Friday, December 9, 2011

And Before All Other Things...


And before all things you should know and understand that the Sword is only one Art and it was devised and thought out hundreds of years ago. This art is the foundation and core and it was completely understood and known by Master Liechtenauer. Not that he himself devised or thought out what is described, but he travelled and searched through many lands since he wanted to learn and experience this art. - Doebringer (Lindholm).

* Sword and shield picture from Dresden's manuscripts of the Sachsenspiegel, probably from (approximately) 1230 AD. Text (not seen) beneath it reads: Die Sonne soll man ihnen gleich zuteilen; which I, drawing upon my background in Old English, poorly translated as "The sun shall not assign them equal." Jeff Hull, however, has proffered the following:

Literally: "The Sun shall one them equally allot."

Or better contextually - thus the translation that I recommend as correct:

"One shall position them equally in the sunlight."

Thus it is an instruction or recommendation to a possible judge of a judicial duel to have the combatants start their duel with equitable juxtapositions relative to the bright Sun.



Saturday, November 26, 2011

Rebuttal To B. Walczak, Part One: Evidence

It was bound to happen sooner or later: the first negative review of Lessons on the English Longsword has at last materialized. Considering the somewhat limited array of possible candidates to author such a critique, it perhaps verges on the cosmically apropos that it ended up being Bart Walczak who ultimately penned it. Fortunately for us, the negatives of this aforementioned review are all, rather unsurprisingly, academic in origin. This narrows the scope of his review, which is ensconced in a magazine for medievalists (Black Belt Magazine it isn’t, folks).

The following rebuttal is in two parts: Evidence and Context. A forewarning: it is a polemical response (surprise, surprise). If you don’t like it, that’s too bad. Polemic debate has a long history, has much to recommend it, and is appropriate when addressing the obtuse. The danger of a polemic is that one can alienate some among one’s audience; but this is the price of the Truth and of conviction. Personally, we don’t feel too badly about choosing such a mode of response, particularly given the unsupported (and anemic) ad hominem attacks made in Mr. Walczak’s review. Still, we were a little surprised that he did not, as a courtesy, make us aware of it; especially since it was going to appear in print. That’s what we would have done, but I suppose we really must give him his due for being Machiavellian. “No enterprise is more likely to succeed than one concealed from the enemy until it is ripe for execution,” after all. Bart may well have thought that such a publication, largely confined to Europe, might sail under our radar.

What follows is a point-by-point refutation (and/or acknowledgement) of the issues raised by Mr. Walczak in his review of Lessons on the English Longsword, as it appeared in Medieval Warfare I.3, (September 26, 2011). It will be kept as brief as possible. However, considering the profound depth of Mr. Walzcak’s misunderstanding, be it deliberate or merely born of his ignorance, any attempt at brevity may well be an exercise in futility.

The reviewer’s points appear in italics, Heslop’s answers are in bold, and Bradak’s are in plain text. This gives the effect of a modified analytic Socratic dialogue, filtered through a polemicist’s lens, and that’s intentional. It’s possible that we may press into service a third party to edit our response as it appears here, and submit that edited version to the aforementioned magazine (to comply with their guidelines; they're not overly keen on polemics) for publication. If so, Mr. Walczak will likely publish a response to our rebuttal in the same issue. We haven’t decided whether or not to do this yet, honestly. In any event, we begin with the first of his complaints, and end with the last. Positive points made by the reviewer have mostly been omitted…

Unfortunately, no facsimile is included in the book, and since the authors relied on third-party transcripts, proper critical verification of the text is not possible.

True. However, the Harleian manuscript has been in print - facsimile and all - for over a century: it appears in Hutton’s Sword and the Centuries. Regarding the other two texts (there are, in fact, only three. Man yt Wol is tacked on at the end of the Harleian, though it is probably older, perhaps 14th century), we had a very reliable source for the Cottonian (the source is an accredited academic herself, and is cited openly in the book), and every pain was taken to ensure that the Ledall manuscript was presented as accurately as possible. Moreover, one of the authors has conferred via email with fellow scholar Terry Brown regarding the accuracy of Mr. Mitchell’s transcript of the Ledall document, and was assured by that party that it is indeed quite good. Therefore, this seems to us to be an extraordinarily shallow complaint.

[In Breaking the Code] the authors attempt to make an argument for a Pan-European fighting style that would transcend all borders (but only in Europe), and allow for direct near-instantaneous transference of skills and ideas between various parts of Europe. Certainly, one cannot deny that many similar elements, especially those of the most basic type, are present in all combat systems from that period, and that such exchange did indeed happen. However, to argue that the differences are "at most stylistic", betrays the lack of in-depth understanding of the subject.

This is a gross and frankly unforgivable oversimplification of our argument. For those interested in knowing what our argument actually is, they can read our thesis Unified Theory: the Pan-European Art of Fighting here. He must be confusing us with John Clements, whose views on the subject were never particularly refined. Moreover, our esteemed colleague Richard Marsden expands and expounds upon many of the points made in our thesis in his own, which can be read here. And lastly, Mr. Walczak has blatantly ignored the words of the author (or authors) of one of our primary surviving sources, the Hanko Dobringer manuscript:

“And before all things you should know and understand that the Sword is only one Art, and it was devised and thought out hundreds of years ago. This Art is the foundation and core; and it was completely understood and known by Master Liechtenauer. Not that he himself devised or thought out what is described, but he traveled and searched through many lands since he wanted to learn and experience this Art,” (Lindholm translation).

This type of complaint is invariably academic, or specialistic in origin. Most experienced martial artists find our position self evident. In contrast, most of the naysayers (and that's really what their arguments amount to: nuh-uh!), are academics and internet trolls of all stripes; from those masquerading as long dead masters on Facebook, to the cowardly senders of anonymous emails.

Well, he also ignores the words of Master Siber (to be found in our book), as well as other masters. And his rather reluctant admittance that there were “certainly” basic similarities reeks of damage control.

It does. In fact, last I heard, Bart Walczak is about as far away from pan-anything as anyone could get. I recall quite distinctly one heated debate (if you could call his style of discussion “debate;” see Context) I had with the aforementioned. It’s sadly now irrevocably lost in the wastes of the ARMA e-list, but it involved this very subject. In brief, he was (and I can only assume still is) convinced that Master Liechtenauer had invented the Art of the Longsword - and all of its constituents, or component techniques - whole cloth. I’m not kidding.

So, according to him, before Liechtenauer, there was no such thing as a Zornhau, (the most basic, powerful strike one can perform with any weapon), or the Zwerchhau (which the Doebringer manuscript praises as the most excellent in that it both defends the body and strikes the adversary simultaneously). At least as they applied to the longsword. To him, Liechtenauer was the first guy to connect the dots. He thinks Liechtenauer invented the wheel; never mind that the Doebringer manuscript specifically says that he didn’t.

The ironic things is, were that extremely unlikely assertion to be taken for truth, it would make what we see as self evident even easier to prove: 1, Liechtenauer invented the Art of the Longsword; 2, the fighting men of the day had to be trained to be effective, and thus sought instruction in the use of the weapons of the day; 3,
knights and men-at-arms throughout Europe possessed longswords. Therefore, the Art of the Longsword was/is pan-European. Of course, that isn’t true. The Art of the Longsword is pan-European, but not because Liechtenauer supposedly invented fire.

Right. He even alludes to this belief in his review, when cites an unnamed master: “…a strike that not many other masters can tell anything about…” But what did this shadowy master mean by strike, specifically? And regarding the Doebringer quote, Mr. Walczak simply dismisses such things as “grandiose;” he said the same thing about the Siber quote. Perhaps Meyer, too, was being “grandiose,” and Ringeck when he claimed that all fighting comes from unarmed fighting (thus implying a fundamental and necessary core foundation which was universal). Fiore echoes this when he talks about the principles of Abrazare being the “pillars of the Art.” Perhaps we cannot trust Fiore, either.

But of course when we’re talking about unarmed fighting, we’re talking about human biomechanics. Humans aren’t radically different in terms of physiology. So, in this sense he’s right about there being natural overlaps. But when we consider the core Art in whole, we must take into account the weapons used within it. The longsword is radically different from a katana; however, it cannot be called radically different from itself from region-to-region within medieval and Renaissance Europe. Therefore, any distinctions or divisions within the Art of the Longsword are proven to be inherently artificial rather than organic; and thus less important than the core. But he won’t hear of this, or simply ignores it (he certainly did in his review). And if he’s right, thank goodness for academics who can tell us which bits are trustworthy and which are not.

Yes, because the foundation, according to Bart is “immaterial;” as he recently claimed on Facebook.

Indeed, it’s only the branches of the tree that matter. But taking that position necessarily reduces the Art to the stereotypical view the Victorians held about the earlier methods: it diminishes the assorted lineages into so many bags of tricks bereft of any cohesive unity, or governing laws. It’s touting the subjective over the objective, the Sophist over the seeker after truth. And that’s simply ludicrous. That won’t stand. There must be governing laws. There must be a foundation; furthermore, that foundation must be primary, and cares nothing for Bart’s opinion. Because it’s a reality.

Moreover, I’m incredulous. Specifically, I question whether or not he’s actually qualified to make the statement that we lack “in-depth understanding.” As far as I can tell, he studies the German Tradition exclusively. I doubt he’s ever given Fiore so much as a second glance. He can claim that he’s trained with, or crossed swords with “Fiore-ists,” sure. But has he studied the material himself? He may have, but from my exchanges with him, he seemed woefully ignorant of Fiore’s material.

So, looking at one piece of the puzzle is apparently enough for him to cast judgment on our overall knowledge of the subject as a whole. I think not. In light of all that, it’s a rather unwieldy statement he’s made about our lack of “in-depth understanding;” it lacks the vocabulary to complete the sentence. It is the postulation of a functional illiterate. And I really must therefore take his call for “more than one source” on Facebook to be laughably hypocritical. Besides that, we’ve given him numerous sources and he invariably poisons the well.

And what’s more, this is circular logic he’s engaging in. It springs from a strongly-held consensus, particularly in Europe, that the known lineages and traditions were “very, very different” to quote Matt Easton (this was on the ARMA forum). A certain amount of national pride may (key word, may) play a part in this consensus, (and remember that von Danzig comes from a region that today is in Poland, so they can “lay claim” to the German Tradition). This pride is understandable, if perhaps somewhat misplaced; but it certainly doesn't make the aforesaid consensus true. Now, Bart proceeds from this consensus to a desire to enshrine it in legitimacy. When that legitimacy is challenged, the counterargument, no matter how cogent, is challenged and deemed to be “immaterial.” This or that bit of evidence is inadmissible for such-and-such flimsy reason. And then we’re back to the false consensus, and the push for legitimacy. The strategy is to “nickel-and-dime” the asserted position, regardless of evidence in its favor, into oblivion.

The Pan-European Theory has been given a lot more credence, and has gained a much greater degree of acceptance in America. It doesn’t do too badly in Canada and in Australia, either. I think in some respects it may be easier for we “colonials” to see it; because while we may have a fondness for Europe and its assorted national identities (I do), we don’t have the emotional baggage that goes along with all that.

He should start a religion, really. Liechtenauer personifies the Art for him. He has deified him, made him Hercules. He treats the entire subject as if it’s something akin to religious canon; and he is the inquisitor, and we’re the heretics. We’re the Cathars, the Gnostics who worship the “God beyond God,” as it were, and he’s got to stamp us out in the Name of Yaldabaoth. Because the heretics can be tolerated only so long as they stay quiet and don’t get uppity; but the minute they publish a book, they have to be purged.

And it’s not as if our view has remained static. In my own case, quite the contrary. I began my studies in this subject believing - as many others did, and some still maintain - that Fiore’s “art” was inherently more defensive than the “art” espoused by the Society of Liechtenauer. And why did I believe this? Because Flos Duellatorum was available to read online, and I studied mostly that. The only real exposure to the German material I’d had at that point that wasn’t effectively secondhand was Medieval Combat; that awful translation of one of Talhoffer’s treatises. The German material therefore seemed mysterian and very aggressive to me. The truth is, of course, that Fiore’s “art” is just as aggressive as Liechtenauer’s “art.” And we had several arguments about this, and you kept testing me, and I kept testing you, and we tried a lot of things out. And gradually more German material became available, and as it did it began to make more sense to me. I began seeing the connections.

So, our view has been refined by the lathe of the crucible, and by taking in more information than some do. In this way, we have taken every precaution possible to avoid circular reasoning. If that’s not “scholarly,” nothing is. Now, Bart may have gone through this process, or he may have not; but if he has, I can’t see it.

Neither can I. And I think you’ve got a point about the American thing, too.

Well, there are other opinions on that: there’s at least one that I know of who holds that we upstart Americans should “listen to the European HEMAists,” before we form our own opinions. I suppose it must be that they live in the same geographical region that the masters did, and thus the Art is somehow less inscrutable to them. Which is patently absurd. They used the same line of attack against Clements (not that I like Clements): “the Historical European Martial Arts were not invented in Houston.” Well, no, they weren’t. But that said, modern day European martial artists are no closer to the masters than Americans, Canadians, Australians, or New Zealanders, or what have you. The idea that they mystically somehow are closer to the masters is perhaps the finest example of groupthink I’ve ever run across. The culture’s changed in thousands of ways since the 1700’s, let alone the Renaissance or the medieval period. This last bit is a non sequitur, however.

It’s also revoltingly sycophantic and pure brownnosing. And yes, that’s just more context. It doesn’t make our case. But again, the other points do that. We don’t provide it as proof, just background. Those new to the subject and its modern practitioners don’t know the underlying politics involved within the “HEMA” collective.

I can already see Bart’s response to the religion analogy: “Cheap shot!” That’s special pleading. A cheap shot it may be, but that doesn’t make it untrue. It may be untrue, of course, but I doubt it. Besides, it’s “material by analogy,” as he says. The unsupported ad hominem that he throws in at the end of the quote is rather cute though, all things considered.

Yeah. Look, if you’re going to insult us, fine. Just back it up.

He doesn’t have the artillery to do that, and he knows it. That’s why he’s hiding behind foppery.

And so much of his method of "debate" is dependant upon the perception that he is holding some spurious high moral ground. He plays a game of attrition, all the while betting that he can outlast you on the merry-go-round. He knows that you’ll get exasperated with him and tell him to fuck off…

I did.

Right, and as soon as you do that - as far as he’s concerned - he “wins” by default; he can claim some hollow “moral” victory.

It’s called being an academic. I hate academics; they make a living out of being obtuse. But of course, that alone doesn’t disprove him. It’s just ad hominem, albeit supported with ample prior personal experience with the man in question.

No, but our other points do. I mention it because they’ll see, in his response to this, that what we’re saying is true.


The authors fail to take into account the fact that the long sword was a relatively recent innovation at that time, and that the invention, and propagation of the evolution of both skills and the weapon itself takes time.

We did? This is news to us. It’s right there in the book. Maybe he didn’t read it. And again, Mr. Walczak is apparently under the delusion that the Art of the Longsword burst forth into being, in its entirety, like some episode of spontaneous combustion.

If I understand his logic correctly, the longsword was invented, and once the advent of the weapon occurred, then there was a sudden, never-before-experienced need for skill in its use. That’s, well, preposterous. Any rational person knows that things simply don’t happen that way.

Furthermore, we provided the framework for that evolution in the section entitled The Lineage of the Longsword in Chapter I. Briefly, the longsword is a descendant of the earlier epee de guerre, the form of which underwent transitional changes due to advances in the armour of the day, ultimately becoming the longsword. The Art evolved along with the weapon, the weapon with the armour, and any number of other factors. It was an organic process that took quite some time (which, as it happens, is exactly what the Dobringer manuscript says).

So, once again, we must conclude that Mr. Walczak either did not read our book, or else he is deliberately misrepresenting its content. Also, there are early transitional “longsword” types still in existence from as early as 1240.

(Early transitional longsword from about 1240)

From Chapter I: “…the longsword represents an adaptation...a refinement of the earlier cutting sword (epee de guerre)…its method of use dictated by its design, and its design dictated by the conditions it faced: war, tempered by the needs of the duel - while still drawing heavily on what came before it, tangible or otherwise. It is this art that Liechtenauer (among others) codified…Finally, the art of the longsword as it comes down to us (that is, in its recognizable form) is a refinement of the mid-to-late 14th century and no sooner…”

That much is no secret, and provides ample time for propagation and evolution. We didn’t think that when the weapon physically existed would be called into question by another researcher.

We expected more from you, Bart.

In fact, they themselves admit that not everyone could know everything, because during this period secrecy was key to one's survival.

Yes, we do. A lot of that had to do with not allowing a potential opponent to see you train, and thus pick up on any patterns. Boxers watch recordings of those that they're going to go up against in the ring for the same purpose. Does that divide modern boxing into seperate "arts?" It's more about personal styles, which constitute the thinnest sliver of the overall Art. How this pertains to Mr. Walczak’s “point,” whatever it is, I’m stumped on. It can only be that, once again, he seems to be tacitly misrepresenting the content of our book in such a way as to defend the indefensible. Namely, the opinion that the various martial traditions of medieval and Renaissance Europe were very different from one another.

True, and the context is either skewed or misunderstood as well. Master Fiore admitted that not everyone could know everything, and any martial artist who says so now is a liar or an egomaniac. This is separate from the issue of secrecy, in which information was deliberately kept out of the hands of the common people, yet shared within the ranks of chivalric elite, as Master Fiore also states.

"A strike that not many other masters can tell anything about", as one fencing master aptly put it, could have saved one’s life more than once.

Doubtless it could have. But, as another master aptly put it: “For as we are not all of a single nature, so we also cannot have a single style in combat; yet all must nonetheless arise and be derived from a single basis,” (Meyer, Kevin Maurer translation). And another: “There are some Leychmeister ("dance masters") who say they have invented a new art, thinking that the art of fighting will be improved day by day. I, however, would like to see one who can come up with a fighting technique or strike not part of Liechtenauer's Art,” (Doebringer, Brian Price translation).

The sources strongly suggest that for at least fifty years the teachings of Johannes Liechtenauer remained a closely guarded secret, unlocked only by the later generation of students, when the knowledge was perhaps common enough not to warrant the secrecy any longer.

Yes, but again, a closely guarded secret within a certain class: namely, the warrior aristocracy. Not only is he attempting to draw a correlation here to when when the longsword began to fall out of practical use, he's suggesting that it began its descent way too early! Besides, the various pedagogies were already deeply commingled long before the point when the longsword's combat applications were beginning to deteriorate.

And furthermore, if it was so very secret, then how did the secret get out to the degree that the aforementioned secrecy was no longer warranted? If what he's saying were true, then someone must have been able to “unlock” it in order for it to become "common" in the first place. But if this secrecy was so very impenetrable as he suggests, then wouldn't it preclude that very thing from happening, (unless, of course, there existed an underlying, universal foundation)? No. The only thing that's impenetrable is his circular logic. Because Liechtenauer was likely a mid-14th century figure, and if Doebringer (1480's) constitutes one of the latter students directly instructed by Liechtenauer himself, then we've still got the whole 15th century to go; and the longsword was still more or less a combat-effective weapon well into the first part of the 16th. That's a long time. More than enough time for the Liechtenauer lineage to intertwine itself with any number of others. So, even if he were right, he'd still be wrong.

So, it would have been a secret within the warrior aristocracy, yes; but given the nature of feudal society, not all of the aforementioned would have been German. Fiore himself had both Italians and Germans for students, and likewise learned from an international set of instructors; and he speaks in no uncertain terms about keeping the Art a secret. But not from other members of his class, but from the peasants.

He hasn’t thought this out. Sure, they tried to hone the Art, to outdo the competition. Certainly, they attempted to keep their efforts and their points of focus secret. But how successful could such an endeavor have been? Though their applications were infinite, the options - the underlying principles - were and remain finite; particularly given the fact that we’re talking about an integrated system: “Thus will you learn gallant and cunning fighting with the longsword [upon foot]. Therewith you – without gauntlets and without full harness – guard your hands and all your body. [This goes] for all hand-to-hand weaponry – thus for sword, for spear, for halberd, for long messer, and for other weapons,” (Hugues Wittenwiller, Jeff Hull translation). And we know that there was intermixing of pedagogies! Attempting to transmogrify Liechtenauer into some kind of Archimedes of swordsmanship won’t change that. And no, that’s not a “cheap shot,” it’s a valid counterpoint.

And let’s say, just for argument, that perhaps the teachings of Master L. truly were as closely guarded as he claims. How closely guarded could they really be within his undoubtedly wide-ranging branches of schools? Even if his system were hermetically sealed to a chosen few out of an already elite group - numbering in mere the thousands at a liberal estimate - how different could it have been; and how truly secret amongst such an already exclusive demographic that promiscuously cross-trained with one another, and learned from as many instructors, some of them presumably form different martial lineages? And before you go there, yes, there is proof that others existed at the time.

Right! Exactly. The chastity of the Liechtenauer lineage had been violated long before he thinks; and more importantly, it's mother was of easy virtue within the class that made use of her. The practitioners of the Art were already closely interconnected by familial bonds, the cult of chivalry (which encompasses an entire, insulated culture unto itself; and one which, for the caste that espoused it, transcended borders), feudal oaths of loyalty, politics, and much else besides. That they might want to attempt to keep Liechtenauer’s pedagogy secret from their fellow elites, we do not contest. But were they successful to an appreciable degree? Were the Free Masons successful? I don’t see how the practitioners of the Liechtenauer pedagogy could be completely successful, particularly given the fact that the fighting men of the day traveled far and wide to learn from as many masters as they could.

Let’s take Siber as another example. He says that his “art” contains the teachings of masters from all over Europe. Does Liechtenauer’s martial lineage contain the super-secret ninja techniques of the West? Things right out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (this is called hyperbole, people). If so, then Siber’s “art” should display a tremendous degree of diversity from the distinct Liechtenauer pedagogy. But it doesn’t. He uses the same vocabulary and technical syllabus that the other Germanic masters do, (the Society of Liechtenauer included): winding, Schädelhau, Langenort, Krump, Zwerch, etc.

Yet, Siber says he studied under masters from all over the place, and he‘s not the only one. With all this intermixing, just how secret could this clandestine art of the esoteric elite-of-the-elite be? And since we’re talking about strikes, what about what Vadi says? “He that knows many strikes brings poison with him,” (Luca Porzo translation). Other examples are Fiore and Doebringer both using “iron gate” in an identical way. But wait, Doebringer’s part of the Liechtenauer canon. It must be a conspiracy! You can accuse us of cherry-picking if you want; but we're ending up with a wheelbarrow full of cherries.

Now, let’s examine the case of the Codex Wallerstein. There are a lot of techniques in there that are fairly unique. You - generally - don’t find them in other sources. This supports Bart’s conclusions, right? Wrong. How does the Codex Wallerstein begin? With the basics: stance, weight distribution, striking, binding and winding. The foundational principles which are supposedly "immaterial." From there, it enters into the verboten techniques, the apocrypha. That’s right, the secret, hush-hush stuff. And yet, one or two of these even show up in the English material, and you can see others in different sources. You can see some of it in Fiore. There’s a lot of mixing. So, just how secret was it? Yes, no one can know everything. Fiore says so plainly. The Art is vast, but that does not mean that it’s not the Art, the definite article. Does this negate, or lessen the value of the foundation? Of course not. That’s an asinine position to take. The issue at contention here is one of primacy: we say the core is primary; Mr. Walczak is at pains to prove that it’s not. A difficult proposition for him, considering the amount of evidence. I really hate having to spell things out. It puts me in a foul mood.

Bart’s assertion contradicts itself: the core foundation doesn’t matter, but there were basic similarities; the fighting men of the day learned from as many sources as possible, yet the different traditions and lineages were completely stagnant, self-contained, and somehow mysteriously very distinct from one another. This is pure cognitive dissonance. His argument that the assorted lineages were substantially different arises from a single data point: “A strike that not many other masters do not know about,” is useful, yes. But it does not comprise an Art. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Moreover, the truth stands up to scrutiny, whereas Bart’s assertions simply fall apart when you put any weight on them.

Interestingly, the conclusions of the later part of the book are defensible without such unnecessarily strong, antagonizing, and often baseless statements on the part of the authors.

Ah, the old fallacy of tone argument has reared its head. Much of our work is admittedly polemical; that said, we do not view polemical as a pejorative. Furthermore, there is a reason much of our work is polemical, and much of it has to do with the reluctance of certain parties to acknowledge the merit of overwhelming evidence. We are indeed a pair of ruthless antagonists at times; but antagonists armed with cogent arguments backed up with evidence. So, polemical, yes. But baseless? Hardly. And yes, it is "interesting," isn't it? I wonder why...

And let’s say that we had made our case less strongly. What would his line have been then? It would have been that our evidence is weak, and therefore we didn’t make our case. We had to make it as strongly as we did, precisely because of the obtuse proclivities of some in certain corners of the “HEMAsphere.”

I would like to hear what was so very baseless, so that I might serve him up the desired basis for our statements on a silver platter. Heap after heap after heap of basis. We didn’t make it up, people. What is, in fact, baseless is such a claim made without any specification, example or evidence. We must’ve hurt a feel bad.

Analogies drawn between an English style of fighting and those coming from other parts of Europe are credible in their own right, and rely mostly on basic skills, which indeed were most likely common throughout late Medieval Europe.

No argument here.

[The following chapters] lack [the] scholarly discipline that I personally would prefer to see in this kind of publication.

This is nothing more than an academic sneer; the strutting of a peacock. A Sophist's argument. And due to the fact that this statement is made without any bolstering argument or evidence, and given previous conversations between our part and the reviewer, I therefore dismiss this statement as a mere ad hominem attack. Not that we personally find anything wrong with ad hominem attacks, per se; we simply think that they should be supported with proof. We feel that the weight of the evidence presented favors us, and that the burden of proof lies with Mr. Walczak. Well-reasoned arguments bolstered by the words of the masters themselves stand as our proofs. And therefore, if Mr. Walczak wishes to do more than simply twist our words and poison the font, he should produce better evidence. As it stands, and in light of the merits of the respective arguments, we also feel that any reasonably objective person must be compelled conclude that the reviewer’s case is not proven.

Sadly, no illustration in the book, with a single exception, is credited, and some are outright misleading. A good example is an unattributed woodcut of a wounded man by Duerer, modified with a straight cross dividing it into four quarters with a stylized caption "Silver's four quarters". If one was not familiar with the picture, it would be easy to conclude that this picture was a faithful reproduction from George Silver's treatise.

Yes, because they had Windows Paint in the 1600’s. No, really, they did.

All kidding aside, I find this quibble very silly. We selected what we thought was a suitable picture - and still think that it is, given the nature of what it depicts - and overlaid it with two crossed lines to illustrate the four quarters. Yes, there is a stylized font (which we also felt was appropriate). Nonetheless, it is painfully obvious that the picture was altered to suit our purposes. Neither of us is terribly great at production quality. We simply wanted a period image with which to convey the concept. We do grant that it is not attributed, however.

That said, Mr. Walczak’s wording here leaves something to be desired, and is itself misleading. He makes it seem as if there are simply scads of pieces of unattributed historical artwork in the book, with “only a single exception.” In fact, there are only three in total.

Admittedly, I knew before placing the “wound man” in there that it might irk an academic or two. We thought it was suitably tongue-in-cheek; rife ground for academic criticism and martial amusement, well within the tradition of the original fechtbucher themselves (Fiore is a smartass, for example). We all know academics have no sense of humor. Given that Bart’s review was entirely academic, I’m not surprised; but yes, I must admit it was unattributed, however inane attributing it might have been. Spoiler alert: there are a couple of jokes in the recommended reading list as well.

[The] aesthetical experience is poor – the pictures are very contrasty or dark, and some details have been lost because of the black and white printing. Furthermore, the foliage in the background can be quite distracting at times.

Well, on some levels he's talking in the purely subjective here. Nonetheless, the actions depicted in the pictures are always clear. I wouldn't have allowed pictures in the book in which the reader would be unable to tell what we were doing. Otherwise, we concede the point.

I never noticed. I like the cool "light saber effect" we got in some of them from the sunlight. Actually they could’ve been full color, etc. but you’d have to pay a few hundred more. Also, Bart is apparently distracted by trees. Interesting...

The reference section is rather weak, and should be treated mostly as a first step in the exploration of the subject, and not in any way as a definite resource.

See? Remember what I said about if we'd made our case less strongly? Ha! We openly admit that it’s not meant to be a comprehensive bibliography. We merely listed those books which we felt were essential to our work on Lessons on the English Longsword, as well as those which we thought the reader might find useful. Pretty simple, really.

Actually I think it’s one of the better recommended reading lists for the Knightly Arts in any book out there; and in my opinion it is definitive for the specific subject of medieval/Renaissance swordsmanship as it applies to the Kingdom of England. But he's right; it shouldn’t be confused for a complete bibliography. In fact most of our sources are attributed outright, or are to be found within our extensive footnotes, (a hallmark of any scholarly work, in my opinion). If I wanted to be a dick, I could draw comparisons to his published book, which lacks recommended reading and footnotes, besides having some critical mistranslation.

I’ll be the dick. I don’t care.

Perhaps we should show a little mercy…

Pugnare ad digitum!

No, I think we’ve said enough; we’ve made all our points. We could go on, but it’s not worth the bother. He knows he’s wrong. And if he doesn’t, well…I’m not going to go there.

The reviewer then goes on to trash the production quality of our book, but this is really directed at the fine people at Paladin Press. Our editor, Jon Ford, was fantastic. I know the quality of his work. The layout is excellent. The info flows well. We didn’t put that together. The folks at Paladin did. And this from a Paladin Press author, no less. In all seriousness, the comments are so shabby that they simply aren’t even worth deigning to redress.


Today this book enjoys the monopoly on being the sole book on the subject

Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?

Note: given our numerous articles and multiple theses on some of these subjects, we feel the burden of proof is placed firmly in the court of those who wish to disprove our views, (something we’ve never seen attempted). Therefore, in future, when and if further reviews surface, we will simply refer the reader to a pre-existing refutation, or refutations. The ammunition we’ve seen being unloaded at us all these years has been pretty meager, and Bart’s review is no exception.

- B & C , 11/26/11.


Rebuttal To B. Walczak, Part Two: Context

In the interest of full disclosure, we should perhaps make the reader fully aware of some background: both of the authors of LotEL have debated Mr. Walczak before, and these exchanges have not always ended as amicably as they perhaps could have. We believe that this should be taken into consideration when reading his review of our book. That said, keep in mind that this post does not stand as proof of our arguments over his, nor is it explicitly a counterattack. It is merely context. Context alone cannot stand as proof, but what it can do is shed light on motivation and on modus operandi. In this case, the motivations and M.O. of one Bart Walczak.

We are no strangers to the difficult task of jousting in the realm of ideas with Bart. Combined, we’ve debated several subjects over the years (Brandon less than Casper, however). And, if we are to be completely honest - as indeed we wish to be - in addition to being a degreed physicist, he is a learned and eloquent opponent. However, these do not number amongst the reasons why he is a difficult adversary to find sitting across from one at the debating table…

Simply put, there is no debating with Mr. Walczak: if one finds oneself inhabiting a position that is contrary to his own, he simply will not permit a debate regarding the matter to occur. He engages one in an obtuse exercise altogether different from a debate: he will “converse” with one on the matter, and in a round about sort of way, inform one with canonical certainty that one is irredeemably wrong. This process may or may not be accompanied with evidence or actual arguments in his favor. If one protests at this, he will not hear of it, and will tell one in the in the most condescending fashion he can muster that one is - still - wrong.

You can provide counterpoints, back them up with solid evidence and good arguments that directly disprove, or simply cast doubt upon his position. It’s of no concern to him: he will inevitably either refuse to acknowledge their merit by poisoning the well, engage in special pleading (“cheap shot!”), proffer non sequiturs ("do you trust Doebringer’s magical spells, too?"), or simply ignore them and come at one again with the same talking points, albeit in a slightly more oblique manner. In sum: to debate Mr. Walzcak is to - unknowingly or unknowingly - purchase a ticket for an amusement park ride that does nothing but circumnavigate an infuriating circle, ad nauseum, for what seems like an eternity. It’s enough to make one wish he had been aborted and therefore would not have had to endure that particular excruciating, pedantic merry-go-round at all. It’s a game of ever-depleting attrition, and no evidence, no matter how strong or material, will break the cycle. He will see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

Due to this predilection on the part of Mr. Walczak, we do not intend to engage him in a debate regarding his mendacious review of our book. We could no more do that than walk on water. We can merely offer a thorough rebuttal, which you will find above this post.

And yet, again we must say that Mr. Walczak is indeed the keenly intelligent, well-spoken individual we have said he is; albeit one who has rather unfortunately taken it upon himself to defend an untenable standpoint. Indeed, he has chosen to ignore the words of the masters of the Art - the final authority (what other sources do we have?) from whence all modern practitioners derive both knowledge of the Art, and ultimately, skill in it.

This is all we wish to say regarding this matter.

- B & C.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Dokkodo ● Der Einsame Weg ● The Lonesome Way

A Contextual Martial Trilingual Presentation

Readers: I did this for serious amusement.  I actually did my English translation from the German translation by YT, and then put that into (my questionable) modern Japanese rendering.  Thus I did something of a reverse translation, because I did not have access to the original MM scrolls as evidently YT did.  That said, what these translations offer is a presentation of Dokkodo by Master Musashi that is contextual (i.e. culturally accurate), martial (i.e. for the warrior and not for the corporate bastard) and trilingual (i.e. something unique amid the InterWeb).  Please enjoy! ~























Der Einsame Weg

Musashi Miyamoto

1. Ich handle nicht gegen die traditionelle Moral.

2. Ich bin in keinerlei Hinsicht voreingenommen.

3. Ich strebe nicht nach Behaglichkeit.

4. Ich überschätze mich nicht, schätze jedoch das Volk sehr.

5. Ich bleibe mein ganzes Leben lang frei von Habgier.

6. Ich bedaure niemals, was ich getan habe.

7. Ich beneide niemals andere, weder wegen ihres Glückes noch aufgrund meines eigenen Unglücks.

8. Ich bin nicht darüber betrübt, von jemandem oder von etwas getrennt zu werden.

9. Ich tadele weder mich noch andere.

10. Ich träume nicht davon, mich in eine Frau zu verlieben.

11. Ich habe keine Vorlieben oder Abneigungen.

12. Ich lehne keinerlei Unterkunft ab.

13. Ich beanspruche kein wohlschmeckendes Essen für mich selbst.

14. Ich sammle keine antiken und seltenen Gegenstände.

15. Ich vollziehe keine Reinigungszeremonien und lebe nicht abstinent, um mich vor Bösem zu schützen.

16. Ich finde keinen Gefallen an irgendwelchen Utensilien, ausser an Schwertern und anderen Waffen.

17. Ich werde auf dem Weg der Gerechtigkeit nicht an meinem Leben hängen.

18. Ich wünsche mir keinen bequemen Altersruhesitz.

19. Ich achte Götter und Buddha, doch ich mache mich nicht von ihnen abhängig.

20. Ich werde eher mein Leben aufgeben als meinen Namen beschmutzen.

21. Mein Herz und meine Seele werden nicht einen Augenblick lang vom Weg des Schwertes abweichen.
The Lonesome Way

Musashi Miyamoto

1. I do not act counter to traditional morality.

2. I am in no sense whatsoever partisan or prejudiced.

3. I do not strive for comfort.

4. I do not overvalue myself, yet I well-value Humanity.

5. I stay free from greed my whole life long.

6. I never regret what I have done.

7. I never begrudge others, neither for their fortune nor for my own misfortune.

8. I am accordingly not aggrieved to become separated from someone or from something.

9. I berate neither myself nor others.

10. I dream not of falling in love with a woman.

11. I have neither likes nor dislikes.

12. I reject no form of lodging.

13. I require no delicious food for myself.

14. I collect no antique and rare objects.

15. I perform no cleansing ceremonies, and do not live abstinent, in order to protect me from Evil.
16. I find no pleasure in any utensils except for swords and other weaponry.

17. I become not dependent upon the Way of Justice in my life.

18. I wish for my elderly self no cushy rest-home.

19. I respect Kami and Buddha, yet I do not make myself dependent upon them.

20. I would sooner give up my life than befoul my name.

21. My heart and my soul become not diverted, for even a moment, from the Way of the Sword.

Modern Japanese Rendering (of questionable correctness):
Jeffrey Hull; Oregon; 2011
Copyright 2011 of Jeffrey Hull.

German Translation:
Das Buch der Fünf Ringe – Klassische Strategien aus dem alten Japan; Musashi Miyamoto (auth) & Yamada Taro (transl); Piper; München; 2003
Copyright 2003 of Yamada Taro.

English Translation:
Jeffrey Hull; Oregon; 2011
Copyright 2011 of Jeffrey Hull.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mercenaries and Techniques

Mercenaries and Techniques

by Richard Marsden

Northern Italy saw the mixing and interaction of martial arts and became a place where techniques were shared, or otherwise learned. In particular, the use of the longsword was codified by Fiore and most likely influenced by a variety of nationalities (including his own)-thanks (in part) to mercenaries. Mercenaries themselves, however, did not write down their techniques, nor were they the intended audience of any written martial material.

During the 14th century in Italy, particularly in the walled city of Florence a Renaissance was occurring. However, while thoughts on science, architecture, sculpture and painting were being revitalized in an atmosphere of high culture and more importantly wealth, there was another more martial Renaissance taking place.

Unable, or unwilling, to fight, the city-states of Northern Italy fell into the practice of hiring soldiers to conduct the dirty business of war. These soldiers had come pouring over the Alps after the Pope, who was in a state of self-imposed exile in Avignon, literally paid marauding bandits to 'go away'.

Pope Innocent VI's, albeit reluctant, decision in 1361 to pay armed men to leave him alone only encouraged more freebooters. A momentary pause in the Hundred Years War between England and France did not help either, with soldiers on both sides suddenly finding themselves without employment. Armed men, eager for work and glory marched into Northern Italy to find a countryside ripe for plunder, divided by internal squabbles, and more importantly, drenched in wealth. This wasn't the first time Italy had drawn in soldiers looking for work, with former-Crusaders, roving Spaniards and nearby Germans having done so before in the preceding centuries, however this time the sheer volume of armed foreigners outpaced what had been seen in times past.

Genoa, Florence, Milan, the Kingdom of Modena, Pisa and other states in Northern Italy all took up the practice of hiring outsiders. These mercenaries took on the name, condottiere which is based on the word 'contract'. The word mercenary itself comes from the Latin word mercenarius or the more general term mercedes, both of which imply someone who does something for pay. The word 'merchant' and 'mercenary' come from the same root and in the context of the times, both the seller of silk and the seller of war were seen as a necessary evil.

These initial mercenaries were by and large, not Italian, though locals quickly enough got involved in 'the game'. The city-states for the most part lacked the able-bodied, or interested population to conduct warfare on their own, or as in the case of the famous crossbowmen of Genoa, they went elsewhere to fight! This lack of Italian soldiery was much to the annoyance of Machiavelli who in the 1500' saw mercenaries as a blight and hoped for a more citizen-based

army to replace them. His arguments against mercenaries included such valid points as their price, their reluctance to engage in pitched (and potentially costly) battle and a growing and accurate sense that the more organized neighbors of the Italian city-states were becoming increasingly dangerous. France and the Holy Roman Empire in particular were meddling heavily.

In his own words, "The mercenary captains are either capable men or they are not; if they are, you cannot trust them, because they always aspire to their own greatness, either by oppressing you, who are their master, or others contrary to your intentions; but if the captain is not skillful, you are ruined in the usual way."
Alas, Machiavelli's complaints about mercenaries was correct, but he was fighting against a practice that, by his lifetime, was well-established in Italy. There were even born and bred Italian condottiere by the time Machiavelli was writing The Prince, merrily fighting their own countrymen for whoever would pay the most.

Who were these vile men, needed by Italy, yet written about with scorn by one her greatest political thinkers?


The men who marched into Italy in 1361 were not a homogeneous collection. The White Company, for example was captained by a German, Albert Sterz, and populated with a wide variety of Europeans including a great sum of Englishmen. When John Hawkwood took command of the same company, it consisted of Englishmen, Hungarians, Germans and eventually, Bretons and Frenchmen. Men, who in France had been at one another's throats, found themselves working together in Italy.

Working is the correct term. Mercenary companies had a Great Captain, but he in turn sub-contracted for men. Rule was partially democratic with a Great Captain having to keep his contractors happy, well-paid, and busy. Idle mercenaries tended to sack the nearest town.This great collection of men in Italy increased as anyone with skill in swordsmanship, archery or the use of the lance could find themselves in great demand in the relatively pleasant climate of Italy.

Meanwhile, political events continued to attract mercenaries to the peninsula. The pause in the Hundred Years War freed up hordes of soldiers on both sides of the conflict, Milan and the Visconti's desire to increase their influence was a continual source of strife, and thus work for mercenaries. Papal and Holy Roman politics didn't help either, with the occasional Holy Roman Emperor crossing the Alps, or papal division stirring up trouble, such as when three separate men were proclaimed the pontiff of Rome at the same time.

The petty and continual wars in Italy was a source of income for many a foreigner and in some cases even more. John Hawkwood became so powerful that he was able to marry Donnina Visconti, illegitimate daughter of Bernardo, master of Milan. Later, having switched sides and contracting with Florence (his wife didn't mind), Hawkwood was given lavish pay and died comfortably in a little villa outside the city. Wisely, Florentines were reluctant to let foreigners inside their walls, unless they were dead. Hawkwood was buried within the city and had a monument in his name constructed. His corpse was later sent back home to England by special request of the king. Not bad for an outsider!

Locals could do even better. Francisco Sforza, whose father had been an Italian-born condottiere was able to work for Milan, married the Visconti's duke daughter, then switched sides and worked for Florence. Milan had apparently not learned from their dealing with Hawkwood that marriages were no guarantee of loyalty. When the Duke of Milan died without an heir, Francisco Sforza stepped in and took the reins of power- by force. He was one of the first, but not last, Mercenary Kings.

The lure of riches and political power drew soldiers to Italy continually until larger, powerful neighbors, namely France and the Holy Roman Empire, intervened - just as Machiavelli feared.

Martial Practices

Identifying the techniques used by the mercenaries of Northern Italy is not easy. Despite their long stay in Italy, details on the individual lives of the soldiers was never a concern to those who were writing at the time. Machiavelli, for example, was more interested in the long-term consequences of mercenary employment, rather than how they used their weapons.

There are glimmers however, and some loose connections that can be made.

Records indicate that the English who crossed the Alps in 1361 fought in units of three known as a lance. The lance consisted of an armored soldier, a page, and a longbowman. All three were mounted, but fought on foot with the armored soldier using a foot-lance.

Archery, was probably a skill that could not be easily shared or taught. Mastery of the longbow took years of practice, which is why France, for example, had to rely on crossbowmen during the Hundred Years War.
The use of the lance, mounted and on foot, was something easier to teach and there is no reason to think that German, Breton, or Italian soldiers didn't pick up on English practices and vice-versa.
In the case of the longsword there is more compelling, but still passing evidence of shared techniques and a blending of styles.

The founder of the German school of thought on the use of the longsword was Johannes Leichtenauer. He did not invent the longsword's use, but he did travel about and get information on its use. A poem of his techniques is attributed to the year 1389.

In England, a series of verse holds within its cryptic writing longsword techniques. The author of MS Harely 3542 is unknown and currently the manuscript is believed to date to the 14th century.

In Northern Italy, a complete fighting manual, with verse and pictures, was created by Fiore de Liberi and printed in 1410 for Nicolo D'Este, master of Modena, who incidentally had replaced a retiring John Hawkwood as leader of the Papal forces opposing Visconti expansion.

All three documents were probably written by masters who were in their fifties or older. These men, as Fiore admits to in his own introduction, traveled around to learn their art and wrote down what they saw as 'best' practices. Neither Fiore, nor Liechtenauer are seen as originators of the art, they are instead well-known teachers of it, and like all good teachers, had their own
way of presenting information and their own preferences.

Where men like Liechtenauer or Fiore traveled to is difficult to say. When it is said Liechtenauer traveled to many countries, this very well might mean he visited the various kingdoms of the Holy Roman Empire and learned from only German speaking masters. Whoever wrote MS Harely 3542 may very well have never left England. Making a case that national styles blended using these two sources is shaky at best.

Fiore, however, provides ample clues of a more mixed learning of style. Fiore traveled to many lands and met many masters, and even if he meant he traveled to the various city-states and never crossed the Alps, it is almost a certainty he had access to many masters of a variety of nationalities- namely mercenaries.

It is logical to assume that the great swarm of mercenaries flooding Italy would be, at the very least, mildly interested in how to use their own weapons! While Machiavelli claimed they hardly fought a battle, this is not true. Pitched battles, while rare, did occur such as at Castagnaro, and skirmishing and raiding for plunder was a continual tactic used by the Great Companies, a technique which had come from the English chevauchees (raids) of the Hundred Years War.

Fiore's formative years were during the years when mercenaries, such as John Hawkood and Albert Sterz, were making names for themselves in Northern Italy. These Great Captains were not foolish men, and if they sub-contracted, there is no reason to think they would not want men of skill. Masters of various weapon systems would have been in high demand. More importantly, masters would have come from all over Europe.

Fiore could very easily have encountered men who had been taught, or at least influenced by Leichtenauer and the author of MS Harely or their contemporaries. Englishmen, Germans, Bretons and more all brought to Italy soldiery, there is no reason to think they did not bring their techniques with them as well.

Were these techniques vastly different? Did an Englishman use his longsword in a way that a German might find alien? Probably not, given a longsword can be used only so many ways and the human body too has only so many movements it can accomplish. However, the texts we have from England and Germany indicate there was no unified way of teaching the use of the longsword (they aren't identical) and that different masters preferred different techniques.

Fiore, for instance, is clear in that his fighting manual covers the safest and best techniques, not all of them. Fiore's idea of safe and best is not necessarily what Liechtenauer would say was best, or the author of MS Harely were they ever to meet.

All the elements of a blending of national 'styles' is evident in Italy during the mid to late 1300's. Soldiers, who clearly knew their craft, flooded Northern Italy and hailed from a variety of places. There was already a documented system of the use of the longsword in both England and Germany and those nationalities were heavily involved in Northern Italy throughout the mid 14th century. Fiore, an Italian master of the era, stated in his own introduction he traveled around and met (and dueled) many masters. Given how many warriors in Italy were non-native at the time, it's hard to believe Fiore would exclude non-Italians in his quest for knowledge.

Were the Manuals on Combat By Mercenaries for Mercenaries?

There is no documentation that mercenaries read about any formalized techniques. Hawkwood, for example, was illiterate, or nearly so with his wife conducting much of his affairs when it came to letters and documents. The audience of the manuals on swordplay are also difficult to ascertain.

Fiore's 'Flower of Battle' was written for a well-read and well-learned noble. D'Este at the time he received the book was not in a position to engage in the practice of dueling (he was too important)- yet Fiore states his own victories in five deadly duels and recounts the more 'friendly' bouts of his students in the barriers, and Fiore shows certain techniques, such as caustic powder in a pole-axe, that seem more directed to dueling, (sneaky or otherwise) than warfare. On the other hand, the techniques in Fiore's manual work in and out of armor and he shows a complete system, ranging from the use of the dagger, spear, sword in one hand, two, the lance, mounted combat, pole-axe and more! Self-defense? Battlefield? Dueling? Perhaps the line between all three is not concrete?

In the case of Liechtenauer and his tradition, the later manuals seem more directed toward judicial dueling than battlefield use as seen in Jeffrey Hull's, 'Knightly Dueling'. However, what techniques work in a German judicial duel would be of value in one of the many skirmishes, that plagued Italy where small forces engaged one another more often than mass formations.

MS Harely's audience can only be guessed at, though it can be read to be a system that could tackle multiple opponents in what might be a skirmish setting, as portrayed by Benjamin Bradak and Brandon Helsop's 'Lessons on the English Longsword', or it could be simply a series of drills that encourage changing direction. There are few clues!

What is certain, is that the manuals were not for mercenaries nor by mercenaries. Mercenary masters may have influenced them though, especially in the case of Fiore given the atmosphere he lived in.


Mercenaries from many nationalities, in particular England and German speaking kingdoms were active in the mid to late 1300's in Italy. These mercenaries were in many cases veterans of the Hundred Years War.

Mercenaries, by their very nature, needed to know how to use their weapons and there is no reason to think that masters of arms would not be drawn to Italy to train mercenaries.

Some weapon systems were too difficult to teach. The use of the longbow, for example, required too many years and almost a 'lifestyle' to use properly. Other weapon systems, namely the use of the longsword, was easier to pass on.

The use of the longsword well-predates the mid-1300's, however three manuals on the use of the longsword, from three different masters, from three different nationalities appear roughly in the same time-period.

Fiore, one of those masters, lived in Northern Italy during the time when mercenaries were prevalent and traveled around to learn his craft. Given how many soldiers from various nationalities were active, there is no need for him to have left Northern Italy to learn the art of combat.

Mercenaries, by and large didn't read. John Hawkwood, one of the most famous mercenaries, was barely literate and he was the man in charge!

Mercenaries were not the intended audience of the written manuscripts by Liechtenauer, Fiore and whoever wrote MS Harely 3542. The intended audience was literate, probably noble in origin (as was the case of D'Este), and looking at Fiore and later German works, probably interested in judicial duels and self-defense- though battlefield use, especially in skirmish scenarios, cannot be entirely ruled out.

Mercenaries probably influenced Fiore's writing, the alternative would involve Fiore turning a blind eye to the sea of experience around him. All the professional warriors of his day were mercenaries, and at the time the majority were not Italian. While the mercenary masters did not write their techniques down, it would have been pointless, Fiore did and compiled them into a 'best practices' manuscript that he adapted to his audience.

This leads to the conclusion that the use of the longsword was less national in style in the case of Fiore, but rather a collection of techniques from many nationalities brought over by the great mercenary influx of 1361. These techniques stemmed specifically from German speaking soldiers and English, both of which were common in Northern Italy and would have been hard to ignore. Italian masters of arms assuredly existed before, and assuredly after this influx, but Fiore would have to willfully exclude experienced foreigners if he were to create a specifically Italian style.

Records on mercenaries, despite their long use in Northern Italy is spotty. Even the most illustrious of mercenary captains were considered outsiders. John Hawkwood was considered by the Florentines as a savior from Milanese domination. However, they ensured he stayed outside their city-walls whenever possible. The common mercenary soldiers are poorly documented. This may be because the line between mercenary and bandit, especially in 14th century Italy, was very thin- and who wants to write about how bandits swing their swords?

Suggested Reading

"Italian Medieval Mercenaries" David Nicolle and GA Embleton
"The Art of War in the Middle Ages" Charles Oman
"Medieval Warfare" Peter Reid
"The Devil's Broker" Francess Saunders
"Medieval Mercenaries" William Urban

NOTE: the labels for this post (there weren't any) have been added by me. - B.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Chivalric Song of Roland and the Modern Warrior


It has been a while since I’ve written anything substantial for this blog. In fact, I’ve been writing, but mostly on modern martial topics that don’t quite fit here. This bit, however, is close enough to share here, as it applies to martial artists in general; ideals, conduct and ethics, specifically. If it fails to be epic, it was meant as notes to be read to my students.

The Song of Roland is an epic poem written at the turn of the 12th century AD romanticizing the deeds of Charlemagne and his knights in the 8th century. Roland was a great and loyal warrior, and the song describes his betrayal at the hand of Ganelon.
Within the song, there is one of the earliest recorded codes of Chivalry which remained as a foundation for such until the warrior class was eventually displaced by the ignoble gun.

Chivalry, like Bushido, is impossible to truly follow within our modern society, where a relatively independent warrior class can no longer exist within it. However, many aspects of such codes are alive and well to martial artists; those who still have a warrior calling. As with warriors in any age, we model ourselves upon the ideal warriors of ages past, and all ideal warriors have had a code they strove to live by.

One can always take the principle meanings behind ancient warrior texts and apply them, in principle, to any job, business, life, etc. Sun Tzu’s Art of War, for example, is probably used by more businessmen than generals. A good enough idea, but I can’t help but find it degrading and contemptible to try, personally, coming from a warrior angle myself. So, use these as you will, but I am not going to try to warp this warrior code into some banal remains of glory. Again, I am applying this to our contemporary martial artists, though we cannot obtain former glories. Expounding upon the Code of Charlemagne, I will primarily keep to the secular virtues, as the non-secular ideals are fairly straight forward and no longer universal. However, I will include them to keep the code complete.

As a special aside for my students, and students of the American Kenpo Karate system in general, note that most of these chivalric principles have an equivalent in the various pledges of the system, and I encourage you to make the comparisons.

The Code:

1. To fear God and maintain His Church.
Religion has always been a particular incentive to warriors so inclined due to the deadly nature of their studies. It is imperative to those with such a faith to maintain a clear conscience, because combat can occur at any time, and to paraphrase another chivalric treatise, it takes only one swift stroke to send you to hell forever. Going into battle expecting to be able to clear one’s conscience at the time of action is the same as a martial artist hoping to have a chance to stretch and limber up before he is ambushed on the street.

2. To serve the liege lord in valor and faith.
Warriorhood has, in most cases, been a calling of service; those who direct the warrior are generally incapable of committing to personal violence themselves. It is no coincidence that knight and samurai both have essentially the same meaning at their root; servant. Exceptions to servitude being those such as the knight errant, and ronin. Most martial artists will not have a liege lord, so to speak, but not all. Soldiers, for example, are sworn to obey their chain of command. But in any case, to serve in valor and faith is to serve both in physical deed and in principle loyalty. To do otherwise is falsehood.

3. To protect the weak and defenseless.
This particular virtue is small in word and great in deed. So great, in fact, that very few uphold it, for it places one in harm’s way. But when it comes down to it, the warrior lifestyle is not a selfish one, but a selfless one. Only a coward thinks of their personal defense alone, and what kind of coward would spend years in physical training solely for his personal defense? Helping the helpless in dangerous circumstances is something martial artists should aspire to.
For example, in the American Kenpo system, the blue belt pledge includes …and will defend, with all the skill I possess, the weak, the helpless, and the oppressed. These should not be hollow words for any warrior.

4. To give succor to widows and orphans.
This one may seem less relevant now than it did a thousand years ago, but in principle it is not. This is an ideal that literally held, and holds, society together; caring for those less fortunate, and for those that cannot care for themselves, particularly if robbed of their provider by war or violence, and particularly the un-pensioned family of a warrior.

5. To refrain from the wanton giving of offence.
One who trains for violence shows his discipline with humility and graciousness, and does not needlessly pick fights, nor does he insult those weaker than himself. Any serious discipline should spawn good manners. Grave arts breed grave knowledge and consequence, and such knowledge leads one to value life and, by extension, not jeopardize it.

6. To live by honor and for glory.
Honor, being the approval of one’s peers, is the greatest of aspirations, at least if one’s peers value virtue. Glory is the path to honor for the warrior.

7. To despise pecuniary reward.
A greatest element of warrior virtue and source of honor is to undertake hardship without monetary compensation. A familiar example in film would be the efforts of the peculiarly chivalrous Seven Samurai. Virtue is its own reward, and honor even greater. Pursuit of pecuniary reward makes one a mercenary, not a warrior.

8. To fight for the welfare of all.
This is part of the selfless life of the warrior. A self-serving warrior lacks honor, and his glory is hollow. Selfless deeds withstand time, selfish ones die with those who commit them.

9. To obey those placed in authority.
Just as the succoring of widows and orphans holds together society, obeying those in authority holds together the school or the military, be they an instructor, assistant, or even a new team leader. It is essential that warriors act in a cohesive manner and not invite discord amongst themselves, whatever the setting.

10. To guard the honor of fellow knights.
You should always protect the good name and honor of your peers and fellow students if they are unable to do so themselves, be they fellow martial students, soldiers, etc. Even in spite of personal differences, professional accord is essential. If a warrior will not protect the honor of his peers, no one will, and I for one would hope the same would be done for me.

11. To eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit.
This is self-explanatory and can reference other principles of the Code, such as number five. It is not becoming of a warrior to be unfair, mean or deceitful. However, it must be stressed, that unfairness and deceit are principles of combat that should be exploited, and that this principle is not referring to combat, but to warrior behavior. Meanness, or cruelty, for its own sake, however, has no place, not even in combat. This is a creed that sets civilized warriors apart.

12. To keep faith.
To remain loyal. Honor your vows. Be loyal to your school, association, comrades, fellow students and instructor. The bond between student and instructor is a sacred one, and it should be honored.

13. At all times to speak the truth.
Most think this impossibly hard, but it is not. It is better to remain quiet or well lettered if one cannot be truthful. To quote a silly movie, “We are men of action. Lies do not become us.” A warrior’s honor hinges on forthrightness and the strength of his word.

14. To persevere to the end in any enterprise begun.
This is an essential warrior trait in any case, but it would not have to be mentioned if warrior enterprises were easy. They are often the most difficult. The fortitude to complete the mission, get the black belt, or any other task you have committed yourself to is of the essence. If the warrior cannot persevere, he is not really a warrior. We see drop-outs all the time. Where do they go? What do they do? They leave warriorhood. No songs are written for them.

15. To respect the honor of women.
As a generalization (which certainly does not apply to all), women lack many of the safeguards that men take for granted, particularly warriors. Many criminals victimize women for just this reason; they would not do the same to men, particularly warriors, out of fear. In the same vein, though perhaps not with means of a criminal nature, women are taken advantage of. Thusly the warrior must keep women’s honor in mind in much the same way as he would respect the helpless or less fortunate already mentioned, or the good name of his peers.

16. Never to refuse a challenge from an equal.
This mainly refers to martial challenges, not ping pong or cricket, and by equal, it refers to our peers. Equal has varying definition, depending on what you do and where you are, but you should know the difference. Modern society complicates this. It was an easier consideration in the time of the warrior classes when an equal could be easily identified in any instance (caste systems made it easy). The other side of this coin, and at least as important, is that challenges should not be made lightly.

17. Never to turn the back upon a foe.
This has dual meaning, much of it more applicable to the knight of centuries ago than the warrior of today. Of course in combat, we would not turn our back when engaged with an opponent, which applies to all warriors all of the time, but it also has the implication of the eschewing of cowardly retreat (not to be confused with a tactical retreat; where you draw the line will depend upon your definition, and what is at stake). A third implication is that we should not pass up on a chance to engage an enemy; an honorable ideal, but best tempered by discretion (warriors who lack discretion may be valorous, but they tend not to last).


Copyright Sept. 20th, 2011, Benjamin "Casper" Bradak