Doing things the "ARMA Way"

By John Clements
ARMA Director

ARMA is a collective effort of hundreds of internationally networked practitioners, researchers, and specialists engaged in physical and academic study of European martial arts literature and weaponry covering more than a 600-year period. Our members conduct serious in-depth research and on-going scholarship of a range of historical fighting texts and documents. We continually refine a curriculum of martial training and practice methods through our transcriptions, translations, interpretations, and physical application of these sources. Through our historical fencing studies we seek to understand the overall nature of personal combat and fighting arts from the period as well as the true function and use of historical arms and armor. Through exercise and credible non-lethal demonstration we are attempting to revive these lost arts and re-develop real self-defense skills by understanding their combat effective application. This also involves developing a corresponding comprehensive modern training curriculum.

In this, we endeavor to follow a broad, pragmatic interpretation of the historical sources focused on earnest physical application of their teachings by maintaining an appreciation for the physicality and seriousness of the craft, pursuing it neither in an overly technical nor exclusively academic manner and without concern for sporting contests, entertainment display, or role-playing recreation. By investigating both the commonalities and the distinctions of integral elements within the historical source literature, our study attempts to go beyond any theoretical or academic understanding toward a practical one of how these principles and concepts were applied by fighting men in actual combat.  

This never-ending process combines scholarly discipline with rigorous neuromuscular development. Scholarly research in these handwritten manuscripts and published books proceeds by artistic, codicological, linguistic, and paleographical analysis, followed by cross-comparison with one another's thematic and contextual structure, aim, and origin. Hoplological or physical exploration of these works consists identifying the principles, concepts, and techniques of their teachings then practicing them as combative skills.

For this our organization offers an immense collection of materials and educational resources to promote the subject by raising its credibility and legitimacy. We arrange and host presentations, seminars, classes, and symposiums, offer consulting to public and private institutes and individuals, as well as perform roles of public advocacy and consumer protection for weapon owners. In the process, ARMA confronts the many long-accepted myths, misconceptions, and nonsense surrounding the subject while simultaneously challenging modern students to further advance the emerging field of Renaissance martial arts study.

Overall, ours is a collective effort. We all share the same goal of historical accuracy and personal skill in the reconstruction of these lost skills. Thus, our approach is about relying on the historical source manuals as our guides and doing so in a martial manner with accurate arms and armor as possible.

When we first started pushing this idea in an organized fashion during the late 1990s, it was a rather unique concept. Over time a much of what we knew and were doing coalesced into the continually refining ARMA curriculum (as expressed in our articles & essays, videos, training tips, Members' Guide, etc.). Our "Training Methodology" consists of going about this with various tools (wasters, blunts, sharps,and even padded weapons) which are employed in drills, exercises, sparring and test-cutting. As our primary instructor, I've developed study materials and testing goals for the different weapons. From this we established out MTP (Member Training Program) with its Ranking Certification, Prizings, etc. This curriculum is not the end of study, but the beginning. It acts as a basis from which to start -a minimal offering of coherent structure to follow in your own practice.

But ARMA is about independent interacting Study Groups all using mutual resources around a central curricula yet all contributing back as they can to the larger whole. We exist as experimenting individuals with dispersed members coordinating independent actions to further the larger objective: knowledge of the historical source teachings. As director, my role is that of a "conductor." We all act in "concert" rather than in "unison."

The whole idea of ARMA is that we come together united under a mutual "study approach" to freely contribute information and exchange experiences for the purpose of pooled resources directed at developing the overall legitimacy and credibility of our subject. Within this teamwork, every member is free to study and practice what and how they want. While every ARMA Associate member is an individual student, and every ARMA Study Group is an autonomous independent club, it's still part of a greater whole learning and teaching together. All this is achieved under one banner for the benefit of the greater membership.

But, for those members who have no real guidance in starting out, or who practice alone, or who just want to take part of an effective Renaissance martial arts training methodology without regard to role-play, theatrics, and sport, we offer a structured curriculum of lessons. For those who want the option in this training program of recognition for their skills, we offer an optional "certification system" under a (inter)national standard of evaluation and ranking.

In a sense then, ARMA is "open source" in that we release to the membership our research material and our insights and ideas for mutual analysis and discussion. ARMA is like an "Amish barn-raising" in that we all come together and collaborate as a community to accomplish what an individual cannot. This was the function of the fighting guilds of old.  It is by having mutual standards and sharing a familiar, common system and approach that we more easily communicate and practice together. However, this does not mean any dogmatic approach.

Can we have different analysis or interpretations of the same source materials? Yes, absolutely! In fact, we should if we are to compare and contrast our ideas and reach a greater understanding. Can we do different exercises or drills or use different equipment? Yes, certainly! Indeed, doing so is how we improve, advance, and grow together. We welcome debate within our group and keenly encourage questioning, discussion, and rigorous discourse. We absolutely do not want "orthodoxy" to creep in or a dogmatic mind-set settle over us as we feel has already begun with other historical fencing groups. A great virtue of ARMA's Study Approach is that it's ongoing, evolving, and self-correcting, not inert or dogmatic.

The ARMA’s new curriculum offers a revolutionary breakthrough and pioneering advancement in reconstruction of Renaissance combatives. Centering on the longsword it presents the modern era’s most complete revival of the historical source teachings yet developed. Raising the credibility and legitimacy of the subject to a higher level, the ARMA’s curricula does not allow studying the minutia to be confused with learning “the fight.” Style and form derive from function of action, not collections of mere technique, while core principles and concepts are approached holistically, not re-structured into a modern mindset. With no artificial division into beginner, intermediate, and advance ideas, the lessons go beyond mere theoretical analysis of the source teachings.

Using proven drills and exercises it progresses the practitioner toward biomechanical skill in tactical movements. We can confidently claim this is the most complete and unified presentation of these lost and secret teachings yet offered in modern times.  As an Art of fighting, not merely historical swordplay but a fighting art, it connects offensive and defensive actions as it teaches the simplicity of leverage and timing, motion and striking, displacements, closing and seizing. In the ARMA the martial athleticism and disciplined violence of the Renaissance Art of Defense can now be learned from the historical sources as it once was—with brutal simplicity and systematic elegance.

Regardless of weapon or source teaching, there are a handful of vital
components that absolutely must underlie all study, that cannot be restructured or reformulated out of a holistically Medieval mindset --- yet which have been entirely missed or overlooked by those doing this subject for more than a century (!)  As exemplified in the longsword, and serving as the basis for the ARMA’s curricula since late 2007, these principles include awareness and understanding: that defending by parry and riposte is antithetical to the sources, that in nearly all actions we should actively seek to bind and wind while hanging, that the crown is key to striking properly, that nearly every strike and defense should wind from a bind, that constant movement not standing still or holding postures is vital, that standing and moving as “a scale” by “turning the key” is a crucial core element to all actions, that instance and feeling are integral to each another and can’t be separated, and that sensing leverage is everything!  These things cannot be understood or applied without robust practice with a correct martial spirit and earnest physical intent.

The word “tradition” is from the Latin, tradere, and in the Medieval era its meaning was to transmit, as in the legacy of knowledge and wisdom each generation may pass on to the next. There is no question that in Western civilization transmission of arts and sciences has long taken the form of written technical words as well as illustrations of movement. By no means was it limited only a “living” practice spoken person to person. What the ARMA attempts to do is revitalize a martial tradition whose methods and techniques have been preserved almost exclusively in written records, illustrations, iconography, and surviving artifacts. Our study today takes the form of cultural revitalization to revive and perpetuate elements forgotten traditions of a lost and endangered culture.

In doing this, ours is a collective effort to revive, reconstruct, redevelop, and reclaim a lost heritage. For this challenge, the ARMA provides a means of practice and supply a curriculum of training. We offer resources and advice. We offer training tips and information. We offer experience and expertise. And we present a community and fellowship. But in return, we expect commitment, sincerity, integrity, and martial spirit, along with support for our credo and our standards. Members are more than just subscribers. We are partners working together to one again explore a fighting discipline.

A heritage is something “inherited,” that is, preserved for the future by past generations. There is no question that the documented historical teachings on Renaissance martial arts meet this definition. The enormous volume of surviving material are arguably among the best, if not the preeminent, examples of preserved martial teachings. They exist for us now as time capsules; intact and uncontaminated.

What we definitely want to avoid in our effort is producing a student that is technically proficient in movement patterns yet tactically ineffectual as a fighter. By discarding elements of role-play, choreography, entertainment, and escapism we extract the essence of historical fencing as a modern field of both self-defense and scholarly research (hence, if you have no true interest in the direction we are trying to go in, no honest share for the way we are trying to reach it, you probably should not be here reading this). We don't just select techniques from a few manuals or follow a superficial grasp of one master's theory. We continuously investigate all the available manuals we can spanning hundreds of years and several countries. We explore and practice and refine our understanding of the historical teachings while presenting a methodology that gives to students the tools necessary for them to begin doing so on their own. We inspect actual arms and armor, study their construction and development, and examine actual accounts of combat and injuries. And finally, we train and educate ourselves so that we may share with our fellows.

We pride our effort on its complete lack of pretense. We study with the understanding that authoritative sources are extinct and that we must operate at our own levels of competency to improve the both the total and personal body of knowledge. No ARMA scholar would hesitate to press any other for clarification if their application or interpretation seemed incongruous. And no scholar in our organization, whatever their skill and experience, would reject such inquiry or criticism of their teachings.

On top of this, we also provide for members a series of proven drills and exercises which offer the practitioner (whether working solo or with a group) the vital core principles and foundational concepts crucial for practicing the craft as a real martial art. Through emphasis on sparring, test-cutting, fitness, discipline, and a martial attitude, the overall effect is historically valid and martially sound interpretation and reconstruction of these lost skills -and one which rapidly produces a serious student regardless of physical aptitude, age, and temperament. ARMA present the resources, the study materials, the tools, and the example that permits each of us to work together in the revival and recovery of Renaissance martial arts. The level of proficiency achieved by our member is only a matter of each individual's commitment and personal involvement. This then is the "ARMA Way"-instruction that is no less than a transformation of how historical European martial arts can be studied.

As director of ARMA, as site editor and leading instructor, all I really do is use my experience to offer advice and point the way down "the path." It's up to each individual to decide for themselves how far down it to go and to share whatever they find. ARMA's efforts are a collaborative process. The Old Masters are our true teachers; I'm just our head "guide."

Our Credo of Renaissance Martial Arts Studies

Respect for History and Heritage
Sincerity of Effort
Integrity of Scholarship
Appreciation of Martial Spirit
Cultivation of Self-Discipline

See also: "But what if I am not a martial artist?" and
Core Assumptions and the Exploration of Historical Fencing
Our Chosen Model and Example


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.