ARMA Editorial – Oct 2007
Art & Action – the challenge of combining sources with method

By J. Clements

I was recently asked by someone uninvolved in historical fencing studies and entirely unfamiliar with the study of Renaissance martial arts, how it was that we could go about our work?  She wasn’t asking about our historical source material or why we pursue the craft, but rather about how it is people today attempt to reconstruct and revive something like this? 

Setting aside the subject of the little-known surviving source teachings we rely upon, I answered her that it all simply revolves around just a few critical factors: your objective, your motive, your attitude, and your method.

The objective sought after, I told her, has to first and foremost be that of accurately reproducing (or at least closely approximating) the genuine personal combative skills from the historical period. The objective will determine more than anything what process or method is followed to achieve it.

The motive necessary, I added, has to be to understand their authentic fighting methods and to develop real personal skill in them --- rather than put on mere displays or play fight in mock tournaments and pretend duels. Motive goes directly toward both objective and attitude.

The attitude required to best do this, I explained, is one that places at the forefront an appreciation for, and understanding of, history, heritage, prowess, athleticism, and martial spirit --- and not desire for role-play, escapism, stunt performance, martial sport, or fantasy game. The attitude brought to the craft directly affects the willingness to practice a particular method of training (that is, they value the intensity and effort given to practice).

The method employed, I described, is how the source teachings are practiced, i.e. through what kind of process with what kind of equipment. This above all else determines how it all fits together to reach understanding. Whatever method pursued will be based upon particular core assumptions --- about the nature of historical violence, about how arms and armor handle and function, about the role of physical conditioning in performing techniques, and beliefs about the speed and force by which actions had to be executed (in earnest as well as in safe training). The method followed is itself undeniably influenced by the practitioner’s objective, motive, and attitude.

These four factors --- objective, motive, attitude, method --- will themselves directly influence whatever learning and practice is followed, that is, whatever training drills and exercises are pursued in order to explore the craft and develop skill. But, this itself then depends upon what is understood in the first place about the physicality of armed and unarmed close combat (that is, the underlying principles and concepts of timing, distance, leverage, pressure, balance, speed, perception, etc.).

No one comes to the study of this subject it in total ignorance. No one begins it in a vacuum but rather with certain preconceptions, prejudices, and accepted beliefs --- much of which may actually offer little understanding of the genuine bio-mechanics involved in such close combat. Many of the ideas people bring to the subject may also have originated with sources that really have no clue about the reality of Medieval and Renaissance fighting skills (sources such as modern sport fencing, living-history reenactment, historical fantasy role-playing, theatrical stunt fencing, or certain popular Asian fighting traditions). These sources very often do not accurately or sincerely reflect the nature of European combatives of the period nor give an accurate appreciation for the inherent violence and energy of the activity.

A clear relationship exists between all these factors: attitude and motive will shape the method, which will affect success in reaching the objective, which itself helps dictate the requisite attitude, which is colored by the initial motive.  All of this reflects still further the motive, objective, attitude, and means brought to the subject --- which thus in turn leads to many problems of reconstruction and interpretation. [But that is another matter entirely.]

What the ARMA has done in this regard, and where our strength lies, is that many years ago we addressed these issues head on. The resolute answers we found echo in our values, our Study Approach, our Training Methodology, and in our manner of physically applying techniques and concepts. It is why our system, and our progressive curricula from the source teachings, has been so successful in producing skilled fighters. We have always tried consciously to balance the Art with its action.



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