Saturday, November 26, 2011
It was bound to happen sooner or later: the first negative review of Lessons on the English Longsword has at last materialized. Considering the somewhat limited array of possible candidates to author such a critique, it perhaps verges on the cosmically apropos that it ended up being Bart Walczak who ultimately penned it. Fortunately for us, the negatives of this aforementioned review are all, rather unsurprisingly, academic in origin. This narrows the scope of his review, which is ensconced in a magazine for medievalists (Black Belt Magazine it isn’t, folks).
The following rebuttal is in two parts: Evidence and Context. A forewarning: it is a polemical response (surprise, surprise). If you don’t like it, that’s too bad. Polemic debate has a long history, has much to recommend it, and is appropriate when addressing the obtuse. The danger of a polemic is that one can alienate some among one’s audience; but this is the price of the Truth and of conviction. Personally, we don’t feel too badly about choosing such a mode of response, particularly given the unsupported (and anemic) ad hominem attacks made in Mr. Walczak’s review. Still, we were a little surprised that he did not, as a courtesy, make us aware of it; especially since it was going to appear in print. That’s what we would have done, but I suppose we really must give him his due for being Machiavellian. “No enterprise is more likely to succeed than one concealed from the enemy until it is ripe for execution,” after all. Bart may well have thought that such a publication, largely confined to Europe, might sail under our radar.
What follows is a point-by-point refutation (and/or acknowledgement) of the issues raised by Mr. Walczak in his review of Lessons on the English Longsword, as it appeared in Medieval Warfare I.3, (September 26, 2011). It will be kept as brief as possible. However, considering the profound depth of Mr. Walzcak’s misunderstanding, be it deliberate or merely born of his ignorance, any attempt at brevity may well be an exercise in futility.
The reviewer’s points appear in italics, Heslop’s answers are in bold, and Bradak’s are in plain text. This gives the effect of a modified analytic Socratic dialogue, filtered through a polemicist’s lens, and that’s intentional. It’s possible that we may press into service a third party to edit our response as it appears here, and submit that edited version to the aforementioned magazine (to comply with their guidelines; they're not overly keen on polemics) for publication. If so, Mr. Walczak will likely publish a response to our rebuttal in the same issue. We haven’t decided whether or not to do this yet, honestly. In any event, we begin with the first of his complaints, and end with the last. Positive points made by the reviewer have mostly been omitted…
Unfortunately, no facsimile is included in the book, and since the authors relied on third-party transcripts, proper critical verification of the text is not possible.
True. However, the Harleian manuscript has been in print - facsimile and all - for over a century: it appears in Hutton’s Sword and the Centuries. Regarding the other two texts (there are, in fact, only three. Man yt Wol is tacked on at the end of the Harleian, though it is probably older, perhaps 14th century), we had a very reliable source for the Cottonian (the source is an accredited academic herself, and is cited openly in the book), and every pain was taken to ensure that the Ledall manuscript was presented as accurately as possible. Moreover, one of the authors has conferred via email with fellow scholar Terry Brown regarding the accuracy of Mr. Mitchell’s transcript of the Ledall document, and was assured by that party that it is indeed quite good. Therefore, this seems to us to be an extraordinarily shallow complaint.
[In Breaking the Code] the authors attempt to make an argument for a Pan-European fighting style that would transcend all borders (but only in Europe), and allow for direct near-instantaneous transference of skills and ideas between various parts of Europe. Certainly, one cannot deny that many similar elements, especially those of the most basic type, are present in all combat systems from that period, and that such exchange did indeed happen. However, to argue that the differences are "at most stylistic", betrays the lack of in-depth understanding of the subject.
This is a gross and frankly unforgivable oversimplification of our argument. For those interested in knowing what our argument actually is, they can read our thesis Unified Theory: the Pan-European Art of Fighting here. He must be confusing us with John Clements, whose views on the subject were never particularly refined. Moreover, our esteemed colleague Richard Marsden expands and expounds upon many of the points made in our thesis in his own, which can be read here. And lastly, Mr. Walczak has blatantly ignored the words of the author (or authors) of one of our primary surviving sources, the Hanko Dobringer manuscript:
“And before all things you should know and understand that the Sword is only one Art, and it was devised and thought out hundreds of years ago. This Art is the foundation and core; and it was completely understood and known by Master Liechtenauer. Not that he himself devised or thought out what is described, but he traveled and searched through many lands since he wanted to learn and experience this Art,” (Lindholm translation).
This type of complaint is invariably academic, or specialistic in origin. Most experienced martial artists find our position self evident. In contrast, most of the naysayers (and that's really what their arguments amount to: nuh-uh!), are academics and internet trolls of all stripes; from those masquerading as long dead masters on Facebook, to the cowardly senders of anonymous emails.
Well, he also ignores the words of Master Siber (to be found in our book), as well as other masters. And his rather reluctant admittance that there were “certainly” basic similarities reeks of damage control.
It does. In fact, last I heard, Bart Walczak is about as far away from pan-anything as anyone could get. I recall quite distinctly one heated debate (if you could call his style of discussion “debate;” see Context) I had with the aforementioned. It’s sadly now irrevocably lost in the wastes of the ARMA e-list, but it involved this very subject. In brief, he was (and I can only assume still is) convinced that Master Liechtenauer had invented the Art of the Longsword - and all of its constituents, or component techniques - whole cloth. I’m not kidding.
So, according to him, before Liechtenauer, there was no such thing as a Zornhau, (the most basic, powerful strike one can perform with any weapon), or the Zwerchhau (which the Doebringer manuscript praises as the most excellent in that it both defends the body and strikes the adversary simultaneously). At least as they applied to the longsword. To him, Liechtenauer was the first guy to connect the dots. He thinks Liechtenauer invented the wheel; never mind that the Doebringer manuscript specifically says that he didn’t.
The ironic things is, were that extremely unlikely assertion to be taken for truth, it would make what we see as self evident even easier to prove: 1, Liechtenauer invented the Art of the Longsword; 2, the fighting men of the day had to be trained to be effective, and thus sought instruction in the use of the weapons of the day; 3,
knights and men-at-arms throughout Europe possessed longswords. Therefore, the Art of the Longsword was/is pan-European. Of course, that isn’t true. The Art of the Longsword is pan-European, but not because Liechtenauer supposedly invented fire.
Right. He even alludes to this belief in his review, when cites an unnamed master: “…a strike that not many other masters can tell anything about…” But what did this shadowy master mean by strike, specifically? And regarding the Doebringer quote, Mr. Walczak simply dismisses such things as “grandiose;” he said the same thing about the Siber quote. Perhaps Meyer, too, was being “grandiose,” and Ringeck when he claimed that all fighting comes from unarmed fighting (thus implying a fundamental and necessary core foundation which was universal). Fiore echoes this when he talks about the principles of Abrazare being the “pillars of the Art.” Perhaps we cannot trust Fiore, either.
But of course when we’re talking about unarmed fighting, we’re talking about human biomechanics. Humans aren’t radically different in terms of physiology. So, in this sense he’s right about there being natural overlaps. But when we consider the core Art in whole, we must take into account the weapons used within it. The longsword is radically different from a katana; however, it cannot be called radically different from itself from region-to-region within medieval and Renaissance Europe. Therefore, any distinctions or divisions within the Art of the Longsword are proven to be inherently artificial rather than organic; and thus less important than the core. But he won’t hear of this, or simply ignores it (he certainly did in his review). And if he’s right, thank goodness for academics who can tell us which bits are trustworthy and which are not.
Yes, because the foundation, according to Bart is “immaterial;” as he recently claimed on Facebook.
Indeed, it’s only the branches of the tree that matter. But taking that position necessarily reduces the Art to the stereotypical view the Victorians held about the earlier methods: it diminishes the assorted lineages into so many bags of tricks bereft of any cohesive unity, or governing laws. It’s touting the subjective over the objective, the Sophist over the seeker after truth. And that’s simply ludicrous. That won’t stand. There must be governing laws. There must be a foundation; furthermore, that foundation must be primary, and cares nothing for Bart’s opinion. Because it’s a reality.
Moreover, I’m incredulous. Specifically, I question whether or not he’s actually qualified to make the statement that we lack “in-depth understanding.” As far as I can tell, he studies the German Tradition exclusively. I doubt he’s ever given Fiore so much as a second glance. He can claim that he’s trained with, or crossed swords with “Fiore-ists,” sure. But has he studied the material himself? He may have, but from my exchanges with him, he seemed woefully ignorant of Fiore’s material.
So, looking at one piece of the puzzle is apparently enough for him to cast judgment on our overall knowledge of the subject as a whole. I think not. In light of all that, it’s a rather unwieldy statement he’s made about our lack of “in-depth understanding;” it lacks the vocabulary to complete the sentence. It is the postulation of a functional illiterate. And I really must therefore take his call for “more than one source” on Facebook to be laughably hypocritical. Besides that, we’ve given him numerous sources and he invariably poisons the well.
And what’s more, this is circular logic he’s engaging in. It springs from a strongly-held consensus, particularly in Europe, that the known lineages and traditions were “very, very different” to quote Matt Easton (this was on the ARMA forum). A certain amount of national pride may (key word, may) play a part in this consensus, (and remember that von Danzig comes from a region that today is in Poland, so they can “lay claim” to the German Tradition). This pride is understandable, if perhaps somewhat misplaced; but it certainly doesn't make the aforesaid consensus true. Now, Bart proceeds from this consensus to a desire to enshrine it in legitimacy. When that legitimacy is challenged, the counterargument, no matter how cogent, is challenged and deemed to be “immaterial.” This or that bit of evidence is inadmissible for such-and-such flimsy reason. And then we’re back to the false consensus, and the push for legitimacy. The strategy is to “nickel-and-dime” the asserted position, regardless of evidence in its favor, into oblivion.
The Pan-European Theory has been given a lot more credence, and has gained a much greater degree of acceptance in America. It doesn’t do too badly in Canada and in Australia, either. I think in some respects it may be easier for we “colonials” to see it; because while we may have a fondness for Europe and its assorted national identities (I do), we don’t have the emotional baggage that goes along with all that.
He should start a religion, really. Liechtenauer personifies the Art for him. He has deified him, made him Hercules. He treats the entire subject as if it’s something akin to religious canon; and he is the inquisitor, and we’re the heretics. We’re the Cathars, the Gnostics who worship the “God beyond God,” as it were, and he’s got to stamp us out in the Name of Yaldabaoth. Because the heretics can be tolerated only so long as they stay quiet and don’t get uppity; but the minute they publish a book, they have to be purged.
And it’s not as if our view has remained static. In my own case, quite the contrary. I began my studies in this subject believing - as many others did, and some still maintain - that Fiore’s “art” was inherently more defensive than the “art” espoused by the Society of Liechtenauer. And why did I believe this? Because Flos Duellatorum was available to read online, and I studied mostly that. The only real exposure to the German material I’d had at that point that wasn’t effectively secondhand was Medieval Combat; that awful translation of one of Talhoffer’s treatises. The German material therefore seemed mysterian and very aggressive to me. The truth is, of course, that Fiore’s “art” is just as aggressive as Liechtenauer’s “art.” And we had several arguments about this, and you kept testing me, and I kept testing you, and we tried a lot of things out. And gradually more German material became available, and as it did it began to make more sense to me. I began seeing the connections.
So, our view has been refined by the lathe of the crucible, and by taking in more information than some do. In this way, we have taken every precaution possible to avoid circular reasoning. If that’s not “scholarly,” nothing is. Now, Bart may have gone through this process, or he may have not; but if he has, I can’t see it.
Neither can I. And I think you’ve got a point about the American thing, too.
Well, there are other opinions on that: there’s at least one that I know of who holds that we upstart Americans should “listen to the European HEMAists,” before we form our own opinions. I suppose it must be that they live in the same geographical region that the masters did, and thus the Art is somehow less inscrutable to them. Which is patently absurd. They used the same line of attack against Clements (not that I like Clements): “the Historical European Martial Arts were not invented in Houston.” Well, no, they weren’t. But that said, modern day European martial artists are no closer to the masters than Americans, Canadians, Australians, or New Zealanders, or what have you. The idea that they mystically somehow are closer to the masters is perhaps the finest example of groupthink I’ve ever run across. The culture’s changed in thousands of ways since the 1700’s, let alone the Renaissance or the medieval period. This last bit is a non sequitur, however.
It’s also revoltingly sycophantic and pure brownnosing. And yes, that’s just more context. It doesn’t make our case. But again, the other points do that. We don’t provide it as proof, just background. Those new to the subject and its modern practitioners don’t know the underlying politics involved within the “HEMA” collective.
I can already see Bart’s response to the religion analogy: “Cheap shot!” That’s special pleading. A cheap shot it may be, but that doesn’t make it untrue. It may be untrue, of course, but I doubt it. Besides, it’s “material by analogy,” as he says. The unsupported ad hominem that he throws in at the end of the quote is rather cute though, all things considered.
Yeah. Look, if you’re going to insult us, fine. Just back it up.
He doesn’t have the artillery to do that, and he knows it. That’s why he’s hiding behind foppery.
And so much of his method of "debate" is dependant upon the perception that he is holding some spurious high moral ground. He plays a game of attrition, all the while betting that he can outlast you on the merry-go-round. He knows that you’ll get exasperated with him and tell him to fuck off…
Right, and as soon as you do that - as far as he’s concerned - he “wins” by default; he can claim some hollow “moral” victory.
It’s called being an academic. I hate academics; they make a living out of being obtuse. But of course, that alone doesn’t disprove him. It’s just ad hominem, albeit supported with ample prior personal experience with the man in question.
No, but our other points do. I mention it because they’ll see, in his response to this, that what we’re saying is true.
The authors fail to take into account the fact that the long sword was a relatively recent innovation at that time, and that the invention, and propagation of the evolution of both skills and the weapon itself takes time.
We did? This is news to us. It’s right there in the book. Maybe he didn’t read it. And again, Mr. Walczak is apparently under the delusion that the Art of the Longsword burst forth into being, in its entirety, like some episode of spontaneous combustion.
If I understand his logic correctly, the longsword was invented, and once the advent of the weapon occurred, then there was a sudden, never-before-experienced need for skill in its use. That’s, well, preposterous. Any rational person knows that things simply don’t happen that way.
Furthermore, we provided the framework for that evolution in the section entitled The Lineage of the Longsword in Chapter I. Briefly, the longsword is a descendant of the earlier epee de guerre, the form of which underwent transitional changes due to advances in the armour of the day, ultimately becoming the longsword. The Art evolved along with the weapon, the weapon with the armour, and any number of other factors. It was an organic process that took quite some time (which, as it happens, is exactly what the Dobringer manuscript says).
So, once again, we must conclude that Mr. Walczak either did not read our book, or else he is deliberately misrepresenting its content. Also, there are early transitional “longsword” types still in existence from as early as 1240.
(Early transitional longsword from about 1240)
From Chapter I: “…the longsword represents an adaptation...a refinement of the earlier cutting sword (epee de guerre)…its method of use dictated by its design, and its design dictated by the conditions it faced: war, tempered by the needs of the duel - while still drawing heavily on what came before it, tangible or otherwise. It is this art that Liechtenauer (among others) codified…Finally, the art of the longsword as it comes down to us (that is, in its recognizable form) is a refinement of the mid-to-late 14th century and no sooner…”
That much is no secret, and provides ample time for propagation and evolution. We didn’t think that when the weapon physically existed would be called into question by another researcher.
We expected more from you, Bart.
In fact, they themselves admit that not everyone could know everything, because during this period secrecy was key to one's survival.
Yes, we do. A lot of that had to do with not allowing a potential opponent to see you train, and thus pick up on any patterns. Boxers watch recordings of those that they're going to go up against in the ring for the same purpose. Does that divide modern boxing into seperate "arts?" It's more about personal styles, which constitute the thinnest sliver of the overall Art. How this pertains to Mr. Walczak’s “point,” whatever it is, I’m stumped on. It can only be that, once again, he seems to be tacitly misrepresenting the content of our book in such a way as to defend the indefensible. Namely, the opinion that the various martial traditions of medieval and Renaissance Europe were very different from one another.
True, and the context is either skewed or misunderstood as well. Master Fiore admitted that not everyone could know everything, and any martial artist who says so now is a liar or an egomaniac. This is separate from the issue of secrecy, in which information was deliberately kept out of the hands of the common people, yet shared within the ranks of chivalric elite, as Master Fiore also states.
"A strike that not many other masters can tell anything about", as one fencing master aptly put it, could have saved one’s life more than once.
Doubtless it could have. But, as another master aptly put it: “For as we are not all of a single nature, so we also cannot have a single style in combat; yet all must nonetheless arise and be derived from a single basis,” (Meyer, Kevin Maurer translation). And another: “There are some Leychmeister ("dance masters") who say they have invented a new art, thinking that the art of fighting will be improved day by day. I, however, would like to see one who can come up with a fighting technique or strike not part of Liechtenauer's Art,” (Doebringer, Brian Price translation).
The sources strongly suggest that for at least fifty years the teachings of Johannes Liechtenauer remained a closely guarded secret, unlocked only by the later generation of students, when the knowledge was perhaps common enough not to warrant the secrecy any longer.
Yes, but again, a closely guarded secret within a certain class: namely, the warrior aristocracy. Not only is he attempting to draw a correlation here to when when the longsword began to fall out of practical use, he's suggesting that it began its descent way too early! Besides, the various pedagogies were already deeply commingled long before the point when the longsword's combat applications were beginning to deteriorate.
And furthermore, if it was so very secret, then how did the secret get out to the degree that the aforementioned secrecy was no longer warranted? If what he's saying were true, then someone must have been able to “unlock” it in order for it to become "common" in the first place. But if this secrecy was so very impenetrable as he suggests, then wouldn't it preclude that very thing from happening, (unless, of course, there existed an underlying, universal foundation)? No. The only thing that's impenetrable is his circular logic. Because Liechtenauer was likely a mid-14th century figure, and if Doebringer (1480's) constitutes one of the latter students directly instructed by Liechtenauer himself, then we've still got the whole 15th century to go; and the longsword was still more or less a combat-effective weapon well into the first part of the 16th. That's a long time. More than enough time for the Liechtenauer lineage to intertwine itself with any number of others. So, even if he were right, he'd still be wrong.
So, it would have been a secret within the warrior aristocracy, yes; but given the nature of feudal society, not all of the aforementioned would have been German. Fiore himself had both Italians and Germans for students, and likewise learned from an international set of instructors; and he speaks in no uncertain terms about keeping the Art a secret. But not from other members of his class, but from the peasants.
He hasn’t thought this out. Sure, they tried to hone the Art, to outdo the competition. Certainly, they attempted to keep their efforts and their points of focus secret. But how successful could such an endeavor have been? Though their applications were infinite, the options - the underlying principles - were and remain finite; particularly given the fact that we’re talking about an integrated system: “Thus will you learn gallant and cunning fighting with the longsword [upon foot]. Therewith you – without gauntlets and without full harness – guard your hands and all your body. [This goes] for all hand-to-hand weaponry – thus for sword, for spear, for halberd, for long messer, and for other weapons,” (Hugues Wittenwiller, Jeff Hull translation). And we know that there was intermixing of pedagogies! Attempting to transmogrify Liechtenauer into some kind of Archimedes of swordsmanship won’t change that. And no, that’s not a “cheap shot,” it’s a valid counterpoint.
And let’s say, just for argument, that perhaps the teachings of Master L. truly were as closely guarded as he claims. How closely guarded could they really be within his undoubtedly wide-ranging branches of schools? Even if his system were hermetically sealed to a chosen few out of an already elite group - numbering in mere the thousands at a liberal estimate - how different could it have been; and how truly secret amongst such an already exclusive demographic that promiscuously cross-trained with one another, and learned from as many instructors, some of them presumably form different martial lineages? And before you go there, yes, there is proof that others existed at the time.
Right! Exactly. The chastity of the Liechtenauer lineage had been violated long before he thinks; and more importantly, it's mother was of easy virtue within the class that made use of her. The practitioners of the Art were already closely interconnected by familial bonds, the cult of chivalry (which encompasses an entire, insulated culture unto itself; and one which, for the caste that espoused it, transcended borders), feudal oaths of loyalty, politics, and much else besides. That they might want to attempt to keep Liechtenauer’s pedagogy secret from their fellow elites, we do not contest. But were they successful to an appreciable degree? Were the Free Masons successful? I don’t see how the practitioners of the Liechtenauer pedagogy could be completely successful, particularly given the fact that the fighting men of the day traveled far and wide to learn from as many masters as they could.
Let’s take Siber as another example. He says that his “art” contains the teachings of masters from all over Europe. Does Liechtenauer’s martial lineage contain the super-secret ninja techniques of the West? Things right out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (this is called hyperbole, people). If so, then Siber’s “art” should display a tremendous degree of diversity from the distinct Liechtenauer pedagogy. But it doesn’t. He uses the same vocabulary and technical syllabus that the other Germanic masters do, (the Society of Liechtenauer included): winding, Schädelhau, Langenort, Krump, Zwerch, etc.
Yet, Siber says he studied under masters from all over the place, and he‘s not the only one. With all this intermixing, just how secret could this clandestine art of the esoteric elite-of-the-elite be? And since we’re talking about strikes, what about what Vadi says? “He that knows many strikes brings poison with him,” (Luca Porzo translation). Other examples are Fiore and Doebringer both using “iron gate” in an identical way. But wait, Doebringer’s part of the Liechtenauer canon. It must be a conspiracy! You can accuse us of cherry-picking if you want; but we're ending up with a wheelbarrow full of cherries.
Now, let’s examine the case of the Codex Wallerstein. There are a lot of techniques in there that are fairly unique. You - generally - don’t find them in other sources. This supports Bart’s conclusions, right? Wrong. How does the Codex Wallerstein begin? With the basics: stance, weight distribution, striking, binding and winding. The foundational principles which are supposedly "immaterial." From there, it enters into the verboten techniques, the apocrypha. That’s right, the secret, hush-hush stuff. And yet, one or two of these even show up in the English material, and you can see others in different sources. You can see some of it in Fiore. There’s a lot of mixing. So, just how secret was it? Yes, no one can know everything. Fiore says so plainly. The Art is vast, but that does not mean that it’s not the Art, the definite article. Does this negate, or lessen the value of the foundation? Of course not. That’s an asinine position to take. The issue at contention here is one of primacy: we say the core is primary; Mr. Walczak is at pains to prove that it’s not. A difficult proposition for him, considering the amount of evidence. I really hate having to spell things out. It puts me in a foul mood.
Bart’s assertion contradicts itself: the core foundation doesn’t matter, but there were basic similarities; the fighting men of the day learned from as many sources as possible, yet the different traditions and lineages were completely stagnant, self-contained, and somehow mysteriously very distinct from one another. This is pure cognitive dissonance. His argument that the assorted lineages were substantially different arises from a single data point: “A strike that not many other masters do not know about,” is useful, yes. But it does not comprise an Art. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Moreover, the truth stands up to scrutiny, whereas Bart’s assertions simply fall apart when you put any weight on them.
Interestingly, the conclusions of the later part of the book are defensible without such unnecessarily strong, antagonizing, and often baseless statements on the part of the authors.
Ah, the old fallacy of tone argument has reared its head. Much of our work is admittedly polemical; that said, we do not view polemical as a pejorative. Furthermore, there is a reason much of our work is polemical, and much of it has to do with the reluctance of certain parties to acknowledge the merit of overwhelming evidence. We are indeed a pair of ruthless antagonists at times; but antagonists armed with cogent arguments backed up with evidence. So, polemical, yes. But baseless? Hardly. And yes, it is "interesting," isn't it? I wonder why...
And let’s say that we had made our case less strongly. What would his line have been then? It would have been that our evidence is weak, and therefore we didn’t make our case. We had to make it as strongly as we did, precisely because of the obtuse proclivities of some in certain corners of the “HEMAsphere.”
I would like to hear what was so very baseless, so that I might serve him up the desired basis for our statements on a silver platter. Heap after heap after heap of basis. We didn’t make it up, people. What is, in fact, baseless is such a claim made without any specification, example or evidence. We must’ve hurt a feel bad.
Analogies drawn between an English style of fighting and those coming from other parts of Europe are credible in their own right, and rely mostly on basic skills, which indeed were most likely common throughout late Medieval Europe.
No argument here.
[The following chapters] lack [the] scholarly discipline that I personally would prefer to see in this kind of publication.
This is nothing more than an academic sneer; the strutting of a peacock. A Sophist's argument. And due to the fact that this statement is made without any bolstering argument or evidence, and given previous conversations between our part and the reviewer, I therefore dismiss this statement as a mere ad hominem attack. Not that we personally find anything wrong with ad hominem attacks, per se; we simply think that they should be supported with proof. We feel that the weight of the evidence presented favors us, and that the burden of proof lies with Mr. Walczak. Well-reasoned arguments bolstered by the words of the masters themselves stand as our proofs. And therefore, if Mr. Walczak wishes to do more than simply twist our words and poison the font, he should produce better evidence. As it stands, and in light of the merits of the respective arguments, we also feel that any reasonably objective person must be compelled conclude that the reviewer’s case is not proven.
Sadly, no illustration in the book, with a single exception, is credited, and some are outright misleading. A good example is an unattributed woodcut of a wounded man by Duerer, modified with a straight cross dividing it into four quarters with a stylized caption "Silver's four quarters". If one was not familiar with the picture, it would be easy to conclude that this picture was a faithful reproduction from George Silver's treatise.
Yes, because they had Windows Paint in the 1600’s. No, really, they did.
All kidding aside, I find this quibble very silly. We selected what we thought was a suitable picture - and still think that it is, given the nature of what it depicts - and overlaid it with two crossed lines to illustrate the four quarters. Yes, there is a stylized font (which we also felt was appropriate). Nonetheless, it is painfully obvious that the picture was altered to suit our purposes. Neither of us is terribly great at production quality. We simply wanted a period image with which to convey the concept. We do grant that it is not attributed, however.
That said, Mr. Walczak’s wording here leaves something to be desired, and is itself misleading. He makes it seem as if there are simply scads of pieces of unattributed historical artwork in the book, with “only a single exception.” In fact, there are only three in total.
Admittedly, I knew before placing the “wound man” in there that it might irk an academic or two. We thought it was suitably tongue-in-cheek; rife ground for academic criticism and martial amusement, well within the tradition of the original fechtbucher themselves (Fiore is a smartass, for example). We all know academics have no sense of humor. Given that Bart’s review was entirely academic, I’m not surprised; but yes, I must admit it was unattributed, however inane attributing it might have been. Spoiler alert: there are a couple of jokes in the recommended reading list as well.
[The] aesthetical experience is poor – the pictures are very contrasty or dark, and some details have been lost because of the black and white printing. Furthermore, the foliage in the background can be quite distracting at times.
Well, on some levels he's talking in the purely subjective here. Nonetheless, the actions depicted in the pictures are always clear. I wouldn't have allowed pictures in the book in which the reader would be unable to tell what we were doing. Otherwise, we concede the point.
I never noticed. I like the cool "light saber effect" we got in some of them from the sunlight. Actually they could’ve been full color, etc. but you’d have to pay a few hundred more. Also, Bart is apparently distracted by trees. Interesting...
The reference section is rather weak, and should be treated mostly as a first step in the exploration of the subject, and not in any way as a definite resource.
See? Remember what I said about if we'd made our case less strongly? Ha! We openly admit that it’s not meant to be a comprehensive bibliography. We merely listed those books which we felt were essential to our work on Lessons on the English Longsword, as well as those which we thought the reader might find useful. Pretty simple, really.
Actually I think it’s one of the better recommended reading lists for the Knightly Arts in any book out there; and in my opinion it is definitive for the specific subject of medieval/Renaissance swordsmanship as it applies to the Kingdom of England. But he's right; it shouldn’t be confused for a complete bibliography. In fact most of our sources are attributed outright, or are to be found within our extensive footnotes, (a hallmark of any scholarly work, in my opinion). If I wanted to be a dick, I could draw comparisons to his published book, which lacks recommended reading and footnotes, besides having some critical mistranslation.
I’ll be the dick. I don’t care.
Perhaps we should show a little mercy…
Pugnare ad digitum!
No, I think we’ve said enough; we’ve made all our points. We could go on, but it’s not worth the bother. He knows he’s wrong. And if he doesn’t, well…I’m not going to go there.
The reviewer then goes on to trash the production quality of our book, but this is really directed at the fine people at Paladin Press. Our editor, Jon Ford, was fantastic. I know the quality of his work. The layout is excellent. The info flows well. We didn’t put that together. The folks at Paladin did. And this from a Paladin Press author, no less. In all seriousness, the comments are so shabby that they simply aren’t even worth deigning to redress.
Today this book enjoys the monopoly on being the sole book on the subject…
Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?
Note: given our numerous articles and multiple theses on some of these subjects, we feel the burden of proof is placed firmly in the court of those who wish to disprove our views, (something we’ve never seen attempted). Therefore, in future, when and if further reviews surface, we will simply refer the reader to a pre-existing refutation, or refutations. The ammunition we’ve seen being unloaded at us all these years has been pretty meager, and Bart’s review is no exception.
- B & C , 11/26/11.
PROCEED TO PART TWO: CONTEXT
Posted by B & C at 9:32 PM
In the interest of full disclosure, we should perhaps make the reader fully aware of some background: both of the authors of LotEL have debated Mr. Walczak before, and these exchanges have not always ended as amicably as they perhaps could have. We believe that this should be taken into consideration when reading his review of our book. That said, keep in mind that this post does not stand as proof of our arguments over his, nor is it explicitly a counterattack. It is merely context. Context alone cannot stand as proof, but what it can do is shed light on motivation and on modus operandi. In this case, the motivations and M.O. of one Bart Walczak.
We are no strangers to the difficult task of jousting in the realm of ideas with Bart. Combined, we’ve debated several subjects over the years (Brandon less than Casper, however). And, if we are to be completely honest - as indeed we wish to be - in addition to being a degreed physicist, he is a learned and eloquent opponent. However, these do not number amongst the reasons why he is a difficult adversary to find sitting across from one at the debating table…
Simply put, there is no debating with Mr. Walczak: if one finds oneself inhabiting a position that is contrary to his own, he simply will not permit a debate regarding the matter to occur. He engages one in an obtuse exercise altogether different from a debate: he will “converse” with one on the matter, and in a round about sort of way, inform one with canonical certainty that one is irredeemably wrong. This process may or may not be accompanied with evidence or actual arguments in his favor. If one protests at this, he will not hear of it, and will tell one in the in the most condescending fashion he can muster that one is - still - wrong.
You can provide counterpoints, back them up with solid evidence and good arguments that directly disprove, or simply cast doubt upon his position. It’s of no concern to him: he will inevitably either refuse to acknowledge their merit by poisoning the well, engage in special pleading (“cheap shot!”), proffer non sequiturs ("do you trust Doebringer’s magical spells, too?"), or simply ignore them and come at one again with the same talking points, albeit in a slightly more oblique manner. In sum: to debate Mr. Walzcak is to - unknowingly or unknowingly - purchase a ticket for an amusement park ride that does nothing but circumnavigate an infuriating circle, ad nauseum, for what seems like an eternity. It’s enough to make one wish he had been aborted and therefore would not have had to endure that particular excruciating, pedantic merry-go-round at all. It’s a game of ever-depleting attrition, and no evidence, no matter how strong or material, will break the cycle. He will see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
Due to this predilection on the part of Mr. Walczak, we do not intend to engage him in a debate regarding his mendacious review of our book. We could no more do that than walk on water. We can merely offer a thorough rebuttal, which you will find above this post.
And yet, again we must say that Mr. Walczak is indeed the keenly intelligent, well-spoken individual we have said he is; albeit one who has rather unfortunately taken it upon himself to defend an untenable standpoint. Indeed, he has chosen to ignore the words of the masters of the Art - the final authority (what other sources do we have?) from whence all modern practitioners derive both knowledge of the Art, and ultimately, skill in it.
This is all we wish to say regarding this matter.
- B & C.
Posted by B & C at 9:22 PM