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!