Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Musings - Don't get Lost in the Forest by Focusing on the Trees

I was recently made aware of the fact that I have been focusing far too much on individual weapons (i.e. which do I prefer more: longsword, poleaxe, spear, etc.?) and losing the forest for the trees. Instead, my focus needs to be on the system as a whole - as the Marine saying goes "One Mind, Any Weapon". All of the weapons, as cool as they are individually, are just tools. I find myself wondering (and this is probably just an effect of my lack of training time) whether I should spend my time on the longsword, or the axe, or sword & buckler, or whatever and the answer is all of the above. There is room in Armizare for all of these weapons, if by no other option than by simply following the principles therein. For instance I've been playing with my homemade mace - made from one of these Brass Mace Heads from Kult of Athena, a 30" piece of an old axe haft, and some brass tacks (it ain't pretty, but it works) - using Fiore's principles. It's been an eye-opening thought experiment, shadow-boxing with my mace. I really suggest it - find a weapon that is not in your canon (or is not a "normal" HEMA weapon - flail, etc.) and play with it, making sure to follow the principles of your flavor of HEMA.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Axe videos

Sweet Mary it's been awhile since I posted anything!

Anyways, here are some great videos on axe play from a group from the Netherlands (I believe)

First up is a bout between two gentlemen in harness.

Second up is more of a demo video. All of it is very good, but the poleaxey goodness starts at 3:15.

In the both videos there are some moments where blows are obviously being pulled. Of course they are! These guys are using real axes and have their visors up - this is "loose play" or slower-speed sparring. They are not trying to kill each other, just show what they can do.

All in all, these are great videos (and there are more on their youtube page) and it's just great to see people training with the greatest weapon of them all


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Book Review: The Knightly Art of Battle

This is a book review of "The Knightly Art of Battle" by Ken Mondschein, from the Getty Museum.

While this is not a full translation or facsimile of the Fiore manuscript held by the Getty Museum in LA, this is a wonderful introduction to the manuscript for non-Fiorists and Fiorists alike. The introduction is clear and concise, as are the brief introductions to each section.

The highlight (for me) were the high-res images included in the book. While it doesn't include the whole manuscript, most of the "important" images are: the segno, all the poste, and a hand full of plays.

For so cheap a price, this book really is a must-own for any Western Martial Artist.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Book Review: The Complete Renaissance Swordsman

The Complete Renaissance Swordsman
A Guide to the Use of All Manner of Weapons
Antonio Manciolino's Opera Nova (1531)

Translated by Tom Leoni

Available from Freelance Academy Press

This book was purchased, much like Tom's translation of Giganti's rapier, as part of the "What If" section of my WMA library. As in, "what if I someday decided to teach / study, or have students who are interested in..." As most of you are aware, the Bolognese school is not in my normal area of interest (Although Manciolino does have a pretty cool section on polearms).

As with the Giganti book, the biggest value to the beginning student is in Leoni's clear introduction to the Bolognese school - stances, guards, attacks, footwork, etc. The actual translation is just as clear and easy to read as readers have come to expect from Tom Leoni.

No matter which aspect of HEMA you study, you would be smart to pick up this book.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


I have been horrible about updating this blog.

My bad.

Part of it is feeling that there is nothing I can really write that will contribute to the community at the present. However, stay tuned I as I will be receiving a couple books that I plan on reviewing here.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Brief Thought

It just struck me that polearms occupy both ends of the training spectrum.

More people focus on the sword, but traditionally the spear was the more common weapon throughout the Middle Ages. It can then be claimed that the spear is one of (if not the) simplest weapon to learn.

On the other end we have the pollaxe, which is viewed by myself and many others as being the "acme" weapon - the tip of the pyramid of weapons training. This is because the poleaxe combines so many aspects of the other weapons - the spear, the sword and the dagger.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Random thoughts & Musings

Anyone ever noticed how the blows of the sword described and shown in the various Fiore manuscripts are also the same motions used when parrying? When you make the parry of the 1st Master of Gioco Largo, you make a fendente. I think most of the people who study Fiore agree on that. When you make a deflection from Dente di Cinghiaro, you make a sottano. Again, agreement. What I realized was that when you execute a scambiar della punta (especially from Tutta Porta di Ferro) you're doing a mezzano. And when you cover against a fendente with Frontale, you're doing a sottano (or a mezzano). Seriously...think about it ;-)

Monday, August 1, 2011

INTERLUDE - Footwork Article

Sorry it's been awhile since I've posted but moving will kinda do that to ya.

So, here is a re-post from Jason Smith and Le Maitres d'Armes on footwork.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Forum Suckage

Just a quick note to say that I am extremely frustrated by the various HEMA forums right now.

They suck.


I am so damned tired of watching people bicker, people inflating the status of other people (including the author's of the manuscripts themselves), and people just being asses.

That's all for now.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Fiore vs. Liechtenauer

There have been a couple of recent (relatively) threads on Schola Forum that deal with the differences between Fiore and Liechtenauer. A lot of the discussion has seemed to focus on specific techniques used between the two - for instance, Fiore has the rompere de punta, scambiar de punta, and the colpo di villiano. The problem is that to me the answer isn't about specific techniques, but should be about tactics because tactics determine techniques.

Here's the kicker though - there really isn't much (if any) difference in the tactics used by Fiore and Liechtenauer.

The difference is in the footwork - specifically the first step in response to an attack. While there are no absolutes (especially not in the martial arts), in general we can say that:
  • Fiore prefers to step into the blow (in the direction of the blow) with the forward foot. This means that you are intercepting the attack before it develops it's full power.
  • Liechtenauer prefers to step away from the attack by passing diagonally forward with the rear foot. This means that you are intercepting the attack after it has reached it's maximum extension.
Lets look at one example - the defense against a right fendente/Oberhau. Both authors defend my cutting your own fendente/Oberhau into your opponent's attack. The difference is in the footwork. Oh, look! I made some pretty pictures!

Both figures are left-foot forward. The attacker will be throwing a right fendente/Oberhau with a pass forward of the rear foot.

Fiore - as Defender cuts into Attacker's blade, they step diagonally forward with the left foot.
Liechtenauer - as Defender cuts into Attacker's blade, they pass diagonally forward with the right foot.
Okay, so they step differently. So what? Well, the difference in that step leads to different measures - which is what leads to the different techniques we see. Both authors agree that if you win the bind, you thrust them in the face, so no discussion there. But in a neutral bind Fiore grabs the opponent's weak with his left hand while striking him in the face. Liechtenauer instead winds, displacing the opponent's sword and placing his own point at the same time.

This idea that Fiore steps into the attack and Liechtenauer away from it is repeated throughout each author's corpus of work.

BTW, Greg Mele and Christian Tobler taught a class on this at Chivalric Weekend 2010. I don't remember how I got the PDF of their class-notes, but I'm sure they are out there. Their class says pretty much the same thing I just did so my thanks to both of them :-)

Monday, May 30, 2011

Grand Unified Theory of Poleaxe Combat

This is an idea that has been percolating for sometime within the cavernous recesses of my mind. Oh, by the way, the title to this post is sarcastic – what this post is about is my process for finding common ground between the three poleaxe manuscripts I study. To put it simply, can I make the plays and tactics of the Anonimo Bolognese and Le Jeu de la Hache jive with the principles laid out in Armizare, which form the basis of how I approach martial endeavors? Yes I can.

But first some background information. The poleaxe (or pollaxe) developed from the large battle-axes of the Early and High Middle Ages into the form we see in many of the manuscripts around 1400. The weapon became a favorite weapon of the knightly class for foot combat, both for war and for tournaments. There are two principle forms of poleaxe; one with a straight, or crescent-shaped, axe head opposite a hammer face; the second with a hammer face opposite a curved, or straight, fluke. Both types were surmounted with a spear-like spike and were mounted on wood hafts, most often between 4.5' – 6', fitted with steel langets reinforcing the upper part of the haft. The bottom of the haft could be fitted with a spike, a steel cap, or simply left bare. While both types feature prominently in contemporary artwork and in surviving examples, it the hammer & fluke variant that is most common in the fighting manuscripts.

Arms & Armor Dane Axe

Arms & Armor Italian Pole-hammer
Arms & Armor Burgundian Axe

   Fiore dei Liberi wrote his manuscript(s) sometime around 1409 (according to the PD, which is the only one of the four to contain a date). Fiore's system of combat, hereafter referred to as Armizare, is a comprehensive martial art covering empty-hands techniques, dagger, sword, spear, poleaxe, and mounted combat. The principle weapon of Armizare is the longsword. There are currently four known manuscripts attributed to Fiore, another by a later student of his art (Vadi), with two other manuscripts known of but missing, and two other manuscripts that feature artwork and techniques from Fiore, but may not be directly a part of the lineage.

   Le Jeu de la Hache, “the Play of the Axe”, is an anonymous Burgundian manuscript that is the only known manuscript whose sole weapon is the poleaxe. Written around 1450, Le Jeu's techniques are presented in paragraph form (73 to be precise) sans illustrations. Included in those seventy-three paragraphs are advice for preparing yourself for combat, combat between right-handers and combat between a right-hander and a left-hander.

   The Anonimo Bolognese, technically the Ravenna Manuscript, is an anonymous mid-16th century manuscript that covers the single-handed sword, alone and accompanied by numerous other implements, the large two-handed sword, and is one of the last manuscripts to devote space to poleaxe combat in full armour.

Got that? Okay, now that we're all caught up, let's get to the meat and potatoes of this business.


Fiore describes four guards for the axe – well, six in the Getty, but four in the PD, Florius and in Vadi so majority rules eh? The guards are:

  • Posta Breve la Serpentina – Guard of the Short Serpent – Low guard with the head of the axe forward.
  • Posta di Vera Croce – Guard of the True Cross / Strong Cross – Low guard with the tail of the axe forward.
  • Posta di Donna – Guard of the Woman – High guard with the axe over the shoulder.
  • Posta Dente di Cinghiaro – The Boar's Tooth – Low guard with the head of the axe low & off-line.
  • *Posta di Coda Longa – (Getty only) Guard of the Long Tail – Low guard with the head of the axe back along the line of the rear leg.
  • *Posta di Finestra – (Getty only; similar position is called Posta Sagitaria by Vadi) Guard of the Window / Archer -  High guard with the head of the axe forward, parallel (or greater) to the ground.

Pissani-Dossi. Clockwise from Top Left: Breve la Serpentina, Vera Croce, Dente di Cinghiaro, & Posta di Donna.

   The author of Le Jeu doesn't actually describe the guard positions; he merely mentions that “when you are on guard with the queue (tail) of the axe forward...” or  “when you are on guard with the dague/croix (head) of the axe forward...” This tends to leave quite a bit of wiggle room for practitioners to decide what the guard positions really are. My interpretation (and, I believe the common consensus) are that the guards are very similar to the two Bolognese pole-arms guards; Guardia Alta & Porta di Ferro Stretta (see below).

   The Anonimo Bolognese follows the Bolognese tradition closely in giving only two guards for pole-arms:

  • Guardia Alta – High Guard – guard with right arm bent so that the axe head is held over the right shoulder & haft diagonally crossing the body, left arm held straight.
  • Porta di Ferro Stretta – Narrow Iron Gate – Low guard with the axe head forward, right arm straight.

These two guards, each held on either side of the body, give a functional total of four guards.

Marozzo. From left to right: Porta di Ferro Stretta (right leg forward), Guardia Alta, Porta di Ferro Stretta (left leg forward).

   But here's the kicker with the axe – whenever you adopt a guard with the axe you are simultaneously in two guards, one for the head & one for the tail. Thus, from Guardia Alta you are both in a high guard & a low guard at the same time. From Porta di Ferro Stretta, you are in a point forward and point back position. Each one of Fiore's four (not including Finestra or Coda Longa) are in Guardia Alta and Porta di Ferro Stretta

  • Guardia Alta = Posta di Donna and Dente di Cinghiaro
  • Porta di Ferro Stretta = Breve la Serpentina and Vera Croce

Guardia Alta - showing simultaneous Armizare guards.

Porta di Ferro Stretta - showing simultaneous Armizare guards.

While this might seems like I'm stretching to some of you, let's look at the common defenses from Fiore's four guards:

  • Breve la Serpentina – used to beat opponent's point to inside, or disengages underneath to beat to outside.
  • Vera Croce – rising diagonal parry.
  • Posta di Donna – defends with a fendente, either to a middle bind (Breve la Serpentina) or binding to the ground (Dente di Cinghiaro).
  • Dente di Cinghiaro – rising diagonal parry.

From Guardia Alta I can: a) strike a fendente, b) make a rising diagonal parry with the tail. From Porta di Ferro Stretta I can: a) beat opponent's weapon to inside or outside, b) make a rising diagonal parry. So why does Fiore seperate each of these guards out? Because Fiore bases all of the weapons combat he teaches on the longsword. This is why the sword in armour, spear and poleaxe sections are smaller than the unarmoured longsword teachings; Fiore only needs to point out techniques that are unique to that weapon – all the principles of Armizare you learned with the longsword still apply. Go read this for a refresher on my views on that, it's okay I'll wait.

Back? Good. According to the principles of Armizare (as I understand them) you have three options when your opponent attacks. You can: Cross, Deflect or Break. I know, I know – in my previous post I had a fourth, Exchange, but an exchange is just a special crossing. So is Breaking, but that drastically changes the line so I make it it's own. Back on topic – Cross. Deflect, or Break the attack.

Let's look at a basic attack – a descending blow from the left with the head of the axe (a mandritto fendente) and see how each of the three manuscripts defend against it from the various guards using each of the three methods of defense.

Cross – from Posta di Donna throw your own fendente, with or without a pass. If you control the line line, thrust them in the face. If you lose the line, bring your tail up sharply underneath their axe, stabbing them in the abdomen or hip.
Deflect – from Dente di Cinghiaro or Vera Croce. From either Guard, snap your rising diagonal parry up (with whichever footwork is appropriate) and either thrust them in the face, hit them with a fendente, or throw them.
Break – from Posta di Donna (or Coda Longa) cover with a fendente and a strong pass, bearing both axes to the ground. From here either snap your point back into their face, forcibly remove their visor then thrust them in the face, or stomp on their axe then thrust them in the face.

Le Jeu:
Cross – from the high guard, strike your blow into theirs without passing, then drive your pedale up, driving their axe aside & down, the stab them in the face. Alternately, step into their blow, taking it on the haft between your hands, and while driving your axe to your right, step behind them and execute a collar throw.
Deflect – from either guard, do your rising diagonal parry with the pedale such that you drive their axe wide. Then hit them in the head.
Break – Here is where my theory runs into issues admittedly. The author of Le Jeu is adamant that you should never allow the head of your axe to stray beyond the outline of your opponent. This reason Fiore is okay with this is two-fold, in my opinion. First is that in the rompere dei punta, you have control of his weapon, lessening the risk. The other reason has to do with the fact that as poleaxes developed they got longer, and Fiore was at what we can consider the forefront of poleaxe usage, therefore it is reasonable to assume his axe is shorter, meaning it is easier to recover.

Cross – The Anonimo only has two options from the crossing; either thrust your pedale underneath his haft, to the abdomen or hip, or control his axe and enter for a collar throw.
Deflect – The Anonimo features a deflection that is the same as Le Jeu's.
Break -  Again similar to Le Jeu, there are no breaks in the Anonimo.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Couple of videos to watch

First up is this video by a University of Oregon Journalism student about Maestro Sean Hayes and the Northwest Fencing Academy. She titled it "Maestro of Armizare" and Sean is very quick to point out (not in the video but in general) that he is a Maestro in Classical Italian fencing, not Armizare.

Second, here are six videos from the guys at Hammaborg on harness fighting from the Gladitoria manuscripts. Great techniques (some of which I am totally going to steal and try to use) and beautiful armour. In fact, I am now extremely jealous of Dierk's armour.

Speaking of armour, I've been debating recently about what type of harness I should try to compile. Basically I have worked it out to three options:
  • a Coat of Plates / Brigandine over a hauberk, with some simple arms, knee cops with either quilted or brigandine cuisses. Helm will (hopefully) just be a Windrose Fiore helm with the pierced steel visor.
  • a Corrazzina or Churburg type breastplate, over mail. Very 14th C transitional armour setup. Steel arms, steel legs, same helm as above.
  • Early Gothic type armour: breast & back plate, full arms, full legs, sallet with bevor.
The reason I like the first two options is that they are (relatively) light, I can put a brig or corrazzina on by myself, and they are easily "modified" - I can play light, medium, and heavy armour, can play with sword, spear and axe at all levels. The only real reason the third option is there is because it looks so freaking cool! I currently own a decent Coat of Plates (which needs a little TLC - like new straps. Oh and a new base garment so the damn thing actually fits) so I guess the real question becomes Brigandine or Corrazzina?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Chivalric Fighting Arts Association

This was announced last night (at least when I saw it). Personally, I am very happy to see this organization come into existence as a solidifying of fraternal bonds that already existed between like-minded schools / instructors. This is the text from the announcement on Sword Forum:
Let it Be Known to all Who Profess the Art of Arms that we send Greetings and a Declaration of Fraternity:

Wherefore, the Art of Defence has also been known as the Knightly Art, and its study has instilled the virtues of Prowess, Courage, Justice, Loyalty, Courtesy, Humility, Largesse, Franchise, and Faith in its adherents;

Wherefore we share a dedication to not only the revival of the fighting arts of the past, but to insuring their transmission to the future;

And wherefore we also hold a deep and sincere belief that the study and practice of these arts is a tool for building character and personal discipline;

We have therefore come together to form the Chivalric Fighting Arts Association (CFAA); an international organization of schools and clubs devoted to the study of historical European martial arts, particularly those practiced in a chivalric context, used in war, the tournament, and the duel.

Just as there are many different approaches to the study of Asia martial arts, over the last decade this has become true within the Western martial arts community as well. Just as classical Jujutsu, Judo and BJJ may have common roots, techniques, and even uniforms, but possess very different emphasis and training goals, so too are there now WMA scholars whose principal interest is national pride and cultural preservation, others focused on the development of a modern combat sport, and others who focus on those elements that have pragmatic application in the modern world.

As the CFAA’s name suggests, our members’ interest is in these Arts as traditional martial arts. We define “traditional” as a focus on:

• Fidelity to the historic treaties;
• Study of our Arts within their cultural context;
• Study of and respect for the ethical milieus in which the Arts were born;
• Emphasis on honorable behavior amongst and between students and teacher alike;
• A belief that, while, competition is a worthy tool that serves to refine our understanding of the Arts, the Arts are not a tool to foster modern competitions.

We see ourselves as caretakers of an ancient heritage, and therefore the texts are the single most relevant and authoritative word on the arts we strive to reconstruct. Therefore, member schools are encouraged to apply themselves to these books with a high level of philological passion--a passion that has, in the space of a few short decades, brought to light so much reliable information about how our ancestors fought.

Equally as important is the respect for the spirit of chivalry and honorable behavior that were part of the ethical milieu in which our arts blossomed. All ethical systems, from Stoicism to Daoism, Zen to Chivalry always exist in idealized forms, but we believe that the importance lies is in the striving for these ideals. This includes favoring the scientific process of scholarship over the stubbornness of ego, healthy emulation to petty rivalry, acknowledgment of your instructor over teaching his labor as your own, and frankness and openness over squabbling and needless politicking.

We respect all other serious approaches to the study of historical martial arts, but it is our belief that this emphasis on tradition, culture and ethics is what separates a martial art from simply being a combat sport or self-defense. Those disciplines are worthy in their own right, and find a place amongst us, but the common philosophy of our member schools centers on fidelity to the arts as they were originally wielded and recorded, the spirit of chivalry in which those treatises were conceived, and the keeping these ideals alive in the study of our arts - qualities that we believe can be of benefit to the modern world as much as they were for the ancient one.

Therefore, in service to the Art of Arms and in respect to our Forbearers, we are –

Christian Henry Tobler, Selohaar Fechtschule
Devon Boorman, Academie Duello
Stefan Dieke, Alte Kampfkunst
Gregory Mele, Chicago Swordplay Guild
Terry Brown, The Company of Maisters
Mark Lancaster, The Exiles
Bob Charrette, Forteza Historical Swordwork Guild
Dierk Hagedorn & Roland Warzecha, Hammaborg
Bob Brooks, Hotspur School of Defence
Claus Sørensen, Laurentiusgildet
Jason Smith, Les Maître D'armes
Sean Hayes, Northwest Fencing Academy
Tom Leoni, Order of the Seven Hearts
Puck Curtis, Mary Dill Curtis, Kevin Murakoshi & Eric Myers, Sacramento Sword School
Guy Windsor, School of European Swordsmanship
Scott Wilson, Southern Academy of Swordsmanship
Bill Grandy, Virginia Academy of Fencing (Historical Swordsmanship Division)

Christian Henry Tobler

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

New Addition

I've decided that I'm going to broaden my studies to include (drum roll please) .........

The Montante.

I'm going to use this translation of Diogo Gomes de Figueyrdo by Eric Myers and Steve Hick. I'm still trying to figure out a trainer (gotta be thrifty at the moment) but it should be fun. I decided to run with this because of all the solo exercises and how it will teach and impact my body mechanics. Oh, and it's a big f*&k-off sword. So there's that.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Freelance Academy Press Reviews

It's a Two-For-One! I'll be reviewing two books available from Freelance Academy Press

In The Service of Mars: Proceedings from the Western Martial Arts Workshop 1999-2009, Volume I

As the title says, this book is a compilation of lesson-plans and handouts from past WMAWs - except that most of the entries have been substantially fleshed out, pictures added, interpretations updated, etc. The book is divided into four parts based on content, which makes quick finding of a particular article easy. I had originally planned on reading this book cover to cover, but wound up skipping from article to article based on my level of interest, which is perfectly fine :)  I wish I had the gumption to go through and give an article by article review, but that would spoil the reading too much. Instead, I'll just give a quick shout-out to my favorite / most helpful articles.

First up is Greg Mele's article on the poleaxe techniques presented in the Anonimo Bolognese. Big surprise huh? Greg gives a great succinct background on the weapon and the manuscript, then gives translation, interpretation, and pictures of each play. It's everything a poleaxe enthusiast could want about a fascinating little piece of axe combat.

Greg's other article on Fiore's Gioco Largo & Gioco Stretto, Jessica Finley's article on Ott's Ringen, Tom Leoni's article on the Spadone were some other highlights for me. However, there are four articles that I believe make this volume worth purchasing. They are Craig Johnson's "How a Sword Was Made", Tom Leoni's "The Judicial Duel in Sixteenth-Century Italy", Keith Alderson's "On the Art of Reading: An Introduction to Using the Medieval German 'Fightbooks'", and finally the article written by John Sullins, Sean Hayes, Puck Curtis, and Eric Myers on how to use Classical Italian pedagogy to develop lesson plans.

In reality, the best part of this book is that there is something for everyone.

Venetian Rapier

I actually received this book last year, but realized I had yet to do a review of it. While I'm not a rapierist (and probably never will be) if I ever do start practicing and / or teaching rapier, this book will be the foundation of my studies. An English translation of Nicoletto Giganti's 1606 rapier curriculum. BTW, it is exactly that - an east to follow, builds upon itself, curriculum for learning the rapier. As with his other translations Tom Leoni manages to create a text that reads as if it were originally written in modern English, which enables the practitioner to read through and follow the instructions without any of the choppiness that can accompany a translation.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Specialization - Good or Bad

I remember reading a blog (I forget who's) where the author was discussing whether being a swordsman equals being a martial artist. Their response was no, that it leads to being a specialist - a word which he writes with dripping scorn, much as I say "the Yankees"
It is a scientific fact.
To the author, the only way to truly practice these arts is to practice all aspects of it - he was particularly vitriolic against those who do little to no grappling.

Okay, my response to this attitude is to ask that if you consider those who only train in one weapon to not be martial artists does that mean that Ott, Leckuchner, Fabris, Capoferro, Giganti, and the anonymous authors of I.33 and Le Jeu, amongst others, are not martial artists? What about Bruce Lee? Yes he studied weapons, but he focused on unarmed, thereby "neglecting" the rest of the "systems" he studied. Is he not to be considered a martial artist?

Specialization is not a bad thing. Everyone I listed above wrote a complete martial system that was based around one weapon. Are Fiore, Marozzo, Vadi, Meyer, Mair or Liechenhauer better martial artists simply because they include more weapons? Specialization is natural and healthy because it is a simple fact that someone who trains and specializes in one aspect of an art understand that aspect better than a "Jack of All Trades" - they have a deeper understanding. Don't get me wrong, I believe in training all aspects of the art in order to put more tools in my toolbox, but it is perfectly possible for someone who only studies the longsword to be just as good a martial artist and fencer as someone who trains in wrestling, dagger, lance, poleaxe and longsword.

Two examples:
  • In MMA, when a fighter wants to improve his striking he goes to a boxing trainer. When he wants to improve his ground-game, he goes to a wrestler or BJJ trainer. In other words, he goes to a specialist.
  • Most of the instructors WMA events and seminars are specialists, even those who are capable of teaching a broad spectrum. There are people who study Armizare who only study the sword or the dagger and they teach accordingly.
Look, specialization is historical. So is the comprehensive approach. Personally, I take a comprehensive approach to Armizare, but you could say that I specialize in Armizare, with a further specialization in Le Jeu de la Hache. See how silly it is to rail against specialization?

Punch Drunk

I promised at the end of my last post that the next one would be about striking - well, here it is. :)

People, myself included when I started training, are often very confused as to the lack of empty-hand striking in the medieval martial arts. After all, we know the Greeks and Romans boxed, so why not folks in the middle ages? Truth is, we don't know that they didn't. While the majority of manuscripts that feature unarmed sections do not show any striking (Codex Wallerstein is the only contrary example I know of), the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

There are many theories out there about why we are not shown any strikes. These include: Training paradigm, Ineffectiveness, and Lost Knowledge.

Training Paradigm

This is the theory that we are not shown traditional punching type strikes because the punching action does not fit the system's underlying movement patterns. For instance, the overhand dagger blow (ice-pick grip descending blow) is the same motion as a hammer-fist (striking with the bottom of the closed fist). The theory holds that simplicity of training is paramount - why train two separate types of hand motion for striking when one will do. Keep It Simple Scholar.

This is the theory that striking does not appear because striking is ineffective against armour and, as with the above theory, you shouldn't train for something that only works part of the time. Punching a man in a breastplate = Not a good idea. In a helm = Still not a good idea.

Lost (Hidden) Knowledge

This is the idea that the knowledge of striking was there, but that it was either considered such common knowledge that it need not be included or that it was considered "secret". I tend to partially agree with the first part, but find the second utter rubbish.

Here is the problem with all of the above theories - there IS striking present in the manuscripts, not just the Codex Wallerstein. It isn't hidden at all, at least not in Fiore.

"If your opponent is not in armor, strike him in the most painful and dangerous spots, such as the eyes, the nose, the temples, under the chin and in the flanks." - Getty Prologue, trans. Leoni

"-knowing the most dangerous places in which to strike" - Eight qualities of abrazare, Getty Prologue, trans. Leoni

"As you become suspicious of someone's dangerous knife, immediately go against him with your arms, hands and elbows. Always do these five things: take his dagger away, strike him, break his arms, bind him, and throw him to the ground. None of these five plays goes without the other" - Beginning of dagger section, Getty, trans. Leoni

There you have it. Three quotes from the two unarmed sections of the Getty, describing when and where to strike. The only thing they leave out is the "How". Sort of. As I discussed earlier, one can easily take the mechanics for striking with the dagger and turn that into a hammer-fist (Hell, that's how I describe it to people). Okay but what about other strikes? The only other empty-hand strike was see is a strike to the throat that can be done either as a palm strike or as a chop with the side of the hand. There are other strikes shown in the manuscript, specifically a kick to the shin or knee, a kick to the groin and a knee to the groin. Fun stuff.

So strikes do exist in Armizare, but what purpose do they serve. They are not "fight-enders" - they are not intended to be. Instead, strikes serve three purposes:

1.  They are used to soften an opponent. For example, if I am trying to secure a ligadura mezzana on you, but you are fighting me just enough to keep me from getting it. Then, I drive a hammer-fist into your left eye. Suddenly, you are not quite as concerned about the ligadura I'm after.

2.  They are used as methods of entry. If you are guarding well my attempts to grapple, I can throw a strike your way in order to break you of your guard, allowing me to gain a good grapple.

3.  They are used to displace some part of your opponent. Particularly in armoured combat, a strong open-hand strike (as Jesse Kulla of the CSG explained it "a bear-paw") to the side of the helm may not knock an opponent out, but it will displace their head, allowing you to gain control.

Notice that none of these three are aimed at knock-out power. Strikes are, by their nature, inconsistent things - a solid punch to the jaw may knock one opponent out cold while another my take punch after punch and simply laugh at you. This, in my opinion, is why the medieval arts focus on grappling - binding, breaking, or dislocating your opponents limbs is a more sure method of taking the fight out of them.

I personally prefer to use hammer-fists, open-palm strikes (both of which allow for an easy transfer to grappling control), elbow strikes, knee strikes, and low (below the waist) kicks, for strikes. But in a fight you use whatever you have at hand - I've head-butted more than a few sparring partners (always while wearing helmet - I'm not stupid).

But there is a bigger issue here than what, if any, strikes appear in Armizare. That issue is that it is not a big freakin' deal. If you honestly believe that you have such command over the material in the sword, lance, dagger, axe, and mounted sections, as well as the grapples shown in abrazare, that you can afford to split hairs over empty-hand strikes then I envy you. I personally doubt that Fiore would care if you struck a hammer-fist, or a jab, or a cross when he says "Strike" - the point is to strike!

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Last time I went to Eugene (March 13th), Sean and I spent almost the entire time working through the  abrazare and dagger sections, cross-checking images and text between the Getty and the PD. We ran through them at an easy pace and starting from a collar-and-elbow (C&E) setup. We do about half our abrazare drills from the C&E and the other half by having the player enter into measure. I really prefer to start people off from the C&E because it is simpler; static, clearly defined hand positions, etc. Also, it really is a fairly common position to come to while wrestling. Later on, you can add coming into measure to the drill, remembering (and reminding your students) that it will not look the same as it does on the page or as it did during the C&E drill – as the Man says, grapples are seldom identical, it is important to learn to flow with what you have/are being presented.  This run-through of abrazare was really good because it helped solidify in my mind the principles that are represented by each play.

As an aside, because this opinion is out there, I don't believe that all of the plays shown are supposed to flow one-into-another. Instead, the plays are there to illustrate principles – while some may flow into each other, Fiore is usually explicit when this occurs and thus they are easy to spot.

Abrazare, to me, is the basis of Armizare simply because unarmed wrestling is the common ancestor of all martial arts. There are two main reasons I believe this to be so, but, as with so much else we do, there is room for interpretation.

The First Reason

In the Getty prologue Fiore talks about how the rest of the art will follow the principles laid down in abrazare. The problem is that he is also talking at that point about his pedagogical system of Crowned Masters & Scholars. So when he says:

“Overall, these Masters and students support the whole art of arms – on horseback and or foot, armored and unarmormed – through the principles they follow in abrazare” (Trans. Leoni)

is he talking the pedagogy or the martial art? He does say, before the bit quoted above, that the guards, Remedy Masters, Counter Masters, and Counter-Counter Masters form the four pillars of abrazare – and the rest of Armizare. 

The Second Reason

“I'll start the book according to the order of my lord Marquis. I'll make sure nothing is left out, so that my lord may thank me out of his nobility and courtesy. Therefore let's start with wrestling, or abrazare” (Trans. Leoni)

There are two possible ways to read the above:

  • First, that it was Niccolo who decreed that Fiore start with abrazare – in other words “to the order of my lord Marquis” is to be taken literally.
  • Second, that “to the order of my lord Marquis” refers to the book itself, not the order in which it must be written.

Either way, it is true that the Getty and Pissani-Dossi facsimile do start with abrazare and then progress through dagger, single hand sword, two-handed sword, spear, axe, then horseback (which runs lance → wrestling). The problem is that the other two manuscripts, the Morgan and the Florius, run the opposite; they start on horseback and run through the weapons down to abrazare. Which just so happens to follow the usual course of a judicial duel. In the end, both ways of reading both of my reasons are correct – we will never really know the answer, but the fact of the matter is that the four guards of abrazare can be seen, in various forms, with all the weapons and the principles shown are true principles that apply across Armizare.

Fiore gives three very useful bits of information in the Getty prologue. First he tells us that what he will be showing us is done “for one's life, employing every trick, deception, and cruelty imaginable” rather than showing us wrestling “for pleasure”. This is important because it tells us that when we are interpreting how to perform a play there are two questions to keep in mind:
“Would I do this if my life depended on it?”
“Would this work against someone who is actively trying to kill me?”
If the answer to either of these is “No” then your interpretation is not martially sound and needs to be revised. Now, of course, abrazare can still be done “for pleasure” - in fact, that is how we have to practice it! After all, if you keep breaking your training partners you run out pretty quickly!

The second thing Fiore tells us is to observe your opponent. Are they bigger or smaller than you? Older or younger? Stronger? Do they look like they know their way around a brawl? All these add up to a very important part of Armizare, indeed of all martial arts – knowing when NOT to fight. If the person you're about to wrestle with is 6'9” and has a face like Danny Trejo, you might want to reconsider. Just a thought.

The final bit of information Fiore gives us is a list of the eight qualities of abrazare:

  • Strength
  • Speed
  • Knowing advantageous grapples
  • Knowing how to break limbs & joints
  • Knowing binds
  • Knowing where to strike*
  • Knowing how to throw your opponent without putting yourself in danger
  • Knowing how to dislocate limbs

*Earlier, Fiore tells us these are the eyes, the nose, the temples, “under the chin” (throat), and the flanks – but only if your opponent isn't in armor!

The Guards

The four guards of abrazare are pretty self explanatory and provide the basis for all the other guards in the system. They are Posta Longa, Dente di Cinghiaro, Porta di Ferro, and Posta Frontale.

Posta Longa (Long Position) – Described as a waiting position that enters into 1st play of abrazare. Also, the straight arm is very useful for gauging the distance between yourself and your opponent.

Dente di Cinghiaro (Boar's Tooth) – Described as the counter to the 1st play. It can also use other offenses (binds, breaks, etc.) to transition into Porta di Ferro for the throw.

Porta di Ferro (Iron Door or Iron Gate) – Perhaps the strongest single guard with any weapon, excellent for waiting. Fiore says this guard is “full of tricks”.

Posta Frontale (Frontal Position) – Used to break Porta di Ferro. As with the other three, Posta Frontale is described as “gaining the grapples” needed for victory.

These four guards appear as opposing pairs with Posta Longa vs. Dente di Cinghiaro, and Porta di Ferro vs. Posta Frontale.

The Plays

I will be describing all these plays (where applicable) as arising from the C&E.

A Basic Collar & Elbow position. I prefer to have my "short" arm on the outside of my opponent's "long" arm.

Basic Collar & Elbow Grip – Stand facing your partner, place your right hand (or left hand – I figure you've figured that out by now haha)on your partners left shoulder and hook your left hand into your partners right elbow. Foot placement is ideally long arm = lead foot, but it works cross-footed just fine.

1st Play (first two illustrations) – Trap your partners left hand (the one that is on your shoulder) with your chin/cheek. As you lift their elbow, turn their arm and gain the bind, give their right shoulder a slight push with your left hand and then slide it down to control their right arm. The shoulder push actually helps extend and straighten their left arm, making the bind so much easier. Footwork should be a slight accreciamento with the right foot, then either a pass back with the left or a volta stabile. In reality, do whatever footwork you need to to get the bind (so long as it fits within the framework of Armizare – mezza volte, volta stabile, tutta volta, accresciameni, descresciamenti, etc.). The 2nd illustration show the completion of the bind. This will be an inside throw – player will go down face first in front of you (to your inside).

3rd Play (3rd illustration) – What to do if your partner/opponent isn't willing to simply stand there and get their arm messed up. As they pull their left hand from your shoulder (however they do it – doesn't matter) transition the enveloping motion of your right arm into a throat chop (chest slap for the “Nice Training Partner” variety) and reach down with your left hand, grabbing the nearest (usually left) knee and throwing them over your forward (right) leg. This will be an outside throw – player will go down butt first to your outside.

4th Play - We play this as an alternate to the 3rd Play - if instead of trying to fly out, what if the Player presses in? Well, you (again) turn the enveloping motion of your right hand into a press against the Player's face, twisting it to their right. As you do this, grab their arm/waist with your left hand and volta stabile to perform an inside throw.

5th Play - This is an outside throw variation of the 4th Play with two differences; important one - the Player's left leg is forward (not the right as in 4th Play). Not quite as important one - the Player's grip is now low with both arms (not high-low as in 4th Play). Execute the play exactly as described in 4th Play except instead of a face push, grab their chin and perform an outside throw.

6th Play - The 6th Play introduces us to the most common grappling counter in the entire system - the elbow push. Simply push on the elbow of the hand that is against your face and do whatever grapples pop up.

7th Play - *This Play has the Player's lead leg switched between the Getty and the PD, works either way* From the C&E (right lead), use your left hand to control Player's right arm, grasping at the wrist and twisting/opening it up. Change your elevation and drive your right arm under their lead leg while stepping underneath their right arm. I like to add a shoulder to the sternum as I drive through, but I'm just mean :)

8th Play - A pressure point counter. Simply take your thumb and press it into the soft spot below the ear. *DO THIS CAREFULLY IN PRACTICE - IT REALLY FREAKIN' HURTS!* Like the other "hand to face" plays this can be countered with an elbow push.

9th Play - We drill the 9th Play as a counter to an elbow push. From the C&E the Player performs an elbow push against your left (long) arm. As he closes in, throw your left arm against the right side of his neck while stepping your right foot outside his left leg, executing an outside throw.

10th Play - The Gamberola is a straight-forward play which Fiore describes a "not safe" because your opponent can just as easily throw you! To drill this, start from the C&E, but with lead hand & lead foot crossed (right hand, left foot forward). Execute an elbow push against the Player's right arm, throwing your right arm over their shoulder (or against their throat) and passing in and placing your right foot between their feet, driving your hips into their butt as you push their upper body back, throwing them over your leg.

11th Play - This is a counter to a full nelson and it is simple and brutal - Find something (a wall, a tree, etc.), back your opponent towards it and begin slamming them into it. :)

12th Play - This is another straightforward play - from a double waist grip, the Scholar knees the Player in the balls. That's all - Just knee them in the block & tackle and then take advantage of their indisposition to do what you will to them. The counter is to grab behind the knee they're attempting to drive into you and throw him.

13th Play - Here we are told that if the Player has both their arms under yours (double underhook in modern grappling parlance) and is not wearing a helm (not in armor), then put both your hands against their face - fingers in eyes, etc. You counter this with...an elbow push (noticing a pattern yet?)

14th Play - This is just an illustration of the previously mentioned counter to the 13th play. Elbow push + grabbing under the Player's lead knee.

15th Play - If you have double underhooks, then you can also put your hands in your opponent's face. From the double underhook position, bring your arms up and around the outside of the Player's, squeezing your elbows as close together as possible to control Player's arms.

16th Play - This is also a counter to the 13th Play and is essentially a reverse of the 15th Play - If your hands are on the inside, as the Player attempts to put his hands in your face, then keep your elbows spread and drive your hands up between his and into his face - Fiore recommends driving your thumbs into his eyes. To counter (drum roll please) use an elbow push to open him up.

Conclusions & Observations

Fiore presents us with a very concise and wonderful little wrestling primer. Of the eight qualities he mentions in the prologue, we are only shown in detail grapples and throws - Fiore saves binds, breaks, and dislocations in detail for the dagger section. In my opinion, full knowledge of abrazare will only come from studying both the abrazare and dagger sections; unlocking all the possible techniques and variables.  The three principles that I believe are present in the abrazare section are:

  • Take advantage of opponent's extended limbs.
  • All throws can be reduced to two - a throw to your inside & a throw to your outside.
  • The elbow push can be used to counter damn near anything.

One final observation I have about abrazare is that when I look at the body positions of the figures, I see very upright body carriage - reminiscent of modern Greco-Roman wrestling, where attacking the legs is illegal so the fighters tend to stay very upright. Compare this to the body positions of collegiate style or some folk style of wrestling - even some of the German manuscripts so very low, torso leaned forward positions, which makes it much harder for your opponent to attack your legs. See Jessica Finley's article on Ott in "In the Service of Mars" from Freelance Academy Press for a wonderful exposition of German wrestling. Now, we can go back and forth about why the different torso leans are shown, but I believe that because Fiore is showing a complete system he expects your body to remain the same. A sharply inclined torso is great when you aren't wearing armour, but in armour is a great way to a close-up of the ground in front of you.

Tune in next time for "Why the Hell Don't They Just Punch Each Other!?!"

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Tinker Handle Mod 1.0

Finished up wrapping my Tinker longsword handle with waxed linen thread. The process was extremely simple:

Start at the small end of the handle, I started on one of the thin sides of the handle but it's your preference, by placing a dab of superglue / epoxy (I used Gorilla SuperGlue). Let dry.
Keeping tension on the thread, begin wrapping. I recommend wearing gloves for this otherwise your fingers wind up waxy and raw (Thanks for the warning Mike!)
OPTIONAL - if you want, every now and again you can use a drop of glue on the thread. I did this once then realized it wasn't necessary IMO.
To finish, more glue 8-D

If I putz around with this handle again it will be to put a leather wrap on over this layer of cord. This will help fatten the handle a bit (and wind up with a wood -> cord -> leather -> cord -> leather construction). Eventually I might even make my own wooden core for a new handle, but we'll see.

I didn't think to take progress pics, so here are two finished shots (crappy quality = cell phone)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

I caught myslef today.

I was watching the movie "Machete" - if you haven't seen it, do so - and I started thinking about how I should get a decent machete for camping, backpacking, etc. I currently have a nice little tomahawk my father-in-law made me for larger camp tasks, but a machete or billhook would be cool. My train of thought hurtled down the tracks until it came to rest on "machete = messer = machete is a cheap substitute for a messer". I then lamented the fact that I don't study the messer and it's too bad Fiore doesn't deal with the... AH-HA! That's when I caught myself. No, Fiore doesn't deal with the messer, but he does deal with single-handed weapons. So I grabbed my copy of "In St. George's Name", which has an article on Paulus Kal's messerfechten and you know what? Every one of those techniques can be found in Fiore, between the sword in one hand section, the Zogho Stretto, and the horsey sections. I had fallen into the same trap I've watched other practitioners of weapons-based martial arts fall into - focusing too much on their particular type of weapon an not on the fact that the particular weapon can be seen as an archetype. Clear as mud?

I've covered this in other posts but the basic idea is that by training in the comprehensive systems available to us, be it German, Italian, what-have-you, you are essentially training nearly all variations of weapons - unarmed, knives & small sticks, single-hand weapons, two-hand weapons, long pole weapons.

And now I go back to watching "the 13th Warrior"


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Updates, updates, updates

Finally got myself a Hanwei Tinker longsword. It was an...interesting experience with a particular Hanwei distributor that was 20% my fault, so I won't publicly bash them for their lack of customer service.

Anyways, now that I have it, I am planning a simple project to re-wrap the handle, making it a bit thicker and more durable, and a more in-depth project where I'm planning to make a new handle that with be a leather wrap with a wire wrap on the lower 3", with a wire Turk's head over the join between the leather and wire.

The other major update is that I am trying to make a habit of practicing with my sword (or axe) at least 5 minutes everyday.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Few More Video Links

Here are some links to some interesting and fun videos about daily life in the Middle Ages.

Link the First

Link the Second (w/ subtitles)

Also, another good thing to come out of the National Geographic show the other day is that it made me look up the 1459 Talhoffer and re-introduced me to this image:

Yes, a take-down poleaxe
Oh...my...God...I WANT!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Reviews, Observations, and Ramblings

Today will be a jam-packed entry featuring observations, reviews, training updates & bitch sessions!  Woo-hoo!

In case you missed it, this week the National Geographic channel aired a show called “Medieval Fight Book” all about Talhoffer's 1459 fechtbuch. The show, sadly, mostly focused on bits from the rest of the hausbuch that featured designs for war machines, etc. rather than the actual fighting plates.  The show features Terry Jones (yes, THAT Terry Jones) and Mike Loades as experts, and also features John Clements and Aron P. from ARMA. All in all, I thought that this is one of the better medieval documentary out there between the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, and the Hitler...er...History Channel. I just had a few quibbles (other than the lack of focus on the fighting techniques):
-The tone of the show was more “The DaVinci Code: Talhoffer style” rather than a serious documentary.  Descriptions of the manuscript as being “violent, secretive, spiritual and packed full of knowledge, an obscure and mysterious manuscript called the Fight Book”. Sigh.
There is a scene featuring a potential device to approach a besieged wall, and the device is made of boiled leather. Mike Loades testes this by having somebody fire a “VERY heavy 80lb draw bow”.  Now, while I could barely draw an 80lb bow , describing an 80lb bow as heavy is simply exaggeration. A 120lb or 160lb war bow is heavy.  Just saying.
-The gents from ARMA did a very nice presentation job, including Aron running, vaulting, and somersaulting in harness. They film a scene featuring an unarmoured man (JC) fighting an armoured man (Aron P). First problem, people who know a heck of a lot more about Talhoffer than I do say that that is not what the plate is actually showing – the artist simply didn't want to have to draw a bunch of harness over and over again (kind of like another Talhoffer where you have unarmoured guys fighting with the poleaxe). Second problem, Aron is using half-sword techniques. Against an unarmoured opponent. *blink* *blink* Why in God's name would you do that? The only reason to half-sword is because your opponent is wearing armour – if he isn't then hit him like normal.  Third problem, when JC throws his Murder Strokes he does so by gripping the flat of the blade and flicking the hilt toward Aron P. Seriously, it looked like something you'd see in an Olympic fencing bout. Nevertheless, it connects hard. Which brings us to the my biggest problem with the whole production – Aron gets hit so hard by the pommel that it dents his helm and makes him sick to his stomach. Ever look up the symptoms of a concussion? Yeah, nausea is right up there on the list. I accept that what we do is dangerous (it is a martial art after all) but still, national tv and someone gets a concussion. Awesome. I know that this is an over-reaction on my part, but  just worry that for as many people as were attracted to HEMA because of this show, some were turned away because of that one shot.
Here is a link to the show on youtube (it's in 4 parts) and to Clements' blog about the production. Oh, and I had forgotten about those funky poleaxes in Talhoffer with the crescent hooks on the queue end. I want one. :D
Just look at those things...brutal...and pretty.

An observation I wanted to make about the community in general is that there seem to be a lot of threads of various forums regarding how to execute moves that are “basic” to the Liecthenaur tradition – the Zornhau, Shielhau, etc. This has also led to discussions on Silver's “True Times” and simply put, what is the proper way to attack. I have mixed feelings on these posts. First, I feel that these types of questions are important to an individual's understanding of the manuscripts. I know that I have, and still do, ask serious questions regarding the basics of Armizare. The difference is that I usually pose these questions to a few folks via e-mail, not on a public forum. The reason I do this is that when I asked my first real question, I was too shy to post it online, so I e-mailed it to a few instructors. They told me that it was great that I was thinking critically about the manuscripts, but that these questions had been hashed out long ago. While I still e-mail out questions now and then, I accept that there are others who have come before me and that there is no reason to re-invent the wheel. Second, the negative reaction I have is because a lot of these issues have “accepted” answers within the majority of the community. Unless there is new, radical manuscript evidence, why re-hash how to form the guard Posta di Donna? We will never know exactly how to do it, we can only take our best shot, and I am content with that. The cool part is that we will all take slightly different shots at the same thing. This is our evolutionary mutation to HEMA, I may not do things exactly like my instructor, nor will my future students do things exactly like I do. But there is a funny thing about mutations, they can be beneficial and harmful. In thinking about writing this, I decided that in my opinion, a healthy mutation in a martial art is a change that remains within the system. An unhealthy mutation is a change that pushes outside the system. For example, if my instructor finds that he fights better out of front-weighted Posta di Donna and, perhaps unconsciously, primarily teaches front-weighted Posta di Donna to all his students (including me). Now, I find that I fight better out of rear-weighted Posta di Donna, so when I go on to teach my students I mostly teach rear-weighted Posta di Donna. That is a healthy mutation because both versions of Posta di Donna exist in the system. Instead of Posta di Donna you could use depth of stance. Both a low, deep stance and a high, narrow stance are used in Armizare (in Fiore and Vadi, respectively). If I teach a high stance that is still a healthy mutation. Now if I decide that Fiore's stances make no sense, so I will substitute a karate cat-stance for all high guards and a horse stance for all low guards, that is an unhealthy mutation. And guess what? Mutations within the tradition have historical precedent in HEMA. I've already used Vadi and Fiore as an example, so I'll use them again 'cause I'm lazy. Vadi is regarded as a student or successor of Fiore's Armizare and I use him as a source and place him firmly within the Armizare lineage. Yet some of his guards and plays are either slightly changed or entirely brand-new. Bu they still follow the rules of the system. Similarly, the German tradition evolved and changed over the 200+ years it was being practiced. Kind of like a martial version of the telephone game.

Last weekend, January 9th, I finally got down to Eugene to train at the Academy for the first time since October. Far, far too long. To my surprise, and delight, Devon Boorman of Academie Duello was in town. During the morning session, the three of us played with a plethora of things; a poleaxe posta dance, abrazare drills, traded dagger flow drills, and Devon showed us some really, really cool fühlen exercises with dagger and sword. The second half of the day the majority of the Academy's students showed up (which was just cool to see honestly) and we played with the 1st Remedy Master of dagger, then moved on to some zogho largo fun. All in all, it was a great day – it was great to see Devon again and it was absolutely awesome to see so many students there!

The problem, however, is the mind-numbing realization that 3 months of little to no physical training with sword in hand means one thing – I now suck. I suck hard. I feel like my understanding of the manuscripts is much better than it used to be but now my physical implementation has suffered. It is akin to not playing a musical instrument for a long time, then picking it up again. Your brain knows exactly what to do but your body is unable to keep up. It's frustrating and depressing, especially when you are holding yourself (and being held to) a standard. Oh well, time to shut up and train I guess.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Book review - "Meditations on Violence" by Sgt. Rory Miller

"Meditation on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence", written by Sgt. Rory Miller, a veteran corrections officer in the Pacific Northwest, is an excellent look at martial arts training and the preconceived notions about violence that inhabit almost every school, system, what-have-you.

The book is broken up into seven chapters: the Matrix, How to Think, Violence, Predators, Training, Making Physical Defense Work, and After.
  1. The Matrix introduces the idea of using a matrix to "describe and analyze a multidimensional event in a multidimensional way" (Miller 2).  Miller explains that a fight can arise in four different ways: you were Surprised, you were Alerted, Mutual combat, & you are the Attacker.  There are also three levels of force: No Injury, Injury, Lethal.  What you wind up with is a 3x4 "Tactical Matrix" for examining techniques, arts, etc. in abstract situations.  He also gives you a "Strategic Matrix" which is an 11x7 grid showing different arts vs the different types of violence.
  2. In How to Think, Miller challenges you to attack your own assumptions about violence and pay attention to the four common sources of knowledge: Experience, Reason, Tradition, & Entertainment and Recreation.  Miller explains that the quality of the learning gets worse as you go down that list.  Experience is the best teacher - I know that if I punch a person in this spot, they go down, so why should I listen to this "expert" who is telling me that they won't? etc.  This chapter is also where Miller discusses strategy - you need to decide, now, before the shit hits the fan, what will or will not make you "flip the switch" - and when it is time to "go" you go and you go hard.  Also discussed in this chapter is the "Observe, Orient, Decide, Act" (OODA) loop by which we make decisions, and how to exploit your opponent being caught in it.
  3. Chapter 3, Violence, breaks violence into two main categories: the Monkey Dance and Predatory Violence.  The Monkey Dance is the hierarchy establishing violence that is seen throughout nature and is, by design, non-lethal - think about two elk "fighting" for the right to mate with the head, lots of noise and head-butting, but no life-threatening injuries.  Predatory Violence, however, is a very different ballgame.  In Predatory Violence, the victim is not seen as human - they are seen as a resource and Predatory Violence almost always happens as an ambush - think lions taking down a wildebeest.  Miller dissects the various aspects of violence, including the various chemicals that effect the body, and gives the reader four basic truths about violence that should impact our training: Violence happens Closer, Faster, More Suddenly, and with More Power than people usually train for.
  4. Chapter 4 examines Predators - why they do what they do and how they do it.  Kind of difficult to describe, you just have to read it.
  5. Chapter 5 is what I considered to be the meat-and-potatoes of the book - Training.  This is exactly what I, as a martial artist, want to read about.  Yes, I am intrigued by the the "Why's", but get me to the "How to Train for It".  The first section describes the flaws that exist in drills - when the drill sets an unrealistic expectation about violence (see chapter 3), when the drill allows unsafe techniques (punching with gloves, etc), and when the drill is based on the flaw - using medium speed techniques to counter slow speed attacks.  His most interesting complaint that hit close to home - training to pull your blows is training to miss.  The second section of this chapter discusses some of the benefits to solo and two-person katas - specifically that solo kata are wonderful for training your body to move as a unit, and that two-person kata, when done with intent & allowing the uke (player, "bad guy") to do one very counter-intuitive move, allow you to practice at a very high level without protective gear.  The remainder of the chapter deals with how to respond to the challenge of the four basic truths about violence (chapter 3).
  6. The penultimate chapter is based around the five stages to defend yourself - Movement (blocking the movement), Opportunity (blocking the opportunity), Intent (blocking the intent), Relationship (altering the relationship), & Terrain (the use thereof).  Other gems include Miller reiterating his discussion that you need to set parameters upon which you will flip the switch, the Golden Rule of Combat ("Your most powerful weapon/Applied to your opponent's greatest vulnerability/At his time of maximum imbalance"), and the 4 effects you can have on your opponent - move him (or part of him), cause pain, cause damage, & cause shock.  
  7. The final chapter is perhaps the most important chapter in any martial arts book I've ever read.  Miller describes, in detail, how to handle the aftereffects of real world violence - your own feelings and worries, dealing with other's perceptions of you, etc.
It is really, really hard to write a decent review of this book.  My only suggestion is to read it.  Then read it again.  Then wait a few months and read it again.  I know I will.

Here is a link to Sgt. Rory Miller's website, including his blog.