Silentium.jpg (27701 bytes) BOOK & VIDEO REVIEWS

“…with a Booke in one hand,
and a Sword in the other.”

- Leonard Digges,
Stratioticos, 1579


The Mokken Collection - Books and manuscripts on fencing before 1800
By Miriam Vogelaar
MMIT Publishing, 2020
Reviewed by ARMA Director John Clements

Appreciation for the genre of literature that makes up the fight-books has grown considerably since the year 2000. Though systematic study of the books and their teachings began in the 1890s, it did not survive much past 1900. There was a time about two decades past when serious students of the emerging field of European martial arts studies were so desperate for access to the historical source works, and images of quality resolution from them so rare, that we had to scrounge for photocopies of photocopies of photocopies. We started to search every possible venue for fight-books and share them online when possible (this website among the very first, if not the actual first, to do so).

But for years, in classes or public exhibitions many of us were still reliant on displaying portions by printing them out and putting them in ringed binders or, if we could, sometimes on tablets. Too many institutions were still being stingy in hiding this forgotten heritage behind the locked cabinets of rare book collections. The idea that they were "preserving them for prosperity" -even as posterity had at last come knocking at their very door- was still ignored by most of them. Private collections were even worse in guarding their fight-books as if they were forbidden secrets to be hidden away in treasure vaults. Eventually, awareness and demand for them grew so that many owning institutions were pressured into digitizing them. Access to more and more of them became available. Finally, by the first decade of the 2000s, reliable facsimiles, translations, and interpretations started to be published. So far, more papers and books have been published about it in the 21st century than in all of the 20th.

I know this because I lived it. I was involved in it neck deep. Though the digitization of the fight books has been a tremendous boon to the recovery and re-development of their extinct combat disciplines and an invaluable aid to the historian, there is still no substitute for holding a real book in one's hand. In a new welcomed effort towards remedying this, the Amsterdam-based book historian Miriam Vogelaar has put out a wonderful oversized volume that qualifies as coffee-table art-book, research resource, and welcomed addition to the library of any serious student of fencing history or Renaissance martial arts.

The collection's owner, long-time fencer and bibliophile Weibe Mokken, deserves the highest commendations for his view that a collector of books like this should not only prize and care for them but also must, as he writes, "describe and publish." Would that more collectors had this distinguished virtue.

Opening with a frontispiece featuring an inset of the "target" cutting lines plate from Achille Marozzo's 1536 work on one side, followed by a choice one from Angelo's 18th century small-sword treatise, The Mokken Collection - Books and manuscripts on fencing before 1800, is a beautiful publication. Strongly bound on thick glossy paper and complete with bookmark ribbons, the book is well made and solid. It presents its subject material without pretense or fanfare in a manner that sincerely compliments and even accents the prized volumes comprising the collection.

After a brief preface by the Dutch owner, Weibe Mokken (in both English and French), then remarks regarding the catalog entries from author Vogelaar, we are presented with a timeline of works up to the year 1800 followed by a short bibliography and index of sources. Spanning almost 200 pages, the Mokken collection entries are presented in alphabetical then chronological order. It includes the lesser known and perhaps under-appreciated 1572 work of Bolognese master Giovanni dall' Agocchie, of the Dardi school. This is followed by entries on the familiar major titles by Agrippa, two different works by Alfieri, and then the lesser known rapier work by Jean Daniel L'Agne from 1664. Featured next - in perhaps a bit of Baroque prejudice due to its strong connection to modern sport fencing - is an extended section from the famous editions of 18th century small-sword works by Dominico Angelo.

Other entries include: a 1671 Dutch edition of the German rapier treatise by the master Bruchius; an anonymous late rapier work, Der Geöffnete Fecht Boden, from 1706 by a German fencing master identified only as "C"; and Capoferro's well-known treatise, continuing with several others on lesser-known but intriguing Baroque small-sword books. Next are listings on Fabris, de Gaya of 1678, one of William Hope's titles, and several other somewhat obscure yet wonderfully illustrated and revealing small-sword or sabre texts. An entry on the rare manual of Manciolini (one of my personal favorites) is included, continuing on to Marcelli from 1686, and then splendidly presented entries on both Achille Marozzo and Joachim Meyer, surely two of the most important and valuable works to today's Renaissance martial arts practitioner. Between these, John MacArthur's 1784 book is recorded, followed by a 1635 edition of Narvaez, along with those of Pallavicini, De Rada, Thibault, Senese of 1660, and between them a few additional small-sword and sabre works. Particularly interesting is a little known Neapolitan work by Pedro Texedo from 1678 that references Sicilian fencing. One of the final manuals is that of Marco Vandoni, 1781, which curiously is among the most rapier-like of small-sword texts that I have ever come across. Entries on Viggiani (Vizani) from 1570 and Weischner from 1765 end out the collection.


One of the more fascinating entries is for a form of 3-D cutout known as a "peepshow." This c.1740-50 color example depicts an intriguing fechtschule practice scene showing what appear to be pole-arms and longswords in use, as well as dussacks and sabre versus foil, along with the familiar accompanying fight-school drummer and flautist. Unfortunately, the entire peepshow scene was not shown very clearly.

Each entry of the 54 books in the Mokken Collection is brief but concise in offering factual bibliographical and historical background along with select images. The insightful factual tidbits contained in each entry, along with the gorgeously reproduced plates, are alone worth the price of the book. The importance of the now more famous and influential Renaissance-era titles within the collection certainly speak for themselves. The considerable Baroque content by contrast is displayed in a way that the reader may note its connection to Renaissance works, but also distinguish the transition from earlier broader concerns and necessities of total self-defense to the later aristocratic methods of dueling and the military needs of light cavalry.

We could easily ask for more in-depth descriptions of their content and their significance within the martial context of their historical era, but that is not the purpose of this work. Instead, it serves as both a formal documentation of the collection, and also as a love letter of sorts to the works by a fencer and bibliophile. Being both myself, and having long stressed the near impossibility of being one without being the other, I am most appreciative of having even this first portion of the Mokken Collection in my own library. It's very easy to wish it contained more images from each work, so the only criticism would perhaps be that there's a considerable amount of empty space that could have been filled easily enough with more plates without taking away from the book's overall aesthetics. Still, there are certainly several interesting factoids to be found throughout that any fencing bibliophile will enjoy.


On the critical side, one complaint I might level is the wish that with each entry the date of the work were listed prominently following the author. The same might also be said for the inclusion of a short title directly after. This would allow it to be more easily referenced when looking at the larger subject chronologically. However, this is amended in the back of the book with a convenient timeline of thumbnails. If anything else, some of the comments on content of the entries still bear the influence of modern fencing's prejudices despite what all is now known about 14th & 15th century methods. The continued deference to somewhat outdated notes by pioneering 19th-century authorities (Thimm, Castle, Gelli, etc.) also reveals the need for more modern authorities schooled not only in post-17th century fencing, but well-versed in the earlier methods of European martial arts treatises.

For example, a statement is made that Demeuse from 1778 originated the concept of sentiment du fer even though it's a major element expressed more than 150 years earlier in Thibault's work (which is actually in the Mokken Collection!) - and arguably, is also the very basis of Liechtenauer's own 14th century teachings. More odd is the note that di Grassi was "written at a time of transition from heavier swords to longer lighter ones," when in fact that transition arguably took place more than 25 years earlier, as evidenced by the blade style distinctly featured in Agrippa's own treatise. The side-sword illustrated in di Grassi is not all that different either in dimension, geometry, or hilt from ones featured in notable works published in the 1550s and even the 1530s, as is self-evident from illustrations included in this very book. Not only this, but di Grassi distinctly included the common military arms and armor of his time, even surrounding himself with an array of them in his author illustration. Another profound element of fencing history documented in the literature is the central idea of offence as defence through the concept of counter-striking in a single tempo. But the critical alteration toward a simpler double-time parry-riposte method used with the later small-sword and saber is not noted.

It's one thing to read a short, dry listing in a bibliography of fencing and dueling, and another entirely to see images featured out of an actual known existing copy of such a work along with comments from the owner of that very title. In many ways it makes it all more real than any high-res digital reproduction (invaluable to our study as those are). Real books tell a story: of their publication, their provenance, their reception and influence, and their acquisition and ownership through the years that no mere digital files can ever match. (Think of your own favorite book - how you first encountered it, what it meant at the time you first read it, and what memories and experiences you attach to it now.)


One could only wish that, given some of its most enviable volumes, the Mokken collection may itself soon become fully digitized even as this work might inspire other similar collections to publish their own catalogs of this quality. What a delight it must surely be to spend even a few hours in person in the presence of such a library encompassing this rich and diverse a cross-section of Renaissance and Baroque swordsmanship. It's hard to go wrong when combining two beloved ancient subjects - books and fencing - that have themselves nearly always been paired to one another - arma et literae as the saying goes.

I deeply love fencing history. The only thing that I enjoy more than writing about historical fencing and fencing books is practicing and teaching their content. We are fortunate now to have many published facsimiles of the fight-books, but for many works we must still collect our own digital libraries, gathering up what we wherever we can and sometimes even printing and binding them ourselves. Every student obsessed with doing so must relate to the challenge and rewards of assembling original editions together such as with the Mokken collection.

While younger students of the subject today may dismiss books like this as less relevant given the availability of online content, that these training manuals and study guides were originally in book form gains greater import when we again hold in our own hands even portions of them once in printed media. Just as we may on occasion hold historical specimens of fine swords in our hands, there is never going to be a more satisfying alternative to the experience of bound paper. Let us hope to see more of the Mokken collection in the future.


The Art of Fencing: The Forgotten Discourse of Camillo Palladini
Piermarco Terminiello and Joshua Pendragon
The Royal Armouries, 2019
ISBN: 978-0948092961
Illustrated, 256 pages
Reviewed by David Kite

Camillo Palladini counts among the greats of renaissance Italian fencing masters. But while his name has been known to historians of fencing, his fencing treatise has been little more than a rumor and a myth. Only pieces had ever been seen by the public in published books, and very few individuals have had the privilege of examining it personally. Its 46 red chalk illustrations are simply too fragile. Now, after a partnership between the Wallace Collection, where the manuscript is currently kept, the British Library, the Royal Armouries, and funded with a grant by the Aurelius Trust, Palladini's mysterious manuscript is for the first time widely available. Edited and translated by Piermarco Terminiello and Joshua Pendragon, this large hardcover edition reproduces in high detail both the illustrations and the text, and includes a transcription alongside the translation. Although virtually nothing is known of Palladini, the editors have assembled a brief biography of the master, and have convincingly dated the book to the late 16th or early 17th century. Through their introduction and endnotes, they have also ably placed Palladini within the wider context of Bolognese fencing, comparing and contrasting him with other Italian masters throughout the Renaissance and Early Modern Period.

Palladini's book includes instruction on the sword alone, sword and dagger, sword and cape, dagger alone, two swords, and various weapons against the pike, including the spadone, the halberd, and the pike against itself. Palladini holds the art of fencing with two swords simultaneously of high importance, to be learned after studying the sword alone and before learning sword and dagger. Learning how to fence with two swords not only makes the body better balanced, Palladini argues, but it is also valuable in the event that your sword arm is wounded, you are still able to defend yourself skillfully.

Apart from his exposition on the theories of fencing which is lucid and straightforward, one of the more interesting things about Palladini's book is his ideas about the nature of combat. Like other fencing masters, Palladini is critical, even derisive, of school fencing. He complains that the skills learned on a tiled floor in a controlled setting do not transfer well to the chaos of a natural environment. He is also critical of other masters, particularly Agrippa and his mathematical descriptions, and does not approve of what is perhaps the most famous rapier technique, the lunge. Palladini also speaks somewhat on the advantages of weapons, particularly holding the halberd in high esteem for its versatility, as well as pronouncing its clear advantage in defending narrow passageways. Like other Italian sword masters, he speaks on the use and value of cuts and advocates a style of fencing that utilizes both cuts and thrusts. However, also like other Italian masters, cuts are rarely described in his techniques. Peculiarly, Palladini laments non-Italian styles of fence because they have by-and-large forsaken cuts in their fencing. This opinion contrasts curiously with the Englishman George Silver, who also advocated for cut and thrust fencing and damned Italian fencing for abandoning cuts altogether. Despite Silver's Italian prejudice, in Palladini he may have had a kindred spirit.

Palladini's approach to fencing is one of practicality rather than show. At the end of his book Palladini provides useful tactical advice for anyone who wears a sword, including considerations in choosing a glove, carrying a sword at night, or how to draw the sword quickly if suddenly set upon while sitting at a table. Finally, while the use of the sword implies the willingness to kill an opponent, and Palladini's teachings are clearly lethal, he advocates a non-lethal approach to combat as much as possible, admonishing men to avoid duels and unnecessary violence.

The Art of Fencing is a fabulous work and a welcome addition to the modern corpus of European martial arts literature. Both the book itself and its content are of very high quality and despite its high price tag, belongs on the shelf of any serious student of European martial arts and the rapier in particular


Historical European Martial Arts in Its Context: Single-Combat, Duels, Tournaments, Self-Defense, War, Masters and Their Treatises
Richard Marsden
Tyrant Industries, 2016
ISBN: 978-0984771660
Illustrated, 215 pages
Reviewed by David Kite

In Historical European Martial Arts in Its Context, Richard Marsden has set out to write a very basic introduction to the world of martial arts in Europe from the 13th through the 18th centuries. He covers a lot of ground in a couple hundred pages, devoting separate chapters to single combat, the judicial duel, the private duel, self defense, tournaments, war, weapons, as well as the masters and the printed books and manuscripts they wrote. Such a general introduction is a welcome addition to the growing body of literature, as most books tend to be much more specialized.

Marsden clearly has a very broad knowledge of his topic, and he mingles historical anecdote with brief treatments of some of the scenarios within which someone may need knowledge of the martial arts. However, while he gives a lot of information on the "what", he never gets into the "why" of things, and events and details are presented at such breakneck speed, most of the chapters lack any real sense of cohesion or depth. Most of the chapters come across as strings of random facts. Fortunately, this by no means applies to the entire book. In the later chapters dealing with the weapons and then the masters and their treatises, Marsden does slow down and provide some discussion and more interesting thought. In fact, had Marsden focused his book more and provided the same level of detail throughout, it would have very much strengthened the book overall.

In my opinion, one of the central weaknesses to this book is that while Marsden makes use of a variety of source material, he provides almost no analysis and fails to incorporate them into a cohesive thesis other than perhaps "here is some information on duelling" or "here is some information on medieval warfare." Moreover, he seems to take all of his sources at face value. This is most apparent in the fact that he relies a lot on the interpretations of 19th century fencing historians, most of which are known to be inaccurate and obsolete. Only a small number of historical examples get more than one or two brief paragraphs of treatment before Marsden rushes off to the next one. Once again though, this changes with his chapter on the weapons often found in the fightbooks, and his chapter on the masters and their treatises. These two chapters are where Marsden is clearly not only the most knowledgeable, but also the most comfortable writing about, and in this last third of the book, we finally get some meaningful analysis. I can certainly appreciate Marsden's excitement for this subject, and can relate to wanting to include as much information as possible to show how cool historical European martial arts are. However, overall the book would really have been strengthened if it included more focused analysis into fewer tidbits and anecdotes.

Anyone with no prior knowledge of either the history or context of the martial arts of Europe will find this book a good basic introduction to the topic, and may find it a useful springboard to more in-depth reading.


Irish Swordsmanship: Fencing and Dueling in Eighteenth Century Ireland
Ben Miller
Hudson Society Press (October, 2017)
ISBN: 978-0999056714
Illustrated, 502 pages
Reviewed by David Kite

Ben Miller's Irish Swordsmanship: Fencing and Dueling in Eighteenth Century Ireland is a welcome addition to the corpus of historical European martial arts literature. While there are numerous book on dueling and the martial arts, they tend to be either very broad in scope or focus on other regions of Europe. Until now, few have focused on Ireland, which in the eighteenth century was home to some of the most renowned swordsmen in Europe. Miller's book fills this gap in our knowledge. Though technically outside ARMA's period of interest, it still provides fascinating and wonderful insight into the culture of violence that existed in the daily life of early modern Europe, whether as entertainment on the stage, duelists in single combats, gangs that terrorized the streets, or the fencing societies and individuals who took it upon themselves to bring some sense of order to the abuses and chaos of it all.

Miller's treatment is very well executed, and his knowledge and affection for his subject is clear. What he has accomplished is a book that is not only informative but engaging. As a writer, he is able to provide a text rich with information without bogging the reader down with excessive or tangential detail.

Miller tackles his subject from several angles. He provides a thorough treatment of the culture of dueling in Ireland, where quarrels arose out of genuine matters of honor, but also where men casually picked fights and killed each other either out of machismo or boredom. He then treats of the gladiatorial stage performances of Irish masters of defense, the prize fighters who, like their English counterparts, demonstrated their skill at swordplay with sharps and risked gruesome mutilation and sometimes death for fame and a little money. Impressively, Miller is also able to provide short biographies of many of Ireland's famed duelists and gladiators. He next describes the street gangs and dueling clubs that plagued Ireland's cities, which demonstrated as much as anything else the vital need for citizens to arm themselves and be skilled in the science of defense. Duelists, gladiators, and gang members provided not only the students, but also the teachers of Ireland's fencing schools, Miller's next chapter, who not only furnished the Irish with technical skill, but also promoted themselves with their own fencing exhibitions and contests. Miller caps off his historical treatment with a chapter on the famed Knights of Tara, a society of fencers who charged themselves with promoting the usefulness of skill in the science of defense, and acted as a regulatory body in an effort to reduce what they perceived as abuses and excesses of dueling.

If that wasn't enough by itself, Miller proceeds to wrest from obscurity an anonymous Irish fencing book first printed in 1781 and subsequently ignored for the next two centuries: A Few Mathematical and Critical Remarks on the Sword. Miller provides a faithful transcription of this lengthy work, and makes a compelling argument regarding the identity of the author. Devoid of illustration, it is nonetheless a lively and spirited instructional work.

Copiously cited, the book boasts an ample bibliography, and Miller clearly took advantage of a large number of primary and secondary source materials and synthesized them into an eminently readable volume. Even if Irish Swordsmanship inspires future works on Irish fencing, Miller's work will certainly be authoritative for quite some time.


Late Medieval and Early Modern Fight Books: Transmission and Tradition of Martial Arts in Europe (14th-17th Centuries)
Edited by Daniel Jaquet, Karin Verelst, and Timothy Dawson
Brill Academic Publishing (July, 2016)
ISBN: 978-9-004312-41-8
Illustrated, 619 pages
Reviewed by David Kite

Seventeen years ago, Sydney Anglo remarked that the martial arts of Renaissance Europe and their associated literature had received scant attention by academics. Despite numerous digital and print publications by amateur enthusiasts of varying abilities, his statement remains largely true. Fortunately, this reality is beginning to change, and the recent publication of Late Medieval and Early Modern Fight Books: Transmission and Tradition of Martial Arts in Europe (14th-17th Centuries), edited by Daniel Jaquet, Karin Verelst, and Timothy Dawson, is a large step in the right direction. This volume covers a range of topics by several academic and non-academic researchers. Separated into three dubiously-useful categories, the seventeen contributions range from general introductory surveys to microscopic examinations only a specialist could love.

John Clements' chapter on "Problems of Interpretation and Application in Fight Book Studies" and Daniel Jaquet's chapter "Experimenting Historical European Martial Arts, a Scientific Method?" are both solid contributions whose arguments are familiar, if not axiomatic, to veteran practitioners. However, it is because of their straight-forwardness and practicality that they are valuable and important introductions for academics who might operate too much on the intellectual and theoretical level.

A few chapters I found to be especially interesting. Paul Wagner's "Common Themes in the Fighting Tradition of the British Isles" examines the surviving British sources from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries, and identifies common threads between them which illustrate a stronger homogeneity than I was aware of. Bert Gevaert and Reinier van Noort's "Evolution of Martial Tradition in the Low Countries: Fencing Guilds and Treatises" offers a fairly in depth look at those guilds and attempts to identify whether the Low Countries developed their own unique martial traditions. Their examinations of the local guilds are not only interesting in their own right, but allow useful comparisons with other European fencing guilds. B. Ann Tlusty's "Martial Identity and the Culture of the Sword in Early Modern Germany" provides an overview of exactly that, focusing on the civilian aspects of who taught whom and why.

Most of the pieces in this volume were well written and worthy additions, such as the pieces on the French, Italian, and Spanish traditions, as well as the close studies of certain specific sources, traditions, or time periods, but weren't necessarily things that interest me personally. Matthias Bauer's contribution, for example, is a very close linguistic examination of some German sources that will likely be of no interest to any but the most dedicated general reader and martial arts practitioner. It is, however, an otherwise fine contribution and illustrates some of the problems which occur when we use one source to help interpret another when their connections are spurious at best.

However, the volume is far from perfect, with some chapters being more of a headache than an educational experience. Overall, this book could have benefited from another round of, or at least more, editorial scrutiny. There are many word choices, phrases, and sentence structures that you just don't encounter in English, and there is a frustrating amount of head scratching to try and figure out what some authors are even trying to say. This may be due to language barriers (the two chapters in mind were written by non-native English speakers) as much as the authors' writing styles. This is not a fault of most of the authors in this volume, as most of the pieces have a very fluid narrative style and are easy to read. I also don't think this is a matter of my own abilities, because I've read some pretty dense academic works and I've never had to work so hard simply to understand them. One particular example is the piece by Jens Peter Kleinau. On page 90, he writes: "A collection of images in a pragmatic domain is a collection of displayed knowledge. With a few exceptions the images in such a collection seems to have no other intention than the communication of the pragmatic content." And on page 95: "While a collection stands as a collective object for its own purpose, those pragmatic books had been used." In Karin Verelst's chapter, we read on pages 120-121: "A diplomatic edition is, however, not a visually as much as possible resembling copy of the original, which is what one often sees when philologically uninformed scholars or researchers present an in their opinion 'faithful' Word for Windows-facsimile typoscript of a source." As already stated, most of the contributions to this volume have a fairly relaxed, if formal, narrative style which gives precedence to the communication of ideas. This should be one of the ideals of academic discourse. Kleinau and Verelst's pieces, however, give the impression that their primary goal was impressing the academic establishment with their lexical erudition at the expense of communicating clearly. They seem to have gone out of their way not to be easily understood. The result is a particularly jarring and head-scratching experience. Their theses are fairly straightforward and the underlying ideas fairly simple, but in the end, understanding their convoluted discussions was hardly worth the effort.

Despite some weaknesses and glaring faults, overall, Late Medieval and Early Modern Fight Books should prove to be an enduring and highly valuable contribution to the scholarship of European martial arts. With a current price tag of over two hundred dollars, this book is unlikely to end up on the general reader's bookshelf, but it is well worth the effort of acquiring though the library.


Warhammer, the Forgotten Weapon: Its History through Examples
James Roth (pseudonym)
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (June 21, 2012)
ISBN: 978-1477680858
Illustrated, 120 pages
Reviewed by Eric A. Harrelson

In the book Warhammer, the Forgotten Weapon, the author James Roth, a pseudonym, attempts to delve into the history of the European warhammer, a weapon that was created to deal primarily with plate armor, or harness. His thesis is... well, he does not have one, or one that is stated. A suggested thesis would be that this is a book that needs to be written due to the fact that there is no general work on the weapon; therefore, he is starting it off.

The author's main point is that there are basically two types of warhammers found in Europe that came about due to the Medieval arms race taking place: Western and Eastern. Each one fulfilled the function of an offensive weapon designed to breach the defensive armor of the region. In the West, it was plate armor and in the East, it could be plate, ring mail, a combination of both, or neither. Therefore, the type of hammer reflected the type of armor it was designed to defeat.

All in all, if I were to give this book a rating, it would be 2.5 stars out of 5. The pros of this book counter the cons equally. The pros of this book are that "James Roth" describes himself as a technical writer specializing in modern weapons systems. Therefore, his logic in deducing the use of the Warhammer in various parts of Europe is quite good and his job as a writer stands him in good stead. The cons of this book are his utter lack of knowledge of Armizare or the Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe. "James Roth" also mentions that he fenced competitively at the U. S. regional levels and he is a trained bayonet fencer. This, unfortunately, does not truly qualify him to interpret the efficacy of the weapon he is writing about and the treatises he is using to come to his conclusions.

This book is a good starting point for this particular weapon. While it is not the best it does offer some good insight. If someone wishes to continue the scholarship of this weapon, I would suggest they start here.


Medieval Wrestling: Modern Practice of a Fifteenth Century Art
Jessica Finley
Freelance Academy Press (2014)
ISBN: 978-1-937439-11-8
Illustrated, 168 pages
Reviewed by John Farthing

I was rapt with anticipation about this book for several reasons. In an already niche market of historical martial literature, this book sets itself further apart by being one of extremely few to focus on the unarmed combatives of the Mediæval world. I was equally enthusiastic to see a book of this type coming from a female author in a subject which has been largely the monopolized by men. This excitement waned somewhat upon reading of the author's research methods.

While I applaud the author's efforts and it is obvious that she has spent some time studying the original sources which she uses as the base of her assertions, the book declares, with what seems like pride, the very flaw which calls the entire work into suspicion! While the book purports to be a guidebook towards understanding the unarmed combatives of Mediæval Europe (and specifically Germany in this case) it boasts that the interpretations of the techniques are grounded in the author's understanding of Judo. While there are certainly and inarguably many similarities between Mediæval German wrestling and Judo, integrity of scholarship is compromised when one uses such 'frog DNA' to form the building blocks of their reconstruction. The diligent reader who has leanings toward understanding the unbiased historical reality must retain this knowledge in their mind throughout studying this material.

This is not to suggest that this book is not without merit. In fact, for an entry level practitioner, or the swordsman seeking to explore another avenue within the martial corpus of Mediæval and/or Renaissance Europe, this book does a good job of providing a basic framework introduction of the wrestling art of one 'Master Ott'. The book offers a brief introductory synopsis of the martial arts of Mediæval Europe and provides some context to the climate in which they were practiced. The same treatment is then given to a discussion of Ott himself, providing a brief understanding of the man and his role in the pantheon of European martial literature. Most notable is the inclusion of a translation of the original material from Ott himself, which although readily available elsewhere is nice to have in a bound book which the practitioner can (as the author suggests in her introduction) 'tuck into your gym bag'.

In short, this book is open and forthright about its interpretations being colored by outside influence in the form of Judo and that it isn't meant to be the definitive work on the subject, but it is well written and seems to convey the author's passion for the subject matter. It is there that this book really shines. On a technical level this book only serves to offer the most basic entry level understanding of the practical application and usage of 'Ott's wrestling', but the author's enthusiasm being present throughout is noticeable and should serve to whet the appetites of readers to pursue this fascinating topic further beyond the introductory material this book provides.


The Sword of Combat or The Use of Fighting with Weapons
François Dancie, translated by Rob Runacres & Thibault Ghesquiere
Lulu publishing (2014)
ISBN: 978-1-291-91969-1
Not Illustrated, 63 pages
Reviewed by John Farthing

As a researcher and practitioner of Renaissance martial arts, I frequently lament the mass of translations being accompanied by the translator's need for self validation by including what are, more often than not, distracting and dissatisfactory 'interpretations' of the original content. I have long hoped to see more volumes being produced which offer simply a straightforward translation while leaving the interpretive process to the reader/researcher. On that count, this volume surely delivers!

Being little more than just a straightforward translation of the original source, I found this volume to be a real delight! The translators offer a brief introduction which provides appropriate historical information, a brief description on how the translation came about, the obligatory acknowledgements and expressions of gratitude, and then unabashedly straight into the translation itself! Footnotes are included where appropriate and yet the book is not overly annotated. Further commendable is that while the translators dispensed with the usual interjections of their own ideas and interpretations, they saw fit to include an index which provides the researcher with an all too often neglected, but valuable resource.

As to the content of the book itself... without offering the tedious 'interpretations' I chastise above (this is a book review and not a fencing lesson), I will simply state that for anyone with an interest in seventeenth century fencing, this tome would make a worthy addition to any fencing library. The original author's approach to fencing is as straightforward and direct as was the translator's approach towards it. Some readers might lament the lack of any illustration, but both the author (who declares his disdain for illustration in the text!) and the translators, succeed in having produced a volume in which the clear and descriptive language should convey the material satisfactorily to anyone familiar with the fencing literature of the period.

I thoroughly enjoyed this volume and the freedom to study the author's original words (albeit now in my native language) without the distractions of the translators' interjections. I hope to see more volumes being approached in such a fashion in the future, and I highly commend and applaud the translators for having done so in this one.


German Longsword Study Guide
Keith Farrell and Alex Bourdas
Fallen Rook Publishing (2013)
ISBN: 978-0-9926735-0-5
Illustrated, 132 pages
Reviewed by John Farthing

In an age when it has become all too commonplace for pimply faced youth with barely any life (let alone martial) experience to set themselves up as 'instructors' of an art which itself has yet to be fully rediscovered; where dozens of new schools and clubs are popping up all over the world in 'McDojo' like fashion at ever increasing and alarming rates; and where 'sportification' has sadly overshadowed the focus on legitimate defensive skills and the use of historically accurate training tools and equipment... I must admit, I had some reservations about this little book. The virtual explosion of interest in the subject of Historical Fencing has not been solely limited to the classroom, club or tournament grounds either, it has also witnessed a literary 'boom' with more books on the subject being produced in the last 15 years than in the preceding 150! With the above in mind, my primary concern (or perhaps more appropriately... question) was, 'What is the need for such a book as this?' Are we not told in the extant martial literature itself that (according to Anonymous Gloss HS 3227a or 'Döbringer' manuscript) "There is nothing new that can be devised which is not already contained in Liechtenauer's art"? What then, I could not help but wonder, is the need for yet another modern attempt to interpret already complete sources of information? Given the trends (and seeming popularity) of modern authors offering their opinions and/or interpretations of original sources overshadowing those aforesaid sources themselves, I couldn't help but wonder if the world really needed 'just another guidebook'.

The answers to my aforementioned questions and concerns, I am pleased to admit, were a welcome surprise! Before offering my thoughts on the book proper and its contents, I hope the reader will indulge a few words about the authors themselves. The book is a collaborative effort between Alex Bourdas and Keith Farrell; of the former I know virtually nothing. Mr. Farrell on the other hand, I have met. I know him and I consider him a friend (to wit, I have made every effort to be objective and unbiased in this review). Mr. Farrell is young, a point which at the outset of this review I admit gives me pause, but I can assure you that Mr. Farrell's knowledge of the subject and the original source material is impressive for a person of any age. In my many 'face to face' conversations with him, he has always conveyed a passion for, and familiarity with, the subject for which I have held him in some regard.

The book itself is a slight volume, coming in at a mere 132 pages cover to cover; however, the authors seem to have made great use of such small space and manage to at least touch upon considerable content within this tiny tome. A book of this size is certainly not going to be remembered as the definitive work on the subject, but in reading it seems apparent that this was never the authors' intent. The title itself further indicates this as the book is clearly and unabashedly a 'Study Guide'. If we take that to be the authors' stated objective, then it can be said that on that count, they surely deliver. One of the most noteworthy, and indeed impressive, things about this book is that it not only serves as a self contained guide in its own right, but it also serves as a starting guide for further study. This is made possible by the fact that the book is well footnoted and the sources which the authors drew upon in their writing can be further followed, read and studied by the readers of this book. I will be the first to admit that there are elements contained within this volume with which I agree, and others with which I do not. The fact that the sources of the authors' information and research are so well listed and made openly available makes it easy to see 'where they might have been coming from' on a particular issue, and/or to follow up on points that interest the reader further or to gain greater insights into content the reader might not agree with or understand. I truly commend the authors and the book for being so well documented, footnoted and forthcoming with regard to same.

While I believe this book has the potential to confuse some readers (although again, it does make continuation of study easy for the enthusiastic reader to find out more), I feel as though the authors have made a sincere and valiant effort in attempting to explain the differences between those things which might confuse a neophyte of the subject. In fact, it is the simplistic yet obviously knowledgeable way in which the authors present the material where I think this book really shines. For persons new to the subject, or those not yet well versed in the taxonomical German nomenclature, this (albeit small) volume presents a well rounded catalog of basic concepts, terms and ideas which are refreshing to see presented in such a handy, portable guidebook. Experienced students and practitioners of the craft may find themselves lamenting that such a compact yet comprehensive guidebook was not available years ago.

In short, this book is not without its flaws, but is an impressive and noble inaugural effort from two authors whose dedicated research and study of the themes presented are in evidence throughout. For the experienced scholar of Historical Fencing studies, you will likely find nothing new or groundbreaking here, and yet this book would still make a welcome addition to your library as a quick reference guide, etc. (I have found myself drawing upon it for reference several times myself!). For those who are new to the subject of Mediæval and/or Renaissance Martial Arts (and particularly the German corpus), provided the reader is judicious and takes care to notice the authors' discussion of the differences between sport, real martial art, etc. this book certainly has the potential to be a great starting point and one that will likely eventually become a treasured volume to which you might find yourself referring back to for years to come!


The Longsword Teachings of Master Liechtenauer: The Early Sixteenth Century Swordsmanship Comments in the "Goliath" Manuscript
Grzegorz Zabinski
Wydawnictwo Adam Marszarek Press (2010)
ISBN-10: 8376116622
ISBN-13: 978-8376116624
Illustrated, 595 pages
Reviewed by David Kite

A published translation of MS Germ. Quart. 2020 (known as the "Goliath" manuscript) has been long overdue, and this book, by Gregorz Zabinski, is a welcome additon to the growing body of available German martial arts books. In addition to a transcription and translation of this manuscript, Zabinski provides his own analysis of the text, as well as an analysis of European martial arts overall, a treatment of the "tradition" of Liechtenauer, and an analysis of the represented swords themselves. As a special bonus, this book also includes a concordance of master Johannes Liechtenauer's verses, a project Zabinski has been rumored to have been working on for years.

The front matter of the book, treating the history of the martial arts in the Middle Ages generally and Liechtenauer specifically, demonstrate that Zabinski is well read and knowledgeable in the subject. Although I found his writing style rather dry and perhaps merely an attempt at an academic style, the information is interesting and well synthesized.

The jewels of this book are the translation of the Goliath manuscript and the treatment of Liechtenauer's verses. While either of these parts by themselves would involve a great deal of time and effort, together the volume represents a tremendous undertaking, and I applaud Zabinski for his effort and ability. While the contents make this book more than worth the price, unfortunately, the book's major failure lies in its execution.

Two minor issues are the translation itself and the photographs. I also own copies of Zabinski's translations of Codex Wallerstein and MS 3227a (the "Döbringer" manuscript), and compared to those earlier works, the English simply isn't as good, which struck me as odd. As a quick example, he translates "zufechten" as "in an armed manner." While I think it is a valid interpretation, it sounds clumsy and unnecessarily wordy to my ear, and this idiosyncratic style is present throughout. The translation seems accurate, just not his best work, and the English lacks the clarity and oomph of the previous two works. Second, while he does include B&W images of the original illustrations, he also includes pictures of two fencers "performing" some of the techniques, which are grainy, static poses, and are completely useless.

When reading other translations, such as of Ringeck or Meyer, their texts are left whole, and any commentaries or comparisons by the editors are clearly delineated. Not so with this edition. Zabinski regularly interposes his own glosses of the glosses, as well as relevant yet lengthy passages from MS 3227a, and occasional passages from Peter von Danzig. The inclusion of these passages is not the issue. Rather, the issue is that there is very little to differentiate these passages from the Goliath text proper. If you're not paying close attention, it's easy to read Zabinski's comments as part of the original gloss, since there is no change in the appearance of the text from the verses, glosses, or his comments. The result is that if the reader only wants to read the Goliath text without the editor's glosses or other passages, it is very difficult to do so unless the reader is willing to mark up his copy considerably.

Further, Zabinski's own glosses often amount to little more than repetitions of the original gloss, are overly technical, and add little actual content or elucidation. For a beginner, the extraneous information and over-technical examination may be confusing, but for an experienced martial artist already familiar with the content, it is superfluous and distracting. In my initial reading of the translation, I quickly stopped reading Zabinski's own comments, and consequently missed when he indicated he would include portions of Döbringer or von Danzig. As a result, I had to spend effort paying close attention to the manuscript page numbers, normally unimportant details themselves, so that I knew which manuscript a given passage belonged to.

Most annoying, however, is his habitually interjecting his own interpretation of the text in-line with the original text, with only simple brackets delineating his comments. Such commentary would be better placed as footnotes. Unfortunately, as with the editor's other commentaries, they add absolutely nothing in terms of content, often being repetitions of the text anyway.

As an example, for the überlauffen (p383) "If one presses you down [i.e., if the adversary presses your sword down while fighting "am schwert"], run him over and strike firmly again. Run over from both sides and watch the edges [make sure the edge is placed correctly while fighting "am schwert"]."

His footnotes are good, actually doing what footnotes are supposed to do: supply information and comments without distracting from the main body. In them, Zabinski often provides the untranslated texts of von Danzig and Ringeck for comparison, and notes any differences in the versions. These are interesting, but only if you can read and understand the German.

Years ago, it was rumored that Zabinski was working on a concordance of the Liechtenauer verses and their glosses, both to compare the glosses, and show which verses are missing from, or extras in, existing versions. The appendices appear to be the culmination of this work, and if so, then I am disappointed, although my expectations may have been unrealistically high. Zabinski does provide a concordance of Liechtenauer's verses of Döbringer and Ringeck, then one of von Danzig and Ringeck, von Danzig and Lew, and finally von Danzig and Goliath, all in separate sections. Rather than providing the entire verses, however, these concordances appear to be nothing more than Zabinski's own notes, and apparently accompany his treatment of manuscripts in Chapter 3. He also provides a table of variations between the Liechtenauer verses in Döbringer, Ringeck, and von Danzig, actually providing transcriptions of those verses, but provides no explanation as to why this table is different than the other concordances.

In short, I bought the book because I wanted to read Goliath the way I can buy Lindholm's or Tobler's translation of Ringeck and only read Ringeck. However, the format of the editing and the absolute refusal of the editor to simply let the manuscript speak for itself amount to a fractured and frustrating read of what should be a very approachable work.


Nicolaes Petter: Wrestler & Wine Merchant
Jerome Blanes
Lulu press, 2013
Illustrated, 635 pages
Reviewed by John Farthing

Having had the privilege of leafing through an early editorial 'mock up' of this tome nearly a year before its print release, I had been eagerly awaiting this book’s publication. By the time the final version went to print, the volume had increased in size and scope exponentially. In reading, it is readily apparent that the author has invested considerable time and research into compiling the material; however, one of its few shortcomings is in the lack of any bibliographical information or indexes. Such omissions notwithstanding, the sheer size and scope of this impressive work is a refreshing and long overdue treatment of its fascinating subject matter. This book will, no doubt, have widespread appeal to historians, martial artists, students of the sociology and cultural affairs of the early Netherlands, and many more. As English is not the author’s native language, the prose presents the information in a direct and simple manner which results in a surprisingly easy readability. This is a refreshing change from the often tedious verbosity of works taking on such high level academic themes.

While the book touts itself as a biography of the seventeenth century wrestling master Nicolæs Petter (a score upon which it very much delivers), it is quite a great deal more than just a 'simple' biographical analysis. The book explores not only Petter and his life and times, but provides an interesting foray into the Netherlands of the late seventeenth century. One gets a clear sense of things, and the author, himself a native of the Netherlands, relays a sense of national pride not easily conveyed through the written word. In addition to the aforementioned content, the book continues to offer more than just a mere biographical treatment by taking an in depth look not only at Petter the man, but Petter the martial artist. The author, also a martial artist, includes a full translation of Petter's own treatise on wrestling, as well as many training suggestions! This quickly makes it apparent that this is by no means a merely ordinary biography about a fascinating individual, but it is also an exposé on the cultural zeitgeist of late seventeenth century Netherlands, and a multifaceted wrestling guide (being a complete guide in Petter's own, albeit translated, words, and including additional supplemental material from the author).

The material covered is expansive and seems to be largely accurate, but the lack of a bibliography makes it problematic for readers who wish to learn more about a particular topic in this volume. While the research presented seems to be the most complete treatment of this subject offered to date, the author’s assertion that Petter was "the world's first self-defence author" does not hold up to close academic scrutiny. The book’s few shortcomings are minimal and do little to diminish the size, scope and overall impressiveness of this fantastic work. This book is sure to become a standard against which all future analyses of Petter and his wrestling are measured. In short, this is a volume that would certainly enhance the library of anyone interested in any (or all) of the many themes it explores.


Furies: War in Europe 1450 - 1700
Lauro Martines
Bloomsbury Press; First Edition (January 15, 2013)
336 pages
Reviewed by Tom Reynolds, 04/13

Furies is a new book by Lauro Martines, who is considered one of the world's leading experts on early modern Europe. He is the author of nine other books, such as Fire in the City: Savonarola and the Struggle for Renaissance Florence.

In Furies, Martines starts from the position that early Modern Europe was not primarily characterized by an artistic or humanist Renaissance, or a religious Reformation, but rather by the early appearance and rise of modern nation states. These modern nation states originated as local-scale states, such as city states or feudal territories, which grew by incorporating the territories of their neighbors. The development of modern France is cited as an example of this process.

As such, Martines claims that the dominant characteristic of early modern European society was constant warfare. Early rulers were always looking for ways to expand their territories, which required the maintenance of larger standing armies than at any previous time in European history. These armies were typically made up of mercenaries; that, and the introduction of new gunpowder weapons, meant that these standing armies were far more expensive than ever before, and early modern rulers were constantly struggling to find ways to pay for them.

But modern logistical and transport systems had also not yet been developed in early modern Europe. This meant that Europe was constantly being criss-crossed by large, disease-ridden, starving armies that had not been paid sometimes for years. Martines calls them "floating cities". Conditions like these encouraged plunder and looting, and in fact in many cases it was literally assumed that the armies would pay and provide for themselves through plundering the country in which they were operating.

Given this historical context, Martines explicitly sets out to study the human impact of these wars, not their chronology or politics of these wars. He does so primarily by relying on eye witness accounts such as diaries, and case studies such as the experience of real villages with marauding armies, and the sack of several real cities. Although he does deal with military issues, his main concern is with human impacts such as starvation.

Overall, Martines makes a very clear, very persuasive case that sooner or later, almost all citizens of early modern Europe would have been affected by these events; that this constant warfare would have been difficult if not impossible to escape. And in the end, the reader is led inevitably to the conclusion that early modern Europe was far and away more violent than it is presently.

This book is an excellent companion to the study of the martial arts of Renaissance Europe, in that it eloquently and effectively establishes their historical context. After reading this book, it becomes very difficult not to conclude that those martial arts must for the most part have been originally intended as serious military or combat skills. Perhaps they were intended to prepare the student for a career as a mercenary soldier, for example, or to prepare the student in case he was forcibly drafted to serve in the army; a common occurrence, according to Martines. It is also quite possible that they could have been intended to equip the private citizen to defend themselves against these armies. And Martines also makes it clear that the study of traditional weapons and tactics was quite relevant, given the fact that it took gunpowder technology several hundred years to develop to the point that it was truly reliable and cost effective for infantry.

Lauro Martines writes in an interesting and enjoyable style. I found the book fascinating, and finished it very quickly, and found that it helped a lot to put these martial arts in their historical context. I highly recommend the book.


The Knightly Art of Battle
Ken Mondschein
Getty Publications, 2011
Illustrated, 128 pages
Reviewed by John Farthing

Given the importance of the source material, this book is simultaneously a delight and a disappointment; however, its many endearing qualities far supersede those areas where it is lacking. One of the first things readers will notice (apart from the volume's small size) is that this work is beautifully presented! Published by the Getty Museum, the original (albeit limited) source imagery is presented in truly breathtaking 'museum quality' high resolution.


The Book of Swords
Hank Reinhardt
Baen Publishing, 2009
Illustrated, 236 pages
Reviewed by John Farthing

Published posthumously after the untimely death of its author from a collection of notes and materials, this book by the late Julius 'Hank' Reinhardt debuted with many high expectations within the spathalogical community. That the author was passionate about the subject comes through in his writing in no uncertain terms, even if breaking no new grounds in terms of research, its perspective is unique.


In Saint George's Name
Christian Henry Tobler
Freelance Academy Press
Illustrated, 207 pages
Reviewed by John Farthing

This fourth book from Christian Tobler (the author's first Freelance Academy Press publication), is unique in that it is the first publicly available printed volume to offer an English translation of materials from the 'Danzig' fechtbuch. This latest submission might also be considered unique because of the eccentric assertions and theoretical postulations contained within its brief 207 pages, which add little to enlighten the original historical material.


National Geographic Channel's Medieval Fight Book
Reviewed By Parker Brown
ARMA-Denton Study Group Leader
April 2011

As a Renaissance martial artist and active member of the ARMA, the material covered in The National Geographic Channel's presentation of Medieval Fight Book should have contained few surprises. I am pleased to say that quite the opposite was the case. Like many others, I had heard of the development of this television special through discussions on the ARMA member's mailing list as well as the ARMA's member podcast. Given its topic and the involvement of Director John Clements and Provost Aaron Pynenberg, I knew it would be something of great interest. The show covered information from one of six surviving works of the 15th century German Fechtmeister, Hans Talhoffer. This edition, dating from 1459, contains a myriad of imagery depicting fighting skills we are familiar with, including wrestling, longsword, dagger, and sword and buckler. What made Nat Geo's Medieval Fight Book remarkable was that it addressed aspects of the book I had either never heard of or had not gotten to examine in closer detail.

One of the first things that struck me in the program was the excellent condition the original book was in. The drawings still have such vivid colors that one could easily assume it was a recently drawn image. I am truly envious of John for getting to handle the original work and view such stunning art with his own eyes. Within that imagery was an understanding of various engineering projects that I had not heard of, including the designs of a diving suit and a tank that both predate similar theoretical designs proposed by Leonardo da Vinci (who would have been only 7 years old at the time).

Medieval Fight Book was exciting and revealing for a practicing Renaissance martial artist, but what was more important was the reaction from those unaccustomed to such knowledge. After discussing my involvement in ARMA with friends and colleagues, it's apparent that the idea that our Medieval and Renaissance forbearers were more sophisticated than we have previously been told is far more foreign than I had imagined. Sadly, the Victorian depictions of clumsy knights and damsels in distress are still the predominantly held view by the broader public. In the case of Medieval Fight Book, having familiar source material presented in an easily digestible package that can be embraced by the wider public is very gratifying. I viewed the show with several non-martial artist friends and witnessed the dawning realization on their faces that their previously held notions were not only inaccurate, but that the historical reality is far more dynamic and fascinating.

After viewing the show, some friends remarked that they were astonished and frightened at just how violent that society was capable of being. One female friend remarked that she felt "cheated" having not known that women were legally allowed to fight duels with men and defend their own honor and rights! Another friend remarked that Talhoffer's book gave a view into the lives of common people of the time. He felt that most history books simply glaze over Medieval and Renaissance society through the viewpoint of the "noble" knight. He felt that "this shows us the flip-side of the coin".

In general, Medieval Fight Book provided a general audience a much better understanding of Renaissance culture. I felt that this was in no small part because of the choice of historical experts. Each aspect of Talhoffer's book was covered by individuals well-versed and well educated in relation to the respective topics. A large amount of thanks should be extended to not only John and Aaron, but to Mike Loades, Terry Jones, Bettany Hughes, the producers and everyone involved for making such a well-informed and dynamic presentation. This was in lovely contrast to other less well-researched shows that deliberately choose inaccurate theatricality over historical actuality. Such theatrical depictions of history have become the mainstay of such "edu-tainment" shows that have now regrettably dominated The History Channel, Discovery Channel and TLC.

One section, in particular, showed how unnecessary theatricality is when one applies an earnest hand to staging historical close combat. In demonstrating the use of the longsword against an armoured opponent, John and Aaron relied upon martial skill rather than choreographed sequences to show how devastating a blow could be to an armoured opponent from the pommel and cross guard of a longsword. By allowing the armour and the weapon to do what they were designed to do, the deadly seriousness of these techniques was made obvious even to those laypersons with no first-hand understanding of these weapons. John, Aaron and the producers of the sequence are to be commended for it.

Overall, I hope that Medieval Fight Book will segue into a greater understanding by the public at large about the nature of society and combat during the Medieval and Renaissance period. It has already illuminated aspects of Talhoffer that I previously did not know existed. As members of ARMA, we know that our ancestors were not idiots waiting patiently in the wings for the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution. What matters is that the wider public be made aware of these facts as well. The importance of historical understanding is underlined by a comment made by one of my female friends. When viewing the judicial dueling section, she remarked how, "women's rights had been there all along, we just simply chose to forget." Imagine what would happen if we chose to stop forgetting and instead learned the facts of our origins.


Swords and Swordsmen
Mike Loades
Pen & Sword Books, 2010
Illustrated, 469 pages.

Long-time action arranger, fight choreographer, and student of historical arms and armor, Mike Loades combines a lifetime study of the noble weapon with an intriguing and personal look at the subject.  With the historian's gift for entertaining context and a practitioner's intimate familiarity he writes with an ease that makes a readable work for any enthusiast.  Offering something for everyone he takes this most personal weapon and makes it a personal tale of real people.   Following an original approach that includes everything from swords in the Ancient World, through the Middle Ages, into the Baroque era and even the American Civil War, it weaves famous and not so famous personalities with the weapons they wielded. Entertaining enough for general audiences while educational for the hardcore student, and effectively illustrated, this is a not-to-miss title covering a huge gamut of the subject. A refreshing and original work to compliment any fencer's bookshelf.


Reclaiming the Blade
Galatia Films, 2009
Reviewed by Andrew Ullrich

Reclaiming the Blade is a documentary by filmmaker Daniel McNichol about swordfighting in the modern western world, in its various theatrical, recreational, sporting, and martial forms. It begins by introducing the sword as an icon of courage and honor throughout the history of mankind, and even though the true art of its use had died away after the Rennaissance, it still evokes these feelings and ideas today through storytelling and theatre. The film continues from there to talk about fight choreographers and actors, sport fencers, and then pretend-fighters and "re-enacters" such as the Society for Creative Anachronism, and other potentially misleading efforts which have made it difficult for people who have worked credibly to dispel myths and misconceptions about real historical European swords and swordsmanship. However, with a little patience, eventually one comes to find here the first documentary ever to introduce this subject to a large and diverse audience.

Throughout the film there are insightful comments and helpful visuals for the portrayal of the story of the sword through the ages up to modern times, such as the colorful and effective analogy of a tree, with modern sport fencing as a mere falling leaf from the branches and trunk of the more violent and comprehensive art that spawned it. This and other narrative in the film are actually word for word from John Clements' published writings on the subject in the late 1990s as well as later material he provided to the filmmaker. There are also interviews with some of the most well-known people in the world whose lives revolve in some way around this weapon, from the likes of theatrical fight choreographer Bob Anderson and the WETA workshop on one end of the spectrum, to Professor Sydney Anglo, the groundbreaking academic researcher of these arts, and the late swordsmith Paul Champagne, a pioneer in the historical methods of crafting swords. Footage of various ARMA members are shown throughout the film, including our director, John Clements. As an added bonus, there is a 20-minute special feature of John and ARMA Provost Aaron Pynenberg providing instruction on the use of half-swording in the bonus section of the DVD.

If you're looking for a documentary whose main focus is on the martial arts of Renaissance Europe, the ARMA Web Documentary might be a better choice. But overall, RTB is a very well-made film and a rare opportunity for practitioners to show their friends and family what they do through a familiar and engaging medium. Despite its sometimes perplexing distribution of time to its various subjects, it does contrast European Rennaissance martial arts with the highly restricted form of modern sport fencing, the foreign and ritualized Asian sword arts, the pageantry and play-focus of LARPers, and the made-for-show, ineffective practices of theatrical swordplay. Indeed, it would be very difficult to have men like John Clements, Professor Anglo, Paul Champagne, and the late sword guru Hank Reinhardt in a well-meaning documentary and still manage to misrepresent our subject.


The Royal Book of Horsemanship, Jousting & Knightly Combat
A Translation into English of King Dom Duarte's 1438 Treatise
Livro Da Ensinança De Bem Cavalgar Toda Sela
["The Art of Riding in Every Saddle"]

Translated by Antonio Franco Preto (& Luis Preto)
Edited by Steven Muhlberger
Chivalry Bookshelf
ISBN: 1-891448-11-0-5, Hardcover, 180pp, 1st Edition, 2005

Review by J.L. Hull

It was both pleasure and pain to read this book. The pleasure derives from this being a brave and valid English translation from Portuguese of a significant Renaissance mounted combat source by a modest yet accomplished modern horseman. The pain derives from this being a needlessly and wincingly flawed English edition of a significant Renaissance mounted combat source, due to the bungling and/or indifference of an acclaimed modern professor and/or its dubious modern publisher.

I should like to deal with the negative first, get it out of the way, then deal with the positive, which I am happy to say, far outweighs the other. It seems that it is enough for some experts to attach their names to another’s project without care for whether that other person is well-served by such experts. In other words, did the expert actually do what was within his/her power to bring correction and guidance to the project, and thus serve the other? Thus stated, it is quite sad to say that a chivalry & tourney scholar whose own work I respect, Muhlberger, was obviously negligent in his editorship on behalf of Preto. Really, Muhlberger should have secured the correctness of this project with actual editing, instead of allowing it to go to press rife with errors. However, blame also should go to Brian Price who, for all his talent at self-promotion and book design, seems to care little whether some authors are well-served by his publishing, as long as everything looks attractive to the target-market. I write this as someone who has agonised while editing works by both native and foreign speakers of English, due to the heavy responsibility I have felt to help them get things right.

The editorial laxness is readily apparent, as Preto’s English translation suffers from frequent and distracting errors of grammar and syntax throughout the entire body of the work. Some is to be expected, and allowance for author’s “voice” should always be made, but this situation is rampant and perforce the reader constantly must struggle with confusion, because an editor did not do his duty. Moreover, there is the specific issue of a certain word – “wound” (to injure) – for which again, Preto is blameless whereas Muhlberger & Price are not, about which Preto should have been advised, so that he may not have used “wound” as broadly as he did. This seemingly small thing led to misinterpretation via the translation and footnoting. Indeed, Preto does use “wound” correctly to speak of severely injuring in order to kill prey while one hunts. However Preto, as allowed by Muhlberger & Price, applies “wound” to a situation that is basically blunt rebatre-melee at tourney, which lets him imply quite strongly in text and in footnotes that the relevant weaponry were sharpened swords for cutting, wherewith opponents presumably wounded each other in bloody manner at tourneys of the time. This is quite wrong, as confirmed by accounts of 14th-15th Century tourneys, where extra-heavy bloated armour, cage-helms and rebated blunt swords or wooden clubs/maces were utilised, yet it seems that no one responsible (i.e. Muhlberger & Price) had the decency to inform Preto of that. Some editor should have suggested “stun”, “punish” or even “clobber” in that context. Nor did anyone have the decency to inform Preto that “wound” was the wrong term for describing how to spur a horse effectively – someone should have suggested “compel”, “inflict”, “sting”, “harrow”, “goad” or even “pain”, but not “wound”. Presumably, Dom Duarte had great fondness for horses, and Preto surely has great fondness for horses, such that the mistranslation served neither the utility nor the truth of what those two gentlemen mean to convey.

For the positive side, which makes this book quite worth reading and studying, there is so much that Dom Duarte tells us which is revelatory, and I am thankful that Preto did us great service here in the English-speaking world by translating Bem Cavalgar for us to learn. Bravo! Dom Duarte (1391-1438) was a King of Portugal, warrior and horseman who chose to write a treatise about how one should fight on horseback, most of it applicable to tourney but arguably applicable to a great extent in equestrian duel and/or battlefield. To do him honour, the modern Portuguese horseman Antonio Preto obviously went to great lengths to present the lore of Dom Duarte in a manner consistent with the original intent of the 15th Century author even as he lays it out it as methodically as possible for the modern reader. Preto writes with authority and knowledge of Portuguese and of horsemanship, and he engages the reader with his candor and comprehension. It would also have been nice to have a transcription, but just having a translation of the work is better than nothing.

Dom Duarte presents his advice about horsemanship combined with observations about qualities such as will, power, strength, fearlessness, safety, quietness and ease of both rider and steed, also relating such to proper social behavior and duty. Perhaps some readers would weary of all this throughout the book as preachy, but I found it sincere and even uplifting. He states why knights and squires should be equestrians, how one should care for one’s wealth and health in order to do this, and how one needs to have proper bearing to carry it all out.

Dom Duarte describes and distinguishes between the five typical riding styles of his Portugal, the first style bravante as most typical, the second a related style favoured in England & Italy, the third a related archaic style, the fourth style gineta from the Moors, and the fifth style bareback. He advocates that a rider should know how to do all these styles of riding, whatever one’s preferred saddlery. He goes into great detail about all these, and the rigging of the stirrups and strapping, and their proper tacking. He tells how to stay mounted by proper carrying and moving of one’s body, how to ride steady and relaxed, ready to strike correctly in the action of a fight, and the use of one’s whole body in cueing one’s steed.

Moreover, he offers instruction on hunting and on wrestling on foot translation of that short section was done by Preto’s son Luis), but curiously not on horse. Although the specifics of tourney and battlefield certainly differed, it is laudable that he seems to advise vigor at tourney and in one’s training, presumably to make one effective at both duel and battle. Dom Duarte also offers philosophical and moral advice which he argues is inseparable from proper success at marital arts.

Dom Duarte describes the three main ways to bear the spear on horseback, with variations thereof. Such directly contradicts some of the simplistic and denigrating analysis by some modern historians that European knights were technically monotone equestrians. Dom Duarte tells of how to move the spear efficiently and strongly to stay ahorse and to deliver the best strike one can, especially at the moment of impact with the foe. He goes into detail on the sensible ways to pursue game from horseback, so as to make the kill yet prevent injury to the horse (and thus the rider), plus how to properly throw spears from horseback. Preto’s translation of all this really makes it come alive.

Dom Duarte speaks of “wounding” with sword while ahorse. Despite the previous critique of vocabulary vis-à-vis context, the translation by Preto conveys the sound kinetic sense of those moves, how if properly done, one then transfers the force of both the self and the horse through any of the defined four main strikes into the foe. Such a matter of use of force certainly applies to both a blunt rebatre and to a sharpened sword.

One interesting thing sociologically is how often Dom Duarte tells you how one does or should appear to court and/or spectators when doing a given move. Such advice may be cynically ascribed to some sort of vanity, although there seems more to it. What seems unspoken by him is that it is important for a leader to maintain a certain bearing, thus leading to extraordinary ability, in order to keep his followers in high morale and consequently in willingness to be led. However, Dom Duarte shows he realises the complexities of life as he admits sometimes folks are not what they seem, as someone who seems uncouth or weak to conventional appearance may actually prove himself a talented and powerful man when called to action, and of course vice-versa. Although his work was actually unfinished at the time of his death, Dom Duarte does give a summary of his main points as are relevant to the most common dangers and disasters which face rider and steed, and how they may overcome them.

All said, this book was a great pleasure to read. I think that Dom Duarte via Preto has done us great service by writing down such a good deal of the equestrian lore for we later generations who hopefully may gain a better understanding of how much of fighting ahorse was conducted in late Medieval and early Renaissance Europe. So, I do indeed highly recommend the Royal Rook of Horsemanship (Bem Cavalgar) by Dom Duarte as translated by Antonio Preto on its merits of content, and can honestly say it is worth reading.


"Dueling with Sword and Pistol: 400 Years of One-on-One Combat"
By Paul Kirchner
Paladin Press. November 2004
Reviewed by Jason Vail

Even modern men cannot escape the allure of single combat. There is something visceral about it, something that appeals to a primal potential for violence. Despite the stultifying effects of political correctness, the attraction cannot be denied. Single combat, where a man is measured in the clash of weapons and skill, remains fatally fascinating. How else to explain the popularity of boxing, the UFC, and the Octagon? Single combat -- and more specifically the duel of honor -- is the subject of Paul Kirchner's new work, Dueling with Sword and Pistol: 400 Years of One-on-One Combat.

Dueling, of course, is age old. The Iliad celebrates single combat. In 222 B.C., the Roman consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus, nearing 50, took up the challenge of the younger Celtic chieftain Viridomarus, and the two fought to the death between the their two armies at Casteggio in Italy, with Marcellus emerging the victor. Scandinavian sagas from the Viking age are filled with stories of single combats and formal duels.

But Kirchner's focus is on the last four centuries of dueling, when it had become rigidly formalized in the code duello. The book is a refreshingly realistic and unromantic look at these combats -- how they began, growing out of real or imagined slights; how they were organized and the men brought together; and how they were fought.

Kirchner has done an exemplary job of new research presenting not the regurgitated accounts from taken from existing standard works but adding considerable new material to the subject. For that alone he is to be thoroughly complemented. This review focuses exclusively on Part I of the book dealing with sword combats.

It's possible to mine the book on many levels. You can simply take it as an exciting series of stories about personal combat. For it is that, some of the tales, particularly those from 19th century sources, reading like something out of Burrough's John Carter series: one period account gushed, "Well-tempered steel, striking its like, gives forth a gallant, ringing tone." There is also a gritty account of dueling in Napoleon's army, which you may find interesting especially if you've seen the movie "The Duelists." You can also take it as a source of fascinating tidbits of historical information. For instance, you'll learn that in the years before the Civil War, New Orleans was America's fencing capital, where fencing schools lined Exchange Street and at least three of the fencing masters were freed blacks. And the schools held regular competitions. These salon bouts often escalated into deadly fights with sharps. You'll learn that it was wise to clean blood from the blade immediately to prevent corrosion. Or, like me, you can mine the book for what it has to teach about the reality of sword combat. For it has a lot to say on that score, even if we cannot reconstruct combats blow by blow What emerges is a picture that gives more than enough for any student of historical martial arts to think hard about -- and could settle some arguments current in Asian fighting arts circles.

One primary impression is that these combats were vicious, all-in affairs. The combatants did everything they could to win. By this period, what constituted acceptable combat had been rigidly fixed and ritualized. Wrestling, for example, was frowned upon. But in battle conventions often were ignored. Trips and grapples were commonplace, even with the rapier and smallsword, and struggles often continued on the ground. Men's swords broke and they continued to fight with the shard, stabbing their opponents with the broken blade. Pommeling was frequent. Men fell on uneven ground and their opponents tried to stab them where they lay.  Blade grabbing was common. It was not unusual for both fighters to grab each other's blades even when fencing with smallswords -- not unlike the longsword illustrations in Talhoffer -- to prevent being skewered.

Today there is great concern about the differences between dojo martial arts and street martial arts. Many of the combatants in Kirchner's study were well aware of the difference between salon fencing and "fencing of the field." If nothing else, the book drives home the point that what one learns in the play/practice fighting of the salon may not work with live blades. This implies that great care must be taken when reconstructing techniques from the historical fight books. Altogether, this is a good read, and I recommend it to all students of swordsmanship. I only wish that Kirchner's scope had been broader and he had investigated earlier periods. There are plenty of accounts of duels in Medieval Scandinavian literature that deserve inclusion. Also, I would have welcomed an informed analysis of these fights, but the analysis is up the reader.

In the end, though, I do not lament the passing of the age of the duel, if the period covered can be called that. Thousands of good men died over trivialities, and the dueling field was often the playground for bullies and sadists.


"The Medieval Art of Swordsmanship:
A Facsimile and Translation of the World's Oldest Personal Combat Treatise"

Royal Armouries MS I.33; Jeffrey Forgeng; Chivalry Bookshelf; September 2003; ISBN 1891448382.
Hardcover; 178 pages; colour illustrations.
Reviewed by J.L. Hull

For those not familiar, MS I.33 (pronounced as "manuscript eye-thirty-three", and also known as the Walpurgis manual) presents a sword and buckler fencing system from Germany of about 1300 AD. This book provides the best and only pulp-published facsimile available of the manuscript now at the Royal Armouries, Leeds, replete with its colourful pictures and flowing text. This helpful version features Forgeng's insightful and reasonable facing-page translation from the original Latin into English. He explicates the various anonymous (Lutegerus notwithstanding) scribes and artists who must have made the manuscript. The foreword by the Royal Armouries sets the stage for the rest of the book, with Forgeng proceeding to establish I.33 in its historical context. He explains that I.33 was most likely made by a group of relatively worldly German Christian clergymen who practiced their fencing with male students and possibly some female students as well. He cross-references I.33 with later derivative fight-books, notably A.83 (1500) and Sorg/Wilhalm/von Huter (1523). In a couple cases, I found myself disagreeing with the author's generally discreet commentary: when he ascribes I.33's fencing to the "ludic" rather than the martial, which is arguable to say the least; and when he seems to ignore the distinct possibility that sword and buckler fencing originated as early as four centuries prior to I.33 [as 9th century Frankish as well as 11th and 12th century Spanish iconographic evidence shows--ed.]. One may also note how the publisher's preface amounts to needless self-promotion which does no justice to this fine book. But such really do not detract from what Royal Armouries and Forgeng are striving to achieve: a significant high-quality presentation of the I.33 itself. And all told, this book is indeed that. It is so because of minimal interpolation, relevant concise interpretation, and avoidance of pedantry. This joint effort presents the fascinating Walpurgis the way it deserves - leaving Medievalists, scholars, and martial artists to appreciate and determine the truth of its teachings for themselves.


Italian Rapier Combat
Master Ridolfo Capo Ferro's Gran Simulacro of 1610
Edited/presented by Jared Kirby. Greenhill Books, Stackpole Books 2004.
Reviewed by Casper Bradak.

The straightforward and complete translation of one of the major Italian rapier manuals of the 17th century, that by Cappo Ferro, long considered the "father" of modern foyning fence, is presented in a refreshingly minimalist no-frills version that is easily understandable. Sydney Anglo noted in his Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe, "In terms of combat technique, this work is one of the most influential in the history of swordsmanship." Offered in hardback with an attractive layout it retains the original terms untranslated in order to retain their specific intention (for which the editor has included an explanative glossary). The original artwork is some of the best on the weapon, leaving little room for error and omitting the need for any dubious modern interpretation or commentary, which while useful to the modern martial artist can be considerably distracting and debatable. Master Capo Ferro includes his basic guards and stances, and explanation of many basic concepts. He gives detailed information on exact technique and the principles of this style of combat. The techniques are also viciously effective, very economical, and well described. This book is all business. There is nothing fancy or foolish to a single technique. They are all about killing or wounding your opponent in the most direct and efficient manner possible. He includes techniques for the single rapier, and a variety of practical off hand weapons/items combined with it (dagger, cloak, and round shield). Many of the plates include a grid on the floor for even more exact interpretation of the techniques. All of the original artwork is included (43 plates) and well printed, using the entire page for each picture. The pictures illustrate the immediate effect of the successful techniques, with the injuries inflicted graphically depicted, which give even more precise information on the completed positions and angles of attack. Another interesting facet of his manual, being that it is on the use of the "true rapier", is that he includes edge blow techniques and advice on performing them, where other masters discouraged them as useless or dangerous, to oneself and his weapon. The effects of these not withstanding, many of them are more than simple stromazzone or harassing tip scratches. He describes them as "schything", meaning percussive slicing action, as described by other cut and thrust masters. While never meant to kill or even disable the opponent, against bare flesh the cuts distracted and harassed the opponent enough to permit a killing thrust follow-on having more success. While one might squabble over differences with a couple of word choices, overall this is a good translation and a good work for beginning students of the rapier. This work should be in any rapier enthusiast's library for the full size plates if nothing else. Definitely a must have for anyone interested in this deadly and innovative renaissance weapon. I can see no downside to this book, a rare thing in my experience in regards to newly published fencing manuals.


TLC's Great Books - Le Morte D'Arthur
VHS Videotape. 1993. $15.
Reviewed by J. Clements

From the Learning Channel's excellent and award winning "Great Books" program series comes this 60-minute long 1993 documentary on Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur. Beginning with the statement, "This is a tale about power…" the somber narration of actor Donald Southerland aptly fits the serious tone of the program. No romantic celebration of Arthurian legends or Medieval fantasy here, the treatment pays respect to this famous 15th century work of literature as a mature commentary on morals and ethics amid the tragic flaws of human character. The story and characters reflect ideals of loyalty, integrity, the ethical use of power, as well as important questions of the rule of law, and the rule of our passions. The program doesn't spend too much time on trying to unravel the historical origins of a real life Arthur (a topic explored in other documentaries). It instead concentrates primarily on the book as it concerns the social and philosophical problems of the time in which it was written--where it was received as a serious commentary on contemporary political reality and the problem of chivalric life. The show relates these recurring themes and psychological underpinnings of the human struggle to modern Western civilization: how do we make individual moral decisions in a world ruled by the aggressive use of force? The program fits in an extraordinary amount of material as it traces the tale's considerable influence on later works of literature and modern entertainment, relating it to everything from T.H. White's The Once and Future King, to Prince Valiant, Camelot, Disney's The Sword and the Stone, Excalibur, and even the Star Wars trilogy. Most surprising is the contempt directed at pop culture's trivialization and commercialization of the Arthurian tales of the Knights of the Round Table, and the caricaturing of the figures of Merlin, Lancelot, and Guinevere. Without being least bit pretentious, this refreshing, entertaining, and re-watchable video is must viewing for anyone interested in the serious study of chivalric literature and knightly values.


The Last Duel. A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat in Medieval France
Eric Jager. Broadway Books, NY 2004. 256 pages. $25.
Reviewed by J. Clements

Recounting a little known judicial combat from 1386, this is the best book about a single historical duel I've yet read. Fought between Jacques LeGris, a well known squire to the king, and a popular knight, Jean de Carrouges, this was the last trial by combat ever ordered by a decree of the Parliament of Paris. Following its dramatic impact and outcome, the frequency and popularity of judicial duels declined in the following century. In this regard it resembles the much later 1547 French judicial combat between Jarnac and Chastaigneraye. Complete with all the assorted social intrigue, gossip, and politics it flows like a good thriller novel. The reader must resist the temptation to skip ahead to see how it ends and instead let the tension build. It definitely pays off in the end. For once a historian also manages to get it right when it comes to descriptions of the arms and armor as well as the combat itself. In this regard, Jager, a Professor of English at UCLA, is refreshing in the respect and attention he pays to these elements, refusing to gloss over them in favor of less martial aspects. One drawback however is the lack of indication whether or not quoted material is at times traceable to actual historical sources or is the author's own narration. A readable and suspenseful work, it's highly detailed including many important rules and regulations of Medieval judicial combats that have remained obscure. Jager does a thorough job of laying out the circumstances of the conflict while in the process retrieving from history's dusty memory a description of an event worth reading about. The effort will prove interesting not just to students of Medieval history, but anyone who enjoys great historical tales.

Medieval Hand-to-hand Combat
By Keith P. Myers, ARMA DC. Privately published 2002.
Reviewed by Jason Vail.

When I first encountered the Fechtbücher at the ARMA website and elsewhere, it was almost a life-altering experience to see, laid out in book after book, grappling techniques that I had studied in Japanese judo and jujutsu. Yet, these techniques I saw were invented in the West and set down on paper by fighting masters more than a hundred years, in some cases, before the founding of the first known jujutsu ryu, which appeared in 1532. It was immediately clear that Medieval European combat wrestling was a complex, subtle and brutally effective combat art, rich and flexible in its vocabulary. Questions leaped immediately to mind: How did the European teachers differ from one another in their battery of techniques? How they were the same? How did the Europeans' approach to close combat differ from that in the East? If you wanted to learn Kampfringen, what was your best source of information? It looked like a lot of work to find the answers.

Then I found Medieval Hand-to-hand Combat by martial artist and Army physician Dr. Keith Myers, a Rockville, MD, ARMA member and ARMA DC Study Group leader. Keith's book has made the study of Medieval combat wrestling much easier. Medieval Hand-to-hand Combat surveys the principle Fechtbücher, and in an organized way depicts the wide array of combat wrestling techniques known to the Medieval European fighter. Myers divides techniques according to their purpose. He starts with fundamental or basics (although one can quibble here and there with the designation of this or that technique as a basic). These include tie-ups or ways to grasp an opponent, setting up the opponent for a technique, kicks and sweeps (he shows four), strikes, parries to fist blows, throat holds, defenses to lapel grabs (at least nine of them), the initial move against dagger thrusts (grab the arm), and head locks and chokes. He follows with a section on armlocks, which appears to be comprehensive, illustrating just about every one I have identified in the books. I don't think any important ones are left out.

Kieth also shows the wide variety of takedowns and throws found in historical European grappling arts. Many of these, like the armlocks, are also found in judo/jujutsu, such as tai-otoshi, osoto-otoshi (tenchi nage in aikido), ogoshi (the major hip throw), ippon seoinage (the flying mare), and more. Myers demonstrates the counters Medieval fighters invented for defeating the throws, as well. The large battery of leg pick-ups available in the European systems are shown too. Myers does not neglect ground fighting either, although as he notes, the Medieval Europeans did not apparently do much fighting on the ground, as is common in wrestling/grappling systems today. This probably arises from the concern that in combat you don't want to find yourself rolling around on the ground with someone because his friend might come up and finish you with a knife in the back. Better to get the guy on the ground where you can finish him with your knife.

Finally, Myers delves into dagger fighting and unarmed dagger defense. We see in detail how wrestling and dagger defense and dagger fighting merge, and how fundamental wrestling techniques are to effective dagger fighting. We also see techniques advocated by modern knife fighters, especially those coming from the Philippine tradition, such as the hand cut. One of the book's great strengths is that Myers illustrates most techniques by showing drawings from more than one Fechtbuch. So, for instance, the reader can see a single technique illustrated by pictures from the Codex Wallerstein, Albrecht Duerer, and Fiore de Liberi.

Thus, the reader gets the sense of how widespread and well known many of these techniques were. While Liechtenauer and Ott are often credited with being the fathers of European combat wrestling, viewing the same techniques drawn from several different Fechtbücher spanning more than two hundred years suggests that if these men were the "fathers" they probably drew on, and perhaps systemized, a pre-existing body of knowledge that likely was very ancient. Medieval combat wrestling had many roots.

Like any book, the work has some weaknesses. Myers includes an index to techniques, essentially a table of contents, in an appendix at the back. The reader might be better served if this was up front. Also, Myers apparently relied solely on the drawings to interpret what was intended and not the text. While viable, this also means that he may need to revisit some of his interpretations in the future as translations of the Fechtbücher become available.

I also noted a few of his interpretations that are at odds with the recently published translation of the Codex Wallerstein. For instance, Myers interprets as a front kick a Codex drawing in which one man has another by the arms with his foot on the other's stomach. This is a reasonable interpretation. However, the Codex translation (plate 81) makes clear that this drawing depicts the prelude to the equivalent of tomoenage, a throw in which the thrower grasps the throwee, sits on his butt, puts his foot in the throwee's stomach, rolls back and launches the unfortunate throwee over his head. You've probably seen this move even if you've never practiced judo. It was a staple of 1950s action movies.

In another example, Myers interprets as a head butt a Codex drawing showing a man grasping another's right arm with his head close to his partner's. Again, this is a reasonable interpretation, but the Codex translation (plate 90) makes clear that this is not a head butt after all, but a one-arm tie-up. However, I don't mean to suggest that Medieval Hand-to-hand Combat is chock full of flaws. Far from it. This is a sound, valuable work. It will serve as an indispensable guide to training. Anyone serious about European Medieval martial arts should have a copy in their library. This book is also an official recommended unarmed study guide for the ARMA.


The Codex Wallerstein - A Medieval Fighting Book from the Fifteenth Century on the
Longsword, Falchion, Dagger, and Wrestling.
by Grzegorz Zabinski with Bartlomiej Walczak
Paladin Press, 2002. 392 pp. ISBN: 1-158160-339-8. $54.95

The Codex Wallerstein is one of the best known of the late medieval fencing treatises still in existence. Now with the publication of this large size book, the text and drawings are available to scholars and martial artists in the original Middle High German, as well as in Modern German and English translations. For martial artists, medievalists, historians or anyone with an interest in historical arms or self-defense, Codex Wallerstein is sure to become an invaluable reference.


Secrets of German Medieval Swordsmanship - Sigmund Ringeck's Commentary on Liechtenauer's Verses.
Sigmund Ringeck & Johannes Liechtenauer. Translated and interpreted by Christian Henry Tobler. 416 pages. ISBN: 1 89144 807 2. First published: 2002. Chivalry Bookshelf.

In the late 14th century, Master Johannes Liechtenauer developed a deadly form of martial art that fully integrated sword, spear, dagger and grappling, in and out of armour, on foot and on horseback. Founding a school of swordsmanship that would dominate Germany for centuries, he recorded his teachings in cryptic mnemonic verses and swore his students to secrecy. In the 15th century, Sigmund Ringeck, a master of the 'Liechtenauer school,' broke the secrecy and explained the verses in detailed instructions. This is an extrnely well-rendered work which will be a valuable addition to any library on the subject. Though the interpretation suffers in some areas, and the photos are stiffly rendered and display no real sense of motion or energy in the techniques presented, this is a useable study guide resource for any serious student. Unfortunately, the interpretation of several key techniques and concepts, however are far from definitive and in many areas bio-mechanically unsound and tactically suicidal. The influence of these mistakes on some students of the subject will no doubt take significant effort and time to shake off. It is nonetheless a welcome addition to available literature.


Companion to Medieval Arms and Armor
Edited by David Nicolle. Boydel & Brewer, 2002. $60.

This new work, edited by David Nicolle, one of ARMA's advisors, presents several articles by leading researchers and authorities. It has some very interesting material, particularly on early swordmaking in Europe and new information on Middle Eastern & Islamic swordmaking from historical sources.
Plus one of the last articlse by the late Ewart Oakeshott.


Carnage and Culture by Hanson, Victor DavisCarnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power
Victor Davis Hanson (Doubleday,
September 2001, 492 pp., $29.95)

A work of particular interest to students of historical fencing studies as it provides a unique perspective on the military tradition underlying our entire Western martial heritage. Victor Hanson offers a lively, highly readable and controversial view of Western military tradition as being a direct offshoot of the values inherent in Western civilization.  Click above for extended review.


VIKING SWORD (video - VHS, U.S. standard)Viking Sword Video – How to use the Viking Sword in Real Combat
With Hank Reinhardt. Paladin Press 2001

This short informal video (45 minutes) is a useful source of early medieval sword & shield combat recreation. Hank Reinhardt offers his interpretation of Viking swordplay and in the process shows many valuable sword & shield combat fundamentals in a casual and friendly manner.  The tape covers 4 simple fights: unarmored single sword, unarmored sword and shield, lightly armored sword and shield, and full-mail Norman style sword and shield. 

The video includes a superb demonstration of the effects of edge on edge-parrying/banging on sharp blades.  Also included are interesting test cutting examples on shield edges, raw meat, and mail armor.  The fighting displays are above average and give an impression of how the weapons and armor were used in the period offering students many things to consider in their own study and practice. While not a “how to tape” or an in-depth analysis of Viking martial skills, it is worthwhile viewing. Paladin Press offers it in both NTSC & PAL formats.


keithd.jpg (22368 bytes)Sword Fighting – A Manual for Actors and Directors
Keith Ducklin & John Waller. Illustrated by Keith Ducklin & Adam des Forges.
Robert Hale Ltd, 2001. ISBN 0 7090 6703 8
Reviewed by Jeff Basham. 

This brilliant work is a guidebook for actors, directors, living history enthusiast, and martial artists who have a keen interest in learning and recreating authentic European swordsmanship styles from the past and incorporating and safely adapting them for viable modern fight arrangements/choreography.    

This strait forward and keep it simple approach is the product of a combined years of experiences between both John Waller and Keith Ducklin.  John Waller, having more than 30 years of as an action arranger and historical consultant for the stage and screen, is the Head of Interpretation at the Royal Armouries in Leeds, U.K. and founder of the European Historical Combat Guild.   Keith Ducklin has over 15 years of experience as a practitioner of period fighting arts and has trained students’ abroad as well as holding the position of Senior Fight Interpreter at the Royal Armouries.      

Written in two parts they consist of the following:  Part One:  Philosophy, by John Waller, discusses such topics as ‘Reality First’, being “…that all techniques taught should have their basis in those realistic options available to the combatants with the weapons at their disposal.”(Pg 15).  The author then continues on to aspects of Body Mechanics (Eye Contact, Balance, and Intent) and covers issues in regards to Clothing and Protection and Character and Motivation. 

Part Two: Training, by Keith Ducklin, brings analysis and descriptions of techniques.  Aided with over 130 superb illustrations by Keith and Adam des Forges, the author gives a straight forward step by step instruction in which you can learn special techniques to a particular weapon type.  Keith starts off by establishing the crafts terminology, addresses types and methods of attack and defense and footwork.  From there come five arrangements that consists of the following: Late Medieval Two-handed Sword, Late Medieval Hand-and-a-half, 16th century Single-handed Sword and Buckler, 16th & 17th century Rapier and Dagger, and late 17th century Transition Rapier and 18th century Small sword.   

In addition to the above, you will also find within its 192 pages gems of information including how to use character, costume, period and setting in the staging of arranged performances or fight scenes.  Add to this John Waller’s method of Fight Notation, which includes some of his past works including Monty Python and the Holy Grail. 

This work is a must read for any aspiring actor, director looking to improve upon historical accuracy rise above the status quo, living history enthusiasts (actors in their own right) and even martial artist who may gleam aspects that can be used in a training curriculum or get the chance to one day be part of a theatrical arrangement. 

Martial Arts of the World – An Encyclopedia
ABC-CLIO Press, 2001. Tom Green, Editor.
Reviewed by John Clements

Named "Outstanding Reference Source" for 2002 by the American Library
Association, and a New York Public Library "best reference", this detailed two-volume work edited by anthropologist and ARMA consultant, Prof. Tom Green, is a major and unique contribution to martial arts reference.    In contrast to similar works in the past purporting to describe the “world” of martial arts, this works encompass all cultures of the globe –and for the first time includes significant material on historical European martial arts. The volumes also exclude sporting forms and concentrate specifically on combatives (systems of hand to hand fighting).  Ironically, the cover image collage features two sport fencers –despite the activity purposely not having been included. 

The no nonsense entries (each approximately 1000-5000 words in length) cover more than 800 pages and are concise with many illustrations. Happily, among them are topics one would not normally expect to find in a book of this sort: gladiators, knighthood, chivalry, heraldry, duelling, masters of defense, stage combat, stick fighting, Medieval and Renaissance swordsmanship, Savate, La canne, Sambo, gunfighters, police training, history of women’s involvement, etc.   ARMA members Gene Tausk and Advisor Ron Harris have several pieces in the encyclopedia ranging on topics from Gladiators to African to Filipino martial arts.  My own contributions include several on European fighting skills and martial heritage.   

While informative and worthwhile, my pieces suffer however from being somewhat disjointed and jumbled and read a tad repetitious (I went through it with a red pen). Written over two years ago, they contain not a few errors and mistakes of master’s names, text dates, and technical terminology (such as guards and stances for long sword, and the names of a few blade forms). Part of this problem I confess was my own urgent and desperate need to “get in as much as possible” on each subject within the limited space offered.  Other problems were to due to publishing and editing difficulties and fallible research sources.  Anyone who has written professionally knows the problems that can arise between what you intend and what actually gets published.  I'd give my sections a B- overall. These excuses aside, and despite some inaccuracies and failings, the entries make their points solidly about Historical European Martial Arts and are useful references. 

The encyclopedia’s many entries also focus where appropriate on the current status of the arts, describing not only the subject and its origins, but their transformations.  A sociological theme runs throughout the work and is a pleasant departure from the more familiar sensationalist approach found in earlier dictionaries and compendiums of “world” martial arts.  Some of the valuable material comes from descriptions of the relationship of each martial art to folklore, myths, and political and social context –no doubt reflecting the editor’s background in these subjects.  Overall, the Martial Arts of the World encyclopedia is an important reference work that stands above the typical Asian-centric view of the subject.


Sword in Hand – A Brief Survey of the Knightly Swordsih.jpg (121235 bytes)
Ewart Oakeshott, Arms and Armor Inc., Minneapolis, MN, 2001.
Reviewed by J. Clements

This remarkable little book, long in the making, is a compilation of more than 13 articles written in the 1980’s by noted European sword authority Ewart Oakeshott.  Put together into book form by Craig Johnson and Chris Poor of Arms & Armor and directors of the new Oakeshott Institute for the study of European swords and conservators oh his collection. The chapters originally appeared separately during the 1980’s as little known articles in “Gun Report Magazine”.  For the vast number of readers unfamiliar with those valuable articles valuable the book is a welcome addition to the source literature. Johnson and Poor worked long to bring this material top a wider audience and even a cursory glance will give the reader reason to understand why.  In his writings Oakeshott updated material presented in his many famous books from the 1960’s.  In my own writings I myself have relied much on Oakeshott’s articles that make up this work and recommend this new compilation as a must have for the student of the sword. Mr. Oakeshott, long an inspiration and consultant to ARMA, presents a wide range of material in his chapters that includes personal observations and recollections on antique historical swords as well as a range of impressions from his own personal and other private collections.  In his usual casual sincere and fascinated approach, Oakeshott’s profound expertise comes out clearly in each chapter.   The book, dedicated to John Waller, “who makes this live”, reads very pleasantly as an exploration of the subject with the sword not just as a historical or cultural or artistic object but as a working tool in a historical context.  Aspects of Viking lore, chivalry, knighthood, tournaments, battles, Froissart’s Chronicles, and judicial duel are all touched on.  Oakeshott’s subject matter ranges from the Vikings and early Medieval short swords to great swords and two-handers of the 1400s as well as cut-and-thrust arming swords.  Among the material he offers sections on short swords, knightly long swords, and information distinguishing between Medieval two- hand swords and the later Renaissance two-handed swords.  It’s illustrated with many original drawings by the author and dozens of excellently examples of pieces once in his own or other collections.  Sword in Hand is a wonderful little book the presents the best of Oakeshott’s lifelong and sincere love of swords. The book is another welcome addition to the subject literature from the “Dean of Swords”.

Blood Red Roses
The Archaeology of a Mass Grave from the Battle of Towton
AD 1461

by Veronica Fiorato, Anthea Boylston, Christopher Knusel. Oxbow Books, Ltd. 2000.
Reviewed by Hank Reinhardt

This is a most important book for the serious student of arms and armor and of history. One hundred years after the Battle of Visby, in 1361, there was the Battle of Towton.  Visby was important not so much as a turning point in Swedish history, but because the mass graves there survived to the present day and form an invaluable archeological resource. So it is, too, with Towton in England. A mass grave was recently excavated, there was intense an intense forensic study of the skeletons that were unearthed.  Although there are interesting chapters on Archery, Weapons and Armor by John Waller, Graeme Rimer and Thom Richardson, the real value of the book is the detail regarding the victims. These appear to be average soldiers of the period, and we learn the general condition of their health, their teeth, their height, and previous wounds. It is extremely interesting, and confirms many things that have long been suspected. One of the most important is that people were tough and strong, and not near as small as many like to think. The one flaw in the book is the attempt to pretend that the victims were not murdered. One idea is that they were killed while fleeing the battle. They had thrown away there helmets when a detachment of cavalry attacked. This is why all the wounds are head wounds. This whole idea falls apart when you consider that the dead had received multiple wounds to the head.  A horseman is not quite able to deliver a number of blows to the head, as the recipient would usually start falling, and it would be quite difficult to reach down and continue to deliver blows. However multiple blows to the head are very likely when a group is being killed. It is easy to imagine the armed men attacking and hitting hard and often, and even striking while the victim is on the ground. This isn’t “fighting” in combat, it is killing, it is butchering. Another conjecture was that the men had fallen in the battle, and as the waves of troops passed over them, they were again struck in the head. That doesn’t make any sense either. Occam’s Razor applies here. They were simply prisoners that were killed. The Wars of the Roses were notoriously brutal, as are all civil wars, so one shouldn’t be surprised at this action. This was the 15th century, and people behaved differently than they do today. Even today such things happen, witness Bosnia and Africa. But this is merely a quibble on my part. This is a book that I wholeheartedly recommend. Regardless of how the victims met their fate, it is a very important book.

Medieval Military Costume – Recreated in Colour Photographs
Europa Military Special No. 8. Gerry Embleton. The Crowood Press, UK, 2000. $22.95.
Reviewed by J. Clements

Gerry Embleton, co-author of the superb “Medieval Soldier”, has done another outstanding job.  Showing an array of recreated historical source illustrations and artwork, this book covers all the important key elements of late medieval garb and equipment –shoes, headwear, under garments, body wear, helms, and armor.  This is the best of what re-enactment is all about. The book provides splendidly depicted sections on garments worn under armor and on historical footwear and clothing.  The photos are superb and specifically taken to show off clothing or armor. The pictures offer a world of examples and inspirations to draw on.  The Focus is mainly on Swiss, German, Italian, and English men at arms and knights of the mid to late 1400s (one of the most popular periods for living history reenactment and among the liveliest for martial arts).  The daily wear of civilians and women folk is also included as is some on earlier and later periods.  The reader can drool in envy at the detailed accoutrements of modern examples of period soldiers and warriors, as well as use the many facts, sources, and suggestions given to assist in their own efforts. Though not large, and not heavy on text, this book is gorgeous. It is an absolute must for anyone interested in eventually adding ameticulously reconstructed and historically accurate ensemble to their experience of historical European martial arts…the other side of the coin.


European Weapons and Armour – From the Renaissance to the Industrial RevolutionOakReprint.JPG (67584 bytes)
R. E. Oakeshott. (Lutterworth Press, 1980). Boydell reprint 2001. $40.

Another of Oakeshott's, this is likely the best book available on arms and armor after the Middle Ages and contain a wealth of information on renaissance armors and sword forms.  Just reprinted this hard t come by title is now available once again. Its many chapter son armor, helms, swords, rapiers, and more covers an amazing dearth, It is one of the few books to address the distinction between civilian and military swords of the renaissance and distinguish between sword sand rapiers, as well as properly qualify basket-hilted blades and broadswords.   The reader will spend a great deal of time studying the depth of information provided.


Viking Weapons and Warfare
J. Kim Siddorn. Tempus, UK, 2000. $27.
Reviewed by J. Clements.
vkng.jpg (101664 bytes)

Reading this excellent work was pleasant and enjoyable. Written by one of the most experienced reenactors of the Viking period, with a lifelong interest in the subject, the majority of the book consists of about 140 pages covering history, iron, spears, shields, armor, and swords.  Siddorn does not bother to just rehash material from other reverence works on Viking arms or armor, but instead provides first-hand information gathered from re-creation of the subject based on extensive research and hands-on study.  The book is nicely illustrated with dozens of lively black and white sketches and 16 pages of color photos.  Swords are covered in roughly short 15 pages, spears in about 7, armor and helms each in just 6, and shields in 20.  The shield section also contains information on construction and statistics on dimensions of known archaeological shield finds.  Other chapters cover history, money, sword sheaths and other equipment.  There is even a wonderful section on Viking ships and sea travel, again from experience in reconstructions and reenactment of actual replica ships travel.  One drawback perhaps is that reenactment combat is covered in a mere 3 pages and then without much explanation as to its limitations as martial study or historical research.  No accounts referencing combat from period literature is included either.  The author however does very well in distinguishing between current factual evidence from theoretical propositions, relating his own reconstruction insights to known historical research. Siddorn’s casual writing style reads easy and his theories and comments contain a few real gems (which excuse some of his minor errors in sword typology or his referring to Viking blades by the 17th century term “broadsword”).  His enthusiasm, sincerity, and passion for his subject comes through clearly as does his high degree of familiarity of his subject. This is a fun and lively book useful to anyone interested in Viking reenactment, medieval arms, or early English history. We need more good titles like this.


The Myth of the Swordmots.jpg (54537 bytes)
By Hank Reinhardt. Paladin Press Video, VHS 2001.
The first in a series of videos exploring the reality and the romance of historical European swords and weaponry from the premier expert on the subject in North America and ARMA founder. Mr. Reinhardt explains their form, function, attributes, capabilities, and misconcpetions. Material focuses on the early Medieval sword & shield and includes test-cutting. Finnaly, a reliable source that shows it like it is without all the Hollywood nonsense and duelling sport cliches'.

mots2.jpg (15254 bytes)

MARE.jpg (14030 bytes)"The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe"
By Sydney Anglo

Exclusive ARMA preview & review here.

"Medieval Combat: A 15th Century Manual of Swordfighting and Close-Quarter Combat"TalhofferBook.jpg (4961 bytes)

Hans Talhoffer. Translated by Mark Rector. Greenhill Books/Lionel Leventhal; (September 2000) ISBN: 1853674184. This long-awaited modern English edition of Talhofer's 15th century Fechtbuch is finally available! Excellent resource! Includes more than 260 of Talhoffer’s famous plates from his edition of 1467. This is an excellent resource that will be valuable for all students of historical fencing and Medieval martial arts for years to come.

Review by Stefan Dieke:

Although the book only claims to be a translation of a German fencing book written in 1467 by Fechtmeister Hans Talhoffer it's much more than that. It provides an interpretation of this more or less cryptic source by an experienced swordsman and thus makes it much more valuable for beginners and advanced practitoners of the Long Sword than a mere translation of the texts provided by the first edition which had been edited by Gustav Hergsell in 1888. Mr. Hergsell only partially translated the medieval german texts which he found in the original manuscript into moderen german but left those parts untouched, which he was not able to translate. Thus in his edition there was an obscure mixture of medieval and modern German. Mr. Hergsell doensn't seem to have cared too much for this problem. He has published three different manuscripts written by Hans Talhoffer and still stated that there was not much art or skill in fencing with the long sword. From his point of view the epee was the ultimate fencing weapon and fencing itself archieved it's height at the end of the 19th century.

Luckily for all the readers Mr. Rector took a different approach. Instead of just translating the texts from the 19th century he analysed the pictures and the transcription of the original texts and tried to find out what they described. Interchanging informations with other practitioners of the Long Sword he was able revive the deadly effective system of fighting with the Long Sword and other (some rather strange) weapons of 15th c. Germany and to show this on the plates from an original 15th c. Fechtbuch. Where there's need he provides additional information in the form of endnotes. The book is rounded of by a short but precise description of the principles of german Long Sword fencing and a brief overview of the weapons described in the book and their background. For those who can read german Mr. Rector also includes a transcription of the
original text.

This book is definitely the best edition of Talhoffer's manuscript we have worldwide. For Fencers with the Long Sword it provides invaluable information, no matter if they are beginners or advanced. For all other readers it may give a correct impression about fighting techniques and judicial combat of the 15th century. If you're used to what Hollywood or
Ren-Faires offer, reading this book may be an eye-opening experience.

"Nobles, Knights, and Men-at-Arms in the Middle Ages"bookCover.gif (9067 bytes)
Maurice Keen, The Hambledon Press, London, 1996. ISBN: 1852850876. A collection of 14 essays by expert medievalist Maurice Keen's essays originally published between 1962 and 1993 that deals with both the ideas of chivalry and the reality of warfare. He discusses brotherhood-in-arms, courtly love, crusades, heraldry, knighthood, the law of arms, tournaments and the nature of nobility, as well as describing the actual brutality of medieval warfare and the lure of plunder.

German Swords and Sword Makers - Edged Weapons from the 14th to the 20thgssm.jpg (9025 bytes) Centuries
Richard H. Bezdek
Paladin Press, January 2000, ISBN 1-58160-057-7
Reviewed by J. Clements

Richard Bezdek, sword collector and author of titles on American swords and sword makers, has done a highly detailed job of compiling a range of table, lists, charts, and information on a subject that has received less attention that it rightly deserves. It should prove a valuable aid to collectors, curators, and aficionados. Covering mostly the famous Solingen region of Prussia (known for their "running wolf" logo) which at one time was the world's largest producer of swords, this reference work is a useful text. Covering swords mostly of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries it features many drawings and pictures from noted German sword author Gerd Maier. Over a hundred pages are offered on sword makers, their lineage, region, with dozens of pages of sword makers marks (a long needed reference guide). The book also includes many sections on German history and blade manufacturers, German sword exporters, translations of German words, and chapters covering swords of Prussia, Bavaria, Wurttemberg, Saxony, and Austria. Finally, about 75 ages of photos and sketches of German swords are included. This reveals a good cross-section of just what a wide variety of forms were in use. However, these depict mostly all hilts of military sabers, cutlasses and actual broadswords from the 18th and 19th centuries. Given that this is a essentially a reference work, no information is provided on the blade forms themselves (which is especially disappointing to students of swordplay, given that blades can have very different cross sections at the foible than at the forte). On the down side, it appears little attempt was made to include Medieval swords or the wide variety of German blade forms of the Renaissance. Surprisingly no effort is made to classify or categorize historical German sword such as Messers, Dussacken, the many styles of Langenschwert (long-sword), Dopplehänder/Bidenhänder ("both" or "double-hander") and Zweihänder/Schlachterschwerter ("slaughters-swords"). Distinctions could have been made among the Grosse Messer or Zwiehand sabel, the Panzerstecher or Dreiecker (estocs), and types of Paratschwert ("parade-swords"). Comments on the many sword forms depicted in the historical German Fechtbuecher (fighting manuals) would also have been interesting. These omissions may be the collectors' approach to the subject as such weapons are very rare to obtain and less information is available on their makers. The work also does not include very much material at all on rapiers and none on small-swords or dress swords. The book also makes one big mistake in omitting the major large government manufacturer of Pottenstein. It also erroneously declares the Klingenthal region was under German control from 1815-1918, when it fact it only came under their control after the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. While less than complete in some respects and aimed at the collector and curator, this reference work still makes fine addition to any European-sword fanatic's library.

Medieval Warfare – A Historybooknew.JPG (7812 bytes)
Edited by Maurice Keen. Oxford University Press, 1999.
ISBN # 0-19-82-0639-9. Reviewed by ARMA staff

Twelve expert scholars contributed their know-how to produce this new illustrated book that explores 700 years of European warfare covering the era of Charlemagne to c. 1500. Divided into two parts it focuses first on the chronological experience of Medieval war, and then thematical developments in Medieval war. Covers the Vikings, Crusades, Hundreds Year War, etc. as well as investigates fortifications & sieges, armored cavalry, mercenaries, gunpowder, shipbuilding and navigation. Gives the reader an overall impression of where and when plus the social experience and cost of warfare in the period while making warfare and its ramifications the central idea of the Middle Ages. A great addition to the subject and one that adds new ideas and thoughts from different modern historians. The illustrations could have been more diverse, but the short, concise, independent chapters make this a useful and easy read for both new students or learned ones alike.

catw.jpg (12867 bytes)Siege: Castles at War
Daniel Diehl, Mark Donnell. January 1999. Publisher: Taylor Publishing Company. ISBN: 0878332138.

A companion to the Discovery Channel's documentary it examines in how castles shaped medieval warfare and society. A lively book with over 150 color photos of reenactors participating in various aspects of a late Medieval siege. It expands the programs material significantly and adds glimpses into seldom depicted sides of Medieval siege warfare, an activity central to warfare of the period. The commendable use of living-history groups to illustrate the text creates a greater sense of reality for the subject.  A light but useful and entertaining work.

Arms & Armor of the Crusading Era 1050-1350 bookcover1.JPG (8560 bytes)
Vol. I Western Europe and the Crusader States.
David Nicolle. 19988/1999 reprint by Greenhill Books UK, London
/Lionel Leventhal; ISBN: 1853673471 (Stackpole Books USA).
Reviewed by J. Clements

An amazing work. Comprehensive and huge. Over 600 pages, with over 2000 drawings. Presents account of armies, arms, equipment, of the period based on archaeological and pictorial sources. A rare book now reprinted and very worthwhile. The author is a leading historian of the Middle East and Islamic military history. Vol. II covers Eastern Europe and Asia.

The World of the Medieval Knight
Christopher Gravett, Illustrated by Brett Breckon
Peter Bedrck Books, NY 1998/1996. ISBN 62774
Reviewed by J. Clements

Medieval subjects tend to be one of the few areas where children’s books when done with care and style also end up being a useful reference even for adults. This delightful little work is one of those rare gems. It is an extremely colorful and pleasant presentation of castles, and armor, and feudal society with detailed and highly accurate drawings and schematics of late medieval armor and weapons. Whether for a youngster with a keen interest in history and knighthood or the serious student, this is a fine addition to your library.

Anglo-Saxon Weapons & Warfare
Richard Underwood, Hardback, 159 pages, $29.99, Tempus Publishing Ltd. 1999, ISBN 07524 1412 7
Reviewed by J. Mark Bertrand

The reenactment movement in the UK and Europe has produced a recent number of worthwhile books on Medieval weapons and warfare. The latest work, Richard Underwood’s Anglo-Saxon Weapons & Warfare, makes use of archaeological evidence, literary sources and practical experimentation to present a detailed picture of Anglo-Saxon weapons and fighting methods.

The book opens with a discussion of missile weapons, from spears to slings, then moves on to consider hand-to-hand combat weapons like the sword and axe. Information on the construction of each is outlined along with numerous supporting diagrams illustrations. Photo sequences suggest intelligently, if somewhat stiffly, how the weapons would have been used, but stop short of attempting a more systematic reconstruction. Underwood uses the later Viking sagas to supplement Anglo-Saxon sources where they are sketchy —on the use of the sword, for example. Fighting an opponent armed with a shield, blows will fall on the head, the neck and shoulder opposite the shield, and the lower portion of the leading leg. One of the photographs illustrates a countercut against the opponent’s sword-hand after the attack is warded with the shield. The combat reconstruction is not extensive, but it is well presented and fairly realistic.

Underwood touches on all the major archaeological evidence in his discussion of weaponry and subsequent treatment of armor, and brings it all together in the concluding chapter on the nature of Anglo-Saxon warfare. Throughout, Underwood never strays too far from the evidence. When he offers inferences based on personal experience —during his discussion of the value of different sizes of shields, for example —he offers common sense interpretations that are consistent with, if not explicit in, the sources he relied on. This work represents another example of the useful insights that result from the collaboration between the scholar-researcher and the physical interpretation/reenactment community.


B&t.jpg (15242 bytes)The Cutting Edge - A Practical Guide to the Use of Highland Weapons: The Broadsword and Targe
by Larry L. Andrews, 1995/98 past & Present Enterprises, Ridgeley, WV.
ISBN 0766367200. $11.
Reviewed By J. Clements

This interesting little booklet of a mere 42 pages consists of ten short sections covering guards, blocks and wards, footwork, striking, grips, basic cuts, lessons, and training tips. It includes a handful of simple but effective sketch illustrations of postures and actions. Right off, it states it is a "manual on the proper use" of the title weapons. Although very short, it is written with sincerity and a clear martial spirit --and that on its own deserves respect. The Scott broadsword and targe is not my field of specialty, however it is close enough to the use of the medieval sword & shield in universal principles as to allow myself a good deal of room to consider the material presented. I did not want to be intentionally critical of the author’s effort or results, and I would much rather end up learning something new. At the least, the author clearly understands the necessity of using the flat to parry with and knows about using the face as well as the edge of the shield in parrying. The footwork chapter itself is also actually pretty good.

Strangely, the booklet doesn’t offer any background on the subject weapons themselves such as describe their origin, development, history, or conditions of use by Highland warriors. Perhaps this is already considered generally known by the book’s Scottish heritage audience? Regardless, the limited approach reduces the overall value of the work. In fact, one complaint I have is that it’s all written almost too casually, which makes appear as simply a student’s training notes or an instructor’s brief class outline. It also doesn't really discuss anything on blade characteristics, weapon construction, handling aspects, hilt configuration, etc. Cuts are covered but they surprisingly include diagonal and vertical descending strikes as being the same and do not even separate between left and right versions. The targe is a small round shield, yet is its use is mentioned for only two blocks and a handful of minor actions. No mention is made either of its classic center-spike. He also does not discuss its origins or period of use.

Fortunately, the author does avoid professing most of the various common myths and familiar misconceptions about European weaponry --and with the mass of misinformation readily available, this alone is an accomplishment. Of course, I did not agree with all his theories and findings, but I do think it is easy to see how they were reasonably arrived at and where they have merit.

I can say without doubt that I recognize and respect the author’s methodology of reconstructing his interpretation of the use of these weapons. It’s obvious he sparred and trained, read historical sources, tested their instructions, practiced again, and followed his instincts to discern a general method which he then set out to explain with confidence. Indeed, this is an admirable, commendable, and reasonable way to proceed in reconstructing and replicating a reliable facsimile of a lost historical fighting art. Sadly, there was no mention of the important element of test-cutting with sharp blades (or of just drilling and exercising with blunts or wooden weapons).

The publication also did seem somewhat too loose with its amalgam terminology, and would have been better served again to have used additional source material by other 18th &19th century authors (such as those from an array of related books on similar broadswords and cutlasses by  C. Phillips Wooley, C. Roworth, John Taylor, H.C. Wayne, J.M. Waite, Alfred Hutton, and Antoine J. Corbesier).

It’s possible to see where the author over generalized somewhat from his references, several of which reflect fighting methods and styles and even blade formss quite unlike the Scottish one of his subject (i.e., Lebkommer, Sutor, Meyer, Talhoffer, Capo Ferro, etc.). Some of his interpretation of these manuals suffers and is even superficial (focusing on postures rather than on the whole form). Additional sources (such as Swetnam, Pallas Armata, Castle, Burton, and others) would have been of more benefit in supporting his ideas if he better understood their weapons and styles or included more of them. His ideals on the "low ward" and "on guard" are almost incomprehensible.

Still, while limited in comparison they are legitimate and understandable source material for supporting a basic system of broadsword & targe, especially when the Scot weapons themselves are fairly simple and without any sophisticated method of their own. Still, he perhaps tried a bit too hard to force analogies or synthesize ideals among unrelated historical manuals when in fact they reflect wholly different philosophies of fighting.

The most disturbing part of the pamphlet however, is an odd comment about how "the iron clad knight stood erect with a straight back to maximize the force of his attack against his enemies armor", and "while a warrior clad only in leather had to use crouching stances to diminish his total target area". This kind of unsubstantiated nonsense reveals the author’s profound misunderstanding of fundamental aspects of medieval fighting and weapon use and serves to undermine his credibility. Still, some factual errors cab be overlooked if his other judgments otherwise seems sound. But another strange comment reads that it is not true that there is "a standard method of sword tactics", followed later by a statement that the reader should seek to master tactics appropriate for his weapon" so as to "be able to recognize when they are losing". Hunh? Statements like these are just confusing.

Overall though, this short work does present some fundamental advice that while perhaps not so detailed or eloquently written, is generally sound, reasonable and undoubtedly acquired directly from experience in sparring and fighting. The pamphlet also states it is volume 1 of a supposed 5 volume set on Highland weapons that includes (or will include) editions on two-handed claymore, lochaber and sparth axe, and also padded weapons (presumably sparring gear?). Oddly, it also makes the claim the author has "20 years of research into old manuals as well as more than 25 years of actual field combat." I suppose by this they mean simulated sparring?

In conclusion, the practical advice offered on the title weapons while legitimated in principle, is hindered by lack of supporting information and an assortment of minor mistakes and historical errors. This is forgivable though, and given the scarcity of respectable titles on Western fighting arts I for one would not mind seeing more in the future from this author. He seems to have some genuine insight waiting to be refined and articulated. As a writer on historical Western martial arts myself, I am all too aware of how a person’s fighting knowledge and understanding of weapons skills often cannot come out easily in words. So then, while it is possible to pick this booklet apart, for a mere $11 is it worth adding to your library for the merit of its contents alone? I have to say, sure.


The Medieval Soldier in the Wars of the Roses
Andrew W. Boardman. Sutton Publishing, 1998. UK. p.212. $36. ISBN# D-7509-1465-3.
Reviewed by J. Clements

This splendid and commendable new work by the author of "The Battle of Towton" offers considerable detail surrounding medieval soldiers in a series of conflicts which was essentially the "first English civil war" (an often overlooked area of medieval warfare). It presents many particulars of medieval combat exclusive to the Wars of the Roses. The book is engrossing, easy to follow, and offers a range of insights, thoughts, questions, and speculation. The author’s sincere love of his subject is also noticeable throughout. He also poses many interesting questions whenever facts or accepted theories are not known.

Various sections cover the changing value of cavalry, the long-bow and its use, artillery and firearms, and hand-to-hand combat of the time. The book consists of seven short chapters covering historical and political background, the nature of English warfare then, logistics and recruitment, equipment and arms, fighting in battle, and most interestingly information from the recent mass grave findings in 1996 near the battle site in north Yorkshire. Forensic analysis are presented of skeletal remains which are said to rival the famous Wisby finds of the 1930’s. Strangely though, early on the author states that this is "the best evidence yet to the "brutality of medieval warfare" and to the "experience of medieval soldiers". But later he reveals that the 36 or so corpses the grave contains appear to have been common soldiers massacred en route, rather than killed in heated melee during the snowy battle of March 29, 1461.

Still, it is all interesting and useful information. He also includes material from historical letters describing the kinds of injuries suffered in battle (which effected almost entirely the head, face, and limbs). Pictures of several skulls damaged by blade cuts and thrusts are also presented. The book makes a point to emphasize the grim reality of late medieval warfare. It contains some interesting detail on fighting in plate armor and the effects of weaponry against it. Primarily the subject focuses on the common soldier in battle, his equipment, training (or lack of) and methods of fighting, recruitment, supply, and attitude. Interestingly, he acknowledges the value of modern research and experiment with medieval arms and armor as being important now for military historians and scholars.

Strangely, after offering up considerable details he declares half way through that there is no historical account of the actual battle he references repeatedly. The book probably could also have provided greater details on the arms and weaponry used, but then this material is easily available elsewhere from other sources and there is not a lot more that can be said. The book also would have been even stronger if it had included pictures or illustrations of soldiers and knights of the Wars of the Roses. More artwork of warriors or better still, photos of reenactors, would have gone a long way to fleshing out the subject. Overall, Boardman has done a fine job and this book will make a good addition to the library of historical combat enthusiasts.

Talhoffer’s Fechtbuch
Carl Schmidt & Torsten Verhulsdonk. VS Books, 1998 GBR. ISBN 3-932077-03-2.
Reviewed by J. Clements

A new modern-German language translation has just been printed of the famous fighting manual by Hans Talhoffer. This is from the Fechtmeister’s earliest edition of 1467 and includes for the first time in modern print almost all the more than 260 plates illustrating langenschwert (long-sword) techniques as well as various other weaponry. Each plate contains short descriptive captions on the moves or action. Several plates cover dagger fighting as well as some sword & buckler. The artwork is crisp and clear and offers a valuable reference for today’s student of medieval long-swords, great-swords, and two-handed swords. This is an excellent resource so far available only from Germany. Hopefully an English language version will appear soon followed by several other translated manual reprints.

Fiore De’ Liberi Flos Duellatorium – in armis, sine armis equester et pedester
Giovani Rapisardi. Gladitoria Press, 1998.
Reviewed by J. Clements

A brand new modern Italian translation of Dei Liberi’s indispensable manuals on long-sword/great-sword, dagger, wrestling, and other weapons. Beautifully rendered in old style ink. Although not in English, the many illustrations are indicative of the sophistication of medieval swordsmanship and fighting arts at the time. To obtain a copy contact: Via Faccioloti, 75 – 35127, Padua, Italy.

The Modern Swordsman – Realistic Training for Serious Self-Defense
Fred Hutchinson. Paladin Press, Sept 1998. ISBN 0-87364-995-8. $20. 80 pages.
Reviewed by J. Mark Bertrand & J. Clements

It’s not easy what to make of this odd short book. There is no doubt the author is serious and means well and its hard to really say anything particularly bad about it, but there’s not a whole lot to commend either. It does offer some practical suggestions are how to go about training and practicing alone. But it also offers some very impractical advice.

The basic premise is supposedly "actual self-defense" with a sword. The author purports to suggest a sword is "ideal for home defense" (one would have thought a good 9mm or shot-gun would do that). Some of the advice is strange, almost silly. The few illustrations rendered are cartoonish and often entirely irrelevant (such as drawings of flashlights and other tools). The information on sword forms is severely limited and contains misleading inaccuracies (such as including "Norman" and "Viking" swords as "long-swords" alongside katanas, but excluding true two-handed European long-swords such as spadones, bastard-swords, war-swords, etc.). The Asian-centric reference material of the bibliography is weak and culled mostly from Martial arts magazines (which are poorly edited and written mostly for juvenile audiences). There is little or nothing from historical Western sources on the *use* of Western swords themselves.

Two major problems the book has are: (1) The title, which is completely misleading. This book has nothing to do with self-defense. It is about training to become generically more proficient with your sword style and offers almost no information on sword technique for self-defense. And (2) The assumption that the reason to train with the sword is modern self-defense leads to some fairly improbable material, like using a pistol as a "left-hand weapon" in partnership with a sword, or using your dog as a weapon, etc. He has tried to make his book (or at 80 pages, a long pamphlet) too generic, and in doing so has stretched things beyond his knowledge. Still, it has some merit for a person trying to train on his own, and could be a somewhat useful companion volume, but all in all is not intended as a stand-alone work. Suspiciously, there is no biographical information about the author included. He appears to be someone with some experiences in Japanese swordsmanship and perhaps sport fencing (not necessarily that much) and with a lot of his own ideas about things.

Overall, the book seems worthwhile for beginners without any teacher, or the opportunity for practicing with others, or to train with an active group. The advice is useful, the drills are interesting (if sometimes a little bizarre), and the emphasis on cutting and training is good. This book is apparently trying to say to take the material you’re studying and adapt it to what you do. It’s not my personal approach or any preferred method I would advocate. But, at least it’s not more stage-combat theory or fantasy role-playing nonsense.

Jihad in the West - Muslim Conquests from the 7th to the 21st Century
Paul Fregosi. Prometheus Books. 1998. 450 pages, $30. ISBN 1-57392-247-1.
Reviewed by Ernest Fechten.

This engrossing new book offers factual accounts of the little known immense Islamic invasions of Europe. It compiles historical accounts of Muslim holy wars against Europe that have actually raged for more than 1,300 years (including occupation of Spain and Portugal for 800 years, attacks and invasions of France, Italy, and European coasts all the way up to Ireland and Iceland as well as repeated attempts to conquer Austria and Russia!). This unrecorded "hole" in Western history has often been censored and stifled by political & literary authorities fearing angry reprisals from those still trying to hide a legacy of atrocities far more brutal, bloody, and ironically six times longer than anything from the Crusades. The Muslims destroyed the Byzantines and swept over the Balkans, besieged Vienna, and even controlled Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary in to the 1800s. As it destroys the modern myth of barbaric Westerner knights invading culturally superior, peace-loving Arabs, it traces campaigns to "convert the infidels" from the 600s to today’s random acts of international terrorism today all in the name of religion.

The History of Fencing: Foundations of Modern European Swordplay hoff.jpg (12723 bytes)
William M. Gaugler (Laureate Press, 1998)
Review 1 by J. Clements

As a sword researcher and active practitioner, as well as an author, I looked forward to this book’s release with great anticipation. My review here (for historical swordsmanship enthusiasts) is limited exclusively to *only* the book’s first section, my area of particular concern, namely historical fencing methods prior to c. 1700. The rest of the book covering 1700 to present sport fencing is outside my interest and is not reviewed.

My overall opinion is that the historical portion of this is a useful and valuable addition to the subject. Definitely purchase it. First, be aware that this is definitely NOT a martial art book. It is very much a sport fencing history book ...and by no means a complete one. It is clearly not concerned with examining the historical Europea
n Masters of Defence as warriors or martial artists. Don’t expect any new groundbreaking scholarship or real insightful interpretation either. It is also not a guide to any methods of Renaissance swordsmanship or of any historical European fighting methods that do not directly derive from rapier fence.

The contents of the book's first section consist of some very exciting albeit brief material on Renaissance fencing manuals. The author’s overviews of the leading Italian masters of the 1500’s and 1600’s are the book’s greatest value to those interested in historical swordsmanship. Fortunately, translations of several important terms and phrases from manuals are included. It is very sad material like this has not already been made easily available. Of course, an entire book could (and should) be presented on this early historical fencing material alone.

However, for some reason the 16th and 17th century section reads as if still incomplete. It comes across as if we were getting a look only at a professor’s lecture notes (...or perhaps a text book for a traditional fencing course). Overall the section left me wanting much more. I found myself wishing for more footnotes on many of the short descriptions of what would seem to be important elements. There is also a lack of accompanying illustrations, which would have made a tremendous difference.

Unfortunately, there is also no mention of any German fechtmeister or of English methods of swordplay. This is a significant oversight. Additionally, despite the strong connection between Medieval and Renaissance methods, the author begins his focus only with the earliest Italian master with whom he identifies to the modern sporting forms,
the Bolognese master Achille Marozzo of 1536, and ignores anything prior   (it is this classic dismissal of Medieval fencing's sophistication and effectiveness that is now so intolerable to the historical fencing community). Gaugler does not include Di Antonio Manciolino’s earlier 1531, Opera Nova, the first surviving printed Italian sword manual, or any German work of the early 1500s, or the 1550 text of the Florentine master Francesco Altoni, a contemporary of Marozzo whose ideas he disputed. The book also does not recognize Frederico Ghisliero's Hispano-Italian style of 1580. No attempt is made either to reconcile or evaluate the differing and sometime contradictory styles of the various Renaissance masters. Instead one gets the feeling they were being minimized in favor of intentionally emphasizing their similarities to later forms (i.e., modern sport fencing).Of course, in all fairness it should be pointed out, Gaugler was concerned not with reconstructing Renaissance swordplay in all its diversity, but in tracing the technical origins of his own modern sport from the rapier.

Inexcusably perhaps, the entire vital element of seizures, grappling, disarms, and use of the second hand or even daggers and bucklers is almost wholly ignored as if it never existed. No attention is paid to why these aspects of sword use became defunct. The reason surely is the author’s complete unfamiliarity with their historical application (as such lies entirely outside of modern fencing study and instruction). But as a result is the distinct impression given is that they are somehow "irrelevant".

Not surprising, clear throughout the Renaissance portion of the book is the familiar mistaken theme that Western fencing is a linear development (even "evolution") to some ideal modern sporting form. A secondary premise that there is an unbroken chain of concepts and principals from one to the other is also present. There is no question that in Europe since ancient time there has always been a continual transmission of central ideals and concepts from generation to generation. As technology and societies change, there has certainly always been improvement and refinement as well as modification and alteration upon them. But again, the idea that somehow all this was only leading up to a modern science of epees and foils is a very narrow and tenuous perspective. Given that the author is a professor emeritus of archaeology one would expect him to be somewhat concerned with the social and military conditions under which Western civilian fencing methods developed and divided. Alas, there is no discussion of them and they are entirely absent.

But what is also noticeably absent is any detailed examination of the weapons and blade forms that were actually being employed by these various schools and masters. Since when it comes to weapons, the tools used dictate what can actually be done they are certainly significant. What should be of primary interest to historical fencing enthusiasts is the significant and indisputable change in the nature of rapier blades from cut and thrust varieties to an edgeless ideal trusting form. This crucial, vital area is for the most part ignored. Again, this seems another symptom of the modern sporting perspective on the subject as opposed to a martial arts viewpoint. There is no discussion of the differences in earlier military cut & thrust blade forms and their methods in contrast to slender civilian rapiers. That there was an earlier cut and thrust form which existed before, during, and even after the rapier’s ascent in civilian dueling can not be discounted. The material also fails to place in proper context the uses of slashes and cutting attacks with such slender blades. No importance is given to wounds and physiology either.

This book by a modern fencer often celebrated as the foremost sport grandmaster in America today, was reportedly meant to replace and surpass that of Egerton Castle from 1884 (the last such work of this scope on Western sword history). However, it is not so much surpassing him as updating him with the same perspective. Once more it’s no surprise there is the underlying bias that swordplay only really achieved perfection once it severed all ties to earnest fighting with real swords. Given the ambitious title of "The History of Fencing", one would expect that from the entire 16th and 17th centuries there would be far more coverage of swordsmanship than just Italian rapier methods. But it seems that the subtitle "foundations of Modern European Swordplay" (read as "sporting method") is clearly the real focus.

This is also reflected in the choice of reference material on weapons cited in the bibliography. Surprisingly it includes none of the many important titles by the world’s leading sword authority, Ewart Oakeshott, yet it does include the 1961 edition of G. C. Stone’s notoriously flawed work (originally first printed in 1933). Ironically, for an expert who has access to original materials in their native languages, Gaugler also cites N. Evangelista’s sword encyclopedia, which itself relied on entirely second and third hand sources without offering new research or insights (but then, William Gaugler wrote the introduction to that work and Evangelista was his student). It is even reported that the author's own research into early fighting manuals was begun only failry recently in preparation for writing the book (!).

Clearly, the most significant and profound undercurrent of the book (or the pre-1700 section)  is that really nowhere does Dr. Gaugler apparently ever take time out to note that at some point in history fencers stopped really fighting with real swords. He never seems to realize that fencing went from martial to non-martial in tools, intent, and practice --or that the modern sport is a result of this crucial transformation. Thus, the book is really just the history of "fencing techniques in Italian fencing schools" --as only traced back to 1536 with Marozzo. The result in my opinion, is a connect-the-dots kind of fencing history in which anything from  Renaissance fencing still familiar to the modern sport form is recognized, selected, and consecrated, while anything else that was eventually discarded or dropped from gentlemanly dueling (often because it was too vicious or lethal) gets ignored, dismissed, and overlooked.

Despite these many shortcomings in the Renaissance fencing section, when viewed in greater context than today's 19th century derived foil, epee, and sabre fencing, students of historical European swordsmanship will find the first portion of this new book very useful. Perhaps some future material from the author will include more indepth study of Renaissance swordplay, devoid of traditional fencing and not processed through the distorted prism of what only can be accomplished with modern sport foils, epees, and sabres.

The History of Fencing: Foundations of Modern European Swordplay
William M. Gaugler (Laureate Press, 1998)
Review 2 by Stephen Hand

While Dr William Gaugler’s The History of Fencing promised to be the long-awaited successor to Egerton Castle’s Schools and Masters of Fence, (1885) it has proved a disappointment to the historical fencing community.

My first impression upon opening the book was surprise at the fact that the amount of space devoted to each century seemed to be in inverse proportion to the importance of fencing in that century. There are 29 pages on the 16th century, the same number on the 17th, a mere 19 pages on the 18th century, 205 pages on the 19th century and 148 on the 20th. As well, not only does Dr Gaugler begin, as did Castle (Schools and Masters of Fence, 1885) before him, with Marozzo, but we have only the barest mention of anything that went before. Anyone without a knowledge of the scores of great masters who went before Marozzo, masters whose work Marozzo undoubtedly drew from, could be mistaken for thinking that fencing sprung fully formed from the brow of Zeus (as it were) in 1536.

To add to this we are told in the Preface that "Since all contemporary schools of fencing in the western world are derived from Italian and French sources, focus in this work is on treatises published in those countries. Rapier play in the other two early schools, the German and the Spanish, in fact, closely resembles the Italian model." (p. xv) Quite apart from the fact that this statement has taken us from The History of Fencing to "The History of Those Bits of Fencing From Which Modern Sport Fencing is Descended", the statement is wrong. While German rapier play drew heavily on Italian, Spanish did not. In fact the teachings of the Spanish school of rapier play are remarkably different to those of the Italian, as anyone who has studied both will attest.

The main body of the book is separated by century; I’m not sure why as it introduces artificial boundaries within reasonably static periods of fencing and fails to recognise the true periodisation of fencing history, that is by weapon.

On the subject of weapons, one would expect in a history of fencing to see at least some discussion of the weapons, how they changed and how these changes affected fencing styles. Instead in the first chapter we are limited to the following "The simple type of rapier shown in the illustrations to Achille’s text has a short grip, large spherical pommel, crossbar, and long, slim straight blade that tapers to a point." (p.2). In the second chapter we receive another tidbit "It should be noted that the author is one of the first Italian masters to mention in his text both the practice rapier (smarra) and the foil (fioretto). The introduction of the lighter practice weapon, that is to say, the foil, is, of course, important, since it contributed to the development of the fast and complex fencing technique we employ today..." (p. 47). Later on we are told that "In many respects Francesco’s Regole della Scherma represents the final major work on Italian rapier play. Within a century modern Italian foil technique is taught in virtually all fencing schools from Milan to Palermo." (p.56) Yet at no point have we been told what a rapier or a foil is. Anyone unfamiliar with historical fencing will almost certainly assume that the word foil refers to the modern sport fencing implement. A rapier foil is a quite different beast to a modern foil. Dr Gaugler should know this, and should have been aware of the confusion the name would cause.

Throughout The History of Fencing there seems to be an almost conscious effort to avoid the issue of weapons and their effect on style. Without examination of the physical characteristics of the weapons, many of the developments in fencing style seem inexplicable. In this sense the book is a retrograde step from Castle’s Schools and Masters of Fence (1885), which, despite criticising the use of long, heavy rapiers, at least correctly identified the limitations that a weapon heavier than a modern foil or epee placed on the practicality of certain techniques. A reader unfamiliar with even the basics of fencing history could be forgiven for believing that the weapons used in fencing have remained fundamentally the same since 1536.

Within each chapter are sections on individual fencing masters. The basic teachings of each master are summarised. A great deal of this material is useful, particularly as much of it comes from untranslated Italian manuals. However, the material from each manual is treated in isolation. Only rarely are techniques compared with those of other masters and interpretation of any kind is rare.

The one occasion on which Dr Gaugler ventures into analysis is in the section on Camillo Palladini (pp.10-15). Dr Gaugler interprets a fencing phrase. He states... "When the weapon has been drawn from the scabbard to form the first guard Palladini recommends crossing blades on the outside; and, as the opponent moves to thrust in the low line, the point of one's own weapon should be dropped, and a beat in second executed, succeeded by a thrust to the adversary's chest, while stepping forward with the left foot. Two phases of the action are shown in drawings. In the first illustration both fencers are depicted on guard with swords crossed, points up; and in the second, the action is shown completed with one fencer having run the other through. Today we would describe this action as a beat in second in time (hand position in second) and thrust to the outside low-line with a cross-step forward." The two illustrations in question do not appear in the book but they are included (alongside the identical text) in an article by Dr Gaugler in the In Ferro Veritas Online Journal Vol.1 No. 3. The first illustration show the two fencers in a low or terza ward with rapiers crossed. The second illustration shows the losing fencer having dropped his point and commenced a disengage to the inside line. The victorious fencer has his hand in seconda (palm down), his forte against the forte of his opponent, his left leg forward and his point in his opponent's belly. My first reaction upon seeing this was to ask "If this is indeed as a result of a beat then why are the two blades in contact?" A beat "succeeded" by a thrust is also a defence in double time, the beat being one time and the thrust being the second. Double time defences are extremely rare in rapier fencing and are almost never used where a single time defence is possible. Based on the data available to me I made my own interpretation of the technique.

My interpretation of the sequence was that the victorious fencer had counterthrust in single time, doing so in seconda in order to provide opposition to his opponent's initial thrust. The losing fencer had thrust and the victorious fencer simultaneously counterthrust with opposition while passing forward and to the left with the left leg (this takes him outside the line of the losing fencer's attack). An almost identical sequence is described by Vincentio Saviolo in his manual of 1595 (page 20 verso (also 14 verso - some of the pages, including this one, are double numbered). Saviolo described the technique as an "imbroccata in the manner of a stoccata" or in other words a blow delivered with the hand prone, nevertheless striking below the opponent's rapier hand. I have successfully used this defence in many rapier bouts and consider it far better than the variant suggested by Dr Gaugler.

Now just to complicate matters, I sent some of my thoughts to Dr Gaugler. Apparently he was greatly offended by my tone which is a pity as Dr Gaugler has much to contribute to any discussion of rapier fencing. Anyway, Dr Gaugler replied, stating amongst other things that what Palladini intended was indeed a beat and he included the relevant passage in which Palladini does indeed use the Italian term for a beat, battere. It looks as if his interpretation was correct. This however leads me to another question. This sequence is the only rapier fencing sequence described by Dr Gaugler. Why has he chosen one so uncharacteristic of rapier fencing as a whole and more importantly, given that he chose so uncharacteristic a move why didn't he see fit to state that it was uncharacteristic?

This brings me to another point. While Dr Gaugler has a great many useful quotes from rapier fencing manuals it is immediately apparent to anyone familiar with the rapier that he has ignored or misinterpreted many techniques not still used in modern fencing. Taking, for instance Fabris (1606), Dr Gaugler appears to cover the contents of each chapter in some detail, but does he? Principles and techniques still used in modern fencing are dealt with competently. However, in chapter six we come to a principle that is quite different to modern sport fencing practice, that of defence in single time. Fabris spends most of the chapter telling us how simultaneous defence and counterattack is more effective with a rapier than a modern fencing style parry-riposte. Fabris’ preferred method of single-time defence is the counterthrust with opposition, a counterthrust which closes the line of the attack, simultaneously parrying an opponent’s attack and striking him. Dr Gaugler summarizes the bulk of this chapter in one sentence, in which he demonstrates that he has misunderstood what Fabris was teaching. "In this chapter he also remarks that ‘it is better to parry and riposte at the same time;’ in other words, the riposte should be immediate." (p.33). Dr Gaugler has translated the word ferire to mean riposte which is odd since it is clear from the use of the word earlier in the chapter that Fabris intends it to simply mean ‘hit’. In his own Dictionary of Universally Used Fencing Terminology, Dr Gaugler defines a riposte as "the attack that follows the parry" (p.52) and goes on to say that the riposte may be immediate or delayed. So clearly Dr Gaugler assumes that Fabris is recommending a modern-style parry-riposte despite the fact that the bulk of the chapter is explaining exactly why Fabris thinks that this technique is flawed. In chapter eight Fabris tells us about parrying with the hand. Dr Gaugler makes no mention of this. In Chapter 13 Dr Gaugler translates the word passare as advance rather than pass. This is despite the term being defined as a pass in the English language manual Pallas Armata (1639). A pass of course is a foot movement where one foot moves past the other, as in a normal walking motion. It is as fundamental to rapier fencing as the lunge is to modern sport fencing. Part Two of the manual, dealing with rapier and dagger and Book Two, discussing for the most part advanced uses of thrusts with opposition are not even mentioned. The uninformed reader would have no way of knowing that Fabris’ manual contained anything other than an incomplete collection of imperfectly explained modern fencing techniques.

So much for Fabris. Other authors, like Saviolo (who I have worked with extensively) contain so many techniques foreign to modern fencing that Dr Gaugler simply glosses over their works. In the three pages which Dr Gaugler devotes to Saviolo he doesn’t progress past describing the first ward and mentioning that Saviolo advises against the use of cuts. Most of the three pages consist of quotes from that great opponent of rapier fencing, George Silver which is like summarizing a book by Robert E. Lee and only including quotes from Ulysses S. Grant.

The greatest fault that I find in the first two chapters of Dr Gaugler's book are the omissions and the message that those omissions will send to people with an interest in rapier fencing. While these omissions do not constitute mistakes as such, I believe the failure by Dr Gaugler to adequately describe the fact of, and the reasons for those omissions constitutes a grave error.

To start with I find the title of this book misleading. On the one hand we have 'The History of Fencing' and on the other we have 'Foundations of Modern European Swordplay'. Putting both of these statements together suggests to me a work which describes the history of fencing and which draws special attention to the roots of modern practice. In fact Dr Gaugler's book does not do that. He describes selective parts of the history of fencing, down to the level of describing only those aspects of an individual master's work relevant to modern practice and ignoring the rest, thus leaving the uninitiated with a completely false picture of what that master's style was like. Even if Dr Gaugler had once said that there were other principles and techniques not relevant to modern fencing and hence to his thesis; but he doesn't. For all he says one could assume that nothing different to modern practice existed; and that's just it, people will assume that. People looking for an excuse to think that rapier fencing was simply a dumbed down version of modern fencing will find nothing in this book to suggest that their view is not entirely valid. One single line saying that material not relevant to the thesis was being ignored would have sufficed but now those people who do poorly researched historical fencing have a work by an eminent man which appears to defend their ahistorical practices.

In his Preface Dr Gaugler states that "I have selected works that, in my opinion, will best help the reader follow the evolution of fencing theory and practice in those two schools." (French and Italian) (p.xv). As Dr Gaugler has not adequately described fencing theory and practice in the Italian rapier school (if it can be described in such a monolithic fashion) then he has failed to do what he said he would. He also says that "I have sought to provide the reader both with insight into technical matters, and if possible, a flavour of the historical period in question." (p.xv) By ignoring those techniques unique to the rapier 'period' Dr Gaugler has failed to give any flavour of the period.

Historical Fencing is a discipline struggling to be recognised as a legitimate pursuit. The vast majority of its practitioners, while well meaning, have little experience and have no access to competent tuition. These people are in desperate need of authoritative secondary source material to assist them. If secondary sources give an inaccurate or biased picture of historical fencing systems this information will be used by those enthusiasts who sadly know no better and historical fencing will be the worse for it. Unfortunately, by omitting material critical to a proper understanding of the rapier and by virtue of the errors present in the material that is included in The History of Fencing Dr Gaugler has, in my opinion, done historical fencing a disservice, by reinforcing the preconceptions that many aspiring historical fencers have about the rapier.

Reviewer Stephen Hand is one of the instructors at the Stoccata School of Defence in Sydney, Australia. The school teaches rapier and sword.

Medieval Swordfighting - VHS Video
Compagnia De' Malipiero, Massimo Malipiero. Italy ’98. Vol. I. Vol. II, '99.

This video is very unique in that it focuses on the teachings of a specific Medieval fight master, Fiore Dei Liberi of c. 1410, but it's also somewhat problematic. The production values are good and the effort that went into it considerable, but the interpretation is colored by the introduction of standard stage-combat sensibilities. No real insights or few actual martial techniques from Fiore are included. The staged fights are a little too staged, and there are some howlers in terms of technique (saw-toothed blades derived from parrying edge-on-edge, for example, and some extremely lame sword and shield fighting --which himself Dei Liberi didn't teach). The fight scenes and techniques are generally all approached in a theatrical style and stiffly executed. Although the material covered includes some realistic disarms and entering techniques, their application is forced and awkward. Some much needed contact-sparring and some test-cutting with sharp blades would have surely given the combatants a much deeper understanding and appreciation for their source material. Given the wealth of information that Dei Liberi has to offer, this video barely touches on  the fundamentals of his method (only a few stances and actions are even named). Criticism aside, this video offers an introduction to the work of a historical master, and its worth having in your library -- especially considering the dearth of material currently available.

The 2nd video of the series is actually the superior of the two. It is more impressive and with a greater range of weapons and instruction. The second volume concentrates more of Fiore’s technique sand methods (at least that from the shorter Novati edition of his text) and offers material for fighting in plate armor. Some of this is quite good and dead on, other portions of reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of sword combat, and the correct timing and fluidity of actions.

Back To Reading & Research List


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, © 2001-2022. 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.