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.