Five Questions...

Once more the ARMA puts Five Questions on the subject of Medieval & Renaissance combatives to a range of practitioner-researchers from different backgrounds and experience levels in order to profile the diversity and uniqueness of modern exploration in historical fencing.

Gianluca Zanini
Member of Nova Scrimia Historcial Research Circle, Italy
Occupation: Engineer

1. To what would you attribute your interest in historical swords? What has been the primary inspiration or source for your own individual study of historical swordplay?

My primary inspiration was dueling. A lot of sources inspired me after joining the Nova Scrimia Group: the massive Renaissance two handed sword of Master F.Alfieri, the medieval stick fighting and mock battles at the bridges in Venice, including all the Italian medieval war games; the walking stick fencing school of Master G.Martinelli in Milan; the work of the Master Fiore dei Liberi and his whole system.

 2. Is there a favorite type of sword or a preferred style of historical fencing that you focus on?What specifically makes these so appealing for you?

The Hand and a half sword fighting and dagger fighting of Master Fiore. In my opinion they both represent the most sophisticated and complete style of armed combat ever conceived by man.

3. In defending against an opponent in any type of sword combat, what would you say is, in general, a good method to employ? In other words, what basic overall defensive principle of fencing would you recommend?

It would be easier to recall the most famous principle of fencing: wound without being wounded. It is actually very difficult to explain how to put in practice this proposition in few words. We could say that in every sword combat you should first stay in your guards and feel safe. Then you should understand which strategy your opponent is going to employ in order to counter him in every little moment.

4. Do you have any particular training advice from among your own experiences to offer fellow sword enthusiasts for their individual sword practice?What are your personal long-term goals in your own study or practice of this craft?

First one should find a good teacher and work hard. These two things could be obviously enough to make your training very good. In particular my advice is not to focus only on the plates and illustrations studying an historical fencing manual, but to try to look at the principles behind them. Then everything you are studying has to be tested as realistically as possible. My main purpose is to improve my skill as best as possible.

5. What major developments do you see coming in the near future   that will affect the current revival of historical fencing?  Which do you think will be among the most important?

The availability of the sources and the development of weapons and equipments are two very important factors, which can improve the quality of research today. Besides this only the experience made by constant and excellent archeological experimentation can develop a better understanding of the art.

Matt Easton
Head Instructor, Schola Gladiatoria, London, England
Occupation: Government

1. To what would you attribute your interest in historical swords? What has been the primary inspiration or source for your own individual study of historical swordplay?

My interests lie in military history and martial arts equally, concentrated on the high middle ages. Since as early as I can remember I have been obsessed with medieval warfare and weapons, so it's hard to say what started my interest. Since I was 12 I have been involved in archery, then traditional archery, then fencing, Asian martial arts and even throwing javelin for my high school! Ultimately I wanted to be learning and practicing Historical European martial arts, but when I was a teenager I didn't know they existed. I discovered WMA through a martial arts magazine while I was a kung fu practitioner and have been immersed in WMA ever since. At that time I was also studying medieval archaeology at university, specializing in medieval armor. I work primarily with, and teach from, my translation of Fiore dei Liberi's Fior di Battaglia.

2. Is there a favorite type of sword or a preferred style of historical fencing that you focus on?  What specifically makes these so appealing for you?

My interest is spread across many weapons and styles, but primarily the set of weapons taught by Fiore dei Liberi: roundel dagger, bastard sword, spear and pollaxe. The bastard sword is a fantastically versatile weapon, for use in one hand or two, in armor or out of armor. I am a particular fan of Type XV and XVIII's - I like blades broad at the forte and tapered to a reinforced point. But I have very special affections for the roundel dagger, spear and pollaxe as well.  I also like sabers of the Napoleonic era, and also study and practice fencing of this time. I have a collection of about 30 19thC swords, my favorite being the British P1796 Light Cavalry Saber.

3. In defending against an opponent in any type of sword combat, what would you say is, in general, a good method to employ? In other words, what basic overall defensive principle of fencing would you recommend?

Distance, place and time. If your distance, place and time are right then you can dictate the outcome of the fight. Create openings with your defense, don't simply try and defend - make a defense that creates an opportunity. Even better, let the other person attack you in the way you want them to - lay a trap. Switch the initiative, don't always be defensive and don't always be offensive, sticking to one attitude is more likely to let the opponent get the measure of you.

4. Do you have any particular training advice from among your own experiences to offer fellow sword enthusiasts for their individual sword practice? What are your personal long-term goals in your own study or practice of this craft?

Learn from other people. Attend as many WMA events as you can and study both instructional books and original treatises. But don't be afraid to develop your own opinions and question those with more experience. Try and keep your understanding of historical martial arts as rooted in the reality of both combat and historical context as possible - that means understanding how to keep the art martial and historical. Training with a partner, or several partners is necessary, but you can also drill in your head between classes - I think it's important to get your brain to absorb drills, and you can 'practice' drills in your head anywhere, any time. My long terms personal goal is to spread the knowledge and interest in WMA in London and the UK, to see my group continue to grow and perform well at events. As an individual I want to see my abilities grow and to make my fight as martial and historically valid as I can.

5. What major developments do you see coming in the near future that will affect the current revival of historical fencing?  Which do you think will be among the most important?

I think the number of people coming into WMA will continue to go up, and with that there will probably be an increase in professionalism and more schools being set up. I expect to see historical interpretations becoming more evolved. I think there will be an increase in number and profile, at least in Europe, of competitive WMA bouts. Events are continually growing, in attendance numbers, in accordance with the spreading popularity of WMA. I think the most important change to happen will be the increase in public awareness and profile of western martial arts.

Aaron Pynenberg
ARMA General Free-Scholar & Study Group Leader, Appleton, WI
Occupation: Police Officer-SGT

1. To what would you attribute your interest in historical swords?  What has been the primary inspiration or source for your own individual study of historical swordplay?

My interest for medieval swords began at a very early age.  I have always been attracted to the idea of knights in armor fighting, and stories of great battles fought by these men, has held my interest over time.  As I grew older the idea and the nature of the combat was something I just could not grasp.  What would it be like? What kind of training did they go through? These questions were what interested me most. I would see a movie from time to time, which would rekindle my interest, but I never took this interest any further.  I was content at the time, to mull these thoughts in my head and occasionally add what I knew about athletic training and Police and Military training to satisfy my interest. In Early 2004, I decided that I was going to purchase a high quality medieval sword.  I knew virtually nothing about modern makers or current availability of quality weapons.  I found several companies that I was interested in, but buried in the responses I started to see information on European martial arts.  I found ARMA’s Website and spent some time checking it out---and bang, it was as if I was struck by lightning!  I knew I had found an outlet for my interests in these arts.  I was amazed at the quality, and quantity of information available.  The quality of information available and the belief that someday Renaissance Martial Arts will be as widely accepted as our Asian counterparts is exciting for me.  There is so much I can possibly contribute to the greater cause, that I feel it is a never ending course of study with multifaceted segues, paths all leading to answers to the questions I would think about as an early teenager!

2. Is there a favorite type of sword or a preferred style of historical fencing that you focus on?  What specifically makes these so appealing for you?

Like everyone in ARMA who is starting out, I am beginning with the study of the longsword.  This is the weapon that I always had in mind anyway and it is an awesome weapon with unbelievable capabilities.  I can envision myself at an elderly age still wielding this weapon, and learning.   As of late however, I have really become interested in fighting with the rapier, which has been surprising for me.  I never really gave the rapier much thought, until John C. had us try it at one of his advanced seminars.  I was surprised at the ferocity of it and how I could use the lessons for application in my longsword study.

3. In defending against an opponent in any type of sword combat, what would you say is, in general, a good method to employ?  In other words what basic overall defensive principle of fencing would you recommend?

I think anyone who centers their fighting on the defensive principle is setting himself or herself up for failure.  On the one hand, it makes sense to construct your attacks in such a way that you are not opening yourself for counter-attacks but, you need to keep on the offensive to have a winning strategy. The historical Masters talk about these principles quite a bit. I have seen some swordsmen who take this advice too literally though, even though you want to stay on the attack, you want to accomplish this in such a way that you are not attacking blindly or without timing.  This is what makes our craft so interesting.  It is the heart of what we are trying to learn: when to attack, in what way, and for how long etc…all these questions should be foremost in our minds as we fight.  Therefore, I would not concentrate on, “how can I defend?” I think that’s asking for trouble fundamentally.

4. Do you have any particular training advice from among your own experiences to offer fellow sword enthusiasts for their individual sword practice?  What are your personal long-term goals in your own study or practice of this craft?

Take your art seriously!  Train like you mean it, and never feel inadequate doing so. I always think of this when planning my training week: “If I had to fight to the death next week, how much training would I do this week?” Know your art!  I train in a busy gym and when I first started, felt funny about it.  I had a lot of folks ask me silly questions and make snide remarks.  I noticed though, that as my skill improved and as I got more serious I simply portrayed a different attitude. I got to know the “Official Rhetoric” and was able to speak more intelligently about what it is we do.  I never pass an opportunity to educate and never play down our skills and efforts in studying swordsmanship.  It’s not irrelevant, outdated or impractical.  It consists of such a complete and total fighting system; I am convinced that when you learn to fence, you learn every other fighting skill as well, maybe without even realizing it.

5. What major developments do you see coming in the near future that will affect the current revival of historical fencing?  Which do you think will be among the most important?

The interpretations of the historical manuscripts will continue to improve.  As this happens, the understanding and implementation of the skills will also grow and improve. The quantity and quality of the people engaged in practicing and studying the art will also improve.  Commercially more companies will strive to make better products to serve this customer base.  We will have better information, with more people practicing with better tools.  This is an ever-evolving process, which in the long term will attract more interest, and even probably effect the way it is portrayed in movies and the historical record.  I think we are just at the beginning of this phase and some of its results can already be observed. The most important aspect is the greater interest of more quality people.  If no one cares, or if no one is engaged in studying, interpreting, purchasing, then the rest will also fall away.  So, in the end it’s the people that make the difference.

Bartlomiej Walczak
ARMA-Poland Study Group Leader, ARM Senior Researcher
Occupation: Student. Desktop publisher/video editor.

1. To what would you attribute your interest in historical swords? What has been the primary inspiration or source for your own individual study of historical swordplay?

I got involved by accident, first into the role-playing games, then through reenactment, and finally into ARMA. I do not have a lot of interest in swords themselves, it is rather the effectiveness of the art itself that caught my attention. And the fact that there is so much to be done yet, and almost everything is like an unknown land emerging from the mists.

2. Is there a favorite type of sword or a preferred style of historical fencing that you focus on?  What specifically makes these so appealing for you?

I focus mostly on German sources, partly due to the language barrier. I perceive Johannes Liechtenauer's tradition as complex, thorough and well thought out, and yet at the same time consisting of relatively few moves, which makes it easy to learn and practice. Half-swording is interesting, and mostly unknown. Dagger -although in German sources not as systematized as in Fiore - is in my opinion the best teacher of combat. You can move into sparring relatively quickly, you need to learn how to use a weapon, how to defend both armed and unarmed.

3. In defending against an opponent in any type of sword combat, what would you say is, in general, a good method to employ?  In other words what basic overall defensive principle of fencing would you recommend?

Attack. Get there first. You won't have to defend.

4. Do you have any particular training advice from among your own experiences to offer fellow sword enthusiasts for their individual sword practice?  What are your personal long-term goals in your own study or practice of this craft?

First try to realize why you train. Not an easy thing to do, many people simply "just train", without knowing what they are looking for. Everything else will develop from this knowledge - your focus, your way of training, etc. My long-term goal is mostly for these martial arts to get the credit they deserve. It would be nice to awake one day and see that many misconceptions that surround this subject are gone.

5. What major developments do you see coming in the near future that will affect the current revival of historical fencing? Which do you think will be among the most important?

The replicas are getting better and better, this is certainly a good sign. There seems to be more dialogue occurring between the swordsmen and sword makers, and the general level of knowledge about these things seems to raise. Also, as more and more people hear about what we do, more get interested. The average skill level and understanding of the sources, although still not perfect, is many times better than, say, 5 years ago. More sources come to light, people start publishing books. Hopefully we will arrive at the level of understanding and skill comparable with that of the period combatants. I perceive that there will always be a conflict between people who are more martially oriented and those who do it for other purpose than martial efficacy. But maybe it's not bad, we can learn many different things from each other.

Casper Bradak
Senior Free Scholar &, ARMA Ogden-SLC area Study Group Leader, Utah
Occupation: F-16 Crew Chief

1. To what would you attribute your interest in historical swords? What has been the primary inspiration or source for your own individual study of historical swordplay?

That is hard to say.  My influences have been more internal than external. I'd place the art of using swords before my interest in the swords themselves.  I have always had some intangible, inherent drive towards studying the most noble craft, and a fascination with Classical, Medieval and Renaissance western history, all of which deeply appeal to me with both their stark reality and romantic warrior ideals, not to mention a certain pride.  I also can't understate how much I love to teach the martial arts.  That's not to say there haven't been plenty of external inspirations.  I'm also very inspired by Medieval and Renaissance codices on chivalry and the noble warrior ethos, and of course the fencing manuals themselves.  It's a rare thing I read a history book now.  I prefer to go right to the original sources. When I was very young, I spent a lot of time reading Arthurian legends in particular, and books on knightly weapons and equipment.  I saw Conan the Barbarian when I was maybe 6, giving me a glimpse of swords in visceral action, after a fashion, inspiring me in more physical pursuits such as riding at the pell with lance on my tricycle, and so on.  I continued my study of the martial arts incessantly, but it wasn't until I finished my tour in the army that I discovered that there really was sophisticated material available for the direct study of traditional Medieval and Renaissance martial arts.  I find arms and armor (particularly the sword) to be the most intriguing epitome and fusion of form, function--thus beauty--appealing to me on physical, emotional, spiritual and technical levels.

2. Is there a favorite type of sword or a preferred style of historical fencing that you focus on?  What specifically makes these so appealing for you?

I'm not sure I have a specialty really. I very much enjoy training with a wide variety of weapons, and a lack thereof, though  I focus more on the late Medieval knightly plethora (the sword, spear, dagger, poll-axe and wrestling)  in and out of harness.  Those weapons appeal to me because were I there, I would want to be the noble man at arms- the elite warrior aristocracy.  They are the figures I most admire.  I intend to study the mounted combat arts at some point as well, but I haven't had the means thus far. I have wondered if a lack of specialization may hold my skills back, but I get a little bored if I don't widen my focus.  Specialization to the point of little or no skill with other weapons would be frowned upon historically.   I dislike the trend that Renaissance martial arts are becoming synonymous with weapons (the Longsword in particular) though there are quite a few people out there breaking the mold.  I think we need to go out of our way to demonstrate the variety and sophistication of all aspects of these arts to help shake off some of the modern stigma and increase interest. 

3. In defending against an opponent in any type of sword combat, what would you say is, in general, a good method to employ? In other words, what basic overall defensive principle of fencing would you recommend?

After a certain amount of training and understanding, it becomes difficult to think in terms of "defensive" and "offensive".  The principles of personal combat don't seem to work well that way.   In answer to a question like this, one would be a fool not to directly quote a Master.  I'd say cut when he cuts, thrust when he thrusts, and counter-time the opponent at every opportunity. Regardless of the techniques you use, everything should be thought of as an opportunity to kill.  Most of the techniques in the manuals are icing on the cake.  That is not to say that you shouldn't practice specialized techniques, but if you know and train your basics in and out, you may never need them.

4. Do you have any particular training advice from among your own experiences to offer fellow sword enthusiasts for their individual sword practice? What are your personal long-term goals in your own study or practice of this craft?

Have someone there to give you feedback at every opportunity.  You always need that 3rd person point of view--the more knowledgeable and experienced, the better.  Get to seminars.  Be persistent, and don't get frustrated.  Consider everything an opportunity to learn, and study diligently.  A lifestyle of self-discipline and physical fitness is a must, and you will have to be in shape if you really want to be taken seriously.  Read the ARMA credo for Renaissance martial arts studies, and consider just what each part of that credo really means, which could sum all this up.   You should study a variety of Renaissance martial arts literature as well.  This will help compare several points of view on the same techniques.  And make sure you don't just study the techniques, but everything that master has to say.   Understand the weapons and equipment they used, so your training can be more accurate and fruitful.  Don't go into it with too many assumptions, and don't make anything up. The original source material should be your guide.  Don't consider anyone's interpretations to be dogma, especially your own.  Most of the published manuals I have are full of notes changing both the interpretations and the translations. Modern martial arts books, for one, can be a useful cheat sheet for what they don't tell you in the old manuals, i.e. they may tell you to do a shoulder throw, but if you've never learned how, it can be tough figuring it out from a simple picture, or from practice with another novice, as long as you don't fill things in too much.  My major personal long-term goal is to open a dedicated school focusing on the Renaissance martial arts.  I love to teach them, and it would be another step towards awareness and legitimacy of this craft in the public eye.

5. What major developments do you see coming in the near future that will affect the current revival of historical fencing?  Which do you think will be among the most important?

The basic growth of this craft is steadily creating changes across the board, and I'm not sure one aspect will be more important than another.  More manuals are being published or otherwise made available.  More books on the subject are being written.  More people are starting to study it, so more people are in turn being exposed to it, and demanding more products related to it, and more accurate, better quality products at that.  More schools are opening, and more teachers are appearing.  It's slowly creeping into the movies here and there.  It's being seen in regular martial arts tournaments on occasion as well, and slowly being separated from the stigmas of sport and role-play in the public view.  More groups and web sites are appearing, and even videos on the subject are being improved upon and produced.  The most important part of all this is what started it and what drives it: the dedicated martial arts practitioners and organizations who will continue to make these things happen.

Francisco J. Uribe. 
General Free Scholar & Study Group Leader ARMA-Lansing, MI
Occupation: Graduate student (Biochemistry and Molecular Biology MSU Ph.D. program)

1. To what would you attribute your interest in historical swords?What has been the primary inspiration or source for your own individual study of historical swordplay?

I wouldn't know where to start.... but just by saying that swords, as interesting as they are, were not what attracted me to this subject. What I really wanted was to learn how to properly use them. I practiced kendo before coming to the USA. While in New Mexico I bought a katana and tried to find somebody to teach me kenjutsu. That is when I met ARMA associate Murray Moore, who opened the doors to the wonderful world of Renaissance Martial Arts. Murray offered a class through University of New Mexico. The class brochure recommended "Medieval Swordsmanship" of John Clements as one of the textbooks.I had bought the book in late 1999 (which I really liked) and decided to checkout Murray's class, since there was no kenjutsu sensei around and my wife insisted that it maybe a good alternative to Japanese sword arts.I think that one of the things that made this extremely attractive, was that I had to read, study and then practice. Once a few basics were learned, I was able to jump deeper into the books and gradually interpret and learn new movements and techniques! It was great to be able to discuss things with Murray, as equals. I believe that the "you-teach-me while I-teach-you" attitude was great. Far from my previous experiences in judo and kendo. Initially I started with the Pissani-Dosi version of Fiore. Detailed study of the text was performed while translating the text into spanish (www.msu.edu/~uriberom/manuales.html). Unfortunately this particular version of Fiore is not rich in concepts and theoretical background, which are needed for a deeper comprehension and advancement in the study of fencing. At this point, my study was mainly the mechanical repetition of depicted techniques as a collection of separate entities. The glue to put everything together, the theoretical frame, was still missing. Then I started studying Lindholm's Sigmund Ringeck book. This work provided theoretical foundations that I was missing, allowing me to take a peek at a cohesive combat system. From there I jumped into Philippo Vadi's work, which was much easier to digest when studied through Ringeck's framework.

2. Is there a favorite type of sword or a preferred style of historical fencing that you focus on?  What specifically makes these so appealing for you?

As a beginner, I haven't studied a wide range of weapons. I started with the longsword because that is what Murray taught to me, is the weapon for what ARMA offers most of its instructional material. I have stuck to it mainly because, being a graduate student and study group leader, I do not have enough free time to explore other weapons. I like to compare Italian and German traditions of longsword fighting.

3. In defending against an opponent in any type of sword combat, what would you say is, in general, a good method to employ? In other words, what basic overall defensive principle of fencing would you recommend?

In this regard, my experience is very limited. I would say... to break his intention, to impose your own game. Force them to a defensive position. Take them to a place that they are not comfortable. Most of the people I know (also beginners) tend to fight in a linear and predictable fashion. So they do not expect movements as traversing or the use of the false edge. Another thing that I have found work very well is to close in during an attack and do simple grabs, throws or disarms using the left arm. Extremely disconcerting to most people, even to the point of considering  it "unworthy of a knight". I firmly believe that the "I-know-nothing" fencing level, ends when you start applying these in free play.

4. Do you have any particular training advice from among your own experiences to offer fellow sword enthusiasts for their individual sword practice? What are your personal long-term goals in your own study or practice of this craft?

Footwork, footwork, footwork and more footwork. Learning how to move and evade is extremely important. Striking a foe down, with a tool as efficient as a sword, is comparatively easy to know how to properly move. Get training partners. There is not much that can be learned, swinging at the air, compared to a moving target that is ready to strike back. Drill your techniques over and over. It’s the only way to properly perform them during sparring. If training alone, spend much more time in front of a pell than some invisible partner, but do not neglect floryshing.  My goal is to become a proficient instructor according to ARMA standards, learn several weapons and be good at teaching how to use them. I know a lot of people who are sincerely interested in this craft, but had only had access to poor or false instruction. I'd like to be able to spread and share the knowledge of our western martial heritage.

5. What major developments do you see coming in the near future that will affect the current revival of historical fencing?  Which do you think will be among the most important?

I believe that we are in the brink of seeing this activity sprout in Latin America. Over the past 4 years I've seen several groups appear, with more or less success. They are just a part of a renewed interest in Medieval and Renaissance culture, which is currently going on across Latin America. I'm currently offering support to one of these groups in my own country. People are being exposed to information and materials that they did not know existed. The wealth of knowledge in Websites such as ARMA's, offer a window to a new world that is extremely appealing and captivating. Unfortunately the language is still a barrier to reach a large number of people. I think we will see more and more fencing related websites into Spanish. Some quality books about fencing (translations, interpretations) have been published in English these past few years. One development that I would personally love to see is the publication of those same materials Spanish. Thousands may benefit from it.

 Joachim Nilsson
ARMA Gimo, Sweden, Study Group Leader
Occupation: Customer services and telemarketing agent.

1. To what would you attribute your interest in historical swords? What has been the primary inspiration or source for your own individual study of historical swordplay?

I have always had an interest in different varieties of weapons and similar implements. The more specialized interest of historical (European) swords that I harbor these days came about when I found ARMA actually. The historical sword is something with an, in my opinion, unequalled attraction among all the types of weapons that have come and gone during the course of our history. I am attracted to and interested in historical swords not because of their aesthetic beauty –but because they are perfectly designed tools with one sole purpose: the demise of your “enemies”. I think there is something rooted deep within all of us that automatically attributes swords with characteristics such as power and discipline. Many military insignias, for instance, still today bear depiction of swords with their general design. To me that is evidence of how deeply rooted in our own culture the sword has become. Even though it has long since been abandoned as a tool of war. There is just something that fascinates me with how far we humans are prepared to go when it comes to designing implements to kill our own kind with.

Without getting too hazy and diffuse I must say that the main inspiration for my own study has comes from a subconscious level. At least that is where it began when I first found and joined the ARMA. Historical swordplay and renaissance martial arts is something I have searched for my entire life –without even knowing what I was looking for in the first place! It wasn’t until my very first training seminar that it dawned on me: this is what I have been looking for all along, I have been stuck ever since. A great source of inspiration for me have been John C. and Hans Jornlind (of ARMA Falun, Sweden). The first time I saw them perform their arts I was taken aback by their sheer skill and the fluidity, speed, power and competence of their techniques. I remember thinking something along the lines of “that’s where I want to go. Other than that I have to say that one of my main inspirational sources is the plain fact that I want to be able to properly defend myself and subdue –and eliminate if need be- potential aggressors. In the same way as my ancestors did. It is important to me that we do not let our martial (and cultural) heritage disappear into the mists of time.

2. Is there a favorite type of sword or a preferred style of historical fencing that you focus on?  What specifically makes these so appealing for you?

Oh, that is a tough one. Right now I would have to say longsword and messer. Barring the visual differences of the two weapons –the techniques are of course very similar. It is the sheer, brutal lethal efficiency that makes them so appealing. The longsword and the messer are quick, nasty and very readily deadly weapons. The fluidity and the integrated aspects of all the techniques that actually makes up one very basic system of moves, maneuvers and techniques is appealing beyond description to me. The roundel dagger has always been a favorite of mine too.

3. In defending against an opponent in any type of sword combat, what would you say is, in general, a good method to employ? In other words, what basic overall defensive principle of fencing would you recommend?

A good offence is a good defense. Stay alert and do not hesitate. Hesitation will get you killed. If you find yourself on the losing end of the initiative, counter as quick and explosively as possible and try to regain the initiative and the upper hand. Keep the enemy guessing and always, always follow up any attacks you make with at least two-three more. If you feel you are starting to lose you grasp of the situation, try to disengage and re-asses the situation. Attack, and attack vigorously, explosively and without hesitation in a way that keeps you defended. And never, ever become rigid and static –keep moving. In short: Kill him and do not get killed yourself.

4. Do you have any particular training advice from among your own experiences to offer fellow sword enthusiasts for their individual sword practice? What are your personal long-term goals in your own study or practice of this craft?

First of all: practice with the mindset that this is for real. Imagine you have a duel in two months that you have to prepare for. Focus on the basics of, for instance Doebringer; four guards, five strikes, and the Drei Wunder. Do lots of solo as well as partner drills and never, ever slack off when it comes to the physical side of things. You need to be fit in order to fight really well. And when training with a partner, try to take a few minutes each session where you focus on training to always threaten your opponent with the tip of your sword. I guess that is the all the tips I can think of right now. When I train I try to be as well rounded as possible. Lately we have moved away somewhat from pure techniques and focused a bit more on practical principles in class. The technique-element is still there of course, but the student(s) I have right now need to focus less on a particular technique and more on applying the techniques they know in a practical setting. I try to maintain my classes as well rounded as possible too, with warm up drills, defensive-offensive drills, physical drills, different degrees of technique training and, of course, practical fighting sessions (i.e. sparring and free play). I also do a lot of physical training –in the gym as well as at home- and stretching to increase my dexterity and explosiveness. I do flouryshing every other day- often with various weapons. Lately I have been splitting my floryshing time between dagger work and barehanded halfsword floryshing with a sharp longsword. There's a whole lot to be learned from that I can tell you.  I have actually been planning for some time now to pen something outlining exercises and drills that encompass the basics of Doebringer, but unfortunately other things have been eating up my time. My personal long-term goals with my practice are very basic: I want to become as good and as competent as I possibly can.

5. What major developments do you see coming in the near future that will affect the current revival of historical fencing?  Which do you think will be among the most important?

If the current trend is here to stay I think we will see more and more practitioners drawn to our art. I do see a shift in the types of practitioners though. At least here in Sweden and at least in ARMA. I think more combative and “budo-type”, and less and less uhm. I-wanna-be-like-Aragorn-type persons will be drawn to renaissance martial arts within a foreseeable future. That is one major development I see happening. At least internally within ARMA Sweden. I bear no ill will against re-enactor and LARPers though. But I think that some of them have entered renaissance martial arts with a slightly off perspective and pre-conceived notions that did not match what awaited them. Other than that I have observed that more and more manuals and fight-books, as well as serious training DVDs, are being released to the general public. This will, of course, help us make people realize and understand that our own renaissance martial arts are as serious and real and dedicated as anything that come out of the East or the rest of the world for that matter. We also have the more practical side of things: the tools themselves. The work Peter Johnsson is currently doing with Albion have done our community a tremendous service. In that department I have also noticed that there is always someone out there trying to improve and perfect the wasters we use. Which is a really, really good thing. It shows that we are really going forward with our craft (as opposed to just treading water). And who knows? Maybe we will see specialized business that focus on training and sparring equipment for the renaissance martial artist in a not too distant future. I also see John C.’s opening of his own fencing school as a big leap forward. He has opened the door and others will definitely follow.

 Kat Johnson
ARMA Middle Tennessee Study Group
Occupation: 
Computer Technician

1. To what would you attribute your interest in historical swords? What has been the primary inspiration or source for  your own individual study of historical swordplay?

Like many others will tell you, it's been an interest that has just sort of hung with me through the years. When I was younger tales of Robin Hood and King Arthur enthralled me. As I got a little older I took an interest in the Japanese sword due primarily to hearing the many misconceptions about it.  But over time my knowledge grew and I began to see European swords, and the longsword in particular, in a whole new light. From  both aesthetic viewpoint and as one of the most remarkable melee weapons ever conceived. I would say my primary inspiration for my style of swordplay comes from my instructor Jake Norwood [ARMA deputy director]. He always brought such a high level of intensity  to free-play that sparring actually felt like a fight, and I think that's something that everyone in the ARMA (and indeed, in the martial arts community at large) should strive for if we hope to really understand these arts in earnest.

2. Is there a favorite type of sword or a preferred style of historical fencing that you focus on?  What specifically makes these so appealing for you?

I strongly favor the Liechtenauer longsword tradition.  The way that it emphasizes aggression and not giving your opponent time to react  appeals to me, and in fact has become a key part not only of my fencing but in my kickboxing and Mixed Martial Arts fighting as well.    I think the longsword in particular speaks to me due to the extreme versatility of the weapon, especially when we bring the  short edge into play. The utilitarian simplicity of its overall design coupled with the deceptively complex style of its use is what makes it so remarkable and appealing as a weapon.

3. In defending against an opponent in any type of sword combat, what would you say is, in general, a good method to employ? In other words, what basic overall defensive principle of fencing would you recommend?

The most important thing in any type of fight is taking them "out of their game".  If you're against a truly  skilled aggressive fighter then you need to be more aggressive then they are and force them into the role of defender.   They will be unused to being forced on the defensive and thus more likely to make a mistake.   With timid, defensive fighters I think that drawing them out to make the first attack works very well, being that they are normally defensive they tend to make their strikes from out of range and it becomes an easy matter to void and counter cut, or counter in various other ways. I also think an often overlooked strategy is a rapid close to "ringen am schwert" range.  If you put a weapon in most peoples hands they will hang back and try to using timing and distancing skills to attack or counter attack you from the maximum range of the weapon .  Most people will be taken by surprise when rapidly closed on and will freeze up (even if only for a moment) giving you a split second opportunity to defeat them.   There are two comfortable ranges, too far for them to hit me, and too close.  If both parties remain with-en each-others range for very long then it's very mutually dangerous.   The most important thing is to not hesitate when the opportunity presents itself.   If you're going to close the range, do it, if you're going to void and counter cut, do it, to many times people will second guess themselves causing a moments hesitation that gets them hit.  It's important to reach that  "unthinking" state where all of your actions and reactions come on an instinctual level.

4. Do you have any particular training advice from among your own experiences to offer fellow sword enthusiasts for their individual sword practice? What are your personal long-term goals in your own study or practice of this craft?

The best advice I can think of is to take your training, and especially your sparring seriously. Remember that we're doing  this to learn a MARTIAL art, not to play "tag" with sword simulators.  If your hardest level of sparring doesn't look like two people fighting for their life then you're missing something.   Also, spar often and spar hard. I can’t emphasize its importance enough.  Only through frequent, intense sparring will you develop the timing, perception, and distancing skills required to reach the previously mentioned state of acting on instinct and make your fencing work in earnest.

5. What major developments do you see coming in the near future that will affect the current revival of historical fencing?  Which do you think will be among the most important?

I can't tell you what the future holds but I can tell you that I am looking forward to more and more source material becoming available.  There are so many texts out there with no widespread translations that it's a real shame.   Having all this information at our fingertips but nearly, if not completely unreadable is extremely frustrating for the student of Historical European Martial Arts.   I especially hope to see more serious work being done with Ringen. Since it still has some modern day relevance, it could help legitimize our western martial heritage in the eyes of the public more so then even the most skillful longsword bouting. I also see a lot of youths taking interest in western swordsmanship. Whether their interest is something that will stick with them long-term is something that remains to be seen, but the more kids that get started younger the more skillful they will become and raise the "bell curve" even higher.  I hope to see more study groups accepting and training younger members.   After all, who among us does not wish we had gotten started at the age of 13 or even younger?

Johann (Hans) Heim
Study Group: Ochs – Historische Kampfkünste (Germany)
ARMA (or other HEMA group) Ranking: Trainer
Occupation: Bavarian civil servant

1. To what would you attribute your interest in historical swords?  What has been the primary inspiration or source for your own individual study of historical swordplay?

My personal addiction to blades is a large factor. I have been collecting knives for nearly 20 years. My interest in history and martial arts are my personal reasons to study HEMA. The seminar with John Clements in Munich has been a “kick off” for me.

2. Is there a favorite type of sword or a preferred style of historical fencing that you focus on?  What specifically makes these so appealing for you?

My favourite types are the Langes Messer and the Langes Schwert, especially the Liechtenauer tradition. The first reason is that I can read German. The next is that a lot of the historical fencing manuals are written in a southern Bavarian dialect, the book of Paulus Kal has even been written in the castle of my hometown of Landshut. Last but not least, the German system of Liechtenauer is a “KISS” system and this fits me too.

3. In defending against an opponent in any type of sword combat, what would you say is, in general, a good method to employ? In other words, what basic overall defensive principle of fencing would you recommend?

Move in and carry the fight to him. (This is for me the essence of the Liechtenauer system.)

4. Do you have any particular training advice from among your own experiences to offer fellow sword enthusiasts for their individual sword practice? What are your personal long term goals in your own study or practice of this craft?

Get the basics of your style correct, don’t be too overhasty. Get a trainer whom you trust; have a training partner who is charging you; and after having the basics in your muscles and your brain, start sparring.

My long-term goals are to place HEMA in our society as a martial art having equal rights and the same reputation as other martial arts.

5. What major developments do you see coming in the near future that will affect the current revival of historical fencing?  Which do you think will be among the most important?

The development of standardized training equipment is for me the most important goal.

Kyle Dean Cook
ARMA General Free Scholar, North-Siders Study Group Houston, Texas
Occupation: Stay at Home Dad

1. To what would you attribute your interest in historical swords?  What has been the primary inspiration or source for your own individual study of historical swordplay?

I have always been interested in history. I would make a point to see movies that had knights/swords in them. I did not play with swords a great deal as a child. However, the movie Star Wars made a lasting impression on my choice of entertaining activites. Thereafter, my brother and I started playing with swords. My inspiration for my study of the sword is the sword itself. It fascinates me. The study of Renaissance Martial Arts is a reward in, and of itself to me. The idea of learning just like they did in the Renaissance age, and putting it to practical use when we spar is exhilarating.

2. Is there a favorite type of sword or a preferred style of historical fencing that you focus on?  What specifically makes these so appealing for you?

Right now I prefer using the Long Sword. Since you can take what you learn with it and use it with other types of swords, it is the ideal learning tool. Other swords that interest me are the Scottish Broad Sword and the Zweihander. I like the Zweihander because there is very little detailed information on how it was used. So you must work with it in order to find the spefic function for its form. It is intriguing to examine what will work, and what will not work when you use it.

3. In defending against an opponent in any type of sword combat, what would you say is, in general, a good method to employ? In other words, what basic overall defensive principle of fencing would you recommend?

Keep a good guard for one. When a cut is made toward you, you must anticipate it. The key is to not be present [there] when that cut strikes its targeted area. At nearly the same moment, be prepared to make your own cut toward the opponent. Cut at your opponent and follow through with your cut. Keep moving all the time; if you do stop, make sure you go back to a good guard.

4. Do you have any particular training advice from among your own experiences to offer fellow sword enthusiasts for their individual sword practice? What are your personal long term goals in your own study or practice of this craft?

Practice, Practice, Practice. Train with all the guards, cuts and counter cuts. Doing cutting practice on the pell, also sparring as much as you can. Also, I recommend using blunt steel not just a waster. Edge placement is so important, and sparring with blunt steel helps with this focus. In order to fully understand the force and function of your sword, test cutting should be done as regularly as possible. Cutting through something will open your eyes on edge placement, as well as the importance of good follow through. My first goal is to become a Senior Free Scholar; to read and study as many manuals as I can and put them to use with my training of the sword; to bring more people into ARMA, and help make ARMA grow; to keep teaching in our study group, and have lots of fun while doing it.

5. What major developments do you see coming in the near future that will affect the current revival of historical fencing?  Which do you think will be among the most important?

The discovery of more manuals and having them translated so we can read, and learn from them. Our equipment gets better, and safer to use in sparring. The more realistic our sparring is, the more we can learn while doing it. Getting more sword makers to make swords historically accurate, and made to our specifications: Sharps and Sparring Blunts. As more usable, and comprehensive literature about Renaissance Martial Arts becomes available to the people who practice fencing; hopefully, they will in turn become familiar with our manuals. Then more truth will be seen regarding how the sword was intended to be used, and the false “truths” will go away. And, we will see more proper use of the sword in the theater of stage, and on movie screens.

Matthew S. Anderson
Senior Free Scholar & ARMA Virginia Beach Study Group Leader
Occupation: United States Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer

1. To what would you attribute your interest in historical swords? What has been the primary inspiration or source for your own individual study of historical swordplay?

My interest in historical fencing developed primarily from my interest in medieval and renaissance history.  I had also had some training in Asian martial arts and as I began to realize that the Europeans had also developed and taught sophisticated, comprehensive systems of combat, I was fascinated and wanted to learn more. 

2. Is there a favorite type of sword or a preferred style of historical fencing that you focus on?  What specifically makes these so appealing for you?

 I love longsword fencing.  It’s a very versatile weapon, it can be used effectively armored or unarmored, against similar or different weapons, and the techniques are much more subtle and refined than many people realize.

3.  In defending against an opponent in any type of sword combat, what would you say is, in general, a good method to employ? In other words, what basic overall defensive principle of fencing would you recommend?

I think the best way to defend your self is to attack effectively.  If I can strike at you in range and on target, I force you to deal with my attack, setting up my follow-on techniques.  If done well, this seizes and maintains the initiative in a fight, something many of the historical masters emphasize.

4. Do you have any particular training advice from among your own experiences to offer fellow sword enthusiasts for their individual sword practice?

Practice the fundamental basics!  Flourish, work at the pell, drill your footwork, strikes, counters, etc.  Do it over and over till you don’t have to think about it and you can do it with speed and power and control.  Effective, realistic free-play is also essential.  Spar like you are using real, sharp weapons.  Keep the idea in your head that you must hit without being hit, or as Fiore Dei Liberi said of fighting unarmored with sharp weapons, “failing just one cover gives him death”.

5. What major developments do you see coming in the near future that will affect the current revival of historical fencing?  Which do you think will be among the most important?

No doubt more and more “experts” and self-proclaimed “masters” will start to emerge, eager to teach and write about the subject.  This is actually happening already, with various practitioners trying to equate their experience in stage fighting or reenactment style “combat” to earnest study of historical martial arts.  The challenge, for those of us who are passionate about the honest exploration of these arts, will be to work to maintain the realistic, no-nonsense approach that the ARMA has always embraced.

Shane Smith
General Free Scholar ARMA Virginia Beach, VA
Occupation:  Carpenter.

1. To what would you attribute your interest in historical swords? What has been the primary inspiration or source for your own individual study of historical swordplay?

First, I truly feel that there is an innate attraction for all boys and men to sharp steel. Who among us didn't spend countless hours in our youth pretending to be our favorite movie swashbuckler as we engaged our friends in a bit of free play with old boards torn from the neighbors picket fence? There's just something about the mystique of the sword that fascinates us all. I was no exception.  I like many, have had a lifelong obsession with martial arts in general, yet I had been raised to believe that only in the orient were "real" martial arts to be found.  I did well, but I never really liked the short blades and unrealistic manner in which I was being taught the use of the Asian sword. It was all too formalized, too antiseptic. The rugged grittiness and vitality weren’t in it for me. Something was wrong but I didn’t know what yet. The next step in my evolution came when I stumbled upon various forums online wherein men were talking about something called "WMA" I made contact with them and the appointed day shortly arrived. I was astonished when Matt and Joel were able to not only systematically explain the foundations of what they were trying to accomplish, but they further introduced me to the source-texts themselves.  I was bested by men that had not only told me earlier in the session what they could do...They were able to do it on demand, at speed and with martial intent. These guys really carried the mail. I was hooked at that moment and have been so ever since!  ARMA and the WMA had something I NEEDED. They still do. The sense of discovery that comes with researching the nearly lost martial arts of my own culture, and the ability to perform on demand in a competent and martially efficient manner with no BS.

2. Is there a favorite type of sword or a preferred style of historical fencing that you focus on?  What specifically makes these so appealing for you?

 I'm an uncommonly tall guy and I prefer weapons to match. I most prefer the longsword as the symmetry of attack and defense that it offers is both elegantly efficient and brutally final in action. The subtle art of the longsword is simply unsurpassed in my opinion. It is easy to understand in principle on the instant, yet I am convinced it would take a lifetime of sweat and research to fully perfect its use. I also study other forms such as sword and buckler and sword and shield, and I've recently taken a strong bent towards the rapier in spite of what George Silver tells me. Yet, my passion remains with the longsword.

3. In defending against an opponent in any type of sword combat, what would you say is, in general, a good method to employ? In other words, what basic overall defensive principle of fencing would you recommend?

To me, any form of conflict should conform to a pair of very simple concepts if you wish to bring it to a successful conclusion. The first rule of winning is to simply not get hit. This sounds like a given but I can't tell you how many people I've seen that are so intent on landing a blow of their own that they give no heed to their own defense. Often both men are struck. That is not acceptable if you're training as if your life depended upon your skill!  Before anything else, attack only where you can do so in relative safety whether by distance or a sure cover. Do not attack if you do not have your opponents weapon neutralized by any of the several means at you disposal. This can be as fancy as a flurry of twitching blows from the bind or as simple as counter-cutting as his blade passes. Strike only when you can do so in safety! It took me a long time to accept this simple fact. A cool head not testosterone wins at the swords turn.

4. Do you have any particular training advice from among your own experiences to offer fellow sword enthusiasts for their individual sword practice?

If you want to learn to fence...FENCE! Drills and exercises are important, but the crossing of swords is where the wheat and chaff are separated. This is where our silly misconceptions will be beaten out of us. No one learns to drive a car competently solely by reading the drivers education manual for a good reason. Research and skills development are not one and the same. You must roll up your sleeves and gain experience in the field in which you wish to excel. Research is critical to historical accuracy and must not be over-looked, but ours is ultimately a field of cutting and thrusting other determined individuals before they can do it to us. No more, no less else you be deceived. Find competent and determined Swordsmen and go to school at the end of the hilt!

5. What major developments do you see coming in the near future that will affect the current revival of historical fencing?  Which do you think will be among the most important?

The greatest development in the technical sense is the increased availability of good, quality replica weapons with which we can ply our craft. Poor swords and poor Swordsmen go together in my experience.  I further see a greater level of cooperation between practitioners, collectors and caretakers of period arms and armors that will only increase the breadth and depth of knowledge in both fields. How can we as practitioners claim to know how to handle the real thing as the men did in period without doing so? How can the curator of a museum fully understand the whys of the pieces in his collection without fully understanding the martial considerations of the fighting men of the day? These two fields of study are not mutually exclusive; rather they are two wings of the same bird. Hinder either one and what you end up with ultimately won't fly in a very real and pressing sense.

Stew Feil
ARMA Senior Free & Scholar Study Group Leader. Provo, Utah
Occupation: Psychiatric Technician

1. To what would you attribute your interest in historical swords?  What has been the primary inspiration or source for your own individual study of historical swordplay?

I have always been drawn to swords and marital arts. I started studying MA when I was thirteen after 7 years of trying to convince my parents that it was a good idea. I read a lot of fantasy novels and used to daydream about being able to fight with swords. To be perfectly honest I have grown into a true love of swords over a long period of time. I started wishing for better movie fights when I was in high school and imagined that I could stage them. Eventually I developed a true appreciation for pure martial theory. Plus, if the world really does ever collapse, you don't have to reload a blade. I actually am at a place in life where it is possible I might be able to scrape out some sort of financial income from what I do. I am starting a consulting company to attempt to raise the level of awareness regarding Renaissance Martial Arts to communities that often miss tragically in their attempt to portray such to the public. Having said all that, I have worked extensively through the MS I.33 and plan to publish an interpretation with my colleague, Brian Hunt. I have read through much of Meyer, and Silver, and anything that is available and directly quotes Liechtenauer. I have also dabbled with Fiore and Vadi, but found very little new information from those sources after studying the German sources.

2. Is there a favorite type of sword or a preferred style of historical fencing that you focus on?  What specifically makes these so appealing for you?

I love the longsword. I have a weakness for weapons that I am proficient with. I love the versatility of this weapon. It can do so much more than so many other types of sword with the ease with which one can change edges, redirect strikes, overpower, out-speed, and generally out-perform most other weapons. I am also particularly fond of Sword and Buckler for the same reasons. This combination is nimble, deceptive, fast on offense and defense, and generally embodies all of the attributes that make RMA so cool.

3. In defending against an opponent in any type of sword combat, what would you say is, in general, a good method to employ? In other words, what basic overall defensive principle of fencing would you recommend?

Range and Timing. If you know the range better than your opponent you will win. If you can time your strikes better than your opponent you will win. If there is a disparity between your reach and your opponent's you need to be aware of the exact reach of both yourself and your opponent and control the range of the fight. As for timing, you've got to know when to rush in, when to leap out, when to change direction, when to beat, when to strike, when to thrust, etc.

4. Do you have any particular training advice from among your own experiences to offer fellow sword enthusiasts for their individual sword practice? What are your personal long-term goals in your own study or practice of this craft?

The best place to start is to get some instruction from an ARMA certified instructor. After that, you should pound everything that you can remember into your head so hard and so long that it becomes second nature. Then fight, fight, fight. I hope to certify as Senior Free Scholar in Sword and Buckler, and in Rapier in the not so distant future. I also want to pick up more Staff and Dagger techniques and well as continue my unarmed combat education. I hope to some day own a Fechtschule/sound stage where I can train people to make fights suck less in the movies, and even film some of my own independent projects.

5. What major developments do you see coming in the near future that will affect the current revival of historical fencing? Which do you think will be among the most important?

Recognition by the general martial arts community of the vitality and efficacy of RMA. Continued improvements in training tool construction—i.e. gloves that don't let your hands break but let you feel impact, sparring weapons that don't explode when I hit someone with them, wasters that simulate steel and are still stout enough to hold up to the severe punishment that is an ARMA training session, sword makers continuing the uphill battle of accurate sword reproduction. Increasing numbers of available and translated manuscripts .Of these I believe that the improvements in training implements will have the most impact. We have a lot of source material available that needs to be tested. The training tools are exigent for that testing. If our tools are inaccurate or flawed then our tools will taint our research.

 
 
 

Note: The word "ARMA" and its associated arms emblem is a federally registered trademark under U.S. Reg. No. 3831037. In addition, the content on this website is federally registered with the United States Copyright Office, © 2001-2016. All rights are reserved. No use of the ARMA name and emblem, or website content, is permitted without authorization. Reproduction of material from this site without written permission of The Association for Renaissance Martial Arts and its respective authors is strictly prohibited. Additional material may also appear from "HACA" The Historical Armed Combat Association copyright © 1999-2001 by John Clements. All rights are reserved to that material as well.

 

theARMA@comcast.net