Monday, November 29, 2010


by Jeffrey Hull

If the misbehavior described below does not apply to you, then be not offended.

But if it does, then you are offensive and thusly you do deserve to be offended. And off-ended. To wit:

Do you maintain a perma-neophyte mindset, an ingratiating groupthink, a glad-handing pantomime, with each and every breath of your illiterate & unathletic being, in regards to the Chivalric Arts? Do you seek consensus rather than truth, as found at many InterWeb forums/fiefdoms of the so-called WMA Community? Do you seek reassurance from others in cyberspace rather than proving things to yourself in reality? Are you ready to volunteer your unfounded ideas at the slightest opportunity, and are you allowed to do so repeatedly by various forumitic moderators? Do you agree that what they think is best to think? Do you stand as silent witness when those who disagree get character-assassinated by fencing celebrities & their cronies and/or threatened with knifing by primitive screwheads hiding behind presidential pseudonyms? Does their advice mean more to you than the advice of past fight-masters? Do you smugly spew forth notions & delusions; some common and others rare; some explicit and others implied; yet each and every one a falsity regarding martial arts and weaponry & wielding, both European & Asian? Do you say those aloud in a happy little voice, between smurf-like oohs & aahs, while watching the latest redundant & questionable disarmament video by the Spider and his Apprentice? Do you maintain curious, dubious & specious memes?

Well then, it is high time for a fiery blast of counter-memes. Four-score should get us going. Call them outrageous. Rant and rave about them at your favourite forum/fiefdom. Deny their very existence. Read them, mull them, own them:

Medieval European knights called their fighting arts “Chivalric Arts”, and not “Renaissance Martial Arts” – despite whatever your director, your professor and/or the United Nations may say otherwise.

The biggest [A]ssociation for these fighting arts is not, by definition, foremost, peerless & best.

Your director is not the one and only (nor any) modern equivalent of a Fechtmeister – especially when he is Deutsch-illiterate and Ringen-weak.

Your director has not learnt everything that a martialist needs to know about Ringen by supposedly reverse-engineering its totality from Ringen-am-Schwert.

Challenges to duel ought to be taken seriously, even today. Any so-called expert or master who mocks & taunts others into challenge; proclaims anytime-anywhere, and yet then fails to fulfill that; is craven & cowardly, and deserves to have his block knocked off.

Waage was there all along in the lore for Ringen and Fechten – thus absolutely no modern fencing celebrity “discovered” or “rediscovered” it for the sake of everybody else.

Waage is fully & best learnt via Ringen instead of via Fechten.

Waage and Shiko-Dachi do share functional and kinetic similarity.

The Krumphau is an Oberhau, and not an Unterhau, you *blanking-blank*.

No, a modern cop is simply not equivalent to a past knight.

There was indeed ground-fighting of considerable worth in Kampfringen.

Stretching before working out and training is healthy, needful & helpful.

Fighting men of the past likely wore safety-gear for their fencing practice.

It is rational to suggest that some kind of martial meditation was done by European knights.

By now (2010) we actually have come to understand a great deal about past Fechten.

If someone conducts “corporate seminars” (i.e. corporate parties) on these precious fighting arts; then he is no more than a performing clown; and worse yet, he belittles these arts by presenting them to the undeserving & ignoble.

Some in this field simply do not know what they are talking about; moreover they cheat and morale-destroy many enthused about it; and consequently, such hucksters do not deserve a career therein.

Gaining some appreciation for Medieval European Christianity helps the modern martialist gain better understanding of the Chivalric Arts, whether or not he/she pursues that religion himself/herself.

The Type X swords of the Viking Age are not best-swung via a self-injurious hammer-grip, but rather via an ergonomic axe-grip.

The Type XIIIa longsword was not a cavalry weapon needed by the knight to reach down from his high horse to smite the nasty little pawns on the ground – it was an infantry & dueling weapon for the knight. Plus it is indeed possible to do half-swording therewith. Plus you can do basic Liechtenauer fencing therewith.

The Type XVII longsword was not a boring unwieldy slab of junk, especially when properly wielded by half-swording for Harnischfechten.

The pollaxe was not some clowns-mallet for mass spectacles at tournaments – it was a lethal weapon meant for serious armoured combat.

It is better to own two or three weapons which you can wield very well; rather than a fleet of dozens thereof which you cannot wield at all. In other words: More training in the yard or hall and less bragging at the forums.

Celtic layered-steel, Germanic pattern-welded steel & homogenous steel, and Japanese folded-steel simply were not derived from that hyperbolic stuff called Damascus-steel.

Yes, you can run, cartwheel, roll, fall & stand again while wearing a full field-harness of European plate-armour.

To smite the foe during Roszfechten, you must strike with your sword rather than just present it – your horse’s momentum & force do not do that for you.

Wooden wasters are not the historical & ergonomic way to practice your swordsmanship – you would do far better to practice with steely blunt/foil swords.

Zweihaender swords were not made exclusively for chopping through pikes rather than people.

The first rapiers were morphologically the same as the so-called cut & thrust swords.

Always targeting the adversary’s hands in fencing is both contemptible and faulty.

It is indeed possible to do the Mittelhau quite forcefully.

Great Britain does in fact have a combination of anti-weaponry laws and political correctness which adversely affects the interests of historical fencers.

The Right to Bear Arms is one of the revived Anglo-Saxon rights that the fencing citizen of America does in fact have to his/her advantage, whereas the fencing subject of England does not.

Concording is not more important than translating and/or interpretating.

Knights of the past did have what they called Sport – in other words Schimpf, Jeu, Play, etcetera. It seems reasonable to equate sparring/bouting and modern tourney fencing therewith. But do not categorically deny that they had such, and that such was part of their training for combat.

Cro-Magnon Man likely had martial arts, since he evidently had weaponry that he spent large amounts of time & energy crafting well. Therewith he could have met the needs of both hunting and warring. In any event, he naturally had his own body wherewith he could/must have done wrestling (i.e. the first martial art).

Both men and women should get to pursue Chivalric Arts.

There is no such thing as an unbiased and impartial forum amid the InterWeb.

No good deed goes unpunished.

Nuclear weapons do not grow flowers.

Okay, that last one was purely satirical. In any event, egregious memes which are inverse to each of those counter-memes have appeared in cyberspace and/or in publication, either publicly or privately, whether or not still existent or cached or whatever. An essay such as this would not be required if the various forums/fiefdoms had had the collective moxie to do other than equivocate and tolerate said memes in the first place. But alas, those entities have been lacking in that regard, as well as many others.

So, if you found the foregoing essay edifying; then please share news thereof with the ever-amiable minions of some of the aforesaid InterWeb forums/fiefdoms of the so-called WMA Community, such as: SFI House of Pancakes and MiAmore and Schola Gluttonis and ARMADA. Tell of such at any their forums, and likely they shall delete your post, banish your person, and block your entire LAN/ISP, all henceforth and forever. Amen.

Thanks & credit go to:
BH for the “fiefdoms” idea.
CB for the “smurf” idea.
DL for the “nuclear weapons” idea.

©Copyright 2010 of Jeffrey Hull.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Vlad Dracula and Coeval Armatura

by Jeffrey Hull

The famous/infamous European hero, crusader & voivod, Vlad “Tepes” Dracula III (1431-1476), was actually (for better or for worse) one of knightly peers of European Chivalry. Already at the age five he was inducted into the Order of the Dragon, as previously his father Vlad II Dracul had been inducted by the Emperor Sigismund. For the next several formative years, Vlad III gained his primary academic & martial arts training at Targoviste, the Byzantine- & German-influenced capital of Wallachia. Then later at the former sultanate capital of Edirne, he learnt Turkish warfare during his much-hated hostagement beside Mehmed II. Then eventually as an advisor to the brilliant Hungarian general János Hunyadi; and as a combatant, strategist & tactician in his own right; Vlad Dracula exerted his prowess against the Ottoman Empire, resisting it as a premiere European leader and warrior.

Yet with the sole exception of the relatively correct artifactal portrayal in that gorgeous yet ludicrous movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) (i.e. its replication of an exacting Type XIV.1 sword plus a plausible Type XV sword, plus imagination of some fanciful yet acceptable musculature plate-armour); most modern cinema portrays Vlad as some sort of artifactal bumpkin, a backward anachronist; someone wrapped in an archaic Mongolian coat of plates, topped by a junky Cossack hussar-helmet, and armed with a crummy Arabic sabre, etcetera; looking like some kind of Medieval gutter-punk gypsy-king; and thus hardly distinguishable from the stereotype of the Turkish hordes that he and his Wallachian armies so bravely fought in order to keep their part of Christendom free of foul Mahound.

Of course one may excuse and dismiss these misportrayals as ultimately the vampiric fictional Dracula, who has little relevance to the real historical Dracula, and should thus be ignored. Howsoever, the Hollywood film industry produces ignorance exponentially in modern society by its continued and unrepentant misportrayal of practically everyone, everywhere and everything; which in turn produces obscene amounts of money for its owners & operators. Accordingly, each and every one of those damnable chuckleheads deserves to be ruthlessly hunted for his insolence & insipience by Children of the Night. But I digress…

So in the case of the historical Dracula, there no longer exists any of his own personal armatura. However, there exists both neighboring iconography and many native artifacts to prove the alternative truth of the matter: That he and the rest of the noble peerage of Chivalric Europe had similar contemporary martial equipment; thus they all enjoyed much the same fine coeval armatura; thus the same kind of wieldy arms and wardsome armours. Consider the following:

Exhibit A : Noble Knight in Chronica Hungarorum
This Hungarian portrayal of a battle-ready knight in Chronica Hungarorum (Thuróczi János; Augsburg; 1488) is that of Voivod & Governor János Hunyadi (johanis wayvode in gubernatore); although some have previously mistaken it for his peer Voivod Vlad Dracula. In any event, this illustration was done within a dozen years after Vlad’s death, and is remarkable for showing that a nobleman of Eastern Europe could be as well-outfitted as any nobleman of Western Europe. It shows the noble knight wearing a full field-harness of Gothic plate-armour, wielding either a Type XVIa or XVIIIa longsword, and shielding with a battlefield-pavise, ready to fight. This is the implicative evidence:

Johanis Wayvode in Gubernatore

Exhibit B : Vlad in Contemporary Artworks
In Dracula’s own lifetime, he was so nefarious and notorious that to much of Europe he apparently symbolised the tormentors & executioners of the Lord Christ. That is ironic since he was an Orthodox (later Catholic) Christian who doubtlessly defended the Faith versus invading Islamic hordes. But of course, Vlad Dracula did do great deeds of Evil in this World, which nobody should condone. In any event, contemporary artworks showed Vlad amid contemporary armatura. Thus he was shown among knights & troopers covered in advanced steely armour or complex linen armour, and bearing arms like ranseur, pollaxe or voulge; all in fashion standard to the rest of Chivalric Europe, and by implication, to his Romania. This is the circumstantial evidence:

Crucifixion of Christ; Kirche Maria am Gestade in Wien; 1460

Christ before Pilate; Narodna Galerija Ljubljana; 1463

Exhibit C : Artifactal Swords of Transylvania
The following are actual Medieval swords found throughout Transylvania which match those found elsewhere in Chivalric Europe; swords which all fit neatly & recognisably within the expertly crafted Oakeshott Medieval Sword Typology.

These swords feature in Spada si Sabia Medievala in Transilvania si Banat (Secolele IX-XIV) (Zeno-Karl Pinter; Bibliotheca Brukenthal; 2001 & 2007). Below are reproduced a sample of five plansa (plates) from that book, which illustrate over a dozen swords circa 1000-1400 from throughout Transylvania (as per captioned find-places). This is concrete artifactal evidence:

Plansa 36: Spade medievale;
a – Sanpetru (BV); b – Codlea – Cetatea Neagra; c – Sighisoara.

Plansa 39: Spade medievale;
a – Fagaras; b – Coroi.

Plansa 42: Spade medievale;
a – Hamba; b – Fagaras; c – Timisoara – Padurea Verde; d – Timisoara.

Plansa 44: Spade medievale;
a – Jupa; b – Agnita.

Plansa 46: Spade medievale;
a – Orastie; b – Oradea; c – Oradea.

Unfortunately, the revelations in Spada point to an unavoidable & understandable lack in the otherwise excellent masterwork Records of the Medieval Sword (Ewart Oakeshott; Boydell Press; 1991). For when the late-great Mr. Oakeshott researched and laboured for decades to assemble and write Records, he of course did so during the time of the Cold War (1947-1991). Thus basically all the fine and exemplary weapons in Records were, by necessity, resident only in states of NATO, with nothing resident in states of Warsaw Pact. (Incidentally, Spada multiplicatively cites four works by EO, although oddly not Records itself.)

Even the good & venerable EO could not have gained proper scholarly access during most of his authoring-lifetime to the castles, churches, museums and armouries of East Germany, Poland, Czech-Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldavia, the Balkans, the Baltics, Ukraine and Russia, in order to research swords of Eastern European origin or residence; as he could to those of West Germany, England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Canada, America, etcetera, in order to research swords of Western European origin or residence. Such hindrance of scholarship was but one sad result of the Cold War. That said, EO’s aforesaid Typology nonetheless turned out to be valid across all Europe.

Accordingly, a later post-Soviet work like Spada shows what fine swords were to be found in one of those formerly repressed lands, namely Romania; and indeed, that she held her fair share behind the Iron Curtain, practically unbeknowst to scholars of the Western Bloc. Accordingly, a survey of Records reveals that only five swords have possible or plausible provenance (going by “Find-place” as per Records) within the former Eastern Bloc; which are helpful to consider:

Xa.10 : For which EO stated its find-place was: Within a tomb in a church in S. Germany or Austria. EO then detailed further: I once had a tracing of a very similar sword, with this wide flat pommel, brought me from Romania [!] by an American diplomat. Unfortunately (this was over thirty years ago)[circa 1957] this drawing is lost, but I can’t [sic.] help thinking that this is the same sword. That “same sword” might have been one of those Romanian swords portrayed in Plansa 36 of Spada.

EO then went on to state that: The present owner (Dec. 1987) sent me a very full set of photographs, with the statement that the sword was found in a knight’s tomb. Unfortunately what knight this was, or when he died, or where the tomb was, has not been revealed. I assume [!] that it was in Austria or South Germany.

Thus EO had to assume its Germanic find-place, not least because its owner would not reveal further. However, such a find-place does concord with the fact that in the time of Vlad III Dracula, his Romania hosted a considerable minority of mercantile Saxons, who may have imported some of the best armatura from the West. Such would simply have been continuation of access enjoyed by Romania to the well-evolved metallurgy of the Holy Roman Empire.

So indeed, such a fine weapon as Xa.10 might well have been made in Austria or South Germany, what with their renowned steelcrafting. However, its knightly owner, we might instead assume, possibly resided in Romania or another neighboring land, if not either Austria or South Germany.

XIIIa.6 : For which EO stated its find-place was: Unknown, in Bohemia. Other than it being a way-cool sword, there is really nothing else to say of relevance here & presently.

XIIIa.9 : For which EO stated its find-place was: Perhaps the Danube. EO explained further: The dark red-brown colour of the patination, according to what Sir James Mann told me, suggests the Danube mud, which is a superb preserver of swords. Okay, let us also assume that EO’s/JM’s prior speculation was accurate.

Then we may note modern Romania contains and/or touches more of that great river of Central & Eastern Europe than both modern Germany and modern Austria combined, if in turn we assume correct an uncited citation (which to its credit is substantiated by graphic of a Danubian map) from the Wikipedia article for Danube River: Known to history as one of the long-standing frontiers of the Roman Empire, the river flows through or acts as part of the borders of ten countries: Germany (7.5%), Austria (10.3%), Slovakia (5.8%), Hungary (11.7%), Croatia (4.5%), Serbia (10.3%), Bulgaria (5.2%), Moldova (0.017%), Ukraine (3.8%) and Romania (28.9%).

Thus XIIIa.9 might once have had a knightly owner in Romania; which is as likely as any other Danubian land.

Unclassifiable 6 (?XIIIb) & Unclassifiable 7 (?XIII) : For which EO stated the find-place of each was: Unknown. Yet EO correctly discerned that: This type of sword seems to be of Eastern European fashion; at least one can say that many have been found in Hungary, for instance, and in E. European collections. Of the latter, EO also stated that it was: Probably river-found, quite good. Dark patina.

Thus Unclassifiable 6 & Unclassifiable 7 are distinctively Eastern European, if not perhaps specifically Danubian.

However, none of that gets into the several European swords covered in Records which have so-called find-place of “The (Hall of Victories in the) Arsenal at Alexandria”; swords which were likely made in either Germany or Italy; which then evidently resided and/or got wielded somewhere in Eastern/Southeastern Europe; which were then pillaged by the Mameluke Dynasty and/or Ottoman Empire; which in turn were eventually liberated by the British Empire; and which consequently now reside at the Royal Armouries or Glasgow Museum,

Plus none of that gets into those pillaged European swords which were not liberated from said Hall/Arsenal; but instead were removed and condemned to the Topkapi Musuem or Askeri Museum, Thus the relevant weaponry of neighboring Euro-lords may often get overlooked, e.g. the Type XXa sword of Vlad’s allied Moldavian cousin, Saint Stefan the Great.

And finally none of that gets into those many swords with find-place of “Unknown” – any number which had previous residence of who-knows-where, again possibly somewhere in Eastern/Southeastern Europe, maybe even Romania.

Well, that should be enough to convince anybody that the premise of this essay is correct:

Vlad Dracula was probably as relatively and contemporarily well-outfitted as any noble-knight of Chivalric Europe.

At least that should convince anybody who is not impaled on a stake. Or who does not have his turban nailed to his skull for discourtesy. Or who is not a despised & deposed boyar being worked to death building the mountaintop castle of his great & grand voivod. You get the idea…

The author thanks Ethnographic Arms & Armour and Sword Buyers Guide.

The author thanks
Muzeul & Bibliotheca National Brukenthal and Zeno-Karl Pinter.

The author thanks
Mr. Ewart Oakeshott (1916-2002).
©Copyright 2010 of Jeffrey Hull.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Master Silver's Magic Pill

Of course I refer to Master George Silver, the 16th century English martial pragmatist who championed the older, versatile, proven, holistic and inclusive fighting arts and opposed the specialized and faddish flavors of the month. Fortunately for us, his written work/s survive, for all martial arts are greatly supplemented by literal study. One would have little hope of ever becoming a great martial artist or instructor without a great deal of literal study, regardless of one’s system. As has been said, “The one who knows why will always be the Master, the one who only knows how will remain the student.”1 And as Master Silver said, “There is nothing permanent that is not true…” Therefore, truths are expedited when learned from others, and often rediscovered and repeated out of ignorance, at best, when literal study is lacking –but no less true.

Therefore, the more one knows, the more difficult it becomes to write much that is new and original about the martial arts. Martial arts and mankind never change, only what we know about them changes, in a sense, as they are both based upon principle. All that the masters wrote about their preferences, dislikes and feuds are still being rewritten by others today, which brings me to a paraphrasing of a certain story/analogy told by Master Silver to illustrate a point.

There was a certain man who was about to cross the channel by boat. He knew from previous experiences that he was prone to getting terribly sea-sick, but he had forgotten to stop by the drug store on the way to the dock to pick up some anti-nausea pills.
An old woman, having seen his anxiety, approached him and inquired about his troubles. He explained, and then she produced a bottle from her purse. Inside were some pills. She explained to him that they were an infallible home remedy, passed down through her family for generations. What they were composed of was a strongly guarded family secret, passed to them from Asia ages ago. She could not say how they worked, but she swore that they did, and it was quite convincing. It seemed her entire family used them when going across the channel, and they never did get nauseous. But because they were so secret, their making so expensive, and their popularity so high, she charged an exorbitant amount per pill. But it was a “fact” that so long as the pill remained in one’s stomach, one would be projectile-vomit free.
So the man relented, handed over the cash, and boarded ship. He swallowed the pill with some water, and began his voyage.
Shortly into his trip, however, the nausea came. As the boat rocked to and fro, he progressively felt more ill. But he remembered the woman’s words; so long as the pill was in his stomach, he would not vomit.
Then it came. His stomach convulsed, and the remains of his breakfast rocketed across the floor. Clearly within that mess, was the special magic pill.

The woman hadn’t lied. She had told him a truth, of sorts, yet he was conned none the less. So long as the pill was in his stomach, he hadn’t vomited. Yet his expectations were not met; he had wanted to be nausea free, and not to vomit at all. The fact that the woman’s family never got sea-sick had nothing to do with the pills either.

Now, due to a certain degree of obsolescence, among other things, there are more sportified, faddish and bizarre huckster systems (and organizations) out there than ever before. And the ignorant have no reason not to believe what they see and hear. After all, what they are shown in the studio seems novel and highly effective; the perfect magic pill to cure your self defense ills. But what the uninitiated lack is the context of any given fighting system (not to mention the catches of strange organizational hybrids in the now pseudo-arts of the medieval/Renaissance West).

Let’s move on to a dialogue between instructor and scholar, like that used by Master Joseph Swetnam, to illustrate this some more, and like one that happened at my school last week (that just so happened to follow the telling of Master Silver’s story of the magic stone).

Following some lecture and technique training…

Scholar: I’d want to use that figure-four from the ground like you showed us last week!

Instructor: If you recall from last week, I taught that technique supplementally, so that you could add it to your repertoire, and primarily, so you could be better prepared to defend yourself against it. We have better options here.

Scholar: But it was so easy and effective! Why shouldn’t I use it?

Instructor: It is very effective, within its own context, as are the systems that revolve around such techniques. But, you must understand the context. The context of our Art is that of combat. The context of that technique is one of sport. Sport is not suited to combat; it is fragile by comparison.

Scholar: What do you mean, “fragile?”

Instructor: By fragile, I mean that it is likely to break under the stress of combat, should any of its supporting rules be broken.

Scholar: Rules?

Instructor: Yes. Systems that revolve around such techniques are sport oriented. Sports invariably have rules. The now popular systems that use such techniques cater to a list of roughly 31 different rules, some catch-all, and some specific. If any one of those rules were to be broken, it could cost the practitioner of those systems victory. In fact, if one were to build an art around breaking all of those rules, it would be a very solid structure for a combat art. To bring your attention back to our system, you’ll notice that 99% of any given technique in our curricula is entirely illegal within those schools.

Scholar: So what was wrong with that technique? That fighting methodology? How could it be broken?

Instructor: Firstly, one of the simplest answers is that if you face more than one opponent, knowingly or unknowingly, your victory will be lost. You will be injured or killed. While diving onto an opponent on the ground and attempting to lever his arm far enough to make him submit, choke him out, etc. any third person could beat you to death. But perhaps the most important principle lacking in such an art is that of intellectual departure. Often the most efficient means for survival in combat is the ability to escape, which cannot happen when tied up on the ground in a time consuming struggle.

Scholar: I see.

Instructor: But that is only a fraction of the equation. What if we were to break any of those 31 rules? Not all of them, but a single one. Perhaps he has a pocket knife. Perhaps we allow him to break the rule of biting, or of small joint breaking, or fish hooking, or eye gouging, then what do you think would happen to the technique? And what about the ground itself? Not all surfaces are conducive to comfortable rolling about.
However, such techniques exist only because rules against firstly preventing their avoidance exist. There are far more efficient alternatives in combat. Wrestling takes time. Conversely, a combat art is about efficiency, of both time and energy. Why dive onto him to lever his arm when you could run, kick, stomp, knee, and break? Why bring him into that position when in reality, an opponent with no rules can knee strike you and drop elbows onto your spine, all of which are banned within such an art? And necessarily, they teach no weapons.

Scholar: But I went to their school, and they told me that 95% of all fights go to the ground! And when they demonstrated, it was quite effective!

Instructor: Again, you lacked the context. Under demonstration, they were abiding by their own rule structure, and when performed on you, you are but a novice without the knowledge of how to properly defend yourself.
When a potential client visits a school, of course they will speak only good of themselves and try to make you their student. What else would they do? It is a rare school that will tell a potential client the limits of what they instruct. Perhaps even their instructors lose sight of the true context in which they teach their system.
A lack of context is why combat organizations such as the U.S. Army now teach such sport arts in place of combat arts.

Scholar: But what about the percentage of fights that go to the ground? Isn’t that significant?

Instructor: It is true that many fights go to the ground. But the true answer is not so simple. Certainly within their systems, nearly all fights inevitably go to the ground. It would follow that they attempt to bring a fight into the direction for which they train, and to gain students and promote their systems, they would skew the numbers in their favor. And, we know the adage that x percent of all statistics are made up on the spot.
Likewise, those who train in systems that lack a strong ground component will not only be more adept at remaining standing in combat, but will also skew the numbers for the same reasons. But remember, there are always three perspectives in combat; first, second and third person. What does the neutral third party have to say about it? Well, by all accounts, not that many fights go to the ground. Yet some still do, so would it not be prudent to train for it if we were truly studying a war art? Of course it would, particularly if we were to face those who train to cause fights to go to the ground, whom are becoming more and more common.
But of course, for the numerous reasons I have already told you, we wish to avoid being on the ground in a true combat art. Thus you will note that our techniques dealing with the unfortunate event that we are brought to the ground involve quickly regaining a standing position. And of course, we do have many techniques where we bring our opponent to the ground, but you will note that we do not voluntarily follow him there. You will find no such thing in any war art in history outside of a minority of a very few contextual techniques. Imagine a battlefield before firearms if such things were true. A writhing mass of bodies on the ground. The 5% still standing would kill the other 95% like fish in a barrel!

Scholar: I see; the magic pill. So such “no holds barred” fights in the ring look like real fights, but they really aren’t. The vast majority of holds are actually barred. What they say appears to be truth, yet it is not truth in principle. They do not necessarily lie, but they do not show the reality.

Instructor: Indeed. They are rough, they take skill, and produce great fighters, but they are limited. They are born of and revolve around sport. You must educate yourself on the context of what you desire so that the truth cannot be hidden from you when you seek it, because we could have such conversations about many systems. Do not buy into any magic beans without first researching them. There is very little new under the sun when it comes to the fighting arts. Ancient wisdom should be combined with current knowledge.


1. Paraphrased from Ed Parker.

Copyright Oct. 2010, Benjamin Bradak

Monday, July 5, 2010

Terry Brown Interview

What can one say about Terry Brown? He's been, and continues to be, one of the driving forces behind the reconstruction of the historical Western martial arts. He's also one of my heroes (alas, poor Terry), and - to this American mind, at least - the stereotypical Englishman. That's a compliment, by the way. But let's let him speak for himself...

When and where were you born?

Nottingham, England. 1945.

What was your early life like, and who influenced you the most?

I was raised in an England that had been devastated and bankrupted by war. Rationing continued for many years after the war so there wasn't as much available then as there is now. My father fought in WWII and was in the long range desert group which operated mainly behind enemy lines. Yet he never mentioned the war once, the proverbial silent hero.

You're a martial artist, and have been for most of your life. That gets automatic respect from many, myself included. What were your early influences in this respect?

To be honest my first martial arts hero was one of my older brothers, Michael, who reached a paratroopers boxing final, which he lost by disqualification. Apart from that I didn't, and don't have any heroes in martial arts. There are those in martial arts whom I greatly respect but none that I hero-worship. Very few people, myself included, are worthy of hero-worship. The real heroes are the real martial artists, the ones in the armed forces doing active service and putting their lives on the line every minute of every day. The rest of us are just pretend martial artists.

Well put. Your name is one of the few spoken of with reverence throughout the "community," (such as it is); and you've been involved in the modern revival of the Chivalric Arts for longer than most. That said, you have specialized in the English martial martial, (and thank God you did). When did you first become aware of all this stuff?

I first became aware of WMA/English martial arts whilst reading a biography of Bob Fitzimmons. The book contained a reference to a backsword, which was a weapon I had never heard of. I set out to discover what it was and little by little unearthed the treasure that is [the] Western Martial Arts.

When did you decide to become involved in the modern revival?

As I discovered more and more about English martial arts I came to the conclusion that it was a part of my heritage that should be revived and brought to the public's attention once again. I first began seriously researching English and European martial arts in 1980. It was more time-consuming in those days because the world wide web wasn't available to the public, nor did the libraries have computerised catalogues in those days. Everything had to be searched for the old-fashioned way by searching through hundreds of catalogues and indexes but it was absolutely fascinating, and some of the most enjoyable years of my life.

Who were the other key players when you first took up the baton of bringing the Art of Silver, Swetnam, etc., back into practice in the modern day?

As far as I knew then there weren't any. I worked totally alone and was unaware of anyone else doing anything similar. There were of course people like the great and wonderful AVB Norman, whom I had the great honour and pleasure of meeting but such people weren't actively involved in martial arts research. Once Mr. Norman found out what I was doing he started pointing out sources to me, as well as encouraging me in my task. It came as a complete and total surprise to me when I found out that John Clements had published a book in the same month as mine, (March 1997). Until that time I hadn't heard of any other WMA researchers.

Silver is quoted more than any other English source. What, in your opinion, are some misconceptions about Silver and his advice?

It's not for me to criticise other people's interpretations. Though I will say that sometimes people over-complicate Silver's teachings. When we look at the great masters of any system, age, or region we see that they all propounded simple systems. Silver is no exception to this rule.

What's your favorite Silverian quote?

It's good to sleep in a whole skin.

What advice would you give a person first coming into the English (or European, for that matter) martial arts?

Caveat Emptor: Let the buyer beware.

What are some common mistakes that newcomers to any martial art make?

Rushing to learn, take your time, enjoy and savour learning for its own sake. Or, as Aleister Crowley wrote, 'work without lust of result.' And I think that's good advice for anyone. It's certainly been a creed that I have followed all of my life. The destination might be an anti-climax, but the journey can be wonderful.

English Martial Arts is a favorite of mine. What was inspiration for the book, and what are your continued hopes for it?

The inspiration was simply pride in a part of my culture that I hadn't been aware of before.

I know first hand the great difficulties in conveying motion in still photographs, yet in your wonderful book - in my opinion, at least - you did a better job than most. What's your secret?

When I first began reading martial arts magazines I was astounded at how many good articles were spoiled by poor quality photographs. A common fault was taking photographs of people wearing club uniforms of the same colours meaning that it was often difficult to distinguish between the arms and legs of those involved. I always make sure that the subjects of the photos wear different coloured clothes so that arm, leg and body positions can be clearly seen, this is, IMO, the single most important factor in getting good shots. I would also add that the spectacular often looks stupid, by which I mean you can't photograph blood-curdling screams:) So just focus on the message you want to get across and remember that the subjects are, in a way, props you use to get the message across. Finally and perhaps the most important, I actually rehearse the photo shoot. This may seem strange when your subjects are skilled martial artists but it's about getting everyone singing from the hymn sheet.

I have a feeling I'll soon regret some of the more tongue-in-cheek photographs in my own book. Speaking of which, any future projects you'd like to plug?

Just my second book, which is progressing apace. I'm in no rush, I don't see titles on the shelf as proof of martial standing but as proof of martial enjoyment. Hopefully I will get it finished in the next year or few.

I know I'm looking forward to it. Hopefully we'll be able to compare notes. Thanks, Terry! I hope to share a pint with you some day.

Always ready for a pint.


Up next: Larry Lambert.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Poem of the Pell

Greetings, readers. I’d like to introduce the “Poem of the Pell.” Actually, what I’m giving you here is my modern English rendition (something I have not before seen, and actually quite difficult to do) of the most complete version of the poem that I am aware of.

This poem has been kicked about in varying circles since at least 1876, when it was published in The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England, By Joseph Strutt & William Hone, which is still in print. Unfortunately, that book only contains a four-paragraph version. The oldest known version is from a medieval book entitled Knighthood and Battle, in the Cottonian library, of which my best efforts to find any available existing version of any sort have been completely futile. The only known public version of the entire poem of which I am aware was procured in unknown fashion and put on the ‘net by John Clements of the ARMA in the context of one of his articles (noted as coming from “Dyboski and Arend’s 1935 edition”). This is unfortunate, as it is deserving of far more knowledgeable and in-depth interpretation and contextual information from the document that contained it.

Alas, were things otherwise, we had hoped to include this complete poem, translation, and explanations of its teachings in our book, though circumstances proved unfortunately problematic. Perhaps in the future, if all goes well, we can do something of the sort.

So far as I have been able to tell, given what little information there is, the actual title that this poem goes by is a modern one, given in lieu of anything else (the original may very well have had no title). To tell the truth, I am not even sure where the exact term “pell” comes from. Though the device has had several names throughout history, I have found “pell” in no pre-modern literature, despite the ubiquity of the term now. In this poem, for example, they refer to it as a “pile,” which is still a term used and defined identically today: an upright beam or post in the ground.

This poem is one of the few true martial arts instructional works from England prior to the fifteen-hundreds. It is anonymous, and seems that it was written in the 15th century, probably the early half. Given its context, I think it to be a reasonable theory that it could very well be a contemporary transcription of an earlier poem added into the book it was found in.

It is actually an extremely valuable instructional text on the use of the sword and shield in training against the static pile. It gives very pertinent information on techniques, exercise, the value of cuts vs. thrusts, focus and mindset, footwork, and other training insights.

Anyway, I hope this rendition is a boon to our readership, and makes this poem more accessible to you. Given the language differences between this and the original, and the aims of its teachings, this is but one interpretation of many that could be.

The discipline and exercise of the fight was this: To have a pile upright
Of a man’s height, thus the old and wise do write
With this a bachelor, or a young knight
Shall first be taught to stand, and learn to fight
And with a fan of double weight he takes as his shield
And a double-weight mace of wood to wield.

This fan and mace, either of which are of double weight
Of shield, swayed in conflict or battle,
Shall exercise swordsmen, as well as knights,
And no man, as they say, will be seen to prevail,
In the field, or in castle, though he assail,
Without the pile, being his first great exercise,
Thus write warriors old and wise.

Have each his pile up-fixed fast
And, as it were, upon his mortal foe:
With mightiness the weapon must be cast
To fight strong, that none may escape
On him with shield, and sword advised so,
That you be close, and press your foe to strike
Lest your own death you bring about.

Impeach his head, his face, have at his gorge
Bear at the breast, or spurn him on the side,
With knightly might press on as Saint George
Leap to your foe; observe if he dare abide;
Will he not flee? Wound him; make wounds wide
Hew off his hand, his leg, his thighs, his arms,
It is the Turk! Though he is slain, there is no harm.

And to thrust is better than to strike;
The striker is deluded many ways,
The sword may not through steel and bones bite,
The entrails are covered in steel and bones,
But with a thrust, anon your foe is forlorn;
Two inches pierced harm more
Than cut of edge, though it wounds sore.

In the cut, the right arm is open,
As well as the side; in the thrust, covered
Is side and arm, and though you be supposed
Ready to fight, the thrust is at his heart
Or elsewhere, a thrust is ever smart;
Thus it is better to thrust than to carve;
Though in time and space, either is to be observed.


Copyright July 2010, Benjamin “Casper” Bradak

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Russell Mitchell Interview: The Necromantic Martial Arts

Russell Mitchell is a longtime swordsman, scholar, and all around swell guy. He's disarmingly nice, and transcribed Additional Manuscript 39564 (aka the Ledall). His transcription of said text can be found online - and he kindly gave a certain pair of reprobates permission to print his transcription in a certain book coming out this October from Paladin Press. Equally graciously, he agreed to let me interview him, and didn't complain about even one of my asinine questions:

Where and when were you born?

I was born in the Newport Naval Hospital in Rhode Island, in 1971. [Like] a lot of Navy brats, was constantly in motion as a kid -- I think I counted it up once and attended eleven different schools before going on to college.

Yikes. Give us a bit more background on your good self.

I'm a very minor medievalist who does experimental archaeology when his time and budget allows.

Sounds interesting. What were / are some of the motivating influences in your life?

Does Weird Al count?


I was the guy who learned to fight because he got tired of getting his ass kicked in school -- for being in Chess Club. High School may have turned more and more into an unconvicted penitentiary of sorts, but it's amazing how much more social freedom we have now [compared to] when I was in school....nerds can BE nerdy without having to worry about going home with bruises and loose teeth.

I could tell you a few stories of my own, but on to the next subject: When and how did you develop an interest in swords and swordsmanship?

Did some fencing in college and had random "swordfights" with dowels in high-school. I sucked, by the way. I got seriously into it when I was studying at Central European University in Budapest. [I] happened to luck onto two people: one, a Georgian nobleman (of the poor/disowned sort, obviously, the Communist bastards being who they were) who'd learned khevsour; and [another,] a man who eventually became a mentor and buddy, Csaba Hidan. [He was] an archaeologist whose grandfather had been a Hussar drillmaster.

Since then I've retained the khevsour, but don't teach it (what I learned was absurdly simple, yet still reasonably effective). [I do] teach the sabre to individuals and to small groups here and there. I don't believe in "public instruction." When a student comes to learn from me, or I fly out to teach him or her, they should expect to do thousands and thousands of cut repetitions while receiving VERY close attention to form... the sabre's a military system, and so it CAN be taught to fifty guys at once, but since the Zombie Holocaust isn't particularly imminent, I far prefer giving people individual attention and lots of homework, and letting them figure it out at their own pace.

Fascinating stuff! Moving on, how and when did you first become aware of the historical source materials?

I bumped into this gent named Steve Hicks on the Internet, and helped grub up some manuscripts for him with the assistance of a Polish colleague of mine. When I returned to the U.S., Steve asked me to show him what I'd learned of the sabre, and was astonished at all the winden techniques.... to which I replied, "what's a winden?" Having learned from guys who were basically living-lineage, I hadn't a clue what was happening on the "chivalric" side of the coin.

Who were the first key players in the modern revival, and how did you guys find one another?

Having had an interest in arms and armor (where I did my experimental archaeology), I hung out on various fora, and the HACA (as it was called back then) served as a central place where a bunch of us who'd never heard of each other started to do so. After a while, I hung more and more on the Sword Forum side of the fence, and until not long ago (when the movement matured far past anything I could help with, particularly given that I have relatively little interest in longsword) hung out regularly on WMA Internet sites, swapping data, slipping people copies of manuscripts, and that sort of thing. Mostly that was because of Steve, again -- since I could actually get my hands on manuscripts early on that a lot of folks couldn't, he really introduced me to the other guys in the field.

Any thoughts on the rivalries within the subject?

They're 99% stupid. People are people. Not everybody's a good guy; sometimes people act selfishly or use other folks, sometimes people forget that you can't judge a person by an Internet post. Since I'm sort of in the Ort Cloud so far as the "community" is concerned (I'd be shocked if most of the folks reading your stuff had even heard of me), it's not really an issue I have to deal with.

What advice would give someone who is just beginning their studies in the Chivalric Arts?

I don't know squat about chivalric arts. I know about sabre, fokos/ciupaga, khevsour, savate, lutte parisienne, and the weapons that go with it. With the exception of occasionally hanging out with awesome guys doing reconstruction work, I'm purely in the living lineage crowd.

BUT...if I had to say one thing, it'd be...Learn to move, and learn to understand how power is generated in the body, and the ways that power generation changes the game. The "punch is a punch is a punch" fallacy is technically true on the surface, but leads one to a profound misunderstanding of technique -- you don't have to take my word for it, either. Ask a bagua guy to throw a jab, or a boxer to throw a Tibetan White Crane "down-punch"... and wait for hilarity to ensue.

If I have one beef with the quality of peoples' work, it's that too often people are "locked into" how they move, and don't understand that in other times, people didn't move the way we do now. Modern clothes are a disaster for males, and we're MUCH less flexible than our ancestors, who regularly wore far less restricting stuff than we do (as opposed to our stuff, cut basically for women, which "trains" you not to be flexible... b/c male anatomy is just different, and you CAN'T be.)

For instance, look at Meyer's longsword pictures. Those guys are in DEEP stances with very open hips. If you can't figure out how to get into those positions and move fluidly from them, the end result will always be sub-optimal. Same with some of the rapier material -- there's a broad consensus that a lot of it is "double-time," and that those moves are impossible to perform safely in single time. That's poppycock: They're perfectly well performable IF one moves the way the guys at the time were moving.

Second... living lineages have their own pedagogy, and are VERY different from trying to learn from a text. If you're doing "martial arts necromancy" with a manuscript, that manuscript needs to be GOD as far as reconstructions are concerned. A story I once heard regarding Jared Kirby, who's a rapier guy, is that he and a bud kept working on a rapier move that the rest of the community had basically written off. It took him and his buddy over a year to figure out, just working on that one technique, and it turns out that the text was right. This useless so-called super-technique DID work. In fact, it ALWAYS worked... given just the right circumstances. So if you had the ability to engineer those circumstances in a fight it'd be the equivalent of going up against one those judo guys who only works one technique -- it doesn't matter that you know what he's going to do, because he's SO good at it he's still going to apply it.

What are your hopes for the future of the Art today?

I'm happy to see the atomization of the field that's occurring, frankly -- it means we're starting to understand what's happening enough that people can actually focus on doing one thing well, rather than fumbling along doing the best we can with the 10,000-foot-view that we had ten-to-twelve years ago.

Who do you look up to?

Steve Hick, Terry Brown, and Bob Charron. Steve made a lot of this stuff happen. Brown's work is HEAVILY informed by his previous martial arts training -- but because he has it, he's frequently able to suss out details that others miss. And Bob Charron is a proponent of the "get it right" school of manuscript-reading, constantly double-checking his assumptions in a truly rigorous way.

Who is your favorite historical Master?

Heh. I won't make any friends here, as I have pretty idiosyncratic views. For instance, I don't think that Italian and German longsword have much of anything in common.

Everyone's entitled to an opinion, I suppose.

I like Silver, even though he's wrong about rapier, because if you actually understand what he's saying about True Times, it's the "keys to the kingdom" of good fencing. And like anybody who's done cane d'arme, I really like Saviolo, who I think is wildly under appreciated.

We agree on Silver, at least. Any new projects coming up?

Nothing currently. I'm teaching my students and watching my baby learn to walk.

Mr. Mitchell, I would like to wish you the best of luck, congrats on the baby, and thank you for your time.


Next up: Terry Brown.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Steve Hicks Interview

Steve Hicks has been involved in the Chivalric Arts - he'd probably use a different term - reconstruction movement from the beginning. He knows the score. I'm very grateful he took time out to answer a few of my silly questions. - B.

Where and when were you born?

Mahopac, NY, USA. September 8, 1949.

Can you give us some personal background?

I am by education both a classicist and a scientist; having attended a Jesuit institution, I have a classical education, and graduate level education in the sciences. Professionally, I am a beltway bandit. Married, with one daughter.

What are some of your motivations and influences?

Well, sad to say, I discovered that the classical education led me to be a little bit of a history and language geek.

Not a bad thing to be. When and how did you develop an interest in swords and swordsmanship?

Old movies first: Seven Samurai, Cornel Wilde’s Lancelot, Erol Flynn, etc. In high school, I started Judo at the Old Buddhist Academy in NYC, and then fencing and Judo in College. I ran the projector for movies at university, and was able to select some films. So of course, Seven Samurai, historical romances, [and] swashbucklers were selections.

Then the uncut version of Seven Samurai came out. I found a theater that showed Japanese movies, and located a school of traditional Japanese sword arts (ca 1971). I did that for a while, then I found the SCA, and thought I would follow the European side of things for a while. Sort of a disappointment. When pressed, most admitted that they thought there were no sources.

When and how did you first become aware of the historical source materials?

There was a mini-revival with the 3 Musketeers movie. [And] in NYC there was the League of Renaissance Swordsmen; [and] through them, I encountered some of the people from the Rhodes Academy. I never attended that school, however. At one point M. Rhodes was teaching at the Buddhist Academy, but I did the Japanese stuff. And that was “fencing’, not sword fighting. Some of those folks - Franz, who lead the league, and Fox and Richard Nordquest (last name escapes me, both of these latter two were at the Academy, and in the League, and also joined the SCA) - and I discussed early stuff. Through them, I met M. Rhodes and M. Martinez. Richard, I believe, worked at the Met, and we got out copies from their library of some sources. I remember photocopying all of Three Elizabethans, and Talhoffer, this would have been ca 1978). There were a few others, photocopying secondary sources, stage combat stuff, but mostly marginal to the SCA. I started hitting the NYPL, and copied Dornhoffer and Weirshin.

I then moved to DC, and essentially stopped JMA, and research. I worked from the material I had; and after an injury that took me out, I went to the Library of Congress and started digging again. [I] discovered Novati’s Fiore, determined there was another copy, then at the Ludwig collection in Cologne, but it had been sold. At that point, Hils had just been published (ca 1985). There was a diverse and geographically scattered community of people doing “things”. Patri Pugliese likely was researching material [as early as] the 70s; he, Ken - who was local - and I shared material, we would send [Patri] copies and vice versa. We knew of the people in Phoenix (William Wilson). Somewhere in [this period,] I transcribed Silver and Swetnam for my own purposes, and shared [them] on the Internet. In 1988, we tried to hold a gathering at the Pennsic War. Ken and I showed up, I think for some reason Patri couldn't make it, and 1-2 folks from the south west attended, but it was desultory.

Separately, we ran into Jeff Forgeng and his group, who were working from diGrassi, shared interests, and set up a meeting the next year. Jeff Forgeng, I believe was a protégé of Steven Muhlberger, who was working tangentially in chivalric literature. In 1989 we held a bigger gathering, Patri, Steven, Jeffery, people no one knows of were there, David Rath, who had previously just called up the Royal Armouries and had copies made, folks from Tattershall, or what was going to become them, were there.

Sometime around then, I discovered that the Getty had obtained the Ludwig, and they made high quality photographic prints for me, of the sword sections only. I encountered Brad Waller at an event on historical swordplay at the Smithsonian about the time of the birth of his son, likely ca 1990.

As far as a deranged rebel like myself can tell, you're regarded as the elder statesman of the modern revival of the Chivalric Arts. How did things start to happen? What led us to where we are now?

In between 1989-1994 we tried to get some traction, but the SCA was, as an institution, and a society, not really ready for this, so there was little traction. I did teach at various educational events, where I introduced my early version of the Posta Dance from Fiore (I had a bad, incomplete translation), I also taught poleaxe from La Jeu and other sources. However, I pretty much decided there would be no one interested enough to train in these arts, and I decided to leave the SCA and return to classical Japanese martial arts.

A lot of people seem think everything began with Clements - probably because he tells them so. Who were the real first key players in the modern revival, and how did you guys find one another?

[Around this time - 1989-1994 -] I encountered Chris Amberger and John Clements online, we nattered on about this stuff. Chris introduced me to Matt Galas, somehow I got into contact with Steve Hand, likely through Greg Lindahl, who had asked me for a copy of Silver and put them online. Then many of the next generation started rolling in, mostly through the HACA website.

So, the first generation that I encountered over the years, of whom people know are Patri, Ramon, William, Jeffery, Chris, John, Matt and Steve.

There are some deep rivalries within the so-called "community". Any thoughts on this?

I remember when we were all friends, all shared what we had found, and all shared trying to come up with what this thing was we found. So, I pretty much try and ignore them, as much as possible. There is strength in going off and finding your own way, but then, there is strength in sharing your insights, it has to be done in a non-confrontational way. Joerg used to have a quote of mine in his sig “We’re wrong, we’re wrong now, we’ll be wrong again, get over it”. None of us KNOW, we are blind men with the Elephant.

Together with Eric Meyers, you recently made Memorial of the Practice of the Montante available online. This is a fantasic resource, and now one of personal favorites. Any further insights on this treatise you'd like to share?

Well, we have another find of his - Oplosophia. It is a destreza text. Figueiredo at that time was a follower of Carranza, and Portugal was part of Spain. The Memorial was written during the revolution, and so, it is not so obviously influenced. But, we see some old and new blended. Also, Figueiredo was involved in so many military campaigns [in] Brazil - [and in] 5 major battles in the revolution - and served as the Major General for Artillery.

Oplosophia is unlike other destreza texts in some important ways. 1/3 of it is on Armas Dobres, sword and shield, buckler, dagger and cloak, and has a small section on the use of the staff by the master controlling an assault or practice.

Where do you see the revival in ten years time?

More stuff found, perhaps out of cultures we’ve not tapped yet. We are starting to see Belgium and the Netherlands showing up, still missing French and English material, Eastern Europe – we have nothing so far. More texts translated, and made available in a useful way. There’ll be more and better interpretations, and more understanding of some things we don’t understand today, e.g., the Spanish destreza and how it all fits together. Better equipment. There’ll be many, many really good exponents who can use their weapons thoroughly.

Mr. Hicks, thank you for your time.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Mutual Validation, or Carefully Worded "Lack of Due References?"

Let's hope for the former. We're not judging. But you can!

The ARMA director’s recent article:

Our thesis placed online last year:

One is far more comprehensive, and the other veers off half-way through onto another topic. But whether termed “Pan-European,” or merely possessing a certain “Interrelatedness,” all roads do indeed lead to Rome, in more ways than one.

Hopefully our work will continue to educate ;)

History repeats itself, though it has been far worse in the past.

Check it out...We put this out last year:

And this came out shortly thereafter:

Perhaps we just think alike.

Oh, God!

This one is worth a follow-on read:

Watch your backs! It’s …crazy… out there.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Ringen Terminology and Medieval Hand to Hand Combat Review

After a quick perusal of the HEMA Alliance forums, I noticed that the Ringen Terminology article that Jay Vail and I had worked on together had been posted on that site, and there is some discussion about it there:

I post this here only because of my involvement with the article, and my lack of time and desire to get involved in forum discussions.

The article itself was for the better part driven by Jay Vail, and it was originally oriented towards use primarily by the ARMA (though open to everyone) in aiding internal study around the time I developed the ARMAs basic unarmed skills curriculum (and if you’re wondering, I have no idea on the state of such after I parted ways). As such it is brief and extremely basic. The terms were a compromise between us. Each of us, as long-time martial artists, had already been using terms for most or all of these techniques for many years (probably decades in most cases) that we had personal preference towards, and the terms decided on in the article are in part agreements, and in part compromises due to our personal preferences. As such, I personally do not use many of the names for techniques in that article, though many of them were also rather straight-forward terms as used in the original source material, though translated.

Keith P. Myers has adamantly gotten in on the discussion touting his claim to fame; his 2002 compilation examining ringen (“Medieval Hand to Hand Combat”). I acquired it when it became available in 2002, and it is a far more vast work on the topic (and available for free), and as he will not hesitate to tell you, he had already named and categorized the techniques in Jay and I’s article, and more, in that work, and he would very much like his terms to be the standard ones for all Chivalric Arts practitioners since it has already been done; so we don’t “reinvent the wheel.” For better or worse, it hadn’t occurred to me at the time of the article for reasons expounded upon below.

That’s fine for some, but I do take some issue with his book and opinions.

In agreement with him, I am all for using many of the original terms for techniques as found in the source material, where available. Additionally, the book is an excellent resource, at least as a reference for the more experienced, and lightly instructional for the inexperienced or untrained. It is probably the most comprehensive single general work on pan-European medieval and Renaissance unarmed fighting techniques thus far (and has been since 2002; that’s saying something about the lack of experience in this field and orientation towards sword-fighting).

On the other hand, his work was itself, in many cases, a “reinvention of the wheel.” Even when his 2002 compilation was written, some of it was already out of date in relation to our European source material. For example, unarmed ready positions outside the clinch were not covered because he was unaware of any examples, though described in a few works at the time (Master Fiore’s and Master Talhoffer’s, for example).

Additionally, the vast majority (if not all) of the techniques have long been available and extant in both Eastern and Western fighting arts/sports, and as such, have already had fairly common and standardized terminology. But a complication is that the terminology for many of these techniques is standardized, though different, in different schools/arts, thus a practitioner’s or instructor’s background will lend them preferences that will dictate their own terminology and make the idea of some “HEMA”-wide standardization very unappealing. I can attest to this, and I have little doubt Jay could as well.

Another point is, though I do not know the martial background of Mr. Myers, most of his 2002 work is very much interpretation, rather than recognition, in part often obviously because of lack of translations for the depicted techniques. Thusly, many of them are not correct.

By and large, to be fair, his terminology and interpretations of the images is not bad, and much of it is roughly within the commonly standardized vocabulary (outside the “HEMA” bubble). In fact, because of the source material, his work is a far better and more comprehensive book on combatives than most available on the market today, modern or otherwise, and he could have easily made it a for-profit endeavor with some polishing and consultation of professionals experienced with the techniques. Get it. You need it. If you don't know what you're doing, this is probably the best single source for giving yourself a foundation for swordplay (actual self-defense not withstanding).

I’d recommend his terminology (and/or the terminology in Jay and I’s article) be considered for use in your group or school to fill in blanks, or in total if you and your members are completely inexperienced and staring in the “study group” type format trying to learn from books.

Keith’s book can be found here:


Copyright Mar. 2010, Casper Bradak

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Noble Falchion: A Brief Overview for Martial Artists

Single-edged and curved swords have existed in Europe alongside all other swords from time immemorial. For various reasons, overall, they have never been as preferred as straight and double edged blades prior to the modern era, but that does not mean that they have never been common nor popular. Seaxes, falchions, messers, badelairs, backswords, sabers, cutlasses and all their kin. All weapons with a designated primary cutting edge, oriented towards increased cutting effectiveness; agile and exceedingly sharp. Though some had a mild curvature, deeply curved blades were almost non-existent in Europe, presumably for the long-held knowledge of the ease and deadliness of the thrust in conjunction with the consistently advanced armours of the West.

The falchion has a noble lineage dating back to classical times. The origin of the weapons nomenclature stems from the classical and fearsome falx of Dacian fame, used most notoriously against the Romans.

Defining single-edged European weaponry:

Defining these weapons is very simple (a little less simple would be an attempt at specific stylistic blade-form classification among falchions, such as the Oakshott typology for straight, double-edged European swords). Yet, the common definitions in dictionaries and encyclopedias are generally erroneous given our current resources of knowledge about these swords. Even many swordsmen disagree over definitions, though I have yet to see an argument that is unflawed. In light of that, I offer the definitions that I find self evident and use in my school.

Here are the primary families of these weapons:

Falchion: The primary family of Medieval European “single-edged” swords. They are defined by a primary designated cutting edge on a broad blade. They comprise a wide range of stylistically different though effectively identical blade forms, including some ethnic/stylistic sub-classes (such as the messer and badelair). Most are straight, though some had a mild curvature. Though generally single-edged, many had a sharp false-edge for part of their length. They were generally, though not necessarily, somewhat shorter than the common straight bladed swords in order to compensate for having less tapered blades.

A few falchions, particularly among the earlier medieval types, have distinctively flared blades, particularly on the forward edge. The majority however, identical to the messers in the Germanic martial treatises, had broad, non-flared yet non-tapering blades.

Modern myths of the falchion:

The falchion is the victim of many erroneous modern assumptions. The most common is that they were heavy. I recall a current MRL offering in which they describe it as “heavy” no less than three times in their pitch. It has been said that this was so that they could cut through armour (yes, the old Twain cliché). Contrary to those assumptions, they were not heavy. They were generally the same weight as a regular straight bladed sword, and they were no more designed to cut through any armour than any other sword.

It has also been said that they doubled as tools to the common soldier. This is also absolutely false. They were quality weapons designed for combat and the shearing of flesh and bone, and would have been destroyed if used for digging or wood chopping, just as any other sword (if not worse). This parallels the myth of the battle-axe, which in reality was also too thin to be used for such labor. They were fighting weapons through and through. These myths are made apparent with some knowledge of the weapons construction and geometry, which is elaborated on below.

Additionally, it has been commonly said that it was not a weapon of the nobility; a commoner’s weapon. In reality, this is also far from the truth. There was no such stigma associated with this weapon. In fact, some of the surviving original falchions are weapons originally owned by high-born men, and some of the world’s greatest works of art to boot.

Messer: Falchion, or something else?

The Germanic messer is firmly in the falchion category, but some hold it as something unique, so it is deserving of special mention and explanation, particularly as it is a primary traditional weapon in the Germanic martial literature.

The messer as depicted in the martial literature has many blade forms, straight and curve-bladed, straight-pointed, clip-pointed, and double-clipped. All of these blade forms fit neatly into the falchion definition, and are only stylistic variants. Additionally, surviving blades match those depictions and surviving blades from falchions elsewhere in Europe.

Some attempt to define the messer as entirely separate from the falchion based upon its hilt. The Germanic messer possesses a particular ethnic hilt design, consisting of an asymmetrical pommel (as do many falchions), scaled grips, and often, a nagel (side guard). These, however, are ethnic, stylistic variants effectively identical to other European falchion hilts. Therefore, claiming that the messer is not a falchion is identical to claiming that the Scottish claymore is not a two-handed sword. They are weapons identical to their kin elsewhere in Europe with the exception of ethnically stylistic hilts. The claymore is a two-hand sword, and the messer is a falchion, but due to those stylistic hilts, a falchion is not necessarily a messer, and a two-hand sword is not necessarily a claymore.

It has been said that the messer is not a falchion (nor even a sword) because it does not have a pommel. This is erroneous. I have never seen a messer in art, nor in the flesh, so to speak, that did not have a pommel. I’m not sure where this idea originated, but it can be safely ignored.

Other European “single-edged” Swords:

Backsword: This is a later weapon (largely post-15th c.) than the falchion, primarily differing in that it was more similar to regular swords, being narrower and longer than any falchion, and possessing no curvature and no clipping of the point. Essentially a single-edged version of a standard sword, often indistinguishable in profile.

Saber: This is most commonly a modern weapon, but also existed from early times in Europe, particularly Eastern Europe. It is essentially a mildly curved backsword, fitting the same criteria with the exception of the curve.

Some modern cavalry weapons that do not fit this criteria have been commonly referred to as sabers. This is because such weapons had become so closely associated with cavalry in the modern era, any cavalry sword was often referred to as such.

Cutlass: Relatively modern naval terminology for weapons firmly within the falchion family. Favored for naval use due to their ability to easily deliver effective cuts (regardless of skill), coupled with the shorter length convenient for use in the close-confines of ships. They are the latest extant falchions.

The purpose of the falchion:

The falchion has a particular general design. Obviously, it has this unique design for a purpose. As with any unique weapon design, it is a trade-off of factors that brings certain things to the fight at the cost of others. The blade is broad and single-edged with little, if any taper (occasionally including a broadening of the blade toward the point) in order to support a geometrically very sharp edge for the purpose of more easily delivering highly-effective cuts.

Though generally as broad as a broad double-edged sword, the falchion can be geometrically sharper (I.e. thinner) because, by comparison, each edge of a double-edged sword must taper toward the edge from the center of the blade, while the single-edged falchion can taper more gradually from one side of the blade to the opposite, rather than to the center. This keeps the edge thinner over a greater distance, making it geometrically sharper (a basic principle of the weapons design not generally realized in modern replicas). This comes at the cost of the versatility of a second edge.

In addition, the lack of taper, or slight flaring of the blade allows it to deliver those highly effective cutting actions along most of the blade, as opposed to a more tapered sword that has less mass and relatively thicker cross-section nearer the narrower point. Naturally, this comes at the cost of a more agile and narrower point that could more easily pierce various targets. Additionally, the falchion is often shorter than the more common double-edged swords as compensation for having a broad blade with little taper. This keeps the mass similar to that of a double-edged sword in order to keep the balance and handling characteristics optimal, but at the cost of length.

Further Reading:

A brief but informative article on the Conyers Falchion...


Copyright March 2010, Casper Bradak

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Urgent Fechtbucher Recall

This is an official recall of all chivalric “fechtbucher” and related or derived literature.

Following the example of the big auto companies, we feel this is the truly responsible thing to do in light of current dire circumstances.

Item #1: As clearly stated in the Latin of the first prologue, paragraph six of Master Fiore De Liberi’s Flos Duellatorum as translated by Hermes Michelini:

“Moreover, any nobleman who studies this work of ours should take great care for it as it were a treasure, so that it will not be divulged among the peasantry, which Heaven created dull and only for the use of heavy work, like animals of burden. Therefore, one must keep this precious and secret science away from them and bring it to Kings, Dukes, Princes, Barons and other noblemen entitled to dueling.”

Item #2: Additionally, as stated in Master Johannes Leichtenauer’s prologue, as poorly translated by Casper Bradak:

“Young man-at-arms learn to love God and honor women; so practice knightly skills: learn the Art that brings you honor in war; fight well unarmed; well-wield spear, sword, and falchion manfully; that in other’s hands is forbidden.”

Therefore, the DTSoD will be acting as the official collection agency for this recall. The wisdom of the Masters is revealed. These books have fallen out of an official capacity and into the hands of the unqualified, common and dull of wit for quite some time, resulting in numerous accidental injuries (both self-inflicted and inflicted upon other parties, largely consisting of bruises, breaks, cuts, slices, lacerations and perforations of the flesh). Such common, dull, forbidden and unqualified parties have also inflicted undue and libelous harm upon the Art itself, consisting of such things as:

The backwards-wearing of armour; hopping about in said harness; duck-walking; publishing of ridiculous interpretations of originally masterful works; undue contortions and postures with swords and claiming said contortions and postures as guards; dancing about on the tip-toes; striking like sissies; avoiding and ignoring any and all basis for skilled swordsmanship; excessive use of acronyms; use of padded wasters; claimants of mastery (in any language); the running of neo-pagan cults with claims to said Art; the running of profiteering organizations with claims to said Art; attempted monopolization of the Art or portions thereof or other claims of exclusivity; attempted claims and copyright claims to the Art and portions thereof; the publishing of erroneous materials related to the Art; claiming of an individual to “be” a given organization/acronym; etc. etc.

Thusly, all martial art related literature with origin between the years AD 1200 and 1600 shall thusly be destroyed (if worthless), donated to a museum (if antique), or mailed to the Dragons Tail School of Defense (if of personal interest or profitable to the parties Brandon P. Heslop and Benjamin “Casper” Bradak). Likewise, all stingy museums shall mail their antique martial works to the DTSoD, and incur all shipping charges and insurance.

Thank you for your cooperation.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Contemporary Perspective on "Styles"

For those current practitioners of the Western Art of the Sword out there, here I will give some more perspective on “styles” and how they relate to us from the point of view of Master George Silver, one of the last great published masters of the inclusive Chivalric Arts in England.

I’ll start with the example of the Art of the Rapier vs. the Art in general from Master Silver’s martial thesis.

Everyone who knows of Master Silver knows of his disdain for the rapier and those who taught its use, and here is why. In Master Silver’s terms, a style is a “fight,” I.e. the style used with the rapier is the “fight” of the rapier. Because the rapier was a specialized sword, it utilized an exclusive, rather than inclusive “fight,” or style of use. Playing to the strengths of the weapon, it largely (but not necessarily) excludes effective cuts and close-in techniques, and focuses on the use of its agile and deadly point at a relatively long range. But because its style of use is exclusive and specialized, this, in Master Silver’s terms, means that it is “imperfect.” In Master Silver’s terms, “imperfect” means “exclusive.” It (the style of the rapier) is an “imperfect fight,” or, that is to say, an exclusive style. It is imperfect because it largely excludes various useful techniques, such as cutting, hilt strikes, and strikes with natural weapons (such as knee and foot kicks “to the cods”), among other things.

Master Silver adamantly preferred the older, all-inclusive (and thusly more versatile) Art. An inclusive art is, in his terms, a “perfect,” or “whole” art, or “fight,” in that it does not exclude legitimate and useful motion, concepts and principles.

Therefore, now that you know what “imperfect,” or exclusive, means, you can apply this to schools and styles you come across and easily judge for yourself which are “perfect,” or inclusive, and which are “imperfect,” or exclusive and specialized (knowingly or unknowingly).

For example, we have the “mixed martial arts” (a generic name for an eclectic sportified fighting methodology). Like the rapier, they are highly effective within their chosen arena (literally, in this case). But they are “imperfect,” or exclusive, by Master Silver’s definition because they cater to that specialized arena. They exclude aspects useful outside that arena (because they are illegal or otherwise useless within it), and focus on aspects specifically related to it (such as invariably single, weaponless combat within a prescribed rule set, time limit and scoring system).

It should be noted, however, that just because a given school doesn’t teach some aspect of the Art that it not necessarily “excluded” or imperfect. It may take some research into any given art to decide whether it is inclusive or exclusive. If the art in question lends itself to use in a given way, despite a given instructors lack of specifically teaching it in the school, and the purpose of the given art is known to be open rather than confined to a specific purpose, such as sport, it could still very well be an inclusive, perfect art; no school teaches everything, but a school that teaches a perfect foundation is, at its core, inclusive. This is the type of art one should seek out when attempting to gain a foundation for properly studying the Chivalric Arts if one wishes to avoid becoming the common, foundationless backyard sword-fighter with delusions of grandeur (they are legion, and acronymic), rather than a real, grounded martial artist.


Copyright March 2010, Casper Bradak

Friday, March 5, 2010

Knowing vs. Studying an Art; Styles; and Inclusiveness vs. Exclusiveness

Here is a subject that further complicates just what a “style” is.

With some fighting methodologies, one can say that they “know” it, and with others, one cannot, even if a life-long and highly skilled practitioner. For example, many people can say “I know Tae Kwon Do” and it is perfectly legitimate. Tae Kwon Do is an exclusive style, rather than inclusive art. This is why one can often earn a black belt in that style in two years or so without it necessarily being a reflection of lax standards or instruction. One learns the style’s terminology, its set number and types of kicks, blocks, strikes and forms, and then one “knows” that style. It is a limited skill-set that one can learn in a very definite, black and white manner. The belt rankings are simply reflections of skill level and curricula knowledge within that style.

But what makes a style? In part, a style is not so much a focus on certain aspects of fighting, but an exclusion of others. Therefore, as our example, Tae Kwon Do is a style, and by definition exclusive.

But not all styles are exclusive; some are, as studies of motion, all-inclusive. This effectively makes them “non-styles.” Certainly a complicated subject to attempt to ponder and codify.1

For an example of one of those “non-styles,” we can use Ed Parker’s American Kenpo. Despite having various set curriculums within any given school, there is no total “end” point at which one can say “I know Kenpo,” not even that of Senior Master of the Arts, or one who has received his tenth degree of black belt. The rankings are degrees that represent both skill level and knowledge of curricula, but as a study of motion, there is more to learn and master than can be accomplished in a lifetime, because it is not exclusive. No motion is excluded, per-say, from the style. For example, the requirement of a written thesis for certain ranks. The thesis can be on any subject that furthers the Art as a whole. If the Art were exclusive, there would be no unique or thus-far unexplored topics to write a thesis on.

Likewise, we have the Chivalric Arts. All-inclusive studies of motion, and therefore “non-stylistic.” Particularly in their prime age of use, with no deluge of other culture’s fighting methodologies playing havoc with definitions, there were no bounds to the Art. It was an art of combative motion, not a style with a limited curricula. There were no exclusions to techniques or weaponry that it encompassed. It is without boundaries. If something new and effective was learned, it was a part of the Art. It was not added to a limited “curricula” or considered to belong to this or that style, for there were no “styles,” other than the particular way an individual may have taught or performed the Art, but there were no “excluded” techniques, principles or concepts. The spirit of the times was that it should all be sought and understood, and it was then up to the individual to keep or discard what motions and concepts he pleased.

One cannot say “I know the Art.” One can only say “I am a practitioner of the Art.”


Copyright March 2010, Casper Bradak

1. Somewhat off the subject, but by other legitimate definitions, styles can be so defined due to unique curricula (in which case most schools have their own styles, even when part of a larger style), or by the way certain motions are performed (i.e. Tai-Chi is Kung-Fu performed with stylistically slow and exaggerated motions, or individually, each person has their own unique styles due to the unique ways in which they move and perform). Therefore, one could rightly say that Master Fiore had his own style, despite being a practitioner of the same inclusive Art as Master Ringeck, and I have my own unique style when compared to Brandon despite us both being part of the Dragons Tail School of Defense.