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 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.


Sean said...

"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." Could you clarify what happened there? In my opinion, -nobody- had any right to say "this is beyond dispute" unless they can provide the textual evidence and (where necessary)the comparative and practical evidence. "I have it in my notebooks, and I and my colleagues hashed it out at events in 2003-2007" does not count, any more than "I have this wonderful proof but no space to write it" does. Similarly, the reason people need to ask basic questions online is because most leading instructors don't publish interpretations.

There is a reason that the academic publishing system exists: the evidence and argument are available in public where anyone can read them and judge them, and new students can find the -status questio- without the privilege of being able to talk to the leading experts. Repeating these discussions over and over again through 1:1 media like chats at WMAW is a lot less efficient than a n:1 medium like a PDF on a website.

Alex said...

I guess I should have been more clear about that. The questions that were asked were things like "what if we throw a fendente like this?" - basic things that, IMO, have been figured out already. And I was given, to borrow a phrase, chapter & verse of Fiore, Vadi, etc. This biggest thing I want to make clear, however, is that at no point, I repeat, at no point was I ever told to stop questioning, just that while this was a good point I had brought up to prevent me from banging my head against a wall, here is the consensus (with evidence). I could then take it or leave it.

And I should clarify my position on asking online questions:
First, I have a shy guy, so I prefer to ask questions via e-mail to people I know will have answers and/or will point me in the right direction.
Second, many of the new threads that are started simply re-hash the old evidence and old positions, and usually devolve into two sides arguing about who's right. None of which is particularly helpful. I have seen a few threads started that ask "Given such and such new evidence, what is the current interpretation of X" which take a healthy approach to the matter. But most of the folks who post asking "How do you throw a Zornhau?" would benefit from taking a few minutes and using the search function on the forum.

I have also never met a leading instructor who wasn't willing to discuss (in person, via e-mail, etc.) an interpretation of theirs. Just because they haven't published doesn't mean they are trying to keep it secret. I know there are some groups who operate with secrecy, but they are best not discussed.

Sean said...

OK, that makes a lot more sense. I actually feel the reverse: forum threads are less presumptuous because they don't demand a reply by any particular person. But I agree that many threads get bogged down by personalities and digressions. Maybe I will pose some future questions by email instead of forum?

I come from an academic background, so the habits of the HEMA community are curious to me. The community is where most fields of scholarship were in the 17th century: carried on by gentlemen amateurs relying on letters and face-to-face meetings with the odd book. In some ways this is good, but it is definitely different (being invited to teach at a major event like 4W seems to be the equivalent of a peer-reviewed publication in other areas of the humanities).

Alex said...

"Maybe I will pose some future questions by email instead of forum?"

Oh no, don't change your habits at all. This is MY blog, full of MY opinions - If you have gotten help from asking questions on forums than please continue to do so. Different people learn in different ways. I have the type of personality that will sit on a question and think it over for weeks or months before I will get up the courage to ask on a forum (obviously I am working on that as I have a blog, but even with this blog most of the entries take weeks for me to post them). I feel much more comfortable, personally, with e-mail. I just get tired of seeing the same threads pop up over and over again.