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

1 comment:

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