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.

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