The ARMA International Gathering 2007
On August 17th-19th, 2007 in Houston, Texas, the ARMA held its second International Gathering with over 120 members and a few select guests in attendance for three days of instruction, testing, sparring, and fellowship. Attendees came from all across the United States as well as Canada, Mexico, Poland, Switzerland, France, and Spain. The event was held indoors in the main ballroom at the Humble Civic Center in Humble, Texas, just north of Houston and close to Bush Intercontinental Airport. This 2nd club-wide Gathering in 4 years was carefully organized jointly by the Houston North and South Siders study groups.
The event week kicked off Thursday evening with dinner at Clay's Texas Restaurant after most attendees had arrived. It was a great time to greet old friends and put faces to names from our internet correspondence with people we hadn't met yet before training began. Friday morning our Gathering began in earnest with ARMA Director John Clements welcoming everyone and giving the keynote address on the goals and significance of this largest ever ARMA event. After John's opening remarks, members jumped straight into the first of the weekend's training sessions. Throughout the weekend classes were organized in parallel sessions each offered twice to allow everyone to work with all of the instructors.
Opening the Friday morning sessions were Bart Walczak of ARMA Poland and Stacy Clifford from the ARMA Houston Northsiders. Senior Researcher Bart Walczak began with a class on his well-researched ADVISE method of analyzing and breaking down techniques from the historical source manuals to better understand their meaning. Members were paired up and given sample passages from different manuals to interpret in front of the class and discuss as a group. Bart's considerable experience as a researcher and translator in this field gave many new members great insight into how to better work with the original works on their own.
Senior Free-Scholar Stacy Clifford taught his session on the basics of 16th century English quarterstaff based on the teachings of Joseph Swetnam and George Silver. Basic guards, strikes and defenses were covered, and members paired up to practice different staff-specific exercises and drills. Differences between English and German staff teachings were discussed, followed by demonstration and practice of Swetnam's false plays and closing maneuvers from both Swetnam and Silver.
After a catered lunch on premises, Senior Free-Scholars Matt Anderson and Shane Smith of ARMA Virginia Beach donned their 14th century armor for their popular class on armored half-swording. Various techniques from the teachings of Fiore dei Liberi were practiced by the class with wasters, and Matt and Shane did an outstanding job of demonstrating how actions were used to bind up and defeat armored opponents using sharp steel with lethal intent. As they do every time they teach this subject, Matt and Shane again pulled a few new tricks out of the manuals that we hadn't seen before, showing once again why they are among the leading researchers on armored sword fighting.
At the same time, ARMA Director John Clements gave a two part session covering the latest interpretation of longsword mastercuts from the German source works in the first hour, followed by an hour on fighting with sword and dagger according to 16th century teachings. Students paired off and practiced fundamental core movements that permitted them to unlock a variety of techniques and principles for this versatile fighting style.
Later, during dinner John presented a discussion on the field of historical fencing studies followed by a Q&A session with members. Afterward, event staff introduced the vendors attending the event: Albion Swords, New Stirling Arms, Crescent Moon Armory, With-Intent Wasters, and Kim Cook Originals (offering ARMA head covers). Open free-play and General Free-Scholar testing followed to conclude the day. Members also had the unique chance to handle and closely examine the ARMA's first historical collection specimen, an original early-16th century ring-hilted war-sword still in good condition.
On Saturday two classes were given for members and one four hour public introductory longsword technique class for non-members. Gene Tausk, Senior Free-Scholar and study group leader of the ARMA Houston Southsiders, taught a class on basic grappling and escape techniques from the 17th century Dutch manual of Nicolaes Petter. Class started with basic tumbling instruction and progressed into simple escape techniques from grabs and chokes. By the end of the session Gene had everyone working on more advanced holds and takedowns. Everyone found the practical, no-nonsense class very applicable to modern self defense.
A parallel session was on Renaissance dagger combat and taught by Senior Researcher Jay Vail of ARMA South Florida, author of Medieval and Renaissance Dagger Combat (Paladin Press, 2006). The class concentrated primarily on unarmed defenses against dagger attacks from Fiore dei Liberi along with other manuals. Jay also showed some techniques using dagger vs. dagger and commented on applications for modern knife defense.
At lunch, John Clements gave an special slide show presentation on some of his more fascinating findings from the historical source manuals, revealing in the process key changes to the ARMA curricula. Repeat sessions of the morning classes were then offered after lunch and the public class was concluded. Once classes ended for the day, it was time for our Senior Free-Scholar prize playings. Before the tests began, precedent was also made in Shane Smith being allowed his deserved (and overdue) Senior Free-Scholar certification. In keeping with past historical tradition, experienced fighters who had previously proved their ability were sometimes awarded their ranking this way in lieu of playing their Prize in public. Aaron Pynenberg from ARMA Appleton, Wisconsin was then up first to play his Prize for longsword.
The Prize Playing bouts were impressive. Facing some 60 opponents, Aaron Pynenberg definitely set a new standard: 90 bouts of longsword in 74 minutes, with only 17 losses. His conditioning and stamina displayed were enviable. The ARMA also awarded our first-ever Senior Free-Scholar in Sword & Buckler to Stewart Feil, who also became our first double-ranked member. Stewart Feil's sword & buckler skills were overwhelmingly impressive: 70 wins and 20 losses in only 40 minutes, while facing some 50 opponents. The variety of techniques he displayed and the smoothness and coordination of his hits were inspiring. Two new General Free-Scholars were also certified at the event.
After the conclusion of the Prize Playings, attendees gathered for dinner to see noted sword-maker and master-bladesmith Kevin R. Cashen give a presentation on the metallurgy of swords and sword making. His scientific approach to the art of swordsmithing, deep knowledge, humor and no-nonsense attitude were greatly appreciated by everyone. After the presentation Kevin patiently and thoroughly answered many questions. Later in the evening, members congregated at local establishments for refreshments and camaraderie.
Sunday morning began with some mass combat bouts and a special session presented by ARMA Deputy Director Jake Norwood on the teachings of Master Joachim Meyer's longsword. Jake placed special focus on footwork and more advanced techniques, offering many insights into this important source.
During lunch there was a panel discussion on running an ARMA Study Group. Moderated by Gene Tausk, the panel consisted of Study Group leaders: Bart Walczak of ARMA Poland, Mike Cartier of ARMA South Florida, Stewart Feil from ARMA Provo, Utah, Aaron Pynenberg of ARMA Appleton, Wisconsin, Kyle Cook of the ARMA Houston Northsiders, and Ernie Perez from ARMA Dallas-Fort Worth. Questions were fielded on subjects such as new member recruiting, practice routines, and class scheduling and locations to help smaller study groups and solo practitioners grow interest and advance their studies.
At the end of lunch it was time for raffle drawings and giving away of door prizes. Door prizes were donated by all of the attending vendors plus Mercenary's Tailor, Absolute Fencing Gear, Houston Northsiders member Wilson Crichton, John Clements, and ARMA Utah member Brian Hunt. Items raffled off were a new HP Pavillion laptop computer donated by Hewlett-Packard and a 15th century style sallet helm from Mercenary's Tailor.
In the afternoon on Sunday repeat sessions of Bart W.'s and Stacy C.'s classes were offered alongside classes from John Clements and Stewart Feil and Brian Hunt. John's class presented the core fundamentals for introduction to the practice of rapier fighting. John again emphasized the simplicity of the rapier in contrast to the confusion and mystification often surrounding it, and tried to give students the means by which to begin teaching themselves this unique fighting method.
The last new class of the event was presented by Stewart Feil and Brian Hunt on their interpretation of sword and buckler techniques from the late 13th century Fechtbuch M.S. I.33. Stew and Brian showed the different guards and stances that distinguish sword and buckler technique from longsword and showed various cutting and defense drills using sword and buckler both separately and together to practice different skills. Later they demonstrated some of the more advanced closing and binding techniques. Their innovative and original interpretations were combined with expert presentation and demonstration that produced one of the highlights of the Gathering.
At the day's end the event was concluded with closing remarks from the ARMA Director, John Clements, who expressed the uniqueness of why we all come together to study this subject and how for each of us its progress and revival is a continuous process of personal and group effort. One thing that was repeated by nearly everyone both during and after the event was how fired up they were to go home and train twice as hard and how proud they were to be a member of such a dedicated organization with demonstrably high standards. Exhausted as we all were, there was universal agreement that nobody can wait for the next gathering.
Thanks to the following sponsors who helped make this event possible:
photography by Judy Bell