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Renaissance Martial Arts Web Documentary
Commentary by John Clements


The Renaissance Martial Arts Web Documentary was my pet project over the past four months of mid 2008. I became engrossed in it, and focused on it almost exclusively for six days a week. As with other areas of my personal interest in this subject, I got to the point where, after waiting and waiting, I realized no one was going to do this kind of thing, or, would do it the way it deserved or that I envisioned. So, finally I decided I could and should just do it myself.

It's truly the first of its kind. This subject has certainly never before been presented in this manner or with this scope and context, nor covered to the extent that this project does in this manner. 

The documentary is aimed at enthusiasts of historical fencing as well as the general viewer who may be entirely unaware of our subject. Keeping the attention of both while informing them was my constant goal and I think the result effectively achieves this.  Since I am self-taught and inexperienced in video production, in many ways it's just an amateurish effort suitable to the Web. But the content and assembling of the material from my notes was actually pretty easy.

Though the idea of a documentary like this had been simmering with me for several years, I conceived of it originally as a series of short mini documentaries, each of roughly 5 minutes length, and self-contained but directly connected. It ended up having to be 10 parts, with a final (11th part) Epilogue relating modern study efforts by the ARMA.  At first, I had thought it could likely just be five parts, but even after substantially editing down material, I found that in order to get the story across it demanded more time. There is basic historical information that simply has to be conveyed about the subject, yet you also want to address the viewer who says, "Tell me something I don't know" even as they are unaware of what they don't know.

There are many ideas and certain views expressed that reflect the mountains of research material I have compiled for years and that are detailed in several articles and my long underway book projects. But in video you can get across things in seconds that take whole chapters to document in a book and must be academically supported by copious notes and references.  So, writing and video are obviously two very different mediums to work with. But I found surprisingly my own personal lecture and casual presentation style adapted well to a formal video style.

The bottom line is, this was an educational effort to improve knowledge of the subject among the general public and educators while also allowing students of the craft to promote its field of study. At the same time it allows people to say to others, "Take a look at this, this is what it's all about," it also says, "This is what I am into and why its being done now."

As an educator and professional instructor in the subject, and as a student of the craft since 1980, I had a solid feel for what needed to get across. The most challenging part however, was deciding what not to say. The obvious important points to cover took care of themselves, but editing in the rest was hard for me, since if I could, I would just continue on and on indefinitely with dozens more additional chapter parts. And that's not something either realistic or feasible.

Over all, there was of course much more that could have been said, all the different historical Masters and source works and various weapons could fill a documentary of their own --- but that is for another day. I certainly will be returning to the subject in the near future, and in more specific detail. But for now, I am confident the message of this documentary speaks for itself.

Already the response to the project has been overwhelmingly positive, from both practitioners and professional scholars, I am happy to say. I am sure it will tick off a few of the usual narrow minded types who can't withstand the orthodoxy of their sacred cows being questioned or certain illusions shattered. But nothing will affect their worldview anyway, so why care.

As with so many creative educational efforts, I am sure in the future I will look back and wish I had done a lot of things differently with the project or included other things, but as it is now I am pretty well satisfied. The need for this type of presentation of the material has been long overdue in my opinion.

Unquestionably the subject is ripe for this kind of treatment and has been crying out for this kind of representation. So, I attempted to relay an overview of it all while expressing the interconnectivity of these fighting arts with the history of arms and armor, warfare, duelling, and general self-defense. While neither a history of war nor of arms and armor in the era, nor a history of fencing for that matter, I tried to make clear the central context of violence underlying the craft. I also felt in order to put it all in proper perspective there were certain key elements of social and technological change that needed to be presented to the viewer. 

As with so many things the ARMA has pioneered, I expect this documentary to be influential if not outright start an immediate wave of similar efforts. [And possibly even a professional commercial one, which I can't discuss presently.] While the result is far from perfect, there is nothing that has ever come close to the range of material it attempts to cover. It's my hope that students of the subject find it useful.

*Work on the Epilogue is also currently underway and will be available within a few weeks. After this I have a short feature specifically on the European Longsword, which will be presented in a much more casual and much more personal manner. I have several more such projects planned. But I will be taking my time with them since they feature actual video clips and modern practice of the craft.

John Clements
July 2008

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