ARMA’s Three-Tier Curricula Structure

The ARMA’s “system” for historical fencing is a combination of academic scholarship and vigorous physical practice. To achieve this research and training we form into Study Groups of like-minded fellows working together and sharing information under the same essential approach and methodology, and with the same philosophy, goals, and shared values.  We develop a practice curriculum for reconstructing these skills based on the source teachings of diverse historical texts and offer it to members as a training program. We define standards and then certify practitioners and instructors in these skills.

Our progressive goal in training is to become strong, quick, fluid, and unpredictable in the effective delivery of genuine techniques. Achieving this will advance the credibility and legitimacy of Renaissance Martial Arts. As part of our exploration of historical fencing the ARMA structures its curriculum into three levels. These Three-Tiers are set up to provide students with the knowledge and skills by which to study seriously.

Tier 1:Core Fundamentals & Knowledge Base –foundational body-mechanics, muscular conditioning, and Armatura (basic drills and exercises) necessary for learning is provided through training in the core elements of fencing with the longsword.

Tier 2:Skill Progression & Development – advancement in ability and understanding resulting from proficiency of core longsword elements is applied to improving skill and to the learning of other weapons.

Tier 3:Specialization & Exploration – refinement of skills and knowledge is acquired through further interpretation-application and original research while new findings are then incorporated back into Tier 1 & 2 level material as part of a continual integration of studies.

The Three-Tier system permits us to insure beginners properly develop the necessary core elements of personal close combat needed to study source materials and then integrate back into our basic instruction any new research or insights obtained through this investigation. The three areas work in symbiosis with one another. Tier 1 provides the basis for working on Tier 2; Tier 2 provides the keys for unlocking Tier 3; and exploration of Tier 3 in turn reinvigorates Tier 1 and Tier 2.

Tier 1 Components - Foundation

The basis of Tier 1 instruction is the study of the longsword as the Primary weapon. The student will be expected to develop the core prerequisites necessary for higher Renaissance Martial Arts practice through acquisition of fundamental principles and concepts revealed by this weapon in unarmored foot combat.  This includes basic elements such as: posture, grips, basic stances, balance, footwork, range, timing, pressure and leverage, warding, the three ways of cutting, thrusts, slicing, crowning, hanging, winding and binding, floryshing, countering with the 5 Mastercuts, deflecting & displacing, basic seizures, the touch & press drills, the 8-cut exercise, and free-play.  Tier 1 material forms the required body of knowledge necessary for certification in the ARMA General Free Scholar ranking (whether or not a member chooses to the option of participating in the ranking system). See the ARMA Free Scholar Study Sheet in the members area. Tier 1 teachings (as expressed in our NTP 1.0 to 1.3) acquaints the student with the ARMA Study Approach and acclimates them to the ARMA Training Methodology.

Tier 2 Components - Progression

The focus of Tier 2 instruction is extension of longsword components and their relation to learning Secondary weapons. Having acquired Tier 1 components Tier 2 longsword components advance understanding of the weapon through focus on incorporating more complex elements such as: additional fighting stances, the 16-cut exercise, half-swording (stances, press drill, strikes, disarms), free-hand actions, closing & entering (disarms, trapping, take-downs, kicks, throws). Tier 2 material will also involve facing dissimilar weapons (pole-arm, dagger, shield, buckler), facing multiple opponents, test-cutting with sharps, basic grappling techniques, improved sparring skills, armored fighting skills & armored sparring experience, proficiency in performing Mastercuts, and application of longsword to single short sword.

Following from key elements of the longsword the student will apply it to training in a selected Secondary weapon. Secondary weapons may include: sword & buckler, sword & dagger, staff/pole-arm, dagger, rapier, poleax, two-hand greatsword, plate-armor combat, or unarmed grappling.  Specialized techniques, actions, and tactics particular to the nature of the selected secondary weapon (or weapons) will be acquired and practiced as possible.  The student’s secondary weapon may become their chosen Primary weapon for Tier 3 study.

From Tier 2 material the student will be expected to display an improved knowledge of fencing history and Renaissance martial arts literature, confidence in using source text terminology, be capable of instructing juniors in Tier 1 components, demonstrate free-play ability with control and skill against assorted weapons and opponents, and Florysh as in Tier 1 but striking with power on all 8 lines while moving in multiple directions using Mastercuts and including half-swording and free-hand actions. Tier 2 materials form the body of skills necessary for successful Prize Playing for ARMA Senior Free Scholar rank certification first in longsword and then assorted Secondary weaponry. See Prize Playing for Senior Free Scholar.

Tier 3 Components - Specialization

The essence of Tier 3 is specialization. Using their selected Secondary weapon the student will be expected to demonstrate capability in striking exercises, floryshing, test-cutting (where applicable), and free-play skill. Tier 3 scholars of senior ranking should also be capable of competently instructing in Tier 2 components. Tier 3 effort also focuses on serious research. Through comparison and contrast with other known material, personal insight, and interaction with fellow scholars the student will also investigate and explore when possible a selected historical fencing text or area of research in an effort to help discover and describe its teachings, method, system, style, or principles, and propose how to incorporate these elements into a modern training program of exercises or fighting practice. Tier 3 activity is how we develop our various teaching curricula from the work of our senior members and senior researchers.  All scholars can elect to pursue pure research on Tier 3 subjects to whatever degree while simultaneously pursuing Tier 1 or Tier 2 studies, as Tier 3 activity is not exclusive. However, Tier 3 is ideally studied as a result of experience and insight obtained through already having learned essential core material and accomplished Tier 2 training. The components of Tier 1 act as a starting point for all scholars regardless of future weapons of interest or area of study, since at heart in ARMA we are all swordsmen.

Training Philosophy

The central ideal behind the structure of our Three-Tiers for the study and practice of Renaissance Martial Arts is advancing our skill and understanding through an open-ended process of interpretation-application (as opposed to merely “interpretation”). Interpretation-application is a simple idea: to achieve genuine skill in teachings from the historical sources actions cannot just be “interpreted” and “performed” in practice.  Understanding and skill also involves an “application” process. Moves must be “applied” realistically and then demonstrated in a combat effective manner. A technique is executed in a combat effective manner when it is performed by moving the body or weapon in a way that would successfully defend against or strike against an attack that was itself delivered with force (realistic speed and strength). This must occur in realistic range so as to reflect the actual pressure of weapons and bodies in forceful contact and without the adversary’s reaction being coerced, prearranged, or assumed.  The ARMA System, consisting of our Study Approach and Training Methodology, is consciously designed with a martial spirit foremost in mind such that we do not bother with role-play, theatrics, display, sporting contests or stunt-fencing. Instead, we seek to genuinely understand how these weapons and skills were employed and how fighting men historically trained in them.


March 2005


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