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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.


Review: Traditional Italian Knife and Stick Seminar


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“Il Castello Nicoletta”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Armizare Academy and Forteza review

Ed – Reblogged from Devon Boorman’s Academie Duello blog. Devon was one of AA’s instructors and is also the founder and chief instructor of Academie Duello – the largest WMA school in the world. Stay tuned for photo and video updates from Armizare Academy over the next week.

Event and School Review: Armizare Academy and Forteza Fitness

I have just returned home from Armizare Academy in Racine, Wisconsin and must report that it was an excellent event all the way around with great classes, opportunities for collaboration, and sparring.

For those who are unfamiliar with the event, this is it’s second occurrence – the first time being in 2009 under the name The 600th Anniversary of Fiore dei Liberi or “The 600” for short – it is an event hosted by the Chicago Swordplay Guild (CSG) on alternating years to their other excellent event the Western Martial Arts Workshops (WMAW). Unlike WMAW, Armizare Academy focuses almost exclusively on the Italian martial arts tradition of Fiore dei Liberi, generally known as Armizare. Classes focused on wrestling, dagger, longsword, and sword in one hand.

This year’s instructor roster included me, Greg Mele (CSG), Sean Hayes (Northwest Academy of Arms), Bob Cherette (Forteza), and Christian Tobler who delivered classes on parallels to Fiore from the German tradition including an excellent comparative lecture with Greg Mele.

A particular highlight of the weekend was a keynote by Tom Leoni at dinner on Saturday night, done in the style of a renaissance university address. It was a discourse on the work of Fiore dei Liberi that both argued for the use of the art itself and advised students on its study. A video of this address and transcript should be available soon.

I was very impressed with the quality of all the workshops that I attended and came away with much food for thought. I particularly enjoyed Christian’s class on German counter-dagger techniques.

For my workshops, I felt that they went off excellently well with attentive and focused students. I delivered classes on applied combatives, exchanging the thrust with the longsword, modern knife, and combative strategy (co-delivered with Sean Hayes). I will be making videos and course notes available this week for those who attended (or didn’t) and want to have a reminder of what they learned (or missed).

The pinnacle of the event for me was most likely the Deed of Arms. This is an event I participated in the previous year at WMAW that features a medievally inspired fully armoured tournament with a certain amount of pomp and circumstance. I played a multi-faceted role as head marshal, herald, and as a combatant. I had two fights at spear and at poleaxe, both of which saw me victorious. The fight at spear with Greg Mele was particularly challenging and featured the longest continual series of actions in the tournament (nearly one minute long). I have to admit after the Deed completed I was only wanting more!

Forteza Fitness

Following the event I had the opportunity to visit Forteza Fitness, the new home of the Chicago Swordplay Guild. Forteza is a full fledged Western Martial Arts school in a funky suburb of Chicago (pretty close to downtown) that opened its doors about 6 months ago. Greg Mele and his team have done a tremendous job of getting things off to a great start. The space is about 5000 square feet, close to the dimensions of Duello but arranged a bit differently. Classic turn of the century physical fitness equipment surrounds the space, including an antique rowing machine, india clubs, and other apparatuses. The brick and beam construction along with the old world aesthetic give it a great feeling and though it certainly has taken some inspiration from Duello it has a cool vibe all its own.

Myself, and Duello senior students and instructors Clint and Roland, took the opportunity while we were there to partake in longsword and rapier focus classes. Both were very well run and content that was delivered was well thought out and presented. In the rapier class (which I attended) John O’Meira and Treyson Ptak delivered a very succinct lesson on pressing the attack. They are both particularly good at delivering just the right amount of content for students to retain and make meaningful improvement in their fencing.

Though I already had a very high opinion of Greg and his other instructors, I can certainly vouch for them even more heartily now having taken a lesson from them in their new home.

Following the classes we fenced for about 3 and a half hours with the instructors and students till we were all suitably exhausted. I had the opportunity to do passes at rapier, rapier and dagger, spear, sword and buckler, and longsword. It was a real pleasure and all the fighters presented great challenges.

Hospitality in Chicago

My visit wrapped up last night in the personal fencing salle of Nicole Allen (yes she has a fencing studio in her house — jealous!) where Greg, Sean, Bob, Nicole and myself shared technical ideas, and collaborated on some new Fiore interpretations (some exciting discoveries here — more on this later).

Overall a fantastic weekend with fantastic people.  If you ever have the chance to visit Chicago, I recommend you pop in on Forteza. If you are looking for a great conference, keep an eye out for the next instalment of Armizare Academy in 2014 and certainly for WMAW in 2012.

For those looking to take classes from many of these same instructors at a locale a little closer to Vancouver, most of them will be teaching at the Vancouver International Swordplay Symposium in February of 2013. Look for classes and tracks delivered by Tom Leoni, Greg Mele, Sean Hayes, Christian Tobler, and of course me.

You can learn more about Forteza Fitness in Chicago on their website atwww.fortezafitness.com