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

Friday, September 9, 2011

Raising the Dead, Raising the Bar:


Based upon some of the preliminary feedback in response to the Project Partisan proposal, I think it’s appropriate to clarify some things. First of all, I’m serious. Here and now, I’m laying all snarky joking aside, and emphatically stating that this is not some stupid, self-satisfied, twee attempt to simply create a new arena for drama. I may throw a lot of things out the window, sensitivity included (there are people with congenital behavior disorders who are more socially adept than me); but one thing I do hold in absolute reverence is the Art. I’ll genuflect to that, and the historical masters, every time.

Here’s why I think Project Partisan, or something like it, is desperately needed. Where are we going? There have been dedicated individuals pouring over the historical sources for a little over two decades now. In regards to the “medieval” sources, we’re talking about a limited, though fairly substantial body of material; and it is very clear (when taken as a whole) in regards to its underlying foundational principles, technique, methodology, philosophy, and pedagogy.* And it is thus more than capable of delineating its precepts, of generating a clear picture of itself, and being self-sustaining. And yet, we can’t even agree on the fundamentals.

While there are, doubtless, codices yet to be uncovered, I very much doubt anything monumental or earth-shattering is going to be dredged up that’s going to fundamentally alter the whole picture. It’s possible, I suppose. And yes, there are gaps, but there are gaps in the fossil record, too; and unless you’re interested in being a Bible literalist (and who knows, you might be), there’s no decent reason to deny the picture forming of what’s happened. There’s no good reason too when it comes to our subject, either.

So, again, where are we going? Russ Mitchell has called the modern practice of the Chivalric Martial Arts “necromancy,” (because there’s no living lineage). Well, that may be the case. But, we’ve laid out all the vital pieces of the corpse on the lab table, stitched them together, and Doctor Frankenstein has run a few thousand volts through our monstrosity and brought it to a semblance of life. And yet, it’s nothing more than a shambling abomination, pawing at a foil, its addled mind a scrap heap of jumbled, incoherent concepts and half understood principles it can’t even articulate. It’s the materialist’s worst nightmare: there is a soul after all; and it is in fact vital for cognition, for shunting the world into its proper alignment, for making sense of our surroundings, and the meaning of things. Our soulless thing is stuck in a meaningless existence and is running on instinct and brain stem alone. What’s lacking? The Monster is greater than the sum of its parts. Can we forge a new soul for our reanimate pseudo-art, or are we destined to carry on stumbling around in the dark? I know two things: the status quo will not yield results in this matter; and the Art is the soul of our subject.

I’ve said that after the ARMA Exodus, I wanted a revolution. It was time for a radical paradigm shift: with all the intensity and martiality that had guided us before left intact,** but with hopefully a greater degree of control (it is possible, and even desirable, to engage in a bout of intense sparring and still maintain a high degree of technical and tactile control. One can still press the opponent to great exertion – was sehrt, das lehrt – without mercilessly thwacking the spit out of him. It may sound like a novel concept, but it gets easier with time). The great thing was that the core was already formed. No need to start from scratch. But it didn’t pan out, at least not as far as I’m concerned. Instead, it was more like a messy divorce. A mixture of boredom and squeamishness.

There are issues at play that have been festering under the skin of the scattershot CMA/HEMA collective (at last, I’ve found an alternate to “community”) that need to be addressed. This would involve a lot of friction, of course. But it’s a rumble that’s been waiting to happen. There’s no sense in ignoring it. And apart from sniping away on these electronic pages, that’s all I’ve been doing; but ignoring it won’t make the issues go away. I suppose that I can take heart in the fact that, if I had gone the other route and joined up with one of the zombie umbrella orgs, it wouldn’t have mattered, either. That’s produced little to nothing, too.

So, let’s fight it out. Let’s raise the bar, and elevate this to the next level. It can’t come without pain. We might as well get it over with. Again, I’m open to suggestions and alternate structures or formulas.

It’s up to you.


*Though this last, quite naturally, does vary from one degree or another from master to master. This is to be expected, of course. Of all the masters, Fiore is the most explicit and straightforward about the reasons for this variance in presentiment. He includes only those techniques that he believed would best serve his potential students (the readers of his treatises), and formulated a system of presentation and pedagogy around those, (and NOT the other way around). However, the well that he himself drew upon was much, much deeper than that mere pedagogy, or presentiment; a fact which he is equally open about. His teachers were Germans, Italians, and possibly (or even probably) others. He also said that there can be no master without books on the subject, and that he owned several of these himself; and therefore clearly recommended that his students seek out other treatises to study in addition to his own. Now purists, do you really think all those treatises that Fiore mentioned were Italian (of any region within that ever-shifting, chaotic landscape)? I’ll put my left testicle on the line that many of them were German or from even further afield.

Therefore, there was no dividing lines in ens, but only illusory, imagined, or artificial dividing lines, drawn in the sand only to be washed away by the inexorable tide of the Art as a whole. The Art is the sea, the works of the masters are mere banks of rivers it courses its way inland through, often bleeding out of it’s ephemeral confines into patches of murky swampland, with no markers, boundaries, or islets of vaunted pedagogy to cling to. In some areas, it alters the landscape altogether. So, you’d better be able to swim in it, or you’ll drown. Dobringer, of course, goes even further: Liechtenauer did not conceive of the Art, the Art, centuries older than he, conceived of him.

**And no, John Clements didn’t “invent” that. You can’t patent martial intensity. Furthermore, there were plenty of others doing it, and the historical texts are pretty clear on that regard. Hell, my favorite line from Man yt Wol spells it out for the reader in no uncertain terms: This is the letter, for standing in his sight; either to play, teach, or else for to fight. Note the word “play,” by the way. As in “swordplay.” And this did not originally mean actual fighting, but controlled bouts between two or more fencers. Direct evidence, right there, of sparring in the historical source texts. The Germans called it schimpf (sp?), which also, roughly, means “play.” Le Jeu de la Hache means “axe play,” and from the context of the text, it’s clear that the author is not talking about life-or-death fighting; although he does very clearly state that the techniques taught within the text are applicable to that arena. So, there’s another historical example of “play” in reference to sparring. Somebody had better page Hugh Knight. Sigh. There I go again. Told you I was incorrigible.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Hair and the Ages

By Richard Marsden

Throughout European history hair has been important enough to shed blood over. One would not want long, luxurious hair in the presence of a bowl-cut Parliamentarian of the 1600's, and certainly an ancient Roman would turn his nose at an outrageous beard and a short-hair peasant of Revolutionary France might get quite enraged at the sight of a powdered wig. Hair is important and its styles throughout time have been for practical purposes, but also for outrageous reasons as well. Here is a brief look at hair for men throughout the ages.

Romans - Romans built things to last. Their bridges still work, their roads still function and we have them to thank for concrete, the arch, American government, arenas and 'professional wrestling', which was known as 'gladiator games' in those days. The Roman empire at its height enabled a man to travel from Iberia to Jerusalem on Roman roads, speaking Latin, using coins with a Caesars face stamped upon them. Of all their enduring works, hair-style was one of them.

Popular now as much as it was back then, the Caesar-cut is a typical Roman style of hair that was popular with the soldier types. Cut short, there is nothing for an enemy to grab onto, neither lock nor beard. After all, only barbarians would wear endless facial hair. The Caesar-cut is also comfortable in warmer climates such as can be found in many Roman provinces in and around the Mediterranean.

Unlike the Caesar salad, which is named after Caesar Cardini, an Italian-American cook, the Caesar-cut is in fact named after Julius Caesar and modeled after his bust. His haircut, however, is little different from all Roman military men of the era.

Greeks, Goths and Vikings- Ancient Greeks valued their hair. Long, curly hair and full beards were seen as a sign of strength and vigor. When one thinks of a statue of Zeus, does not a long white beard come to mind as readily as a lightning bolt? Greek statues often depict men with full beards, while women and boys are shown as without hair. Beards indicated age, while a full head of hair showed vitality. In battle, the grabbing of an opponent's beard was considered a legitimate tactic. Greeks eventually saw the wearing of long hair as prideful, but the wearing of beards remained a staple. The Romans, who so often copied the Greeks, could never understand why they would embrace being so hairy.

The Germanic barbarians who sacked Rome and the Vikings who pillaged throughout the Dark Ages on the other hand fully concurred with full-bearded Greeks when it came how to wear one's hair. The typical 'Goth' wore his hair long, and though it was not as curly as that of the Greeks, it was impressive. No man would willingly lack some facial hair, if not a full beard then at least a long moustache! Such was a sign of youth and manhood. Only women and effete Romans were clean-shaven!

Did these Germanic and Viking barbarians inherit their sense of style from the Greeks? Possibly. Both old-German and Norse Gods bear many similarities to that of the Greeks and may be Germanized versions or adaptations. The Old Norse runic language may also have some Greek or ancient Latin influences as well.

Climate-wise, long hair and a beard is fitting for those dealing with cold weather. Perfect for your typical rampaging Goth or longboat-steering Viking. The beard and long hair help trap heat, and while somewhat difficultto manage when eating (much to the annoyance of Roman chroniclers) its practical value in icy conditions can't be ignored.

Normans- The King of France was so tired of Viking raiders that he invited one of them to simply settle down and become his noble rather than sail away back to frigid Norway. Thus, Rollo the Walker (he was too big for a horse) became Robert, First Duke of Normandy. Rollo, according to his statue, looked like your typical Viking with a long beard and long hair. However, the French had taken on many Romanesque customs and hairstyle was one of them. Rollo had a son, William Longsword, who had a son, Richard the Fearless, and eventually down the line there came another William. To his fans, William the Conqueror and to his foes, William the Bastard. William was a far-cry different in appearance from Rollo.

When William invaded Anglo-Saxon England he and his Norman knights had adopted more than just French names, they also took on a particular Frankish haircut as well. The Norman haircut was one where the back of the head and neck was shaved, while the front was kept short in a style similar to the Caesar-cut. Reasons for this haircut vary. For military purposes it is short and difficult to grab. The face is usually clean-shaven, or sporting only a moustache- also difficult grab compared to a large beard. Why the back of the head was shaved is debatable and reasons vary from it being a Christian-religious rite similar to how monks shave portions of their head, to being something practical and easy to manage. The style did not remain popular for long, and many of the Anglo-Saxon traditions of wearing long hair and beard were adopted by William's kingly descendants.

The Middle Ages- During the Middle Ages, the French, or Franks as they were more commonly known, dominated accepted culture in Western Europe. The Franks brought their sense of fashion abroad, including to such places such as Jerusalem during the Crusades. The Knights Templar were made up of a majority of Franks and the order had strict rules on behavior, including how to wear one's hair. Rule 22 for example, stated that a Templar should not wear pointed shoes (a sign of wealth because poor folk didn't wear such unpractical things) nor wear his hair too long as was custom among the nobility. Beards on the other hand were accepted since it was seen as a sign of wisdom, age and masculinity, but again rules were in place to prevent unruly facial-hair.

Knights and nobles customarily wore their hair and beards long, though more shaped and groomed than that of the prior era. Richard I, for example, is depicted in art and sculpture of having red hair, including a shaped and pointed beard as well as long hair that is worn in curls, or swept back.

In Western Martial Arts manuscripts, the wearing of a beard can be seen in Fiore's 'Flower of Battle' as potentially a sign of age and wisdom. In the manual the 'master' is often shown with a beard, while the 'student' is not in the section on the sword in two hands.

Not everyone agreed with the fashion of long hair and beards, however. Priests and monks shaved not only their faces but also portions of their heads. During the Hundred Years War the English Knight John Hawkwood wore his hair in the Roman-fashion and continued to do so during his lengthy and profitable stay in Northern Italy as a mercenary. Hawkwood was a practical, no-nonsense military-man, and his hairstyle was no exception. In the earliest Western Martial Art work, I-33, priests with clean-shaven faces and tonsured haircuts are shown performing the techniques.

The Renaissance - The Renaissance saw a rediscovery and re-appreciation of all things Roman. Long hair, while still fashionable well into the seventeen hundreds (with or without the help of a wig), was opposed by the good-old fashion Caesar-cut seen in many of the Renaissance paintings. Going clean-shaven became fashionable, and when beards were worn they tended to be short and well-shaped such as the fashionable Van Dyke or ducktail beard. Long, unruly hair, especially facial hair, was seen as a barbaric throwback, or something that Germans did. Peter the Great on his visit to France in the late 1600's, for example, returned to Russia and informed all of his Russian boyars that they could no longer wear ridiculous beards, going so far as to hand out measuring tape and scissors to the city-guards.He also banned spitting at the dinner table, walking on the dinner table, wearing giant cloaks and insisted men spend time actually talking to their wives.

Western Martial Arts manuscripts give a clue as to what was acceptable in the 1400-1500's. In Talhoffer's works the combatants have long hair, but clean-shaven jaws. Also of note is their preference of wearing pointed shoes.

Later works of the Germans in the 1500 and 1600's showed a return of the beard as something manly and martial. In Paulus Hector Mair's enormous encyclopedia on the use of weapons, nearly every combatant is shown sporting a beard, some as so long as to reach the waist! Vikings would be proud.

This fashion trend did not catch on in Italy though, where the rapier masters such as Capo Ferro, Giganti and Fabris depicted short hair and trimmed beards in their works.

In England the fencing masters of the 1600's sported trimmed beards, such as the ducktail and Ban Dyke, which can be seen in George Silver's work.

Baroque- The baroque era of the late 1600 and 1700's brought on numerous fashion-trends, with hair being particularly spectacular. In a martial sense, it didn't matter if one kept their hair long like an English cavalier, or short like a Parliamentarian roundhead. However, hair meant money. Men of wealth who did not have to work, wore their hair long and when their hair failed them opted on wigs. While men's wigs of the era didn't get as large or elaborate as noble women, privileged men did go so far as to powder their wigs white. Beards and moustaches, if they existed at all, were trimmed and neat. During France's revolution wigs, elaborate hair, and anything else connected to the Old Regime was detested. A young Napoleon, for example, wore his hair long and stringy while his face was clean-shaven. When he crowned himself Emperor in 1804 he had adopted a Caesar-cut, as well as the robes of a Roman Emperor. For a man who fought over sixty-battles, the traditional Caesar-cut was advantageous while on campaign.

Martial manuals are fairly uniform in depicting duelists with clean-shaven faces, and short wigs. Military manuals of the 1700's and early 1800's are similar, though light-cavalry men are shown sporting mustaches. This may be in relation to the light cavalry hussars adopting all things Hungarian, from style of clothing, to their saber system. The wearing of a long mustache was a popular style among the men of Eastern Europe.

1800's- While much of the Renaissance and Baroque period focused on a rebirth of Roman hairstyles, the 1800's was a time where beards and insane hair reigned! Mutton-chops were considered perfectly martial, giving one the appearance of a lion which can be a key psychological factor when facing down countless Zulus.

Marshal Murat wore his curly hair wild and free with long sideburns while he led Napoleon's armies. A beard was once again seen as a sign of age and masculinity, something of a major importance to Western Europeans and Americans at the time. Beards were rarely unruly though (country-folk did wear long and wild beards), and men of wealth fashioned their mustaches and beards like one might trim a hedge. In the United States, the South trended toward beards that were epic and monumental. In an era of gunpowder, where someone getting close enough to grab you in battle was rare, it seems titanic beards and mustaches were more than acceptable- they might even slow down a bullet.

WWI- WWI brought on the death of manly-facial hair for years to come. Gasmasks and handle-bar moustaches simply don't mix, and small moustaches, say one just under the nose, became only briefly popular in Germany and have since been only seen on people with enough 'street-cred' to get away with it- such as Michael Jordan. With lice and other critters being a problem in the trenches, shaved heads became mandatory in most martial conflicts- a trend that continues to this day.

Eastern Europe - In places like Poland, Hungary and the Ukraine, hairstyles were influenced by Western Europe, but also by the numerous invaders those places had to contend with including, but not limited to, Huns, Mongols, Turks, Russians, Teutonic Knights and one another. In the Ukraine a particular style of hair was to shave all but the top of the head, leaving behind a strand of hair known as an oseledet or crest. To have one's oseledet cut off was a great shame. Additionally, only warrior-men were entitled to wear their hair in such a fashion. Moustaches, meanwhile, were worn in a distinctly long and Asian style brought over from the various invaders from the East.

In Poland, a style of hair arose which was entirely derogatory known as the Polish plait. In this hairstyle, the hair was allowed to grow and purposefully left un-groomed until it became a single mass of hair, welded together by blood, pus, tangled hair and lice. Various superstitions of the 1600's encouraged the growing of the Polish plait and the King of Denmark, Christian the IV wore one. The style became fashionable in his court.

In Russia, the wearing of long hair and beards persisted throughout the ages, only coming to an end with the aforementioned decrees of Peter the Great. Given the Russian climate, their tendency to long-hair is understandable, but Peter felt that Russia was backwards and only with good grooming habits, and firearms, could the nation advance.

Your Hair and Your WMA- People in the Western Martial Arts community will go to blows about wearing the appropriate style of pants. Why not increase authenticity and wear the appropriate style of hair? Whether you're interested in Roman gladiators, Medieval knights, saber-wielding Cossacks, dueling nobles or Victorian saber-men, there is a style of hair for you. When all else fails get a Caeasar-cut and call it 'classical and timeless'. But if you want to excel at Western Martial Arts there is only one haircut that will improve your abilities. I shall leave that particular secret embedded mysteriously somewhere within this document.