All posts by gregm

CSG Presents: School of the Renaissance Soldier (Sept 15 – 17, 2023)

Dekoven Center
600 21st St
Racine, WI 53403

Oy! Put them pigstickers and yer daddy’s longsword away; it’s pike and sword what wins wars!

Explore the Ars Militaria of the 16th century: pike, dussack, sword, sword and rotella and physical conditioning. This is an immersive event that combines the fencing and war-training of the Renaissance soldier with a deep-dive into how the military class and townsfolk sworn to military service, viewed themselves and the use of violence.

A roster of leading instructors in Renaissance martial arts, presenting a combination of classes in the individual use of a wide variety of weapons wielded by the Renaissance soldier, from dussack to montante, pike to rotella; group drills and lectures, including:

  • Christian Cameron — Italian sword & shield; command and order in early modern armies; the Italian wars
  • Adam Franti (Lansing Historical Fencing Guild) – German pike and halberd; early modern marching, the Martial Ethos of the 16th century and the famed Landsknechts
  • Stephen Hand (Stoccata School of Defense, Australia) – English Pike and Backsword, lessons on the Trayned Bands of England.
  • Gregory Mele & Davis Vader (Chicago Swordplay Guild) – Italian Polearms, the Condottieri system and its demise.
  • James Reilly (Goliath Historical Fencing Academy) – Wrestling and Physical Culture, the staff weapons of Joachim Meyer.
  • Tim Rivera (St. Louis Historical Fencing Society) – montante and the sword and shield of late 16th-century Spain.
  • Expert instruction and morning drill in the master of the Renaissance battlefield: the Pike;
  • The 16th century Mass-Combat Experiment.
  • Pike fencing at the Barriers!

$580 Fully Prepaid

Admission includes all classes, meals and lodging onsite at the beautiful DeKoeven campus. This event is a now full. Please contact the registrar to be added to the wait list.

COVID POLICY: We require all attendees to be provide proof of vaccination and bivalent booster.  Should a new CDC-recommended booster become available before September, that will be required as well.

Armizare Academy 2020

September 18 – 20, 2020

The Chicago Swordplay Guild and the International Armizare Society present an event celebrating Fiore dei Liberi (f.late 14th c) the father of Italian Martial Arts!

Located at the picturesque DeKoven Center, home to the Western Martial Arts Workshop, the conference is a retreat with attendance limited to the 90 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 attendance is limited to the folks we can house on site, paces will go fast!

We look forward to crossing swords with you!


We are pleased to bring an international cast of renowned instructors including:

  • Devon Boorman, Academie Duello (Canada)
  • Christian Cameron, Hoplologia/IAS (Canada)
  • Sean Hayes, Northwest Fencing Academy/IAS (USA)
  • Luke Ireland, Exiles Sheffield (UK)
  • Mark Lancaster, Exiles (UK)
  • Greg Mele, Chicago Swordplay Guild/IAS (USA)

Classes will be organized in two different ways:

Three Tracks:

  1. Unarmoured,
  2. Armoured
  3. Pedagogical

By Virtue:

  1. Forteza (Technical Training)
  2. Celeritas (Physical Development and Application)
  3. Prudentia (Tactical Training)
  4. Audatia (Combat Psychology)

You can take a single track straight through, weave through a combination of armoured, unarmoured and instructor-training classes based on the a specific virtue, or just take a selection of things that inspire you!

IAS Instructor Training

This is International Armizare Society’s inaugural event, and the Society’s purpose is “to maintain and pass down canonical Armizare as recorded and left to posterity by the Founder, Fiore dei Liberi, and the preservation and promotion of Armizare as a complete, traditional, but living and functional martial art”. Central to that mission is the development of competent, qualified armizare instructors.

For Society members (or those interested in joining the Society), we will highlight the classes focused on IAS Instructor Development, and interested Society members will have a chance to take a basic Instructor exam in Chicago the Monday after the event. (Interested parties should contact

Class Schedule

A full schedule of the event is forthcoming


Friday and Saturday night will feature opportunities to fence “sine armi” with sword, dagger and spear.  A small, invitational armoured Deed-of-Arms will be fought Saturday afternoon, under the Dekoven Concords .  If you are interested in fighting in the Deed, contact Greg directly at


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

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.

Price includes nine hot meals.


All-Inclusive price: $ 520.00

No cancellation refunds after August 1st, 2020

Registration Form:

Download this Reg-form-Armizare-Academysave it, and then e-mail it to the registrar at

Contact Info:

Midwinter Armizare 2020 Tournament Rules

CSG’s Ben Horwitz (Black) and Keith Stratten (Blue) trade blows at 2018’s MidWinter Armizare Open


2020 Midwinter Armizare Open

Saturday, January 25, 2020 at 10 AM – 7:30 PM

Broadway Armory Park
5917 N Broadway St, Chicago, Illinois 60660

Tournament Rules

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. Midwinter Armizare Open 2020


Combatants will be divided into pools, fought under the below conditions, with an award to the overall victor. Combatants may also carry a dagger on their belt and switch to it when coming to grips.


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:

  • Medieval arming-sword;
  • Messer;
  • Side-sword;
  • 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.)

The following weapon combinations are permissible:

Armingsword, sidesword or rapier, accompanied by:

  • Dagger
  • Buckler
  • Rotella


As a culmination of the event, the victors of the three 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.



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 must, 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.


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!


There are two ways to advance to the final round of four combatants – by Score or by Accolade.

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.)

The list will be “balanced” by adding a fourth combatant chosen by the other combatants. If the list is already balanced, the Advancement by Acclaim will not be needed.

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.


There are two ways to advance to the final round of four combatants – by Victory or by Accolade.


The winners of each of the three tournaments automatically advance to the Midwinter King round.


The list will be “balanced” by adding a fourth combatant chosen by the other combatants. If the list is already balanced, the Advancement by Acclaim will not be needed.

Once the four finalists are assembled, they shall fight with the prior scoring conventions in a simple single elimination tree. Fighters will be paired randomly.




All weapons will be tempered steel, flexible in the thrust, in good repair and free of burs or rust. A list of acceptable and prohibited weapons follow, along with reasons why a weapon is not permitted.  Any weapons produced by an “unknown manufacturer” (see list) will be evaluated by the judges.

Swords with a rounded point the width of a quarter or built in button/nail do not need a blunt, otherwise they should have a standard rubber blunt of equivalent. Steel daggers must have a secured blunt; the Cold Steel rondel trainer is the preferred weapon for the tournament.

Acceptable Weapons/Manufacturers

  • Albion Arms — All Maestro Line weapons other than the messer;
  • Alchem — “Fiore” longsword;
  • Arms & Armor — Fechterspiel, Spada da Zogho, Scholar Sword, Messer;
  • Blackhorse Blades
  • CAS IBERIA — Practical Bastard Sword, Flexi-blade rondel dagger
  • Cold Steel – Rondel dagger trainer
  • Danelli Arms — All basic and custom models;
  • Darkwood Armory — All rapiers, daggers, sideswords and messers; older Scrimator and Fechtbuch longswords;
  • Ensifer — Heavy Feder, Messer
  • Malleus Martialis
  • Pavel Moc — Feders and blunt longswords/messers permitted.
  • Regenyei — Feders and blunt longswords/messers permitted.

Banned Weapons

  • CAS Hanwei Feder (too flexible and prone to breaking)
  • Ensifer Light (too light, too flexible)
  • CAS Hanwei Tinker Longsword (too narrow an edge for safety)

“I don’t see XYZ sword…”

As noted, bring it and we’ll have a look. However, keep the following in mind:

  • Minimum weight: 1450 g (longsword), 1000 g (one-handed sword);
  • Maximum length: 130 cm
  • Edge-width: 1.5mm
  • Overly-flexible weapons are just as likely to be refused as overly-stiff ones.



Head protection must cover the entire head and front of the throat. There should be no gaps in coverage that would allow a thrust or strike to the face. A 3-Weapon Mask with SPES-style overlay or Absolute Force HEMA mask with back of head protection, should be considered minimally acceptable protection.


A covering to protect the throat. A solid, vs. foam gorget is strongly recommended, as is


Clothing should be puncture resistant, or three layers and completely cover the torso and arms completely. Padded jackets are strongly recommended for longsword fencing. Rigid chest protection, such as a modern fencing chest guard, is strongly recommended for female fencers.


A hard cup for all male combatants, which must not be visible while fencing. (Honestly, no one wants to see your cup and jock strap.)

Elbow and Forearm

Hard plastic, leather or steel elbow protection that protects the back and sides of the joint. Forearms should be protected by additional heavy padding, plastic, leather, etc.


Sturdy gloves or gauntlets must be used to protect the hands and wrists. Gloves must include protection on the sides and tips of the fingers sufficient to resist hard strikes from steel. An unsupplemented lacrosse glove is not sufficient. Most HEMA-dedicated synthetic gloves or gauntlets, such as Sparring Gloves and Black Lance or steel gauntlets are acceptable.


Shoes must be worn.

“It Was the Time of the Gathering” or Swordsman Shangri-La: The Western Martial Arts Workshop 20th Anniversary

“It was the time of the Gathering.” Opening remarks to launch WMAW 2019 — the workshop’s 20th anniversary!

NB: Click on images for their full glory!

Back in 1999, back when the term “HEMA” was years from existing, Col. Dwight McLemore of The School of Two Swords, Pete Kautz of Alliance Marital Arts (and coiner of the term Western Martial Arts) and I decided that we would host a small gathering of ourselves, our students and a few other teachers of Euro-American fighting arts. Since Chicago was centrally located in the US, with two major airports, we decided I would host. We named the event, subtly, I think, the “Western Martial Arts Workshop” or W.M.A.W (we say the acronym by pronouncing each letter, not W-MAHW). We had no staff besides myself and my friend Aaron Popowtich, and 35 people (34 Americans and 1 Canadian, making it an ‘International’ event ) with one track of classes.That was 1999.

Twenty years later, WMAW is going strong: we had over 200 people from the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy and New Zealand. We also had our most ambitious and complicated schedule, hands down, with a fourth class track, a second armoured deed (aka “The Mini Deed”), a Destreza challenge event, and three hours of mass combat experiments.


“The Italian Experiment” This scenario was a smaller, heavily armoured force vs. a larger spear block.

Firstly, I must thank my dear friend, fellow pilgrim (literally), and co-conspirator, Christian G. Cameron, for talking me into the Hoplite Experiment, and a similar, late medieval counterpart: the Italian Experiment. “We have neither the room nor the infrastructure to do this.” I insisted. “But when else are we going to get 40 or 50 trained HEMA people to slam into each other with shields?” As it turned out, we had just over 60 people slamming into each other, over and over, all in the name of science. Special kudos to Dr. Paul Bardunias, who made us scientifically legit, and looked like a kid in a candy store, as he strapped a force meter onto his chest and let himself be squished at the center of two engaging phalanxes. From Paul I also learned how little I know about either hoplite warfare or entomology, but that is another story.

(You can see a bunch of video of the experiments, shot by overhead drones, here.)

Hoplite Experiment: The Approach (Photo by Greg Warne)

Now, if Christian was going to get his hoplites, there was no way he was getting a bunch of people who had never used a spear and shield before…so

Hoplite Experiment: the Initial Clash (Photo by Greg Warne)

before long we had an entire mini-track of classes, beginning with partisan used alone, then moving on to partisan and rotella, followed by classes taught by Christian on sword and rotella,

Hoplite Experiment: The Phalanx Breaks! Yeah, it gets messy in there! (Photo by Greg Warne)

combined arms (throwing the spear and switching to swords, both in a Renaissance context and with the Greek xiphos short-sword — including convincing mechanical proof as to WHY the sword is held in the left hand), and finally, armoured spear fighting, co-taught with Chris Duffy. Christian, I am afraid that the secret is out and you can never get away with saying “I’m just a reenactor” again!


Bill Grandy, Lord of the Mini-Deed. Thanks to Bill’s mad enthusiasm and dedication to spending three days in armour, all day long, we saw more armoured combatants training and fighting than at any previous WMAW! (Photo by Loreece Carlisle).

Secondly, I must also thank my friend and WMAW stalwart, Bill Grandy of the Virginia Academy of Fencing. Bill proposed that we have a shortened armoured track, but combine it with an elimination tournament named “the Mini Deed”. That convo went like this:

“Bill, that sounds cool, but we don’t have class space.”

“We do it on the green, in the list.”

“What if it rains?”

“It never rains at WMAW.”

“How do we staff this?”

“Guys, if we do this, I will run it all myself. I will spend my entire event on the list, in armour, coaching fencing, teaching, and will organize and run the Mini Deed. All you have to do is say yes.”

And he did! Literally! Bill, you are an armoured mensch of the first order (and your armoured bling this year was INSANE). I’d tell you all about who won the Mini Deed, but first rule of Mini Deed is you don’t talk about who won Mini Deed. Sorry.

The Mini-Deed, aka “Armoured Fight Club” combatats!

By the way, thanks to all of the MD combatants, who rolled with the punches as Mini Deed turned into Armoured FightClub, when we had to move into an indoor space the size of a good master bedroom BECAUSE IT RAINED!

Unfortunately for Bill, I had at least a third of the MD people ask if we will do it again next WMAW…

“Not Just A Reenactor” Christian Cameron puts down his Greek aspis for a suit of Milanese harness and trades spear blows with Bill Grandy at the Deed of Arms. (Photo by Jill Thompson)

Of course, we also had our formal, armoured Deed of Arms, which saw over 20 combatants in full harness, including five ladies-at-arms, our largest contingent of female armoured fighters ever! The Deed was well-fought, with a lot of good will, even though Team Italy, with primarily c. 1390 harness was a bit behind in the arms race (and thus target opportunities) against the mid-to-late 15th harness Team Germany combined with their excellent fencing skills!

The entire Deed of Arms can be seen here:

Now, by dumb luck, this was also the 450th anniversary of Carranza’s Philosophy of Arms, so Puck Curtis and Eric Myers approached me wanting to hold…a special event. Called The Parson’s Challenge, this was a bit like a prize fight, where Diestros would hold the floor against all comers. By this time I was eating Tums like Skittles trying to figure out how to fit all of this in. I realized I had an easy out:

“Sure, you guys can do that, if you teach a class on Iberian three-chain flail.” This is the three-sectional-staff of HEMA — more dangerous to the wielder than anyone else. No one in their right mind would say yes to that….

…so, the Parson’s Challenge was awesome, and it turns out that the flail is one of the most fun, if terrifying, weapons I have ever trained with. Oh, and I forgot, Puck isn’t in his right mind. Fortunately, no one was killed in the flail class, though everyone hit themselves at least once.

From its inception, WMAW has been about showcasing state of the art research, established instructors and new faces (either to the community at large or to North America), and we try to rotate about 20 – 25% of the instructors each year. This year was no exception, and I’d like to call out some of the new faces this year, because I was really pleased with what they brought to the event.

Ian Brackley and I have known each other since the early SwordForum days, but did not meet until maybe four years ago. It still took Christian Cameron and I another few years to get him to come to WMAW. Ian had an unenviable job: reintroduce smallsword to an event where previously, the smallsword class had been so badly received that about a third walked out early and for years after it was talked about as “where fun goes to die.” And honestly, this is a very demanding, form-dependent weapon where an inch out of line might as well be ten.

But Ian pulled it off, in spades. I could not believe how many people listed his smallsword classes in their top two or three favorites for the weekend. These weren’t all Italian rapierists having an affair with a French mistress, either; some were longsword students and backsworders. Everyone said that, besides making it look easy, Ian made the class engaging, fun, and was so filled with knowledge about the era and its culture, that they felt like they were in an 18th c salle d’armes.

CSG Provost, John O’Meara and Ian Brakley engage in a friendly smallsword bout on the green.

The smallsword’s bete noir is the broadsword, and I knew early on that I wanted Jay Maas at the event to give us his take. Jay and I had never met, but I had seen his videos and had been impressed at his combination of prowess, technical precision, humility and clarity. For the record, Jay Maas in person is all of that but much more. Yeah, he’s tall, strong, fast and a good fencer, but he’s also a truly genuine, big-hearted soul who has a child-like delight in what HEMA and WMA can be. Jay’s barely over 30; I wish I had been as gifted at the same age. Jay has recently taken up Armizare and rapier, and I can only imagine that in a few years he’ll be just as brilliant at that.

Jay Maas and Puck Curtis. Puck is a founding force in not only the restoration of Destreza, but in the entire WMA spread through North America; Jay is a young, skilled and very dedicated new force on the scene, ensuring that the work goes on into the next generation.

My good friend James Reilly was the driving force behind the Midwest Historical Fencing League, the man who badgered me until I agreed to hold the Midwinter Armizare tournament, and that always smiling, helpful guy at any event out this way. And everyone forgets that he is a serious martial artist and student of Meyer. I was determined to remind everyone otherwise, and I heard a lot of positive feedback from his langeort class, not that I expected otherwise.

I also would like to gush on two of my own. Davis Vader asked for a chance to teach partisan and rotella as part of the “mass combat” preparatory classes, and spent six months developing an entire curriculum that would easily fill a weekend workshop. (I was of zero technical help, because the most I have done with partisan and rotella is watch other people teach it.) He did a fantastic job of paring his extensive notes and drills down to a manageable 90 minutes, and I was extremely impressed by his command of both the material and the classroom.

I’ve talked about all of the new (or new to WMAW) teachers I invited, but my student Scott Scooter Jeffers had a particularly daunting task: with two weeks of prep teach a class on Marozzo’s two-handed sword, and make it interesting enough to people would not be too disappointed that Roberto Gotti and Jacopo Penso  of Guardia di Croce were not there teaching. No small task, and Scott took it up happily (if a bit nervously). Fortunately, this whole year he has been working on developing a Marozzo curriculum, teaching at progressively larger venues…and of course, he has an amazing pair of Marozzo-style pants! Seriously though, we billed the class as taught by Rob and Scott, but I think it became clear that it was Scott running the show!

George Livermore of the 1595 Club showing how the sword and dagger of Saviolo can be applied across systems, even to bare-knuckle fighting.

I met George Livermore at the first AIMA Rome meeting, and again in Malta. George is larger than life (in personality, not just height), swings a might rapier (or is that a spear?) and was admirably assisted by Derek Steel-Baron. Together they look like, and have the names of, a pair of Edwardian adventurers. They’re also a delight who spread the 1595 Club’s unique approach to Saviolo as a comprehensive martial system. George, stick around a little longer next time.

Of course, not everyone who is new to WMAW is new to our community. Dustin Reagan is well-known to North American HEMAtists, and I was happy to finally get him to WMAW. Likewise, Francesco Lodà is an internationally renowned swordsman, teacher and scholar, and one of the finest people you will meet anywhere. It was my privilege to host he and Silvia Tomassetti at WMAW and afterwards spend some time showing them Chicago, as they did with me in Rome.

“Not just another bearded face.” In addition to lecturing on 16th c martial culture and masculine identity, Adam Franti joined CSG Free-Scholar Rob Rutherfoord in a brilliant demo of Meyer’s rapier.

Finally, for new faces, I always keep a lecture or class in reserve for those last minute cancellations. This year, Adam Franti stepped up with a lecture on the martial culture of the Fechtschule. This was a lecture on 16th c ideas of masculinity, class, the changing notions of “nobility”…and yeah, fencing. Adam looks at Meyer and Fabris the way I do Armizare — windows onto a time and place at once familiar and alien to our own world. But as he demonstrated at the Saturday night fighting demos, he puts practice to page — his Meyer rapier/sidesword demo with Rob Rutherfoord was a clinic in technical excellence.

Of course, WMAW is also about the usual suspects, who are the usual suspects because they are so good at what they do:

Devon Boorman is my event workhorse, who fills in schedule gaps, can teach, lecture or teach on teaching, and always is there to get me out of a pinch. I *think* I might not have worked him quite as hard this year; instead he got food poisoning.

Michael Chidester is the arch-nerd of HEMA, and that is a complement! I attended both of his lectures, the one on the duel making a perfect complement to the one I gave two years ago. As always, Mike never disappoints, and has the best trait of a researcher: he has no problem saying, “two years ago, I stood here and said xyz. That was wrong and this is why.” That’s what cutting edge work means, folks. Of course, he doesn’t have it to say it that often.

Jess Finley was one of the folks who took a couple of WMAW’s off and I was really glad to have her back. Her positivity is infectious, and while, yes, she is an inspiration to female students, who remain a WMA minority, she is an inspiration for *anyone* who wants to knuckle down, grind out the work and get it done. The CSG’s motto is Ferrum non Verbun and more than almost anyone else I know. Jess has an incredible work ethic, a great classroom persona and gets the best out of people. I am so deeply annoyed I missed her lecture, I just can’t even…

Sean W. Hayes is a classical fencing master who turned medieval barbarian and is happily ensconced in the 14th century. We teach the same material, often with identical interpretations, but I always learn something about *teaching* when I take or observe one of his classes.

Stephen Hand goes back to WMAW 2001 — held in Manhattan a month after 9/11 and was a regular fixture until life intervened and kept him away for…14 years. Don’t do that again, Steve. (Actually, he won’t, because he, Adam Franti and I have an idea for a “School of the Renaissance Soldier” track at the *next* WMAW…)

John O’Meara and Rob Rutherfoord always bring their a game to their classes, and I always feel a bit of unearned pride sharing them with the community.

“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is the first piece of literature published in the Americas, and that is what one feels like when wrestling with Maestro Quarta! (Photo by Silvia Tomasetti.)

Marco Quarta is another person who always bails me out when I need to fill a suddenly vacant class description. Marco is literally a “warrior-philosopher” in the Renaissance model; which is what makes it so much fun to watch folks come out of his wrestling class saying “but, he always seemed so…nice.” Every time we are together, my friend, my life is richer.

OK, this isn’t at WMAW, it’s the European Martial Arts display at this summer’s European Games, but it is how I like to imagine Ton Puey’s study.

There is a lot of discussion about “what is a modern WMA master”? Clearly, such people have never met Ton Puey. Ton can literally wield any weapon you put in his hand, can do so in a way consistent with his art, can look effortless doing it, and then can teach you to do the same — in his third language. He is an encyclopedia of Destreza, the martial culture of Golden Age Spain, and as generous, patient and friendly an instructor as you will ever meet. I want to be Ton when I grow up, which is unfortunate, since we are the same age. After a year off, Roland Warzecha returned — replacing his buckler with a full-sized viking shield. That was a class that I suspect killed a lot of assumptions, offered a lot of new insights and it was great to see and Steve Hand — whose research in the early 2000s into big shields launched Roland’s own — finally meet.

Finally, Da’Mon Stith returned this year to remind us that “Western” includes Africa and its diaspora as surely as it does Europe. Da’mon is one part griot and one part swordsman, a shy man until he steps to the front of the class and makes you work until you want to die — and that is the workshop. We have a saying that ‘last class period of WMAW is where good classes go to die’, because often people are so tired they decide to throw the towel in, Da’mon’s spear and shield class had 40 people registered and 34 on the floor — a first! And if you saw the impromptu sparring between he and Roland Warzecha that was part of it, you know why I am sorry I missed it.

I may have missed Da’Mon and Roland’s spear dance, but you needn’t! THIS is the best of what martial arts offer us!


Our demo bout stars! Firsr row: Davis Vader, Christian Cameron, Ton Puey, Puck Curtis. Second Row: Jay Maas, Arthur Van Essen, Roland Warzecha, Jonathon Mackenzie Gordon, Kevin Murakoshi, Francesco Loda’, Stephen and Lewis Hand, Adam Franti and Rob Rutherfoord.

A highlight of WMAW is the Saturday night banquet and its demo bouts, showcasing some of the best and brightest in our community, as they try to present their art in its purest form.  Over the years there have been some fantastic and memorable demonstrations, from a full Edwardian “Exhibition of Arms” including everything from single-stick to “suffragette jujutsu”; a three-way saber duel, a messer bout with sharp blades … dinosaurs (you had to be there)…a judicial duel…and more longsword and rapier bouts than I care to mention!

This year we really upped our diversity, with a walk through history, beginning with the Viking Age and ending in the era of the Jacobite uprisings. I will add this: not one featured the longsword, and no one missed it! WMA are more than HEMA, and HEMA is more than longsword — as a community we are at last seeing the breadth and depth of what we have to offer the martial arts world.

But you know, a picture is worth a thousand words, and a video must  be at least ten times that, so here are all of those bouts, for your viewing enjoyment!

Bouts include: A Montante Flourish; Viking Sword and Shield; Partisan, Sword & Rotella; the short sword of George Silver; Scottish Broadsword; 16th century German Rapier ala Meyer; Late Italian Rapier; Destreza and Destreza vs. Italian Rapier.

This year, I taught classes, TOOK classes, heard three lecturers (spoiler: Carranza is THE chivalric righteous dude of HEMA) and got to see friends I don’t see enough. But that was largely because of the amazing people that actually make WMAW go: Nicole Allen or Chairperson, John O’Meara our Registrar (who is actually kept sane, and friendli-ish at the front desk by my beloved Tasha Dandelion Kelly), Christina Bailey our Hospitality Chair, Davis Vader, the instructor ride coordinator, and Jacques Marcotte our volunteer coordinator, who always puts together, the amazing crew of volunteers that Jacques assembles. I do all of the fun stuff, get all the profs, and they make the thing go.

OK, that’s enough from me. I usually gush less, but, standing here at the 20th anniversary looking back, I can’t even say this year’s event was dream back in 1999. I don’t know if there will be a 40th WMAW, nor do I have any idea who will be in my shoes, designing the program or writing the official review, but whoever they are, I think we are leaving them fertile soil to till.

My thanks to you all. See some of you at Armizare Academy 2020 and I hope many, many more at WMAW 2021!

The real stars of WMAW — our amazing volunteer staff! Thank you, everyone!

Playing with the Imbracciatura

(c) 2019 Rob Rutherfoord and Gregory D. Mele

In his Opera Nova (1536) Achille Marozzo covers the use of a number of different shields. The vast bulk of the work (and indeed, the largest section of his book) focuses on the use of the sword and buckler,  followed by the sword and targa (a small, square buckler), but he also dedicates considerable space to the sword and rotella (arm-strapped, round shield) that was a common infantry arm in the 14th – early 17th centuries. All of these weapons receive considerable attention by 16th century fencing masters, and even receive a little love by 17th and 18th-century writers. But Marozzo is also unique in providing four short chapters on another type of shield, the imbracciatura. This article takes a look at what this shield is, how it was used, and best of all, how to build your own!

What is an Imbracciatura?

A mid-15th-century depiction of foot soldiers, wielding the two shields taught by the Bolognese masters-at-arms, a large rotella (l) and a curved, body-hugging imbracciatura (r). Source: Chiesa di San Bernardo, Rimini.

The imbracciatura is an interesting footman’s shield of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, a return to the long kite-shields of earlier centuries, though mounted so that it hangs vertically along the arm, in a similar fashion to the small, so-called “Hungarian shield” found in Eastern Europe during the 14th and 15th centuries. Also called a targone — not to be confused with the smaller, shield used in the gioco del ponte (“bridge game”) that survived into the 19th century —  the key characteristics of the shield are a) size, b) shape and c) the appearance of a sharpened  point, or brocco in the center or at the lower end. We’ll look at each in detail.

A late 15th-century depiction of a kite-shaped imbracciatura from the Oratorio di San Giovanni, Urbino. (Photo (c) Andrea Carloni.

Large infantry shields never completely fell out of fashion, particularly in the Italian peninsula, and artwork of the period shows kite, coffin, or long rectangular-shaped shields continuing to be used alongside the round, “rotella”, which would become predominant in the 16th century, and the newer pavaise. The vertical strapping, while not new to this period, seems to become increasingly more common in the late 14th century, and predominant as we move into the Renaissance.

The key element is that these shields are very large- usually protecting the wielder from shoulder to mid shin.


Usually, the imbracciatura is depicted as either kite or oval shaped, however, by the middle of the 15th-century, rectangular and “coffin” shaped shields also appear in artwork. As this is well into the Humanist era, with its interest in classical themes, the appearance, at least of the rectangular shield, may have been a way to reference the Roman scutum, much like the cinquedaea evoked the gladius and pugio or the interest in dueling with rotella and partisan called up the memories of heroic Greece.


Marozzo’s guard for sword and imbracciatura. Note the brocco, or spike, at the base of the shield.

The presence of center-line spike at the bottom of the shield is generally considered a key feature of the imbracciatura, and Achille Marozzo calls it out specifically in his Opera Nova (1536), but these spikes are rarely found in surviving shields from the period. Although a strike with the end of the shield itself would be plenty damaging, and such shield strikes are called out with the unadorned rim of the rotella, before considering the spike a flight of fancy, it’s worth noting that such spikes are part and parcel of the even more massive, center-gripped dueling shields found in the fight books of Hans Talhoffer (1458, 1467), Paulus Kal (1460s) and others.

TARGONE BENTIVOLESCO c. 1500l Museo Civico Medievale di Bologna. (c) Andrea Carloni


A number of surviving imbracciature survive today, with a particularly well-preserved example found in the Bargello museum, in Florence, which most-closely approximates the one shown by Achille Marozzo.  Florence is also home to a far-plainer, older rectangular shield that is remarkably well-preserved in the Museo Stefano Bardini.

Another, oval-shaped shield, elaborately painted with Saint George slaying the dragon, is found in the Civico Medievale of Bologna, and is dated to approximately 1480 – 1400. For all their great size, the shield are relatively light, formed of curved plywood, faced in linen and/or thin leather, and backed in a thin parchment .

Build Your Own Imbracciatura

If the above pictures and video has inspired you, here is how you can build a reasonably historical imbracciatura of your own. (Or you can download Imbracciatura.)

  • white & wood glue
  • 3’x4’ thin plywood x2
  • muslin
  • canvas
  • thick leather strips
  • Nuts, bolts & washers
  • clamps or straps
  • jigsaw

Start by coating one side of the plywood sheets with wood glue. Here we’re using a trowel to spread the glue evenly over the entire sheet.





Take your muslin and spread it over the plywood, making sure the entire sheet is covered. We used a flat edge of a thick piece of plastic to push the muslin into the glue and eliminate any wrinkles.





Coat the top side of the muslin (which is now glued to the first sheet of plywood) with wood glue in the same manner as we coated the plywood.




Take the second sheet of plywood and lay it on top of the muslin. We’ve now made a sandwich of two sheets of plywood with muslin in between. Two sheets of plywood will gives us the mass we need and will allow us to bend the boards into place. The muslin between prevents the boards from cracking.


Clamp the perimeter of the plywood while the glue dries. We used two long clamps across the width to bend the plywood into place. Straps can also be used to get the desired curvature.




Let the glue dry overnight and remove clamps. Trim excess muslin. We now have a curved ‘blank’ to work with.






Mark the center of the plywood on both the top and the bottom. Trace half the shape of the shield on paper or any extra muslin. Place that ‘half’ pattern on one half of the plywood and trace it onto the wood. Flip the pattern and repeat on the other half.



Use a jigsaw to cut out the shape of the traced pattern (remember your eye protection!).






Coat the backside of the shield with white glue.







Lay the canvas over the glued side. We used the same flat edge of a flat piece of plastic to press the canvas into the shield and to remove and wrinkles.




Cut the canvas to the edge of the shield using a box cutter. Place the leather straps on the back side and mark their placement. The top strap should be just below the armpit while the small strap should be an arm’s length away so the hand can grasp it.

Drill holes through the leather and the shield at the ends of the leather straps. There should be enough play in the straps to get an arm through. Don’t leave too much slop or it will be too loose. Put the bolt through the holes from the front of the shield so you can put the washer and nut on the back side.


Coat the front side with white glue. Now cover the front side with canvas, leaving 2 inches overhang.






Apply white glue around the edges of the shield




Trim the canvas, leaving 2 inches around the outside edge of the shield. Apply white glue to the canvas extending past the shield and double-fold the edge and apply it to the back of the shield.

(Another view)







Let the glue dry and paint your shield!

(this version does not have a brocco spike at the end, one might be added later)




You’re ready to fight!


Gelli, Jacopo, Guida del raccoglitore e dell’amatore di armi antiche, Milano, Hoepli, 1900

Gelli, Jacopo, L’arte delle armi in Italia, Bergamo, Istituto italiano d’arti grafiche, 1906

Marozzo, Achille, Opera Nova (1536)– English translation by Wanger, Jherek as The Duel, or the Flower of Arms for Single Combat, Both Offensive and Defensive, by Achille Marozzo, Lulu, 2019.

Andrea Carloni maintains an amazing Flickr account detailing primary sources for arms, armour and clothing of the Italian Renaissance.

L’Arte delle Armi: A Weekend of Bolognese Swordsmanship After Action Review

This past weekend (9/17 – 9/23/2018) was the latest “off-year” or “WMAW lite event” – the theme-focused event we hold with attendance no larger than those we can sleep at the Dekoven Foundation, the beautiful neo-gothic retreat center that has been home to the Western Martial Arts Workshop since 2005.

This year’s event was L’Arte delle Armi, or a Night at the Opera Nova, an event entirely dedicated to the Bolognese tradition of the 16th century, and featured an international staff of instructors — Devon Boorman, Academie Duello (Canada), Christian Cameron, Hoplologia (Canada), Ken Harding, St. Louis School of Arms (USA), Greg Mele and Rob Rutherfoord, Chicago Swordplay Guild (USA), and Jacopo Penso and Moreno dei Ricci, Opera Nova (Italy) – with lessons derived from all of the major Bolognese masters-at-arms. Classes also covered the entire breadth of the tradition, from spada solo to two-handed sword, dagger vs. dagger to partisan and rotella.

The Classes

Christian Cameron addressing the troops in “Spear of Heroes, Part II: Partisan and Rotella,” which looked first at the classical Greek use of spear and shield and how that was re-imagined by Renaissance Italians.

Of the various ‘schools’ of European martial arts, none has a curriculum as diverse as the Bolognese. Often, modern practitioners just focus on sword and sword and buckler, treating the tradition as the antecedent of rapier fencing (it was) and the first “civilian, dueling  tradition” (it isn’t), but in reality, the masters of this tradition taught the full complement of knightly weapons: one and two-handed sword, spear, poleaxe, dagger, along with every martial and civilian companion arm that can be included with the sword — bucklers, cloaks, daggers, gauntlets — and a variety of polearms associated with infantry soldiers, such as halberds and bills. It is a deep, rich tradition, and I am happy to say that it was represented as such during the event.

CSG’s Rob Rutherfoord showed the technical precision of the art in his Imbroccata class, and its “quirky” side in his final class on sword and gauntlet.  Ken Harding, taught Marozzo’s spada solo, which is far more dynamic and aggressive than the more conservative “narrow play” of Manciolino and Dall’Aggochie.

The Imbroccata, or Punta Sopramano — Rob RutherfoordThere is a longer segment of the class here, but the sound volume is poor:
Marozzo was also particularly well represented in over six hours of instruction on the spada a dui mani (“two handed sword”). Originally, Maestro Roberto Gotti, who is the world’s foremost authority on Marozzo and his use of this weapon, was going to attend the event, but work intervened, so two of his senior students — Jacopo Penso and Moreno  dei Ricci — attended in his place. I do not think anyone felt cheated as the guys presented two amazing workshops that really brought the power and elegance of this weapon to life.

The Two-Handed Sword of Achille Marozzo — Jacopo Penso and Moreno dei Ricci
Devon Boorman is a regular at our events, and taught a diverse array of classes, from tactical decision making in sword and buckler to that tour-de-force of Bolognese swordsmanship: wielding a sword in each hand. Here’s a peak of what it looks like when two men swing four swords at each other:

Two-Sword Demonstration — Devon Boorman (with Matheus Olmedo).

I taught a class on two-handed use of partisan, which was great fun, and for my money, is the most elegant polearm of all. But perhaps one of the most unusual, and well-received, classes, was Christian Cameron’s partisan and rotella class. This weapon combination was taught by Marozzo and Manciolino, and is recorded in 15th c judicial duels. It seems to have been a conscious effort by Italian fencers, influenced by the Humanist fascination with antiquity, to fight in a fashion they imagined would have been used by Achilles and Hector. In essence, it is a reconstructed martial art — 16th century style! Christian, who is a renowned researcher in Ancient Greek fighting arts made a point of showing how Marozzo’s play corresponds to their own reconstruction from vase art. It was a fascinating demonstration, and many people loved playing hoplite — so many that we now have some interesting ideas about an “Oplomachia” track (a “School of the Soldier”) for WMAW. I won’t say more now, besides, anyone know where we can get a few dozen pikes?

The full event schedule is here.

Evening Free-Play

Hey, who let the rapierists in?

Each night after dinner, we opened the gym to two hours of free-fighting that saw probably thirty or so people trying their hand at what they had learned that day. While most fighters wielded sword alone, sword and buckler or two-handed sword, a surprising number of folks decided to try their hand at partisan, and partisan and rotella…and to our horror, a few rapiers wandered onto the floor.

The Tournament

We don’t hold tournaments at WMAW, but we usually do some sort of low-key, friendly competition at the off-year event, and this year no exception: a three round tournament that included both judged and self-judged components, with a rule-set derived from the hints provided in Manciolino (1531) and the Anonimo Bolognese (c.1550).

This is informal combat at arms, was fought in three rounds:

  • A self-judged Challenge Round with spada solo;
  • A self-judged, Challenge Round with sword and any companion weapon or longsword;
  • A judged Final Round
Challenge Rounds

Rounds One & Two were a martial meet-and-greet: find a partner, call your hits and report to the Recorder of Deeds. The cleaner you fight, the more you fight; the more you fight, the better your chance to advance!

We have used this format at two previous “off year” events: You challenge someone to combat, each with your agreed upon weapons, and report your score to the Recorder of Deeds. Each round is 45 minutes long, so the more fights you get, the better your chances to advance!

What was different this year is that each bout was fought to a total of 5 points scored against one person, using the following scoring system, adapted from Antonio Manciolino and the Anonimo Bolognese:

  • The entire body is a target;
  • Cuts or Thrusts to the Head counts for three points;
  • Cuts or Thrusts to the Sword Arm or Leg counts for two points;
  • All other blows, including pommel strikes to the face, count for one point;
  • A throw that leaves the thrower standing is a victory. (“If you lift your opponent from the ground, you will be considered victorious.”);
  • After being hit, you have the time of one pass to strike back one blow at your opponent in order to redeem your honor.

When the bout was over, the Marshal scored the fight, using the following metrics:

  • 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!


The eyes of the marshal are upon you…

There were two ways to advance to the final round of six combatants — by Score or by Accolade.

By Score
After the Challenge Round ends, total scores for each will be totaled, and the two combatants with the highest score and the two combatants with the highest number of first blood scores will move to the finals. (If one person wins both categories, then the person with the next highest total score will advance. Ties are broken by who received the least amount of double-hits.)

By Accolade
Two combatants shall advance to the finals by acclaim, one chosen by one’s fellows, and the other chosen by the Instructors.

Accolade of Peers
All participants in the tournament are given one vote that they may cast for any other combatant other than themselves or an Instructor. The combatant who receives the most votes shall advance to the finals.

This was close, as there were three fighters all tied in votes, Adam Franti of the Lansing Swordplay Guild edged the competition out to advance.

Accolade of Instructors
The Instructors shall choose one combatant whom they thought best represented their art and the spirit of the tournament, and this shall make the fourth challenger in the finals.

Again, this was close, but the instructors chose Brandon “Ted” Pool of the CSG because of his efforts to maintain a Bolognese form throughout his fencing, his use of correct technique to enter *and* exit the fight, and his low incidence of double-hits.

Elimination Round and Finals

Once the six second round combatants were assembled, they were split into two pools of three, fighting round-robin style under the previous conventions.

The winner of each pool was Ben Mendelkern from Madison, WI, and Matheus Olmedo of Academie Duello in Vancouver. The bout was fought sword and buckler (Ben) vs. sword and cloak (Matheus), with Matheus the overall victor. You can see a video of the final bout here:

Preliminary Conclusion on the Rules
So what did we think of the Bolognese rules?

Honestly? Meh.

The concept makes sense: points are weighted to one of the principle targets (the head) and the hardest to hit safely and not be hit (the leg). Thrusts to the body, while lethal, score less well because they aren’t fight ending. Of course, Manciolino himself says that swordsmen should target the dominant hand and make striking it a priority, yet this is not reflected in his rules (we know why — safety — or at least he alludes to this), and the Bolognese after-blow led to just as messy a set of resolutions as any other after-blow.

I addressed the first problem by making sword arm attacks score just as well as leg blows, but overall, with the rules making it less desirable to thrust to torso, and the after-blow increasing the number of double-hits, I am not sure the rules added anything new or interesting.

Assalti Demonstration

At our closing remarks on Sunday, I asked Devon, Matheus, Jacopo and Moreno to demonstrate several of the traditional assalti of the tradition. The assalti are one of the distinguishing traits of Bolognese swordsmanship — elegant solo-forms which can also be transformed into paired exercises. Arguably, if you don’t study the assalti you are skipping the heart and soul of the tradition. On the other hand, if you do them as some sort of elegant dance without understanding their application, you have nothing more than just that — an elegant dance.

Here are the assalti, as filmed by Jess Johnson and Shanee Nisry. I believe they speak for themselves.

Assalto One: Sword and Buckler — Devon Boorman

Assalto Two: Two-Handed Sword — Jacopo Penso and Moreno dei Ricci

Assalto Three: Sword & Cloak — Matheus Olmedo


Hey guys, the event is over…go home.

Three years ago, this event could not have happened. There just weren’t enough people involved in Bolognese swordsmanship to fill the hall. When I announced it last year, I still wasn’t sure we could get enough bodies to fill a “Bolognese only” event. As it turned out, with a maximum allowed attendance of 85, we had 79 people — our best off-year showing since we began the event in 2009!

A lot of things have led to this change. In 2010 Tom Leoni published a translation of Manciolino’s Opera Nova, making one of the best, and certainly most concise, works of the Bolognese masters available to an Anglophone audience. To this is added Jherek Swanger’s translations of Viggiani, Dall’Aggochie, and most importantly, his new translation on Achille Marozzo. Finally, Stephen Fratus has made his work-in-progress translation of the Anonimo freely available, which means that every text in the tradition is now available in English. The Giovanni Dall’Aggochie Facebook group has become a centerpiece for discussing Bolognese fencing and is unusual for both the high level of signal-to-noise and the cordiality of posters. In short, there is now a small, but thriving community dedicated to his incredible tradition, and I hope this event has only added to its growth.

L’Arte delle Armi or a Night at the Opera Nova would not have been possible without the hard work of not only our instructor roster but our staff: John O’Meara, Nicole Allen, Tasha Mele and Marcie Vereline, to whom I am deeply grateful.

Defining Tempo in Italian Swordplay & its Tactical Implications

(c) Robert Rutherfoord, June 2018

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.


“Physics by Aristotle” Translated by R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye

Leoni, Tom. Art of Dueling. Chivalry Bookshelf, 2006

Swanger, Jherek. On The Art of Fencing. Online, 2007



We Have Two New Armizare Free Scholars!

The Guild’s newest Free Scholars: Nicole Allen and Jacques Marcotte.

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow (lots and lots and lots of snow) could stop this past weekend’s Free Scholar Prize Play!

As discussed elsewhere, the Guild uses a ranking system traceable to the fencing schools of the late 15th and 16th centuries. In the English tradition the grade of free scholar denoted a senior student who had grasped enough of the basics to move on to more advanced training. An analogy can be found in the modern academic system, with a scholar being equivalent to an undergraduate, and a free scholar similar to a graduate student. (Those familiar with modern Asian arts might it similar to a 1st degree black-belt: a recognition of embodying the fundamentals of the art, being able to apply it across the system, and therefore having the tools to take a truly deep dive onto the path to mastery.)

Nicole Allen and Jacques Marcotte are two long-time Guild members. Nicole joined the CSG only a few months after its founding in January 1999, played her Armizare Scholar’s Prize in 2001 and is part of the first group of students to become double scholars (Armizare and Renaissance Swordplay). Jacques joined several years later, and has been an assistant instructor for many years, teaching the Saturday morning Taste of the Knightly Arts class since time immemorial (or 2009). Consequently, they are vibrant, integral parts of the CSG family, and this made their at testing for Free Scholar all the more a cause of celebration.


By Guild custom, students must spend at least three years at the Scholar rank before progressing to Free Scholar, although in practice it has taken twice that time or longer. In part, this is because, prior to opening of Forteza Fitness, and with it, the implementation of multiple training days, it was impossible for students to get in enough training time “on the mat”. Additionally, the Scholar curriculum is extensive, comprised of the entirety of Fiore dei Liberi’s dagger curriculum for use out of armour, longsword at wide play, elements of longsword and close play, arming sword and spear. Each of these components has its own written, skills and sparring exams, and students must pass all of them, a number of reading assignments, and complete a scholar project before being allowed to take their comprehensive written and skills exams.

Nicole’s project involves an annotated copy of the Getty Manuscript, designed to show visual interconnectedness of the sword and dagger, interwoven with student’s training notes. Whereas her project involves assisting the student, Jacques turned his attention to the teacher, creating a teaching guide of tips, traps and suggestions for new instructors teaching the introductory longsword course, as a companion to the  curriculum outline. (Both projects are in final revision, after which they will be made available to Guild members.)


One of the most important steps in the progression from the grade of scholar to master is the concept of prize playing.  Having passed all internal examinations,  the student to submit a challenge for a public prize playing (free fencing exhibition), for the grade being tested for. The Prize is fought in two parts:

  1. Three, four-minute rounds with each of three weapons: longsword, arming sword and spear.
  2. The Ordeal, in which the prizor holds the field against all Guild Scholars who wish to challenge them to three blows with the sword.

At the CSG we have always invited one or more outside challengers to help test the prizors’ skill at arms. This past weekend, we were joined by Mr James Reilly, chief instructor of the Wisconsin Historical Fencing Association’s Kenosha branch, and Mr. Christian Cameron of Hoplologia in Toronto, Ontario. Joining CSG Free Scholars Davis Vader and Erin Fitzgerald, together they provided the timed rounds of the Prize.

We are still processing and uploading video, but we have pulled a few sample fights to share right away:

Spear: Nicole vs. Erin

Spear: Jacques vs. Davis

Spear: Nicole vs. James

Sword in One Hand: Jacques and Davis

Longsword: Jacques and James

Longsword: Nicole and Erin

Longsword: Jacques and Christian


Swearing the Free Scholar’s Oath after receiving the Gold Garter, the grade’s symbol of rank.

Ceremony and ritual was a large part of medieval and Renaissance life, and although our Guild is a modern one, we seek to connect to the spirit of those who have gone before through both the Prize and the ceremony by which our Scholars, Free Scholars and Provost are invested in their rank. The investiture ceremony involves a lesson on the symbolism of Fiore’s four animals, a charge with new responsibilities and duties, the bestowing of gold garters, and finally, a swearing of the Free Scholar’s Oath, adapted for modern use from those of the old London Company of Maisters.

Much of the modern world has lost the sense of ritual and its purpose: to initiate. At its heart, the Prize is an ordeal: both in preparing for the exams, and then facing your peers (or those whom you wished to be acknowledged as a peer) and your fears in front of friends and loved ones. It’s an ordeal that also brings student and teacher, prizor and challenger, together in a unique bond that is revealed to be both ordeal and celebration; a symbolic reflection of how we travel the road to mastery of both the art and ourselves alone, yet succeed through the presence and support of our community.

Speaking of that community we are all extremely proud of Jacques and Nicole both for the hard work training, testing and fighting, but also for the long years of service and support they have shown their Guild family, marrying the chivalric virtue of prowess with that of largesse. A hearty and heart-felt congratulations to them both!

Announcing a Play of the Prize for the Grades of Provost and Free-Scholar

We are pleased to announce there will be a playing of the prize for the grade of Laureato d’Armizare (Free Scholar of the Art of Arms) and Rettore d’Armizare (Provost), this upcoming Saturday (February 10, 2018), at the Sala d’Arme Forteza, in Chicago.

This will mark a huge occasion for the Chicago Swordplay Guild as this will also mark the creation of both our first Armizare Provost, and the first to be created under the auspices and procedures set out by the International Armizare Society. The candidate, Jesse Kulla, has also been with us since virtually the beginning, and over the years has developed quite a reputation in the local, regional and national HEMA community. (We will be posting a full overview of the process, with video from the various examinations and Prize, in the next week or so.)

In addition, the day marks our third Armizare Free Scholar Prize since the Guild’s inception, the candidates are long-time Guilders. Nicole Allen of Revival Clothing and Historica fame, has been with the Guild since shortly after its founding in 1999, and Jacques Marcotte has been one of our Taster Class instructors for nearly a decade.

Please join us in wishing Jesse, Nicole and Jacques the best of luck in the upcoming ordeal!