Saturday, December 10, 2011

Lexicon for Swordplay, Or He Did What?


It has been a while since I have made any posts here as I have been busy with other things, and searching for suitable subjects for writing about. This is one which came up sometime ago, but I had not written about it as I thought I would leave it for a while. The blog following is about swordplay and the terminologies associated with such. It will also dig a little into the issues of not having a suitable lexicon of swordplay, or indeed having several in different languages.

Now we have all been at an event where we have seen two people get into a discussion about what happened during the fencing that day and often it will result in fingers being pointed in order for the action used to be expressed accurately. This is the result of not having a common language or suitable terms in which to discuss what they are talking about. On the other end one fencer will use an Italian term and the other will look at him strangely because all his study has been in German. In this particular case it comes out as having suitable terms but not a common language both of these can cause issues when expressing an action performed with a weapon.

To give an example of what is being discussed here. A beat is a simple action designed to remove the opponent's blade with force in order to open a line. In French it is called battement, in German it is called Klingenschlag, in Spanish it is called batimiento, and in Italian it is called battuta. Four different languages which is four different words for the same thing, they just happen to be in a different language. Things only get more confusing for the new person when a discussion of cuts comes in.

In order to avoid such confusions, either deliberately or accidentally, some organisations have developed their own language for the various actions with a sword, one example of this is from the armoured combatants of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). Terms have been developed in order to describe the action of delivering a blow against an opponent, for example the snap, and the wrap. To an uninformed audience these would not make particularly much sense, but the same could be said of many early Italian terms such as the Iron Gate Guard. So in some ways the language is developing the same sort of way, and changes are coming. An example of this can be found in another blog which I read on a regular basis by Cornelius Von Becke

The importance of the result of this is understanding. It would take someone quite a while to collect together a complete set of fencing terminologies from the various schools of swordplay in order to have all the terms in all the languages. This would be a great idea and a project well worth looking into, however, it is not what I am proposing here. For the current period in time it is better that the practitioners do not confuse the language with the swordplay. Hence those involved in Italian swordplay should keep with Italian terms, those involved in German should keep with German terms and so forth. However, the practitioner should also keep a broad eye open to other terms and pick them up and see how they fit in their own style in order that better communication is possible across the styles.

The whole goal of this discussion is understanding and this can be easily related back to my previous blog on manuals ( and also the later one on the language in such manuals. The reason why this is important is so that the fencing community is able to converse and understand what is being discussed easily. For this to happen people need to adopt such terms that they can understand themselves, but also such terms that they can pass on to others and relate to the terms being used by them. In this the fencer needs to keep and open mind to what is being said and see the most important relationship of all, the fact that all are doing swordplay and all are related to one another. Once this relationship is recognised and understood then people will be able to see that everyone can learn from anyone who picks up a sword in any style what-so-ever.



Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Latest Project - Mod to Early Mod - Update


With a lack of subjects coming to mind at this point in time, due to various factors, I thought I would update on my current project. For those who don't know what it is, I am writing my own period manual in order to present it both in 16th century English and also in Modern English in order for the average reader to be able to appreciate the similarities between both and also the differences. The aim of this is in order to make period manuals more accessible. Interested in more detail, have a look at my previous blog on the subject (  Anyway this is an update on that particular project.

Progress has actually been made. I have finished the first draft of the manual in Modern English using the format of a Elizabethan period manual. What this means is really long paragraphs for the most part and also formatting it in the chapters as it would be in such a manual. This was an interesting process and caused me some consternation in the process. This was mainly due to the size of the paragraphs and lack of headings. I am expecting that there will be a few versions before I am really happy with it.

What is of most importance is that this manual is being based on my own theories and practices of fence based on my own experiences. This is going to result in a rather eclectic gathering of skills and theories as I have not focused on any one particular school of thought, but embraced as many as I could get my hands on. I will say, however, that it will be primarily of the Italian school with some influences from other schools such as the German, giving it a truly Elizabethan flavour. I will admit this multi-school approach has been influenced by my favourite Elizabethan theorist Vincentio Saviolo, who has evidence of a similar approach. This method has allowed me to write freely of my own experiences, theories and practices in this manual.

With the draft written I moved on to a study of Elizabethan English language. This is primarily based upon period texts and it is a work in process. I have begun the rather laborious process of extracting significant words and spellings from period sources in order to build a lexicon of language from the period which will be used to translate the modern into the Elizabethan. What should be noted is that this process is also allowing me to familiarise myself with the flow of the language and not just idiosyncratic spellings and other details. Some secondary sources will also be used for reference purposes for such things as grammar and punctuation "rules" and obscure words and so forth. What should be noted especially with regard to this is that it is actually this part which will more than likely turn out to be the longest part of the process. The hopeful result of this will be a lexicon/dictionary/guidebook of Elizabethan language which I hope will become useful for understanding more texts.
The truly hardest part of this process is staying focused. There are many things which can be very tempting to do otherwise and even drop the entire project when things get slow. This is usually when collecting the words and then transferring them into a format where they can be collected in order to reduce the chance of repeats. I am hoping that in the end the entire project will result in a useful text for both swordplay enthusiasts and also those with an interest in Elizabethan language, and allow me to look at text from that period with more knowledge.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Fencing Fest - The Keys to a Great Fencing Event


Well, for all my non-SCA readers, you will ask "What is Fencing Fest?" for all the ones who know about this event some of this is going to be pretty obvious/dull, but I hope that there will be at least some information useful to all. This blog is about an event that I have been running for a while and some of the keys that have made it a success in those years. I hope that my readership will learn from what is placed here and go on to have their own great events.

First, of all I must say thank you to all who made Fencing Fest VIII (5 -7 August 2011) the success it was. I could not have done it without you. In this I mean my priceless crew and also all of those wonderful people who chose to come along to the event as well. The event would not have been what it was without both of you. Yes, you can expect more praises in other mediums as well. Anyway, on to
the subject at hand.

Before I get on to the nitty-gritty of the event, I need to make something clear. I am not "letting the secrets out" in order to beat my own drum and show how great I am. The hope is that armed with the information presented here others may learn from it and be able to create great fencing events of their own. This can only be of benefit to the fencing community at large.

What is Fencing Fest?
Fencing Fest is an event which I have been running, or at least been involved in some part, now for eight years. It is an event which is primarily focused around the arts of defence as they are taught within the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) and to be more precise within Lochac (which includes Australia and New Zealand). The event itself started as a small local event designed to get fencers together for an event which was focused on fencing rather than any other aspect of the SCA. Over the intervening years the event has grown, dare I say it, to become the primary pure fencing event in Lochac.

Where did the idea come from?
Some years ago I looked about, there were events for every martial endeavour within the SCA, including fencing, it is true, but when it came to events with a focus on one of these arts, this is where it was different. Until Fencing Fest came about there was no event that could be found on the calendar which was totally focused on fencing. There were armoured events and archery events, but nothing for fencers of that kind. This is where the seed was planted.

The origins of Fencing Fest lay in an event which was purely focused on the unarmoured combatants of my local groups, to start with. This would enable the local  fencers to get together and fence and learn what they could without any chance of possible interference from anyone else. This is where the "give people what they want comes in". The event was planned around giving people as much fencing as they could handle in the time-frame allowed for the event. With the foundation stone laid, it was time to move on to the other things that held the event together. It is these things, these keys, which have enabled Fencing Fest to grow to the event that it has become.

Key 1: Fencing
For Fencing Fest it is the fencing that people come along for more than anything else and as such this must be put first on the priorities above everything else. Fencing Fest has ended up being a success because the event has lots of fencing and that is what people come along for primarily. What kind of fencing? Teaching? Competition? Either? Both? This depends on your audience.

The early events had a semi-fluid program that was finalised on the first day of the event in order to give people what they wanted. As the event developed and more and more people started to attend a pattern formed where the first day was primarily teaching oriented and the second was more competition oriented. In this way people get a taste of both through the event and thus most are satisfied with the outcome. The balance between the two options should be determined by the people attending the event and what they want, but the organiser should have some at least rough idea of how it all should be planned out.

Importantly keep the program as fluid as you can so that things starting late do not totally throw out the entire program. There will be delays that you cannot predict and it is important that the program is flexible enough to work with these delays. In a rigid program a delay of a mere half an hour, or even less can cause all sorts of issues. The most important thing with the program is to give the people attending the event what they want above all else, and that is fencing.

Key 2: Costs
Contrary to some thoughts about, the price of the event does not guarantee or determine the quality of the event. Some of the best I have been to have been cheap, and some of the most disappointing have been rather expensive. There are some good reasons to keep an event price low, but the best is the simplest. The lower the price of the event for people coming to it, the more people you will get along to the event. In the end this will actually result in the money being made rather than being lost.

Food is something which will be discussed as one of the keys below. Picking a site is important, it should suit the needs of the event and nothing more. There is no reason to pay for facilities or things which the event will not require. Nor is it sensible to pay for any more area than the event will require to do so with either is a waste of money and will drive your costs and thus the price of the event up. If you keep your costs down, this will keep the price down and thus attract more people to your event. Do research into costs, both of food and sites but also of other events of a similar nature and size.

Key 3: Timing
The timing of your event on the calendar can have a huge effect upon the success of the event as this can determine who will be available to attend your event. In the case of Fencing Fest, it is placed in early August as this is roughly six months from Rowany Festival, the biggest camping event in Lochac which is in Sydney. It is also placed in August as this is the end of winter and it is more likely to be dry in Queensland, Australia at this time of the year. By placing Fencing Fest here I give the maximum time for saving for the event and also cool but dry weather for fencing.

There is little point planning to have an event, two weeks and even a month close to a major event. People often simply do not have the finances to attend multiple events or even the time to do so. If you plan for your event as far away from big events, especially local ones, as possible you are more likely to get people to come along to your event. If you want to look further afield you should also consider when major events of other groups are being held. This is a consideration often overlooked to the detriment to an event. The timing is also linked to advertising, which will be discussed below.

Key 4: Food
If your event is focused on fencing there is no point in having Master Chef quality food, especially if this is going to drive your costs up. The attendees at a fencing event will be more focused on the fencing and thus will simply require the food to be filling. There are three simple things to focus on with regard to an event like Fencing Fest.

First, lots. No one who attends the event should go hungry. This means that there should be food enough to fill the people attending the event. Second, filling. This goes with the first in that the people attending the event will be hungry after fencing and thus will want filling food. The portions of the food should be generous and be of a kind which is filling. Third, simple. Filling rather than pretty. When people are hungry they care a lot less if it is of a period recipe or how much it cost. Thus the three keys to food all link together. Feed the people who attend your event well and they are more likely to come to your next one.  

Key 5: Crew
Being the event organiser you will have enough to do organising the event and you will not be able to do it all yourself. This will mean that you will require a crew or team of people to help you with your event to ensure that it runs smoothly. The calendar is littered with events where and organiser tried to do too much.

In your crew you will need people who know their jobs and know them well. Such people will be able to do what is required of them without your supervision and thus the job that they are doing will be one less per member that you have to worry about. In this particular instance it is even good to have smaller teams within the larger team, but all still must know their jobs and know them well. The other thing that you will need for good crew members are people who you can trust to do their jobs and who you can communicate with. This is important when things are going well, but even more important if things are not going well. Just remember that the communication needs to be two-way communication. Having to chase people for information or to do their job is a waste of your time and energy. A good crew is the best asset an event organiser can have.

Key 6: Advertise
Advertising is something which is often overlooked and also links into the timing aspect. If you plan your event too close, you will not have much time to tell everyone about the event, and the less who know, the less who will attend. The more time that you can give to advertising your event, the more people will know about it, and thus the more people are likely to attend.

There are three things that should be done with regard to advertising for an event. The first is early. As soon as all the details for the event are confirmed the advertising should start. This allows for the maximum amount of time for people to know about the event. It is important that the event needs to be confirmed with all the details for this to work effectively. Half or unconfirmed details do not inspire confidence. The second is regularly. Regular reminders and updates about your event will constantly bring thoughts about your event to the fore. This is even more important if there is additional information available about the event. The third is everywhere. Spread the information about your event to as many places as you can. This is even easier now with e-mail and social networks. E-mail lists are a great boon to advertising events and should be used where appropriate. Be careful about electronic advertising however in order that your information does not get marked as spam. Keep it to the point in order not to irritate people as little as possible.

What has been presented are the keys which I have used to make Fencing Fest into the great event that it is. I hope that you will find some useful information contained within this and will be able to use it in order to make your own events more successful. With all the information which is available about how to run events and also to plan events, the greatest key is to remember that which will suit your event the best. Once you have found this it should be your focus and every other consideration should have this as a background to the final decision made.



Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Reading Period Texts - A Question of Language


In the pursuit of swordplay from the past it is necessary at some point in time to consult texts of that period. Sure, we can use secondary sources and other's interpretations but in the end if we really want to get at what the masters and practitioners of the period were getting at then we really need to look at some primary source material, or at least translations of primary source material where the language barrier exists. It is this language barrier which will be the focus of this blog as it is easy to get caught up in the language of the period, or indeed the translation and/or interpretation of the author of the current form.

Language is important and so are the rules associated with that language as it is the rules which hold the language together. Aside from the usual rules of grammar and spelling which need to be interpreted sometimes especially when looking at period texts, there is also the flow and format of the language which is also important to be examined. When examining fencing manuals there is also an extra set of guidelines which become important in order to read and gain a useful output from the study of the manual.

Manuals often have their actions written in tempos rather than individual actions. The misreading of this will result in the misreading of actions and results in a misinterpretation of the intent of the author. Reading in tempos changes the time of the action and thus also the tempo of the action. Thus this will affect the resulting sequence of actions.

To read it in a modern manner it may seem that a person makes an action and their opponent replies to that action and the person makes another action in reply to that an so forth. For some sequences this will be appropriate and will apply with no problems, however this is not always the case. This especially so for the later period manuals where the use of time becomes increasingly important to the method which is being used.

To read in tempos is to realise that the action of one fencer may occur at the same time and thus in the same tempo as their opponent. This will speed up the actions and also allow for more smaller actions to take place in the same period of time. Thus a fencer may perform an action and as the opponent is responding to the action made by the fencer, the fencer may change his action in order to defeat the counter made by the opponent.

Perfect examples of this sort of writing can be found in the works of Ridolfo Capo Ferro and Salvatore Fabris where the initial action of the fencer is designed to make the opponent respond and uncover himself so the following action can be successful. If the same sequence is read as one action by one followed by the action of the other and so forth the sequence will not follow as the fencers will become exposed at some point and breach good fencing theory.

Thus in reading fencing manuals we need to be aware of the tempos of the actions being performed and also when they are actually being performed. Some sequences will be simple responsive actions, but not all will and this is something that the reader needs to be aware of in their interpretation. Being aware of this particular issue is the first step to being able to read the manual properly.

One of the greatest issues that arises in the use of period fencing manuals is language and the issues associated, and this is even the case where the manual is written in English. The language of previous centuries does not always match that of the modern and this can be very disconcerting for many readers and it is often this which scares them away. My current project, which I have mentioned in a previous blog is designed to reduce some of this "noise" and make an earlier form of English more approachable to the average fencer. It is actually for the problems which have been raised in this blog that this project was started in the first place.



Monday, June 13, 2011

Cross-Training and Other Groups


I have spent some time in a single group following their rules and guidelines as to how I should fence. In more recent years I have begun to engage with other groups who have similar but differing perspectives on the same activities. This has resulted in some interesting scenarios and some opening of my mind as to how swordplay works. This blog is focussed on the idea of cross-training with other groups and how this can benefit the swordsman regardless of the weapon form which is chosen.

The most useful benefit in engaging with other groups in swordplay is experience. It introduces the fencer to another approach to the same or similar weapons that the individual may not have experienced before. All which is learnt in this particular scenario is useful for the future of the fencer regardless of whether any blades are actually crossed. This leads to another aspect of the experience in that not all groups will have the same approach in their training or their goals and seeing swordplay from a different perspective can also be useful for a different approach in their own dealings. No group should be judged from the outside, all have something to share with regard to this, and the experience of engaging with these other groups can only be of benefit to the fencer and the wider fencing community.

In that even sword groups who share the same weapons do not train the same and sometimes they do not even have the same overriding principles behind their swordplay, the experience of crossing blades with different schools can show the fencer different problems and approaches which can be presented in the actual form and conduct of combat. This can only benefit the fencer as it may give them some ideas about how to solve similar problems in future encounters with other fencers as well.

Experience in crossing blades with other schools gives some idea about how they approach the combat form and this can be intellectually stimulating in a big way, especially if the system being used is different from the system that the fencer is most commonly used to. This experience can open new ideas about how the weapon can be moved and also how the body can be moved in concert with the weapon.

Elements from other schools can even be incorporated into our own fencing allowing a broadening of the style being used and this is most useful. It is useful as it increases the knowledge of the weapon and also gives the fencer the benefit of a different point of view. All this can be useful if the fencer is willing to use it.

There are some schools of swordplay which have a very rigid approach and there are others which are much more relaxed and fluid in their styles. Both types of school have benefit to the fencer and the wider community. A school may have chosen to focus only on one weapon form or even a single teacher in a single weapon form. Regardless of how rigid the school is knowledge can be gained about what is being taught and this knowledge can be used to benefit the fencer even if it is only from a purely intellectual point of view. One of the important things to examine when looking at a rigid school is their point of view, why they have chosen to approach their swordplay in this manner. The answer to this particular question can be very revealing and will explain the reasons for their particular approach.

Some schools are substantially more fluid in their styles, they do not choose a specific weapon nor a particular school of thought. For these schools they take what they can from all weapon forms and all schools and pool it into one universal approach to swordplay. For some this will cause problems for them in that they cannot point to specific source material for every technique which is being demonstrated. Such an approach is more practically based and seeks the truth of the weapon through its use in a more holistic approach to swordplay, and this has its benefits. Being untied to a specific school/master/approach they can explore swordplay in a very practical method taking and leaving from what can be found in documentation. This usually results in a very rough and ready approach, but an intellectual side cannot be denied as this is actually usually based on a conglomeration of different approaches.

Cross-training and social sparring with different schools can only benefit the fencer, regardless of whether any of the new techniques learnt can be brought back to their original school. The experience of crossing blades with another swordsman from a different approach can only enhance the experience and knowledge of the fencer and encourage them to seek more. Threats about brutalising or mishandling a style due to its contact with others should be put behind for the experience gained by the fencer in the approach to the swordplay.

We should all seek out those people who study the art of the sword and engage with them in a positive function. Friendly bouting and sparring can only do the fencing community good, especially where this begins real dialogue about swordplay in general. The important thing throughout this is that the players involved in this interaction need to be open-minded enough to see the benefit in the first place and willing enough to put themselves out of their comfort zones enough to be able to participate completely. Often some negotiation is required for two members of disperate schools to safely engage in swordplay, but the achievement of such negotiations along with the resulting social and intellectual potential is something which every scholar of the blade should find worth in.



Monday, May 2, 2011

A New Project - Modern to Early Modern


I have undertaken a new project, and before the question is asked I have put the "Fabris from a Chair" project on hold. I will be returning to it later on. On to the new project, this will be a short discussion of the project itself highlighting what I am doing and some of the reasons for it. As the work progresses, I will be giving some updates in my blog as to how it is going.

The new project is designed to take a modern fencing treatise and translate it into Elizabethan English. More to the point the project is to write my own manual and then translate that into Elizabethan, or Early Modern English. This is a new work which is not based on any of my previous lessons or lesson plans, though much of the information found in the new work will be very similar if not the same as that found in the previous lessons and lesson plans. This particular project will require a lot of work, this is something that has only recently become truly realised.

So, if there is to be so much work done then there needs to be a good purpose behind it. In this particular case there is a two-fold purpose in the writing and translation of the manual. The primary reason for the project is to increase the access and understanding of works written in Early Modern English. Much of what scares the beginning historical martial artist away from serious research is the language which is found even in the manuals written in English. The purpose of this project is to remove some of that problem by making the language more familiar by presenting the same manual in both languages with as little "noise" in the translation as possible. For my own personal purposes it presents an opportunity to codify and collect my previous 15 years worth of experience in fencing and teaching fencing into a single place in a more usefully presentable form.

With the purpose in place it is necessary to look at the process. The first part of the process was an investigation of period fencing manuals for format. Format in this sense being introductions, dedications and so forth. The next part of the process, which is continuing, is to write the manual in modern English. This is actually surprisingly more difficult than it would seem. I have knowledge which comes out only when I am teaching and this presents a problem when I am writing rather than teaching, and also the fact that it is buried within the inefficient filing system which is my brain. I have no doubts that there will be a couple of edits before I am happy with it. The part of the process which is going to and is taking time is the study of Elizabethan English. I am essentially having to create my own dictionary of words and phrases for the use in understanding the language. This and assembling some rough rules about how the language works. The final parts are the translation and construction of suitable diagrams. Obviously there will be a publishing (in some form) part as well.

The modern will be presented next to the Early Modern in that the reader is presented with the original and the "translation" of the modern into Early Modern. There should be little "noise"in the translation aside from the language itself as I am writing both the original and the translation. It is my hope that this will be useful to those practitioners of the blade who are studying period texts. The presentation of the two is an attempt to make the language more familiar and easier to read and understand. The side-products of the dictionary of words and phrases will hopefully be of use to people studying other manuals and documents in the same language.



Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fencing Manuals: Old and New


The written word has been the most effective method for transmitting information about fencing through time. True these documents do often come with pictures, but without the words it is much more difficult to understand what the author is discussing. Fencing manuals have been written by both professionals and gifted amateurs, regardless, each one teaches something about fencing from a particular point of view.

This blog is to do with some of the changes which have happened with regard to the transmission of such information over time, highlighting some interesting points with regard to this. For the purposes of ease of presentation of the information, the discussion will be broadly broken into four sections. The first is about theory content and deals with the presentation of elements of fencing theory. The second will deal with any social elements which may be present in the manual. The third will deal with the method used to convey the information. Some of these will overlap and all will be noted to be related to one another. It is not the purpose of this blog to delve into specifics of fencing theory or method, this needs to be done on a case-by-case basis rather than in such a general method.

Regardless of whether the theory is explicitly presented or whether it is more hidden within the actions presented all fencing manuals have elements of fencing theory present in them. It is these elements of theory which the physical aspects of fencing are hung upon. If the practical element is the meat of the discussion, the theory is most definitely the skeleton upon which this hangs.

In the manuals of the Renaissance period, or at least the later Renaissance period, there were entire sections of the manual which were devoted to the various elements of fencing theory. These would be specifically laid out and detailed before any mention of the practical was made. This was the case even in the later period of the eighteenth century, the same sort of idea was made. This highlighted the importance of the reader understanding what the practical elements of fencing were based upon, and thus the importance of theory to the system. It was through such discussions that fencing was demonstrated to be science as well as art.

In the modern age, fencing theory seems to be something that only the fencing masters need to know. Something that the individual fencer will only pick up through specific studies of fencing theory or through tuition with a fencing master. The theoretical elements seem to be absent from modern fencing manuals, or at least those which are commonly available. If a fencer wants to know about fencing theory then he has to go to specific texts in order to find the information he seeks. Only the practical elements are present in modern fencing books, the theoretical is assumed to be learnt through the repetition of actions and their learning.

The social element is something which seems to be somewhat odd to find in a fencing manual, but it is present in much the same way as the theoretical elements. Many may ask what purpose there is for social elements to be in a sport manual, and this is one place which demonstrates the difference in attitude to fencing over time. The social element and its presence or absence also describes the change in fencing from martial art with sharp weapons to the commonly known sport of fencing.

In the Renaissance period the weapons were real and the potential for injury was high. The social aspects of a person's life dictated what sort of life a person would have and with whom they could associate. The social element found in fencing affected more than just their conduct on the field of combat. Needless to say that for the fencer of the Renaissance, social issues were more important. This resulted in these elements being highly prevalent in the manuals of the Renaissance period. This increased even more with the presence of the phenomenon of duelling. The Renaissance author thus devoted a large amount of space to the social elements.

Duelling is not an element which the modern fencer really has to worry about. There are no duels to the death anymore, no conflicts with live steel for the purposes of settling matters of honour. The conduct of the fencer, especially the sport fencer does not particularly affect his everyday life, and for the most part only affects a small community. Thus the importance of the social elements of fencing would seem to have lessened. The result of this is that for the most part the only element which could be regarded to as being social in the average modern fencing manual is the discussion of the salute. If anymore is wanted for interest sake or other reasons, the reader has to go searching in more in-depth manuals and books more related to this particular subject.

In the discussion of method, it is the method used to convey the information found in the fencing manual which is the subject for this part. This has to do with both the written word and also any pictorial representations present. This may seem less significant than other parts which have been previously discussed, but it is important and also describes a change.

Earlier fencing manuals primarily dealt with written words. Later ones increased the presence of pictures to illustrate what was said in the words present. For the later Renaissance manuals the pictures are used as snapshots for examples of what is going on. There are also diagrams for elements of theory present. Even with this increase in pictorial representation the words were always more important than the pictures. The word was always used to portray that which the pictures could not.

Modern manuals have a lot of pictures in them, mostly these are photos for the fencer to copy. Diagrams are used in order to present those elements which the photos cannot present without demonstration. These pictures stand in place of words which were used in earlier manuals for description. The method and presentation of the information has gone from a more written method to a more illustrative method with pictures and diagrams taking the place of the prose that would be found in the earlier manuals. Thus in an opposite fashion the pictures can become more important than the words.

There is a large amount of material available and this only increases as more and more manuals are found and put on the Internet. This can only increase the amount of information that the fencer can have to hand at anyone time. For those of us interested in the earlier practices various elements need to be understood before the truth of the manual can be found. While it is possible to read the manuals alone it is important to understand that they were not written in a vacuum, and this goes for manuals of all periods and cultures.

This blog was designed to demonstrate and highlight the differences between the manuals of different periods, in a very general fashion. It is true that some blanket statements have been made and there will be exceptions to the rule. The change is what is important rather than which has what and what doesn't. It can even be useful for the fencer of the modern period to study those manuals of the older periods in order to more understand what is found in the modern ones. The older manuals do, after all, present a more complete picture of the art of fencing and this should be of importance to all fencers who truly want to understand the art which they practice.



Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Re-enactment and Its Decline


While this particular subject is not directly relevant to the subject of fencing, it does apply if examined from a certain point of view. For many their swordsmanship actually revolves around one renacting group or another, thus the decline of the groups associated has an effect on the availability of being able to participate in the fencing. Thus this question forms somewhat of a backdrop of importance to fencing, and indeed different forms of fencing.

In more recent years it would seem that there has been a decline in renactment. This would be pointing at a decline in numbers rather than a decline in the quality of the renactment. Indeed it is quite the opposite the quality of the renactment has increased as more and more information and equipment has become available to the renactor, and thuis is part of the problem as to why the numbers are dropping. Interestingly, this has come at the same time that Western Martial Arts has seen an increase in numbers and interest. </>When I started in renactment some 20 years ago, it was reasonably easy for the average person of the street to join a renactment group and start participating.

In my case the group was the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronisms). All that was expected of me at my first event was an attempt at clothing from pre-1600. I managed to rustle up a tunic from a costume set that the family had and a pair of track-suit pants for my legs. All in all the outfit passed as being "medieval" from a distance, and no one batted an eyelid. It would seem that things have changed quite a bit even in the SCA.

</>As the ability to construct and availabilty to gain the equipment has increased, so has the expectations of those within the groups. In my opinion it is partially this set-up cost which is causing people problems in joining the various groups and also maintaining their membership and activity within the groups. Where there is a large initial set-up cost for the group, and an expectation for the purchase of certain equipment to a certain standard, there will be those who simply cannot afford this set-up cost. This instantly restricts who can join and participate within the groups.

</>Using the SCA as an example, the first thing that is going to be said is that in recent years the membership cost has actually dropped and this should enable people to more easily be able to join the organisation. This is true enough, to become a financial member of the SCA it has become much easier, but why would a person be willing to pay such membership if they cannot afford to feel like they belong? This comes down to the expectations of those within the group more than anything.

</>Previously, it was the case that a newcomer could turn up to an SCA event in clothing which was pseudo-medieval in appearance and there would be nothing said and no one would bat and eyelid. This allowed people from various socio-economic groups to be able to participate within the group and the numbers increased and were maintained at a quite high level. This is would not seem to be the case anymore. </>The newcomer arrives and immediately there are expectations laid upon them as to what they need to acquire in order to fit in. Sure some of the items can be lent on a short-term basis, but still there is the expectation that the individual will fork out in the short-term a quite substantial amount, whether it is fabric, or clothing, or other equipment. For those in a low economic situation this is simply not possible and then they have to rely on the charity of others for an extended period of time and never quite feel like that they "fit". This does not encourage people to stick around particularly much.

Aside from the encouragement that people get from the people in the group, there must also be an acceptance of new people. These people, for the most part, will not already have their own gear and their "first attempts" need to be accepted if not praised. Constructive criticism and encouragement is always good as is being helpful. We should not expect our newcomers to turn up in perfect medieval or Renaissance equipment, and we should encourage them to do more and better, but with the expectation that this may take some time.

If renactment is to survive then we must encourage more and more people to come along and enjoy what we all enjoy. This actually applies to the Western Martial Arts community as well. The more we restrict who will fit within the organisation the more the numbers will decrease. Groups have died due to this particular phenomenon and if we do not want the same to happen to ours, then we must take a hard, long  look at ourselves and see what we can do to encourage more people in, rather than scaring them off with high expectations which need to be filled in the short term.



Thursday, February 3, 2011

Buying a Sword


The purchase of a sword is something which is often not talked about very much. Usually the only concern for people is the potential financial burden that may occur in the purchase. What this does not take into account is the other aspects of the purchase of a sword that the swordsman should take into account. This blog will address the concept of buying a sword and present some considerations that should be made by the buyer.

Buying a sword is an investment, but it is one that many fencers take quite lightly. This should not actually be the case. The purchase of a sword is also something which should signify something to both the purchaser of the weapon and also to the teacher and club to which they belong. No one is ever expected that they will turn up to their first fencing practice with a weapon and other gear already bought. The opposite is a very rare occurrence. What this means is that for a period of time the fencer will borrow a weapon. It may belong to a club, or it may belong to another fencer. The purchase of a sword should signify that the person is ready to commit to the enterprise to which they have taken, of course this is not the only thing that a fencer should be concerned about when buying a sword.

In previous centuries, and even relatively recently. A sword was not simply purchased "off the rack" or out of a collection of examples present, as is mostly the case these days. The fencer was measured for a sword. This was because the swordsman would be relying on that particular weapon to save their life in an armed encounter. For the fencer today fighting someone where there is the potential for serious injury or death is not so much of a concern. In these previous days the make of the sword would also give some indication of the wealth of the owner of the weapon and also their taste as it was worn as a piece of costume jewellery. Once again, this is not the case today. However, some of the considerations made in these previous days should be made by the modern swordsman.

There are examples in treatises by various masters and theorists of the Renaissance and middle ages about the correct length of a sword. Ridolfo Capo Ferro, for example, determined that the correct length of the sword should be twice the length of the arm, and there were others who proposed that the weapon should be longer, or shorter. Needless to say the length of the weapon was proportional to the individual who was using it. For the most part, weapons these days are sold at set lengths or at different ones by special request. While there are many different theories about how long or short a weapon should be, the important thing for the fencer is comfort. This is the most important consideration.

For the most part a sword these days will cost somewhere more than $150. Sure there are some which can be obtained for cheaper, and sure there are those which are substantially more than this, it is a ball-park figure. This for some will be a significant investment on their part and this in itself is significant. A fencer does not want to go out, spend a deal of money and purchase a sword just to find out that it is too heavy, or light, or short, or long. This will result in the sword having to be modified or even replaced, which is another expense on the part of the fencer. In order to avoid this some planning and investigation should be made.

The only real way to see how a sword feels is to pick up the weapon and use it. Of course a shop will not allow you to use the merchandise unless you intend to buy the one that you are using. Taking the weapon and feeling its weight is a good start, being able to move the sword around is also a good thing. So long as you are not causing problems for other customers or stock, some merchants will allow you to do this. For the most part fencers are a reasonable bunch of individuals who will allow you to look and feel a weapon in their possession. Of course you should always ask before handling another person's weapon. This should allow you, once again, to get a feel for the weapon. If the fencer is generous they may even allow you to have a couple of bouts with the weapon in order to get a better feel of it. This is the best way, currently, to get an idea of the feel of different weapons. For the most part, you can then find the same weapon at a merchant.

When selecting a weapon for purchase, a consideration should be made about quality. For the most part a cheaper weapon will not be as high quality as a weapon which is more expensive. This should be a concern for the buyer as the higher quality weapon will last longer than a cheaper weapon, based on quality of manufacture as a general rule. Of course, the fencer must also be concerned about what happens to fall into the fencer's own budget as well. It is advised however, that a fencer spend on the upper limit rather than the lower limit of their budget in order to get a weapon of quality.

Of course when a weapon is on sale then the price is not necessarily a good guide. It is then up to the fencer to talk to others about their weapons and how well they have lasted. Or to start investigating weapon manufacturers in order to get some idea about the quality of the workmanship of various weapons. Two particularly well-known manufacturers of weapons are Darkwood Armory ( and Hanwei ( Both of these manufacturers are commonly known to sell quality weapons. There are others out there, but it is up to the fencer to discover what they want and where from. You can also some on-sellers of the original manufacturers who sell their products. The fencer may even find an individual experienced in sword manufacture and purchase a weapon this way.

The purchase of a weapon for the fencer is a significant investment regardless of how much the actual weapon costs. For the most part this will, or should, be the last piece of equipment that the fencer will purchase in order to complete their basic kit. The fencer should have some serious consideration about what weapon and where they are going to get it from before actually purchasing a weapon. The fencer should be comfortable with the weapon as fighting the weapon in order to get it to do something will reduce the ability of the fencer. A comfortable weapon, comfortable to use, which does not strain the individual is the goal. Be careful when buying a weapon, do your research and consider what you really want before buying.



Monday, January 17, 2011

Rapier Combat: A Practitioner's Thoughts


Ok, I will admit with this blog I am cheating, and a lot. I am reprinting an old article that I wrote sometime ago. It is primarily designed for an SCA (Society for Creative Anachronisms) audience, but much of what is written in there applies just the same. There are quite a few references to the SCA and the way that this group does things. In some ways I hope that this will assist in clearing up some confusion about this particular group also. Anyway, here we go....

Rapier Combat within the SCA is an attempt to recreate one of the civilian forms of combat that existed in the Renaissance period. This form of combat is centred on the rapier and its companions. It is important to realise that it is the rapier that is being focused on otherwise a great deal of confusion will be created.

In recreating this form of combat we use simulated weapons in a semi-competitive combat form. The weapons only differ essentially from the real weapons in that they have a blunt edge, and a rolled tip, which has a rubber stopper over it. The metal blades are very close to the actual weapon in weight and handling characteristics. The fibreglass blades are much lighter than real ones, but can be made in such a way that they do simulate a rapier in a reasonable fashion. Importantly the fibreglass weapons are cheaper to purchase, and are great for starting students.

The combat form itself, in tournaments, is an attempt at recreating the lethality of the rapier in a combat situation, without the blood and burial costs. A win is scored by “rendering one’s opponent disinclined to continue”, this could mean a kill or disarm, or sufficient scratches. The whole body is a target, though the groin area is not deliberately targeted. We are assumed to be wearing civilian attire and as such any cut or thrust has to be judged as if the weapon was real and had hit flesh. This means that a combatant has to be really careful. It is also this reason that a lot of skill rather than brute force goes into this form of combat.

What we do is kept safe by our safety and armour standards. Most importantly amongst this is the control that we instil into our students while they are in training. The best method to keep safe is to teach and learn control. The armour standard is there just to bolster the safety of the combatants.

Where does this form of combat fit into the “medieval” period? Simply, it doesn’t. It is a Renaissance form of combat. Earlier forms of combat using thrusting weapons have been theorised as the predecessors of rapier combat. A lot of the techniques which are used in rapier combat were developed as the rapier did. Cut-and-thrust technique is one of the predecessors of the rapier’s technique and it is from this that a lot of the style was developed.

The rapier combat which is engaged in within the SCA is based on principles developed by the Renaissance masters combined with the safety standards to ensure that it is as safe as possible. Some of the techniques, which the masters of the Renaissance taught, are not used, as they are much too dangerous to recreate safely.

There are certain social aspects, which are important to include in recreating this form of combat. These social aspects are important so that the rapier combatant is correct in his manner. Such aspects are honour, courtesy and the gentleman. Another thing that is taken into account is the different schools of rapier combat that existed in the Renaissance period. It is important that people examine these so that their style can more accurately reflect the styles of the period. The most influential schools of the period were the Italian and Spanish. The French school later dominated, but the Spanish school lasted a great deal longer.

Rapier combat fits in the SCA as one of the three combat arts that are offered. The Guilds of Defence for each Kingdom, where they have been created, operate to inspire and encourage rapier combat to develop to a better standard. Membership to the Guild is not compulsory for rapier combatants, but it does give combatants something else to aspire to than just championships and tournament wins. The Rapier Marshalate is the administration branch of the rapier community. It is this group which administers safety and performs authorisations of combatants. The purpose of the Rapier Marshalate is to ensure that rapier combat is being performed safely and within the standards which have been set.

Rapier combat has elements, which you will not find in heavy (fully-armoured) or light combat (missile combatants), but there is no way that it can be persuaded that it is better or worse. Each combat form has elements to contribute. There is so much information about rapier combat in its various forms, and thanks to the Internet there are is large amount of Renaissance period manuals available for research. Combatants often find that the closer they go to a period form the better they do. Aside from all of that, rapier combat can be a lot of fun also.

I hope that this particular article has been of interest to you, the readership, and I do hope that I will come up with some more subjects for you in the not too distant future. If anyone has any ideas for me, I am more than eager to hear from you. I may, sometime in the future, publish a couple more of my articles here as well. Some may have to be done in sections. Anyway, I hope that I have not bored you. Please, do keep reading.