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