Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Poleaxe Tactics

This is another of Tyson's requested topics, he requested that while many people talk about techniques, few give advice on tactics.

Well first off, I really don't have much experience to be talking from.  After all, I've only had 3 bouts with the axe.  That's it.  You can read about them here.

So instead of trying to bullshit ya'll with my "immense" knowledge and experience, I will simply repeat a few gems from the Anonimo Bolognese and Le Jeu de la Hache.

  • Aim for the weak spots in your opponent's armour - usually the armpits, insides of elbows, palms, throat, etc.
  • Use a stop-thrust to the face, throat, chest or arms whenever you can get away with it - when your opponent changes guards, telegraphs a blow, or enters into measure without covering themselves.
  • Use feints.
  • Use the head (hook, hammer, axe, whatever) to hook your opponent's haft, arms, legs, collar whenever you can - if you throw a blow at their head & overshoot, pull back HARD!
  • Don't forget the feet! Yours or theirs.  Queue thrusts to the feet can be very sneaky.
  • Keep whatever end you have facing your opponent moving, especially with thrusts to the face or feet.  This way they can't find it and put it aside
  • Control your weapon - don't open up too much space between you & your axe.  Don't let your blows go too far outside your opponent's silhouette.
With all these bits of advice, the opposites hold true:
  • Protect your own weak spots - don't give your opponent an easy shot to your palms or armpits.
  • Do not enter into measure without covering yourself with your axe & don't telegraph your blows.
  • Be careful of over-commiting yourself while parrying.
  • Whenever you can, use your axe to control theirs & set it aside.
That really about sums it up.

Why I love pole-arms

Every now and again I have a weak moment.

I look at all the gear I have/want and despair.
I look at my lack of sufficient training space and despair.
I despair and wonder "Why, oh why, can't I be into I.33, rapier, English backsword, messer - basically ANY single sword system - that requires a smaller weapon and thus less gear & less room."

After all, the basic weapon of Armizare is the longsword - you need a high ceiling to practice indoors.  I live on the bottom floor of an apartment - not gonna happen.  I could practice outdoors, but it turns out that my part of the communal backyard is the low spot of the lot.  And it rains in Portland.  A lot.  Which means I often have a lake for a backyard. 

And poleaxe? Oh boy.  The needed room is greater, the needed gear is greater.  Basically, everything needed is greater.

I will sit and honestly consider seriously taking up the rapier or single-hand sword in some form.  But then I pick up my axe and all doubts cease. 

When I first started down the WMA road, I thought (and still think) that the longsword is the most versatile weapon in the HEMA arsenal.  It plays close, wide, against armour, against no armour, one handed, two-handed, etc.  But I still remember the first time I saw the axe in Fiore's MS.  Sean had brought his copy of the Getty (or maybe it was the PD) and was doing a little show-and-tell with the class.  He got to the axe section and as I listened to his description of the weapon, I knew I was hooked on this Swiss Army knife of the knightly class.  I proceeded to find out any info I could about this weapon, including looking into other manuscripts and traditions to find out more.  But I really stayed focused on the poleaxe until, honestly, I got Waldman's "Hafted Weapons of Medieval and Renaissance Europe" and read his study on halberds, bills, vogues, poleaxes, etc.  I had an epiphany - I didn't just love the poleaxe, I loved pole-arms.  All of them.  I knew this, but I didn't "know" it.

So why do I love pole-arms so much?  Their versatility.  While the longsword is the most versatile single weapon, pole-arms are the most versatile class of weapons.  From the simple staff to the spear to the halberd to the poleaxe, no single weapon type has the amount of cross-over pole-arms do.  Train with the staff and you're 70% of the way to using a poleaxe.  And it's not just me saying so - masters like George Silver and Achille Marozzo agreed that techniques learned with one pole-arm would transfer easily to others.  You only need to adapt specific techniques to specific weapons - there are three attacks that can be made with pole-arms: Strikes, Thrusts, and Hooking actions - but not all pole-arms can make all three attacks.  It's tough to hook with a staff or spear, for instance.  There is also the versatility of pole-arms in regards to armour - all pole-arms can be used with or without armour, but some are more specialized to armoured combat (the axe). 

What is the point of all this rambling?  That while the longsword is the most versatile single weapon, pole-arms are the most versatile class of weapons.  Therefore, if you want to train with the poleaxe but don't have the armour or poleaxe, then train with a staff.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Best Definition of What We're Trying to Do

Greg Mele, of the Chicago Swordplay Guild, has written an article that describes what I consider to be the best way to approach out art.  We will never "do Fiore's art" - we can only use Fiore's principles and concepts to do our own version of that art.  Heck, I don't even do the same art as my instructor.  Really, really, really, really (x15) similar, but not the same because our bodies are slightly different and we have different backgrounds.  Great further reading for this is anything Bruce Lee wrote about Jeet Kune Do - ground yourself in Principles, but adapt techniques to your abilities.

Reconstructing a Martial Lineage; not Resurrecting the Dead

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Brief Rant

A brief rant here -

It seems that too many questions creep up on various forums (fora? forae?) that can be solved by a very simple rule I learned in Scouting and from the military.

When in Doubt, Read The F&*king Manual  -> or RTFM

Seriously, I don't see how people can debate or question the interpretation of one of the few things Fiore clearly tells us.

However, if you are going to use Fiore's words to support your interpretation - use the ENTIRE F&*KING SENTENCE!!!!  I hate this in religion, I hate it in politics, and I hate it in WMA.  Do not simply lift out half a sentence that supports your hypothesis when the rest of that sentence completely invalidates everything you are saying!  Especially not when I can easily find the transcription and translation(s) and read for myself that you are mis-using the resource.

If you wonder what the "correct" interpretation is - there isn't one.  Get over it.  Find the interpretation that you agree with and that you can find support for in the text and use it.  If people don't like it, fine.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Managed to make myself go out in the cold (no comments Teague) and do some sword work.  Sadly, it was a very short time because my dog- when he was outside kept thinking I was trying to play (a fun test of your elephant - have an 80lb dog jump on you exactly half-way through a mezza volta) ans when I put him inside he drove my wife crazy because he wanted to be out with me.  Hopefully the more I start training a little bit each day, he will become more used to it.

Anyways, here's what I did:

Northwest Fencing Academy's Posta Dance - Here is a Video.  The nice thing about this exercise is that it combines learning the poste with their tactical applications.  As you learn those applications, the drill allows you to change what actions you perform while remaining in the "guide" setup by the series of poste.

Cutting drill - fendenti, sottanti, mezzani, punte.  All starting from Posta di Donna (left and right).  Alternating sets between half cuts (ending in Longa) and full cuts (ending in another guard position).  Starting at what Guy calls "treacle speed" (aka molasses speed, or Tai Chi speed) and slowly speeding up, focusing on smoothness of action and balance (especially fun with all the roots, pine-cones, etc. in my backyard) at all times.  Whenever you feel out of control, slow down.

These two drills comprise the bulk of my solo training program.  The Poste Dance allows me explore what can be done from each guard and the Cutting Drill works me on all seven blows of the sword, flow, balance, & speed.  In this way, I work on everything in the Segno - the blows, Judgment, Quickness, Strength - Courage is a tough one to practice by yourself but it can be said that the act of practicing everyday regardless of weather, etc. takes courage *shrug*

Oh BTW, I use my Purpleheart waster for this practice.  As soon as I solidify what drills work best for me with the axe I'll put those up as well.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Here is a list of all the various resources I use for my studies:

   I've used a bunch of different swords over the years (and I'm very proud of that actually), but here is my list of the best.
  • Albion Liechtenauer - regarded by many as THE training sword.  Good balance, good flexibility, tough price.  Really, the price is the only reason I don't own one yet.
  • Arms & Armor Spada da Zogho - one of A&As three options for longsword trainers.  All the A&As share the characteristic of having a tank-like blade.  Darn-near indesctuctible, but still pricey.
  • Arms and Armor Fechterspiel - similar to the Spada da Zogho, but with more flexibility, making it more ideal for sparring.  Based on a historical design for a training sword.  Just like the Spada da Zogho and the Albion, pricey.
  • CAS Hanwei Tinker Longsword - perhaps the best mid-price sword available.  Comes with a scabbard and the ability to replace blades.  Some have complained because it's thin edge profile tends not to last when put against Albions or A&As thicker edges, but the Academy hasn't had any problems with ours.
  • CAS Hanwei Practical Bastard - not a bad offering from CAS Hanwei.  Comes with a natural colored (read - dye able) leather handle and soft leather scabbard.  I've only used one of these for a short time, but I was impressed.  It has a thicker edge than the Tinker longsword, but is thinner than an A&A.  I like it because it is a little bigger and heavier than most of the swords on the market, but some may not like it.
  • CAS Hanwei Federschwert - ordered two of the first series for the Academy and really did not like them - way too whippy.  I've heard that the new versions are better, but I haven't handled one yet. 
  • Valiant Armoury Atrim I-Beam - another sword that I've only handled sparingly.  Great design gives you a lot of strength without the weight.  My only complaint is that they always seem back-ordered.
  • CAS Hanwei Practical Hand-and-a-Half - almost universally regarded as the "if you have to" sword.  If you can spend the money for one of these and really want a steel sword, you are better off saving a little extra and buying one of the other swords listed above.
  • Purpleheart Armoury waster - a lot of people poo-poo on the idea of a wooden waster (mostly because the price of decent steel longswords is pretty reasonable) but I like them, you just have to know that they have their limitations.  I use one for my solo training.
  • Various synthetic swords - the new nylon or synthetic swords are getting a lot of buzz but honestly I haven't handled any enough to form an opinion.
  • Arms and Armour - A&A offers three pollaxe varieties now: the Knightly Poleaxe, the Burgundian, and the Italian pole-hammer, as well as offering customs.  These are the choice for solo drills or in order to have a usable poleaxe - my Burgundian is sharp and can do some real damage!  Paired drills with steel should be very closely supervised.
  • Purpleheart Armoury Pole hammer - this is my preferred axe training tool.  Even if you plan on making your own hafts, their heads and thrusting tips are worth it.  But be careful, in the words of Christian Tobler "As soon as you make a trainer that is enough like a poleaxe, it becomes a poleaxe".  These trainers, even with the rubbers heads, hit HARD.
   Armour is not cheap and my own kit is a hodge-podge of various makers works.  Here is a list of those makers whose websites I frequent and drool over.  These are not all of the websites, just the ones  I frequent the most.
  • Revival Clothing - the recommended choice for everything - arming clothes, soft kits, shoes, belts, hats, etc.
  • Matuls - I believe it was Dvid Teague who pointed these guys out to me.  They make a lot of nice stuff.
   Honestly the only DVD I've checked out is Christian Tobler's German Poleaxe DVD, which, by the way, is awesome!  See my review here.

   I'm going to break the books section into three parts; WMA, History, and General martial arts.

While that is not all of the WMA books on the market, these are the ones that I own that I feel are worthwhile.  Needless to say, I also own many that are not worthwhile.

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    Definitions and Why I Do What I Do

    Thanks to Tyson for this topic (and the next few).

    What are the "Western Martial Arts"?

       Western Martial Arts are simply that - the martial (militaristic) arts of the West.  "West" being defined as non-Oriental in an attempt to differentiate what we do from the Asian arts that typically spring to mind at the mention of "martial arts".  This includes European (East & West), American (North & South), as well as Near-Eastern arts.  In this I am perhaps taking a more liberal tack than most, but I use WMA as my "big picture" definition - encompassing any martial art developed in the "West" - everything from the images on the Beni Hassan tomb to modern day military combatives (both armed & unarmed).  Most folks tend to set the upper limit of WMA as the 19th century, but I consider modern stuff just as valid in the terms of being martial arts.  Ideally, Western Martial Arts would mean arts that developed in the "West" but are not just based off, or off-shoots, of Asian arts (i.e. Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, Kenpo, etc.)

    Wrestling images from a tomb at Beni Hassan. You can see a larger version by following the link posted above.

    Other common terms for what we do are "Historical European Martial Arts" and "Historical European Swordsmanship".  The problem with "Historical European Martial Arts" is that that is just another way of saying Western Martial Arts - just specifying Europe as the point of origin rather than "the West".  So instead, let's look at "Historical European Swordsmanship" - simply sword-based arts developed in Europe.  The "historical" part is kind of a misnomer - any art not developed in the last 20-50 years is technically "historical".  So my definition of "Historical European Swordsmanship" includes everything from I.33, the various longsword traditions, sword & buckler, saber, rapier, classical fencing, & even sport fencing (like I said, I tend to be liberal in these "big picture" definitions).  The term "Historical European Swordsmanship" works quite well if your art focuses on using the sword.  For someone studying an Early Modern (Renaissance) or Modern system of swordplay, this works quite well because, for the most part, the teachings are focused on the sword, or the sword and various off-hand bits.  Even strictly following I.33 falls under "swordsmanship" (get it? I.33? "falls under"? Sometimes I kill myself!).  I don't like using that term for Fiore because Fiore has so much more than "swordsmanship" in it.  If you try to explain what we do to an average person and you start with the term "swordsmanship" you get some real funny looks when you start showing them wrestling and dagger and spear plays. Heck I've even had a training partner complain because we were doing a wrestling action sans sword - his complaint was that the class was called "swordsmanship" so shouldn't we be learning the sword the whole time.  Needless to say, I showed him how this play directly translated into wrestling with the sword, but he still didn't last too long in the class.
       So if "Western Martial Arts" and such are all too broad, then what terms should we be using to describe what we do?  Well, I see two options: first is to use the term "Medieval (or Renaissance or Early English or whatever) martial arts" as a broad definition.  Ideally, you could tell someone you study a "Medieval European martial art based around the use of the sword & buckler".  Try saying that to most people and you get a "Huh?" response.  So something short and sweet like "I study a medieval Italian martial art" is what I usually tell people when they ask.  If they press I come to option two - I name the thing.  For instance, I study the system of Fiore de Liberi, so I call it "Armizare" (It. "Art of Arms").  If I studied the German stuff I'd call it "Kunst des Fechten" (Ger. "Art of Fighting"), etc.  I personally think this is the way we need to go.  After all, nobody says they study a 20th century Japanese wrestling art based off of earlier Japanese wrestling arts - they say "I study Judo" and people know what they're talking about.  Just remember that whatever term you choose to call your art that term is what the public will identify you with.  Call it Armizare, Kunst des Fechten, Sword & Buckler, Italian rapier, or Medieval Art of Death (>.<) - you will just have to live with the consequences of your name.

    Like, you know, naming your art after a female horse.  Just sayin'

    Why Do I Study Armizare?

        I seem to get this question quite a bit from my wife every time I come home with bruises...or that time we had to go to Urgent Care...  Like most questions asked of me, I have a simple answer and a lengthy in-depth answer.

       In-depth Answer: I study Western Martial Arts, and Armizare specifically, because I enjoy martial arts and history.  Believe it or not, I was a Medievalist before I began studying medieval martial arts - I grew up reading T.H. White's The Once and Future King which I blame for sparking my love of European history.  I study martial arts for the same reasons most folks do: Increased fitness, balance, self-confidence, discipline, as well as the more practical aspects (throwing people, hitting people with objects, etc.)  Well I guess that wasn't such an in-depth answer after all!

    Quick Answer: Because swords are freaking cool!
       Come on folks, let's not kid ourselves here - we do this because swords are awesome and we look awesome when we practice.  'Nuff said.

       I'll add to this my story of how I got started studying Armizare - not that it's a long story really.  During my freshman year at the University of Oregon, 2004, I needed one more credit to be a full-time student and therefore receive my full allotment of student aid.  Using the University's online course catalog I searched for 1 credit classes during the times I had open in my schedule and my eye caught on "15th Century Italian Longsword" - a PE class.  I went to the first day, heard Maestro Hayes' lecture (which I can now recite verbatim haha) and then we ran through some very simple drills - mostly learning poste.  Well, the rest is history - I bought my own Purpleheart waster after 3 weeks and proceeded to only miss 3 terms (the UO runs a 3-term schedule Fall, Winter, Spring) during my next 3 years.  I have been training with the Northwest Fencing Academy since that Winter term 2004 and am now an assistant instructor with the school.  My studies focus on Armizare and pollaxe combat, mostly looking at Fiore's axe material and Le Jeu de la Hache.  My primary goal is to teach these arts and continue their progression.

    Hopefully I've answered the two questions: What is Western Martial Arts, and why do I practice them?

    Clear as mud?

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010


    Having a brain fart so I'm going to open the boards here: I am looking for suggestions for topics to write about.  Anything goes: questions, arguments we've had, more evidence to back up my interpretations, etc.

    Thursday, October 28, 2010

    After Action Report - My Pollaxe bouts at the 600

    I had the privilege of fighting in the Armoured Feat of Arms at the Fiore 600 event this September.  It was a day of two firsts for me:

    1.    The first time I'd ever fought in armour outside the Academy.
    2.    The first time I'd ever fought with the pollaxe.

    As one of the four Challengers, along with Maestro Sean Hayes, Scott “the Earl” Wilson, and Bob Charrette, I faced three Defenders from the Chicago Swordplay Guild, Leopoldo Lastre , Jesse  Kula, and Dave “Sparky” Farrell.  Bouts could be fought with the sword, the lance, or the axe and were fought to 5 points – me being who I am, I decided to play all three bouts with the axe.  In two of the three bouts, I used my own axes – being shorter (~4.5 feet) they provided a different style of play than the other axes (~6 feet).  The short axes performed wonderfully (Thanks Mike!) but the bouts with them provided two insights:

    1.    After talking to other folks, I am starting to prefer a slightly longer axe than my short axes – I'm thinking that the tip of the top spike should come just under, or at, the user's nose.
    2.    The Revival rubber spear heads we used for my axes and for the lances?  Not so good.  They are too floppy – there were numerous instances of a solid blow being landed with them and the person on the receiving end not even noticing.  For pollaxes, much better to go with the Purpleheart tips.

    So here is my play-by-play and analysis of my three bouts with the pollaxe:

    First Bout – Me vs Leo with short axes

    First pass (00:25), I feint a thrust with the queue and throw a fendente in behind Leo's parry, hitting his arm with my haft (not a point).  Leo then fends me off with one hand (Jacques de Lalaing anyone?) and gets his queue into my armpit for a point.   
    Leo 1 – Alex 0

    Second pass (00:46), Leo enters with either a dague thrust or a fendente and I cover with my croix, get the open line, and thrust him in the face for a point.  
    Leo 1 – Alex 1

    Third pass (00:56), Leo enters with a fendente which I parry with my demy hache.  We close and scuffle around until I decide to drop my axe and pull my dagger – except that I can't find my dagger! (Watching the video, and therefore seeing where my stupid dagger actually was, I wish I had hunted out my dagger a bit longer before giving up that point, but fine finger movements just do not happen in mitten gauntlets.) 
    Leo 2 – Alex 1

    Fourth Pass (01:30), after fixing my equipment – the tip had come off my axe – I feint a fendente and then strike again to his head after Leo's parry for what I consider my best move of my three bouts.
    Leo 2 – Alex 2

    Fifth Pass (01:46), after much posturing (I am proud of myself for moving my queue around and threatening thrusts – even if I was out of measure), I enter with a queue thrust to Leo's face that barely misses, we close and scuffle before I can get a minor blow to Leo's face (no power in it), then I'm able to shove Leo's arms up and get my demy hache in for a good shove, preparing, but thankfully not having to, take Leo out of the lists.   
    Leo 2 – Alex 3

    Second Bout – Me vs Jesse with short axes

    First Pass (00:29), Jesse enters with a fendente that he change-through into a thrust (which, BTW, I think hits my unarmoured upper arm – sorry Jesse).  I “parry” the thrust with my croix, and bring the axe around to thrust with the queue, which Jesse parries by coming into a hanging guard.  In response, I  bring a fendente down on his haft, moving it, and thrust him in the shoulder, pushing him back.
    Alex 1 – Jesse 0

    Second Pass (00:43), Jesse, from Coda Lunga, gets a nice shot to my rear hand against my thrust.
    Alex 1 – Jesse 1

    Third Pass (00:55), After a fendente by Jesse and a follow-up thrust by me, we come to grips, during which I apparently fall to my knees – I have absolutely no recognition of doing so! - and Jesse gets his dagger into my collar.  It takes awhile for the Marshall and myself to notice, but Jesse gets the dagger in at ~ 01:10.   
    Alex 1 – Jesse 2

    Fourth Pass (01:55), I attempt to use the feint I used against Leo, except I miss!  I attempt a dague thrust and Jesse brings his axe down on my head.   
    Alex 1 – Jesse 3

    Fifth Pass (02:12), Jesse enters with a queue thrust which parry with my demy hache.  I attempt to hook Jesse's lead arm with my croix, fail, bring my queue around and thrust at his shoulder.  He grabs my queue (I don't know if I hit him with the queue or not) and I use the leverage to shove him towards the edge of the lists.   
    Alex 2 – Jesse 3

    Third Bout – Me vs Sparky with long axes

    First Pass (00:25), I decide to go lefty for the first pass, Sparky throws a fendente that I take on my demy hache, bring my croix around, missing Sparky's shoulder with my fendente.  Sparky tries to knock my axe away with his queue and as he kayaks his croix around, I take advantage of the tempo to thrust him in the face. Too bad I just then realized that his first fendente had hit me in the shoulder.
    Alex 0 – Sparky 1

    Second Pass (00:45), Sparky attempts to feint a fendente and thrust with his queue, but I jam his axe with my demy hache and hit him with my croix.   
     Alex 1 – Sparky 1

    Third Pass (00:56), Sparky attempts a change-through, but I stay just out of measure, parrying his dague thrust with my haft, then closing in with a backhanded fendente which misses.  We become locked at the demy hache and push and shove each other until I pull my dagger and stab him in the collar.   
    Alex 2 – Sparky 1

    Fourth Pass (01:35), This is my favorite moment in all of my bouts!  Sparky executes a picture perfect change-through (I was trying to close in for a collar-throw) and thrusts me in the chest hard enough to move me back a few feet.  That voice you hear laughing and saying “Yes!” is mine.  It was awesome.   
    Alex 2 – Sparky 2

    Fifth Pass (01:52), Sparky enters with a fendente which I parry with a fendente of my own, following it up with a thrust to his face (I was ready to hook the back of Sparky's neck and pull him forward, but he had already called the point to me).   
    Alex 3 – Sparky 2


    I was proud of how I performed in my first axe bouts.  Granted, at a Fiore event I mixed Fiore, Le Jeu, and the Anonimo, but hey it's all good!  I left the lists with a few more friends and some good insight into axe combat, which will help my interpretations.  My enduring thanks and regards to all those who participated in the Feat of Arms, those who ran the Feat, those who assisted the combatants during the Feat, and those who generously allowed me to stumble around like a drunken orangutan in front of them.


    Wednesday, October 13, 2010

    Sick - bleh

    At home sick for the day.  Just spent the last couple hours scouring the web and putting together a folder of Spadone / Montante material.  I may start playing with this, a little outside my normal area of interest (15th century) but come-on - it's a big freakin' sword!

    In a few days I will probably be finished with a post about some thoughts on axe combat based on the axe bouts from the 600 - especially my three bouts.

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    The 600th - a Review

    Got back last night from the best WMA event I've ever attended.  Okay, so I've only been to three, but my previous statement still stands!

    The event, which was a celebration of the 600th (ish) anniversary of the setting down of Fiore dei Liberi's "Fior di Battaglia".  Hosted by the Chicago Swordplay Guild at the beautiful DeKoven Center in Racine, WI (home of WMAW), The 600th was designed to be a small (only about 50-60 people) event focused on Armizare, thus allowing the classes to be more in-depth than at a larger conference.  The instructors for the event included Greg Mele, Sean Hayes, Bob Charette, Guy Windsor, Mark Lancaster, & Scott Wilson.  Every class I attended was well taught and the students were respectful and attentive.

    The even also included three "bonus events":
    • A martial challenge between the United States, represented by Sean Hayes & Jesse Kulla, and the Commonwealth, represented by Guy Windsor, Jason Smith, and Mark Lancaster.  The challenge fights were a joy to watch and were displays of both prowess and gentlemanly conduct.  Oh yeah, the Commonwealth won  ;)
    • An Unarmoured Tournament which featured three rounds, each with a different weapon - the longsword, the lance, and the arming sword.  The rounds were fought with a modified version of the Belgian rules - each bout was to 3 points, with blows to the head & sword-arm being worth 3 points, all other targets worth 1 point.  The winner remained in the lists and became the King, thus having the right to make an After-Blow (a response to a blow struck against them).  Double hits were either a) given to the higher (literally) blow or b) if there was no discernible advantage, both combatants were out and two new ones entered the lists.  That all being said, this was my first tournament of any type and I thought I fought quite well at the longsword.  The arming sword and lance rounds showed my lack of training with those weapons, but now I have a baseline from which to improve.  Just like the Martial Challenges, the Tournament contestants showed nothing but chivalry to one another and made my first tournament a happy one.
    • An Armoured Feat of Arms between four Challengers; myself, Sean Hayes, Scott Wilson & Bob Charette, against three Defenders of the CSG; Jesse Kulla, Dave Farrell, and Leo Lastre.  Each Challenger fought a bout with each Defender with one of four weapons: the dagger, the longsword, the lance, and the poleaxe.  I fought all three of my bouts with the axe (go figure right?) - twice with my "short axes" and once with the "long axe".  This being only my second tournament (see above), my first time fighting someone outside the Academy in armour and my first time fighting with axes I can honestly say that this Feat of Arms was the highlight of my weekend!  My thanks go out to the Defenders for providing me with such wonderful bouts (Sparky, my best memory is of that beautiful change through you caught me with!), my fellow Challengers, Nicole and Greg for the wonderful experience, and most importantly, to all you good folk who assisted us in and out of our armour, fetched weapons, and made sure we had water after each bout - I humbly apologize that I cannot remember each of you who by name.
    Besides the Armoured Feat of Arms, my other highlights include Greg's axe class and the many wonderful conversations I had over fermented beverages.

    To Greg, Nicole, the CSG who helped staff the event, to the DeKoven staff, and to both my rides - my warmest thanks!

    To Jason, Dan, Bernard, JF, Rachel, Theresa and many, many others - it was wonderful to finally meet you!

    To all the instructors, thank you for sharing your time and knowledge!

    In the end, this event has provided some of my happiest WMA moments and I can only hope that I comported myself as well as I saw those around me do so.  And of course, I hope I didn't embarrass myself or the Academy too bad :)

      Friday, September 3, 2010

      Alright Boys! Whip 'em out & Measure!

      I hate politics.

      I mean that I REALLY hate politics.

      I hate politics almost as much as I hate the Yankees and USC.

      So it really pisses me off when things I love get caught up in loads of political bullshit.  What set all this off is this thread at SwordForum ("US puts in a good showing at Fightcamp 2010") discussing the results and aftermath of a Backsword Tournament held at that event.  If you really want to read all 7 pages of it, be my guest, but here is a synopsis:
      • Guy who ran Backsword Tournament posts to congratulate American for competing.
      • Someone makes a crack about said American being banned from SFI.
      • Moderator responds that above person does not know the whole story and to let it drop.
      This is where is gets interesting and people start makes insinuations that US instructors and certain "names" don't have the courage / balls / gumption to risk their reputations and enter into "real" tournaments.  Begin the Flame War!

      The main argument that follows is based around two camps:
      • One that says that tournaments are the closest we will ever come to a real swordfight and should be the acme of our training.
      • One that says no, tournaments suck.
      Here's the fun part, just like any religious argument, this one boils down to two extreme camps (who are actually the minority) overwhelming the middle-of-the-road people (who are the majority).  If, for instance, you say that "properly done tournaments are all well and good, but they should not be the focal point of our training, because then we risk sportifying the art" you are slammed by one side as being anti-tournament and by the other as being pro-tournament.  >.<

      Needless to say, I was willing to let this "mine is bigger than yours" crap slide by with very little involvement on my part.

      Then I saw this thread on another forum:

      SFI fucktards..

      I am not making that title up, click on the link.

      So here we have one of the main instigators of the "discussion" on SFI bitching and moaning on his own forum about the "nasty atmosphere" on SFI and how stupid the people who are arguing with him are?


      Especially because one of the people he questions as being...ahem..."mentally handicapped" we'll say, is upset by the fact that the tournament was won by a person who had never studied historical European backsword or single-handed sword techniques.

      *blink*             *blink*

      To which those who ran the tournament replied that "Well, it wasn't a 'backsword' tournament, it was a...uhhh...singlestick...no wait...a single-sword....uh....ish...tournament"  Yeah, that's the ticket.  When they are called on the fact that that original post included the phrase "Backsword Tournament" they responded by.....you guessed it....attacking the questioner and proclaiming that he had obviously never fought in a "real tournament" and that he should "put his money where his mouth is".

      Why?  Because he called you on the fact that you held a Backsword Tournament where you could use whatever style you pleased?  Remind anyone else of this?

      "Welcome to first annual Pacific Northwest Longsword Tournament where all style are welcome!  Ready?" *insert sounds of guns cocking*

      This is where I got pissed off.  I can accept:
      • You trying to asses penis size over the internet.  Whatever.
      • You trying to assert that tournaments are the "purest form" of WMA.  Okay, your opinion.
      But when you start pissing and moaning and changing your story because somebody caught you with your pants down?  When you start arguing about semantics and minutiae? When you start  arguing with people, not because of what they're saying but because of who they are?  Then:



      And now for something completely different -

      Thursday, August 12, 2010

      Hardware vs. Software

      It hit me the other day just how long it's been since I went shooting - just over 2 years to be exact. This realization got me thinking about firearms and then thinking about getting my Concealed Carry permit, so I started reading all sorts of information on defensive handgun shooting I could find on the web. At this point, my regular readers (do I have regular readers? haha) will wonder why I'm talking about firearms on a sword-related blog. Well here's why: An interesting aspect of all the quality articles about defensive handgun shooting I read was their assertion that it is not about what pistol, sights, grips, gadgets, etc. you are carrying, but about the training you've received. In other words - Software, not hardware.

      I realized, reading this over again, that this is what I tell customers in the cutlery shop where I work this all the time. They ask what the best survival knife or self-defense knife is and my response is always "The one you have on you when you need it". A $400 custom fixed blade survival knife does you no good when your car is broken down in the middle of nowhere and it is at home in your camping gear.

      The same applies in Western Martial Arts. There has been lots of talk about gear lately on various WMA related forums - discussing sword length or what training sword is better, etc. My opinion is - it doesn't matter. I've talked about this before, but when I do solo training I use a Purpleheart armouries wooden waster. When I train at the Northwest Fencing Academy I will use a Tinker longsword, an A&A Fectherspiel or Spada da Zogho, a Purpleheart synthetic, or a Swordcrafts aluminum. In the long run, I believe I am better off because of this - by training with a variety of wasters I learn how to express my art despite the tool being used. That is the ultimate point of martial arts - to give you a series of principles that can then be adapted to whatever is at hand.

      In the end, the sword, poleaxe, pistol, knife, etc. is a tool - you are the weapon.

      Friday, July 30, 2010

      Proper Measure for a Sword Part II

      Did a little number crunching & manuscript gazing and here are some numbers I came up with. I picked a few guard positions and plays out of the Getty, the Florius, the Pissani-Dossi and Vadi and measured the length of the sword shown. I then measured (as accurately as possible) the body of the figure. The final step was coming up with the ratio between sword length and body height - sword length divided by body length. This was not very scientific, but it works for me.

      Fiore Getty ratio = 0.66
      Fiore Florius ratio = 0.66
      Fiore PD ratio = 0.74
      Vadi ratio = 0.66

      The average ratio comes to 0.68.

      Of note is that it is the Pissani-Dossi that shows the greastest ratio, not Vadi, which I expected given Vadi's instructions for sword length - ground to armpit. On me (6' tall) that creates a sword which is 54" overall, creating a ratio of 0.75 - so that fits.

      Again, I am 6' or 72" tall. If the average ratio, based on the illustrations is 0.68 then my "ideal" sword would be:

      72" x 0.68 = 48.96"

      Let's look at some of the swords I've used for training:

      A&A Fectherspiel - 48.5" overall
      A&A Spada di Zogho - 46.5" overall
      Albion Liechtenauer - 47.5" overall
      Tinker Longsword - 47" overall
      Purpleheart waster - 48" overall

      I just found it interesting that, contrary to some assertations given in the SFI thread, many of the reproduction trainers available today are proportionally correct for a person of "average" modern height.

      NOTE: I know that the illustrations are not exact and it is a mistake to take them as photographs, but they are not drawn by complete amateurs either. Given that several samples from the guards and plays yielded extremely similar (i.e. more consistent than I can draw) sword & figure lengths, it is also a mistake to discount the illustrations (and the illustrators).


      Proper Measure for a Sword

      This post is a response to this thread on SFI where the majority of the discussion is now on the proper length a sword should be, with quite a few people asserting that a “proper” blade needs to be longer than we typically see because we are taller (on average) than our medieval counterparts. I'm responding here rather than on SFI because most of those involved over there are Liechtenauer-ists where I am a Fiorist – so my comments are aimed more at the Italian tradition than the German.

      First, to get this out of the way – folks in the Middle Ages were not as short as people think. To the average person (including most of those I talk to in my store), “medieval man” was tiny – a good 10-12” shorter than we are today. However, the evidence shows that the difference is more like 2-3”, still a significant variance, but not as crazy as people seem to believe. Here's a good article on the subject.

      The first thing we have to do is ask what we are really trying to accomplish. Are we trying to discover what the “Medieval Masters” believed to be the proper measure of a sword? Or are we trying to discover what we believe to be the proper measure of a sword? These may seem like the same question – after all, if we base our beliefs on sword length on our interpretations, then aren't we doing both? Yes and no. Why? Because even the masters can't agree.

      Silver describes his ideal one-handed sword as being a yard in length (assuming a modern yard = 36”) plus or minus an inch or two, depending on the person. He then says that his ideal longsword will have the same blade (34-38”) but with a longer handle. It's interesting that these are the dimensions seen on the majority of modern training longswords.

      Vadi describes the ideal sword as being proportional to the user, extending from the ground to the armpit and with a hilt as long as your forearm. For myself, at 6', that means a length of 54” and a 14” hilt, which isn't a longsword, it's a true two-hander (spadone, montante, etc.). Indeed, if you look at Vadi's illustrations versus Fiore's, taking into account the somewhat questionable reliability of the illustrations, it is obvious that Vadi's sword is bigger than Fiore's. It is also telling then that Vadi does not include any one-handed or mounted plays whereas Fiore does.

      Here is a listing of some modern training swords with their blade and handle lengths:

      Arms & Armour
      • Spada di Zogho Blade: 35.75” Handle: 10.75”
      • Fechtbuch Blade: 37.75” Handle: 10.75”
      • Fechterspiel Blade: 37.75” Handle: 10.75”
      • Spadone Blade: 47” Handle: 16”
      • Montante Blade: 45” Handle: 14”

      • Liechtenauer Blade: 36.5” Handle: 11”
      • The Meyer Blade: 36.5” Handle: 11.25”

      CAS Hanwei
      • Practical Hand & a Half Blade: 34” Handle: 9.75”
      • Practical Bastard Blade:38” Handle: 11.5”
      • Federschwert Blade: 37” Handle: 14.5”
      • Tinker Longsword Blade: 35” Handle: 12”
      • Tinker Bastard Blade: 33.38” Handle: 9.38”

      The key (and on this many of the folks at SFI agree) is that the sword is proportional to the user, the argument is what that proportion should be. And that is where personal preference comes in. As we've seen, not even the master's could agree on what the ideal sword is. And neither should we!

      So, does it really matter? Does it really matter if I use a sword with a 38” blade or one with a 36.75” blade? It depends. Yes it is an issue because you want to make sure that you are using an accurate tool for your art (i.e. using a Viking style sword to do Fiore longsword – yeah, not so much). That being said, I think far too many people get caught up in the importance of the tool – that is all a sword is – over the importance of the art. During large classes at Northwest Fencing Academy, it is not unusual for me to use 2 or 3 different swords – we like to match swords (Tinkers to Tinkers, A&A's to A&A's, aluminum to aluminum, etc). In addition, my primary solo trainer is a Purpleheart Armories waster. So while training my sword length varies between 35-38”, with different length handles and different balances. But this is a very good thing because it teaches me to adapt – I do not get caught up in getting a tool to fit my art but in making my art fit the tool. But trust me, even though I firmly believe this, that doesn't stop me from pining away for a beautiful custom longsword trainer to call my own!

      A great example of this is a pair of modified shinai that the Academy used to use for free-play. One shinai had about a 36” blade and the other a 34” blade – and boy did it make a difference! We would use the disparate lengths to, in my opinion, our advantage – constantly training with, and against, a shorter or longer sword gave me some of the best free-play lessons I've ever received. Nothing teaches you to work on gauging distance and following your strikes like deceiving your opponent's parry and snapping out a beautiful thrust – that falls 1” too short!

      To sum up, whatever sword you want to use for your practice is okay by me, so long as it fits within the parameters of your art (no I.33 with a spadone). Many medieval masters, including Vadi, tell you that, in a judicial duel type situation, you should make sure that the swords used are equal (“sisters”), but I think that in order to be well-rounded students of Armizare (or KdF or whatever) we need to practice with, and against, a variety of weapons. No, excuse me, with and against a variety of tools.


      Monday, July 5, 2010

      Analysis on Armizare Armoured Combat

      This week let's take a look at the four defensive methods in Armizare and just what that means for interpreting the armoured sections of the manuscripts, specifically the axe section.

      The Four Ways to Defend

      In Armizare there are four ways to defend against an opponent's attack:

      • Cross it
      • Deflect it
      • Exchange it
      • Break it

      Let's look at these four things a little closer.

      Cross It

      Crossing your opponent's attack mean just that; parrying your opponent's blow such that your weapons cross to your advantage. He divides the sword in two hands section by where the cross occurs; at the point (weak), at the middle, and at the strong. The importance of crossing in Armizare is clear from the fact that what to do after the cross has been achieved encompasses the majority of Fiore's art. Vadi is even more explicit on the importance of the cross:

      "The art of the sword only consists in crossing / putting both strikes and thrusts in their rightful place / bringing war to those who oppose you." - Porzio & Mele 19

      Deflect It

      Deflections are an interesting beast in Armizare because they appear throughout the manuscripts but only singly – never as a series of plays (like the cross does). Why is this? The first, and most obvious answer, is that if your deflection is done properly, there is no follow on other than hitting the other guy. If your deflection does not go well (either you mess it up or they bind against it) you are now in a cross. The deflections are scattered throughout the manuscripts; it appears at the beginning of the sword in one hand section, the end of the sword in two hands section and in the mounted section. In the first two instances, the master is described as using the same defense against several different attacks (cuts, thrusts, thrown swords/spears) on foot, while in the last he is shown as being on foot against horsemen. In all of these instances we are given the same tactical advice:

      “I'll advance the right foot, which is in front, off the line, pass at an angle against the opponent's weapon and beat it to his left side. After making my parry I'll instantly attack” - Leoni, 64

      All of the illustrations show the master in a left side guard, Dente di Cinghiaro with the two handed weapons. Fiore explicitly says that you could hold any left side posta – Posta di Donna & Finestra and that the plays would work just as well as from Dente di Cinghiaro. Why only on the left side though? Because the majority of people in the world (just as true in Fiore's time as ours) are right handed. Why does this matter? Why, gentle reader, that is a wonderful segue into...

      When to Cross & Deflect

      “Right-sided guards will parry and, while parrying, pass and strike with a thrust. Left-sided guards will parry and beat aside, and strike with a cut – but are not as good for answering with a thrust” - Leoni 78

      The general rule as to when to cross and when to deflect is this:

      If your sword is on the opposite side as your opponent's attack, cross it.
      If your sword is on the same side as your opponent's attack, deflect it.

      That is why Fiore shows all the deflection coming from the left side – 9 times out of 10 a right-handed person will attack from their right side, so in order to deflect properly, your sword must be on your left side.

      Exchange It

      The exchange and break of thrusts can be seen as subsets of crossing (they are) but because Fiore calls these out as being defenses against the thrust, I separate them as well. The especially handy thing about these two techniques is that the exchange can easily flow into a break if needed.

      The exchange of thrusts is just that: an exchange of attacks. In modern fencing parlance it can be viewed as a thrust with opposition (or a parry followed by a riposte with opposition). Here is what Fiore has to say about it:

      “This play, called exchange of thrusts, is done this way. As your opponent attacks you with a thrust, step out of line with your front foot, then pass obliquely also offline, crossing his sword with your arms while thrusting in his face or chest with your point high” - Leoni, 55.

      Break It

      The break of thrusts is another option for defending against a thrust. The footwork is the same as for the exchange, but instead of exchanging with a thrust, you cut a fendente against their blade, driving it to the ground, then executing numerous follow on plays.

      While it is possible to break a cut after crossing it (for instance crossing in Frontale, then driving their blade down) it is more difficult to exchange cuts (although you could consider the 1st play of Gioco Largo as an exchange of cuts...).

      Interpreting the Armoured Sections

      Because the longsword is the basis for all weapons techniques in Armizare, you can find all four defense methods in the sword in two hands section. However, the armoured sections of the manuscript are arranged differently – instead of including all four methods, Fiore focuses on one option per weapon. Which method is shown is based on the nature of the weapon when fighting in armour.

      • Cross it = Sword in Armour
      • Deflect it = Axe
      • Exchange it = Spear
      • Break it = Axe

      Sword in Armour – Crossin' It Up

      The longsword, when used against armour, is held in the half-sword grip – one hand on the hilt the other about halfway up the blade. This grip allows the sword to be used like a very short spear and/or dagger. Because of the relatively light weight of the normal longsword (Fiore and Vadi do show specific armoured combat swords – essentially the bastard child of the longsword and poleaxe. Yes, I want one!) blows made with the sword would be ineffectual against most armour, hence the focus on the thrust to get into all the little gaps in armour.

      The parries described in this section use the bit of the sword between your hands to parry an opponent's attack, leaving the point and the hilt free to attack. One effect of the half-sword grip is that your weapon is shortened, so you have to get in close. The result is that after the initial parry & thrust, all of the plays in this section are Gioco Stretto plays, including collar throws with each end of the weapon and the ligadura sottana.

      Axe – I Will Break You

      “I am the axe, heavy, cruel and lethal, and I deliver bigger blows than any other handheld weapon.” - Lenoi 77

      The major difference between the axe and the spear and sword when used against armour is that the axe has sufficient weight to make effective blows against armour – possibly puncturing but more likely crushing it. Even if the axe blow does no external damage, the transfer of force will likely cause broken bones and/or severe trauma. As such, for the first time in the armoured sections, we have a weapon throwing blows, and guards that have to deal with that fact. As one would expect, the primary guard for blows in the axe section is Posta di Donna and so she is faced by Dente di Cinghiaro, who's forte is deflecting right-handed blows. But the axe is also a very efficient thrusting weapon, with the potential to pierce breastplates and other armour.

      The primary focus, however, of the axe section is what happens when you break your opponent's attack – as often happens because the heavy heads tend to...ah...encourage a low bind :) Accordingly, we see the canonical follow up to the break, complete with stomping on your opponent's axe, as well as a thrust adaptation, a between-the-legs trip, a disarm and a ligadura.

      The final two plays feature “unique” axes that, as far as I am aware, are only found in Fiore. The first has a weight attached by a rope or chain to the axe head, the play being exactly what you would expect – you wrap that thing around their legs, drag them around for a bit, then beat them senseless. The other unique axe that has a hollow head for delivering an “eye-melting powder”.


      “This axe is hollow all around and filled with a corrosive powder that makes it impossible to open the eyes as soon as it comes into contact with them – and may even cause permanent blindness.” - Leoni 77.

      How awesome is that!

      Spear – The Exchange of Pain

      The spear shown in Fiore is approximately 5-6 feet tall with a pointy end and a (usually) iron shod end. Like the sword in armour section, your opponent's armour limits your targets and the nature of the spear makes blows ineffective against armour. All of the techniques in this section are exchanges of thrusts – three from right side guards, three from left side guards.

      From the right:
      “I will pass obliquely out of line with the right foot, and crossing his lance I will beat it away to the left.” - Leoni 78

      From the left:
      “We pass out of lone by first stepping offline with the foot that is forward. And all of us (mandritto or riverso side) come together with a thrust after the parry, since the lance can only strike this way.” - Leoni 80

      The spear section also includes Fiore's “common” polearm counter – which, in truth, is nothing more than an adaptation on the advice given in the two hand sword section – If your opponent parries such that your point is taken offline, strike him with the butt of the spear.

      Putting it All Together

      So, know we've reached the meat & potatoes part of the post where, if you've read this far, you're asking what the point is. Well here goes.

      When I first started studying Armizare, I was intrigued as to why the sections in the Getty seemed to get shorter and shorter. The longsword section is the longest (22R – 31V); the sword in armour (32V – 35R), the axe (35V – 37V), and the spear (39R – 40R) each being shorter than the last. The reason is that the foundation for Armizare weapons combat is found in the sword in two hands section and the armoured sections simply represent sub-sets of that section. Because of the limitations of certain weapons against armour the three sections all address different aspects of the four defenses while in armoured combat.

      To get a clear picture of armoured combat with the poleaxe, which combines attributes of the sword and spear, it is therefore necessary to take all three armoured sections as one. When you do so, you will naturally find techniques such as the collar throw, playing around with the butt end of the axe, etc. that you find in many of the other axe treatises out there. Much like the unarmoured longsword features all four defenses, so too can the poleaxe use all four in armoured combat.

      I've talked about this before (here) but what is new is that rather than looking at them as high crossing, middle crossing, low crossing, I know look at the three armoured sections in Fiore as exemplifying one of the four defenses; cross, deflect, exchange & break.

      Fiore's system, Armizare, is just that – a system, a series of principles that does not merely address the art of fighting with specific weapons, but the art of fighting.

      Friday, June 18, 2010

      DVD Review

      Today's review will be on Christian Tobler's new DVD “German Medieval Martial Arts Vol. 1: The Poleaxe” available from Freelance Academy Press. As the title suggests, this is the first in a proposed series on German Martial Arts.

      First off, the production quality is excellent! As someone who dabbled (briefly) in the video production world, I can appreciate the obvious hard work that Speaking Window Productions put into this DVD. There was only one point during the Drills section where the sound editor missed an audible “cut” - and I only caught it because I was paying very close attention. Wonderful job guys! The music adds a very nice ambiance to the video without being too distracting.

      The DVD opens with a re-enacted judicial duel, which is just great fun!

      Following this is the Introduction, a mini-documentary detailing just what a poleaxe is, the etymology of the word, as well as interviews with Christian Tobler, Dr. Lee Jones and Dr. Jeffery Forgeng.

      This is followed by a section covering the Guards and an overview of what can be done from each guard. In this section, Tobler finds the perfect medium between being too brief and going into too much detail. The participants are in period clothing and armour (of which there is a wonderful variety!) which adds to the experience. Each guard is shown simultaneously in a side and front view, which is very helpful, and all the actions are clear and precise.

      The Drills section covers handling the axe (i.e. being comfortable moving the axe around and using both hands as leads) – I would have liked a mention of the importance on practicing this while wearing gauntlets, because gauntlets do change things about how you grip (and Christian is shown wearing gauntlets during this spot). Then the DVD moves into paired drills for practice, which highlight in greater detail the actions shown earlier.

      The Special Features include the trailer for this volume, as well as a video trailer for Tobler's book “In St. George's Name” (my review here) and a quick video about the Selohaar Fechtschule. Also, be sure to check out the Special Features menu very carefully ;)

      This is perhaps the best instructional DVD I've ever seen – clean, concise, & informative without trying to do too much. It is a great volume for beginners and long-time WMA students. For those well-versed in the axe, don't expect any ground-breaking, brand new techniques here – a poleaxe is a poleaxe after all. That said, fighting from Nebenhut is a little different than anything in the Italian system (although you could use Vera Croce the same way).

      The only negative I have about the DVD is the massive amount of “toy-envy” I developed after watching the copious amounts of beautiful arms and armour parade across the screen!

      Wednesday, June 9, 2010


      It's been a while and it's been an absolute pain in the ass for me to try to come up with something worthwhile to write about here. It's been an interesting couple of weeks: Celebrating accomplishments with one friend, mourning the loss of another, my work schedule being jimmied around, and battling my inner... well “inner demons” is rather cliched but it fits here.

      On the WMA front I've been:

      - Attempting to decide whether or not to pick up a steel waster. Scratch that. I want to pick up a steel waster, but am deciding how much I am willing to spend at the moment (not exactly Scrooge McDuck here).

      My preference would be for the Arms & Armor Fechterspiel, which is what I use(d) training with Maestro Hayes. However, monetary concerns mean that I have my eye on the A-Trim I-beam trainer, which is considerably less money but still has what I'm looking for: Thick edges ( I really like the Tinker longswords, but the edges are too thin compared to A&A's and the I-beam). My goal here is to pick up a waster that can travel with me to various events & face various swords without too much worry on my part. I got to handle a couple of the I-beam trainers at 4W and liked the feel of them, not as much as the Fechterspiel's but hey. :p And A&A's are kinda like Subaru's; damn hard to find cheap used because they don't depreciate in value :)

      - Still trying to get classes set up or at least to find a training partner here in Portland. My somewhat-erratic work schedule makes this difficult, but I am also really good at making excuses (see, inner demons).

      - Had a great training session with Sean at his in-law's vineyard, Winter's Hill Vineyard, near Dundee, OR. Swords followed by wine = A really good day! It was more of a theoretical workout; we started by going through each of the twelve poste & figuring out the “easy” defences against attacks from all the other poste. When faced with an attack you only have four choices: Cross it, Deflect it, Exchange it, or Break it. In fact, Exchanging & Breaking can be seen as sub-options after you've crossed their blade. But that's it. Those are the four things that get you to the bind, from whence the majority of Fiore's plays take off. Sean then showed me an abrazare flow-drill based the 1st play & the ligadura mezzana and sottana – it's pretty cool. The drill works (and has been used I guess) to introduce students to abrazare (touching & being touched in close quarters) as well as learning body mechanics. Then Sean & I (oh, and his son. Can't forget Patrick.) got out the axes and I ran Sean through some things I'd worked out, for instance, what Fiore means in the Getty description of Posta Finestra:

      They call me the left Posta di Finestra, and I keep the right arm withdrawn. We have no stability. Each seeks deception: you think I'll attack with a fendente, but I pass back instead and change guards. So, while I started to the left, I will enter to the right, and I can quickly perform the plays we will now see." (Leoni, 2009).

      I know that that's a teaser, but I will try to take some video and do a full write-up on this, along with some video of how to approach some of Fiore's plays – the hint is K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Scholar) :p

      - Along those same lines, I have some axe projects I've been working on, at least one of which will be put up here after I make it look all pretty. The other project is big. Very big. I don't know if it will be useful or if the community in general needs it, but I want to do it. But because of my lack of easy-to-get-to training partners (see above) it will be rather slow going – at the moment I can work up a bunch of theory stuff that I feel very confident about, but haven't really tested. Oh well, updates on those projects as I can.

      - Finally, is anyone else freaking excited for Christian Tobler's new poleaxe DVD? I know I am!

      Wednesday, May 19, 2010

      What it means to be a Warrior

      “A warrior is still a warrior, even if they're naked.”

      I honestly can't remember what the title of the book that statement comes from. I do remember that it was a rather unremarkable piece of alternate history fiction where a guy, who happens to be an engineer & ex-military, goes back to Middle Ages Poland & “sets them straight”. The scene in which the above phrase is utters is a gem – the Hero beats up a bunch of knights because....(drum-roll please)...he disarmed them & they couldn't fight without their weapons! Like I said, an unremarkable piece of fiction. But for some reason that phrase stuck in my mind and the more I study Western Martial Arts, the more I realize that it's true. The treatises are full of principles and demonstrations on how to apply those principles across various setups & with various weapons.

      The impetus for this installment comes from far too many discussions with customers at the knife shop I work in about what type of sword/knife/gun/[insert weapon here] is better and why. I'm sure you are all familiar with the Knight vs. Samurai threads that pop up on various forums about once a year. The point that I always try to get across is that weapon type does not play that big a role in a fight. Instead, it is the mindset, the intention, that defines someone as a warrior, not their weapon. I'm more afraid of someone with a 2” blade who knows what they're doing than an untrained person with a machete. Yes, the untrained can be trouble for the trained (for instance the panicked thrust that has no martial quality whatsoever & so takes the accomplished duellist by surprise), but I'm not talking about training per se, but mindset. It's about the warrior, not the weapon.

      So what is a “warrior”?

      A warrior is defined as “1. One who is engaged in or experienced in battle. 2. One who is engaged aggressively or energetically in an activity, cause, or conflict”.

      But it can be difficult in our society today to be at ease with the idea of being a warrior, simply because too many people focus on the combative definition of the word. But being a warrior can have very little to do with fighting or combat. In fact, the term I use for myself is "Peaceful Warrior". What the heck is a Peaceful Warrior? Well, the phrase was coined by the author Dan Millman and refers to his philosophy of living. According to Mr. Millman, "I call myself a peaceful warrior because the battles we fight are inside". Another way he phrases this is "Peaceful heart, warrior spirit". Personally, I really like this approach and I feel that it fits the needs of the "modern warrior"; of whom there are far too few.

      A warrior needs to cultivate a good "Warrior Mindset". This mindset involves knowing that diplomacy is usually a better tactic than force, but if force is necessary, they can apply it as needed. There is a world of difference between just knowing how to fight and knowing when to fight. One makes you a fighter, the other a warrior. Think of Teddy Roosevelt's famous quote "Speak softly, but carry a big stick". Or from the Boy Scout Law: "A Scout is Brave. A Scout can face danger even if he is afraid. He has the courage to stand for what he thinks is right even if others laugh at him or threaten him". While the Boy Scouts no longer feature "violent" sports among their activites (much to the detriment of the program in my opinion) in both it's original English form and the American version, the BSA featured a Master at Arms merit badge that included Singesticking, Fencing, Quarterstaff play, Boxing, Wrestling, & Jujitsu.

      Fiore dei Liberi discuses these aspects as well. Well, I think he does :D Fiore's segno features four animals (which I won't go into detail about here - see my previous post ) which exemplify the virtues Strength, Quickness, Courage and Judgment. If I may permitted to go a bit esoteric for a moment:

      Strength means the physical strength needed for successful fighting, but also the mental and moral strength needed to make NOT fight. Likewise, Judgment refers to all the details of physical combat; observing your opponent, understanding distance & time, etc. but it also means knowing when to use less-than-lethal force or just not fight at all. And courage is... well, courage!

      What it means to be a warrior changes in accordance to societal norms, but one thing that remains is that a warrior is willing to fight (physically & verbally) for what they believe is right. If it comes to the need to defend themselves, it doesn't matter whether they are armed with a longsword, katana, messer, folding knife, or a BiC pen - a warrior will always strive to prevail.

      Thursday, May 13, 2010

      Fiore's Spear - Dente di Cinghiaro

      This one has been bugging me for awhile. The one real outlier as far as guard position correlation in the Fior di Battaglia are the spear guards. Of the six spear poste, only the two Posta Finestra (right & left side) resemble their sword equivalents.

      Tutta Porta di Ferro is held with the left foot forward, spear held on the right side of the body. I suppose this has a passing familiarity to the sword guard, but really the spear Mezza Porta di Ferro looks closer to the sword Porta di Ferro.

      As for the left side guards, the Vera Croce looks like the sword in armour and poleaxe Vera Croce.

      So we come back to the Dente di Cinghiaro, which is held rear-weighted, right foot forward, spear held to the left side of the body. This looks completely different to any other Dente di Cinghiaro shown in the MS.

      Every other Dente di Cinghiaro is shown right foot forward with the point of the weapon held forward at an angle, to facilitate the "standard" play from Dente di Cinghiaro - a rising deflection to the right with a step offline of the front foot. Now the play described for the spear Dente di Cinghiaro sounds very similar -

      "[I] pass out of line by first stepping offline with the foot that is forward." -Leoni 2009

      Now, the fancy thing about the spear section is that the play from all six poste is the same - step offline with the front foot as you parry opponent's spear, then pass forward and thrust. From the right side this results in a rather low crossing of the spears. From the left the crossing is high - this follows Fiore's advice about parrying thrusts; from the right parry & thrust (exchange), from the left parry & strike.

      The only conclusion I can draw is that Fiore calls this position Dente di Cinghiaro, even though it does not follow the form for that guard, simply because it is the left-side equivalent of the Tutta Porta di Ferro position. It might just be as simple as that.

      That will teach me to ant f#$k the problem :-D

      Tuesday, May 11, 2010

      Impressions of Anonymous German Pollaxe treatise (MS KK 5126)

      In Christian Tobler's new book “In Saint George's Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts” the author includes a translation/interpretation of an anonymous pollaxe treatise from the late 15th Century. The treatise is found in a series of text-only treatises at the back of the Paulus Kal Fechtbuch, MS KK 5126, held in Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum. It features two guards and seven techniques.

      So what? Why add these seven techniques to a study that, from an Italio-centric point-of-view, has Fiore's, Vadi's and the Anonimo Bolognese's axe sections? Not to mention the entirety of Le Jeu de la Hache?

      Because it's there.

      The poleaxe is, arguably, the acme of knightly weapons – it combines the spear, dagger & sword into one weapon. As with all pole-weapons, there is an apparent set of “universal” techniques/principles that I find intriguing. By studying various axe treatises you can learn, not new principles of axe-play, but new ways in which those principles can be expressed. What are the “universal” principles of axe-play? Well, as soon as I figure them all out, I'll let you know :-)

      While reading this “new” axe treatise I was struck by what I can only call a “flipped similarity” - there are plays that are extremely similar to those that appear in Fiore, Le Jeu, & the Anonimo but with the axe flipped. That is, whereas the latter three manuscripts have the cross-parry (you parry the incoming blow with the part of the axe that is opposite it – i.e. your opponent throws a blow from their right shoulder, you parry with the part of your axe that is to your right. Clear as mud?) done with the head (business-end) of the axe, this German text does it with the other end, the foot/butt/queue/tail. This is accomplished from the guard Nebenhut (held on the left side) – stand right foot forward with your left hand near the head & with the head down, near your left leg. While at first my Italian trained mind went “Huh?” I realized that this position is akin to Fiore's Vera Croce.

      Now, in Fiore, Le Jeu, & the Anonimo there are three basic options from a crossing at the head of the axe:
      -Strike to the head with the tail of the axe (with or without clearing their axe first)
      -Stab to the foot or abdomen.
      -Execute a Collar Throw

      With the reversed position of the crossing in KK 5126, tail to head, we can add another option that is impossible in a head-to-head crossing:
      -the Knee Hook

      But this guard position and it's added technique are only two cool things you'll find in KK 5126.

      There are two interesting techniques from vom Tag vs vom Tag. One is essentially an axe version of the Colpo di Villano (for you Fiorists out there) but instead of striking in the opposite line as your parry (parry from your right, strike from your left) – because that is extremely difficult, if not impossible, with a pole-weapon, you strike along the same line as your parry.
      The second vom Tag technique is a kind of counter-thrust. After a hard counter-bind, your opponent attempts to thrust you in the armpit, but you are able to place your point into their armpit & use the angles to your benefit such that you can hit them but they can't hit you.

      The other nice thing in this treatise is the advice that to learn to fight with the axe, you should learn to fight with the staff, which echoes Peter Falkner & George Silver (amongst others) in regards to training pole-weapons. My own feelings are that since the pollaxe combines the dagger, spear, and longsword, it is extremely helpful to know these weapons (plus wrestling, all in your given tradition) before taking up the poleaxe.

      So, why add KK 5126 to your axe studies, either German or Italian? Because, it is another source document on this awesome weapon and studying it will provide you with more tools for your toolbox. Would I teach these techniques in a class entitled “Italian Pollaxe Combat”? No, but if the class were titled “Medieval Pollaxe Combat” I would.

      Thursday, April 29, 2010

      Pan-European Swordsmanship or The One True Art of the Sword

      I've been thinking about the idea of “Pan-European Swordsmanship” lately. I first came across this idea on the “Lessons of English Swordsmanship” site and this website. Here are my thoughts on this:

      One of the best defenses I have for this theory is how I feel about martial arts in general – in the end, it is just a person with a stick. All martial arts must be based on the human body; how it is put together, how it moves, it's strengths and it's weaknesses. All weapon-based martial arts will be variations on how the human body uses a stick. This stick may be short, long, really long, pointed, sharp, straight, curved, etc. but it is still a stick. Any martial arts based on the human body (all of them) and on the same type of stick (a Medieval longsword) must, at their most basic level, be similar, if not identical.

      As a follower of the Italian tradition, the techniques and principles of the German and English traditions are not alien to me. In fact, I have made it a point to study German longsword through books, seminars, and events, in addition to studying Italian longsword. I believe this kind of cross-training in similar arts to be extremely useful to more advanced students. (I say “more advanced” because it is necessary to have a solid base of experience with your chosen weapon or art before you begin to explore – otherwise you will be attempting to stand your art on a pillar of sand. Even the modern exemplar of mixing-and-matching in martial arts, Bruce Lee, recommended a solid grounding in one art before expanding.) However, I would never teach the 5 Meisterhau in a beginning Italian longsword class – they are simply not in the Italian system. Are they cool? Yep. Would I ever use one of the Meisterhau in free-play? You betcha, because they have been added to my “tool box”. Fiore tells us that he studied with German and Italian masters – so do I.

      Studying other traditions gives you extra tools not only in technique but also for interpretation. Sometimes, looking at the way another tradition handles a certain situation can kick-start your own interpretation by acting as “Frog-DNA”. The challenge is to remain honest – if you borrow a technique from another system, make sure when you teach that technique to explain where it comes from. The same applies to any technique which you extrapolate.

      But it is a very long step to say that these separate traditions are all the same Art. We know that medieval people traveled around, both in peace and in war, and that a cross-pollination of ideas occurred. But there is no denying that the longsword art of Fiore looks different than the longsword art of Liechtenauer; that Italian rapier looks different than Spanish; that Bolognese sword and buckler looks different than Silver's, and that both look different than I.33. This is because these arts were developed in different geographical regions, with their own cultural quirks and biases. One should expect Italian, German, English and French swordsmanship to differ just as the culinary arts from each of those areas differs. This cultural diversity is what makes what we do so freaking cool! If we all practiced the same art, life would be depressingly boring.

      Is there “One True Art of the Sword”? Yes! But each tradition will be unique in how it approaches that ideal (I'm being very Platonic aren't I?).

      So what is the “One True Art of the Sword”? To quote the 1998 movie “The Mask of Zorro”:

      “The pointy end goes in the other guy”

      For once Hollywood got it right!