Category Archives: Event

A Video Look into a Scholar’s Prize

This past weekend (April 22)  the Chicago Swordplay Guild held its first Prize at Forteza Fitness, Physical Culture and Martial Arts

Although this was the first Prize to be fought at Forteza, Playing the Prize has been part of rank advancement in the Chicago Swordplay Guild since 2001, and we proudly embrace the traditions of our ancestors.  Family and friends of the candidates, Guild members past and present, and guests from other martial arts schools, are all invited to attend this public exhibition of arms. Much like the original Prize, ours are a combination of formality and raucous celebration. Refreshments and music entertain the audience before the Prize begins and during breaks between challenges. Rather like watching a tournament, spectators are encouraged to cheer good blows, and to boo wild, uncontrolled blows.

A Brisk Longsword Match Between Erin Fitzgerald and Shannon Winslow

This cheerfully irreverent atmosphere offsets the formality of the Prize itself. The list (cordoned off combat ring) is decorated with heraldic banners representing the Guild and the virtues ascribed to the medieval warrior (if you’ve been paying attention to our website, you already know that these are strength – speed – knowledge and courage!).  The Prize begins with a formal opening ceremony, taken from their Renaissance precursor, and then each candidate is called forward one at a time, their challengers are announced, and combat begins.

The fighting is serious, the fighters are not: Trey Ptak challenges Rob Rutherfoord’s right to not only call himself a Scholar, but to bear the title of Mr Fancy Pants. (Don’t worry, the pants have since been burned.)

Armizare students fight their Prize with the longsword, while Renaissance Swordsmanship students fight with the single rapier. Challenges at the Scholar level are fought under a set of rules somewhat more “permissive” than those of the 16th century, in large part because of access to additional safety gear:

  • Each match is 3 minutes in length;
  • The entire body is a target;
  • Strikes may be made with the point, edge or pommel of the sword;
  • Disarms, grapples, leg sweeps and throws are permitted, but combat will stop once both parties are unarmed, or one is thrown to the ground.
  • Combatants acknowledge their own blows, and the Judge intervenes only to part combatants with his baton for safety reasons or because a throw or disarm has occurred.

As this is not a tournament, but an examination, each Challenger is given a specific task for their match with the Prizor, based on the observations of the instructors. For example, if the candidate has trouble initiating attacks, one Challenger might be told to hang back, forcing the Prizor to pursue and open with attacks. Conversely, a Prizor who starts strong but tends to “stop and look” might find their opponent continuously presses in with an unrelenting barrage of blows.The purpose is to push the Prizor physically and mentally, under the added stress of the watching eyes of friends and family.

One place where we have decidedly improved upon the past is that Guild Prizes are distinctly co-ed. Weapons are a great equalizer in terms of strength and size, and female students face men and women Challengers equally. Guild membership has traditionally been about 1/3 female, but this past Saturday saw three ladies take the field as Prizors, out of six competitors in total!

Shannon Winslow gives Prizor Nate Wisniewski the “What For”, Before Getting Taken for a Ride

The candidates await their judgement by the instructors and challengers.

Once all the bouts were over, if the Prizor was judged victorious by the four Masters, he would be declared “a well-tryd and sufficient man with divers weapons”. He would then (after collecting the change littering the stage)  swear his oath of obligation, and be escorted by his new peers back to the school and from there off to do much drinking.  Our modern Guild’s Scholar’s oath is adapted directly from the Elizabethan one, requiring the student to treat those above and below him or her with respect, to train diligently and with pride, but not vanity, to be sure that their actions and deeds in the list or the classroom bring renown, not shame, to their fellows and teachers, and to be a good citizen. Students kneel and swear this oath on the hilt of a sword, receive their license and are gifted with a green garter tied under the left knee – a symbol of their rank. Finally, they sign their names in the Guildbook – a custom-made, leather-bound volume containing the history, rules and doings of the Chicago Swordplay Guild. (One such guildbook is in Ghent, home of the oldest surviving fencing school in the world. While the modern guild is a sport-fencing club, the records and entries in its book go back to its founding in 1614!)

And then, it was time for a celebratory Guinness….

Or course, it would be quite foolish to preserve all of these Renaissance customs without including the celebratory drinking at an inn! And so, with all due diligence, the tired, and bruised newly-minted Scholars were escorted by their colleagues to O’Shuaghnessy’s Public House for a pint or four. Slainte!

Our hearty congratulations go out to Christina, Erin, Heather, Jake, Robert and Nathan and our thanks to Shannon, Dan, Davis, Jacques, John, Phil and Trey for serving as Challengers!

You can find more videos of the Prize on YouTube.


Scholar Prize Playing: April 22nd!

What is a “Prize Playing”?
The Chicago Swordplay Guild utilizes a ranking system based on the medieval academic system,formalized around the 14th century. This system, in several variations, was ultimately adopted by the historical fencing guilds of England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain and generally included three to four ranks, or grades, beginning with Scholar and ending in Master at Arms.

One of the most important steps in the progression through the grades was the concept of prize playing. This is the western equivalent to the promotion testing of Asian martial arts systems. The “plaingy for the prize” is comprised of two steps. The first step occurs as an internal event, comprised of written and physical tests to assess the student’s skills. The second step is for the student to submit a challenge for a public prize playing (free fencing exhibition), for the grade being tested for. Prize playings were public, boisterous events, often fought in inn yards on raised stages, and included music, food, and rowdy, cheering (or booing audiences). These were the precursors to the “prize fighting” that would become associated with boxing in the 1800s.

In this same tradition, the Chicago Swordplay Guild and Forteza Fitness & Martial Arts are pleased to present this public exhibition of arms. We hope to see you there!


Armizare Academy: A Celebration of the Knightly Arts

The Chicago Swordplay Guild is pleased to host this invitational, three day event in honor of Maestro Fiore dei Liberi and his Art.

In 1410, Fiore dei Liberi, an aging condottiero and master-at-arms to some of Italy’s most renowned warriors, presented a book to the bellicose Niccolò III d’Este, Marchese of Ferrara (1383-1441) containing the sum of four decades of knowledge won in the training hall, siege, battle and  five duels with rival masters. He named this work Il Fior di Battaglia, the Flower of Battle, composed so that the “art might not be forgotten”.

Six hundred years later, a small circle of martial artists gathered from around the world to prove him right! This event, affectionately called “The 600: Prepare for Fiore!”, was such a success with attendees, that we decided to make it a recurring workshop! Since “The 602? seemed to be missing some flair, the event has been renamed Armizare Academy. Each Academy session will have a central theme, but will also include a renowned instructor from a similar, outside tradition, to help put our art in context. This year’s outside focus will compare Arimzare to the German Kunst des Fechtens of the Liechtenauer tradition.

You can find out more here:

CSG Demo at Chicago’s Italian Fall Festival Oct. 15-16!

The Chicago Swordplay Guild will be featured presenters at the annual Italian American Fall Festival on Saturday, October 15 (10:00am-6:00pm) and Sunday, October 16 (noon-6:00pm) at the Casa Italia-Italian Cultural Center at 37th and Soffel in Stone Park, IL.  There will be live combat demonstrations using the spear, longsword, arming sword and rapier throughout both days, as well as an armoured combat demo on Sunday afternoon. Also on Sunday – CSG co-founder Gregory Mele will also give a presentation on the life, times and fighting methods of medieval  Italian maestro Fiore Dei Liberi.

Along with the live action and clashing of steel, the Italian American Fall Festival is also a mecca for feasting on Italian cuisine! Enjoy live entertainment, wine-making, hot air balloon rides, music and dancing as well. For more information, go to

CSG Demo at 2011 Scottish Highland Games

Davis and Keith battling longsword

Crowds at the Chicago’s annual Scottish Highland Games were educated and entertained once again by the intrepid CSG Demo Team. The Games is always a terrific event here in Chicago and this year they moved to a new venue in Itasca.

The set-up team of Christina, Nathan and Terry got there at 7:00am and lugged the display tent to the clan area. Given that directions to our spot included a map of the grounds with huge yellow circle around an area the size of Rhode Island, we were lucky to only have to spend 20 minutes hunting for a space with the word “SWORD” spray-painted vaguely on the grass.

We were also fortunate enough to find a perfect spot for our demos – an open field near the food concessions where the spectators could easily watch from 4 sides and most people could sit under a tree in the shade. That mattered as the sky was clear and temperatures stayed in the 80’s all day. As always, the visitors to this event were in high spirits and ready to see a great display of swordsmanship.

John (rapier) fights against  Trey (arming sword)


We were also fortunate enough to find a perfect spot for our demos – an open field near the food concessions where the spectators could easily watch from 4 sides and most people could sit under a tree in the shade. That mattered as the sky was clear and temperatures stayed in the 80’s all day. As always, the visitors to this event were in high spirits and ready to see a great display of swordsmanship.

The first of three demos featured medieval weapons wielded by Keith, Davis and Chester. Greg prepped the crowd with a brief talk about medieval combat as the guys demonstrated longsword drills. When Greg asked the crowd how much they thought a longsword weighed, audience members yelled out anywhere from 1 lb. to 45 lbs.


Longsword bout with Davis and Jacques

The fencing segment started with Keith vs. Davis using longsword, followed by a spear fight that had the audience cheering. Greg closed the demo with Chester taking on Davis in an exciting longsword vs. spear demonstration.


Chester and Davis longsword vs. spear

It was easy for the crowd to see how losing wide distance put the spearman in peril for his life. Of course, they also saw that for the swordsman, the trick was making that happen.

The second demo was at 2:30p and the sun beat down on us mercilessly.  Spectators happily munched on haggis, meat pies and fish and chips as Greg introduced the first fencing demo of this program: arming sword featuring Chester and Trey. Arming sword is always a hit because of its speed and the

Arming sword with Chester and Trey

layman’s familiarity of the sword in one hand in the movies. Chester and Trey also went at it like demons, and the happy food-munching sounds were drowned out by the clang of steel and the “thwap” of bodies being struck by blades.

Next, John and Trey ran through the guards of the rapier as Greg gave the spectators a brief overview of the weapon. This was followed by a hearty duel that showed just how deadly this weapon is.

In the spirit of mixed weapons and the final duel of “Rob Roy”, the next fight was arming sword vs. rapier. Greg explained that while the rapier was considered a weapon on the duel, it was not uncommon for soldiers to wear a rapier into battle as a kind of sidesword.John and Trey again took the field, with Trey wielding the sword and John giving the rapier its honors.

Trey blocks Jacques’ dagger attack (Hey- is that the ShamWow guy?)

To end the demo’s veritable smorgasbord of weapons, Chester and Trey ended the program with a dagger fight where Trey demonstrated various throws and takedowns that always resulted in Chester’s untimely demise.


John and Trey fence with rapier and dagger

Demo #3 was late in the day and Greg started off with medieval weapons. The first fencing bout featured Davis and Jacques in a rousing longsword bout. Next, John and Trey again displayed rapier fencing and then showed the crowd what it was like when you add the dagger to a rapier duel. It obviously takes enormous concentration to do rapier and dagger effectively. You are using 2 weapons, one in each hand. And so is the other guy!

The closing bout was between Davis and Trey in spear vs. rapier. Now you have the long reach of the spear against a long, thin sword designed mainly for thrusting. The rapier doesn’t have the longsword’s heft or two sharp edges to land big blows.

Trey (rapier) prepares to skewer Davis (spear)

Nonetheless, an experienced rapierista only has to close measure safely or deflect the spear with his hand to land a good thrust.

Games visitors enjoyed stopping by our display booth to ask questions, try on a pair of gauntlets or handle a sword. Volunteers Christina, Nathan, Tammy, Bill C. and Heather did a great job taking care of the show-and-tell. New member Alex was a (pleasantly) unexpected visitor and lent his brawn to help us all schlep our gear back to the cars.

And, for the second year in a row, the Chicago Swordplay Guild’s booth won the Highland Games award for “Best Tent Display by a Cultural Organization”.  We had colorful medieval banners draping the corners of the tent and it doesn’t hurt to have a couple tables showcasing armor and sharp, pointy objects.

Bill & Alex do show & tell

Big thanks to our Demo Team and our enthusiastic volunteer crew (with a nod to Rachel and Dawn as the supportive sword widows)! It was a terrific venue for showcasing the CSG and we look forward to being weapons-wielding exhibitors at the Scottish Highland Games again next year!



WMAW 2011 Registration Now Open!

Register now! Running Thursday, September 15 through Sunday,  September 18, 2011, at the scenic DeKoven Center in Wisconsin USA,  the  Western Martial Arts Workshop (WMAW) is the premier North American event for hands-on study of Historical European and American Martial Arts. Limited openings – register now.

CSG is proud to once again offer 4 days of both in-depth and focused classes with fresh material, taught to a professional standard by an instructor base spanning three continents, comprised of martial artists and researchers who have help set the Gold Standard for the entire western arts community. Check out our 2011 roster.

WMAW 2011 is for anyone interested in Western fighting styles — from the Medieval to Early Modern American. Whether you are a long-time historical fencer looking to enhance your training through an in-depth class with some of today’s top instructors, a newcomer just getting your feet wet, an Asian martial artist curious about the methods of your western counterparts, or a fight choreographer who’d like to add a layer of historical accuracy to your staged violence,  this event has something for you.

CSG in Chicago’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on WGN America

Arming swords were clashing as members of the Chicago Swordplay Guild participated in the City of Chicago’s huge annual Thanksgiving Day Parade, which is one of two parades carried on national television. You can catch some video on the website.

Flanked by colorful banners showcasing the Fiore animals and medieval Italian crests, the CSG specialty group included a spear formation doing thrust drills followed by a group of swordsmen fencing with arming swords. Kids and families coming to the parade – and ready to brave the predicted cold temps and possible sleet and snow flurries – were wowed.

Here are some pictures of the CSG Parade Team, taken by CSG’s Gabrielle O’ Meara, as we did our dress rehearsal with some of our banners last Saturday on the grounds of Pulaski Park.

Yes, the “Windy City” lived up to its name, as gusts fought the banners with gusto!

Fencers Trey Ptak, Nicole Allen, Oscar Erkeswick & Jesse Kulla
Some of the Spear Line
Marching into the wind

The 600 – Prepare for Fiore!

In 1410, Fiore dei Liberi, an aging condottiero and master-at-arms to some of Italy’s most renowned warriors, presented a book to the bellicose Niccolò III d’Este, Marchese of Ferrara (1383-1441) containing the sum of four decades of knowledge won in the training hall, siege, battle and  five duels with rival masters. He named this work Il Fior di Battaglia, the Flower of Battle, composed so that the “art might not be forgotten”.

Six hundred years later, a small gathering of martial artists from around the world will prove him right!

The Chicago Swordplay Guild is pleased to host this invitational, three day event in honor of Maestro Fiore and his Art. The schedule of events includes:

Classes taught by an international slate of instructors:

  • Bob Charrette, LaBelle Compagnie (USA)
  • Sean Hayes, Northwest Academy of Arms (USA)
  • Mark Lancaster, The Exiles – Company of Medieval Martial Artists (UK)
  • Rob Lovett, The Exiles – Company of Medieval Martial Artists (UK)
  • Gregory Mele, Chicago Swordplay Guild (USA)
  • Roger Siggs, Rocky Mountain Swordplay Guild (USA)
  • Guy Windsor, School of European Swordsmanship (Finland)

The schedule and class descriptions are included in this PDF:

Fiore 600 Schedule

The 600 Class Descriptions

In addition to formal classes there will be a round table discussion and Q&A on Fiore and his work, and two feats of arms:

  • A Friday “Vespers Tournament” – an unarmoured tournament of sword, dagger and lance, open to all attendees.
  • A Saturday, Armoured Pas d’Armes – an invitational tournament, celebrating the knightly art, to be fought with sword, lance, and axe.

(Full details of the tournaments will be forwarded to attendees.)

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 most renowned, modern teachers of the art of Armizare. Act now, because spaces will go fast. We look forward to crossing swords with you!



September 10 – 12, 2010


The DeKoven Center
600 21st Street
Racine, WI 53403

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


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.

Nine hot meals.


$325.00 inclusive.

To Register:

  1. Download the class schedule and the following registration form:
    600 reg form(2)
  2. Fill out and email the completed contact form to:
  3. The Registrar will confirm your registration and send you a PayPal bill.
  4. Come and have a good time!

Remember, submit all of your registrations and registration questions to

A Field Trip to the Oakeshott Institute

This past weekend, approximately 20 Guilders made a six hour pilgrimage north on I-94 to the Twin Cities to visit our friends at Arms & Armor and the Oakeshott Institute. Despite having known Craig Johnson and Chris Poor for many years, ironically, only a handful of us had ever been up to visit them in their natural, sword-filled, habitat. Craig agreed to put together a shop tour, lecture series and handling of the beautiful pieces that once belonged to the renowned sword researcher and historian, Ewart Oakeshott.

Our visit began with a tour of the Arm & Armor workshop, aka, “where the magic happens”. A&A makes some of the finest replica swords and training weapons in the business; and so our descent into the basement where their shop lies felt a bit like a trip down into Vulcan’s forge. I confess that I hadn’t pictured the facility being so *big*. It’s a sword lover’s dream, filled with all manner of weapons and armour, both finished and various stages of being “in process”. It was also fascinating to look at the pieces that Chris and Craig have kept for themselves, from one of a kind polearms to jousting harness, and see a time line of Arms and Armor’s history in the 30 years since Chris Poor first started his business, while still being a jouster on the Renaissance fair circuit. Craig showed us their forge, grinding wheels, casting molds, and explained to us how A&A designs and produces their weapons. Then he let us wander about and play, which we gleefully did.

From there, we headed over to the Oakeshott Institute. Ewart Oakeshott spent his life trying to rectify misunderstandings about the medieval sword, and to draw an appreciation for them both as artwork and as perfectly designed tools. Therefore, when he died in 2002, his will bequeathed his beautiful collection with the idea of creating a hands-on, educational museum. To house the museum, Chris Poor has purchased an old, 19th c church for the Institute, which the A&A boys are slowly renovating. Based on the amazing woodwork, vaulted ceilings and the renovations we saw going on, the Institute will be a small, but lovely museum once it is finished.

Keith Alderson met us at the institute, and was our first presenter. Keith is an  ABD (“all but done”) PhD student at the University of Chicago, specializing in late medieval, German books. He also comes from a background in Korean martial arts, kendo and knife-fighting. This combined background has given him a unique, and valued insight into the German fencing texts and I was eager to hear his discussion. Keith detailed how the four guards of the Liechtnauer system went through a conceptual evolution over the two centuries that the art flourished, beginning as leger, which Keith sees as a general position from which one engages in a certain type of fighting, and becoming hut, specific positions, or “guards” that one stands or moves into. This presentation is going to be published in a forthcoming compendium by Freelance Academy Press, and I will be interested to see how his ideas are received in the larger community.

Keith is also a  a student of the modern Bowie knife system taught by Pete at Alliance Martial Arts and Jim Keating of Comtech. Keith made an interesting point that German Ms. 3227a, the oldest Liechtenauer text (aka the “Doebringer” Fechtbuch) proclaims that all longsword fencing derived from the use of the messer, or knife. The messer was a single-edged weapon with a clipped point and “false edge”, which came in varying lengths, from a long knife to a two-handed falchion. Keith then pointed out that the messer continued right into the modern era with the Bowie knife, and showed how the “back cuts”, or false edge blows , taught with that weapon relate directly to many of the specialized blows, or Meisterhau of  German swordsmanship.  This comparison was used as a lens to interpret the historical material because the mechanics of early American Bowie knife fighting are well understood, and the actions in use could be compared not just the mechanical, but the tactical qualities of the different sword blows. The larger message was that there is a readily identifiable set of tactical and mechanical advantages that one gains when using a double-edged weapon uses both edges to strike along all eight of the basic angles of attack .

Keith was then joined by Craig in a demonstration on how the Oakeshott team is applying some of these ideas in their own martial arts practice. They walked us through a fair amount of translated passages from the “Dobringer” manuscript, and pointed out that the admonishment to cut, thrust and slice can be used as an order of operations for making an attack and pursuing follow-up actions. Craig also showed us a specialized training sword he has designed to teach students to cut in a narrow arc, instead of “round housing” their blows, and a number of Guilders tried their hands at the “sword on a rope”.

The next presenter was Josh Davis, a member of the Institute and part of the Arms and Armor shop team. then showed us the first complete harness he had made (German, late 15th c), and talked about his project in making it, and how cool it was to submit it as part of his academic work towards a  bachelor’s degree in Medieval Studies. It was a nicely made harness by any standard, but was particularly impressive for the first harness made by someone who has been armouring for only three years! He had the opportunity to fly over to England and examine a number of Gothic harnesses up close and personal to gather the understanding necessary for this undertaking, which is something that cannot be overstated as important knowledge for armour manufacture. You know, kinda like handling original swords to see what a sword should feel like …

After Josh’s lecture we came to the part  where we got to play with the pretties. Pictures can do them better justice than words, in the absence of having them at hand. There were several medieval one handers from the 11th – 15th centuries, including Ewart’s prized sword “Moonbrand”, a pair of 5th century, Frankish saxes, several 16th – 17th century rapiers, several mortuary and basket-hilted swords, and an 18th c hanger in pristine condition that just begged to be used.

Following dinner, the Oakeshott folks treated us to a handling of some of Bronze Age pieces in their collection. Three swords, at least one spear point, a few axe heads, and a very very old mace head from Sumer that was dated to about 2000 BC. It was just astounding to handle pieces of such antiquity that were still in such usable condition – one of the bronze swords still has areas that gleam golden through its green patina.

The group reconvened on Sunday morning for Craig Johnson’s lecture about the history of European metallurgical science, text sources and illustrations relating to the same (mining the ore to smelting the blooms to pounding and forming the billets with hammers or water powered trip hammers). Of particular interest were images of more than one female blacksmith or armoursmith shown in a guild workshop context. We also went through an overview of hardness testing and ratings, examples of hardnesses on several surviving medieval and Renaissance swords (each of which were not consistent in their hardness, even within the length of one edge). There was also reference on modern steel hardness and properties, and what modern customers expect and demand a sword be made from, without any real justification for that demand based on historical examples. Which is to say, modern people look at modern tools and demand that swords be made to some of the specs of modern tools (~50-52 Rockwell hardness), without understanding that such is far harder and homogeneous than the original pieces, and thus likely unnecessary to the finished product’s function. There was also a fascinating look at the blacksmith’s tools, and how well formed they were already by 600 AD, and how they are EXACTLY the same as what we see until the Industrial Revolution. As Craig reminded us a number of times, these craftsmen had thousands of years to figure out exactly how to do what they wanted, and what was the best way to make it. They figured it out, and more often than not, when Craig and company have tried to engineer a way around a historical process involved in the manufacture of a piece, they discovered very late that it was far, far easier to do it the way it was originally done, and the result was perfectly fine.

After the lecture we adjourned together for lunch, and then it was time for the long drive home. Many thanks to Craig, Chris, Keith and  the whole Oakeshott team for their hospitality and sharing of knowledge. We hope to repeat this next year!

(You can find more photos of our trip in the CSG Flickr Gallery.)