Musashi for the rapier combatant? What is he on about? These are the first two questions that I would expect to be asked with regard to this particular topic. The idea of this blog is to get people thinking about other resources that they might find useful in their study of swordplay. I have actually already written an article entitled "Musashi for the Rapier Combatant" and I was tempted to simply re-print that article here. Instead I have decided to go through the approach that led me to such a conclusion and the article that resulted.
"Let the Gaze Be Broad" is one of the most used sayings found in Musashi's book Go Rin No Sho, or The Book of Five Rings. From Musashi's point of view it is about being aware of the opponent and also aware of your surroundings when facing an opponent. For the purposes of this particular discussion it is also about being aware of the resources available to you in your research.
People tend to approach the research of fencing and swordplay in general from one of two points of view, a narrow view or a broad view of things. Each one of these approaches has advantages and disadvantages. They are also useful for different things depending on the desired outcome of the particular research.
For the narrow view, people get caught up with the importance of a culturally-centric, weapon-centric, or even "school"-centric approach in their approach. The advantage of this is that they are totally focused on their material and will go into all of the finer details in their particular approach. One problem is that if they are hampered by the source material, being a translation issue or an availability, then their research will stop. Every researcher has been here, "I could really do with studying "X" but it is a) written in a language I don't speak or b) simply is not available." Another problem is that they do not experience swordplay from a broad point of view and thus miss the overall picture. For the researcher with a broad point of view, this is less of an issue.
The broad point of view looks at all of the source material that is available and thus has much more to look at. The wealth of information can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage being the quantity of material available and the disadvantage being that there is so much of it that research on a particular topic can last forever and never really finish. The advantage of the broad point of view is that this researcher is able to compare and contrast, and get a view of topics from an overall perspective rather than a focused one. The researcher with the broad point of view is able to use resources from different places in order to build his research and this can lead to using some resources of unexpected usefulness.
There are resources out there which on the surface look like that they will be of no use to the researcher of swordplay. One of the obvious examples for the researcher of rapier combat is the usefulness of sport fencing materials. The movements expressed in these texts can be quite useful, but the real value is in the drills and concepts which are most useful. From an even broader point of view, you need to look at things from a broad point of view in order to realise the usefulness of different texts. This is even to the point where seemingly differing weapon systems can be used to assist one another. The trick, of course, is to find these resources in order to be able to use them.
In order to find other resources it is first important to ensure that you are looking at things from a broad point of view. In order to do this you need to look at your topic for study from an over-reaching point of view. Examine it for the key elements which the particular topic is based upon and look for these. If you limit your searches to only one type of material that is all you will get. If, on the other hand you broaden your searches to include different types of materials and different subjects you will find a great deal more.
The next thing that you need to do is to have a broad outlook in your research and research topics. If you choose "A study of Salvator Fabris" for example, then for the most part, you will only really be looking at a single manual. On the other hand if you choose "A study of the use of 17th century Italian rapier" then you are going to be able to use more materials. If your topic is even broader you will be able to use even more materials. Even with the topics suggested, depending on your approach, there are also other additional materials that you might find useful in order to completely understand the topic.
In order to increase the different places where you can look for materials you must first have a broad point of view. One of the more obvious places to look for material is art and documents of the appropriate period. These are useful as they give background and can also give depictions of the weapons "in action" from a certain point of view. Documentation about the actual weapons used is surprisingly useful to understanding a particular weapon form. Understanding the characteristics of the weapon can be most useful. Another thing to consider is body movement.
The human body, for the most part, can only move in a certain number of ways and to and from a certain amount of positions. When a weapon is added to this, then the number is further reduced. This is one of the reasons why it is possible to do cross-cultural examinations of combat systems. One of the prime examples of this a comparison of the longsword and the katana. This is especially useful in the use of the weapons and the tactics involved in their use.
When further looking at the movements of the human body, a researcher should not ignore an area which has previously been the purview of physiotherapists and fitness instructors, and that is bio-mechanics. This investigates the use of the human body and how it moves most efficiently. This is most useful especially to the modern martial artist, both eastern and western, in order to utilise the body in its movements most effectively and safely. This something that the theorists of the Renaissance period knew and this is one of the reasons that the figures are often depicted naked, in order to see the muscles in movement.
In our research of swordplay, it is important that we do not lock ourselves too much into a single subject, this narrows the vision of what is possible to be found. Of course where a particular topic is specific it is important to stay on the particular topic and thus use appropriate materials. This being said other materials can be used to explain things which are not in the primary source material. This all being said, a broad point of view with regard to the research is useful to the researcher in order to gain an overall view of swordplay.