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.