Sunday, November 13, 2016

My Treatise


The idea of putting your knowledge in words is somewhat of a scary prospect. When it comes to fencing and especially the use of the rapier it becomes a little larger due to all of the previous work which others have done. Some of my readers may know of this particular project. I have indicated toward it once or twice in various posts previously. This particular post is designed to have a bit of an examination of the reasoning behind it and the process that I went through to write it.

A Little History

My real official fencing history starts with my local chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) and the use of the sword and shield to become a "heavy" fighter. I would go to practice, loose some arrows at a target to keep my eye in, and then spend an hour or two throwing blows at the pell with a rattan sword. This was to learn how to throw the blows properly, and it felt right.

My parents then moved and I moved with them. Luckily I found a fencing club at the university I was attending at the time and started with the foil. I spent six months doing footwork and trying to learn how to parry. The footwork ended up passable, the parrying was very rudimentary. My lunge on the other hand seemed to be something I was good at. It was long, accurate, and fast. I had to leave the university and lost contact. I came back later and things had changed.

The weapons had changed all of a sudden, they were longer and made out of fibreglass rods glued together and then wrapped in tape. I asked what was going on and was told that they were doing a SCA rapier practice and asked if I would like a go. It looked like fun, sure I said, here is where my love of this weapon truly started. This was some 20-odd years ago.

Treatise Foundation

Since then I have spent the time learning all that I could about the rapier and how it worked. This was sometimes a matter of learning it "on the job" and sometimes learning it from manuals of the period. My two favourite manuals are Giacomo di Grassi's True Arte of Defense (1594) and Vincentio Saviolo's His Practice in Two Bookes (1595). I find myself always going back to these two and always finding something new when I do.

Taking the influence mostly of Saviolo my particular method is a compilation of various elements of various masters compiled into a single work, much the same way he did. I found what made sense and worked for me and developed my own style out of it. This means that while my rapier techniques and method are based on period sources, they are not all from a single source. This means I have the adaptability to change to what is required as presented by my opponent. This is the method which I have developed over the past years and it is this method which appears in my treatise.

Now there will be some who will claim that I am merely butchering what I have researched and then calling it my own. They will also claim that I am not doing "true rapier" of any "style" because of this method. To these people I ask, what is what I have done any different from any master previously? How many times do we hear in manuals a master stating that he does not do a particular technique because he does not like it or does not think it is effective? What is the difference?

The next claim will be that I am plagiarizing and not giving due credit to where I have taken my research. To this I will merely state that fencing theory is very much in the common knowledge arena and anyone who claims a right to it is fooling themselves. To say that I am a plagiarist is to also call most of our previous authors who wrote the manuals the same, and also modern ones to boot. I am taking a series of well-known actions and explaining and assembling them in my own fashion. To claim plagiarism here would be to claim plagiarism on a new piece of music written because none of the notes, times and tempos are different.

(Congratulations dear reader for getting this far.)


Why would a person go to the effort of attempting to write all that the know and put it into a book? The challenge of writing a book in the first place would be one. The attempt to codify years of knowledge so that a person can see what they have done is another. To present to others their own ideas about the use of a weapon is another reason. Some of these reasons are mine, but not the main one.

Reading from period sources scares some people because they are unfamiliar with the language and do not understand what's going on. My first reason for writing this treatise was to break down this barrier for some people. This is the reason why it will be presented in Modern English and also a dialect of Elizabethan English. By having the two side by side the language will be less frightening for some people and may encourage them to reach out an begin to read primary sources themselves rather than relying on secondary materials.

The Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) community now has a history which is at least 20 years old, if not 30. This means that there have been people out there studying period manuals for this extent of time. There have been some wonderful productions of period works made available to the public and I thank those who do this for us. There have been some wonderful interpretations of period manuals made available to the public and I thank those who do this for us also. What I have not seen is anyone grow the gumption to put their name on the line and do what the masters did and write their own treatise. Not a translation. Not an interpretation. A treatise of how the individual fights. In this way I hope that my treatise will stand as a sort of a challenge to these people to put their pens to paper and write their own. It would be better that we write these manuals and have them in print than have these knowledgeable individuals pass on and not leave what they know to the rest of the world, as so many did previously.

Not a "master"? Neither were many of the people who produced manuals in the period in which the weapons were used sharp. If you have at least 10 years start planning, if you have 20 or more, this challenge is aimed at you.

(Almost there reader, really you are.)


Where do you begin? The beginning you say. Actually no, I didn't. I started with the format of the book. Because I knew I was going to be translating it into Elizabethan English (EE) and having it look as close to the real thing, the modern one needed to be formatted in a similar way so that the various chapters and bits and pieces matched up. This gave me some ideas about parts that I should be writing at least. Most of it is based on a combination of di Grassi and Saviolo, you should not be surprised.

The next bit was to sit down and plan my chapters so I could organise things a bit better. Theory first, practice second, demonstration of the combination of both as a third, with sundry notes as the final bit. This was the process I went through chopping things down into little bits until I had a structure that I could use, then re-organising the structure so it made sense. Then re-organising things again because this bit needs to be before that bit because you haven't mentioned that bit yet. Please note this was only the "first book". The "second book" was going to be just like Saviolo's about duelling and other more social subjects, and only to appear in the EE version.

Once it is organised then I wrote. I started with the theory element. The hardest part about writing a book based on stuff that you know is filtering out stuff which isn't stuff you know. I made the determination on this one that if I could not explain it and give the "why" answer it would be left out. This was made all the harder because of my training as an historian which was saying "Document it!" all the time. It all also applied all the way through the practical bit as well.

Explaining physical actions is not easy, try it sometime and you will see that it is not as easy as you might think. This is further compounded in the earlier sections of the book where you cannot use jargon which you have not introduced which would explain things simply. I spent sometime at my desk waving a stick, and standing up, and sitting down and writing, and standing up again to repeat the action and so forth. Eventually all of the practical stuff got written.

Next was the "second book". This was based much on Saviolo's Second Book "Of Honour and Honourable Quarrels", thus a sort of code book for duelling. Surprisingly it was actually much easier to write this bit than the previous bit once I managed to get my head straight about what I was talking about. Honour is a sticky subject and it can tie you up in knots really easily. Keeping it all straight was rather a challenge and I can tell you that I still think that I missed something.

Done? Nope. Now we go back and write all the introductory bits. Most of this is tooting your horn about how wonderful fencing is and how awesome the book is. Easy, right? Once you get on a roll it can get easier as you go along, but you do feel like that you are saying the same thing over and over again, especially after doing the "second book". This bit was actually easier to do in EE than it was in Modern English.

Speaking of which, then once all of this is done it all needs to be translated into EE. Or at least the bits which you haven't already because it was just easier to write it that way the first time. If you want to have a look at the process of learning EE that I went through and a bit deeper into this process, have a look at my other blog This is where I have documented my delving into the interesting thing that is EE. One thing that I will tell you, after doing this, it makes Shakespeare a breeze.

Finally comes all the "book" stuff. The bits where you assemble the two together, some of which I have started, others which I have not. At the moment I am doing more edits. I was hoping that this was going to be out in 2016, looks like not to be.


There is the process and some information about my treatise. I will keep people updated and posted as things progress, as much as I can remember to. Just know that it is progressing and it will come out at some point in time. This is one of those projects where you just have to keep plodding along, knowing that in the end, it will be worth it all.