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.



IaMaPh said...

What an entertaining post. I just love you guys, you tend to argue and refute just like I do in certain situations; picking apart every... last... point and utterly putting them to shame. Personally I found your book to be a useful resource and a particularly enjoyable read.

Sure, no work is perfect, and any work can always do more to really "nail the coffin shut" on whatever thesis it presents to the reader, but to me I got the core gist of the work and found the basic core arguments presented within to be enough to suffice in getting the points across. I guess I'm just a reader with tremendous insight and I "get it" when I'm reading works like this. As Casper mentions, as a martial artist sometimes you tend to take for granted things that others cant appreciate, and this ability to read and understand whatever is presented before me through my personal intuition and understanding of context (another factor you also mention) is one of those things that I tend to forget that many others simply do not have the capacity within themselves to utilize without considerable mental effort and strength of will (two other things that, sadly, many today are sorely lacking in).

That said, keep up the good work, remember always that "haters gonna hate", and in all things stand up for yourselves and what you know to be true. :)



B & C said...

Thanks, Ian!

Jon Pellett said...

Hey! - I don't translate "hauke" as ""cut". I translate it as "backward", as a variant of "auke"/"awk".

This could very well be wrong, but I don't really know of anything to suggest that "hauke" actually *means* "cut", though of course I agree that it refers to some sort of blow.

Jon Pellett said...

Not *everybody* translates "hauke" as "cut"; I translate it as "backward" (i.e. auke/awk).

B & C said...

A bit of a stretch linguistically, Jon.


B & C said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
B & C said...

So, context counts for nothing? Hauke quarter, hauke large, hauke full, half hauke, hauke cross...the fact that it's used in conjuction w/ other known cuts doesn't seem to be important to you? And all of these are supposedly "backward" or reverse cuts? I dunno, Jon...

Jon Pellett said...

Well, "auke stroke" = "reverse" is in Palsgrave,and "awk strokes" appear in Mort d'Arthur and Robin Hood (as I'm sure you guys know). So the awks in Cotton Titus "for the wrong side" I think are very likely reverse blows (or backward in some sense, anyway).

So maybe the haukes in Harley are the same thing. Okay, so there's an unexplained H, but if there's any letter you can get away with just randomly throwing in there, it's an H.

So an hauke quarter would be a backward quarter, etc. It sort of works.

Admittedly there are some major problems with this interpretation, like why are there plays which seem to consist almost entirely of reverse blows? It certainly could be wrong. Just another possibility.

B & C said...

I can see "awke" being a kind of reverse cut. But Malory also uses "revers" for those blows. What I cannot see is an H being added to every single "awke." As a form of variation, every now and again, possibly...possibly...A reverse quarter I could see, but an awke cross? A reverse cross? You'd have to get there first in order to reverse it. At most, this interp might have some bearing on Cotton Titus, but I can't possibly give it any credence in regards to Harley.

B & C said...

And "to the wrong side" can just as easily mean to the opposite side (i.e., the side not nearest, and therefore the less advisable side to cut to).


B & C said...

Biomechanically speaking, the interp is gibberish. No platy can consist of ALL reverse cuts. It's just no martially sound.

Jon Pellett said...

Well, as I said I am not at all convinced of it myself, but I am not ready to completely dismiss it as impossible. I don't agree that a play of numerous reverse cuts is biomechanically unsound: in the montante material they often strike repeatedly from the same side. In some plays they throw three reverse (or right) blows in a row.

The plays in Harley might not necessarily all deal with one-on-one combat. Some could involve the sort of sweeping blows in all directions used to fend of multiple opponents. I think it is quite likely that the "play between two bucklers" is such an exercise, while the "counters" are for single combat. But of course this doesn't have anything to do with haukes.