A tempo is a movement that the opponent makes within the measures […] The reason why the name tempo was given to the movements made while fencing is that the time employed to make one movement cannot be employed to make any other. -Salvator Fabris, 1606
I was enticed to end this blog with the previous quote, 1) because writing is hard 2) because Fabris addresses both parts of the title of this blog in very clear terms. But… as the philosopher that each Italian swordsman references, directly or not, says: “We must take this as our starting-point and try to discover- since we wish to know what time is- what exactly it has to do with movement.” -Aristotle, c. 4th century BCE.
Aristotle, tying together the concepts of Time and Motion in parts 7 through 13 of ‘Physics’ (Book IV), identifies three core components of their relationship. First, time directly follows motion and the two are inexorably linked, thus we can say any continuous motion that is encapsulated between two moments of rest is a single unit of time, or a single tempo. Second, because any motion can be divided into parts, and those parts follow one after another, we can identify those motions (as they relate to each other) as being: before, now, and after. Thus, motion can be counted or numbered by their parts. Lastly, because time is continuous, but objects can move and come to rest at different intervals, their locomotion can be identified as either proportionally long or short. We can thus say that tempo is defined by both by its motion and its rest.
For a simple illustration of all three concepts at work, lets look at someone standing still, who then begins walking forward, and then stops. In the first definition, “Time is Motion” as soon as the figure starts walking to the time he stops, he created one continuous action and is thus a single tempo (“what is moved is moved from something to something, and all magnitude is continuous.”-Aristotle). In the second definition, “Numbering the Motions” each step can be counted individually, so each step is its own tempo (“Hence time is not movement, but only movement in so far as it admits of enumeration.”-Aristotle). And in the third definition, “Motion is Proportional” each step can be made longer or shorter by the distance each covers. Wider steps are proportionally longer than shorter steps, but each still being a single tempo (“It is clear, too, that time is not described as fast or slow, but as many or few and as long or short. For as continuous it is long or short and as a number many or few.”-Aristotle).
When Aristotle writes, he refers to the things that are moving as ‘bodies.’ In fencing, each ‘body’ is a part of the fencer and his weapon that is capable of closing distance, mainly the hand (tied to the weapon or defensive implement), the body (which can come forward or back) and the feet (which carry and support the body). Each one of these parts can make a ‘tempo’ in each of the three above definitions. Not only can they make a tempo on their own, often they create tempi together.
The joining of these bodies in motion creating tempi, I will call ‘Timing.’ This timing not only refers to how the fencer joins their own motions but how he imposes his motions between (or inside of) his opponent’s. When Fabris says: “the time employed to make one movement cannot be employed to make any other” and “make sure that the tempo necessary for your attack is not longer than the tempo given by your opponent” he is referring to the timing of our action as well as its proportional length (respectively). For example, if the opponent moves his sword from right to left, he can cannot in the same instance, move his sword from left to right. While this ‘body’ is in motion, a proportionally shorter motion should be made by the opponent to ensure the attack can not be parried. The imposition of timing our action within the opponent’s is referred to as ‘in tempo.’ (“Further ‘to be in time’ means for movement, that both it and its essence are measured by time (for simultaneously it measures both the movement and its essence, and this is what being in time means for it, that its essence should be measured”-Aristotle).
With the consideration of Timing, and the essence of the nature of fencing (to hit while not being hit), certain opportunities arise, mainly when is it appropriate to strike the opponent. Giovanni dall’Agocchie, c. 1572, gives us 5 opportunities or tempi, which one can appropriately time a proportionally shorter attack than our opponent’s attempt at a defense (or at the very least making a defense very difficult).
In reverse order that Dall’Agocchie lists them, they are: 1) “while he raises his foot, that’s a tempo for attacking him” 2) “as he injudiciously moves from one guard to go into another, before he’s fixed in that one, then it’s a tempo to harm him” 3) “when he raises his sword to harm you: while he raises his hand, that’s the tempo to attack” 4) “when his blow has passed outside your body, that’s a tempo to follow it with the most convenient response” 5) “once you’ve parried your enemy’s blow, then it’s a tempo to attack.” The reason I have listed them in reverse order is because when read this way, they are presented in a certain order of precedence, from the time the opponent begins to close measure to the point he is attacking you (ie. “the movement[s] that the opponent makes within the measures”). Each moment in time can be ‘numbered’ this way.
The first two opportunities apply to the Agent (the fencer who is seeking to strike first). If the opponent is stepping forward, he can not simultaneously step back, and if he is changing guards, he can not occupy the space he just left.
The last three opportunities apply to the Patient (the fencer dealing with the Agent’s attack). As the opponent raises their hand to attack they are momentarily less able to deal with an attack themselves. While Dall’Agocchie specifically mentions raising the hand as a method to prepare an attack, this idea can be expanded to deal with all methods of preparing an attack, in short, anything the Agent does to put their sword and body into a position to deliver their intended strike (be it feint, beat, pulling the arm back, raising it, etc.). Now, if the Patient is actually receiving the strike, he can deal with it in two main ways, 1) void 2) parry. There are many forms of these two actions and also a continuum of actions between the two that incorporate both a void and a parry. While the opponent is extended for their attack (thus leaving a strong defensible position), the Patient can apply option 1 or 2 and return a strike (a repost), or more preferably, timing their action so that they strike simultaneously against the attack.
With the above knowledge of the appropriate times to strike, it can be seen that both the Patient and Agent have opportunities to wound, so the matter of protecting oneself from them is paramount. In short, to ensure safety while one moves, and thus creating a tempo or opportunity to be struck, their motions should be proportionally smaller than the opponents necessary action to strike. For instance, if one wishes to step into measure, the step should be small, or it can be made on the rear foot, or it can be timed with an accompanying motion of the sword to create a barrier in which the opponent’s sword has to move around (thus lengthen the proportionate time of his strike). If one wishes to change guards, they can make small changes, or keep the point in presence to dissuade an attack. If the fencer wishes to prepare an attack, it should be done mindful of the position of the opponent’s weapon, making sure the preparation and subsequent attack is shorter than the motion of the opponent’s weapon to its intended target.
The question then becomes, if I know what opportunities exist to strike, how to protect myself from those moments, if the opponent does not offer one, how do I create one in which to attack? The concept of Provoking deals with this question. Dall’Agocchie defines these types of actions like this:
“Said provocations, so that you understand better, are performed for two reasons. One is in order to make the enemy depart from his guard and incite him to strike, so that one can attack him more safely (as I’ve said). The other is because from the said provocations arise attacks which one can then perform with greater advantage, because if you proceed to attack determinedly and without judgment when your enemy is fixed in guard, you’ll proceed with significant disadvantage, since he’ll be able to perform many counters.”
These actions are made with the intent to force or entice the opponent to move, thus creating a tempo in which to attack. As Dall’Agocchie mentions, Provocations come in two forms, the first, a proactive motion that forces the opponent to create a tempo, and second, a passive invitation to entice him to strike. However, both of these methods require a motion by the provocateur. So, even if we seek to provoke a tempo, it is required of us to give a tempo. Again, the tempo we create to force one from our opponent needs to be proportionately smaller than the opponents motion to strike, or otherwise create a situation where this is true.
Last year’s event was fun, but a bit chaotic with some snafus. Our principle goals this year were to: 1) streamline the process and 2) Improve judging. I am confident we achieved both of those, although as we all know, improving judging is a perpetual process.
Tournaments are not a big part of what we do at the CSG, far less than many HEMA schools, but I *do* think that developing martial artists need a chance to test themselves against people from outside their school, outside their art. I *don’t* think tournament fighting is any more “real” or reflective of “combat” than any other fencing, in fact some ways less so. (People wear a lot of safety gear and their adrenal reflex is to be more *aggressive*, rather than more *cautious* as you immediately become when faced with sharp weapons.) But it provides a way to learn to manage adrenaline, resist temptation to play the rules, face other styles, and to learn how to use art to defeat “il uomo bestiale” the so-called “untutored fencer” of whom many fencing masters warn.
Put another way, martial artists love to complain about bad sports fighting, and for good reason — combat sports really do often encourage certain gimmicks or actions that are best suited for a ring.
Here’s an example. CSG’s Ben Horwitz fought his first tournament this past weekend, and was able to win his pool fairly easily against some very good combatants. I am SUPER PROUD of him. But although he wins the below fight fairly definitively in score, it wasn’t his best match martially.
Note the move that Ben pulls off at time-stamp 1:55. He manages to duck under Keith’s defense and take a lowline cut. But Keith’s sword is hovering over his head. Sword’s aren’t disintegration rays: unless the man’s arms or head fall off, there is no guarrantee that ANY blow is immediately disabling. Here, the hit scores, and the fight stops. In a real fight, there’s a very good chance that Keith gets his legs slashed and spends time learning to walk with a limp (if infection doesn’t kill him), but first cuts Ben’s head clean off.)
Different groups take these issues into account in different ways. In developing the MidWinter rules (based on those we have used at various events in the past, such as Viva L’Italia and the Western Martial Arts Workshop) I chose to use the following assumptions:
Real combat is ugly;
You can’t legislate pretty fencing, but you can design rules the courage good tactics;
Good tactics will lead to prettier fencing anyway;
Six hundred years of European fencing masters say the goal is to hit without being hit, so any rule-set should reward never losing a pass, and punish double-hits ruthlessly.
If the rules take more than one sheet of paper to write out, there are too many of them!
Combatants will be divided into pools, fought under the below conditions, with an award to the overall victor.
Tournament One: Single-Handed Sword Due to the diversity of single-handed sword styles (and scarcity of focused exponents of the same) , this will be a mixed-weapon tournament with the following, permissible weapons:
Rapier (max blade length 45″);
Note: Sabers, backswords, broadswords, smallswords, etc are not permitted. (We love them, too, but we’re keeping this to fencing styles c. 1600 and earlier.)
Tournament Two: Longsword Longsword’s have a maximum length of 130 cm, minimum weight of 1450 g.
The Winter King As a culmination of the event, the victors of the two tournaments shall fight a mixed-weapons bout using the previously denoted scoring conventions, with the victor to be declared the winner of the overall tournament
CONVENTIONS OF COMBAT With the Sword
Each bout is fought to a total of five landed blows;
The entire body is a target;
For our purposes a “blow” constitutes any “fight-ending action”:
a solid cut with the edge, thrust, disarm or throw;
a pommel strike to the center of the face;
a thrust to the center-of-mass with the dagger.
Incidental blows, light touches, flicks or hits rather than cuts, punches and open-handed strikes that do not end in a throw or lock, etc will not be scored.
With the Dagger Combatant may carry a dagger on their belt in the longsword tournament, and switch to its use as they see fit.
Daggers may only strike with the point.
If a dagger hit is scored, combatants may, after the halt, switch back to their sword.
Grapples that end in a throw with party dominant will score a point.
Grapples lasting more than 5 seconds or deemed to be dangerous will be halted by the judges;
Grapples that go to the ground with no one dominant will be halted.
SCORING Once a fight is concluded, the combatants will report their scores to the list-table. Fights are scored as follows:
Overall Victor receives 2 pts;
If the Victor was not struck he or she receives 1 pt additional;
The person who scored the first blow receives 1 pt;
If there were any double hits during the match, both parties lose 1 pt.
Therefore, in any match a combatant could score between 4 and -1 points.
These rules are not meant to be “realistic”, simply to prioritize drawing first blood and avoiding being hit and, most especially double-hits. No matter how many double hits, for the sake of simplicity, only 1 pt is lost. However, additional double hits are not refought, so if you rack up too many double-hits, the victory in that match is going to go with who scored the first blow, and your overall score is going to go down!
ADVANCEMENT There are two ways to advance to the final round of four combatants – by Score or by Accolade.
Score After the Pool Round ends, total scores for each will be totaled, and the combatant with the highest score from each pool will move to the finals. (If two or person tie, then the person with the highest total of first blood scores will advance. If there is still a tie, the combatant with the most “never hit” scores will advance.)
Accolade The list will be “balanced” to an even number by adding a combatant chosen by the other combatants. If the list is already balanced, the Advancement by Acclaim will not be needed. (This wasn’t needed this year)
FINAL ROUND Once the Finalist are assembled, they shall fight with the prior scoring conventions in a simple single elimination tree. (NB: In the event of a small final list (four or less), the finals may be fought as a pool at the judge’s discretion.
Although there is no formal prize for second or third place at this event (the guy who comes in #2 in a swordfight is usually called “a corpse” not a silver medalist), the top three competitors in the tournaments were all excellent, and the #2’s could easily have been 1st place. So I would like to congratulate:
2nd Place – Adam Franti (with some of the cleanest fencing of the day in both events)
3rd Place – Cameron Metcalf (with the second highest average score of the entire tournament)
2nd Place – Scott Scooter Jeffers (with the HIGHEST average score of the tournament)
3rd Place – Robert Salud
After Sam Street of the Wisconsin Historical Fencing Association pitched a shut-out, winning all three events last year, this year’s tournament was dominated by Guild members and swordsmen from the Michigan diaspora, holding seven of the final eight spots between them in 1H sword and six in longsword. (Sam had to go and mess up the clean sweep!) The pool victors were:
One-Handed Sword Final 8
Lars Olesen (Minnesota)
Scott Jeffers (CSG)
Robbie Salud (CSG)
Nic Cabrera (CSG)
Thayne Alexander (CSG)
Zeke Talmage (Tri-Blade Fencing Academy)
Sam Brian (??? — I just realized I know Sam, but not where he is from!)
Thomas Niebor (Michigan)
Longsword Final 8
Jesse Kulla (CSG)
Ben Horowitz (CSG)
Adam Franti (Lansing Longsword Guild)
Cameron Metcalf (LLG)
Thayne Alexander (CSG)
Sam Street (WHFA)
Thomas Niebor (Michigan)
Lars Oleson (Minnesota)
The fencing on a whole was like all fencing: some amazingly good, some…er….and a lot of bouts that combined moments of brilliance with moments of adrenal reflexes or choking under pressure. That’s how these things go, so let’s focus on the good!
1. Fencers all had a good spirit of friendship and conviviality combined with good sportsmanship. People routinely declined points or called hits when the judges missed something, or if they just felt their hit was ugly or sloppy. This even happened twice in the longsword *finals.* In a perfect world, a judge would never miss anything, but we live in the real world, and I think the one good thing about any errors was that it gave the combatants to show their own character. The following, IMO, shows this in an exemplary fashion:
CSG’s Jesse Kulla and Adam Franti of Lansing Longsword Guild fought a real nice bout for the longsword final. Although their being tired after 6 hrs of fighting meant that there were several double hits, it wasn’t because of stupid choices, it was because of either slowed reflexes, or failing to close a line sufficiently to prevent a counterattack. The best part, however, is that these two gentlemen showed why, IMO, a combatant should always get to call a blow to his own detriment. Our judges blow an early call that would give Jesse the victory. I was pretty sure it was a double hit, but my judges were all in agreement, so I was reticent to second guess them. But Jesse and Adam thought it was a double hit too, and Jesse declined the victory. Next pass, similar issue but reversed roles and before I could make the call, Adam declined the point, and we tried it a third time. Yes, each man gave up his chance to end the fight there and claim victory — those are the character tests competition can give, far more than they test “if you can bring the heat” (whatever the hell that even means in a pretend fight).
(Video courtesy Zeke Talmage)
Here is the fight from a second angle, which also shows what an “adventure” judging can be:
2. Although Scott Jeffers and Robert Salud are both CSG members, I think I can say with (minimal) bias that their sidesword bout was one of the most dynamic, prettiest and historically correct of the day. But you be the judge:
(Video Courtesy Zeke Talmage)
3. I always enjoy seeing my friends Adam Franti, Keith Stratten, Josias Arcadia and Zeke Talmage fence. I was super happy to be directing their pools, and in longsword to have almost all of them all in the same pool, with my student Benjamin Horwitz, who did some of his best fencing (after I informed him I had registered him for the tournament, whether he liked it or not). I really enjoyed their pool and the fencing they displayed.
4. Additional kudos to Adam and Keith, who brought proper steel dussacks (Keith’s was barely bigger than a bowie knife) to the 1 H tournament and used them to great affect and with great form, despite knowing they were giving themselves a huge disadvantage against some of the very long, very thin bladed rapiers a few combatants were carrying.
(Video Courtesy Lansing Longsword Guild)
5. Lars Olson was a fantastic in the 1 H sword list, and it was great finding out their is an armizare practitioner, not affiliated with the CSG/Milwaukee in the Midwest.
Of course, as I directed just over a third of the fights, I also missed seeing a bunch of them. I really wanted to see the Sam Street (who won all three events last year), Jesse Kulla rematch, but it was not to be. In fact, I never got to see any of Sam’s fights, and only saw Jesse fight in the finals. Ah well, it’s not about me.
Finally, I would like to call out and thank our team:
Kaethe Doherty who wrangled the pools, created the trees and basically did all of the ugly back-end stuff before the event, and then made changes on the fly at the speed of light as we added and dropped people. Their work made the day run far more smoothly than last year. You are a rock-star.
James Reilly, John O’Meara and Rob Rotherfoord directed, and James is functionally my chief lieutenant for the day of the event.
Alex Moe and Joseph Doherty were score-keepers, and were fantastic at it, Alex not least because we drafted him on Saturday morning.
Libby Beyreis, Robine Asamar, Heather Hilchey, Nic James Cabrera, Victor Allen Bayona, Rebecca Smith Cruz, Summer Sparacin, Alexander Shekleton, Andrew Morris, Robert Salud, Ben Horwitz and Jesse Kulla who all judged, a couple of them after being pressed into service.
Alisha Workman, Jess Johnson and Dante Guinazzo who were the event “gophers”. That might not sound like an illustrious job, but GOD it helped having them!
Thanks to Nicole Allen who donated one of her products from SwordGeek Boutique (which launches as an Indiegogo Thursday, but you can get a sneak peak now) as a tournament prize.
Finally, every combatant I didn’t mention — everyone who attends and does so with a good spirit and gives their utmost makes the event.
We’ll do some after action review, continue spending time each CSG FightNight training judges, and hopefully be better in 2019!
Let it Be Known to All that Profess the Study of Arms, that the Chicago Swordplay Guild does Challenge All Men and Women of Good Character and Keep Blade to Inaugurate the New Year in a Competition of Arms
In conjunction with the Midwest Historical Fencing League and Forteza Fitness & Martial Arts the Midwinter Armizare Open is a public display of skill with one and two-handed swords in a relatively rules-light format meant to emphasize the tactical priorities of fighting with sharp weapons in lethal combat.
WHERE & WHEN
Date : Saturday, 27 Jan 2018
Location: Forteza Fitness & Martial Arts, 4437 N. Ravenswood Ave, Chicago, IL 60640
10:30 – Sign In
11:00 – Introduction: Rules and Demo
11:30 – Sword in One Hand
1:00 – Break
1:30 – Longsword
5:00 – Awards
5:30 – After Event Party
This past Saturday saw a momentous occasion for the Chicago Swordplay Guild: our second Free Scholar’s Prize and our first-ever in Renaissance Swordsmanship. The Prize is not a play, a tournament or an exam, though it has elements of them all. It is a right of passage whose origins extend back over half a millennia, and is the most ceremonial event we have in the Guild, as well as the most personally meaningful to the student being tested.
To qualify to play the prize for Free Scholar, students have completed at least five to seven years training in the weapons for the curriculum being tested; in this case the Bolognese side sword, the rapier, rapier & dagger, wrestling (abrazare) and unarmed defense against the dagger. Physical exams in these disciplines amounted to about four hours of testing, and there was also a written exam for each. Additionally, each student is required to submit a written, research paper; here is Robert Rotherfoord’s paper on the Universal Parry and Great Blow in Bolognese fencing. Once the exams have been passed and the final paper accepted, then the Prize can be held.
Going back to our first Prize in 2001, it has been the CSG’s tradition to never inaugurate a new rank without bringing in outside teachers and swordsmen to stand as challengers, specifically to avoid nepotism and developing a salle art rather than a truly martial one where students learn how to defeat students in their school, and their school alone. As Dean, I felt it crucial I find three of the best Renaissance swordsmen in North America to stand as Challengers, and fortunately, my first choices all said yes. Thus, John and Rob found themselves standing across the list from:
All of these men are long-time practitioners and teachers of the Art of Defense; Devon and Bill run two of the largest HEMA programs in the world. In addition, while Devon practices the same arts we do in the CSG, the other Challengers brought surprises of their own to the table. Bill Grandy is also a longtime student of Salvator Fabris’ rapier method, and is familiar with Bolognese side sword, but his cutting-sword focus is in the German messer and longsword. Puck is one of the world’s premier exponents of La Verdadera Destreza, a system that rivaled the Italian tradition and uses a different set of strategies and tactics to achieve the same goal: pointy end into the other man. I had made these choices by design, as the idea was to make the Prizors not only display their ability to fight a like style, but to use their art against a foreign one.
The format of the Prize is similar to that played for Scholar, only with three weapons: each Prizor faces three Challengers in a three minute round of combat, for nine rounds of combat in total. They then hold the field in matches of three good blows against all Scholars who wish to challenge with either the sidesword or rapier. Challenges at 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:
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.
The First Passage: Side Sword
The candidates had asked to fight the weapons in chronological order: sword, rapier & dagger and then rapier alone. It was determined that the order of challenges would be Puck third, Devon second and the honor of the first blow would go to Bill. Well before their arrival in Chicago, I had been in contact with the Challengers and discussed John and Rob’s particular fencing quirks, strengths and weaknesses, so each was not only going into the list to fight them, but to test specific things, most particularly, their weak points.
The first round was dedicated to the sword alone, which is Robert Rotherfoord specialty. As you watch the fights you will see that he and John use the art somewhat differently: as a rapier specialist, John gravitates towards the later style advocated by Angelo Viggiani, including the powerful use of a rising parry transforming into the punta sopramano/imbroccata (overhand thrust) made on a short lunge, or the use of the same thrust as a provocation to set-up follow on actions.
John O’Meara vs. Bill Grandy
John O’Meara vs. Devon Boorman
John O’Meara vs. Puck CurtisRob, who favors Manciolino and Dall’Aggochie, uses shorter thrusts and more cuts made with steps off-line.
Robert Rotherfoord vs. Bill Grandy
Robert Rotherfoord vs. Devon Boorman
Robert Rotherfoord vs. Puck Curtis
The fights were vigorous and also great fun to watch; the audience loved the dynamic elegance of the Bolognese system’s flowing, looping cuts and powerful thrusts.
The Second Passage: Rapier & Dagger
The second round was with the rapier & dagger, the newest part of the Renaissance scholar curriculum, and a very demanding one, as it requires constant changes of initiative while wielding two dissimilar weapons both in conjunction and separately. It can be very fast and exciting to watch, and as I personally had not seen Destreza’s version of the system, it was personally interesting to watch how it played against the “Salvatoran Art”.
John O’Meara vs. Bill Grandy
John O’Meara vs. Devon Boorman
John O’Meara vs. Puck Curtis
Rob Rotherfoord vs. Bill Grandy
Rob Rotherfoord vs. Devon Boorman
Rob Rotherfoord vs. Puck Curtis
The Third Passage: Rapier Alone
The rapier used alone is the first weapon taught in the Renaissance curriculum and goes back to the very first year of the Guild’s history. It is an easy weapon to understand, but a difficult one to master. Although we draw material from a variety of c.1600 sources, far and way the core of our curriculum comes from the monumental text by Master Salvator Fabris.
However, as the third weapon fought, you can see the fatigue starting to kick in and the Prizors periodically retreat or come to grips just to catch their breaths, rather like “the clinch” in modern boxing.
John O’Meara vs. Bill Grandy
John O’Meara vs. Devon Boorman
John O’Meara vs. Puck Curtis
Robert Rotherfoord vs. Bill Grandy
Robert Rotherfoord vs. Devon Boorman
Robert Rotherfoord vs. Puck Curtis
Final Passage: “The Ordeal”
In times past it was the custom that Prizors must fight no less than three Challengers of the grade sought, before the Prize would be considered won, but that he must stand against any and all challengers who might come forth to test him. Likewise, having faced three challenges in each of the three weapons of the Free Scholar, the candidates then stood against any Scholar would would challenge them to a match of three good blows with the rapier or sidesword.
John Runs the Gauntlet
You can see both fatigue and the effect of earlier cuts to the sword arm taking their toll in these bouts, as Rob drops his sword twice because his hand is getting numb.
(You may also hear me asking David Farrell if he is wearing his long underwear. As it turns out, yes, yes he was. Don’t ask.)
Historically, 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. Fortunately, our guests felt that the John and Rob easily fulfilled the requirements of their new rank, leading to the ceremony of Investiture.
Our modern Guild’s Scholar’s oath is adapted directly from that of the Elizabethan London Company of Masters, 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.
Kneeling and reaffirming this oath on the hilt of a sword, the gentlemen received their new licenses and their green garters were replaced with gold ones. As stated in the ceremony itself:
Gold was considered the noblest of metals, exceeding all others in value, purity and finesse. It represents the light of the sun, and the nobility of princes. It is also associated with excellence and achievement, and its bearer surpasses all others in valor. As such, the golden garter is a fitting symbol of a Free Scholar of the Art of Arms.
As John was Rob’s teacher in rapier and rapier & dagger, it only seemed appropriate they he bestow the garter himself. However, as this would normally be the provenance of a Provost…
We caught John off-guard and informed him that such he was about to be!
This decision was not made lightly by myself or the three Challengers. John joined the Guild in the year of its founding (1999) and has spear-headed the Rapier curriculum since 2002. Over that time, there have been many ups and downs — a steadily evolving curriculum that went through a few reboots, a seeming curse where every time new Scholars were made, life took the away from both the Guild and the Art, significant, side-lining injuries with long recovery time and more. Thus, it is some how particularly appropriate that John received his rank of Provost at a time when our Renaissance swordplay program is larger and more robust than ever before.
Some of Mr. O’Meara’s accomplishments leading to his award of Provost:
Led the Guild rapier program since the year Two-Thousand & Two;
Created and refined the Novice and Companion Curriculums now used within this Guild for wielding the Single Rapier, and written a substantial, illustrated manual for the same;
Created and refined the Scholar curriculum now used within this Guild for wielding the Rapier, both alone, and paired with its ancient companion, the Dagger;
Instructed and successfully elevated Thirteen Students to the rank of Scholar;
Successfully elevated two Students to the rank of Free Scholar;
Instructed students from outside the Guild at diverse, international Workshops;
Thus, it was my particular honor as the Guild’s founder and Dean to elevate Mr.John O’Meara as the CSG’s first Rettore di Schermo Rinascimento (Provost of the Art of Renaissance Swordsmanship).
Besides the gold garter, as a Provost John was given a ceremonial chain of office; its links representing the long line of teachers who have preceded us. The chain is not whole, just as our lineage was broken long ago, but instead is closed by a pendant of St. George the Dragonslayer, paragon of chivalry, for this is a chivalric art, and it is through its values that what was broken is again made whole. In this sense, the chain becomes a fitting symbol uniting past to present, and present to future.
This was a truly special day — the culmination of a decade and a half of hard work as well as the inauguration of the next phase in the Guild’s history, particularly in the field of Renaissance swordsmanship. My thanks to Maestri Boorman and Curtis and Coach Grandy for attending and helping bestow the Provost rank, and to John and Rob….words cannot express my pride.
Gregory D. Mele
Founder, Dean and Guildmaster
Chicago Swordplay Guild
Mark your calendars for September 2016, because REGISTRATION IS OPEN!
The Chicago Swordplay Guild and the DeKoven Foundation present an event celebrating the ancient & living traditions of the land that brought you Fiore, Fabris, Marozzo, Galileo, DaVinci, Casanova and … spaghetti!
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 ALL classes, meals and lodging onsite at the beautiful DeKoeven campus.
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 ttendance is limited to the 70 folks we can house on site!paces will go fast. We look forward to crossing swords with you!
Dates: September 16 – 18, 2016
We are pleased to bring an international cast of renowned instructors including:
Devon Boorman, Academie Duello (Canada)
Bob Charrette, Forteza Historic Swordwork Guild (USA)
Roberto Gotti, Guardia di Croce (Italy)
Sean Hayes, Northwest Fencing Academy (USA)
Greg Mele, Chicago Swordplay Guild (USA)
John O’Meara, Chicago Swordplay Guild (USA)
Marco Quarta, Nova Scrimia (Italy/USA)
Robert Rutherfoord, Chicago Swordplay Guild (USA)
This year we have organized classes two ways: stand alone classes on a wide variety of topics, and several themes, meant to allow either in-depth study of one topic or to show commonality throughout the breadth of Italian fighting traditions. Stick with your favorite arts or dive into a pool 600 years deep!
Series One: Control the Center
These 3 hr classes allow an in-depth exploration of both the how and why of Italian martial arts.
The Tactics of Bolognese Sword and Buckler Combat (Devon Boorman)
The Tactics of Empty-Handed Combat (Marco Quarta)
The Tactics of Armizare (Greg Mele)
Series Two: So You Got Yourself Into a Duel…
As much as we imagine skilled swordsman meeting at dawn, most duelists had often never fought before, and might not even be trained combatants. In these 2hr classes, students are taught what the historical masters themselves considered the “bare bones” basics of their art, in order to fight and survive. A perfect way to try something new!
Dall’Aggochie’s 30 Day Recipe for Success (Robert Rutherfoord)
You Got into Another Duel? A Survival Guide to Italian Rapier (Devon Boorman)
Dueling Fin de Ceicle Style: A Short and Concise Guide to the Dueling Saber (Sean Hayes)
Series Three: In Arnis — The Art of Armoured Combat
Every year folks who participate in the armoured deed of arms talk about how much fun it was…but also who they wish they had more time to use all of that gear they lugged across the country. Well, we listened! This third series, taught “on the green” (weather permitting) combines daily classes, coached fencing and lectures — and of course, the invitational Armoured Deed!
Commonalities of Spada, Lanza and Azza en Arme: Making the Cross in Armoured Combat (Bob Charrette, Forteza Historic Swordwork Guild)
Armour as Worn: Understanding the Practical Ramifications of Harness Choice in Modern Deeds of Arms (Bob Charrette, Sean Hayes and Greg Mele)
Now We Wrestle: Moments of Transition in Armoured Combat (Sean Hayes, Northwest Fencing Academy)
The return of Uncle Bob’s Armour Schmooze
Two and three hour classes on a wide variety of topics covering the 14th – 19th centuries!
Integrated Body Mechanics and Movement in the Art of Arms (Sean Hayes)
The “New Footwork” of Filippo Vadi: Variations on a theme in Italian Longsword (Greg Mele)
Bolognese Fencing without Tears (Robert Rutherfoord)
Spadone: the King of Swords (Roberto Gotti)
Marozzo’s Defense Against the Dagger (Roberto Gotti)
Getting from Dui Tempi to Stesso Tempo in Six Easy Lessons (John O’Meara)
Tutta Coperta I: The Dagger Has the Rapier’s Back (John O’Meara)
Tutta Coperta II: The Dagger Frees the Rapier (John O’Meara)
Infighting and Disarms with the Rapier (Devon Boorman)
18th – 19th c Martial Arts
Stick-Fencing: From Gentleman’s Cane to Modern Self-Defense (Marco Quarta)
An unarmoured Accolade Tournament with Sword, Spear & Dagger
An invitational Armoured Deed-of-Arms;
A Contest-of-Arms with Sword, Rapier and their trusted companions: the Buckler and Dagger.
More details forthcoming!
(Details for getting to Racine can be found on the WMAW website)
Location: The DeKoven Center 600 21st Street
Racine, WI 53403
On campus; double and triple rooms. 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.
Agrippa’s Ball, or Rolling with the Rapier: On using the whole body and its aspects in guard Instructor: John O’Meara
Italian rapier is a linear art, but the rotational aspect of the system is often overlooked. We will look at integrating sword, body and left hand to create a fluid, “rolling” offense and defense in the style of Salvatore Fabris. (Bring your favorite companion weapon — dagger, cloak, or buckler.)
Bolognese Sprezzatura: Must-Know Fundamentals of Bolognese Sword and Buckler Instructor: Tom Leoni
Do you really think you know the fundamentals of Bolognese sword and buckler? And even if you do, does your body? For the more experienced swordsman ambitious to firm up his basics, as well as the beginner wanting to start on the right path, this class is an intensive on what you must know to successfully tackle the actions of Manciolino and Marozzo. From precise formation of the guards to efficient, martial-looking steps; from powerful cutting and thrusting mechanics to building intent in your actions; from positive, sure parries in all lines to accurate ripostes; from entering a crossing to safely performing a take-off; from provoking tempi from the opponent to exploiting them successfully–these are the basics you will drill in this class.
In addition, you will learn how to use your off-hand weapon (the buckler) as taught by the great Bolognese masters.
The main goal of this class is to let you develop a sense of mechanical precision, outward elegance (looking like the book), and effortless sprezzatura in the style of the men who invented the word.
Gioco Largo (Wide Play) to Gioco Stretto (Narrow Play) in Bolognese Swordsmanship–with Single-hander, Longsword or Spadone Instructor: Tom Leoni
In this class, you will have a chance to bring your favorite weapon and truly understand the concepts of gioco largo and gioco stretto. Bring your single-handed sword with or without buckler, and your medieval longsword or spadone — you will be using them both!
We will use the universal rules taught by Manciolino and Marozzo to:
Understand, hands-on, the nature of either play, as well as their differences
Learn multiple ways to safely arrive at and enter the narrow play
Visualize the main decision-tree of narrow-play actions
Develop a feel for the type of crossing with the opponent, and to choose your action accordingly
Learn the fundamental actions of wrestling at the sword
As the masters say, failing to understand the narrow play may put you in the position of being chased around by the opponent, while you flee across the salle fearing what lies beyond the safe confines of wide play.
FOCUS CLASSES (90 Min)
Keeping the Sword Free (Rapier) Instuctor: John O’Meara It’s not enough to find and control the opponent’s sword, we also have to keep control of our own. And what if he finds us first? Here’s how to keep the advantage in the Italian rapier fight, regain it once it’s lost, and avoid the “contendere di spada” (aka the “death bind”).
Rotella and Sword: With Great Cover Comes Great Responsibility (Bolognese)
Instructor: Devon Boorman Students in this workshop will explore the tactical environment of the larger rotella and how to maximize the benefit of its cover while accommodating for the greater constraint it puts on the maneuverability of your sword.
Partisan without Tears (Bolognese) Instructor: Greg Mele It was only late in the 17th century that fencing began to separate into the ars militarie and those of self-defense; the well-rounded swordsman of the 16th century was expected to have proficient with all manner of arms. This included the sword used with a variety of companion weapons, but also the two-handed sword, polearms and at least the basics of close combat.
In this short class we will look at one of the most common, useful, and for modern students – fun – polearms of the Bolognese tradition – the partisan. A massive, winged slashing spear, the partisan, whether used alone or with the rotella, was a both a common weapon of the battlefield and routinely appeared in the lists for use in a judicial duel.
In this short class we will look at the fundamental guards and defenses of the weapon, how it combines cuts and thrusts in a way similar to the sword alone, and learn several plays taken directly from the works of Antonio Manciolino and Achille Marozzo.
Please bring either a partisan or a 7 – 8′ spear, with the last 18″ (Including the point), marked to represent the cutting edge. We will have some additional weapons on hand for those traveling by plane.
Stringere: Are You Truly Constraining Your Opponent, Or Do You Just Think You Are? (Rapier)
Instructor: Devon Boorman Many Italian practitioners are making mechanically and tactically weak choices in their positions but are not having those positions challenged in a manner that leads to the development of truly effective technique. In this class we will explore the mechanical and tactical side of stringere, how to make positions that are truly sound and how to view and exploit positions that are weak.
THREE HOUR WORKSHOPS
Something Old, Something New, Destreza Common, and Destreza True (Destreza and Esgrima Comun) Instructor: Tim Rivera and Puck Curtis
For years, Carranza has been called the father of Spanish fencing. Recently, estranged uncle Godinho has returned to shed some light on the tales that brother Pacheco has been telling about his vulgar cousins and grandparents, and it turns out they’re a much closer family than previously thought. The similarities and differences between the “true” destreza and the “common” destreza will be explored in order to understand the state of Spanish fencing from which Carranza created his method, as well as its possible origins. Recognizing the relationship between these styles will lead to a broader understanding of what Spanish fencing really is.
The Spanish Sword and its Companion Arms: Shield, Buckler, and Dagger (Esgrima Comun) Instructor: Tim Rivera In 1599, maestro Domingo Luis Godinho wrote that although the three double arms (sword and rodela, buckler, or dagger) are distinct, their play is not. This class will be in two parts; the first will build the necessary foundation of sword alone in the common Spanish style, and the second will integrate your companion weapon of choice: rodela, buckler, or dagger. Bring your favorite and learn how to fight in the common Spanish style, or bring them all and learn how the use of one translates to the use of the others.
Tactical Showdown: Italian vs. Spanish Instructor: Devon Boorman vs. Puck Curtis Starting from the initial approach, to crossing safely into measure, tactically controlling the opponent, finding the right moment to strike, and concluding with a safe exit. Students will explore the fundamental flow chart of the Italian and Spanish tactical approach to the rapier at each stage and readily conclude that the Italian masters had a far better handle on what they were doing.
FOCUS CLASSES (90 Min)
Atajos: Making them, Breaking them, and the Naughty Attacks That Love Them (Destreza) Instructor: Puck Curtis In this class students will enjoy a crash course in the Atajo within a variety of contexts from simple to extreme. In addition, we will examine ways to escape and reverse the atajo in order to open up a new tree of fencing actions taken from an initial position of disadvantage. All of these actions will be coupled with a friendly dose of violence certain to delight your friends.
No experience required. Bring mask, single-handed training sword, gloves, and a padded jacket.
Figueiredo’s Destreza sword and dagger (Destreza) Instructor: Puck Curtis From Portugal comes a Carranza-based form of Destreza which challenges Pacheco’s authority while also integrating beautifully with his work. In these pages we see a simple and effective sword and dagger system to complement the existing single-sword material. What happens when you pull out a dagger for your left hand in the streets of Madrid at midnight? Find out here.
Montante vs. the World Instructor: Tim Rivera According to maestro Luis de Viedma, the montante is a weapon of little courtesy, and with it a man is forced to defend his life without having respect for anyone. Forget fighting in narrow streets. Forget breaking up fights. Forget guarding a lady or your damn cloak. This weapon is for driving your adversaries before you. Outnumbered? Surrounded? Facing shields and polearms? You’ve got a montante; time to show them what it was built for.
Trading Places: Parry-Ripostes and Counteroffense in Destreza Instructor: Puck Curtis The true mark of an experienced martial artist is excellent timing and La Verdadera Destreza’s method of stealing the place from your adversary is the diestro’s playground. In this class we will use the adversary’s movements and footwork against him to develop our assaults at his expense. This class will be particularly useful if you often fight with a reach disadvantage.
Some beginner level experience recommended. Bring mask, single-handed training sword, gloves, and a padded jacket.
Spanish Use of Two Swords, in Rules Instructor: Tim Rivera The Belgian nobleman Jehan L’Hermite, during his time in Spain, learned the use of two swords from the maestro mayor Pablo de Paredes in 1599, recalling that it consisted of very beautiful turns in good order and step, with which one defends himself and offends the enemy, learned in rules. The same year, maestro Domingo Luis Godinho wrote a manuscript containing rules for two swords which match that description. Students will learn some of these rules and their applications against being surrounded, guarding a cloak, and others.
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!
Dates: September 19 – 21, 2014
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. Lodging is from Thurs to Sat.
Nine hot meals.
$300.00 inclusive before March 1st; $375 thereafter. (Almost a 25% savings for early registration!) No cancellation refunds after July 1st, 2014
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.
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
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.
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
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:
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.
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;
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.
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”.
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.
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
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
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:
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.
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;
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.
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”.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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.