Thursday, December 6, 2012


I had planned on writing up an entry here discussing how I was going to spend sometime focusing on learning the German tradition of longsword. I would like to say that this was going to be an attempt to increase my knowledge base, but honestly it was because I was looking for low effort=high reward - by learning something new it takes less effort to feel awesome about what you are doing. This is always been an attraction for me, just ask my wife - I constantly pick up a "hobby", get decent at it, then move on. I can sort of juggle. I can sort of play the harmonica. I can sort of read the Tarot. Jack of All Trades, Master of None right?

The problem with that is that is not how you achieve relative mastery over a subject. In order to master something you must work at it, especially when it gets tough, when it becomes higher effort for lower gains. This is something that, as a potential educator, I understand, have understood for a while now, but never really knew. I could talk the talk but wouldn't walk the walk, so to speak.

But WMA started to change that for me. When I first started studying Armizare I knew this was something I wanted to do for a long, long time. That's why I get feelings of nervousness when thinking of trying new art - I'm worried about what happens if I find another art that attracts me even more than Armizare? Honestly, if that happens GREAT! I need to stop worrying about what other's think, what they'd think if I decided to stop studying  the poleaxe, or started studying rapier as my primary art. Because honestly I think the people whose opinions I really care about would be that so long as I was enjoying what I was studying, and studying it in the right way, then good for me!

Honestly, I probably will spend some time looking at the German tradition, and training myself to it, in order, as I was first claiming, to add tools to my toolbox. But I will also be seriously re-starting my research with Armizare and Le Jeu de la Hache. The difference is that now I will be doing my best to maintain a disciplined mindset to keep working. Even when it gets tough.

I am a work in progress.

The key word there is "work"

Saturday, August 4, 2012


After having a horrible realization that, other than moving it around to reorganize the garage, I haven't touched my swords in months. Time to fix that. I'm going to make a promise to do at least 15 mins of solo drills/sword handling a day. Rather than spread my attention to other weapons and manuscripts, I'm going to focus on the longsword. For fun, maybe I'll try doing some German longsword instead of just Armizare.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

One Mind, Any Weapon

   The title refers to a motto I've seen used by the US military forces, usually in regards to firearms usage, meaning that whatever weapon winds up in your hands, it is your mental attitude that matters most. YOU are the weapon. I've written about this before and it is my particular bent towards interpreting Medieval Martial Arts. Armizare, Fiore's art, is a weapon-based Archetype System. By that I mean that each of the weapons you are instructed in, dagger, one-handed sword, longsword, spear, & poleaxe, acts as an archetype for that particular "class" of weapons. For instance, the longsword can, in practical terms, be a stand-in for any two or one handed ~4' long weapon. This is my answer to the question of why we don't see maces, single-handed axes, or warhammers represented in the manuscripts - they are already there, just in archetypal form. The Germans have the messer material, Fiorists have the sword in one hand and mounted sword sections.

   Now, the archetypes are not a perfect analogue across the board. For instance, in the messer/arming sword you have that lovely little piece of metal that protects the hand. Hand guards, to my knowledge, are not really that common on maces, hammers or axes, so any technique where you come into Kron/Frontale (and if you don't have an armoured gauntlet on) life will be not that happy for you. The medieval arts are not the only martial arts to take this approach - in my limited knowledge of them, the arts of Escrima and Kali operate on a similar model - what is done with the sword is done with the stick is done with the knife is done with empty hands. Armizare rolls the same way - the Remedy of the 1st Master of Dagger (at least how I interpret it) is similar to the Remedy of the 1st Master of Longsword. The Breaking of the Point is done almost the exact same way across all weapons. It's beautiful.

   The thing I love about the mindset of "One Mind, Any Weapon" is that is applies to anything and everything. Think of all the ads you've seen for DVDs or books that will teach you to use improvised weapons - magazines, pens, books, backpacks, etc. All of that is covered in "One Mind, Any Weapon".

   Try this as an exercise - Look around the room you're in and pick the first 3 objects that catch your eye. Utilizing whatever art(s) you're trained in, figure out a couple ways you could use that object to defend yourself. It's kinda fun, in a paranoid sort of way ;)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Windows and High Snakes

When I went over to Eugene to train at the Northwest Fencing Academy on June 2nd, I knew that it was essentially to be an exchange of notes on pollaxe between Maestro Hayes and myself, with the other students being willing guinea pigs. Many wonderful things came from that session, not the least of which being this video showing two Armizare axe drills and my take on Jason Smith's Le Jeu de la Hache drill (I say "my take" because I left out at least one part of it by mistake) :

Another area that Maestro Hayes and I kept coming back to was why Fiore changes the names of some of the axe guards; is it Mezzana Porta di Ferro or Dente di Cinghiaro? Why the name change between axe Finestra and sword in armour Serpentino lo Soprano?

Dente di Cinghiaro from the Pissani-Dossi. All images courtesy of

1) I believe that the naming difference between the guard that is called Mezzana Porta di Ferro in one paragraph and Dente di Cinghiaro in the other is really not that important (possibly even just a scribal error) because those two guards with the longsword operate very similarly. Both are point forward & low guards. Mezzana Porta di Ferro is held closer to the center-line and Dente di Cinghiaro is held with the point off to the left - this leads to the major difference between the two guards: DdC chambers the body (esp. the hips) for more powerful sottani than does MPdF. That's it. So while Maestro Hayes prefers to call this axe guard Mezzana Porta di Ferro and I prefer to call it Dente di Cinghiaro, it doesn't matter, we know what guard we're talking about and how it operates.

Serpentino lo Soprano from the armoured sword section of the Pissani-Dossi.

Posta di Finestra from the axe section of the Getty

2) The one that really got me thinking was why the name difference between Serpentino lo Soprano (from the armoured sword section) and Posta di Finestra (from the axe section of the Getty)? The way that Maestro Hayes and I interpret using Finestra is very similar to Serpentino lo Soprano with the sword - as a high line parry. The difference, in my opinion, has to do with the hands. When you look at Serpentino lo Soprano the hands are spread far apart and most interpretations of this guard have you parry the incoming blow between your hands. But when you look at the axe guard of Finestra, even though in Armizare the sword is an axe and the axe is a sword, the hands are not held far apart - they are right next to each other. This hand position leads the parry to be executed with the front (between the head of the axe and the lead hand) of the axe - just like the unarmoured sword guard of Finestra is used.  I truly believe it's a simple as that - the difference between Serpentino lo Soprano and Finestra is simply how far apart you hands are. If you parry between your hands - you are in Serpentino lo Soprano. If you parry in front of your hands - you are in Finestra. Of course, switching between the guards is as simple as sliding your hands closer together or farther apart.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Short Axe Theory

When I bought Dr. Sydney Anglo's "Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe" I'll admit that I immediately flipped to the chapter on polearms and started reading there. At the bottom of page 151 was an illustration that caught my attention and has been bugging me and percolating in the back of my mind for the last few years.

From the ARMA website.
The illustration depicts a combat between French and Portuguese knights. I wish I could find a better online version, but I felt like scanning the image from the book was a little sketchy. Anyways, what caught my attention (tough to see up there) is that all the knights are using pollaxes with (comparatively) very short hafts. I noticed that almost all of them have one hand right underneath the head of the weapon. The question was why? After a few more years of study and acquiring, and playing with, different lengths of axes, I think I've finally got it.

First off, two quick things about axe combat that are pretty self-explanatory but I want to put down here anyways.
   1 - your hands do not remain static on the haft but slide closer together or farther apart as needed. When performing a queue parry you can slide your low hand back up the haft to give yourself more room. Likewise with performing a blow with the head, sliding your hand down the haft gives more oomph to the blow.
   2 - the length of haft will determine how the axe is used. A longer axe (x>5 feet) is used as a spear with benefits, as seen in Le Jeu de la Hache and the Anonimo Bolognese. A shorter axe (x<5 feet) is used as a longsword with benefits, as seen (IMO) in Armizare. Some techniques work better with a long axe (like stabbing them in the foot) and some work better with a short axe (using the haft to do a ligadura mezzana).

So keeping those two things in mind - my theory is that by gripping the axe just underneath the head you give yourself just as much queue space as on a longer axe, thus allowing you to still play like in Le Jeu or the Anonimo. To figure out if this was true I had my wife mark the outside edge of my bottom (left) hand as I gripped each of my three axes, doing my best to keep the space between my hands the same. Below are the results.

A&A Burgundian poleaxe.
Total length: 70.5" (About my height)
Queue length: 23"

A customized Purpleheart Armoury training axe.
Total length: 65.75" (Tip comes up to the point of my nose)
Queue length: 22"

Custom haft by Mike Cherba, training heads by PHA.
Total length: 39.25" (Tip comes even with my shoulder)
Queue length: 22.25"

What my massively scientific (HA!) study proved is that it is possible to get the same amount of haft below your hands, for parrying and striking, with a short axe as it is with a long axe. I will be continuing to play with my shorter hafted axes (although I will most likely be buying some of the new heads from PHA to try out), specifically playing with them against longer axes.

Now, as to why that picture sparked me on this mission, well the answer is simple - in matters of pollaxe haft length, my preference is towards shorter. That's really all. But, other than what appear to be shorter axes in the Getty MS, the above illustration is the only place I've seen that short of axes used.

P.S. I am also going to try and make (or purchase) a Polish nadziak, or war hammer, that was used by the Hussars from the 16th to 18th centuries alongside their sabres. They look very similar to Western European hammers except that they average about 33" in total length. They were used not only as weapons of war but as walking sticks for gentlemen. The nadziak was so nasty that it was outlawed in Poland. New toy!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Poleaxe based on Talhoffer take-apart axe

Check out this poleaxe from a smith in the Neatherlands. A really pretty interpretation - personally I'd prefer the top of the haft to be more like the one in Talhoffer, that is, a narrowed metal cap which the head fits onto rather than the screw present on this one, but it's still a really, really nice interpretation.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A re-examination of Le Jeu de la Hache

After some thinking while walking the dog today, I've decided that there is a proper usage for Frog DNA while reconstructing Le Jeu de la Hache - to inform you insofar as stance and footwork goes. But that's it. Le Jeu, neatly enough, contains it's own discussion of tactics & strategy. Le Jeu is a self-contained system of usage for the pollaxe:

- Guards (2)
- Tactics against various blows
- Overall strategy
- Specific tactics against particular scenarios (vs. a left-hander, etc.)

Types of footwork, attacks, principles, even the guards themselves are never really spelled out, but are, in Italian fashion, experienced in the plays themselves. However, I think that as a community, we can agree on certain basics of Medieval martial arts - the stance, the passing step, the gathering step, & the triangle step.

It will be difficult, but I am going to try to re-examine my interpretation of Le Jeu while trying to pare back any influences from Armizare. I doubt that I'll ever arrive at a truly "pure" Le Jeu, but it should be a good exercise.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Hammer play in recent games

I love to play role-playing video games. As a medievalist and WMA practitioner, this has to be carefully done lest my head 'spode from all the fantasy armour and weapons. Let's not even get into the fighting styles (that much spinning around would make me dizzy as hell).
However, I've been playing Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and Kingdoms of Amular: Reckoning recently and I have to say that while there are still issues (just remember that they are fantasy games) I'm really pleased by the hammer play that appears in both.

Specifically, there are special moves where you use the queue of your hammer to set up your opponent so you can then smack them in the head.

As far as reality for the hammers, Skyrim does much better. Evidence:

Skyrim warhammers:

Both of those are Iron Warhammers, other models in the game to have a top spike.

Here are the hammers from Reckoning:

Obviously reality (and physics) have less concern for the designers of Reckoning - but hey, it's a game!

I'm just happy that I get to schtup someone in the face before crushing their head ;-)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Upcoming project

I have a theory about pollaxe usage with a short haft. By "short" I mean:

Average = User's Height +/- 1 foot

Shorter than average =  User's Height - 1.5 feet

The main reasoning behind my theory is actually a picture featured in Sydney Anglo's book Medieval & Renaissance Martial Arts in the polearms section (sorry but I don't have the book handy, so I don't have a page number) - but here is a low res copy from the ARMA site

It's the one on the right.

It's hard to see here, but it depicts French and Portuguese knights fighting in the lists with axes. What is intriguing is that all of the axes are Short and that the knights are gripping them with their main hand almost directly under the head of the weapon and the back hand approximately halfway down the haft.

My theory is that this grip gives you approximately the same queue space as an Average axe, while still allowing, with grip movement, similar abilities to strike with the croix. Naturally, a Short axe will change the tactical nature of your fight - more grappling and close play, possibly some lack in the ability to make throws.

As soon as I finish putting new flooring in my downstairs, and can clean out my garage (meaning I can actually get to my axes again) I will start taking measurements, etc.

I will keep you posted.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Book Review - "Armizare" by Robert Charrette

I just finished Fiore dei Liberi's Armizare: The Chivalric Martial Arts System of Il Fior di Battaglia by Robert Charrette.
First off, buy this book. Seriously. This is, by far, the best overview of Armizare yet. The organization of the book, the writing, and the photography are all clear and easy to understand. Okay, some of the photos (which are black & white) make it difficult to clearly tell relative blade position - but hey, it's hard to tell in the manuscripts too. Rather than do a page-by-page review, I will give overall opinions. For the most part, I agree with Charrette's interpretation of Armizare. What falls outside the "most part" are really just slight differences - I tend to hold Frontale more off to one side or the other, depending on which foot is forward for example. The weapons and armour shown throughout the book are gorgeous.
This may seem like a weak review, but the book, and the research within, speaks for itself. If you are just generally interested in the art of Fiore dei Liberi, buy this book. If you are a student of the German masters and are curious about what "them Eye-talians do" (I'm looking at you Teague *wink*), pick up this book. If you are already a student of Armizare, then you need this book. Need.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Lately I've been worried about something - that I do not have the necessary self-motivation to pursue HEMA to the highest degree. That is, one of my ambitions had always been to become one of "the Names" in WMA - you know, the people who seem to be on the instructor list of almost any event, the people who when you think of a specific art you think of them (example: Italian rapier = Tom Leoni). The thing is that I've always known this about myself - even as a musician during high school I really didn't like solo practice. Group practice I looked forward too but I couldn't really get up the gumption to practice the sax on my own on a regular basis, but I would practice because it was necessary for group practice/concerts to go well. While I was living in Eugene, solo practice was easy for the same reason - it made group lessons at UO or the salle go smoother (and there was the added pressure of teaching).

Part of what has put me into a non-practice rut since moving from Eugene (I think) is partially due to money issues. My wife is in her first year of teaching after finishing graduate school, I am contemplating graduate school, and so thinking about buying new armour, or enough wasters to start teaching Armizare, traveling half-way across the country for events, etc. begins to put a strain on our finances that we just can't handle right now. That is the reason I've been looking into other sword arts to study - arts that require less armour to practice, arts whose weapons are less expensive, etc. - because longswords, poleaxes, and their required bouting/safe practice armour is expensive.

Options so far have included:
-Sword & Buckler (of various traditions)
-Bolognese School
-Military Sabre
-Backsword/Baskethilt swords (mainly because single-sticks are cheap)

I uess I'm jsut putting this out there is the hope that others have had the same issues and maybe have some advice for me?