Sunday, August 26, 2012

Mr. Geldof Cedes the Field...



I'm getting a mixed message here that 1- I'm full of crap and should be ignored on all points and 2- I'm apparently a tool of some complex conspiracy orchestrated against the authors. I also get the impression that, at this point, nothing I say will turn this around and apparently that was my fault from the start.

Firstly, I wrote this (ill advised) review on my own, for my own reasons. I have never met, not conversed, with Mr. Cvet.

Yes, the review was poorly worded, yes, it's uncharitable and clearly was considered provocative and inflammatory (and I'm not arguing that it wasn't, and I should have toned that down). I did not think I needed to establish my credentials for this review given the place and that my issue was mostly with method. Hauke was the wring example, (ie. I was wrong on Hauke) but I don't think there is any point in me offering an alternative example. Apparently I have lost all credibility with the authors anyway. Yes, I should have been more specific in referencing my claims from your work.

No, I am not picking a fight over some sour-grapes over being beaten to the punch at publication (I am not your competition, I'm one of the marginal readers of your work and the work of others in your field).

How about this. I will surrender the field to the authors. I will leave the review as a monument of arms for the authors enjoyment. I will own my mistakes as readily as I will own my successes. I will now crawl back to my ivory tower and I will stay out of your playground.

If you want, you could have the review removed by reporting it to Amazon as abusive.

My reply:

Re: 1, I never implied that you should be ignored on all points. re: 2, the fact that you wrote an MA thesis on the English longsword texts (and did not declare such) says quite a lot. It's also very unlikely that two such theses would exist within the incestuous circles of academia w/out the separate authors being aware of one another's work. It's just a little too much of a coincidence for me to let go. Given the misleading nature of your review, its admitted inflammatory elements, your failing to disclose your bias (and previous work - something that I know for a fact is standard academic procedure), and your unsupported statements, I have no reason to take you at your word. 

None whatsoever.

I do not have a degree, Mr Geldof. I actually have to FIGHT to be taken seriously. And, whereas your academic background gives you a certain cache, perhaps, it DOES NOT give you carte blanche to make a lot of aspersions WITH ZERO SUPPORTING EVIDENCE.




I do understand your frustration with academics (I am a late entry to it, I was 34 when I finished my BA) and I would not have commented on this book if I did not take it seriously.

I honestly regret that I took the confrontational tone that I did. I did not reference my own work, particularly the thesis, because it is unpublished and thus can't be checked against my words. I did not articulate my primary concern (the practice of citation and the choice of editions) sufficiently and I let myself write with less care because of the forum. I would have written this differently if I had spent more time thinking about its potential effect.

And as incestuous as the academic community is, it is also a very slow moving one. You would be surprised how hard it is to keep track of what other people are doing if it isn't published.

James Hester's thesis was from the University of York, finished in 2006. I only learned about his work in 2009 at the Kalamazoo Medieval conference. I finished my thesis at the University of Saskatchewan in 2011. His dealt with Harley and its technique. Mine covered all three but focused exclusively on the technical aspects of their production and 'text strategies.' 

And, the 'dabbling' in historical martial arts, mentioned in the review of Hand and Wagner, is the SCA, where I was active from 1991-2010. That was, and is, my only contact with what could remotely resemble the HEMA community.

My review was dismissive, and, I admit, that's unprofessional and reflects poorly on me. I let my frustration over some aspects of your documentation get away from me. I hope, if it's possible, to chalk this review up as a wash. I am prepared, if you are amenable, to write a revised review, for the authors themselves, and remove this one in the spirit of interdisciplinary peace.

My reply:

Fair enough. You've provided me with enough info to take your word that you're not connected w/ Cvet (who gave a faux review to a different - though related - published work I was involved in. Namely, Masters of Medieval and Renaissance Martial Arts. A far from perfect book, to be sure).

As we have hashed this out here, and you've shown some good faith, I'm willing to let the matter rest.

Fair enough. You've provided me with enough info to take your word that you're not connected w/ Cvet (who gave a faux review to a different - though related - published work I was involved in. Namely, Masters of Medieval and Renaissance Martial Arts. A far from perfect book, to be sure).

As we have hashed this out here, and you've shown some good faith, I'm willing to let the matter rest.

If, however, your assertion is true, and there are three missing plays from the Ledall...then I would of course be most interested to get a transcription of those. And would be willing to edit the responses to your review to a more pleasant effect. As well as give you credit on a possible Second Edition.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Weak Tea

[This review has been edited from its original version]

Well, readers, it’s happened. The second negative review of LOTEL has surfaced, this time on  What follows is a point-by-point refutation of the reviewer’s points (such as they are); as usual, it takes the form of a polemic. I make no apologies for this. The day I get an honest negative review, I'll respond in a different fashion. As that has not happened yet, the polemic will do. Reviewer’s statements are in italics, my answers are in bold.

At the risk of drawing criticism from the authors, I feel potential readers should know where this book fails to live up to its claims. The book says that it contains a "Full transcription and translations of the three texts" but this is misleading. The authors have not transcribed these texts, they have used transcriptions from previous published sources.

And? We freely admit to that we used secondary sources in the book, and thank the transcribers. Furthermore - and to jump ahead just a bit - we also clearly state, and I quote: “The authors can only vouch for the accuracy of their translations and interpretations, insofar as the transcriptions available to us are themselves accurate and complete.” The reviewer’s post is therefore misleading in and of itself, and begins to border on the disingenuous.

Those sources have their own problems and are unsafe starting points for a detailed re-construction.

…And if the review bordered on the disingenuous before, it has now careened over that demarcation. But read on…

MS Harley is copied, with silent alterations, from the 1901 edition prepared by Alfred Hutton.

In point of fact, the only “alterations” made to the Harley text were stylistic (that is, regarding font and archaic lettering). This was done for the convenience of the modern reader. The substance of the text, however, was reproduced faithfully (not to mention painstakingly). There were absolutely no changes beyond the merely cosmetic, and yet the reviewer’s wording is designed to make it seem like substantive changes were made, as if in order to cram a square into a round peg. To say that this is intellectually dishonest is perhaps understating the matter, I feel. 

The transcription of MS Additional is from Russ Mitchell and it is incomplete (those who own the book may have noticed that the 'J Ledall' which gives Additional its common name, does not actually appear in the transcription. That attribution, and three more of the lessons, are missing from Mitchell's transcription which he made from low resolution photocopies made from microfilm).

We just so happen to have it from one Terry Brown, a respected researcher of both these and other texts native to England, that Mr. Mitchell’s transcription is quite good and very reliable. However, it seems the reviewer is correct. There are indeed three plays missing from Mitchell's transcriptions. They can be found here:

Yet, does this disqualify the material that is – faithfully –  presented? In answer to this hypothetical question, I rather think that it's obvious what conclusion any reasonably objective observer would arrive at: No. That said, now that we're aware of the missing plays, there may well be call for a Second Edition at some point in the future to include them. But, to reiterate, that alone does not negate the fact that the vast majority of the Ledall document is represented, and nor does it disprove the interpretation upon which the bulk of the document is based. To make the claim that the transcription that was available to us is “unsafe” is deliberately misleading. In light of all this, one begins to wonder if the reviewer has an axe to grind.

The text from Cotton Titus is more reliable, having come from a PhD student's transcription of the original manuscript in 2003 but it's not perfect and the authors falsely state that the manuscript is in Corpus Christi College Cambridge.

The statement that the Cotton Titus transcription is “more reliable” merely because it comes from a PhD student is, to my mind, revealing. That it is a shallow appeal to mere elitism with nothing else to support it is undeniable. It is, as I said in another rebuttal of another misleading review, “the strutting of a peacock.” And, without doubt, this appeal to matriculation is a hollow one, to be sure. 

As to the claim that the manuscript resides in a location other than the Cottonian collection in Cambridge, well, again, such may be true. Yet, again one must ponder, does this disqualify the content of the original document, or the treatment of the aforementioned in LOTEL? Again, the answer must be no. As to its alleged imperfections, I am once again compelled to ask the question “such as?” And again, despite the poster’s repeated appeals to authority and scholarly credentials, it is not difficult to notice that he rarely qualifies his own statements. LOTEL at least presents relatively well-articulated arguments, as well as presents copious comparative (and other) evidence, together with citations. The reviewer, however - with a wave of the hand - is content to brush aside not only our work, but the work of the very scholarly anointed which has provided him cover up until now.  

The authors have not seen the manuscripts themselves, so they can't be sure that their source texts are accurate, which further undermines the quality of the 'translations.'

Ah! And there it is. I was waiting for it, you know. Note that “translations” appears in scare quotes. That axe is not only being well and truly ground, it’s now nearly down to the naked haft. Soon he’ll have to content himself to whittle away at the end, and fashion a stake thereby. Whether or not he’ll be chasing down his own undying frustration, and attempt to impale that skulking, distempered abomination through the heart, I cannot say. The reader should, of course, should have no worries about the translation. Every care was taken with it, despite the unsubstantiated aspersions being cast by Mr. Geldof here.

Those translations are made with very little support from other linguistic sources…

And now I begin to suspect that the reviewer has simply skimmed the book, and not given it a thorough read. Suffice it to say, other sources are in abundant presence. Not least amongst them is one Sir Thomas Malory, knight and author of Le Morte D’Arthur; as well as George Silver, Joseph Swetnam, amongst others (which can be discovered by actually reading the book). 

…and this is extra troubling because many of the terms in these texts only appear, in these texts, in this particular context.

“Extra troubling?” It’s an interesting turn of phrase, I suppose. Hey, if the reviewer can hurl non sequiturs (wait for it) at my work, then I can throw them back at his review.

For example, the OED definition for a 'hauk' as a type of blow, is based entirely on the appearance of the word in Harley.

OED? When did the Oxford English Dictionary come into this? It certainly was not appealed to in the book. We had other, far more appropriate corroborative sources to bring to bear (see below). Again, did the reviewer actually READ the book? Furthermore, everybody who has ever taken a crack at interpreting the manuscript agrees that the hauke is a cut (which I did not discover until after the book came out, but the fact remains). Of course one cannot determine truth by consensus, but there is strong contextual evidence for the hawk being a cut, as well as linguistic evidence in the text itself: full hauke, large hauke, hauke quarter (quarter without question being a cut, as well as appearing in both the Ledall manuscript, and Cotton Titus; not to mention it being explicitly described as a cut in Jospeh Swetnam’s Noble and Worthy Science). 

You can't use your own source as its own definition.

1, we don’t (see above), and 2, says who?

There are other misstatements in fact, perhaps superficial, but still indicative of a lack of care on the part of the authors.

Again the reviewer makes unequivocal statements and fails to support them. But notice he “pads” the content to come by saying “perhaps superficial.” Without question it is superficial, and this kind of cushioning statement may work on lightweights eager to be conciliatory, but it most certainly does not have the intended effect upon me. One suspects that the reviewer keeps to the superficial, precisely because he has nothing substantial to put forth.

There are other misstatements in fact, perhaps superficial, but still indicative of a lack of care on the part of the authors. George Silver is incorrectly described as a member of the London Masters of Defence (p. 21, note #8).

While we admit that there is no documented evidence that George Silver was a member of the London Maisters, we feel that the author’s deep knowledge of the affairs, organization, pedagogy and methods of that body leaves the matter open for debate. It should also be pointed out that we repeatedly refer to Silver as Master Silver. Again, there is no evidence for this. We do so out of respect (for the reasons given above). Still, I must concede this point (but it’s the only one I will, and for good reason).

Nonetheless, does this one point mitigate LOTEL as a whole? No doubt our reviewer would have it so. But this is pretty weak tea, as they say.

For some reason the photo credits appear to be the BL license numbers instead of the titles and pages of the reproduced works.

And there’s that non sequitur I promised you. I’m sorely tempted to not even waste my time with this niggling, squalid little point. Does it make any difference, except to the academic fusspot? No. Does it alter the value of the book, or the research that went into it? No. What a thing to get one’s knickers in a twist over.

There is more, but readers may think I'm being pedantic.

That is because you are, in fact, being deliberately pedantic.

Although readers of this book should wonder how exactly the authors manage to turn what appear to be one-sided instructions into sequences for an active and patient agent.

 I quote from the book: “…it is the belief of the authors that these instructional set forms were designed to be practiced solo…In this book, however, we have used a [shadow] opponent…to better show…what they are intended to teach.” We are very, very explicit about this. Indeed, we say it more than once. The Dark Player (as the illusory opponent is called) is there merely to provide a visual reference and thus assist in visualization. It therefore seems that the reviewer has been fed one or two bits of data second or third hand, and is attempting to weave an entire piece on just those few points.

There are far too many assumptions at work, and often undeclared, in the reconstructions.


If one ignores the tenuous historical basis for the conclusions…

See above.

…the demonstrations and descriptions of the system are clear and intuitive. Readers should have little trouble following the instructions in the system.

This feels like the old “say something positive so as to not look biased” ploy. I can only come to this conclusion in light of everything mentioned above.

Heslop and Bradak have certainly spent a great deal of time and effort in building a style that they believe contains a particular 'English' spirit.

I may be ill. What “English” spirit is that? In all seriousness, this is a fatuous statement. Again I am forced to question if the reviewer really read the book thoroughly. The only thing “English” about the “style” is the terminology used in the texts. And we "built" nothing. The reviewer seems to be unaware of the continental sources (which is a whole discussion unto itself).

However, it remains to be proven that this system actually represents the constant of the three manuscripts at the centre of this book.

And it remains to be proven that the reviewer is not from outer space. See, I can do it, too. And my aspersions are just as founded in fallacy as the reviewer’s. But then again, one never knows. Any fool can cast aspersions.

For readers interested only in the mechanics of a slightly different system of long-sword and staff combat, then this book will please you.

Well, that’s kind of the major draw of the book.

If you have any serious interest in the historical roots of these systems, or the peculiar English texts of martial instruction, this book is too problematic a source for anything other than as an example of what not to do with manuscripts.

And the mask has slipped completely. Moreover, nothing of any substance has been presented, and quite a lot of statements have been made with nothing to support them (the point about Silver’s membership in the London Maisters being the sole exception). There are no cogent arguments put forth, and the last bit reveals quite a lot indeed. LOTEL is far from a perfect book, but nonetheless this reviewer’s insubstantial quibbles hardly seem worthy of a two star rating. 


Casper here.

I honestly forgot myself and didn’t lift a finger to refute this review until Brandon’s more than adequate refutation spurred me to some closing commentary.  I found the review to be so entirely unrelated to our book as to be completely unworthy of it.  It is entirely academic, pedantic, flawed, and finite in its issues, and it reeks of ulterior emotional motivators.  My first impression was that this review was written by someone who purchased our book, and upon flipping through it was prompted to negatively review it because he/she was actually just expecting a photocopy of the original manuscripts themselves; no translation, transcription, context, history, or explanation required. 

As Brandon said, the issues which are brought up are thoroughly put to bed within the book itself by thesis and disclaimer before any relevant information is presented.  The reviewer is either being disingenuous or making the mistake of reviewing the book without reading it.  Enough said.

Several of the issues are honestly so, for lack of a better term, idiotic, that I’m surprised Brandon was able to actually articulate a response.  I couldn’t.  Such as: How could we could possibly have the nerve to define hauk by the context and supporting evidence of the very documents we were interpreting?  Really?  Context is everything.  We can use our own source to define the term.  As the reviewer himself said, “…many of the terms in these texts only appear, in these texts, in this particular context.” 

Similar item: “…it remains to be proven that this system actually represents the constant of the three manuscripts at the centre of this book.”  Another sentence I can’t quite fathom.  What we show is the constant of the three manuscripts in the book.  What remains to be proven is whether the constant of the manuscripts in the book is the system, which we do no more than speculate upon, because there, we lack evidence.

And another identically flawed comment:
“If you have any serious interest in the historical roots of these systems, or the peculiar English texts of martial instruction, this book is too problematic a source for anything other than as an example of what not to do with manuscripts.”
I still can’t fathom this.  Like the others, it is a blind comment.  Our book is in fact the de facto source for the context and history and instruction of these systems, I.e. their historical roots and the texts themselves.  He again offers no alternative.

He complains about the supposedly tenuous historical basis for our conclusions (which I say is not tenuous at all; we support all conclusions heavily, but you’d have to read the book to know that) while, like political correctness, offers no solution.  I think political correctness is an apt comparison to this review.  It is designed to point out an imaginary problem without offering a solution, on all points.  The author of the review would apparently prefer a vacuum in place of our book, which is telling as well.  But as I said, he apparently acquired our book by mistake.

But much of this is forgivable for an academic (if being such an academic is, indeed, forgivable), whom he must be.  Even a martial amateur would see through his issues.

But on to some more constructive thought.  This bit about “Although readers of this book should wonder how exactly the authors manage to turn what appear to be one-sided instructions into sequences for an active and patient agent.” Which the reviewer has apparently since edited out of his review, having perceived one of its more glaring fatal flaws, got me to thinking. 

One of his major flaws is the complete devaluation of context.  It made me realize, again, that as a life-long martial artist I tend to take some things for granted that someone like him may not appreciate.  Our book is, in summary, simply a presentation of context for these priceless historical documents.  In the martial arts, context is everything.  It changes defense to offense and vice versa, and defense to murder, and vice versa.  These English texts are primarily focused on forms.  Forms, generally speaking, have no context.  Placing the “agent,” “dark player,” or opponent into the forms gives them context.  It multiplies the value of the forms for those who want to stretch them into a fuller system.  It also does not affect the value of those forms as solo exercises.  As this person could figure out by reading the other (exclusively 5 star) reviews, this is only a benefit.

I’ll hold my peace here.  Enjoy, and good training.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

New Model Army

The Dictator of ARMA has recently written his most hypocritical & puritanical article yet, as to the supposed ethical & martial superiority of him and his "fraternity":

This is my counter thereto:

I don't owe you anything!

I say that on behalf of myself and my fellow fencing rebels.

We are free : Yay!

~ JH 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Thibault gets it wrong!

What a whopper!

I know I've mocked the inscrutable Thibault before, but this just confirms my sentiments. He has taken the cake, eaten it, and regurgitated it only to stuff it back down again! And the few wet, stinking, crumbled remnants clinging to the bile dribbling from his chin stand as irrefutable proof positive of his schoolboy howler.

A quick glance at the picture above will reveal the full, unadulterated, unalloyed, undiluted horror of which I speak. To wit, Thibault gets Vom Tag wrong not once, but three times in the same picture! And regard it well, for it's not only wrong, but it's that awful "walkie-talkie" VT that we all know is inferior and would never be utilized by a real swordsman. Let this abomination sink in totally, now. What a grotesque sight it is! The pommel is nowhere near the navel, the blade resteth not upon the bicep. They actually look as if they mean to cut with both torque AND drop! Alas, if only our modern practitioners could go back in time and educate the man who actually lived during a time when some of this stuff still saw action.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

English Academia Acknowledges German Chivalry

 This is some really good news from University of Cambridge, for multiple reasons:

I would like to amplify this is a significant and sincere acknowledgement of German chivalry by English academia.  It is positive and progressive.  It is welcome and well-deserved.  It is about bloody time.

By the way: My copy of Kaiserchronik was published in 1892—so this newer version would be cool to get. ~