Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Book Review

Review of
In St. George's Name
An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts
by Christian Henry Tobler
Published by Freelance Academy Press, Inc. 2010

This latest offering from Mr. Tobler is a compendium of articles, lesson plans, and translations, including a complete translation (the first in English) of Codex 44 A 8, the “Peter von Danzig” manuscript. In general, the book is well written with a clear, clean layout that makes reading it a joy.

My favorite article has to be the transcription/translation/interpretation (accompanied by photos) of the anonymous pollaxe treatise from the Paulus Kal Fechtbuch. I know, big shocker right? The text itself consists of seven techniques, with five of the paragraphs dealing with a high guard vs low guard combination and the remaining two having both combatants in a high guard. The techniques themselves are straightforward and easy to understand. The most common being, after the initial bind, using the free end of the weapon to strike the opponent in whatever manner works best.

The opening article, “Chicken and Eggs: Which Master Came First?”, asks the question “What do we really know?” It is an excellent piece of scholarship about how we need to look at the manuscripts and any dates they contain.

The article “Hot, Wet, Cold, and Dry: The Four Guards” provides an intriguing journey into the way the “medieval mind” might have viewed the four primary guards of the German tradition as a connection to the classical four elements. Though this is all speculation, as no medieval author explicitly draws the connection between the guards and the elements, the scholarship is wonderful and leaves the reader with a lot to chew on.

The other article that caught my interest was “Lance, Spear, Sword, and Messer” in which the author puts forth two claims: First, that students of the Chivalric Arts should study more than just one weapon, and Second, that certain basic techniques can be applied across different weapons. Regarding the first claim, I wholeheartedly agree! If you are going to study an art that encompasses many different weapons, you need to study all the weapons you can in order to gain greater knowledge of your art. As for the second, this article follows the same premise as the author's class at 4W 2010, entitled “As Above, So Below”, where over three days we explored similar techniques with the longsword, sword & buckler, and dagger. While some may view the author's extrapolation, and inclusions, of techniques not included in the actual manuscripts as being detrimental to the study of historical martial arts, I disagree. So long as the extrapolated plays follow the principles of the Art and the practitioner has a solid knowledge of that Art, I see no problems with extrapolated plays. That is, after all, the whole-freaking-point of martial arts – to train certain principles until they are second nature and I can utilize them, no matter the situation, no matter the weapon.

As to the rest of the articles and the “Von Danzig” translation, they deal with specific weapons in the German tradition and read as fleshed out lesson plans. As I don't study the German stuff, I can't really comment on the technical aspects other than to say I will definitely be playing with this material.

This book is a must-have for any WMA practitioner, German, Italian or otherwise!

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