Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Finger injuries and sparring

So I found out last night just how useless hockey gloves can be for longsword sparring. During the last pass of the sparring session between myself and a colleague last night I got thwacked on my left little finger. We were using A&A Fectherspiel swords. When I took off the glove I noticed blood and thought "well crap". I went to the bathroom to clean it up and noticed just how bad I had been hit. Long story short, after 3 hours at the Urgent Care clinic, I have what the docs called a partial distal amputation with the tip of my finger bone chipped off. I again want to point out that the swords we were using were blunted not sharps. We have never, and never will, spar with sharps. I find the very idea ridiculous. In fact, my injury would have been better had it been a sharp sword as it would have simply sliced the tip of my finger off, not mangled it up.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Axe lengths

Anyone else notice that the axe lengths in the Getty are shorter on average than those in the PD? The Getty axes appear to be about shoulder height while the PD's appear to be about user height (with the exception of the 4th play). Two things about this, first that it explains a lot about Fiore's axe plays where he holds the axe one-handed. With a user height axe, gripping it the way it says/shows makes it very difficult if not impossible to hold (maybe I just need to train more :p ). The second thing is that it furthers my hypothesis that Fiore shows an earlier form/style of pollaxe play. Comparisons between Fiore, Vadi and the Anonimo Bolognese show a developmental arc in axe-play. The number of poste I think helps show this; 6 in the Getty, 4 in the PD, 4 in Vadi, and 2 in the Anonimo and Le Jeu. The majority of the plays are similar and the basic principles remain the same, but there are some differences which I believe occur because of the differences in axe size. All of Fiore's different axe poste/plays are possible with a longer axe, but some would just work better with a shorter one, for instance the play described in the Getty as coming out of the vera crose-Fiore says vera crose with the axe works just like the first scholar of the Remedy Master of the spada in arme section. That play is essentially a parry with the middle of the haft with a step offline, driving their weapon down and thrusting. This works really well with a shorter axe but is slightly more awkward with a longer axe.

p.s. I was actually impressed with "Bones" tonight. They had a mystery involving medieval re-enactors. One of the ladies is attacked by a guy dressed up as the Black Knight, who half-swords for the fight. Later she describes his fighting as using "the Serpent" and "the Arrowhead". I was impressed with tv for once! I mean "the Arrowhead" is a stretch, but hey it's a start. On the downside, they kept calling it "chainmail" *sigh*

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe

This book, by Dr. Sydney Anglo, is one that I have been trying to acquire and read for over tw o years now. I finally got ahold of a copy (thanks Mike) and I'm about half-way through it.

First the positive feedback; this is a wonderful book if you are looking for a general overview of most of the manuscripts used today in HEMA. The few manuscripts that he hasn't mentioned (that I noticed) are because they are relatively recent discoveries and the book was published in 2000, so things like the new Florius Fiore MS just weren't known about. I also believe that Dr. Anglo does a good job of tracking certain ideas (especially the attempt to "rationalize" fencing via mathematics) through the years. To me, however, the most striking thing about this broad cross-comparison of sources is how much the varied masters agreed upon. While there were significant differences (for instance in the number and naming of guard positions) overall you get a sense that swordsmanship, whatever it's form, boils down to a few key elements; control, timing, speed and strength.

My problems with the book stem mostly from the fact that while I have no doubts about Dr. Anglo's abilities as a scholar, I wonder at his experience in martial arts. For instance, when he describes pollaxes as being "awkward" and "inefficient" against armour it makes me wonder. I have never found axes to be unwieldy, nor have any of the folks I've talked to who have handled surviving examples. And as far the axe's efficiency against armour goes, the whole purpose of the weapon's design is to defeat a man in armour; i.e. to crush, to pierce, to hook and to cut. But I can accept that my umbrage with these points could be merely personal. The next however I cannot. When discussing the fact that Agrippa used multiple figures in one plate in order to show movement (example), Anglo criticizes 19th century historian Jacopo Gelli because Gelli claimed that Agrippa was showing "combats of three against two, or four against three" when in fact Agrippa was jsut indicating motion. Anglo specifically states that Gelli's misconception came about because he did not read the Italian, merely looked at the plates. The ironic part is, in the beginning of the book, Dr. Anglo discusses the Flos Duellatorum by Fiore dei Liberi, which he claims holds illustrations that depict encounters with "multiple attackers". The illustrations he is referring to are this one from the sword in one hand section and another very similar illustration from the two-handed sword section. The problem is that these illustrations do not depict combat against multiple opponents; they depict that the same basic covering action can be used against a thrust, cut, or thrown weapon. This common misconception when looking at Fiore's work can only be explained by not reading the Italian. Ironic huh?

All quibbles aside, Dr. Anglo's The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe is worth reading and owning. As with any secondary source just make sure to take what you read with a grain of salt.