqa program, with multiple ranks –  founded under Giovanni Rapisardi and Massimo Malipiero in the 1990s. And just like the USFCA program, you pay for certification and certification training, with set course books and specific required reading, which just happen to be editions of the core texts (Fiore, Marozzo, Capoferro, Scorza e Grisetti and Parise) created by Rapisardi and Malipiero.

The first Maestro rank was granted in 1999 and I lived through the hue and cry. “Oh no, the Naples Fencing Academy is now licensing historical fencing, and they are part of the FIE – this is the end of historical martial arts in Italy. Then France will follow, and Germany, and …”. I would point out that somehow the Accademia Nazionale now  also licenses kendo in Italy, so if anyone was going to make a power grab, this would have been the guys to do it. And yet, fourteen years later,while there are probably far more people licensed by FIS’s historical fencing program then the USFCA will ever see, FIS isn’t even close to owning historical fencing in Italy. Sala d’Arme Achille Marozzo is clearly larger, so is Nova Scrimia, and ironically, so is FISAS – an organization founded by Andrea Lupo – the man who made up a mythical master and his entire martial arts biography, which is far beyond any of Walter Green’s mail-in certificates.

Where’s the outrage? There is none, because a) this all happened 15 years ago, when most of those so upset didn’t know about HEMA and b) it has had zero influence on anything – HEMA has grown vigorously and in a variety of directions, including in Italy itself. In fact, some of the folks in Europe most terrified and outraged by the USFCA program on Facebook have those FIS salles listed on their “likes” page.

So perhaps the problem is that Ken and Jerry have the wrong friends, or perhaps the real issue is that all of these other masters have been engaged in Italian, Iberian or English swordsmanship, whereas the bulk of the HEMA community crowds around the Liechtenauer tradition. But since the USFCA program is tradition agnostic and separated from Europe by 5000 miles, now someone might get that diploma and call themselves a….Fechtmeister!  Quick, save the Fatherland…er…even though we’re American, Belgian, Dutch, English, Swedish, French, or…

Maybe that is why I don’t care about this – there have been people claiming the title of master at arms in my given focus for over a decade and a half – some rightly so, at least in my opinion, and some laughably so. But neither good nor bad has had a lick of impact on what I do, how I do it, or who I do it with. Fiore dei Liberi wrote:

I, Fiore, know how to read, write and draw, and have books on our subject, a subject that I have studied for over forty years. Yet, I don’t consider myself to be a perfect Master of it, although I am held to be such by some of the great lords whom I taught. Let me just say that if I had spent the same forty years studying law, jurisprudence or medicine as assiduously as I have studied the art of arms, I would be a Doctor in each of these three disciplines. And I have undergone great pain, labor and expenses in being a good student.

That’s the most I can do, and accept that the path to mastering an art is just that – a path – that was never mean to end with a title, merely acknowledge that you could initiate others on that journey.

Despite my honest disgust at how Ken has been treated, and despite my ribbing here of some of my friends who study German martial arts, I cannot recommend, endorse or anyway accept the qualification or the program offered by the USFCA, and I truly wish that my friend Ken had not wasted his time, efforts or own hard-won credentials on a program that really could never do what it needs to do, even in a perfect world. Respect is earned, so someone being a USFCA “Master of Historical Fencing” means as much or as little to me as how they behave on the mat, and what they bring to the classroom. Ken’s motives were honest, his behavior consistent, and while I declined to be involved and continue to believe the effort was misplaced, he is a friend, a fellow-worker in the mines, and an honest member of the community. I cannot say the same about some of his most vocal critics, who have accomplished less, produced less and yelled the loudest, using personal attack, mockery and invective as a diversion from the obvious question of “and your authority to speak ex cathedra or sit in judgment comes from….?”

By their fruits shall ye know them. A lot of plants have been planted in the last few weeks and we’ll be seeing some misshapen bulbs for some time to come. But I know this much, when Ken wrote:

First, it has been my hope that the USFCA certification could establish both an impartial credential and an invitation into a collegial community outside the politics and divisions that so plague HEMA.

The last two weeks have just shown him what a charming delusion that was.

FURTHER READING
As the tempest swirls in its teapot, the curious might want to see a few other points of view:

Guy Windsor’s blog discusses both the controversy and why the program was flawed from the onset.

In an effort to create something good out of the madness, Jens Kligman has created the Marxbruder Facebook group to humorously – and yet seriously – discuss the old German fencing guild, its testing requirements and to debate how the Guild could be recreated in the modern day.

As the lightning rod for the debate, Ken Mondschein has tried to explain his position in an open letter.

While most of the debate has swirled about Facebook and other social media, as I said Roger Norling has tried to present the other side’s arguments sans diatribe or personal attack on his blog. He and I agree about the program’s flaws, not the threat it represents, but his positions are worth reading and considering.

Borealis Swordplay Symposium and Pas d’Armes

This past weekend I had the privilege to teach at the first Borealis Swordplay Symposium, accompanied by fellow Guilders Nicole Allen, Adam Schneider and Davis Vader.

Borealis grew out of an annual cookout and celebratory pas d’armes held by our Ottawan sister-school, Les Maitres des Armes. The photos from last year’s event made it all seem like so much fun that Sean Hayes from the Northwest Fencing Academy and I both pledged to attend, and then suddenly, Jason Smith, LMdA’s chief instructor, had conceived of a new event!.

PRE-EVENT: WELCOME TO CANADA, EH?

Sean Hayes flew into Chicago for a day of training and hanging out, before we headed off to Ottawa. Unfortunately, Sean’s arrival was close on the heels of the death of my father after a long, debilitating illness – close enough that I had planned on canceling my attendance. It was my lovely girlfriend Tasha, who suggested that rather than my mother and I  spending the Father’s Day weekend alone, I just pack Mom up and take her with – they could go sight-seeing as I hit people in the head with swords. Jason immediately agreed that this was a brilliant idea, so a little scrambling and our itinerary was adjusted, and were off.

If there is a defining trait for my friends in LMdA it is “warm”. So, it was no surprise that from the moment we were picked up at the airport, we were somewhere between honored guests and close family. Our first night was a private dinner at the home of  Jason, his girlfriend Celine and their delightful children; Team Smith produced an amazing dinner of good food, good drink, and good company – all while entertaining us in a house they had moved in the week before!  Like any good son, I threw Mom in the deep end, and she was soon hearing about odd fencing terms, pedagogical debates and a variety of other things which she said she “didn’t understand, but seemed interesting, particularly after the second glass of wine.”

On the steps of Parliament:
On the steps of Parliament. (Photo courtesy of Sean Hayes)

The next day was a relaxed walking tour of downtown Ottawa, which is a beautiful and *spotless* city. We were joined by the Mighty Might of Les Maitres des Armes, Rachel Beauchamp, and her delightful daughter, Michelle. Our tour began at the Museum of Civilization, took a river taxi to climb alongside the locks, made our way through the downtown to the crowded outdoor market, and then had an entirely-too-delicious lunch  in a delightful pâtissière that immediately put me right back in Paris. From there we toured the Neo-Gothic splendor of the Canadian Parliament and as dinner time came our feet were quite ready to get in the car and head for home, where a housewarming potluck awaited at Jason and Celine’s. What a shock, the food was amazing – especially when accompanied by the brewing mastery of Jim Clark of LMD, whose hop-less medieval beer had claimed my hear at Chivalric Weekend, years before. Jim did not disappoint, but Tasha, Mom and I all started nodding off early, so we regretfully drove back to the hotel as the party was still going strong.

(Meanwhile, Davis and Adam – aka, the CSG Armour Sherpas – were on an educational tour of the Flop-Houses of Dearborn Michigan. This is a tale best left untold, but I will offer this advice – if your hotel parking lot has a giant billboard that points towards the closest emergency medical service, you probably shouldn’t sleep there.)

 ENTER THE SALA – DAY ONE

Saturday was the class day of Borealis.  Sometime in the previous night, our bedraggled Armour Sherpas had arrived, and I found all of my gear awaiting me (for the record – Armour Sherpas rock!).

Teaching sword in one hand ala Fiore.
Teaching sword in one hand ala Fiore.

Sean Hayes taught an armoured class, ably assisted by Bill Ernoehazy and the Guild’s Nicole Allen, while I taught a class on the sword in one hand, and how its presentation in the Getty Ms is designed to be a direct parallel in organization to both the equestrian combat and the plays of the dagger. Of course, LMdA is a “Fiore Shop” and Jason and I see armizare very similarly, so my class was full of ringers. Having said that, easily half came from outside the school and were either German swordsmen, Bolognese fencers or had never really worked with the one-handed sword. Even so, the students were attentive, courteous and trained diligently, carefully, and with great focus for the entire two hours. It was a delightful class to teach, with my only regret being that I couldn’t split myself so that I could have simultaneously been taking Sean’s class.

Following my class, Devon Boorman introduced students to the mechanics of Bolognese sword and buckler fencing, while Jason taught an informative, but light-hearted class on using the pommel and hilt of the sword as  weapon. People cheerfully chuckled and laughed as the “popped” each other, levered one another over and threw each other to the ground, but one wonders how many thought about just how ugly a pommel strike to the teeth really is….

Celine and Rachel’s mothers then filled our bellies with a lovely homemade lunch, before Sean, Devon Boorman and I were on-tap to team-teach a 2-hour Applied Combatives class. Sean introduced a lesson on structure and strike in True Times, Devon took those principles and showed how to apply them to controlling measure and learning how and when to come to the cross, and then I showed how this in turn could inform specific techniques – taking plays that Fiore teaches defensively, such as the Exchange of Thrusts, and demonstrating how to apply them offensively. We joked afterwards about our five minutes of preparation before class, which is literally true, but in a much larger sense we’ve been prepping this class for years.  All of us have taught together, trained together, been guests in each other’s schools, and have very similar theories on armizare, so this really was a delight to teach and I think we succeeded in sending the students home with new ideas and concepts they could use to build drills of their own.

318251_473170119404250_1014190082_nThe final event of the day was Tasha Kelly’s presentation on her detailed analysis of the famed Charles VI gambeson (aka “Red Charlie”), including a showing of her reproduction.  Of course, having been a proof-reader for her paper, which has just been published in the German journal Waffen und Kostumekundst, I had heard this before, but I was really curious to see how much interest a lecture on arming clothes would garner at a HEMA event, especially while open sparring was going on. The answer was a lot – about a third of the attendees turned up, and she was asked a bevy of highly detailed questions,  all of which she was able to answer. On yet again seeing the reconstruction of Red Charlie, I continue to remain bitter that it was sized to an 8 year old child, rather than, oh, say a 6’2 man….

Day One at its end, we returned to the Marketplace to a wonderful Irish Pub where we gorged ourselves on pub grub and good beer. That evening I had a chance to have a great chat with Pascal Theriau and Katia Chouinard of Arte Dimicatoria in Montreal. Pascal gave me an overview of the growth and evolution of Western Martial Arts in Quebec, which as a decided Anglophone, I have to confess I’ve been embarrassingly ignorant about – something I hope to rectify in the future.

PAS D’SOLSTICE – DAY TWO

The lists for the Pas d'Solstice - it would have been gorgeous if only it hadn't promptly rained.
The lists for the Pas d’Solstice – it would have been gorgeous if only it hadn’t promptly rained.

If the first day of the event was classes, the second day was nothing but fighting, fighting and more fighting. Bernard Emerich had designed a beautiful, outdoor fighting list, surrounded by brightly painted pavilions and banners, but after days of beautiful breezes and fluffy, white clouds, fickle Dame Fortuna sent us a never-ending rain shower that began an hour before the event and lasted for most of the day, forcing us to retire back inside.

Dr. Bill Erneohazy an Sean Hayes tangle at the half-sword.
Dr. Bill Erneohazy an Sean Hayes tangle at the half-sword.

Undaunted by the elements, fighting commenced. The unarmoured tournament ran in heats of competing teams labeled Udine, France, England and Swabia. The first heat ran for three hours, took a break for lunch and the armoured deed of arms and then picked up again for several more hours. Weapons included longsword, arming sword, spear, sword and buckler and daggers. I marshaled the morning rounds, but Adam and Davis took the lists on behalf of Udine and Swabia, and fought a number of spirited bouts – some bringing them victory, other a beautiful collection of “educational bruises”. Particular stand-outs for me were Christopher Duffy’s arming sword bouts, a similar match between long-time fencers Dr. Bill and Christian Cameron, and Jim Clark’s Bolognese fencing. Although Jim sometimes lived and died by the same technique, there was a precision to his work that showed me that he and Dan Sellars have been not only diligently training their Dall’Agocchie, but thinking about how to apply it.

The armoured pas d’armes was modeled on similar events held at the Fiore 600 and Armizare Academy – a system of pre-arranged challenges, fought until one of a variety of conditions is met:

  • Five blows are landed upon one combatant in a way that would compromise the harness with sharp weapons;
  • One combatant is completely disarmed of all weapons;
  • One combatant drives another from the list.
  • A set-time limit is reached.
Greg Mele (l) and Dr. Bill Ernoehazy of the RMSG trade blows to begin the armoured pas d'armes.
Greg Mele (l) and Dr. Bill Ernoehazy of the RMSG trade blows to begin the armoured pas d’armes.

Weapons included the sword, spear, pollaxe and dagger. In previous events, being thrown to the ground was also a loss, but at the Pas d’Solstice, it counted as a “point”. We started late, and had 18 combatants, so there was really only time for 2 – 3 bouts for each fighter. My long-time friend and honorary CSG instructor, Dr. Bill Ernoehazy and I were the first bout, a very fun exchange with spears, which I am told that I won 5 – 2. That may be so, but I wish it had gone 5-4 so we could have kept trading blows! Dr. Bill kept it “all in the family” by also giving Nicole Allen her first fight in the lists, again with spears.

My second fight was also with spears, this time against a Facebook acquaintance – historical novelist Christian Cameron. Christian and I had “met” via my colleague Guy Windsor, who had told me at the time that he was a “chap’s chap, a reeactor of the first degree, a swordsman and a gentleman”. If anything, Guy undersold his friend. He and his people kept insisting that they were “living historians who swordfight”, to which I say bullsh!t. They were fantastic students and good fighters. Christian does not dress like a knight to research his novels – he is one in his demeanor and actions. What really warmed my heart was how he sought out newcomers who were shy to ask for fights and gave them solid encounters while not simply destroying them, nor making it seem like he was just playing down. We had a delightful spear bout, and I am still fuzzy as to who was declared the victor, but I count the win as mine, because I came away with a new friend whom I feel like I have known most of my life.

Matt McKee and Devon Boorman lock-up with longswords, as Matt's point finds the gap above Devon's cuirass.
Matt McKee and Devon Boorman lock-up with longswords, as Matt’s point finds the gap above Devon’s cuirass.

There were some other excellent bouts or moments of bouts – Chris Duffy executed a fight-ending throw that had a level of effortlessness and clenliness to it that was a sight to behold, ‘Kristall Crash’ wielded her poleaxe with aplomb, but the fight of the day goes to Sean and Matt McKee of the the St. Lawrence Swordfighter’s Guild who had what was quite possibly the best armoured spear fight I have ever seen. Beginning in long range, they crossed, began to wield their spears like staves, struck with the heel, disengaged, clashed together and it all began again. It was fantastic, and having never Matt before, I was extremely impressed by his fencing in the list – both in and out of harness! And oh yeah, he’s really good people, too!

Unlike previous events, the armoured bouts were not judged, merely called on the honor system. Now, those who know me know that I do not mind judged contests, but strongly oppose those in which the combatants are expected to stand mute to their own detriment – that is, where they may not refuse a point or call a hit against themselves – as it simply moves the combat one step closer to a simple sports match. However, I will say that purely having the combatants call the hits in the armoured pas d’armes proved to be problematic, not because anyone was trying to shrug blows, but rather because in a visor it can be hard to see if a hit was with the point or not. I am sure that all of us inadvertently denied some good hits or acknowledged some iffy ones, and in the end, it really didn’t matter, but I think the exact format for calling hits probably needs some refining.

Not done yet! Name that tireless Guilder who fought to the bitter end!
Not done yet! Name that tireless Guilder who fought to the bitter end!

Once we were done being the world’s noisiest dinner theatre, the final round of the unarmoured tournament began – with many of the folks in harness stripping down, getting their light kit on and jumping right back into the fray!  And for those for who a solid fix hours of fighting wasn’t enough, there was an hour or so of open-floor time to exhaust them – although as one of the last two people on the floor when it was at last called to a halt, it is debatable if our own Davis Vader was ever satiated.

When all was said and done, a small subset of out-of-town guests (including Ser Cameron, who had sworn that he had “to dash, as soon as all was done”) and Les Maitres des Armes members retired to a nearby pub for beers, food, and various silly, raucous conversation. (Oh, and most importantly – poutine!)

CONCLUSION

Of the various sala d’arme I have encountered over the years, Les Maitres des Armes has always been one of those closest to my heart, as we share the same art, the same sentiments of how to train in it, and the same philosophy of what these arts can be and can make of those who study them. But I have also just always loved the caliber of people who call this school home, and as the school has grown, that has only become more true. Guys, you are something special, and you just gave us an event that was equally so.

I also think that Jason and his wonderful school have created a model for melding classes and tournaments in this event to which those of us in the Chivalric Fighting Arts Association need to pay attention. With all of the laborious “to tournament or not to tournament” debate of recent years, Les Maitres des Armes created the “unTournament”. Yes, there were combat conventions and victory conditions, but at their heart was “don’t be a dick and fight fair”. There was a winner declared by points, as well as a victorious team, but there was also a Princeps, chosen by the marshals and instructors for exhibiting a combination of skill, adherence to martial principles, tenaciousness and spirit – how you fought, how you conducted yourself, etc. And you know what, it was the Princeps – the very deserving Rachel Beauchamp – that received the greatest cheers from the gallery.

I say all of this because this was not an in-school tournament; there were people from probably five different schools, many with very different philosophies, and some very much a part of the ultra-modernist philosophy. They arrived skeptics and went home well-satisfied and satiated too.

Was every fight a perfect expression of the Art? Hell no. But was every fight that I marshaled was a serious attempt by those combatants to express the art to their level of understanding and ability? Yes. Yes it was. I can honestly say that this was the best overall attempt I have ever seen to express what we study in a competitive fashion that still kept the integrity of the art as a combat discipline.

It was a beautiful four days coming all-too-soon atop of one of the worst experiences of my life. I am grateful to have had the opportunity for my mother and I to have gotten a little soul-healing at the Canadian version of Elrond’s House, surrounded by old friends, and having made many, many new ones.

You can see more photos of the event here.

 

Sex, Lies, Swords and Video Tape – A Reconstruction of the Judicial Duel

Earlier this month, the Guild had a chance to be part of a reconstruction of a judicial duel at the the  International Congress on Medieval Studies held at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, which went from Thursday, May 9th through Sunday May 12th. This is the largest medieval academic gathering in the world, and amidst a bevvy of professors, priests and graduate students, a small invasion of well-armed, medieval warriors took the stage.

Guild Dean and c0-founder Gregory Mele presented a short paper on the history and customs of the judicial duel, before turning the floor over to a bit of interpretive history: a physical reconstruction and demonstration of a judicial duel at the turn of the 15th century.

The premise of the duel was a follows: c.1410, somewhere in northern Italy, a young, Italian squire, Giacomo Culla accuses an English knight of having been seen coming from the chambers of a well-known guildswoman “before morning mass”. The guildswoman, Natalia of Philadelphia was seen “with her hair loose and her bodice undone”, and the knight, had “marks of passion about his neck. Further complicating this claim is that both the squire and the knight are in the service of the lord, Sir Geoffrey Peel, an English adventurer (mercenary) in the Italian wars, and the knight’s wife, a native Italian woman, is currently pregnant, and so the squire claims outrage on the lady’s behalf.

It is not the charge of adultery, however, that precipitates the duel, however, but rather the knight’s claim that the squire Giacomo is a liar, and his demand that he recant his claims. This exchange of challenge and response, known as a Cartello, also outlines the form of the duel.

Cartello of Challege of Sir David Farrell to Giacomo Culla.
Cartello of Challege of Sir David Farrell to Giacomo Culla.

 

Reto or response of Giacomo Culla, Squire
Reto or response of Giacomo Culla, Squire

Sex, scandal and political scheming – what more could one ask for?

The redoubtable Will McLean took Greg’s initial idea for the duel’s storyline and wedded it to a document from the Lord Hastings’ Ms, to create the final script for the duel, which can be read in its entirety on his “A Common Place Book” website.  In addition, our friend David Hoornstra caught the entire presentation on video:

A huge thanks to Annamaria Kovacs for presiding over the session and for all who participated in the presentation of the duel:

CSG’s Jesse Kulla and Dave Farrell as Giacomo and Sir David, respectively;

Bob Charrette as Sir Geoffrey Peel, the presiding noble, attended by members of La Belle Compagnie ;

Will McLean took on the role of the Herald and Michael Cramer the Priest;

The accused Natalia of Philadelphia played by respected 14th century clothing scholar, Tasha Kelly of La Cotte Simple, fame, who had the misfortune of being left with “Schroedinger’s Virtue” due to the uncertain nature of the duel’s resolution. (Unsure of what we mean? Watch the video!)

Finally, during a DISTAFF session, our friends from La Belle Compagnie gave a tour-de-force presentation of how a knight was armed during the Hundred Years War, showing not just one such harness, but four from the 1330s, 1380s, 1415 and 1450! Best of all, the entire presentation was also caught on film!

CSG at C2E2

This past weekend the Guild was an invited performer at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo or C2E2. During a one-hour demo we demonstrated longsword, dagger, armoured combat and sword and buckler, followed by Q&A and then a 45 minute lesson for interested attendees.

I don’t think we expecting the size of the crowd – several hundred people, or that we would be in one of McCormick Place’s main halls – a vast, cavernous space. It gave us plenty of room to demonstrate and teach, but the last minute failure to get a microphone made for an interesting challenge! The solution was probably best handled by adhering to the Guild’s motto, Ferrum non Verbum, and getting to the sword play, as seen in this film clip we call “Erin kills everyone”:

A clip of armoured combat featuring Jesse and Nicole, including Jesse’s tumbling in harness routine!

 

Or this clip of Jesse and Trey doing a little sword and buckler fencing:

Guess which one is the sword and buckler fan and which one just plays one at demos! (Our thanks to FireFighter214 for the video.)

All in all it was a fantastic experience and we are looking forward to next year!

 

Review: Traditional Italian Knife and Stick Seminar

 

Greg Mele and Jesse Kulla training in traditional Italian knife dueling.

This past weekend (actually, for the last five days), Forteza had the privilege of hosting Roberto Laura for an immersion in the world of Italian folk arts. For those who do not know Maestro Laura, after many years in traditional Asian arts, he has spent the last twelve years traveling back and forth from Germany to Italy to research, document and train in traditional Italian arts. I first became aware of his work from some internet forum posts by Tony Wolf, and then, about two years later was introduced by our mutual friend, Jorg Bellinghausen. Since Jorg was also responsible for recommending Roland Warzecha and Christian Eckert, I’ve learned to instinctually trust his opinions on what makes for a good martial artist.

This rather long review will give readers some sense of the arts themselves (I hope), as well as how they feel to a long-time student of Italian medieval and Renaissance martial arts.

PROLOGUE
From my first discussions with Roberto, he was friendly and open, explaining the nature and history of his arts, including that while many of them have traditional histories that are said to go back to the Middle Ages, as peasant traditions, none can truly be documented before about 1700, and all have obviously added, refined or adapted their curriculum over the years (for example, the introduction of boxing strikes in some lineages during the ’20s, or the introduction of more Asian style kicks in the ’70s). I was extremely impressed by Roberto’s dedication to a) preserving these arts, some of which only have one or two living teachers, b) documenting both their legendary and verifiable history and c)his dedication to track the alterations and evolutions of the art, and to faithfully transmit the art as his teachers have given it to him, but also to maintain knowledge of the traditional elements that may have been changed.

Sadly, there are many people who learn of a dead or dying martial art and graft its history and a few of its moves to a related Asian art they already know and “presto” they are a Spanish, Italian, Native American, even an Atlantean martial artist. Sometimes, this is painfully obvious (anyone ever seen Stav?), but other times a good fighter and salesman with just enough of something new can be successful selling snake oil. So, I am always cautions and skeptical, without being cynical.

Then I saw video of what Roberto taught. This sure as hell was *not* Filipino martial arts, nor even savate and la canne with Italian names. It was something else, and the guards, movements and sensibilities of the knife work had a “feeling” that was reminiscent of Bolognese swordsmanship, the stick was uncannily like a left-handed version of Fiore dei Liberi’s two-handed sword. NOT identical, but related in movement, tactics and footwork – much like you might think of how unarmoured sword might influence unarmoured staff; or more to the point, how the same *culture* might think about using such a weapon.

Roberto does not teach martial arts for a living, nor does he intend to do so, so he is fairly conservative about how often he travels abroad to teach. Fortunately, Jorg told him that we weren’t nutters, so when I asked him to come teach, he not only agreed to do so, but agreed to come early so that the Forteza instructors could really try to get down the basics of the system.

DAYS ONE AND TWO – PRIVATE TRAINING

“Il Castello Nicoletta”

Nicole Allen opened her magnificent Victorian home with its private sala d’arme to be Roberto’s home in Chicago, where he was joined by our dear friend Sean Hayes from the Northwest Fencing Academy. Nicole’s sala was where we all gathered to begin training. Roberto told us that we would start with the Scuola Cavalieri d`Umiltà or the Knights of Humility. This school derives from Manfredonia, Apulia (by tradition, from the 15th century). It is a highly elegant fighting system with the knife, shepherd’s staff and the razor. The footwork is circular and precise, using both an open and closed body position. (Armizare students – to understand the closed position, just think Fiore’s sword in one hand – it is identical.). The instruction includes two solo forms – one for each direction you walk the circle, and a series of partner training exercises, as well as a variety of specialized tactical instruction. Training begins with “la scuola”, which focuses on the use of the knife in the formal duel and then “la strada” – fighting in all contexts.

We spent a great deal of time learning the first form and its partnered applications. I can’t really explain in words how elegant the movement is – when you see video it seems florid, with hops or jumps that seem “dancey”. Then you see how they are used, and how they are meant to counteract the limitations of a knife – as Silver said, it cannot form sure wards. A knife is even worse than a dagger, as it has no guard, so you have to learn how to manage distance carefully, as well as how to thrust without running your own hand on the blade.

Officially, we were learning the first form and the basics of its application, both “la scuola” and “la strada”. In reality, we were learning how to move and how to *think* like an Italian knife-fighter.

Take away lesson of day one – fighting a knife duel with an 18″ knife is scary as hell. Second lesson – compared to Roberto, I move like a drunken baboon.

An Italian folding knife in the 18th century style. This long, elegant weapon is the sort of knife wielded in the Calvieri school.

On Day Two, we brought Roberto to Forteza, and showed off our little sala like proud papas. Then we got to work. First we reviewed Day One and then Roberto began to show us a new system: Scuola Fiorata- The Flowery School, from Calatabiano, Sicily. The weapons taught within this traditional dueling art are the shepherd stick and the knife. This lesson also gives a great insight into how living traditions evolve and change, because the Fiorata is technically a modern school, yet in many ways it is a return to older sensibilities. The school comes from a very old – and still living – tradition called the Scuola Rutatu (Circling School), but after WWII some masters of the system were concerned with the loss of close-fighting techniques and a transition to fast, but smaller, less powerful actions. They worked to create a new school that would counter Rutatu, producing a system which combines the elements of open and closed guards, dynamic assaults and unites the knife with the stick – the guards, blows, etc are *identical*.

We ended formal training on Day Two with Roberto giving us an historical discussion on the traditions: how the Flowery School was born and showing a comparison between it and the old school; explaining weapons and techniques that are known to have existed but which have been lost, and then discussing the traditions of knife dueling in southern Italy. The Cavalieri school was taught by both common people and the Camora, and he showed how the Camora used the dueling system in a series of multi-level initiations, which were like a combination of English Prize Play and Masonic initiation (except Masons didn’t sometimes use their ceremonies as a way to “whack” the candidate!).

Exhausted and happy, we did what we do best at the CSG – headed off to a favorite pub, to initiate Roberto and Sean in the mysteries of bacon-popcorn.

Take away lesson of day two – there is vast amount of martial culture and history that is still alive in southern Italy, but fading, and it is crucial not to let it be forgotten. Second lesson – compared to Roberto, I move like a drunken baboon.

DAYS THREE AND FOUR – SEMINAR
We had about seventeen people for the actual seminar, including three of my students from the Rocky Mountain Swordplay Guild. Sean, Keith, Trey, Jesse and I were tapped to be “teaching assistants” for Roberto, although it just reminded us of how green we really were.

Sean Hayes assists Maestro Laura in demonstrating techniques of the elegant Fiorata school.

The first day was Fiorata knife, a beautiful style (truly flowery), that also is clearly “fencing”. As I had noted with the Cavalieri school, this style uses what we think of as “classical” Renaissance Italian footwork: passes, inquartate, intagliate, girate, etc. It also has certain tactical sensibilities that are identical to advise of the Bolognese masters – such as playing from the left in what we might call guardia porta di ferro e stretta. Not to sound like Inigo Montoya, but if you have studied your Agrippa, Fabris or Manciolino, in the Fiorata school are not just the same *types* of actions, but the very same, if we consider a knife versus a sword.

To end the day’s training, Roberto introduced us to la Scuola Cielo e Meraviglia (the School of Heaven and Its Marvels) which also comes from Apulia, and is about two-hundred years old. This is a close-quarter fighting system which uses grips, joint locks, throws. As very old traditions these schools use a wide variety of daggers and folding knives, including cloak and dagger techniques and improvised weapons. Roberto made it clear that he is only a student of this tradition, and that he was introducing us to his current understanding of the system a passed to him by his teacher.

Although a younger tradition than either the Calvieri school or the roots of the Fiorata tradition, for historical martial artists, this tradition “feels” more like what we see in the medieval traditions: a direct, no-nonsense system of self-defense that also uses a variety of close-combat techniques and finishing moves. It is absolutely fascinating. Here is a short video clip that will give you some small feel for the tradition:

Finally, Roberto took mercy on all of us, and we adjourned to the Fountainhead for wonderful food and drink, and we fed our teacher polenta ala americana. His San Remo sensibilities were actually very impressed with the mix of crab and polenta, so I breathed a sigh of relief. I drove everyone back to Il Castello di Nicoletta and we had a little gelato to end the night at about 10 PM….but then Roberto had a few more things he wanted to show Sean and I…..

An amazing meal ala Americana – Belgian and German beer, crabmeat polenta, frites ala francaise, and good ol’ Yankee burgers! Best of all, good friends. (Little do Greg and Sean realize that they are not done training that night.)

I came away from day three with a much deeper understanding of how the Italian knife masters conceptualize the fight – things that seem like gymnastics for gymnastics sake, flowery purely for the sake of elegance, or restrictive because of the rules of “la scuola” – the first level of the training – all have sound martial, pedagogical or biomechanical principles. It also is some of the most beautiful “poetry in motion” I have ever seen, like a mixture of flamenco, tarantella and classical fencing. Second lesson – compared to Roberto, I move like a drunken baboon.

Day Four
Our fourth and final day was the Fiorata stick, and I truly am in love with this weapon. It is fast, powerful and although it has some resemblance to French baton, to me it is much more like a relative of the Japanese jo, the Italian longsword and the English and German staff (although as a shorter weapon, it lacks the ferocious power of the quarterstaff, which I still think may be one of Europe’s deadliest weapons in the hands of a master).

Roberto says that he is not as adept at the bastone as he is the knife, and if this is the case, then a master who specializes in the bastone must be a sight to behold! The weapon is not very heavy (although there is another school, the Royal School, who uses a weapon as thick as a man’s wrist!), which means it be wielded with great speed and, like a sword, swiftly change from one line to another. As the Fiorata school sees knife and stick as one art, the training on day three made day four much easier as we worked on the first form – an extremely long form, and only one of four.

I can’t begin to describe how much the stick feels like longsword done by a lefty. There are obvious differences – like using positions that have the arm has a shield for the head so that if you miss a defense, your weak arm takes the blow – something you can’t do against a sword. Likewise the stick strikes are the knee, hand or head only – against, because a stick is not a sword, nor is there a guard to defend the hands.

But having said that, the similarities are profound: the use of volta stabile and tutta volta, not just in principle, but in form; the use of a left leg lead while striking from the right side to create a bind; etc. Also, the guards are familiar: posta di finestra, posta di donna on both sides, but also posta di donna la soprana (used for more power, and to fight against multiple opponents), tutta porta di ferro and coda longa. When transitioning to fight close, the positions are primarily posta di vera croce, posta sagitarria and posta serpente lo soprano. Of course, there are only so many ways to wield a lever arm, but then you look at the tactics – like throwing thrusts from what we would call posta di donna (by “lifting the arms over the head”, and not the way most Fioreists think Fiore means that – Roberto’s way works much better).

The southern schools also all claim that their arts began in Spain, and here is where the pedagogy gets interesting. Although the long solo forms, or assalti, are modern, they are comprised of shorter tactical forms called “lines” or “rules”. One begins from the salute – done by starting with the staff point down, as if holding an armpit height sword with its point on the ground – and kicking it into guard, just as is done with the Iberian montante. Some of these rules include: fighting in a narrow corridor, fighting in a very narrow passage, fighting multiple opponents in an open place and fighting where four streets meet. Anyone who is familiar with Iberian swordplay recognizes at least three of those scenarios. The techniques aren’t quite identical, but they are very, very close. So close I started slipping into the wrong system a few times…

Tired but happy students of the Bastone Fiorata. A school of incredible fluidity, elegance and power – we all fell in love with the Sicilian stick!

FINAL THOUGHTS
Roberto was born in Italy but grew up in Germany, which means that he teaches with a German work-ethic; ie: we trained until we had to either eat or fall over, ate, and then trained until dinner, had a leisurely dinner where we wrote down terminology and took notes, then often did a little light training when we got home until it was time to collapse into bed so we could train again. It was mind-blowing, exciting, and exhausting, and between my notes and a dozen hours of video I hope I can keep it all straight. When everyone left on Sunday, Roberto asked that we not go out, but order dinner in, so the core students could train more – he wanted to make sure that he was leaving us with enough understanding to train on our own. So, after introducing him to Chicago-style pizza we took to the floor for a final two hours, as he assigned us to which schools he thought we should each focus on first. In the end, we really only stopped because the students simply could no longer differentiate a quacciatura from a calamari.

This seems like a long review, but it is only a touching of the surface. If it seems like I am gushing, it is because I am. This was the best martial arts training I have had …. possibly ever.

First lesson – there is a wealth, no, a treasure hoard of knowledge in these folk arts for anyone who calls himself an historical Italian martial artist, so much so that I will from now on think of my work with Armizare and Bolognese swordplay as BR and AR – before I met Roberto, and after I met Roberto. Put another way, if you study Armizare or Renaissance swordsmanship and do NOT take the opportunity to see what these traditions hold, and the oral teachings that a living tradition can provide about stance, body movement, etc, you are doing yourself a serious disservice. Just as there are a handful of old boxers and Catch wrestlers who are custodians of a wealth of knowledge for English martial artists, the rural and often “backward” nature of southern Italy has allowed it to keep alive arts that I am truly convinced come from the same family as the more patrician arts we seek to recreate.

Second lesson – compared to Roberto, I move like a drunken baboon.

Final lesson – even if that first lesson was not true, the Cavalieri and Fiorata schools are traditional martial arts of such great beauty, elegance and sophistication, deeply tied to the land and culture of their birth, that I will take every opportunity to study them, not just to help my HEMA studies, but to make sure that they continue into the next generation.