Saturday, January 30, 2010

The "Art of Defence" Explained


In the time these arts were used, “Defence” was often synonymous with fighting in general; Anything one must do to defend oneself, including offensive actions within combat. By way of meaning, Art of Defence is a direct translation of the contemporary Germanic Kunst des Fechten. Therefore, the Art of Defense is the Art of Fighting, and “defense” is not relegated to the purely “defensive” techniques, such as parries, that most would generally more exclusively consider it today. Therefore, in the 14th-16th century English martial arts texts, one will not find much reference to “defenses” per say, but abidings, wards, etc.

The Art of Defense vs. “Self” Defense?
In the modern era, self defense is born. Well, not so much born as it is the abiding, emaciated husk of the Art of Defense. As I have expounded upon in previous articles, prior to the industrial revolution, there was little, if any, separation between “civilian” and “military” martial arts that there commonly is today. This of course is primarily due to the ascendance of firearms combined with a certain complacency of the non-military population (now separated due to the ascendance of exclusive standing armies, rather than the more inclusive and leveling feudal system). More to the point, however, is that for most of history Western peoples commonly trained in one Art, generally speaking. That is to say, they trained with the same fighting skills and carried the same weapons that they would use to defend themselves on the street, to defend their families at home, and to defend their country when called upon to do so.
This is all opposed to now, when a large portion of the Art of Defense has become obsolete; Swords replaced by rifles, etc. and many civilian populations have been subjugated to a degree that on one level or another, they cannot function in a military role as effectively as their nation’s standing military forces, often being completely disarmed. The carry of even a simple dagger or dual purpose fighting knife is no longer custom, but often illegal, as is the use and carry of firearms; Often at best requiring special permits. This makes certain weapons and weapon arts taboo in a society, and forces a great divide between civilian and military fighting arts.

In the civilian arena, what this leaves is a deluge of governmentally kosher schools of fighting arts. As primarily unarmed schools, a few of which have some focus on ancient and obsolete weaponry, these are no longer so versatile as to practically defend more than one’s individual person. Thus, “self” defense is born. Let’s face it: If we were to imagine the most effective modern self defense school for civilians, it would focus on the combative use of the handgun, among other things, in the same way a public school of 600 years ago focused on the sword. However, this being rendered largely impractical and taboo by governmental influence, we are forced into wishful thinking and the practice of the most fundamental (and honestly, least effective in many of the most dire of real-life circumstances) of all the Art of Defence; unarmed combat. Though also the most essential aspect of any fighting art, it is, and has always been, the last resort.

We are forced, by a culmination of different factors, into our last resort now.

-C

Copyright Jan. 2010, Casper Bradak

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Fiore cites Döbringer?





Manui dat cognitio vires.

Knowledge lends strength to the hand.

Let's cut right to the chase, shall we?

Good.

I knew you'd agree.

The author of the Döbringer manuscript (some call into question Döbringer's actual authorship) and Fiore dei Liberi were contempories. Döbringer dates to the 1380's, and Fiore's first known treatise dates to 1409, or 1410. Personally, I don't think we can rely firmly upon either of these dates, but they're good ballpark figures. Regardless, the respective treatises that both authors produced are indicative of the martial methodology and culture of the late 14th and early 15th centuries.

With that little preamble out of the way, let's examine some passages in each, starting with Döbringer:

...regarding the Iron Gate...If you are set upon by four or six peasants (the actual number isn't all that important, apart from the fact that Döbringer is adamant that a lone man should never, unless absolutely compelled to, engage more than a maximum of three adversaries at once), then place either foot forward, and with the Gate you will create a shield by placing the point towards the ground.

Hear how you should do this: Place yourself so that they are right in front of you, [so that none] can get behind you. Now hear what you should do: When they [cut] or thrust at you, set [their attacks] aside with strength - going up from the ground - and then you will shame them well...

Dobringer prefaces this passage with this:

...for practice and school fencing (i.e., for training purposes), I want to describe a few easy techniques [with] some short and simple rules.

(Translation by David Lindholm.)

Döbringer was not an enemy of the fechtschule, as some would have you think. He stressed only that there is a line between theory - even tested theory - and kill-or-be-killed application that every prudent combatant should be aware of. But it should not be inferred that Döbringer disapproved of training in a fechtshule. In point of fact, when taken in context, he implies that serious formal training, guided by a true master, in such an environment was imperative. He simply cautions that such training alone is often not enough. As Vadi said, "Be sure, as death is, that your blows come not from courtesy."* It is also worth noting that Döbringer, having insisted more than once that a fighter should never tangle with more than three, states later on that it is indeed possible to pull off successfully, provided that the swordsman "wants to win," and that he attack "the ones on the outer ends" first.

Döbringer also says: But I also advise not to remain standing [directly] in front of [the opponent,] unless you want to be a loser, but [instead] someone who hits [the opponent/s.]

(Lindholm.)

Now, let's move on to our friend, Fiore:












I'm the Whole Iron Door at ground level,
And I always stop cuts and thrusts.


-Flos Duellatorum, (translation by Hermes Michelini.)

And:









**

Opponents:

We three...want to kill this Master - one with a thrust, one with a cut and the other by throwing his sword at the Master. [It'll] be a miracle if the Master survives, God damn him (the translator is coy here, and puts "darn" in the place of damn. I, however, am totally without shame, and say what Fiore intended.)

Master:

You're all inept and know little of this [A]rt...come...one by one...I'll mess you all up with this guard, which is...good and strong. I'll step with my [lead] foot a little [off-line,] and with the left foot I'll pass at angle; as I do so, I'll cross [blades] and beat away your swords, find you open and strike you for sure...even with my sword in one hand, I can practice my [A]rt...

And:

Middle Iron Door...holds the sword in the middle...it delivers strong thrusts, beats away attacks from low-to-high...a strong guard that is difficult to break without danger...

-Fior di Battaglia, (translation by Tom Leoni. Seriously, you need to get this book! It's the most important work out there right now.)

The above is direct evidence, about as direct as it can get, of cross-borders instruction, international masters, and an ultimately pan-European Art. Also worth mentioning is Fiore's comment about being able to practice his Art even while holding the longsword in one hand. As far as I know, only the English texts make a similar such show of using the longsword interchangeably in one or both hands. It is shown in action in the English texts, and Fiore comes right out and says that you can do it all with one or both hands; the same basic principles and mechanics apply.

The title of this post is above, but of course Fiore didn't cite Döbringer. They both spring from the same source.

-B.

*Translation by Greg Mele & Luca Porzio.

**Image from Flos, not Battaglia. They're more or less identical, in any case.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Attitude in Swordsmanship (a summary introduction)


Fearlessness. Courage. Audacity. Strength. Serenity.

These are facets of the attitude we are admonished by the Masters to adopt when wielding the sword.

Brandish manfully the sword, for it is a cross and a noble weapon. Match it with the gallant heart.1
Master Fillipo Vadi of Pisa


What did Master Vadi mean when he said to brandish the sword manfully? Did he mean this to the exclusion of women, or the physically weak? Adamantly, no (at least that was not his primary point, and it need not apply to us). What he truly means by “manfully,” is to wield the weapon with confidence and authority, for that is what manliness is, and the swordsman without this is lost (male or female).

Conversely, if our heart is not gallant; if we do not wield this noble and sacred weapon with an attitude of confidence and authority, we shame it. Thusly, we shame ourselves.

Serenity is a state of mind as much as an attitude. Serenity is the empty mind allowing the free flow of spontaneous transitions and techniques. A lack of emotion clouding judgment and hindering perception. Serenity is why I disdain the term “emotional content.” Emotion is the downfall of the fighter. These facets are not emotions, but attitudes that the swordsman adopts. In reference to some mistaken assumptions about serenity: the only time a skilled martial artist adopts a passive or defensive attitude is when he is being deceitful. The arts of combat are based in large part upon deception, and therefore one should always be wary of the opponent who feigns such an attitude. But if one can tell the difference, one can dominate the passive or defensive opponent.

It is often forgotten that Strength refers as much to strength of will in combat as much as the strength of body and attack. Unwavering strength of attitude dominates the opponent, as does strength and ferocity of physical attack.

Audacity is, like serenity, also a deeper state of mind as well as attitude. It is the ultimate taking of the initiative; a courageous, driven assault, heedless of the opponent. It is the intrepid fencer taking all opportunity; an energetic attitude. (And people take Master Fiore, with his tenet of Audacia, to espouse a defensive style)

Fearlessness is the utter dismissal of all fear, and courage is action in spite of fear. Fearlessness allows one to be serene and audacious, and vice versa. Courage takes care of the rest.

All of these components are principles of proper attitude that were emphasized, and thought necessary, by the Masters. None are independent when wielding the sword; they all function via one another. Few fights are won without a psychological domination in addition to the physical.

1. Paraphrased translation by Luca Porzio and Gregory Mele.

-C

Copyright Jan. 2010, Casper Bradak

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Of Novices and Masters, Foundations and the Foundationless


My friend told me that, during some discussion, his opponent made the self-covering statement that, in the Chivalric Arts, “we are all rank amateurs.” This statement makes sense, from a certain point of view, as it itself came from what I consider a “rank amateur,” in most relevant respects. I don’t mean this in a negative or hostile way, but I strongly disagree with the statement, as I have explained in articles past. I will define what I consider a “rank amateur,” or an ignorant novice, and conversely elaborate a bit on what I consider a Master, and what makes them so, in my opinion, of course.

For a bit more on rank amateurs, see our short past piece entitled Hand to Hand: the Unarmed Arts of Europe.

The “rank amateur;” the ignorant novice, in this case, is one who jumps into playing at swords with no foundation for doing so. This is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly with a legitimate1 instructor (who will instill a foundation, at least to a degree). But many do not, and they learn directly from books and the company of other such amateurs. While it has been said by the Masters (Fiore in particular) that one cannot learn, that is to say, retain, much of the Art without books (for it is so vast; that’s saying something), he did not mean that books were a replacement for the kind of teachings that books cannot give (the ignorant novice will not know what these things are). That is; training from human being to human being. The devil is in the details. Books are technical references, largely for things one has already learned, in one combination or another.

As I have said many times before, I take Master Ringeck at face value when he said Alles fechten kompf vom ringen. This was not his idle musing. This is because my background in martial arts has allowed me to forgo a massive amount of “interpretation.” This is why, as I have explained before, we are not all “rank amateurs,” and the Art could have been developed to an appreciable degree far more quickly if qualified martial artists had taken a larger part within the Chivalric Arts revival, as opposed to re-enacors, boffer fighters, and novices who just wanted to “sword fight.” An experienced martial artist; one schooled in proper martial motion, can simply recognize and decipher the vast majority of techniques and concepts depicted in the manuals, at least with a good translation to verify things. Thusly, by comparison to the foundationless amateur, I take Master Ringeck at his word. One can say that “It’s easy to play the quote game,” but they are obviously at odds with the Masters when they so adamantly argue against them and those who follow their advice. Why they fight those Masters they claim to emulate is beyond me.

To give an example of how such things work for the ignorant novice trying to sword-fight, let’s go with the “duck walk” (I’m tired of the rock ‘em sock ‘em longsword example). Say our amateur begins to notice the images in the source literature that show people’s toes pointing outward. Now, the martial artist with a foundation to work from may have taken these images for granted for a decade (or whenever he first viewed the images), knowing exactly what they are, how they are used and what they are for, because they are commonly used in the martial arts of the world to this day. However, a decade passes and the baseless amateur notices these images. He says, “Wow! Look at this discovery I’ve made!” and begins to duck-walk for the sake of duck-walking, not knowing what the use of the foot maneuver is, yet using it anyway, perhaps experimentally. Perhaps he names it the “duck-walk,” and in a fit of the worst linguistics reasoning ever, thinks, “Well, I call it the duck-walk because when I do it, it reminds me of a duck, walking. You know, the English had this thing called a cock-step. They’re both avian, so even though I don’t know why or how to duck-walk, perhaps the cock-step is the duck walk!” “Ooooh, aaaah” say the smurfs.

Anyway, the rank amateur has no foundation, and often mistakenly takes for granted that there is no foundation, when in fact there absolutely is; the Art of Fighting and knowledge of motion in antagonistic application. Motion, that beautiful word, is what it is all about. Both a mental and physical knowledge of martial motion and its effects. At the very minimum, 80% of the content of our source material never required “interpretation” in the first place, when viewed by qualified practitioners, because it was already alive and well, in one form or another. Blasphemy you say? Because it goes against what a rank amateur, by very definition, has caused you to accept? I can prove different.

To again paraphrase the Masters; more in the feet than the hands, and all fencing comes from a foundation of unarmed skills. What is left but the strengths and weaknesses of certain unnatural weapons?

In the same vein, I believe qualified practitioners of Japanese swordsmanship, with proper translations, could have significantly shortened the reconstruction time of the Art of the Longsword, despite the cultural and weapon differences, because of their foundational knowledge of universal core principles, such as feeling, timing, stances, extant drills, etc. that fill in the gaps between foundational unarmed knowledge and that required for a specific weapon, if they’d had the inclination to do so. Instead, they laugh at the foundationless taking baby steps, making the Chivalric Arts look less than appreciable. Yet we have had those very boffer fighting, re-enacting, “rank amateurs,” with the loudest voices, tell us that it’s “bad,” and “wrong” and only harm will come from it. Well, those who began the Chivalric Arts with a foundation will universally disagree. If you want to know the difference between having no foundation and trying to learn a hip throw from a book, and performing the same from extant knowledge and human contact, read any interpretation of Master Ringeck’s book, and then watch a Judo video. You’ll see “rank amateurs,” and then you’ll see what Ringeck knew.

As I said, it had been said in the past that it is not necessary to “fill in” any gaps in our knowledge with, for example, knowledge from Asian fighting arts. And again, this came from a foundationless, rank amateur. For but one example, you can spend ten years learning how to perform a hip throw, like a baby learning to walk, because it was said to perform one in a 600 year old German book (all the while making “startling discoveries”), you can learn how to hip throw from someone who already knows in a significantly shorter time, or perhaps you already knew how to hip throw. Which is the most efficient method for you? There is no “stylistic infection,” when you follow the Master’s direction. It was begun as a statement by a rank amateur in an attempt to keep himself “on top,” or, shall we say, “foremost,” despite his lack of foundation.

Now, on to the Master.

In current English, Degrees used in belt ranking systems (for example) in the martial arts are so-called because they are, literally, degrees, earned by scholars of the martial arts. These degrees are earned by certain levels of expertise in various different curricula, depending upon the art and the school. The different belts, though not often referred to as degrees, are also degrees all the same. This stands true to our Western martial heritage, having ranks of Scholars, Provosts and Masters. Those titles are degrees earned more-so than titles given, just as one earns a degree in a modern university, for the two were not always so separate in the West.

While the semantics involved in these degrees are a definite issue, there is also a certain assumed standard for those degrees. The semantics are such that a degree, such as Master, will be for the curricula of the school that awarded it, I.e. one school may have very different standards for that degree than another, and that is alright, in a way. Yet because of this, a Master of one style or school may be far superior to the Master of another, all due to disparate standards and definitions.

A problem in the Chivalric Arts now is that the Art has been pre-cheapened. While there are plenty of false “Masters” in the Asian fighting arts, by and large, there is a standard of what a master is, and by and large, it is adhered to. In the Chivalric Arts, we have specialist fencers and rank amateurs who cheapen the Art and call themselves (or consider themselves) Masters. They are false Masters by all accounts but those of their acolytes.

Mastery implies a certain physical and mental dominance of a subject; a mastery of it. There is no way around this, however it is rationalized. Some will say Master simply means “teacher,” or some such thing, but mastery is mastery. A teacher must master his subject to teach it thoroughly. It is the thorough command of what one has mastered. A slave-master is so because he is master of the slave’s life and death, and the slave is his to command, and will do as he commands. The Art is the slave of the Master. A Master is not perfect; no-one is. But a Master can exert his will over his subject to a degree far higher than anyone less skilled and knowledgeable, and he knows why, not just how.

For an example, a black-belt with his 8th degree in the modern American system of Kenpo Karate is considered an Associate Master of the Arts. After the 3rd black-belt degree, the requirements for earning degrees are not so much about curriculum content, but further physical mastery of motion, time at the Art, and contribution to the Art. Apples and oranges you say? This is reflected in the old schools of Europe. They were not seemingly particularly curricula-heavy by all known accounts, such as they are, but they had mandatory, long time-delays between rank tests, during which one must actively practice at the Art. Simply waiting for your time to come around would not cut it. It is time at the Art, not time in the Art, that counts, and seven years at the Art, between degrees, is certainly something.

Now it would be difficult to get many people with the dedication to progress in the Art if we employed the time delay requirements of the schools of old. People would, in general, simply lack the patience without receiving degrees in modern society. In a way, this is compensated for now by degree-heavy ranking systems in order to retain quality standards. It can take just as long to achieve a certain place in the Art, but the mean-time is filled with degrees of lesser value. And because the degrees are now more finite, curricula must be memorized and honed in order to show progress in knowledge and skill. But in the old schools, a number of years of study would show the difference in mastery beyond doubt, no curricula-heavy content required.

In any case, one thing I am getting at is that the cheapened art is so because the so-called Scholars and Masters alike pale in comparison of knowledge and skill to the same in other extant fighting arts. No foundationless recreant fencer will ever be worthy of the rank of Master, because he is standing on a house of straw. We could certainly have Masters make a come-back to the Chivalric Arts, but so long as things continue in this way, few will be deserving. They are currently a laughing-stock due to their foundationless nature. The foundationless Scholar may someday achieve great skill with a sword, or whatever weapon he picked up in his pursuit of the Chivalric Arts, but he will never achieve a place worthy of the title of Master, as-such. A Master of a single facet of the Art is no Master at all, as he has not mastered an appreciable amount of the Art, in my opinion. This would not have happened in times past.

I just realized I’ve read this all before. Things never change.

1. Legitimate: In the early revival of any extinct art, there is no lineage of curricula, certification or knowledge to define “legitimacy.” Legitimacy is defined by knowledge, skill, and lack of pretense. Charlatans; those who claim more knowledge or skill than they in fact possess, or those who deliberately mislead for some other pretense, or claim a level of Mastery that they do not possess. However, even a relatively unskilled person can instruct others legitimately, so long as they do not breach any faith to do so, and they do not teach beyond their own skill level, and they are forward about their knowledge and position.

-C

Copyright Jan. 2009, Casper Bradak

Friday, January 15, 2010

What Made a 13th Century English Fencing School?


A Speculative Article

Though most of our medieval/Renaissance (or whatever you want to call it) European personal martial arts literature comes from the fifteenth century and later (much of it with evidently 13th and 14th century roots, at least), we have only a single work from the thirteenth solidly connecting the disparate centuries. However, surviving (or currently known) written works or not, we have the well known edict of the great King Edward I which, in part, bans fencing schools from the vicinity of the free city of London.

This edict was part of a larger list of proclamations that were in large part an attempt to lower crime rates and gang activity in London. Similar to an early attempt at gun bans. As now, not particularly effective, but more an impotent political statement of intolerance. Anyway, as interesting as that is, what we can infer from it about the state of the martial arts is more within our sights.

If fencing schools were even 1% as common in 13th c. London as taverns and beer sellers, there would easily be a selection of dozens, particularly if they were so prolific as to be high enough profile to catch the attention of the King, if only through his intermediaries, for banning within the precincts of the city. Additionally, chances are that these were neither confined to London, nor a recently constructed fad or novelty. How far back does the fencing school stretch in post-Roman England? Or in England, are they a relic of the practices or policies of the civilizing occupation of the Roman Empire itself? We can only speculate, but I would wager that they had been a facet of life since at least the time the Norman occupation had settled in, if not stretching back to Anglo-Saxon London, though we have only indirect evidence at best.

This leads us to the question: What do most people think of when pondering the fighting methods of the 13th century? Most might have a vision of the mailed knight, armed with his triangular shield on his neck and his formidable single handed sword; razor sharp, broad and quick. Perhaps a dagger at his belt, and a spear in his mailed fist. The great warrior of the high middle ages indeed, but is this the man and the means for training in the urban fencing schools of down-town London? Possibly, but not likely, particularly given the focus of King Edward’s edict. Though, given his contempt for the rulers of London, he would probably have given a wry smile if his proclamation had indeed intruded upon the exercises of London’s ruling class.

While there were almost undoubtedly fencing schools in London that catered to the gentry population, the true target of the King’s law was obviously the majority of schools that catered to the common citizen (and likely non-citizens as well, given their implied leniency in clientele). The highest echelons of London’s leadership undoubtedly avoided schools altogether, circumventing the law via private tutors (the King likely not having their class in mind for the law at any rate).

To continue, though the large triangular or round shield was a common, popular and effective weapon of war in the 13th century, it was certainly not something carried about on one’s person during daily life, even for a gangster. It is also something not likely to be taught in the common fencing school, particularly one that catered to the needs and desires of the common citizenry of London. Though apparently plenty of citizens did own them, and they brought them out for use during the regular war-games and training events held around city, which seems to be where the use of such implements was primarily practiced.

So, where shall we begin our theorizing on the content of the common fencing school of 13th century London? Why not at the source of all fencing: Wrestling. Even assuming, for no particular reason, a disconnect between native, Roman and Anglo-Saxon traditions supplanted by Norman ones, or later developments, we have records of popular wrestling as martial sport in and about London from at least the 12th century (along with teenage ice-skate jousting, and other dangerous games). This facet of the personal Art of Defense really needs no supporting evidence in my opinion, but it is a foundational art who’s beginning is lost in the ancient mists of time to Theseus and Hercules, and has never lost popularity at any point in history, even if occasionally sportified. It was undoubtedly instructed in the schools of martial arts in medieval London.

Next in apparent popularity, and likelihood of study in the school: the sword itself. During the time in question, we have two types of swords that probably saw use in various schools of arms; the single-handed sword, and the sword-of-war. Given the starting point of most of those likely to read this piece, we will begin with the longsword.

The sword-of-war, as it was sometimes called at the time, was the first longsword. Like the contemporary triangular shield, however, it was, as its name states, a sword used almost exclusively for war; not something convenient to carry about on one’s person on a daily basis. It was the proto-longsword, and like its shorter fore-bear, it was usually equipped with an exquisitely sharp cutting blade. Indeed, though longsword designs became more diverse in later years, this type never lost popularity and would not have been entirely out of place two-hundred years later.

Despite the sword-of-wars relatively recent popularity at the time, knowing what I know about men like myself who live for the Art, it would probably have been quickly adopted and applied to the Art by many a fencing Master. Yet its place as a weapon of war, and not of common carry, likely left it as a weapon that was not so popular in the common urban schools, but firmly entrenching itself in for a stay from this point on in the schools of the gentry and professional warrior class.

So this takes us back to its predecessor: the single-handed sword. The classic single-handed sword of the time was much like the sword-of-war; cruciform, broad, quick, razor-sharp, and broad-bladed with a flat, sharp-edged point at the end of a steady taper. A sword that could pierce, but was designed to cut an opponent to ribbons. There were a variety of blade forms available at the time, but this is the core template. This was the type of sword carried day to day by gentry and gangster alike. This is the type of sword that was used in the all too common brawl, street fights and gang fights that broke out between predator, prey and rival factions within the city.

Though it does not often come to mind, the most common way to carry the sword at the time (or any time), day in and day out, was by itself. This means that the practice of the single-sword alone was a definite focus of the 13th century English fencing school. This weapons popularity is attested to by its specific mention in this same edict from King Edward banning weapons in London after curfew was sounded.

For our next speculative aspect of study in the school, I think the buckler, as companion to the sword, is an obvious choice. The existence of the I.33 book, though a valuable resource, is entirely unnecessary for this theory. The buckler has long been a stereotypical English weapon. Such a stereotype could certainly apply to the Germanic lands as well given the material on it extant there, but nowhere else was it quite the common weapon of choice as in England, or for so long. Before Robin Hoode ever took up the longbow in modern cinema, he was a formally trained sword and buckler man. The very term “swash buckler” is obviously an English one, and the bravos and gangsters of London were well known to use this weapon. It was far more handy than a war-shield, as it did not weigh much more than an extra purse, and was therefore an excellent trade-off for daily carry in a rough neighborhood. It is most certainly a weapon that would have been studied in every formal school of London.

Another weapon at the top of the English pantheon of national arms is the staff. Legal records of London and elsewhere stretch far into the past for this weapon. Handier than the sword or the buckler, it was a constant companion for many Englishmen, being less obvious or out of place than a pure weapon such as a sword for many people, and occasionally more legal. As now, the fact that it was not purely a dedicated weapon even gave an edge in court to defendants who had to resort to its use. The staff is also the basis for the use of the spear, making it an ideal training tool whether one in actuality used a spear or a staff.

Next, the dagger is an obvious choice due in no small part to the fact that it seemingly never parted from the side of anyone in medieval Europe at any time. It was an essential weapon for everyone from scoundrels to nobles. A weapon of last resort in battle, a companion weapon when handy, and a primary weapon when no other was worn. The study of the science of its use seems only a given in this regard.

And here we begin to touch upon the foundation of traditions, but that is another article…

In summary, there are many more weapon arts that the 13th century London fencing school were likely to have taught, but the above are some of the more obvious or primary weapons they were likely to have offered study in. These can be inferred in both directions, from historical records in the earlier past and from the later fencing manuals themselves. Though it may have been mentioned in the past that evidence such as the King’s edict referring to fencing schools is evidence that they did indeed exist (aduuuuuuuh), I don’t recall hearing about any speculation on how they may have operated or what curricula they may have taught, so I hope this offering may have spurred some thought. It seems a common assumption now that the Master Leichtenauer not only invented longsword fencing out of thin air, but the formal study of martial arts in Europe, no less. This is probably a simple lack of thought on the matter, as obviously this is not the case, as the Grand Master himself says (presumably, through Doebringer the priest) that he did not invent the Art; it had existed for hundreds of years.

-C

Copyright Jan. 2010, Casper Bradak

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Fiore Speaks...

...from beyond the grave!

There appears to be some inter-dimensional distortion in this eerie recording....He has a hard time saying "Now," for example, and must say "'N'...ow." He also pronounces Dante "dad," for some reason and speaks only in a stilted monotone. The other side of the veil is strange, indeed.

Nonetheless, he has a terrible message for us all.

Particularly for me.




Monday, January 11, 2010

On the Art Unspoken (AKA the “Pan-European” Art of Fighting)


Many times over, we have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt (to the reasonable individual; of which the jury of our peers is not entirely composed) that the Masters themselves believed that they did share an ancient, single true Art of fighting (modern practitioners believing the Masters, however, is another matter, and not our concern). They said it plainly enough themselves. After all, they were not generally exposed to other arts, as we are now. They did not see a Japanese art, a Chinese art, or anything else; they had yet to be exposed to anything significant. They saw and lived alongside the Art of the Longsword, the Art of Wrestling, etc. Nothing different, nothing foreign. At least not worth mentioning. They simply had the Art.

But it is not just what the Masters said; it is also what they did not say. Not once did they ever mention “different styles,” or different ways of fighting that were foreign to themselves. They did not, as some inexplicably do now, ever talk about the “Italian style” or the “German style” or the “English style.” They say that they travelled to learn the Art from other Masters across Europe. They did not ever say that they travelled across Europe to learn different arts or different styles or different ways of fighting from somehow regionally divergent Masters. They travelled to learn the Art from different instructors with different perspectives, teaching styles, strengths and specialties, not to learn the English style of longsword combat, which was different from the Italian longsword style of combat.

They did not stock up on somehow “different foreign arts” in order to tactically switch between the “Tiger and the Monkey” styles in the middle of combat to throw off an opponent. They learned from different Masters in order to gain skill and increase their repertoire with the same weapons (or lack thereof) which were governed by the same principles and tools, and therefore the same Art, as we have elaborated upon more than sufficiently, if the Masters have not.

If they wanted something different and exotic, they could have gone to some culturally different region of the world and adopted their methodology, for in fact, nowhere in Europe was truly “foreign” in those days, as we have already explained. Yet they did not, despite the amount of travel to such exotic locales. Despite the occasional idiotic Robin Hood film, no European ever imported any non-European fighting art or weapon; indeed, they never even saw fit to mention that there was such a thing worthy of note (how the hell could you injure an armoured knight with an atrociously curved cutting sword anyway?). Apparently, such foreign encounters only strengthened their resolve and faith in retaining their own weaponry, armour and techniques.

But I digress. We are speaking about the differences, or lack thereof, within the fighting arts of the European culture and cultures (for there were many cultures, yet one culture). If I could imagine one argument from extant evidence that someone might be able to scrape from the bottom of the barrel for divergent uses of the same weapon within the Art, however weak, it might be the Wallerstein Codex references to “French” or “Italian” thrusts with the rondel dagger (another universally adopted weapon in Medieval Europe, so adopted because of its usefulness against universally similar opponents, weapons and armours). A weak argument indeed. Used in such an argument, its basis lies in the assumption that the Germanic dictator of the CW MS did not use overhand/long-knife thrusts from above or below with his favored dagger. Only the French used one, and the Italians the other. I really don’t need to get into refuting such reasoning, as I remind you, I am writing to the “reasonable” individual.

What else did the Masters not say? They did not say anything contained in virtually every argument that is used to refute the idea that there is a homogenous, underlying Art as the Masters themselves say, while vocalizing the opposite. Why is it that martial artists agree with the idea of a homogenous art, yet “fencers” do not? Is it a more universal understanding of the fundamentals of combat, thus the ability to see that what the Masters show beyond their semantic presentations? More than likely. Either a mind to proper fundamentals of fighting arts, or a reasonable mind unclouded by blind acceptance of dogmatic views and emotional investments in hypothesis founded in order to gain certain monopolies.

Indeed, as foreign as, say, the Japanese Art of the Sword is, most will agree on the similarities of a martial culture using a somewhat long cutting implement with two hands, with a foundation of an empty-hand art that consists primarily of wrestling, used by an armoured warrior elite. Such an art is governed by principles presented in such a way as “feeling,” and three separate timings of attack while fencing. Can you guess what they are (other than conveniently ignored)? Yet some insist “Austrians” fought so differently from the “English” who practically lived next door and could not tell each other apart without an exchange of words.

Another thing the Masters did not mention is any “style” or method of countering the style of any other style. Yet, inexplicably, out of apparently thin air, some have come to this conclusion. A conclusion based on absolutely nothing but the presumption of outstanding differences between Masters based upon under-educated perusals of books written and illustrated by different individuals with different styles of artwork and presentation. A lack of knowledge of the subject matter of such books indeed makes them “appear” to be quite different. But are we talking about books, artwork and presentations, or are we talking about what living, breathing art those books attempted to convey? It is apparent both that these are two different things, and that some do not know the difference and argue for one being the other. Such is the price of a lack of foundation and a promotion of over-specialization.

-C

Copyright 1/2010, Casper Bradak

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

What’s in a Name?


Semantics of What We Call Our Art

When describing these martial arts to those who don’t know them, what general name do you sum the Art up under? We have a number of different terms used; none of them quite accurate (unless of course, you’re a specialist, and even then it may not fit).

I’ve generally and grudgingly generically referred to them as the RMA (Renaissance Martial Arts). So let’s start by examining that one. It really is an inaccurate term, at least for the way my school approaches the Art. It is inaccurate because some (such as myself) not only believe that such historical divisions are fundamentally flawed and outdated, but it also seems that no two historians can agree on a firm date for the Renaissance; most say that it happened in different places at different times no less.
Not only that, but most RMA stylists inarguably practice “medieval” martial arts, intermingled with anything Renaissance. Additionally, most martial arts practiced into the Renaissance were in fact traditions carried forward from the medieval era; practiced relatively unchanged after their earlier perfection and up until their eventual temporary extinction at the wrong end of the gun.

To add to this, many practitioners study post-Renaissance combat methodologies. And the worst yet, though undeservedly so; when I tell people that I practice the RMA, they always say “Oh, like with swords and stuff?” Renaissance, unfortunately, evokes “renfair” in most minds.

“Medieval” martial arts is a term just as difficult for most practitioners, given the disparity of agreement on eras and the smattering of source material post-I.33 that even most I.33 specialists study.

Next up, WMA (Western Martial Arts). WMA is quite simply ridiculously non-specific. At least it excludes all things non-Western and half an entire hemisphere, but it includes all things in all eras within those boundaries. If we go so far as to assume it refers exclusively to European derived arts, it still encompasses everything from the pankration of ancient Greece to SAS combatives.

Now let us make a comparison to the terms given the martial traditions of Japan (oooooh). The Japanese do not call their native “medieval” fighting arts any such thing, unbroken lineage or otherwise. They call them, generically and cumulatively, budo, or bujutsu; “warrior ways/arts,” more or less. Specifically, they call arts within the Art, for example, kenjutsu; “the art of the sword.”

Coincidentally mirroring the Japanese, in the West we have equivalent terms that are infinitely more appropriate than what most of us use now. They are both fitting and historical, if not more appropriately evocative. Knightly, or Chivalric Arts1 (like bujutsu/budo) are terms that denote both era and generality. For a specific example, the “Art of the Sword” is historical and works just fine when specificity is required (in any language). Certainly some of us have been using these terms for a while now. For example, author and practitioner Jeffrey Hull has been using the German version, Ritterlich Kunst, for a while now. The suitability of the term is reinforced by a knowledge of the meaning of the term itself (roughly, the way of the elite warrior); a better understanding of which can be learned from Brandon’s articles on Chivalry itself.

1. Some might argue that the knightly, or chivalric arts encompassed more than just the martial arts. They are invariably SCA and re-enactors as well. They might say that knights needed to learn to dance. Well, knights may have learned the art of dancing, but dancing is not a knightly art. The Knightly/Chivalric Arts is a term used exclusively for the martial arts. Likewise, though chivalry may have many meanings, the Chivalric Arts is fairly specific.

-C

Copyright Jan. 2010, Casper Bradak

Monday, January 4, 2010

Addendum: The Rapiers Place in the Greater Art


My friend was right when he said that I love the rapier, but this post is not emotionally biased. His Silverian exclusion of the rapier from the greater Art may leave some confused as to what we mean by “the Art” in the first place, so allow me to place it in its proper context.

The rapier is, in point of fact, governed by the Art of which we speak.

I’m sure, as divided as our audience may be, that they can agree that the rapier is, obviously and practically, a specialization of the more common and versatile sword.

A specialization, by nature, is not an exclusion from, but, particularly in regards to weapon forms and their styles of use, a discarding of other elements, and to a lesser degree, a focus on the particular strengths of that specialized weapon’s design (for the design, though derived from the Art and its pre-existing weapons, governs how it may be used). What this means is that the rapier, and thusly the way it is used, did not appear in a vacuum, upon its own foundation, any more than the Art of the Longsword appeared from nothing and entirely separate from the pre-existing sword. This very specialization was, in part, why Master Silver felt the Art of the Rapier was “false,” or lacking. Because it was a specialization of the greater Art, it excluded certain elements which he felt were proper to have in a more rounded methodology.

Though a specialization, the rapier is part and parcel of the same Art of which we speak.

Even if the rapier was favored in a certain area and then exported, it was quickly exported and popularized in all nations nonetheless. Just as the knights of the feudal age were borderless and their art shared, the rapier was itself borderless and those who instructed in its use exported. Though regional styles were more “regionally” pronounced with the rapier, they were just that: styles. The frill on the Art itself. Some Masters preferred a peripheral weapon, some did not. Some stood this way, some stood that. Some held their weapons here, some there. However they decided to stand when they were still, they all stepped, lunged, passed and thrust, with the aim of piercing the opponent while themselves not being pierced, while using a rapier (as with the longsword, while there were many designs, a rapier is a rapier is a rapier). There was no more a separate art to the rapier than there was with the longsword, just as the rapier is no more disconnected or separate from the Art itself than was the use of the mace; simply specialization. All styles of the Art of the Rapier were based upon the principles of the Art itself. They had to be as they were subject to intense natural selection in a dueling and self-defense environment, and they could not spontaneously arise experimentally with no basis.

The Art is the trunk of a tree. The branches are the styles. The branches, however, intertwine and grow within and without one another. The use of the rapier is a twig upon each branch, and those twigs likewise entangle and merge with one another, growing inward as well as out.

-C

Copyright Jan. 2010, Casper Bradak