Category Archives: News

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.”


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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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!.


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.)


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.


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!)


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!

Our New Adventure – Creating the Forteza Clubhouse

It is hard to believe that the Guild’s new home at Forteza Fitness, Physical Culture and Martial Arts has already been open for seven months! From what began as a cement floor that looked a bit like the Grand Canyon, chipping paint with half a century of grime and dirt, and plain brick walls, our homage to a 19th c salle and gymnasium has come a long way.

Now our final step, the Clubhouse project has begun! Forteza Fitness and Martial Arts  is creating the ultimate “Adventurers’ Club” salon, and we’d really appreciate your help. Watch the video, check out the rather cool contributor rewards and, if you are so moved, help out. N.B. that the Indiegogo “share” tools make it very quick and easy to share the project page via Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, or to embed or send the page info by email.

The Forteza clubhouse will feature:

  • a boutique library of both antique and contemporary books on Western martial arts, fencing, fitness and related topics
  • an art gallery showcasing rare, original edition 19th century newspaper prints of combat sport athletes, historical fencers and gymnasts
  • multi-media learning center featuring WiFi, training DVDs and a discussion lounge and research area
  • we cannot stress this enough, a secret passage entrance …

Click this link to see our spiffing video, info, rewards and more towards creating the Forteza Clubhouse!


We’ll be offering regular updates over the next month and will also be inviting design and decor suggestions …